Tag: vacationtime

Whirlwind afternoon in the White Sands National Park

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).

Gypsum dunes with the mountains in the distance

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.

Bleached earless lizard spotted within the park

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:

Gypsum Centaury growing in the sands
Desert Mentzelia growing in the sands.

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.

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Reflecting on World’s Ocean Day: Creatures seen in the wild

Oceans cover approximately 70% of the earth’s surface (with the five ocean basins being the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic (newest one to be recognized)).

Aside from covering majority of the surface of the earth, they also produce ~50% of our oxygen (cyanobacteria and plankton), absorb ~30% of the carbon dioxide produced, and serve as both the main source of protein for over a seventh of the world’s population (over 1 billion people), and also as a source of income–~40 million people are to be employed by ocean-based industries by 2030.

But we’ve also depleted 90% of the big fish population, and (through global warming) have destroyed/killed about half the coral reefs (coral reef bleaching occurs when the coral expel the symbiotic cyanobacteria/plankton living within it due to ‘overheating’).

June 8 has been set aside as ‘World’ Ocean Day’ for several years now. Each year there is a theme for the day, and this year the theme is ‘The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods’. In addition to the launch of ‘A decade of challenges to [reach] the Sustainable Development Goal [#] 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources’ by 2030.

I’ve always been fascinated by the oceans–especially the number of creatures living under the waves. I even contemplated sutdying marine biology in college (either undergrad or grad)–but didn’t have the grades for a full scholarship at any school that offered teh degrees, so I’ve decided that I could always become an ‘amateur marine biologist’.

I’ve been to the ocean(s) only an handful of times throughout my life. I don’t remember the trips to the beach when I was a toddler; therefore the first time I was in the ‘ocean’ was in college on a class trip to Honduras and swimming in the Caribbean Sea.

Since that trip, I’ve been (back) to the Atlantic Ocean (when I was in Boston for my first postdoc), the Pacific Ocean (when I went to Hawaii after passing my qualifying exams in grad school), and the Gulf of Mexico on a family trip years ago.

I’ve managed see some wildlife and get pictures, and they include:

Green Sea Turtle swimming in Hilo Bay, Hilo Hawaii

Currently the only time I’ve seen a sea turtle in the wild was when I went to Hawaii back in 2009. I stayed on the island of Hawaii, and on Hilo Bay, so I would walk out and see what type of wildlife I could spot. The green sea turtle was present quite a few days, and according to some locals, if I’d gotten up a little earlier I would have also spotted the sting ray as well swimming through the bay.

I also managed to get some picture of some of the smaller marine fish as well on the trip:

Possibly the Moorish Idol swimming in Hilo Bay, Hilo Hawaii

My little handheld digital camera is waterproof to a certain depth, so once I spotted some fish I tried to stick the camera in and get some pictures (sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t). I would like to go back to Hawaii (and the Caribbean) to snorkel and get some more pictures of life under the waves.

When I was out in Boston, I managed to get a small handful of pictures of various marine life:

Whale watching

I went on several whale watching cruises, and the best pictures actually came from the second trip. I think this was a humpback slightly breaching the surface. I would like to go on another cruise (especially since I have a slightly better camera), as I’ve noticed when the aquarium posts pictures, other wildlife has also been spotted (large fish and even a shark or two).

Moon Jellyfish in the Boston Harbor

Since I also enjoyed walking along the harbor–one afternoon I spotted some jellyfish swimming in the harbor. Luckily I was able to get a couple of decent pictures of them.

Finally, when we were down at South Padre Island, Texas years ago I managed to get a couple pictures of various invertebrates in the bay:

Nautilus in the bay

One was a semi-close up of a young nautilus (a very ancient mollusk family–basically considered ‘living fossils’).

Nautilus and other hermit crabs in the bay

Here is a zoomed out picture showing the nautilus and other hermit crabs in the bay that evening.

I would love to get back to the ocean and snorkel (having either gotten contact lens and a good snorkel mask or just a good snorkel mask that could fit over my glasses–since I’m ‘blind’ as a bat without them), but also see other wildlife (from a good safe distance–so a cruise or boat ride) such as orcas, dolphins, or even a shark or two.

What marine animal(s) have you spotted in the wild?

Reference for world ocean day: https://www.un.org/en/observances/ocean-day

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Day trip to Carlsbad Caverns

Spent several hours at Carlsbad Caverns yesterday.  With getting into the caverns there are two ways of doing it–the elevator (which will take you down the 750 feet into the heart of the caverns), or you can walk in. The walk in is a little over a mile of winding down into the caves through the natural entrance of the cave (which has a small amphitheater in front of it, as this is also where the bats fly out come night fall). We walked in through the natural entrance, which was winding down through the caves and seeing numerous different formations. Then once we were in the main cavern–it was about another mile and a half path around that room.

Rock Formation that looks like an animal

One of the formations looked like either a rabid mole, or some other type of animal. Or at least I’m seeing something’s fangs and claws in the rock formation.

Ceiling within the caves

There were numerous people who were hiking quickly through the cave, if to say “I hiked through the caverns”. Having this mentality had them missing a lot of scenery–such as the ceiling. You could stop just about anywhere in the cavern and look up at the ceiling and see the spectacular formations hanging from the ceilings.

Popcorn column

There were also numerous columns that looked like they were covered in an almost popcorn like mosaic. There were columns that looked similar, but there were also columns that looked nice and sharp, but others were smooth and round.

Old man sitting

Then there was this structure that looked either like an old man sitting or an rocky “groot”.

The hike throughout the main cavern was almost unearthly, there were different formations throughout the entire the cave. There were also little pools of water throughout the cavern, and water dripping off the ceiling (no guano droppings in the main cavern), and then there were deep pits and pools that if you looked down–all you will see is pitch black (I tried to take a picture, and it is all black–because you can’t see the bottom, and there is no light to illuminate the bottom).

There are numerous things that one can do at the park. There is of course the main cavern, that you can walk through at your own pace (which you can enter through either the elevator or walking in through the natural entrance). There are also guided tours that you can sign up for. I’d though of doing one–but with going on the weekend there are only two that are offered–and you have to be there at least thirty minutes before the tour is suppose to happen. I didn’t make it on one–because (1) I was walking through the main cavern, and (2) didn’t know how long the tour would last (they last basically about 5 1/2 hours). So now that I know the time frame for doing an guided tour, next time I come–I may try to get on a guided tour and see some of the other caverns that you can’t see on your own.

Other things include going on the loop drive. This is an nine and a half mile drive (Walnut Canyon Desert Drive) that takes you through the mountains. We didn’t see any wildlife (though there was the telltale sound of a rattlesnake at the rattlesnake canyon overlook). There were flowers and numerous other things flowering, and towering mesas (or small mountains). We saw swallows, and the occasional insect buzzing through quickly (I think there were one or two small butterflies).

There were hiking paths, throughout the area (but with the temperatures and the fact that one of the paths was called rattlesnake canyon trail–I didn’t try to hike any of them this time around). There was another drive that one could do–you had to leave the park, drive south a little, and then get on an unpaved trail to the slaughter canyon cave (and there were two hiking trails that headed off from there)–we didn’t do this one–again, something to try to do next time down to the caverns.

The park is something that one can be done within a day (if you just do the main cavern and maybe the walnut canyon desert drive). I’d like to try an hike on one of the trails (but would need to make sure that I had everything one would need to for hiking through a desert/arid area).

Loved the park, and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a national park to visit, and one especially if you enjoy an geological unique area.

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