Kids’ guide to Rocky makes Reading the West short list

Child's backpack with maps and copy of What I Saw in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wherever you are, I hope this finds you well, and that you have a chance to spend time outdoors safely.

I have a bit of good news on my end. My latest book, What I Saw in Rocky: a Kid’s Guide to the National Park, has made the short list for the Reading the West Book Awards in the Young Readers category.

These awards are sponsored by the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association, which represents member bookstores in 12 western and mid-western states. The next step in the awards process is a public vote. To participate in the vote, or pick up ideas on what to read next, please visit the awards website. This is also a good time to remember you may purchase books online from many independent bookstores, which could really use the business right now.

Many national parks, including Rocky Mountain, are currently closed due to the covid-19 pandemic. But if you are a planner and find yourself with time on your hands (I know–something health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers can only dream of) you may find some consolation in researching a future visit to one of the parks. I like checking out Rocky’s webcams (one summer, I lived a few hundred yards away from the Beaver Meadows location). It makes me feel a little better knowing that although the gates are closed, the park is still there, the animals are fine, and eventually, when our world returns to some approximation of normal, we can visit again.

 

Close to the vest

Some fly fishing spots, particularly on small streams, are so vulnerable you know you should keep them to yourself. But it’s hard not to say something, even if you have to obscure a few details. “No Name Creek, ” in Big Sky Journal’s Summer 2019 issue, is my story about returning to one of those secret spots–where you would least expect it–after a fire. The magazine should be available at newsstands any day now.

I still have to ask myself: Is that little gorge secret because it’s special, or special because it’s secret? I guess the answer to both questions is “yes.” So I’m not telling. Fortunately for you, the best places are the ones you find for yourself. So grab your maps, download Google Earth, and start looking for your own secret fly fishing spot. You don’t have to tell me where it is.

 

In Rocky, weather matters

 

Trail Ridge Road Snowplowing
Courtesy National Park Service

In Rocky Mountain National Park, winter has been especially slow to leave the high country this year. Spring snowstorms have been interfering with efforts to plow Trail Ridge Road, the scenic highway that crosses the park. The National Park Service is doing its best to clear the road, which in other years generally has opened around Memorial Day. But for now it remains closed, with no predictions about an opening date (check current road conditions here). Visitors can still access lower parts of the park on both the east (Estes Park) and west (Grand Lake) sides, though traveling from one side to the other, until the road opens, requires a much longer drive that loops around outside the park.

This is just one more reminder that when you visit a place like Rocky Mountain National Park (“Rocky,” for short), weather matters. Rocky is a high-elevation park, with about a third, including the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road, rising above treeline. Some of the park’s trails and backcountry campsites don’t fully melt out until early July. And once heavy snows recede, weather conditions can still change rapidly, sometimes even temporarily closing Trail Ridge Road. Temperatures drop, and thunderstorms bounce lightning around the peaks. As you travel throughout the park, you may essentially encounter multiple seasons in a single day.

So what does this mean if you are planning to visit the park? First of all, you should know that all these different conditions and elevations have created an amazing diversity of wildlife, wildflowers, and spectacular mountain scenery. But second of all, you probably should do a little reading. Though I’m quite proud of my children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, it can’t pack everything into its 48 pages.

For weather, road, and safety information, I recommend you go straight to the source, the National Park Service, at www.nps.gov/romo. The current park newspaper has a useful description of weather patterns and what to bring for your visit to the park, and you can find other great resources on this page of downloadable brochures. Once you arrive at the park, check the weather forecast and plan your days accordingly. Maybe you can even pick up a copy of my book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain!

And please, please, please, don’t let your kids play on steep snowfields. During your visit, ask rangers where you might find safer places to play in the snow.

I hope you have a fun and safe visit to the park. It’s truly one of my favorite places anywhere.

 

Kids’ Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s out! My latest children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, was just released by Riverbend Publishing. The book is available directly from Riverbend, as well as from Indiebound, AmazonBarnes & Noble, Books-A-Million,  and Target. It will be available at local bookstores later this spring.

Like other books in this series, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain highlights some of the animals, plants, and places families are most likely to see during their visit to the park. Each section provides a kid-friendly description, detailed “where to see it” advice (though animals don’t always cooperate!), and a place to record sightings and experiences. Researching the fun “guess what?” facts sprinkled throughout the book was one of the best parts for me. Below I’ve given a peek inside the book, showing some of my favorite bighorn sheep pics by photographer Christopher Cauble. 

Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place; it’s hard to beat the park’s special combination of wildlife, scenery, trails, and tundra. And as long as you pay attention to safety (including weather!), it’s a great place to take kids of all ages and abilities. But it pays to plan ahead when visiting busy national parks like “Rocky.” You can find trip-planning information at the park’s website: www.nps.gov/romo.

Random wildlife selfies

Don’t blame me for the focus on this photo. I wasn’t there. This whitetail buck took his own picture and then smashed his nose into my trail camera, which is now covered with teeth marks.

My family and I don’t use our trail cam for hunting; we use it for spying on our wild visitors. After a snowstorm last winter, I crisscrossed our land looking for tracks, then set up the camera along the busiest game trail. That first photo of an elk got me hooked. Later I aimed the camera at a retired fox den, which turned out to be a sort of wildlife crossroads, visited by skunks, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, coyotes, and not surprisingly, foxes.

My trail camera photos and videos are modest, all taken in my big backyard. But I couldn’t resist giving them their own Trail Cam page. (As I’m not on Facebook, where else am I supposed to share my blurry skunk pics?) If you want to see more impressive trail camera footage, visit the Mission Valley Grizz Cam. Amazing bears.

Kids’ events at the High Plains Bookfest

The High Plains Bookfest is coming up soon, with events taking place at various venues in Billings, Montana October 18-20 (complete schedule here).

If you have kids, please bring them along to the Billings Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 20 for a fun introduction to Glacier and Grand Teton national parks. Ellen Horowitz and I will be sharing our children’s books from Riverbend Publishing’s What I Saw series–Ellen’s What I Saw in Glacier: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, and my What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.

From noon to 2 p.m., This House of Books is hosting a High Plains Tea and Dessert Reception for children and children’s book authors. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone there.

 

Grand Canyon guide for kids

About 90 percent of Grand Canyon National Park’s visitors head to the South Rim, the most accessible area of the park’s 1.2 million acres. But even here, it can be hard to know where to start, especially when traveling with children. I kept that in mind when writing What I Saw in Grand Canyon: A Kid’s Guide to the South Rim, which is illustrated with photographs by Christopher Cauble (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). Many families have just a short time to visit the canyon. Where do you go? What opportunities are there for kids? How can you help your children make sense of this vast place?

What I Saw in Grand Canyon offers a sampler of many of the things families are most likely to see during their visit to the South Rim, as well as recommendations for easy walks and hikes. The book’s fun checklist format provides space for kids to record their own sightings while they learn about the park’s geology, wildlife, plants, and history. Back at home, they can use the book to share their Grand Canyon visit with family and friends.

The book, illustrated with photos by Christopher Cauble, is now on sale at Riverbend Publishing and on Amazon. It will soon be available at local bookstores.

I hope What I Saw in Grand Canyon will prove to be a good companion for you and your family on your Grand Canyon journey. May you have a safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable visit to the South Rim.

Red crossbill baby pictures

crossbilljuvie
Red crossbill juvenile, © 2017 Julie Lue.

Last year, red crossbills invaded my neighborhood, attracted by a large crop of ponderosa pine cones. We hadn’t seen any crossbills for a long time, then suddenly, they were everywhere, crowding the bird bath, flitting between the trees, prying apart pine cones to reach the seeds.

I was already curious about the birds, as red crossbills are one of those unusual species that can nest at nearly (but not quite) any time of year, including late winter. On days with weather so foul we just want to stay inside, they may be incubating sensitive eggs or caring for downy, delicate nestlings.

When the crossbills arrived, I moved my laptop near a window so I could watch them while doing a little research. The result is this Outdoors Portrait in the 2018 March-April issue of Montana Outdoors magazine.

Below are some additional details and photos of a red crossbill nest I found, by pure luck, while working on the article. I’m including them for people who are really, really interested in crossbills.

The first week in March, with snow still patchy on the ground, I saw red crossbills gathering bits of dried grass. One day when I was out walking, I watched a female carry a beak full of grass into a tree. She didn’t come out. I had found her nest.

The picture below, taken two weeks later, shows the female’s notched tail jutting out over the edge. It was cold that day, and she wasn’t going anywhere.

Red crossbill nest
Red crossbill nest, © 2017 Julie Lue.

I kept an eye on the nest but did not visit too frequently, as I didn’t want to scare the female off her eggs or young or attract predators. The nest was also near the end of a branch about 10 feet up a tree. Looking inside required a ladder balanced precariously amid the sagebrush. My husband took photos of the babies at a couple of stages of development. (He doesn’t mind standing on the part of a stepladder that carries a warning of impending doom.)

Red crossbill nestlings
Red crossbill nestlings, © 2017 Tony Lue.

The photo below was taken six days before they flew away, at the end of a very quick “childhood.” We saw three fledge; we don’t know what happened to the fourth nestling.

crossbillnestlings
Red crossbill nestlings, © 2017 Tony Lue.

By April 8, the nest was abandoned, and we lost track of these youngsters. But we were still visited by flocks of juveniles and their parents, which helped feed their young for a while.

With plenty of cones this year as well, we are now hosting another generation.