Tag Archives: photography

Missouri – the beautiful

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It’s not just the lack of offensive billboards that make Missouri beautiful. The rolling emerald hills, deep deciduous woodlands and roller coaster roads that leave your stomach catching up every few hundred metres make Missouri a fun place to drive through. It looks a lot like the Cornish countryside but with even less people. We loved it!

But Missouri seems to lack self confidence. Everyone we met questioned how we ended up there and were even apologetic of their State. The ferry man asked if we were lost, utterly baffled as to why we would be there otherwise. Yet it was truly beautiful, has a lovely climate and there’s loads to see and do.

We hired a camping cabin and had a fire outside. The boys fished (without success) and we had fun. The next morning we hired a raft and floated down the a river for five miles in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, stopping for a picnic lunch. We made a great team paddling, Alfie and I at the front and Rob steering from the back. The little two hanging over the sides watching fish darting around in the crystal clear water and spotting herons and turtles by the banks.

Later we had a campfire and I had brilliant success cooking a loaf of bread in the Dutch oven for the first time. Then Alfie had success catching his first ever fish!

Everyone here is really friendly and helpful, which combined with the stunning countryside, bird watching and fishing it’s got to be one of our favourite places so far. The benefit of the area’s lack of confidence is that the whole place is wonderfully quiet and empty, although there are signs of busier seasons in the summer months, now in May seems absolutely perfect to visit this region.

Alfie Dean

Alfie learning to fish – he’s good at casting in

Alfie Dean and Rob Dean

Daddy helping to unhook his first fish

Alfie Dean

Alf with his first ever catch – a little small to eat though so it went back in

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His second catch – a pretty long eared sun fish

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I’ve wanted to cook bread in the dutch oven for ages – my first attempt was a brilliant success – YUM!

Caitlin Dean

Proud of my success!

Alfie Dean and Patrick Dean

Jokes around the campfire – fun times!

Achieving our goals

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This week Alfie achieved something amazing. He carved a spoon from a piece of wood using his pen knife. It took this determined 6 year old three whole days of fairly constant work. He has blisters on his little hands and his arm is aching. But it was worth it. It is beautiful. And it is practical! Rob and I supported him, we helped a little with the curvy neck bit and I gouged out the bowl with the finger slicing crook knife but ultimately he did it himself through his own focus and skill. He listened when we gave him instruction and he worked carefully and safely with his penknife.

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Early on with his lump of wood – a half log you would likely throw on the fire – it didn’t resemble a spoon in the slightest and the task looked almost impossible, he didn’t lose hope. He just sat by the fire and pressed on. And with each stroke of his knife on the hard, dry wood the spoon came a little more into his sight. In the middle, when you could sort of see the shape but there was still an awfully long way to go doing more of the same, he didn’t get bored, he kept on carving, through snow and wind and hail, warmed by the fire he worked thoughtfully. Towards the end when the spoon shape was there but he then had four rounds of sanding to go before it was finished he didn’t give up, or try to rush through it. He worked carefully with the different grades of sand paper to get the beautiful smooth finish it deserved.

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The long sanding process

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When it was finally finished I helped him carve an A on the top for Alfie, we stained it with charcoal to make it stand out. We washed the spoon, oiled it and he ate his dinner with it that night. We are going to buy him a proper bushcraft knife for carving when we find the right one for him, he has earned it. And he has decided that when he grows up he wants to be an instructor at Woodlore, Ray Mears’ school of bushcraft.

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Finished!

Reflecting on our goals from my post back in January we are all managing to do the things we came here to achieve. We’ve seen wildlife ranging from coyotes and moose to chipmunks and marmots. We’ve encountered bald eagles and golden eagles, mountain blue birds and road runners. Bats and owls, lizards and alligators, we really have seen so much! Robs doing well with identification and both boys are great with binoculars. Admittedly though Orla is louder than ever so we have a little work there still!

The geology we’ve experienced has ranged from the northern forests in the depth of a snowy winter, southern swamps coming to life in Spring, deep red canyons and bleak and scorching deserts with giant cactus. We’ve driven high winding passes on the snow capped Rockies and long straight highways across the Great Plains. We’ve smelled the Californian orange blossom and explored deep caves created during the birth of mountains.

Our children have witnessed fire produced from friction and developed skills in wildlife watching. They are resilient and developing skills in self reliance. They are great spotters and have such an interest in the sights were seeing… “Woooooowwwww” and “quick look” comes frequently from the back seat. They recognise deer, elk, turkey vultures, American robins and dozens of other species of mammals, reptiles and birds. They even spot tracks and signs along the way. Although I must admit the “home schooling” has rather gone out the window and there’s a fair amount of bickering in the back too (they are kids after all). But they’ve met people from all sorts of cultures and religions, they’ve learned about race issues and seen the place Martin Luther King died. They’ve learned about history and conflicts and witnessed the differences in nations.

Yet as we cross the continent for the second time we remain excited about what is yet to come. Tracking skills in Yellowstone, ranching in Montana, taking part in a charity run in Washington DC, eventually seeing a bear and crossing back across the length of Canada, and so much more!

Bird Watching in Monte Vista

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We decided to head to Monte Vista in advance of our wwoof placement which starts tomorrow (or today for UK readers). On arriving in this small town (supposedly a City although I have no idea how they differentiate between towns and cities here – this place is small!) to find that the whole place is a rather run down dump of a place, with an appalling Mexican restaurant I hope never to go to again.

However, after paying too much for luke warm fajita’s and far too much for some crappy accommodation we awoke the next morning to discover the area has an outstanding wetland nature preserve. We spent a few hours there in the morning watching incredible White faced Ibis, shovellers, ruddy ducks, marsh wrens (pictured above), yellow headed black birds a northern harrier, mule deer and a coyote and decided to return at sunset to try to spot owls and other birds of prey.

We passed the afternoon with some bowling and a hotel picnic dinner (which we’re getting pretty good at although still feel exacerbated by the waste created). A quick swim in a freezing pool and we got the kids in their pyjama’s for some late evening bird watching (or in Orla’s case Sponge bob watching).

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Yummy hotel floor picnic – chicken salad and strawberries!

It paid off – in addition to a couple of muskrats swimming silently through the water we also saw a stunning clarke’s grebe and a Swainson’s Hawk. Although by the time it was dark and we were heading out of the preserve we had yet to see an owl… “Go slow Rob, there’s no one behind” I said in the hope of spotting one on a telegraph pole… and for once he listened! And when I said “stop!”, he actually did! And sure enough there was the owl, perched on a pole. With no one around we watched for a while and then he flew off right past the car. A great sight, but sadly too dark to identify more precisely than as an owl.

When we got back, reeling from our bird watching, I submitted my book to the publishers and it’s a huge weight off before our wwoof placement in the morning – we are sipping champagne now. I’m not sure how much internet connection or laptop juice I’ll have for the next two weeks so if I’m silent that’s why, but I’ll be sure to fill you all in on my return to civilisation after that.

We’ve also just been through the photo’s from today and I seem to have got a setting wrong or something because, bar this reasonable marsh wren, they were all completely rubbish. Although I must admit I prioritised my binoculars today so I didn’t put a lot of effort into the camera and sorting out it’s blur… you’ll just have to look all the above birds up for yourselves I’m afraid.

Canyonlands National Park

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There is no phone signal or Internet in Canyonlands National Park… It really is a long way from anything in the depths of Utah. And that’s a good thing as the crowds can’t be bothered, so the people there are there because they have made the effort. The long drive is stunning and wildlife is easy to spot, a coyote ran right across the road in front of us.

Canyonlands makes the geology easy…. It’s right there in front of you. Pink and white layers of sedimentary rock having built up by the alternating periods of sea, lake and river deposits then being worn away again by rivers and winds. The fine sand clearly from the rocks around us blowing and washing away.

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Impressive views in every direction at Canyonlands National Park

At first sight it’s easy to think this landscape is rather barren and bleak but on closer inspection you become aware of how abundant the life here is. Plants thrive in the unique biological soil and reptiles, mammals and birds are everywhere the moment you stop, look and listen. But even before you stop, their tracks and signs are everywhere and easy to spot in the fine sand. Tiny shrew tracks, pursued by thick and distinctive snake tracks. Lizard lines and feet criss-crossing every sandy gap between plants and rocks.

A brilliant display in the visitor centre prepared us for a better understanding of what we would see on our short, child friendly walk around Cave Spring trail. Particularly the flowers and plants which have a variety of uses from nutrition to medicine, dyes and useful materials. We also saw a fascinating cowboy camp which was still in use until 1974! Although short, the trail offered everything from fantastic animal tracks to follow, plants to identify, ancient petroglyphs to marvel at, ladders to climb leading to views that make you feel like you’re on Mars.

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Historic cowboy camp

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Petroglyphs are abundant in the area, which was heavily populated by Ancestral Puebloans until a few hundred years ago when they departed the area, probably due to drought

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Newspaper Rock on the road into the Park. A mind blowing display of petroglyphs from people spanning millenia

For the afternoon we hung out at the camp, washing our clothes, painting and cooking on the campfire. My boys are impressive climbers and having got to the summit of the hefty rocks behind our camp the night before with Rob they convinced me I would love the climb too. So with Orla on Robs back up we went and the view was amazing… But I’m going to skip over the bit about the descent in the hope that my children (and I) can all forget the rather embarrassing panic attack I had half way down a steep bit when I caught a glimpse of our tiny camp way down below the sheer drop to my left… Anyway, we survived and I decided I’m definitely more into climbing with a harness and ropes.

Camping at Canyonlands

Our humble abode

Camping at Canyonlands

Orla painting in the desert

Camping at Canyonlands

Snack time while the washing dries

Canyonlands National Park

Alfie climbing – this was a small one…

We also discovered that our sleeping bags are utterly unsuitable at high altitudes… Boy can the desert get cold at night, brrrrrr!

With another trip to an outdoor store on our list of things to do we packed up and headed for the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Just before we left though, we met a friendly man by the water tap who was down from Montana escaping the snow for a few days… he happens to be a ranger at Yellowstone and after a lively conversation about our respective trips we exchanged emails with instruction to get in touch before arriving at our most exciting destination in just over a month. He was actually there at the release of the first wolves in the Park and knows the place inside out and back to front. Exciting times ahead!

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The peaks of the Rockies calling us onwards and upwards

Yosemite – moving swiftly on

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The first bad decision of our trip so far… Leaving the wonderful Sequoia National Park early to head to Yosemite National Park. We planned to spend five or so days there camping and exploring having heard wonderful things about this unique and popular park.

Yosemite National Park

We had heard that it was a particularly busy park but had underestimated quite how busy it would be. It’s basically like a theme park. Massive queues and traffic jams line the roads, pavements and buildings in the valley. Huge car parks cover acres. Camp spots are entirely booked long in advance and people are everywhere.

It is a truly beautiful valley of massive granite rocks and gushing waterfalls flowing from the snow capped peaks that frame the sky. But the people on the rat tunnels around the valley were just too much to bear and we had to get the hell out of there.

There is also an awkwardness to the beauty in the valley. Or at least for us there was. You see for the last 8,000 year there was a civilised population of native people living in this area. Not that you would know as they stepped lightly and left little trace of their long inhabitance. They lived there in harmony with their surroundings until about 100 years ago when their numbers were destroyed by disease brought by white settlers and the few remaining were forced out. Since then the white people, in the name of “preservation” and for recreation paved the foot paths, made roads, visitor centres, restaurants, lodges, shops and everything else required for people to flock like gulls and shit all over the place.

Yosemite Falls

The walk to the falls was marginally better than negotiating Oxford Street on a Saturday before Christmas!

After 8,000 years of native “ownership” there was virtually no trace, no damage, no evidence of human impact… yet after just 100 years of the new “ownership” there is so much interference it would take millennia for the evidence of us to fade away. There is no humility about this or shame about the destruction of the native population.

We left, feeling embarrassed by the spectacle and a little sad although we would be inclined to return out of season for wilderness exploration or rock climbing away from the crowds (the rock climbing is certainly unique and world class and the climbers we saw seemed inconspicuous and respectful).

Having been totally peopled out in California we have instead headed across the Great Basin towards Utah again to explore more of the canyons and parks in that region before time in Colorado.

With over 12 hours of driving yesterday through vast expanses of nothing, bar casinos and services with slot machines (with loads of people from the middle of nowhere playing them, providing the demand that explains their supply!) we covered 600 miles and got close to Salt Lake City. 

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The Big Trees – Sequoia National Park

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Rob loves trees – Big time. So seeing the biggest trees in the world was an ambition of his. A bucket list item. The Sequoia’s in the Sierra Nevada aren’t the tallest trees in the world, nor do the have the biggest circumference, but they do have the greatest mass and are the oldest living things on the planet. They really are giants.

Happy family Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

The “Happy Family” copse of Sequoias

Visually, although their size is impressive, it is more their beauty that strikes. Their majestic presence is humbling and it is impossible not to be utterly wowed by them. The red bark is soft to the touch on the older trees and has a dull hollow sound when knocked upon… giving you an overwhelming desire to find a secret door somewhere around their vast girth. And often a dark door like opening is found in the form of a fire scar, allowing you to actually step inside drawing you further into their magic.

Sequoia National Park

Inside a massive Sequoia’s burn scar

For me, more than their size and beauty, (as if they aren’t enough), the invincibility of the sequoia’s is perhaps their most awesome quality. They don’t die of old age! Imagine that! They literally live forever if they are not toppled in a storm or cut down by man. Far from fire being a foe it is their friend… they depend on it to reproduce. The tiny seeds wait patiently in their dangling cones for up to twenty years until a forest fire, in the past started naturally by lightening but now either deliberately by their protectors or ignorantly by visitors too lazy to put bottles and cigarettes in bins, burns the floor around them and dries up the cones for them to drop their seeds. Once dropped the seeds land softly in the perfectly fertilised, ashy forest floor with all local competition, bar it’s parent tree, wiped out by the life giving fire.

Sequoia tree bark

The Bark of the Sequoia’s is resistant to fire, fungus and insects, making the tree almost invincible. It’s soft to the touch and sounds deep and hollow.

Even once fallen these never-ending trees go on, taking centuries or even millennia to degrade. In the process providing habitats to innumerable species of fauna and flora, even humans.

fallen sequoia

The trunk of this fallen sequoia has provided a home for humans over a number of decades in the last two centuries. For a sense of perspective spot Orla inside.

fallen Sequoia

Once fallen these mighty giants can take millennia to decompose. This has already been here for centuries.

Sequoia National Park offers more than big trees too. Near our camp at Potwisha is hospital rock where evidence of the five century long settlement of the Potwisha people intrigues the mind of us wanna be hunter gatherers. Over 500 people lived in the village, sustained by acorns ground in these grinding holes in the rocks like permanent and massive pestle and mortars, and other abundant resources in these luscious mountains. Their pictographs adorn the split rock over one hundred years on from their demise… their first encounter with white people. Although not malicious, they were befriended by the areas new settlers and within a decade so many had been killed by newly introduced diseases that the survivors dispersed and the village site abandoned.

Pictographs at hospital rock Potwisha, Sequoia National Park

Pictographs by the Potwisha people at Hospital Rock

grinding holes at hospital rock, potwisha, Sequoia National Park

Grinding holes made by centuries of acorn grinding by the Potwisha people at Hospital Rock.

The wildlife in sequoia is impossible to miss. Woodpeckers are as common as sparrows and almost every bit of dead wood has neat lines of stored acorns. Deer meander through the campsite and squirrels and chipmunks dart around the undergrowth of the pretty oaks. At night bats, far bigger than our British ones come out with audible calls and there is as much wild sound after dark as in the day.  

woodpecker at Potwisha camp ground Sequoia National Park

A woodpecker welcomes us to Potwisha Camp Ground

acorns stored by a woodpecker

Acorns stored by a woodpecker. Every bit of standing dead wood was covered in long lines of holes filled with acorns.

Lizard

A lizard popped out to say hi too

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From East to West – The Road Trip Days, Part 2

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Oklahoma to Mesa via Santa fe

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The following morning seemed to drag also, due to various mishaps such as muffin mushed into carpet and painful splinters in feet requiring two man extraction. Plus the traffic around Oklahoma slowed down our pace. But our plan for the day was to drive… and drive we did. We detoured from the interstate at Elk City to drive across the Black Kettle National Grassland. Now these were country roads… Big skies, long empty roads and stunning views stretching for miles and miles.

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Open views for miles and miles

By the afternoon the sky had interesting clouds though and we were mystified by the strange mists rolling around us blocking the views… Suddenly the “clouds” closed in and smelled of smoke… we were headed straight for a wild fire. The winds were picking up and an email arrived from a friend warning us of the tornadoes building in the area. Now quite honestly I’m all for a bit of excitement and extreme weather and were I not with my three small children and beloved husband I would be well up for sticking around in the thick of the action… but with our parental instincts kicking in with full force we were driving on adrenaline to get the hell out of there!

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The smoke was closing in and getting thick

A sheriff come in the opposite direction and turned us around away from the fire. Following her directions to safety we relaxed until the moment the wind made a dramatic change in direction, the smoke thickened and we realised this way was even worse… so did everyone else and trucks, cars and bikes started turning around as three fire engines with gas masked men on the front wizzed past, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

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The fire engines had wizzed past and we decided to head the other way

Detouring again down dirt tracks we managed to put some distance between us and the smoke and finally came across a small town with a Subway for some sandwiches, as our picnic plans were somewhat scuppered by the extreme weather. From the car to the door was treacherous with strong winds which nearly picked feather light Patrick off the floor. We ate and we drove… and we put as much distance as we could between our children and the dangers we simply aren’t accustomed to.

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We put some distance between us and the fire as quick as we could!

A beautiful sunset and clear interstate got us to New Mexico and we stopped for the night at Santa Rosa, transferring sleeping babies straight to their beds. Far more efficiently we rose, had a quick breakfast and hit the road, making it to Santa fe by mid-morning for a fantastic brunch. Santa fe is an interesting place. It’s hard to remember you’re still in America feeling far more Spanish/Mexican. Stunning art and crafts line the streets and the wealth of the area seems to seep through the side walks adding glamour to your steps.

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Santa fe is a beautiful city. Even the drive to get there is stunning with the snow capped mountains of New Mexico towering over the desert

A city for hippies and artists we didn’t spend long with the children but is definitely on my list of places to return to in the future with adult only company. It’s beautiful, romantic and exciting. After the delicious food we wandered back to the car peering into the pricey shop windows wowing at the cowboy boots and massive diamonds and set off again to reach Mesa by nightfall. It was a long drive but it was fun and we made another detour once we reached Arizona.

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The Painted Desert within the Petrified Forest National Park. The colours are from various geological periods with gaps from erosion between vast time frames.

The Petrified Forest National Park, an incredible desert landscape with fascinating geology spanning almost unfathomable periods of time and littered with trees so old they have turned to stone. It’s hard to get your head around the process of wood being changed into stone and yet retaining it’s fine detail, character and appearance. More than just retaining such detail it is enhanced with vibrant crystal colours and a texture which is difficult to process when your eyes see trees but your fingers feel rocks. It’s hard to picture the forest that once was in this barren, Mars like landscape but the evidence is there, fossilised and palatable and so real to the naked eye and fingers.

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The Petrified Forest National Park… fossils like you’ve never seen before.

The kids have been great, looking out and discussing the landscape. Although there have been plenty of rows over toy guns and catapults, goodness knows how many toilet stops and far more hours watching films then I would ever have thought I would allow. Rob and I have been listening to the audio-book of The Earth Abides, at the start of which he completes the same road trip in reverse – it’s passed many hours and complemented the landscape with apocalyptic loneliness we both love to imagine.

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