Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dog Park


Ivy

Our Border Collie Trix is a social butterfly, and when she isn't at doggie day care or out on the hiking trails with us ...


Maddie

she likes to go to the dog park near our house and hang out with all her doggie friends.


Tippy

Most of the mature pooches seem to prefer milling about ...


Lola

and relaxing in the shade.


Run Trix! RUN!

Trix, on the other hand, is in her element when she gets to race and chase and burn off energy.

Such a good girl!



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Backpacking

The Superstitions

When we signed up with REI Adventures for a mid-March three-day, 16-mile backpacking hike in the rugged Superstitions Mountains, we figured the high day-time temps would be in the upper 70s, the normal that we should see this time of the year. The kind of weather that's perfect for hiking!

But no. Some seriously hot weather decided to move in giving us record high temperatures in the mid-90s. Not a show stopper since we're acclimated to this kind of heat, but not something to take lightly either.



The mighty Saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert.

The Superstitions are located in the east valley and the largest of the mountain ranges surrounding Phoenix. Since we don't get over to the east side very often, we were excited to hike new trails and see different scenery. And we weren't disappointed!

The starting point for the hike was on the southern side of the mountain range at the Peralta Trailhead. The Peralta Trail is rated moderately difficult with varied terrain and some difficult footing. Add a 30+ pound backpack to the mix, and it's even more challenging!


Our guide Beth is preparing dinner.

It took about six hours to hike six miles to our campsite in Boulder Canyon, but considering the difficulty of the trail, the heat, ascending about 1000 feet, and stops along the way to rest or adjust some of the backpacks, it's not hard to figure out why it took longer than we expected it would take.

Our campsite was located in a pocket of vegetation, and when the sun went down, it cooled off quickly and we were soon wearing our jackets and gathered around the campfire trying to fend off some of the biggest heartiest mosquitoes I've ever seen.


Filtering water from the creek.

Everyone in the group was going through at least three liters of water each day and since many of the creeks were full of water, we had plenty of opportunities to collect and filter the water for cooking and to replenish our Camelbaks and water bottles.


Taking a break.

The next day was another six-miler through Marsh Valley to West Boulder Canyon which is where we set up camp the second night.

The trail was a little bit tamer than the day before, and although frequent rock hopping across streams slowed us down quite a bit, the streams also provided nice areas with shade to rest and cool off.


Canyon Lake in the background. Our destination.

The third and final day of our hike was the shortest at only four miles, but I thought it was the most difficult.

The first two miles of the trail had some serious uphill, but we were rewarded with some of our most spectacular views of the hike with Canyon Lake on one side and the Superstitions on the other.


The REI Adventures van.

The last two miles were downhill with some difficult footing, and I was pretty darn happy to see the REI Adventures van waiting for us at the Canyon Lake Marina to take us two miles up the road to Tortilla Flat (the last surviving stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail) watering hole for lunch and a nice cold beer.

Beer! A great way to celebrate a physically challenging hike and surviving the experience!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Aurora

The Aurora

You need two things working in your favor to photograph the Northern Lights. You need aurora storm activity, and you need clear skies. At the same time.

When we arrived in Fairbanks where our photo workshop group met up, it was snowing about 2” per hour, and the night after that when we were staying at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, the skies were still filled with clouds.

But then, THEN, the clouds cleared, the aurora storm activity was rated active, and we had a three-day epic aurora display! We heard several locals say they hadn't seen the aurora storm activity this active in several years, so the timing of our trip couldn't have been better.


The Yurt at Charlie Dome, Chena Hot Springs.

Our first night of photographing the aurora was at the top of Charlie Dome, the Chena Hot Springs aurora viewing area. Just us and about 75 of our closest friends.

Access to Charlie Dome is by snowcoach which is a military-style small unit support vehicle for extremely cold weather, and there are two heated yurts (warming huts) with stoves, complimentary hot beverages and snacks. The yurts proved to be very popular!


View from a trailhead at Chena River State Recreation Area.

Our second night of shooting was at a trailhead at the Chena River State Recreation Area, which is about 20 miles out of Chena Hot Springs. 

After the chaos of having all the people at Charlie Dome walking in front of our cameras and using poor light etiquette, we enjoyed having the place to ourselves.


View from a trailhead at Chena River State Recreation Area.

The weather was a challenge, especially with cameras, fingers, and toes. It wasn't just cold when we were out shooting, it was a frigid in the low -20s kind of cold.

By the third night out, we were all figuring out what works (jumping in the car on a regular basis to get out of the elements) and what doesn't work (standing in the snow and not moving around) for keeping yourself warm and keeping your camera happy.

Cameras aren't built to withstand such extreme temperatures, but the only problem I had with my Olympus OMD-EM1 was that the battery drained much faster than I anticipated, and the battery compartment latch froze shut. Thankfully, hubby was able to pry it open, and I was able to get back in the game.


The Alaska Pipeline

Our last night in Alaska saw us back at Fairbanks where we went out one final time to a location where we got a close-up look at the Alaska Pipeline. Very cool.

The Aurora has got to be one of the most spectacular light shows that nature has to offer, and it's an amazing thing to experience.

Now that I've thawed out, I think I'd like to do it again.



Monday, February 20, 2017

Alkali Flat

White Sands National Monument

For the longest time I've wanted to hike the Alkali Flat Trail, and I finally got the chance a few weeks ago when we headed off to White Sands National Monument for a few nights of backcountry camping.


Alkali Flat

The Alkali Flat Trail is a 4.6 mile backcountry loop that takes you through the heart of White Sands to the far edge where the sand dunes flatten out at the edge of Alkali Flat, a vast dry flat lake bed that stretches about 10 miles to the base of the San Andreas mountain range.


Trix is making sure the orange marker is properly installed.

Because White Sands is an an ever-shifting dune field, the trail is not a hiking trail in the traditional sense where there is a clear path carved out for you to follow. Instead, there's a series of easy-to-follow orange route markers sticking out of the ground to show you the way.

Based on the trail's name, you might think the trail is flat, but it isn't flat at all. You hike up and down dunes the entire way. Some are quite steep and the soft gypsum sand makes the climbing pretty darn tough. 



We completed the hike in about three hours but stopped fairly regularly to take photos and enjoy the spectacular views of endless white sand.

There's a beauty and uniqueness to the area that make it magical, and a good long hike out in the middle of nowhere gives you a good perspective on the scale and grandeur of the area. 



Monday, February 13, 2017

Spy Dog

Spy Dog  

Border Collies are high energy working dogs and happiest if you keep them physically and mentally stimulated by giving them a job to do. No job often leads to obsessive destructive behavior (speaking from experience here!).
 

We had one border collie with destructive chewing and another with destructive digging, so we're trying to keep our young border collie Trix as busy as we can with morning and afternoon walks, hikes, camping, fetch and tug, chasing balls, car rides, playing at the dog park, zooming with squeaky, shopping at Lowe’s and Petsmart, working on manners and obedience, and keeping the backyard free of feral cats.

And in her free time she stays busy by spying on our neighbors. Sure would like to know what the neighbors are doing that has her so interested!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Squirrel

Fox Squirrel. Can't you just see the evilness?

How is it even possible that squirrels are worthy of a National Squirrel Appreciation Day (celebrated each year on January 21)?!

If you’ve ever tried to keep them out of your bird feeders or your flower or vegetable garden, you know that behind all that cuteness is pure destructive evil!



Monday, January 30, 2017

Painted Churches (2)


Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church, High Hill, Texas

In a previous post on the Painted Churches of Texas, I mentioned that my sister and I want to visit as many of them as we can, so when I was in Texas a few weeks ago for my aunt’s 90th birthday party, we took a day to drive around the central Texas countryside to see what we could find.

Our first stop was the town of High Hill and the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church. This church was built in 1906 and just like the other painted churches we've visited, the interior was painted in bold vibrant colors with faux-finished woodwork, hand painted frescoes and stenciling. So beautiful!


St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Praha, Texas



Our second stop was St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption in Praha. Built in 1895, it is one of the oldest painted churches and recently completed a major interior/exterior renovation. The interior is absolutely stunning!


St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption, Praha, Texas

A member of the church who happened to be on site when we were there told us that there is a friendly rivalry among a few of the churches as to which one is the most beautiful. He said the town of High Hill has always believed that their Nativity of Mary is the queen of the Texas Painted Churches, but thinks now that the Praha renovation has been completed, Praha just might now be the star of the show. I agree!


Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Shiner, Texas

Our third stop was Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church located in Shiner. We’ve passed by this church many times over the years in our travels and always marveled at the brick work and wondered what it looked like on the inside. Since the brick work is so amazing, we were expecting great things for the interior.


Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Shiner, Texas

This church has a majestic altar with a huge mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane overlooking it, beautiful statues and stained glass windows imported from Bavaria. But it just wasn’t as eye popping as High Hill or Praha.


Ascension of our Lord Catholic Church, Moravia, Texas

Our last stop was the Ascension of our Lord Catholic Church in Moravia. Not all of the painted churches are open to the public during the day and some require an appointment, as was the case with Moravia.

So we put our cameras away and traveled a mile down the road to the Moravia Winery to taste some of the local wines and reflect on our day.