Category Archives: Nature Photographs

Las Vegas / San Diego 2024

I would not have believed it could rain in Las Vegas for five days straight but that’s what happened this trip.

Grand plans to visit Vegas for three days, Palm Springs for three days, and, San Diego were disrupted by an atmospheric river. Palm Springs ended up getting crossed off the list entirely because we were stuck indoors due to the rain and Palm Springs doesn’t have much for indoor activities so we stayed in Las Vegas because there is so much to do.

I have to say, the nine days of rain were a blessing more than a curse. We found all sorts of indoor activities to do we wouldn’t have otherwise done. The pinball museum, all the Chinese new year decorations, night photography ij Vegas, restaurants, Hoover Dam tour, indoor swimming in San Diego, were an absolute blast.

We had the favorites too – Bronx Pizza, Valley of Fire, hiking (on the one nice day), the strip, and, of course, the wonderful 24hr restaurant, Blueberry Hill.

Enjoy the photos!

Driftless 2023

We were fortunate to have another great visit to the driftless. We spent our time in the LaCrosse area this year and were stunned by the shear number of amazing things to do in the area.

We were extremely lucky to stumble across some wonderful Amish stuff. We ended up buying 40lbs of Honeycrisp apples for $16 and purchased a huge amount of wonderful baked items like pumpkin pies and donuts. The Amish stole the show and we were super lucky.

Someone asked me, “what will you do with 40lbs of apples?”. It turns out five apple pies, two apple crisps, a large strudel, two apple breads, and a set of apple muffins only takes about 30lbs of apples. This has been a fun and delicious problem to solve!

The hiking was a lot of fun too. Wildcat Mountain State Park, Indian Mounds Effigy National Monument, and river hikes, and, other wonderful areas were just beautiful. The weather and great and there weren’t many people about – our time in nature was well spent and the hikes were a lot of fun for all three of us.

We look forward to going back next year. Next year we’ll be prepared with cooler and other items to make sure we can bring home all the wonderful Amish stuff – like meats, eggs, dairy, and, everything else :).

Oregon 2023

Our summer vacation was in Oregon and it was super fun to visit Bend, Cannon City, and, Portland again. We last visited the areas like a decade ago and it was neat to re-visit some of our favorites and explore new areas.

Bend was neat. This time we didn’t hike South Sister, thank goodness, but we did visit Sparks Lake and see a stellar sunrise. Hiking around the area and visiting Newberry Volcanic National Monument was super fun too.

Catching Cannon City a bit after sunrise was pretty special. Seeing the early morning clouds burn off and hanging out on the beach while the tourist world wakes up was fun. Since Oregon is two hours different than Minnesota we found ourselves waking up crazy early to go do things. We aren’t really ocean people so we didn’t really go into the water but playing AROUND the ocean, hiking around the ocean, and visiting the little tourist shops in the quaint tourist town turned out to be quite a bit of fun.

We had a blast in Portland. The food trucks were fabulous, the nearby hikes were accessible and easy for us to do as a family, the weather was great, Tilamook / Umpqua ice cream was STELLAR, and, I learned the incredible joy of shopping at Winco where everything is so cheap even Arizona Iced Tea is only $0.78. Eating the fresh fruit from the Hood River Fruit Loop tour and engorging ourselves on fresh Rainier Cherries, a cherry which is really difficult to get in Minnesota, was wonderful.

Honestly, what I was expecting in Portland was far different than what we experienced. It feels silly to write now but I had expected the city of Portland to be a lot more lawless and filled with homeless than what it actually was. It turned out to be exactly as I had remembered my prior visits to Portland. The issues plaguing many large cities due to COVID / COVID lockdowns, policing / policing response, and proliferation of drugs. News, “news”, and social media have been filled with content about how dangerous cities are and Portland was commonly referenced as one of the lawless places just like Minneapolis. It turns out it was all bullshit. Downtown Portland was fine for us. Sure, we weren’t out at night and we weren’t trying to involve ourselves in drug deals so maybe we just weren’t part of the lawlessness scene during this visit.

The weather was perfect for us. So perfect we were thinking about moving to the area. Then it rained for like three days straight so we looked up how much sunshine the area gets. Amazingly, it’s cloudier in Portland than it is in Minneapolis, and, I think it’s really cloudy in Minneapolis. Yikes.

That’s about it. Lots of photos of hiking. We had a wonderful time and look forward to going back! Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Summer 2023

Such an odd summer for Minnesota. First we had rain. A lot of rain. Then flooding. Then it stopped raining entirely, drought set in, and smoke from Canada moved in. It’s been brutally hot. Summer has been… crap. Rapid City, where I grew up, was neon green over the 4th of July. I even saw a bunch of wild roses growing in the hills while hiking – something I’ve never seen.

Despite the crap and strange weather, we still have had a great bounty from our fruit trees and garden. It’s been fun to hike in the area, and, it’s been fun to visit new state parks in the area.

We’ve gone hiking in Wisconsin a bit more because we can go to Interstate Park so many times before it gets boring. We’re lucky the Driftless area extends as far north as it does because it makes for some neat hiking.

I guess we make do 🙂

Chris W.

Summer around the USA 2023

Quite the traipsing around the USA this summer – in a handful of weeks I visited rural Alabama, New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, and, Houston.

I was shocked with how absolutely beautiful north east Alabama was – the waterfalls, hiking, and, other geographical features were so much fun to enjoy. I was in Alabama for work but there was some down time so we went hiking, I feel so fortunate because I don’t think I’ve ever heard ANYONE say “Alabama is mountainous and beautiful.” Once again, I enjoyed being the rural parts of the USA where things are made. It was fun to chit-chat with the locals, learn about the area, and enjoy their hometowns. I had no idea the Talladega Forest was so beautiful and mountainous. It was very special to have the chance to go through. The food was great, the hospitality was great, and, the scenery was great too! I actually want to go through north east Alabama again some day.

New York City, Dallas / Fort Worth, and Houston all happened in a whirlwind and was all work related. I’ve been to all these places in the past but this time was a bit different. The forest fire smoke plaguing the twin cities was in New York City too. It made for some rather beautiful sunsets and was a neat juxtaposition for the skyline. I spent quite a bit of time walking in NYC – I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, walked around Chinatown, and, even managed to walk into LaGuardia international airport. I think LaGuardia might be the only international airport I’ve ever visited where a person can walk into the airport. I thought my google maps directions were wrong but then I saw others walking into the airport and figured, “why not?”.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was a surreal experience. Last time I walked the bridge it was 2013 or so, and, my trip to NYC wasn’t work related so I had more time to goof around. Individuals taking selfies and generating other social media content on the bridge is extremely common now; so common it’s impossible to NOT be in someone’s photo / video / post. It was surprisingly difficult to walk across the bridge and get around everyone taking pictures and videos of themselves. Oh well. Chinatown was neat. I really wanted to get some real Chinese food and thought I picked an a good restaurant. Whatever I ordered ended up being unpalatable. Kind of surprising considering the ratings. Eating the delicious NYC pizza multiple times was absolutely fabulous – it was sooooo wonderful to eat actual, delicious, yummy, NYC pizza.

Texas was Texas and boy was Texas hot. Every time I walked outside it felt like I was getting hit in the face with hot oven air when checking cookies. It was uncomfortable. The BBQ was so fabulous and I finally visited a Bucee’s. I had no idea Bucee’s was more than a gas station, it’s like a destination. It’s possible to get just about anything in a Bucee’s, and, I found the holy grail in Bucee’s – they make their own banana pudding. HOLY SHITBALLS it was wonderful.

I ended up making a spontaneous trip to Houston because Delta Airlines is a terrible airline and cancelled my flight. It turns out the only real way for me to get back around the time I was supposed to get back to Minnesota from my work trip was by driving five hours from DFW to Houston. It sucks being locked in a Delta hub because this is about the 1,000th issue I’ve had with Delta, and, while I fly a lot with Delta, I don’t fly enough with Delta for Delta to care about me.

So that’s about it. The work trips were pretty great! It’s wonderful to shoehorn in some sightseeing when traveling for work, it makes it all worth it.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Continued Travel to the Middle of Nowhere & Spring 2023!

So this single post is going to be split into two sections: I continue to get mailed to the middle of nowhere, and, spring is FINALLY here and it’s fabulous.

For whatever reason, I continue to get mailed to the middle of nowhere. I’ve had an opportunity to visit areas near Bay City, MI (for work), Black Hills (for fun), and, Ashboro, NC (for work) since my last update. These places are in the middle of nowhere and take a bit of effort to get to since major airports are near but not close. I always love going to new places for work and I am usually visiting a factory of some sort. I am always floored with the places I visit: the visit near Bay City brought me into a factory making extremely large and high precision machined components for pipelines and the visit to Ashboro brought me into a factory which is very important for the golf cart industry. Whenever I visit these places I always wonder “how the f— did this place get here and why is it still here?” I can generally figure out why the business started where it did but I am generally unable to figure out why the businesses stay in these rural areas.

What’s neat is I usually have a bit of downtime to explore the areas I visit. Since my last post I have had the opportunity to hike around the Appalachians in North Carolina and along the shore of the Bay of Saginaw – NOT Lake Huron as I found out for the locals. Each area has it’s own quirks and I feel lucky to visit each. For example:
– I had a chance to hike in the recently burned forests north of the northern Charlotte, NC, suburbs and it smelled delicious due to the burned hickory; it was wonderful.
– I learned there are a lot of creatures creating shells in Lake Huron (sorry locals) and I thought quite a bit about whether I’d ever eat freshwater shellfish creatures.
– All the smallish / ruralish areas I visit have similar themes where the locals seem to deeply value the current state of their community. The communities I visit don’t really have outsiders moving in and generally have a hard time keeping the youth since there are more and generally better opportunities in larger urban areas. Some of the folks I chat with still wonder if Minneapolis is on fire from the riots in 2020 and even more wonder how I can live in a large urban center. It’s fun to chat with these folks.

In general, each rural place I visit is a fabulous place to visit where the locals are warm and inviting. It’s always neat to visit customers and it’s especially great to visit places that are filled with kind individuals.

As far as spring in Minnesota: it’s about F*#$*) time. It took long enough for the nice weather to finally set in and the dumb weather to stop. Ever wonder what constitutes dumb weather? How about 90 degree weather when there is still 1-2ft of snow on the ground so all the snow melts and causes flooding along with a unseasonably dryspell which causes elevated fire risk. It’s absolutely dumb to have dealt with flooding at the same time as fire.

One of the photos shows an an incredible amount of water going over St. Anthony Falls – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Last fall the water levels were so low the energy dissipaters were visible and only slightly moved the very low and gentle streams of water coming down the falls. Fall 2022 is not so similar to spring 2023.

Once again, spring 2023 didn’t disappoint with respect to my fellow Minnesotans. Just like every year, the scowels, frowns, negative nellies, and other downers disappear entirely once the weather improves. This year in particular has brought out an extra level of happiness probably because the early spring was actually late winter.

This spring I became really good at making cupcakes for the April birthday season – After 240 or so cupcakes I have become good at making whipped cream frosting cupcakes entirely from scratch.

Otherwise, that’s about it.

Enjoy the photos!

All four lower 48 time zones in a week / early Spring 2023

Quite a bit of travel lately. Ended up visiting all four of the lower 48 time zones within a week. Certainly didn’t plan it that way but it’s how it worked out. 

In the last month or so I’ve been back to where I grew up, back home, southern Indiana, and lastly Las Vegas to visit friends and hike. 

All the trips were great for very different reasons: 

– It was great to see family where I grew up, it was far too long since I last visited. 

– I visited southern Indiana for work. The furniture industry used to be huge and now it’s moderately big. The area used to be something. I feel fortunate my last jobs send / sent me to areas that used to be important for America. More on that later.

– It was wonderful to be home in Minnesota for a little bit. 

– Lastly, it was super cathartic visiting Vegas to hike, see friends, and, get out of the F$&&?! winter. 

The weeks / month-ish flew by. It seems we just arrived back home from Arizona and then I was traipsing and gallivanting around the country. 

I had a chance to visit Mount Rushmore. I was surprised to learn the monument was open so late. It was fun to see the lighting start, catch the end of the day, and, be one of the very very very few people at the monument. Despite growing up there, I never really spent time visiting the major attractions. It’s fun now that I’m a “visitor”. 

Visiting formerly great places in the US is a surreal experience. I’ve had a chance to visit quite a few formerly-great / formerly-important places for work and even lived in some. It’s amazing because the locals know their peak has passed and all that’s left is grinding through. The folks who live in the area never move in from the outside, they are people who grew up in the areas. The older folks can / will talk at length about the “before times” prior to outsourcing, prior to automation, and back when there was a lot more mastercraftmanship since everything was laborious and mechanical / electrical systems sucked and were unreliable. It’s a treat. Oddly, now these areas a past peak my work product is helping the places stay since the knowledge dump will never reverse.

Visiting Vegas is always fun. I don’t drink, gamble, do drugs, see shows, or really anything typically relegated to Vegas travelers. Hiking in Vegas is freaking awesome. Many stunning trails are nearby and few go to Vegas to hike so it’s easy to have the trail to oneself. Having friends who live in Vegas is a phenomenal bonus because of the great company and “locals secrets” I get to learn – like getting 100% authentic Szechuan Chinese food. Vegas is two hours behind and I’m a morning person so I woke up really really really early local time. Turns out, it’s a great time to walk the strip. It was fun to see the bellagio fountains being tested and seeing to bellagio botanical gardens being built. Stuff not seen in normal daytime.

All of this travel was not flawless. In fact, it was kind of a nightmare. I have flown a lot all over the place over the years and I have had brand new experiences – getting trapped in the airport unable to fly out for 24hrs, delta losing where I was going, and, having a flight attendant get accused of being intoxicated. Each one totally sucked for different reasons:

– Getting delayed due to weather has occurred numerous times but I’ve never been trappped. I ended up getting one of the last nearby hotels in Louisville once I figured out I wasn’t leaving. All around total shitshow. 

– At some point during the shitshow delta totally misplaced me and decided I was going to Atlanta. I don’t live in Atlanta. I didn’t want to go to Atlanta. I had to revert to using paper tickets and talking to delta people in person because all the other electronic systems failed me.

– Lastly, flying out of Vegas on delta a passenger accused a flight attendant of being intoxicated or something so the attendant had to get tested. This is apparently a really big deal – the FAA doesn’t take too kindly to intoxicated attendants and even accusations can cause employment issues for the accused. The attendant was not intoxicated so all we were was delayed while this was all sorted. The flight attendants / captain mentioned how big of a deal it was and “individuals should be careful before making accusations” over the PA. What a mess. 

All in all. I’m ready to be home for awhile and I’m certainly ready to be done with Delta.

Phoenix / Tucson 2023

We went to Arizona this year and missed the coldest stretch of weather in Minnesota. Once again, we were super lucky. But it is not about going to Arizona, it is about escaping the cold.

Phoenix is a neat place to visit. We stayed in Tempe near the Salt River and it was a great spot – easy to get anywhere in any direction due to the access to the highways. We ended up hiking quite a bit in and around Phoenix. The Phoenix Mountain Preserve turned out to be a stellar place to hike. It’s amazing to me a place with “make your adventure in difficulty” for hiking exists in a metro area like that – it took all of 15 minutes to drive to the trail head and the place didn’t get old even though we went to the same preserve multiple times. We did three different hikes in three different areas but it’s still the same park. Pretty neat.

The restaurants were fun. There was the very first “Waffle House in the early morning” experience for some of the travelers because our hotel didn’t start breakfast until 9AM our local time. I’ve been to Waffle Houses during my work travels so it was fun to have the Waffle House experience with others. In the search for good Mexican / tamales we ended up going to the same restaurant we visited back in 2018. The place was exactly the same and as delicious as we remembered.

We went to Phoenix last year too. This experience was quite a bit different because the COVID restrictions are nearly gone and the ‘new normal’ is in effect. For example: masks were not required nearly anywhere, restaurants were substantially more expensive, hotel service and hotel services were still extremely limited. What’s wild is the COVID response is pretty much over everywhere and we have just accepted the changes.

We saw many sunrises and sunsets this year – different than last year. For whatever reason, we didn’t really watch the sunrises or sunsets last year. We missed out. They are spectacular in Arizona and especially beautiful in the Tucson area. It’s neat having unobstructed views, mountains to break the scenery, and light clouds to make for some absolutely stellar sunrises and sunsets. We did a few hikes to overlooks in time for sunrise but most sunrises and sunsets were done from a high-ish point we walked or drove to. 100% worth it. 

We had a lot of fabulous hikes. There are a ton of easy hikes and there are a ton of hikes where people regularly die due to the difficulty. It’s a ‘make your own adventure’ type of region for hiking. So it worked out very well for us – we had chances to hike in the morning and afternoons and both were great for different reasons. The biggest surprise I had was hiking in the superstitions at the First Water trailhead, walking into a fairly deep canyon, and encountering plants with dewcicles. It was a bit chilly but it was surprising to find plants with dew to begin with and the dewcicles were a lot of fun to look at. We hiked multiple trails where we encountered running water or pools of water and it was a bit baffling – I just don’t expect to see running water in nature in these arid places.

We went to Tucson this year and Tucson is not a place I want to visit again any time soon. It is difficult to get anywhere, the things we can get to aren’t that great, and the city / region itself is a dump.

Driving in Tucson is the worst. I have been to 49 states, 42 countries, numerous cities and Tucson takes the cake:

  • It’s crap shoot whether I’ll be driving 10-20mph below or above the speed limit.
  • Turn signals are rarely used. Getting cut off is common. It is common to see vehicles take a hard right from the far left lane and cross a total of three lanes of traffic.
  • There is a lack of highways and freeways. Instead, there are a bunch of three lane roads going in every direction with a bunch of stoplights since they intersect a bunch of other three lane roads. This arrangement makes it possible to get stuck in traffic on a Sunday morning at 7:45AM. As the day progresses the traffic gets worse and it takes even longer to get anywhere.
  • It takes forever to get anywhere due to the above. Much like the place I grew, there are many ways to get anywhere I want to go but they all suck because whoever is responsible for urban planning / traffic / stop light timing was either completely absent or straight up suck at their jobs.
  • We even saw the city busses run red lights because they are sick of the BS. 

The city / region itself is a dump. Dilapidated homes, businesses, and trash are everywhere. It’s astonishing. It’s hard to get away from people and enjoy nature. There seems to be a road, a building, octagarians, or, many other people around at all times. That could be due to the trails we picked – it takes forever to drive anywhere so the thought of driving even further and wasting more of my day in the car was motivation to pick closer trails?

There were three positives – the food was great and sunsets and sunrises are stupid beautiful, there’s a distinct lack of things blocking the view of the mountains so catching the sunrise and sunsets is quite the treat, and, the saguaro forest is one of a kind. The donuts there taste different – they aren’t super sugary and they aren’t super filling, it’s great. So far, it’s the best donuts I’ve had ever. From a distance, the saguaro forest is incredible and has an odd beauty. “These sorta look like trees, these should be trees, but these are not trees” was a common thought I had while hiking in the cactus forest. Close up, it was all pretty fugly – it’s a desert after all. We witnessed some amazing sunsets and sunrises; they were stunning and the 1,000s of other upper midwesterners we encountered agreed!

The number of people from Minnesota down here right now is wild. We regularly see Minnesotans. Makes sense considering it’s -15F in Minnesota right now.

Otherwise – I’ll probably never visit Tucson again, or I’ll change HOW I visit Tucson dramatically. It’s not great in Tucson.

I’m not sure if we’re headed back to the Phoenix are next year. We might try to switch it up. I would love to go back simply for the easy access to hiking but I am just one vote 🙂.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

The Driftless 2022

We ‘found’ a new part of Minnesota which checks all of our boxes: decent hiking, great, views, reasonable cost, decent amenities and it’s not too far from the twin cities!

The area is called ‘The Driftless’ because it remained unglaciated during the last ice age and has some very unique scenery, animal life, and geographical features – like an utter lack of lakes. I had heard about the area but only heard about the bike trail through the Lanesboro area, I had no idea the Driftless extended to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. We explored the Rushford, Houston, Lanesboro and surrounding area and had a blast.

The surprises were many: the hiking in Great River Bluffs State Park was wonderful, the Amish desserts / baked items sold on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere was wonderful, there are at least two very fun caves to visit, and the restaurants were halfway decent too!

We visited Niagara Cave (narrow and tall) and Mystery Cave (wide and short) – both were awesome for different reasons. It was neat to learn how the water run off made the caves in the area.

We visited the Driftless because the fall colors were completely missing on the north shore. We were still a bit early for the fall colors in southern Minnesota but we did see some fall colors and it was delightful.

The best part of the entire trip was the utter lack of people and low cost of lodging, food, and activities. We go to the North Shore every year and it’s usually wonderful! Since COVID kicked off the North Shore has remained stunningly beautiful and wonderful to visit but lodging, food, and activities have become super expensive and 100% not worth it. It’s now more economical to fly somewhere cool for a short weekend then go to the North Shore. I think I’m sensitive to ripping off tourists simply because I grew up in a tourist trap that offered a terrible deal for a tourist’s money – this year was the year where I finally gave up on paying North Shore rates – we did not get 40% more enjoyment out of the lodging costing 40% more this year versus last.

We are beyond excited to find a new place to explore. Next year we plan on exploring some of the Wisconsin Driftless.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

North Shore 2022

What a surprise this year – no fall colors.

We go to the North Shore about the same time, within a few days, nearly every year. Every year we’ve had spectacular fall colors. The maples along the tops of the Sawtooths are gorgeous. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of beautiful sights around the world.

This year was different. Fall is late. Very late. Instead of fall colors we saw the end of the wildflowers and about a billion pollinators. It was so much fun to see the impatients, golden rod, blazing star, and a multitude of other flowers I’ve never seen on the trails over run by may different types of pollinators I’ve never seen.

We spent quite a bit more time hiking this year than in the past. Usually a hike in the morning and a hike in the afternoon. It was a lot of fun to revisit some of the falls I haven’t seen for about a decade – going to Devil’s Kettle in Judge CR Magny State Park and hiking the 192 stairs was 100% worth it. All in all we hiked in every single state park along the north shore sans Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Grand Portage State Park – we hiked Goosebury Falls, Tettegouche State Park (Illgen Falls), Temperance River State Park (Hidden Falls), Cascade River State Park(Cascade Falls), and, Judge CR Magney State Park (Devil’s Kettle). Outside of state parks we had very rewarding hikes at Oberg Mountain, White Sky Rock + Lake Agnes, and Caribou Falls wayside rest. I think our favorites may have been Devil’s Kettle and Caribou Falls simply because of the type of trail and surrounding forest. We did visit the Grand Portage National Monument but that’s a bit different than the state park.

The restaurant situation is still a bit jacked up. Everyone is hiring, one restaurant didn’t have enough employees and had very limited services, another restaurant had employees but they were on a worker exchange visa program of some sort and from all over the globe, and one of the best places we ate, Voyagers Brewery, had a crap ton of employees, great service, a bunch of customers, and reasonably priced food. The places with a shortage of employees and services must not pay well.

Beyond the restaurants, it seems all the COVID related changes are gone – a pretty different experience compared to visiting in 2020. Looking back at my post history, it looks like I skipped writing about the north shore visit in 2020. It’s probably a good thing to keep my opinions on that experience to myself. However, the fall colors were spectacular that year 10/10.

Once again, we had a fantastic time on the north shore. We look forward to visiting next year!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.