Improving Impressions

Waking up at the Grand Canyon to start our first full day in the park meant getting up early for some sunrise shots.  The forecast was iffy, so we weren’t sure if we’d see any sun that early, but I was willing to try in spite of the snow showers lingering from the night before.

The best part of shooting sunrises in winter is getting to sleep in a little later than you would for a summer sunrise.  Yay short days and long nights!  Sure, the cold isn’t fun, but that’s the trade-off.  I also find the cold scares a lot of people off, so I have a better chance of shooting what I want, from an angle I want, without crowds.

On this particular morning, my impressions of the Grand Canyon started to improve and line up more with my expectations.  The weather wasn’t ideal, but with a hint of sunlight brightening the clouds of the snow squall moving through just before the sun broke the horizon, I had a funky blueish, moody light to start the day.  If nothing else, we could see a lot more of the Canyon than I could the previous afternoon when we arrived!

Knowing I’d have 2 more mornings to hope for better weather, we didn’t stay out long.  What started as snow showers turned into a wind-driven snow/sleet combo that stung as it hit your face.  It also meant a lot of lens cleaning, so that was it for the day’s sunrise shooting session.

We bugged out and warmed-up over breakfast, then set back out to check out trail conditions and ease our way into whatever we were going to make of the day.  All it took was a few hours after sunrise for the weather to start clearing and yes – the angels finally started singing and the Canyon looked like what I had imagined, and far surpassed any expectation I had of it!

Clearly Big

Our day found us keeping it simple by hanging out and taking a long walk around the trail along the South Rim.  It seemed like every few feet when I stopped to take a peek, my jaw dropped further and further in amazement of the geological feat in front of me.

Though I took a fair number of pictures that morning, when I got home and sorted through my shots, I realized that so many of them looked the same.  Then it dawned on me – even though we walked probably 3 miles or so along the rim, the Canyon is just so big that changing your viewpoint by a mile or two doesn’t drastically affect the perspective in a picture!  The only things really changing were the clouds in the sky and the shadows on the ridges in the Canyon.  Still, I couldn’t complain because it’s just stunning to see.

After our morning spent along the rim, we wandered into the woods and walked some of the greenways that cut through the park connecting different parts of Grand Canyon Village.  Under normal circumstances, when the government is operating (argh shutdown!), you can rent bikes to cruise all over the Village along these pathways through groves of ponderosa pines and junipers.  It made for a nice wintry walk to bookend our day.

As we wandered back to our lodge, we passed the Grand Canyon’s train station.  The Grand Canyon Railway has a long history – predating the establishment of the park itself!

We didn’t ride the train, but it was parked at the station, having recently arrived for the day’s trip up from Williams, AZ about 65 miles away.  Maybe next trip to the Grand Canyon we’ll go for a ride ourselves.

With our first full day at the park nearing an end, we called it a day.  Tomorrow was shaping up to be a long one since we planned to get down into the Canyon as long as weather and trail conditions cooperated.

 

– JC

Delayed First Impressions

They say that first impressions mean a lot.  Whether it’s a person or a place or an experience, it sticks with you.  For my first-ever trip to the Grand Canyon, I was expecting a big “AAAAAHHHHH…” moment with the sound of angels singing as I laid my eyes on that majesty for the first time.  Alas, that moment would have to wait – just my luck!

Our trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim was a little semi-last-minute journey we decided to take since my husband’s birthday fell on a weekend – an excellent excuse to get away with what little vacation time we had available from our “regular” jobs.  We were both unlucky and lucky in the timing and location we chose because we booked the trip before the US government shutdown happened (unlucky), but the state of Arizona bailed us out (lucky)!!  (The state provided funding for basic services at Grand Canyon National Park because they recognize it’s so vital to their economy – even in winter.)

We weren’t sure what to expect because of all of the uncertainty caused by the political garbage going on.  There was also weather to consider.  Heading into the trip, there was a good chance we’d get caught in a storm on the 3-4 hour drive up from Phoenix.  That’s where luck struck again and the storm hit 2 days before we got there, meaning the roads were clear, even if the skies continued to look threatening.  We tried to stay positive, even though we were a little leery of how all of this was going to go.

Thankfully, travel went as planned and we got to the park about mid-afternoon… just as rain started to come down.  The park rangers were working at the entrances to hand out maps & info.  (They weren’t allowed to collect the entrance fees that help support the park.)  As the ranger handed us our map, she said we should hustle if we wanted to see the Canyon because it was quickly filling in with fog and might not be visible within the next 15-20 minutes at the rate the weather was rolling in.  Gah!

We took her advice and got our hustle on and bolted straight to the rim.  While impressive and – photographically speaking – kinda cool with the mist & fog in the air, it certainly wasn’t what I pictured in my mind as a first impression.

First Impressions

Don’t get me wrong – I was thrilled to finally be there and recognized I had a few days’ stay for the weather to improve.  But, that first impression of the Grand Canyon wasn’t exactly what I thought it’d be.
The weather was steadily getting worse as the cold rain picked up in intensity, but we were able to walk around a bit along the rim to see if anything else was visible.  Unfortunately, the ranger was right – it didn’t take long for the Canyon to fill in with fog and ick to become a sea of soupy white blah.

Without the Canyon to distract us with its beauty, I kept my eye out for any little quick shots I could grab with my phone in the wintry rain.  That’s when we came across this scenic locator.  It looked old, and from the inscription on it, it was.

Old School Sight Seeing

We couldn’t quite figure out how it worked until the next day when we ran into some simple devices on the trail that were metal tubes that locked into a notch to direct your eye towards a point of interest.  It didn’t magnify it at all.  It just got your eye pointed in the right direction when the tube rested on a preset notch.  We suspect this locator once had one of those tubes and you’d rest it on those notches to see the sights each slot pointed you too.  What a magnificently simple, clever solution!

So that was my lackluster first impression of the Grand Canyon.  I wasn’t going to let it get me down as we would be in the park for a few days.  It was bound to get better – I just had to wait a little bit longer and hang onto that optimism bubbling away in my mind.

– JC

So Dreadfully Behind, It’s Still Winter!

I have no idea where 2018 has gotten to.  As I write, it’s mid-August and I just came across pictures from back in February that I hadn’t processed!  Clearly life got a little busy and – quite honestly – saying goodbye to our little girl Sydney back in June threw me for quite a loop.  Pictures were definitely the last thing on my mind as we went through that.  (I’m sure at some point I’ll write a post about that – I’ll be sure to hydrate myself before I write since it’s bound to be a teary one.)

So here we are late-summer, looking back at snowshoe pictures I took in February during the one and only time we got out on the trails this winter.  We trekked up the winter trail to one of our favorite places – Loch Vale (a.k.a. The Loch).  The winter trail is pretty easy until the last quarter-mile or so when it gets pretty steep.  It’s worth the trip though!

As usual, it was really blustery when we reached The Loch itself.  We had to find some shelter out of the wind just to eat our lunch.  Luckily for me, we plopped ourselves down for a nosh right near a really interesting curl of snow on a rock.  I think that’s the one thing that I took the most pictures of during our hike!  Though it was tricky to avoid over-exposing the picture using my phone, I did snag a few shots that I was fond of…

The Loch is a good hike any time of year, though winter is probably our favorite because it’s not nearly as crowded as it is other times of year.  Naturally, that comes with trade-offs that you have to prepare for… like bundling up and leaning into powerful winds to get up there in the first place!  Totally worth it though…

 

– JC

Late April Snow Day

We got one of our typical mid-spring snowstorms yesterday in Colorado.  It was an instant reminder that I still had snowshoeing pictures to share now that my computer has been back up and running for almost 2 months.  (Whoops!  Life away from the computer got busy during that span, so as usual, I’m a little behind on my posts.)

There’s still snow up in the mountains, but it’s doubtful I’ll get out to snowshoe again before next season.  That means I only got out twice this season.  But, twice is better than none!

As it turned out, all of the snowshoeing I got to do happened in January.  Our first snowshoe outing was on New Year’s Day where we celebrated the start of 2017 by cruising along the Flattop Mountain trail for as long as we felt like going.  (It’s a very long and somewhat difficult trail for snowshoeing that I’m just not up to handling yet.)

The day started out with nice weather, but as it seems to always happen in the winter, another storm was on its way into the area as the day progressed.  We had to cut our day a little short just to be on the safe side.  On the left, you can see the storm starting to blow down and into the park over Hallett Peak at the start of our hike.  On the right, the storm settled in and the snow began.  We were only on the trail for maybe 2 hours, so the change in weather didn’t take too long.

Along the way I did get a couple of fun shots, including a shot of my “big winter feet” just for yucks.  Even though we had to cut our day short, it was a fun hike for our first trek of the season.

The only other time I got out snowshoeing was at the end of January.  (My husband got to sneak in another trip or two without me later in the season – lucky!)  That day we shot up the trail to Emerald Lake, also in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The weather was a little nicer than our previous hike earlier in the month, but the wind was utterly brutal by the time we got to Emerald Lake.

Winter Mountainside

After being blasted by wind and cold at Emerald Lake, we came back down into the shelter of the trees and strolled across Bear Lake for yucks before going back to our car.  Luckily for me we came across something interesting – some inverse footprints that were caused by the mixing of melting, new snowfall, and wind over the winter on the lake.

Reverse Footprints in the Snow

This winter was very much feast or famine in terms of snow in the mountains of Colorado.  In the end though, we were fortunate to get enough snow to build the snowpack to an almost normal level which will be very good for our summer because we’ll have water thanks to the snowmelt running off the mountain and down into the plains.  That’s the important part I try to keep in mind even if those random storms and changes in weather put a kibosh on our winter hiking plans during the season.

– JC

 

 

Surprise Sharp-Beaked Visitor

Yet again, I’ve gotten a touch behind in my blogging and picture-taking, but for good reason – I was rebuilding my home office and giving it a serious upgrade!  With Alpha Pup central under construction, there was a lot to do just to get things to the point where I can setup the computer again.

Now that the office is under control, I’m back and catching up a tad.  Thankfully, I’m not months behind like I sometimes get with processing pictures.  I really only had 1 big batch to get through and that was a of a surprise visitor we had across the street from our house weeks ago – a gorgeous red tail hawk!

Red tail hawks are pretty common in our neck of the woods in Colorado, but it doesn’t make it any less special when you see them swooping around.  On this particular day, I arrived home from work to find one sitting square atop a spruce tree directly across the street from our house!  Better yet, he was crazy-patient and stayed in that small area for the next hour+, giving me time to run back and forth and get different lenses and shots of him as the great light of the setting sun was coming in.

Hawk Visitor
Hawk Visitor

I think the only reason I noticed him there when I arrived home from my “day job” was because a flock of school kids and their parents were crowded around a fence pointing and taking pictures with their phones.  When I realized what they were looking at, I took care of our dog’s needs as quickly as I could, scooped up the camera, and raced back out the door.

Once the school kids got on their way, it was just me and my camera there to get shots of him.  I got a ton of him perched in different ways because he really wasn’t interested in going anywhere.  Fine by me.  Eventually though, he did finally take off and swoop towards me.  Bird photography is not my specialty (I leave that to my dad), so I wasn’t able to react quickly enough to get an in-focus in-flight shot, but I was able to get a few of him scratching around in the dry grasses checking me out.

Stretch & Scratch
Stretch & Scratch

Eventually, my battery started to die, so I had to duck back inside.  I figured I had gotten my fill of shots and he’d be gone by the time I switched batteries.  No worries though, because I was already excited at this shooting opportunity that more or less dropped in my lap on a random weekday afternoon.

After a workout, I looked outside and sure enough – he was still out there!!  I tossed on some warmer clothes, grabbed a different lens, a fresh battery, and scooted back outside for a few more shots.  Probably the best of those shots is this one of him just hanging out on the fence in the schoolyard deciding if he should stick around, bug out, or simply just bake himself in the warmth of the setting sun.

Stay, Go, or Bake in the Sun
Stay, Go, or Bake in the Sun

For the next 2 weeks, the hawk kept coming back and hanging out in the same spot around the same time of day.  It was pretty cool seeing him stick to this pattern.  (And my dad was so jealous since he normally has to drive somewhere and wait for hours for this kind of shooting opportunity!)  I haven’t seen him there in the last 3-4 weeks, but I’m hopeful he’ll be back soon.  Even better if he shows up when my folks are visiting in June so my dad can go out there with his crazy-big lens and get some killer shots!

 

-JC

No Words – Just Some Winter Beauty

Ok, so maybe a few words.  New Year’s weekend 2016 involved another snowshoe adventure because when the conditions are good and you’re not stuck at the office, you’ve just got to go!  This day took us up to Lake Helene and the views along the way were simply stunning.

Here’s just a couple of shots from that day that I liked the most.  This is definitely a hike we’ll have to do again no matter the season!

-JC

Winter Trek
Winter Trek
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene - Winter
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene – Winter

Photographic Coincidences

We were lucky enough to get snow on Christmas again in 2015, so that meant for the second year in a row that conditions were perfect for snowshoeing that weekend.  Woo hoo!

Last winter or the one prior, we attempted to go to Mills Lake on one of our hikes, but somehow missed a turn and ended up at Loch Vale instead.  Whoops!  This year though, we made it to Mills Lake.  Simply a gorgeous day for a winter hike.

Glorious Winter
Glorious Winter

Along the trail up to the lake, a twisted pine tree caught my eye sitting atop a small hill whose snow was largely untouched.  Light was right, sky was crystal-clear blue, so off I trudged.  Boy was I happy I did…

Twisting Into Blue
Twisting Into Blue

Later that day, I hop online at home and start checking the various feeds to catch up on the world and whatever we may have missed while we were out playing in the snow.  As I’m poking around, I come across a post from the official Rocky Mountain NP account on Facebook or Twitter and it’s got a picture of a tree that looks really familiar.  Hmm…

I started wondering why that looked so dang familiar and then it hits me – of all of the trees and thousands of acres in that park, the Park Service and I took a picture of the same tree!  Unreal…  The Park’s picture was good and composed in a very similar way, but I think mine was better simply because of sheer luck:  I had better conditions to shoot in.  They had a gray cloudy day, and I had all kinds of sunny, snowy, gorgeous-ness!

Funny how things happen sometimes…

 

-JC

 

The Hiking Gourmet

With some good early snow coming to the high country last year, that meant that snowshoeing season could start early!  We were able to get out for a snowy hike the first weekend of December because there was already 2 feet of snow at higher elevations at Rocky Mountain National Park.  Yay mountain winters!

Our hike on the Flattop Mountain trail was relatively uneventful – just a patch of plain fun in the winter wonderland.  The centerpiece of the day’s trip was really the lunch because my husband decided to get “gourmet” about it and bring a special treat – hot cocoa!  Not just the water and powder kind either… he warmed up the milk and used the good stuff in it too.

Normally when we hike, the lunch is just some tortillas, salami, cheese, and cookies.  (More on the cookies later.)  We keep it simple enough to carry and caloric enough to fuel us on the day.  Greens are not the order of the day when we hike!

Snowshoe Gourmet Lunch
Snowshoe Gourmet Lunch

While we were huddled up having lunch in a patch of trees off of the trail, we noticed 2 things:

  1.  There was a really simple, yet pretty, scene shaping up among the trees with the light coming through the forest.  And…
Rocky in Winter
Rocky in Winter

2.  That – while hiking – I’m basically a little kid some days.  If I’m good and can make it a long way without hurting myself or whining, I get a cookie!  And we’re not talking a simple Oreo or Fig Newton – we’re talking a big, thick, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookie!!  (What can I say?  I’m food motivated I guess!)

So our first winter outing was a success, and it happened before the winter solstice t’boot.  That’s a success in my book!

 

-JC

A Bit of Snowshoeing

Moving right along with the clean-up of the shots piled up on my phone, that brings us up to Christmas 2015 and some shots from a snowshoeing adventure up in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Snowshoeing is something I never tried until we moved to Colorado a couple of years ago.  My husband took me out with a guide to try it out and I immediately fell in love!  It wasn’t long after that trip that I suddenly owned my own pair of snowshoes.  Just too bad it was the end of the season and I only got to use them once!

This past winter was going to be my chance to dive in and really break in my new snowshoes and hang out in the snow.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  Most weekdays – while we were stuck at work for our “day jobs” – the weather was awesome.  Fresh snow, little wind, decent temperatures.  The weekends were another issue all together… storms rolling through, bringing with them lots of wind, biting windchills, and gobs of snow making navigating our way to and through the Park a little tricky.  Figures, right?

So yes, we were a tad wimpy when it came to wanting to avoid the wind and the travel headaches.  That meant we didn’t get out nearly as much as we had hoped.  The first time weather and time off lined up was just 2 days after Christmas – with fresh snow and “little” wind t’boot!

We chose to snowshoe up part of the Flattop Mountain trail at Rocky Mountain National Park because we know the trail, there’s plenty to see, and the lower parts of it are pretty sheltered by trees.  (We live only an hour from the Park, so that’s usually our go-to for snowshoeing because it keeps us out of miserable winter skiing traffic heading into the high country out west and gives us more time to play.)

With the snow that had fallen the day before, it was a winter wonderland.  Amazingly picturesque no matter which direction you looked.  The only complication was the wind picking up (not in the forecast… typical mountain weather!) and we were “bombed” by clumps of snow being tossed off of the pines.  No matter – it’s dry and fluffy snow, so it wasn’t like being pelted with chunks of wet, packed, ice-laden snow like we often get back on the East Coast.

The Trail Ahead
The Trail Ahead

We tooled around in the woods for a few hours, working up quite a sweat and an appetite.  (Showshoeing is an excellent workout, said to burn around 1200 calories an hour!)  We went a couple of miles up the trail until we found a nice sheltered spot in the woods an plunked ourselves down in the snow for a spot of lunch before heading back down.  I simply love being out in the snow, and I think my husband captured my utter glee quite well…

Me in Snowshoeing Glee
Me in Snowshoeing Glee

Once we got ourselves back down to Bear Lake, we popped out into one of the openings along the shoreline to check out the view.  It’s always so gorgeous at Bear Lake – unless the clouds move in and hide the mountains, of course!  That wasn’t the case for us that day.  It was quite spectacular and we quickly saw that we made the right decision to turn around when we did because the wind was only getting worse up high.

Windy Bear Lake Winter
Windy Bear Lake Winter

(That’s not clouds coming in over the mountains – that’s wind-driven snow being blown uphill and over the peaks from the western slopes!)

It’s only October now, but we’re already getting our hopes high and committing to getting out more this winter.  It may seem odd to be thinking about snow during the fall, but up at the higher elevations, it’s already snowing a little and winter will be going full-force within a month.  With a good storm or two, who knows?  Maybe we can break out the snowshoes again sooner than we thought!  (Fingers crossed!)

-JC

Hungry Travelers

(Originally posted August 26, 2012)

Fish Tacos at Mexicali Blue - New Paltz, NY
Fish Tacos at Mexicali Blue – New Paltz, NY

Mmmm… Fish tacos!

My husband and I love food.  Thankfully, we’re usually able to find some really good eats during our travels.  A fish taco place in New Paltz, NY was no exception!

Mexicali Blue is a very small restaurant in the college town of New Paltz, NY.  My husband actually discovered this place – by accident – during a trip he made to New Paltz to present a research paper at a Geographer’s conference several years ago.  He couldn’t stop raving about these fish tacos, their array of homemade hot sauces, and the variety this teeny tiny place had to offer in – of all places – New Paltz, NY!  I had to try them.

Unfortunately for me, during our first trip to Lake Placid, NY a few years ago, Mexicali Blue was closed since it was the college’s semester break.  Luckily for me – and our friends traveling with us this past winter – Mexicali Blue was open!!  It made for the perfect spot of lunch on our way to Lake Placid.

These tacos tasted as good as they looked.  In fact, it was hard making sure I captured the perfect shot because all I wanted to do was to dive into my meal!

I ordered the grilled catfish tacos.  They came served on warm blue corn tortillas, topped with the house cabbage slaw, some cheese, and a crema-based drizzle of sauce.  Delicious!

Simply looking at this picture again all of these months later is literally making my mouth water.  I love how a quick shot of a plate of food can take you back in time in so many dimensions – the memory of the meal and the good friends with us, the anticipation of finally tasting the tacos I had long-heard about, and savoring the flavors with each bite.

-JC