A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about sunsets

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

A Look Into My Travel Journal, My Writing Process, and Photos

semi-overcast 75 °F

I decided for this week’s entry to offer you my journal entries in their rawest form. These entries are the starting point for what will eventually become another thrilling edition of this blog. In a given week, I’ll head out exploring and recap the days adventures in my trusty journal. I’ve been writing a journal since 1997, and have filled up twelve notebooks of a variety of size. The entries are usually a quick recap. I try to write about what really struck me throughout the day. When I have time to write, my journal more thought out and thorough. There are often diagrams, maps, sketches and doodles added to the mix. Using these scribblings for inspiration and facts, I let the writing process flow. Often, I will get inspiration at strange times, and I have to try to remember what it is I want to say for most of the day before I get a chance to write it down. Somehow, the system works, and I'm able to occasionally write something thoughtful and coherent.

I realize I haven't updated my blog in the last couple of weeks. My apologies. I’ve been very busy of late spending my free time getting reacquainted with my slack line, my camera, and my friends. I've been depriving myself of needed sleep in order to enjoy my life, and something had to give. However, I think this small sabbatical has been good for me, but perhaps, not my blog.

The following are journal entries ranging from the inside passage of British Columbia to Clarkston, Washington on the Snake River.

9-10-12 BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
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I’m in B.C. these days. It’s our phase day (deckhands switch shifts once a week giving us 18 hours off in a row). I took advantage by going on a short hike into the thick forests. The moss is quite spongy, and comfortable to lay upon. We found a black banana slug, some shells and whatnot. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wrote my blog. I ate some cheese and crackers. I also collected a few plants to add to my terrarium. Mostly moss, but another limpet shell pool and the like.
Peanut butter , Honey and Cinnamon sandwich for lunch. Tea with Miss Tiffany. Pretty Beautiful. Pretty nice.
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9-11-12 TO BREATHE
Lido. Sunshine. Coffee. Orca. Watts. Dolphins. Stretch. Then I sat in the shade and exercised my breath. Alternating Nostril, deep, shallow in and out, deprivation, inflation. So good. Then I let my voice flow in a chant and it was lovely. I had all of the air I wanted and my voice was very, very low and rich. Satisfaction.

9-16-12 A FOUR DAY RECAP: POSITIONING, AMELIA, SEATTLE, PORTLAND
Well. Here I am in Astoria again. To get here, I went to Seattle. We dropped off our photo nerds and I went to sleep. I awoke to Amelia in the dining room. We talked, catching up and sat in the sunshine. She brought me a giant burrito from our favorite food cart. We compared notes, we had a good time.
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Positioning was a dream. I love positioning (this is when we take the boat from one port to another without guests). I was working nights, as usual, and hung out with Lofall (my deck partner) in the night. Decent seas. I love a good roll.
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I forgot to mention as we rolled into Seattle, I watched bioluminescent bow riding dolphins. It was AMAZING! Pacific White Sided Dolphins slowly doing barrel rolls in the bright white biofeed. Beautiful. I love the ocean. It felt so good to be back on it, rolling, riding and moving in flow.

9-17-12 CASCADE LOCKS ZEN
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Such a lovely place. A shroud of pines protects me from the sun and wind. I’m in a pocket. Cozy, but breatheable. The carpet is tan of dead grass silky to the touch. Chickadees roll through. Time to forage. In the center of the grove is a picnic table which I’m quite attracted to. So I stop and take it in. This is my second spot to stop. No, my third. My first were a wind swept pitch of grass under an ancient oak tree. Good air forced into me. My second was a slack line session with a lead of forty feet. It was awesome to feel it all. Warm sun, strong wind, slick slack line, freeness of accumulated crap I collected all night. Gone. Smiling.
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I could use one more stop, a visit to a tree I know on the south end of the island. I think I’ll let that one stand as a fine memory of last year. I love seeing the cusp of a shadow. The upper branches of a broad leafed maple are green. Glowing. Beautiful. And here I am.
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“He who understands the Tao in the morning can die in peace in the evening.” ~ Confucious

When I’m this tired, I can stare at anything for long periods. When I’m this tired, my blinks take longer, sometimes several seconds.

9-19-12 PALOUSE RIVER STATE PARK, WASHINGTON
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Well, I’m here again. At the falls, though this time I chose a shaded grove of trees and grass to slack line in, rather than hike around to the falls. It’s nice. It’s quiet. The wind in the trees, soft, warm, and fragrant. Slacklining has been good. So far, I’ve managed to slack line everyday this week. Each time at a different place.
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Yesterday, was at Maryhill. A typical session involves a couple of beers, walking the line, friends, shade and trees. The smoky clouds mute the intensity of the sun. It’s still out, but obscured by wildfires.

9-23-12 SEPTEMBER FLYING
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Whoa. Time is hauling ass. Made it to Clarkston. Three days of smoky skies, friends, slack lining, a bit of work, and walking around.
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On the first day, I went slack lining when I finished work. I went to the doctor who told me I had strained my shoulder. Seems about right. It takes six weeks to heal, and I’m on the 4th week. Ah weel.

On the second day, I visited my old friends Eva, Ada, and Faith. We caught up and hung out at the pool. Eva and I went slack lining. What a fine lady. On our way back to our ships, Tiff calls and I rush off to an antique store and buy a bike. I asked the lady in charge if she had any bikes. “ Just the one out front… or we do have an old one.” I told her I wanted to see the old one. “Really? Ok.” It was an easy sell. It’s a seventies tan cruiser. It had two flat tires, but I can fix it. In fact, I’ve already put on a fixing session. I put on an inner tube, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seat, de-rusted the rims and so on.

It’s going to be a sweet ride.

Day three.
Smoky. Real smoky out. Mountains obscured. I went to the Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston. It was hot, muggy and smoky. Every type of person you can imagine was there, a walking display of humanity, most of it kind of appalling.
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We went on rides and they were very fun. Part of the scare of these rides is wondering if the contraption they lock you in is going to hold together. Then the fun speed of flipping upside down and screaming. I was having a ball. We went on the Kamikaze, the Zipper, and the Tilt a Whirl. My body didn’t know what the hell was going on. I flipped it, spun it, rotated it, and shook it. It’s sleep deprived, sun baked, dehydrated and sweaty. The tilt a whirl was too much. I felt sick halfway through the ride.

Then we waited a long time for a ride back to the ship. Stupid Purser. I felt like a kid though, exhausted, sticky, tired, and a little sick. Don’t count fat people at a fair. It might depress you.
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Hot shower. Cold Beer. Comfortable bed. Ahh.

Now, you are back up to speed. Look for more adventures along the Columbia River until early November. My plan of riding the Zen flow has already proved very interesting. Instead of leaving this ship in Portland, Oregon, I’m now leaving it in Longbeach California. Big Smile!

Posted by Rhombus 16:59 Archived in USA Tagged islands rivers rainbows friends sunsets canada ships sunrises forests philosophy zen slacklining Comments (0)

A Camera's First Week: My Best Alaskan Photography

My New Camera, The Alaskan Brown Bear, The Best of Glacier Bay in One Day, Humpback Whales, Favorite Shots

sunny 56 °F

It feels quite good to have a solid camera in my hands once again. I was jonesing for a telephoto last week, and my withdrawal symptoms just about got the better of me. Somehow, I feel more complete. My camera is my tool that lets me share my world with you. Without it, I felt something missing. I couldn’t think of a better way to christen this new camera than by exploring the beautiful waters of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage through its viewfinder

The usual suspects came out to play this week. Namely, humpback whales, spectacular scenery, and close encounters with the Alaskan brown bear.

THE ALASKAN BROWN BEAR
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I’m squatting on my haunches in the sharp gravel along side a cold Alaskan salmon stream. There is a brown bear not more than fifty feet away. It’s well aware that I am nearby, but for now, I am not a threat. For my part, I am making damn sure that it doesn’t see me as a threat. I would ooze deference out of my pores if I could, just to assure this bear that I am not a menace. I’m quite calm. This is as close as I’ve ever been to a bear, and I’m enjoying myself- awed by the experience.
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The bear is plodding along the riverbank. If a bear had musical accompaniment, I should think the tuba would suffice nicely. A bear walks funny. Its front paws are mildly pigeon toed, facing inward with every step. It manages to slink and lope at the same time. It bobs its head from side to side with each step, avoiding eye contact. A bear sees direct eye contact as a threat (much like my Finnish brethren). It’s easy to see the power of the bear. Its power comes from low to the ground in its thick legs and powerful fore arms. If I had only one word to describe this bear, it would be AWESOME.
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Its shaggy coat is a potpourri of different shades of brown. Its legs are the color of dark chocolate. They are wet from having just crossed the river a couple of times. Its back is furry brown with light tips. The brown coat is shaggy, matted and thick. One could even say it’s almost “grizzly.”
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The bear is patient. It watches for salmon waiting to swim into the rocky shallows. When it sees a fish, it stiffens its forelegs and runs at the fish with a quick upright dash. With a lunge, it slaps at the fish with its front paws attempting to crush the fish. With a powerful slap, it crushed a salmon against a rock before grabbing it in its teeth. The bear carried the wriggling fish to shore and promptly ripped its stomach and egg sack and ate them. Bears make fishing look easy.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be this close to a bear again, so I take advantage of my proximity. I take many photos. The cloudy skies offer an even light. I like the brown of the bear against the tannin brown of the river.
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A mother bear reappears from past the waterfall. She has two cubs that she’s keeping out of sight from the male. The mother has a huge salmon gut, and definitely outweighs the male. I’m thinking if they got down to exchanging blows, my money is on the momma.

I’ve had a good morning. My plan for my day off was to watch bears at a close distance, and I’m very satisfied. As I walk back downstream, yet another bear appears across the river and saunters upstream to fish beneath the falls. On my side of the river, yet another grizzly is padding my way, some three hundred yards away. I think this is probably a good time to take to the water and make my leave. I bid the bears adieu, thanking them for their presence and tolerance. It is another Alaskan feather to add to my cap.

This rendezvous of bears takes place every August. As long as the salmon keep running, the bears will continue to feast. As long as they continue to feast, the forests will continue to benefit from the nutrient rich excrement the bears leave in the woods. It’s amazing to see the interdependence of life forms in an active ecosystem.

GLACIER BAY FROM DAWN TO DUSK

This was one of the finest days I’ve ever seen in Glacier Bay National Park. The day dawned bright and cheerful, and it remained that way until the sunset in the evening. I spent all day outside, coming inside only to eat my meals. I kept my camera handy, and the following photos show Glacier Bay at its best.

Sunrise
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Jaw Point
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Jaw Point isn’t marked on any of the navigational charts, but everybody who ventures into the John Hopkins inlet knows of this jagged point of rocks. This was as pretty as I have ever seen it, bathed in strong morning light.

John Hopkins Glacier
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Glaciations
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I once yelled at a glacier, “Hey Glacier, Glaciate!” And in that instant, a huge chunk of ice cracked off and splashed into the sea. I must learn to beware of my powers.

Orca in the Distance
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In the morning, while watching the sunrise, I told my friend Tiffany that we were going to see Orca whales later in the day. We hadn’t seen any in two weeks, and while it’s possible to see them in Glacier Bay, it doesn’t happen very often. However, I was inspired by the good vibes of the morning, and felt good about our odds.

At about three thirty in the afternoon, the call came over the radio that there were “aqua pandas” coming at us. I smiled and laughed. I waste all my wishes on the ridiculous. I could’ve wished for world peace or the cure for cancer, but no, I had to use it up on more whales. This big male passed right in front of our bow before swimming off in the distance. I love the clouds and calmness of the water. The orca was a nice touch.

Frat House of the Sea
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I don’t know why it took so long for me to make this connection, but my friend Siri and I came to the conclusion that stellar sea lion haul outs are the ocean world’s equivalent of a college frat house. They smell like a frat house, they look like a frat house, and it sounds like a frat house. Stellar sea lions make the most disgusting sounds imaginable. They belt out a loud chorus of elongated belching, dry heaves and farts. The air stinks of excrement and rotten fish. The rocks are covered with large males jawing at one another trying to prove who the alpha male is.

Sunset over the Fairweather Mountains
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It is a fitting end to a beautiful day. The Fairweather mountains were all aglow in the orange bath of the suns aftermath. Gorgeous.

A Whale Rendezvous

I was talking to one of our guests about how beautiful the day turned out to be. She agreed, and said she would trade all of this good weather for a chance to see a whale. I told her, that not to worry, whales will come out in good weather and in bad, and I had a feeling that we would find some along the way. She smiled (she was very sweet) and said, “Okay, if you say we’ll see whales, I won’t worry about it anymore.”
I smiled. She was such a sweet lady, and I hoped for her sake that we would see some whales. Within hours, we were on a group of humpbacks that began bubble net feeding.
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Later on in the week, we came to a place where dozens of whales were spouting all around. In a five-mile radius, there were probably over forty active whales. It was amazing. That’s why the ocean is so incredible; I never know what I’m going to see on a given day. One day it can be orca, on another day, there will be bubble net feeders.
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There was one whale that trumpeted with each breath at the surface. This trumpeting isn’t normal. A slight blockage to its spout causes this Louis Armstrong sound. However, the sound it made was awesome. It reverberated off the nearby hills in a long echo. It was so very beautiful.
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Just before dinner, I found my friend and asked her if she had seen enough whales yet. She smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, “No.” I smiled with her. I know the feeling. To see a whale up close is an amazing experience that I will never tire of.

FAVORITE ODD SHOTS
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I like my new camera. It has served me well this week, and I look forward to sharing more views of this amazing world with you.

Posted by Rhombus 22:47 Archived in USA Tagged boats salmon whales alaska clouds sunsets photography forests bears Comments (2)

The Gardens of Seattle

Appreciating the Growing Season of Seattle

semi-overcast 75 °F

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A walk through the suburban streets of Seattle during summer is a stroll through an ever-changing garden. This Saturday past, my good friend Amelia and I went for a walk to collect a cup from a coffee house in Freemont. As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice the growing vibrancy of the city. Most of the homes had a small garden plot, running the length of their front lot between their front porch and sidewalk. The gardens would often butt up against their neighbors, to the effect of a summer garden an entire block long. The plants varied from bushes and shrubs to flowers and herbs. The tang in the air was of sweet fragrant flowers, musty earth tones and rotting vegetation. The world had the smell of a greenhouse, without the house.
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It was a special morning. As we walked, our eternal friendship grew deeper through a long exchange of conversation. Amelia did most of the talking. I did most of the listening. She shared her life experiences of the last few weeks as she faced the fire (literally) by taking on a third job as a short order cook. It is these moments we all face in life: beginning something new, struggling with the challenge, learning, and making progress. The struggle is what will make you, or break you. My friend is not broken.

For my part, I listened. It’s a simple thing, but not everyone has the ability. I offered what little insight I could provide. She already knows where she stands, but sometimes a friend’s appraisal helps settle the mind.
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My visit to Seattle was brief. I spent my limited time in pursuit of fantastic food, bookstores, bonfires on the beach, and quality time with friends. It’s kind of funny. I feel like I see the best of Seattle on each visit. The weather is always great. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the rain the city is known for. For me, Seattle will forever be a city of sunshine, flowers, and the freshness of life.
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I left Seattle on Saturday afternoon. I had a unique view out of my window, as my plane taxied down the runway. I kept thinking of the improbability of those giant planes behind us ever taking off. Soon the engines wound up, and I was rocketing down the runway. I grinned. Flying is fun, especially when you get into the moment. The nose rose, and we entered the sky. I continued to watch out my window as the city expanded and grew smaller at the same time. We entered a cloud and I lost sight of Seattle. It wasn’t long before we popped out of that cloud into the wild blue yonder of the upper atmosphere. And there was Mt. Rainier. The giant stone Buddha sat in a sunny bath of white foamy clouds. I felt very fortunate to be in that moment. It was a very happy scene, and one I won’t soon forget.

Posted by Rhombus 11:17 Archived in USA Tagged gardens parks flowers friends sunsets seattle philosophy Comments (0)

A Four Month Reflection

Unanswered Questions, Interactive Sunsets, and A Celebration of Summer

sunny 75 °F

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
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It is nearing nine thirty in the evening when the sun finally sets over Lake Superior. In a moment of inspiration, I put on my flip-flops and walk up the old pebbled driveway surrounded by ripening thimbleberry bushes. I cross the old highway bridge that spans the Eagle River some eighty feet below. I walk behind the old white schoolhouse, and I climb to the top of the metal slide that is one of the four best pieces of playground equipment in the U.S.

From this perch, I have a panoramic view of the village of Eagle River and Lake Superior beyond. Panning from left to right, I can see the sunset glimmering over the flatness of the lake. I see rooftops, treetops, tennis court, ball field, swing set and the county court house off in the distance. I don’t know how many sunsets I’ve watched from here-too many to count. It’s a good spot.

This is one of my thinking spots. It is one of the oldest I have, perhaps, and it has been a long time since I’ve come here. Tonight, I’m thinking a lot about my current situation. I’m thinking about my future- what do I want to do, and where do I want to go. In short, “What’s next?” This is the age-old question that we all ask ourselves from time to time. I ask it aloud, and only hear the soft rustle of the trees on the hillside not far away. Fair enough, that’s a good answer.

I think back to the last four months, and get lost in my memories for a while. I smile, and take it from the top. In April, I drove four thousand miles across the US with my trusty (and rusty) van Marvin. I think of the pleasures of spring: the hot springs, sand dunes, and endless miles of road. I think of the people I reconnected with. I found my family, my friends, and myself. I went white water rafting, slack lining, hiking, long boarding, and rock climbing. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin. I flew to Sitka and got my ass kicked by a fever. There, I walked through a living museum of memories from where I had my heart broken. It was an odd experience, but I felt only peace. I flew on to Anchorage and I hitchhiked 240 miles to Denali National Park. I hung out with my nephew and lived in a shack. I danced my Denali mountain dance on a mountain top and the sun came out. I hitchhiked 460 miles in 11 and a half hours. In Homer, I ate the best seafood of my life. I floated to Haines, and slept on the sidewalk in Juneau. I backpacked on Isle Royale-getting drenched in three inches of rain. I flew to Colorado. I saw my first wildfire, and drove to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I followed a bear, swam in an alpine lake, and watched the sun rise from the highest sand dune in North America. I grew weary, and rediscovered Nebraska. I felt the irresistible urge to return to my roots. I came “home.”
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So, what’s next? I’m really not sure. In the immediate future, I’m going back to work for three months. This will take me back to Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. I don’t have any plans after that. In Nebraska, I traveled without a map. It was a pleasure to travel by instinct and allure. I think I’m going to do more of that. I’m tired of having a plan. The trouble with a plan is sometimes I feel like I become a slave to the plan. However, I’m fortunate to realize when it does not feel right and have no problems changing things up. You can’t force the trip.

From my perch, I watch the sun ease into the water. Lake Superior can be frigid, and I’m certain I heard the sun gasp a little as it sunk up to its middle. I’m at ease too. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have any plans. I’m going to travel without a map for a little while, and see how it goes. The one word I try to remind myself of everyday is FLOW. Everything flows. With that certainty, I’ve set down my paddle and I’m content to let the river of life, energy, and creativity take my craft as it will.

INTERACTIVE SUNSETS
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I’ve been watching many sunsets lately. However, I’ve taken them to a completely new level by wading deep into Lake Superior just as the sun nears the horizon. I love the swirl of colors in the water. I love the tingle of energy from the cold water rising slowly up my body. I love the serenity of the lake when I‘m up to my neck in cold water watching the day fade away. I love being a part of the sunset, rather than just a witness.
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Please don’t take my word for it. Try it. It is amazing.
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SUMMER
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For the last three weeks, I’ve been content to take it easy. I’m unwinding from three months on the road and I’ve enjoyed settling down - for the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time with my brothers, enjoying their peculiarities and good humor. I’ve been puttering around “the camp” (my family’s vacation home) on self imposed projects, and I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made here. I’ve been eating well, and have happily spent many hours in the kitchen serving up fresh bread, rolls, Swedish blueberry pancakes, pizza, gumbo, burgers, green salsa, pineapple upside down cake among other dishes.
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I picked blueberries-summer’s best fruit- at a small patch back at the farm. The crop is good this year, and I’m going to pick some more this week. I transplanted some maple trees here at the camp. I’m optimistic that they will make it, and I’m hoping to slack line between them in a decade or so.

A pair of eagles has nested just across the river from my front porch. This is the first time I have ever seen eagles on the Eagle River. Not only that, but they are raising young eagles in their nest. They haven’t flown yet, but I can hear their shrill cries from the nest when one of the parents brings home a fish.

A pair of Kingfishers has also made the river their home this year. I’ve been watching them fly by throughout the day. One evening, as I was skipping rocks by the bend in the river. One of them flew to a nearby stump and landed. I held still. After a minute, it took off, hovered above the river for a second, and then dove down into the water to snatch a minnow. It was awesome! This was the first time I’ve seen kingfishers in action.
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I think I’ve made the most of my summer vacation. I’ve eaten ice cream cones, stared into bonfires at dusk, and have ridden my long board down to the beach to swim three times a day. These actions are good for the soul.

~RECONNECTIONS~
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ImKAGn7gUU.]
I will leave you this week with a short movie I’ve put together from clips I shot on my road trip back in April. I think it came out ok, but please realize I’m not using top of the line equipment. My cameras have a movie feature on them, and I decided to see if I could come up with anything cool. I’ve also come to realize that editing movie clips takes up far too much time, especially if you are a perfectionist. I finally had to give up, realizing this is just an experiment, and not going to Sundance. Enjoy.

Posted by Rhombus 12:55 Archived in USA Tagged beaches sunsets summer photography michigan philosophy roadtrips Comments (0)

2000 Miles in Twenty Two Days: Taking The Long Way

The Beauty of the American West: Sand Surfing, Western Landscapes, Elk, From Moorcroft to New Castle, The Black Hills

Over the course of one day, I came to the realization that the first part of my trip was over. It had been a great first week meandering slowly through the hinterlands of central Idaho. However, I realized there was more to this journey then indulging in my own self-satisfaction. It was time to reconnect with some good folks I had not seen in a long while. I was missing my people.

To get to my people, I had four days of steady driving to enjoy, and I made a fairly straight forward approach to the road back to the Midwest. To me, “fairly straight forward” is dictated a lot by general direction and roads I had not driven before. If I fail at finding new roads, then I settle for new parks and places I haven’t explored before, or roads I haven‘t traveled in some time.

I love driving. I love Marvin (my van) and making steady progress with her across the spacious lands of the American west. The following photos are from my journey east. I am often distracted by magnificent scenery, and if I see something that interested me, I stopped to enjoy it. My stops usually vary from five minutes to five hours and sometimes five days. I usually let spontaneity rule the day, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Sand Surfing at Bruneau Dunes
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The dunes of Bruneau rise 470 feet above the valley floor. In years past, I have thoroughly explored the many charms of this small park in South Central Idaho. However, despite all my efforts, I had never taken a board to the top of the dunes to attempt surfing them. Over the last two years, I thought about this every time I would review my pictures from these explorations.

I returned to the dunes to give it a try. After all, it was practically on my way (which is dangerous logic), and I had a long board that would probably work very well for the attempt. On my first day at the park, it was very windy, and looking up at the dune through binoculars, I could see a long cloud of sand blowing over the crest of the dune. I would have to wait it out. I spent the time taking my long board apart, reading, slack lining, and staring up the dunes.

The next morning, my alarm went off at 6:25 a.m., and by some miracle, I got out of bed and onto the trail well before dawn. The sky was pale pink with golden bands to the east as I began trekking toward the tall dune. It was over a mile away, and I saw the crack of dawn just as I rounded the lake. I stopped to smell the fragrant leaves of fresh mountain sage (“Ahhhhh”). Everybody should start their day like this.

I began to climb. Walking up a sand dune is not easy. The slope steadily became steeper and the sand harder to walk through. With every step I took, I lost six inches sinking into the sand. However, I made it most of the way to the top before I had to stop and take a breather, I was pleased with my efforts.
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I made it to the crest and stopped to appreciate the panoramic view of the high desert plain all around me. It was splendid. The breeze was picking up a bit, but not too bad. I sat in the cold sand and ate a small breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and an orange with tea. The sun was still low to the horizon in the east, and I welcomed its warmth. It is funny how such a simple thing as breakfast in a beautiful place can make such a difference in one’s day.
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I spent the morning attempting to find the right combination of sand, slope, and gravity to allow me go surf down the dunes. At first, it was a complete failure, the sand was too wet, and I barely slid more than a foot. Eventually as the day warmed and the sand dried, I was able to make a go of it, and had fun surfing the sand. In truth, it was not as epic as I imagined it, but I had fun, and caught a couple of fun rides. The best one was the last one, when I rode down the dune from the top, some 400 feet, to the valley below.

Idaho Road Scenes

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Mountain Lake Scene, US 20, Idaho

Craters of the Moon, Idaho
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This black, barren landscape was once an active lava flow from several volcanoes that once erupted here. I spent the afternoon hiking through it, and exploring several lava tubes.

Craters Along US 20, west of Idaho Falls
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The clouds began rolling in from the north in the mid afternoon. I had just finished my explorations of Craters of the Moon, and this scene opened up before me. The thick clouds held snow, but I wouldn’t find that out until I passed over the rocky passes in northwestern Wyoming.

Elk In Winter Pasture
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This was a quick roadside scene that I stopped to enjoy. These elk just north of Jackson, Wyoming spend the winter down low in the flat grassy meadows. I’d never seen so many elk in one place, and stopped to take a few pictures. Those heavy clouds I saw earlier had caught up with me, and the temperature dropped into the twenties. It began to snow as it always does when I drive this section of Hwy 26, and I made it up and over the pass before any accumulation made the driving hazardous.

Wyoming Road Scene
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This road is somewhere south of Thermopolis, Wyoming. This road headed into the mountains and into a rugged river canyon. The western US is full of views just like this one. I can’t seem to get enough of them. There is something soulful in being surrounded by grandeur. My life seems to slow down and I like to take it easy.

Driving these long roads of the American west, I find myself day dreaming a lot. To be fair, I am not only daydreaming, but also thinking about events from the past, some from the future. I like to try to stay in the present, but it’s not always possible. I’ll be listening to my book, then as the narrator drones on and I’ve just passed my 200th mile for the day, my mind wanders off and I’ll be lost in my head. “I wonder what it was like to travel these plains by wagon. Wyoming… Why not, Whyoming? Wyoming’s Motto should be: Up, Down, and Brown…” And so it goes.

From Moorcroft to New Castle

To some, the hinterlands of Middle America are a never-ending hell of monotonous driving. Picture an endless day of straight roads, and billboards; the roar of passing semis, sticky fast food, chain-smoked cigarettes and boredom. I feel sorry for these people, they just don’t get it. Like any landform, the plains have a beauty all their own. They have landscapes that you will see nowhere else on the planet, and though I may not make the plains a destination, I love driving through them. My advice? Appreciate where you are at, while you are there. I can find good things to say about almost every place I have traveled to.

There is one stretch of road that runs from the small town of Moorcroft, Wyoming southward to the charming town of New Castle, Wyoming. It is a wide two-lane highway, driven fast by almost everyone who uses it (except me). I had left Moorcroft just as the sun was beginning its final show for the day. The grasslands were lit up by that magical light of late evening, which lasted roughly an hour before the sun finally set.

I pulled over numerous times, sometimes turning around to go back to view the scene again. It’s hard to appreciate something you only get to see for a hundredth of a second before you have cruised past it at 67 miles an hour. I have never regretted stopping along side of the road to watch something beautiful happening.
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The larger of these two pronghorn antelope was chasing a smaller one across the prairie. It was obviously some act of male dominance, a show of force to prove to the young buck that he ought to leave town before things became ugly. I watched it all happen just on side of the road. I was hoping the antelope would try to cross a fence. I was told by Tommy and Dal (see Beginnings and Central Idaho) that antelope will not jump over a fence, but will dive under it. I wanted to see if it was true. They didn’t cross the fence. Ah well, perhaps another time.

The Red Horse
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This was another roadside picture. I turned around to see if I could get a nice picture of this horse. I was lucky, and I shot this picture just before the sun past below the western hills. This was the last light of the day, and it made this horse glow. Simply gorgeous.

The Black Hills
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Many people hold the black hills of South Dakota sacred, and I am one of them. The Lakota have always held these lands as sacred, and I can see why; there is a powerful peace to these lands.
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I don’t know where to begin in giving a historical description of the black hills. There is too much to tell, and I’m not an expert on its history. I will say that this region has been a very contested piece of real estate between our Native Americans and those that wanted to take the land from them (and did). In truth, it is a very ugly history, and not one of our bright spots in our nation’s promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
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With that being said, I am going to focus on more positive themes for this narrative. Namely, my expedition into the heart of the hills. I pulled into Custer State Park at mid-morning in mid April. I was the only car in the lot. I pulled on my hiking boots, grabbed some food, camera, the usual, and set off. I walked around Sylvan Lake. Sylvan Lake is a beautiful mountain lake, flat and serene, with giant boulders bathing in the shallows of the north side. I walked around to the north side, and climbed up on one of the giant granite islands that make up a lot of the scenery of the hills.
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A red wing black bird sat on a branch high above me, and sang a pretty song. I took it as a welcome. I set off with visions of tagging the top of South Dakota’s highest point known as Harney Peak (elevation 7,244 ft). I figured this would be easy enough, and a good way to get a feel for the land.
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The land was powerful. It consisted of a pine forest that grew around a changing landscape of steep rolling hills, ridges and valleys. From these hills, jut giant granite islands into the sky, some of them hundreds of feet high. Over time, they eroded, and formed massive twisted phalluses and sharp spires of intricate shape and delicacy. In and around these wonderful lands are crystalline rivers and small mountain lakes, water for birds, beasts, and man. Beyond these great hills is a sea of grassland that stretches far to the east and west. Immediately to the north and south lie the badlands, a region of great beauty and hard passage. See High Plains Drifting from March 2010 for my adventures in the badlands.

The ground on which I walked was covered in shiny metallic wafers. I don’t know what mineral it was I was looking at, but walking into the sun made the ground glitter as if there were thousands of tiny diamonds scattered about. I marveled at the giant rock formations. They were amazing, and I could feel the solemn power of the place just by sitting with my back to them for a while.

As I climbed higher onto the ridge, I saw a spur trail leading off to Little Devil’s Tower, and I decided that was where I wanted to go. I figured the high point would probably be a well-visited place, and I was looking for some solitude to sort out my thoughts concerning these sacred lands I was trekking through.

It didn’t take me long to make my way to the top, and I knew I had made the right choice. In every direction, the hills spread out before me, with the twisted spires and rock formations in the near distance, the endless plains far in the background. It was magnificent.
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I spent a lot of time up on that tower of rock. I was really digging the vibe of the place, and the views were superb. I sat down to take it all in. I had found the perfect perch, with my legs dangling over the edge of the cliff. I opened a can of almonds and peeled and orange. It was time for lunch. It wasn’t long before I realized I had a guest. A small chipmunk began to silently scale the rock wall near where I was sitting. I wondered if it would be interested in sharing an almond with me, and I held one between my fingers. It climbed cautiously, testing for trouble, scurrying close, and then retreating. Finally, sensing no danger, it climbed up on my hand and began to eat.
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I smiled and asked if it was the “Little Devil” and if this was its tower. I complimented the chipmunk on its choice of homes, it seemed a palace. It was a fun lunch, and I ate my food, and admired the view with the chipmunk. It’s not everyday you get to share your lunch with a chipmunk.
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Then as we digested our meal, an elk bugled somewhere far below in the valley. An elk bugle is a shrill high-pitched snooty sounding blow. I had heard them before in other magical places (the south rim of the Grand Canyon), and this made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was really cool.

Then, a Red Tailed Hawk soared by not more than fifty feet away. It was level with where I was sitting, and it streaked by so fast and so effortlessly, I almost missed it. Given the fact I was perched up high on one of the best mountain views I have seen in such a sacred place, I couldn’t help but feel humbled. I am a very fortunate man.

After awhile, I moseyed on, saying thanks. I still had a long way to go if I was going to make it to Minnesota any time soon.

Stay Tuned!

Posted by Rhombus 21:21 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains lakes wildlife hiking roads sunrise sunsets sand photography dunes Comments (1)

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