Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

Ladyslippers Are Blooming Again

Cold hardy ladyslippers are in full bloom again so I’ve taken a little time to capture a few photos of them before they begin to fade. These are all plants that I have growing in containers in my yard so they can be enjoyed year after year. Well, providing I do a good job growing them and they survive each year.

After a light rain

There are a few different color variations ranging from all white to combinations of white, yellow, and red/brown. Some of these have a great fragrance but you have to get close to the flower to smell it while others really have no scent. A sweet perfume really adds to the enjoyment of any flower in my opinion.

Pink and white lady slipper

The most difficult part of growing ladyslippers is they only bloom for a few weeks and then they’re done for the year and this seems to regularly occur as the heat of summer arrives which reduces their length of blooming. Unlike other flowers, ladyslippers bloom all at once so there is this mass of blooms and then it’s all over with instead of a staggered bloom extending the season. This just means you have to take time to enjoy them when they’re blooming or it will be a while before you get to see them again.

Red and yellow lady slipper

Waterfalls in Hawaii

When thinking of Hawaii one of the first things many people envision is of a waterfall in a tropical paradise. Well there are several on the Big Island of Hawaii to meet this expectation. Our first day on the island brought a conversation with a local orchid grower near Hilo regarding sights to see with waterfalls being high on our list. His response was a laugh followed by an explanation that there are numerous waterfalls with fast flowing water as it had been raining almost every day since the 1st of the year.

Rainbow Falls

Our first stop was at Rainbow Falls near Hilo providing a beautiful waterfall flowing over the edge of a volcanic cliff crashing into the channel below. We were told that during the right time of day the sunlight casts a rainbow in the mist below giving this falls its name. It’s definitely a beautiful sight attracting many people to the area to explore this great water feature of Hawaii.

A popular waterfall near Hilo, HI

After taking some time to enjoy this area and listen to the water as it falls over the cliff and into the river bed below and use the available restrooms, it was off to see another of Hawaii’s popular waterfalls. After a short drive we arrived at the spectacular Akaka Falls State Park. Here there is a nice paved path winding through the jungle bringing you to an almost unimaginable waterfall. This is a waterfall with a 400 foot drop! I never imagined being able to get this close to such a place being able to witness this plunging river from a paved platform across the gorge. It is so tall and you’re close enough that it’s almost like you’re in a dream.

Akaka Falls

While the tall Akaka Falls is certainly the highlight of this state park, it is not the only waterfalls visible here. Another one can be seen through trees and shrubs and one more is quite a bit shorter but still beautiful to see. We were nearing the end of our day with the parking lot gate soon to close so it was time to leave but still difficult to tear away from a waterfall that seems like you only would see it in a movie or on tv.  There are several other waterfalls but these seem to be the two most popular and worth seeing.

A small triple waterfall

Capturing The Great Blue Heron

With the late spring this year migrating birds such as the Great Blue Heron were restricted in places to find food. This gave me an opportunity to get closer and get some great photos of this skittish bird. Several days earlier I was walking through this area and was only able to catch a glimpse of this heron as it flew away before I really even knew it was there. A couple of days later the same thing happened only allowing me to get a blurry photo as it few away.

And down it goes

Finally, the next day being a Saturday I ventured out again before sunrise. As I got closer to this little stream, which was beginning to open up after the winter, I moved more cautiously and tried to appear as though I wasn’t even paying attention to the stream by looking the other way. After a bit of surveying the landscape in the opposite direction I caught this heron out of the corner of my eye so I now knew it was there and hadn’t taken flight yet.

Surveying the surroundings

Returning my attention in the opposite direction from this bird I would glance back from time to time to find it was going back to its business of fishing. Slowly I retrieved my camera and attached a larger lens before turning it on this Heron over a downed log. The more I just relaxed and continued my normal movements from this distance the more comfortable this bird seemed to get even allowing me to slowly move closer over time getting even better photographs and observe its behavior. Occasionally a pair of wood ducks would swim by since the Heron deemed the area safe with me their. I had a great time and stayed there until the Heron stopped fishing and departed with another one passing by.

Heron fishing while a wood duck drake looks on

Emerging

Once spring arrived plants began to return to life rather quickly. I took a little time to capture some of the surrounding trees as their leaves returned to life bringing green back into the landscape. In the above photo is a silver maple extending new leaves into the warming air to capture the power of the sun creating energy for life.

Emergence of oak leaves

Oak leaves expanding with their tiny lobed leaves while still perfect in form before the tribulations of summer take its toll on them.

Gingko leaves unfurling

Here are Ginkgo leaves emerging from a long winter unfurling into the bright sunlight as they stretch out of the bud. Below are the flowers of an oak tree getting ready to create new acorns. The beginning of another oak tree?

Flowers of an oak tree

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!