California: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Author Photographing Sardines at Open Seas. “The sea is as near as we come to another world.”

Sea Pen Display

Chambered Nautilus (cousin of the octopus)

Green Moray Eels

Bigfin Reef Squid

Lookdown Fish

Stone Scorpionfish (looking left)

Orange Cup Coral

Southern Sea Otter

Avocet (at least 26 years old)

Marbled Godwit (at least 21 years old)

Black Oystercatcher ( at least 24 years old)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (at least 20 years old)

Beautiful California Coast South of Monterey

We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the end of February.  It is always a delight – one of the best aquariums we’ve ever seen!  It is extra special because of its beautiful location on the central California coast.  Although temporarily closed now because of the pandemic, you can visit virtually through these live cams:  https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams

Some of the birds at the aquarium are quite old  (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/stories/the-aviarys-amazing-senior-citizens).  Each one was found injured and unable to be released back into the wild.  They have been happily living their lives in the aviary ever since.  I read that birdwatching and nature is good for the soul and health – agreed!  https://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-of-bird-watching/

California: Filoli Gardens in Early Spring

White Flowering Fruit Tree and Daffodils

Cherub and Daffodils

Yellow Daffodils Blooming

White and Orange Daffodil Blooming

Pink Star Tulips

White Narcissus Flowers and Bird Bath

Majestic Tulip Tree in Bloom

Tulip Tree Flower Close-up

Red and White Camellia

Red Velvet Camellia

It seems like ages ago, but in February we enjoyed a trip to Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California (south of San Francisco).  It is one of the most beautiful gardens in the United States!  It is well worth a visit.  More info is at:  https://filoli.org/

SpaceX Rocket Launch – WOW!!!

Spectacular Sky Show of SpaceX Launch (star sapphire effect!)

SpaceX Booster Return Rocket Trail

On Saturday morning in the predawn hour of 5:21 am SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here on Florida’s east coast.  The sight was spectacular – WOW!!!  The rocket trail was illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon. The glow in the bottom picture is from the booster return landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” offshore, which at that point was 350 miles away!  Fifty-eight Starlink satellites and 3 Planet SkySats were sent into orbit.  Read about it at:  https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-8-planet-satellite-launch-rocket-landing-success.html  and https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-8-launch-amazing-twitter-photos.html

Huge Night Blooming Cactus Flowers!

Close-up of Cactus Flower

Three Cactus Flowers

Cactus Flowers on Sabal Palm

Daytime Before Blooms Open at Night

It’s that time of year here in Florida – our Queen-of-the-Night cactus is blooming every evening!  This unassuming snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus), which is unremarkable for most of the year, steals the show in early summer.  It is easily propagated because there are rootlets all along the plant.  Each bloom opens and lasts only one night.  The flowers are the size of dinner plates – wow!  

California: Pink Beach!

Short Walk to Pfeiffer Beach through Monterey Cypress Trees

Walk North on Beach

Pink Diamond Patterns in Sand

Pink Sand Around Rocks

Seaweed at Water’s Edge

Sea Stack with Keyhole Arch

Pfeiffer Beach is a real gem tucked away at the end of Sycamore Canyon Road at Big Sur, California (south of Monterey).  This spectacular beach is famous for its pink sand, formed by manganese garnet crystals that have washed down from the cliffs above. Look for ever-changing patterns of increasing pink sand as you walk north along the beach.  A bonus to your walk is the rocky sea arch offshore – watch for the waves to come roaring through its keyhole arch.  Don’t miss this hidden secret!  Learn more at:   https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/pfeiffer-beach-big-sur/  

A previous post about Pfeiffer Beach is at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/big-sur-stunning-pink-sand-beach/

Great Crested Flycatcher Nest!

Great Crested Flycatcher on Nest Box

Great Crested Flycatcher with Dragonfly for Babies

Inside the Nest Box (Babies Hunkered Down)

Flycatcher Baby Fledgling After Leaving Nest

We are so excited to have a pair of great crested flycatchers nesting in our yard! For identification, look for the bird’s pretty lemon-yellow belly.  The picture inside the nest box was taken with our tiny Insta360 ONE camera.  We could see 3 babies in the nest at the bottom (middle).  Surrounding the babies are the flycatcher’s unique nesting materials – lots of feathers and even a bit of black and white fur (upper right).  Flycatchers are well known for weaving snakeskins into their nest, and this one has one too – how exciting!  The nest also has two round white empty mud dauber pots (top).  I wish we had gotten a picture of the eggs – they are creamy brown with purple squiggles on them.  Maybe next year!  A previous post about flycatchers is at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/great-crested-flycatchers-are-nesting/

Florida in Spring: Nesting Herons and Other Dark Birds

Great Blue Heron Pair on Nest

Great Blue Heron Nest Building on Tree Tops

Male Anhinga’s Beautiful Green and Blue Eye Colors in Spring

Fuzzy Anhinga Babies in Nest

Double Crested Cormorants Have Turquoise Blue Mouths During Breeding Season

Beautiful Iridescent Colors of Glossy Ibis

Green Backed Heron in Marsh

Yellow Crowned Night Heron in Tree with Spanish Moss

Juvenile White Phase of Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Transition from White Phase to Adulthood Plumage

Adult Little Blue Heron’s Dark Feather Colors

Tricolored Heron’s Crest Feathers

Adult Tricolored Heron’s Beautiful Blue Color During Breeding Season

Juvenile Tricolored Heron’s Funny Face

Tricolored Heron Baby Hello!

Paired with my other post about Florida’s egrets and other white birds in spring, this post is about herons and dark feathered birds during nesting season.  These colorful birds and their babies make me smile! 

Florida in Spring: Nesting Egrets and Other White Birds

Snowy Egret Breeding Feather Plumes

Snowy Egret Funny Face

Snowy Egret Plumed Head Feathers

Snowy Egret Golden Slipper Feet

Snowy Egret Face Breeding Colors

Snowy Egret Babies

Cattle Egret Breeding Colors

Cattle Egret Face

Great Egret Face Breeding Colors

Great Egret Feather Plumes

Great Egret with Outstretched Wing

Great Egret Babies

Great Egret Baby Hello

White Ibis Face Breeding Colors

Wood Stork on Nest

Wood Stork Family (3 babies)

We love our Florida birds, especially in spring.  This post shows egrets and other white birds during nesting season, when feathers are plumed and colors are bright.  If you are lucky, you will see great egrets, snowy egrets, and cattle egrets together in one big breeding colony – it is quite a sight!  Sometimes wood storks and white ibis nest there too!

Purple Martin Babies!

Purple Martin Nesting Gourds

Martins Collecting Pine Needles for Nest

Bird’s Eye View from Inside Gourd

 

Five Eggs in Nest

Newly Hatched Babies (Pinkies)

Growing Purple Martin Babies

Older Babies with Pinfeathers

Parents Bring Bugs to Growing Babies

Babies Waiting to be Fed

Hungry Baby with Mouth Wide Open

Rainbow Over Purple Martin Gourds

We have so many purple martin babies!  Did a backyard count here in Florida and the grand total for our nesting colony is 201 purple martins (107 babies, 22 eggs, and 72 adults).  Ages range from eggs to newborn pinkies to older babies with pinfeathers.  Love this time of year!  Learn more from the Purple Martin Conservation Association at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/

UPDATE May 16, 2020:  Lots of babies fledging this week!  Constant activity at the nesting gourds – great time of year!

Scenic Golden Gate Bridge is the Best!

Golden Gate Bridge Approach Looking North

Golden Gate Bridge and Surfer as seen from Fort Point National Historic Site (also location of famous scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Vertigo)

Golden Gate Bridge in Infrared as seen from Fort Point National Historic Site

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center Viewpoint

Golden Gate Bridge Walkway Looking North

Golden Gate Bridge Panorama of San Francisco Bay Area (click to enlarge)

Golden Gate Bridge Tower’s Art Deco Style

Golden Gate Bridge Art Deco Lightposts

Close-up of Golden Gate Bridge’s Art Deco Lamp

Golden Gate Bridge Historic Plaque

Golden Gate Bridge Span Cable and Wire Statistics

Close-up of Single Golden Gate Bridge Cable

Golden Gate Bridge as Viewed from the Water Looking North (tours from Pier 39)

Golden Gate Bridge Span as seen from Marin Headlands Looking South (at Battery Spencer)

Golden Gate Bridge Tower as seen from Marin Headlands (at Battery Spencer)

Richard and Pam (author) at Marin Headlands by Foggy Golden Gate Bridge

Whimsical Golden Gate Bridge and Dinosaurs Card

In February this year we made a return visit to San Francisco, California.  We left just before the Pandemic and lockdown occurred.  We look forward to the day when life returns to normal.  Meanwhile we’ll enjoy thinking about the good times we had and more to come (note all pictures can be clicked to enlarge).

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge first opened on May 27, 1937.  This suspension bridge is an engineering marvel that is 1.7 miles long and contains 80,000 miles of steel wire – enough to circle the Earth three times!  Painting the bridge is a never-ending job.  Read a fascinating story about it at:  https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/04/the-fascinating-neverending-job-of-painting-the-golden-gate-bridge/390453/

The U.S. Navy originally wanted to paint the bridge black with yellow stripes.  Others wanted to paint it aluminum grey to evoke the beauty of a dirigible airship.  Architect Irving Morrow decided to keep the bridge the same color (International Orange) as the original red primer on the steel.  He thought it blended well with the nearby hills, ocean, and sky throughout the seasons. 

San Francisco is famous for its fog.  It forms most often in summer when warm air flows over the cool Pacific Ocean.  Some visitors never see the bridge because of the dense fog!  Poets have described the fog as “moving art”.  Our time-lapse video of fog streaming past the Golden Gate Bridge can be viewed at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/our-best-video-of-the-golden-gate-bridge-and-fog-time-lapse-10x-speed/

San Francisco is consistently voted one of the top ten cities in the world by travelers. The “City by the Bay” has inspired the following quotes:

Billy Graham: “The Bay Area is so beautiful that I hesitate to preach about Heaven while I am here.”

Walter Cronkite: “Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible.”

Julia Child: “It is simply a very romantic place…you couldn’t be anywhere else.”

Larry King: “The ultimate for me would be one perfect day in San Francisco. There’s no city like it anywhere.”

Rudyard Kipling: “San Francisco has only one drawback…it is hard to leave.”

Frank Sinatra: “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

And on a funny note, a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain is: “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco.”

You can read about the history and features of the Golden Gate Bridge at:  https://www.goldengate.org/bridge/history-research/

Huell Howser of California’s Gold has a must-see video about the Golden Gate Bridge and the men who work there – an absolute classic and one of my favorites:  https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1993/12/10/golden-gate-bridge-californias-gold-407/

Florida: Backyard Wildlife

Male Painted Bunting and Cardinal

Female Painted Bunting

Male Wild Turkey with Beard Feathers

Sandhill Crane

Peahen (female peacock)

Whitetail Deer

Armadillo

Raccoon Babies at Door

 

We love the variety of wildlife in our backyard here in Florida.  So much fun! 

Orchid Fragrance

Fragrant Deep Pink Purple Orchid

Green and Purple Orchid Smells like Lemons

Chocolate Orchid (Sharry Baby)

Purple Orchid Smells like Cinnamon

Fragrant Orange Orchid

Fragrant Pink, White and Yellow Orchid

Orchids have been around since the age of the dinosaurs.  Many people do not realize that some orchids have fragrance.  The scent is used to attract pollinators, such as bees or moths, and varies by when those insects are most active.  One of my favorites is the chocolate orchid – mmmm!   Other fragrances in our orchid collection include lemon, cinnamon, spicy, fruity, and delicate floral tones. 

Orchids and Vanilla

Group of Orchid Flowers

Purple-Speckled Phalaenopsis Orchid

White and Yellow with Purple Spots Phalaenopsis Orchid

White, Pink, and Yellow Dendrobium Orchid

Unique Purple and White Dendrobium Orchid

Purchased Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Bowl of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Did you know that vanilla flavor comes from an orchid?  Each bean pod of Vanilla planifolia contains thousands of tiny black seeds – these are the black specs in vanilla bean ice cream!  Pure vanilla extract in your spice cabinet comes from vanilla beans mixed with water and alcohol.  In nature, Vanilla planifolia flowers can only be pollinated by hummingbirds and special bees.  For commercial production, the orchids must be pollinated by hand.  Orchids get more interesting all the time!  Now who is hungry?  Read more at:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanilla-comes-from_n_5021060

Iceland: Stunning Blue Ice!

Wonderful Zodiac Tour of Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon

Blue Iceberg at Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon

Black Marbled Iceberg at Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon

Blue Iceberg with Glacial Scrapes at Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon

Towering Iceberg with Holes at Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Bridge

Glacial Ice Passing Under Jokulsarlon Bridge

Overview of Jokulsaron Ice Lagoon with Calving Glacier in Distance

Glacial Ice on Black Sand of Diamond Beach at Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon

Glacial Ice with Ocean Wave at Diamond Beach

Long Exposure of Diamond Beach

Close-up of Glacial Ice

Seals at Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon

View of Greenland from Airplane

Greenland’s Snow Covered Mountains

Greenland’s Blue Waterways with Ice

Greenland’s South Coast Mountains

Greenland’s South Coast Near Qaqortoq

The glaciers and ice on the south coast of Iceland are stunning!  Some of the icebergs are an incredible blue.  This area is one of our absolute favorites of anywhere we have ever been! When we flew home, we got super lucky and had a spectacular view of Greenland on the return flight.  Gorgeous!   We will definitely return –  nature photography is the best in Iceland!  Our updated Iceland slideshow / travel guide full of pictures, tips, and a custom google map is located at this link (click once, and then click again; wait a minute for it to load and open): ICELANDIC SLIDESHOW 2020

Iceland: Reykjavik Area Sightseeing

Looking up at Hallgrimskirkja Church Tower (tours go to the top)

Inside Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Pipe Organ

View of Reykjavik from Top of Tower

Clock Face from Inside the Church Tower

Looking out Clock Face Window

View from Church Tower of Reykjavik Looking North

Walkway to Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Glass Patterns on Floor

Harpa Ceiling and Wall Patterns

Harpa Ceiling Cubic Design

National Gallery of Art: Swans 3-D Relief by Hulda Hakon

Reykjavik Street Art with Sun and Duck

Wall of Famous Guitars at Icelandic Museum of Rock and Roll (near airport)

Full Size Viking Ship Islendingur at Viking World

Ship’s Carved Dragon Head Scares Away Sea Monsters

Street Lamp Shaped Like a Person Standing

Street Light Shaped Like a Person Walking

When we visit Iceland, we always spend a few days visiting the Reykjavik area before heading out to the countryside.  We always see something new!  This time downtown we enjoyed a spectacular view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja Church Tower and then went on a walking tour of Harpa Concert Hall.  Near Keflavik International Airport we highly recommend seeing the Icelandic Museum of Rock and Roll (Rokksafn) – the wall of guitars includes those by John Lennon and Wolfman Jack.  Viking World nearby features the full size Viking ship Islendingur –  an exact 9th century replica that was sailed from Iceland to New York City in the year 2000 to celebrate Leif Erikson’s journey to North America 1,000 years earlier.  An unexpected delight was to see the unique people-shaped street lamps in the same area. 

Merry Christmas from Florida

Warm wishes from the beach here in Florida for a wonderful holiday and happy new year!

Driftwood Tree at Sebastian Beach

Iceland: Magical Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Mount Stapafell (Home of Elves). Rocky Point on Top is called Fellskross – a Viking Sign of Holy Powers

Svodufoss Waterfall

Icelandic Sheep in Meadow

Northern Coast of Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Seagulls on Cliff Overlooking Ocean

Arnarstapi Cliff Nesting Birds

Black-Legged Kittiwake Eggshell Dropped on Land

Ondverdarnes Lighthouse at Western Tip of Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Striking Skardsvik Golden Sand Beach in Black Volcanic Landscape

Snaefellsjokull Volcano and Orange Sky at Midnight in June

Snaefellsjokull with Dramatic Clouds

Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula is an enchanting place.  We find more places to go every time we visit.  The birds – the sky – the coast – and the ever-present Snaefellsjokull volcano make for a magical place.

In the Sjominjasafn Maritime Museum we saw a display with a beautiful quote by Halldor Laxness, World Light:

“Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there anymore, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands”.

 

Iceland: Incredibly Scenic Churches

Hofskirkja in Fairy Tale-like Setting (1 of 6 historic turf churches remaining in Iceland)

Magical Hofskirkja in Back

Hofskirkja in Front

Hofskirkja Burial Mounds

Hofskirkja Cross

Vik i Myrdal (Vikurkirkja or Vik Church) and Purple Lupines in June

Colorful Hvalneskirkja (Stone Church)

Olafsvikurkirkja (Olafsvik Church Hofsos) Shaped Like a Ship near a Fishing Village

Olafsvikurkirkja Bell Tower (triangle theme reflects holy trinity)

Budakirkja (Budir Black Church) by Volcanic Cinder Cone

Ingjadlsholskirkja (Independent Church) at End of Lonely Country Lane

The churches in Iceland are incredibly scenic and beautiful.  They often sit on a hill overlooking the ocean.  You can feel the history of the place as you stand in some of these remote locations.  “Kirkja” means church in Icelandic.  An excellent article about Icelandic churches is at:  https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/churches-in-iceland  Previous blog posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Return to Beautiful Iceland!

Puffin Statue near Skogafoss

Skogafoss Waterfall

Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Svartifoss Waterfall with Rainbow

Mount Kirkjufell with Cotton Grass

Heath Orchid

Icelandic Horse Portrait

Icelandic Horse Family

Arnarstapi Lava Cliff

Midnight Sunset

In June we visited Iceland again (our third trip) – the photography opportunities are that good!  The weather was great, and the sights were amazing!  Some of our favorite photos are included with this post (click to enlarge).

Spectacular Dawn Rocket Launch!

Long Exposure of Rocket Trail Illuminated by Sunlight Below Horizon

Close-up of Rocket Plume

Rocket Trail “Space Art” as Seen from our Backyard Pond in Palm Bay, Florida

We watched a stunning rocket launch yesterday at dawn here on the Space Coast of Florida!  An Atlas V rocket blasted off at 6:13 am and successfully placed a communications satellite into orbit.  Sunlight from below the horizon lit up the rocket’s exhaust plume and ice particles formed from it at high altitudes.   The resulting effect was spectacular space art in the sky – WOW!

Spectacular Night Blooming Cactus Flowers!

Cactus Flowers Surround Palm Trunk

Cactus Flower Trio

Side View of Night Blooming Cactus Flower

Close-up of Night Blooming Cactus Flower

So Many Cactus Flowers

Cactus Climbed Palm Tree (raccoon on lower right)

Our night blooming cactus put on the best show ever on Sunday night – over 60 huge flowers were in bloom!  This snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus – Princess of the Night) is only 7 years old and grew from a tiny cutting.  Moths pollinate the flowers.  What a spectacular sight!  (click any image to enlarge)

Spectacular Pincushion Flowers!

Leucospermum cordifolium, Yellow Bird

Leucospermum Spider Portrait

Leucospermum Spider Pair

Leucospermum cordifolium (Perry’s Orange)

Leucospermum veldfire: Close-up of Ribbons

Leucospermum erubescens (natural “bouquet” of flowers at various stages of bloom)

Leucospermum Tango (closed bloom)

Leucospermum Tango (open bloom)

Leucospermum grandiflorum (Rainbow Pincushion)

Leucospermum reflexum luteum (Yellow Comet / Rocket Pincushion)

Leucospermum reflexum (Red Comet / Rocket Pincushion)

The pincushion flowers at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum are spectacular!  These evergreen shrubs in the genus Leucospermum originated in South Africa.  Proteas are one of the Earth’s oldest families of flowering plants.  The flower structures are incredibly complex and interesting, and heavy nectar attracts birds and insects.  Learn more at:  https://arboretum.ucsc.edu/

Sebastian Inlet State Park Beach Collage

Sebastian Beach Collage

We enjoy going to Sebastian Inlet State Park on Florida’s central Atlantic coast.  It is a spectacular place to visit!  The weather this winter has been especially beautiful.  We made this collage of our favorite scenes at the inlet (click on the picture to enlarge and see details).  Info and live cam links are available at:  https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/sebastian-inlet-state-park

Eclipse of the Moon!

Moon Before Lunar Eclipse

Peak Totality of Lunar Eclipse

Last night (Sunday), January 20, we watched the “Super Blood Wolf Moon” Eclipse. It was stunning!   It was “Super” because the moon was passing Earth at its closest point in orbit, so it appeared bigger and brighter than usual.  It was a “Blood” moon because it turned coppery-red during the eclipse.  And it was a “Wolf” moon because in January the moon is associated with increased wolf activity and howling.

It was a crystal-clear evening here in Florida and the sky was full of stars.  The eclipse began at 10:34 pm EST, totality started at 11:41 pm, and the peak coppery-red color appeared at 12:10 am.  What a beautiful sight!  The next total lunar eclipse will not be visible in the United States until 2022.

Bok Tower Gardens at Christmas

Bok Tower and Reflecting Pond

Golden Brass Door at Base of Tower

23K Gold Snake Gnomon Timepiece on Sundial

Pinewood Estate 1940s Sparkly Christmas Tree

Holiday Candles

Poinsettia Courtyard

Orange Bowl with Mr. and Mrs. Claus

Bird-of-Paradise “Red Christmas”

Camellia “Sweetie Pie – Red Stripe”

Red Camellia

Orange/Red Camellia

Pink Azalea

Purple “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

Yellow Celosia

Beehive Ginger

Bok Tower Gardens in Lake, Wales, Florida, is spectacular over the holidays!  The decorations are beautiful at the Pinewood Estate, and the camellias and azaleas are gorgeous too (peak bloom time is January and February).  Plus the weather can’t be beat!  More info is at:  https://boktowergardens.org/christmas/

Arizona: Life in the Desert

White Winged Dove on Saguaro Flowers

Cluster of Saguaro Flowers

Young Saguaro (100 years old)

Multiple Saguaro Arms

Mature Saguaro (200 years old)

Barrel Cactus Group

Barrel Cactus Flower Smile

Purple Prickly Pear Pad

Reg Manning – Cartoon Cactus Postcard

Reg Manning – Cartoon Elf Owl Nest in Saguaro

Horny Toad on Opuntia Cactus Pad

Desert Spiny Lizard

Sonoran Gopher Snake

Javelina (Peccary) and Twin Piglets

Round Tailed Ground Squirrel

Male Gambel’s Quail

Anna’s Hummingbird on Nest

Desert Pollinators Sign

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on Red Salvia

White Datura Flower (Moon Lily)

Cercidium Desert Museum Palo Verde Tree

Giant Easter Lily (Red Cactus Flowers)

The abundance of life in the Arizona desert is amazing!  If you look closely, you will see all kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and plants.  

The cacti in Arizona are especially fascinating.  Barrel cactus act like a compass and usually lean south.  Saguaros come in endless shapes and sizes.  They grow their first arm when they reach 75‑100 years old, and don’t reach full size until the age of 200!  They are 98% water and can survive 4 years without a drink.  Bats pollinate the flowers at night, and hummingbirds visit the flowers during the day.  Sometimes little elf owls and woodpeckers nest inside the cactus – it keeps them nice and cool.  Saguaros are so unique and full of character that a funny cartoon book was written about them by Reg Manning: “What Kinda Cactus Izzat?”.

Although the desert may seem somewhat barren during the dry season, flowers can appear quickly after a rain.  The desert is most beautiful at that time!  We are already planning another visit!

Arizona: Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert Overlook

Teepees Rock Formation at Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa Badlands Trail

Photography from Crystal Forest Trail

Petrified Wood Bark and Knot Hole

Sectioned Petrified Logs in Landscape

Sign Describing Who Cut the Wood (no one)

Colorful Petrified Wood

Postcard: Origin of Colors in Petrified Wood

Sign Describing Time to Petrify Wood

Painted Desert Inn

Inn’s Glass Skylight Ceiling with Pottery Designs

Famous Mountain Lion Petroglyph

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs

Petrified Forest Visitor Center by Architect Neutra

Rock Shop Outside Park

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has one of the best concentrations of petrified wood in the world!  One of the largest logs (Old Faithful) is 35 feet long, 10 feet wide, and weighs 44 tons! 

The trees (mostly conifers) were buried in mud during the late Triassic Period 225 million years ago.  The mud contained volcanic ash.  Silica in the ash was absorbed by the wood and crystallized into quartz over time.  This happened through a process called permineralization – the minerals do not actually replace all the organic material, but instead take on the shape of the cells.  Some petrified wood is so perfectly preserved that you can see individual tree rings, bark, and even knot holes!  Color results from minerals in the ash. In general, iron oxides produce red, yellow, orange, and purple; manganese oxide produces black; and pure quartz produces white.  Since petrified wood is so brittle and splits easily, it looks like someone took a chainsaw and cut up logs across the landscape.

A portion of the Painted Desert is contained within the park – scenic badlands with rocks of every color and hue (blue, lavender, red, and pink).  Vivid layered deposits of clay and sandstone make the scenery particularly dramatic.  You can hike through this landscape at Blue Mesa Badlands Trail.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center (at the entrance to the park off I-40) opened in 1963 and was designed by architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander.  Large windows let the sun in and high walls keep the wind out.  Neutra is famous for his midcentury modern buildings in Palm Springs and Los Angeles.  Nearby, the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark showcases a variety of historic artifacts.  The Rainbow Forest Complex at the south entrance contains the Rainbow Forest Museum, Visitor Center, Bookstore, Gift Shop, and access to the Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House Trails. 

In June 2018 Petrified Forest National Park was designated an official International Dark Sky Park, which means it is one of the top places in the world for star gazing!  If you would like to enjoy the park’s night sky programming or other park activities, more info is at:  https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/index.htm

A kid’s guide to Petrified Forest National Park is at: https://www.nps.gov/pefo/upload/YoungerStudent2006.pdf

Remember, if you want your own piece of petrified wood, please don’t take it from the park.  There are plenty of rock shops outside the park with an amazing selection for your collection.

Florida: Spectacular Solar Probe Launch!

Launch of Parker Solar Probe (click to enlarge)

Image of Sun Taken with Solar Filter

We had a beautiful launch of NASA’s new Parker Solar Probe last night.  Only a few hardy souls managed to be up watching at 3:31 am for the second night in a row (first night was scrubbed).  Nevertheless it was spectacular!  The night was very humid with heavy water vapor in the air.  Can’t wait to see what discoveries will be made about the sun!  As a bonus, I saw a Perseid meteor streak by below the arc of the launch.  Wow!  Read about the solar probe at:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-ula-launch-parker-solar-probe-on-historic-journey-to-touch-sun

Arizona: Monument Valley

Spectacular Sunrise over the Left and Right Mitten Buttes

Classic Monument Valley View

Rider on Horse at John Ford’s Lookout Point

Three Sisters Spires

Big Hogan Rock Formation

The Thumb Stands Out

Tree Silhouette at Moccasin Arch

Antelope Petroglyphs

Milky Way and Meteor

Sunrise on Another Beautiful Day at Monument Valley

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a very scenic location in Utah.  It was a place we visited years ago on our first vacation together with our very first camera, and we’ve never forgotten it.  We returned to see it again last April and it was even better the second time around.  Many classic westerns were filmed in the area including John Wayne in The Searchers, plus also Stagecoach, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump, The Wind Talkers, and Winged Migration among others.  We took a Navajo guided tour by Phillips Photography to see the park and also to photograph the Milky Way and sunrise.  Can’t wait to go back!

We filmed the short timelapse movie below at sunset from our room at “The View” Hotel.

Arizona: Ancient Canyon de Chelly

Canyon View

White House Ruins

Side of Red Clay Pot showing Hogan

Side of Red Clay Pot showing Kokopelli

Description of Red Clay Pot by Navajo Artist Darlene Sam (click to enlarge)

Book “When Clay Sings”

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the nation and is still home to about 40 Navajo families.  The ancient “White House” ruins in the canyon were built around 1070 AD and abandoned in the 1300s.   Info about the park is at:  https://www.nps.gov/cach/index.htm

We purchased a red clay pot there by an elderly Navajo artist named Darlene Sam.  The images on the pot tell her family’s history in the canyon.  You can see her home on one side of the pot, and on the other side are symbols for water, Kokopelli (flute player – symbol of fertility and joy), and a circle of life.  The colors on the pot represent white for the canyon’s walls, green for the trees, black for the small plants, and blue for the sky. A description of the pot says the following:

“Our Navajo Culture makes us who we are and creates the identities that give us meaning and purpose in our lives. Our grandparents teach us about hope. They also give us the strength to have faith when we are faced with troubles that make our lives difficult. Our culture shows us how to love and care through respect for others, our surroundings and ourselves.”  –  Nice words to live by.

An award-winning children’s book “When Clay Sings” by Byrd Baylor is a favorite of ours.  The beautifully illustrated book says that in the Southwest: “Every piece of clay is a piece of someone’s life.  It has its own small voice and sings in its own way.  Even now the wind sometimes finds one of those songs still in the clay and lifts it out and carries it down the canyon and across the hills.  It is a small sound and always far away, but they say sometimes they hear it.”

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