Tag Archive: landscape

an unexpected party


the elf and i like to go walking some afternoons in a beautiful and unexpected patch of forest called smith’s bush.  the 1km-long loop boardwalk weaves between many different kinds of native trees, some of impressive stature, and none more than the giant puriri (Vitex lucens) that tower over one section of the walk.  these trees are always amazing, with their knots and gnarls and resident giant puriri moths (which i have never seen but keep hoping to), but in this bush block they have reached a size i never previously knew was possible.  one group of four trunks in particular, all part of a single tree, is simply too massive to be imagined without standing next to them.  the canopy of these trees is also full of astelias (or ‘tank lilies’, or ‘widow-makers’), making standing around too long in any one place perhaps unwise.

we were making our way around the loop late last week in the slow, thorough stroll of new walkers who intermittently want to be carried, or perhaps practice walking backwards, or touch all the leaves close enough to the boardwalk (glad nz doesn’t have native cacti or skin-irritating climbers), when we discovered something new.  and rather than try to describe our whimsical find, i think i’ll just show you.




the americas, part 5: argentina


from brazil, we traveled on to argentina to see friends in northern patagonia.  i won’t  claim to have seen much of the country at all, given that we stayed almost entirely in a rural small town apart from passing through buenos aires twice, but what we did see was plenty interesting.  the friends we stayed with had a nice flat, able to house them (two adults + two small children + 2-3 cats [depending whether you define the resident cats as tame or not] + the yorkie formerly known as malena but now called tumbleweasel) plus the three of us visitors pretty comfortably.  the landscape was quite arid overall; the kids’ bathwater was reused for watering the garden (a nice water conservation idea for more places than just the desert), and we spent the week in varying states of general dryness and found ourselves drinking much more water than usual. or, in some cases, more beer, since the pebbles and one of our hosts are home brewers, and ‘needed’ to sample as many techniques and products as possible.

we also went on a very cool day trip to cerro mesa (alas, not the galapagos one — a nearby plateau in a very fossil-rich area).  while our friends’ older son (two years old) was busy dreaming of dinosaur bones, i scrabbled around in the shale for long-gone marine beasties and came up with a good several-kilo sack of ammonite fragments, sheets of tiny sea stars, large bumpy clams and a few other things that just looked interesting.  of course, i had a hard time convincing the pebbles (who had been off playing mountain goat on the mesa itself) that i should be allowed to add rocks to our already considerable pile of luggage, but i did manage to sneak a few things home with me.  the landscape overall reminded us very much of some of the californian deserts we’d seen the previous december, but it was different too.  the andes hovered in the distance (we would get to see them much closer a little later in the trip), wild horses ambled past occasionally, and bumbling dung beetles rolled their precious cargo through the scrub.

from patagonia, we took a 16-hour bus trip back out to buenos aires in order to travel on to uruguay.  the time on the bus was an exercise in contrasts… the trip was quite luxurious, with large seats that extended to nearly horizontal so that we did actually get a decent sleep.  we departed in the evening, and darkness fell about an hour later, so we didn’t see much for the first ten hours or so.  but with darkness, the other residents of the bus began to show themselves—small residents of the six-legged variety.  not hordes and hordes, but not just one, either.  let’s just leave it at that.  we rumbled through the night along roads that were only barely wider than the bus itself, and when we woke up in the morning we had passed out of the desert into areas of extreme flooding.  entire fields had become lakes as far as the eye could see; farm outbuildings stood halfway submerged, and the rain continued to fall.  as we approached BsAs it became heavy, then nearly torrential, and the final half hour or so saw us pass through some streets where the water was literally knee deep.  we saw businessmen roll up their suit pants and wade to their cars, and drove behind other buses that sent rolling tsunamis in their wakes.  the water even came in under the doors of the downstairs level of the bus (we were upstairs), but had drained again by the time we disembarked at the ferry terminal.  it was a strange and surreal end to our time in argentina, and with the fairly scary vibe we had sensed from BsAs during both stopovers, we were not sorry to board the boat make the 230-km journey across the rio de la plata to montevideo.

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the americas, part 3: omaha

as is often the case, we traveled south from mn to my parents’ place in omaha, but this time we stopped along the way to see a live broadcast of a prairie home companion.  this was a particular wish of mine, since i’d never been before and garrison is likely to retire soonish, and it was an especially good show—the finals of the annual duet competition.  i highly recommend listening to the winners, mamuse (their winning song is here); their voices were lovely and ethereal and their a cappella piece held the audience silently captivated.

in omaha, the weather was of the lovely warm autumnal kind, conducive to outdoor activities, so we took advantage and went walking in the botanical gardens and in fontenelle forest.  as usual, the elf rode along merrily in the front-pack, alternately watching the world go by with big blue eyes (often while chewing noisily on the pack straps; the high-tide marks are getting pretty gross so we’ll be washing the carrier as soon as we get home) and snoring gently with her head bobbling at an unlikely angle.  she appears unfazed by the constant changes of scene and venue, happy to watch any pieces of the world go by that we care to show her, and blissfully unaware of our changing accommodation as she snuggles down in her tent for the night.  seems like we’ve managed to get a pretty good kid. :)

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the americas, part 2: more mn

the remainder of our visit to northern mn was a lovely mix of time spent indoors and outdoors.  we continued to enjoy the autumn woods as weather permitted, taking more walks across the road and to lester lake.  we also took the canoe out on a glorious two-hour glide up to the northeast corner of kabekona.  it was t-shirt weather in the sun, and the water was clearer than i’ve ever seen—the bottom was visible a good 20 feet down.  the elf was the only one who didn’t enjoy the experience completely; she was not a big fan of the life jacket, but fortunately slept through most of the ride.  we did not make it to buck lake this time (but will be back in july), but we did get up to the villages themselves, and did a nice hike around waldsee and skogfjorden on a misty day that brought out all the remaining colors.  we also had some rain, which made it cozy to sit inside by the fire, playing scrabble and passing the elf around to share hugs and giggles.  no matter the season, it is always good for the soul to visit the cabin, and it was wonderful to be able to take our daughter there.  it is a place packed with childhood memories for me, from swimming to playing cards and games with grandparents and cousins to falling in the lake accidentally at least once a summer, and i hope it will become the same for her.

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i hoped i would manage to post a few more times before this trip, but i didn’t, so we’re just going to go with it.  little fish (whom i was going to abbreviate LF, but now that i look at that, might just call her the elf) is now nearly six months old and we have embarked on her first big overseas adventure — we’re visiting the US for two weeks, followed by south america for three.  door to door, the trip over from auckland took us 42 hours, since we stayed out near the airport the night before we flew out so that we were close by for our 6am check-in time.  the elf was amazing throughout; she slept for nine hours on the trans-pacific flight and only had a little trouble with her ears on our final descent in the states — thank goodness, because that kid can really scream when she needs to.

we headed up to the lake cabin on saturday evening and are now basking in the late-autumn woods.  today was  mostly sunny, with some scudding clouds, and it was gorgeous weather for being outdoors.  last winter we had a piece of land selectively logged to improve the health of the remaining trees and to replant in some longer-lived species, and while it was difficult in some ways to see the much clearer landscape where beloved dense forest used to be, in other ways it was still quite beautiful.  the tamaracks have gone golden and we had broad panoramic views of them across a big wetland at the back of the section.  the seedling popples from this year are already 7-8 feet tall in some places and their broad green leaves glowed backlit in the sun.  what were previously fields of purple asters have now become meadows white fluffly seed heads, and the marsh grasses were hay-colored, dotted with small patches of sky-blue water.  we even saw a few late frogs and toads basking in the afternoon sun.  so while the walk was a far different experience from previous times we’ve been here, it was still lovely.  and it is indescribably good to be back in the woods.

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the open road

so, this is the end of california — finished, even though it took nearly seven months!  over those ten days at the start of december 2011, we covered about 2100 miles in our little black rental beast.  it seems only appropriate, therefore, to reflect on all the different roads we traveled.  scrubby desert roads lined with strange joshua trees; long straight highway stretches with mountains looming on one or several sides; snowy gravel roads high in the forest, lined with giant trees; out-of-place-seeming asphalt strips winding through strange rock formations; rolling river-side roads and a spectacular final drive along the coast.  from the car, we saw sunrises, sunsets, and moonrises; lakes, streams, waterfalls, and the ocean; cattle, birds, and coyotes.  it had been a long time since we’d traveled together to somewhere new to both of us (well — technically all three of us, since i was 14 weeks pregnant and also spent a fair amount of the car-time either feeling queasy or eating trail-mix), and we’re so glad we did.  so here are my favorite shots taken of, along or from the road.  thanks, california — we had a great time getting to know you better!


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the next day held another long drive, from visalia to monterey, but we had a stop planned along the way at pinnacles national monument.  although we would be entering the park on the less popular west side, the pebbles had scoped out what sounded like a very cool walk including a section through a talus cave — a canyon where boulders from higher up have fallen to form a roof. (sounds like a great place to walk, right?)  as seemed to be our pattern on this trip, we arrived in the late afternoon, as the sun was sinking, painting the pinnacles orange and pink.  since we did not have flashlights and didn’t know just how dark it would be in the rocks, we opted to do the loop backwards to get the cave section done first in case we needed to turn back.  there were a few blind moments in the deepest part of the tunnel, but between the camera flash and a few chinks of light far overhead, we scrambled through (discovering later by looking at the ‘throw-away’ photos used to fire the flash that there had been white arrows painted on the rocks to show the way — who knew? — albeit in the opposite direction since we were doing the loop backwards).  emerging from the cave, we passed through a short stretch of wooded valley and then climbed back over the surface of the cave section, earning further views of the sunset spires and peaks, and of the rising moon.


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sequoia national park

let’s have some arm-chair travel!  the pebbles has gone off to canada and england for a few weeks, and while i am partly jealous (he’s spending the weekend on vancouver island – hard not to be), i can’t say it would have been a terribly good idea for me, with just ~10 weeks to go until dragon baby arrives.  (yay! but also OMG NOT READY!)  so, with my old laptop intermittently playing nice, and a shiny new version of photoshop, i will try to wrap up the california trip from the end of 2011 (three national parks to go!) and console myself with the memory of some pretty good recent travel of my own.

the day after we drove through death valley, we awoke early in panamint springs and took stock of our plans.  our room had warmed up substantially overnight (it was about 4C/40F when we arrived the night before), so we were slightly reluctant to face the chill outside, but knew we had a big day ahead: we planned to drive to and through sequoia national park, hopefully seeing some impressive trees along the way, and staying on the far side – about 6 hours on the road, plus stops.  although our gas tank was nearly empty, we opted to skip filling up before we got underway, since the local price was $5.48/gallon ($2 higher than anywhere else we’d seen).

we were on the road in good time and enjoyed our final vistas of death valley, then turned southwest and skirted the strange, salty owens lake.  as happened often on this trip, we were amazed by how rapidly the landscape could change, as we passed stony, scrubby mountains backdropping lowland fields (with a few coyotes in one, playing among a herd of unperturbed cows) and then found the rather gorgeous (if artificial)  isabella lake nestled in a golden hollow, followed shortly by a little mountain town called kernville where we stopped for additional information about sequoia national park.  here we encountered our first and only real glitch of the trip – the road we had planned to take through the park is apparently closed in the winter, or at least unpassable to most vehicles.  i confess that i had naively not anticipated the possibility of california roads being only seasonally accessible.  a helpful ranger did point us in the direction of ‘some large redwoods’ by continuing along the road we had planned to take but then branching off toward a dead end; this would be about an extra hour in each direction but the scenery was lovely as we followed the kern river.  the higher we climbed, the more apparent it became how the roads could truly be problematic to normal vehicles; we passed iced-over waterfalls and, toward the end of the road, enjoyed a few exciting moments of skating along icy ruts in the shadiest parts of the woods.  the rock formations around us became increasingly dramatic and the trees larger (though we didn’t see any that really fit our mental image of ‘giant sequoia’ — apparently this tree was around there somewhere, but we didn’t find it, and from a political standpoint: good riddance), and the people fewer (from already not many).  when we reached the end of the road we parked and went for a short forest walk, crunching through the thin layer of crusty snow and hearing nothing other than our own footsteps, a few jays and crows, and the wind sighing in the tops of the trees.  while not as spectacular as we had hoped on the tree front , it was still gorgeous and peaceful.

the rest of the day was largely food-centered, which was not a bad thing — we had a delicious late lunch at the big blue bear cafe back in kernville (toasted pide wrap of pesto, goat cheese & fresh tomatoes, with my umpteenth arnie palmer to take advantage of the land where ‘lemonade’ doesn’t mean sprite), then made our final driving push to visalia, where a large and colorful mexican dinner finished the day off.  many miles covered, much scenery taken in, and more to do in the morning!


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death valley

from the chaos of las vegas, we fled back into the desert, and wow, is this a trip of contrasts.  death valley holds some more superlative records for our catalogue this trip – largest US national park outside of alaska, hottest recorded temperature on land (on the planet: 56C!), lowest point in the US (-282 feet; we stood there and looked up at a sign high on the cliff that said SEA LEVEL).  but mostly, it was desert-y, in all the possible and surprisingly varied ways we could have imagined.  high, dry mountains, desolate plains, sedimentary rock faces in stunning colors.  empty lake basins (lake manly was once 90 miles long and up to 600 feet deep), dry golden canyons with gorgeous rock formations, fields of low scrub in a range of colors to rival the rocks, and very, very few other people.  until we reached badwater basin, we saw perhaps two other cars (over a distance of ~50 miles).  from there, we hiked a few short trails and had some company as the afternoon light and rising moon drew photographers to the most picturesque spots, but in general it was a place of vast solitary expanses (for which we were grateful, after the previous day) and otherworldly scenery.  with a few extra moons in the sky, some of the views could easily have come straight from science fiction films; the pebbles said he kept expecting sand people to descend on us in the canyons.   luckily, they did not – at least, not that he noticed.  >:)

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mojave desert

logically, the third and final day of the rail trail would appear here next, but as it happens, we’re ~1500 miles into a ten-day road trip in southern california (surprise!), and the photos are piling up, so in the interest of currency, we’ll skip ahead for now. :)

we arrived in los angeles a week ago tomorrow morning, and spent a couple of days doing work-related things (for me, visiting squid collections in santa barbara and at scripps), then met up again to start our holiday proper on saturday. having never really explored this part of the country, we had decided to do a week-long loop encompassing a few national parks and some other sights, with a fairly ambitious driving schedule, but hopefully worth it. which it proved to be already on the first evening – we made it to the mojave national preserve around mid-afternoon (granted, having estimated sunset to be a little later than it turned out to be), and were almost immediately treated to the first of several surprises that would await us in the desert(s): snow! among a remarkable landscape of sagey scrub, strange coral-like joshua trees, a few barrel cacti, and actual tumbleweeds, we found first shady patches of snow, then entire hillsides. it was very surreal – but gorgeous. we also saw golden dunes, spectacular striated rock formations and mountains, and swiss cheesy cliffs full of small to good-sized caves begging to be explored (next time). we did have time for one lovely walk, and agreed afterward that we couldn’t have imagined a better one – a short 1.5-mile loop around the base of a tall escarpment pocked with crevices and nooks, leading us to a large hollow in its middle (the hole in the wall for which the loop was named), and climbing up through banshee canyon to return to the road where we’d parked. our timing also could not have been better (or a closer shave, probably) – the sun was setting as we began the trail, turning the sky lovely shades of soft blue and rose, with a few stars beginning to peep out and the bright half-moon appearing over the pinnacle we skirted. by the time we climbed to the top of the canyon, we were in half-light and probably wouldn’t have found it quite as easy had it been even ten minutes later. coupled with the temperature (about 2C/35F), we were quite pleased to return to the car, but also enraptured with our first experience in the desert.

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