Iceland: Stunning Crystalline Ice on a Volcanic Black Sand Beach!

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon:  Ice 1

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Ice 1

Ice 2

Ice 2

Ice 3

Ice 3

Ice 4

Ice 4

Ice 5

Ice 5

Ice 6

Ice 6

Ice 7

Ice 7

Ice 8

Ice 8

Ice 9

Ice 9

Ice 10

Ice 10

Ice 11

Ice 11

Ice 12

Ice 12

Ice 13

Ice 13

Ice 14

Ice 14

One of the most amazing sights we saw in Iceland was crystalline ice on a volcanic black sand beach at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  The ice floats out to sea with the tide from the lagoon, and some of it washes onto the volcanic black sand shoreline.  The interplay between ice, light, waves is ever-changing.  Nature’s beauty here is stunning!  Do you have a favorite?

Iceland: Glaciers in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Iceland contains the largest glaciers in the world outside of Greenland and Antarctica. This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 11% of its landmass permanently covered in ice.  Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on the country’s south coast is especially beautiful. The icebergs in this lagoon come from the Vatnajokull ice cap (jokull at the end of a word means “glacier” in Icelandic).  The colors and beauty of this area are stunning!  A live webcam is at: http://www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/jokulsarlon/

Iceland: Volcanoes in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Kerid’s Volcanic Caldera

Kerid’s Volcanic Caldera

Blesi Hot Spring

Blesi Hot Spring

Strokkur Geyser’s Blue Bubble (nicknamed “The Churn”)

Strokkur Geyser’s Blue Bubble (nicknamed “The Churn”)

Strokkur Geyser Erupting

Strokkur Geyser Erupting

Seltun Volcanic Basin

Seltun Volcanic Basin

Graenavatn Explosion Crater Lake

Graenavatn Explosion Crater Lake

View from Bridge Between the Continents – Rift Between the North American Plate (left) and Eurasian Plate (right)

View from Bridge Between the Continents – Rift Between the North American Plate (left) and Eurasian Plate (right)

Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the intersection of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 30-40 active volcanoes and a major eruption about every 5 years.  A new island named Surtsey formed after an eruption in 1963-1967.  Homes on the offshore island of Heimaey were suddenly covered up by lava and ash in 1973 (thus giving it the nickname “Iceland’s Pompeii”).  A new volcano museum named Eldheimar opened there in May 2014 (http://eldheimar.is/en/).  Worldwide air travel was disrupted for days by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010.

All of this volcanic activity means that there are numerous places to see geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, and volcanic calderas in Iceland.  Our favorite geyser was Strokkur outside of Reykjavik.  It makes an unbelievable blue bubble for a split second before the water gushes up.   The English word “geyser” comes from Iceland’s original “Geysir” (which means gusher).  All of the places pictured are within an easy day trip from Reykjavik.

Iceland: Spectacular Waterfalls!

Seljalandsfoss in South Iceland

Seljalandsfoss in South Iceland

Seljalandsfoss Vertical View

Seljalandsfoss Vertical View

Seljalandsfoss Sheets of Falling Water

Seljalandsfoss Sheets of Falling Water

Massive Skogafoss in South Iceland

Massive Skogafoss in South Iceland

Unnamed Waterfall in South Iceland

Unnamed Waterfall in South Iceland

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) near Reykjavik

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) near Reykjavik

Close-up of Gullfoss Gorge

Close-up of Gullfoss Gorge

Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) in North Iceland

Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) in North Iceland

Unnamed Waterfall in North Iceland

Unnamed Waterfall in North Iceland

Waterfall and Farm in South Iceland

Waterfall and Farm in South Iceland

Iceland has been called the “Land of 10,000 Waterfalls”. Although the actual number is unknown, waterfalls are numerous due to abundant rainfall and glacial ice melt in summer.  “Foss” at the end of a word means waterfall in Icelandic.  These waterfalls are spectacular!

Iceland! Arrival and Blue Lagoon

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon's Steamy Water

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon’s Steamy Water

Water Outflow Entering Lagoon through Volcanic Pumice Stone

Water Outflow Entering Lagoon through Volcanic Pumice Stone

Blue Lagoon's Milky Blue Water within Black Volcanic Landscape

Blue Lagoon’s Milky Blue Water within Black Volcanic Landscape

Green Moss-Covered Lava Field

Green Moss-Covered Lava Field

We recently spent 10 days in Iceland – what a beautiful landscape!  This tiny island is one of the top locations in the world for nature photography. It was voted Best in Travel in 2012 and 2013 by Lonely Planet. It was voted World’s Best Travel Destination in 2012 by National Geographic. It was also voted friendliest country to travelers. It is one of the “greenest” countries in the world because of its use of geothermal power – the air and water are crystal pure. Tourists can expect to see black sand beaches, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, and boiling mud pots. Every town has its own geothermal-heated swimming pool. Whales are abundant in the waters offshore (activity peaks in June). It is one of the top places in the world for seabirds (half the world’s puffin population nests in this region May to June). Purebred Icelandic horses and sheep graze in the meadows. It is a photographer’s paradise!

Our first stop of the trip was the Blue Lagoon – the number one tourist destination in Iceland (near Reykjavik).  The lagoon’s steamy blue water is popular among bathers for both recreational and therapeutic purposes. The water starts off in superheated form beside a lava flow over a mile below the surface. A geothermal power station vents it from the ground, and the steam is used to run turbines to generate electricity, and to provide heat for the municipal water system. The power station’s outflow of water is released into the Blue Lagoon. The water contains fine white silica silt that is used for spa treatments and beauty products, and is said to be especially beneficial to the skin. A soak in this 99 degree water is exactly what is needed after a long flight.   The landscape’s colors are especially striking – milky blue water, black lava rocks, and green moss. Mosses account for half of all vegetation in Iceland.  Many more posts are coming!

California: Return to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree and Rocky Landscape

Joshua Tree and Rocky Landscape

Each Joshua Tree Has a Unique Shape

Each Joshua Tree Has a Unique Shape

Flowering Joshua Tree

Flowering Joshua Tree

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus

Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus

Joshua Tree is one of our favorite national parks (near Twentynine Palms, California). The trees are giant members of the Yucca family. The largest tree in the park is 42 feet tall, 34 feet wide, and has a trunk 9 feet around. Although trees start off growth as a single stalk, each one quickly develops its own unique shape due to damage to the growing tips. Joshua trees have a very important role in the Mojave High Desert ecosystem. This beautiful landscape has been featured in many movies and TV shows. More info is at: http://www.nps.gov/jotr/naturescience/jtrees.htm   A previous post is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/joshua-tree-national-park/

Anza Borrego: Native Palm Oases and Carizzo Badlands Overlook

Native Palm Groves Sign

Native Palm Groves Sign

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

The southern region of Anza Borrego Desert State Park contains many treasures. We especially enjoyed hiking on Mountain Palm Springs trail, which leads to several native palm oases.  The oases here form where groundwater seeps up to the surface along the Elsinore fault zone. The trail begins up a dry wash leading past cholla and barrel cactus.  The landscape’s white granite rock contains mica that sparkles in the sun.  The first group of palms encountered along the trail is the Pygmy Grove. The “skirts” of dead fronds on the palms provide shelter to owls, bats, snakes, and many other creatures. In Fall and early winter, animals feast on the palms’ sweet sticky dates.

A little further south is a spectacular vista overlooking the Carizzo Badlands. As you look out at the Coyote Mountains, you are looking at the active San Jacinto earthquake fault zone. These mountains are rich in fossils of mastodons, camels, zebras, and sabertooth tigers from a million years ago. What was really amazing was that no one else was around when we visited – the only sound we could hear was the wind. Not a car, not a plane, only silence. It was magical. More info about the geology and natural history of Anza Borrego is at: http://www.abdnha.org/anza-borrego-desert-geology.htm

 

Anza Borrego State Park: Sculptures in the Desert

Statue of Extinct Horse in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Extinct Horse in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Ancient Gomphotheres (related to elephants) in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Ancient Gomphotheres (related to elephants) in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Nonlocal Allosaurus Dinosaur from Jurassic Era

Statue of Nonlocal Allosaurus Dinosaur from Jurassic Era

Statue of Nonlocal Spinosaurus (spiny lizard) from Cretaceous Period

Statue of Nonlocal Spinosaurus (spiny lizard) from Cretaceous Period

Statue of Nonlocal Utahraptor Dinosaur Guarding Nest of Eggs (Jurassic Era)

Statue of Nonlocal Utahraptor Dinosaur Guarding Nest of Eggs (Jurassic Era)

Fanciful 350-foot-long Dragon Serpent with Rattlesnake Tail (road runs through middle of sculpture)

Fanciful 350-foot-long Dragon Serpent with Rattlesnake Tail
(road runs through middle of sculpture)

Head of Multi-Part Dragon Serpent

Head of Multi-Part Dragon Serpent

Visitors at Anza Borrego State Park, California, can’t miss the metal sculptures at Galleta Meadows. Over 100 statues by Ricardo Breceda dot the desert landscape. Some statues are based on local fossils found in the area, and others are more fanciful. All are fun to see! More info including a driving tour map is at: http://www.desertusa.com/borrego/bs-art.html   A previous post is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/anza-borrego-time-travel/

California: Return to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

View Looking Down

View Looking Down

View Looking Up

View Looking Up

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

View of Coachella Valley

View of Coachella Valley

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Old Style Tram Car at Base

Old Style Tram Car at Base

One of our favorite things to do in Palm Springs, California, is to ride the aerial tram car up to Mountain Station near the top of Mount San Jacinto (8,516 feet).  The distance between the mountaintop and the desert floor is over 2 miles one way, and the journey takes about 15 minutes.  The circular rotating tram cars are state-of-the-art and were built by Switzerland.  The temperature difference between the top and bottom is quite dramatic.  There aren’t many places where you can hike beside cactus and play in the winter snow – all in the same afternoon!  More info is at: http://pstramway.com/history.html   A previous post from 2012 is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/palm-springs-aerial-tramway/

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Spring

Prairie Wetlands

Prairie Wetlands

Alligator Sunning on Bank

Alligator Sunning on Bank

Pond Turtle

Pond Turtle

Green Heron Fishing

Green Heron Fishing

Green Heron Plunging for Fish (yes he pulled himself back up on perch)

Green Heron Plunging for Fish (yes he pulled himself back up on perch)

Crayfish Burrow

Crayfish Burrow

Spanish Moss Draped Oak Tree

Spanish Moss Draped Oak Tree

Pickerelweed in Pond

Pickerelweed in Pond

Duck Potato

Duck Potato

Pearl Crescent Butterfly on Daisy Fleabane

Pearl Crescent Butterfly on Daisy Fleabane

Open land stretches to the horizon at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (south of Orlando, Florida). Spring is an especially good time to visit. If you look closely, you can see all kinds of wonderful plants and animals. A previous post about this special park is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/florida-kissimmee-prairie-state-park/     More info is at: http://floridabirdingtrail.com/index.php/trip/trail/Kissimmee_Prairie_Preserve_State_Park/

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park: Spectacular Mountain Scenery!

Spectacular Tetons in Fall

Spectacular Tetons in Fall

Snowy Tetons and Rustic Fence

Snowy Tetons and Rustic Fence

Tetons and Snake River

Tetons and Snake River

Frozen Jackson Lake

Frozen Jackson Lake

Snowy Teton Peaks

Snowy Teton Peaks

Snow-Covered Trees

Snow-Covered Trees

Bare Aspen Trees in Winter

Bare Aspen Trees in Winter

Orange Aspen Trees in Fall

Orange Aspen Trees in Fall

Preserved Reed Moulton Barn and Tetons

Preserved Reed Moulton Barn and Tetons

Lonely Reed Moulton Homestead on Historic Mormon Row

Lonely Reed Moulton Homestead on Historic Mormon Row

Preserved Thomas A. Moulton Barn on Mormon Row (100th anniversary in July 2013)

Preserved Thomas A. Moulton Barn on Mormon Row (100th anniversary in July 2013)

Elk Antler Arch over Bench in Jackson

Elk Antler Arch over Bench in Jackson

Grand Teton National Park is famous for its spectacular mountain scenery!  The views are stunning and ever-changing throughout the year. The Teton mountains rise over a mile above the valley floor, and make quite an impression.  The pristine ecosystem contains numerous bodies of water, including the Snake River and Jackson Lake.  Historic churches and Mormon settlements are also located within the park.  There is much to see and do, and we highly recommend a visit to this beautiful place!

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park: Scenic Historic Churches

Chapel of the Transfiguration and Rustic Fence

Chapel of the Transfiguration and Rustic Fence

Chapel of the Transfiguration Entrance

Chapel of the Transfiguration Entrance

Chapel of the Transfiguration Interior

Chapel of the Transfiguration Interior

Chapel of the Transfiguration Altar Window in Fall

Chapel of the Transfiguration Altar Window in Fall

Chapel of the Transfiguration Altar Window in Spring

Chapel of the Transfiguration Altar Window in Spring

"Winter" Stained Glass

“Winter” Stained Glass

"Summer" Stained Glass

“Summer” Stained Glass

Chapel of the Sacred Heart Entrance

Chapel of the Sacred Heart Entrance

Chapel of the Sacred Heart Interior

Chapel of the Sacred Heart Interior

"Sacred Heart" Stained Glass

“Sacred Heart” Stained Glass

Quaking Aspen

Quaking Aspen

There are two historic churches within Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming.  The Chapel of the Transfiguration is an Episcopalian church that is located near the main Visitor Center for the park.  It was built in 1925 out of lodge pole pines, with pews made of quaking aspen that was cut in the valley.  The window behind the altar perfectly frames the Cathedral Group of the Teton mountain peaks.  The beautiful stained glass windows featuring winter and summer were created by artist Jessie van Brunt.  This church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic church that is located on the south shore of Jackson Lake.  It was built in 1937 and features a rustic wood interior with a stained glass window of the Sacred Heart.  Both historic churches are popular places for weddings and photography.

Great Salt Lake: Antelope Island State Park

Wild Sunflowers Lining Road

Wild Sunflowers Lining Road

Sunflower Blowing in Wind

Sunflower Blowing in Wind

Bison Crossing Salt Flats

Bison Crossing Salt Flats

Color Bands at Great Salt Lake

Color Bands at Great Salt Lake

Avocets on Lake

Avocets on Lake

Lake and Sky Reflections

Lake and Sky Reflections

Dramatic Storm in Distance

Dramatic Storm in Distance

Patterns in Dried Mud Flats

Patterns in Dried Mud Flats

Male Pronghorn Antelope

Male Pronghorn Antelope

Female Pronghorn Antelope

Female Pronghorn Antelope

Coyote Crossing Road

Coyote Crossing Road

White Buffalo Statue (Sacred Dreams)

White Buffalo Statue (Sacred Dreams)

Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake (northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah).  It is famous for its natural beauty.  Visitors can expect to see incredible vistas of lake and sky, along with abundant wildlife and seasonal wildflowers.  We especially enjoyed seeing the pronghorn antelope and bison.  Over 5 million migratory birds (250 species total) depend on the lake, making it one of the most important bird conservation areas in North America (http://www.fogsl.org/resources/about-the-lake/birds-of-great-salt-lake).  Info on visiting the Great Salt Lake is at:  http://www.visitthegreatsaltlake.com/

California: Beautiful Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's Granite Mountains

Yosemite’s Granite Mountains

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Yosemite Fall Color

Yosemite Fall Color

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Yosemite National Park is one of our country’s oldest and most beautiful parks.  Its 1,200 square mile wilderness is famous for soaring granite mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and giant sequoias.  Glaciers shaped and polished the granite rocks long ago.  This park is a real treasure – it is one of our nation’s best! 

Summer visitors at Yosemite between 1872-1968 watched the dramatic Firefall Show at Camp Curry every evening.  A fiery “waterfall” was created by slowly and continuously pushing glowing wood embers off Glacier Point to the valley below.  The experience of watching that flowing river of fire while listening to the Indian Love Call song was unforgettable!  Even President Kennedy came by to watch.  Visitor remembrances of the Firefall are at:  http://firefall.info/readers.html.   A fun show about the Firefall by Huell Howser on “California’s Gold” is at:  http://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1996/01/08/firewall-californias-gold-706/  Info about visiting Yosemite is at:   http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

Nature at Alcatraz Island National Park

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island  - "The Rock"

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock”

Western Gull

Western Gull

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

Beautiful Peach Rose

Beautiful Peach Rose

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Succulent Garden

Succulent Garden

Alcatraz Island National Park is San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction.  Most people visit “The Rock” to learn about its role as a Federal Penitentiary housing criminals such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly (1934-1963).  But some visitors come for a different reason – they come to see its historic gardens and nesting sea bird colonies in spring. 

The gardens were important to everyone living on the island.  Park rangers say the gardens demonstrate the importance of plants to the human spirit.  More info is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/index.php   A self-guiding brochure of the gardens is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/pdf/AZ%20Garden_05_12.pdf

Sea birds nest on the island from February – September.  Birds that breed on the island include California and Western Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s Cormorants, Black-Crowned Night Herons, and Snowy Egrets.  A brochure on the “Waterbirds of Alcatraz” is at:  http://www.nps.gov/alca/naturescience/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=388749

Killdeer Nest at Matanzas Creek Winery and Lavender Gardens

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Lavender Flowers

Lavender Flowers

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

Killdeer nests are a simple depression scraped out of the ground with added bits of sticks, grass, rocks, or shells.  If a predator gets too close, killdeer perform a distraction display.  We knew we were near a nest when this mother killdeer pretended to have a broken-wing – the performance was quite convincing!  We didn’t want to upset her, so we quickly walked away in the other direction.  Just like that she “recovered” and ran back to the 4 eggs safely tucked in her nest.  She couldn’t have picked a more scenic place to raise her family – right in the middle of the lavender gardens at the Matanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County, California.  Info on visiting is at:  http://www.matanzascreek.com/

Monterey: Scenic Lover’s Point

Scenic Lover's Point

Scenic Lover’s Point

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Brewer's Blackbird and Ice Plants

Brewer’s Blackbird and Ice Plants

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover's Point

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover’s Point

We’ve just returned from a trip celebrating our anniversary along the California coast. One of the most scenic places we visited was Lover’s Point at Monterey, California. The pink ice plants are particularly stunning this time of year!

Bok Tower Gardens: Peak Flower Bloom!

Bok Tower in Early Spring

Bok Tower in Early Spring

Blooming Pink Azalea

Blooming Pink Azalea

Azalea-Lined Trail

Azalea-Lined Trail

Blooming Red Camellia "Royal Velvet"

Blooming Red Camellia “Royal Velvet”

Flowering Jungle Trail

Flowering Jungle Trail

Colorful Blooming Bromeliads

Colorful Blooming Bromeliads

Bok Tower Gardens has been voted Florida’s “Favorite Garden”.  The peak bloom is now!  The trails are filled with flowering azaleas, camellias, and bromeliads.

Florida: Myakka Canopy Walk and Tower

Myakka Canopy Walk

Myakka Canopy Walk

Myakka Canopy Tower

Myakka Canopy Tower

Myakka Canopy Tower Inside Looking Down

Myakka Canopy Tower Inside Looking Down

Myakka Canopy Tower View

Myakka Canopy Tower View

Canopy Walks of North America Sign

Canopy Walks of North America Sign

Myakka River State Park has the only canopy walk/observation tower in the state of Florida. It was the first public treetop trail in North America, and the only one in the world in a subtropical forest! The park is located inland from Sarasota on the west coast of Florida. The 76-foot tower provides a 360-degree view of the wild and scenic Myakka River basin. Scientists have already made important discoveries about life in the oak and palm canopy. The bird’s eye view from the top of the tower is terrific! More info is at: http://www.myakkariver.org/index.php/activities-a-attractions/canopy-walkway

California: Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach - Long Exposure

Pebble Beach – Long Exposure

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach (south of San Francisco) is famous for its tafoni rock and pebble-covered beach.  The lacework tafoni rock is soft sandstone that has been eroded by the wind and waves.  The colorful pebbles are composed of various rocks including green jade, red chert, white agate, jasper, moonstones, and petrified wood.  The rocks are washed in from an offshore Pleistocene-era gravel bed.  Many geological field trips come to this unique location.  More info is at:  http://science.kqed.org/quest/2011/03/03/geological-outings-around-the-bay-pebble-beach/

Florida: Big Talbot Island Driftwood

Driftwood on Beach

Driftwood on Beach

Driftwood on Sand

Driftwood on Sand

Driftwood Logs

Driftwood Logs

Big Talbot Island State Park has the only beach in Florida that is covered in driftwood!  The wood comes from trees that have fallen from the eroded bluffs above the beach.  Over time the wood is polished by the sand and surf.  The bleached-out trunks have given rise to its popular name “Boneyard Beach”.   More info on this unique beach north of Jacksonville is at:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/bigtalbotisland/

Walking Among the Oldest Trees on Earth

Drive to Bristlecone Pine Forest

Scenic Overlook near Bristlecone Pine Forest

Bristlecone Pine Forest on Mountaintop

Photographing a 3,000-year-old Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine and Sky

Bristlecone Pine and Icy Bluff

Bristlecone Pine and Storm

Gnarly Bristlecone Pine

Tall Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine Sapling

Bristlecone Pine Covered with Cones

Purple Pine Cone with Sap

Polished Wood of Bristlecone Pines on Rocky Slope

Magic is the word to describe the feeling you have walking among the oldest trees on Earth!  Bristlecone pines grow in the White Mountains of California on white dolomite (limestone) slopes at 10,000-12,000 feet.  The oldest (unmarked) tree is “Methuselah”, which is 4,844 years old.  Just imagine – this tree was growing when the Pyramids were being built!

The trees are twisted and gnarled by the elements at this high elevation.  Blowing wind and ice sculpts and polishes the wood.  Sometimes almost all of the pine is dead, except for a single strip of bark connecting a root to a living branch.  The trees are named for the bristles or spines on their cones.  The pretty purple cones are often covered in sticky sap. 

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is only open a few months of the year because of snow and ice.  This trip is worth the wait – it is unforgettable.  We felt privileged to visit such an awe-inspiring place.  More info is at:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5129900

California: Beauty at Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sign with Volcanic Rock

Rainbow over Mono Lake

Rainbow’s End at Tufa Towers

Tufa Tower Spires

Kayaks on Mono Beach

Eared Grebe on Mono Lake

California Gull Eating Brine Flies

Mono Lake and Sky

Mono Basin

Mono Lake is located on the dry eastern side of California’s Sierra Mountains.  It is one of America’s oldest lakes – over 1,000,000 years old!  The lake covers 60 square miles in volcanic Mono Basin, and is almost 3 times saltier than the ocean.  Although no fish live in the lake, there are trillions of brine shrimp in its salty waters.  Millions of migratory and nesting birds come to feast on the shrimp.  Mono Lake is the most important migration stop for eared grebes in North America –at times over 2 million birds rest on the lake’s surface.  Eighty-five percent of the state’s California Gulls nest at Mono Lake (second largest breeding colony in the world after the Great Salt Lake).  Gulls frequently run along the shore with their mouths open scooping up brine flies!  One banded seagull returned to the lake every summer for 27 years.  Mono Lake is most famous for its striking tufa towers.  The limestone spires were created when springs bubbled up through the alkaline water.  More info about this special place is at:  http://www.monolake.org/

Big Sur: World Class Beauty!

Big Sur Coastline

Rocky Creek Bridge

McWay Falls

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Pink Ice Plants and California Poppies

Fields of Gold and Turquoise Water

Rocky Coast in Mist

Big Sur has been called “The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea”.  This rugged coastline south of San Francisco is one of the most beautiful in the world.  The scenery is spectacular!

Big Sur: Stunning Pink Sand Beach!

Pfeiffer Beach

Walking North on Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach Rocks and Pink Sand

Closeup of Rocks and Pink Sand

Pfeiffer Beach Sand Patterns

More Colorful Sand Patterns

Pfeiffer Beach Sea Arch

Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach (south of Monterey) is famous for its pink and purple sand.  The sand’s gorgeous color comes from manganese garnet particles that wash down the hillside.  The further north you walk, the more colorful the sand.  The photography opportunities are endless and ever-changing.  This unique beach is absolutely stunning!

Point Reyes: Ladybugs at the Beach!

McClure’s Beach

Yellow Bush Lupine

Tule Elk in Fog

Tule Elk at Tomales Point

Isolated Pocket Beach

Ladybugs Covering Driftwood

Hundreds of Ladybugs at Beach

Acorn Weevil Among Ladybugs

Closeup of Ladybug

McClure’s Beach is a wild and remote beach at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore (north of San Francisco).  In spring and early summer the hills are covered with yellow bush lupine flowers.  Tule Elk graze on the bluffs at Tomales Point.  The San Andreas Fault runs through the center of the park.  At the Visitor Center you can see an offset fence that was ripped 20 feet apart by the 1906 earthquake! 

McClure’s Beach is an excellent place for tidepooling.  A narrow trail leads through the rocks at low tide to an isolated pocket beach on the other side.  This pocket beach has a special secret – at times it is swarmed by ladybugs!  In summer ladybugs migrate from California’s hot Central Valley to cooler areas along the coast.  Sometimes they swarm a beach in search of salt and minerals, but there is no predicting where or when.  Many people think that ladybugs bring good luck.  We think it’s true – it was our lucky day at the beach!

Black Creek in the Jungle

Black Creek

This picture shows Black Creek at Three Lakes Conservation Area in Central Florida.  Even though the creek looks “black”, the water is actually pure and clear.  The dark color comes from tannins in the water.  The oak tree in the background is covered with Resurrection ferns and Spanish moss.  This subtropical jungle is very scenic!

California: Big Sur’s Garrapata Beach

Garrapata Beach Overlook

Garrapata Beach Trail

Garrapata Beach Stairs

Garrapata Beach Ocean View

Garrapata Beach Pyramid Rocks

Big Sur’s Garrapata Beach is a particularly scenic place along the California coast. Although the area is often shrouded in fog, the views are gorgeous on a sunny day in June.

Near Mount Lassen: Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge Spire

Underneath the Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge at Dusk

Sundial Bridge at Night

The Sundial Bridge is a pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the Sacramento River at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California (near Mount Lassen).  The spire of the bridge is one of the largest working sundials in the world!  The steel, glass, and granite span opened on July 4, 2004, and was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  The Sundial Bridge is particularly spectacular at night!

Mount Lassen: “Eye of Vulcan”

Mount Lassen Peak with “Eye of Vulcan”

Closeup of “Eye of Vulcan”

Lassen Slope of Wildflowers

A prominent rock feature on Mount Lassen is the “Eye of Vulcan”.   In Roman mythology, Vulcan was the God of Volcanoes and Fire.  Mount Lassen Volcano last erupted in 1915.  Mount Lassen and Mount St. Helens are the only two volcanoes on the West Coast to erupt in the 20th century.  Wildflowers thrive in the volcanic soil.