Lunar-Like Landing at White Pocket and South Coyote Buttes

As we get ready to celebrate 50 years since man landed Apollo 11 on the Moon this July, I recently had the privilege of visiting a location on Earth that resembles a lunar landing. The White Pocket area of Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, a spot that feels out of this world, is nestled between Page, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. It’s guarded by remote, and rugged terrain, so it sees far fewer visitors each year than its neighbors at Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. However, each year its recognition among photographers and adventurers grows.

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If you’ve visited Horseshoe Bend, AZ for a sunrise photo facing west you couldn’t miss the Vermilion Cliffs and the Paria Plateau 10 miles in the distance because the first light of sunrise illuminates this elevated, red rock wilderness before anything else.

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Horseshoe Bend with Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs getting first light.

This 112,500 acre “island in the sky”, as some have referred to it, is accessed from the west and north sides via Kanab and 89A where the dramatic step off becomes invisible once you’re on it.  Stretches of 89A are said to roughly follow the path of early Franciscan explorers, as well as the route taken by early Mormons on their way to be married at the nearest temple.  Once you’re off the pavement, it’s a long trail to reach these relatively small geological masterpieces on primitive paths mostly maintained by usage.

Geologically, White Pocket is one of a kind with its relatively thin, drippy coating of white stone resembling cauliflower or brain matter on the surface–giving rise to the lunar sensation.  Just beneath is the striated, slick rock, sedimentary, Navajo, red WhitePocketCauliflowerRock

 

WhitePocketHikerssandstone of varied hardness so common in the area.  What’s uncommon is the well-preserved and chaotic layering where time and clearly violent movement tell the untold, almost photographic, story of what occurred here. Some geologists theorize that the area was created by a massive sand slide during the Jurassic Period, probably triggered by an earthquake, where soft, saturated sediment deep below the surface rapidly descended over a large pond or oasis resulting in unstable pockets of

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Moqui Marbles

trapped water and wet sand shifting, burping and bending beneath as if layers of rubber.  As sedimentary layers settled under the weight of the new surface, trapped water bubbled and migrated, forcing its way to different places in volcanic-like movements of soil.  What’s left are a varied and unusual array of hoodoos, fins, cones, ridges and ravines coated in white polygonal shaped icing that at times can resemble marble cake. There is the unmistakable feeling that while the rock was still wet a large hand was sculpting and working it; as if you were dropped inside the deep layered topography of paints—red, orange, yellow, pink, and white– within a Van Gogh painting where heavy-handed brush strokes and the gouges and smears of a palette knife prevailed to create masterful depth.  That’s as close as I can come to describing it.  Hopefully, the photos help.

White Pocket Gallery

We learned that the little black pebbles in-between many of the fractured polygonal formations are called Moqui Marbles which are iron oxide concretions that form underground where iron minerals collect in the form of a shell with a sandstone core.  Similar formations were discovered on Mars in 2004 by the Mars Exploration Rover.

Nearby is the more well-known, North Coyote Buttes commonly referred to as, The Wave, where access is limited to 20 visitors a day by lottery, and South Coyote Buttes which requires daily permits and limits, as well–even if you have a guide. (BLM Coyote Buttes Permits)  White Canyon doesn’t require a permit.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees all of these areas.

South Coyote Buttes Gallery

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South Coyote Buttes colorful teepees.

 

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Getting There

I considered trying to access South Coyote Buttes on my own, BLM permits in hand, but was glad I didn’t once I saw the conditions.  The roads are tough and require a true high clearance, 4X4 vehicle.  Your basic AWD, rental vehicle probably won’t cut it in the deep sand, potential deep mud, combined with steep inclines, large rocks and ditches. It’s also easy to forget the elevation because of the plateau.  As with any mountainous region, conditions can change quickly.  I spent most of the day in the area that started out with sunny blue skies, but quickly devolved into a disorienting, extended snow squall.  If you get stranded or stuck you’re not likely to see a passerby until the next day. Ignorance, isolation and preparedness are formidable and the most common predators of visitors, say the locals. Even if you have the proper vehicle and feel comfortable behind the wheel in these conditions, navigating the infrequently marked, dirt trails, from one area to another could be another wheel spinner.

That being said, I can’t imagine how hot and uncomfortable it must be here in the summer months, an added danger for visitors.  To me, March, April, and October are an ideal time to visit for this very reason.  The temperatures can vary wildly but generally remains in a manageable range.  Again, visitors must stay aware of conditions and be prepared for quick changes.

Our Guides and What I Wore?

Witnessing the Native American petroglyphs, abandoned and deteriorating corrals and cabins now protected within this National Monument makes a visitor imagine what life was like for those early inhabitants. Early Native Americans–especially Puebloans– were thought to use the area for refuge while moving from one area to the next.  During the wild, wild, west the formations functioned as hideouts.  The remote, small, wooden structures along the primitive one lane roads are served by the ubiquitous wind mill-powered wells spinning nearby; an ode to turn of the century West. I imagined hearing the squeak of the spinning blades during the still of the night.

We chugged along safe and sound in our large SUVs equipped with satellite phones in case of an emergency.  Getting stuck and having to spend the night out here is a reality for any visitor—no matter how prepared.  Our guides from Dreamland

Safaris Tours were professional, well-equipped, knowledgeable and fun—most importantly.   Each guide had their own individual style and stories about the places we visited. We had a great time getting to know them. (#DreamlandSafariTours)

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Goofing around

We were treated to many archeological and geological artifacts throughout the exploration, but reminded not to take souvenirs.

As far as my outwear, I was happy to have many layers to keep myself warm as the temperature fluctuated and then dropped precipitously. During the snow squall the wind was howling and the temperature probably dropped 20˚, or more.  A hard shell is a must to stop the wind and to stay dry.  As a person who can feel cold when the temperature drops below 72˚ F, I am a big proponent of wool base layers, or anyimg_5973 base layer for much of the year.

Being comfortable and knowing what you need in terms of layers is a learned skill. (See more specific selections below.) It’s different for each person. If you want to be certain you have the right outerwear, you must do some homework and know what works for you–wool, synthetic, down, fitted or loose, bluesign®, ethically sourced, etc.  I prefer efficient, fitted, lightweight layers that breath and dry quickly, so that I don’t feel restricted by my clothing.  And, always be prepared for the unexpected, whether that’s heat or cold.  As far as shoes are concerned, a hiking shoe for extra traction will be helpful on this mild hiking experience.  You might also want to wear gaiters to keep the sand out of your shoes, but it’s not a necessity.

During this adventure I also ran in the Antelope Half Marathon, visited Monument Valley, as well as several slot canyons.  Check back for posts about those experiences very soon. Please do me a favor and take a moment to follow me here on my blog and on Instagram–especially if you found this entry helpful. More to come!

© Amy Linn Doherty and Pawpro Media 2009-2019.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Linn Doherty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


OUTERWEAR

•250 weight wool base layer (#Smartwool, #KariTraa, #REI, #Odlo are my favorites.)

•lightweight polar tech fleece (#OutdoorResearch Deviator or Patagonia R1/R2® w/            Polartec®, Alpha® Power Grid™ fleece is lightweight and efficient.)

•synthetic or down mid-layer (Patagonia Nano Air®, Arc’teryx Atom LT® are my favorites)

•Lightweight, Waterproof, Hard Shell Gore-tex® (The North Face® HyperAir® a favorite of mine because it’s lightweight and breathable.)

•wool socks #Stance ®, Smartwool®, REI®

•Fleece, Wind Stopping Gloves

•Hiking shoe or mid-boot (Salomon® Outline)


#WhitePocket, #PariaCanyon_VermilionCliffs, #Dreamlandsafaris, #PageAZ, #Bryce, #Zion, #FindYourPark, #OutdoorPhotography, #adventurevacations, #hiking, #travelphotography, #amydohertyphotos, #landscape photography, #kanab, #89A, #geology, #redrock, #southwest, #Arcteryx, #OR, #Patagonia, #outerwear, #outerwearguru, #whattowear, #hikingclothing #Navajo, #PublicLands, #ProtectPublicLands, #lunarlanding, #outofthisworld, #REI, #OptOutside, #ForceofNature, #AntelopeCanyon, #slotcanyon, #VacationRaces, #AntelopeCanyonHalfMarathon #MoquiMarbles

Sources:

  1.  http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/coyote_buttes/south-coyote-buttes.html
  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2012/02/vermilion-cliffs-national-monument/
  3. https://www.dreamlandtours.net/day-tours/tours-of-the-paria-canyon-vermillion-cliffs-national-monument/white-pocket-photography-tour/
  4. https://www.dreamlandtours.net/day-tours/tours-of-the-paria-canyon-vermillion-cliffs-national-monument/white-pocket-photography-tour/
  5. https://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/03/white-pocket-vermilion-cliffs-national.html

 

Happy 100th Grand Canyon: And Many More?

What started as a crazy Grand Canyon notion among an assorted group of empty nesters, mid-lifers, one twenty-something, and an eleven-year-old from Northern Virginia became a collective reality, and a substantial Southwestern adventure accomplishment for me and my son back in 2014.PAW4953GrandCanyonboyhiker

All I wanted to do was take my youngest child–on the precipice of becoming a teenager–on a memorable, somewhat significant trip.  In all honesty, I had never heard of hiking the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim, and I certainly never imagined doing it in one day.  The more conventional experience is to hike down to the famed Phantom Ranch, spend a night or two camping at the bottom of the canyon, and then hike out to the North Rim.  Instead, we were going to hike from one rim to the other in one day

Ranging in age from 11 to 62, our group of 15 men and women, and one child hiked the rim-to-rim in 2014.  This undertaking includes 23.4 miles, 11.5 hours, 7 miles down the South Rim, 9 miles across, and 7 vertical, winding miles up and out to the North Rim.  Weather conditions can make any crossing experience vastly different and more-or-less extreme from one day to the next.

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Entering Cedar Ridge

This isn’t a hike recommended by park rangers, I assume because hikers so frequently misjudge hydration and fitness needs even for the shorter hikes, and become stranded.  Indeed, not long after we attempted this hike the National Park Service made similar hiking groups acquire a Special Use Permit in order to attempt a rim-to-rim in a group of this size.  You’ll see online that some websites specifically discourage rim-to-rim hiking, while others promote ultra-style, rim-to-rim-to-rim runs of the canyon, and the like.  All I can tell you is, as we began our ascent up to the North Rim, we passed a tiny helipad, and minutes later a small aircraft took off with a woman who had reportedly broken her ankle.  The risks and logistics are real, and the rescues difficult, not guaranteed, and expensive.

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That said, we too had a new hip in the group, knees that needed replacement, tendinitis, tight IT Bands, lower back issues, poison ivy, and blisters.  In fact, my son had been rushed to an urgent care after landing in Phoenix two days earlier because of a sudden ear infection. So, while we were a tough, conditioned group–most of whom met via a 6a.m., all-year-round, outdoor, boot camp–we had plenty of potential health issues that could have become an issue at any point.

An Early Start

The day of the hike started at 4:40 AM when we all met outside our South Rim cabins to catch the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead, the shorter, but more steep way down.  It was an ideal 38˚F.  We were told no water is guaranteed on these trails until you hit the bottom, so everyone carries their own.  We paused at the start of the trail in the company of other hiking groups heading out for adventures of their own.

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Along the South Kaibab Trail of the Grand Canyon.

By the time we reached the bottom the temperature could reach 90˚F or higher, but we were lucky and these extreme conditions didn’t materialize on this late May day. However, there was a little lightning as we hiked, another regular threat, but it stayed well in the distance. (Distance being a relative term on foot and within the Grand Canyon.) We each also carried a change of clothes and toiletries for when we reached the North Rim Lodge, which seemed more like a dream as the day progressed and the miles underfoot accumulated.

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Hiking within the canyon, lightning in the distance.

We marveled at the awesome natural spectacle of the early morning canyon, the tips of the layered, red rock walls painted with a warm glow of sunlight as our feet and toes hammered down the well-traversed, sometimes stepped trail, spattered by mule dung and giant, puddles of vaporizing mule urine that by the time we reached the North Rim functioned as smelling salts for at least one in the group–me.  I can only imagine how more intense this smell would have been on a hot day.

As we descended, the excitement grew as we caught the first glimpses of the distant, calm, emerald green portion of the Colorado River we would soon cross on the heavy gauge wire and plank suspension bridge.PAW_5102GrandCanyonbridge

We stopped and ate the boxed lunches at Phantom Ranch, which we’d pre-arranged via the National Park Service system. Some of us soaked our feet in the super cold water of the nearby stream, which was a mistake I would later regret.

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Soaking my feet mistake.

Rain, thunder and lightning could not dampen the group spirit as we headed towards our last break at the encampment called Cottonwood early in the long 5400 foot climb up the North Kaibab Trail.  The average grade is 21%.   We took only two extended breaks during the day to eat and use the rustic, hole in the ground bathroom facilities, and limited our time at these spots.  We wanted to finish in daylight, but were prepared with headlamps if we didn’t make it in time.  We nibbled on trail mix and various incarnations of jerky.  We continued to be amazed by the grandeur of the canyon at every turn, but more and more our gazes remained on our feet, and the strikes of the hiking poles getting deeper as we began the long climb out.

As the Day Wore On

While we stopped and posed for photos frequently on the way down, this activity became an unnecessary use of valuable time and energy on the climb out.  I had developed a few blisters, and the pounding of my toes within shoes not quite sized right had started taking a toll. At least that was the slightly dehydrated thinking that was going through my brain. The camera mounted on my forehead was beginning to chafe the skin as it bounced up and down, but that pain was nothing compared to the one manifesting in my feet and thought process.  I had long since packed away my Nikon D7000.  I took only two photos on the climb out, while being chided by the climber sporting a new hip for not taking in all the scenic points behind me.  I was in too much pain.  Plus, I failed to dry my feet completely after soaking them in the stream earlier, which spurred the hot spots developing.  During some relentlessly steep stretches and endless switchbacks my breathing sounded as if I had just completed a series of wind sprints.  “I was in better than average shape.” I was saying to myself, “And this climb is kicking my ass!”  Thinking back, I was probably carrying too much water and too much camera gear, AND had spent too much time making sure my son was eating and drinking enough.

In the end, it was the 11-year-old and twenty-something who finished first, youth and two days of antibiotics working their magic, I tell myself.  The rest of us finished in small clusters, grateful for the chance, the place, the cool temperatures, and the camaraderie.  We had all done it!  We had successfully hiked the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim in one day.

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We spent a glorious night at the North Rim Lodge.  I couldn’t tell you what I ate that night.  The dining room overlooks the canyon.  We could see the lights of the South Rim as nighttime came.  My son fell asleep at dinner, the table served as his pillow.  We woke the next morning to the full scale glory of a sunrise at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

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These places face a growing threat–economically and environmentally.  The Grand Canyon was officially protected and preserved 100 years ago so that future generations can enjoy it.  We must remember we aren’t the first, and we shouldn’t be the last to see it and experience it.

© Amy Linn Doherty and Pawpro Media 2009-2019.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Linn Doherty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Snow a Welcome Change to DC Scenery.

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Constitution Gardens benches in a blanket of snow.
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Beside the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
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Despite the government shutdown and the snow, National Park Service workers clear the walkways, predawn, to keep them passable and safe.
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Lincoln Memorial during snow storm 2019
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The fenced up Washington Monument

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Geese resting and huddled for warmth in the Capital Gardens pond

 

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Geese landing in the Constitution Gardens pond w/ Washington Monument in the background
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Constitution Gardens geese in snow storm
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Blue Heron on the bank of Constitution Gardens Pond
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Einstein Memorial decorated with snow in front of National Academy of Sciences where one quote reads, “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” Albert Einstein
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First visitors to Constitution Gardens as snow continues to fall.
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Washington wakes and starts enjoying the snow.

Exploring the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge–a Photo Essay

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I’m going to keep the words to a minimum in this post.  Over the last five months I’ve spent a good deal of time exploring Cambridge, MD and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge region of the Eastern Shore.

What a spectacular place.

Postscript: Places like Blackwater NWR are currently at risk of losing funding because Congress has allowed authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to lapse back in September 2018.  This fund has historically been bipartisan, and supports small places such as community baseball fields, to massive areas such as Grand Teton National Park.  There is a map within an article written by a representative from The Wilderness Society on REI’s Co-Op Journal (link below) detailing all the places #LWCF supports.  Funding for these places shouldn’t be at risk or threatened by political tides because their preservation benefits all–economically, environmentally, individually. #SaveLWCF    Article about Land and Water Conservation Fund Authorization Lapse

As the Sun rises . . .

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On the grounds of the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge along the Choptank River

We caught sight of the first two eagles of the day perched together over the marsh as the sun was about to break the horizon.

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Two bald eagles perched together.
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And the Day Flies by

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Red Winged Black Birds
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As the Day Turns to Night

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Sea Oats
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The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center

© Amy Linn Doherty and Pawpro Media 2009-2019.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Linn Doherty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On the trails of Tour du Mont Blanc

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Mont Blanc massif and Pointe Helbronner.
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Adventure seeking and adventure travel is fairly mainstream these days. Folks don’t think twice about flying all over the world to hike or run a trail, to see mountain ranges and views we’ve previously only seen in books and magazines.  In my family, a hike was something I might get my father to do for an hour or two somewhere, usually in woods walking distance from home.  Fast forward to a new millennium and an outdoor industry that dwarfs what it was thirty and forty years ago, and the world is seemingly smaller, all places more accessible, and companies and guides aplenty to help you find your way wherever you want to go.

This, “everything is possible” adventure seeking attitude has gotten out of control in some extreme places such as Mount Everest, where folks, who don’t have the skills or physical conditioning to be there, climb to their deaths, and dangerous conditions are amplified by the sheer numbers of people finding guides willing to take them. (Not to mention the risks and dangers they are asking sherpas to make and the consequences to the environment.)  I wasn’t planning to go extreme, but I did want adventure, to be within and somewhat at the mercy of my abilities and in proximity to a natural wonder.

In June, I decided to bite off a chunk of adventure on a manageable scale, and headed to Chamonix, France to hike in the Alps on the infamous circuit surrounding the Mont Blanc massif, commonly known as Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB).  A more reasonable, but still challenging morsel of exploration. For good measure, I threw in a glacier hike because why the hell not, when I’m surrounded by world famous, mammoth glaciers.

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Early morning of Mont Blanc from Chamonix.

Glacier Hike

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A group of 12 of us staying in Chamonix were picked up early by two guides (Mountain Spirit Guides for our glacier hike. We had all previously communicated with the guides about having suitable boots that can accommodate crampons, and the rest of the gear, ice ax and harness, was supplied. We each brought our own lunch. We had planned to step out of our hotel’s front door at Hotel l’Heliopic and head up the Aiguille du Midi cable car, but the lift, literally just outside the front doors, wasn’t working. We were to hike down the ridge from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner, a four hour hike across Vallée Blanche to the Italian side of the mountain range overlooking Courmayeur, but it wasn’t to be with the Midi cable out of order. That was a huge disappointment as I had hoped to get some early morning photos from this famous vantage.

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The vantage from the Pointe Helbronner gondola.
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Hiking past a giant opening during our glacier hike.

So, we headed through the 8 mile tunnel under Mont Blanc towards Courmayeur, Italy.  After we were briefly detained at the border by the Italian police, whose flamboyant feathered hats seem to contradict the cradled machine guns in their arms, we were allowed to proceed.  It was a beautiful, sunny day as we headed up to Pointe Helbronner on a relatively new, rotating gondola that held probably 40 people on each trip up.  Two different cables get you to the top at Pointe Helbronner (3462m) station, which is an impressive, modern facility that appears well-equipped to handle the severe conditions and crowds of all kinds, but we didn’t hang around long enough to enjoy it.

As we headed down the platform to get on the glacier there was a waist high bar.  We tried to find a way to release or swing it open. We struggled a few moments wondering what we were doing wrong.  Our guides corrected us, “Just climb over.” Pretty sure there was a mental “stupid” ending that broken English sentence. Not sure if it was a subtle test to weed out those who probably shouldn’t head out on the glacier, but it struck me as an #SNL way to do it.  If our guides were testing our experience level, we’d probably already either failed or received a very low score in the parking lot as they watched us struggle to put on our harnesses.

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Glacier hikers descending from Aiguille du Midi on the distant peak.

I was placed at the back of one of two tethered hiking groups we formed, so I could take photos.  The sun was strong and the snow soft and slushy even at 8:30 AM. In the distance we could see ant sized lines of people heading in multiple directions on the various glacier fields and rocky landmarks poking through.  None of us had hiked on a glacier previously, so we listened to the safety talk in earnest–keep our spacing in case someone falls through, follow the path of footprints, use the ice ax upside down as a trekking pole, if someone falls through just sit and wait for a guide to come help.  Each directive seemed to end with the phrase, “. . . in case someone falls through”.  I had purchased the special travel insurance that includes rescues and medical evacuations precisely because of this idea.  We passed large, two or three story glacial outcrops, and jumped across an area where there was some undefined crevasse below without incident.  There are no danger signs, just the natural kind from knowing the area and understanding changes in the snow’s surface and the patterns that form.  That’s why you have guides. We stopped occasionally to catch our breath. It didn’t take long in the warm conditions to begin sweating as if we were back in Virginia doing the boot camp that brought most of this group together as travel companions.

I’ve hiked a rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon, Angel’s Landing at Zion after running a half marathon, and numerous other destination halfs.  It didn’t take long for my legs to feel the effects of hiking in the wet snow, which wasn’t altogether different than running in sand up and down dunes.  If you’ve ever been to Jockey’s Ridge in North Carolina, it was similar to that sensation. At one point, I started to think maybe I shouldn’t have scheduled this the day before starting the TMB; my hips were not enjoying the sliding movement.  As we hiked up to our lunch spot we saw climbers on the rocky outcrops far enough way that, at first, they didn’t look like humans. How long did it take them to get there, I wondered. Distances were skewed in the vastness and the clearness of the air.  There were occasional tents off in the distance, belonging to climbers who spend days and nights near areas they want to climb.

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Hikers descending from a climb up one of the rocky summits along the Mont Blanc massif.

We hiked two hours on the Cirque du Maudit, a circuit down into the depths of Glacier du Géant in a U-shape fashion swinging wide around Petit Flambeau and then ascending up to another ridge known as Col d’Entreves where we sat down for lunch overlooking Courmayeur.  The temperature dropped probably twenty, or more, degrees and the wind picked up considerably at the summit. Our huffing and puffing on the climb up left us all sweaty.  We added another layer to stay warm.  There wasn’t any wondering around for different vantages because we remained tethered while we ate, and we didn’t want to become entangled.

We retraced our steps back to Pointe Helbronner after lunch where we were all grateful for the ride back down on the cable.  Climbing the last part out of the valley up to the cable car you could imagine, to some extent, how hard climbing Everest must be.  The hiking was fairly slow going, yet, we had ideal, downright pleasant, 60 degree, conditions. Our guides urged us to move faster to stay on schedule, which was met with general disregard from many in our group.  By now, the crowd was very large at Pointe Helbronner with hiking groups.

After a shower and a steam back at l’Heliopic, I walked around Chamonix taking photos and shopping as dusk approached.  The rest of the evening I spent nursing a sunburn on my face and lips. Four hours on a glacier on a perfectly clear day, and I hadn’t re-applied lotion.  This was a costly mistake in terms of my comfort in the following days. Don’t underestimate the amount of discomfort caused by severely chapped lips.

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Early morning street scene in Chamonix.

The next morning we were to start the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

A mutual friend had used a small, boutique outfit in Switzerland, called HappyTracks GmbH the previous year, and returned with only good memories and great photos.  The owner, Raphi, short for Raphael, a native of Switzerland, splits his time serving in the army, as is mandatory for Swiss men of a certain age, and his trail guide business centered out of Trient, a tiny Swiss town along the TMB.  He creates personalized tours based on the needs and timeframe of guests. This year he added a hostel/refuge to the repertoire that serves hikers en route. Hiking the entire circuit takes roughly eleven days, but there are endless alternate legs and add-ons, so it would be easy to spend more time exploring.  Our plan was to hike for five days, averaging about 10 miles a day, and left it to Raphael to choose the segments, as well as the hotels where we stayed. We ended up hiking the northern half of the trail. A second guide was necessary because of the size of our group.

Days 1 and 2 TMB

Our first and second days started from the Val Ferret in Italy heading in opposite directions.   On the first, we had a moderate climb heading back towards Courmayeur in a southerly direction, along a natural balcony overlooking the valley with Mont Blanc in the distance the entire day.

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Mont Blanc on the right as we spent our first day on the TMB overlooking Val Ferret.

The TMB is ornamented with an assortment of rifugios where hikers may spend the night or stop for a bite to eat along their journey. Some are known for their desserts, as well as coffees, teas, beer, wine and food are available, and most have spectacular views.   Sleeping accommodations in these refuges are either open dormitory style, and some do offer more private options. They are usually quaint, stone and wood structures built to withstand the heavy, deep snow. They’re generally filled with trekkers and overnight guests sitting outside resting and enjoying the views that are hard to accept as reality. On the first day we stopped at two; Rifugio Bonatti was first and we ate our own packed lunches on the patio terrace, which they didn’t mind.

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Heading down to Courmayeur from the TMB on day 1.

Our guide didn’t have to suggest too strongly that we patronize more than the picnic tables and restrooms.  Most of us enjoyed some coffee, or more. Later on the first day, as we began our descent to Courmayeur, we enjoyed a beer at Rifugio Bertone that has a front row seat on Mont Blanc.  One can only imagine what alpine spectacles one might see from this spot at sunrise and sunset throughout the year.

After our beer, the two plus hour climb down was impressively long into Courmayeur.  As we left the forested trail towards our hotel for the night, we were revived by the details and beauty of the homes along the small roads.   The town is clean, old world, somewhat Bavarian feeling. We made our way to the Hotel Crampon on foot, a family owned small hotel where we initially overwhelmed the ladies at the reception by arriving all at once.  Our dirty boots were taken and placed in a common mudroom with cubbies as we were given our room keys, and we decide to meet in the bar after getting settled.

As with many of the hotels we stayed, the buildings were old and filled with the kind of charm that only time can bring.  Our room was large, renovated and clean with heavy French doors constructed long ago, leading to a generous balcony overlooking town, and the very section of the Alps we had hiked the day before on the glacier.  It was a perfect vantage for photos at sunrise. I was sharing a room with my friend Kathy, and we were very comfortable. We showered and headed downstairs to meet up for dinner and a drink. Cautiously, we asked the woman at the reception area, who checked us in, for directions to the bar.  She had been a little frazzled earlier. She kindly showed us, and instantaneously transitioned to our server/bartender. As she poured our drinks we talked, she warmed up and we learned that she is a part of the Grivel family that owns the hotel, and her great grandfather and uncle were well-known mountain guides and forgers in the area who also developed the first 10-point crampons, followed by a 12-point version. In later years a newer, lighter model known as the “Super Light Grivel” was used by world famous mountaineers such as Sir Edmund Hillary as he attempted Mt. Everest.  We had a great conversation with her. It was my favorite hotel and town of the trip. I got up early to take photos of the mountains from our balcony vantage.

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Our balcony view of the Alps from our Courmayeur hotel.

After breakfast in the hotel’s white clothed table dining room, we were picked up by our guides and driven back to Val Ferret.  Today we headed up to Grand Col Ferret the summit separating Italy and Switzerland and the two valleys that make up Val Ferret in these respective countries.  On our second day we were now more comfortable crossing the occasional snow flows that adorn the mountainsides. Some were 30 or 40 yards across and the grade just steep enough, and the snow just wet enough that one slip could see you sliding down the side of the mountain a great distance that would culminate in either falling through the snow and ice to the fast running stream of water beneath, colliding into a boulder, or falling off some precipice to a rocky landing of a greater or less significance further down slope. It was the kind of surface that if you have a fear of heights or feel unsure of your footing, your nervousness could amplify the danger.  As long as you remained loose and agile you were relatively safe. In these spots the trekking poles were critical for all.

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One of many snow flows, for lack of a better term, we crossed.

Unlike the previous day which included open meadows of flower covered mountainside, so very  “Sound of Music” looking with the occasional forested patches, today, was lush and green with many snow flows.  There were no trees after about twenty minutes into the hike. The temperature fluctuated more dramatically, but steadily dropped as we neared the peak two and a half hours later.  Shortly before the summit we got our only sighting of ibex in the distance, resting on a grassy terrace overlooking the valley. Unfortunately, there was no time to attempt an approach for a closer view.  Not long after we reached the Grand Col Ferret at 2537 meters, where the wind blasted us as it had on the glacier hike summit. I would say we had 40 mph sustained winds. I struggled to find my hard shell and was shivering. Hikers took turns and jockeyed for position to take photos beside the summit and border marker.

As we headed down the Swiss side of Val Ferret it was primarily snow for the first 30 minutes, which was a little treacherous just off the summit wearing nothing but hiking shoes.  We slipped and slid down the slope using our trekking poles as if we were skiing. In the distance the mountain sides were lush and green with the snow flows and streams decorating their steep faces.  Once we were out of the colder and stronger wind and temps we settled on a bluff to eat our pre-packed lunches. Our preparers had listened to our whining about the soggy tuna wraps the day before and researched how to pack a dry sandwich.  A good move, and much appreciated.

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Notice the tiny people on the trail at the left coming down from the summit a Grand Col Ferret.

Besides the awesomeness and scale of seeing Mont Blanc this area was my favorite because the mountainside appeared so velvety, broken up by the myriad streams detailing the contours of the steep slopes. I remember commenting in an Instagram post that each turn was a lesson in scale and beauty.  In any direction I turned the views were amazing.

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My favorite portion of the hike heading down to Alpage de la Peule.

As we descended the sound of cow bells ringing in the distance became more and more distinct until we arrived at Alpage de la Peule, another refugio tucked on the mountainside and surrounded by cows in pastures milling about or resting in the sun.  Again, we had some coffee and used the bathrooms. It was all downhill, about 6 kilometers, from here into La Fouly where we were picked up by our vans and driven to Champex for the night. As if we needed more walking, we walked around Lac de Champex, a 45 minute walk, where we experience one of those cell phone, Shangri-La,  picture moments of perfect light and legendary scenery after dinner.  It all came together.

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Again, our hotel for the night had special cubbies for our dirty boots in the main hallway.  This one looked antique and was painted decoratively with doors on the front of each space. No boots allowed beyond the lobby. There was a bar and comfortable lounge where a crowd gathered to watch World Cup soccer.  We ate in the adjoining hotel restaurant where the food and service was comforting. The dining room was large, and the service quick. Honestly, I can’t remember what I ate. I guess I was a little tired. The structure was old and the hallways were often dark.  The lights, operating on a sensor, didn’t always come on, so finding your way through the darkened hallways added to the experience. I fell asleep early on this night in a comfortable and clean bed.

Day 3 TMB

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The next morning we packed our lunches after breakfast, as was the routine, and walked out of Champex along the main road towards our trail.  Unlike the first two mornings, we headed downhill towards Champex d’en Bas for the first four miles, rather than up, among private ski chalets scattered across a rolling countryside.  As we started to ascend, the trail became forested, and the weather turned more damp, gray and foggy. The climb was steep and rocky for several miles. In these moments, I felt the extra weight of my camera gear.  I was carrying about 20-25 pounds in my pack.  Raphael warned us this was an intense, but short lived ascent. We crossed rocky, mountain streams, rather than snowy ones, reminiscent of Shenandoah, and around seven miles in left the forest behind. The mountainside opened up to grassy meadows, where we circled around to a ridge with a tremendous view of the valley below and the city of Martigny-Bourg.  Not long after this we came to the refuge of the day where we had heard all morning that the desserts were worth the climb. They were, and accompanied with a delightful coffee.  I thoroughly enjoyed my treat, and the time off my feet, but it was crowded with other hikers.  The line was not as long as it was at La Peuty, but there was a line for the bathrooms and the food.  This was often a good time to meet fellow travelers.

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On our descent into Trient we stopped briefly in Col de la Forclaz which is a sharp switchback in the road where several touristy gift shops, restaurants and bathrooms are strategically situated.  We left our trekking poles outside one shop. When it came time to leave one person’s poles were missing. Another recurring issue related to trekking poles was leaving them behind after a break. The longer the trip went on the more this seemed to happen. It’s easy to do, especially when your not terribly inclined to their use, and you’re fatigued. For many in our group this was their first time using poles. In almost every town where we stopped, their were outfitters where new trekking poles could be purchased, so it was only a temporary and minor inconvenience.

We walked into the tiny town of Trient and were shown to our guide’s hostel called Refuge Le Peuty overseen by both Raphael and his partner Anja. We waited in their side yard with a view of the mountain we’d just climbed down while Anja prepared a special refreshment for us. A few local men sat at a table watching us as they enjoyed a beverage or two, or three, but resisted attempts to engage with us, which was amusing.  Raphael’s refuge is a two story structure that resembles a renovated barn. The upper level is only accessed by an exterior set of metal steps, and inside features rows of rustic styled, wooden bunks. It’s a cozy and clean environment, but not a private one. A shower is available, as well as homemade, open fire prepared meals, homemade cocktails and other snacks are available.  If I were in a large group and could rent out the whole place, or a 20 something again, I would be interested in staying. Otherwise, sleeping in a room with 20 people, some complete strangers, listening to them snore, or whatever, wasn’t so appealing for our older group, prone to crankiness.

Tour du Mont Blanc, Val Ferret, Italy on the way to Grand Col Ferret
Tour du Mont Blanc, Val Ferret, Italy on the way to Grand Col Ferret

After enjoying our complimentary cocktail at Happy Tracks our transport vans arrived to take us to our most memorable hotel on the trip, Hotel du Buet, in Vallorcine, France.  This chalet style inn was set very close to a winding country road. The area reminded me of any number of spots on most any small rural road in West Virginia or Pennsylvania, but with more impressive mountains and linguistic accents all around. Inside, the entry hallway and staircase were dark despite being open. A set of small French doors separated the hallway with a naturally lit large bar area that had a local feel. The old handrail made you wonder about previous guests and years gone by, and the hallways had framed vintage photographs of people traipsing across giant, icy crevasses on ladders in their turn of the 20th Century day clothes.  The wallpaper was old world and in some circles probably fashionably retro. Each room was unique, a result of the structure’s age and renovations over the years. As an example, our room had a two door entrance–not to be confused with French doors. This was literally one door, immediately followed by a second door. I walked through another dimly lit staircase to our second floor room. The bathroom was renovated and large but with little or no thought to design of its elements.  It was placement based on practicality and presumably cost. Inside our room I felt suddenly transported into Van Gogh’s bedroom painting, but with decorative touches spanning the 30’s through the 60’s, rather than 19th Century Dutch. I couldn’t help but post about it at the time.

I took a glorious shower while it seemed there was an endless stream of motorcycles passing by the hotel as Sunday evening and the weekend were coming to a close, foreshadowing our final night on the trek.   I headed down for dinner, which was to be served at the hotel. As I entered the bar where our tour group had strung several tables together, I was met almost immediately by a fellow hiker advising me to order a beer, BUT be patient with the service, and be sure to say merci.  Evidently, the female barkeep wasn’t too welcoming, so far. I approached the bar cautiously, and stood waiting to be acknowledged. It wasn’t happening. There was what appeared a local patron sitting at the small, eight foot bar talking with the attendant. The snub did seem purposeful as time passed, and I continued to be ignored.  I finally inserted myself with as pleasant an,”Excusez moi.” as I could muster. I spoke my version of broken French with a typical American version of a French accent. The same one that made my fluent French speaking daughter cringe when we visited Paris years before. I just wanted a beer. I don’t remember exactly what I said beyond the initial greeting.  I got my beer and got away from the situation, as fast as possible.

It was a beautiful evening so we soon moved outside with our drinks to a table and chairs on the lawn beside the hotel, and discussed the not so warm welcome we were receiving.  At just about this time another person in the group was ordering some wine and it wasn’t going well because of the language barrier on both sides. Someone reported that we were getting boxed wine, not the bottled good stuff.  The serious wine drinkers weren’t pleased. It was starting to get more uncomfortable as the same lady bartender and apparent hotel manager brought out several wine options trying to satisfy a clearly unhappy, perhaps hard to please guest.  Some started asking her questions and joking with her to ease the tension. Soon she was joking with us, telling us about herself and the hotel. Similar to the woman at Le Hotel Crampon, the hotel had been passed down within the family from one generation to the next.  She lives in the house next door to the hotel. She treated us to what tasted and felt like a homemade meat and potatoes meal served family style. It was just what we needed and our beds were only steps away after we were full. So, as it turns out, all that was needed was a little icebreaking, wine, and bread breaking to bring familiarity, for both sides.

Day 4 TMB

Not long after daybreak on the fourth day we crossed the small road in front Hotel du Buet and followed it for some time before hitting our trail in earnest.  It was a clear day but we were shaded within the two summits sandwiching us, so it felt cooler. This morning it was back to the grind of a steady intense climb through a forested trail that lasted for five miles, several hours and peaked at Col de Balme (2204m)  Here lies the border between France and Switzerland. As we cleared the trees we were treated to a new angle on Mont Blanc which sported a wispy cloud cap that morning. We were seeing it on the opposite side from our first two days of the trek. The peak we were climbing was somewhat rocky with bigger steps as we neared the summit.  A coating of low lying flowers and ground cover draped over the tiers of rock we passed. I was starting to become accustomed to these views. This was our shortest hike of the trip at a little over eight and a half miles._PAW8849

We took a brief train ride to reach our hotel for the night at the Excelsior Chamonix.  This was the most modern hotel during the TMB hiking portion of the trip, and as it turned out, my least favorite.  While this hotel was clean and well appointed with a lovely pool and spectacular views of Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi, the stay was made unpleasant by an overbearing motorcycle club spending the night.  It started out humorously, as they mistakenly identified one person in our group as Peter Fonda, presumably an “Easy Rider” fantasy almost come true, but as the night wore on their over the top partying became more and more disruptive.  Well into the early hours of the next morning, Kathy and I listened to their drunken screams and singing through our open windows.  So much for trying to enjoy the refreshing mountain air. At 1 A.M., it ceased being funny or reasonable, and the hotel didn’t seem to be doing much about it. I was anxious to leave the next morning, but we had to share one more meal with them before the rumble of their Harley’s churned in the air and they drove off down the road to “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring from an onboard stereo.  Not a scene I would have imagined occurring in France.  So, I woke up early to take photos of sunrise on Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi from poolside, not terribly well rested.

Day 5 TMB

Our last day of TMB started in Argentièr with a group photo in matching t-shirts and a stop at the local apothecary for, in my case, a chapped lip ointment.  Everyone had some-something to remedy, it seemed. Five days later and my lips and forehead, cracked and peeling, looked as if I’d summited somewhere. I guess I had, but the severity of the burn didn’t match the severity of the hiking achievement, at least not in my mind.   The dry alpine air only added to the dryness. I was a bit of a mess with gobs of lotion covering my lips.

Two hours later we broke through the tree line on a steep incline with many switchbacks. Raphael had pointed out this trail from the mountainside we climbed the day before.

TMB hikers resting with Mont Blanc in the distance
TMB hikers resting with Mont Blanc in the distance

In many spots this was a trail filled with loose rocks. It was a warm day, and we were in the open, but thankfully the air was getting cooler and cooler as we climbed.  Just like the first day, we were treated to different angles on Mont Blanc as we headed back towards Chamonix. We saw folks hang gliding over Chamonix Valley, tacking back and forth across the opening.  It seemed they could stay aloft for as long as they wished riding the dependable winds of the valley’s vast air currents.

Alpine reflecting pool along TMB, Mont Blanc in the background
Alpine reflecting pool along TMB, Mont Blanc in the background

By this time, even with the grandeur of the Alps at our doorstep each day, there was a certain monotony to the daily routine–wake, eat, climb a mountain, take it in, take photos at the peak, stop to eat, climb down, shower, eat dinner, and repeat.  I would have liked to spend a night or two at one of the refuges, so I could wake up and capture the landscape during that golden hour of first light. This is a selfish, photographer’s idea of how to spend a day, and not practical for a group. Also, our group was simply too large for the average refuge stay, unless we were willing to spend the night in one of the dormitory settings, which most of our group was not willing to do, myself included.  At the same time, the repetition made each of us hone our attention to packing the gear we needed to get through a long day of semi challenging hiking.

On this last day we sat on a field of boulders and ate our final lunch along the TMB.  We passed a wonderful waterfall with a bubbling stream at its base, we passed dormant ski venues where Raphi told us about the rockus partying that goes on when they’re open during ski season.

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Our guides Raphael and Jack from Happy Track Gmbh

Then our Alps mountain adventure came to an unceremonious end at the Flégère cable station. Some had decided to ride the rest of the way down, and some were going to finish off the trail on foot.  We paused for another group photo with Mont Blanc in the background before we separated. As I recall it was another two hours on foot down to Chamonix. The trail passed by a wonderful spot called Chalet de la Flora tucked neatly on the forested mountainside with potted flowering plants draping the walls and window sills.  Tables with umbrellas lined the rustic stone terrace with yet another view of Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, we were rushing to get to Chamonix to meet up for a final drink together, so we only passed through this quaint spot. It was full of tourists and we passed several hikers on their way up asking, “How much further?” Hiking up to this spot is a long, steep climb.  By the time we made it to Chamonix our feet were tired from pounding downhill with pace. It felt good to be back in Chamonix with its small streets and familiar sites. Walking through town, fresh off the TMB, felt a little like coming home from a great expedition. We were dusty, sweaty and ripe from the trail. We sat outside together at a corner bistro with Raphael and enjoyed an Aperol Spritz which was wonderfully refreshing.  My feet were glad to be done.

The TMB was an immersive experience.  It was challenging, but not extreme, and very easily tailored to many fitness levels.  A few years ago I completed a rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon, a trip I was destined to make. No more can I stand at the edge of a natural jewel and watch it sparkle from afar, on tv or from a car window, than I can do without food, love or companionship.  It isn’t the same as being within it, touching it, smelling it, sweating for it.

That’s all for now.

© Amy Linn Doherty and Pawpro Media 2009-2019.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Linn Doherty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo Journal: A Close-Up on Captiva Island, Florida, Under a Big Banyan

You never know what will come of your friendships with neighbors.  In the fall of 2002, my husband, children and I moved into a home in Northern Virginia which backed up to a much older, Antietam, farm house with trellis anchored flowers growing up the white siding layered with generations of paint.  For years we heard about our neighbor’s home in Captiva, Florida.  Last year we travelled with her to St. Louis for the total eclipse, and this year we dared to ask if we could see her Captiva home.

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In July, I spent a week exploring this property with my family, and enjoying the benefits of the Gulf to inlet sized property–a rarity these days in Captiva, as most of the lots have been broken into smaller parcels.  We could fish, kayak or paddle board off the back dock, and as we did, had a Manatee and a Dolphin swim within an arm’s length of the dock.  My son and niece were thrilled at the sighting, and so was I.  In nearly thirty years of visiting Florida, I hadn’t taken the time to go see these trusting, docile creatures nearly decimated by boaters, pollution, and development.

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Resident Osprey on the property.

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If that wasn’t enough of a treat, we also were privileged to have a family of Osprey living on manmade, nesting pedestals high in the tree line.  All day long we were witness to their pattern of eating on a shaded dead branch of a large laurel in the front, over the driveway, and then napping within the shade of the huge Banyan tree out back.  We were also privy to their privy, if you will.  They are fairly impressive in this activity, as well, if you think of it as a type of spitting contest.  Couldn’t help but get a photo of this!

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This was just the beginning of the intrinsic and natural beauty we witnessed while staying in the circa 1949 Florida style home, which had a certain Frank Lloyd Wright simple, humble, sensibility to its design.  Thankfully, it wasn’t posh, but it was comfortable, practical, and nostalgic.  Each bedroom had a private bath, as well as a screened common area and family room.

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The pièce de résistance was a mature Banyan tree in the rear of the property, so large you could only really appreciate the size of its canopy from the water off the back.  At night, lit by landscape lights, it was the centerpiece  and visible from most all rooms.  Had I not stubbed my toe badly on the first day, I would have climbed up to see what views might exist from high in its branches.  Though, the giant Banana Spiders with equally large webs were an substantial deterrent to that climb. I’ve read they are relatively non-aggressive.  No one ventured beyond the first level of branches.

Across the inlet off the dock on the rear of the property is Buck Key Preserve which is a kayaker’s dream with a sizable cove and at least one canal maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers. The cove was frequently used as safe harbor for small craft during several coastal storms through the years. There’s even an abandoned boat in there that ran aground during a storm and the owner just ended up living there for some period of time.  You can still see his reclining chair.  _PAW9465_6_7_tonemapped

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The canal is also safe harbor for many of the exotic birds that inhabit the area.  It’s a great spot for photographers and bird watching, or a great place to escape the Sun for a while.  Just down the road is another treasure for biking and bird watching.  Ding Darling State Wildlife Refuge hosts many exotic species of birds including the Roseate Spoonbill. 

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There was concern about Red Tide in the area during my visit, but we didn’t notice it near the house.  On the beach we did notice a number of dead blow fish washing up and even a dead sea turtle. There was also word of a dead whale down the beach on Sanibel Island.

A Photographers Dream

From a photographers point of view it was overflowing with worthy material–as long as you brought your bug spray and can endure some heat.  I got a rude welcome when I went out for my first sunrise on the dock and neglected to put some on.  I didn’t make that mistake again, but suffered with the bites from that one morning for a while.  I could have easily filled my days with just photographing the Osprey, but that would have meant I missed so many other shots.  During any point of the day the light on the Banyan tree changed and highlighted different features.

I’ll be back in Captiva to enjoy the canals of Buck Key and the wildlife in and around it.  This is one of those areas you visit and remember why we protect land from overdevelopment and certain animals threatened by development.  On the beach, the nests of many sea turtles were marked for protection.  These areas and these animals are priceless and deserve continued protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Periodically, I teach a travel photography class at the REI, Tysons Corner, VA.  The class is free but space is limited, so please reserve your spot by going to the Classes and Events area of the REI website.  Don’t have a date for the next class, but I will announce it here well in advance.

If you’re interested in the class, please do me a favor and follow me on Facebook or Instagram, @PawproMedia.  Thanks so much!

In my next post, I’ll focus on a recent trip to the Alps and the Tour du Mont Blanc, a.k.a #TMB.

© Amy Linn Doherty and Pawpro Media 2009-2019.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Linn Doherty with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#captivaisland #photoblog

A Mid-Winter, Early, Fall Day

On the road this weekend to North Carolina–Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach area.  Sunday morning photos from the trip.  A little #MondayMotivation

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On a more local, professional side, just finishing up a little photo project for Cushman and Wakefield on a freshly renovated commercial property in Tysons Corner.

A Difficult Winter Run

A walk through Difficult Run Stream in Great Falls, VA in the middle of our second blast of real cold this winter.  This stream feeds into Great Falls National Park, and offers a not so secret on-foot backdoor entrance to the park. Its trail connects to many of the Great Falls trail hikes within the park.

I will admit, I love DC in the spring the most, but I also enjoy the unique sights of an icy Potomac and C&O canal.

Hope you enjoy the sights, as well.

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The delicate balance of a cairn along Difficult Run Stream in Great Falls, VA.

A total coincidence and complete aside, I write this as I learn that a majority of the members of the advisory board for the National Park Service have resigned out of frustration with Secretary Zinke.  Hard to believe we, as a country, don’t universally want to protect and support the stewardship of the natural places of beauty in our country, which, in most cases, took millions of years to create.  I couldn’t help but think the cairn photo in this post is a perfect metaphor for the delicate balance between protecting these priceless places that nature has created against the backdrop of today’s conflicted U.S.

The circumstances certainly give me pause following my December commitment to donate a portion of my holiday sales to the National Park Foundation, as it’s not clear what the Department of the Interior’s commitment is to the National Parks.  Not that it’s a tremendous amount, but it sure would be nice to know a donation isn’t a waste of time. And, if we can’t give to the National Parks without trepidation, we’ll lose them, I fear. #FindYourPark? Maybe not. Have they heard about this thing called the Outdoor Recreation Industry employing 7.6 million people, and consumers to the tune of $887 billion spent annually (Outdoor Industry Association, “Outdoor Industry Economy Report”, Outdoorindustry.org, 4/25/2017)?

Donating 5% December sales to National Park Foundation.

Given the recent threats to National Monuments and public lands, I’m going to donate 5% of December photo, framed, print sales–many focused on our national treasures–to the National Park Foundation.

Please consider buying a print as a gift this season. See the Print Gallery Customers may order directly from me or on my Zenfolio page. In either case, the gallery link will take you to available prints. Please contact me if you have any questions about prints not included in the gallery.