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Explore: February 2012


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13 posts from February 2012

02/28/2012

Astronomy: Observing Highlights for March

March 2012 venus jupiter moon KKW

If the night sky looks especially brilliant in early March, that's because it is. The six brightest objects in the night sky all appear at one time after sunset. The event will only last a couple days, though, as the brightness of two of the objects, Mercury and Mars, will begin to dim and lose their top night-sky rankings.

The six brightest objects in the sky are, in order, the moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and the star Sirius. All six appear together after sunset on the first three days of March. They will still be visible after those days, but Mercury and Mars will be getting dimmer from their peak brightness. Starting in the west after the sun has set, look for Mercury close to the horizon. Dazzling Venus will be above Mercury, and Jupiter will be just above Venus. Look up to see the moon, and then south to find the star Sirius to the lower left of Orion. Lastly, the reddish dot of Mars can be easily discovered rising in the east.

The moon just made a couple of pretty pairings with Venus and Jupiter in late February, and it will meet up with the planets again as it goes through its cycle in March. On March 6 and 7, the moon will pass not far from Mars. Just a bit earlier, on March 5, Mars came its closest to Earth at 63 million miles distant. The full moon occurs on March 8, and at the end of the week, on March 10, the moon will be near the star Spica in Virgo and Saturn. March 25 will find the moon near Jupiter, and the next night it will be close to Venus.

Continue reading "Astronomy: Observing Highlights for March" »

02/24/2012

Year in Yosemite: To Manners Born

Yosemite 1

"Sure he (Astaire) was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" -- Bob Thaves

For the women who visited Yosemite in the mid-to-late 1800s, the trip was no walk in the park. Before there were roads into Yosemite, there were steep, windy trails and women had to traverse them on horseback, same as men. But unlike the men, women weren't wearing the pants. No, they were dressed virtually the same as they would have been in the city -- chemisettes, corsets, blouses and jackets on top, with long, heavy skirts and multiple crinolines on the bottom. Completing the look was a bonnet -- offering protection from the sun and dust, but often heavy and cumbersome too.

Add to that the need to ride sidesaddle to accommodate both manners and dress and it's a wonder any women chose to come to Yosemite at all. But they did, bringing with them their good manners and good breeding because, even as early as the late 1860s, Yosemite was not the Wild West (unlike the Gold Rush towns that surrounded it), but a tourist destination.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: To Manners Born" »

02/18/2012

Year in Yosemite: Buddy System

Year in Yosemite 1If you were to wander through our Yosemite home, here's what you would find: In the kitchen, there's a fishing pole leaning up against a wall. There's a bow and arrows in the hall closet. Under my husband's desk is my daughter's Red Ryder BB gun and homemade Indian hunting sticks, while on the porch there are hiking boots, snowshoes, skiing paraphernalia and sleds. This is all as foreign to me as the lights of Paris would be to a caveman.

That's because I grew up in the most cosmopolitan of atmospheres. When I was my daughter's age, I hung out with friends at places like bowling alleys (I’m giving away my age here) and shopping centers. When my parents were doing the planning, activities expanded to include museums, symphony halls and theaters. As I grew older, life revolved around good food, movies, the theater and concerts. Nature, as in national parks and wild places, did not rate even a blip on my radar screen.

Needless to say, the fishing pole, hunting stick, bow and ski equipment do not belong to me. No, they reflect the interests of my husband and our daughter, especially since moving to Yosemite. Unlike city kids, our daughter doesn’t have a cell phone, has never played with an Xbox, hasn’t a clue what a Wii is. For Christmas she asked for cardboard boxes, rolls of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Last night she spent half an hour on the phone with her father (who’s away on business) comparing birdcalls. She was tickled to bits when he mistook the cry of a black-capped chickadee for a red-winged blackbird.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: Buddy System" »

02/17/2012

Canyons of the Imagination

Jeff clay canyonlandsI once went on a teenage wilderness trip to chase glossy photos of the West. It was my first time in the burned, twisted canyons of Utah. What I got was my own crow’s nest a deathly distance above the Colorado River, and a sense of unimaginable places over the horizon. That September, I returned to Chicago, my home. The streets felt like desiccated riverbeds and the skyscrapers blocked out the sun like glassy canyon walls. Red rock was everywhere, a spot that stuck to my eye after I’d stared into a bright light.

I’ve been back half a dozen times. Soon after that first trip my family travelled to Moab, the boiling desert port of Southeast Utah. It looked to me like Earth’s Tatooine, only with ice cream outposts and drive-in motels. I remember teasing a girl on the main drag of the town because I had a crush I didn’t understand what to do with, and she got me back with itchy powder from a magic-trick store. On that same trip we went to stare at rock paintings. As I tried to guess what had changed since 1200 AD, the crowd started chirping. Some onlooker had stumbled backwards onto a chipmunk. I cried while my father magnanimously videotaped it dying, fending off my pleas that he let it pass without an audience. “It’s an experience,” he explained. That night he sulked on his foamy motel bed because my mom had made him jettison the tape. 

Continue reading "Canyons of the Imagination" »

02/16/2012

North Kaibab Plateau, Gateway to the Grand Canyon

Kaibab squirrelThe Kaibab squirrel has been called the handsomest squirrel in America, but this rodent's showy white tail and tasseled ears do a lot more than look good. Its unique natural history has led scientists to compare Sciurus aberti kaibabensis with Darwin’s finches in terms of evolutionary significance. The Kaibab squirrel is a member of a complex natural system found nowhere in the world but northern Arizona, where the squirrel and its habitat have evolved in isolation for hundreds of thousands of years.

The Kaibab Plateau forms the physical and ecological heart of north-central Arizona. To the north lie Utah’s Grand Staircase--Escalante National Monument, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park, from which herds of mule deer and mountain lions annually migrate south. Navajo Nation lands and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument fall to the east, while the Grand Canyon forms the meandering southern border. The Kaibab Plateau connects these otherwise isolated landscapes, forming a critical linkage between the spectacular canyons, mesas, and cliffs of the region. Wildlife such as goshawks and pronghorn antelope rest, feed, and care for their young in the wooded corridors of the Kaibab Plateau.

Continue reading "North Kaibab Plateau, Gateway to the Grand Canyon" »

02/15/2012

Don't Lose Your Head at This Remote Eco-Resort

Beach

When I bid on an “Eco Resort Experience” last March at the Christie’s Green Auction, I thought we were probably headed to a typically exotic deluxe vacation spot on the other side of the world. It turns out that I was in store for one of the most memorable experiences of my life, reminiscent of Marty McFLy traveling in his “Back To The Future” DeLorean car. A visit to Nihiwatu in Sumba, Indonesia is truly a trip back in time.

Nihiwatu is an exclusive resort but not in the traditional sense  It is built into the raw, previously uninhabited beach of West Sumba. This ain’t Bali, folks, far from it.  Bali is New York City compared to Sumba, which is located about 400 miles east of Bali. The area in Indonesia is truly a time warp, one of the last animist societies remaining in the world. It was discovered by one of Magellan’s companions, in the 16th century on a spice gathering voyage. Overall, not much has changed on this island of 600,000 natives since those days, with the exception of the Nihiwatu compound brought to you by visionaries Claude and Petra Graves. Intimate and personal, the resort holds about 32 guests maximum in a series of tastefully outfitted villas and bungalows.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the Sumbanese still hunt heads. While this is illegal according to the Indonesian government, there were four beheadings in the past few months. It’s not dangerous for tourists, however, as this type of island justice is strictly reserved for tribal disputes. Apparently, centuries of headhunting is a hard habit to break. Each village used to feature a “skull tree” at its gate, with examples of recent battle victories for all to see.

Continue reading "Don't Lose Your Head at This Remote Eco-Resort" »

02/09/2012

The Ukulele: Collaboration on the John Muir Trail

Mt Whitney Summit by Jen SerenaJohn Muir once advised, "Wander a whole summer if you can. . . give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal."

Last July, with Muir's advice in mind, a crew of multi-media artists walked the eponymous 222-mile California trail. They captured their experiences through photographs, audio recordings, paintings, video, and music. Now, after sifting through the seemingly endless footage, they've created The Muir Project, a collection of artistic interpretations of the John Muir Trail (JMT).

"We want it to be a celebration of the wilderness," said Ric Serena, co-director and camera operator for The Muir Project.

Unlike most adventure documentaries, the celebration wouldn't come at the end of the trail. It would instead be found in the delicate moments between the trailheads: the sweet strumming of a ukulele by a campfire, thousands of streaked stars above a glowing tent, the roar of a swollen creek, or the minute gurgle of water between granite boulders. Each recorded moment would be a celebratory gesture.

Continue reading "The Ukulele: Collaboration on the John Muir Trail" »

02/08/2012

The Journals: Kolby Kirk's Pacific Crest Trail

KolbykirkPCTjournals

Kolby Kirk's first travel journal was a small, ringed, 3x5 notebook that he bought in Paris at the beginning of a 77-day European backpacking trip. The journal's original purpose was to record things Kirk needed to remember — lists of cafes, addresses, names of hostels. By the end of his trip, however, he had written over 600 pages about his life-changing journey through 14 countries.

"I can see the growth I had. I went from writing notes to full sentences, to full paragraphs, to pages."

Kirk's notebook had become more than a log of handy information. It was soon his confidant, a fellow traveler.

"That journal was a good friend of mine," Kirk said. "It was the most cherished thing I brought home."

Kirk has since become an avid backpacker of the woodsy, backcountry sort — last year he hiked 1,700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Campo, California to Etna, California — and also quite the journal snob — he only uses Moleskin Classic Pocket Plain Notebooks.

"I just really haven't found anything else that works better for me," Kirk explained.

Continue reading "The Journals: Kolby Kirk's Pacific Crest Trail " »

Year in Yosemite: On the Wing

Northern_Flicker

On a recent outing to Yosemite Valley, my family and I visited the Indian Museum. Amid the basketry, hunting tools, dioramas and clothing, there hung an exquisite "skirt" made of luminescent feathers of dark brown flecked with shimmering gold. It was breathtaking. Apparently used for ceremonial purposes by Yosemite's Miwok people, I assumed that anything so beautiful and precious must have been made from the feathers of a golden eagle.

My reasons for this assumption were logical enough. With all due respect to Ben Franklin and his love for the wild turkey, in America, eagles are king. Plus, since moving to Yosemite, I've seen golden eagles in the wild. Their feathers are indeed brown touched with shimmering gold, but, in this case, I was very wrong. Reading the sign, I learned these feathers were not from an eagle but from a flicker, and although I know birders are cringing at this moment, that word meant nothing to me. In almost three years in Yosemite, to my knowledge I'd never seen one, but now I know I've heard them. According to Google, flickers are large woodpeckers.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: On the Wing" »

02/07/2012

The Art of Walking

Hikers, two hikers

What does the art of walking mean to you?

Henry David Thoreau, in his 1862 Atlantic article "Walking," describes it like this: 

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Santerer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean.

Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

-- Brian Foley

(image: istock/IsaacLKoval)


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