Color of Spring in the Desert

Thanks to the unusual and excessive rainfall this past winter in the desert southwest, the hills have come alive.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Phoenix valley so green, but it’s not just an abundance of green that has carpeted the land.

hiking in Phoenix

Superstition Mountain – Apache Junction, Arizona

Everywhere I look, I’m greeted with a delightful kaleidoscope of color. The wildflowers are on steroids this year and I’m loving the view.  Each bloom, bush, and tree is a wonderful sight to behold.

poppies

me photographing the wildflowers

desert wildflowers

The stunning display of wildflowers is an unexpected surprise to those visiting the desert for the first time.  The desert southwest is lush with vegetation and color and a far cry from the drab, barren brown most folks associate with a desert.

Phoenix hiking

Spring hiking in the desert is the best!

desert wildflowers

I always look forward to spring in Arizona, and couldn’t wait to share some of my favorite Phoenix valley spots with my daughter.   First up was hiking at the Superstition Mountain located on the far east side of the valley. This is my absolute favorite place to hike in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain

My daughter – it was a glorious morning to hit the trails.

March 2nd – Al and I managed to snag a lovely campsite in the overflow loop for a couple of nights of dry camping at Lost Dutchman State Park.  This is a popular state park and without a reservation, it’s difficult to nab a site with electric.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

By camping at the base of the Superstition Mountains, I was able to hike multiple times throughout the day and photograph the beauty that surrounded me. Sharing this amazing scenery with my daughter was a special treat.

wildflowers

Fields of poppies blooming at the base of the Superstitions

If you ever find yourself visiting Phoenix and looking for an entertaining way to spend a day, here’s a post I did a while back about the Apache Trail that you might find fun.

Lost Dutchman State Park

The desert provides the best skies

Who knew the desert could be so colorful?  ‘I know, I know’, she exclaimed with raised hand!  And once the wildflowers wither, it’ll be time for the cactus to bloom. The color of spring in the desert is a memorable and unique experience …. not to be missed.desert wildflowers

CMT 1 Pair – Anti Shock / Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles

Pinty 2L Hiking Backpack Hydration Pack with Water Bladder Cycling Climbing Camping Bag (Pink)

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Embracing Photography Failure

When I started this blog five years ago, I was sharing photographs that were shot with a $79 Kodak digital point and shoot camera.  I didn’t know anything about photo editing or even that the photographs needed to be edited.  What came out of the camera got shared on the blog … as is.great blue heron

Like any newbie blogger, I was excited to get that first follow, that first like, and of course, that first comment.  As the months passed, I eagerly continued writing posts filled with photographs.  The comments and followers increased and I developed friendships, friendships that continue to this day.

sandOne day, I received a message.  An email message from a fellow blogger?  Oh, how exciting, I thought!

That excitement was short-lived as I read … “If you’re going to post pictures on your blog, the least you could do is a little photo editing.  There’s no excuse for sharing a photograph with a crooked horizon especially since there’s free editing software like Picasa that’ll fix it in a second. 

Oh and quit posting the photos so little.  If you’re going to share photos, then share photos so we can see them.  Don’t expect readers to click to enlarge because they won’t.  Nobody has time for that.  Aside from the poor pictures, nice blog“.

whooping cranesAll righty then …. I was heartbroken, mortified, and embarrassed.  How is it I was capable of building award-winning custom homes from conception to completion, and yet I knew nothing about photo editing?

Quite frankly, my computer/technology skills were basic at best, which drove my business accountant crazy 🤓

Old school film seemed simple;  snap a bunch of pictures until the roll of film was full then take it to the drugstore to get it developed. Botta bing, botta boom!

poor photograph

FAIL – nice color, relatively sharp, but I didn’t keep panning and thus cut off his head

That message gnawed at me.  Editing?  Hmm!  Google and I became well acquainted.  Picasa was downloaded.  I started following blogs that focused on photography, along with all the RVing blogs I already followed.  As our RV travels increased, so did the photo taking AND sharing.  A slow and steady photographic evolution morphed.

Great Blue Heron

Better – Great Blue Heron     ISO 100     F4     1/800       56.9mm  (35mm equivalent 312mm)

I’ve been humbled by many of your complimentary comments lately about my photography.  Through A LOT of trial and error, I do feel it has improved as have my editing skills, but the compliments and questions still surprise me.  I consider myself a novice, a beginner, a work in progress when it comes to photography.

With that said, I thought I’d share a little behind the scenes, or shall I say, behind the lens with you all, and show you a few of my photo fails and successes…. a post about what works for me, using simple and inexpensive camera gear.

ducks in-flight

Camera set on ‘shutter priority’.  ISO 200  F4.5   1/1600   54.5mm (35mm equivalent= 305mm)

I’m still a comedy of errors behind the lens, and fully embrace my tried and true method of ‘point and pray’ style of photography.  So this isn’t a detailed ‘how to’ post.  And if you consider yourself an accomplished photographer, I always welcome critique cormorantand recommendations.  I’m actually grateful for that critical email message …. well, maybe 😉

I’ve gone through the camera envy stage, and still do.  When I see amazing images on a blog post, I’ll ask the blogger about their camera gear thinking if I use what they’re using my photographs will improve.  Or maybe if I spend more money on camera gear, I’ll capture better images.   We all know this isn’t necessarily true!  We’ve all seen stunning photographs taken with an iPhone and some very poor photos taken with a DSLR.

Therefore, camera choice is personal, and the best camera to have, is the camera that you carry?Pelican

So what camera(s) do I carry?  I predominantly use what’s referred to as a “Bridge” camera.  A bridge camera is more than a Point and Shoot, but not quite a DSLR.  Thus, a bridge between the two.   There’s no lens changing with a bridge camera but there are a lot of customizing options.  I have a whole page dedicated to cameras if you’d like more detailed information.  I realize, whatever camera I use, it’s important to learn how to operate the equipment and know its capabilities and limitations.

shore birds

FAIL – I set camera on ‘program’ mode. Totally wrong setting for moving subject.   ISO 400      F4.0
shutter  1/100   causing a blurry mess         55.7mm (35mm equivalent 310mm)     No cropping

shore birds

Moderate FAIL – ISO 400   F4.0    shutter 1/250    still too slow for moving subject    30.1mm (35mm = 167mm)shore birds different day   ISO 100   F4.5     shutter 1/1000      70.5mm (35mm equivalent 392mm)        No cropping

The built-in zoom on my Panasonic is marketed as a 25-600mm lens which allows me to shoot a wide-angle landscape image one minute and then zoom in on wildlife within roseateseconds.  I love this flexibility, but it does have its drawbacks.  The quality of the photograph will never be on par with a DSLR and the crop factor is limiting.  It’s all about resolution, pixels, and sensor size.

I’ve used this camera for three years and have learned its strengths AND its weaknesses and I know when I zoom in to that 600mm capability, I will lose image quality.  I also know its aperture sweet spot is F4.0 and it’s best not to take the ISO over 400.  There are also times it has trouble focusing,

heron

FAIL – even though the heron is in the center of the photo and  camera was set to a ‘center’ focal point,  camera had trouble focusing on the heron with all the vegetation  😒  It’s the camera, not me!  Panny and I have been at odds lately!    ISO 100    F2.8 (even at F4.0 camera had difficulty focusing)     1/800      107.8mm (592mm)

egret

ISO 100    F5.0    1/1600       108mm (600mm)    Fail on placement of Watermark. Not thrilled with composition!

How close am I to the birds and what lens am I using?  Hmm!  I have no clue on actual distance but I can share lens distance.   Since I’m using a bridge camera, there’s no specific lens to talk about, but I can share an equivalence to a DSLR.  If you note the info on each photo, I’ve shared the mm number.  Since I have a cropped sensor camera, the number in parentheses is the equivalent if using a full frame camera.  If you don’t understand sensor size or why my camera or an iPhone will never capture the image quality of a DSLR, here’s an enlightening article that might clarify.

bird photography

How do I capture birds in motion?  For a Point and Shoot, I set the camera to the “sports” setting.  My little Sony P&S doesn’t offer a sport setting but it does have a “pet” setting that does ok. Then set the camera on “burst” mode.  Multiple shots taken spoonbillat one time is key, but note, point and shoot cameras can be slow to process multiple shots and take a few seconds to recover and be ready to snap again.  I’ll admit, I rarely use the Sony P&S for birds. Too challenging.

For my bridge camera, I prefer to set the camera on “shutter priority”.  I’ve tried using the “sports” setting and “aperture priority”, but wasn’t pleased with the results.  Every camera and user is different.  Because I’ve photographed so many birds with my Panasonic, I have a pretty good handle on how fast my shutter needs to be for specific birds.   For example; cranes and herons in-flight, the shutter can be as low as 1/800 but for ducks, I need at least 1/1600.  And I always have the camera set on “burst” mode, taking at least three shots at a time.whooping crane

Yes, I do delete a lot of photographs, and I’m ok with that.  I also set the camera on continuous focus (AFC) and switch back and forth between a center focus point versus multiple focus points.

cormorant

Cormorant  –  ISO 200    F4     1/800     46.5mm  (35 equivalent 290mm)

If my subject is holding still or I’m shooting landscapes, I’ll alternate between the IA (intelligent auto) and P (program) settings.  I do acknowledge that the camera can often times be smarter than me.  Thus, I never feel badly using the camera in full auto mode.Killdeer

Whenever I’m photographing wildlife, I take a ton of photographs.  Remember, digital photography is free. So why not shoot away!  It’s not uncommon for me to shoot 300 plus photographs in a day, and if the birding is really good, I might shoot as many as 1,000.  Out of those images, I expect to like maybe 25.  By the way, I only shoot that volume of photographs when it comes to wildlife.

sunrise

Camera set on Auto – unprocessed, right out of the camera.  I still can’t hold my camera straight!

sunrise

exact same photo, but OVER processed for fun!

Photo processing – This past January, I finally graduated in the editing department.  I jumped from Picasa to Photoshop Lightroom.  I know some folks think processing/editing is somehow trickery, but processing is necessary for optimal imagery.

It’s no different from film.  The roll of film was processed and pictures were developed from the negatives.  You wouldn’t walk around sharing the negatives.  It’s the same with Lightroom or any other photo editing program.

Some folks like to over process a photograph for dramatic effect.  Most of the time, I try to keep the colors in my photos to as close to what I see, to reality.  However, even Ansel Adams played around with developing/processing.  It’s just another way to let the creative juices flow.

sunrise

image right out of camera – no processing.  I finally activated the “grid lines” on my camera to assist me in achieving a straight horizon.  You’d think by now, I could hold my camera level 😒

bird in-flight

Same image processed; a little cropping & color adjusting. Is the horizon now slanting the other way? Geez!

Lately, I’ve been shooting more purposely.  You know, thinking about composition, accessing settings, and striving for a compelling image.  All I can say to that is the delete black bellied whistling ducksbutton is working in overdrive and the fails far outweigh the wins more than ever before.  Ah, but isn’t that part of the fun and challenge of photography?  Hmm, maybe I’ll return to that ‘point and pray’ method  😄

But the big question is always, “Are we having fun yet?” You bet I am, and my recommendation is whatever camera you’re using, whether you process or not, keep posting.  Don’t let  anyone derail your creativity.

Cheers to sharing pictures – the good, the bad, and all the in-betweens!great blue herons

Tony Northrup’s DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ300K 12.1 Megapixel, 1/2.3-inch Sensor, 4K Video, Splash & Dustproof Body, Leica DC Lens 24X F2.8 Zoom (Black)

A Calm Morning

I had one of the most amazing mornings yesterday.  For some reason, I woke up earlier than normal. I jumped out of bed energetic, and was ready to tackle a new day.  By 6:30 a.m. I was already on my second cup of coffee.calm

Sunrise wouldn’t be for another forty-five minutes and I contemplated hopping in the truck to capture a few sunrise photos along the Texas Gulf Coast.  The RV was dripping with dew and the windows were coated with moisture rich humidity blocking any potential view.  I needed to open the RV door to check the sky for cloud coverage.black and white photography

The past couple of weeks have been a total bust for sunrise photography.  The sky was either totally cloudless (boring) or covered in a thick layer … blocking any notice of a sunrise.  The mornings when the skies did cooperate, my body didn’t, and my sluggish exit out of bed found me missing the opportunity to capture those perfect skies.foggy morning

Yesterday morning when I stuck my head out the RV door, I was greeted with nothingness.  I could barely make out the shape of the tree just five feet away.  Fog … a thick layer of fog engulfed the landscape.  The assault of humidity had its way with my natural curly hair.  Nothing a baseball cap couldn’t fix.  The moist sea air upon my face made my skin feel ten years younger.  Frizzy hair and dewy skin … oh well 😏  Texas Gulf Coast

Wow …. I had to get out there, even if the lighting wasn’t good for photography.  The atmosphere was amazing.  I threw on some clothes.  Topped off my coffee and jumped in the truck.  I wasn’t sure if I’d find anything worth photographing, but I didn’t care.  I reveled in the quiet.  In the solitude.  In the peacefulness.  Aaah, how wonderfully calming, yet eerie and mysterious!calm

By 7:30 the sun had been up fifteen minutes, yet I saw no signs of her presence.  I didn’t mind.  I was enjoying a glorious morning by myself.  And although I may have been alone, I was not alone.

I was bushwhacking strolling through damp grasses and weeds amongst a grove of oak trees that serve as the roosting grounds for Great Blue Herons and Egrets.  I could hear their rustling, grunts, and squawks in the trees above me.  When one of the birds would take flight, I could even hear their wing movement.  I know …. how cool was that!peace, calmAnd then there were the ducks and Coot swimming in the pond.  Rumor has it, there’s even an alligator that calls this place home.  Such company, I can do without.  Birds yes, gators no!

What a wonderful morning it was, and although I didn’t photograph the kind of images I originally set out to capture, I was pleased with the photographs I did make.  By 10:00 a.m. the fog had burned off, my stomach was growling, and it was time to return to the RV … feeling refreshed, renewed, and happy.solitude

Lone Star: A History Of Texas And The Texans

 

 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6

Take a Hike in New Mexico

Some places resonate with me much more than others. I’m not always sure why or what the deciding factor might be, but when I stumble upon a unique landscape that gives me goose bumps, I know I’m some place special.Kasha Katuwe

The blogosphere is one of my favorite venues to search and find exciting travel ideas. The moment I saw a hiking trailsphotograph of those cone-shaped tent rock formations on Anne’s blog, I knew this was a must see.  A visit was in the plans last year, but when our daughter decided to move from Denver to Phoenix, all those plans went out the window.

This year was different, and since we didn’t have any firm commitments after mid August, I knew the timing was perfect to lay eyes on this unusual landscape.

Normally I like to keep my blog posts in some sort of chronological order of our travels, but I was so moved by one of the best hikes I’ve ever taken that I couldn’t wait to share the trail with all of you. So where is this amazing place?

National Monuments35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a complex and unique geological landscape called Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This relatively new monument was designated as such in 2001.

The sculpted cliffs and peaked hoodoos were formed from volcanic eruptions that occurred more than six million years ago.

There is a somewhat uniform layering of volcanic material causing bands of white, grey, beige, and pink colored rock.  It’s a fascinating and perplexing sight.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentOver time, wind and water sculpt these rocks creating canyons, scooping holes, and contouring hoodoos. Mother Nature’s artistic and creative hand had me awed and smiling during the entire two plus hour hike.  I found myself hiking this fun trail several times during our two-week stay in the Santa Fe area, and trust me when I say, once is not enough.  I already long to return. Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentWithout further adieu, let’s take a hike…..

As we approached the fee booth station, we were greeted by a ranger. There’s a $5.00 daily fee (as of Aug 2016) or free with your Annual National Park Pass (this is a Federal park after all).  From the fee station, we continued for five miles down a paved road that crosses private property owned by the Pueblo de Cochiti.  We are asked to respect the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monumenttraditions and privacy of the local Indians and thus, no stopping along the way, no photography/video, and no drawing/painting.  Also, no commercial photography within the park is allowed without a permit.

Once we neared the trailhead, there were three different gravel parking lots that can accommodate just about any size vehicle (including RV’s).  There’s a couple of vault toilets, but no water….. so be sure and bring plenty of drinking water.  You’ll need it.

Awed beyond words!

Awed beyond words!

Unlike most national parks and monuments, there are no scenic overlooks near a parking lot around here.  The only way to view the tent rocks and observe this stunning landscape is by foot; hiking via a dirt, sometimes sandy trail.  And by the way, no dogs allowed.  You won’t even be allowed through the fee station with a dog in the vehicle.Kasha-Katuwe

The 1.2 mile Cave Loop Trail is rated easy and partly handicap accessible.  There are some unique rock formations and a hand dug cave along this trail, but the real gem of the park is the Slot Canyon Trail …… definitely not to be missed.Kasha-Katuwe Cave TrailKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

 

 

 

 

The Slot Canyon Trail is a 3 mile out and back hike with a 630 foot elevation gain and connects with the Cave Loop Trail.  We hiked the combination of both trails making for a wonderful 4.2 mile hike that, for my level of hiking ability, offered me the perfect amount of challenge and visual stimulation.

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

Cave Loop Trail as we hike toward the Slot Canyon trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

the beginning of the Slot Canyon Trail

Although from Al’s point of view, there may have been way too much visual stimulation(if there is such a thing) which resulted in an excessive amount of photo-op stops, much to his chagrin.  Perhaps that’s why my subsequent hiking visits to Kasha-Katuwe were tackled as a solo hiker 😉

Kasha KatuweKasha-Katuwe

The moment we connected with the Slot Canyon Trail, the cliff walls rose on both sides and I felt like I had entered a secret garden of sorts.

I believe, oh my gosh, was uttered by me around every bend.   As the canyon walls continued to narrow, we were greeted with obstacles along the trail.Slot canyon hiking

Nothing we couldn’t handle … however, those that are vertically challenged or suffer from short leg syndrome, like moi, may find themselves stretching out those leg muscles just a tad.

Easy peasy!

Easy peasy!

At some points the slot canyon became very narrow, so narrow that there was only room for one foot at a time.

one foot at a time!

one foot at a time!

one hiker at a time!

one hiker at a time!

How cool is this?

How cool is this?

Fits like a glove!

Fits like a glove!

Loved it!

Awesome!

Once we exited the slot canyon, we were welcomed by those tee pee shaped hoodoos …. each uniquely sculpted by the elements and each equally as impressive.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

cairns

hikingIt didn’t take long and we could feel the trail climbing and instead of looking up at the amazing tent rocks, we were now looking down upon them.Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentWe continued up the trail and stopped frequently to look back.New Mexico hikingKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

 

 

 

 

 

As we reached the top of the trail, we had temporarily hiked away from the tent rocks. The trail continued out onto a narrow mesa which provided a bird’s eye view of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

trail - drop offs on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be near Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake

Trail drops off on both sides. Birds eye view in all directions. The lake in the background is where we camped to be as near as possible to Kasha-Katuwe; Cochiti Lake Campground

And of course, a few more “Oh…. my…. gosh”es were uttered as I stood on the edge gazing down.

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Standing on the edge gazing in awe!

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below - hey look, there's the trail

Sitting on the edge as I admire the view below – hey look, there’s the trail

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is a out and back hike, we'll be down there shortly!

We can see hikers on the trail. Since this is an out and back hike, we’ll be down there shortly!

Heading back down the trail.

Heading back down the trail.

Easy for someone 6'3".... entertaining watching the 5'4" short legged gal

Easy for someone 6’3″…. entertaining watching the 5’4″ short legged gal

I steady myself

I steady myself

Not an obstacle I couldn't handle on my own!

Not an obstacle I couldn’t handle on my own!

This is where being short works in my favor ;-)

This is where being short works in my favor 😉

The return hike to the trailhead was every bit as amazing as it was entering.

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

We returned back to the trailhead via the Cave Loop Trail

The Pueblo de Cochiti people view Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks as a very special place and justifiably so.  After Al and I made this first hike, I returned three more times to tackle this perfect (in my book) hike.  Perfect – even when considering all the obstacles one might bump into.

Oh no, someone wasn't paying attention!

Oh no, someone wasn’t paying attention! At least I managed to stop the blood from running down my leg.  I did attract a little attention from fellow hikers…. You know, those “Are you ok?” looks and comments.

One morning, I hit the trail at 8:15 and encountered only one couple on the trail for that first hour.  It was awesome having this amazing place to myself and hiking in solitude.  All of my senses were alert.Kasha-Katuwe

The visual delight of the sun peaking from behind a rock was a reminder of a new day unfolding.   I listened to the light sound of a lizard moving, and the loud squawking of birds soaring overhead.  I breathed in the crisp clean air scented of pine.  There was the random sound of tiny rocks tumbling, acting as a reminder that this land is in a constant state of change.Kasha-KatuweThere was the occasional touch of admiration and respect for this special and sacred place.

sitting on the edge!

sitting on the edge!

Yes indeed, some places touch my soul more than others and Kasha-Katuwe touched mine more than I ever expected.  I know I’ll return!

My church!

My church!

Kasha-Katuwe

A Mirror of Reflections

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe it’s September already.  Our summer flew by, and although our travels didn’t exactly go as planned, we are not complaining.  Actually, we couldn’t have planned our summer any better.  Sometimes winging it can turn into an amazing adventure.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

The travel God’s smiled on us regularly as we changed directions on a whim.  I mean literally from one second to another we were changing our minds on where we should go and pulling into campgrounds without reservations…. not ideal in the peak of tourist season.  One minute we were in crisis mode pointing the RV in an easterly direction, and the next, with the crisis averted, we found ourselves turning around and heading north; traveling with no real rhyme or reason other than some impending obligations.

Jackson Lake, Wyoming

Jackson Lake, Wyoming

The flexibility and freedom of traveling in a RV can be liberating, exciting, stressful, wonderful, scary, perplexing, and of course, relaxing …… it’s kind of like a rollercoaster of emotions, but minus the word relaxing.  As much as I love a good rollercoaster ride, I’ve never found one to be relaxing – exhilarating yes, relaxing no!  And RVing can be an exhilarating journey.

Jackson Lake, Wyoming

Jackson Lake, Wyoming

Along with seeing spectacular scenery this summer, we met some wonderful people.  More than once we were referred to as “seasoned”.  On July 1st, we entered our fourth year of full-time RV living.  Our one to two year intention of living in the RV full-time has since turned into year four.  I’m not sure when we progressed from “newbie” RV’er to “seasoned” RV’er, but here we are,  still enjoying the journey, and willing to share our school of hard knocks knowledge with any “RV newbie” who asks.

Grand Junction, Colorado

Grand Junction, Colorado

I’ll admit, three years ago as a relative ‘newbie’, I would never have handled the winging it style of travel we embarked on this summer.  I’ve always been a planner and usually have a game plan laid out weeks in advance, and most times, months in advance.  I think, over time, we’ve developed a level of RVing confidence. We have confidence in knowing we’ll always manage to find a place to overnight, even if it’s just a parking lot.

Loved visiting the ducks at Schbacher Landing, Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Loved visiting the ducks at Schwabacher Landing, Grand Tetons, Wyoming

There are days I do miss a home base.  A place to go back to and regroup, but I still haven’t found that spot I’d like to call home.  So the search shall continue.  I do know it won’t be Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Although amazingly beautiful, and I look forward to returning, my blood is too thin to tackle that weather.  More than once we awoke to temperatures in the 30 degree Fahrenheit range along with a fresh dusting of snow on the peaks and this was in mid July …. beautiful BUT brrrr!

I don't think I'd ever tire of this view, but I couldn't live here - too cold...brrrr!

I don’t think I’d ever tire of this view, but I couldn’t live here – too cold…brrrr!

The moment I realized this weeks photo challenge was mirror, I knew I had to share some images from our summer excursion ….. photographs depicting reflections.  I’m still struggling with my computer issues, thus my lack of blogosphere presence may continue, but now that we’ve decided to slow our travels down a tad and spend the next two months hanging in Prescott, Arizona, I’m hoping to finally upgrade this dinosaur of a laptop.

Yellowstone Bear World, Idaho

Yellowstone Bear World, Idaho

Once I bring home that new laptop, I’ll start writing about our interesting travel stops.  Not only do these photographs depict reflections, as I review them, I reflect on our memories, on our journey, on the adventure.

Grand Junction, Colorado

Grand Junction, Colorado

Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado

Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado

My biggest dilemma was narrowing down the photographs to just a few, which was not an easy task for me.  We managed to visit some stunningly beautiful places during the past few months.  We started in Arizona last April then ventured into Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and now, five months later, have returned to Arizona.

I was excited to see a Pelican fly by - Pelicans in Wyoming?

I was excited to see a Pelican fly by – Pelicans in Wyoming?

Lots of ducks

Lots of ducks

Mountains and Wildlife - love it!

Mountains and Wildlife – love it!

Yep, we had one heck of a rollercoaster ride this summer ….. wouldn’t change a moment….. not the highs, the lows, or the upside downs.  Stay tuned for all the stories!

Hoodoo You See?

When it comes to traveling, one of my greatest joys is immersing myself in a new place.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a city or some remote wilderness that I’m visiting for the first time, setting off on foot allows me to discover things up close.

I see the face of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Do you?

I see the face of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. What face do you see?

Whether I’m hiking, walking, strolling, meandering, or whatever pace I’m keeping at the moment, I love allowing my legs to transport me to exciting new visual delights .

hiking Red Canyon was a delight

hiking Red Canyon

Years ago, my son and I visited my parents in the Chicago suburbs and took the train into the city for a day of sightseeing.  We walked, and walked, and walked some more…. no cab rides for us.  According to my dad (who knows the city of Chicago like the back of his hand), Logan and I must have walked at least ten miles.  By doing so, he and Bryce Canyon National ParkI observed so many unique details in this bustling city – from architecture, to art, to the beautiful parks and shops, to the sounds and smells. It was a memorial day spent with my son along with discovering the city’s special character.

My week spent in Bryce Canyon Country was equally memorable and just like that day in Chicago, I knew I had to get out on foot to immerse myself in this mesmerizing landscape.

Each overlook is breathtaking!

Each overlook is breathtaking!

I started off my Bryce Canyon National Park visit by stopping at every single overlook and getting a feel for the lay of the land.

I see you!

This hoodoo sees you!

Seeing Mother Nature’s work of art from the rim of the canyon is breathtaking, but hiking in the depths of her creation left me awe-struck and speechless.  Around every corner was another perplexing sculpture.  So many of the rocks seem to have faces and personalities.   Then there are rocks that resemble people, things, or even a queen – Queen Victoria to be exact.Bryce Canyon

And now we know why the trail is called the Queen’s Garden Trail.  It took me a moment to grasp the resemblance, and of course, the aid of a sign was helpful.

Can you spot the Queen?

Can you spot the Queen?  Can you also see the hiking trail? Yep, I was down in there!

The Queen’s Garden trail is a fantastic hike that put me in the center of some of the most bizarre and interesting terrain that I’ve ever seen.  It’s obvious why it’s the parks most popular trail.  We saw hikers of all ages and ability on the trail, although I will say the 600 foot elevation climb back out of the canyon seemed to be a challenge for some, especially for those not accustomed to the 8,000 plus foot altitude.  Note the pointy hoodoo in the photos below.  The trailhead is high above that hoodoo.

We had to climb out of the valley above the pointy hoodoo

We had to climb out of the valley above the pointy hoodoo seen on the left.

Bryce Canyon

Al and I enjoyed this hike so much so that we actually hiked it twice.  On our first day, we started the hike at the Navajo Loop trailhead which will eventually meet up with the Queens Garden trail.  The term “loop” is a bit of a misnomer because the return part of the Navajo trail loop has been damaged and eroded to the point it had to be closed off for safety reasons. Thus, no hiking loop at the time of this writing.Bryce Canyon

This land never rests due to weather and erosion.   These statuesque limestone rock formations called hoodoos are caused by the extreme weather changes… from snow and ice melt, to soaring heat.  The constant contraction and expansion causes cracks, collapses, and further sculpting. You won’t find any rock climbers around here considering the rock is soft, unstable, and ever-changing.  Because of this instability, its vital hikers stay on the trails and wear proper footwear for traction.

Evidence of instability are easily seen. I wonder how deep that crack is?

Evidence of instability are easily seen. I wonder how deep that crack is?

Starting off at Sunset Point, we headed down the Navajo trail into the canyon floor via a series of switchbacks, and found ourselves hiking in a pine forest.  The crisp fresh air scented with pine made for a very pleasurable hike.

hiking with pines

hiking with pines

 

Hikers will find several tunnels along the trail

Hikers will find several tunnels along the trail

Once we veered onto the Queens Garden trail, we exited the pine forest and the terrain became more stark and barren, but those hoodoos were up close and personal.

The next day, Al and I hiked the trail in reverse; starting at the Queens Garden trailhead and exiting at the Navajo trailhead.  Is one way better than the other?  No!  Regardless of the starting and ending point, the scenery is out of this world and I can’t recommend this hike enough.  The first day it took us a little over two hours to complete the hike because someone kept stopping to take photos 😉  The second go around took us less than two hours to hike, even though an equal amount of photos were taken!

hikers can be seen on the Queens Garden Trail

hikers can be seen on the Queens Garden Trail

BUT, if you’d like to start out with a couple of super easy hikes that are still beautiful, but won’t have the elevation change……

hoodoo you see?

hoodoo you see?

On highway 12 just east of highway 89 is the Red Canyon Visitor Center.   There’s a series of short trails that interconnect allowing one to hike the short interpretative trail only or add a little more distance by continuing onto the Pink Ledges trail and/or the Birds Eye trail.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

The scenery here is beautiful and worth the stop.  Since we were camped just a few miles down the road, I found myself meandering around here a couple of times.  It’s amazing the new sights I saw each time I hiked the same trail.  The more I looked at the rocks, the more faces I saw.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

 

Red Canyon

Red Canyon

Continuing east on Highway 12 past the turn off to Bryce Canyon National Park are more hiking trails.  Year’s ago (I’m talking more than twenty plus), Al and I traveled Highway 12 through this part of Utah.  It’s a stretch of road I’ve longed to revisit, but alas the weather this day would not cooperate.

Mossy Cave and Waterfall trail

Mossy Cave and Waterfall trail

I stopped in at the great visitor center in the town of Cannonville and picked up some local information then returned to the truck in a steady stream of rain.  Feeling somewhat disappointed, I decided to head home.  My exploration of Highway 12 will need to wait for another visit.

Highway 12

Highway 12

Mossy Cave and Waterfall Trail

Mossy Cave and Waterfall Trail

However, on my way home, the weather cleared just long enough for me to take a quick one mile (out and back) hike.  Any disappointment I may have felt was quickly lifted after a brisk walk in this beautiful setting.  The Mossy Cave Waterfall Trail was definitely a worthwhile hike in between rain clouds.Bryce Canyon

So that about wraps up my fabulous week spent in Bryce Canyon Country.  Oh, we can’t forget the beautiful faces of wildlife……

Pronghorn aka antelope

Pronghorn aka antelope

Chipmunk

Bryce CanyonFYI… the trails around here can get slick, gooey, and dangerous.  Proper hiking shoes are a must.  The weather can fluctuate to extremes and change rapidly.  A 40 degree (Fahrenheit) change throughout the day is not unusual.  Dressing in layers is a good idea.  Bring plenty of water and expect high winds.  Being prepared, allowed us to have a fantastic and memorable visit.

Fairyland trail will need to wait for my next visit!

Fairyland trail will need to wait for my next visit – a more challenging trail that I can’t wait to tackle!

The many faces of Bryce Canyon

The many faces of Bryce Canyon

I’ll be back! 

A Season of Blooms

We arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, just in time to watch the desert come alive.  I don’t think there’s a better time to visit the Valley of the Sun, aka Phoenix, than in late winter, early spring when the desert is dressed in all her finery.Superstition Mountain

What I would refer to as spring around here, begins a little earlier in the desert southwest than in other parts of the country.  Having lived in places like northern Illinois and southern Colorado, I would never refer to February as spring, but around flowering desertthe Phoenix valley, signs of spring are visible everywhere by mid February.

Trails and roads are usually lined with clusters of yellow flowers, courtesy of the brittlebush.

Flowers equal spring in my book and thus the season for blooms…. blooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  While I hit the hiking trails, I allow my eyes to look and discover the finer details of the blooming desert…. the little things.  I’m rarely disappointed.

After taking in the vast landscape, I narrow my focus discovering the little details

After taking in the vast landscape, I narrow my focus and discover little hidden surprises

desert flowers

Prickly pearAmongst the sharp cactus thorns grow delicate flowers.  The variety of foliage is an interesting collaboration of opposites; small, fine, delicate plants grow in harmony with large, hearty, thorned cacti.

Not wanting to be outdone by the other plants, the cacti produce their own flowers providing a profusion of colorful blooms dotting the landscape.

As many times as I’ve witnessed the extraordinary beauty of the desert, her extremes continue to amaze me.cactus

It’s not just the flora that’s intriguing…. it’s also the birds and animals that survive in this harsh land of extremes that are fascinating to observe.  Watching the relationship between flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert during the blooming season is like watching a fine ballet …. beauty and drama are in abundance.

silhouette of an ocotillo cactus, but let's take a closer look at the bush lower right...

silhouette of an ocotillo cactus…. let’s take a closer look at the bush in the foreground…

I love the small delicate blooms

I love the small delicate blooms on this bush

The ocotillo cactus is one of my favorites. The leaves and flowers seem soft and delicate yet the thorns and sturdy bark make it one strong desert survivor. The ocotillo provides an excellent perch for birds and the orange flowers are very distinct.ocotilloocotillo

 

 

 

 

 

ocotillo

I truly enjoy this time of year in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.  I’ll be spending the next six weeks immersing myself in her gorgeous and abundant flora.  In closing, I leave you with a photo of a Fairy Duster.Fairy Duster

BTW… most of the photos in this post were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom – BlackSince it’s no longer in production, the price has been severely reduced.  So much so, I bought a back-up 🙂

Vibrant Pink Beauty

When traveling by RV, weather always plays an import role, and flexibility is the name of the game.  After all, the number one priority is arriving at our next destination safely.roseate spoonbill

We pulled out of Rockport, Texas, early Sunday morning and arrived at the Elks Lodge in San Antonio, Texas, three hours later.  The original plan was to spend only one night here, and continue our trek toward Phoenix, Arizona, but with high wind predictions in west Texas along Interstate 10, we’ve decided to sit tight for another night or two.  bird photography

We’ve been to San Antonio several times and really enjoy the city, but we probably won’t be venturing out and about too much which has given me the perfect opportunity to go through my hundreds (more like thousands) of photographs I took over the past month.Birding

I don’t think I’ll ever get bored running into the vibrant pink of the roseate spoonbill.  I don’t know what it is about these birds that is so intriguing.  Could it be those gorgeous pink feathers?  Or maybe it’s their entertaining personality.Birding

I’ve been lucky to have enjoyed some rather close encounters with these pink beauties and I swear they like being photographed.  Or at least, they don’t mind my presence.Bird photography

Hope you enjoy these photographs of this vibrant and vivacious bird as much as I do.Birding

Birding

Birding

Roseate Spoonbill

Birding2 247

Third Times a Charm

Today is our last day along the Texas Gulf Coast.  We’ll be working our way back to Phoenix Sunday morning, and although we did contemplate extending our stay, the pull of appointments, seeing our children, and the anticipation of the desert blooming can’t be ignored.  This was our third January camped near Rockport, Texas, and was our best visit yet.  Perhaps the saying third times a charm is true, because this visit certainly was a charmer.

a birders delight!

a birders delight!

Last year’s visit found us dealing with the Polar Vortex meaning lots of cold, wet weather.  I also contracted pink eye aka conjunctivitis which put a real damper on my photography.  This year with all the talk of El Nino along with the fall flooding in Texas, Al and I actually thought about canceling this trip to the coast, but since we already had the RV park reservation lined up, as well as friends waiting for us, we hit the road and arrived New Year’s Eve.  And boy, am I ever glad we decided not to cancel.

This kind of water is a kayakers dream

This kind of water is a kayakers dream

Al and his buddy had a fun month of taking the boat out into the St. Charles Bay every morning doing what guys do best; hunt, fish and BS.  I had a fantastic time playing with my camera(s) but when new neighbors pulled in next door my fun was taken to another level.  During a casual get to know the neighbor conversation, Mary Ann informed me she enjoys photography.  Well, she didn’t have to tell me twice.  Next thing she knew, I was getting her out of bed early, loading her in the truck, and sharing all my favorite (and not so favorite) photography spots with her.

The vibrant pink of the rosette spoonbill is easy to spot.

The vibrant pink of the rosette spoonbill is easy to spot.

Our first full-day outing was up to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  I skipped a trip here last year because of my eye illness, and therefore, I was looking forward to a visit this go around.  And just like my first visit, I was somewhat disappointed with the refuge.Aransas Wildlife Refuge

There were very few birds to be seen with the exception of the vultures, but we did spot a javelina in the far, far distance.  We even saw one cross the road, but quickly disappear into the brush.  Looking at the photo, I do wonder if this is a hog and not a javelina.  Regardless, I’m telling my friend, Mona Liza, I finally saw my Javelina 😆

Took my digital zoom to spot that javelina or is it a hog?

it took my digital zoom to spot that javelina or could that be a hog?

VultureThe showing of birds at the refuge was poor, and several trails / viewing overlooks were closed.  I don’t think I could honestly recommend going out-of-the-way to visit the Aransas NWR.  If you’re in the area and interested in a picnic outing, then by all means, but if you’re looking for a well maintained, wildlife rich place, this isn’t it.

Next…. I always enjoy a visit to Mustang Island and the town of Port Aransas.  I cruised the island twice by myself and once with Mary Ann.  Commutes via ferry never get old, and are a fond addition to a day of adventure.

This is the boardwalk at the birding center. The woman is carrying a newborn baby. Look in the water to her right. Mr. Alligator is eyeing her.

This is the boardwalk at the birding center. The woman is carrying a newborn baby. Look in the water to her right. Mr. Alligator is eyeing her. He was hungry that morning and on the move.

In the town of Port A (aka Port Aransas) a stop at the Leonabella Turnbull Birding Center and stroll at Charlie’s Pasture is always worthwhile.  Then there’s driving on the beach and sharing lunch with feathered friends.  Seagulls can always be counted on for a little entertainment.Seagulls

It wasn’t long before I discovered my partner in crime (Mary Ann) was adept at spotting those vibrant pink beauties; the roseate spoonbill.  I can never seem to take enough photos of these unique characters.roseate spoonbill

But then I do love the vibrant white of the egret ….. How about a little vibrant pink and white together with a touch of striking yellow?  Aren’t these two beautiful?birding

The highlight of my visit to the Texas Gulf Coast was the morning Al’s friend, Dennis, took me out for a boat ride for the specific purpose of photography.  I just can’t thank him enough for two hours of sheer perfection and joy.  We launched the tiny vessel twenty minutes before sunrise.  It was a cold 32 degree morning (one of the coldest all month) with no wind and clear skies.  He thought for sure I was going to cancel due to the cold.  Not a chance!  I couldn’t wait to get out on the water.St. Charles Bay

I wore my winter coat with one of Al’s camo coats over it along with earmuffs, camo hat, warm gloves, and sweatpants tucked into rubber rain boots.  Sorry folks, no photo of this fashionista.  I was super comfy and with no wind, it was a perfect morning.

Can you see the two whooping cranes?

Can you spot the two whooping cranes?

As we slowly cruised the waters, the sun rose.  We kept an eye on the shoreline in search of wildlife, and from time to time, we could hear the familiar call of cranes.

Once we spotted the cranes, the boat motor was turned off, and we floated toward shore.  I carefully stepped on the front of the boat steadying myself and raised my camera up over my head as high as my five foot four frame would allow.  This is one time I was grateful my Panasonic FZ200 had a flip out monitor.

The three front sandhills are getting ready to fly.... camera ready.

The front sandhills are getting ready to fly…. camera ready.

And they're off

And they’re off

I was thrilled to see not only the endangered whooping cranes, but a smorgasbord of coastal birds;  egrets, sandhill cranes, killdeer and those lovely pink roseate spoonbills.  I was tickled pink with delight and this was by far the highlight of my visit to the Texas Gulf Coast.coastal birds

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the highlight of Dennis’ morning.  While I was clicking away, he was drinking his thermos of hot coffee and enjoying the scenery around him and that’s when he spotted a dolphin.  In a whispering tone, he informed me of the dolphin.

Center right - dolphin feeding

Center right – dolphin feeding

When I turned around to look out over the water, there was a sudden flurry of activity as the dolphin was feeding.  Dennis had never seen this before and was as giddy as a school child…. or as giddy as me seeing the wonderful variety birds.

He and I both enjoyed our morning out on the water.  My boat ride ended with a photo of this trio.Birding

Yes, this was one fun month filled with a bunch of wonderful surprises.  Al and I are already looking forward to returning next January, and who knows, we may even extend our stay.  The desert or the coast?  I’m glad we can split our time between the two, because I don’t think I could pick.  Let the tug of war commence!

We're on the move!

We’re on the move!

amazon

The Same, but Different

Our first full week along the Texas Gulf Coast whizzed by.  Even though our weather was a mixed bag of cold, warm, sunny, gloomy, wet and dry, I have no complaints.  It’s been a great week exploring some familiar turf.Texas Gulf Coast

This is our third January hanging out in Rockport, Texas, just down the road from Goose Island State Park.  We’re staying in a private RV park surrounded by some familiar faces and some new faces.  Although the RV park is much the same, there’s a few subtle improvements which are always appreciated.  There’s also a few changes in the neighborhood, a couple of blocks away from the park.

This photo was taken last year. There was never a shortage of cranes to photograph

This photo was taken last year. There was never a shortage of cranes to photograph

The first thing I noticed were the lack of sandhill and whooping cranes hanging around the neighborhood.  Turns out, one of the homes in the area changed ownership, and the new owners decided not to keep up with a feeder.  The locals aren’t too happy anyway about all the tourists and photographers parking in the middle of the road to capture glimpses of the rare, endangered whooping crane.  Plus, Texas has received an abundance of rain resulting in a bumper crop of Blue Crab, the whoopers favorite.

A homeowner maintains a feeder filled with cracked corn

Last year a homeowner maintained a feeder filled with cracked corn

Sandhill and Whooping cranes appreciate the cracked corn during seasons of drought

Sandhill and Whooping cranes appreciate the cracked corn during times of drought

whooping cranes

Endangered Whooping Cranes taking flight

I’m not sure what it is about these coastal birds that has me intrigued, fascinated, and totally enthralled.  It’s captivating to watch these magnificent birds take flight or land.  They exude a sense of weightlessness and perhaps even power that is mesmerizing.  Yep, I’ve definitely developed a passion for cranes.

It's amazing to watch these large birds in flight

It’s amazing to watch these large birds in flight

Whooping cranes

I’m a little disappointed I won’t be able to photograph these gorgeous birds this visit as easily as I did last year.  I might make a special trip out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge or I’ll focus on photographing some of the other beautiful coastal birds.  There’s no shortage of birds along the Texas Gulf Coast and a little patience and perseverance usually pays off.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Who can pass up an opportunity to capture the pink beauty of a Roseate Spoonbill?

an Egret prepares to land

Snowy Egret prepares to land

I find Egrets to be particularly elegant.  I wonder how they manage to stay so white.  If only I knew their secret so I could have the same results with my socks 😉

Week one was off to a fabulous start, and thus I can’t wait to see what I’ll discover over the next three weeks.  Fingers crossed the weather will cooperate.  If you’d like more information on the endangered whooping crane, you can read my post here (I give some statistics) and here (my second trip) and here (my visit to the International Crane Foundation).

Exploring the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: Highlights Of A Birding Mecca (Exploring Series)