Friday, August 28, 2015

Coming in to Breckenridge . . .The Memories

We left the Salt Lake City area today on the last part of our adventure. As we drove through the desert sage areas and mountains around Steamboat Springs, my mind kept thinking about all the things we could do in the one day we have in Breckenridge.  I was thinking about things we have done on other trips.

Rent a bike and take the trails down to Frisco and ride the bus back.

Go over Boreas Pass.

Go to Mount Evans and photograph the mountain goats and mountain sheep.

Ride the train in Georgetown (we have never done that.)

Take one of the lifts to the top of the mountain and walk the trails back to town.

Visit the Breckenridge Recreation Center.

In addition I had been thinking about the things we could do in Colorado "on the way home."

Swing by Rocky Mountain National Park going over Trail Ridge.

Swing by Silverton.

Go to the Malt Shop in Pagosa Springs.

Visit Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs being there at sunrise or sunset.

I walked through a wonderful garden of memories as I thought about things we "could" do, but also realizing that we are due to arrive home on Sunday back in Hutto.  These memories of all these delightful things were done on trips where we were here a week or more.  But remembering things we've done in this area in the past made me grateful for all we have been able to do over the years.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The 2015 Adventure Begins: #North Dakota

From Saturday, August 8

After all the last minute tasks were completed . . . house sitter arranged, Gambler care arranged, to do lists mostly done, I got off on Friday to join Henry in Minneapolis to head west.  Our first target was to explore parts of North Dakota. We made it to Fargo last night. This morning we headed to explore some of their official "scenic byways." Here is a link to their official information Scenic Byways and Backways Information Guide. The first one we chose was the Rendevous Region Scenic Backway.





First stop was Icelandic State Park. The Pioneer Heritage Center has a lovely visitor center and several restored buildings from the homesteading era.










This church was beautiful. I wish it had been open to see the inside.








I've been paying more attention to native grasses the last couple of years. I loved this exhibit in the Pioneer Heritage Center showing how deep the roots are in prairie grasses.


One of my goals for this trip has been to get more exercise and lose more weight. There were several hiking trails. I took the one through the forest.  I saw a strange woodpecker. I wish that I had gotten a photo because I thought it was an American Three-toed woodpecker.  I use BirdLog to enter my bird lists to keep records of what I see and my life list.  Whenever you get a "square" next to your bird, you know you may be in trouble with your identification.  The kindly ebird reviewer told me there were NO records for that species in North Dakota.  I still think the bird I saw matches the description, but I will be content with hoping to see that species another place.
The next part of the Rendevous Region Scenic byway was a little more challenging.  It started off on a dirt road that said "Dead End."  After looping the highway a couple of times we took the road and it WAS the correct turn. The route us through the countryside through wooded areas and sunflower fields. 








The road also led us past several areas that were filled with antique cars. I wonder what the story is behind the cars. Do they let photographers visit?





For future travelers, I would suggest getting a good route written down before trying this section of the back way. It was beautiful, but it was easy to miss the signs for the turns. This North Dakota Map will show the names of the roads when you zoom in. Cellphone signal comes in and out, so I would recommend writing down the road names while you have strong cell signal. The dirt roads were easily passable even with my low ground clearance car. Here is more information about other things to see and do on the Rendevous Region Scenic Byway.  





The section between Walhalla and Vang was beautiful. The Tetrault Woods State Forest overlook was well worth the stop.












This overlook over the Pembina Gorge had lovely metal sculpture decorations and a lovely place to sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. 











Henry propped his iPhone on one of the rails to get a shot of the two of us using an app on his iPhone.

Friday, August 21, 2015

#Sasquan Day 2

We've been traveling and on the go for almost 2 weeks now. I checked the morning schedule and allowed myself to catch some more zzzz's before heading over to the con.

The next 5 hours were back to back interesting panels.  I started with Stories of the Spokane Tribe told by James "Jimbo" Seyler.  Stories of from the Spokane tribe about how the land forms in the area were formed, stories of "coyote."  An interesting look at one tribe's stories.

Going in an entirely different direction I went to "What is New in Astronomy?" Dr. David Clements from the physics department of the Imperical College in London was the moderator.  Other panelists were interesting and well informed as well.  I learned about the latest research on asteroids - how most are not solid rock but rather rubble held together with ice. When two of these bump into each other, they often merge in strange shapes.  It was interesting that there has been a probe studying Comet P-67. For more info look at the pictures from the probe.  Another topic was dark energy and dark matter.  Fascinating stuff.

Next panel was Medieval Science and Technology with a different set of interesting, knowledgeable panelists.  Guy Consolmagno is a Jesuit brother who is living in Italy as an astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory.  Jo Walton is an amazing writer who uses medieval themes in her writing.  Bradford Lyau is a trained historian and science fiction writer. Lots of interesting concepts were bounced around.  Sometimes we look at a story or movie and think the technology is wrong for the time period when actually it is correct.  Mentioning the poverty and poor living conditions during the Middle Ages, it was noted that many of these people were living amid the ruins of Rome's technology knowing they could not recreate it. How frustrating and defeating that would be.  It made me think of all the technology we rely on in our day to day lives.  What would happen if all of that disappeared for some reason?  Another interesting piece of information was that many of the beautiful cathedrals in Florence were built in a time of desperation.  The churches and the women who became nuns were acts of faith for God to deliver them from the perils around them at the time.

Next came a reading from author Connie Willis.  I've read some of her books and I've heard her at other science fiction conventions.  An enjoyable time listening to her read an excerpt from her book that will come out next year.

Another change of pace came next with the panel, The Art and Science of Spaceships.  Shape, art, artificial gravity, and possible sizes were part of the discussion. But also intriguing thoughts about what it would be like to put together a mission to another star that might involve people living on the spaceship for 1000 years. Would they want to leave when they reached the new planet?  How would their culture change?

After this panel I went outside by the river, partly to have a snack, but partly because being outside is peaceful and feeds part of my soul.  I needed a break after 5 hours of sitting in rooms with no windows.



One of the things I like about going to Science Fiction Conventions are the ways my mind is challenged while I am there.  Today's panels were very different from one another and I learned things and felt like my mind was being expanded and challenged with new information.

Later, I joined Henry and we went to eat at Anthony's Home Port, which overlooks the beautiful waterfalls in Spokane.  A good day!



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Getting started at #Sasquan World Science Fiction Convention

Worldcons are big events with many things going on at the same time. I have found it best to plan out what I am most interested in and sometimes plan efficiency in which meeting rooms minimize walking.  The first thing I do is get the convention guide and start marking it up, highlighting topics and speakers I am interested in hearing. Frequently, there are multiple things at the same time.  Marking them with a highlighter makes it easier to find the things I most want to do quickly.


My first day I went to panels on Comfort Reading, Hard SF Movies: Rare but not extinct, and the Opening Ceremonies.  Opening Ceremonies got a late start and ended late so I missed the other panel I wanted to see:  Accounts from the history of the Spokane Tribe. 

It is good seeing so many ages here from small babies, elementary aged kids, college aged, right up to people in their 70's and 80's.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Yellowstone's wolves



We have chosen for our last two visits to stay at the northeast corner of the park at Silver Gate, Montana.  The Grizzly Lodge is less than a mile from the entrance to the park and about a 30 minute drive to the wolf viewing area between the Yellowstone Institute and Pebble Creek Campground.  This area usually has an active wolf pack where wolves can be seen.  To see the wolves, one must be at this location near sunrise.  In other years there were wolf watchers there at sunset, we did not see that this year. We got up 3 of our 4 mornings to attempt to see the wolves and were successful twice. The middle morning, the pups were seen by folks near us, but the one dropped out of sight before I saw it.

However, where you look for the wolves changes every time we visit.  The best way to see the wolves is to look for the group of people all standing together with scopes.  This year the group was down in the valley looking up onto the northern grassy sage covered slopes.  While my walking is better, I still have mobility issues and decided not to go down there. I set up my chair and scope on the side of the parking area where they were looking and waited.

Shortly, they turned their scopes a different direction. I rushed down to the other end of the parking lot and sure enough, there were the wolves, five of them.  Using my Canon Powershot SX50 with its 1200 mm zoom I was able to capture these images.  Most wolf sightings are distant, with the wolves appearing as small moving specks on the hillside.

Here is my first view of the wolf ascending the slope. The black wolves are easier to spot than the gray ones.


This shot captures two more . . .


I like the running shot.


Here it is cropped closer:




It is hard to explain the marvel that catching a glimpse of wolves in the wild invokes. For me part of the joy is that even when you get up to be there at sunrise, you may or may not get to see them. So when you do, it feels like such a blessing.  In other visits I got to witness the morning reunion of the pack - such a joyful, playful event. I could hear the howls and yips.  

Even when the wolves don't show, the upper Lamar Valley is a tranquil and beautiful place to spend the first hours of the day.  It is a great way to start the day!






Monday, August 10, 2015

Sully's Hill National Game Preserve

Monday, August 10

After spending the night at Devil's Lake, we chose a route to visit National Wildlife Refuges as we explored North Dakota.  

We arrived at Sully's Hill National Game Preserve  early in the morning, while it was still cool. Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, prairie dogs always delight me with their activities. 



Sully's Hill's bison are being managed to conserve their genetic diversity.


There was a beautiful wooded nature trail that seemed filled with singing birds. There were a number of yellow warblers. The trail led to a vista over the lake where there were white pelicans in the distance. I saw 12 species of birds within the preserve.


Some birds I photograph to be able to identify later. I was most pleased to identify this one finally as an American Redstart, a life bird for me. The Merlin bird App was very helpful in this identification process.


A thirteen lined ground squirrel was also out and about. He ran right past me at one point.


Sully's Hill was created as a National Park under Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.  During the Great Depression it was transferred to Fish and Wildlife Service.  Interestingly it is one of seven National parks to be be disbanded. Some were turned into National Monuments or merged with other national parks. One, Mackinak National Park, became a state park.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Desert Rainbows

Rainbows always fascinate me.  They are beautiful, ephemeral, and not something I see every day.  When I am lucky enough to see a rainbow,  I try to take time to enjoy it and appreciate it.  As a Christian, a rainbow always reminds me of God's promise to Noah that He would never destroy the earth by flood again. 

The science of rainbows are that it takes rain and sun to create a rainbow.  In the desert, rain events are few and far between, so a rainbow is even more special in the desert.  

In my last trip, I was at Big Bend during several rain events.  During the first one, the rain was in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was still high in the sky.  The location of a rainbow is related to the sun angle.  I was at the bottom of the valley when I saw the rain and sunshine.  I knew that I had to get up higher in order to see the rainbow.  I was with a photographer friend. When we got to the top and started looking for the rainbow, she saw it first. But it was against the hillside not high in the sky due to the sun angle - much as I had expected. I knew we would be looking down on the rainbow because of how high in the sky the sun was. I rushed to photograph it and thought that I had missed it.  

When I began working the photos from the trip, I realized that I had actually captured a double rainbow.  One is barely visible against the hillside and the other in the sky. 


As we drove back to where the bluebonnets were,  I saw another rainbow barely peaking over the canyon wall.


On a different day, the sun and rain again appeared together. This time the sun was lower in the sky and I knew we needed to get down lower to see it.  Sure enough, a rainbow next to Casa Grande.


As a photographer, I get a sense of urgency when I know a rainbow is possible. I can hardly wait to get the chance to photograph it, so when I see one is possible and I'm in the wrong place, you can imagine me bouncing in my seat in anticipation and hope that I will get there in time to capture it. 

Rainbow photography tips:

1.  Learn the sun angle - so you know whether or not you need a taller vantage point or a lower vantage point to see the rainbow.

2. Use a circular polarizer filter.  It will brighten the rainbow or make it totally disappear depending upon how it is turned.

3.  Bracket your exposure so you have a better chance to get the most vibrant colors. 

4.  When possible, try to find a location near you with an optimal composition.

5.  Take time to enjoy the rainbow in the short time it is visible.