Living In the Big Bend Region

For many people, living in the Big Bend Region is a dream. They love the area, but the job market doesn’t allow them to live there full time. People take rides out to the desert on the motorcycles or take RVs to live in for a few days of isolation before heading back to the grind of the city. For others, they couldn’t imagine wanting to live in a desert, where so many things either stink, sting, or stick (e.g. skunks, rattlenakes/bees/wasps/other bitey things, and sticker burrs/goat heads/cactus, etc.)  Other people don’t even know that Texas has mountains, and have never even heard of The Big Bend. But, for 6 short years, Hubby and I were able to live in The Big Bend Region while going to college at Sul Ross State University. While we were there we experienced a lot of different things: small town life (i.e. gossip and knowing everyone in town), getting annoyed with tourists for not knowing how to drive their giant rented RVs through town, having javelinas (pronounced ha-va-lee-na) eat rotten bird seed off the ground in my front yard and having the dog go berserk at 3 am because of it, having an epic battle in the backyard with the dog and a skunk at 5 am, ending up with a very disgusting (but proud of himself) dog and a zombie skunk that wouldn’t die. It was a pretty eventful 6 years.

However, our best experiences were outdoors.

During my undergrad career, I had plans to go to vet school so I majored in Animal Science, but developed the realization that veterinary work was NOT what I wanted to do. I was still interested in it, but no longer felt that medicine was my calling. Hubby majored in Biology and through him I was able to meet the Biology Professors and students, and we both decided to get our Master’s Degrees in Biology.

During this time, Hubby worked on his thesis research and I later worked on mine. It was good timing because we could both help each other out while we weren’t working on our own projects. We both researched different aspects of Black bear in Big Bend National Park (yes, there are bears in Texas *eye roll*).  That means that we had a lot of amazing experiences with Black bear and other wildlife while we were looking for the bears. Here is a map of Big Bend that you can use as reference.

My gallery this week consists of photos taken while working on my research, Hubby’s research, and various other trips we took in the Big Bend Region. Each photo has a description of what we were doing at that time. Enjoy. I know I did.

Wolves in Yellowstone: An Ecology Lesson

I have always been a biologist at heart. When I was a little girl I would constantly be looking at bugs and plants, and learning as much as I could about the world around me. I understood at a very young age how the natural world works together – everything having a niche in which it belonged. You throw one thing out of whack, and the balance is thrown off around it. I’m not sure why other people don’t understand this, because it seems like perfect, common sense that even a child could figure out, so why do people continue to do things like hunt the whales to extinction or organize rattlesnake roundups?

One example is the wolves in the United States. Once upon a time, not very long ago, people began to populate the wild areas of the northwestern United States.  Ranching was the reason for the move – Wide Open Spaces and untouched grazing. It was a paradise for ranchers. Except for the wolves. Every once in a while a wolf would find a nice fat calf as an easy meal. Result? The ranchers started killing wolves to protect their livestock. Then the government got involved. The government hired trappers in an attempt to annihilate the wolves. Literally. That was their goal – kill off all the wolves. What good did wolves do, anyway? We didn’t NEED wolves here. All they did was kill innocent livestock and wildlife that WE wanted to kill and eat. So the government answer was to kill off the competition.  Bears were also deemed a nuisance as well, and were also on the trapper hit list, but mainly because they eat the fish and crops that people were eating too. Wolves were extirpated from most of the United States is a matter of a few decades.

The plan to eradicate the wolves backfired however, and the best place to see the results of that backfire was in Yellowstone National Park. The land is still (pretty much) untouched and natural, and is a great place for grad students to do research :)

See, over the years that there were no wolves in the park, a lot of things changed. The elk population skyrocketed. So much so that in the winter the elk were having to be fed hay by the park rangers so that there weren’t massive die-offs from starvation. The massive elk population was killing the aspen trees by grazing them down to nothing, preventing new forest from replacing the old trees and fire-killed trees. Elk were also killing other species of trees by rubbing their antlers on them so much that it was ripping the bark from the trees and allowing insects the chance to infest the trees. Elk were grazing everything down to nothing because of their massive numbers.

In 1995 when 14 wolves were trapped in Alberta, Canada and brought to Yellowstone National Park, it was deemed an “experimental population” and they were radio-collared and watched closely to see what would happen.

Here is a quick video that can describe it much better than I can, and the sound of the wolves howling always gives me chills, so I love this video.

While Hubby and I were on vacation in Yellowstone, we saw, personally, the changes that the wolves had made.

Yellowstone May 2014 1246

These pines have clear damage by elk from scraping the velvet off of their antlers every spring. Notice the dead tree in the foreground which also has the same scars from the elk. This tree was likely killed by insects boring into the soft phloem underneath.

Since the return of the wolf, the elk have started avoiding certain areas where they were easy prey, allowing the aspen trees a second chance to grow and repopulate. We actually saw some areas of aspen trees that were fenced off, and the area appeared to be a research site to study different dynamics of the aspens. (Unfortunately when we saw it, we were on our way to the doctor’s office because of my back, so we didn’t really stop to get a closer look.)

One of the areas that the elk seemed to avoid was Lamar Valley. We saw hundreds of bison, bears, and pronghorn, but no elk.

The most beautiful place in the park - Lamar Valley. Herds of bison and antelope throughout the valley.

The most beautiful place in the park – Lamar Valley. Herds of bison and antelope throughout the valley.

Other species have also benefited from the return of the wolf, like the grizzly and black bears.  For example, they feed on the left-overs of wolf kills (bears aren’t nearly as fast as wolves, so it is much harder for them to chase down prey), and this has led to an increase in the bear populations as well, after the government trappers attempted to wipe them out too.

"Scar Face" feeding on a wolf kill

“Scar Face” feeding on a wolf kill

Today, the wolf population is still studied by the park service; however due to budget cuts, most (if not all) research is conducted on a voluntary basis.  Because of this, things like helicopters are no longer used to dart the wolves because it’s not in the budget. Instead, the wolves are trapped or netted first. This is increasing the amount of human interaction the wolves have, and making them nervous around people where they once had little fear.  That means that often, when you see a wolf in the park, it will run away instead of letting you marvel in all their splendor.

Ranger Rick performs his wolf surveys voluntarily, because the wolf monitoring program budget has been cut.

Ranger Rick performs his wolf surveys voluntarily, because the wolf monitoring program budget has been cut.

Additionally, maintenance of the radio equipment has declined.

Clear view of his radio collar

Clear view of his radio collar

The silver male wolf that we watched on our last morning in the park had a radio collar, but the battery was dead and it was no longer emitting a signal. Because of this, he could not be identified or tracked, and all the potential data that he was producing were going unrecorded. This means that we don’t know if he is part of a pack or if he is a “lone wolf” (sorry, I had to). We don’t know if he has sired any pups, contributing to the growth of the population. We don’t know where his territory or range are, what his diet is, if he is healthy, or any other multitude of ecological questions, that at least for now, must go unanswered.

This is a wonderful story, but it has only been half written. As the wolf populations continue to rise in Yellowstone and other areas outside of the park, clashes with the human population is inevitable.  The state of Idaho was attempting to start legalizing wolf hunts again, right after they were brought back from the brink of extinction in the United States. Bowing to public pressure, they have decided that they won’t start wolf hunts this year. The wolves are safe. For now.

As a biologist, I believe that we need to learn as much as possible about the wolves in order to save them again. Learning their habits, territories, ranges, diets, and even personalities can teach us so much and help us understand how to prevent human or livestock interactions. Would something as simple as adding guard dogs or guard donkeys/mules (yes, that’s a thing) to the herds be enough to keep wolves away? How many TRUE wolf kills of livestock actually happen per year? What is the economic “loss” caused by wolves?

Personally, I don’t think that the ranchers have a reason to despise the wolves, because the ranchers, like any other business owner, should have insurance.  And insurance pays out for damages/losses, So they don’t have a REAL reason to want the wolves gone.

As Apex Predators, wolves affect everything around them. They are vital for the health of the ecosystems in which they evolved. This means that the other wildlife are healthier as a result. Bigger, stronger, and healthier elk, deer, bison, and antelope survive while the wolves cull the herds of the sick and weak individuals.  Humans need to stop trying to “manage” the wildlife and just leave it be. It will balance out on its own, and be healthier than if we decide which individuals are killed and which populations are “too high”.

If you want to see wildlife with extremely limited human interference, watch this video on the wolves of Chernobyl. I watched this and it made me want to live there. So there is radiation, big deal. I can wear a respirator for the rest of my life if that means I can live in a place that is a wildlife paradise and no humans will bother me.  In the video, they determined that the wolf population is healthy, and no higher or lower than in other wolf habitat areas, meaning they don’t need to be managed – their numbers didn’t “get out of control” without human intervention. They didn’t “eat all of the deer” in the area. The ecosystem is healthy without human interference. Just like it was before we evolved – the world doesn’t need humans to take care of it. The world just needs humans not to destroy it.

Sunset in Lamar Valley

Sunset in Lamar Valley

Yellowstone Part 4 – Saving the Best (and Worst) for Last

Wow, it took a lot longer to get this post pulled together than I thought it would! I finally learned how to put Watermarks on my photos, so I was trying to get that done before I posted these photos.  So, without further ado – here is the final installment of our epic Yellowstone trip! You can catch up and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.

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Seeing as how this was a trip to Yellowstone, it was high time we spent some time in the park. By this time we moved to our cabin on the Idaho/Montana border, just outside of the western park entrance. Based on my limited knowledge, the western portion of the park was where you were most likely to see the wolves, so I made sure to book several nights at these cabins to give us a good chance at seeing them. It was also cheaper than staying in the town of West Yellowstone, which is mainly just a tourist attraction since you have to go through the town in order to use the West Entrance. This is also where the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is located, and I wanted to be sure to check that out as well.

On our first full day in West Yellowstone, we headed straight to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. It was smaller than I thought it would be, but I still learned A LOT. They had dioramas of different seasons and species, and had a lot of information about why the grizzly and wolf numbers dropped so quickly. (Mainly, the government at the time thought of bears and wolves as pests, and hired government trappers to kill them off. But more on that later). We were able to watch the grizzlies in their enclosure wrestle and play, search for food under rocks, and munch on tasty elk legs! (Road killed animals go to the Center). The wolves that were there are all extremely old, for wolf standards. They all looked like they were about 15 or so years old and were happy to lay in the sun and get tasty free meals that they didn’t have to hunt down on their arthritic legs.

After the center we went next door to an Authentic Mexican Restaurant. I know, I know. Why on Earth would you go get Mexican food in Montana? It was there, I was starving, and I didn’t think about it. Okay?!

Needless to say, it was terrible food. No flavor. I mean really. I couldn’t make food that flavorless on purpose. Live and learn, right? Now I’m passing on my knowledge to you so you have a better meal somewhere else.

After lunch we headed into the park to look for wild wolves! Yay!

One of the best things about Yellowstone is also one of the worst things about Yellowstone: the number of tourists. We were there before the summer crowd, but toward the end of the week more and more people started coming into the park because it was a holiday weekend coming up. So by Wednesday the park was packed! However, like I said, this is also a great thing because when one person sees awesome wildlife, everyone pulls their car over and you are sure to see whatever it is that they are looking at.

We saw a bunch of cars pulled over so of course we pulled over too. We got to see a huge coyote hunting rodents in their tunnels by pouncing on the ground and breaking their tunnels open, much like they do through the snow (see Part 3).

We continued on into the park, headed toward Lamar Valley, where everyone said is where you see the wolves. We stopped at another pull off where we saw a ton of cars and people with spotting scopes, and sure enough, our first sighting of wild wolves! While talking to a gentleman who had a spotting scope the size of our rental car, we were informed that they had killed an elk earlier in the day, and they were still lounging around letting their fat, happy bellies settle. There was a black wolf, and white wolf, and a dark grey wolf. They were really far off so I didn’t get great pictures, but they were wolves!

After the wolves wandered off, we continued up to Lamar Valley. On the way we got to see a black bear or two, but our only focus was wolves. We got to Lamar Valley and it was the most beautiful place I think I have ever seen. It is now on my favorite places list. Mountains, rolling foothills, herds of bison and antelope, grizzlies grazing on grasses and flowers. It was spectacular. We knew we were in the right place because of the number of people pulled over on the roadside with their scopes and cameras ready. Normally you would wonder what they are looking at, but then you notice that everyone is mingling, and simply waiting. They knew something was coming, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

So while we waited with the pros, we got to see some great stuff. Antelope coming close, bison calves running and playing, a grizzly family running away from some mysterious unseen object up on the hill. Then we noticed the Giant Grizzly on the river below us. Now, I’m no good at judging distance, but I would guess she was about 500-600 yards away. She was feeding on a wolf kill from several days before (according to the pros that were waiting for the wolves to show up) and her name is Scar Face. I’m sure for good reason, but she was far enough away that I had to only take their word for it. According to the pros though, Scar Face has been photographed more times than the Kardashians; I’m guessing because she frequents the area that the wolves are often found in, so people do like I did, and take pictures of her while we are waiting for the main attraction ;)

However, while we waited, Hubby noticed that people were leaving. There were still the same number of people there waiting, but the crowd itself had changed; the pros had given up to try a different spot!

I suddenly panicked – What do I do? Do I stay here and hope that they show up? Or do I try my luck somewhere else? And what if I leave and then find out that the wolves showed up right after I left? Luckily Hubby was there to help me decide. Lamar Valley is pretty big after all, so maybe they will be in a different area. We headed back down the road a ways, and when we were sure we were no longer in the valley we turned back around and headed back to a different pull off we saw. I was getting a little discouraged because by hearing all of the stories, wolves would be everywhere! I wanted to get some good pictures of wolves! Not just zoom in on a picture and have to point out “See? That black speck? That’s a wolf!” I had to see them closer!

By this time my back was aching pretty bad, so I wasn’t going to get out of the car unless there was something photo-worthy, so Hubby got out and made friends with some Canadians who are living in an RV and watching the wolves for the summer. (Fun Fact: the wolves of Yellowstone came from Alberta, Canada. It’s funny that the Albertans come all the way down to Wyoming to see the wolves they gave us!) Suddenly, out of nowhere, a black wolf runs by, down on the river about 1,000 yards away. I’m not sure where she came from, but we saw her swim the river and dash up the mountain before she was gone. I got a couple pictures of her, but nothing spectacular since she was running pretty much the whole time.  Apparently she was Number 89, and she is a rogue female that frequents the valley.

We learned a lot about the wolves by talking to all of the “wolf chasers” (or “sighters” I guess would be a better term).  Because the National Park Service is broke (because it’s always the good programs that get their funding cut first) they could no longer afford to tranquilize the wolves from a helicopter. This leads to shotting them with net guns and tranquilizing them once the researchers have gotten up to them, so the wolves have gotten a bit skittish of people. We also learned that the research program is now on a voluntary basis. The rangers that were paid to follow the wolves now must volunteer their time because the park service can’t afford to pay them. Such a sad situation. What is good though, is that there is such thing as “Citizen Science” much like with bird surveys. Enough people are interested in this subject, that they seek out the animals, watch their behavior, and report back to the rangers. Many of the observers know the rangers and vice versa, so the data that are provided are understood to be factual and non-biased (mostly).

After Number 89 ran up the hill, we started heading back, since it was getting late and we had several hours to drive back to our cabin. We stopped again at our first location because I saw something feeding on the same carcass that Scar Face had been eating earlier.

IT WAS A SILVER WOLF.

We stopped the car and I ran up the hill with my camera and tripod (I had the speed clip this time). While we were watching this grey, I decided to get some video of him feeding (unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me upload my awesome video…I’ll have to figure out how to get it onto YouTube or something). In the video you can hear Hubby and I quietly discussing if the wolf was wearing a collar or not, and if Hubby was going to hide behind me so he wouldn’t get eaten. I stopped filming right before the wolf came right passed us so I could get some still shots of him as well. I probably should have just kept filming because the pictures didn’t turn out great (it was getting dark and he was running) but live and learn, right? (that seems to be a theme for today). After the grey ran across the street into on-coming traffic and almost got plowed by a car, he disappeared up the hill and was gone. At his closest, he was probably 20 yards from us.

Ah. Maze. Ing. I was so happy, and he had gotten so close! I was in heaven. But of course you know what that means, right?

I HAD TO SEE THEM AGAIN. This wasn’t nearly enough. Andrew and I were already planning the next day. Get up SUPER early and get to Lamar Valley before sunrise because that is reportedly the best time of day to see the wolves.

Of course then it took us a few hours to get back to our cabins. And it doesn’t get dark until about 9:30…So we didn’t get back to the cabins until midnight. Last thing we needed to do was get up at 3:30 am after going to sleep at midnight, so we decided that the next day we would relax, get up whenever we felt like it, see the rest of the park, and go to bed early that night so we could get up super early the NEXT morning.

So we did the whole “geyser” thing again the next day and relaxed, doing our last bit of souvenir shopping as well. We had dinner at a restaurant/bar in West Yellowstone called The Slippery Otter, and this place was great! The owner was super nice, they had great food, and really good beer. Finally, we had found good food in Montana!

The next morning we got up at 3:30 am and I drove into the park. At about 5 am we were flagged down by a truck coming up the road, telling us to pull over because 4 HUGE BOATS (on trailers, duh) were about to be coming down the road, and they needed as much road space as they could get! Well of course he flagged us down at a terrible spot – not only was there no shoulder to pull onto, but there was actually tons of tree debris on the side of the road from doing road work in the park the day before! HOW MUCH SPACE DID THEY NEED?! I hoped we had scooted over enough; all we could do is wait. And all I could do while I waited was think about how I’m going to miss the wolves because I’m pinned between a boat trailer and the hillside! Finally they drove by without incident and we headed down the road again, but slowly this time. One thing I didn’t count on was the mount of fog that we had to drive through. Cool morning+geothermal activity=lots and lots of scary fog. I love looking at fog; I hate driving in it. I was super nervous that a herd of bison would be in the road in the fog and I was going to miss my opportunity to see the wolves because there was a dead bison on the hood of my car. So I drove carefully and as quickly as I dared. As the sky began to lighten, it was easier to see that we were engulfed in fog, and it was much brighter than I had thought it would be. I was going really to miss the wolves!!!

Finally we made it to Lamar Valley. I was in such a hurry to get to my spot and wait, that when we saw a truck stopped in the road I almost went around him. Then Hubby saw why he was stopped – the same Silver wolf  from before was standing on the hillside!

The next events were a blur – I took tons of photos, and he wandered off into the sage brush. The truck drove away, and we waited to see if he would come back. He did, and he was actually carrying a child’s stuffed animal in his mouth. No, I wasn’t confused and he really had a live dead squirrel in his mouth – it was a toy. You could see the tag on the plush, and the little stubby legs.  We have no idea why, but he was carrying around a toy.  He dropped it after a few minutes of carrying it around, and then he sort of zig-zagged in front of our car  while he tried to decide where to go, until he walked across the road back toward the river where we had first seen him a few nights before.  Then Ranger Rick pulled up. Seriously. That’s his name. He’s a Ranger named Rick. He asked what we were looking at, and when we told him a wolf, he pulled over and got out his radio telemetry equipment – SCIENCE AT WORK! Sort of. Rick couldn’t identify the wolf because the batteries on his collar were apparently dead; but that didn’t matter, because I got some amazing photos of him while he was with us. Suddenly more and more people started showing up, and we met a huge group of wolf chasers. Rick told us that the black female would be coming by soon (her radio collar was working so they knew where she was), so we waited until, far off in the distance, we saw her making her way through the river valley.

By this point my back was killing me. I could no longer appreciate the magnificent scenery I was surrounded by, because I was in blinding pain.  I told Hubby we had to go to the doctor now.  We headed to the northern portion of the park where the doctor’s office was, but they didn’t open until 8:30, so we had to wait. I was about in tears by this point and when they finally opened, I was at my breaking point. Talking to anyone would cause my voice to break, and I finally broke down and cried in front of the nurse while he asked me all the questions that he had to ask, and cried some more while talking to the doctor. He wrote me prescriptions for muscle relaxers and Vicodin and we had to drive up further north to get them filled at the pharmacy. By the time I received my prescriptions and ate some breakfast, I was done. It was probably 10 am on my second to last day of my vacation, and I couldn’t move without being in blinding pain. I was heartbroken that this is how our vacation ended. Hubby had to drive for the next 2 days because my drugs kept me knocked out. But while I was awake I was still in pain.

Our last night was spent in Centennial, Wyoming, through the Snowy Range. The Snowy Range is one of my favorite places in the US, but I slept through it because of my medicine. We got to the hotel and ate dinner in one of the 4 restaurants in town, and then I went to the room to sleep. Hubby, since he was still on vacation, wanted to go check out the town, so he bar-hopped at the 4 bars in town and met wonderful people wherever he went. I was glad he had a good time, because I felt guilty for being the reason we had to cut the trip early.

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Now my back is feeling better, although not 100%, but Hubby and I are already talking about going back to see the wolves again.

Yellowstone Part 3 – Not Actually In Yellowstone

I ended Part 1 when we were leaving Yellowstone and heading down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Part 2 was a typical little rant explaining how NOT to be a jerk while you are Site-seeing. Part 3 was the actual hiking of the vacation, in Grand Tetons National Park.

Seeing as how much of Yellowstone tries very hard to kill you by either wildlife attack or geothermal flesh melting, the safest hikes are MILES AWAY in the Grand Tetons. This is probably why you get access to both parks when you pay your $25 admission.  We started off by finding famous places for famous photos. I wanted to re-create the infamous Ansel Adams photo of the Grand Tetons with the Snake River flowing majephtically below, but we couldn’t find THE SPOT.

You know...THIS ONE

You know…THIS ONE

Instead, we found an awesome pull off that was covered up in tourists all taking pictures of the mountains. It was cold and windy, but I couldn’t just stay in the car! Then I wanted to find the famous barn that you see EVERYWHERE.

and you know...THIS ONE

and you know…THIS ONE

I googled it because I didn’t even know what it was called, and I found GPS coordinates for its location. I put those bad boys into our car GPS, and sure enough, it took us right to the beautiful old Mormon barns, complete with an information placard explaining about them. There were hardly any people there, so I waited somewhat patiently (ok, not patiently at all, but mainly because they were rude and walking ALL OVER THE AREA while I was trying to take pictures. Hubby kept telling me they have the same right to be there as me, and they will leave soon so I will be able to get my photos. yeah yeah….It was cold and about to rain! I needed them OUT OF MY SHOT!) There were little squirrels EVERYWHERE and we even saw a coyote that was hanging around, I’m assuming trying to hunt them as soon as the annoying humans got out of his way.

After we took these pictures we headed deeper into the park to do some true hiking. We were going to head to Jenny Lake, via the Taggart Lake trailhead. I really wanted to head to Lupine Meadows, because I knew the lupine would be blooming and I thought it would be a great photo-op. Unfortunately, we decided to head to Taggart Lake first and see how my back was taking the hike. If I was feeling good we would continue up to Lupine Meadows. This is where we made the wrong choice. Half of the 1 1/2 long trail was covered in snow. I’m not talking about a beautiful dusting of snow. I mean FEET OF SNOW. FOR 1/2 A MILE. IN ONE DIRECTION.

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It was pretty, but deceptive

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Still not there, and still walking through snow. This was more of a slush.

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Hubby wondering how cold his feet can get before they simply fall off.

I thought “well, I’ve come this far. I have to finish this trail.” Bad idea. I have no experience traveling through deep snow. I have no equipment for traveling in deep snow. Hubby had holes in his hiking boots so his feet were soaked and frozen by the time we got to our destination. I had slipped and slid on snow that had been walked on so much it was turning to slick ice instead of crunchy snow. I fell through thin spots. Just to let you know, this is a horrible idea if you are having back pain. You use every muscle in your back with pretty much every step you take. So if you jerk to one side, all of your sore muscles get jerked too. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Lupine Meadows. We did, however, make it to Taggart Lake. And it was breathtaking. Then we had the dreadful realization: we had to walk through all of that again.

I tried to break up the slip-n-slide journey by taking photos of stuff along the way. Where the snow was starting to melt, you could see little tunnels built by rodents in the snow. Now, I always knew that they did this, which is why there are so many silly pictures of foxes doing this:

fox hunting

But what I didn’t know is that it appears that rodents actually move soil in to create the tunnels – I thought they just tunneled through the snow itself, but clearly not, based on these pictures!

IMG_3352 IMG_3353

So while I was ready for this icy hike to be over, I was learning too, which is always fun! Once we finally got back through the snow and came upon the trail split that led to Lupine Meadows, I decided I couldn’t keep going up the mountain, because if I did I would have to be carried down the mountain on a stretcher because of my back. Seeing as how I didn’t want to become a hiking statistic, we headed back down the mountain to the car. I took a few more pictures to break up the hike, and when we got to the car, Hubby instantly took off his boots and socks and cranked up the heater on his poor frozen toe-sicles. Then he got on his phone and ordered a new pair of boots online. Sometimes you really have to love technology.

After our hike we went back to the cabin to take a nap a recuperate before bar-hopping in town. We enjoyed a little bit of night life, then we headed out to the mountain pull-off and I gave my star photography another shot (or two, or two hundred! ha). Since I was so excited about my next photography section, I was super proud of myself for being dressed warmly and prepared for a long time out in the wind. I even bragged to Hubby about how prepared I was. Then I realized that I forgot something. Something pretty darn important.

Part of my tripod.

See, there is this “speed clip” thing that you screw into the bottom if your camera, so you can just clip the camera in and out of the tripod quickly and easily. I took this off of my camera so that I could use my padded hand strap (which uses the same hole that the tripod speed clip uses). Instead of putting the clip back onto the tripod like a good girl, I put it on the table to “deal with later.”

That is always a horrible idea. At least for me. That is how things get misplaced and opportunities can potentially be lost! Luckily though, I’m a resourceful Texas Girl, so I did the next best thing. I made a small pile of gravel and used that as a sort of sand bag for my camera. It worked pretty darn well too, if I do say so myself!

Not only did I get to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States during a time that most people don’t get to see it, but while I was sitting on the ground freezing my tush off, I had the chance to hear coyotes singing in the river below, with no other sound and no other person around for miles. It was ah.maz.ing.

(yes, Hubby was there. He was “waiting” in the car. And when I say waiting, I mean unconscious. And snoring. And warm).

This made for a very late night (for me, since Hubby was “waiting”) but it was worth every second. I wished over and over that I had brought my speed clip, but I chalk it all up to the fact that I’m new to this whole photography thing, so I’m allowed to screw up once in a while.

Again, I put most of the pictures into a Gallery below. Enjoy, and send me some feedback! Do you prefer the photos mixed into the story or in the gallery at the bottom so you can enjoy them all together?

Yellowstone Part 2 – Pho Phweakin’ Majephtic

Phteven

Yellowstone was an amazing trip, no doubt. However, when you travel you are always exposed to one thing that is sure to annoy you every time. Tourists.

I know, I know. Technically, you are a tourist too, but if you are anything like me, AND I THINK YOU ARE (gives approving head nod), you are a considerate traveler who wants everyone to be able to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature the way they want, without interruptions.  And unfortunately that’s impossible, because there are some people who don’t have the “considerate of others gene.” And when you are in a place that gets 30,000 visitors annually, many of these people congregate all at once.

Here is one of those times…

…Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip.  While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods.  It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. They were so majestic! It was almost like I was the only person there. Until I was reminded that I wasn’t.

See, there was some sort of AV club or photography class there as well.  It was a small group of guys who had nice equipment, but acted like they were the most important people there. They would constantly sit down and wait for God-knows-what on the boardwalks and take up the entire thing, forcing people to carefully walk around them, for fear of falling off of the boardwalk and being boiled alive like on the warning posters, telling you to stay on the boardwalk. Seriously. Clearly these guys had already irritated me, right?  So while we were standing their watching this majestic wild animal do her wild animal thing, and she started to wander back into the woods where she came from, it surprised the crap out of me when AV nerd #1, AKA Douchebag McGee, started suddenly yelling for his counterpart, AV nerd #2 (let’s call him Charlie; he didn’t really earn a touching nickname). The conversation went something like this:

D.bag McGee: “Charlie! Charlie!!! She’s moving! There are people on the trail!”

Charlie: (looks up from his camera uncertainly)

D.bag McGee: “Charlie!”

Me: “HEY! WHY ARE YOU YELLING?!”

D.bag: “BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST!”

Me: “Do you work here?” (Douchebag had a 2-way radio, so I thought it MIGHT be a possibility).

D.bag: “No, BUT I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!”

Me: “There is a ranger RIGHT THERE” (points in the direction of the ranger truck, complete with flashing lights, megaphone, and a barricade to prevent tourists from wandering up to the grizzlies)

D.bag: ignores me and continues to talk loudly to Charlie to see if everyone is safe. States that his reasoning for yelling is he “didn’t want to interrupt radio traffic.”

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The only good thing that came out of this “interaction” is that Hubby and I now have years and years of entertaining each other by randomly screaming “THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST! I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!!!”

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Here are a few rules to live by when visiting Yellowstone and you see bears:

1. If you aren’t a park ranger, don’t try to do the park ranger’s job. They probably have a better idea of what needs to be done than you do, and more than likely they are already doing that job before you even notice something is happening. They’re good like that.

2. Pay attention to your surroundings. The “people in the forest” were actually walking on a well established ROAD. The road in which Douchebag drove in on, to be exact.

3. Do you not think that peoples’ lives are worth interrupting radio traffic?! If something is TRULY a danger, then yes. Report it. But keep a cool head and try to observe if there is ACTUALLY an emergency before you start freaking out and yelling uncontrollably. And maybe just avoid the freak out all-together if possible. All you do is piss of the Texans next to you. And you do not want a pissed off Texan.

Yellowstone May 2014 576

Pho Phweakin’ Majephtic

Yellowstone Part 1

May is my favorite month. It’s starting to warm up but it’s not too hot, the humidity is usually pretty low, and it’s that wonderful time of year when Hubby and I do our annual week long vacation. For the last few years we have gone to the Florida Keys but this year we wanted to do something different and cheaper. (We are saving up for a big trip in a couple years, so the next couple trips we do will have to be less expensive.) Just like we do every December, we planned and booked our entire trip, this year to Yellowstone National Park. Hubby had never been there before, and I was dying to go back. My family and I went there in 2001, so I wanted to see it again from a Conservationist’s point of view, instead of a teenager point of view.

This time I put all of the photos into a slideshow at the bottom. I thought that might be better than making this post 8 miles long. Enjoy!

The flights were free because of my frequent flyer miles I get from flying for work, and the hotels/cabins we stayed in were cheap because we booked them on Hotels.com, (which is an awesome website, BTW). By the time May came around, all of our lodging, except for one B&B that I didn’t book through Hotels.com, was paid for months ahead of time, so all we had to do was pay for our food and gas on the trip. And of course all of the little cheesy souvenirs that are required.

We flew into Denver and the plan was to drive up to Cody, Wyoming for the first day.  Hubby had booked a cheap rental car through some no-name rental company and when she asked us where we were heading and we said Cody, she said the cars can’t leave the state of Colorado. I’m sorry, what?! How many people do what we were planning on doing? I thought this was a common method of getting to Yellowstone?!

Clearly this woman had had issues like this in the past, because she basically said, “sorry I’m not sorry,” so we went next door to Thrifty to rent from them instead. It was a bit more expensive, but I guess we saved money in the long run since we could actually leave Colorado in this car…

We headed north and started seeing mesas, mountains, and snow. It was a big change from the 85 degrees in Houston. Our first stop was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is the capital of the state, so we found the beautiful courthouse and then walked around town for a bit. We even found a cool farmers market on the square and I got to play with some puppies that needed homes, that were with Black Dog Animal Rescue. We continued north and stopped at Hell’s Half Acre. This was an interesting place that apparently I used to scatter my toys all over when I was a child. Which is interesting, because until this day I didn’t know it was a real place…hmm… The geology of this area was really cool, but I’m not a geologist so I have no idea what caused it other than erosion.

When we got to Cody, several people suggested we eat dinner at The Silver Dollar Bar. I think there must have been better places to eat, but this place was pretty good – it just wasn’t what we were expecting. I guess since people were suggesting it for dinner I thought it was more of a restaurant/bar. It was really a bar that also served food. It was good food though!

We walked around town a bit and had drinks at The Irma, the historic hotel and restaurant owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. We also had breakfast there the next morning. It was really neat to sit in there and see all of the old 1900s décor. I don’t think they have changed anything in that place since Bill Cody owned it, except they turned the saloon into a restaurant and the famous Cherry Wood bar was now purely decoration and no longer held liquor, glasses, or the shotgun to keep the cowboys from getting rowdy on their trip into “the big city.”

That morning we headed into Yellowstone. We drove through areas that still had so much snow on the mountains, and the areas were so steep, that you weren’t allowed to stop your car for fear of being lost in an avalanche. Scary stuff for Texans! There were also areas where they keep dynamite charges in the mountainsides just in case they need to blow a bunch of snow all the way back to Hell’s Half Acre.

Pretty soon after entering the park we saw our very first Grizzlies! It was impossible to miss them, because there was a line of cars and people with GIANT spotting scopes and cameras pulled over other the side of the road. It was a large male and a smaller female laying down in the shade up on the hill. Apparently before we showed up, the male had been putting the moves on the female, but she was having none of it.  After watching them for a while and talking to the other photographers, we started driving along again, just to see another grizzly up on the same ridge, grazing by himself. It was the start to a very successful wildlife trip!

Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip.  While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods.  It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. It was almost like I was the only person there.

On our way down we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife along the road and got a chance to see a bull moose standing in the water right by the road, along with the range where the deer and antelope played (along with bison and elk as well). Our first view of the Grand Tetons was not great – they were covered in low-lying clouds and we weren’t even sure what we were looking at. That night we saw the night life of Jackson Hole and I made my first-ever attempt at astrophotography. I tried it right outside of our cabin and it went so well that we drove down the road a couple miles and found a pull-over to try it again in an area without light pollution. It was fantastic! I definitely found a new hobby! The only bad part is that it makes for some late nights, and our cabin had a window that wasn’t covered so it got bright QUICK. There wasn’t much in the way of sleeping in on this trip.

We spent the next day checking out Jackson Hole which is an awesome little tourist town. Everyone is so nice, and there are sculptures everywhere! We went into the most amazing store too – It was a fossil shop and to get your attention there was a huge Triceratops skull for sale in the window. The sign said “Yes, I’m real! $450,000.00″ Holy craps! But it was SO COOL! The shop also contained things like a woolly rhino skull, cave bear skulls, fossilized sting rays, and of course, trilobites! All of these items were real, so of course out of my price range. I would have killed for a cave bear skull though…

The shop also had reproduction items that were still pretty pricy, like this guy! (this is actually a picture of the REAL crab, taken at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but the fossil shop had a reproduction of this).

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After checking out the town, we headed into Grand Tetons National Park, just north of Jackson Hole.

I think this is actually a good stopping point for the first part of our trip. We were really busy, and I want you to be able to appreciate the adventures without getting bogged down in the literature!

Enjoy the pictures in the slideshow!

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Luxury Backpacking

As soon as I found out that I was getting Good Friday off of work, I called Hubby and said “WE HAVE TO GO CAMPING!” I hadn’t gone camping since Grad School, with the exception of one Canoe Camping trip that we did with a couple friends 2 YEARS AGO.  I had been feeling the itch to go camping for a while, and that was the perfect weekend to do it. Living in Texas, just about anywhere you want to get is a day’s drive to get there, so you want more than just one night away to appreciate the time you spent outdoors, not just in your car getting there.  The most beautiful areas of Texas are west of my current location, and the closest pretty place is about 3 hours away. But of course, since I didn’t know I was getting Good Friday off until most people already had their Easter plans, most of the pretty places we wanted to go were all booked up.

Enter – Inks Lake State Park. This is a tiny state park on a tiny lake which is part of the Colorado River chain of lakes in the hill country.  It is south of Lake Buchanan, which is a much larger lake, but they had campsites available for the Easter weekend so I booked it as soon as possible. The drive to Inks Lake was beautiful.  My favorite landscape type – rocks, hills, cactus, and huge trees, surrounded us. And to top it all off, we were having an amazing wildflower season, so the entire drive was breath-taking.

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Puddle in the rock

Puddle in the rock

Adorable little cactus

Adorable little cactus

China berry blooms

China berry blooms

Teeny Tiny succulents

Teeny Tiny succulents

Buckeye Selena King

Buckeye Selena King

Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

Hubby at the top

Hubby at the top

Dry creek bed

Dry creek bed

Prickly pear skeleton

Prickly pear skeleton

Indian Paintbrush and rocks

Indian Paintbrush and rocks

Butterfly on Indian Blanket

Butterfly on Indian Blanket

Bluebonnets on the trail

Bluebonnets on the trail

Giant Spiderwort

Giant Spiderwort

The reason I say we were “luxury backpacking” is because the trail from the car was only 1.5 miles.  The backpacking we were used to was 12-16 mile long hikes in the mountains. Very different.  Because of the short distance we were going to be traveling we took a few items that we wouldn’t have carried on a 16 mile hike in the Chisos Mountains. Such as: eggs, wine, cookies, my giant camera with giant lens and a tripod. Things such as these were typically left at home on previous trips to save on weight. And on longer hikes where we didn’t have refrigeration, we would have to bring all of our food with us and it usually consisted of some sort of noodles and a packet of tuna or something. Since this was LUXURY backpacking, we only brought one day’s worth of food to camp at a time (and it was really awesome food at that!) That way we could keep all the extra food in the car in the big cooler, nice and cold, and go get it the next day when we had nice light-weight empty packs to carry.

Day 1: We got to the park at about noon and headed into our camp site. Then we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the trails and hills around us. I was constantly taking pictures and Hubby was walking around exploring and waiting patiently for me to finish whatever I was trying to take pictures of. When we got back to camp we started making dinner – home-made beef stew and biscuits.

While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn't go well.

While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn’t go well.

This is not quick or easy over one small burner, but as I write this it is literally making my stomach growl, thinking of what a great meal it made.  The stew cooked pretty slowly since it was fresh, raw potatoes, carrots, and onions, but once it was done, Hubby put it off to the side to cool while he made “biscuits.” Now, I say “biscuits” instead of biscuits because although it was Bisquick biscuit mix, we didn’t have a way of baking them. Instead they were more like biscuit pancakes. Hubby wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out so he didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but they were perfect! Slightly burnt in the middle where the flame hits the pan, just enough to give it that campfire flavor. We ripped them in half and dunked them into the perfect stew. The only problem was that there was a bit too much food, and no way to store any leftovers. I felt guilty about throwing it away because it was so good, and there isn’t really a good place to throw food anyway (because raccoons can always figure out where you put food) so I enjoyed my gluttony and pretty much couldn’t move for the rest of the night.  For dessert we had Whole Foods cookies from the cookie bar, drank our adult beverages, and then hiked to the top of the hill by our camp to watch the stars.

It was a perfect night.

(Except for one thing. My camera had a little accident. >:{ So these are the only photos I have from the trip. BUT it was still a fantastic trip, and my camera is fixed, so all’s well that ends well, right?)

The next day we hiked around and watched the boats at the boat ramp, got some sodas at the general store, and even headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was pretty much next door, to check out the cavern.

Now, you might be thinking, “come on World Traveler…you have been to Carlsbad Caverns. How can ANY cave even top that? What’s the point of even going to other caves after you have seen Carlsbad?”

Well Fellow Adventurers, first of all, I find all caves interesting, but this one had the strangest back story you have ever heard! First, it wasn’t a cave formed by water dripping over eons creating beautiful “sculptures” but it was formed by an underwater river. It was also a hang out for Comanche Indians, smugglers, bandits, train robbers, and at one time it was a Speakeasy. Yes. In the middle of nowhere Burnet, Texas, there was a Speakeasy in a cave.

Longhorn Cavern Speakeasy

(Photo courtesy of http://bougiegrnk.blogspot.com/ where you can read all about his travels, too!)

The cave was an awesome surprise on this trip that we wouldn’t have had time to do if we had only gone camping for one night instead of two. We went back to Inks Lake State Park, watched the boats some more, and then headed back to camp for a nap, and then we watched a spectacular sunset on the hill overlooking Inks Lake.

This trip couldn’t have gone better, and we definitely plan on going back, maybe taking a couple of the dogs with us next time. I recommend this park if you were thinking about going!

Panoramic Sunset

Sunset Over Inks Lake

 

 

 

Canada Photography

It has been a while since I have written, but basically that’s because not many note-worthy events have occurred lately. I was recently sent back to Canada (this time it was -2 degrees C instead of -23 degrees C!) but the trip was relatively uneventful – no lost baggage, no crashing taxis, and no missing rental car. It all went pretty smooth. I was up there doing A LOT of traveling, so between my different projects that I had going on for the week, I was able to sneak in some photography opportunities.

Being that it was the very beginning of Spring, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife, although I did see two coyotes (and heard a whole pack somewhere in the distance)

Coyote on a frozen pond

Coyote on a frozen pond

and I saw two snowshoe hares (a new mammal species for me!).

A happy pair of snowshoe hares

A happy pair of snowshoe hares

Snowshoe hare

Snowshoe hare

I also got to see a Bald Eagle but didn’t get a great picture of it, because by the time I realized what I was looking at and took the time to stop the car and grab the camera, he had already soared to distant skies. I was on a mission to see a Snowy Owl while I was in Alberta, but that didn’t happen, although I did see a very interesting nest that I was hoping someone would be able to help me identify!

Mystery Nest - Check out how it is built AROUND the branch, so it's more like a wreath....?

Mystery Nest – Check out how it is built AROUND the branch, so it’s more like a wreath….?

I also SWORE I saw a wolf out in a field hunting mice in the snow. My heart started pounding and I did a quick U-turn and grabbed my camera. Turns out it was wearing a collar. And was a German Shepherd. But I was right about the whole hunting mice in the snow thing, so that’s worth something, right? And hey, it was snowing pretty hard too.

The "wolf" I saw

The “wolf” I saw

Also the whole area was covered up in horses. And I’m talking huge draft horses everywhere. I got to see some great ones, of all different breeds:

Clydesdales

Curious Clydesdales

Gypsy Vanner

Handsome Gypsy Vanner

Beautiful Percheron

Beautiful Percheron

But the best one was the very first one I saw. He was a monster. He was a beauty.

I think his name should be Sampson.

I think his name should be Sampson.

I’m positive, just by looking at his huge chest, that he’s regularly used to pull sleds in the winter. He was probably the biggest horse I have ever seen. And I was in love. I wanted to take him home and cuddle him. I wanted to jump the fence and go riding. He was spectacular.

Handsome Sampson

Handsome Sampson

Sampson and Delilah

Sampson and Delilah

There is also a very common barn style that is beautiful but doesn’t seem to last (or all the barns were super old), because they all seemed to be falling apart.

Beautiful Old Barn

Beautiful Old Barn

Falling down barn

Falling down barn

 

Falling down barn

Falling down barn

Barn and horses

Barn and horses

Falling Apart Red Barn

Falling Apart Red Barn

And on my last full day I was blessed with a gorgeous sunrise through the fog. I even had time to pull over onto a side road and get some good photos of the sunrise over a farm.

Pink Farmhouse Sunrise

Pink Farmhouse Sunrise

Pink Foggy Sunrise

Pink Foggy Sunrise

Foggy Sunrise

Foggy Sunrise

And finally I found an old truck graveyard that was really neat to see!

Coca Cola Truck

Coca Cola Truck

Sun Reflecting off of the windshield

Sun Reflecting off of the windshield

Cool Old Trucks in the Snow

Cool Old Trucks in the Snow

Old Coca Cola Truck

Old Coca Cola Truck

Cool Old Trucks

Cool Old Trucks

It was a great trip, and I think I got some great photos. I can’t wait until I get my new computer with Photoshop on it so I can play with the different filters and everything, and make these photos really pop. Some of these pictures were taken in the middle of the day so the sunlight reflecting off of the snow was really too bright for taking photos, but I thought, “hey, how often am I going to be in Alberta? I gotta take these photos while I can!”

I hope you enjoyed my trip as much as I did!

Reclaimed Wood Table

A few months ago I was able to get my hands on some great old wood when a gentleman I know rebuilt his front porch.  When I asked, “do you have a plan for all that old wood?” (trying to hint around that I wanted it) his response was, “a good match.”

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I couldn’t stand idly by and watch him burn that beautiful wood, so I asked if I could have it. Now, the tricky thing was this was in Louisiana. I live in Texas. And I had flown to Louisiana on this trip. I went to LA a lot for work at the time, and I knew that eventually (because of project circumstances) someone would have to drive the work truck out there instead of fly, so I would just ask them to bring the wood home for me. Easy peasy. I selected some nice pieces because I knew I wouldn’t need all of it, and I stored it away for the next team to drive up. However, there was a miss-communication and the gentleman that let me have the wood thought that I wanted all of it afterall! So when the next team drove up he helped them load a half-bed full of old lumber. Geez.

I ended up taking more than I had planned, but I felt terrible that the rest was thrown away. NO ONE WANTED IT! And I definitely didn’t have space for all that lumber. I couldn’t even fit it in my car – I DRIVE A PRIUS!

So several months have gone by, and I finally got the guts/energy/inspiration/whateveryouwanttocallit to finally do something with the old lumber.  However, since I have had it for several months, Hubby thought it was taking up too much room in the garage (which it was), so he put it outside next to the garage. Where it got rained on, and full of spiders and roaches, and started to grow fungus. Grreeeaaattt….

I was able to wipe all the surfaces down with a wet rag, kill all the spiders and roaches, and then I set the wood out to dry because it had absorbed so very much rainwater.

All set up and ready to dry. Three minutes later there was a major domino effect because of the clumsy lab, trying to get me to play fetch.

All set up and ready to dry. Three minutes later there was a major domino effect because of the clumsy lab, trying to get me to play fetch.

Cibolo trying to help me by knocking everything over trying to get me to throw his toy.

The Clumsy Lab.

That's a dog head, staring at the toy he just dropped.

That’s a dog head, staring at the toy he just dropped, which also knocked over my drying boards.

Also, I raided the barn at my parents’ house recently, and turned up with this:

Old bench

Old bench

This is an old bench that my mother has had forever, and it was her grandmother’s. Obviously something along the way had removed the top, so I decided this would be a great base for my first attempt with this old wood. And the bench was already a beautiful color, so there was no need to re-stain it.

Seeing as how I HATE spending money on things that I can make myself, I looked online for a nice pattern that I could turn into a stencil and I found this:

The stencil

The stencil

I thought about simply putting it into the corner of the bench and having two or four corners be decorated instead of the center, but then I thought that I really need to expand my horizons with stenciling, so I decided to put this into the center of the bench and using the same stencil four times to make a circular pattern. Also, I decided against doing my chalk method and instead attempted to cut out the pattern from a clear transparency, since I was going to be using the same stencil multiple times I didn’t want it to get stuck to the roller or soggy with paint.

Also, thanks to some advice from Ashley over at Domestic Imperfection, I got some clear polycrylic to protect the beautiful blue paint that was already the amount of distressed that I loved. The last thing I wanted to happen was for the blue paint to chip away the first time someone sat on the bench! Also thanks to Ashley’s advice, I tried it out on some extra wood first to see how it would behave. What I discovered was this: It looks much better brushed on than sprayed on – when it was sprayed it didn’t seem to go on evenly, and I could see bubbly marks. Luckily it dried slow enough that I could spray it on and smooth it out with a foam brush. Also, I tested what it would look like when I painted over the polycrylic. I did NOT like how this made the paint look. Because of the now smooth painted surface the new paint didn’t go on evenly. So I decided that I would paint on the pattern and then spray it with polycrylic to seal the final product. Also, as several DIYers have pointed out, I bought water-based polycrylic because the oil-based kind is known for causing discoloration in your paint over time.

The wood in place, and the stencil sort of in place

The wood in place, and the stencil sort of in place

The next step was to build a frame for the wood to screw into place. I didn’t want to attach the reclaimed wood directly to the bench wood, because I was afraid that I would screw it up terribly, and ruin perfectly good wooden bench legs. So instead I spent $1.67 on a 1″x2″x8′ dowel to use as a frame. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with this because I have never framed anything out like this before, but after one or two miscalculations (this bench is a very weird size, so there aren’t exact inches. The measurements were like 11.62 inches instead of 12) I got the frame set.

Old legs plus new frame

Old legs plus new frame

I also was nervous about attaching this to the bench legs, but I guess I needed some sort of stability, so I bit the bullet and screwed the frame into the legs.Sort of.

Too scared to drill through the old wood, I didn't quite get the hole deep enough for the screws. Oops.

Too scared to drill through the old wood, I didn’t quite get the hole deep enough for the screws. Oops.

I drilled some cheater holes into the wood first, and then put in the screws. Unfortunately though, I was so concerned about drilling too deep and going right through the bench frame, that I didn’t drill deep enough so the screws started stripping before I got them flush with the wood. Good thing they will be hidden by the top :)

After a few cold snaps and not wanting to work in the garage/yard because I just wanted to be warm, I sucked it up and got the energy to work on it again. Also, and I will say this was the real hold up, I didn’t have a good way to steady the boards while I attached them to the frame. I was worried about them being too far apart from each other after I screwed them into the wood, and being stuck with them that way.

Until just a couple weeks ago, when Hubby and I went to Harbor Freight so he could buy a manual log splitter. I saw these awesome, huge, heavy-duty clamps, (that were only like $10 each) and I knew that was what was missing from my garage repertoire I had been trying to build up. A few days later, I had the top attached.

Top Attached with Pattern

Now, in order to do the pattern on the top, I had a couple ideas. I thought I could do the chalk method I had used in the past, but then I was afraid that the pattern would be too busy for the chalk to work. I thought about stenciling, but I had recently had bad luck with a home-made stencil, so I was a little gun shy. And the last thing I want to do is screw up this beautiful reclaimed wood! So I decided that I would cut out the negative (white) space, and use it to trace with a pencil. As I was cutting out the negative space, the positive space tore in a few places, so I was definitely going to have to trace with the pencil instead.

And I also discovered that the pattern was actually too big to put into the center and repeat it 4 times, making a perfect circle. Whoops, I guess I should have checked that. Oh well, I like the idea of the corners being decorated too!

I taped the stencil down and drew the shapes in with a pencil. I made sure to have lots of light in the form of a head lamp to make sure I could see what I was doing clearly.

Stencil in Place

Stencil in Place

Here is a close up of what the penciling looked like.

Penciled Stencil

Penciled Stencil

I did two layers of white paint and then added a light gray to the edge to make it pop out a little bit, but not too much.

And this is the final product!Finished Product

Detail shot

Staging

  So now I have a beautiful accent piece that cost $0, and an extra seat if needed!

Thrifty Gifty Craft #3

I have great friends, but I also have FRIENDS. Like from the TV show. Pretty cool, I know. And they tried to do this in the show and it didn’t really work, but in real life it certainly does. Joey and Rachel live behind me. Jealous much?

Contrary to the episode where Rachel is terrified of a pigeon that flies inter her apartment, my Rachel loves birds. She has bird feeders in the back yard and a beautiful bird bath for them too. So when I saw this idea (also from Pinterest) I changed it a bit to fit her style more.

Finished Product

Rachel and Joey also have three cats (not a chick and a duck) so although I loved the idea of this project, I changed it to fake candles so that their house doesn’t burn down. Cats are somewhat evil, and they have a cat that likes to drink out of our glass, so I thought it would have been asking for trouble with real ones.

All I did was decide on a design and cut out the bird. Then put blue painters tape on the jars and trace out the bird on each one.

Now, of course you can do this with any size jars, really. I had one jelly jar that I saved but that was the only one I had, so I bought a mason jar to complete this.

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After tracing the design onto the blue painters tape I cut out the design with an exacto knife and removed the rest of the tape.

Then just roll up some newspaper and stuff it into the jar. This does two things: keeps spray paint from getting into the inside of the jar, and gives you a handle for holding onto the jar while you paint it.

So therefore, by default you know the next step is to spray paint the jars. Then remove the blue painters tape and you have some perfect designs on the glass!

The finishing touches were white border paint around the edge of the birds and twine wrapped around the top with a pretty little bow. I love how they turned out, and I hope Rachel did too (I wasn’t there when she opened it)!

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