Fern Canyon – Where Dinosaurs Once Roamed (in the Movies)

As soon as you enter Fern Canyon, you can immediately begin to see why Steven Speilberg chose it as one of the locations for Jurassic Park 2:  The Lost World.  I have to admit, I’ve never seen any movie in the Jurassic Park series and the fact that it was one of the filming locations had nothing to do with me wanting to visit it again.  It was also a filming location for IMAX’s Dinosaurs Alive and BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs.  I had been there one other time a couple of years ago and wasn’t thrilled with any of my images I got from that trip so I had to visit this remarkable place again when I decided to make a spur of the moment trip to the Redwoods over Memorial Day weekend.

Getting to Fern Canyon can be an adventure in and of itself.  Begin by driving through Elk Meadow (an excellent spot for watching the elk graze) and traveling approximately 6 miles down a very scenic dirt road until you reach the Gold Bluffs Beach Kiosk.  Depending on the time of year, the road can be quite rough and motorhomes and trailers are not allowed.  After paying the $8.00 day use entry fee (the California State Parks pass and the National Park Service passes are valid for entry fee), continue driving down the dirt road paralleling Gold Bluffs and the Pacific Ocean and crossing several small streams (easily passable by car) to reach the trail head parking lot.

The road getting to Fern Canyon involves crossing a couple of small streams

The road getting to Fern Canyon involves crossing a couple of small streams

Approximately 1/4 of a mile from the parking lot, you will cross a small foot bridge and begin your trek into the canyon on flat trail that is home to Home Creek.  During the summer months, there are footbridges over sections of the creek to help you keep your feet dry.  Though they weren’t in place yet this year, it is still possible to keep your feet dry if you are relatively nimble; or, you can wear sandals and walk through the water – a much better way to explore in my opinion.

A footbridge across Home Creek as you begin to make your way into Fern Canyon

A footbridge across Home Creek as you begin to make your way into Fern Canyon

As you make your way into the canyon, it’s not long before you are walking between 50 foot walls covered from top to bottom in eight different species of ferns, including five-fingered ferns, sword ferns, and lady ferns.

Home Creek and Fern Canyon

Home Creek and Fern Canyon

 

Around every bend, there is more wondrous beauty to behold.  Vibrant shades of green greet you every step of the way.  If you are lucky, and can get there relatively early, you can almost have the entire canyon to yourself.

Wading through Home Creek while exploring Fern Canyon.

Wading through Home Creek while exploring Fern Canyon.

 

Before long, the official trail veers up some stairs to the left climbing up to the top of the canyon and making it’s way through the forest back to the trail head.  However, instead of following the “official” trail, I continued to make my way up the canyon until I reached the end before I turned around and made my way back down the canyon.

While this hike is really short – only a mile or so round trip – it provides something for everyone to enjoy from little kids to adults of all ages.  It’s like taking a time machine back…to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

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Looking back up Fern Canyon.

 

Until the next adventure…

Take a Walk…on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail

My last hike of the day was to be a short one on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail in Redwood National & State Parks.  Walking through this particular grove is like a walk back in time.  In the 1920′s, as the realization that old-growth redwood forests were disappearing at an alarming rate, three state parks were established, with the establishment of Redwood National Park occurring in 1968.  The Lady Bird Johnson Grove was established in 1969 when Presidents Nixon and Johnson, along with Governor Reagan, dedicated a 300-acre grove to Lady Bird Johnson and her campaign to preserve America’s natural beauty.

The bridge from the parking lot to the start of the nature trail.

The bridge from the parking lot to the start of the nature trail.

As I crossed the bridge over Bald Hill Road to get to the grove, I marveled at how quiet the forest was.  Because it was close to sunset, I had the entire grove to myself, the only sounds were of the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing the songs.  The was no road noise from passing cars and no words were carried through the air from other conversations taking place.

A place to stop, sit, and take it all in...

A place to stop, sit, and take it all in…

The fog started rolling in as I wandered the path into the main part of the grove, stopping at each number to read the corresponding section in the pamphlet I picked up at the beginning of the trail.  It wasn’t long before I came upon this bench and took a moment to just stop and listen to the sounds (or lack of them) around me.

 

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The fog started getting thick and the light was fast disappearing so I didn’t have as much time to linger as I would like.  I snapped as many images of the trees in the fog as I could before it got dark as I didn’t know if there would be fog again in the morning or at any other time during my short time in the park.

The fog rolls in among the trees in Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

The fog rolls in among the trees in Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

The short walk didn’t take too long to complete, and before you knew it, I was making my way back down the mountain in the darkness, ready to start another day of adventure in the morning.

 

Until the next adventure…

 

 

Hiking Through History – the Lyons Ranch Trail

Amazing view abound as you travel up Bald Hills Road above the towering Coastal Redwoods that provide the namesake for Redwood National and State Park in northern California.  While most people visiting the park, tend to stay in the general area of the big trees, there is a whole different aspect to the park that is available for exploration – the grassland prairies on the hills above the redwoods.

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Bald Hills road travels past the Coastal Redwoods and into the grass prairies and oak groves on the way to the Lyons Ranch Trail.

After leaving Tall Trees Grove, I decided to explore a part of the park I had never seen before, the grass prairies on the Lyons Ranch Trail.  From the trail head, approximately 17 miles up the Bald Hills Road, the trail follows an old farm road to the abandoned Lyons family homestead, where the Lyons family ran a self-sufficient sheep ranch from 1865 to 1969.  Once known as Home Place, the family barn, shepherds’ cabins, and orchards are all that remain today.

Sweeping vistas abound as you make you way up the Lyons Ranch Trail.

Sweeping vistas abound as you make you way through Schoolhouse Prairie on the Lyons Ranch Trail.

The wind seems to blow constantly as you wind your way around the hillside weaving in and out of groves of oak trees and walking through the prairie grasses.

Looking back towards the trail head.

Looking back towards the trail head.

Passing through stands of oak trees on the way to Home Place.

Passing through stands of oak trees on the way to Home Place.

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The Lyons family barn.

As you round one final bend, the barn comes into view – and as you make your way past the barn, you come across a couple of shepherd’s cabins.

Shepherd's cabins at Home Place.

Shepherd’s cabins at Home Place.

Inside the cabins there are relics of a bygone era, including old cans, horse shoes, old bed springs, newspapers, and birdcages.

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A birdcage sits on old newspapers inside one of the shepherd’s cabins

The sun was starting to drop lower in the sky and I had one more stop I wanted to make before I called it a day, so I made my way back to the car, pausing only long enough to allow the herd of elk that was grazing along the trail between me and my car to move on over the hillside, and I was on my way for a brief stop at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, hoping that I had time to get some photos before it got dark.  On the way back down Bald Hills I made a brief stop to photograph the fog as it rolled back up the valley

Evening fog rolls in along Redwood Creek in Redwood National & State Parks

Evening fog rolls in along Redwood Creek in Redwood National & State Parks

 

Until the next adventure…

Walking Among Giants … Exploring in the Redwoods

It’s always great to go hiking in the forest; but when the forest is composed of trees that are hundreds of years old and many are over 300 feet tall, it becomes a truly magical experience. In addition to protecting ocean beaches, oak prairies, and rivers, Redwood National and State Parks also protects the trees for which it is known – the Coastal Redwoods, the tallest trees on Earth.  I began my exploration of this ancient forest with a brief stop at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in order to obtain a permit to explore the Tall Trees Grove, home to the Libbey Tree, which, at one time, was the world’s tallest known living thing.

Part of the reason I chose to visit the Tall Trees Grove first is because it is one of the most difficult groves to reach.  Though the permit is free, a limited number of cars per day are allowed entry in order to protect the grove.  Once you obtain your permit, it’s a 45-minute drive to the trailhead (though you lose the majority of any traffic you have at Lady Bird Johnson Grove which is also accessed via Balk Hills Road).  Once you have unlocked the gate (using the secret combination provided with your permit), drive through and re-locked the gate, it is now an approximately 6-mile drive down a dusty logging road to the parking area for the trailhead.  Then you begin your hike of 1.3 miles to the grove.

After securing the gate, it was time to continue down to the trail head for the hike into Tall Trees Grove

After securing the gate, it was time to continue down to the trail head for the hike into Tall Trees Grove

Once you start hiking, the trail descends pretty quickly and is lined with a dense ground cover of ferns and an under story full of wild rhododendrons, huckleberry and small redwoods.

The trail as it descends down to the Tall Trees Grove.

The trail as it descends down to the Tall Trees Grove.

As the trail continues down towards the main attraction, you begin to get a sense of the size of these trees when you pass through a “tunnel” that has been cut from the trunk of one of the massive giants that fell across the trail.

The trail to the Tall Trees Grove passes directly through one of the giant Redwoods.

The trail to the Tall Trees Grove passes directly through one of the giant Redwoods.

The trail levels out as you reach the highlight of the hike; Tall Trees Grove, a rather narrow growth of Coastal Redwoods.  Far removed from the vehicular noise that occurs along many of the groves along Highway 101, the only sound you hear in the Tall Trees Grove is the creaking of the tall trees as they sway in the wind and the twittering of the birds as they make their homes in the branches.

A walk through the giant Coastal Redwoods makes one feel mighty small.

A walk through the giant Coastal Redwoods makes one feel mighty small.

The Coastal Redwoods are not the only thing you will see in the Tall Trees Grove.  Ferns reach almost 5 feet in height, Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) carpets the forest floor leaving smaller paths to guide one to the trunks of the giants that dominate the forest.  As you get closer to Redwood Creek (a great spot for a snack/lunch) the trail passes through Big Leaf Maples, their trunks covered with moss making it seem like they are covered in green hair.

The trail wanders away from the Redwoods briefly immersing you in sword ferns and big leaf maples.

The trail wanders away from the Redwoods briefly immersing you in sword ferns and big leaf maples.

 

 

The forest floor is covered with Redwood Sorrel and a variety of ferns.

The forest floor is covered with Redwood Sorrel and a variety of ferns.

Before long, it is time to start the trek back to your car.  Be prepared for a steady climb and a deceptively steep grade as you make your way back up to the trail head.  However, if you get tired and need a break, there are plenty of rest stops along the way.

Time for a break on the way back up to the car

Time for a break on the way back up to the car.

Until the next adventure….

 

Exploring the Waterfalls of Hood Canal

Last weekend I decided to go searching for some waterfalls along Hood Canal, a fjord that forms the western lobe and is one of the four main basins of Puget Sound. After crossing the Hood Canal Bridge, I turned north towards Port Ludlow, a former logging and sawmill community. In Port Ludlow, I found Ludlow Falls, a small, 25 foot, cascade that occurs where Ludlow Creek flows across a basalt intrusion shortly before it flows into Hood Canal.

Ludlow Falls is located on the Ludlow Falls Nature Trail about half way around the loop.  When I visited, there was a section of the trail that has been washed out so it is not recommended to try and complete the entire loop, but you can hike past the falls, then retrace your route before exploring the other leg of the trail.

Ludlow Falls in Port Ludlow, Washington.

Ludlow Falls in Port Ludlow, Washington.

 

From Port Ludlow, I headed down Highway 101 through the town of Quilcene to get to Falls View Campground, a US Forest Service Campground  on the rim of the Quilcene Canyon.  The campground is currently closed for the season, but the falls are still accessible by parking outside of the gate and then walking south toward the day use area where there are a couple of short paths leading to viewpoints of the falls.  It was really windy and I was dodging raindrops so the photo isn’t as good as I would have liked, but that just means I get to go back again one of these days.

Falls View Falls

Falls View Falls

After leaving Falls View Campground, it was time to visit one of the highlights of the day – Rocky Brook Falls.  Rocky Brook Falls is a 230 foot high (and possibly higher) waterfall located not far from the small town of Brinnon, Washington.  A small hydro project was installed at the falls to draw water for the town of Brinnon in 1986.  Fortunately, for waterfall lovers, the operators of the project had the foresight to allow the falls to flow year round  Though the falls are only about 500 feet off of the road, they are impossible to see while driving by.

Rocky Brook Falls

Rocky Brook Falls

I suspect that since these falls are so easily accessible, and there is a nice pool at the base, that it would make a great little swimming hole in the warmer months.  Also, since there are quite a few big leaf maples (Acer macrophyllum), vine maples (Acer circinatum), and Douglas maples (Acer glabrum) around the falls and the path leading to it, this will be a place I will have to revisit in the fall for, what could promise to be, some amazing fall color.  That path to the falls is very photogenic on its own and some visitors to the falls have built mini rock cairns on some of the rocks surrounding the falls.

The path to Rocky Brook Falls

The path to Rocky Brook Falls

A mini rock cairn along the path to Rocky Brook Falls

A mini rock cairn along the path to Rocky Brook Falls

Before long, I was back in the car and headed further south to find a waterfall that, for some reason, was omitted from the book “Waterfall Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest (4th edition) – Murhut Falls.  Murhut Falls is a two tiered waterfall with the first drop being 117 feet and the second tier 36 feet.  The trail to the falls is in excellent shape and it is a relatively easy walk to the falls.  Photographing the falls provides a slight challenge as the falls sit deep in a canyon where the available light hits the top tier for the waterfall much stronger than it does the bottom tier.

Murhut Falls

Murhut Falls

By the time I got back to the car, the rain had turned to a steady downpour and it was starting to get dark, so that was the official end to my exploring for the day.  I am anxiously awaiting a trip back to these falls in the autumn for a different perspective…maybe when I go back, I’ll have time to hit a few other waterfalls in the area that I didn’t have a chance to explore this trip.

 

Until the next adventure…

 

 

Difficult or More Difficult – Which Path Would You Take?

The trail to Hamilton Mountain definitely has everything you could possilby want in a hike – cliffs, forests, waterfalls, and stunning views of both the Columbia River Gorge and the surrounding mountains.  The trail starts from Beacon Rock State Park (a Washington State Park’s Discover Pass is required for parking at the trailhead).  The trail begins by moderately climbing through second-growth Douglas Firs and then crosses under some power lines.  About 1/2 mile in, there are some nice views of Bonneville Dam, the Columbia River, and Hamilton Mountain.

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In around a mile from the trailhead, you enter the waterfall area, where there are three waterfalls – Hardy Falls, Pool of Winds, and Rodney Falls.  Crossing the Hardy Creek Bridge, you begin to switchback uphill and shortly come to a junchtion where a decision has to be made – the sign at the junction shows two options for getting to the top of Hamilton Mountain – the “difficult” route and the “more difficult” route.  I highly recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise and chosing the “more difficult” option.  Yes, it’s quite a bit steeper, but the views are stupendous and I would rather go up the really steep sections than risk loosing my footing on the way down.

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You will soon be switchbacking beneath on of Hamilton Mountains’s many cliff faces and up to the edge of cliff known locally as Little Hamilton Mountain.  The trail heads along the crest towards Hamilton Mountain proper and continues climbing for another mile or so.  At the actual summit, you will reach a T-shaped intersection; the path to the right dead ends at Hamiltons 2488′ summit but the view is somewhat obscured by brush.  Turn around and stop at teh plateau for breath taking views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mount St. Helens, Table Moutain, and the Bonneville Dam on the Coumbia River.  This makes a great spot to stop for a snack or lunch if it’s not too windy.

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Continuing the loop means heading down an old road where you may find yourself sharing the trail with horseback riders.  The trail junction is just over a mile away near a little meadow and the trail follows a relatively level path through an alder forest before joining back in with main trail.

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I wouldn’t recommend doing the entire loop if you have small children as the way up can be difficult for smaller legs and it’s a 9 mile hike.  I suspect that when the wildflowers are blooming, this area will have quite a few blooms that will only enhance the view.

 

Until the next adventure….

Kitt Peak National Observatory – An Experience Like no Other

Kitt Peak National Observatory, located on the Tohono O’odham Nation, sits on 6,880-feet Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains of the Sonoran desert.  Containing 24 optical and two radial telescopes, it is the largest gathering of astronimical instruments in the world.  Founded in 1958, the observatory’s objectives are to strengthen basic research and education in astronomy throughout the United States, its territories and possessions.  The observatory is available to qualified personnel to conduct research in the the field of stellar and solar astronomy.

From left to right, the Mayall 4m Telescope, the 2.3m Bok Reflector, the 0.9m Spacewatch, the 0.6m LOTIS, and the 1.8m Spacewatch.

From left to right, the Mayall 4m Telescope, the 2.3m Bok Reflector, the 0.9m Spacewatch, the 0.6m LOTIS, and the 1.8m Spacewatch.

 

It is home to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, the largest unobstructed solar reflector (it doesn’t have a secondary mirror in the path of incoming light) in the world.    Designed by Myron Goldsmith in 1962, it is named for astronomers Robert McMath and Keith Pierce.  I wish I would have had internet access before visiting the observatory, as they were allowing visitors into the main part of the telescope for solar viewings throughout the day, but we got there just as the last one was ending.  Something to remember for next time.

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory

The interior of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The interior of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

There are 22 optical telescopes and 2 radio telescopes located at Kitt Peak.  Besides getting to go into the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, we also got to visit the 2.1m Telescope, that was first opened for public viewing in September 1964.

The 2.1m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The 2.1m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Because we had spent so much time exploring on the way up to Kitt Peak, there wasn’t as much time to explore the observatory as much as I would have liked so I’ll have to go back sometime in the future (maybe they’ll have it open to the public at night for star gazing).  I would have liked to get into the Mayall 4m Telescope as well, but that will also have to wait until a future visit.

 

Until the next adventure…

 

 

Discovering the Harmonies of the World…the Musical Instrument Museum

Opened in April of 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum is the largest museum of its type in the world.  No matter what your taste in music is, with over 15,000 instruments and associated objects from nearly 200 countries and territories, there is something here for everyone.  In addition to representing every inhabited continent, some of the larger countries, such as China, Russia, the United States, India and the Congo have multiple displays to showcase the different types of folk, ethnic, and tribal music.

A Harp-guitar from Bad Harzburg, Lower Saxony, Germany.  Myde by Heyno Herbst in 1994, it is a replica of a 1920 harp-guitar made by W. J. Dyer & Bro.

A Harp-guitar from Bad Harzburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. Made by Heyno Herbst in 1994, it is a replica of a 1920 harp-guitar made by W. J. Dyer & Bro.

 

A replica of a Martin guitar workshop at the Musical Instrument Museum.

A replica of a Martin guitar workshop at the Musical Instrument Museum.

 

Your admission into the museum includes a wireless headset for visitors to wear throughout the museum.  As you approach a display, your headset is synced with a “hot spot”, allowing you to hear the instruments being played.  My favorite aspect of this was when we got to the display about the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.  Founded in Cateura, Paraguay, by Favio Chavez.  Cateura is basically a shantytown built on a landfill.  Families eke out their survival by collecting and reselling garbage.  Favio Chavez, along with a group of other individuals searched the landfill for usable materials to create instruments.  From empty old drums, tin cans, old pieces of wood, buttons, old x-ray films, and bottle caps, they have made violins, drums, cellos, flutes and other instruments and have created a thriving music school and youth orchestra that performs internationally.  They have also been the subject of a documentary, Landfill Harmonic.

A soprano saxophone made from a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles from the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.

Close up detail of a soprano saxophone made from a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles from the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.  Made by Tito Romero.

 

A Cello made of a metal automotive container, spatula, used strings, recycled wood and tuning pegs and made by Nicolas "Cola" Gomez.

A Cello made of a metal automotive container, spatula, used strings, recycled wood and tuning pegs and made by Nicolas “Cola” Gomez.

 

Along with the wide variety of instruments, there was also costumes from various festivals held around the world.  One of the neatest I saw, was the masks from Junkanoo, a street parade with music that occurs in many towns across The Bahamas.

A mask from Junkanoo.

A mask from Junkanoo.

Another section of the museum that I found very interesting was the Mechanical Music Gallery, featuring a selection of musical instruments such as player pianos and music boxes that by definition, “play themselves”.  The time between the late 19th and early 20th centuries as known as the Golden Age of Mechanical Music and saw the creation of a variety of self-playing instruments as well as automatons (self-operating machines)

 

A Playasax (mechanical mouth organ) made by Q.R.S. DeVry Corp. and manufactured from the mid-1920s to the 1930s.

A Playasax (mechanical mouth organ) made by Q.R.S. DeVry Corp. and manufactured from the mid-1920s to the 1930s.

A mechanical mouth organ from Germany (c. 1900)  Beginning in the 1870s, player trumpets similar to this one were sold in the United States as "phonographic cornets" and "trumpettos".

A mechanical mouth organ from Germany (c. 1900) Beginning in the 1870s, player trumpets similar to this one were sold in the United States as “phonographic cornets” and “trumpettos”.

 

A close up of an automaton "mask seller".

A close up of an automaton “mask seller”.

Also on display are guitars from various artists, including Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, Roy Orbison, John Denver, along with many others.

An EF-341C guitar, owned by Toby Keith; one of many instruments that was damaged at the Soundcheck storage facility in the 2010 Nashville Flood

An EF-341C guitar, owned by Toby Keith; one of many instruments that was damaged at the Soundcheck storage facility in the 2010 Nashville Flood

While at the museum, also take the opportunity to watch any restorations going on in the Conservation Room.  There wasn’t anybody or any instruments in the room while I was there, but it was still an interesting place to see.

The Conservation Room at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Conservation Room at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

If you decide to visit the museum, make sure you check out the Experience Gallery, where there are a variety of the same instruments on display throughout the museum, allowing any aspiring musician to try them out.

There was far too many instruments on display to post photos of all of them here; however, I will be uploading more images to my Flickr page for you to visit should you so choose.  Please remember that all of my photos are copyrighted and may not be used for any purpose without permission from me.

Until the next adventure….

 

Walking on the Wild Side at the Phoenix Zoo

My last full day in Arizona was spent by going to the Phoenix Zoo.  Founded by Robert Maytag (of the Maytag family) in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States.  We were there for the afternoon and there was no way we were going to be able to see the over 1400 hundred animals on display so we decided to start off our trip by taking the Safari Train on a nonstop guided tour to get an overall sense of the layout and allow us to plan what we wanted to see most (if you are going to be spending a whole day at the zoo, I would avoid the Safari Train.  In my opinion, the guide wasn’t very informative and the tour was basically a waste of money).

The Phoenix zoo has four major themed areas: the Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail, and the Discovery/Children’s Trail.  We started off on the Africa Trail where one of the bigger displays contained Reticulated Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardis reticulata), East African Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps), Common Elands (Taurotragus Oryx), and Watusi Cattle (Bos taurus) – I’m sure there were more, but those were the main ones we saw while we were there.

Common Eland

A Common Eland appears to be smiling…

A reticulated giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo.

A reticulated giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo.

Home to more than 1,400 animals, including 30 species that are endangered or threatened, and has been conservation minded since it started.  Operation Oryx, a captive breeding program started in the early years of the zoo with the specific goal of reintroducing the nearly extinct Arabian oryx to the wild, was one of only two programs that had gone through the wilderness to zoo to wilderness sequence by the early 1990s.

 

 

A Sumatran Tiger on the prowl at the Phoenix zoo.

A Sumatran Tiger on the prowl at the Phoenix zoo.

One of the coolest exhibits at the Phoenix zoo is Monkey Village.  Home to a troupe of common Squirrel Monkeys, the Phoenix Zoo is the only zoo in the United States where you can walk through a squirrel monkey exhibit.  In the Amazon, squirrel monkeys live in social groups of around 30 individuals; while there aren’t that many in Monkey Village, it is still a site to see – just make sure that there aren’t any directly above you or you may be the recipient of an unwelcome “gift”.

A Squirrel Monkey in Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo.

A Squirrel Monkey in Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo.

A Squirrel Monkey hiding among the leaves of the trees.

A Squirrel Monkey hiding among the leaves of the trees.

 

The best advice I can give you for enjoying a day at the zoo is to slow down and take the time to see the animals – don’t rush from exhibit to exhibit.  Also, if you have little ones, bring along a change of clothes as they will probably want to play in the water play areas of Leapin’ Lagoon and Yakulla Caverns; there is also an Enchanted Forest play area.

 

Until the next adventure….

Rediscovering Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I hadn’t been to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument since I was 8 years old; and, you really couldn’t even call that a trip since it was more of a quick drive through (as I recall).  About enough to say that you’d been there and that was it (of course I was a kid and I had been to a lot of different places by then, so it’s possible that I just don’t remember it).  Needless to say, when the opportunity presented itself to visit again, I jumped at the chance.

The entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established on April 13, 1937, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, citing authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906.  National monuments are established by Presidential proclamation, whereas national parks are established via an Act of Congress.

Located in southern Arizona and sharing a border with Sonora, Mexico,  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is not only a U.S. National Monument, but it also has the distinction of being a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) biosphere reserve.  Part of what makes this place so special and unique is that it is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurben) grows wild.

I was really looking forward to shooting the starry skies over the desert, but that wasn’t going to happen this trip as my time there coincided with a full moon.  As disappointed as I was to not be able to photograph star trails, photographing the desert at night lit only by a full moon more than made up for it.

A full moon rises behind an Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

A full moon rises behind an Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

One of the trails in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument appears to lead right to the moon.

One of the trails in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument appears to lead right to the moon.

While we were there, we did the scenic drives that are in the park.  First up was the Puerto Blanco Drive, a five mile drive to the Pinkely Peak Picnic area.  Puerto Blanco Drive originally consisted of 37 miles of some of the most scenic back roads driving in Arizona; however, due to safety concerns, all but 5 miles of the road have been closed off to the public.  While what you can see along those 5 miles is breathtakingly spectacular, it is disappointing to not be able to explore areas such as Quitobaquito, the Gachado Line Camp, Dos Lomitas Ranch, the Golden Bell Mine, and the Bonita Well.  The park service has recently opened the road up another 5 miles past the picnic area, allowing a few cars a day to go further into the park until the reach Dewey Springs.

The Ajo Mountains lie in the distance along the Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Ajo Mountains lie in the distance along the Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Ajo Mountain Scenic drive is a 21-mile long, mostly gravel road that almost immediately immerses you in the Sonoran Desert.  Stop by the vistior center and pick up the free driving guide that provides a brief history of the area at 18 different stops (most of which provide information on something unique to that particular stop).  For example, at stop 6, there is a ramada built out of ocotillo branches, similar in style to when they dotted the landscape when the people of the Tohono O’odham tribe inhabited the Diablo Wash Canyon as far back as 12,000 years ago.

A Ramada made from Ocotillo branches shelters a picnic table along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

A Ramada made from Ocotillo branches shelters a picnic table along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

At stop 9, you can walk out to see a crested Organ Pipe Cactus.  As of yet, scientists do not know what causes the mutation, but it doesn’t appear to affect the growth of the cactus and it is really  neat to see up close.  This mutation can also be found on Saguaro cacti.

A close up of a genetic mutation in an Organ Pipe cactus forming a cristae.

A close up of a genetic mutation in an Organ Pipe cactus forming a cristae.

About midway through the drive, you will see a double arch in the hillside.  The first arch is pretty obvious, but almost directly above it is another smaller arch.

A double arch can be found along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

A double arch can be found along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

Once again, we had the drive almost completely to ourselves (except for the border patrol agent that passed us on an ATV).  Like any scenic drive, the key to enjoying it is to SLOW DOWN – take time to stop at the pullouts and read the information provided about the area.

Our last night in the park brought some thin clouds (that unfortunately didn’t light up for sunset at all), but made for some neat images once they were lit by the moon.

 

Camping under the stars.

Camping under the stars.

Until the next adventure….