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SuperBloom

11th March 2016

The Desert Explodes with Color

Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Death Valley National Park is the driest, hottest place in North America. Although its climate isn’t very hospitable, wildflowers do appear each Spring. However this past October, a series of rainstorms set in motion the favorable conditions for a literal explosion of colorful wildflowers that blanketed the normally harsh landscape of the park.

This phenomenon happens seldom, perhaps once in every 10 or so years and arrived in mid-February. When I visited Death Valley in early March, I was fortunate enough to see many fields still shimmering in the SuperBloom.
 





 


I’ve visited Death Valley more than a dozen times previously, but I’ve never seen as many visitors taking in the colorful wildflowers as I saw in March.

Click here to see one of the DV Park Rangers describe a “once-in-a-lifetime” visit to Death Valley.

How lucky I was to be able to see this unexpected event.

Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

In Search of Nemo

11th June 2013

Underwater Photography – Blllllrrrrrpppp!

For those of us who spend their winters in the frigid cold, surrounded by ice and snow for months at a time, a visit to the tropics is a blessing. To me, the mention of the tropics brings warmth and water to mind. And that’s precisely what we were after when we booked a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii.

The weather there is predictably warm so it’s easy to pack: a couple of bathing suits, a few pairs of shorts and several shirts. And don’t forget the snorkeling equipment! As an avid picture-taker, my luggage also includes a camera or two so that I can record the events that we may encounter.

The least enjoyable part of the trip is getting there. It’s an all day affair starting with a short hop from our home in Grand Rapids to Chicago followed by a very long, 9-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu.

Clouds covered most of the flight path to the islands. These sparkling beaches of Oahu (to the right) are about the only sites that we see along the way and this only upon leaving Honolulu on a 45 minute connecting flight to Kona.

And owing to a six hour time difference, we arrive in time for dinner.


Being in the middle of the Pacific, there’s water galore everywhere. The next morning, with our snorkeling gear in tow we head down to one of the local beaches.

For this trip, I’ve taken a camera that can be used underwater. I’ve never invested the thousands of dollars needed for a “real” underwater outfit, but this Olympus Tough 6000 will do the trick.


The Big Island is surrounded by shallow reefs lined with coral. Many of the popular beaches attract bathers for this exact reason. The coral is teeming with tropical fish and wildlife just a few feet below the water’s surface.

Without heavy scuba equipment and expensive deep water photo gear, my small, relatively inexpensive camera makes it possible for me to record these amazing wonders of the ocean. Here’s some of my “catch” made simply by gently kicking my flippers, goggles and snorkel facing downward and camera in hand.






Colorful sea anemone among the coral.

We even spotted this mermaid among the coral!

Big Island Turtle – my wife captured this short video of a turtle that was swimming nearby.

A lovely sunset on the Big Island

 
So I returned home with a slight tan, a relaxed body and a nice set of photos of some spectacularly colorful fish. Of course these photos aren’t of the same quality that you’d expect from a full-blown underwater outfit. But I’m happy just the same having recorded some of nature’s gorgeous water landscapes with a very affordable camera.
 
 
 
Written by Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

Earth Day “it’s for the birds”… and us too

Today is Earth Day. I’m guessing that many of you haven’t a clue as to what it’s about. Maybe you can get a glint of Earth Day here.

I recently completed writing what has become an annual article about Earth Day. Yesterday morning as I was having coffee and reading the Sunday NY Times, I was quite surprised that I didn’t find a single mention of Earth Day throughout the entire newspaper. But I did run across an interesting article that has a similar theme.

As a lover of the outdoors, I’m an avid participant in nature photography. Having spent more than five decades with camera-in-hand, I’ve collected my share of wildlife images. Along the way, I’ve found that the most challenging parts of this favorite activity is capturing the varying graceful, delicate or powerful movements of birds in flight.

Yes, I like birds but I don’t consider myself a bird-watcher. Yet according to Brian Kimberling[1], there are some 5.8 million bird-watchers in the US. I’m not sure where he derives this number but his mention of The Audubon Society most likely accounts for a good share of them.

Last December amid our holiday festivities, I recall hearing about the start of Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count. During a two week period, participants take a census of birds in their geographic area with a main goal of studying how bird populations have changed in time and space. After reading Kimberling’s article, I have a better understanding of what these studies are telling us about the environment of all the non-bird species, i.e. us humans.

According the Audubon Society’s report, there has been a noticeable change in bird migration in recent years. The report says: we were able to look at the winter distribution of 305 species to see if their winter range had shifted over the last 40 years. We discovered that 177 of these species showed a significant shift north and this northward shift was correlated with an increase in mean January temperatures in the contiguous 48 states of almost 5 degrees during that time. You can find more details on the Audubon’s website.

Five degrees in 40 years. This is a pretty large increase within the lifetime of many of us. Obviously it’s a big deal to the habits of the birds.

Shouldn’t we be concerned? What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.

Written by Arnie Lee

[1]”What Do Birders Know”, NY Times Sunday Review Section, April 21, 2013

 

 


 

 

Earth Day 2013

19th April 2013

Earth Day 2013

…moving forward at a snail’s pace

 


“Monday, April 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of the first Earth Day.


This topic has been on my mind so much so that I’ve written and rewritten this article several times over the years. Here’s a recollection of some of the thoughts that have followed me since this movement was in its infancy.” – Arnie Lee

Earth Day

As April arrives each year I’m reminded of Earth Day. Follow along as my mind becomes unstuck in time.

From the time I first started reading his black humor, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published. The news coverage of his life and death took me back to the late 60’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor. Vonnegut was invited to be “writer in residence” and as one of the most widely read authors of the day, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience at U of M.

He sometimes frequented “The Brown Jug” – a small, local campus restaurant where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. Vonnegut claimed that smoking was the slowest form of suicide. My wife Kris, also a student at the time, waitressed at The Brown Jug and on occasion would wait on him. But owing to her hearing difficulty she wasn’t a very good waitress and frustrated the celebrated writer with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his purpose on campus as writer in residence ended when he prematurely left declaring something to the effect: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing more to teach you about writing.” So it goes.
(more…)

Experiencing the Environment

03rd September 2012

and keeping the environment “a thing of importance”

Our family has been enjoying the outdoors for many years. Some of our adult children were mere babies when we trekked long distance to experience and camp in far away places like Mono Lake, Yellowstone and Acadia. We were attracted by tight knit forests, tumbling waterfalls, golden meadows, majestic mountains, winding hiking trails, abundant wildlife, trickling streams and shimmering nighttime skies.

The love of nature has been in my blood from childhood. At the University of Michigan I studied natural resource economics. The year was 1970 and the call for ecology had gone out with the first Earth Day and notable proponents such as author Rachel Carson, politician Senator Gaylord Nelson, futurist Buckminster Fuller, economist E.F. Schumacher. With my studies, I was counting on a future career that would revolve around conservation and ecology. But as often happens, this career plan didn’t come to pass. Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to keep nature and the environment close to my heart all the years since.

Wouldn’t you guess that photography has been one of my hobbies also since childhood? So it’s only natural that I would arm myself with a camera as our family traveled far and wide. And while family snapshots comprise an important part of my picture taking activities, the other part are the photos that I take to record the many amazing places that we visit.

These are all “peopleless” photographs. They’re meant to illustrate the beauty, scale, magnificence and sometimes fragility of some of our nation’s most iconic vistas and scenery.

Here are some of those picturesque places that we’ve experienced in our travels.
 



Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon NP

Temple of Sinawara, Zion NP
Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton NP
Snake River, Grand Teton NP
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP
Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP

Joshua Tree NM

snow geese flyout, Bosque del Apache NWR

Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley NP

West Thumb, Yellowstone NP

Lake, Yellowstone NP

Upper Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone NP

Spider Rocks, Canyon de Chelly NM

Olympic NP

Devil’s Tower NM

 


 

As I view this photo, I can feel the mist rising from the roaring waterfall. When I look at that photo, I find myself breathing in the scent of an immense douglas fir forest. In a third photo, my eyes are following the billowing clouds passing over a craggy, red rock canyon. And that photo has me marveling at the way the bright, fall colors accent the distant snow-covered peaks. Yes, all of these photos serve to remind me how wondrous our environment really is.

But I haven’t completed documenting my encounters with the outdoors just yet. And so I’m determined to continue experiencing the environment in person. I somehow prefer the phrase “experiencing the environment” rather than “capturing the environment” even though I may be recording the scene with a camera.

Whether it’s a national, state, county or city park or any other natural setting, I will treat the environment with respect.

I remain committed to practicing “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our environment nor our wildlife.

Written by Arnie Lee
 
 

Our National Parks

As you can see from the photos above, I’m a avid user of our National Park System. It’s extensive, consisting of almost 400 parks, monuments, landmarks, recreation areas, shorelines, trails, historic sites and wildlife refuges and encompassing some 85 million acres. Each year 275 million of us outdoor lovers visit these places.

Entrance fees vary by unit, but an $80 annual pass is a bargain if you plan to visit several parks. Senior citizens 62 years and older can purchase a lifetime pass for only $10.

Find our more about our National Parks here.

 
 


On my latest cross country drive to deliver my Mom’s car to Phoenix, I broke the 2000 mile journey into two parts. Here’s why.

For years I’ve been reading and hearing about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It’s known as one of the best places in the USA to watch birds, especially those who have migrated there from the northern latitudes for the winter. Since the route from Grand Rapids to Phoenix passes close by, I decided to detour slightly.

Part one of the journey was 2-1/2 days traveling from Grand Rapids to Socorro, NM and visiting Bosque. Although I was in the NWR for only 16 hours or so, I totally enjoyed the wildlife and outdoor. You can see some of the photos from short stay at Bosque here.

Part two of the journey was the remaining 380 mile ride between Socorro and Phoenix. As I was planning for the drive a few days before the trip, I noticed a place on the map with a funny name “VLA”. When I googled it, I found it to be an acronym for Very Large Array. It’s a set of huge radio telescopes 50 miles west of Socorro on US Route 60, the preferred highway to Phoenix. It sounded interesting, so I decided that this would be another stop after Bosque del Apache.

On Friday morning I was on the road by seven and heading west on US 60. An hour later, I saw an amazing group of what appeared to be white dishes sitting on the high desert.



The VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory


The array consists of 27 antennas mounted on tracks to enable repositioning.

You may recognize these antennas if you’ve seen the 1997 movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. I don’t know if the NRAO found any, but they were definitely pointing the dishes away from Washington, DC. I’m not sure what that means. 🙂

 
At the visitor’s center I followed the self-guided walking tour of the VLA.
The 1/2 mile walk afforded me time to take a few snapshots of the impressive machinery that gazes the universe.

I watched as the 27 antennas rotated together similar to a synchronized dance.

Below is a short video of the antennas.



Each dish is 81 feet in diameter


Jack is another VLA visitor
 

 

After spending two hours at the VLA, it’s time to go. The road takes me over some easy mountain grades. Shortly after reaching the New Mexico-Arizona state line I spot several large black birds making circles overhead. I stop the car, retrieve my camera and begin shooting when I notice a dozen much larger birds flying much higher.

Seeing their white heads, there’s no mistaking that these are bald eagles! Although they are above a field a few hundred yards away, I have such a wonderful feeling watching these majestic creatures soar the skies.





Heading west again it’s more high plains and scrub. At Show Low, US 60 turns south and descends into the Salt River Canyon, another gorgeous part of Arizona.



small drop off along the Salt River


scenic view at the top of the canyon


one of many mesas typical of the area


colorful surroundings in the canyon
The next town is Globe about 90 miles from my final destination. An hour and a half later I’m approaching Phoenix. It’s still early enough in the afternoon so I’ve avoided the heavy commuter traffic.

Mom’s house is slightly east of Phoenix. I pull into her driveway about 4pm completing the 2000 mile drive. I’m relieved to be out of the car. Mom’s there to greet me – she arrived earlier in the day via a flight from Grand Rapids. With the delivery of her car, she now has wheels for her winter stay.



grapefruit growing in Mom’s yard

To make the travel more interesting, I’ve been able to break up this long cross-country drive into a series of short “photo trips”. I hope that you enjoyed some of these sights as much as I enjoyed visiting them.

I’ll be writing about a few of my next photo trips soon. I’m off the the southwest again in two days.

Last Friday Mom flew from Grand Rapids to Phoenix as many other snowbirds do for the winter. I volunteered to deliver her car to Phoenix so that she’d have wheels for her six month stay. To make my drive more productive, I turned the 2000 mile journey from Grand Rapids into a mini photo trip.

Just as many retirees make the trek to warmer climates in the late fall, so do many northern birds. One of their gathering spots is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I leave Grand Rapids on Tuesday at noon (ahead of Mom) and set the destination in my GPS for Socorro, New Mexico – about 90 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Eight hour later as I’m passing through St Louis, I’m attracted to the night time lights of the Gateway Arch. I exit the interstate and head towards the Mississippi River where I find a place to park my car adjacent to the river front. Here’s what I see:



Four Seasons casino and resort


the Gateway Arch


After 30 minutes I’m in the car and back on the interstate. My next stop is a rest area in Oklahoma near the Texas state line at 3am. I grab a few hours sleep in the car until I awake from the cold. Drive on. Approaching Amarillo, I spot an unfamiliar aircraft circling the airport. Then I recognize it as a V-22 Osprey doing touch and go maneuvers. I pull off at the next exit and grab my camera with a long lens.



V-22 Osprey doing touch and go’s


what a beautiful looking aircraft

On the road again, it’s a pleasant drive on a warm, sunny day across the high plains and farm lands of New Mexico. For the next few hours I pass by towns with great names: Tucamcari, Cuervo, Santa Rosa, Moriarity, Albuquerque.





The final leg is south on Interstate 25 to Socorro about 1500 miles and 28 hours from Grand Rapids. I check into the Howard Johnson motel, drop off my suitcase and hop back into the car for the short 30 miles trip to Bosque del Apache. My goal is to be able to see the sunset at Bosque.



Nat’l Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center


sandhill cranes feeding in the marsh


coming in for a night landing


alone again

The next morning I’m up at 5am to arrive at Bosque again to experience the solitude of dawn.



dawn arriving at the north pond


early morning flight

From here on, I’ll skip the text and show you some of the snapshots



small flock of snow geese


northern pintail enjoying the pond


juvenile northern harrier scanning for food


sandhill crane touching down


high flying adult northern harrier


gorgeous warm and sunny day at the NWR


spectacular flyout by thousands of snow geese


this harrier scared an awful lot of snow geese

 

 


Here’s a short video of the flyout

 



duckling enjoying a swim


sandhill crane moving in late afternoon
Although I had only 16 hours to explore Bosque, I thoroughly enjoyed this amazing outdoor environment. I dispensed with the typical hiking clothing and footwear; although unpaved, the park roads, hiking trails and boardwalks are well cared for.

While there, I shared the refuge with several hundred other nature lovers – some with binoculars or scopes and others will ample photo equipment. I’ve already seen some of their photos on Flickr. Go to flickr.com and search for the Bosque del Apache group.



warm and sunny day at the NWR

While my stay at Bosque ended on Thursday evening, I awoke on Friday to complete the drive to Phoenix. I had a much shorter 350 mile drive ahead of me and again I turned it into another mini-photo trip. More about the Socorro to Phoenix leg in my next episode.

It’s that time of the year again. Almost all of the leaves have fallen from the trees, the days are noticeably shorter and the temperature has decided to fall as well. With the onset of winter, this is when Mom is preparing to leave Michigan to head south for warmer environs. She’s booked her flight to Phoenix and is anxious to again become a “snowbird”.

Of course she’ll need a car in Phoenix for her winter stay. For the past several years, I’ve been the chosen one – I drive her car to Phoenix and then fly back home to Grand Rapids.

This year I’ve decided to make a slight detour on the drive to Phoenix. I’m planning to join the migrating birds at Bosque del Apache, a large bird sanctuary near Socorro in western New Mexico. I’ve heard about this wildlife refuge for a long time so now is the time to take the plunge, so to speak.

In preparing for the visit to Bosque, I found out about another close-by site. The Very Large Array (VLA) is an astronomical observatory made of 27 antennas each 80 feet in diameter. The VLA collects large amounts of data from outer space. Being only 50 miles from Socorro, I’m planning a short stop at the VLA following my visit to Bosque.

My drive is a southernly route taking me through Missouri, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and to Albuquerque; then south to Socorro. Up to here, the route is all interstate highways and the weather should be snowfree in early November.

When I leave Socorro, I’ll head west following US 60 which takes me through some mountainous and forested areas in New Mexico and Arizona before flattening out near Globe, AZ. Hopefully the snow will hold off until later in the month. From Globe it’s clear sailing to Phoenix.

Many consider a cross country trip such as this an arduous undertaking. I have always enjoyed driving long distances and welcome the chance to stop at Bosque and VLA. I’m hoping that they will both offer me some interesting photography opportunities.

If the cameras are working and I make good with the photography opportunities, I’ll have some pictures here soon.