Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

Capturing a Little Bit of Spring

Unfortunately there has been limited time available to go exploring with the camera while spring explodes all around us but I have taken a few opportunities to enjoy the landscape as it returns to life. Above is a purple and white bicolor wild violet. Below are oak tree flowers.

Flowers of an Oak Tree

Crabapple in full bloom

Bringing some very enjoyable sweet fragrances are the blooms of crabapple trees and hyacinths. They don’t last very long but sure do bring a smile to many with their pleasurable smell bringing great springtime moments.

Hyacinth beginning to bloom

Snorkeling in Hawaii

One of my favorite things to do on a tropical island is go snorkeling to see all of the amazing corals and colorful fish. So when we began planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii I knew we had to set some time aside underwater adventures. Anytime there were a couple of hours free we headed to a beach to see what was swimming below and was never disappointed. Our very first morning in Kona we walked to a nearby beach and saw yellow tangs swimming everywhere. Within a few minutes I had to go back to the hotel and get snorkeling gear to get a better view of these fish.

Yellow Tangs

A short time later we were in the water swimming among these beautiful fish watching as they dart back and forth finding food and swimming with the motion of the waves as they came barreling towards shore. It becomes so easy to lose track of time when you enter this amazing underwater world. So much of the land world slips away down here. Well, until you find something from land that has made its way into the ocean such as a tire or plastic bottle.  Some of it from careless people while other pieces make their way here by accident from either the wind or a larger wave. I ended up losing a key card at one point adding to this foreign debris. Fortunately it was found again and I was able to keep this little piece of trash out of the ocean.

A school of fish

During a few of our last snorkeling adventures we were fortunate enough to come across sea turtles swimming along the reef. One of them kept swimming closer and closer to a point I needed to swim away trying to keep a safe distance from it for its protection. It was so much fun to see these large turtles up close as they scour rocks and swim around the sea. They move in such a lazy fashion like they really have no worries at all and just go with the tide. Even though I was able to get in the water on four different occasion for a couple of hours each, I could have spent so much more time in the water exploring the different beaches and bays around Kona. It was a great time that I hope to be able to repeat sometime in the future.

Swimming with a Sea Turtle

Ducks, Ducks, and More Water Fowl

Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get out and photograph several different types of ducks and other waterfowl as they begin their migration north. Fortunately for me there has been limited areas of open water so these ducks have had to congregate into these areas making it a little easier to photograph. There have been thirteen different ducks that I’ve photographed this spring. Out of those, six are types I’ve never seen before so that’s pretty good success in my book. The top photo is a pair of wood ducks searching for a place to build their nest.  (Click on each image below to view a larger version of it.)

A pair of Mallard drakes                  Canadian Geese

In these next two pictures are the most common types of waterfowl in my area which include mallards and Canadian geese. Mallards can have some great colors but are seen all the time during the summer making them less interesting. Canadian geese are a pretty bird with their combination of brown, black, and white colors but they are kind of annoying with their constant honking.

Great Blue Heron                  A pair of Blue Winged Teal

The first image on the left is not really a waterfowl, but a bird that spends a lot of time in the shallow waters. This Great Blue Heron took me several attempts to get nice photos of because I would continually scare it away as I approached the thawing creek without knowing it was there. Finally on the third time going to the area I saw it before it took off and stopped. After awhile it didn’t seem to care that I was there so I could get close enough for some nice photos. In the second picture is a pair of blue winged teals which I’ve photographed a number of times before.

Green Winged Teal                  Ring Neck drake

During one of my outings I came across this duck on the left above which I have never seen before. Upon getting home and doing a little research I found out this was a green winged teal. A very pretty duck which would have been nice to get closer to for better photos. Not this time I guess. The duck above on the left is a ring neck duck which I’ve seen and photographed a couple of times. A fun duck to watch.

A pair of Bufflehead ducks                   Red Head duck

Above on the left are a pair of bufflehead ducks. Another duck which I had not yet seen so it was nice to add these to my collection. Fortunately I saw several of these during a weeks time span. On the right above is a read head duck which was mixed in with a flock of lessor scaups below on the left. These I’ve seen a number of different times during the spring and fall migration. They are very distinctive to pick out in a flock of ducks due to their red heads.

Lesser Scaup ducks                   Hooded Merganser drake taking off

Getting ready to fly away on the right photo above is a hooded merganser. These are another fairly common duck in central Minnesota. Moving to the pictures below, the one of the left is a red breasted merganser and the common loon on the right. Both of these are new to my photo collection and I’ve never seen a red breasted merganser before so that was fun. Very interesting and pretty ducks. While loons have been visible from time to time I’ve never actually taken a lot of time to watch them up close. They are fun to sit and watch with a binoculars or spotting scope (or in my case a zoom lens) for awhile as they fish, preen, and maintain their territory. With any luck I’ll be able to get out more this spring and observe more fowl as they prepare for the summer.

Red Breasted Merganser                    Loon on take off

A Return to the Volcano

It’s 4:27 am and I’m rolling over to shut off the alarm before it wakes anyone else wondering if I really want to get up and drive back into the park for another view of the volcano. After debating for a minute or so with myself I decide to get up and get dressed. Fortunately I had company as my cousin is with and decides to join me on another ridiculous morning adventure. When will we be here again to see this active volcano?

Fortunately one of the priorities of this trip was to witness the glow of lava during the night so we planned a one night stay just outside of the park in Volcano, HI making our early morning journey a fairly quick one. Within 15 minutes of leaving our lodge we were staring at the glowing coming from the top of the mountain. It looked like a large fire was burning off in the distance. Walking closer to Jagger Museum patio while scarfing down the last of a quick breakfast we could see the glow intensify as smoke continuously billowed from the caldera.

The volcano glowing under the moonlight

Over the next hour or so I just kept taking photographs of this almost unreal sight. In the above photo you can see a few stars along with the moon shining high above the volcano although it appears more like a star in this picture. Eventually I realized there was lava spatter erupting just above the rim from time to time. Seeing lava was something I hoped to accomplish while visiting Hawaii but the accessible flows had stopped a few days prior making it unlikely to spot and yet here was actual lava. The whole concept of standing on top of this mountain watching an active volcano spitting out lava seemed almost more of a dream than a fortunate reality. This was something I never imagined I would do during my life and here I was witnessing the continued creation of this island with my own eyes.

Lava erupting from the lava lake at the top of Kilauea

Daylight began to break across the horizon reducing the glow from the lava lake while my cousin and I realized just how much we were shivering as it was quite cool in the night air. It didn’t help that I wasn’t properly dressed for being at a higher elevation for an extended time only wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. Definitely worth getting up a little early to see!

Daylight entering the sky around Kilauea

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There was one day set aside to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so not a great deal of time. Making things a little less interesting was rain at the top of Kilauea making it difficult to see much and decreasing our motivation to venture too far from the car. Still we were determined to do all that we could on this final National Park adventure. Arriving mid-morning our first destination was the Kilauea Visitor Center to learn a little about this area and the active volcanoe we were standing on. Looking over the exhibits explaining what was creating this mountain and the surrounding new land along with plants and animals inhabiting it brought us to lunchtime. There really wasn’t a good place to eat nearby that we knew of plus our plan was for to have a picnic while taking in some amazing views. The rain outside indicated we needed to make other arrangements so looking over the park we found some possible places to sit and eat under dry skies at the end of Chain of Craters Road which was next to the ocean and away from the rain at a lower elevation.

Holei Sea Arch created by the ocean carving out lava rock

After a short break eating, it was time to explore the coast in front of us a little and work our way back up to the summit of the volcano. Just looking out over the ocean was beautiful with the blue water and waves crashing against the shore. Examining the shoreline closer, which is really a cliff plummeting into the water made from a lava flow in 1971 which has been eroding ever since, we discovered a sea arch nearby. An interesting structure protruding from the cliff defying the brutal ocean waves which continually beat against it. Looking even closer the designs throughout this cliff wall made some interesting patterns and colors from all of the different layers of lava flowing at different times binding itself together to form new ground. You can make some of this out in the very top photograph.

 

Exploring a lava flow just under the clouds

A little bit of time to explore this cliff wall and stare into the sea and we began to ascend back up the mountain towards the smoldering volcano summit. Along the way we stopped to explore some of these lava flows just below the clouds more closely finding different types of lava formations. It was some much fun and amazing to see the different patterns and colors created from lava which flowed 45 years ago. Some has smoother edges more like a mud flow might have while other lava created sharper rocks that, from a distance, appear like dark, rich soil to grow crops in. This is not the case as there is almost nothing growing on it still after 45 years of inactivity.

What looks like a great, rich soil is lava rocks created from a lava flow

Returning to the car we continued higher up the mountain and soon became enveloped in clouds followed by rain. We wanted to see the popular Thurston Lava Tube which is a cave created by flowing lava at one time. Bravely we donned raincoats and ventured out into the rain to explore this cave. With soaked shoes we entered this tropical cave feeling like we were entering something out of the movie Jurassic Park. Hoping for a dry place we found water dripping from the ceiling and large puddles across the floor. Fortunately the floor was lit up so you could make you way through this portion of the lava tube avoiding many of these puddles. Still it was an eerie experience to know large volumes of lava flowed through here not all that long ago to make this and this mountain is still an active volcano.

Thurston Lava Tube

Making our way back to the car having been thoroughly soaked by rain and standing water we continued on to the top of the volcano to catch a glimpse of the large lava lake. Nearing the crater there were steam vents all around trying to alert us to the fact that there is hot lava close by. Still we drove on until arriving at the Jaggar Museum which stands at the side of the crater looking into this volcano. The clouds were covering this mountain making it near impossible to see anything so we headed inside to explore more exhibits and learn about this area. After some time looking things over the clouds cleared a little revealing more details of the mountain summit so I headed outside to look around. Shortly after getting outside there was a large clap of thunder. Excited to see a storm I scanned all around looking for lightning but found none. And then another clap of thunder and I decided seeking shelter might be a good idea. Once inside a ranger told us that it was not thunder we were hearing but rocks moving inside the volcano crater. That was kind of cool to hear and yet a little unsettling at the same time that there are large enough rocks moving to create a sound like that.

Top of the Kileaua Volcanoe

Unfortunately there was no erupting lava to be seen on this cloud filled day and the active lava flow had stopped flowing a couple of days before we arrived. It was a little disappointing to go all the way to Hawaii and visit an active volcano and not have the opportunity to witness actual lava with our own eyes and feel the heat protruding off of it. In a last ditch effort to see some lava I did return another time which I will write about later.

The Game is Complete!

A few weeks ago we made our final Monopoly National Parks adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to complete a journey which began almost nine years ago. It’s hard to believe we were actually able to complete this goal of visiting 28 parks in that time frame.

Hawaii Volcanoes Entrance Sign

On the road to this entrance sign it was difficult to pay attention to driving as I often caught myself reminiscing over past adventures that all began at Badlands National Park where our two girls first became Junior Rangers and we all began to see the luxury of our National Parks. Once the final signature had been obtained we were congratulated by those around us in the visitor’s center but the fact that this game was now completed didn’t really sink in at first. In fact I think there was probably more sadness than sense of accomplishment because we are now without plans for another family adventure. It’s a weird, empty feeling that I’m not sure how to grasp. There’s always been another place to plan and prepare for.

The final signature on our National Parks Monopoly Board

While our board of adventures was complete there was a small piece to add in order to make our journey full circle. That was to visit Pearl Harbor. More specifically to re-enter the gift shop there 15 years later with our children to the place where this whole thing actually began. It was in this very place that Karen and I first discovered the National Parks Monopoly board and this idea of visiting each place was conceived. Only this time there were four of us to complete this list of incredible adventures.

Gift Shop at Pearl Harbor

The End!

The Forms of Water

Winter is beginning to lose it’s hold on the North bit by bit allowing water to run freely again. Near this running water, the ice remains showing all of the different layers together which has hidden the lakes and rivers for several months. In some areas this ice is really quite intriguing as you look closer at it. Portions of it are solid white other parts are made up of a combination of ice crystals forming together. A question I have about these different layers is were they formed during the winter or is this the result of spring weather with freezing and thawing working together to form these layers? Soon it will all be gone. Replaced by rain and thunderstorms once again.

Smiling Ice

Planning for Hawaii–The Beginning and the End

In a few short weeks we’ll be making our last trip on our National Parks Monoply board to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It feels like an amazing accomplishment to visit 27 different National Parks all across the United States. These include parks in Alaska, an Island in Lake Superior, and now Hawaii which makes completing this goal we set 9 years ago even more humbling as I plan for and reflect on this last journey for our family in this Monopoly game.

Mountains meet the ocean on Oahu

My wife and I have been to Maui and Oahu almost 15 years ago which is when this whole concept of going to each park on the board began. This is actually becoming a little difficult to write as I reflect back on our last visit to Hawaii and thinking about what we wanted for our children. The terrorist attacks on the United States were still fresh in our minds and the uncertainty to what type of future was in store for the kids. Still we were determined to share as many experiences for Kristy and Lysa as we could to show them this great country and the history which helped shape our nation.

USS Arizona Memorial

It was on Oahu that our future adventures were conceived while visiting Pearl Harbor. The first stop upon entering the National Monument was a gift store as we planned our time here to see the exhibits. While walking up and down the isles of this store we came across a National Parks Monopoly Board. I picked it up and looked at all of the parks portraying each property and saw many that I had heard about and wanted to visit along with many I’ve never heard about. Looking over at my wife I said how much fun it would be to visit each park on this board with our children. She agreed it would be a lot of fun. The board was returned to its shelf with both of us believing we would never be able to actually go through with this idea and we moved on to learn about the horrific events of Pearl Harbor

A stunning hibiscus which can be found growing all over Oahu

With the terrorist attacks fresh on our minds we looked at the events of December 7th, 1941 with sorrow and detest. For the first time these events came alive in my mind and more than just a date I read about in history class. After a few hours exploring Pearl Harbor we continued on to see the Dole Pineapple Plantation and more of Hawaii’s beautiful landscape. In a few weeks, after watching molten lava flowing from the ground at Hawaii Volcanoes we’ll take our children to Pearl Harbor to learn what transpired there and stop once again in the gift shop completing what was once thought of as an impossible idea.

One of the many different types of Pineapple at the Dole Plantation on Oahu

Some Ice Time

It’s about 10 degrees out which means the ice is frozen solid and safe to be on so Kristy and I head to a local pond to practice and play on ice skates. At first you feel the air biting at any portion of skin left exposed in an attempt to freeze it. In a few minutes the warm blood pulsing through our veins fights back. Continually moving back and forth across the ice and we become filled with warmth… almost hot even! The cold temperature no longer matters as a layer or two of winter clothing is shed to keep from sweating.

Skating on the Pond

The sun begins to set on our backs with hardly a gesture to say goodbye as we continue to cut up the ice from the steel blades attached to our boots gliding every which way. We’re having fun out here occasionally kicking snowballs or pieces of ice back and forth in between the twists and turns working to hone our skating skills on this February day which is now turning into night. With the sun fully below the horizon, area lights turn on blasting light across the ice showing us every groove placed on this frozen lake throughout this day.

It's getting dark but that doesn't stop her from practicing

It’s time to leave as dinner will be waiting prompting a plea for just a few more minutes on this frozen surface. We’ve been having so much fun how do you deny a little extra time? Finally it is time to go. Once in the warm car heading home the cold can now be felt on our exposed skin again feeling the heat blowing through each vent. There is a slight burning sensation coming from our cheeks as they begin to warm reminding us of our recent adventures on this cold winter day. Maybe there will soon be another opportunity to skate again.

Continuing to practice in the cold

A Superbowl Depression

This is what many seem to experience the day after the Super Bowl. It means professional football is over for many months so Sundays are now void of this captivating activity. Yes, I understand many are thrilled another season has ended and they no longer have to endure another football game until the end of summer and Eagles fans are in a state of happiness that will last much of the year so will not miss a game being played for awhile.

Crew 52 being deployed along Superbowl Live

For me I’m a little conflicted. Being so involved in the Super Bowl this year has been exciting and exhausting so it’s nice to have this time to rest and catch up on things not done during the 10 days of festivities. This exhaustion came from having additional commitments every day for these 10 days in addition to working. That meant getting to work by 5am, leaving mid-afternoon to either volunteer at Superbowl Live or rehearse for the halftime show usually getting back home around 10 pm and then doing it all over again the next day.

Heading to US Bank Stadium for halftime rehearsal

Do get me wrong, this was a lot of fun and something I’ll remember for a very long time. Thankfully it only lasts a week and a half. So where does the depression come in (more of a let down than I depression I guess) ? There has been so much build up and preparation for months and months before game day and it all stops abruptly after the Superbowl is played. It reminds me of getting married in that there is a lot of preparations and then it’s over. There’s a feeling of emptiness because there is no longer the need to spend time on it anymore so now what do you do with that time? You begin to miss the excitement that comes with all the planning and anticipation for this larger than life event. Conversations with people seem a little more mundane after being able to discuss exciting things happening each day and getting different perspectives on these events.

Players entering the field

After a week or two there will be adjustments and that time will be filled with other activities. The people you’ve come to know during volunteering and rehearsals have all gone back to their lives as well and this common thing you were all a part of has ended. Fortunately there’s email and social media to help but it’s still not the same as putting on a uniform that matches many other people creating this group of people all trying to help or being on the Superbowl field with hundreds of others getting ready for one of the largest events in the world.

Enjoying the halftime show