Thursday, February 21, 2013

North Captiva Island, Florida

         It's not often I applaud the destructive force of a hurricane, but the 1921 storm which bisected Captiva Island deserves a tip of the hat for creating an island of calm in the sea of frenzied development along Florida's gulf coast.

If this is your idea of a relaxed beach vacation, then North Captiva
is the island for you.

         North, (or Upper), Captiva is accessible only by air or boat.  The island is a throw-back to the days before cars and highways.  Electric golf carts with attached wagons transport you and your gear to a rental house.  You may rent a golf cart to drive the sandy paths, and perhaps to visit one of the few restaurants or shops on North Captiva.   The pounding surf and the cries of ospreys and sea birds are the only sounds you'll hear on this tranquil isle.

White Ibises search for a tasty morsel in the sand.

A Snowy Egret takes off across the marsh.

White Pelicans congregate by an inlet.

        Search for shells, photograph birds, stroll the beach, or relax on your lanai.  February or March is the right time for a Florida get-away, and a week on North Captiva Island is the ideal tonic for those wintertime blues.

Colorful conch shells are found
in the frothy surf.

North Captiva beaches are littered with shells like these.
Shells keep the island's sand in place and provide food
for birds and fish.

A sampling of our shell collection.  Intact Sand Dollars are easy to find
on North Captiva's beaches.

         North Captiva memories will sustain you for a lifetime.  Plan your North Captiva idyll by visiting this website:
         Fort Myers is easy to fly into and is the nearest Florida city to North Captiva.  Don't forget to bring your shorebird and seashell identification guides or apps.

Ahhh,  Florida.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Valentine's Day Hike around Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

          Grizzly bears—as well as hordes of people—have been reported to frequent the area around Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park.  But that's during the summer months.  Visit Trout Lake for a snowshoe hike on Valentine's Day, as Tim and I did several years ago, and you won't be sharing the lake with either bears or humans.

These bison are lounging and foraging along the road on the way to Trout Lake.
No Grizzly Bears to be found in February.

          The trail ascends a steep hill into a forest of Douglas Fir trees, then breaks into the open where the lake and surrounding mountains come into view.  The short one-mile "lollipop" hike loops around the lake, crosses two bridges and rejoins itself in the woods for the return to the trailhead.  We completed the trail in a little over an hour and had the trees, the lake and the view all to ourselves.

Under one of the large Douglas Fir trees
along the trail.

Rita and Tim pose in the meadow where the trail leaves
the big woods.

Trout Lake is in the depression to the right.  The trail
continues around the lake and back into the forest.

         A Valentine's Day dinner at Pedalino's Restaurant in Gardiner, Montana is a fitting way to end the perfect winter day.  Pedalino's is open only one day during the winter season—February 14th.  Enjoy their superb Alaskan salmon entree while reflecting on your day of solitude in Yellowstone National Park.

        Trout Lake Trail is accessed from the park's north entrance in Gardiner, Montana.  For a description of the Trout Lake Hike, and other hiking destinations in Yellowstone's northern section visit this website:

       Click here to read about another of our winter adventures in Yellowstone National Park.

Time for some post-hike fun.  Tim creates the "Yellowstone
Snowshoe Snow Angel".  (Getting back on his feet was another matter...)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Mexico's Big Sky Country

Having spent a week in New Mexico I would like to challenge Montana’s claim to the nickname "Big Sky Country".   After all, New Mexico is the state where rockets were launched and the atomic bomb detonated, where missiles are tested at White Sands Missile Range, where the sun is photographed every minute of every day from the National Solar Observatory, where the Very Large Array of satellite dishes keeps an ear to the sky, where an alien spaceship is said to have landed nearly 66 years ago. Yes, there’s a lot of sky and outer space to be studied, launched into, and even visited from in our nation’s 5th largest state.


  The New Mexico Museum of Space History is my first space-related stop.  The four story museum’s mission is to educate visitors about the historic and scientific aspects of space and the U.S. space program.  Outside the museum a collection of rockets, boosters and missiles point toward the New Mexico sky—all are actual pieces and not replicas.  A Mercury space capsule at the museum’s entrance entices visitors to sit inside its cramped confines and imagine themselves as one of the first six U.S. astronauts to journey into space.

Outdoor rocket display at The New Mexico
Museum of Space History.

A Mercury Space Capsule—not much bigger than the astronaut
who rode in it.


          If you had the chance to visit a town called Sunspot, would you go?  I think you would.   A mountainous 16 mile drive from the town of Cloudcroft in south-central New Mexico leads to Sunspot and The National Solar Observatory.  Here is a place dedicated to studying the sun.  During the summer researchers from all over the world make Sunspot their home.  
The self-guided tour takes visitors through a spruce-pine forest to the buildings which house the sun-spying telescopes.  One of them—the Tower Telescope—is 390 feet long, two-thirds of which is buried underground.  Kind of like an iceberg.  The long scope uses mirrors and lenses to take pictures of the sun every minute of every day.  This is the place to be if you want to be in the know on the latest solar happenings.
The observatory's museum was full of fun facts about the sun, such as this one:  If you harnessed the power of the sun in one lightbulb the bulb would contain 235 million, billion, billion watts–or some incredible number like that.

Keeping an eye on the sky:
The Tower Telescope.


    In Roswell the big draw is the International UFO Museum and Research CenterThe museum documents the July 1947 crash of a UFO near Roswell and the finding of little green men (people) from the ship. The museum details reports of the crash sighting, U.S. Air Force findings and their subsequent “cover-up”.  It’s all here.  A research library in the museum provides further reading on the topic.  The museum is entertaining, if nothing else.
            Is there life on other planets?  Maybe so.  But I’m doubtful that the first contact with extraterrestrial life occurred here.  How about you?

What do you think?  Did this really happen?

This exhibit shows the likenesses of the aliens
discovered after the crash.

The UFO Museum contains a bit of humor too.

Also in Roswell is the Roswell Art Center and Museum.  The Museum showcases New Mexico artists and tells the story of Robert Goddard—Roswell’s most famous resident and the father of modern rocketry.  A Robert Goddard planetarium features daily showings of all-things-rocket.  This is a worthwhile stop on anyone’s trip through Roswell. 


         How about it readers?  Are you convinced that New Mexico is indeed “Big Sky Country"?  Perhaps Montana should cede its nickname to New Mexico’s enchanted skies.