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Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Although we didn’t get to see the Sand Hill Cranes we were hoping to see at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, it was a great start to our trip home from Fresno.  Best of all, the rain predicted held off until we finished our visit.

Birding, like fishing, is unpredictable.  Although I saw shots of Sand Hill Cranes taken a few days before we visited, we didn’t see a single crane on our visit.  Luckily, other birds tried to compensate for their absence.  We were greeted near the entrance by a large flock of White Pelicans

that cooperated by flying in a giant circle around us.

There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of American Coots at the refuge.  It was tough getting a shot with just one coot in it.

I don’t think I ever realized just how small a Spotted Sandpiper is until I got this shot of one standing in front of a pair of Gadwalls.

As I focused on a small flock of Northern Shovelers, I noticed two small birds in the middle of the flock.  Apparently my camera had as much trouble focusing on them as I did seeing them because no matter how hard I tried to focus on them and not the Northern Shovelers or the reeds on the bank, I only got two out a dozen or so shots where they were in focus.

I think I love seeing Wilson Snipes so much because I looked for them for nearly four years before I ever saw one (though I later discovered two in the background of a shot of Dowitchers I had taken two years before I officially noted them).  When you actually see a snipe, you definitely know you’re paying attention to what’s in front of you.  



The Petrified Forest is at the end of the road when you enter The Painted Desert from the east, but we began to see signs of petrified trees long before we reached the official site.

I kept seeing brilliant orange objects on the top of distant ridgelines and couldn’t figure out what they could possibly be. Leslie took out the telescopes and said they looked like petrified trees.  At first I didn’t believe her, but a quick shot through the telephoto lens confirmed her observation. It almost seems that fallen trees have kept the ridges from eroding by blocking rainfall.

Though I didn’t find the Petrified Forest as compelling as the Painted Desert, I’m not sure that’s true for most people. A brochure explained that trains used to stop nearby so that riders could gather pieces of petrified trees, and we saw several people walking among the ancient forests, 

which seemed quite extensive.

Up close, some petrified stumps displayed brilliant orange-red colors. 

Although there are very few examples of whole trees, one stop shows a petrified tree that bridges a chasm (with the help of some concrete).  

Although I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit the Petrified Forest again, we will probably see it again because I do want to visit the Painted Desert again.


Unexpected Bonus

When we decided to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, we had no idea that we would also get to see the remnants of an ancient Pueblo village and, more importantly, some more cool petroglyphs. It’s a long drive from one end of the park to the other, but right in the middle are the remnants of an ancient pueblo.  While it wasn’t nearly as intriguing as some of the sites I’ve seen in other areas in recent years, it is a reminder of what life must have been like for the people who lived here.

Looking at the present surroundings, it’s hard to imagine how someone could have survived here, but nearby petroglyphs suggest that it must have been successful enough to allow time to create art.  The different styles here also seem to suggest that the village was occupied over a long period of time, while the antelope suggest there must have been game available.

For me, though, the most interesting petroglyph was this one, which appears to show an Ibis (with the downward curving bill) eating a frog.  If there were Ibis nearby, that, in turn, suggests that at some point there must have been wetlands nearby.

Several miles away from the pueblo there are even more significant petroglyphs.  This large rock covered in petroglyphs sits below a very steep cliff and requires that you use a large telephoto lens, binoculars, or the provided scopes to see them. The people we talked to as we drove up said that couldn’t find them at all.  The fact that it’s nearly impossible to read the petroglyphs on the left side of the rock because of the direction of the sun helps to explain why they can be so hard to see.

Someone obviously had a lot on their mind, and a lot of time to say what it was judging from this rock.  It’s too bad we still can’t completely understand what they were trying to say, and probably never will.