Category Archives: Diving

Atlanta Road Trip

Seeing as how I wrote a post about bucket list activities, Hubby and I decided to start crossing a few more things off our list. We normally go on a 7-8 day trip in the beginning of May but this year scheduling conflicts only allowed for a 4 day trip in June. We went to Jamaica for 4 days, which really wasn’t long enough because 2 of those days were travel days, so it didn’t actually feel like we had a vacation.  When we got back we started planning another trip for the end of summer, when Hubby was between summer courses and the fall course.  We had the hardest time deciding where to go! Back to Jamaica? Back to  the Florida Keys, or maybe just Key West?  I know, I know…Talk about a Champagne Problem…But still, it took some serious discussion. Then we decided to do something we had never done, and something we had always wanted to do. Go diving in the aquarium in Atlanta. The Georgia Aquarium is amazing. It’s #1 in the US, and it’s the largest aquarium in the world. The main attraction? WHALE SHARKS.

Two of the Four giants together
Two of the Four giants together

They have 4 whale sharks in a 6.3 million gallon aquarium, along with 2 Manta Rays and about 5,994 other fish, rays, and sharks. The whale sharks were originally rescued from sale to the fish market in Thailand. They had been trapped in a net ready to be sold, when the Georgia Aquarium showed up and purchased the sharks, loaded them up, and literally shipped them via UPS to Georgia. Seriously.

Anyway, we didn’t want to spend the whole time in the car, so we spent the first night in New Orleans. What was supposed to be a 5 hour drive turned into about a 9 hour drive. So much for not spending the whole time in the car. But it was due to unforeseen circumstances. As soon as we got into Louisiana my low tire pressure light came on. And that was bad news, seeing as how I had new tires put on 2 days before. Luckily we were able to find a shop that was open past 5 pm (what a concept!) and he was able to patch the tire. Of course, this was backwoods Louisiana, so the mechanic had never seen a Prius before! He didn’t know how to turn the car on, or put it into park. Hubby had to talk his through it. Then once he got it onto the lift he climbed out of the car and said to his buddies, “this car ain’t got no engine! It runs on battery!”

Once he patched the tire and we were off, we ended up in construction traffic for HOURS. They really have no idea what they are doing in Louisiana. The drivers feel like they have to drive 20 MPH when there is a closed off lane, and the construction crews set up MILES of cones and close off the lane when they aren’t doing anything even remotely close to the area. We ran into this type of traffic probably 3 times. It was awful. We finally got to our hotel at midnight and didn’t even have the energy to leave our room. We ate a quick dinner of sandwiches in our room, had a couple beers that we brought with us, (we travel on the cheap) and went to bed.

Comparing beignets at different cafes in New Orleans
Comparing beignets at different cafes in New Orleans

The next morning we headed to Pensacola, Florida. The idea had been to possibly find a dive shop in Pensacola, but we didn’t really have the time and the weather wasn’t great while we were there either, so we didn’t do much. I took some photos on the beach that night, we did some shopping, and we went for a run the next morning before heading to Atlanta.

Crab and Shrimp Mac-n'-cheese in Pensacola
Crab and Shrimp Mac-n’-cheese in Pensacola
Future Crafting ideas - Pelican made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas – Pelican made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas - Crab made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas – Crab made out of driftwood
Sunset in Pensacola
Sunset in Pensacola
Pier at night in Pensacola
Pier at night in Pensacola

I didn’t get a picture of it, but our hotel in Atlanta was literally next door to Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves play. I don’t really care about baseball, so that’s probably why I didn’t get a picture, but it was pretty neat, nonetheless. We walked around the stadium, watched a drunk guy stumbling down the sidewalk as he left the game that had just ended, and then headed to the restaurant next door to get some Georgia BBQ. It was good, but of course, it wasn’t nearly as good as The Salt Lick. Texas BBQ always wins.

The next morning we got to the aquarium when they opened and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The first thing we did was head to the giant tank where we would be diving, and we watched as divers fed the whale sharks.

Divers feed the whale sharks krill from a squeeze bottle for training purposes
Divers feed the whale sharks krill from a squeeze bottle for training purposes

It was so neat to watch!

I took SO MANY PICTURES. It’s unreal. But everything was amazing to see, and I wanted to capture it all. Here are a few more shots I took in the aquarium…

We weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the aquarium on the dive, but you can imagine that it was pretty F-ing spectacular. We were able to swim up to the glass and play patty-cake and paper-scissors-rock-lizard-Spock with the people standing on the other side, and get up close to several different species of sharks, rays, and (other) fish. I wanted to pet them SO BAD. One of my favorite things to do is feed the sting rays at various aquariums that offer that, where you can pet the sting rays as long as they allow it. It took all my strength to NOT pet the rays and sharks in the tank, but that was the only rule they had for us on the dive, and I was not about to break the rule and get kicked out of the dive. I was so determined to NOT be the one to end the dive early, that I was trying my hardest to not even breathe while I was down there, for fear of running out of air and causing the dive to be over! For those of you that aren’t divers, when you are diving with a group, you dive until either a certain amount of time has passed, or until the first person is low on air. Once someone signals that they are low on air, EVERYONE in the group has to end the dive, as a safety precaution so that no one gets left behind.

After the dive we headed back to the hotel. We were pooped from being at the aquarium all day. The next morning we got up and headed to Zoo Atlanta. We were some of the first people in the door (again) and headed straight for the panda exhibit! We don’t have pandas in Texas, so we watched the two 2-year-old sisters wrestle in true WWF fashion.

They have a HUGE gorilla exhibit and we got to watch the infant gorillas climb and play while the adults lounged in the grass.

Baby hanging out with Mom.
Baby hanging out with Mom.

We were done at the zoo in the late morning, so then we headed back down to New Orleans for our last night on the road. This time we were spending a night in a super old hotel with a balcony, just a couple blocks from the French Market, in a perfect location.

We went out onto Bourbon Street for a little bit, but honestly, that street stresses me out way too much to enjoy it, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We had a drink at the Carousel Bar, then went to Cafe du Monde to get beignets and coffee before heading back to our hotel that night.

Finally, on the last day of our trip, we got up and went to Belle’s Diner for breakfast and hit the French Market for some Christmas and “Thanks-for-watching-our-house” gifts. And we saw Andrew Zimmern filming a new episode of his show!

Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizzare Foods, filming a new episode
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizzare Foods, filming a new episode
Andrew Zimmern, filming in front of the famous St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
Andrew Zimmern, filming in front of the famous St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

All in all, it was a great trip. I was ready to be home and sleep in my own bed and play with my dogs, but I would have been just as happy staying on the road forever. It was so relaxing.

St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral

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This Year I’m Thankful For…

PERFECT WEATHER!

Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana
Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana
Snow and lights decorate the Yucca
Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine
Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range
Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window
Stars through The Window
Stars over Casa Grande
Stars over Casa Grande
Moon and stars over the desert
Moon and stars over the desert
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
Stars over the Carmens
Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua
Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.
Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark
Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake
Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.
Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.

Vacation Oddities

When we go on vacation, we go before the big tourist season in order to avoid a lot of crowds and it’s easier to get discounts and free upgrades that way! For a little more on that, check out the guest post that I wrote for my sister, here!  However, because of that, there were a couple days that we couldn’t dive because there weren’t enough people signed up for the dive boat. So one day we decided to spend the day checking out the rest of the town.

First we tried out the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical Gardens State Park, which turned out to be….interesting in the least…

I think what happened was it was a state park that lost its funding, but the state didn’t want to close it down completely. So instead, cars are not allowed in the state park, and it’s really cheap for people to get in. You don’t even give your money to a person, you just put your money into a little metal tube that they check periodically.  So when you are on your little walking tour of the park, you get to see the native plants labeled, which is what I was looking forward to learning.  Except because the park isn’t really operational anymore, a lot fo the labels weren’t legible anymore, or you weren’t sure which plant was the one they were marking.  And none of the plants were in bloom, so it wasn’t a very pretty walk.  And while Hubby and I decided to go on a “hike” (it’s in quotes because it was more walking than anything) it was great until the biting flies drove us back to the car in a frenzy!

Pelican Patient

After the Attack of the Biting Flies we went to the wild bird sanctuary, that I hadn’t read good reviews about this place, but I thought we should check it out anyway.  The best thing about TripAdvisor is you get honest opinions about places, so you should probably take that advise, is all I’m saying…

The wild bird sanctuary was sort of a sad looking place that tried to have nice enclosures for the birds, but it just seemed like they didn’t have enough funding for the number of birds that they had.  There were tons of pelicans, and a bunch of them were loose, making me think that they weren’t really patients, but just learned that this is a good place to get free food.  There was a very large enclosure containing multiple pelicans, and one of the workers had just come from that direction after feeding the pelicans and seagulls.  Hubby and I walked to the pelican enclosure and I saw a pelican that was stuck in the ropes of the enclosure! It was a wild pelican (not a patient) that was looking for a free meal and crashed into the ropes that created a sort of ceiling over the enclosure.  When the pelican landed on the ropes he couldn’t get his legs back under himself and his wings were spread out from being in the flight position, so he couldn’t get himself out of the ropes.  We watched him for a few seconds, and we were sure that the worker who had just been in the area had noticed him, and went to get something so he could get the pelican out of the rope.  We walked around the enclosure, trying to enjoy the sanctuary, and then I saw one of the pelicans inside the enclosure pecking the trapped pelican in the face.  Needless to say, I ran back to where we saw the worker and told him what was wrong.  He got the pelican out of the ropes, I held open the enclosure door for him, and he took the pelican into the hospital to rehydrate with fluids.  He thanked me for helping and told me that the pelican had a band on his leg indicating he had been a patient at a different animal hospital in the past, which probably means that he knew where to get a free meal.

I guess it’s good that we were there when we were, because who knows how long that poor guy was stuck in the ropes, laying in the sun and the heat.  I’m just glad he would be okay after they got him out of the ropes!

Not all parts of your vacation are going to be perfect, but the lesson learned here was to trust TripAdvisor!  People take their time to write out their opinions after they have experienced something, and you get the chance to live vicariously through them.  It’s very valuable information!  So follow advise from Fellow Travelers like me!

Lovely sunset
Lovely sunset

Future Adventures

This is a sort of continuation of my Bucket List posts.  Soon Hubby and I will be embarking on another adventure – going back to Key Largo.  Some people might think that if we have gone there before, it shouldn’t count as an adventure, but I say no trip is ever the same trip twice.

Last year we discovered that driving to Florida was A LONG TRIP so we are flying again. I also got free flights this year, because of Frequent Flyer Miles, so that was a big reason why we picked Key Largo as our destination again.

Also, we have no more diving classes that we need to take because after our Key Largo trip we will be MASTER DIVERS (Going to be crossed off the Bucket List even if it wasn’t written down in the first place!). That’s right – I have mastered something.  Now I’m sure most people don’t know what constitutes a Master Diver Certification, but you need 5 Specialty Classes and 50 dives.  We have already gotten our 5 specialties, so by the time we are done with our trip, we will be done! Our last two trips to Key Largo were concentrated around classes, so because we have no more classes to take, we will have time for other fun things, like kayaking in the only underwater state park, John Pennekamp State Park and going to a wild bird sanctuary. Who knows, I might go back to the sea turtle rehab center, but adventures are sometimes more fun when repeated 🙂

I also bought myself a wonderful new camera for Christmas, so I am planning on having some spectacular photos to share when we return.

Sunset on Key Largo
Sunset on Key Largo

Also on the horizon is a trip to Vermont and New York in the fall.  The only New England state I have ever been to was New Jersey. I have to make up for that by seeing the leaves start to change with a good friend of mine that lives up there, and who I haven’t seen in years.  I will force her to be my chauffeur (I will even sit in the back seat and get her a little hat to wear, I’m sure), force her to be my tour guide, and force her to take me to drinking establishments for adults.

Since one item on my bucket list is to see all 50 states, I am planning to knock out at least two states on that trip, and maybe more. I mean, the states are so small up there, it only takes a few hours to get across them! Maybe we will go to Connecticut for a chowder lunch, Maine for a lobster dinner, and Massachusetts for drinks afterwards! That’s how that works, right?

Not a lot of people have the ability or the ambition to cross things off their Bucket Lists. Not only am I thankful that I have the drive to do the things that I say that I want to do, but I have a husband that wants to do the same things. Who knows…in a few years, I might have to write a whole new list!

So keep checking back, World Travelers! I’ll be sure to share our adventures, and hopefully be able to give some good travel tips if you want them!

Happy Earth Day!

Hello Fellow Travelers!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do anything specifically “earth friendly” yesterday because I was traveling all day long to Oklahoma instead of being at home (which is also why I didn’t have time to write this until Earth Day was over). But to make up for it, I planted some new plants in the front yard to beautify the front of the house over the weekend.

However, I would love to hear what YOU have planned for Earth Day? Have you gone hiking? Did you walk to work? Donated your time and/or money to a conservation organization?

One great thing that you could do is sign a petition to help shark conservation, or teach a child how to start a compost bin.

Really, there are so many ways you can help the earth, and although we should treat every day like Earth Day, one day at a time is a good way to get people, who might not otherwise participate, to take a step towards conservation, recycling, or sustainable energy use.

So, what did you do for Mother Earth today?

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Bucket List #2

There have been many things I have accomplished in my relatively short adult life so far. I graduated with my bachelors degree in 3.5 years. I got my masters degree right after that. I have been to Europe. But the things that I have crossed off my bucket list are what I’m really proud of.

1. Swim with manatees
2. Hold a wild nurse shark
3. Drive to Alaska
4. Live in the rainforest (it was only for a month, but it was far from a vacation!)
5. See wild humpback whales (recently accomplished!)
6. Dive Monterey Bay (also recently accomplished, on the same day as the whales!)
7. Foster MULTIPLE litters of kittens and several dogs
8. Gone on a cruise in Hawaii
9. Ran a half marathon (accomplished March 23)
10. Go parasailing

I have also added a few things to my bucket list, and thought of a few more things that I have always wanted to do, but forgot to add to the last list:

15. See a wild whale shark
16. Witness a massive hammerhead migration (while diving below them)
17. Go to India (This had actually been on my list for a while, but I just forgot to write it down)
18. Bathe an Indian elephant in a river
19. See the whooping cranes
20. Work on coral reef restoration

Bucket List

Not too long ago, a couple girls at my office, Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention, Inc. asked me what I was going to do for my birthday. Jokingly, girl #1 said “what are you doing for your birthday? Climbing Mount Kilamanjaro?” And girl #2 agreed with her that we are always adventuring, so there is no telling what our weekends have in store. And again today, I ran into an old friend from high school, and in casual conversation with her boss, whom I had just met, my friend explained to him that we are adventurous people. This is probably one of the nicest things someone has said about me. So it made me think about creating a bucket list.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order other than this is the order I thought of them, my bucket list:

1. Go to South Africa and Kenya for my 30th birthday

2. Climb Mt. Kilamanjaro for my 40th birthday (the girls at work had a good idea!)

3. Dive the Great Barrier Reef

4. Meet Jane Goodall

5. Swim with polar bears!

6. Swim with great whites! (Ok, ok. In a cage).

7. Visit all 50 states of the US

8. Visit every continent (I got this idea from my dad, the Intrepid Traveler, who has almost done this!)

9. Run a marathon

10. Hike the Pacific Crest trail

11. Dive every sea

12. See an octopus in the wild

13. See the aurora borealis

14. See the aurora australis

Now, by no means is this a finite list. I will continue to add to it, and I have already scratched something’s off my list, before I ever really wrote it down.

Like I have hiked the tallest peak in Texas. Twice.

I have been to Alaska and Hawaii, the two hardest states to hit when attempting to hit all 50.

I have been parasailing in the Florida Keys.

I can’t wait to start crossing a few things off my list, so I have room to add more to my list!

What are some things on your bucket list?

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