Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas 2010

Well, another Christmas has passed! Where does the time go!? I had some fun photographing the lights on the tree with some special effects. :)

We spent three days in Milton, FL visiting my parents. Unfortunately, we missed the first white Christmas that Oak Ridge has had since the early 1990's! Grrrr! :( It was wonderful to get to spend time with my folks though!

I have been excited to see a couple of uncommon birds (to me, at least). A little Brown Creeper came to the tree behind the house yesterday. I had seen one a few years ago, but couldn't get a good photo of it. Fortunately, this one stuck around long enough for me to put my telephoto lens on my camera and get a few shots.

The other bird was a pretty little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, it was the first time I had seen this bird. I managed to get only one shot before it took off, it is a pretty crazy photo!

Happy New Year to my blog readers! Have a wonderful, nature-filled 2011!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Piney Falls hike

Oh boy, I am SO behind on my blogging! Although we have done some hikes lately, I just haven't posted them. Today we went to Spring City and hiked to Piney Falls. We were delighted that the Dept. of Conservation acted on my information about the off-road vehicle drivers that had cut trails through the woods. There were huge boulders and iron pipe gates placed across the trail entrances. So, I guess the squeaky wheel DOES get the grease! :) It was so nice to walk on a smooth trail that wasn't eroded with huge ruts. There wasn't any trash along the trail from redneck parties either!

The waterfall was partially frozen on the sides, it has been above freezing the past couple of days. We were unable to go very far down to the bank or behind the falls due to all the ice on the rocks. I took a pretty bad fall there last year and didn't want to repeat that! The ice at the bottom was very thick.

We saw some beautiful icicles on the rockwalls along the trail. Since the temperature was above 40 degrees and many areas were in the sun, we had to be careful to watch for icicles falling from the cliff above. I was excited to catch a drop that melted from one of them. One small branch had multiple icicles that looked like icy fingers! It reminded me of a creepy obituary I read once about the "Angel of Death slipping into mother's room and taking her away with her icy fingers"! Ewww! :-0

I had forgotten to take my starlight filter off my camera before the hike, so it made an interesting effect when I photographed this icicle in the sunlight.

Ice can form some fascinating patterns. I liked the designs in this piece. One moss and lichen-covered boulder had interesting patterns where the snow had partially melted then refroze into little clear pellets. When there aren't any wildflowers, birds or insects to photograph, I have to find something!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Our Halloween hike

I'm a week behind on this! It has been a busy week! Last Sunday Kenny and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and go hiking. We drove south and went to the Laurel - Snow Pocket Wilderness, one of Tennessee's State Natural Areas near Dayton, TN. Since we had hiked up to Laurel Falls many times, we decided to go to Snow Falls. The beginning of the trail from the parking lot follows an old railroad bed that was used to remove coal dug from the small mines in the hillside. I'm surprised the mine entrance (right) has not been blocked by the state, old mines are very dangerous.

We saw some pretty fall colors along the way, including these Red Maple leaves. I liked this half-red, half-green leaf!
One thing I saw along the trail really irritated me, I HATE it when inconsiderate people spray paint graffitti on anything, but ESPECIALLY on the beautiful rocks along the trails! I wonder how the person who vandalized this cliff with religious graffitti would feel if someone came into his or her church and wrote environmental messages on the walls!? I hope it wasn't a student from nearby Bryan College in Dayton (from the Stokes Monkey Trial fame), they should know better!

Parts of the trail are very rocky. There are some of the biggest boulders in the creek that I have ever seen, some are the size of a small house! I turned on the camera as we walked over one rocky part of the trail. I didn't realize how much noise I make when I walk through the leaves and over the rocks, I sound like a pack horse!

The trail to Snow Falls eventually crosses the creek by way of a 150-ft. bridge over some of those huge boulders. The first boulder has posts with cables and grooves cut into the rock to make walking on it a bit safer. I'd love to know how the trail crews got those long pieces of railing back there!

From this point, the trail took a steep turn up the side of the gorge. It was approximately 1 mile of 8 switchbacks to gain 700 feet in elevation! As we hiked along the trail Kenny suddenly stopped and motioned for me to come up to him quietly. At first I couldn't see what he was pointing at, finally I saw a beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly resting in the leaves. They are quite shy creatures, so I was surprised to be able to get so close to it.

After hiking up and up and up over several boulder fields such as the one on the right, we finally made it to the rim of the gorge. The trail has lots of white trail blazes painted on the trees, but at the top some were painted on the bare rock. Just past the powerlines, we were rewarded with a fabulous view of where we had hiked. I've drawn a rough sketch of the trail in red. From here, we still had about another 1/2-mile to go to reach Snow Falls.

This area was once owned by the Bowater Paper company. The upper parts had been logged, the more inaccessable sides of the gorge had not. It was obvious that we were walking in a younger, second-growth forest up on top. After crossing a dirt road that led to a clearcut area, the trail came to another creek. Fortunately, the water was low enough that we could easily walk across it. Finally, the trail started losing elevation and we could hear falling water, we knew we were getting close to Snow Falls! We could not find a trail to go to the bottom of the falls, so we had to stay at the top. I hung on to a tree to get out far enough to take this photo!

After a picnic lunch, we packed up and hiked the 3 miles back to the car. It was a strenuous hike, but we were glad we did it!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Glorious fall color!

I'm not doing too well with my blogging lately, it seems. Too much going on! Kenny and I have been getting out when we can to enjoy the beautiful fall colors. Unfortunately, many of the trees are just drying up and dropping their leaves here in Oak Ridge. Last week I taught at a school in Gatlinburg, so we spent the night before at a motel. After my classes were over, we drove back to Oak Ridge through the Smokies. We saw some nice trees along Little River Road. Thanks to all the stimulus money the park received, there have been some badly-needed improvements done to the park roads and parking areas. The Sinks is a very popular roadside waterfall, it received a new parking area and a nice observation deck. Our last stop was to the Foothills Parkway, just outside the Smokies. I was amazed at the brilliant colors of the Smooth Sumac leaves, they reminded me a bit of psychadelic palm trees!

The smooth white bark of the Sycamore trees contrasted so beautifully with the russet leaves of a nearby Sweetgum tree. The Native Americans called sycamores the "Ghost Tree" because of the white bark. These trees shed their bark in long strips, there is little or no rough bark near the top of the crown. They often grow near streams and rivers, so this one seemed out of place near a ridge top!

On Thursday Kenny took another day of vacation and we drove south to the Cherokee National Forest in Tellico Plains, TN. I wanted to get some photos of the trees and reflections along the river. I was not disappointed! :) When we got to Bald River Falls, the parking lot was full. The light was lousy then anyway, so we drove 1/4th mile or so up the road to Baby Falls. Since the water was so low, I was able to walk out into the river on the moss-covered rocks (they weren't slick, it was like walking on carpet). On previous trips, we have seen people kayak over and jump off this little waterfall. The water and pebbles have made some interesting "carvings" in the soft shale rocks in the riverbed. I liked the submerged leaf that had caught on some moss (yes, it was moss, not algae).

A little farther upstream we came across another pretty little waterfall, I don't know if it has a name or not. The reflections of the colorful trees on the still water below were gorgeous!

We finally made it to Bald River Falls, but the direct overhead light made for not-quite-optimum conditions. It is a hard waterfall to photograph because it is either in shade or blown out by direct sun due to its east - west orientation. This is a very easy waterfall to get to, I was standing on a bridge when I took this photo! That is one reason it is so popular, it doesn't require a strenuous hike to go see it like many of the others in that area.

After a quick stop at Indian Boundary Lake, we headed on up the Cherohala Skyway. "Cherohala" is a combination of the two national forests where it is located; the Cherokee on the Tennessee side and the Nantahala on the North Carolina side. The leaves were breath-taking up at about 3000 feet in elevation. We were amazed at the variety of colors! Sights like this could give New England autumns a run for their money!

Our last part of the adventure was a drive down Hwy. 129, a.k.a "The Tail of the Dragon", an 11-mile stretch of highway with 318 curves! It borders the Smokies and is very popular with motorcycle drivers. It begins at Deals Gap in North Carolina and ends at Hwy. 411 near Maryville, Tennessee. When we stopped at the "motorcycle resort" (I question the word "resort", the place had bunkbeds!) at Deals Gap, we saw the "Tree of Shame". The trunk and lower branches were covered with pieces of motorcycles that had been involved in crashes, and memorials to riders who did not make it back. We met two riders from Toronto, Canada, one fellow laughed when he found his mirror on the tree that he lost in a 2003 crash.

I'll end with a couple of short videos of a rider zooming by and our car going through the corners. This is no road for anyone who gets carsick easily! :(

Here are a couple of the curves we encountered!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A backlog of photos!

We finally got our PC back! :) Now, where to start with the photos!? I guess I'll begin with the 2 cool moths I photographed over the past couple of weeks. The first one looks surprisingly like a Yellowjacket wasp. Kenny spotted it on the sheet when he went outside one evening. I've trained him well! ;) This is a Raspberry Crown Borer moth, it may look like a wasp, but it doesn't sting.

The other moth is a Pandorus Sphinx moth. It was striking with its olive green and tan wings. I was thrilled to see it on the back side of the sheet. Kenny put a ruler below it and we were surprised to see it had a 3" wingspan.

Other recent moths include this Chickweed Geometer moth. I liked the pink lines and spots. Sometimes some really strange insects visit the blacklight. Planthoppers and leafhoppers can be very bizarre (right)!

One weekend I went to Conasauga Falls, near Tellico Plains, with my friends Charlie and Roseanne. The weather has been dry, so the falls didn't have as much water as we had hoped. But they were still pretty.

The next weekend Kenny and I went hiking at Frozen Head State Park with our friends Steve and Nancy (from southern California). We were dismayed to see such a tiny trickle of water at DeBord Falls.
We were even more dismayed when we hiked up to Emory Gap Falls. Kenny was the first to reach the base of the falls and he said, "Something looks different here. Do you remember these rocks being here?" It took a couple of minutes to register that the huge boulders we saw in the plunge pool had not been there the last time we had been up there in the spring! This freshly-broken piece of sandstone was at the base of the falls. It is a scary thought to realize these tons of rock had fallen so recently!

Last Friday we went to Cataloochee on the North Carolina side of the Smokies to see the elk. It was good to see that old #2 was doing better, he was quite sick this time last year. He has been pushed aside and lost his rank to a much younger bull. He is still interested in the ladies, but his mating days are over now, all he can do it "think about it"! The dominant bull is not tagged or collared, he is quite a handsome fellow! We had some excitement when this guy spotted a rival male trying to make a move on his harem, they had quite a sparring match!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

PC problems!

I'm so frustrated, our PC has been in the shop for a week and I can't download any photos from my camera or post any pictures here. :( I have photographed some interesting moths lately, but I can't get them off the camera. I'm getting quite a backlog of moths that I need to download. Kenny spotted one that looked just like a Yellowjacket wasp the other night. Fascinating mimicry!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Northern Arizona Vacation

Well, Kenny and I are back from our 2-week trip to northern Arizona, Nevada and California. It was an exciting vacation, full of wildflowers, hiking (about 12 miles worth) and lots of adventures. We flew into Las Vegas, NV, simply because it was the closest airport to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff. Kenny's brother, Gordon, was flying out of Vegas the next day, so we got to spend some time with him. He showed us around the Strip and we got our "obligatory" picture next to the welcome sign. Since it was a Friday night, there were lots of interesting people out on the streets. We even saw Elvis kissing a new bride! I couldn't resist snapping a picture!
On Saturday we went to Hoover Dam and did the short (and less expensive) tour. It was quite hot (110 degrees F) when we got outside on the observation deck, we teased that it was "dam hot"! :) The dam is very impressive. I was surprised at how clear the water in Lake Mead was, considering it had to go through the Grand Canyon. The new bridge in the background is supposed to be finished by the end of October. It will be very nice for travelers not to have to go through a security checkpoint, which has to be done when vehicles go over the dam now. It will also open the road to busses, large trucks and rental trucks that were banned after 9-11-01. After touring the dam we drove along Lake Mead and ended up at Valley of Fire State Park. One of the red sandstone formations in the park is called Elephant Rock.

The next day Kenny and I drove to Death Valley National Park in southeast California. It is very dry and barren, but beautiful in its own way. Our first stop was Dante's View, one mile above the valley. We had a spectacular view of the saltflats and the mountains on the opposite side. The colors of the rocks was incredible. Zabriski Point (left) was an amazing area, but at 114 degrees, we didn't stay long! The farther down we drove, the hotter it got. When we reached Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level, the temperature had soared to 119 degrees! Since it was quite windy, it felt as though we were being blown with hair dryers! I know what they say, it is a "dry" heat... but it is STILL HOT! I could feel the moisture being sucked out of me, I was never without a bottle of water. One of the interesting areas that we visited was the Devil's Golf Course (left), a jagged salt flat that would have been impossible to walk across much less play golf on! I was amazed when some German students stopped there and walked around on the sharp blocks with flipflops! I enjoyed looking at the delicate, hair-like salt crystals between the chunks (right).

On Monday we drove to the Grand Canyon. It was a pleasant change to get into the cooler pine forests and grasslands after being in the brown, dry deserts of Nevada and California. Since we got there late in the afternoon we got to enjoy the beautiful canyon views at sunset. The shadows made the rock formations even more spectacular! The next day Kenny and I hiked the Hermit Trail. Little did we know it is one of the most difficult trails in the park! We hiked down 3 miles to Santa Maria Spring. Going down was not a problem even though it entailed a 1700+ foot elevation change. We enjoyed seeing a large boulder balanced on the edge of a cliff. It looked like it could fall at any time! We both took nearly a gallon of water with us, I felt like a packhorse! The trip back up was grueling due to the heat, the lousy condition of the trail and the fact there was very little shade. It took almost twice as long to get up as it did to go down. But once we made it back to the top, we were glad we had done it. Hiking a trail in the Grand Canyon had been one of the things on my "bucket list"!

On Wednesday I checked off another bucket list activity. I took a helicopter flight over the canyon! It was my first time to fly in a helicopter. LuckilyI got placed in the front next to the window, otherwise I probably wouldn't have had such a good seat. We flew about 300 feet off the ground along the rim. It was so amazing to go over the edge of the South Rim and see the canyon open up below us! Here is a movie I took as we did just that:

We marveled at the gorgeous stands of sunflowers that blanketed the fields and roadsides around Flagstaff, I had to use them as the foreground in this shot of Sunset Crater. This was one of the days that we endured 25 - 30 mph sustained winds, so my wildflower photography suffered! At 1000 years old, Sunset Crater, is the newest of the 600+ volcanoes in the northern AZ area. Even though it had been that long since it erupted, the lava flows were still jagged and sharp and the ashfall looked like black snow.

Other places we visited included: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, Sunset Crater National Monument, Mt. Agassiz ("ag-uh-see") via the AZ Snowbowl ski lift (the 2nd highest peak in AZ at >11,500 ft.) and the Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered.

We didn't see many animals on the trip other than a few lizards, but one animal we did see was quite a thrill. Near Hoover Dam at Lake Mead, there is a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These endangered animals have found a great food source in a nearby park where there is irrigated green grass. They have become quite a tourist attraction since they are so easy to see and photograph. Unlike deer (which have antlers, not horns), the female sheep have horns, they just don't get as large as the males'. It was 106 degrees when we were in the picnic shelter, the sheep spent a lot of time in the shade of the trees and sometimes would even walk through the shelter with us! We saw a couple of Jackrabbits and several Desert Cottontail rabbits there too.

On our last night we stayed at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. We are not casino or city people, so it was not our favorite part of the trip. But, I guess everone should see Vegas once for the experience. I hated having to go through the smoky casinos when we walked through the hotel. It is amazing what people will do to make money in that city, besides Elvis, we also saw Michael Jackson, the Avitar characters, showgirl "wannabees" and Edward Sissorhands! We did enjoy seeing the beautiful fountains at the Bellagio, which was right across LV Blvd. They were even more spectacular at night:

So, that's our trip in a nutshell! I'll get more on my website as soon as I can.