Tag Archives: new experiences

Climbing for Air …. American Lung Association

For a number of years now (10 to be exact) the American Lung Association has organized and event called Climb for Air. I’ve heard about it for a couple of years and thought it was cool that they would be able to use one of the taller buildings in downtown Minneapolis for it. This is a fundraising event ending with each person climbing stairs for 31 stories. When I first heard that I questioned if I would be able to accomplish such a feat.

Climb for Air event in Minneapolis

On Friday I heard of this event happening this year again and began to ponder if I should attempt climbing stairs for 31 floors to reach the top of one of the skyscrapers in Minneapolis. I’ve not been working on getting into trail condition as much as I should be so physically I’m not as prepared. Researching further 31 stories equates to about 680 steps. Once I saw that then there was little doubt if I could do this or not. There have been caves explored where I’ve climbed half that many stairs so I should be able to do this although this is just climbing up, up, up with limited breaks like a cave would have. After going back and forth I decided it would be a good new life experience for me as well as a worthwhile organization to support in honor of an uncle I lost due to lung cancer and signed up.

Over half way done

The next day I arrived at US Bank Plaza to begin my climb. Average climb times are listed as 10-15 minutes so I figured I should be able to do it 20 minutes taking my time as needed. They attached tracking tags to one of your shoes to keep track of how long it takes to climb and off I went stair after stair. I remember reaching the second floor and then the third. Before I realized it I was at the 16th floor – over half way. I stopped for a quick water break on the next floor and then there was the 19th floor. My legs were beginning to feel it a little but more so I was breathing pretty hard by this time.

From the top

Reaching the 22nd floor I tried to slow down a little for the next flight, took a few seconds to stretch tightening muscles a few times until reaching the 29th floor and decided a strong finish was how I wanted to end the climb. During this time I was thinking back to last summer’s climb of Long’s Peak and wondering how many steps I climbed for that. A few more than this I’m sure. Once getting to the top floor I was a little shocked it was done and kept walking back and forth on that floor to cool down while grabbing more water. After a few minutes I realized it took just over 6 minutes to climb 31 stories. Wow was it really that quick? It was an enjoyable experience and one I felt good doing. Marathons and bike races aren’t of much interest to me but this fits in well for me.

After completing the climb

Houston, We Have a Problem

The problem was our time here was too short. We were in Houston for a couple of days before boarding a cruise ship to the Caribbean and were looking for something interesting to explore. Researching things to do in Houston, NASA was at the top of the list and reading different people’s experience here we decided that’s how we wanted to spend one of the days.

Exploring the Moon

General admission gains access to a days worth of exhibits which include different space capsules, informational movies, multiple types of space trainers, equipment used on different space travels, and even a lab situation where moon rocks were examined all put into settings made to give you a good idea of what it’s like going into space. In addition, you can visit Independence Plaza which holds a shuttle carrier holding a shuttle, Rocket Park were there are several different rockets used to travel into space, as well as a couple of other buildings showcasing some of NASA’s current work via a tram.

Experimenting with Moon rocks

We were in Houston visiting Johnson Space Center and this could be our only chance to experience this with our children so we decided we wanted to take in the full experience and went on the VIP tour. With this tour you get to visit areas not available to any other tour such as the underwater training center as well as get up close and personal in some of the areas were the tram does go such as historic mission control and building 9 where you can view new technology that may be used in future space endeavors along with lunch which can be a little expensive at a place like this.

Skylab Space Station Trainer

Our first stop was the underwater training facility. Here they have a life-size International Space Station for astronauts from around the world to train on. Luckily for us, there were a couple of astronauts training so we could see how they prepared to work in space. It’s very interesting because while underwater they each have at least two assistants for training and safety. This pool is massive as you might imagine to hold a replica of the Space Station. With space suits on these astronauts can’t get themselves into or out of the pool so they have a small crane to get them in and out.

Underwater training pool

Next we explored building 9 and got to see many of the new creations meant for use on the moon and beyond such as advanced rovers and other exploration vehicles. There were different types of space suits on display, Robonauts which can be used to explore areas not as hospitable to people, and the Orion capsule being built for possible missions back to the moon. Surprisingly, this Orion Capsule has much the same design as capsules already used to go to the moon. The technology to operate them, however, is much better and so is the equipment that can be used to explore more of the moon. Also in Building 9 there is a Soyuz capsule currently used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and parts of the space station for these capsules to connect to. Seeing these in person is really interesting.

NASA's nxt Lunar rover

Something we got to experience, that very few get to be a part of, was the launch of astronaut Scott Kelly live. While his launch took place in Kazakhstan, the people at Johnson Space Center prepared an area for their VIP tour guests to view the launch. Because of this launch our trip to see the new Mission Control needed to be delayed as a number of NASA officials were in Mission Control as this trip began. Our experience watching this brought the United States involvement in the International Space Station to life more than any news story could. This post was not intended to coordinate with his return almost a year later. That is just a lucky coincidence as I had planned on this post a week or so before realizing Scott Kelly was returning home from his year at the space station.

Watching Scott Kelly's launch at NASA

After watching the launch to the International Space Station, our tour continued on to Rocket Park where there are several different rockets used to propel people into space. The highlight of Rocket Park is the Saturn V rocket which was used to take people to the moon. In the photograph above you can see a person walking under the rocket on the far side to indicate just how massive this rocket really is. You could stand inside one of the rocket engines and there are five engines that powered this rocket from the Earth. Walking around Rocket Park you can start to put together the timeline from the first rockets to Saturn V and even see the equipment that went into making the shuttles. Most of this rocket was used to get it off the ground and to the moon. Very little was needed for the return trip.

Saturn V

On to Mission Control. Here we were able to sit at the actual desks used to control these missions to the moon and some of the earliest Space Shuttle flights. It really felt like going back in time and humbling to be in this amazing and historic control center. There was a few minutes of presentations by NASA officials and then we had some time to look around this piece of American history. How much better could our experience get?

NASA's old Mission Control

How about witnessing the new Mission Control as they maneuver the International Space Station for the docking of the Soyuz Capsule with Scott Kelly aboard? Here I learned information I was unaware of before such as NASA is the organization that actually flies the space station and a trip from Earth to the International Space Station takes mere hours. I always imagined a trip of this distance would take a day or more. One other surprise to me was how ordinary a launch appears in Mission Control. Not all the desks were filled and people appeared to just be doing their everyday business and having conversations with colleagues just as many of us do only they’re in control of vehicles thousands of miles away and responsible for the lives of those aboard. I’ve seen more chaos in a grocery store. This was the end of our day at Johnson Space Center which required relaxing by the pool of our hotel the rest of the night just to absorb all of the information and experiences from this day. The night sky has a little different appearance now.

NASA's new mission control

Agate Fossil Beds

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument one of the smallest national parks we’ve visited but an interesting place to explore with some surprising things to learn. Before finding this place because of the Monopoly board I had no idea that fossils have been found in this part of the Midwestern United States. Once again another pleasant surprise from our Monopoly adventures.

Some of the mammals fossils

This park requires only a few hours to explore but has much to offer for it’s size with information on the significance of the area for the Sioux as well as fossils to view both in the visitors center and along trails. In addition there are great views of the plains that make up large expanses of the landscape in western Nebraska.

Looking out at the vast prairie

One of the unique fossils which has been preserved in this national park are corkscrews dug deep into the earth by a type of land beaver that use to reside in these hills. When you see them you can’t help but wonder why they dug these burrows in the shape of a corkscrew. I question if it was to help them get in and out of their underground home. Maybe they couldn’t climb in and out of these deep holes any other way. Still, these corkscrews called, daemonelix or devil’s corkscrews, added a lot of steps each time entering and exiting these dens. A workout just to get up and go outside and retreat back into shelter. Probably worse than stairs in our houses.

There are fossils hiding in these hills

A Week at the Ridge

Going Through the North Woods

Recently there was an opportunity to join my daughters class on a trip to Northern Minnesota for a week at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. There was some hesitation about going for me due to a couple of reasons. First, many of the activities are outside and spending a week outdoors in the cold of a Minnesota winter was not overly appealing and secondly, a couple hundred students talking, screaming, and goofing off is difficult for me to take in. I decided to continue on with the trip because I love new adventures and, even more, sharing those adventures with others. Watching another person experience something new and exciting and find skills they didn’t know they had is fulfilling to me.

Looking for Fresh Tracks in the Falling Snow

In the days leading up to this northern adventure I got things situated at work for me to be gone and finished picking up appropriate gear as the weather forecast called for temperatures to be below 0 degrees F most of the week. Finally I got all my stuff packed and ready to go still a little uncertain of how the week would go with these kids. Monday morning came and it was time to head up. I was joined by another parent who would be sharing this adventure and off we went on our 4 hour journey to Wolf Ridge. We arrived a little before the kids got there on their buses giving time to settle in before the chaos started.

The Students Arriving

The kids all arrived, unloaded their luggage and went to their assigned rooms to put it away before heading to their first class of the week. Unfortunately the snow depth was on the light side meaning cross country skiing would not work and snowshoeing was questionable. Who would have guessed a thin snow base in Northern Minnesota in January? We began to figure out the routine for the week and let the learning begin. Each group consisted of 12 –15 students most of the time with 2 – 3 adults assisting them which made the week very manageable and a lot of fun. You get to know this group and these kids become almost like your own in a short period of time.

Learning About Renewable Energy

There were so many activities planned that each day felt like a week because of how busy it was. the fact that it was pretty cold became less of a concern because of the fun and education taking place. We all just knew we had to dress correctly for the conditions and we’d be fine. It helped remind me that subzero temperatures are not a good reason to forego outdoor adventures and that I am able to stay comfortable in these types of environments. Continually checking the forecast and outside temperatures became useless for me because it didn’t matter. I would go where I was asked to and do what was needed to help facilitate as much learning for these kids as possible.

Learning to Work Together Regardless of the Temperature

The coldest day during the week, I had heard, was –26 degrees F with a brisk wind creating a wind chill of –43 degrees F. Yes, we still ventured outdoors on that day but not as long as other days. For those unable to imagine such conditions let me provide an example. After a meal in the dining hall I would grab a hot cup of tea to drink back at the dorm we were staying in. On the short 4 – 5 minute walk back I would almost be drinking iced tea in my room. That’s a slight exaggeration but not much. Another example was using my mobile phone to take a few pictures. I could only take a few because as the phone became colder it actually froze up and would not work again for almost an hour until it warmed back up.

Ropes Course at Wolf Ridge

While there were several different classes with a lot of learning going on surrounded by this beautiful landscape, the most talked about classes were the ropes course and climbing wall. These were the most challenging to complete and required students to push through their fears and often be surprised by their abilities. It was such a privilege to be able to witness these kids figure out what they could really do and complete either the ropes course or rock wall or both. A new experience for many. I was certain I could complete the ropes course but I’ve never taken the time to climb a rock wall so this was my first time doing it. Yes, I did make it to the top twice.

Preparing to Climb the Rock Wall

As the week began to wind down towards the end a little sadness entered that we’d be leaving. Several adults that have gone before me and encouraged me to take this opportunity all said I’d have a great time and they were right. It was so much fun spending time with these great kids and seeing what they could achieve along with meeting a bunch a great chaperones and having fun getting to know many of them. We’ve all gone back our separate ways but the memories will continue to be with me.

Sunset at Wolf Ridge

Driving in New York

Lower Manhattan

Driving in New York, specifically Manhattan, is an experience all of its own. There are people everywhere. In the street – crossing the street. When doing research about getting around Manhattan when visiting you come up with the same advice over and over again – use public transportation. That’s great advice for a couple of reason. First, you’ll get to where you want to go faster. Second, less stress. And finally you don’t have to worry about a place to park. But where else will you get to experience this unique type of adventure?

An adventure it is if you’re not a usual driver in New York. Vehicles everywhere going in different directions faster than you can determine which lane you need to be in. No other driver is going to just let you change lanes or take a moment to figure out if you’re going the right way or if there is an available parking spot. Being an aggressive driver is required in order to get around in Manhattan. Being aggressive does not mean being stupid. The other drivers are watching out for you whether you realize it or not but there is a catch – you need to watch out for them too.

Vehicles Everywhere

I decided to go against all of the advice and drive in Manhattan as a tourist. There was a car full of people and using our rental car, paying tolls, and paying for parking was slightly more economical than using public transportation. In addition, theoretically we could visit more sights in less time by relying on our own vehicle going from Lower Manhattan to Mid Manhattan. After driving for a short time it became obvious that using our own car was not going to make getting from one area to another faster.

The streets seem tighter, the parking areas are smaller, and staying focused on driving is a challenge as there are recognizable sights all around trying to take away from that focus that is required to keep from crashing into someone or something else. Every block is stressful and requires a lot of energy to get where you are going without incident. After 45 minutes of driving in Manhattan I had mixed feelings about the experience. On one hand it was exhausting. On the other hand, it was fun. Driving in New York is unlike driving anywhere else.

One of the Many Distractions

Prior to being in New York I’ve had the privilege to drive in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and several less populated cities. In fact I drive in Minneapolis on a regular basis. Minneapolis may not be as intense as other cities but it does provide larger city experience. None of these cities compares to New York.

Streets packed full of cars that feel as though they are all honking at you and traveling at 60 miles per hour if they are going 20. After some time you begin to realize that all the honking may actually be in an effort to help instead of nagging and distracting making you feel like you have no idea how to drive. Many of the honking sounds were just an announcement that another car was going to be moving over a lane behind you or in front of you. The warning actually becomes helpful after figuring out what they mean.

If you need to move over a lane because there is a bus or truck stopped in your lane a block ahead or construction has closed down a lane or two in your direction you just have to use the blinker and go. Most of the time the cars around you will make room rather quickly. When we left Manhattan for the last time I was completely surprised we made it through without a single ding in the rental vehicle. I was very nervous every time we entered a parking garage because the ramps and spaces were all very tight. I thought I was going to hit the wall or pillar in each place. It feels like an accomplishment to have successfully driven in Manhattan on multiple occasions without crashing. Those that drive trucks and buses in downtown amaze me. Those individuals have earned my respect. They also make me question their sanity. What’s next? London, Paris?!

Driving a Bus in Manhattan?

Enjoying the Fall Eclipses

The Lunar Eclipse    The Solar Eclipse

For Several Areas in the Northern Hemisphere there have been some great astronomical events to watch in the form of eclipses. Late in September we had a lunar eclipse which was also called a blood moon due to the red colorations at the peak of the eclipse. A month later there was a partial solar eclipse. Solar eclipses are a bit more difficult to watch since you shouldn’t look directly at the sun without a heavy filter such as welders masks or you risk hurting your eyes.

There are some people who travel great distances in order to witness these astronomical events. For others, they just wait until one of these events happens and they are in the viewing area which can take many years to occur. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be in the viewing area of a pair of eclipses this year. Even more fortunate than that, they’ve occurred at times which I could take time to go out and watch them without missing important obligations. The first that took place was the blood moon which is when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon blocking all direct light on the moon creating a reddish appearance across the moon.

The Lunar Eclipse Underway as I was Leaving the House

The night before I decided to go out and witness this lunar eclipse first hand and see if I could get some nice pictures of it in the process. After a little research it was discovered that the full eclipse would happen just before sunrise and just above the horizon. Before this eclipse would end the moon would dip below the horizon eliminating the view of the last part of this eclipse. I set the alarm and went to sleep for a short night. With the noise in my ear I quickly shut off the alarm and questioned if I really wanted to get up at 4 am just to see this eclipse. After laying there for a few minutes I eventually got up, knowing that I could come back to bed after the eclipse, and put the camera and some food in the car for my 10 minute journey to my viewing location. But before I left, the eclipse was already under way so I snapped a picture and took off a little more awake especially after hitting that cold night air.

Blood Moon In the Night Sky

Arriving at the viewing location, it was quiet and peaceful. Just me and the moon. I set up the camera and started photographing the eclipse and adjusting settings to find which ones worked for the pictures I wanted to achieve and switching lenses on my Sony Nex camera to see which shots each would produce during the rest of the morning. Soon another car drove in and a camera was set up. Hmm… I’m not the only fool to give up the early morning hours of sleep for this. A little re-assuring in this choice. I continued taking pictures throughout the rest of the visible lunar eclipse with a little conversation mixed in between photographers.

The Final View of the Eclipse

The second eclipse of the fall was a solar eclipse where the moon goes between the Earth and the sun blocking the sun. Fortunately this one happened just before sunset again allowing me the opportunity to watch it without missing other important obligations. During the afternoon I was texting back and forth with my wife, after finding out about this eclipse from another co-worker that morning, to see if she wanted to join me on this nice fall day to witness a solar eclipse. I agonized for several hours on where to watch this and take pictures. After finally accepting the options I had, I arrived home and met my wife and daughters to head out to watch this astronomical event.

The Beginning of the Solar Eclipse

Viewing a solar eclipse is far more challenging than a lunar eclipse due to the brightness of the sun and the damage you can do to your eyes by looking at the sun.  Fortunately I had a dark enough filter for the camera that allowed us to view the eclipsing sun through the camera without looking directly at the sun. Even though you couldn’t see the eclipse directly, the amount of sunlight shining on the surrounds was noticeably decreasing. It’s like wearing sunglasses but you can’t remove them and make your surroundings brighter. And since this was happening with the setting sun, there was a yellow tone over everything more than usual. It reminding me of the sun rays gleaming over the horizon just before it dips below the surface only this time the sun was higher in the sky.

Solar Eclipse Being Reflected in the Water

It was nice to be able to get out and enjoy both of these fall eclipses if for no other reason than allowing some time to relax and slow down for a few hours. By the way, I did not end up going back to sleep after the lunar eclipse. It was in the plan and was a great way to motivate me to get up originally but never happened.

Eclipsing Sun Setting

To see more Lunar Eclipse Photos go here….

To see more Solar Eclipse Photos go here….

Re-living American History–Valley Forge

Living Accomodations at Valley Forge

Valley Forge was an encampment used during the American Revolutionary War for the winter of 1777-1778 just outside of Philadelphia. There was no battle here so it may seem a little unclear as to why this was turned into a national park. What’s so significant about Valley Forge? Valley Forge marked the turning point in the war because the army was able to train and learned how to fight as a unified army under General George Washington. Without the use of our National Parks Monopoly board we may have never taken the opportunity to explore Valley Forge National Historical Park and missed learning about this important place in United States history.

Ovens to Prepare Food

We were fortunate to be joined by some friends while exploring Valley Forge which provided a different way to look at the Revolutionary War as we learned about this Continental Army encampment. One of those friends is British bringing a very different point of view and a new perspective on this war. I had never thought about the war from the British view which added to the interest while learning about Valley Forge. Seeing how the soldiers lived and everything they had to endure was quite interesting.

Living Space Inside the Soldiers Huts

These soldiers were only in Valley Forge for six months. In that time they had to build shelter, fortify the area from attack, and train all without adequate supplies, food, and clothing. How many Americans today would accept these conditions? If it meant freedom? I think there are a great many that would sacrifice everything they had to if it meant gaining freedom. There are many that do that in today’s military for the protection of our country and for other’s freedom. I’m humbled to think of these people and the strength of the United States even when it seems there are a great many differences separating this country.

Fortifying Valley Forge

Knowing how these soldiers were living brought the question of how were the British soldiers living? Did they have equally bad supply of food and clothing? Before Valley Forge the Continental troops were relatively untrained so the British were looking for a way to win the war quickly and likely thought it should be relatively easy. I’m sure their troops were not desiring to be in America having to continue this fighting even though there was likely a great pride being a part of the greatest military in the world at that time. I assume their living quarters consisted of buildings they had taken over and turned into housing giving them an advantage since they didn’t have to take time to construct new structures.

General George Washington's Headquarters

It was educational to see General Washington’s living quarters which were rented for the winter. They were modest but still substantially nicer than the huts built to house the troops. Most of the huts would house twelve soldiers in each one. Talk about cramped quarters. These all had to be built during the winter. Imagine all of the trees and stones needed to do this in such a short period of time. I’m sure there was very little time spent in these huts as there was food to get, security to provide, and training to complete while maintaining equipment. Each day wondering when the next battle would take place and where that would be. By the end of their stay at Valley Forge I’m sure the troops were eager to move on and engage in the next battle. You certainly cannot win a war by staying in a camp living without enough supplies.

A Place to Sleep

Dinner at the Space Needle

Downtown Seattle

One of the most popular attractions when visiting Seattle is the famous Space Needle.  So when planning for a trip to Seattle the first stop was Spaceneedle.com. We knew we wanted to view Seattle from the Needle but didn’t realize the different options available to experience this unique structure. Eating at the Skycity restaurant was very appealing until viewing the menus and seeing the prices. For a family of four to eat there it was going to be over $200. Not sure that was in the budget.

How about some time on the observation deck? That was still a little pricey but how often did we plan on visiting Seattle? Probably this one time so better take advantage of being there and go to the top of this famous attraction. The next question – do we go during the day, the night, or both since all of these options are offered? After figuring out that the observation deck was included with a meal, the cost of eating in the Skycity restaurant was not as bad. Especially if we decided that the day and night was what we wanted to do. How about eating around sunset and then going up to the observation deck before dinner to see Seattle in the waning hours of the sunlight.

Everyone in our group decided dinner around sunset would be a good idea, that is of course, if the sky was relatively clear to see the sun. Let’s take the chance and make reservations! Next, finding out the sunset time of Seattle in late August. For that we used timeanddate.com and then made our reservations around that time. Here’s hoping! It was off to Seattle.

A Cloudy and Foggy Morning

Our day began in the Olympic Mountains with plenty of clouds and fog. A sunset didn’t look very promising giving way to a little disappointment setting in. There was most of the day left for the sky to clear but the forecast didn’t indicate a good chance of it. For a different view of Seattle we took the ferry from the Olympic Mountains to northern Seattle. Driving on a boat was a unique and fun experience for those of us that don’t really get the opportunity to do so. I’m sure it’s old news to those who get to do it on a regular basis. Once we exited the ferry it was off to downtown to explore the fish market, the underground, and eventually end up at the Needle.

Location of the Popular Fish Market

As the day continued, and our Seattle adventure taught us about the city, we noticed the sky beginning to clear a little. There is hope! Our reservation time was ticking closer so off to the hotel to clean up, change, and get ready for dinner. We arrived at the Space Needle taking in the uniqueness of this structure that we had seen several times from a far. Where is the entrance? It’s not like there is a definite front to this building. Walking around it we found entrance doors and slipped inside. A huge gift shop is what greats you. How do you check in? Walking around on the inside a reservation desk appeared so we walked up to it and let them know we had arrived for our reservation. Pretty easy once you gain your bearings in this circular building.

The Space Needle

We were directed towards a line for restaurant guests to take a specific elevator near your reservation time. After waiting a short time it was into the elevator and quickly up the Needle. The elevator ride itself is fun as they are on the outside of the building and have large windows to view the city as you climb to the top. It was such a smooth ride and went to fast for us as we enjoyed peering out at our surrounding while the elevator climbing higher and higher making the ground look smaller and smaller. Next stop, the observation deck. Going out onto the deck gave a wonderful view of Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Rainier.  Unfortunately, this view is impeded by cables taking away from the magnificence of it. Still a nice view. After about 15 minutes we were called for dinner and made our way down one level to the restaurant.

Seattle From the Observation Deck

We were quickly seated on this revolving floor and had an even better view of the area because of the complete windowed view giving a panoramic look at Seattle and the nearby mountains without the cables. Everyone in the group had been warned of the prices to be expected for dinner so the shock had was taken care of.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat because I was spending most of my time watching the setting sun. Success! Most of the clouds had dissipated leaving a gorgeous sunset over the Olympic Mountains. This plan could not have worked better. What a blessing.

A Beautiful Sunset

Dinner came and the sun left leaving us with great food to enjoy while Seattle was lit up underneath us. One of the kids dishes comes with noodles in the shape of the Space Needle itself. How fun is that?! And for dessert, how about a smoking bowl of ice cream?

        Noodles in the Shape of the Space Needle         Smoking Ice Cream

For those who may be questioning whether to eat at the restaurant or just visit the observation deck, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to eat at the Space Needle at least once if nothing else for the unique experience of it. I will certainly do it again if the opportunity presents itself.

Night Time From the Needle

For those unable to get to Seattle, here is a live webcam from the Space Needle.

The Space Needle at Night

Anticipating Alaska

The Promise of Grand Views in Alaska

An Alaskan adventure was one of the most anticipated trips on our board once we decided it was time to explore the National Parks Monopoly Board. Anytime someone asked where we were headed this year and found out it was Alaska there were nothing but positive remarks. Either they had been there and would like to go back or would love to go there. We were amazed how many people have traveled to Alaska, usually on a ship. With so many positive comments how could one not be excited to go? Was it possible to have too high of expectations and be disappointed that Alaska didn’t live up to them?

Boarding the Ship

After a few days of exploring Olympic National Park and touring Seattle, the time had arrived to board the ship towards this highly anticipated destination. We were fortunate to share this experience with a number of friends and family who decided to join us for their first cruise making it even more memorable. For the first time our ship left the dock before our 4 o’clock departure time catching us off guard as I usually like to be out on a deck as we set sail. Hmm… maybe I had better pay closer attention to time on this trip. There’s a history of me getting on board at one of our stops right before we sail. In fact, I’ve been the last one getting on the ship before. I could very well miss this ship if I try to do that this time. Noted!

Leaving Seattle

Seattle faded into the horizon and two other ships were in tow as we left Puget Sound bringing rougher seas and more ship motion. A little time settling into our state rooms and then dinner. Completing dinner there was little to see outside as darkness had fallen bringing eagerness for the next days views as we enter Alaskan waters. Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria oh my.

Rougher Waters with Mountains in the Background

Morning light began shining in the window. A quick look out of the window showed why the ship seemed to be rocking so much – 15 –20 foot swells along with clouds and fog making the shore difficult to see. From time to time the mountain ranges would appear however nothing more impressive than we had been accustom to seeing over the last couple of days. As the day at sea wore on, the clouds and fog continually increased reducing visibility considerably. The cold and wind made taking a stroll outside unenjoyably. Being restricted to the inside of the ship there wasn’t much to do that day but eat. Guess we were in the right place for that. From time to time the shore would reveal slightly taller mountains exciting those who saw it as these indicated what might be ahead.

Seeing an Occasional Mountain Through the Clouds

Day two brought calmer waters as the ship was now sheltered on both sides by mountains and clearer views of shore. Snow was beginning to show up near the peaks on mountains proving the journey further north. If it wasn’t for the snow and cold it would be difficult to know if you were in Alaska or Hawaii as the shape of the mountains looked very similar. As the day entered noon the first glaciers began appearing however the picturesque landscapes were only partially visible due to the low hanging clouds. Still they were beautiful to see. What amazing color these glaciers have even under this dreary sky. At this point I was a little disappointed because this type of weather was in the last forecast I looked at for most of our Alaskan Adventure. That meant peering at these vistas from inside the ship and not being able to see them in all their grandeur. O.K. it was too early to let this dictate my attitude for the rest of the trip. There was still much to see and do.

The First Glacier of this Alaskan Adventure

On to Juneau!

Life Experience Through a Plant

Colorado Wild Columbine

The above photo is of a Columbine as photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were taking a family trip there as part of our Monopoly travels to see the Flattop Mountain trail. In addition to seeing this trail there was much else to explore. To get this particular photo I had to climb down a very steep bank. The purpose was to see one of the higher waterfalls in the park. Unfortunately most of these falls were covered from view by trees. Once I got to the river I noticed some of the flowers in the area and took a few pictures. When looking back at this picture I remember the adventures in the Rockies but also enjoying a moment of solitude as the water rushed passed. The rest of the family was not far and were in sight almost the whole time but this was my own little personal experience in the Rockies that not many others get to share.

Below is a picture of another Columbine which I photographed in the bluffs lining the Mississippi River. This was another family adventure where we decided to embark on a 7 mile hike exploring the bluffs. This photo is a reminder to me of the time shared with members of my family and completing the longest hike for our family to date. It also reminds me of some great views of the Mississippi River and surrounding landscapes.

Midwestern Wild Columbine

This last Columbine was a Mother’s Day gift to my wife. It is a hybrid that was grown in a greenhouse. Fortunately I have actually been to the greenhouse where it was grown, however it was not purchased there as it is a wholesale greenhouse only. It is a wonderful yearly reminder of why it was added to our landscape.

Each of these Columbines has a unique experience attached to them while all being closely related to one another. One found while exploring in the Rocky Mountains with another discovered on an adventure to the Mississippi River Bluffs and the last one represents the family that goes on these adventures along with the place that family returns to at the end of an adventure. At least for now!

Hybrid Columbine