Disney, Travel

SoCal, January 2016

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Before I had a chance to write about last January’s trip to Southern California, I made another trip out there! Last Tuesday I flew back to Chicago with sand on my toes and tan lines on my shoulders, after a glorious week on the west coast.

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It was what I used to consider “chilly” out most of the time, with highs in the mid-70s (23-24 C) and sunny… so I went to the beach! The locals thought I was ridiculous, but compared to the -5 degrees it had been just days before in Chicago, 75 felt amazing. We went to Coronado and hung out in front of the Del (Hotel del Coronado) on the golden shore for an entire day. I can’t even describe what it was like to not only not be wearing two layers of fleece, but to be in a bathing suit!

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We stopped by one of our favorite local taco places, and even though they’d redecorated, they still had really good food. I got fish tacos at another place, and just generally ate a lot of stuff in tortillas.

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Not only did I get to have amazing fish tacos and other local favorite foods, I got to spend a day at Disneyland with my dear friend, sans children! We’ve never been able to go together and do rides (or avoid princess meet and greets), so it was really a blast. And yes, it was actually chilly that day. Hence the sweaters.

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The first stop? Star Wars Launch Bay, which is where the old “Home of Tomorrow” exhibit used to be. And I got to hug Chewie! Whoo!

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Here’s a thing I’d never done before: we stood in the exact middle of Disneyland! It’s marked with a simple metal tack, right at the back of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and no-one else knew why we were standing there, taking photos of a spot on the ground. Ha.

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I even rode the carousel and took my customary carouselfie. Don’t judge. You think it’s cute. Notice how the horse and I have the same expression. That’s the trick: to find a horse with a really good facial expression. One day I’ll have enough of these to make a full gallery. You’re welcome, world.

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Anyway, I was stoked to get to see the castle decorated for the park’s 60th anniversary and all of the Diamond Celebration stuff, including the new parade called Paint the Night! (Click here if you want to watch the full parade. It’s less than 14 minutes and beautiful.) I also finally got the Disneyland “You Are Here” Starbucks cup! It was sold out every time I tried to get it before we moved away from California, but now it lives happily in my cabinet (along with the Diamond Celebration one..).

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I really can’t get enough beach time. Ever.

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I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what was an amazing week, but really what made it so great was spending time with some people I love. Sunshine and warm weather and beaches didn’t hurt. I’m thinking this end-of-January thing might be becoming tradition, and I’m not in the least bit sad about it.

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Travel

The 2015 Travelogue

No, that title isn’t a typo. I realized today that in the last year I’ve probably flown more than in the previous three years combined, and that I’ve already got plane tickets (or plans to acquire them) lined up for a good chunk of this year, too. I also realized I’ve been woefully neglectful in recording my adventures. So here’s the plan: this year we’re going on adventures together, but before I take off again in a couple of weeks I’m going to try and catch up on some of the ones I had last year. It’ll take some piecing together for me (and going through photos I’m extremely behind on editing) but hopefully I’ll be caught up again before summer.

Here’s a small preview of The 2015 Travelogue!

January: Southern California

Selfie with Mickey

April: Texas wildflowers

Texas longhorn sitting in bluebonnets

May: Madison, Wisconsin

Capitol Building, Madison, Wisconsin

July: London and surrounding English environs

Tower Bridge, London, England

September: Minnesota

Minnesota Renaissance Festival 2015

September-October: New England autumn things

New Hampshire scarecrow

October: Springfield, IL

Route 66, Springfield, Illinois

December: North Carolina wedding

Bridesmaids

Plus bonus National Parking content!

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, national parking

So there’s a small look at the places I’ve gone in the last year. Some of them I was able to drive to, some of them needed plane tickets. Most of these snaps are from my phone, but I’ve got some fun stuff that I’m pulling off of my camera, too. Maybe I can get at least a post or two about each place I’ve been, but with other journeys approaching, there may be a lot of overlap. I’ll do my best to keep it straight. Until next time!

this and that, updates

September! Wait, where has the year gone?

Jo and J in Temecula, 2014

Well, it’s September 3rd. Where has this summer gone?

For starters, it’s gone to a lot of houseguests and fun things that we’ve done and Comic-Con and weekend trips and the like, but it’s also flown by because all too soon we’ll be leaving San Diego. There’s a road trip of epic proportions coming (and I’m not exaggerating). But more on that later.

For now, though, I want to savor September.

Monday was September 1, the day Hogwarts students board the Hogwarts Express and head north for another school year. My impulse to go buy school supplies and new shoes has mostly abated over the years, but I still get excited when I see the autumn decorations and Halloween things starting to appear. I walked through the craft store last month (craft stores are the only places allowed, by my mental checklist, to have fall things in the summer) and caught myself reaching for the cinnamon scented things and orange leaves.

Truth be told, it’s been looking like autumn here in southern California in a very bad way; the drought we’re in is the worst in five decades, and the trees are changing color because they can’t support their leaves any more. We need rain here, badly.

This is our last full month in California, and I’m going to enjoy every bit of it. This past weekend we went north to Temecula and enjoyed the scenery with a little wine tasting along the way. We explored Old Town Temecula and ate some wonderful food and generally had a good time. This weekend I’m not sure where the road will take us, but there’s a brief outing to Yosemite planned for later in the month, plus a couple of last days at Disneyland.

I’m really going to miss California, but another adventure is fast approaching. So we go.

UPDATES AND THINGS.

As Seen On:
I published this early in the month not expecting to have anything else post before September, but I had an article go live for Paper Droids a couple of weeks ago. Here are 6 Geek Chic Travel Accessories that I think are pretty awesome.

You can also find me here, with IGGPPCamp, teaching a class I dubbed “Iggle Trek” that’s essentially an introduction to the very basics of wildlife watching. I also sat on the Everyday Cosplay panel (fair warning: that video is 1.5 hours because we had a LOT to say!) and had a little too much fun as a camp counselor…. I might have eaten all the marshmallows…. Oops.

Traveling:
We’re still finalizing our travel plans, but it should be part ridiculous and part fantastic so if you see a head exploding, that’s probably me. Updates will turn up as I have internet, maybe.

Other Stuff:
Well, there’s not much else to tell for now. We’re heading to Chicago at the end of our road tripping so things will get a little (lot) different after that. Lots of new things to see and places to explore. I hope you enjoy the trip. ^_^

 

this and that

California Friday: a glowing sunset

One of the things I miss about Hawaii is the sky. There were rainbows everywhere and the sunsets were always spectacular, as long as I didn’t go out to the beach specifically to watch one. Then it was always cloudy and weird on the horizon. But a few nights ago I caught a really gorgeous one as I was finishing my errands. Here you go.

August sunset 1

This was my initial view as I stepped out of the last stop on my list of errands. I decided to walk down the sidewalk a little and get a better view. I got this:

August sunset 2

And then I had to drive home. I was going south, so the sunset was out of the right hand window, but I stole glances at traffic lights. Finally when I got close to home I pulled down a side street and took this one:

August sunset, church 1

Seeing the steeple of the church lit, I got a little closer….

August sunset, church 2

And then I went home. But it was a really beautiful evening. There are a few of them here. ^_^

conservation, wildlife watching

Wildlife Wednesday: California ground squirrel

ground squirrel, face

The squirrels are different here.

This is a California ground squirrel, and I am fascinated by these little creatures. Growing up on the east coast, I was accustomed to Eastern gray squirrels (which are everywhere) and the occasional chipmunk (which is very small and stripey) but I’d never seen one of these before. The first time I encountered any kind of ground squirrel was in Canada in 2007. It was the oddest looking little fat rodent, and I took a bunch of photos of it as it ran along the sidewalk and into the grass. (Side note: the funny thing about zoo people, even just people who spend lots of time in zoos, is that we get VERY EXCITED over things like this, ignoring the zebra or whatever in the exhibit. After all, the zebra will still be there later, this is WILD NATURE HAPPENING.) Anyway, that introduced me to the idea of ground squirrels. Needless to say, my upper-midwest relatives thought I was hilarious.

ground squirrel, chewing

These squirrels range all over California, all the way to central Oregon and Washington, and can be a foot and half long when full grown. This particular ground squirrel is a juvenile, so very small compared to what it will be. It was having a snack and I enjoyed watching it forage in the plants. The ones I’ve observed have been in groups, with burrows in the ground that they hide in when people (or predators) get too close.

ground squirrel, side

You can see the almost spotted pattern of the squirrel’s fur here. There is another type of ground squirrel in the state, the golden mantled ground squirrel, but it is more in the mountains and has distinct black and white markings that make it look much more like a chipmunk. At any rate, I find these little guys very interesting. Keep an eye out for them if you’re ever out walking.

zoo stuff

Tuesday Zoosday: The Africa Tram at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

 

Safari Park, cheetah

It’s been a while since I took my big camera out to the Safari Park, so one day last week I hauled it along with me. I always ride the African Tram (which is included in my membership) and I got some great photos. Here’s a little overview of the ride. One of the first exhibits you pass on the Tram is the cheetah exhibit, and this pretty girl was enjoying some shade on a very hot day. The exhibit cheetahs aren’t the ones who do the cheetah run; those are kept in air conditioning so their bodies don’t get overtaxed in the heat.

Safari Park,

After going past the black rhinos and the river areas with flamingos, you get to the first savanna-style exhibit. These are waterbuck, and they are shaggy and large and I love their faces. They are in one of the huge mixed exhibits that are part of what makes the park famous. This young one is one of many that are born every year; I learned that between the Safari Park and the Zoo, there is an average of at least one animal birth a day, all year, so seeing baby animals isn’t too uncommon.

Safari Park, wildebeest

These are gnus, or wildebeests. I always liked the word “gnu” as a kid, and it was fun to find out that wildebeest and gnus are one and the same. The striking markings on their faces warn predators that they can bite or jab with their horns if they are threatened. In the wild they live in immense herds, and as many as 1.5 million of them migrate together in late spring when the seasons change.

Safari Park, Somali wild ass

As you continue toward the back of the exhibit, you pass several more sections, including vultures and these, Somali wild ass. They look like they have zebra legs and many people mistake them for a zebra hybrid, but they are much smaller, have bigger ears and, of course, bray– wild asses are, after all, precursors to donkeys! I think they’re pretty.

Safari Park, pelican

Next as you start to round the corner at the top of the hill, you get a wide view of the park and the valley, but you also get to see more ponds and I always enjoy spotting the pelicans. There are three species of pelicans at the zoo and Safari Park, and I’m pretty sure this is a dalmatian pelican. The wide view of the park is gorgeous, but I think it’s easy to miss things like this when you’re looking too far afield.

Safari Park, Arabian oryx

Finally as you round the corner to head back to the Tram station, up on the hill they have a herd of Arabian oryx. These are some of my favorites to see, not only because of their beautiful fur and elegant horns, but because they are a conservation success story. While they still aren’t thriving in the wild at their former rate, they were extinct other than a handful in private collections just forty years ago. Two breeding herds were established in the US, and now several hundred have been born, and have started to be reintroduced into the wild. That is the point of conserving species in captivity: to educate the public and to preserve species until they can go back to their native habitat, if possible.

So that’s a little taste of the Safari Park Africa Tram. Hope you enjoyed the tour. More photos from that ride are here. ^_^

wildlife watching

Wildlife Wednesday: California mule deer

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One of the interesting things about living on both coasts is that some of the wildlife is similar… And yet not quite the same. On the east coast, white tailed deer are so prevalent that they actually pose a hazard to drivers along the roads. On the west coast, I’ve been introduced to mule deer.

Mule deer live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in most of California. They are prey for mountain lions and feed on local vegetation, though sometimes they get into gardens.

One thing I really like about them is their antlers; mule deer antlers grow in thick and fuzzy, and one they are fully grown are often elegantly curved.

The place I’ve seen them the most is actually at the Safari Park. The come into the large grazing exhibits (like elephant and rhino) where they want be followed by mountain lions and can get the leftover hay, or eat the grass available. They’re all over the park, though.

conservation, zoo stuff

California Friday: native habitat at the SDZ Safari Park

SD Zoo Safari Park, natural scenery

One of the interesting things to me about California is the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, Texas is huge and all, but California is SO LONG that you’d have to drive from north Florida to just about the New York state line to get a similar trip. It’s about a thirteen or fourteen hour drive  from north to south, and there are so many different types of landscape that it’s hard to picture in some ways.

According to the Nature Conservancy, San Diego County is the most biodiverse county in the continental US. That’s easy for me to believe. Not only is San Diego County extremely large, it covers a wide span of landscapes. You have the coastal salt marshes and the bay marine life, the cliffs, the river valleys more inland, you have chaparral and desert and mountains and pine forests, all in one county. And because of development, many of them are becoming endangered.

The habitat in the photo is of native coastal sage scrub habitat, protected within the property of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are species that only live in this type of environment, and the Safari Park has dedicated about half of their property to remain untouched in order to preserve it. The amazing thing is really how little of this habitat exists: only about 10-15% of it is left from what was originally here. It’s hard to imagine a place that looks (at first glance) so brown and empty having so many things living in it, but it actually sits at a sweet spot in relation to the other more extreme local environs. The coastal sage scrub almost never freezes, and yet almost never goes about 90*F (or 32*C) and so is a perfect place for animals and plants to thrive. That’s why the hillside in the photo is so important to this area. (You can read more about what the Safari Park is doing here… it’s a .pdf, so you know.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a little local knowledge I’ve gained. If you’re ever hiking in the area, take a minute to appreciate being in such an amazing, wildlife filled place, especially because it only exists in such small pockets of the country.

conservation, probably a tree hugger thing, zoo stuff

Wildlife Wednesday: burrowing owls!

Living Coast, burrowing owl

Ever since I read Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, I’ve been kind of fascinated by these little birds of prey. This burrowing owl is from the Living Coast Discovery Center and is part of a colony they have on exhibit there. They eat insects and small mammals, or small reptiles and amphibians they find. One interesting thing I learned about them is that they actually nest in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels, which are very common here. They hunt by running along the ground (which I would SO love to see, with those little legs scooting along) or by swooping and grabbing things (like insects) from the air.

Burrowing owls are locally (in Orange and San Diego Counties) almost extinct, other than a tiny population on a Navy base. The Orange County base recently started bolstering protection for the owls, which are the only nesting owls in this part of the state that anyone has found, and they are very close to another endangered species (least terns) right on the base. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the terns are naturally snack food for burrowing owls.

There are over twenty subspecies of burrowing owls, including the Floridian one made famous by Hoot. They used to be common all over the US but since their territory is also prime land for development (wide open areas with sparse vegetation), they are running out of places to breed in localized areas. You can read more about them at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network site.

Personally I think they are ridiculously cute, with their fluffy bodies and long, skinny legs and I’d love to see one in the wild. I’ll add it to by California bucket list. ^_^

conservation, zoo stuff

California Friday: at the Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery Center, insid

Last week I discovered a nature center type place that’s south of me, right on San Diego Bay, called the Living Coast Discovery Center. It’s connected to the National Wildlife Refuge and sounded really interesting, so my friend and I drove down to see what it had.

Living Coast, docent presentation

We found out that this place has been there since the 80s but that most people don’t even know it exists, even though it’s got a great little animal collection (including a lot of native species, especially birds of prey!) and their emphasis is on education. They have a couple of full size classrooms, which makes them perfect for summer camps and school field trips, which I really liked, and a very knowledgeable team of docents.

Living Coast Discovery Center, sea stars

Some of the larger exhibits included sea turtles and a shark tank, where we got to see the sharks getting fed. They also had some smaller tanks with native species (including snakes, lizards, and these California sea stars), as well as some exhibits that seemed to be on a rotational basis. It was very interesting.

Living Coast, owl exhibit

My favorite part of the whole place was the walk along the back of the building, where you’re looking out over the salt marsh and walking through the bird of prey exhibits. They even have a big exhibit full of burrowing owls! I liked it so much I bought a membership and plan on heading back soon.