Off the leash

One of the things I didn’t really think about when we got Scout was that we would have to take him out for some exercise every day. Every day.  Even in the middle of February.

Luckily, we’ve been having a fairly mild winter so far here in New Hampshire, but there have been days that I would never think of going outside much less going on a hike. We found out about a park in the nearby town of Amherst that encourages owners to let their dogs off the leash.  So off we went on a hike, in February, a few days after we had received about a foot of snow.

Turns out that Scout loves to run in the snow.

While he is getting bigger, he is often confronted with new experiences, like footbridges over mountain streams. He refused to cross this bridge at first, preferring to try to wade through the stream.  It took a few minutes of persuading him that it is actually not a good idea to try swimming through icy water in February, and wouldn’t he prefer to be up here with us on the dry bridge ?

He did finally pick up on the idea that footbridges are a good idea. However, he was then confronted with this bridge that had a stairway since the far side of the stream had a higher elevation.  I had to carry him up the stairs. He did manage to go down the stairs on his own though, so he’s learning fast. Which is good since he weighs close to forty pounds now.

Here’s an old stone wall in the forest. You see these all over the New England area. Scout jumped over the wall, landing in a huge pile of snow. I had to go over the wall to pick him up and carry him back over the wall.

This dog is determined to get me to loose weight, wether he forces me to get out of the house, or carry him up scary wooden staircase, or wade through a foot of snow.  At least it was a sunny day.





Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

During our visit to New Mexico earlier this month, we visited Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  The western U.S. seems to have hundreds of places like this; state parks, town parks, monuments, wilderness areas, Bureau of Land Management sites.  These small parks don’t get much attention since the more well known parks like the Grand Canyon can be so overwhelmingly beautiful, but they’re still very worthwhile for a visit.

Kasha-Katuwe is known for its tent shaped rock formations, eroded lava cones, and ancient Native American cave dwellings.  Layers of hard rock alternate with softer rock, so as the softer rock erodes large chunks of hard rock are left on top of pyramid shaped towers. Cones of older eroded lava are also seen at the base of the mesa below.  

Here’s a close up of our the photo above, showing some of the towers with rocks balanced on top. 

A boulder balanced on a narrow column of rock.

There are some caves in this slot canyon that were used as dwellings long ago. 

Here’s a close up of one of the cave dwellings.

 Here’s what the people who lived in the cave would see in the evening.  It’s a sheltered ‘U’ shaped mesa, so I’m guessing the area was a good choice since it would be easy to see anyone approaching from the one opening. Mr. C loved imaging what it was like to live here, coming up with all sorts of stories about what it could have been like.

The sun seems to set quickly out West, it was soon too dark for photography.

Andres Institute of Art

You’d think that after living in New Hampshire for fifteen years we would have seen all of the local sites, but no, we’re always finding something new.

Combining two of our favorite things, hiking and art, The Andres Institute of Art made for a perfect late Fall outing.  Andres is the largest outdoor sculpture park in New England. Located in Brookline, New Hampshire, it is  on the site of a former ski run. Each year, the institute invites sculptors from around the world to stay at the site and provide a sculpture which is then placed on one of the hiking trails that lead up the mountain.

Mr. C loved running around the trail, looking for the next sculpture, as if it were a scavenger hunt.  There are about 80 sculptures at the park, here are some of our favorites.

Each sculpture has a small plaque placed on a nearby tree with information on the piece, and where the sculptor is from.  The sculptors come from all over the world, not just the United States, including; Germany, Switzerland, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Armenia, Georgia, Spain, Columbia, England, and lots of others.  I wonder what the sculptors from countries like Bangladesh or Armenia thought of rural New Hampshire ?

Since the location was a former ski run, the trails were sometimes a bit steep, but not too bad.  The forest looks like it’s still recovering from being used for skiing, as most of the trees are still small and scrubby.  The ski run closed more than twenty years ago, it’ll be awhile until the trees reach their full maturity.

There is a small quarry nearby, I think some of the stone used is from there. Most of the sculptures are stone, but not all, there are some metal works as well. Andres offers demonstrations on the various techniques throughout the year.

This one below is of a hickory nut.

I think these are supposed to be the planets of the solar system, so the solar flare in the photo is appropriate!

Another solar flare.

This one below is not a sculpture, it’s the rusty remains of part of chair from one of the ski lifts.

I remember that the sculptor of this one is from Nigeria, it might be evident from the carvings on the rocks.

Here’s a giant donut.  This sculptor is from Germany.  “Ich bin ein berliner!”

This one is my favorite.  The sculptor is from the Republic of Georgia, it’s the only one that I remember the title of “Conscious”.

We only saw about twenty five of the eighty or so sculptures since we only hiked on one trail, we’ll have to go back again.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Head north of San Francisco…

over the bridge, and then through the tunnel…

 and then on to Point Reyes National Seashore…

Then start hiking along the coast at the national park.  That’s a World War II era pill box , with the Golden Gate Bridge off to the left..

Follow the trail along the cliff to Point Reyes, around the side of the first rock spire…

..and then through the middle of the second rock spire, through this tunnel’s a rough walled tunnel, with a dirt path, and a low ceiling!

Follow the cliff trail a bit further…

and you get to the wood and steel suspension foot bridge..

which spans about 300 feet of Pacific ocean, to a third rock spire..

to  Point Reyes Lighthouse. The windiest and foggiest area on the Pacific coast.  Fog can blanket the area for weeks at a time, and the wind can gust between 75 – 100 miles per hour.  Luckily it was bright and sunny when we were there, though it was windy. 

A Park Service guide stands at one end of the bridge to make sure that there isn’t too many people crossing the bridge at the same time. It’s much windier on the bridge than on the cliff and the bridge sways quite a bit.

Here’s what the view is like…

New Hampshire Mystery Spot

We were hiking recently when we came across a tree that had a big rock stuck between two branches, about ten above ground. 

How did it get there?  Did the tree grow and lift the rock up as it grew?  Did someone put it there?

Mr. C says ‘Take a picture, take a picture!’


A little bit to the left, and you get the top of the roof of a dam mechanical  control building and a parking lot.  A little to the right and you get the river bank with some fairly ugly houses at the top.  A little bit more up and you get power lines.  A little bit down and you get the line of buoys and a warning sign for boaters: ‘warning dam straight ahead’.  

Holding the camera in just the right spot, and after taking twenty or so photos that include one or more of the items noted above, the Nashua river doesn’t look so bad.


More Winter Hiking

After a day of rest, the weather was still warm for January, so once again we ventured out for another Winter hike at nearby Beaver Brook Reservation.

There are many trails that we have never checked out, so we tried one called ‘Otter Pond Overlook’ this time.  It seemed to be about the same length as the previous trail, about three miles. Like our New Year’s Day hike, Mr. C once again packed his backpack with his microscope, binoculars, 50 foot length of nylon rope, water bottle, and favorite toy car.  He suggested that I might want to take a spare pair of pants since I ripped mine on our hike two days ago, I decided against it.

We were surprised to first hear, and then see a small waterfall on this trail.  I think if the weather had not been so warm, and there had been no melting of the recent snow fall,  we would not have seen this waterfall at all at this time of year.

My favorite photo from the day is this one, below.  There’s more evidence of beavers taking trees here.  I came close to falling into the stream here, but luckily stepped back as the slushy ice gave way as I leaned into it.   We made sure to start much earlier than our previous hike, we arrived at least an hour earlier than we did the last time, so we shouldn’t get stuck here once it gets dark.

We were glad we decided to wear our Winter boots since the trail was a bit more slushy than it had been two days previous.  Did I step over this muddy puddle in the foreground ?  No, I didn’t even notice it and stepped right into getting my boots covered in slushy mud.  Mr. C was ahead of me and had stepped around it.  As usual, I am the one to get soaked while Mr. C bounds around all the obstacles like a mountain goat.

It has since cooled off quite a bit and temperatures are now in the mid 20’s instead of mid 40’s, so everything has since iced over.

Evidence of woodpeckers.


Another small waterfall.

Once again, it’s already getting dark at about 4:00pm.

A large puddle starting to ice over as the temperatures start to drop.

A close up of the leaves trapped in the ice.


Here’s the view from the top of the hill on the trail, this is the ‘Otter Pond Overlook’.  Mr. C actually took this photo himself, in between checking out the view with his binoculars.

More woodpeckers.

And now it’s getting dark, but at least we’re back at the start of the trail this time instead of being nowhere near the end.   This was taken with a very long exposure, it was actually quite a bit darker than this at the time.

The energy of a six year old can not be completely exhausted inside the house during the Winter months, so it’s always good to get outside when we can.  However, this is probably it for hiking until the Spring as it is now much colder than it was when we went on this hike just a few days ago.



WPC: Perspective

This week’s photo challenge is ‘Perspective’.

Here are some photos I took in Northern Arizona a few years ago that should fit.

Here’s a typical scene for the area, with a focus on the horizon.


Same spot, but with a focus on the sky.


The next set are from a hike we went on a few miles away.  While it looks lush, it was a very hot day.  The first shot takes in th entire scene, with the focus on the canyon and river.  I suppose my idea was to lead the viewer from the river, to the boulder, down the river into the canyon.


In the next one, I placed the camera a little bit closer to the ground to get a better view of the boulder.


The last one we look a little lower and see how I got to this spot and maybe realize how hot a day it was.


Black Mesa Hike

Ok one more post about Santa Fe. On one of our sunnier days, we hiked into a canyon known by a number of different names. Black Mesa or Black Canyon seem to be the most popular names, though I’m not sure if there is an official name for it. It’s a fairly deep canyon on the Rio Grande just outside of Santa Fe.

Here’s Ms. J and Mr. C hiking into the canyon.


Mr. C noticed that there was a guy climbing the wall of the canyon using a system of ropes and pulleys. Let’s see if my camera can get a shot of him on the wall. There he is in the blue shirt. At first it looked like he was alone, but he did have at least one other person with him at the base of the wall, watching his progress and monitoring the ropes. The climber seemed to be fairly young, maybe in his late teens. Even though it was late December, and we had gone skiing the day before, it was warm enough that day in the canyon for him to climb in a T-shirt.


When I was a kid, my parents were very cautious so I would never have been able to do anything like rappel down a sheer cliff face. Even if I had somehow been able to go through hundreds of hours of training, it just was not going to happen. My Mom and Dad would take different approaches to safety. My Mom would be concerned with the possibility of getting seriously hurt of maimed when doing whatever activity was being considered, with the added bonus of somehow adversely affecting her health as well. ‘Oh, no, you’ll get hurt, please don’t do that, I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack if anything should happen to you’. I’ll call this the “guilt approach”. My Dad would go with what I’ll call the “shock and horror” approach. ‘You know what happened to the last guy who did that? He ended up crushed beyond all recognition at the bottom of the cliff, no one could tell WHAT he was, much less WHO!”. With that two pronged scare tactic, I didn’t do anything remotely risky when I was a kid. Probably the most dangerous thing I did was riding my bike off the loading dock of an abandoned factory once. It was something of a dare, or just peer pressure, from the group of kids that I was with at the time. Everyone else was doing it, so I had to too. Off I went over the edge of the crumbling concrete pad, about eight feet from the asphalt parking lot. I went flying over the handle bars of the bike and scraped the palms of my hands. And no, I did not tell my parents about that.

After all of the ingrained safety training, I might be expected to be cautious with Mr. C. However, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but I’m trying to not be as cautious as my parents were, within reason of course. I’d like him to be able to ski and hike with confidence, without having to worry too much that I’m going to have a heart attack or have nightmares caused by my cautionary stories about being crushed by falling rocks while hiking. Much as my brain’s safety manual guidelines would require that Mr. C not climb the giant boulder at all, I do let him do it. Watching every step of the way, and making sure that Ms. J is right next to him too. I sweat every step and dig my finger nails into my palms in nervousness until he is on flat, solid ground.

I’m on a de-sensitization campaign with my parents now. Whenever we do anything that they would consider remotely dangerous now, I make sure to take a picture and email it to them. Like this one of Mr. C climbing a huge boulder. Don’t worry, Ms. J is right there next to him, unseen by the camera since she’s a little bit lower, holding on to him to make sure he doesn’t fall. Might be a little bit mean of me to send them a picture like this.

I’m sure that my parents think I’m completely crazy for letting him do some of these things. But at 4 he’s already a better skier than I’ll ever be.


You can see the dark shadow as we enter the canyon here. It must be at least ten degrees colder within the canyon, out of the sun. Must be why it’s called ‘Black Canyon’.





Here’s the road out. You can see the ruts in the dirt from the years of use. 20140113-170151.jpg

The American Chestnut

Today’s post is going to be on an unusual topic for this blog; trees.  I love trees.  I’ll speak for Ms. J as well and say that she loves trees too. Ms. J and I often go hiking and it’s been such a great experience being able to bring Mr. C along as well.  Seeing him run around in the forest, finding a new stream, or pond, interesting sticks and rocks, listening for frogs and crickets, makes me remember what it was like to discover new things when I was young.

I grew up in Boston, nowhere near a forest or any hiking trails, but many of the streets were lined with very old and large trees.  The trees were so large that they often formed a canopy over the streets, linking together at the top over the center of the street.  Those trees provided shade and habitat for birds and other animals.  It was a pleasant experience to walk down the streets in my neighborhood, even if only to go to the corner store.  There was always the sound of birds on the street.  Unfortunately, many of those trees were Elms and Chestnuts and they were all killed by Dutch Elm Disease or Chestnut blight.  Entire areas that were once shaded were seemingly overnight bare of any trees.  They all died and were removed so quickly that it seemed as if it happened overnight.

I miss those trees, and I still remember them when I sometimes visit old neighborhoods I knew from my youth.  So it was nice to come across a blog post on Chestnut trees on the Breathe of Green Air blog.  You should go and check out that post and see some magnificent trees in the Roslin valley of Scotland.

We were hiking this past weekend when I was surprised to find a sad little Chestnut tree.  Did you check out those trees in Scotland yet ?

Ok, now check out an American Chestnut.    Here it is, it’s the spindly stick in the middle of the photo below.   It’s the main trunk of the tree, and it’s dead.



What happens to American Chestnuts is that after a few years of growth, the blight will kill the main trunk.  The roots will still live though and it will send out a number of shoots to try to regenerate itself.   Here are the little struggling shoots of this Chestnut, below:




No, I’m no expert on trees and would only have ben able to identify this since there was a little sign next to the tree.   If it was not hit with the blight, this tree would have been a commanding presence in the forest, but instead it’s barely noticeable at all.

So I’m writing this somewhat rambling post in the hope the people here in the US will appreciate what we do have left and will not be afraid to bring their kids out into the forests and hiking trails around them.  Often when we go hiking or camping, we are either the only people around, or al least the only people with a child.   I’ve read that a lot of people in the US are of two minds regarding the outdoors, they think of it as some kind of reverent area that can not be touched and visited, or as a place that might inspire some fear, as a source of disease carrying mosquitos or hungry bears.  It’s upsetting to think that a new generation of kids is not having much interaction with nature and will grow up to consider even small areas of forest as either a nuisance to be removed for new housing tracts, or as a place to avoid for fear of getting dirty.

There is a second reason that I’m writing this post and that’s in response to my current town, Nashua, New Hampshire, cutting down all of the trees on Main Street.  In order to make it easier to replace the old brick sidewalks with new concrete sidewalks,  every tree on the main commercial street in town is being cut down.   It seems as though the large old tree roots heave up the brick sidewalks, making it difficult to repair the sidewalk or to remove snow.   It was sad to loose those old Chestnuts and Elms in Boston to disease, but it’s especially irritating to loose the trees in Nashua simply for convenience.

So instead of growing up in a town with plenty of shade trees lining the streets,  Mr. C is going to grow up in a town with no full grown shade trees in town.  I doubt he will have fond memories of easy snow removal when he  grows up.