Monday, January 26, 2015

Sundance up close, from afar

It is that time of year again in Park City.   The Sundance Film Festival takes over almost everything in the city for 10 days. It started on Thursday night and will continue through next Sunday.  Julie and I used to take a very active role. She volunteered for Sundance at one of the movie venues and we both went to quite a few movies.  We also went downtown, generally with house guests, to see the stars and all the action.

Now we are either bored or boring.  Julie stopped volunteering with them a few years ago and neither of us are going to see any movies this year.  I think my closest involvement has been to walk Jasper down Main Street when everyone is getting out in the morning. 

This doesn't mean you can escape the event.  Some general effects:
  • You have to drive like everyone is insane.  Because a lot of them are insane, and talking on the phone, and don't know where they are going, .....
  • When 40,000 extra people come into a city of 9,000 there is no such thing as available parking.
  • You can't go out to eat.
  • You can't make a left turn
At least the attendees are being blessed with springtime weather.  It is sunny and 50, so it feels like upper 60s.  That makes it a lot easier to walk to movie venues and wait for one of the thousands of buses in the city.

Sundance is a great thing for Park City and it can be a blast, but I always feel a little relieved when they all leave town.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bosque Del Apache and White Sands with mom

Last summer, I gave my mom a trip for her birthday. Our plan was to meet in Albuquerque and drive an hour south to Socorro, NM where the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes winter.  It would be a mixed bird watching and photography trip.  The downside is that we had to wait from July to January so all the birds would show up.

Mom at the airport.
We stayed in the little town of Socorro and drove the 15 miles to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Bosque is an easy area to see.  It has a big figure-8 roadway that covers most of the refuge.

Right near the entrance, we started the trip with a very convenient Kestrel.  With that background, he almost looks fake, but trust me, he flew off a few seconds after I took this.
Raptors were everywhere.  We saw Bald Eagles, Kestrels, Red-Tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks.  A handful of the eagles had the recognizable white head, but there were quite a few immature ones.

This guy seemed to be taking this watch shift.

So much of nature photography is the sunrises and sunsets.  This one was pretty but we had a lot of clouds and even some heavy fog.  You still get to see a lot but the photos aren't as nice.
Near the entrance to the refuge is a nice little visitor's center.  They have a big picture window looking out at a collection of bird feeders.  While we were watching, this Curved Bill Thrasher popped in.  I had never seen one before.
We also got a feeder visit from this Pyrrhuloxia. It looks like a Cardinal, but with a much tougher name.
One of the main attractions of Bosque del Apache is the morning takeoff of tens of thousands of Snow Geese.  The noise and frenzy of action is incredible.  Of course, when you look up to watch them fly over, keep your mouth closed or risk the taste of goose poop.  We escaped the trip poop free.
While the massive takeoffs are impressive, my favorite thing to photograph is the geese as they fly in for a landing. This is a nice example of both the normal coloration and the blue morph of the snow geese. I would guess one in 50 is a blue morph.
They drop their landing feet and cruise in.
They always try to land into the wind to slow their speed. This is great for photography because it makes them more predictable.
The other bird that is there in great numbers is the Sandhill Crane.  Pretty obvious that we are supposed to go looking for them, but I am not sure if the Kestrel on the sign is supposed to be our guide.
We get a handful of cranes around Park City in the summer, but the Bosque gets about 8,000 in the winter. Someday I may have to fly to Nebraska where they see hundreds of thousands.
If you think that cranes look prehistoric, you are right.  They have been around a LOT longer than humans. (Unless you are a strong Genisis believer, at which point we all got put on earth within a few days.)
While the Great Blue Herons look a bit like the cranes, they were only around in one's and two's.  I think they are beautiful birds.
We also wanted to find some interesting mammals.  Our wish list included, in order, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes.  What did we find?  This cute little fellow.  He hadn't even made our list.  He wasn't that far away and that tail stayed up, so we were very caraeful not to appear as a threat.
One afternoon we got lucky.  We were watching a field full of geese and cranes when a coyote approached.  He started slowly stalking around, seemingly ignored by the birds.  When he finally chased after some, they all just took off and he walked away hungry.  Later, he got a bit more clever.  He dropped down into a manmade irrigation ditch where he was out of sight.  Suddenly, we saw a head pop up.
After a minute of watching, he came springing out at full speed.
Unfortunately, the geese all got away again.
And the coyote was left standing in the field with one amused crane.
A few minutes later, the coyote popped out of the irrigation ditch again, this time with no warning.  I didn't get photos, but he came down with a prize.
The other geese just watched as he settled down for a bite to eat.  I guess it is just expected in the life of a goose.
About 10 minutes later another coyote came into the field. He looked around for his own goose, but decided to come visit.  We thought we were going to see a fight for food, but they must have been a pair. The second just walked up, said "nice catch", and went off to find another bird.  Apparently, just as the sun was setting, he did just that.  We had left that area before then.
In addition to the wildlife, I grabbed a few other scenic reflections along the way.

After a couple of days in Socorro, we packed up and headed for the White Sands National Monument.  Along the way, we passed the White Sands Missle Range.  In Soccoro there were quite a few hunters staying at our hotel.  It seemed late for elk or deer, so I asked what they were hunting.  It turns out that they have imported Oryx from Africa for exotic hunting on the missle range.  We never saw one, so I had to borrow this shot.  That would certainly be an interesting sight if you were just driving by.
We spent an afternoon out wandering around the dunes at White Sands.  They are quite beautiful.  As you can tell from mom's coat, even though it is sunny and in southern New Mexico, it is pretty chilly in the winter.
The lines in the sand are formed by the winds and they make interesting patterns everywhere.
The plants in the dunes are always fighting against the shifting sands. It is certainly a tough life.  The white sands are caused by gypsum, which is disolved in water over the years, but the water in this area is in a basin and doesn't have anywhere to flow.  It feels like a very fine sand.

I think that White Sands would be most interesting right after a big wind storm, when all the dunes are freshly remade, with new shapes and patterns, and no footprints or people.

Mom and I got to spend four great days together.  The weather was cloudy, but we were lucky not to have rain or snow until the last few hours of the last day.  This was my third trip to Bosque del Apache and each time I see something new and interesting.  I had a wonderful time mom!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Finally some serious snow

We have been waiting for some serious snow this winter and we finally got some.  Over two days it dropped about 18" at the resorts and at least 10" here at the house.  We could definitely use another 2 or 3 of those storms to build up a better ski base.
Julie got to take care of Jasper when I was off in New Mexico.  He is a lot of work in normal circumstances, but this past week he had a torn toe nail.  It requires considerably less romping around, especially on hard ground.  Fortunately, deep snow on a grassy yard is a much nicer playground.
Our Raleigh friends, Norman and Ginny, are in town for some skiing.  Julie went out with them on Monday and we both joined them yesterday.   Once the clouds cleared, it was a spectacular day!
The clouds in the morning were incredible.  As best I can tell, they were all man made from snow blowing.  The cold air and lack of wind meant the "clouds" stayed low in the valley.  As the sun came up, we ended up with incredible sun dogs.  I grabbed this shot while walking Jasper.
Then I took this from the Deer Valley parking lot.  It looked like a big double rainbow, but each arch appeared to have solar wings attached.  I have never seen anything quite like it.
This is a terrible attempt at an iPhone closeup of the inner sun dog.  What looks like a grainy picture is actually the sparkles from the artificial snow flakes floating around.  I wish I could have captured it with my DSLR.

Now we are back to clear blue skies and temperatures reaching 40.  Nice for a few days of skiing, but I want some more snow.  The Sundance Film Festival starts next Thursday, and I always hope for a huge dump of snow while all the Southern Californians are here visiting.  Black skirts, fur coats, high heels, and a foot of slush make an incredible combination.

A brush with fame

OK, so I am not famous and probably never will be, unless I save a batch of puppies from a burning building.  Just the same, it's not what you know, it's who you know.  President Obama recently nominated a Park City local to join the Fed.  Al Landon probably got this nomination because he was the head of Bank of Hawaii, but I would like to think it was also due to his participation in my year long Park City Leadership class a few years ago.  Al and his wife Sue had a condo here in our April Mountain neighborhood for a few years.

Al is a great guy and serves on the boards of PBS and the Smithsonian.  I hope his nomination goes more smoothly than the majority of Obama's judge nominations. 

My microscopic role in the nomination was getting to be a part of his FBI background check for his security clearance.  Of course, they wouldn't tell me why he needed a clearance and I never would have guessed something this grand.  Glad I didn't make up any stories about lewd parties at his condo with drugs brought by the Cuban participants.  Security clearances could be a lot more fun if the people doing them had a sense of humor.

Go Al!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Some serious frost

We have had some really cold weather here lately and if there is no wind, it can create some pretty ice crystals.  Here is a photo I took the other morning when I was out playing with the dog.  Can you tell what it is?

That's actually the surface of the street.  I have seen ice on trees and bushes, but I can't remember seeing this many crystals on the street.  Here's a closer view.

I felt a bit bad that Jasper and I were stomping all over these as we walked along, but I guess we were easier on them than the eventual automotive traffic.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Jasper in the cold

This past week we have been having some bitter cold.  Two days ago we awoke to -13 and during the day the temperatures soared to about 5.  This morning was balmy, starting at -5. Even in an area set up for cold and deep snows, this weather has frozen some pipes around town.

Most of us are bothered by this cold, especially if the wind kicks up, but here we have our exception.  Even at 11 years old, Jasper thinks he is an arctic sled dog.  He simply loves the snow and plays a lot harder than he ever does in the other seasons.
He can't do the endless sprints that he used to, but when he is at full speed he would be tough to beat.
He has a good vertical when it comes to snagging snowballs.
And some of those snowballs have to pay dearly.
And when we are all done, there is nothing like giving yourself a snow shower.  I cannot understand the apparent joy of sticking your face deep in the snow and mushing everything around, but it appears to be a great thing to do.

Over the next week, we are looking at temperatures getting back into the 30s, so life should get back to something closer to normal.