Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Lie Down

“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.” ― Natalie Goldberg

My friend, Shelli Johnson, took this last Saturday on our hike up Fairfield Hill. I'm making a snow angel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tribute to the Best Hiking Buddies Ever - Bud and Sadie

This post is a tribute to my wonderful canine friends.  I will miss their happy, joyful presence in our home.  Here are just a few of my favorite images of them enjoying life, in top dog form.

Bud came to live with  us when he was eight years old.  We skied, hiked, walked, and ran many, many miles together.  He was my best Bud.  This is him at his finest, running along the road at Red Canyon Ranch where we liked to ski.  He had a great life with us and was a healthy 16 years old (amazing for dog-years!) until just recently.

Sadie was my Dad's companion until Dad could no longer take care of her last year.  She came to live with us in October 2010 and this was taken on one of our first days on the trail together.  She was a sweetheart, and in fact the nicest dog I've ever met.  In true lab style, she always had a smile on.  Sadie was 11.

Taken last Christmas when we went to get our tree. 


Friday, October 7, 2011

Yellowstone Deja Vu

If you are having deja vu, it's because yes, this is my second post about a Yellowstone trip in the last month.  We went there in early and late September and both were fantastic trips. (I decided to combine the trips into one post here.) We have our first winter trip planned for February, which I am very excited about.  It's been on my bucket list for years.

There are so many things that I love about Yellowstone. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that we only live 5 hours away. 

I am fascinated by the geothermal features, sure, but there's so much more. There's a magic about it, that I can't quite put into words, but I'll try.

The air has a special quality to it ~ the light is different there.  It reminds me of the light in the Serengeti, golden and ethereal.  I was talking to a friend about this recently who has also been to both Africa and Yellowstone and she agreed, though neither of us could figure out why the air seems different.  Maybe there are just special places on our planet with this quality.

Bison migrate from Hayden Valley in the winter over the Central Plateau, to the Firehole River - and have been doing so since the last ice age.  Think of it.  Nature, unchanged, over eons.  And we are there to witness it. 

I love the rivers.  There's no cattle and the herds of bison don't hang out in the river bottoms like domestic cattle.  The rivers and streams are lush with grass right up to their banks.  The water is so clear I could spend the whole day entranced watching the Gibbon River flow by.

The back country is amazing.  Hiking even a mere mile off the beaten path you can find solitude.  The majority of visitors don't leave the main boardwalks. Plus there's no logging, drilling, hunting, trapping, grazing, building, or other extractive or development-type uses allowed in the park.  There are NO FENCES.  I'm not against multi-use of the land per se. But having a place where preserving wildlife habitat in it's most natural and undisturbed state is the 'highest and best use' of the land is pretty special. 

Which brings me to the wildlife.  We were only a few feet from a coyote when he caught a vole and we could hear the bones crunching as he ate it.  The kids were thrilled.  We saw wolves, bighorn sheep, bison, elk, and deer all before 9 in the morning.  On a separate trip we ran across a pack of wolves while hiking in the backcountry.  They emerged from a stand of trees and one by one crossed into a meadow, only about 25 yards from us before disappearing back into the trees.

The science of the hydrothermal features is fascinating.  Ninety-nine percent of the microorganisms that live in the hydrothermal features have not yet been identified.  The scientist in me loves this fact! (The cyanobacteria and other microorganisms are what give the thermal features their different colors.) 

Consider the supervolcano.   The vast majority of the park is contained in a volcanic caldera. Over the past 17 million years or so, this hotspot has generated a succession of violent eruptions - three super eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago (Wikipedia:

One morning I woke up in my tent to a small tremor.  It crossed my mind in my half-sleep state that this could be THE eruption to blow the western half of the U.S. into the stratosphere.  It turns out that there are 1000-2000 small earthquakes each year, measuring up to 3.9 in magnitude.  There's a whole group of people that believe that the earthquake activity is increasing and that we could have the 'big one' at any time; the one that will incinerate the western half of the U.S.  I say that we might as well live in the moment.  But that's what I always say.

Bears.  There's a heightened sense of awareness when you hike and camp in grizzly bear country.  I appreciate the park service - they take their role seriously of educating visitors on bear safety.  We have been recreating in grizzly habitat for 20-some years and know the risks.  The reality is that there are about 2 million visitors to the park each year - 800,000 in August 2011 alone (a record).  Add to that a population of about 600 grizzly bears and you will  have occasional bad run-ins.  But I like living in a place that is still wild and we do all we can to stay safe.

I love the rhythm and seasons of Yellowstone.  We usually visit in early spring and late fall.  It's a privilege to get to know a place intimately and I  hope that over the years and decades I can continue to explore Yellowstone, just a stone's throw from our home in Lander.  We met a man from Gillette, Wyoming that is retired and spends the entire month of September in Yellowstone, every year.  I want to do that!

The kids discovered this song on our trip (I know, I can't believe they don't know about Jimmy Buffett), which is the main reason we had to make a video to go with it.  I'm sure I'm not the first Yellowstone tourist to be this totally cheesy.  Enjoy.  (It's a mash-up of our last two trips.)

Camping footnote: We pitched our tent at Slough Creek which is far from most of the park's popular features and is an 'undeveloped' campsite (no flush toilets or hookups).  We really liked it.  We did not see the grizzly bear that wallked through camp right before we got there.  Slough Creek is nice for being close to Lamar Valley, prime for wolf watching.  You can also shoot over to the Mammoth area easily from here. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Damsels and Dragons at Fiddler's Lake

Here we are, yet another blog post that only my mother would read (thanks mom!)  

On a whim, I packed up 7/8th's of the family on a Saturday afternoon and drove out of town; up into the Wind River Mountains near our home to go camping.  I tried to keep things simple so that it wouldn't be overwhelming, since it was just me with two kids and our elderly dogs (Scott being in Vegas).

When we got to our campsite at Fiddler's Lake, there were hundreds of sky blue damselflies everywhere.  In the late afternoon sunlight, it was kind of magical~

That evening, I had a huge compliment from my little man, "Your fire is way better than Daddy's fires."  We invented s'mores of every kind with ginger snaps, dark chocolate, chocolate with almonds, butterscotch chips and marshmallow. 

In the middle of the night I went out to sit by lake and the water was so still that the stars were reflected in it. When seen through the trees, the starlight on the lake looked like thousands of fireflies.  As I sat there watching shooting stars, I realized it must be the Perseid meteor shower.  What awesome luck.  With no moon, and the stars on the surface of the pond, it was phenomenal.  I tried to wake the kids up to come see, but they wouldn't budge from their nice warm bags.

I love this picture.  I happened to capture the moment of big sister leaning in to snuggle her little brother.  There were lots of "I love you's" and random hugs on this trip. 

L. Genevieve kicks back.  We spent the morning on the blanket by the lake, birdwatching, damselfly and dragonfly watching, and saw a beaver cruising around.  L.G. saw a spotted sandpiper catch a dragonfly.   Just hanging out, doing close to nothing together, was the best.

Later in the day we went to Louis Lake Beach.  The kids were riding logs on the lake, yeehaw, such a Wyoming thing to do.

'Meditating' next to Fiddler's Lake in Santa jammies with feet.
I can't say enough how much I love this down time with my kids. It's golden.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bears Ears Trail to North Fork Trail ~ 29.3 miles in one day

Last Friday I hiked 29.3 miles in one day from Bear's Ears to Lizard Head to the North Fork Trail, starting and ending at Dickinson Park on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It was the most stunning hike I'd ever been on, in the Wind Rivers or anywhere. On top of it, I did with some of my best, and most intrepid friends. Thanks to my awesome friend Shelli Johnson for organizing us!

Lizard Head Peak and wildflowers in summer glory.

Lunch spot, looking down into the  drainage that leads to the Cirque of the Towers.

Mountains, snow and sky.

One of four river crossings.

Me with Lizard Head Peak (photo by Shelli Johnson).

Oh yeah!  Beers at the end of the trail (another pic by Shelli).

Then... the next day I went fishing with my family. All of this in my backyard!

Laura and Ben after having a picnic in a wildflower meadow.

  Hiking to our secret fishing spot.

"And this is the biggest one, that I caught all by myself."
Laura tied my flies on for me.  Oh, to have the vision of the young!

End of our lovely fishing day and me pointing back at where I'd been the day before toward Bear's Ears Pass.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is your idea of a "Perfect Day?"

Recently a friend asked me what my idea of a perfect day was.  Since we were on a 26 mile hike, I had plenty of time to think about this.  And I decided that I'd rather recognize those 'perfect' moments (and give thanks) than to seek out the "perfect day".  Not to say that I haven't had some days that were darn-near perfect.  But they weren't outstanding or epic in any way.  They may have been a day with my family and a barbeque with friends or time spent camping and fishing in the mountains.  This train of thought made me comtemplate those perfect life moments, when everything that is beautiful about life comes together, clear as the Wyoming summer sky, and you think "this is it, THIS is what it's all about."

I've had many moments like that this recently, and I feel lucky indeed:

Eating popsicles with my kids on the front porch.

Sitting in a tree in the park with the kids.  Ben calls it "the office."

Listening to the song of the hermit thrush in the late afternoon sunshine, deep in a spruce-fir forest.

Taking a walk with my family at sunset ~ there's a warm breeze and the air is filled with cotton from the big cottonwood trees.  There's such a magical quality to the air...

Watching the pouring rain from a snow cave in the Snowy Range Mountains.

Early morning trail run, just today, and passing through an aspen grove with an understory of wild roses that smelled like heaven.

And one of my most favorite things to do ever - hiking and holding hands with Laura and Ben.

All this brings to mind the quote by Mary Oliver from her poem, The Summer Day:  "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Go Play Outside

Our family spends a lot of time outdoors.  This week I read an article that confirms what I suspect about our Wyoming kids: that they spend more time outdoors than other kids in the nation.  Almost double the national average according to a study by the University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. It's not suprising since we live in a beautiful state with diverse opportunities for outdoor fun.  We are runners, hikers, skiers, and off-road enthusiasts.  We are fisherman, hunters, birders, climbers, snowboarders, horsemen, backpackers, bikers, and biathletes.   And we are lucky in that we have these glorious wide-open spaces virtually all to ourselves.  There are only 500,000 people in our state, which boils down to just 6 people per square mile.    The only state with less people per square mile is Alaska; one lonely soul per square mile.

Roaring Fork Lake, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sandhill cranes by Laura

Sandhill cranes mating dance:

What I love about this picture is that the female's crown feathers are pink. After all, she is the girl bird.  In real life both the male and female's crowns are actually red.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Snow, sun dogs and sunshine

I live in Wyoming for many reasons, but at the top of my list is the sunshine factor.  And so these last few weeks of persistent rain and snow have been hard. I know that the moisture is good, there will be good 'feed', reservoirs full -- blah, blah, blah -- but it makes me cranky.  Last week took the cake when the rain turned to snow.  Then the snow turned back into rain again.  We had something like 4" of snow here in town.  Is there anything more depressing than rain falling on snow?!

But finally, FINALLY the sun came out last Friday.  I had planned to bike up the switchbacks in the Sinks Canyon.  This is the same place I ski in the winter.  At the last minute I put my snowshoes in the car.  And good thing....

The situation on May 20, 2011 on the Popo Agie Falls Trail.  This storm dumped 47" of fresh snow in the Wind Rivers.

The "outhouse" picture as Laura calls it (it's a rock).  Middle Fork of the Popo Agie. 

I followed moose tracks for awhile which helped, but then the tracks went down to the river and I was sunk.  It actually got too deep for snowshoes, at least for me, in May.

I was on the trail for about 10 minutes when the sun broke free of the clouds and there was the most glorious sun dog (rainbow around the sun) that I have ever seen.  Hallelujah!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Zen of Travel & Random Thoughts About Going Home - Little Corn Island

My favorite stretch of beach.

Before we even left for vacation, I was lamenting that it would soon be over.  Yes, I do realize that on vacation, more than anything, the goal is to live in the moment. However, when you leave the comforts of home and venture into unknown territory, a subtle change occurs.  There's a shift in your awareness ~ when you are immersed in another culture you can't help but appreciate people and life more.  I love that about travel.  But when you come back through the same airport on your homeward flight, and you walk past the same StarbucksJambaJuiceChilis in DullasMiamiOHare, you get the eerie feeling that you have only been gone a day, or worse yet, that you never even left

And then when you get home and (ack!) return to work, everything is.... the same.  And you slip back into your same routine, and vacation memories begin to fade, no matter how many days you continue to wear your flip flops to the office.  I always struggle with this, and fall into the post-vacation blues.  And so, once again, at the start of our vacation, I was worried about it ending.


What helps with this is that after a few weeks of vacation, I usually come down with a touch of homesickness.  I love my home state of Wyoming ~ the wide open spaces and high mountain peaks.  So typically I am ready to come home, except for two vacations:  this past trip to Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, and in the late 90's when Scott and I went to Tanzania.  When our little plane lifted off from the Serengeti airstrip I actually cried. 

On our most recent trip to Little Corn Island, I became very attached to the place and I especially liked the pace of 'living' there.  The island is small and mostly undeveloped.  In fact, there are no roads, just paths through the jungle and not one motorized vehicle on the entire island.  It took us three flights over three days plus a boat ride to get there.  Electricity is spotty or non existent and you can forget about other modern comforts, like hot showers.  But because of this, the island is beautiful and unspoiled and you can walk on the beach all day and only run into a few other souls.  My kind of place ~ a place I could get used to, easily.

But more than missing this beautiful paradise, I knew that I would miss the rhythm of my days spent with my family.  It was heavenly to enjoy each other without the daily stresses of getting up for school, packing lunches, going to swim lessons/soccer/violin, rushing home for dinner and homework then bath and bedtime.  On the island, we could just enjoy each other's company and simply be.   We stayed up late at night reading Treasure Island to the kids and watching fireflies in the mangrove swamp behind our beach house.

In addition to our non-schedule, we had the freedom to be yes-parents.  Mommy, can we go swimming in the ocean tonight, under the stars?  YES!  Can we stay out a little longer to play, please?  YES!  Can I have a Coke?  YES!  (How can you pass up an ice cold coke in a glass bottle, with a straw, in the tropics!?) Can I finish my homework tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow)?  YES! We would pay for that last one as Ben did all  2 1/2 weeks of his schoolwork on the last Sunday ~ 

Snorkeling by starlight.
One afternoon, just a few days before we left the island, Ben and I were playing in the sand.  I tried to empty my mind and just sculpt with my hands, to see what would fall out of my subconscious.  What came from my psyche was the Grand Teton, one of my favorite places on the planet, and just up the road from our hometown of Lander.  That mountain symbolizes a lot for me.  Well, I guess all thoughts lead to home, even if there aren't any roads to take us there.  Ben and I kept checking on our mountains and as the days went by, he said that they looked more 'real' to him as they began to weather.  Finally the sea took them away completely.

Middle Teton, Grand Teton (13,770') and Mount Owen

It occurred to me while contemplating the waves, the sand mountains, and in particular, Ben and Laura's footprints in the sand, that I can't hold onto vacations any tighter than I can Ben and Laura's littleness.  Everything changes and they grow up, too soon.  But I can embrace all these moments in between, and even try to embrace the going-homes.

And on the trip home we were stuck on Big Corn Island for what seemed like eternity, waiting for the plane from the mainland.  Here we were, our little family, far from home and stranded in a small, hot tropical airport.  In this limbo of waiting, this simply be-ing, it seemed like we'd become more like travelers and less like tourists.  And with this moment of insight (like at the beginning of our trip) I felt completely satisfied.  We did it, success! Success not in terms of a perfect trip, but in enjoying the moments and actually pulling off a trip that I didn't think was possible (or at the very least, advisable with kids!)  Success in being, not just going and doing.  And finally, with my family in tow, the trip felt complete and I felt like going home.  Well, sort of. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nicaragua - Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is said to be the most beautiful, cleanest and clearest lake in all of Nicaragua.  It is a geothermal 18-square mile lake contained inside the crater of the Apoyo Volcano.  It was such a treat to swim in a warm freshwater lake, coming from Wyoming where, as I write this in May, our mountain lakes are still rimmed in ice.

The pier at San Simian Lodge, on a Sunday when all the locals come to hang out too.
Surrounded by steep walls and lush vegetation, the laguna is part of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.  There are dozens of reptile species, birds, two species of monkeys, and several endemic fish species - species that are found nowhere else in the world.   The lake formed approximately 20,000 years ago when the cone of the volcano imploded. Over time the crater filled with rain and subterranean water.  They say that the bottom of the lake is the deepest point in Central America.

After dinner we swam in the lake, on a moonless night, under the stars.
The laguna is a short taxi ride away from Granada (maybe 30-40 minutes).  Happily, the area around the laguna is relatively undeveloped, surprising in that  it is not far from Granada or Managua.  We stayed at a wonderful place called San Simian Lodge.

Our daughter enjoying the scenery in the kayak.

This place was an enormous hit with the kids.  We got there, threw on our swimsuits and spent an afternoon and evening jumping off the pier and swimming and kayaking in the lake.  Then we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with a view of the lake.  Then we went back into the lake at night and swam under the stars.

Our casita, the Mango Moon, was very nice. The staff moved in an extra bed to accommodate the four of us.  The kids loved the outdoor bathroom....

Breakfast of delicious scrambled eggs, fresh cheese, tortillas and rice & beans.

Do-Over Scoop:
It would have been neat to find out where the hiking trails are around the lake and do some bird watching. Or go touring in the kayaks all the way around the lake early in the morning or late evening.  (San Simian provides the kayaks at no charge to their guests.)  Mostly, it was great just to hang out and relax as we had been on the go since we arrived in-country three days earlier. 

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and left on a Sunday afternoon, which was plenty of time to spend here.  It was pretty busy, and I don't know if it's because it was the weekend or just the time of year in general (first week of April).   We really liked San Simian Lodge and I would recommend it.

A big score was that we saw monkeys right outside of San Simian Lodge as we were taking a taxi back to Managua for our flight out to Big Corn Island.