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Walking in Wupatki

Grasping a walking stick, Jack Humbles and other attendees walk across a mesa during one of Wupatki National Monument's wintertime Discovery Hikes. The monument is developing a plan that contemplates increasing backcountry access for visitors. 

Last Christmas I experienced my first Secret Santa. I found a gaudily wrapped package on my doorstep addressed to me but without a name to identify the sender.

It was a gift of house shoes. They weren't disguised as Chewbaca feet nor were they the Monty Python Killer Rabbit slippers with big, pointy teeth. They were, however, superbly plaid, and much needed.

But, it didn't matter which shoe I put on either foot -- both slippers would bend drastically to the left and the toes would curl noticeably upward. Which means I have to be extra careful these days not to lock the door behind myself when retrieving the morning paper.

If that happens again I'm sure my well-meaning neighbors will be renewing their concerns about my traipsing around the driveway while wearing bizarrely shaped bubble booties and rummaging frantically through the pockets of my Star Wars bathrobe in search of a house key. Could it be my December Secret Santa is really the Joker of January?

When I first moved to Flagstaff in 1998 I worked for several years at Wupatki National Monument in the visitor center. Unfortunately, during that time vandals seemed especially active and the Wupatki backcountry was closed to protect the ancient resources.

The introduction of the ranger-guided discovery hikes has allowed the public back into Wupatki's rich cultural and biological landscapes, but only in small groups with strict leave-no-trace rules. Reservations are required for escorted hikes, including the extraordinary Hole-in-the-Rock overnight adventure.

My friends Rick Ruess and Diana Henry are roving rangers for Wupatki and very active with the National Parks and Forest Service Interpretive Hike programs. Of special interest to them are the Memorial Day cultural talks and demonstrations. Featured will be Marilyn Fredericks at Walnut Canyon, Karen Smith at Wupatki and Ed Kabotie at Sunset Crater.

Please visit the websites www.nps.gov/sucr, www.nps.gov/waca or www.nps.gov.wupa for additional information about these and other interesting educational programs. To reserve a spot on a discovery hike call 928-679-2365.

Rick and Diana also have a deep interest in the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. And Rick, as an exceptional photographer and naturalist, has agreed to do a presentation at the Adult Center in April about the wildlife found there. A remarkable part of his Power Point is the saga of a hummingbird family. The date has not yet been selected, but stay tuned for additional information..

St Patrick's Day is this Saturday and is always a fun time with its wearing of the green and the eating of delicious Mulligatawny Stew. There will also be a presentation by my friend Pat "Shamrock" Benson, a gifted amateur astronomer who knows many interesting things about the storytellers and the tales associated with the stars that inhabit our night sky.

Pat will be presenting at Lowell Observatory on St Patrick's Day at 7 p.m. Always entertaining, he'll tell us how the various narratives concerning the stars have moved with humankind across the Earth, why some myths last longer than others and the reasons people tell these fascinating folktales. And he'll be doing it in his own amusing way. Don't miss this one!

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