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: Rocket Launch this Week

Long Exposure of Night Launch in Florida

We watched a beautiful launch from Cape Canaveral here on the Space Coast of Florida at 12:15 am on Wednesday morning (October 17,  2018).  It was a warm starry night as the ULA Atlas V rocket soared across the sky.  The advanced communications satellite successfully reached orbit about 3.5 hours later.

Florida: Rare Atala Butterfly Sighting

Atala Butterfly on Coontie

Atala Butterfly after Emerging from Cocoon

The Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct in Florida until a small colony was discovered in Miami in 1979.  This beautiful iridescent butterfly was protected and expanded its range over time.  We saw this rare butterfly for the first time in Sebastian a couple of weeks ago.  The Atala’s only native host for its eggs is the coontie – a small palm-like cycad.  If you live in Florida and want to do your part to help the Atala hairstreak butterfly, plant a few low-maintenance coonties in your yard.  The butterflies will travel miles to find these host plants by smell!  Locally, Busy Bee Nursery in Vero Beach sells coonties and regularly holds butterfly gardening seminars:  http://archive.tcpalm.com/specialty-publications/vero-beach/careful-gardener-uncovers-rare-butterfly-species-in-indian-river-county-ep-1233688624-340516281.html

Arizona: Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater Overview

Visitor Lookout Platform

Meteor Crater Panorama

Shaded Seating

Blasted Rock

Moon Mountain Telescope to View Crater

Apollo Test Capsule

Meteor Crater T-Shirt

Meteor Crater is the “World’s Best Preserved and First Proven” meteor crater on Earth.  It is nearly 1 mile across and 550 feet deep.  About 50,000 years ago an asteroid raced through the atmosphere at 26,000 miles per hour and slammed into the Earth with the force of 20 million tons of TNT.  The iron-nickel meteor is estimated to have weighed several hundred thousand tons and measured 150 feet in diameter.  Since no large core has ever been found at the base of the crater, scientists think the meteor was blasted to bits by the impact.  Since the landscape is so moon-like, NASA trained Apollo astronauts at the site in the 1960s and 1970s, and it continues to be a field trip for astronauts today.

If you would like to visit and see the crater from an overlook, it is an easy stop on your way off I-40 between Petrified Forest National Park and Winslow/Flagstaff, Arizona.  More info is at:  http://meteorcrater.com/

UPDATE April 2020:  Conde Nast Traveller voted Meteor Crater one of the “7 Wonders of the World for 2020”:  https://www.cntraveller.com/gallery/seven-wonders-of-the-world

Arizona: Wigwam Motel

Entrance to Wigwam Motel

Vintage Cars in Front of Wigwams

Tow Mater’s “Grand Pappy” Truck – Did Wigwams Inspire the Cozy Cone Motel in Disney’s Movie “Cars”?

Throwback Image on Display by Lucinda Lewis – Roadside America

Vintage Wigwam Postcard of Sleeping Room

T-shirt: “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”

European Route 66 Festival Poster

After visiting Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Richard told me we were going to a surprise destination.  I was thrilled when we turned the corner in Holbrook and saw the historic Wigwam Motel on Route 66!  It was built in 1950 and features 15 concrete teepees and several vintage cars.  Each wigwam is 21 feet wide and 28 feet tall and contains a bed, TV, AC, and separate bathroom with a shower stall.  There is a drop ceiling, so you can’t see up into the top of the teepee.  Three of the original seven Wigwam Villages survive across the country (this one in addition to those in Cave City, Kentucky, and Rialto/San Bernardino, California).  Watch a TV episode of “California’s Gold” about the California wigwams at:  https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2006/01/09/aztecwigwam-californias-gold-8002/.   

In that era you could enjoy all sorts of kitschy roadside attractions along the open highway.  My favorite line is on the t-shirt: “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”  What a hoot! 

You can read about fun landmarks to get your own kicks on Route 66 at:  https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html 

Read more about the Holbrook Wigwam Motel at:  https://www.12news.com/article/news/special-reports/great-arizona-stories/route-66-nostalgia-alive-and-well-at-the-famed-wigwam-motel-in-holbrook/75-463790763

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.”

Florida: Beautiful McKee Gardens

Purple Waterlily 1

Purple Waterlily 2

Purple Waterlily 3

Purple Waterlily 4

Crinum Lily

Swamp Hibiscus

Mouse Trap Flower

Rain Lily

Ornamental Foxtail Orchid

Purple Epidendrum Orchid

Toad Lily

Dancing Ladies Orchid

Close-up of Dancing Ladies Orchid

The waterlilies are in full bloom at McKee Gardens – so many flowers!  McKee was  recognized in May 2018 as one of the ten most romantic places in Florida by “Coastal Living” magazine!  Read about it here:  https://www.coastalliving.com/travel/gulf-coast/most-romantic-destinations-florida

Florida: Night Blooming Cactus!

Cactus Blooms Ready to Open

Cactus Flower Extravaganza at Night

Blooms on Snake Vine Climbing up Palm Tree

Night Blooming Cactus Pair of Flowers

Our night blooming cactus was in its full glory this week – 30 HUGE flowers opened at once!  It was spectacular!   In the old days of Florida people would have parties in the evening centered around the blooms.  Our snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus – Princess of the Night) was grown from a cutting planted only 6 years ago!

Arizona: Spectacular Slot Canyon! Wow!

Approach to Antelope Slot Canyon X

Entrance to Canyon X

Doorway to More

Slot Canyon Curves

Kissing Rocks

Narrowed Walkway

Triangle Window Crawlway

Sculpted Walls

Crack to Sky

Sky Glow

Author in Awe

Glowing Chamber Beyond

Antelope Slot Canyon X is a photographer’s dream!  It exceeded expectations!  The colors and lighting are an ever-changing panorama.  The canyon is named after the pronghorn antelope that roamed the area years ago.  It was sculpted by rainwater that eroded the sandstone over time.  At times thunderstorms and flash flooding close the canyon.  This beautiful and spiritual place must be seen to be believed!  Info about this Taadidiin Navajo photography tour near Page, Arizona is at:  https://www.antelopecanyon-x.com/?fh-u=b9e5dd6e-70a2-456d-b8be-4fb3f0d00ba7

Arizona: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano

Bonito Lava Flow

Yellow-Orange Juniper Mistletoe

Beautiful Weathered Juniper Wood

Tiny White Spider on Lava Flow

Yellow Newberry Twinpod Growing on Cinders

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a beautiful place to visit just north of Flagstaff, Arizona.  The sunset colors reflect the volcano’s composition of silica, iron oxide, and gypsum.  The volcano erupted about 1040-1100 AD .  It is amazing how life returns and survives on the tough conditions of the lava flow!  Information about visiting is at:  https://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm  and https://www.livescience.com/50237-sunset-crater-photos.html

Arizona: Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam

Horseshoe Bend Overlook

Horseshoe Bend Photography Viewpoint (click to enlarge)

Prickly Pear Cactus with Flower Buds

Hedgehog Cactus Flowers

Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

Glen Canyon Bridge (at completion in 1959 it was highest arch bridge in world)

Squares are Support Rod Tips Piled Deep into Sandstone Canyon Walls

Dilophosaurus Dinosaur Tracks Found Nearby

Chuckwalla

Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, are spectacular sights!  Both are located just past the eastern edge of Grand Canyon National Park.  Horseshoe Bend was formed by erosion from the Colorado River over millions of years.  The meander formed when water flowed around harder stone.  Since water flows fastest on the outside of a curve, the meander gets more pronounced over time.

Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1964 and provides daily hydroelectric power to 5 million customers over 7 Western states.  After the dam was built, the newly backed up water of the Colorado River formed popular Lake Powell.  This desert landscape is beautiful!

Cute Baby Raccoons

Baby Raccoon Climbing Tree

Baby Raccoon in Bird Feeder

Baby Raccoon Face

Mama raccoon in our Florida backyard now has four little babies – what a handful!  The babies play, wrestle, and roll around together.  They are like puppies, except they climb.  One time I caught them swinging in the hammock at night for fun!  I was surprised to go outside recently and see this baby raccoon inside the bird feeder.  Even so, they are really cute.

UPDATE JUNE 2018:  A raccoon made the national news because she climbed a 25 story skyscraper in Minnesota!  Read about it at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/us/mpr-raccoon-building-climb.html

Purple Martin Nesting Time!

Purple Martin Gourd Rack by Pond

Five Eggs in Nest

Ten Eggs in Nest!

Six Newly Hatched Martins Hugging Egg

Five Newly Hatched Martins

Bird’s Eye View of Babies in Nest

Babies are Hungry!

Older Hatchlings Darken as Feathers Grow In

Our purple martins are nesting now.  So many birds – it is the best year ever!!!  Purple martins are here in Florida from about January to July, and spend the rest of the year in Brazil.  Current totals are 20 nests containing 63 babies, 50 eggs, and 42 adult birds (one pair is on the verge of laying eggs) — grand total 155!  Wow!  Many of the babies are in the process of hatching, and a couple of nests contain older nestlings.  The tiniest babies are called pinkies, for obvious reasons.  One stumper is the nest containing 10 eggs; normal is 4-6.  We don’t know if it is a re-nesting attempt after the first eggs didn’t hatch, or another bird laid in there too.  Love this time of year!  More info is at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/

Florida: Our Orchid Collection

Purple Phalaenopsis Orchid

Orange and Yellow Sunset Phalaenopsis Orchid

Yellow and Purple Golden Phalaenopsis Orchid

White and Purple Tiger Stripe Phalaenopsis Orchid

Pink, White, and Yellow Brilliant Smile Dendrobium Orchid

White and Purple Angel Moon – Love Letter Dendrobium Orchid

Lady Slipper Atticus Orchid

Fragrant Fringed Star Orchid

Recently we became very interested in orchids and now have a collection on our back porch here in Florida.  Orchids are fascinating on many levels and produce the smallest seeds in the world.  Besides the tropica flora already on our porch, we recently added a tree rose to the area and will soon add a fragrant gardenia.  Our goal is to turn the pool deck into a beautiful lush atrium and relaxing retreat!  A great article about orchid collecting in the Wall Street Journal (Feb 18, 2019) is at:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/roses-are-red-orchids-are-addictive-11550516025?mod=flipboard

Florida: Cute Baby Sandhill Crane

Baby Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane Family

Look who showed up at our house this week – the sandhill crane family.  The baby crane is so cute!

 

California: Long Beach Aquarium

Bicolor Anthias

California Moray Eel

Clown Fish

Clown Triggerfish

Rockmover or Dragon Wrasse

Leafy Sea Dragon

Giant Green Anemones

Strawberry Anemones

Moon Jellies

Spotted Lagoon Jellies

Zebra Shark

Fin Whale

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

The Aquarium of the Pacific is a gem in Long Beach, California.  The displays are wall to ceiling and cover a variety of habitats.  You can also go out on whale watching excursions by aquarium naturalists from the dock outside.  An exciting expansion of the aquarium is currently underway.  We definitely will return again!  More info is at:  http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/

California: Huntington Garden Favorites

Chinese Garden’s Scenic Lake

Tranquil Japanese Garden’s Weeping Willow Overhanging Bridge

Japanese Garden’s Entrance to Bamboo Forest Walkway

Historic Mexican Pincushion Garden

Mammillaria Pincushion Cactus with Pink Flowers

Hundreds of Globular Golden Barrel Cacti

Shapes of Barrel Cacti and Agave

Desert Garden’s Blooming Agave

California Praying Mantis on Red Hot Poker Flowers

Matchstick Bromeliad

Sundew Carnivorous Plant

Flock of Wild Red Crowned Parrots in Garden

Sweet Dog Statue Beside Camellia Flowers

Besides favorites detailed previously on roses and orchids at Huntington Gardens, we also enjoyed seeing the Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, and Desert Garden.  The plants and landscapes are stunning at this California treasure.  Some of the largest specimens were first planted in the 1920’s, and the golden barrel cacti collection is one of the largest in the world.  If you get lucky, you  might see a flock of wild red crowned parrots and hummingbirds too (read about urban parrots in the Los Angeles area at:  https://www.kcet.org/shows/earth-focus/creating-an-urban-ark-for-endangered-species-in-los-angeles). Our anticipated one day visit was not nearly enough, so we returned again a second day.  There are also multiple museums in the garden and so much more to see that is not detailed here.  If you would like to visit, more info is at:  http://www.huntington.org/

Huntington Gardens: Roses

Red and White Striped Rose

Vibrant Pink Rose

Pink and Cream Rose

Pink and Cream Rose

Lavender Rose

Peach Rose

Butterscotch Rose

Red Roses

Huntington Gardens’ historic rose garden contains over 1,400 cultivars covered in thousands of blooms.  Two beds are devoted exclusively to fragrant varieties – joy! Roses do exceptionally well in the area, which explains why Pasedena, California, is home to the annual Rose Parade every New Year’s Day.

Huntington Gardens: Orchids

Showy Lady Slipper Orchid

Pink Lady Slipper Orchid

Spotted Lady Slipper Orchid

Yellow Lady Slipper Orchid

Complex Orchids

Huntington Gardens in Pasedena, California, has gorgeous orchids on display in the Brody Botanical Center.  The variety, complexity, and colors of these beautiful plants are amazing!  Pictures of unusual orchid species are at: https://www.boredpanda.com/flowers-look-like-animals-people-monkeys-orchids-pareidolia/

 

Florida: Epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch!

Author Pam with Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

Apollo / Saturn V Center

Space Shuttle Runway

Commemorative Launch Brochure

3-2-1 Ignition Take-off

Falcon Heavy Launch into Space

Close-up of SpaceX Rocket

Twin Side Boosters Returning to Earth

SpaceX Tweeted Photo of Tesla Roadster in Space

On Tuesday I watched an epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was incredible!   I had purchased the “Feel the Heat” package to view liftoff from the closest public viewpoint at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at KSC (only 3.9 miles from launch pad 39A across the Banana River).  We could hear and feel the rumble of takeoff when the engines ignited and everyone wildly cheered!

While we waited in the viewing stands, we were entertained by Bill Nye “The Science Guy”.  Earlier we got the chance to walk on the shuttle runway.  The runway is so long (~3 miles) that you can’t see from one end to the other because of the curvature of the Earth.  Locals call it a “gator tanning facility”, because alligators like to warm up in the sun on the concrete. 

This launch was the historic demonstration flight of the world’s most powerful rocket.  It launched from the same pad used by the Apollo moon missions.  Nestled inside the rocket was Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla roadster, including a dummy driver named Starman in a SpaceX astronaut suit.  Usually demonstration flights include demo payloads like a block of cement as weight, but Elon Musk wanted to make it more interesting.  And he certainly did, based on camera images beamed from the roadster!  My favorite one, which simply looks unreal, is a picture of the car after payload release showing Starman driving the bright red cherry roadster through space with Earth in the background.  Until the batteries give out, the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie will play on the car’s stereo.  A display panel in the Tesla says “Don’t Panic” – a reference to the sci-fi classic book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  Ultimately the Tesla roadster will endlessly loop around the sun for billions of years in an orbit past Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, just as thrilling was to see the twin side boosters simultaneously descend to Earth and land on target at Cape Canaveral.  Their speed was so great they generated double sonic booms.  The third core stage was set to return to the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean offshore.  Unfortunately the core crashed into the water near the platform.  But that was a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless and amazing spectacle.  WOW!

The space center seems to be booming lately with private enterprise, and it is exciting to see new projects in the works.  Hopefully these launches capture people’s imaginations about future possibilities!  A great article about the launch is at: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/02/07/spacex-debuts-worlds-most-powerful-rocket-sends-tesla-toward-the-asteroid-belt/

If you would like to visit Kennedy Space Center (highly recommended), learn more at:  https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for more detail.

Florida: Mama Owl is Nesting!

Eastern Screech Owl

Yellow Rose

Mama screech owl has been in her nest box all week – she is here to stay.  Nesting season has arrived – it is spring in Florida!

Florida Manatees in Winter

Mother and Baby Manatees at Homosassa Springs

Mother Manatee Nursing Baby Underwater

Manatee at Crystal River

Manatees Have Good Eyesight

Manatees Have Sensitive Bristles on Body and Breathe Through Two Round Nostrils

Manatees Have Flexible Lips to Grab Sea Grass

Manatees Drink Fresh Rainwater

Manatees Have Round Paddle-like Tails

Florida manatees are easy to spot in winter because they congregate in springs and canals to stay warm.  Famous places to see them include the Three Sisters Spring at Crystal River (http://www.threesistersspringsvisitor.org/) and Blue Spring State Park (https://www.savethemanatee.org/manatees/manatee-webcams/).

Sea cows live 40-60 years and are related to elephants.  They weigh up to 1200 pounds and use their flexible, sensitive snouts to graze on sea grass. Their whiskers can feel water ripples that are smaller than a human hair!  They surface frequently to breathe air through two round nostrils.  Manatees do not have eyelashes, and close their eyes in a circular motion like the aperture of a camera.  Manatees move through the water by pumping their round paddle-like tails up and down.  They communicate with a series of chirps, whistles, and squeaks.  Kids especially love these slow moving, gentle giants.  Fun info and activities for kids is at (https://www.savethemanatee.org/manatees/education-materials/student-resources/.   Learn more at:  https://www.savethemanatee.org/

Florida: Backyard Wildlife at Christmas

Deer and Raccoons

Deer Eating Corn

Two Deer Together

Deer Looking at You

Turkeys Inspecting Deer Statue

Male Turkey with Wattle

Sandhill Crane Portrait

Ducks Waddling By

Bunny Snack Time

Raccoon Gathering

Smiling Raccoon Family

Mama Raccoon with Tiny Triplets

Mama Raccoon Baby Kisses

We’ve been seeing lots of wildlife in our backyard this Christmas – deer, raccoons, sandhill cranes, turkeys, and bunnies.   We hope you have a wonderful holiday season full of great surprises!  Best Wishes!  Pam and Richard

California: Gondola Ride and Christmas Lights

Long Beach: Orange Sunset

Long Beach Marina: Pink Sunset

Sailboats and Full Moon at Sunset

Pam and Richard in Gondola

View of Canal from Gondola

Decorated House and Full Moon at Sunset

Santa House

Dolphin Lights

Dragon with Santa Hat

Decorated Houses and Tall Palm Tree

Candy Cane House

Christmas Trees in Water

Recently when we were in Long Beach, California, we went on a gondola ride through the canals looking at Christmas lights at sunset.  We rode in an authentic Venetian gondola under a full moon.  It was spectacular!   The Naples canals are among the top 10 places to see Christmas lights in the Los Angeles area.   When we were there in early December, it was very peaceful and quiet.  Close to the holiday it gets quite lively, and sometimes the residents give out hot chocolate and cookies.  Info about Gondola Getaway is at:  http://gondolagetawayinc.com/

Florida: Merritt Island Holiday Boat Parade

Boat Parade 1

Boat Parade 2

Boat Parade 3

Boat Parade 4

Boat Parade 5

Boat Parade 6

Boat Parade 7

Boat Parade 8

Boat Parade 9

Boat Parade 10

Boat Parade 11 – Nativity

The Merritt Island Holiday Boat Parade was the best in its 30 year history!  It was held on December 16, 2017.  There were over 200 boats!  The lights and reflections on the water combined with the joyous holiday spirit are a fun time.

Warm Florida Beaches

Sebastian Beach Waves

View of Sebastian Beach from Pier

Seagull with Mouthful of Fish

Sanderling Running with Waves

Shell Pile-up Near Pier

Brown Pelican Flying

Inlet Side Opposite Beach

Two-Tone Water where Indian River Meets Atlantic Ocean

Gopher Tortoise Eating Grass

The weather is perfect here in Florida!  Migrating birds have arrived, and it is a beautiful time for a walk at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

Florida: Fall Around the Garden

Pink Rose with Rain Drops

Fragrant Yellow Rose

Floating Flower Bowl 1

Floating Flower Bowl 2

Bat Flower

Banana Magnolia (strong fragrance – a favorite!)

Mahoe (Sea Hibiscus)

Tapioca Plant (used to make pudding)

Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo

Stapeliad (Starfish) Flower

Blue Dragonfly at Pond

Kingfisher at Pond

Female Quail

We are starting to get our first cool breezes of Fall here in Florida, which makes it great for walking and working in the garden.  Plants love this time of year and grow like crazy!  Click on pictures for more details about the flowers.

Dragon Fruit Cactus

Dragon Fruit Cactus Flowers

Huge Size of Blooms

Pink Ripening Dragon Fruit

Sliced Dragon Fruit Ready to Eat

Sphinx Moth Pollinator (day and night)

Our dragon fruit cactus finally produced fruit! It opened two dinner plate-sized flowers at night in early September.  Each bud was over a foot long!  In the tropics the plant is pollinated by bats, but here in Florida it is pollinated by moths.  Happily I did see two Sphinx moths flying around the flowers in the dark.  

This week we enjoyed eating its beautiful pink dragon fruit.  It tastes something like a slightly sweet pear with poppy seeds.  Our home-grown fruit was much sweeter than the commercial fruit available in the market.   Some great looking recipes are at:  http://www.tfgsf.com/?page_id=546, and an especially promising chocolate cupcake with dragon fruit buttercream frosting recipe is at:  https://sugarandcharm.com/2013/09/chocolate-cupcakes-with-dragon-fruit-buttercream.html

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