Tag Archives: exploring

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

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.

Craters of the Moon

At least that’s what they thought before people actually traveled to the moon. Craters of the Moon National Monument received it’s name from the volcanic rock and volcanic cones blanketing this area of Idaho appearing to look like what scientists believed the surface of the moon to look like. Because of this, lunar training took place at this place preparing for going to the moon’s surface. After landing on the moon it was realized how inaccurate that belief was.

Lava rock covering much of the landscape

This unique landscape in Eastern Idaho is a result of volcanic eruptions 2,000 and 4,000 years ago leading to the possibility that another eruption could occur at anytime again if the cycle were to continue. Nothing to worry about yet though as there will likely be signs of an eruption well before it actually occurs. These special rock formations can only be found here and in Hawaii within the United States with Idaho being the easier place to see such volcanic formations.

Inside a lava tube

Ice inside one of the lava tubes

Probably the most amazing part is the vast tunnels called lave tubes created by lava flowing under hardened volcanic rock. Several are large enough for people to walk inside and feel like they’re in a huge cave similar to Mammoth or Wind caves but being just a short distance below the surface allowing natural light to illuminate much to the path. Another interesting piece to these lava tubes is the cold temperatures inside. While visiting the scorching heat outside was near 100 degrees F. Once submerged into these caves, the temperature dropped rapidly enough to maintain ice on the cave floor. A nice natural air conditioning as there are no trees to provide shade near these tubes.

Peering into a cinder cone

Another fascinating feature of Craters of the Moon are being able to look inside these volcanic cones called cinder cones. To be able to see deep into these relatively small volcanoes is quite interesting. Even though they are capped after their eruptions you can still imagine lava surging out of them blanketing the surrounding landscape scorching what may have been their growing. Amazingly even though it has been 2,000 years since the last eruption there is little plant growth covering this lave. Of course receiving very little rain could have a lot to do with this characteristic preserving these formations. Still a few plants have been able to persevere in this harsh climate.

Flowering among the lava rock

Night skies provide amazing views into the universe with this national monument, being an international dark sky park, if you’re able to remain awake for it to show it’s full splendor.

A grand view of the night sky

The Beautiful Grand Tetons

While traveling in between Yellowstone National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, we took a few hours to explore the incredible Grand Teton National Park since we needed to drive through it on our way. There were only a few hours and many places to see so the goal was to hit the major highlights. We entered the park around lunchtime and one of our goals on this National Park trip was to at least grab lunch or dinner in Idaho just to add another state to our list of states traveled to.

Many wildflowers blooming near the tall mountains

According to maps, Idaho borders Grand Teton National Park but roads are another consideration. The nearest road on the map was Grassy Lake Road heading towards Ashton, Idaho so we thought we would give it a go. This road was also a recommended place to potentially see moose which would be fun. At first this road is easy with beautiful surroundings to explore but that soon changes as it becomes a dirt/gravel road with many potholes that seem to be designed to wreck your car. About halfway to the Wyoming – Idaho border we determined this was not a great idea and turned around to grab lunch in Colter Bay Village near Jackson Lake. I guess Idaho isn’t going to be accomplished on this trip.

Fishing under the majestic mountains

After lunch we spent some time exploring Jackson Lake and the beautiful mountains rising up behind it just taking in a great summer day in this amazing place. Eventually we continued south through the park stopping on occasion to take in a different view of Jackson Lake, explore the Jenny Lake area, and see the Mormon Historic District before watching the sun set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I hope to return here within a couple of years to climb Grand Teton and see more of this incredible landscape.

Mormon row

In Search of a Dinosaur

In our quest to discover another piece of our National Parks Monopoly board we went on expedition to our 27th of 28 National Park units – Dinosaur National Monument. Located on the border of Utah and Colorado, this park provides many interesting and amazing sights to explore. The first, and most known for, is searching for dinosaur fossils.

Quarry exhibit hall

An easy search due to a shuttle leaving from the Quarry Visitors Center which drives a short distance up the nearby hillside to the Quarry Exhibit Hall which was built around a dig sight exposing numerous fossils. This makes the idea of seeing dinosaur fossils almost unreal. You walk inside the building and there they are! All displayed in a hillside that seems like it was assembled for this display. Once your able to grasp the concept that dinosaurs did in fact roam here and were buried from several geological events it becomes really amazing to see with your own eyes.

One of the complete dinosaur fossils uncovered here

Additionally, there are other displays to complement this preserved dig sight helping to explain all that you are seeing and some of the events that have happened in this very location. One very interesting display is a complete assembly of an Allosaurus skeleton giving you some idea what this dinosaur actually looked like and how big it was when roaming this part of the Earth.

Fossils still partially buried in the hillside inside of the quarry exhibit hall

After looking through the displays, where you can see different fossils and actually touch some, the quarry wall begins to make more sense as you can now start to recognize some of the fossils buried here. For a little help in that recognition there are touch screen computers labeling many of these pieces on the second floor of the Quarry Exhibit Hall. For those really interested in fossils and dinosaurs, hours can be spent here studying each piece amongst the hundreds partially unearthed here. For me, a shorter time is all that I needed before heading back outside to gaze over the landscape and wonder how many more fossils remain undiscovered in all that I could see.

Some of the interesting rock formations found in Dinosaur

A short, warm bus ride (it was mid June in the Western United States) back to the visitors center and we were off exploring more of this beautiful landscape. Dinosaur National Monument is located in a mountainous region where two rivers converge providing for some incredible sights. There are many interesting rock formations throughout the park created from different geological events which also provide for multiple colors layered together with rivers cutting through them adding to the beauty of the area. Many people explore these rock formations from the comfort of a raft navigating the rapids of these two rivers for a great summer experience.

One of the petroglyphs found in different parts of Dinosaur National Monument

Going away from the main visitors center, there are more pieces to discover. One of these include petroglyphs from those who have traversed these mountains centuries before. It’s interesting to try and interpret these ancient drawings to figure out why they took the time to communicate with others on what they were seeing and doing here. Many different sights await being found throughout a day in Dinosaur National Monument however these do not end with daylight. Once the sun disappears a whole different landscape appears that so many miss. While heading back into the park near sunset, I encountered only one or two other people still there. They were either camping or managing the cattle which roam free here. Admittedly there are some added challenges while navigating at night such as animals near the road or even on the road so being alert and driving slowly is a requirement. On different occasions I thought I was going to hit a deer and elk with our car but fortunately managed to miss both leading to an increased heart rate. These increased challenges are well worth the views of the incredible night sky!

Milkyway

If Mushrooms Can Adapt…..

While looking through some photos from earlier this year I came across some of this shelf mushroom with a unique shape. As I examined this fungus it looks as though it was growing on this tree while the tree was still standing and once the tree fell to the ground the mushroom adapted and began growing in this new direction. The photo below shows what a typical shelf mushroom looks like. In fact, I’ve never seen one growing differently than this. They grow horizontally on trees, usually dead trees but not always.

What a typical shelf mushroom look like

As I walked around this shelf mushroom admiring its form I began wondering several things. First, how old is this fungus? It has to be several years old to be this big as well as growing in one direction for a couple of yeas and then growing in the opposite direction for at least one year. Why did this mushroom continue growing once the tree fell down while others appear to have stopped on this same tree? In nature, and in life, being able to adapt to ever changing situations often brings longevity. How long did it take for this shelf mushroom to change directions once the tree fell over? Was it the very next season or did it take multiple growing seasons continue growing. I will have to find this fungus again and check in on it every so often just to learn more on how it continues to adapt and how its shape changes. Unfortunately my camera battery died so I couldn’t take more photos on this particular trip. Stay tuned for updates…..

Shelf mushroom adapting to changing conditions

 

The Making of Kentucky Bourbon

Recently while on Spring Break our family headed to Western Kentucky to visit friends. During that visit we took some time to visit Jim Beam, one of the several bourbon distilleries in the area to learn how this type of whiskey is made. Their tour is quite interesting and informative making it a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a very nice facility.

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In order for a whiskey to be a bourbon it has to meet a couple of requirements. The first is that it is made entirely from grains with at least 51% coming from corn. These grains are mixed together and added to yeast creating a mash which is fermented for several days. Below is a photo of that mash which gets to be quite sour after a couple of days. If desired this mash can be tasted on the tour to confirm its sour taste.

Grains fermenting for several days called mash

After the mash is fermented for a long enough period of time it is then distilled separating out the alcohol in to a clear liquid which is called a white wine. At this distillery the process is completed twice to get as pure of a white wine as possible. This white wine is also called moonshine by many people.

Mulitple distillations create moonshine which is barreled and aged

Once enough of this moonshine is created and collected it is ready for aging. This is another requirement for making bourbon. Aging inside a new burned oak container. It is this burned oak that is responsible for the color of bourbon and gives it additional and unique flavoring. Below you can see how clear this moonshine is before it is filled into an oak barrel where it is stored for years before being bottled. The contracting and expanding of this oak allows moisture in and out during different times of the year altering the alcohol content and flavor of the finished bourbon.

Putting the distilled moonshine into a barrel for aging

After the appropriate amount of time aging in a burned oak barrel it is opened and tested. If more aging is required it will be re-corked and put back into storage for more time. Each barrel has a unique alcohol content as each one ages a little differently which can not be determined until it is opened. In order to get a consistent alcohol content in each bottle, multiple barrels are added together and water is used to reduce how strong each bourbon is.

Opening a barrel of Bourbon and testing it

I was amazed that in this day with all of the technology we have, wood barrels are still used and “sealed” with a wooden cork much like it has been done for centuries. It felt as though we were going back in time with these barrels everywhere. I’ve seen whiskey barrels available for planting into which I always thought were manufactured just for this purpose. Now I realize how many barrels are used in the production of different alcohols needing a life after being used in distilleries.

Corked and aging

Once the bourbon is processed so it is ready to drink it is mechanically bottled, sealed, and labeled ready to ship to distributers and retail stores for consumption by you and me. This whole bottling process is amazing in how quick and efficient it is as many manufacturing processes often are.

Filling bottles with Bourbon

We were able to tag a specific bottle and watch as it went through this bottling process making it more personal and interesting. Another requirement for bourbon is to be created in the United States of which about 95% is manufactured in Kentucky as that is where it was first discovered and made. This continues today.

Sealing and labeling each bottle

What is a tour without being able to try the product you just learned about? They have a tasting room, as there are more types of bourbon than I would have ever guessed, to see which ones you prefer. There is another area by this tasting room to order a drink or two to further try different combinations if so desired completing this very interesting and entertaining tour of a Jim Beam distillery.

Sampling the end product

Preparing thousands of bottles of Bourbon

Springtime Waterfalls

While away on Spring Break we stopped at Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana for a beautiful spring afternoon. This waterfall is on Clifty Creek which flows in to the nearby Ohio River. With sun abound and temperatures reaching into the upper 60’s Fahrenheit, it was about perfect for a hike through this beautiful state park just beginning to awaken after a long winter rest.

Clifty Falls

With ample rains providing plenty of water to glide over these limestone edges, Clifty Falls provided an amazing landscape to share with family and friends. Add to that ephemeral flowers blooming all over the forest floor and redbud trees beginning to explode with little pink flowers in the warmth of the sun overhead and it becomes almost a day many dream of on a cold winters night. Unfortunately for many people, visiting this state park in early spring does not even enter their list of possible adventures leaving these wonderful sights to those who seek out its early treasures.

Redbuds in full bloom

There are four waterfalls listed on the map for Clifty State Park however we were able to only see two of them in an afternoon providing nice incentives to return when the opportunity presents itself again. The many limestone stairs making up these waterfalls provides such a relaxing environment with their sights and sounds making the hikes to see them a worthwhile adventure.

The upper portion of Clifty Falls

 

Spring Waterfall

Signs of Spring

It seems way to early but the signs of spring continue to increase with each warming day. Every day that I’m fortunate to be able to go out into nearby woods I see spring making its way more and more. By the end of February the days have gotten noticably longer and temperatures are increasing. Most of our snow is gone and the ice on lakes and rivers disappears a little each week bringing open water and a place for migrating ducks to land.

Ice is melting away

One day last week I was out hiking when little white specs caught my eye. On closer inspection it was pussy willows beginning to emerge. This is about 2 to 3 weeks earlier than last year. I keep hoping for a late season snowstorm or two but with each passing week that potential gets further and further away. I know many people are happy about the warm days and they do make every day life easier. Still a reminder of living in Minnesota in early March would be nice.

Pussywillows emerging

Tucked away out of sight there is the occasion sign of spring such as Silver Maple trees beginning to bloom without attracting much attention along with brightly colored mushrooms sprouting from a damp log and moss becoming a lush green almost like a soft, thick carpet covering up a decomposing log. Animals are also beginning their spring rituals as they come out of hibernation while others prepare nests or dens for another year of new creatures to enter the world.

Birds are migrating North

In areas where the water is no longer covered by sheets of ice I see ducks, geese, and swans bobbing up and down as they find nourishment under the surface. This is just the beginning and March has a way of teasing spring weather and then reversing with a blast of winter stealing the motivation to venture outside until it all passes sometime in April. For now it’s fun to witness each new change as the landscape emerges from a long winter nap.

Silver Maple beginning to bloom