Sunday, July 12, 2015

Be careful what you wish for!

Note: We wanted to share as many pictures as possible, so instead of a small thumbnail here and there, I am including a link to a video compilation of some of our shots that Pete put together at the end of the story .

The 4th of July weekend 2015 found us in northern Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, where we were exploring Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "de-shay").  For those unfamiliar with this amazing canyon, it has been continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years, first by the ancient Anasazi, then the Hopi, and now the Navajo.  It is the Anasazi who built the many cliff dwellings dotting the landscape in Canyon de Chelly. (The park service recorded over 2,500 archeological sites in this canyon!)

The 6-hour drive up to the canyon wound through some amazing back country. The Salt River Canyon (almost like a mini-Grand Canyon), Snowflake, AZ (known for the UFO abduction made famous by DB Sweeney in "Fire in the Sky"), Holbrook, AZ on Route 66 (where the Wigwam Motel was the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in "Cars"), just to a name a few.

We discussed how we would like to photograph the canyon, wondered if morning or afternoon sun would be better, and hoped for some monsoon storms to provide a dramatic backdrop to our photography. We finally arrived at the canyon mid-afternoon and did a quick drive-through on the south rim road to get a feeling of how the canyon is set up and to make a plan for the following day.

The 4th of July dawned with clear blue skies and temps in the mid 70's.  You cannot go into the canyon without a Navajo guide, so we headed out on the north rim road and stopped at the various overlooks. It was a most beautiful day for photography as you can see in the video below. We really needed a good set of binoculars to look for the well-hidden cliff houses, but after a while we got the hang of it and were able to spot many of them quickly through the camera lens. The Massacre Cave Overlook is a sad reminder of the murder of 115 Navajo, mostly women and children, cornered and murdered in the cave by the Spanish military in 1805.  The Mummy Cave Overlook has a view of the largest ancient village. Situated 300 feet above the canyon floor, this village has close to 70 rooms.

The afternoon took us to the south rim drive and many more overlooks. At one of the overlooks, we met a Native American flutist named D'Von Charley and had a chance to chat with him for a while. His music is amazing and provides the background for the second half of the video. He told us he records his music in the canyon and all of the natural sounds you hear are from the canyon and not artificially produced. If you'd like to hear more of his music, it is available on YouTube.

A few more overlooks to explore, including Spider Rock and the White House Ruins, where you can hike the only trail into the canyon without a guide.   It was 5:00 p.m. and storm clouds were building all afternoon.  Mother Nature had answered our monsoon prayers and we got some amazing shots. We discussed whether or not we should hike into the canyon and a check of the weather radar on our phones showed the storms were about 40 miles to the east and 25 miles to the west, heading away from us with nothing building in our area or headed in our direction.  We assessed the trail and saw it was 2 1/2 mile round trip, with about half of it teetering and winding along the cliff face.  My immense fear of heights went to battle with my desire to see the ruins up close, and the ruins eventually won. Off we go, one step at a time, trying not to look over the edge. We finally reached the ruins about 6:15.

The White House ruins were stunning. How did they climb up there? How did they build it up there? How many lived in it?  So many questions!  Shooting shot after shot trying to get the perfect exposure, when it happened.  A single drop of rain on my lens. A stray, to be sure!  Then his relatives started showing up and their relatives, soon followed by a deluge complete with thunder and lightning.  We took cover in the restrooms, hoping it was a passing storm.  15 minutes later there was no sign of it letting up.  A peek outside confirmed the sinking was going to hang out for a while.  This was not what I had in mind when I hoped for a monsoon storm!  Since it would be dark in 2 hours and it took an hour and a half to hike down, we made the decision that we had to get out of there.  First, the last place you want to be in a monsoon storm is at the bottom of a canyon and second, we didn't want to be trapped there after dark.

We stuffed our cameras under our shirts, said several prayers, took a deep breath and stepped out into the torrential rain. We saw a tour vehicle coming down the wash and tried to flag him down to see if he would give us a ride. They just smiled, wove back and kept on going. Nice. Our hopes dashed, we turned back to the trail. The first half mile or so was in the dirt up an incline. It was already saturated from the rain, making our footing very muddy and slippery and tremendously slowing our progress. We finally made it to the small tunnel at the bottom of the cliff face only to see a roaring river running beside it where it was bone dry just an hour before. Thinking this was not a good sign, we exited the cave anyway to have a look around. We looked up at the 700 ft. elevation gain trail to see many waterfalls streaming off the top of the cliff, landing on the trail. Where there were no waterfalls, the trail had turned into a river. The prospect of getting out alive seemed to be getting slimmer. I was sure one of those waterfalls was going to sweep us right off the trail and into the canyon below, or maybe if we were meant to die here, it would be by one of the lightning strikes and get it over quickly.  We pushed on, step by step, never looking down, holding our breaths as we inched our way beneath the waterfalls. By the grace of God and some wonderful angels watching out for us (and my #1 angel, Pete), we made it to the top and to our car. A quick hug for Big Red and we jumped in and sat there for 10 minutes catching our breath. We drove back to the hotel and watched that storm sit over the canyon all night and into the next morning. We clearly made the right decision to get out.

We are extremely grateful and thankful to be here today writing this story and sharing our work. I'd like to leave you with one last thought.....

 Be careful what you wish for and

Here is the link to our video:  Canyon de Chelly
(Click on the link and select Goto Link)

Until our next adventure, Peace!

Image result for peace signs

Monday, May 25, 2015

8 years and over 100 miles hiked

8 years ago, a good friend asked us to go on a trek with him to find a rare and elusive bird. Not being birders in any sense of the word, we thought a hike up in the mountains would be a fun way to get some exercise and take some good pictures. Little did we know that first hike would turn passive interest into an obsession.

"Find the Elegant Trogon".

After we got home that day, we Googled the Trogon and were immediately captivated by its beauty. We decided to continue to try to find it; after all, how hard can it be to find a brightly colored red/green bird that is about 12" tall.  Not exactly the size of a sparrow.

One hike turned into the next hike, which turned into the next. Hike after hike, month after month, year after year. The start of each new mating season brought hopes that this would be the year. We knew the areas where they nested, what were we missing? Why couldn't we find this bird?

Fast forward to 2015. It had been frequently sighted in the Santa Rita Mountains just south of Tucson. So we began the 2015 Elegant Trogon quest, and decided to concentrate our efforts there. For the first hike, we asked a ranger if he had any insight to the whereabouts of our nemesis. He directed us to the Vault Mine Trail, saying that was our best bet. Talking to birders on the trail told us that it had been sighted more on the Super Trail...UGH; too far from our current location. 3.5 miles later and calf muscles completely seized up, we came up empty and with tears in our eyes, went home.

Memorial Day weekend!  What else does a person do with 3 days off from work?  Go looking for Elegant Trogons...of course. Sunday was a beautiful day; sunny, cool temps, perfect hiking weather. We packed up the SUV and off we go. Today was the day; we could just feel it.

Up we go on the Super Trail.  About an hour in, we heard it!  (Never heard it before this.) YES!!! Straining our ears to try to pinpoint its location, we heard it once more and then no more. Was it further down or further up in the canyon?  Go forward or turn back?  We decided to continue up the trail and about 2 miles in, we meet up with a couple hiking down and asked them if they've seen/heard it. They said no, but also said it had been sighted the past week over on the Carrie Nation Trail.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!   Feeling deflated once again, we turned around. We were too tired to try to attempt another trail and just went back to the car and went home.  We were coming to the conclusion that we were on yet another wild goose chase.

Monday morning brought renewed hope and we decided to give it another try. The Carrie Nation Trail, after all, was only a couple of miles long. We quickly found out that it was also much steeper; a 500' elevation gain in the first 1/2 mile. We stopped to rest and drink some water, wondering if we were doing the right thing, when a familiar sound emanated from the woods, very close to where we were sitting. Looking at each other in utter disbelief, we jumped up about as fast as 2 people on the brink of senior citizenship could and followed the sound up the hill. As we rounded the corner, we saw several birders and photographers clicking away, looked up, and there it was!  A magnificent male Trogon sitting in the tree right in front of us. Pete grabbed his camera and started shooting.  I was just mesmerized at finally seeing it, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw another large bird land on a nearby branch.  I turned to look at it and, lo and behold, it was the female. I tried to get Pete's attention to shoot her, but she flew away as quickly as she came. The male soon followed and just like that, they were gone. Sadly, from the first shot to the last, only 1 min, 45 seconds elapsed.  We waited around for 2 more hours for them to come back to their nest, but to no avail.

So, good things do come to those who wait.  Will this end our quest?  Probably not.

Until next time,
 Image result for peace sign

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Friendship Circle

Today was a bicycle trip through Border Fields State Park. Recent rains flooded many areas making passage difficult or impossible. Perseverance won and we were rewarded with some spectacular scenery.

In the very Southwest corner of the U.S., where the beach and the ocean touch Mexico, there is a little known section along the border called the Friendship Circle.

Established in 1848, it serves as a meeting place for families on both sides of the border. It was dedicated in 1971 by 1st Lady Pat Nixon as a symbol of bi-national friendship. 

With the increased concern of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S., the Friendship Circle Park evolved from a few strands of barbed wire between families to a maximum security feeling under the constant scrunity of Border Patrol agents. 

Stay Away!!!
The "gate" through which you walk to get to the Friendship Circle.

"On the Fence"

Mexicans peering over the wall into America

A place where families could once chat and hug over the barbed wire is now a distant memory. In its place is a steel mesh wall where only talking is allowed. Visibility through the fence is poor. The original humanitarian aspect of this park is long gone. (This is not a political statement, just an observation. Please, no political comments here. They will be removed.)


Bull fighting ring and lighthouse in Tijuana

The beauty of the beach and ocean is inexplicable and the pictures do not do it any justice. The 20 ft waves crash down with a force that produces a very deep boom. As we rode our bikes down the beach, we passed horses carrying their passengers through the peaceful, serene landscape. Because of its remote location, very few people bother to visit, giving us almost exclusive access.

Our trip back to the car took us through the Tijuana Estuary, the largest coastal wetland in southern California. Snowy egrets, great blue herons, pelicans, terns, fly catchers and one very large raptor (that we concluded was a golden eagle) graced us with their presence.

Beach, ocean, wildlife, sunshine....ingredients of a powerful elixir for the soul.

Until next time, 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I'll be sitting next to the Gorilla

The World Famous San Diego Zoo is truly a bucket list item. If you've never been there, it is definitely worth the trip. If you do come to visit, it's going to take you a full day to see most of the zoo, so plan accordingly and bring plenty of water.

The aviaries are our favorite places in the zoo.  They are so large that you don't even realize you are in one. A 3-level forest of full grown trees, waterfalls and rivers grace these splendid places. I can't even begin to describe how beautiful and peaceful it is in there. It makes me sad when I frequently see people practically sprint through and comment that they can't ever find any birds or the ones that say they hate birds. (Then why are you in there???) I heard one lady comment today that she can never find any birds unless they are bright red, yellow or orange, as she walked right past a large African toucan practically sitting on the handrail and never saw it. If they only took a moment to stop and look around.

My next favorite stop is the flamingos because they always make me think of my awesome sister-in-law Denise. I can't help but linger there for awhile and smile and wish she was with us. These are for you Denise.

The rest of the zoo is just one treasure after the other to be discovered. Here's some of our favorite shots.


And finally, you can't beat the people watching. Parents dragging screaming children from place to place, kids too tired, hot, hungry or thirsty to care; happy couples; people lost and no idea which way to turn; kids more focused on the cotton candy and ice cream to care about seeing the animals; and the conversations...."If you need me, I'll be sitting next to the Gorilla".

Until next time......


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Circus Was In Town

Living in San Diego presents a lot of new opportunities for us.  Many are beautiful, many are interesting, many are educational and some just can't be classified. A couple of weeks ago we had one of those that just defy explanation...we attended ComicCon International. (You just knew this was coming, didn't you?)

We heard of it, saw snippets of it on the internet and TV (Big Bang Theory!) and thought we knew what it was about. We weren't even close to being prepared for what we were about to experience.

We decided to take the train into town so that we wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to park.  Apparently thousands of other people also decided that was the best thing to do. We were crammed into the train like sardines for 12 stops, not that I was counting, and after what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the convention center.  Thankful for the fresh air, we embarked on our adventure.  

Almost immediately, the Grim Reaper walked past, closely followed by a Stormtrooper (could also be considered a grim reaper, no?) Batman, Batwoman, hobbits, elves, Gandalf, witches, zombies (lots of zombies), zombie killers, ninja turtles, wookies, half naked women (and men), Flash, Superman....just scratching the surface! 

There were fully outfitted, life-size Playstation games taking up half of a city block, like Assassin's Creed in which you could actually participate. TV shows like Blacklist, Once Upon a Time and Vikings.

Everyone in costume was more than happy to stop and pose so you could take their picture. For a few days they escape reality and step out of themselves and become someone (or something) else. In total anonymity, they play out their fantasies, let loose and just have fun. 

We had fun taking pictures and walking around the city, anxious to see what new surprises awaited us around every corner.  Here is a link to the entire album for anyone who is interested:   ComicCon Photo Album

Next year, we'll actually get tickets (hopefully) and go inside!  We can't wait to see what goes on in there ;-)

Peace and love