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: Cute Horses and Sheep

Four Icelandic Horses

Four Icelandic Horses

Baby Icelandic Horse and Buttercups

Baby Icelandic Horse and Buttercups

Thick Mane of Icelandic Horse

Thick Mane of Icelandic Horse

Icelandic Sheep and Buttercups

Icelandic Sheep and Buttercups

Cute Twin Lambs

Cute Twin Lambs

Icelandic Sheep and Lupines

Icelandic Sheep and Lupines

One of the fun things about driving through the Icelandic countryside was seeing the adorable horses and sheep. Icelandic horses look like small ponies, and first arrived with the Vikings. They have a unique gait (tolt) that lets them move smoothly over rough terrain. Icelandic sheep are world famous for their wool. No other breeds of horse or sheep are permitted in Iceland. The pure bloodlines of these hardy animals have been around for over 1,000 years. We were especially fortunate to visit in June – there were lots of baby horses and lambs in the meadows.

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 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: Retro Palm Springs Architecture

Palm Springs Visitor Center (former Tramway Gas Station) with Distinctive Angular Roof

Palm Springs Visitor Center (former Tramway Gas Station) with Distinctive Angular Roof

Round Boulders Behind Palm Springs Visitor Center

Round Boulders Behind Palm Springs Visitor Center

 

Colorful Mid-Century Modern Home

Colorful Mid-Century Modern Home

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway - 1960 "House of Tomorrow"

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway – 1960 “House of Tomorrow”

"Swiss Miss" A-Frame Home

“Swiss Miss” A-Frame Home

Home Featuring Decorative Concrete Privacy Walls

Home Featuring Decorative Concrete Privacy Walls

Home's Dramatic Entrance Windows Overlook Desert Landscape

Home’s Dramatic Entrance Windows Overlook Desert Landscape

Palm Springs, California, has one of the largest concentrations of Mid-Century Modern architecture in America.  The Desert Modernism style combines sleek lines and modern materials with desert living.  Important elements of design include color, lighting, and texture.  Windows are placed to overlook the desert landscape  Many Desert Modernism style homes built in the 1950s and 1960s are now in top demand as chic retro-style housing.  Shops in town specialize in matching atomic/space age furniture. This architecture is so popular that tourists flock to Palm Springs every year for Modernism Week (http://www.modernismweek.com/).  Popular architectural landmarks are detailed in do-it-yourself driving tours:  (http://www.visitpalmsprings.com/page/mid-century-modern-architecture/8185).  More info is at:  (http://www.oldhouseonline.com/mid-century-modern-houses-in-palm-springs/)

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/

Wild Orcas Live Long Lives

Trio of Wild Orcas in Alaska

Trio of Wild Orcas in Alaska

Wild Orca Pair

Wild Orca Pair

Close-up of Wild Orca

Close-up of Wild Orca

An orca estimated to be 103 years old was spotted returning to the Vancouver/Seattle area of the Pacific Northwest this week.  The matriarch known as “Granny” looked healthy and was seen leading a pod of 25 other family members.  Orcas are known for the strong bonds they form with their offspring, and often stay together for life.  Amazing story!  More info is at:  http://blog.seattlepi.com/bigscience/2014/05/12/oldest-living-orca-granny-visits-nw-over-mothers-day-weekend/#9102105=0&9399107=0&12348103=0&23307101=0   

We took these wild orca pictures when we visited Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, many years ago.

Southern California: Best Whale and Dolphin Watching at Dana Point!

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Spout

Gray Whale Spout

 

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Sea Lions on Buoy

Sea Lions on Buoy

Common Dolphin Jumping

Common Dolphin Jumping

Dolphins Swimming

Dolphins Swimming

We recently returned from a trip to Southern California. Our favorite day was spent whale watching off Dana Point (between Los Angeles and San Diego).  We went out on Captain Dave’s special catamaran named Manute’a that has 2 glassed-in underwater viewing pods.  I can’t say enough about his whale and dolphin watching tours – they are the BEST!

The weather on April 21 was perfect – sunny, warm, and the seas were calm. Dana Point is a landmark for the gray whales during their annual migration between Alaska in summer and Mexico in winter (where mother whales give birth in Baja’s calm lagoons). In spring mother whales hug the coast with their new babies as they travel north, thus making them easy to spot. As a bonus during the trip, Captain Dave released a drone to film unique behavior he had never seen before – mother whales were teaching their babies how to sift mud off the bottom for food.  We ended up seeing 7 gray whales, 1 fin whale, and over 200 common dolphins.  It was especially sweet watching the dolphins playing with the whales!

More info about Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is at:  http://www.dolphinsafari.com/    His beautiful 5 minute viral video is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo_f8mV5khg&feature=youtu.be&hd=1  (you can skid the ad).  Not only is Captain Dave an award-winning filmmaker, he is also licensed to rescue whales that are in trouble. This trip was so amazing that we hope to return again sometime in summer to see the blue whales – the largest living creatures on Earth.  Life in the ocean is incredible!  Below is our one minute cell phone video of dolphins – footage was taken both above deck and below (in the underwater viewing pod).

 

Springtime Around Our Florida Yard

Foggy Sunrise

Foggy Sunrise

Eastern Screech Owl in Nest Box

Eastern Screech Owl in Nest Box

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Brown Anole

Brown Anole

Armadillo

Armadillo

Cuban Tree Frog

Cuban Tree Frog

Squirrel on Porch Screen

Squirrel on Porch Screen

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Pink Hibiscus

Pink Hibiscus

There is plenty of activity in our Florida yard in spring.  We just never know what we’ll see next!  Hope the wildlife and plants are doing well in your yard, too.

 

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/

DisneyWorld: 2014 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Epcot Flower Beds and Floating Gardens

Epcot Flower Beds and Floating Gardens

Flower Beds near Future World Pyramid

Flower Beds near Future World Pyramid

Flower Beds Around Lake

Flower Beds Around Lake

Great Blue Heron on Floating Garden

Great Blue Heron on Floating Garden

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Dog Pluto Topiaries

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Dog Pluto Topiaries

Donald Duck Swatting Bee Topiary

Donald Duck Swatting Bee Topiary

Bambi, Thumper, and Skunk named Flower Topiaries

Bambi, Thumper, and Skunk named Flower Topiaries

Butterfly Topiaries

Butterfly Topiaries

Lady and the Tramp Topiaries

Lady and the Tramp Topiaries

Kermit and Miss Piggy Topiaries

Kermit and Miss Piggy Topiaries

Norway Troll Topiary

Norway Troll Topiary

Cinderella and Prince Charming Topiaries

Cinderella and Prince Charming Topiaries

There are currently over 100 topiaries on display at the 2014 Disney World Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.  Over 70,000 flowers surround the lake, and 220 mini-gardens float on the water.  The effect  is quite stunning!  Spring is here, and the weather is warm and sunny in Florida.  More info is at:  http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/guides/epcot/events/ep-flower-garden.htm

 

Florida: Viera Wetlands – So Many Birds!

Viera Wading Birds

Viera Wading Birds

Over 50 White Pelicans!

Over 50 White Pelicans!

White Pelicans Fishing - One Swallowing a Carp

White Pelicans Fishing – One Swallowing a Carp

Great Blue Heron Chicks are Hatching Now

Great Blue Heron Chicks are Hatching Now

Male Anhinga in Breeding Plumage

Male Anhinga in Breeding Plumage

Female Anhinga with Chicks on Nest

Female Anhinga with Chicks on Nest

Adult Little Blue Heron with Fluffed Feathers

Adult Little Blue Heron with Fluffed Feathers

Green Herons use Tools as "Bait" to Attract Fish

Green Herons use Tools as “Bait” to Attract Fish

Ospreys (Fish Hawks) are Nesting Now

Ospreys (Fish Hawks) are Nesting Now

Hooded Mergansers Erect Head Feathers as a Crest

Hooded Mergansers Erect Head Feathers as a Crest

Northern Shovelers have Largest Duck Bill

Northern Shovelers have Largest Duck Bill

Purple Gallinules use Long Toes to Walk on Lily Pads

Purple Gallinules use Long Toes to Walk on Lily Pads

We’ve seen so many birds at the Viera Wetlands lately!  This water reclamation facility is a favorite stop for birdwatchers and visitors at the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival:  http://spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org/  Recent bird sightings are posted by Friends of the Viera Wetlands at:  http://friendsofvierawetlands.blogspot.com/  General info and maps are at:  http://www.brevardcounty.us/NaturalResources/EnvironmentalResources/Wetlands

Great Egrets are Nesting Now in Florida!

Great Egret in Breeding Plumage

Great Egret in Breeding Plumage

Great Egret Courtship Display

Great Egret Courtship Display

Great Egret Breeding Pair

Great Egret Breeding Pair

Great Egret "Gator Surfing"!

Great Egret “Gator Surfing”!

Beautiful great egrets have started nesting now in Florida!  We love birds, so nesting season is our favorite time of year.  Egrets are 3 feet tall, so they make quite an impression.  The oldest known great egret lived to be 22 years old.

Florida: A Very Wiggly River Otter

Otter Wiggling in Sand

Otter Wiggling in Sand

Otter Resting

Otter Resting

Otter in Grass

Otter in Grass

We saw this very cute river otter yesterday wiggling in the sand to dry off after hunting in the water.  Adorable!

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park: Amazing Animals!

Elk Crossing Road

Elk Crossing Road

Mother Pronghorn and Twins

Mother Pronghorn and Twins

Bison Grazing

Bison Grazing

Bison Face

Bison Face

Mother Bison and Calf

Mother Bison and Calf

Flock of Bighorn Sheep

Flock of Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep Looking at You

Bighorn Sheep Looking at You

Bighorn Sheep Sticking out Tongue

Bighorn Sheep Sticking out Tongue

Bull Moose with Spectacular Rack

Bull Moose with Spectacular Rack

Female Moose Eating Willow Leaves

Female Moose Eating Willow Leaves

Mother Grizzly Bear

Mother Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear Family

Grizzly Bear Family

White-Tailed Deer with 8-Point Antlers

White-Tailed Deer with 8-Point Antlers

Uinta Ground Squirrel Resting

Uinta Ground Squirrel Resting

Uinta Ground Squirrel's Gnawing Teeth

Uinta Ground Squirrel’s Gnawing Teeth

National Park Service Mule

National Park Service Mule

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park is the best place to view wildlife!  It is amazing how many animals you can see by simply driving the loop road through the park.  Our favorite times to visit are late spring and early Fall.  More info is at:  http://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm

Spectacular Atlas 5 Rocket Launch Tonight!

Timed Exposure of Atlas 5 Rocket Launch on January 23, 2014

Timed Exposure of Atlas 5 Rocket Launch on January 23, 2014

We had a spectacular rocket launch tonight here on the Space Coast of Florida.  NASA launched a 3.8 ton Atlas 5 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral at 9:33 pm Eastern Standard Time.  What an awesome sight!  This picture is a 2 minute timed exposure of the launch as seen from our home in Palm Bay (about 40 miles south of the Space Center).  Notice the reflection of the rocket trail in the pond (click on the picture to see details and star colors).  Updates and coverage of all worldwide rocket launches is available at http://www.spaceflightnow.com/.

Florida Beach in Winter

Sebastian Beach Waves

Sebastian Beach Waves

Scotch Bonnet Shell

Scotch Bonnet Shell

Fishing Jetty

Fishing Jetty

Tidal Cove

Tidal Cove

9 Armed Sea Star

9 Armed Sea Star

Willet Eating a Crab

Willet Eating a Crab

Snowy Egret (notice the bright yellow feet)

Snowy Egret (notice the bright yellow feet)

Black Skimmers and Beach Sunflowers

Black Skimmers and Beach Sunflowers

Royal Terns (male displaying to unimpressed female on right)

Royal Terns (male displaying to unimpressed female on right)

Herring Gull Sleeping

Herring Gull Sleeping

Florida beaches are delightful in winter.  Occasionally a sweater is needed, but otherwise it is great weather for being outside and walking on the sand.  These pictures were taken at Sebastian Inlet State Park on Florida’s central Atlantic coast (east of Orlando).

Amazing Pelican Pouch

Brown Pelican Pouch Open

Brown Pelican Pouch Open

Brown Pelican Face On

Brown Pelican Face On

Brown Pelican Head Down

Brown Pelican Head Down

Brown Pelican Stretching

Brown Pelican Stretching

Brown Pelican Pouch Inside Out

Brown Pelican Pouch Inside Out

Brown Pelican Looking Left

Brown Pelican Looking Left

Brown Pelican's Expanded Pouch with Fish Inside

Brown Pelican’s Expanded Pouch with Fish Inside

Pelicans have incredible pouches.  The expandable pouches are used to scoop up food, and can hold up to 3 gallons of water and fish!  Brown pelicans are the only pelicans that are plunge divers.  They drop from the air with a big splash, and then scoop up the stunned fish.  We watched this funny brown pelican stretching at Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida.  In the process, we got a great look at its amazing pouch.

Florida Christmas: Bok Tower Gardens

Bromeliad Wall at Christmas

Bromeliad Wall at Christmas

Staghorn Fern and Poinsettias

Staghorn Fern and Poinsettias

Poinsettia Balls and Spanish Moss

Poinsettia Balls and Spanish Moss

Big Pots and Poinsettia Walkway

Big Pots and Poinsettia Walkway

Entrance to Historic Pinewood Estate

Entrance to Historic Pinewood Estate

Hibiscus Wreath

Hibiscus Wreath

Santa Sleigh

Santa Sleigh

Family Room

Family Room

Cookies and Milk for Santa, and Carrots for Reindeer

Cookies and Milk for Santa, and Carrots for Reindeer

Christmas Treats Table

Christmas Treats Table

Vintage Living Room

Vintage Living Room

Study (insect decorations on tree)

Study (insect decorations on tree)

Bedroom with Window Wreaths

Bedroom with Window Wreaths

Peacock Theme Bedroom

Peacock Theme Bedroom

Twin Bedroom with Swan Paintings

Twin Bedroom with Swan Paintings

Flowers Blooming at Christmastime

Flowers Blooming at Christmastime

Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida, is decorated beautifully this time of year.  The historic Pinewood Estate has vintage Christmas decorations on view in every room.  It is a delightful place to visit.  More info is at:  http://boktowergardens.org/christmas/

Florida: River Otters in our Pond!

Florida River Otter Face

Florida River Otter Face

Florida River Otter Side View

Florida River Otter Side View

Florida River Otter Eating Crayfish (tail visible)

Florida River Otter Eating Crayfish (tail visible)

We were surprised and pleased to see a pair of river otters in our backyard pond this past week!  They are very shy, so I had to hide behind a tree to take these pictures.  River otters use their sensitive whiskers to find fish, crayfish, and other food in the pond.  They swim with an up and down movement using their tails as rudders, and can travel up to 1/4 mile without a breath of air.  They generally weigh about 17 pounds and grow up to 4 feet long.  River otters are very playful and fun to watch, so we are hoping they come back again soon!  More info is at:  http://floridaswater.com/raleighsden/meet_raleigh_otter.html

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.

Florida: Beautiful Butterfly World

Butterflies of the World Display in Insect Museum

Butterflies of the World Display in Insect Museum

Piano Key Butterfly

Piano Key Butterfly

Malachite Butterfly

Malachite Butterfly

Birdwing Butterfly

Birdwing Butterfly

Giant Owl Butterfly

Giant Owl Butterfly

Jaboticaba Fruit Tree

Jaboticaba Fruit Tree

Tropical Rhododendron

Tropical Rhododendron

Passion Flower:  Passiflora Royale

Passion Flower: Passiflora Royale

Monkey's Brush Tree

Monkey’s Brush Tree

Queen's Wreath Flower

Queen’s Wreath Flower

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

Lady Gouldian Finch (male)

Lady Gouldian Finch (male)

Yellow-Legged Honeycreeper

Yellow-Legged Honeycreeper

Esmerelda Clear-Winged Butterfly in Insect Museum

Esmerelda Clear-Winged Butterfly in Insect Museum

Butterfly World is the largest butterfly park in the world!  This attraction is located in Coconut Creek, Florida (north of Miami).  The park contains 10 acres of botanical gardens, aviaries, and research facilities.  A minimum of 3,000 butterflies (of at least 50 different species) fly year-round inside the botanical gardens, and most of them were raised on-site.  The park also contains the country’s largest free-flight hummingbird aviary, and one of the largest collections of passion flower vines in the world.  Top missions are conservation and education.  This place is a true delight!  More info is at:  http://www.butterflyworld.com/

Wyoming: Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte National Monument Entrance

Fossil Butte National Monument Entrance

View of Sagebrush Desert at Top of Butte

View of Sagebrush Desert at Top of Butte

Visitor Center Museum Mural

Visitor Center Museum Mural

Fossil Stingray (female)

Fossil Stingray (female)

Fossil Gar

Fossil Gar

Fossil Snake

Fossil Snake

Fossil Palm Frond

Fossil Palm Frond

Fossil Leaves

Fossil Leaves

Fossil Turtle with Crocodile Bite Marks on Shell

Fossil Turtle with Crocodile Bite Marks on Shell

13-Foot Fossil Crocodile

13-Foot Fossil Crocodile

Fossil Butte National Monument, near Kemmerer, Wyoming, is known as “America’s Aquarium in Stone”.  The area contains the largest deposit of freshwater fish fossils in the world!   We particularly enjoyed the fossil display at the Visitor Center.  Many of the fossils were animals familiar to us; the weather in Wyoming 50 million years ago was similar to Florida today.  This windswept landscape has a rugged beauty all its own.  More info is at:  http://www.nps.gov/fobu/naturescience/fossils.htm

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/

Colorful Parrots

Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaw

Buffon's Macaw

Buffon’s Macaw

Catalina Macaw

Catalina Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

Hyacinth Macaw

Hyacinth Macaw

Sulfur Crested Cockatoo

Sulfur Crested Cockatoo

Yellow Crowned Amazon Parrot

Yellow Crowned Amazon Parrot

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

Wild Lorikeet in Australia

Wild Lorikeet in Australia

Closeup of Colorful Feathers

Closeup of Colorful Feathers

Parrots are among the top ten intelligent animals.  People are drawn to them because they are so beautiful and can mimic human speech.  One of our favorite memories is the time we had “breakfast with the birds” in the rainforest of eastern Australia.  Rainbow lorikeets landed on our picnic table and helped themselves to apples as we ate!  In Sydney, we saw flocks of cockatoos flying around the Botanical Gardens.  If you like birds in the parrot family, the best places in the world to see them are Australia and Brazil.

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

Amazing Hummingbirds

Female Allen's Hummingbird

Female Allen’s Hummingbird

Male Allen's Hummingbird

Male Allen’s Hummingbird

Female Anna's Hummingbird

Female Anna’s Hummingbird

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

Wings of Anna's Hummingbird

Wings of Anna’s Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are known as “flying jewels” because of their beautiful iridescent feathers.  They are the only birds that can rotate their wings in a circle.  They can hover and fly forward, backward, and even briefly upside down.  They are among the smallest of birds, and only live in the Americas.  Their tiny nests are 1.5 inches in diameter – just big enough for two jellybean-size eggs.  Spider silk is used to stick lichens onto the nest for camouflage.  Hummingbirds eat small insects and drink nectar from up to 1,000 flowers per day.  They are a favorite of mine – what sweet little birds!  More fun info is at:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/humm/funfacts.html