photography, Travel, wildlife watching

Travelogue: Anza Borrego Superbloom 2019

Thanks to all of the rain we’ve had in southern California over the last few months, this spring we are being treated to that spectacle of nature, a desert superbloom!

Two weeks ago while J was on leave, we took a day trip out to Anza Borrego State Park in the eastern part of the county to visit the desert and see the blooms for ourselves. We were not disappointed!

The first thing to know about Anza Borrego is that the town beside the state park is very small, and if you’re going on a weekend, they may close down the roads if they run out of parking. Go on a weekday if you can and you’ll have no trouble finding parking.

The second thing to know is that this is very much a choose-your-own-adventure type of outing, and that there are dirt roads that really require AWD vehicles. (I love taking our Subaru Outback on adventures!)

Finally, NEVER pick or trample the wildflowers, even if you REALLY want that one really cool pic that everybody is posting on instagram. Walk with caution, and be aware of your impact because if we aren’t careful, there won’t be another bloom like this for years.

Okay, now on to the good stuff! Anza Borrego is a pretty open desert park, and there is a small visitor center with bathrooms and accessible trails so you don’t have to go far to see desert flora. They post bloom updates on their website as well, so you’ll always have a good idea of where to go. So helpful!

We pretty much just headed out into the park after a quick stop at the visitor center to buy a day pass (this gets you into all of the day use areas, including the trailhead to Palm Canyon, which is in the back of a campground).

Palm Canyon Trail goes back between two ridges, and when we visited had free-flowing water running through the middle of it. There is a stand of palm trees at the very back and a small waterfall that lets you know you’ve reached the end of the trail.

The flowers in Palm Canyon were gorgeous, but the thing that really set this one apart for me was that we saw bighorn sheep! I’ve wanted to see sheep in the wild for years, but always just miss them when we’ve been out hiking in the desert. The day in Anza Borrego we got lucky– there were FIVE, all hanging out on the ridge just above us! Of course I didn’t have my good camera with me, but it was still a breathtaking experience.

(If you look VERY closely, you MIGHT be able to see a little white dot at the top center– that’s a sheep!)

After Palm Canyon, we grabbed lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (which was slammed even on a weekday because of the superbloom, but worth the wait) and then headed out to see a massive outdoor art installation: towering metal statues in the middle of the desert.

Many of them are ice age creatures, some are dinosaurs, there were giant insects (see photo above), and there was even a huge dragon that goes “under” the road. The area is just open ground and you can offroad out to most of them on trails that are pretty easy to see.

From there we headed even further out into the park, and spotted a lot of wildlife apart from the flowers: turkeys, coyotes  (spotted from the car), and even a black-footed jackrabbit!

There was an area where the ground was covered in desert lilies as well, and we stood in the sunset light watching everything. The desert is so much more colorful and fascinating than I ever thought it would be, and I’m amazed every time we go out into it.

Have you seen the desert blooming?

photography, wildlife watching

Carlsbad Flower Fields: for your flower photo fix!

There’s something really cool about standing in the middle of acres and acres of flowers, the color spreading around you in the springtime air, and the scent of them floating on the breeze.

Confession: I was really excited to go see the hillsides covered in poppies this year with the superbloom. The traffic backlog was the first thing that deterred me, so we didn’t go out when they first bloomed….and then I started reading about the massive impact that humans were having on the flowers and the hillsides. Trampling, erosion, destruction…. Gross.

And then I remembered the Flower Fields in Carlsbad! This is a historic flower farm that grows giant ranunculus plants to sell, and they open to the public for the months of the year when the flowers are in bloom.

This place is massive and beautiful and worth the ticket price. Plus for an extra $5, they’ll even let you take a tractor ride out around the edge of the fields to save the walk! There are also toilets and snacks and places to sit and designated places to sit/stand/pose with the flowers so there is zero impact on the environment. Total win!

The flowers are arranged by color, which creates a rainbow effect across the hillside, a floral spectrum that makes for fantastic photos but also helps the growers organize which bulbs are where for harvest.

Again, I recommend going on a weekday (as with most things), but if you’ve got to go on a weekend, go early or late in the day. We spent about an hour out on the grounds, and stopped for popcorn and homemade lemonade at the end, which was a nice way to end the visit.

holidays, photography, this and that

Easter Weekend at the Chicago Botanic Garden

This will mostly be a photo post, because I think there is plenty to see and I couldn’t add that much to what already exists. This weekend we went to the Chicago Botanic Garden to see the early spring blooms.The garden is free, though there is a per-car fee to park, except for military, which get in for free. Thanks, Botanic Garden! ^_^

BotanicGardenBlooms1
Just the first bulbs are up right now, the rest of the garden still sleeping after a long winter, but those first bursts of color are hope physically formed after all the snow.

BotanicGardenTrees

We walked along the water where the white trees are still waiting for their leaves.

BotanicGardenCrocus

And we sat in a field of giant crocus, running rampantly out of their plantings.

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All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend the day before Easter.

(Even MORE photos below.)

Continue reading “Easter Weekend at the Chicago Botanic Garden”

artsy stuff, photography

Tiny Things and Fairy Wings

DSC_7779On Monday we got a surprise snowing here in Chicago. At first when I was up at 4:30 with J to bid him goodbye for the day (and goodnight because I certainly don’t actually get up that early) I was irritated. Then when I got up for the day finally I wasn’t sure how I felt about it anymore and spent a good chunk of the morning staring out the window. This was how my day kind of went.

8:00am: Get up. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:13am: Walk into kitchen to feed cats. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:17am: Make tea. Stare out window at stupid snow while tea brews.
8:24am: Eat breakfast. Stare out window across the room from me where I can still see the stupid snow.

DSC_7789And so the morning progressed. The snow started again, and fell thicker and thicker, to the point where it looked like we might even get completely buried.

10:29am: Huddle by fireplace. Stare out window at stupid snow.
12:34pm: Eat lunch. Stare out window at stupid snow.
1:23pm: Suddenly remember I have a macro lens. Dig parka out of closet where I stuffed it on the first day of spring because I’m done participating in winter, pull on snowboots, run outside like a weirdo and start flailing around taking pictures of snowflakes.

snowflake 8
1:58pm: Remember I have a box of fairy doors that would also be fun to photograph in snow. Run back upstairs and pack up a waterproof bag of Tiny Things including the little doors and run back outside.

fairy door 03
…….
3:43pm: Realize I’ve been outside over two hours total. Figure it’s time to go back inside.
4:00pm: Make tea. There’s always reason for more tea.

I took a lot of snowflake pictures. I mean, a lot of snowflake pictures.

snowflake 17I’m only putting a handful of them here, but they are a general representation. I tried a few different methods, too, including catching them on a plastic bag, which you can see above. The flakes themselves were fairly huge but melted quickly because of the warm air.

snowflake 19
This one was one of my favorites, by far. Another plastic bag catch, and didn’t last long, but I liked the way the edges looked.

snowflake 7 (flake cluster)You can see how light and fluffy the snow was in this one, just lots of little flakes piling up in a geometric sort of way. Much less solid than I expected.

DSC_7853This shows you how big the flakes really were. You can see an individual one on my glove!

snowflake 15 (flake cluster)This one reminded me of those little magnetic building pieces kids use. I forget what they’re called, but the snowflakes built themselves up just like that.

So there’s a tiny peek at some tiny frozen water bits. I will post fairy door pictures another day, because they were fun to photograph, too. As of today most of the snow is melted (much to my relief) so I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity when I had it.

 

 

photography, the funny stuff, wildlife watching

Hiking in Blue Sky: aka The Lake is a Lie

Blue Sky welcome sign

Maybe instead I should say the lake was not what we expected. At any rate, the other day, J and I broke out my (until then) unused Hikes of Southern California book and picked one that was relatively close to home. It was in the eastern part of the county, at a place called Blue Sky Nature Reserve, and a level 1 to 2 (so “kid friendly”) and described an amble along one of the river beds that used to be all over this part of the state, until they were dammed for water sources. (This should have been our clue; after all, we JUST learned about that stuff a couple of weeks ago at Casa Grande, where the entire landscape changed after the water was diverted.)

But I digress.

Blue Sky wooded trail

The first part of the hike was as promised, and we descended into a little valley with a small creek, tons of birds and other wildlife, and a few early wildflowers.

Blue Sky tree branches from fire

The area fell victim to fire back in 2003 and many of the old trees are still standing, their blackened, bare branches curled against the clear sky and reaching out from the new growth on other trees. It’s a little strange, but beautiful nonetheless.

Blue Sky honeybees
Beeees

Then, as the book had described, the path forked and we could choose to go left to Lake Ramona, or right to Lake Poway. We chose left to Ramona and kept walking down the (now wider) track. After a while we passed (very quickly) under a tree that was vibrating with the hum of thousands of honey bees, flying throughout its canopy. Finally the path came out of the trees and opened into its main portion.

And we saw the climb.

Blue Sky hiking to the dam, Lake Ramona

In an effort to be optimists, we thought that SURELY this hike wasn’t up to that dam WAY UP THERE (see it? almost in the exact center?) and the path seemed to curve around to the left and away, so we started.

Slowly the slope increased, and we gained elevation, and the path doubled back above itself…. and over halfway there we realized we were DEFINITELY hiking to the dam.

Blue Sky, the hike back

Dear California Hike Guidebooks: When you SAY “hike to a lake” but you really mean “climb a mountain to a dam,” that’s a LITTLE misleading.

Blue Sky at Lake Ramona

After a last push up the final incline, we finally made it to the man-made Lake Ramona. It’s lovely and blue, but still… just strange. At least the view was spectacular, and we were actually above (the also man-made) Lake Poway, so we could see it across the valley.

Blue Sky western fence lizard

We also saw some really interesting wildlife, including a type of hawk we didn’t recognize, some songbirds, a woodpecker, several types of lizard (including the western fence lizard in this photo), plus evidence of snakes (they leave trails in the dust– see below) and possible tarantula burrows (which are actually kind of fascinating).

Blue Sky snake trail

Overall the hike was definitely worth it, just not AT ALL what we were anticipating. Both of us kept remarking how glad we were that we wore trail shoes and packed sunscreen, despite the “gentle, shaded” description. The rest of my photos (along with some of wildflowers) are in this album, if you’re interested. ^_^

photography, this and that

Easter Weekend in Balboa Park

Easter Balboa Park J and J

Easter weekend was beautiful in San Diego. J and I didn’t “do” anything in particular this year, but we did spend some time walking through the Balboa Park, including the rose garden, which is in full bloom this time of year.

Easter Balboa Park pink rose

I found a new feature on my little point and shoot that will make a photo black and white except for a single color, so we played with that. Highly entertaining.

Easter Balboa Park butterfly

We also saw some caterpillars and the first few butterflies of the year, hatching out of their chrysalises and stretching their new wings in the warm sunshine. Appropriate for Easter, I thought.

Easter Balboa Park yellow rose

If you like this sort of thing, I have a whole album of the flower photos (plus a couple of J and me and caterpillars and whatnot).

photography, wildlife watching

Catching up on February, plus WHALE BABY.

I’m currently uploading a ton of photos, first to an album of random things from February that I never got around to uploading. The last month has been hectic, between finishing the unpacking process, J coming home from deployment, and then heading out to explore southern California (and Arizona!) together.

J’s mom visited in mid-February and we had a great time enjoying the warm weather, doing some window shopping, etc. On the Friday she was here, we went to Sea World and there was a sign posted that the Shamu show wasn’t happening that day. Being curious, we wandered over to Shamu Stadium… and discovered a staff member explaining that they’d had to close to stadium due to the BABY WHALE. I asked how old it was.

She checked her watch.

Thirty-three hours old. And born on Valentine’s Day. ^_^

baby orca 3

So I snapped a couple of photos and here you go. Baby orcas have to keep swimming for the first several weeks of their lives, so mom and baby were in the pool doing laps. The babies have to breathe very frequently, though, so it kept coming up to the surface.

baby orca 1

More photos and other things are in the album, and look for more blog posts with explanations later this week. ^_^

baby orca 2

One more baby whale photo for good measure. ^_^

baby orca 4

(I still have mixed feelings about SeaWorld…. but a baby whale is a baby whale, y’know?)

photography, wildlife watching

Kaena Point hikes over Memorial Day weekend

monk seal basking

We went hiking twice this weekend– in the same state park. It’s the Kaena Point part, and there are two entrances. You hike around the western point of the island where there aren’t any roads– just a wide trail. And at the very end is a beach where the monk seals bask and have their pups. ^_^

Here are photos from that.

Two weekends ago was Military Appreciation Day at the zoo, and I have photos from that, too.

photography, this and that

Container Gardens, renewed

Container garden 1

This weekend I wanted to get outside and do something, and I also wanted to be productive, so I decided to pull out all of the empty pots that used to be my container garden and redo them.

Container garden 2

The flowers died over the summer and fall because we had an unusually hot and dry season. To be fair, I had some high-maintenance plants (like Gerbera daisies). Anyway, I wanted something fresh, but also something I wouldn’t have to invest too much time or money to maintain. So I bought annuals.

Container garden -- silverbush, vinca, purple flowers

I got a variety of them this time: petunias, vinca, salvia, dahlia, zinnia, fuscias (which are apparently considered annuals here, which is weird), dusty miller, some tiny yellow daisies, and a few other things. All of them looked nice together, so I mixed them all together in the containers.

Container garden -- Red and purple plants

Another idea I had (because I didn’t want to buy too much new soil) was to take the big pots and upend them and use them as plant stands for the smaller pots. I think it turned out really well, A) because it gave height to the garden and B) because it was free.

Container garden -- dusty miller

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon on Saturday, and I’ve had fun checking them every day to see them perk up in the fresh soil. They’ll make for some pretty summer blooms if I can keep them in the shade. And since I’ve put them on the front porch instead of the back, I think they’ll be fine. ^_^

Continue reading “Container Gardens, renewed”