Category Archives: Grad School

This Year I’m Thankful For…


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.

For Sale! Part 2

I had a very successful first sale day at the Farmer’s Market!

Many people were interested in my photography, and I passed out a lot of “business cards.” I say this with quotation marks because I haven’t gotten my cards yet! Luckily though, I had the forethought to bring a small pad of paper and a pen, so I was able to spread the word about my online Photo Gallery, and generate some interest in placing orders.

Soon though, I will have my very beautiful business cards that I designed, so I can hand those out at the next Farmer’s Market!

For anyone that is interested in ordering online, I have created an order form to make this a quick process.  To give a little more detail on the ordering process, here goes:

You can order prints in 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, or 16×20. The panoramics are either 6×18 or 8×24.

I prefer to print on metallic paper, because it makes the photos look much more 3 dimensional; however, the Professional Print (on glossy paper) looks fantastic as well.

If you would like the photos to be matted, there is also an option for that on the order sheet.

If you are interested in ordering photos online, feel free to send me an email at, and we can discuss it further!

And, so you don’t have to search for them again, here are the photos that I have for sale right now!

ALSO, I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I TAKE PAYPAL! Secure payments made online, so you don’t have to worry about sending cash or check!

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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.

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.


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 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




Art Walk 2013

Hubby and I went to college WAY out in west Texas. And no, I don’t mean that we went to Texas Tech. Lubbock is NOT west Texas.

Texas Geography Lesson #1

Lubbock is obviously in NORTH Texas. Alpine/Big Bend National Park is obviously WEST Texas. Now, I probably didn’t draw these regions out exactly the way they are in real life (there are true divisions in this state), but some people consider San Antonio as part of Central Texas, and others count it as part of South Texas. So I guess I should have really put that as a dotted line instead.

Anyway, like I was saying Hubby and I went to college in West Texas, at Sul Ross State University. We loved living in that area, but it’s hard to find good jobs there because it’s so isolated and mostly ranch land surrounding it, so we ended up getting jobs back in southeast Texas (a sub-region dividing East Texas because sometimes East Texas is really just an extension of Louisiana). Every once in a while we like to go back to Alpine for vacation, especially because we still have a lot of friends in the area, and we love Big Bend National Park. Our plan was to go to Alpine for Art Walk. It’s an annual celebration that was started while we were living there. The art galleries stay open late, there is live music on the street, and every year it gets bigger and better.

This year, even Ray Wylie Hubbard was playing!

I travel a lot for work (the Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention business) so I get quite a few frequent flyer miles that we love to cash in for free trips, so we used my frequent flyer miles to buy two tickets to Midland, three hours north of Alpine, but still considered West Texas (Texas Geography Lesson #2).  This was our plan:

1. Fly into Midland and drive to Alpine – get into town just in time for a late dinner with friends and hit the bar.

2. Get up CRAZY early and head down to Big Bend National Park.

3. Hike the South Rim Trail, which I think is like 12 miles.

4. Get off the mountain just at the right time to get sunset photos of the Sierra del Carmen mountains, and head back to Alpine (more than a 1 hour drive).

5. Enjoy Art Walk, see all of the friends that we still have in Alpine, go to every bar, and see the artwork of a friend in one of the galleries.

6. Spend the day buying Christmas presents for our friends’ kids, and send them home with said friends.

7. Enjoy a leisurely drive back to Midland, and get on our evening flight back home.

8. Be home for a late dinner.

As the date of our trip got closer and closer, the weather forecast was getting grim. 30 degrees F as the high. Mixed sleet and snow. But we already had the trip planned, and we were determined to go. Hiking in the cold isn’t that bad, afterall. We got free drinks on the airplane because the flight attendant never came back to pick up our drink coupons that I love getting in the mail, and it was off to a pretty good start!

However, the temperature didn’t get above 27 degrees the entire time. We were able to get a free upgrade for our rental car, and got a Nissan Frontier truck. We were excited about this because we would have a high clearance vehicle for Big Bend, and if the roads were snowy, that would be helpful too. We got out to our truck and it was coated in ice. We had to set there for 30 minutes, letting it defrost so we could see through the windshield and windows.

On the 3 hour drive from Midland to Alpine, we were worried about frozen bridges the entire time. We finally crawled into town at 9 pm, and got a late dinner from Cow Dog, the best hotdogs you can find. Anywhere. Everything was covered in ice. We had to eat standing up because all of the outdoor seating was frozen.

We hit a couple bars, ran into old friends, and stayed out until about 2am. It started snowing and the roads were icing over. We weren’t real sure we were going to make it out to Big Bend after all. That morning we woke up and everything was coated in a thick layer of ice. There would be no traveling to the park today. For those of you who have never been to Big Bend National Park, let me explain (Texas Geography Lesson #3).

It is isolated.

I mean


If something goes wrong while you are down there, it could be a while before someone comes by. You rarely have a cell phone signal. You rarely even have a radio signal. And weather in the desert can change in an instant. The last thing we wanted to do was get stuck down in the park because they closed the roads, or worse – get stuck because there was an ice storm and we ran off the road into a canyon that three cars a day drive past.

This is what the main road to the Chisos Mountain Basin  looked like on Monday, two days after we had planned on going. If we had gotten into the park to begin with, we probably would have been stuck there until Tuesday!

So instead of risking death, or at the very least a miserable day in the cold, wind, and snow, we stayed in Alpine. We got discounted breakfast at the restaurant that is in the same parking lot as our hotel, and that place is the epitome of a small town diner. It’s called Penny’s, and it looks like it’s made out of an Airstream trailer. Food there is usually only consumed at 2 am when suddenly you are in the mood for French toast and gravy, but it was discounted and we didn’t have to drive to it, so that’s where we ate.

Now if you are looking for good service, try somewhere else in town. But if you are looking to people watch, this is the best seat around. The short-order cook makes the food right in front of you so you can watch him almost burn up the kitchen with a grease fire or try to figure out why the fryer isn’t working. You can also listen to all of the employees complain about other employees calling in “sick” or try to figure out if Hubby has been given all of his food (he hadn’t) while they make pancakes for an order that doesn’t exist. It’s entertaining at least.

Café Moca
Yummy Café Moca

Afterwards we hit the town and enjoyed the coffee shop, Plaine while we waited for our friends to meet us for lunch (this trip ended up revolving around food and bars, but we were ok with that).

T-Shirt in a hot dog bun bag
T-Shirt in a hot dog bun bag, plus free stickers!

I was FINALLY able to buy a Cow Dog t-shirt and the Cow Dog himself, Alan, recognized Hubby and me from long, long ago and we were able to chat him up a bit about moving away from Alpine.  He’s a great guy, and I’m always happy to give him my business (especially if I get a Cow Dog out of it). I really appreciated how he repurposed his hot dog bun bags for t-shirt bags. Reduce, reuse, recycle afterall!

We had heard about Big Bend Brewing Company after we moved away, and I had never had a chance to try it until this trip. I was very excited, because Alpine had once, long, long ago had a German microbrewery called Edelweiss (pronounced A-Dell-Vice for you non-German speakers) and it was the best beer we had ever had. It was actually the reason Hubby and I became craft brew snobs. Long story short, Edelweiss is no more, but you can always have a chat with the man that started it all, Harry Moise, who now owns, operates, and hangs out at Harry’s Tinaja in Alpine. Go have a drink with him, but remember, it’s cash only.

And the guy that started BBBCo was actually a brewmaster in Austin, Texas and moved to Marfa. I’m just glad he opened the brewery in Alpine instead of Marfa, but if you aren’t from that area, you won’t understand 😉


There was an open house at the brewery with free beer, but we had just eaten lunch and it was absolutely freezing inside the brewery (it’s just an open warehouse) so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went back to the hotel to take showers and take a nap, only to find that our hotel had lost power because of the ice.  We napped for a while and woke up colder than when we had fallen asleep, and then we hit the town again for the actual Art Walk. It wasn’t that big of a turn out this year because of the weather, but it was still fun, and we still got to run into a bunch of old friends.

Christmas lights on Yucca
Christmas lights on Yucca
Ice on grass
Ice on grass
Giant grasshopper out of reclaimed metal
Giant grasshopper out of reclaimed metal
Snow on Chili Peppers
Snow on Chili Peppers
Art Walk on Main Street
Art Walk on Main Street
Ice on Lantana
Ice on Lantana
Ice on Red Yucca
Ice on Red Yucca
Bicycle Powered Parade Float - but the parade was cancelled due to the awful weather
Bicycle Powered Parade Floats – but the parade was cancelled due to the awful weather. Reindeer in the foreground, a giant bat in the background. And for some reason, a Gypsy van was there too?
Wish I could have seen this guy in action at the parade
Wish I could have seen this guy in action at the parade

Although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, we still had a great time. It made me miss seeing the snow every year, but it also made Hubby remember how much he hates the snow 🙂  And, because we didn’t get to hit Big Bend National Park, it just made us want to plan another trip out there so we can see the beautiful desert and mountains that we miss so much. Because (Texas Geography Lesson #4) the desert gets in your blood.


Conquering The Northeast

One of the items on my Bucket List is to visit all 50 states.  I’m so close to finishing this goal (I only have 15 states to go!) and last month I was able to knock three off my list in just a weekend!

I was visiting my good friend, Patella, who lives in New York, but is from Vermont.  Because of frequent flyer miles (thank you Southwest!) I was able to fly up to visit her for a four day weekend for free during the best time of the year – while the fall leaves were changing to their infamous golds, reds, and oranges!

Now, at the moment I am between computers (I have an old laptop from college that is on its last leg and a work computer) so all of my Vermont and New York photos are on my personal laptop. HOWEVER, I thought I was doing good by uploading all of them to Flickr in case my trust computer died suddenly. (I have an intense fear of this happening and I lose all of my photos).

So for your viewing pleasure I have linked to my Vermont and New York set in Flickr (I hope this works!)

And because I simply CAN’T have a blog post with no photos directly in it, here is a little taste of the trip. Enjoy!

Vermont Dairy Farm
Vermont Dairy Farm

“Cold” Winter Days

As I sit here in Louisiana while someone is trying to fix the heater in the next room and I am in the kitchen with a heater blowing on me, a beanie on my head, and the oven turned on, I am reminded of much colder winter days in my past and think to myself, ‘this ain’t nothin’.”

One year in college, way out in the True West Texas (not that Amarillo is West Texas crap), it was bitter cold. I know, “it’s nothing compared to Northern Winters” but it was cold for a Texas desert! Several days in a row over the Thanksgiving holiday it got UP to 7 degrees F during the day. I don’t even remember what it got down to at night, but it was bitter cold. Hubby and I were working at a vet clinic outside of town and we were completely booked – everyone was boarding their pets for the holiday. That’s all fine and dandy except a lot of our kennels were outdoors. We had tarps up to keep the wind out, and thick blankets down for the dogs, (and we only kept the biggest dogs with the longest hair outside, but their water bowls kept freezing solid. I would go outside every hour and trade their bowls out with warm water from the faucet. We also had horses at the clinic that week, so I would have to go outside with a rubber mallet and a small blow torch to melt the water, so that the floats wouldn’t break from the water expanding as it froze.

One January there was a beautiful ice storm in the middle of the night. Hubby and I got up that morning, and it was so gorgeous, and we had nowhere to be, so he drove me all over town in his 4×4 truck and we took photos of horses and cows in the snow, and the mountains and trees and barbed wire in wrapped in ice.

(That’s not the sun, that’s the reflection of the flash – the only picture I could find of this was from when I was trying to sell my photos on eBay) (Still for sale, by the way, if you were wondering…)

Another year, also in January, Hubby and I decided to go to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I think it was New Years Weekend. We camped that night in the campground, and the next morning got up to hike Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. We had a 5 gallon water jug sitting on the table that was half-frozen when we got up that morning! And of course, there is the infamous 14 Degree Weather from my wildhood.

While we were in Grad School, Hubby worked for NRCS through a grant, and that grant sent him to a conference in Grand Junction, Colorado. All I had to do was pay for my plane ticket, and I was able to tag along! This ALSO happened to be in January. (Come on, we lived there for 6 years! The odds are pretty good that it would be cold in January!) While he was at the conference during the day, I stayed nice and warm in the hotel room. But when he was done, we drove up to the Colorado National Monument. It was absolutely beautiful. Red sandstone, green cedar, and white snow. We hiked and drove as long as we could until it got too dark to see anything. We hardly touched the park, with as little of it as we were able to see. I can’t wait to go back.

So memories like these not only make me think of great stories, but they make me realize that I have been through worse, and I came out a stronger, more capable person because of it.

Not that anyone likes to do anything with their fingers tingling and hurting and numb from the cold….but I know it won’t kill me.

Stay warm out there!

Traveling with Brodie

A few years ago while I was in Grad School, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and live there for a month during a Primate Behavior and Conservation course, put on by DANTA.  It was one of those things that I asked my parents if I could do it, and I was totally expecting them to say no.  Instead, my dad, The Intrepid Traveler, decided not only to let me go, but since I had never traveled by myself (much less out of the country by myself), he decided to go with me.

The plan was to go down about a week early and do some Site Seeing on our own. Then when it came time for the course, The Intrepid Traveler would go to the airport, and I would meet up with my new classmates. Sounds like a great plan, right? Flawless even? When the Intrepid Traveler is involved, nothing ever goes according to plan, but it is always an adventure!

As much as he travels, you would think he would speak 50 languages and have friends in every village. He would blend in. Disappear. You would never see him again.  But the truth is he could get lost in his own museum (Love you, Dad!).

First of all, we asked AT&T if my phone would work in Costa Rica, and they said yes. It did not. We rented a car rather than get driven around in taxis. This also did not work. We are used to roads in Texas. Where if you miss your exit, you can just take the next one, and turn around. I thought it was that way in all of the US, but apparently not (more on that a different day). But apparently, missing your exit in San Jose is a much bigger deal than we thought. Somehow we managed to always find our destinations, but I think that was mainly the tourism people being used to stupid Americans, and giving really good landmarks as directions.  It also didn’t help that neither of us speak Spanish. Yes, yes I know. We are the stupid Americans that don’t bother to learn other languages and expect everyone to speak English. But Spanish is HARD!  The good thing was though, that we made a great team…more or less. Most everyone we encountered did, in fact, speak English. Of course they had Spanish accents but they were speaking English, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Except for my Dad. They would be speaking to him, in English, and he would look at me and asked what they said, because their accents were too thick for him to understand. So I was a great translator! From Broken English to English! I wonder if I could turn that into a career….

Now since this was a few years ago, and all but about 6 of my pictures somehow got corrupted by the time I got back to the US (I’m still upset about that!), I’m a little fuzzy on our adventures. However, I know that Dad and I went to a coffee plantation which was really cool, because we were the only people on the tour and go to look around at everything there. We also stayed at some really cute hotels, ate at great restaurants, and got to go white water rafting.  My favorite city in Coast Rica was La Fortuna.  There is a massive volcano that we could see from our hotel window, and the town had a very relaxed, surfer attitude.  Our first night in Costa Rica, we actually found a restaurant called Tex Mex. We thought that would be a safe bet to ease ourselves into the culture, so we decided to check that out. It turned out that the owner of the restaurant was from Las Vegas, Nevada, and came and sat down with us to tell us the secrets of Costa Rica. Such as, cover your luggage (or anything you have in the back seat/hatch back) with a black blanket so it is less obvious you have anything in there. I remember this vividly, because at our hotel the next morning while eating breakfast, my father asked the boy working there if he could buy the blanket from our room to cover our stuff.  The poor kid. He probably had no idea what my dad was thinking. I’m sure he thought Dad was going to murder someone and wrap them up in the blanket or something. As it turned out, the owner of the hotel wasn’t there at the time to ask, so the boy just said we could have it. I’m sure he didn’t want to upset the homicidal American by telling him he COULDN’T have the blanket. So as a thank you, Dad tipped the kid extra. At least we think we tipped him extra. I never could get that exchange rate right.

Come to think of it, we did see on the news that night a boy who was being publically flogged for giving stuff away at a hotel….I’m sure it was just a coincidence.


White water rafting was a blast. We had never done it before, so we were stoked! After going through a little demonstration with the guides, we headed down the river.  During the calm parts of the river, the guide also served as a naturalist tour guide, teaching us (but mainly me, because I think I’m the only one that cared) about the birds we saw, and he even made a special stop to find a species of bats called Long Nosed Bats, that are known for sleeping under leaves and on crooked tree trunks.

CR - Long-nose Bats

We found them, and I got a great look at them before they flew right over our heads. So cool!

After a week of driving around lost in Costa Rica (and in the rain because apparently it was the monsoon season…oops) it was time to go our separate ways.  Dad was to get to the car rental return and go to the airport, and I was to go to The Hotel Aeropuerto. That morning as we were leaving the hotel to head to the car return I said, “Shouldn’t we get directions?”

Dad’s. Exact. Words. “I’m sure we can find it.” Oh good. Since that’s been the way this WHOLE trip has been going, right?

We were up on a mountain heading into San Jose, and you could see the airport from where we were, so I thought maybe, just maybe, he could get us there. Except that every time we would exit off the highway, or even go straight on the highway, I swear the airport got further and further away. It was like it was in a parallel airport universe.  We ended up pulling over and asking directions a couple of times. When that didn’t work, Dad actually got a guy to drive in front of us and LEAD US TO THE CAR DROP OFF. The whole time I was thinking, he’s going to drive out into the middle of nowhere and demand more money. He’s going to rob us. He’s going to get lost himself, because he doesn’t have permission from the Airport Overlords to enter the parallel universe.  But it worked.  He got us to the drop off.  I couldn’t believe it. I guess all the years of travel have paid off for Dad!

The final challenge was telling my taxi driver where to take me from the drop off.  Dad sometimes speaks really quietly because his ears are a little out-dated and he thinks he’s speaking at a normal volume. He told the driver to take me to the Aeropeurto Hotel, but he said hotel so quietly, I was afraid the driver would take me to The Aeropuerto!  Not the same thing, so I tried to make sure it was HOTEL Aeropuerto, but when I started to say it, the driver just nodded and waved me off. Fingers were definitely crossed as I headed away from Dad, but I ended up at the right place.

So a few things I learned about Costa Rica while I was there:

  • Summer is the rainy season. Don’t go then. Mud slides are a daily occurence, and the mosquitoes get bigger and meaner with every raindrop. They are like Gremlins.
  • Pay very close attention to the road signs. If you miss your exit, just pick a new destination further down the road. It would be easier than trying to turn around.
  • The hearts with halos that you see painted all over the road and intended to remind drivers to be careful – every heart represents a pedestrian that was killed by a car. And only if they died on the scene. If they died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, they  don’t count. There are halo hearts EVERYWHERE.

I wish I had pictures of this trip. I guess it’s just an excuse to go back. Now that I know what I know, I think it would go much smoother. Maybe I’ll even take my dad again…?

My Amazing Time in Grad School-Thesis

Seeing as how adventure is in my blood, and “Wild” is my middle name, it only seems fitting that my graduate degree in Biology consisted of a thesis in which I got to follow and document the behavior of the largest carnivore I could find: The American Black bear.

Ok, ok so they aren’t TECHNICALLY carnivores. They are true omnivores, eating whatever they can find, BUT they are in Order Carnivora, so people think they are scary. Which they are. Kinda.

Anyway, this is how it all got started:

I heard about a month-long class I could take over the summer, in which you go to San Jose, Costa Rica and study monkeys. (Seriously, this is how it started). The course was called Primate Behavior and Conservation, and it was through DANTA. My parents didn’t really want me going down there by myself, but ones to NEVER restrict my adventures and education, my dad decided to go with me.  We would site-see for a few days, then I would meet up with the course people, and he would fly back home.  This will all be in a separate post later, because it was definitely an adventure. Unfortunately all but about 7 of my pictures got corrupted, so I don’t have anything to show you really. Sorry.

Anyway, with this class we learned a bunch of stuff, which I then brought back with me to the desert of West Texas, where I was going to school. A few days after I got back, I was taking another course for my degree called Desert Zoology. It was the best class I have ever taken. Basically, it was a hiking-until-the-prof-sees-something-worth-talking-about class, so we hiked and camped for a month. HOW GREAT IS THAT?! When we went to Big Bend National Park we saw a female bear in an oak tree with 4 cubs. Seriously, they were just hanging out in a tree above the trail.

The family that started it all

I told my prof and my BF (now Hubby) that I didn’t want to leave-I could seriously watch them all day long. My prof said, “that’s your thesis project.” See, I had been trying to come up with project ideas, and things kept falling flat, but this was the sudden epiphany I needed. My next thoughts to my BF were scrambled thoughts of working at a zoo somewhere, observing the feeding behaviors of Polar bears in captivity, Polar bears in the wild, wild lion behavior in Africa…I went on and on floating on a cloud of excitement about my future in Conservation. I was stoked.

Basically, I was going to be observing the bears for typical behaviors, which I categorized and provided detailed descriptions of.  Next I actually got to go to the park and find the bears. This sounds a lot harder than it sounds a lot easier than was just as difficult as it sounds.

But on my first day, first thing in the morning, Hubby was making breakfast and I was getting ready to hike, when he popped his head into the tent and said, “There’s a bear!”


I had planned all this out to the letter, but when it came time to it, I was hoping I was doing it right. Then I thought, well, it’s my research, so damnit, I am doing it RIGHT!

The next few months, I saw a lot of black figures through the trees like this:

Sow with two cubs

 Summer wasn’t so great. I didn’t see them much, but no one else did either. My personal theory was they went down to Mexico to cool off with a couple Coronas. Prove me wrong.

But I did get a lot of people asking what I was doing, and asking me if I was scared. Not once was I scared of the bears. I actually always felt safe with them. I mean, don’t get my wrong-I’m not going to be turning into Grizzly Man or anything, but the Black bears are used to human activity in the park, they are not aggressive, and I kept my distance. Even when I was heading back up the trail to camp one evening, after I had stayed on the trail a bit too long and it was getting dark. A large bear came up and met me on the trail. She (I’m assuming) stared right at me, then kept walking. It was A.MAZ.ING.

There was one time, when hiking high in the mountains with my BF that a bear got mad at us.  We didn’t even see him, because he was up the hill above us, and sleeping under a tree.  We would have walked right past him, but he sat up to look at us as we were walking, and caught our attention.

He did not like us watching him.

Black bears do a lot of huffing and puffing to try to scare people away but of course, I wasn’t going anywhere. We backed off a bit to give him his space, but it wasn’t good enough. He was still shaking branches and puffing at us, so we backed off some more. By this time, we were thinking, ‘ok, we need to go forward to get off the mountain. He does not want us to go forward. S!$t.’ He moved off a bit, to the other side of the small hill, so we thought he had gotten sick of us and left.  We grabbed our stuff that we had carefully put down while observing the bear, and speed-walked past where he had been. I looked back and he was standing there, (much closer to the trail than he had been), and we just kept going. That is why I said bears are scary. Kinda.

This little guy was my favorite through the whole study:

Yearling male

I saw him in the morning and watching him until the heat of the day when he wandered off. I came back in the afternoon and before I got to him I heard screaming and rocks further down the trail. A couple came back up the trail and this was the conversation:

Stupid people: “I wouldn’t go down there if I were you. There is a bear cub, but we didn’t see the Momma.”

Me, the amazing researcher:”I’m pretty sure I know who you are talking about, and he’s not with Mom anymore. He’s on his own.”

Stupid people: “Oh…can we follow you?”

After which they proceeded to ruin the video I was taking of him, by asking questions while I was filming. Thanks guys. I’m sure Discovery Channel has the same problems.

I also loved this guy:


I call him Jefe.  I know you can’t tell it in the picture, but this guy was HUGE. And he was hilarious. For all you non-behavioral studies types, I will explain something to you.  In the wild, animals usually survive on a feast-or-famine diet.  They attempt to spend as little energy as possible while obtaining their food, because they will need the fat they put on for when times are tough. (You know, the thing most Americans never have to worry about, and wonder why they can’t lose weight-your body “thinks” it should keep all that weight on, just in case).

Anyway, so by spending as little energy as possible, this HUGE bear was laying down under an oak tree, consuming every acorn he could reach.  Then he got up, turned around, layed back down, and continued to graze on the plethora of acorns. (Yes, I would say he had a plethora). I couldn’t believe how lazy he was! But I guess you don’t get that big by wasting time and energy.

The best part was, this whole time, I was standing on the other side of the tree, about 30 or so feet away. He knew I was there, but he didn’t really care. The area he was laying in was right next to the hiking trail, so when a couple came around the corner back up the trail, he freaked out from the sudden noise (Now do you see why I’m not scared of Black bears?) and ran away down the creek (the hikers almost ran too). Then all of a sudden, he stopped, sat down for a few seconds (pictured) and then slowly got up and walked away in the direction he had been about to run.

So, my observation was Jefe got a freakin’ head rush from standing up too quick! Seriously.

I saw some great things while doing this research, and I got to learn a lot:

I learned I don’t really like camping by myself, because it gets boring and creepy at night.

I learned that bears are actually pretty easy to predict.

and I learned that when you are on high-alert for Mountain lions, deer will scare the crap out of you every time.

The Chisos Mountains – My weekend home during the research project