Fred’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

It is cold and there is very little sound coming from the darkness in front of me. But I know that they are there because they landed there at sunset the night before. As the first quiet light touches the sky behind me, the gathering of large birds begin to talk and ready themselves for another day in the fields. There are some 4,300 sandhill cranes currently in the refuge on this mid-November morning, and a large number of those are in the pond before me. The number of cranes that migrate to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge each winter can number as many as 17,000, but most of those will come toward the end of December and beginning of January.

As the glow of the sun behind the mountain in the east slowly intensifies, the activity of the cranes begins to ratchet up as a large swarm of snow geese converge on the pond and circle above it, frantically darting up and down and left and right, and slowly descend toward the water and land among the large birds. The clamor generated by the cranes and geese is deafening. An instant before sunrise the snow geese “blast off” as one and fly directly over my head in one giant wave and fly toward the sun and the fields of corn in another part of the refuge. While the number of geese at this time of year is less than the 50,000 that will migrate to the refuge by year’s end, it is still quite substantial. As the morning dawns, the cranes also begin to lift off in small groups and circle toward the fields. This will continue for almost an hour until all of the birds are gone, and the pond will sit empty until that first crane returns at the end of the day.

We visited the refuge during the annual Festival of the Cranes which runs November 17-22 just outside of San Antonio, New Mexico. Over the five days that we were in the area, I was up at 0415 to get into the refuge well before sunrise to catch the “fly out,” and was also in the park until after sunset to see the “fly in” when the birds return to their night roosting spots. A truly extraordinary spectacle to see, one that I will experience again when I return to the refuge the middle of December for four more days with the birds.

Images from my first visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are below.    

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.




Fred’s Yellowstone National Park, Part 2


I ease the car off of the road and look out into a deep fog. I see nothing but damp gray. The dawn is beginning to ebb and I am the only one in this part of Yellowstone, except of course, for the bison. When I open my car door, I cannot see them, but I can hear them, muffled grunts and heavy breath that is exhaled in a rush from somewhere across the Firehole River. This is my fourth morning in this spot to catch the sun as it hits the large, lumbering creatures. Because of the heavy fog dawn is muted, and as I walk down toward the river I can make out the faint outlines of something moving on the other side of the slowly moving stream. It is quite eerie being out here at this time of the morning by myself, and more than once I look from side to side and behind me to ensure that something is not slowly moving up on me. But they are on the other side of the narrow river, slowly milling about and waiting for their day to begin.

Around the designated time of sunrise, I can see the first of them begin to move down toward the water and tentatively take their first steps into the river. The sun is still shrouded in a heavy blanket of white, but they move toward it, as they have the other mornings that I have shot sunrise in this place. They come out of the water and step up onto the bank on my side of the river and continue to move forward, slowly walking past me as if in a trance, toward the hidden sun. The ethereal quality of the images that I am attempting to record on my camera remind me of a hike that I took amongst giant sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park a few months ago. I was also alone on that occasion, slowly walking in heavy morning fog on a narrow trail that meandered through a grove of ancient and enormous living beings. In this case, however, the bison are the ones who meander, lowering their heads every couple of steps to bite off a mouthful of golden grass as they continue their trek toward the sun. Below are photos from that foggy morning, as well as from the other mornings that I watched the bison in their morning migration.

On the other end of the day, I was fortunate to see a small herd of elk just before sunset in a field of tall grass. They were in rut, and the bugle of a young bull signaled his acute interest in finding a mate, or two, or three. He had exclusive rights to this particular herd until a distant bugle indicated that there was a new sheriff in town. In the distance, I could see a large male making his way slowly toward the herd through the chest-high grass. One of the photo sets below captures the ultimate meeting of the young buck and the aging veteran. Spoiler alert: in this case, size and experience win out over youthful exuberance.

In total, I spent almost three weeks exploring Yellowstone NP, some days in the park from before sunrise, until well after sunset. In addition to the photos of bison, elk and pronghorns, this post also includes sunrise shots of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and stunning Yellowstone Lower Fall. Finally, there are images of the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs and the dramatic Porcelain Basin. 

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.






Fred’s Yellowstone National Park, Part 1

I spent almost three weeks in Yellowstone NP, a week of which was while Laura traveled back to Chicago to help Claire with her wedding dress shopping, and during that time I got a pretty good feel for the park. The time also afforded me the opportunity to revisit particular places of interest at different times of the day or under different weather conditions. On a number of days I was up at zero dark hundred to capture bison as the morning light hit them, and stayed out until after sunset to shoot a geyser and mineral pool basin as the last rays of the day shimmered on hot, still water. At different places in the park, I watched as the rising sun slowly illuminated the 300 feet Lower Yellowstone Falls, and caught the floor show on a number of occasions of Yellowstone’s most famous attraction: Old Faithful. There was so much more, but I’ll allow my photos to provide you with a sense of what I saw during my time in the park. Given my extensive amount of time in Yellowstone and the corresponding number of images that I captured, I have divided my photos into two different posts.

Yellowstone is our nation’s first national park, and what a grand park it is. 

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.




Fred’s Dark Side of the Moon

I would normally be posting photos from our long stay in Yellowstone NP, but that will follow a bit later. We have moved on to Capital Reef National Park in Utah, and it was here that I perched myself on some high ground and watched the recent lunar eclipse as the moon rose above a distant mountain range. Capital Reef NP has been designated as an international dark-sky area, and it was magical to be where I was with only a couple from California to keep me company and watch the celestial show unfold.

While the lunar eclipse was the headliner for the evening, the warm-up acts were pretty stunning as well. As the night came on in earnest, and the moon moved to a stage of total eclipse, an incredible display of stars appeared, with the Milky Way a band of sparkling light overhead. The Milky Way was the centerpiece, but the rest of the sky was filled with stars as well. As we scanned the dark night, we were treated to a number of shooting stars, one whose path was near the moon itself. The evening was so clear that we could even see the International Space Station moving across the sky. And when my new friends from California made their way back down the mountain, I was left alone to view the conclusion of the show. At around 2215, when the eclipse had finally run its course, I packed up my camera equipment, turned on my headlamp, and began the trek back down the mountain to my car. Toad was the only car remaining in the very remote parking area.

Below are a series of photos that capture the progression of the lunar eclipse throughout the evening. I was fortunate that it was a very clear night, with the moon only somewhat obstructed by a cloud bank as the eclipse approached totality. But the moon rose through this bank and the show continued in all its grandeur. I had wanted to put this slide show to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but I wasn’t sure about the whole copyright-infringement wrinkle, so I would suggest that if you have it on an MP3 player, that you cue it up, put on your headphones, and transport yourself to that mountain top with me.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.


A Vacation from our Vacation

Stan, Pam, Laura & Fred enjoying our reunion
The Butlers and The Jollys at Anna Maria Island

Two weeks ago we left our RV, Charley, in a campground in Salt Lake City, hopped a flight bound for Florida, and took a vacation from our lifestyle that, if we’re being truthful, is pretty much a full-time vacation anyway – indeed, we are blessed to live such a remarkable life!

And in case you hadn’t noticed, I took a vacation from blogging, too – it’s quite a lot of work keeping at this every few days! – and while I hadn’t actually planned the blogging hiatus, I do think I needed a break from writing and was pleased to actually read a couple of books during my vacation.  Besides, we were having so much fun with our friends that there simply wasn’t any time to write about it; we were too busy living it!

The boys bellying up at the Blue MarlinLaura & Pam getting fancySo this ‘vacation from our vacation’ came about because our dear friends in Vermont, Pam and Stan, invited us to join them on one of their annual vacations – a week at a beach house on Anna Maria Island, just west of Sarasota, Florida.  How could we turn that down?… we couldn’t!!

The Vermont crewWe had such a marvelous time with Stan and Pam, as well as with Dana and Linda, and Peter and Kathleen; two other Vermont couples who were also happy to be escaping the snow that was still on the ground up in New England as of last week.  We all enjoyed beach time, dinners out and in, shopping (just the girls), biking, morning donut runs, and, of course, happy hours featuring Stan’s renowned Stantinis!  And as Fred’s Navy buddy, Perry, and his wife, Dee Dee, live in nearby Tampa, we got to see them, too, both at their place and down at the beach – it was fun and friends all around!

Sheila, Fran, Alicia and Carol - the newly crowned (cupped?) Women's 40+ Hockey Champions!
Sheila, Fran, Alicia and Carol, National Hockey Champions!!!

Another highlight of our vacation time was getting to know and party with some great ladies who happen to be accomplished hockey players.  This group of crazy-fun women are friends with the Vermont group, and as timing would have it, the national championship hockey tournament was taking place down here the same time we were all down here on vacation.  While we didn’t see any of their games, we sure enjoyed partying with them because THEY WON!  And boy could they party!!  These women are the Women’s Over-40 National Hockey Champions!

So at the risk of boring my readers with vacation pictures, I’m including a slideshow, below, with some photo highlights from our beach vacation.  I’m doing this primarily to share them with the Anna Maria Island party people who are responsible for us having so much fun – they wanted access to my photos.  If you’d like to see them, too, hover your cursor over the photo, below, then use the arrows to scroll through our vacation photos:  

We can’t thank Pam and Stan enough for including us in what was a fabulous, fun-filled, sun-filled, sand-filled, booze-filled week in sunny Florida.  We’re already trying to figure out where our next vacation with them will be, but no matter where it is, it’s sure to be wonderful, just as this one was….

Sunset at the beach

Journey to Angle Outpost

July 20-21 — Related to the prior post on visiting the second of the four extreme points in the U.S., we had an enjoyable journey to get to this destination, and once here, we had a wonderful stay!  From our current location of International Falls, MN, the trip up to this extreme point is close to four hours, so we decided not to push ourselves with a big long day-trip, but rather go up, spend the night, and come back the following day.

The journey to Northwest Angle is worth noting, because  this part of Minnesota is not connected to ‘mainland Minnesota’ – it’s about 20 miles north, so to get here, you cross the Canadian border and travel around 40 miles in Manitoba before crossing back into the U.S. to get to “The Angle” as the locals call it.

While Border Patrol crossing into Canada was more involved than we thought, once we got to where we had to cross back to the U.S., there was a phone booth, of sorts, at “Jim’s Corner” where you had to go in and call the appropriate Customs office to let them know you were crossing.  Failure to do this, we were told, was punishable by steep ($2,000!) fines – no problem from us abiding by this rule!

Jim's Corner Outlying Area Reporting Station (OARS) where you have to call either Canadian Customs or U.S. Customs to tell them that you're crossing the border
“Jim’s Corner” – the Outlying Area Reporting Station where you have to call either U.S. Customs or Canadian Customs letting them know you’re crossing this unmanned border
Calling U.S. Passport Patrol from "Jim's Corner"
Fred ready with his passport on the Customs ‘bat phone’
Then back into the U.S. to get to the northernmost point
“Top of the Nation” – well, not quite… it’s actually a spot in the water some seven miles from Angle Outpost Resort

From here it was a short 8-ish miles down another dirt road – did I mention that the last 20 miles we traveled to get to Jim’s Corner was also on dirt roads?  Anyway, we made a couple more turns then got to our destination:  Angle Outpost Resort.

Lisa and Jason Goulet, owners of the resort, couldn’t have been more accommodating for us!  When reserving a cabin earlier this spring, I mentioned on the phone to Lisa that we were coming up, not for the fishing, but to go to the extreme northernmost point in the U.S.  At that time she indicated that Jason could take us out on his boat to the actual border spot – such service!

As the below photos show, we went out on Jason’s boat, going about seven miles west then a little north until we came upon a buoy Jason created to mark the spot.  Looking to the shores on both sides of the water, we could see the cut in the trees that marks the U.S. – Canada border, and it is THIS SPOT, not the land mass with the sign on it, that is the TRUE northernmost point.

Again, thanks to the Goulets for really making our stay at Angle Outpost Resort such a memorable one!

Hover your cursor over the photo and click on the arrows to scroll through our pictures from Angle Outpost Resort:

It’s time to hit the road…

Hover your pointer over the photo, then click on the arrows to scroll through some photos of our time here on the homestead.

For the past two weeks we’ve been ‘squatters’ at the Jacobs family homestead in Chenoa, Illinois. This homestead property was originally settled in 1857 by Frederick Jacobs who came over from Germany for the opportunity to farm his own land.  Frederick is the Jolly brothers’ great-great-grandfather.

Now, fifth-generation family members, Tim & Cheryl Jolly, have purchased this homestead from a long-held family trust.  Unfortunately, the home was allowed to fall into disrepair while held in trust, making for a significant restoration project.  There is a lot of work to be done, including tearing out old, overgrown trees and bushes; cleaning out the many rooms; repairing rotted wood; stripping painted-over woodwork; reclaiming covered-over windows; remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms; refinishing all the floors, etc. etc. – this list only scratches the surface. Thankfully, Tim & Cheryl are committed to restoring this fine homestead to its original grandeur and moving in when the project is complete.

Incidentally, the current house was designed by a prominent architect out of nearby Bloomington, George H. Miller, who has several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was built in 1917 for Frank Jacobs, Fred/Jeff/Tim/Tom’s great-grandfather.  Nearly one hundred years of family members have lived in the home and farmed the surrounding land, including Russell & Gwen Jolly.  Here they raised their four raucous boys, including the eldest son, Fred.

We are so grateful that Tim & Cheryl have purchased the homestead and some of the surrounding acreage to farm.  We are happy to have been a small part of the initial clean-up, and we look forward to generations of Jacobs-Jollys enjoying the home once again and continuing the longstanding family legacy here.

And now it’s time to hit the road……..

Grand Canyon NP

03 - Third stop on our honeymoon - we're finally here!August 11-16 — The third and final leg of our honeymoon trip.  Most people’s experience visiting the Grand Canyon is from the South Rim. That’s why Fred planned our visit to the North Rim – okay, in large part because it was closer to Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP that were also part of this, our honeymoon trip, but also because this part of the park is far less crowded; only 10% of the park’s visitors visit from this side.  This translated into a much more leisurely stay at the park, which is just what we wanted. The mile-deep, 18-miles-wide immense gorge was visible from nearly everywhere we visited in the six days/five nights we spent here, and yet the scale is so vast that even from the best vantage point, only a fraction of the canyon can be seen.  In total, the Grand Canyon is 275 miles long, carved out millions of years ago by the Colorado River.  John Muir, considered to be the Father of the National Parks, summed it up rather well:

It will seem as novel to you, as unearthly in color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture as if you had found it after death on some other star.

As with our other NP visits on this trip, Fred secured us a great cabin; make that THE cabin (#305) right on the rim.  We’re talking feet up on the railing of our front porch overlooking the vastness of this incredible place while rocking in our rocking chairs – breathtaking!!! And if this wasn’t enough of the good life, just steps from our cabin was the Grand Canyon Lodge. Upon our arrival we unloaded our belongings into our cabin and unpacked a bit, then headed up to the lodge deck to enjoy our first sunset.  As our great fortune would have it, the Grand Canyon Orchestra was about to begin a concert on the deck.  You have no idea how spectacular it was to be sitting in big Adirondack chairs facing the Grand Canyon while enjoying wonderful musical performances including Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.   For a most enjoyable and incredible experience in music and pictures, check this out:

Alright, all was not quite perfect on this trip….  As bad timing would have it, I got food poisoning the night before we trekked from Zion to Grand Canyon – it seemed our restaurant in Springdale hadn’t taken enough care in washing the greens in my salad, so I paid for it all night long and was completely wiped and weak for the next couple of days.  As a result, I was taken out of the strenuous hiking activities.  We did the gentle hikes of the Transept and Widforss trails nearby and got some nice photos, and we hiked Bright Angel to see and photograph the sunset one evening.  But Fred had to go solo on the big one, hiking five miles down the North Kaibab Trail into the canyon where he had his picnic lunch then hiked back up.  It was on this hike that he got a taste for hiking all the way down, and he’s now inspired to hike Rim-To-Rim on his 60th birthday.

In the “we weren’t expecting company” category, we had a mouse in our cabin – actually two!  We heard, and then saw our first little critter one night – snapped the lights on just in time to find that he somehow jumped/climbed/crawled up on the second bed in our room and was just about ready to enter my suitcase.  Well…!  I’m sure he was more scared of us than we were of him, but that didn’t stop the scampering about the rest of the night.  I spent the rest of the night periodically hitting my hiking poles together so the little guy was too scared to come out and find his way back into my suitcase!  Not wanting to alarm other guests in the cabins around us, we discretely told Housekeeping the next morning when we saw them.  The Housekeeping lady called over her radio for “RC-1” which we learned was code for “mousetrap” – I don’t understand the code system either; wouldn’t it be “MT-1”??  Anyway… Maintenance came with traps and bait (peanut butter), and we came back later to find one dead mouse.  Maintenance was good to remove him and re-baited the trap.  Then it was the middle of the next night when BAM! another trap sprang; another dead mouse.  We actually had to laugh at the whole thing; I mean if a mouse was the biggest of our animal problems while out in nature, we were actually doing pretty well.

On the other end of the spectrum from mouse is condor – just go with me on this…. The Grand Canyon is an important refuge for one of the world’s most majestic and most endangered birds: the California Condor.  One afternoon we were treated to an NPS Ranger talk about condors and their reintroduction to northern Arizona.  And then magically at one of the stops along the picturesque Canyon Rim Drive I was able to see and photograph one of these rare birds up close – okay, using a telephoto lens.  Fortunately, thanks to education and conservation efforts, condor populations are on the rise after decades of declines and near extinction.  Such a mighty sight, these birds!  For more reading on the condors, see

There’s so much more about I could share about our time at the Grand Canyon, but those are the high points of this, our first visit together.  We’ll be back for the big Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim trip marking a milestone birthday for Fred.  We’re hoping we have our Chicago friends, Bill & Lisa F., talked into joining us on this next visit. Ahh… the grand Grand Canyon…! [Trivia for Mom: The North Rim is about 1,000′ higher in elevation than the South Rim.]

Hover your pointer over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through our photos from Grand Canyon NP.