Santa Fe Adventure

Adventure adds spice to life. Enjoy every moment to the fullest and celebrate often.

John outdid himself when he surprised me on my birthday with a balloon ride outside of Santa Fe. Even though I used to work chase crew for Arizona Balloon Company a lifetime ago, I have never been up in a hot air balloon… that is until now.

He had signed us up for a special experience with Santa Fe Balloons, owned by the colorful character, Johnny Lewis. I can’t imagine a better guide through our maiden voyage as Johnny explained the art and science of ballooning as he deftly showed his experience through his skillful hands.

We floated effortless and quietly across the ravines north of Santa Fe, not a power line or city in sight. The views were stunning, and made better only by the commentary and education we learned as Johnny entertained and delighted us.

Johnny deftly walked the balloon across the nap of the earth, through the valleys, and gently raised it over ridges just as we wondered if we’d hit ground. He did things with a hot air balloon we didn’t know could be done giving us a thrilling ride.

Then he brought us to 1000′ altitude so that we could view the landscape from a-high. I can’t imagine a better pilot for our first ride.

He worked the winds as if he controlled the gods from above as he made the balloon yield to his every whim. His masterful touch, his charismatic wit, and undeniable charm just added to this amazing experience.

With a kiss of the earth and barely a bump, he walked the balloon back the the trailer waiting on the ground. He was showing off his experience to anyone able to see it. It was a sight to behold.

Johnny was aided by a faithful crew who had clearly been to this rodeo before, as they handily aided in the deployment, catch and release of this ancient art. Jeannie, Johnny’s co-pilot was a delightful companion as she shared history and stories to enhance our experience.

We toasted our safe return to the earth with champagne and the balloonists prayer:

The wind has welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.

You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth!

Thank you Johnny, Jeannie and crew of Santa Fe Balloons for a wonderful adventure and adding spice to our life for a memory of a lifetime. And to my loving husband who I love more today than the day I married him 36 years ago.

Channel Islands – Santa Cruz & Santa Rosa

While there are over 500 species of birds that breed in North America, only one, the island scrub-jay, lives and breeds on a single island, Santa Cruz in the Channel Island National Park. The island scrub jay breeds in the coastal oak and chaparral oak that are found throughout Santa Cruz, and feeds on insects, lizards, mice and nestlings.

Other species endemic to the Channel Islands are the island fox. The island fox lives on only 5 of the 8 Channel Islands, and no place else. Each island fox species is recognized as its own separate unique subspecies. The island fox is a third smaller than the mainland ancestor, and more the size of a small cat, at only 4 – 5 lbs. It has distinctive markings around its face, with rust colorings on its sides and white underneath.

The one (above) we saw on Santa Rosa, was visibly different from the one we spotted on Catalina (below).

We found our visit to the Channel Islands to be interesting, educational, and tiring with the many nature hikes and excursions we enjoyed. for more photos of the Channel Islands – Anapaca, check out my blog post here…

Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Just Northwest of Santa Barbara, CA is this little triangle of small towns, Solvang, Buellton, and Los Olivos, that are full of charm, character, and scenic opportunities. Solvang offers Danish charm where one can feel like they were transported to Copenhagen and gorge themselves on butter cookies and ebelskivers. The city was founded in 1911 by Danish settlers and includes a Hans Christian Anderson museum and park. Buellton is considered the Home of Pea Soup, where Pea Soup Andersen’s has been serving scratch made fresh pea soup since 1924. Los Olivos has multiple wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and eclectic shops.

The Central Coast of California is well situated North of the Los Angeles / San Fernando Valley and South of San Francisco / Paso Robles area. The area is littered with agriculture and small farm stands selling local produce. The landscape is dotted with craggy oak trees that can reach up to 600 years old, and are native to the area.

We wandered around, ate & drank, visited wineries, and poked around the numerous shops. It’s the stuff vacations are made of, relaxing and indulging in the local culture. We drove some of the back roads around Foxen Canyon. We wanted to drive through Figueroa Mountain, but the historic snow and winds in the area closed the areas to traffic.

Further Northwest is Cambria, another charming town worth exploring along the coast. Just outside of San Luis Obispo, Cambria is a popular destination spot for locals and tourists alike.

Cambria is a convenient location close to Paso Robles, 30 miles North, Hearst Castle (San Simeon), and Elephant Seal Vista Point.

While in Cambria we enjoyed a gorgeous hike along Fisculini Ranch Bluff trail (at the end of Windsor Rd) with great trails along the oceanside. We indulged in our own picnic at one of the many ‘twig’ benches along the well kept paths.

Next time we are in the area, Cambria is well worth a stay. Another hike we would have loved to do was the Moonstone Beach Drive at Leffingwell Landing.

You can see my photos of Morro Bay, further North, here ..

White Pelicans

Most people know where Lake Havasu is. The London Bridge has made it a tourist landmark. Forty miles southeast of Lake Havasu is the Alamo State Park.

The park was formed as a recreational reservoir. It offers camping, ATV trails, boating, and fishing. It is also popular to wild burros and white pelicans.

We saw dozens of white pelicans who winter in the calm still water in the recesses of the Lake.

The American white pelican breeds in Canada and upper Midwest, but migrates south to warmer climates for the winter. Arizona has become an increasingly popular place for the pelicans to winter due to the ideal climate, warm waters, ample fishing (thanks to well stocked man-made lakes) and protection from predators.

Cibola Wildlife Refuge

Cibola Wildlife Refuge was established in 1964 to channel the Colorado River to prevent flooding. This 18,000+ acre refuge created marshes and backwaters that have become wintering grounds for migratory waterfowl. It lies in the southwestern part of Arizona, just North of Yuma.

When we were there they had ‘drained the swamp’, if you will, or the marshes to be more specific for maintenance. As a result, there were very few sandhill cranes. The stunning number of red winged and yellow headed blackbirds more than made up for it though. It seems where the cranes weren’t the blackbirds had the corn field to themselves and were there is hoards.

They were mesmerizing to watch as they swarmed between corn fields, filling the air with red, black, and gold.

It truly was a sight to see. Besides blackbirds we watched teals, hawk, and a few sandhill crane.

If we were to go back, it would be worth dragging a boat to see what might lurk in the grasses along Cibola Lake, which opens March 15. We had thought we could launch from the Oxbow Campground, but with all the maintenance taking place, the ramps were steep and difficult to use. Next time.

Chiricahua National Monument

We recently checked out Whitewater Draw south of Tucson and just outside of Willcox, AZ to see the massive sandhill crane migration. You can see my post here… We figured while we were in the area we could check out Chiricahua National Monument as it is not far from Whitewater Draw.

Chiricahua was established as a National Monument in 1924 to protect the over 12,000 acres of ‘pinnacles’ that jut from the ground. It’s said that these pinnacles were formed by a volcanic eruption from Turkey Creek Volcano over 27 million years ago. The volcano spewed ash over 1200 square miles cascading into fields of tall spires forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite.

This isolated mountain range rises above the surrounding grassland sea as if you are climbing into a sky island. Meadows dot the landscape with scattered cactus, mesquite, sycamore, juniper, and oak trees. The remarkable spires signify the unmistakable guardians looming from the forest floor that is Chiricahua National Monument.

The area is rich with hawks, deer, and even bobcat.

The park itself rises up to 9,763 feet and when we were there we found the trails to be solid ice and snow. The pinnacles still wore patches of snow from a snowstorm earlier in the week. The cold temperatures (24F when we were there) ensured the snow lingered for our morning sunrise.

Let there be snow

Finally, a REAL snowstorm! We got over a foot of snow. It clung to the trees and weighed down her heavy branches, coated the forest, and drifted along the roads. There is something so beautiful about fresh fallen snow.

The animals came out to enjoy the cool, refreshing white powder. As did we, following animal tracks and plowing new ground along our unplowed roads.

The accompanying wind blew snow in every direction as the storm took hold and wouldn’t let up.

By the next day, we had some real accumulation and forecasts for more. Bring it on! We can use all we can get, as the snow feeds our animals, our forest and her trees, and our rivers and lakes. Without it, our environment and animals are at risk. Let it snow!

For more snow pix, check out my post here …


Best of … Animals 2022

I posted my Best of .. Landscapes 2022 here…

For all the places and scenery we enjoyed this year, we encountered animals along the way. We found a beaver den and were able to capture the little guy munching away on trees. We witnessed big horn sheep in the snow. We watched antelope traverse a hill with a cloudy sky as a back drop. And caught osprey and eagle with their prized catch. I had so much fun, let’s do it again. Bring on 2023. Here are some of my favorites.

Big horn sheep playing in the snow
Herd of big horn sheep run in the snow
Canadian Geese family enjoy the morning glow.
Beaver frolics in the water at Horseshoe Cienga Lake.
Ground squirrel braves sharp spires of the ocotillo for some of its tasty ‘candy corn’ fruit.
Osprey squawks for mate
Osprey flies off with prized catch.
Large 5 pt bull munches pine code off tree.
Curious river otter at Deadhorse Ranch State Park
Sandhill cranes lift off in mass to grass in fields nearby.
Baby grosbeak at feeding time.
Pronghorn antelope with new born in meadow.

It was a good year for animal pix. I could keep going, but I’ll stop here. Many are posted in the pages of my blog if one was so inclined. I hope 2023 is as productive and full of adventure as 2022. Wishing all the best to my great followers.

Practice makes better

People have often asked me, ‘how do you get so close to the animals?’, or ‘where do you find them?’. It’s not rocket science. The short answer is, I go out A LOT. It’s not like the occasional trip I get lucky on. It’s a whole bunch of trips… and every once in awhile I get lucky.

Luck definitely plays a part. But the more I find myself in a situation, the more I can use my gear, the more I can practice. All these things allow me to be better prepared when an opportunity presents itself.

I do find that the storms bring out the animals, and add more interest to the photographs. So we go out after most storms, whether it’s rain, sleet or snow (kinda like the postman). Where I find certain animals, I tend to go back, hoping I’ll get lucky again.

Having warm gloves that aren’t too bulky helps, making sure I can still operate my camera. When I encountered this herd of big horn sheep after a recent snowfall, it was 19F. I could barely feel my fingers, let along depress the camera release… and that was with good gloves and hand warmers. Being prepared allowed me to stay the course and get some nice shots.

Being able to take action photos, hand held, was a matter of having had proper settings, fast enough shutter, and panning the scene and composing the photo on the fly.

I know I need more practice to continue to improve my craft and to pay attention to what I do wrong, so that I can get better. It’s always a challenge, and I welcome the opportunities that may come my way so that I can.

You can see more of these big horn sheep photos here.

Last Fall

I often say Fall is my favorite season, but this year we seem to just keep missing it.

It came early, so we opted to hit lower elevations. Just before a forecast of snow we thought we might catch some end of fall pix. Between the wind and temps the trees were mostly bare.

It seems fall has fallen ( and winter is upon us.

Bring it on… and the animals with it. I do love the snow animal season as well .