Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Photo Journal: Dry Grasses

Welcome to my introductory post for Cowboy Kisses. I’m the new girl on the blog. Unfortunately, my first opportunity to post came at a time I have been extremely busy doing what writers do. On top of that, I spent this past weekend at the Women Writing the West conference in Redmond, Oregon. It was a powerfully inspiring experience to me as a writer of the West. Unfortunately, it was so hectic getting ready to go, I did not get this post organized before I left. On the way home from the conference, as I looked through some of the photographs I took on the trip, I decided what I want to share.

My thanks to one of our speakers, Rebecca Lawton, a scientist whose work for many years involved the study of climate and hydrology.  Her duties included monitoring the Stanislaus River watershed, a river with which I am more familiar than many after having lived for years in Stanislaus County, California. I drove over this river many times and rafted down it several times—not whitewater rafting like you will find higher in the mountains, but on the tamer stretches just east of Oakdale. She spoke on climate and water in the West. Her comments about the New Melones Dam struck a chord with me because I have driven over this dam several times just in the past year. And, yes, the water level is discouragingly low.

Reservoir behind New Melones Dam in January 2015
While I stood on the side of the road near the New Melones Dam in January of 2015 which is the height of our rainy season, I took this photo of the reservoir. By noting where the waterline has been in the past you can see how low it was last year. Perhaps you can imagine how much lower the water level is by now after a summer of triple-digit heat and water released for irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley.

In spite of efforts to effectively preserve and manage water in the West, sometimes the climate and rain cycles have the final word on how much water is available. I recently wrote another post in which I discussed the water level of the Bagby Reservoir along the Merced River to the south of the Stanislaus River. The water level is so low the reservoir is but a memory. It is back to being the Merced River.

Rebecca’s talk reinforced one of the essential elements
Courtesy of High Desert Museum, Bend, OR
for writing authentically about the West. The North American West is for the most part a dry land. California and much of the West have experienced five years of drought. Even when there is not a drought, there is not an excess of water. Yes, there is rain and snow—too much at times, but not enough
to naturally sustain a lush, green landscape all year. 

Outside of California and the Pacific coastal regions, much of the West makes up the High Desert, also known as the Great Basin. Compared to many parts of the world, the West is dry, dusty and perpetually short on water. In other words, it is an arid land.

This past year I wrote about the Eastern Sierra-Nevada region that typically has quite a bit of cool weather and months of snow. Yet, between the stands of evergreens and aspens it is a dry, high desert region. During my research trip in May I noticed the meadows had not greened up, but were still dry. On the windward side of these same mountains, there is more rain, but still the landscape is dry most of the year. Except for a few short months in winter and early spring when there is enough moisture to sprout a season of grass, the grasslands of the West are carpeted with the gold of dry grasses.

Near Bend, OR
On my trip north to Redmond, Oregon through parts of Siskiyou and Cascade mountains, I noticed the same trait.

To love the West, writers and their readers must embrace aridity. Along with the mountains, deserts and rivers, it is a part of the setting. For the balance of this post I decided to share a photo collection of dry grasses and weeds. I am not a botanist, so I have no intention of trying to identify their popular or scientific names. Instead, I encourage all of us to look for and find the beauty in a part of nature many of us often overlook and esteem as insignificant. It is not. In the West, beneath the majestic Ponderosa and Juniper trees, skirting the Piñon pines, the Manzanita and the bitterbrush, bordering the dried streams and ponds, this is what you will often find.

For most people, these humble plants are not as awe-inspiring as great mountains, lofty evergreens or rock formations. But, by focusing on the microcosm of their natural setting, there is a beauty in their dryness that can help us understand and appreciate the West. 
Mono County near Mono Lake, February 2015

Behind rest area, Hwy 97, northern CA

Rest area, Hwy 97, northern CA
Scenic Overlook, west of Mt. Shasta

Roadside, south of Dorris, CA
Dried creek bed off Road 782, feeds Crooked River, OR

On bank of dried creek bed, Road 782, OR
Top of cliff-Smith Rock State Park, OR

Smith Rock State Park, OR

Smith Rock State Park, OR
Smith Rock State Park, OR

Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR
Smith Rock State Park, OR

Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR
Smith Rock State Park, OR

Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR

Hwy 97 Bridge & Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR

Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR

Crooked River canyon & Peter Skene Ogden Crooked River Overlook Park, OR


 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press in October 2014 and her novelette, A Christmas Promise, was published by Prairie Rose Publications in November 2014. The first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, are now available.

The author is a member of Women Writing the West, American Night Writers Association, and Modesto Writers Meet Up. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” She enjoys any kind of history including family history. When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

Zina Abbott Author Links:

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Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Welcome to Cowboy Kisses. Who knew you were so handy with a camera too. *lol* Enjoyed your post, am sharing it on all the venues I'm on, and I look forward to reading your books.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Welcome Robyn! A lovely post to kick off your debut at Cowboy Kisses.

Zina Abbott said...

Thank you Ginger and Kristy. I'm happy to be here. I enjoy sharing my photography on occasion. Why the dry grasses caught my eye I'm not sure. But, after our discussion at Women Writing the West, I felt now was a good time to share this bit of insight into the scenic realities of the West.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Welcome! So glad to connect with you here, too! And especially happy to have met you at the conference. Thank you so much for coming! :)