Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tribute to a Traveler: Robert Wechter 1928 - 2015

         Two weeks before being diagnosed with colon cancer, my father sat on the porch of our beach rental house and leafed through the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler.  Forever in search of another adventure Dad awaited the Traveler each month, devouring it from cover to cover.

         After Dad set the magazine aside I asked the question he had come to expect every summer:  "How about a list of places you and Mom would like to see in 2016?"  Although my parents still reminisced and recalled special moments from previous international journeys, lately they'd limited their travel destinations to North America.
         Dad thought for a moment.  "Well, let's see," he said,  "I've never been to Montana.  Then there's the Columbia River Gorge.  The Florida Keys would be nice.  Or, how about Nova Scotia?"  Now Mom chimed in:  "Oh yes, " she added, "I've always wanted to see Nova Scotia."

         At ages 86 and 85 Dad and Mom didn't get around as well as they used to.   And even though Dad hadn't been feeling quite himself lately, we had recently returned from a trip to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.  As for Canada, their passports were current; they were ready to go!

       That settled it.  "Come January," I said,  "I'll start the Nova Scotia trip-planning."

       Cancer, however, had other plans.  Cruel, heartless, unforgiving plans.
       Less than three months later, on a bright blue October day, Dad was gone.


       Dad was a fan of my blog and eagerly awaited each new post.  He and Mom had never bought a computer so I printed the blogs and mailed them copies.  Dad always commented on my posts but my readers never saw his reviews online; he commented the old-fashioned way—over the telephone.
       I will miss that.


       I suppose it's the ultimate tribute to say of someone that at the age of eighty-six he was "gone too soon".   But my Dad still had enthusiasm for life and for travel.  He had places to go and things to do!  Below are some photos from the past several years of travel with my parents.  Gone too soon.  Indeed.

July 2015.  Surrey-riding on the boardwalk at Ocean City, New Jersey.

 March, 2015.  A lifelong baseball fan, Dad was thrilled to watch
 grandson Mark play Division One College Baseball
for Winthrop University.  Here he poses with
me,  Mark and my sister, Diane, after a Winthrop win in South Carolina.

March 2015.  Enjoying the sight of thousands of blooming
azaleas at Wesley Memorial Gardens, St. Simon's Island, Georgia.

December 2013.  Not just fair-weather travelers!   My parents toughed out
a zero degree day in Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.

June 2014.   Dad always looked forward to sampling the
regional cuisine of the places he traveled to.  At Doc Martin's
Restaurant in Taos, New Mexico we savor an
authentic southwestern meal. 

June 2014.  Ready to roll.  Relaxing at the Old Santa Fe Inn before
traveling to the next New Mexico destination.

June 2014.  Ah, the good life.  Taking a break at the
Adobe and Pines Inn,  Taos, New Mexico.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

          We missed it—missed that moment when the moon crests the ridge and appears as a giant glowing beach ball ready to bounce its way down the hillside and into our picnic site.  By the time we reach the overlook with our cameras the blue moon has cleared the peaks, receded from our grasp, shrunk into the vast night sky.

 A few minutes before snapping this photo the moon was perched
atop the mountain,  twice as large and seemingly within reach.

          The Blue Moon—the second full moon occurring in the same calendar month—is rarely blue but always compelling.  And worth the 20 mile trip to Price Canyon Recreation Area to witness this spectacle which won't recur until January 31, 2018.

The sky darkens, and features of the moon sharpen.

July 31, 2015

          Read a lyrical account of last Friday's blue moon by Soumyendu on his wonderful blog, Ramblings:

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Year with "Dino", the Vernal, Utah Dinosaur

         What fun to have a dinosaur to dress for different seasons and holidays!

         Tim and I drive through the town of Vernal every month, and each month we look forward to viewing "Dino" in his seasonal attire and adornments.

          Last week I introduced readers to "Dino", the unofficial mascot of Vernal.  In this post I present a photo essay of "Dino" as he is displayed throughout the year.  Enjoy!

Dino plays cupid for love-struck passers-by.

Dino honors the legendary Dr. Suess's birthday
on March 2nd, with this tribute to his books.

Happy Easter!

Dino holds a sign with a photo of himself as a hatchling,
and a touching shout-out to Mom which reads:
"Mommy You're The Best!".

Here's to the class of 2015!

Happy Birthday, America!

The fishing is good at nearby Jones Hole Creek,
part of Dinosaur National Monument.

The top photo shows Dino enjoying a cookout,
along with the garden's late-summer bounty of watermelon
and pumpkin.
In the bottom photo Dino is all aglow for nighttime.

A large and furry spider spins its web around Dino,
and he doesn't even seem to care!

Dino is ready to take the turkey out of the oven.

Merry Christmas from Santa Dino!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy 239th Birthday, USA!

             Tomorrow, July 4, 2015, Americans everywhere will be celebrating Independence Day with picnics, parades and pyrotechnics.  Have a Happy Holiday!

Main Street USA.
Vernal, Utah is the gateway city to Dinosaur National Monument.
One of Vernal's unofficial mascots,  "Dino" the dinosaur, is dressed for holiday fun.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sand Wash Herd Management Area in Moffat County, Colorado

          "Did you see Picasso?"  The question comes from a portly middle-aged man sporting a long-lens camera around his neck.  Unsure exactly what he's asking Tim and I answer with a short "Uh, no," and move on.

           Reflecting on his question later I realized that today we have seen irregular patterns of black and brown, a not-quite-pink combination of cream and beige, black mixed with roan to create a speckled blue.  I refer though, not to paintings by famous artists, but to wild horses.

           Native wild horses disappeared from North America thousands of years ago.  The horses we're viewing today are descendants of horses which escaped during the Spanish conquest of our continent in the 1500s.  The controversy surrounding wild horses is this:  Are they truly wild, or are they an invasive species?  Biologists tell us that domesticated horses revert quickly to their ancient behavioral patterns if lost or abandoned.  Considering that these horses have been roaming free on the land for 500 years, I would say they're more native than I am.

Several of the horses we saw while driving
the "Wild Horse Loop" displayed a healthy
interest in us.  This horse watched us for
several minutes before slowly turning away.

This small group of wild horses grazes the sage-covered high plains of
northwestern Colorado.

We were fortunate to encounter this little filly and her mother
by the side of the road.

           Human settlements in the west—and endless miles of fencing—are now the biggest obstacles to free-ranging wild horses.  Even in sparsely populated Moffat County, Colorado the wild herd is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to keep their numbers from overwhelming the designated habitat.  But, fortunately for these horses, the 156,500 acres of the herd management area in Sand Wash Basin sustains a healthy population.  And that population is filled with animals sporting every possible color combination.

          Now we get it.  The gentleman with the camera was asking about a horse named "Picasso",  most likely one exhibiting Picasso-esque colors.   So did we see him?  A Google search reveals multiple photos of the famed wild stallion and our question is answered.

Picasso (the painter) used shades of brown and black
in his "cubist" paintings.  You can see how this wild stallion
got his name.
Photo by John Wagner, from the website:

          No, we didn't see "Picasso" this day in the basin.  But it was an excellent day on the range, in the company of wild horses.

This mare trotted by the truck, her snorts and
whinnies singing to the sky as she passed by.

Lookout Mountain (straight ahead in center of photo)
defines the northern boundary of the Sand Wash Herd
Management Area.

"Mom" and her baby share a tender moment on the ridge.

            Plan your wild horse-viewing get-away in the wild country of northwestern Colorado by visiting this website:http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/lsfo/programs/wild_horse.html
Note:  This is a remote and rugged region with the nearest services (limited) 25-30 miles away.  Be prepared when traveling in this area.

Our truck is a mere blip on the landscape.
We saw one other person (mentioned above) during
our three hours in Sand Wash Basin.

The dark green line delineates the Wild Horse Management Area.
The dark red lines are the County roads of the Wild Horse Loop.
We saw groupings of horses along each of the loops.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal Geogia

           For those of you who think of the east coast of the United States as filled with golf courses and condos, as over-developed and over-crowded, well, think again.  Behold a different type of crowd while traveling the Georgia coastline—thousands of shore birds, countless marine organisms, numerous alligators, otters, deer and bobcats.  

          Georgia’s natural shoreline is home to productive fresh and saltwater marshes, barrier islands and wildlife refuges.   I recently visited Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, less than an hour's drive south of Savannah but centuries removed from the city’s traffic and tourists.

          A cool, gray, drizzly day silenced much of the bird life and kept us from more extensive exploration of this refuge.  The following photos taken at Woody Pond, the first stop along the four-mile wildlife drive, offer a sampling of this gem of a refuge's treasures.

I visited this refuge in March with my sister and my parents—aged in their
mid 80s.  I was about to walk this grassy path along Woody Pond when
I noticed these "logs" on the grass.  I took a few steps toward them and realized that
the logs were a family of alligators!  My parents had never seen alligators
in the wild and, to their credit, they didn't bolt for our vehicle but hung around
to watch this relaxing group of gators (about 25 yards away) through our binoculars.

Seconds after reading this sign an alligator hiding in the grass below plopped
into the water.  We heard the loud splash and saw the tail of
a large gator slip into the murky water.  This one was close!

This Great Blue Heron caught a nice catfish for lunch.
We watched the heron struggle to orient the fish for swallowing.
(You can see the mouth and eye facing the heron's beak.)
The heron tossed its head up and back, opened wide, and finished off
this fish with one big gulp.

After a salty fish dinner, it's time for a long drink.
We watched the heron as it flew back to the pond
and took several sips.
Two small gators (on the rock in front) also watch the
big bird quench its thirst.

         Visit coastal Georgia and view the east coast as it may have appeared when the first settlers arrived on its shores.  Learn more by visiting this website:  http://www.fws.gov/refuge/harris_neck/

Monday, March 16, 2015

Havasu Falls, Nature's Mutable Masterpiece

           Water.  It shapes our world, sustains our lives and is capable of inspiring both wonder and terror.  In my last post I described the delightful experience of discovering Upper Calf Creek Falls in the Utah desert.  
           Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls is delightful, yes, but it also elicits these emotions:   Disbelief, awe, reverence.  After a ten mile hike in blistering June heat I rounded the corner on a rocky downhill path and, with a deafening roar, Havasu Falls burst into view.
            I looked down to my aching feet; real.  Glanced to the left and right at my hiking companions; real.  I had to conclude that the plunging double columns of whitewater before me also were real.  I stood—wide eyed—afraid to even blink should this sensational vision of paradise disappear like a desert mirage.   How silly.  This canyon and these falls have been here since time began; something so lovely and enduring couldn’t change in an instant.  Could it?

My first view of Havasu Falls. Breathtaking.
Havasu Falls view from the beach near the campground entrance.
My site in the campground along Havasu Creek.

            Yes it can.  And it did, when a flash flood raged through the canyon several years after my visit, altering the course of the creek and the falls.  Instead of adoration and amazement hikers and campers in Havasu Canyon during the event expressed alarm, fear and dread. 
            Thankfully no one perished in the 2008 flood but, for those of us who spend time in the natural world, this event reminds us of things beyond our control—of the wonder and terror of water.

New Havasu Falls.  The flood collapsed a rock ledge
at the top of the falls, channeling the water
into a single column.
(Photo from Wikipedia.)

Old Navajo Falls.  On our hike to the hilltop, the group stopped
to cool off at Navajo Falls—a short side trip from the main trail.
(That's me, enjoying the blissfully frigid water.)

New Navajo "Falls".  As you can see, they no longer exist.
The flood rearranged this part of the canyon,
diverting water from Navajo Falls and creating two new
falls downstream.
(Wikipedia photo.)

            I’ve traveled to many places in this country and others.  And I’ve seen my share of “picturesque and scenic” vistas.  Havasu Canyon and Falls is in a class by itself—literally breathtakingly beautiful.  
            I highly recommend a visit to Havasu Falls but, be prepared.  This is not a walk in the park but a grueling 10 mile hike through the desert, especially during the summer months.  The area is heavily visited but access and visitation are controlled by the Havasupai Indian Tribe.  The Havasupai—people of the blue-green water—have lived here for 800 years so please be respectful of the people and their customs.  Find out more by visiting this website:  http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/grand_canyon/havasu_canyon.html

A permit is required for camping along Havasu Creek.  The campground
was destroyed in the 2008 flood but has been rebuilt.
With prior arrangement, mules—shown above—will carry most of your gear the 10
miles to the campground.

Ready for the hike out of the canyon.  One thing I learned on this
long desert hike?  This is not the time to break in new boots!

Starting the hike back to the hilltop in the early
evening.  You can see the reflective patch
on my backpack (lower right).
We hiked out in the evening shade to avoid the
116 degree heat of the day.

Mooney Falls, downstream from Havasu Falls
and the campground.  These falls appear much
as they did before the flood. However, the travertine
pools at the base of the falls are gone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Upper Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

         Waterfalls posses the power to captivate and mesmerize.  Whether a small cascade or the legendary Niagara Falls, falling water stimulates our senses and refreshes our spirits. Think about the last time you visited a waterfall.  Weren't you transfixed by the rhythm of sight and sound as the water danced over rocks and plunged into the pool below?

         Now imagine the delightful surprise of finding a waterfall in the desert.  Calf Creek Recreation Area, part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah, boasts two of these watery wonders.  Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls were formed as tiny Calf Creek cut through Navajo Sandstone on its way from the Boulder Mountains to the Escalante River.   While both falls offer a great reward for your effort, the lower falls see swarms of people all lured by easy access from the nearby campground along a well-worn trail.  The upper falls, by contrast, is not as easily accessed and thus not as heavily visited.

Looking across this terrain you'd never guess what lays
below.  Following this trail to find Upper Calf Creek Falls
is like following a treasure map to find hidden jewels.

Found it!  One of the desert's hidden jewels—
Upper Calf Creek Falls.

Indian Paintbrush provides a splash of color
in the sun-bleached landscape.

Several pools above the falls offer places to take a swim,
or soak your tired feet.

           It's been several years since we hiked the trail to Upper Calf Creek Falls.  As travel to southern Utah has increased exponentially in recent years, I can't guarantee that these falls are as lightly explored.  However, hidden wonders that are difficult to access are still less likely to host visitors.  For adventure, splendor, and solitude, visit this hidden desert treasure if you're traveling through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  For more information, click on this link:  http://www.utah.com/hike/calf-creek-falls,-upper-trail