Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review: the Destinations

Top Five Destinations of 2013

Countdown style, like the other lists.

5.  Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
If you're looking for jaw-dropping views, you may not be able to top Bryce Canyon.  The Grand Canyon might have Bryce by a hair in that category.  I'm not so sure, though.  Not only are the hoodoos amazing, but it seems like you can see forever.  there's a horizon out there, but I don't think I've ever seen it look so far away as it does from the edge of amphitheater.
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

4.  Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

The Old Veteran -- Cypress Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA
Point Lobos is my favorite day trip destination.  It's less than two hours away and the range of wildlife to be seen is astounding.  It's one of the prettiest little stretches of coastline I've ever seen.  Seeing sea otters is almost guaranteed there.
China Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, CA

3.  Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, CA
I only made it out to Yosemite three this year.  No, scratch that, four times, but once I only drove through on my way home from Utah.  So much to explore, so little time.  The problem, of course, is the crowds.  The valley is downright congested in the summer.  The good news is there's a whole lot of other areas to explore, and they're far less crowded.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA

2.  Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park, UT
Capitol Reef was actually a last-minute addition to my fall road trip.  I'd been hoping to go to the North rim of the Grand Canyon but the camp sites were all booked up.  I shuffled a few things around and worked Capitol Reef in instead.  I wish I'd spent two nights here rather than at Bryce Canyon.  Not that Bryce wasn't amazing, but Capitol Reef was amazing, too, and far less crowded.  This park is a gem.
Capitol Reef National Park, UT

1.  Death Valley National Park

Heading into Panamint Valley -- Death Valley National Park, CA
Panamint Dunes
If you've never been to Death Valley, I suspect this choice might surprise you.  Even if you've been there the choice might still surprise you.  I have a friend who went there about a month before I did this spring, and she wasn't all that impressed.  I don't know, this place seems magical to me.  I made two trips to the park, one in spring and one in the fall.  I'm anxious to go back.

Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park, CA
Badwater Basin
Death Valley has everything I like in a National Park.  It's got amazing scenery.  It's got a lot of wildlife.  Perhaps most importantly is what it doesn't have, though.  It doesn't have hordes of tourists.  I saw plenty of people on my trips, but I don't recall at any point thinking "these people need to pack up their gear and go to Disneyland where they belong."  People were quiet in remote places and acting silly where it was appropriate, but that was the key, I guess.  Running around and jumping on the dunes makes sense.  Standing on your head at the lowest point on the continent makes sense.  Well, kind of.  What I recall from the place was not the quiet--because there was never really places of silence--but of an air of peacefulness.
Salt Creek, Death Valley National Park, CA
Death Valley is a huge park.  I've only scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  I'm sure this is someplace I'll visit often in the coming years.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA

Friday, December 27, 2013

Year in Review: The Birds

Top Five Bird Sightings of 2013

I wasn't planning on having a separate top five list for birds, but when I realized that no birds were going to make my animals list, and considering all the cool birds I've seen this year, I decided a separate list was in order.  I took pictures of 203 different species of animals in 2013, and of those 123 were  birds.  So, here goes, my top five bird sightings for 2013.

5. Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA
Brown pelicans are just plain goofy looking.  Don't tell them that, though, I'm sure they'd take offense.  Brown pelicans have become fairly common around here.  There are a couple of pilings in the estuary a block from my house where they will often roost.
Brown Pelican -- Pacific Grove, CA

4.  Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
Turkey vultures are very common in California.  It's just about impossible to go for a drive anywhere and not see at least one circling around.  They're not the prettiest of birds, but they're one of my favorites.  Pinnacles National Park is a great place to see vultures up close.  If you're lucky a condor will be around, too.  Vultures are big birds, but they don't seem so big when they stand next to a condor.

Turkey Vulture -- Pinnacles National Park, CA

3.  Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle -- Carmel Valley, CA
I saw a handful of golden eagles this year.  Awesome birds.  They're hard for me to distinguish from turkey vultures from a distance.  They don't wander around in the sky like a vulture, though, they always seem to have a purpose when they're flying.  That was the case for the eagles I saw, anyway.

Golden Eagle -- Highway 50, UT

2.  Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle -- Octopus Hole Conservation Area, WA
When I took my trip up to Olympic National Park last month I was hoping to see a bald eagle.  I didn't see just one, I saw fifteen on that trip.  That was a nice surprise.  My dad was telling me there used to be one that lived in a tree just a couple of doors down from my parent's house.  I've heard they've even been spotted in California, but I've never seen one.

Bald Eagle -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR

1.  Barn Owl

Barn Owl -- San Luis Wildlife Refuge, CA

Owls are cool.  I've only seen one in the wild so far.  It was at the end of what had been up to that point a disappointing trip to San Luis Wildlife Refuge.  He/She was standing on a fencepost just as I left the refuge.  That trip immediately became a memorable adventure.

Barn Owl -- San Luis Wildlife Refuge, CA

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year in Review: The Animals

Top Five Animal Sightings of 2013

Doing it countdown style.  I took pictures of 203 different animal species this year.  I didn't always get good pictures of these animals, but these are the five sightings I was most excited about.

5.  Bobcat

Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
I saw two bobcats this year, both in or near Pinnacles National Park.  The first one got away before I could get my camera ready.  The second was at least a hundred yards away in the shade under a tree.  I couldn't get any good pictures from where I was at and I wasn't about to try to get closer, especially with Pongo on a leash right beside me.  The cat didn't seem to have a care in the world.  A bobcat's life is pretty sweet in a place like Pinnacles, I guess.

Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA

4.  Coyote

Coyote -- Yosemite National Park, CA
Granted, they're not that unusual to spot, but there's something exciting about seeing coyotes for me.  Part of it, I guess, is that I like dogs.  They seem like scrappers, these coyotes, survivors.  I saw a woman feeding a coyote alongside the road at Yosemite and that got my dander up a bit.  It seems so disrespectful to the animals.  They don't need our handouts, especially in a place as bountiful as Yosemite.

Coyote -- Death Valley National Park, CA

3.  Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep -- Zion National Park, UT
I totally lucked out with the bighorn sheep.  I was driving through Zion National Park on my way to Death Valley after spending a few nights at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks.  As I came around a corner there was an entire herd of sheep on the side of a hill just off the road.  I was definitely not expecting that.  Obviously, I pulled over and got some killer photos.  Killer for me, anyway.

Bighorn Sheep -- Zion National Park, UT

2.  Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin -- Pacific Grove, CA
At first I thought it was a shark's dorsal fin that I'd seen in the water.  Turns out it wasn't a shark it was a dolphin and there were two of them in the water just off the shore of of Lover's Point in Pacific Grove.  My friend Marko is a surfer and he said he'd seen a lot of them recently (this was in September).  I didn't get very good pictures, but fuck it, I saw bottlenose dolphins in the wild!

Bottlenose Dolphin -- Pacific Grove, CA

1.  Black Bear

Black Bear -- Sequoia National Park, CA
I saw two (or more likely three) black bears this year on consecutive weekends.  The first encounter was at Sequoia National Park.  Holy Schnikeys.  He wasn't very far away from me and seemed to be sizing me up when we ran into each other.  I have never seen forearms so big.  We stared at each other for a couple of minutes, and then he (or she) sauntered non-chalantly off.  I think there was another bear there as well.  The one that I got a good look at was brown, but in a few of the final pictures the bear is black.

Black Bear -- Sequoia National Park, CA
I saw the other bear the next weekend at Yosemite National Park.  The bear was a lot farther away this time and didn't seem to notice us, so it was a lot less drama-filled.

Black Bear -- Yosemite National Park, CA
That's it, pretty much.  Check out my photobucket page for a full view of all the animals I was able to photograph this year.  Here's hoping for as much success next year.