Tag Archives: exploring

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

Ice Formations of a Waterfall

While exploring Tettegouche State Park on New Year’s weekend we hiked up to High Falls and became amazed at the many different ice formations surrounding this water fall. Just looking at this amazing water fall almost completely frozen is beautiful especially set in the winter wonderland of Northern Minnesota however closer examination of the different pieces that make up this scene makes it even more incredible.

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There are different shapes, colors, and sizes of the many different icicles near the falls. It’s interesting to imagine how these were formed such as in the photo above. Water flowing over the falls has a darker color so how were these created clear at first and then coated in snow or frost? Guessing at the answer I would say these were formed during a recent rain event which was followed colder temperatures and then the spray from the water fall coated them.

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This next picture has multiple colors of ice with a chimney allowing light from the sky to illuminate this natural sculpture. The darker ice which is tinted must have been created from water flowing over the falls but it could also be from water seeping through rocks picking up tannins and minerals causing the water to be tinted and freezing with dripping water from the recent rainfall. What was really interesting to me was the chimney. How was this created? Was there ice there originally that fell creating a hole or was the natural opening wide enough that it never had water running through it?

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While exploring further there were these icicles made from water freezing making two different icicles that merged together leaving open space between them for a portion. Also I found the pieces of horizontal ice attached to the vertical icicles quite interesting.

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This next picture is showing a zoomed out version of the vertical and horizontal icicles highlighting the horizontal ice. How do icicles get created horizontally? My best guess is going back in time to imagine these being formed over hours, days, and weeks. Initially the clear icicles were made from rainfall freezing. Next mist from the running water fall was strongly blowing towards these frozen icicles freezing almost on contact. So these could be made as a result of heavy rains mixed with strong winds after the rainfall but before the falls froze creating unique ice formations.

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This is one of my favorite perspectives looking up at numerous icicles appearing as they are going to fall right on top of you. On the day of this photo these were very secure so no concerns which was confirmed as we broke off one and it did not separate from the rock above easily. In this last picture below I found several different ice formations appearing as a stairway up the falls. Even though it looks like stairs I would never climb it without proper equipment knowing this is a water fall and water is still running underneath this ice making it more unpredictable.

Ice Steps going up the waterfall

Spur of the Moment New Years Trip

As I was finishing my day of work on New Years Eve day I began to look to the rest of the holiday weekend and wondered how to best celebrate the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind was a desire to enjoy winter. For the last couple of years I’ve grabbed the camera on New Years Day and went hiking at nearby parks. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of good snow this year so began to explore different options for a winter wonderland to start another year.

The last sunset of 2016

Quickly I arrived at the idea of going to the North Shore of Minnesota. That should be far enough to find a snow covered landscape. While driving home I called the rest of the family and ran the idea past them to see if there was any interest beyond my own. Since it was very spontaneous it took a few moments to explain my ideas. Taking some time to digest this they soon determined it could be fun and phone calls were quickly made to take care of responsibilities at home for the next 24 hours as well as secure a place to stay.  Once I returned home from my last day of work for the year we all packed and gathered winter gear, loaded the car and hit the road for a short 2 hour drive to Duluth taking in the last sunset of 2016 along the way.

Enjoying hundreds of Goldeneye ducks

Our arrival in Duluth was met with slightly icy roads as they had just received some fresh snow that morning and a nighttime view of Lake Superior which remained mostly ice free to spite some very cold temperatures the week before. We quickly dropped off our stuff and headed for a favorite place to eat while in Duluth – Old Chicago. After celebrating the change of years it was off to bed. The next morning I awoke ahead of everyone else so decided I should grab the camera and hope for a beautiful sunrise over Lake Superior. Unfortunately, as you can see from the top photo, there was very little sun but there still was a great view as light increased on the morning. There was about a half dozen people out near the canal trying to do the same thing I was, photograph the first sunrise of 2017!

The upper frozen falls of Gooseberry Falls State Park

While the sun failed to make a bright, fiery appearance, several hundred Common Goldeneye ducks swam in the open waters of the Duluth Canal for anyone willing to be up early to enjoy. I’ve never seen this type of duck before so it was a nice treat to watch them for awhile before heading back to the room to gather up the rest of the family and continue north to Gooseberry Falls State Park. A short time later we pulled into the winter wonderland I was hoping for to bring in the new year. Surprisingly most of the waterfalls and river at this park were frozen over making for some beautiful natural ice sculptures covered in fluffy white snow. Not very many people take the time to explore these frozen falls so it was a nice treat to see them in an an unusual way.

The river is frozen over while Lake Superior remains open in the distance

After a couple of hours playing around in the snow and ice of Gooseberry we wanted to continue further north towards Tettegouche State Park. Fortunately this is not a long drive from where we were giving most of the afternoon at one of my favorite parks on the North Shore. Arriving a little while later we got out of the car, put on our winter gear – boots, hats, gloves, snow pants and began our excursion to the high falls of Tettegouche. Along this 1.5 mile trail we became enthralled with this winter landscape enveloping us all around. So peaceful and very few people around giving most of this quiet winter scene exclusively to us. I kept waiting to hear a wolf howl in the distance confirming our picture book arrival to Northern Minnesota but no such thing happened.

The low sun in the horizon shining through the tall trees

Plowing through the snow we arrived at our destination to find that this river and waterfall were also mostly frozen over allowing very different viewing perspectives than I’ve every witnessed before. Now we could walk almost right up to the falls and feel just how large it actually is while listening to the water run under thick walls of ice making us less certain about standing on what would be water during much of the year. A very serene moment looking over this tall wall of ice surrounded by mostly undisturbed snow.

Exploring the High Falls of Tettegouche State Park

As we examined the great ice wall all of the different formations started to jump out. Different clusters of icicles joined together creating an ice filled curtain concealing fast flowing water behind which was only visible in small iceless windows. Closer examination of the frozen water surrounding these falls showed how unique each one is. There were different colors, some were opaque while others almost crystal clear only interrupted by air bubbles frozen inside combined with various shapes. Many were frost covered while others where topped with snow. In other areas the ice formations looked as though they were creating a stairway to the top of the water falls although I would never climb it without proper equipment for fear of slipping into surrounding stone ledges.

Looking at some of the cool ice formations created from the water falls

As daylight began to soften we decided to take in the last bit of sunlight to return to the parking lot to avoid being stranded on icy staircases in the darkness. As the sun dipped lower into the horizon we could feel the cold seeping into our heavy layers of winter protection. Fortunately we had enough hand warmers to accommodate until we made it back to the warmth of the visitors center and our car for the journey back home.

Only a tiny portion of the river is still running free in Northern Minnesota

Minnesota’s Forest Coral

I wanted to photograph the frosty plants on a foggy November morning. By the time I got all of my gear and began hiking the temperature warmed enough to melt much of the frost and with it, my goals for this day. Kicking myself for not moving earlier I begrudgingly continued on my desired hiking route just to enjoy the day and see if there was anything interesting along the way.

Great color combinations and textures of some mushrooms

My hope was to hike to a more secluded lake and photograph migrating ducks if nothing else caught my attention before hand. As I moved along the trail I happened to see this mushroom covered log. For some reason I’m drawn to mushrooms on a log. All of these rounded little plates sticking out from a disintegrating portion of wood. Yet through a number of attempts there haven’t been any interesting photos from any of my attempts. Although I’ve not had some of the equipment I brought this time either since my original plan was to photograph frosty crystals as intimately as I could. Maybe that same idea would bring out what attracts me to these mushrooms.

The amazing texture and color of lichens contrast nicely against orange mushrooms

As I neared the log I was amazed at the incredible display being put on by these mushrooms which happed to also be surrounded by lichens putting on their own colorful display on this cool, wet late fall day. The seemingly random textures of the lichens made them very intriguing along with their beautiful variations of colors, from bright greens to light blues made them stand out among the multicolored mushrooms. When I returned home later and looked on the computer they looked just like a coral reef to me.

Stepping along some mushrooms full of great texture

Throw in a little dark green moss and it became a world all it’s own. What else lives among all these vibrant formations? Eating mushrooms or lichens, seeking shelter in the many crevices? A dew covered web confirmed this little world most of us never even know of. I loved all of the fuzzy rings stacked on top of one another creating each mushroom for the spider to climb searching for its’ next meal before succumbing to winter.

Dew covered web connecting mushrooms

As I continued to explore around the fallen branches I came across some vibrant orange mushrooms which contrasted beautifully with the dark lichen covered bark. Patterns within these mushrooms amazed me along with their shapes and waves. Add to that the green, yellow, and blue lichens and this scene is just exploding with color.

An orange mushroom showing bright in late November

Eventually the daylight was getting dimmer making it more challenging to photograph these mushroom filled branches so I packed up and headed back for the car. On my return hike rain began to fall so it was a good time to leave and pack away the camera. A great substitute for missing most of the frost covered landscape. In the picture below you can see the fallen tree that first caught my attention. Very easy to continue on walking as this is a pretty common scene in a forest. Glad I stopped to examine it closer.

Mushrooms covering an old downed tree