A frenzied early morning finishing stuffing the Rover with all of my things, then like the wind that blew up before daylight, I was flying away. It is ok; this part of my experience here is done & it is time for the next artist to start her relationship with the Canyon!
Down, down, down I drove, off the Kaibab Plateau to the floor of House Rock Valley, getting more excited with each passing mile that I was going to see condors.
From the research I have done, I knew that the release site atop the Vermilion Cliffs is very far away from the viewing area. It is extremely important for the newly released condors not to have human contact or associate the carcasses placed to attract mentor condors with human activity. Even though I arrived over an hour before the release time, there were plenty of people already there. The atmosphere was charged with tangible energy & Peregrine Fund staff (the organization responsible for the California Condor Restoration--Conservation Project) had placed high power spotting scopes focused directly on the release pen.
With my first glimpse through one of the scopes-- OH!!! There the free condors were, their unbelievably immense wings spread wide as they swooped & glided effortlessly over the Vermilion Cliffs, while the four debutante condors being released waited somewhere inside the flight pen. The crowd of people grew as time passed, & at the appointed hour of 11 AM there was a flurry of condor activity as the release cage door was opened & the gathered crowd ooohed & ahhhed with each wing flap, just like people watching fireworks. Even with the spotting scopes, the condors only appeared about an inch long, but when you see them you can tell you are looking at a very special & large bird, especially when ravens swoop in for a size comparison. There is also a nest site further south on the cliff face & I was able to see the juvenile bird with its parent sitting on the nest ledge. I can’t even begin to say how extremely thrilled I was to be able to observe this special event… to have the privilege of seeing condors in flight at the end of my residency gives me a feeling of validity for the project I am about to begin that no photograph could fulfill. Did I actually see one of the newly released condors in flight? I have no idea, but for me, just knowing that they were up there getting ready to take their first free flight was pure joy.
I was also able to meet the Condor Project’s program director & several biologists from the Peregrine Fund. I introduced myself & told them about the condor tapestry & in return received their contact info, offers of photos of the birds, & info on where to see condors at closer range during the year. Some of the NPS (National Park Service) crew from the North & South Rims were there, including Gaelyn, a NPS crew from Glen Canyon NRA (National Recreation Area), Bureau of Land Management staff (the release site is located on BLM lands), tons of condor enthusiasts, & most likely representatives from other official entities. I even heard that the release had been advertised on NPR (National Public Radio)! A festival of freedom celebrating the success story of a bird that was almost wiped out from the planet.
After a wonderful lunch at Cliff Dwellers with Gaelyn, she headed back up to the Rim & I went over to Navajo Bridge, a known hangout for condors (& to see if I could conquer my fear of heights & walk out on the span that is suspended 467 feet over the Colorado River). I was able to walk out on the footbridge, but realized that no condor in its right mind would be there when the fast food carcass take-out was over at the release site! But, the crew from Glen Canyon NRA was there with sun telescopes set up & I met their Education Specialist Ranger who was excited to hear about my North Rim residency because they have just started their own AiR program. She told me they are extremely interested in hosting artists like me who are local. I love this part of Arizona & would be very excited to come here for a future artist residency. Later that night, I drove over to Lees Ferry campground where the Glen Canyon crew had set up night telescopes under the velvet dark sky next to the rushing roar of the Colorado River. We gazed at the big, glowing moon, the Andromeda galaxy, Jupiter & her 4 moons, Uranus, star clusters, & talked about Galileo & light years. From condor wings to celestial bling, (as one of the astronomers described it) all in one day.
Down here in the desert, my eyes have the fiery Echo & Vermilion cliffs to fill them up & a distant horizon across solid red ground dotted with silver green sage to fix my gaze upon. Although I love visiting different environments, whenever I come back to the desert, I know it is my home. I’ve decided to go back over to the release site this morning before heading for Phoenix, one last look in the quiet desert morning at the place that is giving a special bird a strong foothold on life.
When I arrived, a group of dedicated Peregrine Fund biologists were monitoring the newly released condors’ activities, & had brought along a Peregrine Falcon for company. It is important to determine that the condors are displaying appropriate behaviors so that they can survive on their own. If not, they will have to be recaptured & released again at a later time. For example, if a bird is not perching high & safe, it is at great risk of being killed by coyotes. I have great respect for the efforts of these scientists; although field work seems romantic, it is tough, dirty, & requires very long & odd hours. Dennis has told me enough about his prior biology career studying endangered birds to know that this work is not for those ambivalent about the effort required. The people who are involved in helping a fragile species endure & thrive are very special. There were plenty of condors sailing over the release site & I was able to get a good last look at these amazing birds before heading south through the desert.
I arrived at D.Y.’s place in Phoenix in late afternoon, greeted by temperatures nearing 100. It seems the desert needed to remind me that it isn’t quite ready to let summer go. D.Y. & I enjoyed our brief time together, feeding each other with inspiration as we always do, & looking forward to the time when four weavers will gather at her hogan next spring.
So this week I have been adjusting to being back home, adjusting to the heat, working on the mass de-mobilization of putting everything I brought to the Canyon back in its place & settling back into my place. Catching up on emails, phone calls, life. Preparing for a local exhibit at Tohono Chul Park next week that will include three of my tapestries…
& also for an art class I’ve signed up for, Words & Images: The Artist Book, that starts next week at The Drawing Studio. Hoping to get all of this done so I can get back to weaving & finish widforss wizards. Anticipating my upcoming trip to North Carolina that will close my mentoring experience with Silvia Heyden. Hoping the desert realizes this is now October & it is time for fall weather. Taking a deep internal breath to prepare myself for the designing & weaving of the condor tapestry.
A very big & sincere thank you to all who have been reading along during this adventure, for the wonderful comments left on my blog, for the interest in my work, for the wonderful energy you’ve all sent my way!
Below is a slide show of a selection of the images I took while I was at the North Rim. I shot over 500 photos; thank goodness I culled through & organized them every few days while I was there! If you would rather view them individually instead of slide show format, you can visit my GC AiR photo set here.
p.s. the photo at the beginning of this post is for Barbara S. & Mary W.!