Friday, February 28, 2014

Nature and Music

North Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego, CA
The picture above was from yesterday's beach walk after work, taken in between periods of rain. I love rain, especially if we have been waiting for it, to end the threat of drought here in California. I actually love hiking in the rain. I love seeing the circle of water droplets from my rain pants to rain jacket. I love the sound of rain drops on my rain jacket. It's nature's music, in another calming and soothing form. 

I remember a colleague once told me, "I love bringing my classic beginners guitar by the beach, somehow, as I strum the guitar, I hear the blending of the strings with the splashing of the waves, it's so soothing and relaxing that takes all stress away."

Though I don't play guitar, but I could very well relate to the unending music of nature everywhere. So, what a joy it was yesterday to hear the music of soft rain with the splashing waves.

Today, is a different story. Winds are howling and rain is very heavy. What we did not have for 10 months, probably we got for one day. But nevertheless, it is still a beautiful music. Different, but beautiful.

Because today the rain is harder and non-stop, and the gusting wind is very strong it is toppling some trees, I skipped walking along the beach after work. Here are some pictures instead from a few days ago, of sunset.

It started with what I thought another flat sunset, no fluffy clouds to add more colors and drama to sky. I decided instead to use slow shutter speed in my shots to soften the water, hoping to create some drama.
Sunset, North Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego, CA
But then, a couple walked in to the frame of my picture, the sky may not have fluffy clouds to add color and drama, but I believe this couple did! :)
After sunset, I heard some music playing, and I saw a family singing together. I did not have my zoom lens, so I took them a picture from afar. I used an 11-16 mm lens with an ND filter. Because of the ND filter, if I use the lens at its widest ( 11 mm), there is vignetting. However, because I saw in the frame a man also at the bridge looking out at the ocean and sunset, I decided to use my lens at its widest, 11 mm, thus the vignetting below. I did not crop the vignette ( the dark edges), because it seemed the vignette separates me from them and I was looking out at their world from far away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weekend Wanderings 4: San Diego Zoo

Saturday, February 8, 2014

San Diego is almost synonymous to San Diego Zoo,  oftentimes the highlight of most visitors to this outdoorsy city. San Diego Zoo is part of San Diego Zoo Global that is dedicated to the science of saving endangered species worldwide. The other facilities are the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. We are not as often at the Zoo than we are at the Safari Park, because we love more the wider exhibit at the Safari Park where animals run wild and free almost like seeing them in Africa. 
Mom and Baby Orangutan

However, once a while, we visit San Diego Zoo whenever we heard of a baby. :) We do love babies, may it be baby animals, or baby humans. Babies are always cute, adorable, and oh, so joyful to watch.

The baby orangutan was the reason we went to San Diego Zoo that Saturday. :)

We learned that the baby orangutan could best be observed in the morning, so we went there when the zoo opened, at 9:00 am. :) We sure are early birds. We went straight ahead to the orangutan exhibit. True enough, we were joyed observing mom and baby orangutan, and their other members of family. 
Orangutan Family @ the San Diego Zoo

After we had enough of the orangutan exhibit, instead of leaving the Zoo, we decided to just stay and visit other exhibits. The San Diego Zoo houses more than 3,700 animals and more than 650 species and subspecies, however, seeing them all in one day may not be possible if you take time like us in observing them and enjoying them. Unless, you are like "stop and go". So, the pictures here were only from the exhibits we visited that Saturday.

Though nearby are the Monkey Trails and Gorilla Tales exhibit, but we kind of skipped them, since maybe, we were so filled with orangutan joy already. :) Or maybe, we prefer more the Gorilla exhibit at Safari Park, with little boy Monroe ( 3 years old now). 

So, from the orangutan exhibit, we wanted to go to the Birds Aviary. However, on our way to Aviary, I got sidetracked with the many fishes and the kids enjoying so much the Crocodile and the Pygmy Hippos exhibit.

Kids enjoying the crocodile exhibit, they were there already when I spotted the fishes, and they were still there when I left, they kept on following the crocodile, while I was simply enjoying watching them and the fishes :)

Did you see the crocodile's nails above? Don't you think it is so naturally well manicured? Haha! I love the color. While I was enjoying watching the kids and the fishes, hubby was patiently waiting to get a more up close picture of crocodile. 
crocodile- shot by hubby

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Travel into the U.S.A. and The Grand Circle

"We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” – John Hope Franklin

Traveling enriches us in many ways. It enriches us mentally, for there is always something to learn about the places we explored. There's always that sense of wonder when we experience new environment. It enriches us spiritually, for we get to experience the many forms of God's gifts to man whether it be in nature's wonders or seeing man's ingenuity. It enriches us emotionally, for as we adventure into the unknown we learn more of our inner self and capabilities.

Since I started this blog, I often get queries about travel tips for a Grand Circle Adventure not only from people living in US but also from travelers around the world.
A lot of the queries outside of US come from Europeans which is not surprising. Each time we take an adventure in the Grand Circle, it seems there are more Europeans than Americans. The past years, I also start seeing more Japanese and other Asians exploring the Grand Circle. 

What is The Grand Circle? It is a beautiful vast region in US Southwest that contains the largest concentration of National Parks for a given area. The region is filled with fascinating geologic shapes in bold splashes of colors.
top going clockwise: Grand Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Monument Valley and Petrified Forest National Park

Saturday, February 22, 2014

When It's Good To Hike Not Alone

Olmstead Point, only 0.25 miles round trip, with only 100 ft change in elevation! How easy is that! A lot of people don't even walk the 0.25 miles here because the view at the parking lot is already very inspiring. 
view from parking lot of Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, CA
Actually, the parking lot may even have more interesting views, thus my husband and cousin at the time we were there did not even bother to take the short trail to Olmstead Point thinking they were already at Olmstead Point :)
Gnarled Tree @ Olmstead Point

Friday, February 21, 2014

Preparing for an Adventure Vacation

Adventure!! Just the sound of it makes me always giddy like a child! An adventure vacation is something I look forward to as a prize of hard work. 
Exploring Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

Why do I love adventure vacation? 

Adventure a lot of the times gives us "ohhh-ahhh"- when we connect what we had learned previously from reading or from school to what we see and experience. But what is more fascinating for me is the, "hmmmm, why is that????????" part of adventure, where so much questions are framed in our minds. We talked about it, we discoursed about it, and we would go back home searching for answers to our queries. If we could not find answers, it's time to set up an EXPERIMENT about it, if doable. An adventure in nature brings "WONDER". 

Now, how do we make most of our adventure vacation so that we go home inspired, stronger, and maybe wanting more?

I know, some of us pride about "little planning" vacation, or "spur of the moment" vacation, or being spontaneous. Somehow, I was kind of like that also before, when our vacations were still more about city and resorts. It's easier to play it by ear when you are going to a place with almost everything in it. Until...... the great outdoors lured us into "adventure vacation"

When we slowly transitioned into adventure vacation 2007, I must admit we were so much a newbie that we made a lot of mistakes. Thankfully, those mistakes were not bigger than our love for wandering that they did not stop us from exploring our natural world. Instead, they were mistakes that made us learn and made us more equipped for the next one, giving us more fun.

Here are some of the adventure vacation preparation tips that we have learned through the years.

1. Research for the best hikes that cater more to your interest.

Do you prefer challenging hikes? Or do you prefer easy hikes? Or do you have no preference whether it is easy or challenging as long as it is super awesome and scenic? Know which kind you would enjoy more. When you know your limits and interests, it is easy to search and prepare for it.

For us, it is about the scenic wonders. 
South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

We do not look down on easy hikes. 

We do not coward away from challenging hikes either because we know we could prepare for it.

It's about, "I really want to experience grandeur of nature there!" How do we know we wanted to experience the place?  Haha, by reading and watching featured places in National Geographic and other Outdoor magazines/channels.

Once we have found out the places we wanted to explore, we search for more detailed description, such as: mileage, change in elevation, type of terrain, weather, environment conditions, challenges, etc. Knowing a little bit some possibilities of what we will be into, we prepare for them. We prepare physically ( if it is challenging), mentally and emotionally ( if it is VERY CHALLENGING, as there are some hikes which are more mentally and emotionally challenging than physically challenging), spiritually ( praying for safety ), and materially ( appropriate clothing and gears). 

2. Plan your itinerary.

Planning for your itinerary will prepare you for full fun exploration of the place. That is when you will know the gears to bring, such as ice trekkers if trail is hard and icy, waterproof hiking shoes if hiking on watery or snowy conditions, what layered clothing are necessary and much more. Adventure is so much fun, only if you come prepared for the elements. 

Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

3. Choose the right car and car rental company.

Once you have prepared for an itinerary and have done research on the kind of road conditions and terrain, it is best to choose the right car to rent and car rental company. Does the terrain need high clearance vehicle? Does it need 4-wheel drive? Does the car rental company allows unpaved road driving?  Does the car rental company allows for drop-off at a different airport if flying out airport is different? Are you a big family, maybe you need a rental caravan? There are many factors to consider,  and only you will know these factors from advance research and careful planning. There are many car rental companies, but there may only be a few that would serve your needs. Click here to check some of the options that may fit your self-drive holiday needs.

4. Check for more interesting places that could be your scenic stop-over on your way to your major activities.

If you love scenic wonders and is into taking pictures like us, this is a must! :) You simply do not want to miss scenic wonders that though may not be part of your major adventure activities, but is perfect for a place to get awe and wonder.
Mono Lake South Tufa State Reserve, Lee Vining, California

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sea Gull, Daisies and Sea Lions

I haven't had done this in ages. That is, sharing pictures that I took for the day. I am always way too behind in sharing photos. In fact, I still have a lot of nature trails and hiking adventures that I have not shared here from our nature trip vacations through the years. Oftentimes, I could share only a trail or two or three after we get back from vacation, and then, as I slowly integrate recent activities from home sweet San Diego, they eventually got left off. Hopefully I could share some of those trails, one at a time soon.

However, for today, I am inspired to write about the most recent. Instead of looking back at what I had forgotten to share that oftentimes end up as my stumbling block to write because I get confused which one to share first. So, without confusion at all as to which one to write about, I decided to stick with the day's activity after work. It just is very relaxing when after a day's work, you get to breathe in and breathe out in the therapeutic environment of ocean breeze and scenery. Here are three pictures I took today from La Jolla Cove.

1) It's time to take a look at the sea gull.
Sea Gull In Flight ( camera settings: f/3.5, 1/1600 seconds )
I could not remember when was the last time I took a picture of the sea gull. Maybe, because they are the most common bird in San Diego that I often skip taking them a picture.

2) White Daisies and Sea Lions
Daisies and Sea Lions
camera settings: f/8, 1/80 seconds

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Missing The Spring Wildflowers

We are currently in the worse drought since recording history. Because of that, I do not expect the carpeting wildflowers this year. This time of the year, I usually am jumping for joy in flower fields, but not this year. We are very much brown. :( Wishing for some rain to come.  

Weekend Wanderings (3): La Jolla Cove and Torrey Pines Gliderport Canyon

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Though I have not shared my February 8 weekend wanderings yet, but I am now here jumping to the most recent weekend that had passed. :) I guess the Feb 15th weekend was more exciting because my cousin from LA joined us here in San Diego. I will share our February 8 wanderings later when I get a chance already to convert our pictures to JPEG. I take pictures in RAW which needs to be converted first to JPEG before it could be read in most computers or in any online photo sharing.

Here are images from our wanderings on Saturday. :)

After breakfast, we started our wanderings at La Jolla Coast Walk.
La Jolla Coast Walk Trail
( cousin in orange, me in purple )

From La Jolla Coast walk, we continued walking South towards La Jolla Cove.
La Jolla Cove
What is a walk at La Jolla Cove without stopping to enjoy the Cove's wildlife, such as sea lions, pelicans and cormorants. I know, our morning wandering was very much similar to 2 weekends ago, but then, I probably will not get tired seeing the balance of nature and man at La Jolla Cove.

Nature and Men @ La Jolla Cove

From La Jolla Cove, we continued walking South towards Windansea Beach, where we did a little bit tidepooling.

After Windansea, we turned around and headed back North towards La Jolla Coast Walk. Before reaching La Jolla Coast Walk, we stopped by at Little Korea near La Jolla Cove for our lunch.
Korean Food @ Little Korea Restaurant, La Jolla Cove

After lunch, we continued our walk back to our car which was parked near La Jolla Coast walk. From La Jolla Coast walk, we drove to Torrey Pines Gliderport for a hike down to Dike Rock tidepool via a slot canyon South of Gliderport. 
Hike Down to the Beach via a trail South of Gliderport passing through a slot canyon

This is our third time taking this trail, the last two times with my more adventurous cousin. :) The trail here goes down a very interesting slot canyon. Though it is small compared to the slot canyons in the desert, but nevertheless, it was still fun navigating through it.
Going Down the Slot ( fun, fun, fun! )

Emerging out from the slot, the trail became more challenging as it was very steep, narrow and slippery on some parts. Notice I looked like almost crawling in the picture below. :) Actually, this is the trail where I would do a lot of butt walk, walking in five! Only I butt walked though, hubby and cousin had very clean hiking pants, haha! :)
Emerging from The Slot

Thanks to my cousin and hubby for boosting my confidence by lending me 4 hands. :) As I said before, I am always the weakest link in family. Though I may be the weakest or cautious, but I always try hard very carefully, haha! All for the love of exploring nature, and experiencing the Great Outdoors, as close as we could get. I am not saying most of my family are not careful, they just have more balancing and maneuvering skills, and more flexibility than I do, making them more physically equipped. I guess their strengths benefit me a lot. Though I grew up sickly ( migraine + asthmatic ++++) and weak but I took inspiration from stronger members of family so I won't be left out in all kinds of family fun.

After the canyon, it was time for us to hike back up to Gliderport. When we passed by the trail with the vertical cliffs South of Gliderport, the low afternoon light was giving the cliffs some golden glow (though not very golden because of thick clouds as well), so, we grabbed the chance to have some more photo opportunities. :) I simply love bringing home the wonders that I see, even if they may be very local. :)
Vertical Cliffs South of Gliderport
The vertical cliffs in the above picture were probably some of my favorite scenic spots in San Diego for scenic photography. Also, the picture has that deceiving look of being at the very edge of the world, but we were safe enough on the trail several feet away from the edge. :) There was a family there who were waiting for sunset at the spot above. After we had our time taking photos, we headed back to Gliderport for sunset. 
@ Gliderport
 Gliderport is usually the place where I would bring visiting friends or family who would want to have some taste of Torrey Pines scenery without the hike. Gliderport is our trailhead for the hike down through the slot canyon in the above pictures. Notice that the trailhead is scenic enough, that most people who would go here don't really take a hike but just breathe in the inspiring scenery of badlands and ocean. This area usually starts to bloom this time of the year, but sadly, we are in worst drought this season that wildflowers were not able to grow at all. Hoping for some rain so we could have some spring wildflowers still. Otherwise, I would re-live the spring wildflowers of last year and the previous years. :) Haha!

It was another wonderful weekend wanderings in San Diego. Until next weekend wanderings. :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top 6 Cities with Incredible Night Skies

The Milky Way

Not everyone is looking for skyscrapers, hustle, bustle and noise when choosing a new hometown. Some people crave Mother Nature's simple beauty and incredible night skies. Check out these six cities (or the best places to live if starry displays are high on your livability list) with incredible night skies.

Saint George, Utah

Saint George is a comfortable mid-sized city (population about 75,000) only a short drive away from Cedar Breaks National Monument where you’ll see one of the most beautiful night sky displays in the world. Its remote location and 10,000-foot elevation virtually eliminate the light pollution that dampens most night skies. The nightscapes are so glorious, the park throws free Star Parties every Saturday night all summer long—telescopes included.

Boulder, Colorado

Take a quick trip to Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park for a breath-taking winter sky. Park rangers say the combination of elevation and atmospheric conditions transform the stars into twinkling clusters that illuminate the dark skies. The University of Colorado in Boulder has a robust astronomy community, and hosts Friday night stargazing at the Sommers-Bausch Observatory.

Key West, Florida

If winter snow and mountains aren't your cup of tea, the warm autumn skies in Key West will delight you. Even if you aren't a sailor, you can still see the Southern Cross, a small but beautiful constellation located in the southern sky, where you can search for your astrology sign. These wide-open stellar displays are unique in the US, and are closest to an equatorial view. The balmy Florida weather means you can stargaze year-round in comfort.

Mackinaw City, Michigan

Mackinaw City is home to one of only ten dark-sky parks in the entire world, a designation that recognizes special measures to prevent light pollution. Headlands International Dark Sky Park, along the shores of Lake Michigan, is open all night for uninterrupted viewing of the Milky Way. The best time to see meteors and shooting stars is after midnight, so bring a warm blanket and come watch the starry display.

Elmira, New York

Elmira (population about 30,000), is a quaint rural town that offers easy access to one of the Northeast's darkest sky parks. Just across the state line in Pennsylvania, Cherry Spring State Park, the night sky is so clear, the Milky Way occasionally causes a shadow. Stargazers say Cherry Springs is one of the best places to see the nucleus of the Milky Way galaxy.

Borrego Springs, California

Anza Borrego State Park, Borrego Springs, California

This desert destination is a great place to see galaxies, constellations, meteor showers, planets and the moon.  Not even the metropolitan lights of nearby San Diego interrupt the black sky that erupts in light and color after the sun goes down. For a truly unbelievable experience, watch the moon rise over the desert badlands. While the Anza-Borrego State Park is a popular nighttime destination, with over 650,000 acres of desert, you'll never feel crowded.

Kalispell and Swan Lake, in northern Montana near Glacier National Park, and in southeast Maine near Acadia National Park earn honorable mentions for spectacular night skies. If you have suggestions for amazing stargazing, leave a comment below!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Las Vegas: The Start of your Grand Circle Adventure

Is Las Vegas just all about the Las Vegas Strip?

The Strip @ Las Vegas Blvd 

The Las Vegas strip is about 4.2 miles of Las Vegas Blvd (above picture ) where it has many of the world's largest hotels, resorts and casinos. This vibrant city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. 

I still remember when I was just visiting the US, and I was entertained by my fellow Filipino friends. My first day was going to Disneyland, and the 4th day was going to Las Vegas.

Though there is so much to do in Las Vegas other than gaming, but my friends told me that: "you have never been to Vegas if you have not played in the casino and/or the slots!" So, following their advise, I used our hotel's coupons to get some coins, and whoa! I won $4.00!! My friends asked me to continue, but I told them, I am so happy with my $4.00, and if I stay longer inside, I will be very sick. I frankly can't stand staying indoor, much more inside a smoky casino ( gives me bad headache and migraine), especially when on vacation.  

Fountain @ Belagio choreographed to light and music

I was the visitor, so, despite my friends wanted to continue playing in casino but their generosity made them go out with me to explore the "alive" and "vibrant" Las Vegas. We cruised the strip, and walking the 4.2 mile long Las Vegas took too long a time because we had so many stops.

That time, being an unknowing tourist, I was simply following what my friends told me that Hollywood, Disneyland, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York are must do for US trips. So, I went to all of them! Haha! When I shared the must do list coming from Philippines to one of my friends (also a Filipino) but who mostly spent her years in US, she felt very sad and disappointed that that's how most outsiders see US, more in the side of commerce than in the side of natural treasures. For her, the real beauty of US and "must do" are: "Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Big Sur, Big Sur, and Big Sur!" Haha! Actually her list was supported by my colleagues and students when I was in Connecticut. They were surprised that I have not been to "Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Big Sur, and Big Sur". 

One of my students in Connecticut before told me, "You've been to Las Vegas but have not been to Grand Canyon? You should really see Grand Canyon! That place, MADE ME CRY!" For them, it was like, "how come you can go to Las Vegas, but skipped the most glorious part of US, the Grand Canyon?" Most my colleagues back then in Connecticut told me when I left for California, "Elizabeth, see to it that you experience BIG SUR! It's a must see and must experience, Heaven on Earth! "
Grand Canyon. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Big Sur and Big Sur

I did not understood them back then for I haven't been to those places, and saw only mostly the "city" parts of US. Only when hubby showed me those places that I understood the passion behind their words when they say: "You haven't seen the real beauty of US if you haven't been to Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Big Sur, Big Sur, and Big Sur!" I must admit, I am now a "Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Big Sur, Big Sur, and Big Sur!" kind of gal

Like those special people who first introduced to me these places, I wish, those who visit US would spend also some time to experience these marvelous creations.... the priceless beauty of Planet Earth. 

My hubby showed me what I failed to see when I was just a tourist in this country before: the magnificence of the desert landscapes around Las Vegas. 
Las Vegas Backroads Desert Wonderland

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekend Wanderings (2): La Jolla Cove and Lake Hodges

Torrey Pine Cliffs from La Jolla Cove

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Initial Plan: Relaxing walk at La Jolla Caves towards Windansea Beach for surfing photography in the morning, then, tidepooling at La Jolla Shores Dike Rock Tidepool in the afternoon.

How The Day Went: 
We started at La Jolla Caves as planned. However, the waves weren't that very flattering for photography, unlike the previous weekend  ( weekend wanderings 1 ). Our walk to Windansea Beach went fast because we did not take any surfing and wave photos as planned. We were back to La Jolla Cove area fast and focused more our fun on La Jolla Cove's scenery and wildlife.
Green Mossy Rocks @ La Jolla Cove
With The Sea Lions

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Revisiting Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Wood @ Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Visiting the past, that's how it feels like at Petrified Forest National Park which has preserved plants and animal fossils of the Late Triassic period going back more than 200 million years ago. The park is best known for globally significant Late Triassic fossils, attracting geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, and biologists, just to name a few. Its mind boggling and stark beauty is also a haven for those searching for scenic vistas, wilderness, hiking, dark skies, and beautiful, vast landscapes.

Come, let us revisit this geological wonderland must see.......
Fossilized Woods and Badlands @ Petrified Forest National Park

Where: Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona, about 50 miles from the New Mexico border on Interstate 40. Nearest major airports are in Phoenix, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

There are also smaller airports in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Gallup, New Mexico. From the airport, you may want to rent a car to drive to the park. For private planes, there is a small airport located in Holbrook, Arizona.

Sights to See: Fossilized Petrified Woods and Colors of The Naked Earth.

New Year's Day Tidepooling

January 1, 2014

I know, this is more than a month late, but I guess, better late than never. :)

The low tide that day was at 3 pm, so, we actually first went hiking and birding at Lake Hodges in the morning. We only went to La Jolla Shores for tide pooling after lunch.

Before going down the tidepool area at Dike Rock in Scripps Coastal Reserve, we stopped first at Scripps Biodiversity Coastal Reserve on top of the bluffs, which is commonly called the "The Knoll."
@ The Knoll

The Knoll is one of the places that we love to watch the world below us. :) It is not really at high elevation. The coastal bluffs are just about 400- 500 ft above the shore. It is here where we often see hundreds of leopard sharks below, playful dolphins, and migrating whales. On that New Year's Day, we were entertained by dolphins, one of  the awesome New Year's gifts we got from Nature.

Playful Dolphins, as seen from the Knoll

About 2:30 pm, we left the Knoll for tidepooling. It was at negative low tide that day, so I knew I would enjoy the exposed tide pool creatures a lot. From La Jolla Shores Kellog Park parking area, we walked North towards Dike Rock, which is North of Scripps Pier. 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Pier

New Year's Day was family day at the tidepool 
( all those people you see are walking towards tidepool )

Tern on the Shore Oftentimes unnoticed by others

 Everybody's Favorite, especially kids ( tidepooling )