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 because 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) 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!!!”

——————————–

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.

Grazing in the field

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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Thrifty Gifty Crafts #2

I made a few gifts for friends of mine for Christmas, and I really tried to put a lot of thought into what they would like. Like Trixie with JD I knew that my friends Dr. and Mr. Smerek would love this:

Finished Product

I did get this idea off of Pinterest, but only the general idea. I used the wood that was reclaimed from an old patio that I used for another project that you will see soon!

This was a really easy project. I used the same technique for the lettering as I did for my Rustic Sign DIY and added a black shadow on the lettering to make it pop out against the blue background. I also used some twine for the hanger, and I used some steel brackets to connect the boards together. I did have some issues with connecting the boards together because the wood was so old that it was sort of bending and not looking at all like a finished product. I also tried to get some of those wood bracket things like these:

bracket

because I was low on tiny screws, so I was trying to not use any. THESE DID NOT WORK.  The super old wood was too hard to hammer them into the wood, and they ended up just bending and looking horrible. So I ended up getting some long steel bars that were made for this exact thing, and lo and behold!  It worked, and ended up looking great!

When I gave it to Dr. Smerek for Christmas, she loved it, and even hung it on their mantle just in time for their family Christmas. And when they decide to have their 6 kids, I left room for each name or birthday, or whatever they want :)

The Human Garbage Epidemic

[Warning, this post is not as Light-Tight-And Bright as I normally keep my posts.]

While I was teaching biology labs in Grad School, I had the opportunity to get on my soap box from time to time, and say the things that matter most to me, and hopefully pass on some knowledge other than what was in the textbooks.

It’s been a while since I was on my soap box.

I have missed my soap box. [Steps up, and clears throat]

I posted this on my Facebook page here, but I felt that it was not quite enough to get my words out. It didn’t cover enough ground. I needed a bigger outlet. So I’m re-posting it here, with a little more oomph.

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I saw this video posted on Facebook about Midway Island. It’s a tiny island 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, that is frequented by seabirds like the Albatross, a huge seabird that flies for miles on end searching for food to feed their chicks which are hatching all over Midway Island.  The thing is, that the video was not so much about the island, but it was about how we are killing the next generation of Albatross because the island is covered in garbage.
Not only do the chicks find interesting things to eat while they are waiting for their parents to return, but the parents are bringing back interesting items that are floating on the surface of the water. They are easy to collect because they don’t fight back, and they fill up the stomach, so they must be tasty morsels of food, right?
Except that those interesting items that they are eating are pieces of plastic that have washed ashore or are floating in the ocean.  True, they fill up the stomach, but they also don’t break down and take up space that true tiny fish morsels could be taking up. No nutrients are getting to the birds, so they die with a full stomach. Full of plastic cigarette lighters and bottle tops and whatever else will float on the water long enough to be picked up by the birds.
Bird body, full of plastic

Bird body, full of plastic

After fighting it’s way back from extinction (also caused by humans), the California Condor has started to fill their babies tummies with plastic bottle tops as well, killing the recovering population with what is termed Anthropogenic Junk.  Vultures, gulls, and crows are known for frequenting dumps to find food scraps let behind by people. The best place in the US that you can see the Tamualipas Crow is at a dump in South Texas.
It’s not just birds, either. I have found a dead calf in a pasture once, that had a stomach full of plastic grocery bags, baling twine, and all sorts of other garbage. I have seen cows in pastures chewing on plastic bags as I drove by, helpless. Bears are known for frequenting dumps as well, and I found picture after picture of camels, goats, turtles, seals, and dolphins dead or dying from eating or getting tangled in anthropogenic junk.

Turtle_eating_bag

Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project

Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This post is getting pretty long, so that will have to wait for another day.
Below is what I posted on Facebook regarding the video. It’s a little emotional, but for good reason. Please feel free to repost this. Either the video or my blog post as well. I don’t care. I just want to get the message out there. Maybe it will reach enough people. Maybe it will change some minds. Maybe it will help…
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It’s amazing to me that people think that it’s ok to throw plastic on the ground and leave it there, as if someone else is coming up behind them and cleaning up the mess they leave behind.  It’s also amazing to me that those same people do …not seem to understand how massive an impact they are making on wildlife populations. It doesn’t matter where you live – your litter will find its way to a place where it shouldn’t be.
Doesn’t it disgust them to walk on the beach and see garbage everywhere? Doesn’t it worry them that they will cut their foot on the broken bottle that someone else left there? Doesn’t it bother them that there are dirty diapers and household waste where their children are trying to play?
How is it any different for animals? Why should they live amongst the garbage that humans produce? Why should their needs be ignored?
Because we are human? Because we are smarter? If we were so much smarter, than why are we letting this happen, year after year? Why have we not been able to stop being selfish? Why are we killing off the only place we can possibly live?
Doesn’t sound very smart to me.

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I always like to end my posts with a positive note, so below are some links to how you can help. You can also find similar efforts in your local area.

http://www.keepaustinbeautiful.org/

http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/get-involved/volunteer/adopt-a-highway.html

http://www.supcleanup.com/whoweare.htm

http://www.pickupamerica.org/about/press/picking-trash-organization-trying-heighten-awareness-reducing-roadside-litter

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/

http://www.cleanuptheworld.org/en/

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I (obviously) feel very passionately about this and other conservation topics, and would love to discuss such things in the future if you would like!

What have you done, or what will you do to help clean up our planet? Let me know!

Thrifty Gifty Crafts #1

I made these things as Christmas presents for a few of my friends, and I have to say, I’m pretty proud at how they turned out. And they aren’t Christmasy, so they can be made any time of year.

First I will start with the Pet Portrait.

Jake's Portrait

Now, I’m not a painter. I try to be. I pretend to be.

But I’m not.

So believe me when I tell you, this was one of the easiest projects I have done, and guess what? I DIDN’T GET THE IDEA OFF OF PINTEREST! I know, right? I’m sure this idea is ON Pinterest, but I didn’t see it there. It just came to me. Like an epiphany. I’m sure it will never happen again, so I’m enjoying this craft project for all it’s worth.

So to start from the beginning, I have this friend named Trixie. And she moved far, far away, and I miss her terribly. And she has this dog. His name is JD. He is Trixie’s pride and joy.

So when I saw this picture on her FB page I knew I had to do something with it. My epiphany was to print it out in black and white and paint him onto a square canvas with fake snow popping off the canvas. Being a black dog and VERY photogenic made this project easy. I didn’t have to worry about hair pattern or shading or any kind. Easy Peasy.

So, if you want to paint a lovely Pet Portrait like this, here is what you do:

1. Print out a black and white picture about the size of the painting you want to make, and make sure that you are confident in recreating the image. If you get discouraged by the complexity of the painting you will either never finish it, or never start it to begin with.

1.5 Make your husband go out of town so you can watch Princess Bride while you work on this and other presents, and he’s not in the way.

2. Cut out the outline of the dog and trace around it onto the canvas or other medium you selected.

Tracing Jacob

3. Suck up your fear of screwing up, and start painting, keeping the original photo close by for reference.

Reference Photo

4. Allow the paint to dry before you go crazy with glue. This part is usually pretty hard for me. I’m always trying to rush the drying process so I can just get it done.

5. Now, this Christmas present was a little Christmasy, but that’s really only because the picture was taken in the snow. I tried to make it a little more cheerful by adding “Let It Snow” all along the edge of the canvas, thinking that it needed a little extra something. I hated it. But it was too late. So how did I fix it? I covered it in glitter! That way it’s much less obvious that my painting/handwriting skills are terrible, and it’s still quite festive.

Edge

I couldn’t find my teeny tiny paintbrushes when I was doing this project, so those probably would have helped and I wouldn’t have ended up hating the edge, but it’s fine.

Also, I would have sworn that there was a “fake snow” product out there for crafting.

You know, something like THIS?

fake snow

But for some reason, I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I had to improvise. Instead I bought glitter. Glitter that I will probably never use for another project again, and it was a container of like 2 pounds, but it was cheap and it got the job done.

When Trixie received it in the mail (and she was not expecting it) she was so excited! She loved the painting of JD and I hope it will last a long time.