So the latest #throwbackthursdaytravel page is up under the travel tab. This week’s entry was our whirlwind afternoon in the White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico (though at the time it was still only a National Monument, it had been promoted to a National Park later).
This is actually the world’s largest gypsum dune field at 275 square miles. If you camp in the back country or hike any of the trails away from Dunes Drive, it is easy to see why parts of various movies (such as Independence Day) were filmed within the area, with rolling dunes and flat plains of gypsum as far as the eye can see.
While the dune field covers a large area, one doesn’t want to become ‘lost’ within it–especially since the park is also within the White Sands Missile Testing area and adjacent to a military base.
Our afternoon was spent basically taking the scenic drive through part of the park (the Dunes Drive is a round trip sixteen mile drive, but one should also account for time spent taking pictures, hiking up and down the dunes, and even possibly sledding down the dunes), hiking up some of the dunes and taking pictures.
While I may have only seen a single lizard, I was able to get pictures of several different wildflowers that are able to grow within the gypsum dunes:
I would love to go back to the park, and actually try sledding down a dune, hiking a little further than what we did, and even trying to camp out in the back-country for a day or two.
I actually meant to get this page up and going several years ago after the trip to New Mexico, as it was going to be part of the New Mexico travel section (an side note–I haven’t added any type of organizational pages to the travel section, but it has been an idea that has been bouncing around in my head). But once we got back from vacation, work dominated everything else, and it kept getting pushed further down the to-do list.
Well, the page is up and running now. We only spent about a half of day within the park, and most of that was spent taking the natural entrance trail down to the Big Room:
The natural entrance trial is a little over a mile straight down, though it curves at times and has a very steep descent. If you have breathing or heart problems–there is also an elevator within the visitor’s center that will take you down to the Big Room as well.
Once within the Big Room, there is a little over a mile trial that you can follow around the cavern (start at the ‘exit’ from the natural entrance trail and you can either end up back at the trail or at the concession stand/elevator area). We spent probably a total of three hours entering, and then exploring the Big Room:
There are also numerous trails that you can hike on the surface within the park. They do have a list of essentials that one should have within their backpacks for hiking listed on their site. We only did the shortest hike (basically a half mile round trip) on the way out of the park, but did stop at another trail head to get some pictures.
Since there wasn’t much hiking to be done–most of the pictures I got on this trip were of the cavern, though I did mange to get several pictures of various desert wildflowers. There are also numerous mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects found within the park as well. We didn’t really spot any–but we did hear the rattlesnake a time or two.
Have you ever been to Carlsbad Caverns? Was your time spent around the caves or did you hike one of the trails? Which one, and did you spot any wildlife?
The North American Nature Photography Association designated June 15 to be Nature Photography Day.
Their first ‘Nature Photography Day’ was back in June 2006, and their goal is to promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and through the use of the camera advance the ’cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes both locally and globally’.
They (the North American Nature Photography Association) also run a photography contest every year marking the holiday as well. This year the challenge started on June 4 and ends tonight (June 15). You are able to enter multiple nature photographs throughout the week and a half that the contest runs–I’m sad that I only saw the contest this morning, but one can either download the app (iNaturalist) to your phone or sign up on the site (iNaturalist) to submit pictures for the contest. Though even after the contest ends–you can still share pictures through the site.
I will be setting up an account via the site (and deciding when to also put in an application to join the North American Nature Photography Association) some time this afternoon, so that I can share a few pictures that I’ve taken over the past week and half (Luckily my last walk up at Boomer Lake was on the 4th).
I’d decided years ago that nature photography was going to be one of the photography ‘sub-areas’ that I’d focus on for several reasons: 1) I enjoy being outdoors and exploring, 2) I like to ‘look’ for various animals (such as birds or insects), and 3) it is almost always a ‘free’ thing to do when exploring new areas.
So here are some of the nature photographs that I’ve taken over the past few months that I would rank among my favorites so far for the second quarter of 2021:
As I was walking back across the bridge, I noticed this little grasshopper nymph sitting in the wildflower. Since I’m not an entomologist, I’m not sure what nymph stage this insect was at or if it is even a grasshopper.
I spotted this bird on one of my walks, and I think based on the red flank that it was possibly a male orchid oriole.
Just about a hundred yards or so after spotting the possible Orchid Oriole, I spotted a green heron preening itself in one of the covers. Also captured in the picture was a grackle and a couple of turtles sunning themselves.
And finally–the state bird (the scissor-tailed flycatcher) is in the area again for a few months. This beautiful flycatcher is a resident from about late April through late August/early September (though sometimes still spotted in late September or early October).
So these were just a small number of pictures that I’ve taken over the past two months since I’ve been trying to get back into at least doing a monthly walk at Boomer Lake. Now that summer is here–I will probably only be doing a single walk a month at Boomer (unless really nice temps hit), so I will also use the backyard and creek area as inspiration for practicing nature photography as well.
Reference for Nature Photography Day: www.nanpa.org/events/nature-photography-day
Since it looks like summer is here to stay, I’m slowly catching up on things. It is amazing how much more you can get done when it is too hot and humid to be outside (I think we have a heat advisory through tomorrow night).
So, I decided that I would try to see how many #ThursdayThrowbackTravel posts I could generate this summer and fall–both as blog posts and as pages under the travel tab.
The first entry for the ‘series’ is looking back at a trip we took to Arkansas a little over four years ago, when we visited Devil’s Den State Park. The park is located probably halfway between Fayetteville and Fort Smith within the Ozark National Forest.
The park offers three main outdoor activities: hiking (or walking), mountain bike riding, and horseback riding (as long as you supply the bike or horse). We went for the hiking/walking aspect. They also offer either camping or cabins for rent.
During our three to four day stay; at least half the day was spent out on different trails (that were either easy or moderate in terms fo difficulty–so not that much climbing or stairs involved).
There are approximately 13 trails within the park, with one or two being set aside strictly for mountain biking. The others you can hike, and on most of them–you also need to watch out for people on mountain bikes or horses.
Taking these kind of trips take me right to one of my ‘happy places’–being out in nature. I enjoy trying to catch glimpses of different wildlife, seeing how many different birds I can spot, and taking numerous wildflower photos.
While the world is slowly opening back up–I’ve been slowly thinking of trying to plan a trip for sometime between 2022-2024 (nice time frame, right), though I know it may not be an outdoor trip (I prefer taking nature based trips with other people, safety in numbers), but possibly a trip to a new city/state or even country–if I’m feeling up to air travel (will have to see how things play out pandemic wise).
What is your favorite state park to visit? Then where is your favorite hiking trail?
Did you know that June is the ‘Great Outdoors Month’?
It started as the ‘Great Outdoors Week/end’ in the late 1990s under President Clinton, and was expanded under the presidents that followed. It has only been the past two years (since 2019) that it was officially designated as the ‘Great Outdoors Month’ by Congress.
It was designed as a way to get people outdoors and being active, plus showcase how outdoor activities are economically beneficial as well for everyone.
Within the month, there are also ‘specific’ days that get celebrated as well, such as:
National Trails Day (1st Saturday of the month–so for 2021, that would be today), and National Get Outdoors Day (2nd Saturday of teh month, so this year it will be on June 12th).
So, today is National Trails Day which was established to promote awareness to the massive trail system in the country that is maintained by the local, state, and federal governments.
Luckily, I live just a few blocks from a great walking trail–Boomer Lake (the trail goes all the way around, plus there are mini-paths that branch off from some of the sidewalk). While there are still areas that I haven’t really explored (during the summer there are ticks to be worried about, and the the cold temperatures in the winter), but I do try to get out on the trail at least once a month (if not once a week). I’m also going to try to get to Sanborn Lake and see what type of wildlife is around there as well sometime this year.
There are other hiking trails that are nearby at one of the larger area lakes, but not within walking distance. Plus, walking/hiking the trails at Lake McMurtry requires you to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. At least at Boomer Lake, it is only water snakes (and I don’t get close to those either).
When we managed to get up to northern Minnesota for vacation, there were always numerous hiking trails on the north shore of Lake Superior, and then just walking the roads around the area lakes also allowed for nature photography and watching. Depending on the time of year that we would go up there–it would either be in time to look for waterfalls, or take pictures of the different wildflowers growing.
One nice thing about hiking along the rivers, you could see where they entered Lake Superior:
Sometimes you can even follow the trail all the way down to the mouth of the river. Then you are able to see all the rocks that have collected over the centuries.
I do like trying to find agates on the beach–on the rare occasion I’m successful, but most of the time I’m not (though since I’m not a geologist–I may have missed quite a few of them).
I’ve managed to do several other small hikes over the years (these will possibly be their own pages under the travel section–coming soon[in addition to possible pages for the these hikes as well]), and hopefully will be able to do a several more in the future.
Where is your favorite hiking trail located, and is it an easy, medium, or hard hike?
So I noticed this wildflower blooming around the base of one of our crepe myrtle bushes.
What was unique and interesting about the flowers–I didn’t plant them there. Some animal (whether it was mammal or avian) ate the seeds of the flowers somewhere else and used this area as their ‘bathroom’ at some point over the past few months.
So false garlic (also known as crow poison) is an early spring wildflower that is one of the first to appear in bloom, and depending on the summer weather may even flower again in the fall.
This is a wildflower that is native to a good chunk of United States (from Virginia to Oklahoma and upwards from Ohio to Nebraska; the only state in the ‘area’ that it isn’t found in is West Virginia), Mexico, and South America (Peru, Uruguay, and areas within Argentina and Chile). It has also been listed as a rare or threatened plant in two states (Indiana as crow poison, and within Ohio as false garlic).
While I didn’t plant the flowers around the bushes, it was a nice little pop of color this spring, when so many of the plants didn’t really flower that well (our peach bush was budding out in February when the killing freeze came through, that also took out our crepe myrtles–though at least one has growth near the base of the plant; the jury is still out on the other four).
Before these had flowered, my dad noticed others in the yard-but mowed them down thinking they were just weeds–little did we know that they would give beautiful white flowers. If more pop up this fall, I may try to ‘transplant’ them to anohter area, where we can appreciate the flowers and color better.
It is also going to be the start of yet another photography challenge. I’ve decided yesterday that while I’m going to try to do another 365 day photography challenge, the main rule will be all pictures have to be from this year forward with a few exceptions (such as way-back Wednesdays, throw-back Thursdays, and flash-back Fridays).
So every day (hopefully) will be a ‘new’ picture for 2021-forward, unless on Wed/Thur/Fri I can’t decide on a ‘new’ picture and decide to do a ‘older picture’ from 2020-earlier.
Did you know that April 5th is also National Dandelion Day?
While many people consider dandelions to be ‘weeds’ and invasive plants–it is actually an herb.
Dandelions have the ability to grow just about anywhere and can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.
While they may ‘interrupt’ the esthetics of a manicured lawn–they actually have numerous benefits, such as being rich in vitamins A, B, C, and D.
The leaves of the flower are edible and have been used in both soups and salads.
The flowers have also been brewed into wines and teas as well.
Native Americans use the flower for medicinal purposes as well.
Some of those medicinal purposes can include reducing inflammation, aiding in digestion, boosting the immune system, regulating blood sugar, and possibly reducing cholesterol.
I remember picking numerous dandelions in middle school and learning how to make paper from them in art class–something I may try to do again this spring/summer as a fun little craft project.
We leave dandelions growing in our yard–in part to help the insects (such as honeybees), but also because they’re green and are helping to keep the dirt and dust from coming into the house. They hardy enough to handle dogs running over them constantly.
Do you see dandelions as a weed to be removed from the yard or as a flower/herb that grows where it wants?
So the winner of today’s photography challenge is the ruby-throated hummingbird.
I’ve always been intrigued by hummingbirds—they’re small, quick, and they beat their wings constantly.
Lately, I’ve also been trying to remember that when I was younger I felt a little like a hummingbird.
In that I could dive into a subject, immerse myself, learns as much as I could and then move on.
I did this for class projects: there was the paper over the Culture of India (and I covered everything from architecture to music to philosophy), to diving into the history of Peru (though I don’t think I ever wrote a paper over this—so that may be something to go back to) and medieval England.
I’ve always been fascinated with birds—I have quite a few bird encyclopedias in my storage unit, plus numerous articles that I had clipped out of the papers as I was growing up to make a scrap book on them.
So what does fascination with birds, culture and history of other countries, and everything else have to do with hummingbirds?
When I had taken the Clifton Strength Assessment test back in both 2017 and 2019, my top strength was learner.
This trait fits people who have a love of learning (though they have to be drawn to the topic), love digging into new things, love researching topics and ideas and gathering information.
These individual have been likened to hummingbirds in that they will deeply investigate on subject before moving on to another—similarly how hummingbirds will investigate flowers for their nectar before going to the next flower.
Until I took the test and saw the top strength as learner—I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed learning, reading, investigating, and putting the information together in some format.
Getting my undergraduate degrees took awhile—because I was ‘bouncing’ between ‘flowers’ (aka different subjects)—but I did manage to get my two degrees and minor (though now looking back, I should have taken that last six hours of sociology to get that minor as well).
Graduate school, allowed me to dive deeply into a subject that was still fairly new and I was learning different techniques and systems. The first postdoc was where the love of learning started to dwindle—while the topic was slightly different from grad school—what I was being taught really wasn’t, and therefore I got bored (only realizing now, exactly why I was getting bored so early—if I had realized it then, things might have gone differently had I asked for either another project or figured out a way to strike up a collaboration with another lab).
The second postdoc allowed me to dive into another system and I learned quite a bit—though I didn’t like being told to read up on other things in my spare time. I learned in both staff positions—more so in the first (only because I was working with undergrads in several different labs on several different projects) than the second. It has taken about ten months of self-reflection to realize that one of the problems that I had with the last position—I was bored; while I had been told I could ‘collaborate’ with other labs on projects, the only labs I could think of would have required me doing experiments and those aren’t something that you can schedule to only take 1 to 2 hours a day.
As I now move forward—I have to remember that I’m like a hummingbird, where there needs to be ample ‘flowers’ around for me to sample; I may hang around one or two longer than others, but at least I won’t get bored.
This is something that I will keep in the forefront as I start looking towards either my industry transition or freelancing/working for myself–I need variety to keep busy–so for me (at least mentally) it is better to be both a jack-of-all-trades and a ‘specialist’.
Have you taken the Clifton Strength Assessment Test? What was your top strength?
So I’m basically going to be a day behind in the photography challenge, unless I manage to do a double photography post at some point.
The winner for today’s entry is the honeybee on the chive flowers.
The honeybee (and actually all of the bee clade) is actually only native to Eurasia, but humans took them to four other continents (Africa, Australia, South & North America).
In terms of recognition—there are eight species recognized, but with a total of 43 subspecies. These subspecies are populations of bees that living in different areas and have different morphological characteristics. Out of those species—two have been domesticated for honey production and/or crop pollination—the eastern & western honeybees. Other bees may also produce & store honey—but not to the extent that the eastern & western honeybees manage.
One way to help these insects is to plant bushes, flowers, veggies, herbs, and other plants that are native to the area (or at least not totally invasive) that can attract the bees and help them survive.
We have numerous bushes in the yard that flower (crepe myrtles, rose-of-Sharon, wisteria, clematis, flowering quints, and others), in addition we also have various herbs planted, though the only one that really flowers is the chive.
Chives are a flowering plant that produces edible leaves and flowers (though we leave the flowers alone so that the bees, wasps, and butterflies have something to also feed on). They are also related to common onions, garlic, shallot, leek, scallion, and the Chinese onion. These are one herb that once you plant; they will come back up for a couple of years (unless there is a really cold snap, and I’d guess less than 0 degrees).
This year I’ve managed to get the picture of bees, flies, butterflies, and wasps all resting/feeding on the chive flowers. A new goal for next year—record and see how many of which species land on the flowers.
Do you like chives? If so–what is your favorite recipe for them? Another thought–maybe once I have my own place, I can become a part time beekeeper. Are you (or someone you know) a beekeeper? Have you ever thought of becoming one??
So since I couldn’t just pick one or two pictures to share today, the theme is odds and ends. Basically a little bit of several things–namely insects, arthropods, and maybe either some fungi or a bird or two. In other words–it will be mainly pictures, with a few words here and there.
I did see a Viceroy butterfly on my morning walk the other day going around Boomer Lake. It was just sitting on the one edge of the bridge soaking up some morning sun before looking for food.
I’m also pretty certain that I got a picture of a green heron in flight. The body type is right for them, and they’re a dark color. It just didn’t help that they had the sun at their back, making it hard to see the actual green color of their feathers.
I managed to get a good picture of an red-spotted purple admiral this weekend as well. Luckily I spotted one on the street (and there weren’t any cars coming).
Our decorative grass is flowering, and that means I’m starting to see some bees in the backyard again this fall. It’s always nice to see them.
Then I noticed that there was this little spider spinning it’s web between the leaves of some of the plants.
So these are just a few of the other pictures that I took this weekend (and I still have others I can share). Most of the pictures are nature/wildlife, as that is what I’m currently most comfortable trying to photograph. Though this fall/winter I may start branching out and starting to do some architecture shots as well. But mainly I’m focusing on enjoying a hobby, and maybe figuring out how to fit in daily with everything else.