Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Visit Missouri-Explore St Louis- Forest Park and the Jewel Box

One of my favorite places for photography in St. Louis is Forest Park.  On this page I will be reviewing some of my favorite sites to take photos.

A Bit of Forest Park History and Facts

Forest Park is a public park that covers 1,371 acres in the heart of St. Louis.  It was first opened in 1876.  The park hosted both the 1904 World's Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympics.  An annual balloon race starts in Forest Park and in the summer you can attend wonderful summer theatre at the Muny.
Here are just a few of the wonderful attractions that you can see at Forest Park.

  •  St. Louis Zoo
  •  Science Center
  •  Art Museum
  •  Boathouse
  •  Missouri History Museum
  •  Jewel Box 
  •  World's Fair Pavilion
In addition you can walk or ride the many trails and paths and in the winter you can enjoy the ice skating rink.  

I have many fond memories of Forest Park as a child, as a young Mother bringing my children there and now as a place to bring my grandchildren.  It is also one of my favorite place to take photographs and I will share them with you on the rest of this post.

Jewel Box

The Jewel Box is located on 17 acres in the park and was first used as a greenhouse.  It has lovely plants, water features and fountains throughout the area and is a great place to take photos.  It is popular with visitors and the building can be reserved for weddings.  Around Christmas the inside of the building is full of poinsettias, which are quite beautiful.

I visited there with my photo club on a recent spring evening and took the photo above and the beautiful daisies that lines the sides of the pond.

Muny

The Muny is a wonderful outdoor amphitheater that holds 11,000 people.  1500 of the seats are free seats making the theatre accessible to people from all walks of life.  Each summer for the past 100 years the Muny has  held a variety of different live productions.  Some of my favorites over the years include: South Pacific, Oklahoma, The Jersey Boys, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Beach Boys, and The Wizard of Oz.  I have also enjoyed  taking my two oldest granddaughters to the Muny when they have visited during the summer months.

The first photo on this page and the ones below were taken at the entrance area to the Muny.

The Boathouse

The Boathouse in Forest Park is a favorite gathering place of visitors to the park.  It is located just across the way from the Muny and is especially a favorite place for theatre goers to have a meal before or after the show.  The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating.

By the dock is an area where you can rent paddleboats and kayaks to ride around in the great basin. This is a favorite of my granddaughters.
After our photo club outing we met at the outdoor area of the Boathouse to sit by the dock and discuss the photos we took.  Here are a couple of the photos that I took from the docks.

Postcards from Forest Park

Here are some postcards I have made from my photos.




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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge Review

Wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Just recently, I have come to experience the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge in an entirely new way.  Instead of sampling the sanctuary like a temporary visitor, I have found my own rhythm of belonging.  In becoming a part of this vital place, I have been able to take in a much deeper level of sustenance.  Perhaps this is the real beauty of refuges.  More than just protecting and conserving natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, they can greatly nourish anyone who truly enters into them.  This is not so much a review of a tourist attraction, or place, as it is a review of learning how to let a place enter into you in a way that feeds your spirit.

As I turn off of busy Highway 160 in South Central Colorado this morning, I slow my vehicle's speed way down.  The two-mile approach to Alamosa NWR's Visitor Center is where I begin to align my pace with that of the natural world.  Opening all of my windows, I breathe deeply and feel the gentle breeze and soft rays of the early morning sunlight on my face.  Reaching into my camera backpack, a palpable sense of anticipation rises up to meet me.

I start counting telephone poles.  There he is, as always, on pole number seven.  My greeter.  Here's where I admit that I don't know what kind of hawk he is.  At some point, I will pull out a book and ID him, but I'm not obsessed with that right now—which is unusual for me.  In the past, I would have immediately wanted to know his name.  The new me has a different agenda for coming to know him.

Sign Marking Entrance to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Off to my left, I pass ANWR's entrance sign.  My morning's soundtrack changes dramatically.  Gravel pops and pings as it ricochets off the bottom of my red Sport Trac.  In my left ear, a meadowlark's lilting aria floats in thin air.  Simultaneously, my right ear picks up the raucous rap of a Marsh wren.  Ahh... the concert has begun, and like a children's preschool program, the singers won't necessarily be bringing their voices in on time or in perfect harmony.  These voices, like their creatures, will do their own thing, and it will be chaotic at times, but gloriously so.

Star Actress in Today's Theater Production of "Fake Broken Wing" - Mama Killdear
Slowly, slowly I creep along the entrance road hoping for an iconic doing-the-splits photo of one of those boisterous wrens.  Suddenly, without warning, a theater production of Fake Broken Wing opens up in front of my vehicle.  The chorus erupts into: kill dear, kill dear, kill dear.  Whoa!

Good thing I am driving about half a mile an hour (my typical wildlife-photographer-on-the-hunt speed).  A pair of killdear parents have young chicks attempting to cross the road without first looking both ways.  I've never seen baby killdears until this very moment and they are perfect in every way.  Oh, the wonder!

Baby Killdear - Cuteness Overload
The teacher in me wants to play crossing guard and get those precious babies across the road.  Children... it's not safe.  Hurry!  My heart pounds when I think of how easily these young ones could be run over by a car.  Relief floods me when I silently count the chicks now on the opposite shoulder of the road.  Five.  Phew!  They all made it.

Now, as I'm attempting to photograph the family from my vehicle, they launch themselves, in true killdear form, into what the former athlete in me recognizes as Fartlek (I do not make this stuff up) training.  Imagine seven photographic subjects, all going in different directions, speed walking for several steps, and then briefly pausing before sprinting away in the opposite direction.  I try to anticipate when and where those slower intervals will take place and press the shutter button in an act of faith.  This is living in the moment.  Talk about exhilaration!

It's time to roll on down the road.  I never want to stress the wildlife by overstaying my welcome.  You learn to take the gift they give you, and with good grace, give them the breathing room they need.  If I drove out of the refuge right now, my day would be complete.

Young Mule Deer Buck With Antlers in the Velvet
What I am learning about this refuge is that there are layers you must peel back to get at the true essence.  You can't be in a hurry, and to get the most out of a sanctuary experience, you want to use all of your senses.  Long before you see something spectacular, you are most likely going to hear it, or feel its presence—that is, if you nurture your inherent sense of awe and wonder.  Anticipation and stillness.  That is the intersection where the marvelous can, and will, happen in this place.

The other thing is this: Don't just look for the big magnificence.  Often, the most delightful splendor comes in the tiniest of packages.  While there will be crowds at area refuges during the seasonal Sandhill crane migrations, or when elk herds are moving through, it is in the smaller, and yet equally mesmerizing annual voyages of say, butterflies, that one may become immersed in transcendent moments.

Walking is the More Intimate Way to Experience the Refuge
Right now, with the wildflowers in full bloom, so much teeming life is taking place in the ditches and meadows of the sanctuary.  This is the time to walk the two-mile nature trail (although I found it temporarily closed today due to the Rio Grande's flooding and the presence of the endangered Willow flycatcher).  There is so much beauty right underfoot.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Any time I enter the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, I know that an initial assessment of what's going on will vastly underestimate the real activity that is taking place.  I watch first-time visitors quickly drive the three-mile auto tour loop and leave.  I imagine them saying, "Nothing but blackbirds."  Sadly, they have missed out on everything.  I was once that visitor.

In my ongoing evolution from refuge visitor to a sort of artist-in-residence, I can easily spend all day immersed in nature's artistry.  There is an art to being both a witness to, and a player among, the many moving parts of a wildlife refuge.  I believe the natural world reveals most of its brilliance to those who honor the gift-giver.  And I think the honor is in how we pause and pay deep attention, with reverent awe, and a true sense of gratitude.  There is honor in not taking for granted any creature, no matter if there are thousands of them, and no matter if they are present year-round.

A Glow-in-the-Dark Male Yellow Warbler With a Mouth Full of Insects
Dr. Seuss Chicks - American Coot Babies - Wow, Just Wow!
Today, some of the generous gift-givers have been, in addition to the wondrous greeters I have already mentioned, the lovely Yellow-headed blackbird, the brightest colored warbler I have ever seen, three curious Mule deer, various larks, an amazing porcupine, the Dr. Seuss chicks of an American Coot, a sweet-voiced flycatcher, two American bitterns (listed as uncommon for the refuge), a garter snake (true confession: earlier in my life I would not have put snakes on the gift list), teal ducks, Mallard ducks, a Pied-billed grebe, numerous swallows, and way too many others to note in this limited space.  They know who they are and they know that I revel in their presence.

To miss a day at the refuge, is to miss out on the unfolding of thousands of tiny miracles.  I've found there is no slow season when it comes to the miracle of life.  Any time I find myself drinking in sustenance at the oasis we call the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, is the time of my life.

Water is the Lifeblood of the San Luis Valley's National Wildlife Refuges
I encourage you to find your own little oasis where you can soak up the refreshment to be found in spaces that rehydrate the spirit and soul.  Where we find our sustenance, we find everything we need to thrive and grow into the fullness of our own being.  When that happens, we become the refuge that attracts others into our nourishing space.  Being the place, or space, others want to inhabit—isn't that the high calling?







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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Photo of Elfin Forest from Boardwalk, Los Osos, California, © B. Radisavljevic

The Elfin Forest is a natural area in Los Osos. It's named for its "pigmy" live oaks which have been stunted by growing where they do. The forest looks out over the southeastern shore of Morro Bay and covers about 90 acres. 

Should You Visit the Elfin Forest?

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Sign at Entrance of Elfin Forest, Los Osos, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


Every traveler or tourist has unique interests. I, for example, am much happier walking a nature trail than I would be walking in downtown San Francisco. I know, because I've done both. I'd rather be surrounded by nature and have a camera in my hand.

One winter day we decided to play tourist while out doing errands. We had time to kill after our medical appointment in San Luis Obispo. It was too soon to take advantage of the lunch special at our favorite restaurant (now closed).  After twenty years in this area, we’d never stopped in Los Osos. I thought it was time. I wanted a photo walk, and Hubby couldn't take his usual swim at the gym because we were away. We both needed exercise. We decided to go see the Elfin Forest in Los Osos.

Before we left for San Luis Obispo that day, I'd checked the sites that listed tourist attractions. Although the AAA Tour Book for Northern California did not consider this attraction worth mentioning, I had passed signs along the road before. So I looked it up and discovered we could walk the entire trail through the pigmy oak forest in less than an hour. We decided to see what was there and walk off a bit of the buffet lunch we would eat afterwards.

We took the Los Osos Valley Road exit west from the 101 Freeway in San Luis Obispo. Below is a scene we passed on Los Osos Valley Road once we were out of the commercial area. I made my husband stop the car so that I could snap the photo I used in this canvas print. It's also available as a greeting card, poster, postcard, and iPad Mini case. In fact, once you are on the Zazzle site, you can transfer the design to any product you choose.



What We Saw at the Elfin Forest

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Shot from Elfin Forest, Los Osos, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


As mentioned above, we toured the Elfin Forest in winter, but Los Osos is on the coast and the climate is mild. The weather was just right for taking a walk outdoors -- not too hot or too cold. But the season did give us a different experience than we would have had in spring or summer. We were still experiencing the drought of 2014 when we took our walk, as well. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos - View of Estuary
Estuary, with Morro Rock in Distance, © B. Radisavljevic


 I took the photo above from a lookout on the trail called Siena’s view. It looks out toward Morro Bay, and you can see Morro Rock off in the distance. Do you see how the drought has affected the estuary?

This is another view of the estuary from the boardwalk, looking toward Baywood Park. I made a puzzle of it on Zazzle with the same design as the postcard below. The text is easy to remove with the customize button.




Fauna I Saw During My Visit


I'm sure there were probably some fauna around, but I didn't see anything in the Elfin Forest itself the day I visited. The creatures must have seen me first. In other reviews I've read, people mentioned seeing rabbits, lizards, and even a fox. All I saw was birds. In one of the photos above there was either a hawk or a vulture in the sky. There were many water birds I could see in the estuary from the boardwalk. To get a good view one would need binoculars. This is what I was able to capture with a zoom lens from quite a distance. It would have been better if I'd been zeroing in on the birds, but at the time I was more interested in the overview.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Water and Shore Birds in Estuary

Many people enjoy bird watching from the Elfin Forest. I recognize the ducks, but not the birds with longer legs. Here is a complete list of the birds that hang out here. Unfortunately, there aren't any photos. If anyone recognizes the two wading birds near the center of the photo below, please let me know in the comments.




Flora of the Elfin Forest


I have seen photos taken in spring when the forest's many plants are in bloom, but not much was blooming in January. I did see coyote brush in bloom. You can learn more about coyote brush here - Coyote Brush: Blessing or Curse.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Coyote Brush
Coyote Brush in Bloom,  © B. Radisavljevic
I did find something else in bloom, but I haven't been able to identify it yet. I'm quite sure it's a berry, but the blooming times and/or leaves didn't match what seemed to make sense from the list I checked of the flora of this forest. Or maybe my eyes are bad. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Flora
Mystery Plant in Bloom at End of January,  © B. Radisavljevic



Poison Oak also lurks around the Elfin Forest. Be careful of it, especially in winter when it's harder to see. In the photo below, the very bright leaves are oak leaves. The leaves that show some red are poison oak. Do you see their bare stems? Those are just as dangerous to touch as the leaves are. Sometimes in winter there aren't any leaves to warn you. So stay on trails and don't touch bare stems unless you know it's not poison oak. Find more help with poison oak identification in this article: Oak and Poison Oak in Photos - Can You Tell the Difference? 


The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Poison Oak
Oak and Poison Oak in Winter,  © B. Radisavljevic
The pigmy oaks are live oak trees that are stunted by their environment and can't grow as tall as the live oak trees you find in other places. It appears many of them are dead or barely alive. Some appear to be skeletons offering a place for Spanish moss to establish themselves. Below you see one such tree with what appear to be suckers or fresh baby branches near the bottom of the tree. A healthy tree sits to the right displaying branches full of deep green leaves. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Pigmy Oak and Spanish Moss
Pigmy Oak in Winter with Spanish Moss,  © B. Radisavljevic
To get things into perspective, here are some photos to help you gauge the size of the plants in relationship to the boardwalk. Usually when one thinks of walking through a forest, one imagines looking up at the trees which block the view of what's beyond them. The Elfin Forest is different. Everything that grows there is short -- elf-size. Here's my husband, a giant among the pygmies.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Hubby on Boardwalk
Giant Among the Pigmies,  © B. Radisavljevic


But sometimes the trees and shrubs along the boardwalk do grow higher, as did the oaks in the previous photo. The photo below shows that they can often go over one's head and block the surrounding view.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
A Tunnel through the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic
There are many other photos of the flora that I snapped from the boardwalk, but there is not room for all of them here.

Amenities in the Elfin Forest


There really aren't many to speak of. There are no restrooms or drinking fountains nearby. If you plan to stay long, bring water. Most people would not spend more than an hour here. The boardwalk loop is only 4/5 of a mile long. It is flat and wheelchair accessible. There are several benches for resting along the way. Here is one resting place. You can find out where the nearest restrooms are here.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: A Resting Place
Benches along Boardwalk at the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic
Some benches like these, do have backs.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: A Resting Place
More Benches along Boardwalk at the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic


Along the walk there are also signs to point out attractions or help identify some of the plants. Some just let you know where you are on the walk. I showed one such sign near the beginning of this post. Although sometimes as you go through a "tunnel" you may feel like you are in a maze, there is little chance you will get lost.

The Los Osos / Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area helps maintain the Elfin Forest and also sponsors nature walks on the third Saturday of each month. You can find more information about visiting the Elfin Forest here.  If you are ever driving south on Highway 1 or 101 from Paso Robles or Cambria or points north, The Elfin Forest is a quick place to stop and stretch your legs and get a dose of nature. 

Hungry people can take a short drive to the San Luis Obispo Costco afterward for an inexpensive snack. Pizza, hot dogs, frozen treats, and more are available to the public -- not just Costco members. Purchase the food outside the store and eat at the picnic tables provided. There are also several restaurants nearby.  


If you are in the area with some time to kill and would like to take a quick nature walk or do some birdwatching, stop by the Elfin Forest. It's also a good place to walk your dog. And admission is free. I plan to go back in a couple of days when we again have a medical appointment. I'm hoping to find all the plants that were dormant in January in bloom in June.
The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos:
This collage was created with Fotojet. See review by Contributor Dawn Rae

Related Posts


Dawn Rae reviewed one of my favorite places that also appears to be one of hers -- Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. She has done a lot of hiking there. I've only been there for a couple of hours at a time on my way to and from other historical sites. If you're ever near it, don't hesitate to stop and explore.

Contributor Mary Beth Granger reviews some tips for taking photos while hiking.


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Friday, June 7, 2019

Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review

Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review
There are lots of spectacular places to stop along the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Fall Hollow Waterfall, located near Hohenwald, Tennessee, is only one of the fabulous spots of heavenly beauty here on earth.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway that follows the historical old Natchez Trace trails and roads used by American Indians, explorers, and travelers for centuries.  

The parkway stretches through 3 states (Tennessee, Alabama & Mississippi) and preserves important areas in American history, as well as preservation of the natural beauty.  The highway is a 440 mile stretch between Nashville, TN and Natchez, MS.   Not only is it a beautiful drive, but it has stopping areas that are perfect for picnics, hiking, taking photos, or simply breathing deep and enjoying nature.  

Hohenwald, TN is also a great place to stop for gas, food, or even for the night, as you tour the Natchez Trace Parkway and discover the natural beauty of the South.


Fall Hollow Waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway Photos & Review


The Fall Hollow Waterfall
Located on the Natchez Trace Parkway


Fall Hollow Waterfall Photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
Photo of Fall Hollow Waterfall by Sylvestermouse
from Observation Deck
Tennessee is home of the stunning Fall Hollow waterfall and surrounding trails.  You can easily see the waterfall after a short walk on the trail that starts at the parking area on the side of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  It is a beautiful sight!

We opted to climb down the steep path to the bottom of the waterfall to experience the full adventure.  It is a well worn trail created by natural stone "steps".  However, I used the word "climb" because I don't want to mislead readers by referring to it as a walk, which evokes the image of straight, level ground.  I did have to use my hands several times as I moved from one step down to the next step.  Many times in our descent, I worried about slipping on the wet stone and preferred to find my footing on the surrounding grass and mud instead.  The trail is narrow and drops off down the hillside.  It would be easy to get injured if you are not careful.  By the way, we also took Merlin, our Labrador Retriever, with us.  He hopped those stone steps with the agility of a deer.  I was extremely proud of him.  Of course, he frequently had to stop to wait on me, as I was literally climbing down using my hands for support. 


Fall Hollow Waterfall Path photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
I snapped this photo of the path before
we started our hike back up.  This was the
easiest part of the path to the waterfall
I don't wish to dissuade anyone from taking the path down to the bottom of the waterfall.  But, this trail could be very dangerous because it is steep, slippery and uneven.  By all means, wear proper climbing clothes and hiking/climbing boots.  This is not a casual walk through the woods.  While I was dressed properly with my selection of jeans, I was wearing Keds canvas snickers.  Not the best choice for shoes on this waterfall trail.  I was careful and I know my own limitations.  I didn't hesitate to balance myself with my hands or knees, but next time, I will wear my hiking boots.

It was necessary for me to stop a few times to catch my breath on the climbing hike down and also on my way back up.  Be prepared to pace yourself.  Don't try to hurry.  Besides, stopping for a rest gives you time to look around at the surrounding vegetation, flowers, and streams.  

Well, that does work well, as long as you don't look down the side of the drop-off!

Fall Hollow Waterfall Photo Collage of Surrounding Area


I did not take water down the hill with me and I was fine.  However, we were there in the spring.  On a hotter day, I would have required water.  Therefore, I recommend a lightweight shoulder strap water bottle for this trail.


Warning About Hiking to the Bottom of the Fall Hollow Waterfall

Fall Hollow Waterfall Stone photo by Cynthia Sylvestermouse
The photo on the right is a picture of the type of stone steps on the trail down to the bottom of the waterfall.  As you can see, they have a slick surface, which is why I often opted for the grass or mud at the side.  It would have been very easy to twist my ankle though.

For those who have health or mobility issues, heed the posted warning sign and do not go on beyond the observation deck area that provides seating where you can easily see the waterfall.    

If you have any concerns, fear of heights, are already fatigued, or unsure about climbing the hillside for any reason, allow wisdom to dictate and stick to the deck.  You won't be disappointed by the view.

I do not recommend the path down to the waterfall for children or most pets.





For More Information on the Natchez Trace Parkway, visit Natchez Trace Parkway (U.S. National Park Service)



Recommended Equipment for the Waterfall Hike




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