For The Artists Out There

We’re lucky to have some talented artists as friends, and I am flattered that they have liked some of my Stonington photos enough to use them as the basis for paintings.

It’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday in Stonington today, with perfect conditions for some photography of the scenes around town. Above is a photo looking east form a spot next to the mailboat dock, and below is a shot of downtown Stonington, and a big patch of floating algae, from the public dock next to the Harbor View grocery store. They both have some interesting colors and lots of different shades of blue.

I’ll keep taking the pictures as long as someone else does the painting!

The Canvas Above

I notice the sky a lot more when I am up here in Stonington than I do in Columbus. I think that is because, when you are down by the harbor, the sky seems so huge and wide and sweeping, with a horizon that is absurdly far away. The sky is not fenced in and limited by trees, houses, and buildings, like it is in Columbus or any other city.

The unfettered sky seems like a gigantic artist’s canvas, where the wind and sun shape and color the clouds into brushstrokes on the blue background and illuminate the island masses below. And when a stray seagull wheels into the frame and soars past, as in the picture above, it’s like Mother Nature generously shared her artwork just with me.

At The Ready

The last year has seen a lot of changes for everyone. We’ve rolled with the changes and adjusted as necessary—there’s really no alternative to that, is there?—but it’s also nice when we learn that something hasn’t changed, and probably won’t change.

That’s why I was glad to see the Stonington mailboat docked and at the ready when I took my first early morning walk through town and past the harbor earlier this week. That’s it there at the right of the photograph above, prepared to toot its horn, head out to the islands in the Bay and deliver mail, packages, and passengers, just as it has for years.

In the ever-changing world, the mailboat is a constant. I like that.

Over Old Mars

I admit it: I’m a space geek. I avidly followed the space program when I was a kid and watched all of the launches and landings, I joined The Planetary Society when I was a college student and got some great photos of planets taken by exploratory spacecraft of the ’70s that I tacked up on the wall around my desk, and I’ve been hooked on space and planets and the technological advances made in our exploration efforts ever since. That’s why I think what we’re doing now on Mars is pretty darned thrilling.

The photo above is a picture of the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, taken by Ingenuity, the helicopter/drone that has been taking short flights over the surface of Mars. It’s not the greatest photograph from a technical standpoint, of course, but the amazing thing is that it is a picture of human technology taken by another item of human technology on the surface of a distant, alien planet. The picture was snapped on Sunday on Ingenuity‘s third, and longest, flight over old Mars, when Ingenuity was about 16 feet above the Martian landscape and about a football field away from Perseverance.

We keep making significant advances in the space arena, whether it is developing reusable capsules and rockets, sending drones to Mars, or seeing more entrepreneurs entering the space technology and exploration business. It makes me believe that the next few years are going to see some real landmarks established: space tourism, permanent bases on the Moon, and even human landings on Mars. But for now, a blurry, grainy photo of Perseverance is still a pretty cool thing.

The Crack Of Dawn

I’ve always been an early riser. Grandma Neal liked to say that I got up at “the crack of dawn.” This morning’s stunning sunrise reminded me of that favorite phrase, because it looked like a crack in the sky, with light beaming in through the break and spreading over the sleepy town and boats at anchor in the harbor.

Sunrises like this are best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee, and make getting up at the crack of dawn worth every lost minute of sleep.

On The Upper Javelina Trail

Yesterday afternoon I tackled the Upper Javelina Trail at Dove Mountain. It is categorized as a medium difficulty trail, and it was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve taken this week—but it offers a great payoff of some stunning views, like the one shown above, as you walk along the summits of some of the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains.

To get to the Upper Javelina Trail, you first follow the Wild Burro Trail, then a segment of the Lower Javelina Trail, both which are relatively flat. Once you link up with the Upper Javelina Trail, you immediately start to ascend—first gradually, and then more abruptly.

The trail becomes rocky, and there are a lot or tight squeezes between some of the rock formations. For the most part, the trail is well-marked and easy to follow—provided you like climbing, because there is lots of climbing. It is narrow, which made me glad that I went out in the afternoon, when other hikers weren’t out. There wasn’t a lot of room to pass hikers headed the other way.

I wasn’t quite sure where the trail led, so I kept my eye on the rock shown above as a likely goal. The trail is a continuous climb with lots of switchbacks, and with each turn of the path I came closer to the outcropping, until finally I reached the ridge line and left the rock formation behind me, as shown in the photo below.

When I reached the summit, I was rewarded with spectacular views in every direction. The sky was crystal clear, the sun was bright, and you could see for miles. The trail wound along the summits of several of the peaks, so you got the chance to enjoy views that changed with every bend in the trail. The view above looks east, toward other peaks in the Tortolitas.

As the trail passed between the foothill peaks, it skirted a kind of Saguaro forest, shown below, with dozens of the big cacti spread from one hillside to the other. Very cool! As I hiked on, a huge hawk circled overhead, drifting lazily on the heat updrafts and scouting for a potential meal down below.

The trail comes perilously close to some sheer drops, as shown in the first photo of this post. If you are afraid of heights or freaked out by a lack of guard rails, this is not the trail for you! The view below looks south and shows another mountain range on the far horizon.

The trail gives lots of photo opportunities, with some interesting rock formations and many sweeping views. There’s a constant temptation to get right to the edge to maximize the view, but any false move would send you crashing to the rocks far below. I stayed a respectful distance from the edge and didn’t take any blind steps forward or backward.

The Upper Javelina Trail extends for almost three miles and the trail map says it has a 450-foot elevation change— but it sure feels like more than that as you trudge directly uphill and enjoy commanding views where you feel far above ground level. At about midpoint the trail links with two other longer trails with even more elevation changes. If you take the entire Upper Javelina trail, it deposits you on a community trail that is about a mile and a half from the trail head. In all, my hike was about five miles and took about two and a half hours. It was well worth the time and effort.

On The Wild Burro Trail

The Wild Burro Trail is one of the primary trails in the Dove Mountain network of trails, and is also one of the longest. It’s the trail that you find at the trailhead, and it stretches for 6.5 miles and links up with many of the other trails.

The trail begins flat, and winds through and around some of the dry washes on the floor of the canyon between the mountains. It’s an easy hike, and it was not hard to imagine herds of braying wild burros trotting down the canyon and kicking up a cloud of dust as they followed the trail.

Once you reach the ruins of a stone house (shown above) about a mile into the hike, however, the trail becomes a lot more challenging, and heads up the hillside at a pretty good incline.

The trail even goes between two giant Saguaros that look a bit like praying hands as it progresses up the hillside. It’s a narrow trail that has a steep drop-off to one side, which is common on the trails here. I took my hike in the afternoon heat, when only a lunatic would be out on the trails, so I didn’t see another soul and had the trails completely to myself. As a result, I didn’t have to share the narrow passes with anyone.

As you gain in altitude you see some interesting desert plant life, like the furry plants shown below. I also saw eagles, lizards, jack rabbits, chipmunk-like creatures, and a number of birds. There were no large critters, though.

The Wild Burro Trail heads straight up and out of the canyon and intersects with other long and challenging trails. I didn’t have the time for a real lengthy hike, so when I reached the ridge line on one of the hills I stopped and turned around to head back. You have commanding views up there, but you need to be careful where you put your feet lest you go careening down the hillside. Selfie takers, take note!

Pictures from the heights really don’t convey the view. You are far above the canyon floor, but it is hard to give a good sense of the drop to the wash far below.

You also need to be careful about where you place you feet heading down. Stumbles could be disastrous. And Midwesterners like me need to remember that you have to watch what you touch to brace yourself on the way down. Rocks are okay, obviously, but you’ve got to remember that those objects that seem like telephone poles as you pass by have thorns, and so do many of the other plants.

By the time I reached the canyon floor and the dry wash, the sun was starting to sink, and it backlit the Saguaros on the rocky hillsides as I headed home. These Saguaros almost looked like they were trying to spell something. “It’s too hot to hike,” perhaps?

Oro Valley Sunrise

We’re spending some time this week in the Oro Valley, just north of Tucson. It’s a beautiful area if, like me, you enjoy desert scenery, mountains, desert plants, and rocks. Today I got up early and caught this picture of the sun just beginning to peek over the foothills immediately to the north. The photo is a bit unusual because it shows some high clouds; for the most part we’ve had crystal clear blue skies and blazing sunshine.

On The Canyon Loop Trail

Yesterday morning we went for a hike at the Catalina State Park, one of the many parks in the Arizona state parks and trails system. The Catalina State Park is located in the Oro Valley, a rapidly growing area just north of Tucson, and is part of the Coronado National Forest. The park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a classically craggy desert mountain range. We went in the morning because it gets blistering hot in the afternoon, and morning hikes are more manageable for people who aren’t accustomed to hiking in sun-blasted 90-degree temperatures.

We took the canyon loop trail at the park, which winds for several miles along the foothills of the mountains and offers lots of opportunities to see the native plants in their natural habitat. I was surprised at the number of plants, large and small, that have adapted to life in a dry, dusty desert environment. There were plenty of Saguaro cacti, barrel cacti, prickly pears, and a lot of other hardy plant life. We didn’t see any desert animals, however.

The first part of the trail meandered through the landscape and was dry and dusty , , , and hot. We were glad we brought plenty of water. The views were great, though, and the hiking wasn’t too strenuous, other than dealing with the heat, without a lot of elevation changes. There were a lot of people out on the trail, some with dogs. There were a few obnoxious hikers–including a gang of loud, shirtless guys who were hiking with a radio blaring bad ’80s rock songs–but for the most part the hikers were quiet and friendly.

As the trail continued, we descended into the canyon and rounded the sun-bleached rock outcropping shown above. After the trial turned and descended, we were surprised to find a stream and running water at the bottom of the canyon, notwithstanding the heat and the otherwise dry conditions. It was hard not to think of travelers in the Old West being happy to find a stream of running water to fill up their saddlebags and water their horses. The stream made an interesting contrast with the Saguaro cactus plants, which I normally don’t associate with water.

The trail followed the stream bed for a while, where the foliage was notably greener than the plants on the hillside. The trail ultimately veered away from the streambed and took us back to the dusty desert landscape. With the Saguaro cactus plants on top of a ridge framed against a cloudless blue sky, we got to enjoy a classic Arizona vista as our hike came to an end.

Big Cactus

We’re in the land of the big cactus, in the Oro Valley near Tucson, Arizona, for a short visit to get a change of scenery. And there’s no doubt about the change of scenery here; there are lots of Saguaro cacti in our immediate vicinity, including this big guy just outside the back door. You wouldn’t see this scene in Columbus.

No one knows precisely how old Saguaro cacti are, but the best guess is that adult plants are more than 100 years old, and perhaps even older. It’s interesting to think that this big fella probably was around to witness the last big pandemic to hit the U.S.

Hike Ohio: Dripping Rock Trail

Yesterday was another ideal day for a hike in central Ohio, with clear skies and temperatures that started in the 50s and eventually touched 70. We decided to stay a little closer to home this time, and ventured just a few miles north of I-270, to the very conveniently located Highbanks Metro Park, to try out the Dripping Rock Trail. The Dripping Rock Trail is one of a series of interconnected trails in the park, which also features a designated dog trail, picnic areas, and open meadows where kids can run around and work off some of that inexhaustible kid energy.

The Dripping Rock Trail is so named, I suspect, because part of the trail follows a small stream that has cut through rock, as shown in the two photographs above, and groundwater leaks from the rock formations into the stream. The trail follows a loop that is a little over two miles, but if you want a longer hike you can link to adjoining trails that will take you to an Adena Mound, some ancient earthworks, and an overlook area The flexibility offered by the intersecting trails is a nice feature, because you can design your hike to suit your interest in exactly how much exercise you want to get.

The trails are natural earth and well-marked, and wide enough to allow for comfortable social distancing from passing hikers if everyone move to the edge and goes single file. Because the Highbanks park is so close to Columbus, the Dripping Rock Trail and other trails are very popular–or at least they were on our visit. Yesterday we got there at about 10:30 and had no problem finding a parking space next to the nature center, but when we left in early afternoon the parking lots were full and people were waiting for departures to find a parking space. If it’s a pretty day you’ll want to get there early if you want to be sure of getting a spot.

One section of the Dripping Rock Trail will give you a glimpse of a sluggish and muddy segment of the Olentangy River through the trees, but for the most part the trail is just your basic walk in the Ohio woods, winding through and around the trees with the small creek for company. There are some easy inclines and declines, but most of the trail is level. So long as you stay away from gangs of chatty hikers, it is blissfully quiet and makes for a very pleasant stroll. And if you are a big forestry fan, the Metroparks people have labeled some of the different kinds of trees that you will see along the hike.

We liked the Dripping Rock Trail, and think it would be worth visiting again in the fall when the leaves start to turn.

Hike Ohio: Kokosing Gap Trail

Yesterday was another beautiful day in central Ohio, with cloudless skies and rising temperatures, so we decided to give our hiking shoes another breaking-in session. This time, we headed north to Mount Vernon, Ohio–about an hour’s drive away–to walk along the Kokosing Gap Trail, which winds its way from Mount Vernon to Gambier, then Howard, and finally to Danville.

The Kokosing Gap Trail is one of a number of Ohio trails that have been converted from old railroad lines to hiking and biking trails through the “rails to trails” program. And the clues to the railroad history of the path are apparent everywhere along the trail: from the width of the paved trails, to the gradual inclines and declines, as shown in the photo just above, to the railroad trestle over the Kokosing River that you cross about a mile and a half from the Mount Vernon trail head. The fact that the trail is paved and largely flat makes it a favorite route for cyclists–including families with little kids on their bikes–who are looking for a Sunday ride. I would point out, on behalf of my biker friends, that most of the cyclists who whizzed past us gave us notice with “on your left” calls as they approached, so we could move over and they could pass with plenty of room.

The first part of the trail runs along farm fields and a creek that is a tributary of the Kokosing River. Once you hit the first railroad bridge and cross the Kokosing (which apparently means “where there are owls” in the language of the Delaware tribe) the river becomes your travel companion, just to the north of the trail and visible through the trees. Unlike the Little Miami River that we hiked along yesterday, the Kokosing has no whitewater and is apparently quite shallow. We did see some fishermen out on the river as we loped along.

We walked along the river for several miles and shared the trail with lots of cyclists and some other walkers, until we were getting close to Gambier, then turned around and walked back to our car parked at the Mount Vernon trail head. It’s interesting how turning around and walking back over the same path nevertheless gives you a different perspective on the landscape. In this case, it gave us a chance to check out the river in more detail.

The entire Kokosing Gap Trail is about 14 miles long, so we only did one part of it. Our plan is to return in the future to walk the entire route in segments, but first we’ve got some other trails to explore.

Hike Ohio: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

When you’ve got new hiking shoes, you’ve got to break them in properly. So yesterday we donned our hikers, hopped in the car, and drove to the Clifton Grove State Nature Preserve. It’s located less than a hour from Columbus in southwest Ohio, close to the village of Yellow Springs, and it offers some of the most beautiful scenery and interesting geology you’ll find anywhere in the Buckeye State.

It was a perfect day for hiking — cold enough to keep you from overheating but manageable with simple layering, and breathtakingly sunny with bright blue skies — and there were a lot of people out on the trails, which are well marked and easy to follow. We started by heading west on the north rim trail, which winds along the edge of the gorge and gives you peeks at the Little Miami River, which runs through the bottom of the gorge far below. The little streams rushing off the edge of the cliffside on their way to join the river, as shown in the picture just above, give you a hint of what you’ll see when you get down below.

The Clifton Gorge is so rocky it reminded me of Maine, but in the case of the Clifton Gorge the rocks are limestone and dolomite, rather than the familiar Maine granite. The path from the north rim trail down to the trail that hugs the river is made of natural rock and makes you appreciate having a sturdy pair of hiking shoes.

This time of year is a good time to visit the Clifton Gorge if you like the sound of rushing river water and enjoy looking at interesting rock formations. With the continuing snow melt and early spring rains, the Little Miami River was running high, and because the trees haven’t leafed out you can get good views of the river and the rock formations as you hike along. We didn’t see any spring flowers out yet, though, and the only real green on the landscape was the moss on some of the rock formations, as shown in the second photo above.

After we joined the riverside trail, we headed back to the east. The trail winds along the river’s edge, with the river to your right and the rock formations and cliffside to your left. In the bottom of the gorge the air is cool and sweet and worth as many deep breaths and hearty gulps as you can manage. Many of the rock formations are finely etched by erosion and almost look like modern art sculptures. And to the left the north rim of the gorge looms behind, as shown in the photo just above.

As you head eastward the Little Miami River has its calm spots, where the sound of the water moving past is very gentle and almost soothing. It is wonderfully quiet down there, and the other hikers along the trail for the most part respect the silence. This stretch of the river looks like it would be an ideal location for a peaceful canoe excursion — but that changes dramatically as you continue east along the trail.

As the river cuts through some of the channels between the rock formations in the river bed, the sound of the tumbling water rises to a roar, and you see some pretty aggressive whitewater. This may be a spot where the time of year really makes a difference in the views and the hiking experience. This particular area would undoubtedly look and sound a lot different during the hot and dry August doldrums, when the water levels on the river are sure to be much lower.

There were a lot of people out on the trails, including some student groups. Some were wearing masks, some donned masks as they passed other hikers, some made sure that they stepped to the sides of the trails to socially distance from people headed in the other direction, and some seemed completely oblivious to the fact that we’re coming out of a pandemic and people might be sensitive to not having other hikers shoulder past them on a narrow trail. Fortunately, those people made up only a tiny fraction of the people on the trail.

By taking the route we did — first heading west on the north rim trail, then heading east along the river — our hike ended with a cool waterfall. The trail circles the waterfall so you can see it from every perspective, as shown by the photo above and the first photo in this post. We also saw little stream that is the source of the waterfall plunge off the cliff, which is the second photo above. Shortly after we passed the waterfall we headed back up to the north rim, having enjoyed a delightful hike through one of the Buckeye State’s most scenic areas.

The Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is well worth visiting. Having seen it in the early spring we might decide to pay a return visit in the fall, when the leaves are turning and we can get a different perspective on this beautiful spot.

A Photo’s Worth Of Sunshine

One of Rodney Dangerfield’s memorable lines went that his family was so poor that for his tenth birthday his Dad showed Rodney a picture of a birthday cake. Rodney then tugged at his tie and admitted that he then spent the whole day trying to blow out the candles.

Like Rodney, I think a photo can make a difference. So in the midst of this latest Columbus winter, when the days are unrelentingly bleak and drab and cloud-covered and cold and dank, I’m going to look at this photograph I took last summer in Maine when we were on a boat ride leaving North Haven on a brilliantly sunny, warm day — and I’m going to remember that the winter will end one of these days, the temperatures will rise, and the sun will shine brightly again. Photographs can really be helpful in that way.

Just looking at this picture brings a smile to my face and retrieves a pleasant memory of a fun summer day and how that brilliant sunshine felt against my face. I hope it works for you, too. And if it doesn’t, consider going through those photos on your cell phone and finding a photo from a summer’s day that does.

The View From Above

I’ve written frequently about how much I enjoy Schiller Park, the great neighborhood park in German Village that has been around since the 1860s and reminds me of the kinds of older, established parks you see in places like New York and Philadelphia.

I’ve walked around and through Schiller so many times I didn’t think anything about the park could surprise me, but then I saw this great overhead image of the park posted on Facebook by VividColumbus. To orient those who use the park, that white square in the circle at the bottom center of the photo is the statue of Herr Schiller.

The photo really gives you a sense of the geometric elements of the design of the park and a different perspective on how the different parts of the park, and its many pathways, fit together. I particularly like the overhead view of formal gardens, walkways, and lines of trees that lead up to the Schiller statue. It makes me think that the designers of the gardens keep an overhead view in mind when they arrange their plantings.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — I wish more city planners and urban renewal designs included parks as essential elements of their projects. Parks like Schiller Park make a huge contribution to their surrounding communities.