Cave Finding

Posted on Jan 13, 2018 in Day / Weekend Trips, Places I Go | 0 comments

One of the best things about exploring Missouri is finding and exploring caves. It’s harder than it used to be because most of the caves on public land have been gated, due to vandalism and/or bat disease prevention. But not all of them.

Not long ago I was looking at some old USGS topo maps and noticed a cave marked in an area where I like to hike. Naturally me and the girls tried to find it the next time we were there but we had no luck. Recently I made another, more intensive effort.

I like hiking in this area because it contains a variety of scenery.  The tops of the ridges often have pine, which transitions to various hardwoods and cedars on the rocky slopes, with sycamore and walnut commonly found along the (mostly) dry stream beds at the bottom.




After hiking across the top of the ridge, the trail started doing down.  There are several areas that are extremely rocky. These areas generally only grow pine and cedar.




The area also has several glades. I like glades because they give a nice open view of the surrounding landscape.



I enjoyed this area where the hill side was covered with these large rocks.



Once I reached the bottom, I started hiking towards the west.  Thinking I was familiar with the area I hiked for awhile without looking at my GPS map.  After awhile I started to get the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. The valley was getting increasingly narrow and steep and there was no water in the stream. So I took out my gps map and realized that I had inadvertently followed a side stream south into a different valley, and then hiked into another drainage from that one. I thought I was hiking west, but had actually done a full 180 degree turn and was hiking back to the east!  On a sunny day I would have caught my folly but it was cloudy so I had no idea.  I remembered how easy it can be to get lost in this maze of hollows and hills where the trails are unmarked and sometimes very difficult to follow. Thankfully I had my GPS!

Once back to the main stream I stopped at this spot where there was a small waterfall and snacked on some expired beef jerky I found.  A move I would later regret deeply.




The cave was about 400′ up the steep hillside and it was incredibly exhausting to search for it.  But then I found this indian marker tree.  Legend has it that the Osage, who used to inhabit these parts would bend trees to mark important landmarks, such as a spring or a cave. The tree was pointed straight in the direction of the cave, although it was not visible from this location.




I climbed up a small rocky drainage in the direction indicated by the marker tree and at long last found the opening to the cave!  I could see how I never found it before. It’s only visible if you are basically right in front of it. It’s way off the trail and in the middle of nowhere on an exceedingly steep hillside. And no gate!




I climbed down the cave and was a bit disappointed at first because it appeared that it was a dead end right around the corner from the entrance.  But once I climbed up on top of the ledge, which required a bit of skill, I found two small passageways going in opposite directions.




Since I was alone I decided not to go too deep into the cave.  But I climbed back a little ways.  There was a small stream  flowing along the bottom of the passage which made it difficult to climb through without getting wet and filthy. But I think getting filthy is just part of the deal when exploring wild caves.  The little black dots are mosquitoes which apparently seek shelter from the winter inside this cave.





After I explored the cave I sat outside the opening and enjoyed the view of the hills across the valley.  And the ferns that were still living and green, thanks to the microclimate created by the cave.

Then I hiked my way back out. Without getting lost!


Rocky Mountains

Posted on Oct 4, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips, Photography, Places I Go | 0 comments

Rocky Mountain National Park was my first experience with the mountains.  I was about 6 years old and it is one of my earliest vacation memories. I’ve always thought of this place as one of my favorite hiking spots, although oddly enough I haven’t actually be there all that many times. It’s been nearly 15 years since my last visit.

Not much has really changed over the years, as should be the case in a national park. With one notable exception… it is MUCH more crowded than it used to be! A phenomenon not unique to just this park. Aside from that, this place is every bit as majestic as I remember from back in the day.

The girls and little baby man particularly enjoyed any trail that involved water. Whether it was a lake, a stream, or a waterfall. I have often commented that quality nature photography with small children in tow is a difficult proposition. The best shots often require being in a particular difficult to reach spot at odd times, either very early in the morning or at dinner. Bad weather often makes for interesting shots as well, but who wants to be out in the rain with kids AND camera equipment?

The vast majority of what I see is spectacular scenes but with exceptionally boring mid-day sunlight. Which makes for a very ordinary snap shot. So most of the time I just enjoy the trip and if something presents itself I take it and hope that by the end of the trip I’ll have a couple “keepers”!

rmnp-1A small series of waterfalls with the Aspens that were just beginning to become bright and colorful!


rmnp-6Aspen trees are rad. Especially in the fall. I have a small cluster of them in my backyard but by the time fall rolls around their leaves have mostly been scorched brown by the summer heat. Nothing like the bright yellow you see in their native habitat!



As much as I love the Ozarks, a scene like this is tough to beat!



A hole in the clouds let the sun shine on this small spot at the base of the mountain.



My original plan was to climb this mountain with Emma but we ended up settling for a slightly smaller one, though not much smaller.


rmnp-4I took this photo while standing precariously on a wet rock in the middle of this stream.  I tried a similar stunt a few years ago while visiting a different part of Colorado but slipped and fell in, jamming my index finger in the process.  It hurt for almost 3 years and the picture ended up being pretty meh. This one turned out better and without the penalty of a bum finger.


rmnp-5Ahh and really what is more glorious than a grove of Aspens backlit by the sun.  Especially with a dark backdrop of Fir trees.  Here in the Ozarks our fall color has a lot more variety, but the bright Aspens of the Rockies are really a sight to behold.

Eclipse Weekend

Posted on Aug 27, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips | 0 comments

Last weekend was a lot of fun.  Obviously the main attraction was the eclipse, but we did a lot of other things as well!

When I first learned about the eclipse about a year ago I decided a couple things… 1) I had to be there to see it, with my family in tow.  2) I didn’t want to spend the short moments of awesomeness messing with my camera, so I wasn’t even going to try and take fancy photographs. I just wanted to watch and enjoy it.  I figured there will be no shortage of people taking photos so I can just enjoy theirs! So my super cool family went up to Columbia for a fun weekend.

Because I didn’t take awesome photos of the eclipse itself, I’ll just share some photos from all the fun events leading up to the eclipse.


fun weekend-1One of my favorite things about this time of year… friday night football games!  Emma is my sports buddy.


fun weekend-2

This was the first game at the new stadium in Carthage. We’re looking forward to watching many more games there over the coming years.


fun weekend-3

Saturday morning was the Rivalry Run, a fundraiser 5k and fun run for Webb City and Carthage schools.  Mom and dad ran with us and then we spent the rest of the morning at our favorite saturday hang out, Mother Road Coffee before heading out of town for the eclipse!


fun weekend-4The Capitol in Jefferson City is such a rad building that we had to stop and check it out. After wandering around for awhile, we got some exceptionally good pizza across the street and then drove the rest of the way to Columbia. We were already seeing tons of out of state plates… mostly Texas and Minnesota but I also saw a lot of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and oddly enough quite a few from New York as well.


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Sunday morning we went to check out a few ideas for where we should watch the eclipse.  While we were out, I wanted to show the girls the giant Bur Oak tree. They had a lot of fun trying to climb it and hopping around the giant roots.


fun weekend-6

Next, we headed up to Rock Bridge State Park.  This was Carter’s first time to ride in the baby backpack.  We originally bought this pack for Emma.  Seems like so long ago!


fun weekend-7

We hiked down into the Devils Ice Box, a really cool cave with an underground stream.  It was pretty hot and humid outside, so the cool temperatures inside the cave felt really, really awesome!


fun weekend-8

Little man enjoyed walking around under the Rock Bridge.


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After hiking, we found a Dairy Queen and had some ice cream.  Carter wanted to sit at the man table.


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Finally the day of the eclipse!  We knew it was the day when I opened the hotel window and saw people wearing NASA and Star Trek shirts outside setting up telescopes.


fun weekend-11

We decided to head back to our picnic spot at Rock Bridge State Park to watch the eclipse.  I have really cool parents so they went around 6:30 am to claim a good spot. We weren’t sure what to expect for a crowd but it didn’t end up being too bad. Mom and dad talked with a physicist from Colorado who came to Missouri to watch the eclipse because it was going to be 20 seconds longer than at home. We spent the morning hanging out, playing some games, eating lunch. Dad and I took Carter for a hike on a nearby trail and then it was about time for the party to start.


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Carter was super excited to watch the eclipse from his pink baby cage. This was the early stages when the light was starting to get a little orange and dim, but not really strange yet.  As the sun started turning into a narrow crescent shape, the sky was getting dark to the west.  We all commented about feeling kind of “weird”.  I was surprised at how bright it was outside even with almost all of the sun completely covered up.


fun weekend-13All of a sudden the crescent disappeared to the sound of gasping, awes, and some applause from out in the darkness. We took off our glasses…what a sight!  It was kind of like a sunrise in every direction, rising to a very dark blue sky topped with a ring of the most brilliant white light imaginable. A few stars even came out for the occasion. It’s one of those things that is difficult to describe in any appropriate and meaningful way.  I snapped one photo, but otherwise just sat there and looked.

Most photos I see of a solar eclipse look black, with a white/orange ring. That is not that it looked like at all in person. The sky was a deep blue, with a brilliant white ring. Kind of the same color as a full moon, except brighter and more sparkly. Almost like a ring made of glowing diamonds. It was really cool.

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Then, after what seemed like only seconds, a bead of bright light emerged from the other side of the moon and it started returning to normal.  We packed up our stuff and started heading home, along with about a million other people.

So all in all it was a really fun weekend, capped with an eclipse.  I’m fortunate to have a wife and family that will make the trip and sit outside in the heat for hours to watch an event that only lasts 2 minutes!

Into the Wild (Part 2)

Posted on Aug 15, 2017 in Mountain Climbs, Photography, Places I Go, USA | 1 comment

I didn’t sleep exceptionally well.  One reason was the rocks under my tent.  Another was that my bladder was about to explode. But it was cold outside and I was convinced that if I waited long enough, the uncomfortable sensation would eventually go away. I was wrong and eventually went outside.  After that I slept remarkably better until I was awoken in the early morning light to the sound of my tent shaking violently. Fortunately it was Ian, not a bear.  It was time to get this party started!

IMG_7381Like any other day, the first priority was making a cup of coffee, which in this case was some special cinnamon Don Francisco, courtesy of my friend Blake. Yum. My method for brewing coffee on the trail is incredibly clunky but it works (barely) and doesn’t taste too much like dirt.  We then cooked some freeze dried eggs that I had been looking forward to for weeks….a let down of epic proportions. But it was a hot breakfast in the mountains and the mosquitoes weren’t out yet, so really, what’s there to complain about?



Without the weight of our camping supplies, our packs felt remarkably light and we seemed to be zipping across the landscape towards the incline at the base of the mountain. Of course I was still carrying my large and very heavy camera. Oh well, I have learned that if I want good photos, there is no substitute for that camera. It was about 5 miles to the summit (one way) and we had to cross a number of streams, pass a few lakes, and cross a small basin before starting the steep part of the ascent.


IMG_7409After passing the last lake, we left the trail and started hiking up and across a meadow of sorts, following a drainage that was cascading melting snow, feeding the numerous lakes below. Then we found this skull. Neither of us being hunters, we really didn’t know what it belonged to but our guess was an Elk perhaps.  Hopefully we would fare better in this place than this animal! We were now having to cross more and more patches of snow. At first it was a novelty, seeing snow in August. But eventually the reality set in that hiking across old, crusty snow is really not that much fun.



And here is the final part of the approach leading up to the incline.  There is no official trail to the summit, but our route was to aim for the low gap in the saddle, then find the fairly narrow route that can be climbed all the way up the southwest slope to the summit. It’s the only route that does not require technical gear, so it was important that we find the correct route and stay on it.  It was certainly not as much snow as our climb up South Sister in Oregon several years ago, but it was enough.


IMG_7069-2 I was trying to find a route to avoid as much of the snow as possible.  Hiking across the wide expanses of snow was exhausting, trying to keep from slipping. And it was giving me a bit of vertigo so I just tried to keep my head down and only look forward. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the steep incline, or maybe it was the repeating pattern on the snow.  Maybe it was the thought of slipping and sliding all the way back down to the lake! At least I knew the upper portion of the climb would be free of snow.

The hike was getting steep and I noticed a group of 3 guys up ahead of us.  Just below the saddle I heard one of the guys tell his friends that he was done. He said the steep snow field was giving him vertigo and he didn’t think he could go any further. I was secretly feeling the same way but was too stubborn to admit it, even to myself. The thought of returning home and telling stories about not reaching the summit was completely appalling, but I was questioning if we had in fact selected something beyond our skill.



We finally made it to the saddle and met up with what was left of the group ahead of us.  We were all a bit perplexed looking at the next stage of the climb. There was no obvious path, just a wall of nearly vertical rocks.  Ian and I watched while the two other guys (who seemed much more experienced than us) started climbing, searching, and eventually coming back down.  They were convinced that was not the route.  Were we really going to make it all this way, only to get stuck at this crux?

After resting, Ian and I decided to give it a shot.  The four of us hiked up to the rock wall where a worn foot path abruptly ended and started climbing. Ian lead the way for a bit and found a good way up the rocks. It was extremely steep, but not particularly difficult climbing. At this point I was more concerned about getting back down.  After a short distance the slope leveled out to a more manageable 45 degree angle or so.



Up the boulders we went.  Up and up and up. It didn’t take long before the thin air started taking it’s toll on me. I was spent beyond all recognition, to the point that I almost didn’t care about the incredible view that was all around me.  I was mostly looking down at the rocks, plotting my next move in 10 – 20 feet increments. Because that’s the most I could go without needing to rest.

One thing I did notice was a lake up in the mountains on the other side of this lake. It was still completely frozen. According to my map it was called Summer Ice Lake.  A fitting name indeed for a body of water that remained a sheet of ice even into August.




When doing a long, physical activity I often get a soundtrack stuck in my head.  At first it was “Long Way Down” by the Goo Goo Dolls.  But eventually altitude sickness set in and I became so delirious that the only thing I could hear was Dory from the movie Finding Nemo.  I pictured the little blue cartoon fish swimming circles around me, obnoxiously saying “Just keep swimming climbing!” over and over and over and over. It was so annoying. I wasn’t sure what I wanted more…. to reach the summit, or to punch Dory in the face.

I was tired and extremely nauseous. The top was close, but I had absolutely nothing left. This entire stretch of the climb accounted for less than 1/2 of a mile, but it took us 3 hours.  Ian and I were separated by maybe 100′ of distance and the wind was howling. We had no energy to yell, but we occasionally waved, if for no other reason than to indicate to each other that we were still somewhat alive and pressing on.



All of a sudden I noticed a row of rocks directly above me with blue sky behind them.  It had to be the top.  I climbed up to the ridge, the continental divide, and slowly (and carefully) made my way over to what appeared to be the high point. The actual high point was a pedestal shaped rock. I thought about climbing on top of it, but the entire summit ridge was terrifically exposed, a giant cliff on the back side, along with a 40 mph wind blowing in the direction of the large glacier field that lay a few thousand feet below.

I felt absolutely miserable so I sat on a rock and waited a few minutes as Ian made his way across the narrow ledge to the summit. We had both made it to the top so we hi-5’d and sat down for lunch. Normally, this is my favorite part of the trip. Enjoying lunch on top of the world.  But today I was too sick to eat anything, though I tried to choke down some crackers, hoping maybe it would make me feel better.  It did not.


IMG_7040A photo of success, and the face of a guy desperately trying to resist the urge to vomit.  Ian on the other hand was basking in the glory of success!

I hoped that if I rested for awhile, my nausea would improve but it didn’t, so eventually I reluctantly stood up and started back down. The steep stretch above the saddle that had taken 3 hours to climb only took about 30 minutes to descend.  And miraculously I suddenly felt better as we reached the top of the snow field.  We sat and talked to 3 guys from Idaho for awhile and eventually decided to carry on.

All of that snow that we slowly climbed earlier in the morning now looked like a suitable slide.  So we sat down and went for it, making it a considerable distance towards the bottom and expending almost no energy in the process. Our pants were soaked and our boots were full of snow but it was so worth it!



As we descended the mountain and started a fairly casual stroll through the basin I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed.  The pain and fatigue of the upward climb was in the past. My altitude sickness was all but gone and we were riding high with the feeling of a successful summit. As we wandered through a valley so incredibly beautiful that I felt unworthy to even see it,  I just simply could not contain myself. We stood there looking around, alone in this incredible place. THIS…this is why we came here, I told him.




Once we were off the snow slope, the hiking was pretty easy.  But we were still tired, and not particularly in a hurry to leave this place.  So we stopped a lot and soaked in the scene.



IMG_7446We weren’t following a trail, just wandering past the lakes, over the boulders and ridges, generally heading in the direction of our camp.  The sun was getting low and I was starving, but it was difficult to force myself to speed through this spectacular landscape. Realistically I may never see this place again so I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible.




At long last we reached the shores of our lake.  This side of the lake had a really pretty sand beach.  It was good to be back near camp, except for the fact that the mosquitoes were still there, and apparently as hungry as I was.



I immediately started making dinner when we arrived back at camp.  It was a simple bowl of ramen but it was a hot meal and at the time it seemed like the most delicious dish I’d ever eaten. It was kind of like the scene from the movie “What About Bob”, where Bob is eating the corn.




Being the cheapskate that I am, I thought it would be a good idea to save a few dollars and take a plastic fork. Until it broke. And not only did it break, but it broke in favor of right handed use, so the only way I could get stuff from the bottom of the cup was to eat with my right hand.  Sigh.  Such is the persecuted life of a leftie.




The mountain that looked impossible turned out to be difficult, but not impossible.  It took us 12 1/2 hours to reach the summit and get back to camp, but we did it.  We then sat and watched the last of the days light glowing on the mountain while sipping on whiskey and swatting at mosquitoes.

The next morning we got up, had coffee and breakfast, then loaded our packs back up and hiked the 12 miles back to the car. We stopped for a late lunch at the Wind River Brewing Company, a rather nice place in a tiny town that seemed like an outpost in one of the most sparsely populated regions of the lower 48.  We could barely walk, so we sat in the restaurant for a few hours, ate a lot, and then made our way back to Salt Lake City for our flight home the next morning!



Into the Wild

Posted on Aug 10, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips, Featured, Mountain Climbs, Photography, Places I Go | 1 comment

My college roommate and I have a kind of ‘tradition’ where we climb a mountain or do some kind of wilderness activity, generally every other year or so.  Even after we’ve both married and had families, our wives have continued to be supportive of our occasional adventures so we’ve managed to keep it going. Usually we’ll fly to another part of the country, though sometimes we opt to enjoy some of the scenic wilderness here in Missouri. This time we decided on Wyoming, a state with the distinction of being America’s least populated state.

The mountain we selected was a remote peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. It was a 35 mile round trip hike to the summit. The plan was to hike about 12 miles and setup “base camp”, then climb to the summit on the second day and return to camp.  Then we would hike back out on the third day. We were hiking and sleeping in grizzly country, so we had to take some extra precautions, like storing our food in “bear cans”, carrying bear spray, and I also carried a gun for good measure.


The trail started out as a gentle climb through a forest of mostly spruce and lodgepole pine. Being a tree nerd, I always enjoy the sights and smells of hiking in a coniferous forest and seeing species of trees that aren’t particularly common here in Missouri, especially the Whitebark Pine, a species I had never seen before. I recognized it as soon as I saw one – basically it looks somewhat like our Eastern White Pine, but with white bark similar to a Paper Birch.  As the trail climbed, we started encountering lots of very large boulders and slabs of rock, only a hint of the rocky terrain that was still to come.


mountain17-2The first few miles seemed to go by quickly, and then we arrived at this overlook. It provided our first good view of the area in which we were ultimately headed.  It looked SO FAR AWAY, and the terrain was a maze of ups and downs that was not going to be easy. Our eventual goal, the summit of the broad dome shaped mountain towards the right side of the photo was still about 13 miles away.


mountain17-3 We stopped for a short lunch break, then carried on.  About 6 miles in, we started passing ponds and lakes.  Some of them reminded me of the ponds at Acadia National Park, while others were more similar to those found in Rocky Mountain. The trail was not a typical mountain approach that basically climbs the whole way.  We climbed up, then down, then back up. It was exhausting!



We crossed this mountain stream by walking across a wobbly log.  This, along with about a million other points along the trail would have been a nice place to stop and hang out, throw rocks in the water, listen and watch he cascades above and below, but we had so much distance still to go!


mountain17-5We reached this lake, the largest of the many lakes we would pass, and started feeling like we were getting close to our stopping point for the day. Our feet were starting to blister and our steps were getting slower. The scenery was indeed spectacular and the hike up to this point would have been an amazing hike in it’s own right, but we quickly passed by these lakes.


mountain17-6The same lake.  It was much larger than it looked on the map!  As much as I really wanted to take off my extremely heavy backpack and nap on these rocks by the sparkling lake, we had to keep going.  I knew the place we would be staying would be equally beautiful and the sooner we got there, the longer I could completely relax and enjoy the remainder of the afternoon. We only had to climb over one more pass, after which we would descend into the basin containing the lake where we planned to camp.


mountain17-7After 8 hours of hiking, we climbed up and over a snow covered pass and were greeted to this sight. At last, the lake where we planned to camp lay before us with a stunning backdrop of the jagged peaks along the continental divide.  “I have finally done it”, I thought to myself. “I’ve found the most beautiful place on Earth.”.  It was a sight unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were simply no words that seemed powerful enough to describe this place.



We setup camp near a large flat slab of granite with an incredible view of the lake and in the shadow of the mountain we planned to climb the next day. The lake’s elevation was around 10,300′ so we hoped this would help us acclimate to the thin air before climbing even higher the next day.

We kept looking at this massive mountain, wondering how we would ever make it to the top.  It looked impossibly steep, even though I had read that it was rated a non-technical class 3+, which is in line with some other mountains we have climbed.


mountain17-9There was in fact one thing about this place that was not so great – the mosquitoes. I have never seen a place so infested with mosquitoes. In the right light, the thick clouds of these biting insects were easily visible. Fortunately we brought bug spray, though it seemed to be of little consequence. I mostly coped by keeping everything covered except my face.


mountain17-10As the sun went down on our campsite, we climbed into our tents and went to sleep, partly because we were tired, but mostly to escape the mosquitoes. I laid there for awhile, looking at the mountain, wondering what we might be getting ourselves into the following day.  We had already come a very long way, but the hardest part of our route was still ahead of us…

Independence Day Yakking

Posted on Jul 8, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Dad got a kayak the other day and wanted to try it out.  I am always looking for an excuse to kayak, so we took them out over the holiday weekend!  As it turns out, this creek was also the first creek I floated with my kayak when I bought it about 10 years ago.  I can’t believe it’s been that long!

fc-1We set out fairly early and were in the water by around 9 or so. What dad will learn is that if you go kayaking with me, you will probably end up in lots of pictures. I like the pattern of the darker rocks and lighter gravel on the bottom.

fc-2There were several places I wanted a get out and explore, such as this little cave.

fc-3Floating past some pretty bluffs with some unusual orange, tan, black, and grey stripes!

fc-4Here is my little yak hanging out while I take a quick break. I haven’t had him out much over the last year or so, since baby Carter came, so I enjoy it when an opportunity presents itself!


I like parts along the river like this where the water flows fast and is relatively shallow.



It was a very nice day to be floating down the creek!

Recent Photos

Posted on Jun 27, 2017 in Photography, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I thought I would take a few minutes and share a few photos I’ve taken lately. The first is from a line of menacing, though not particularly damaging storms that approached the farm from the south a few weeks ago.

storms june 17-4

Next, a few I took last night of some storms approaching from the north. This time of year it’s much more typical for storms to approach from the north or northwest.  I always enjoy that because it provides a better, more open view. Also, at night there is less light pollution to deal with in that direction.

I was hoping to frame some of the thousands of fireflies into the shot, but the conditions were making a particularly difficult subject even more so. I did manage to get a couple cool shots of the storm at least, even thought the fireflies aren’t very visible. Not my greatest work ever, but I’ll share them anyway.

storms june 17-3

I like the second shot because of the dramatic clouds that were pitch black in person, only made visible by a 15 second exposure.  I find storm photography to be particularly fun, even though it is at times frustrating trying to manually focus in the dark and figure out which settings are working that night. Mainly it just gives me an excuse to stand out in the elements and nature comes roaring in, which is kind of an adrenaline rush.

storms june 17-2


And here’s a picture of my cute baby just for good measure…

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Sandstone Trail

Posted on Jun 20, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips, Featured, Photography, Places I Go, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Stephy suggested I do a hike or something for fathers day. So I took the opportunity to get in some “training” for an upcoming backpacking trip. After tossing around several ideas, I finally set out for Prairie State Park, armed with my 17-40mm wide angle lens and a backpack full of unnecessary baggage, just to help get me into shape!

I have been wanting to visit this park during the summer when wildflowers are in bloom, but the prairie is notoriously lacking in shade. Since I don’t particularly like being stranded in the sun on a hot day, I usually visit this state park only in fall or winter. But today was relatively cool (for June) so I thought it might be a good opportunity for a summer prairie hike!

prarie sandstone trail-1

I selected the Sandstone Trail, most of which I had never hiked before. It starts high on a ridge and gradually descends across the prairie towards a small stream. My first impression was how many birds call the prairie home. I didn’t actually see many of these birds because they were hiding out in the tall grass, but I could sure hear them! The sound of all the birds and the wind made for quite a peaceful experience. Various areas seemed to have different assortments of plants. I particularly liked these coneflowers.

prarie sandstone trail-1-2

The trail gets it’s name from the rocky sandstone areas found along the trail, particularly along the stream. Sandstone is not particularly common in Missouri, so I found the geology here interesting. Most of the prairie is rolling, but this spot has some small rock outcroppings and steeper slopes overlooking Drywood Creek, as well as some small groves of trees. It was a little more difficult to explore this spot in summer than it was in winter because of the tall grass and plants. But I still climbed around on some of the rocks.

prarie sandstone trail-2

Another bonus of hiking this time of year is the free treats. After crossing back through the stream and beginning the return loop towards the truck, the trail started to wind through a wooded/thicket area where I discovered lots and lots of blackberries just off the trail. Even though I wasn’t hungry I felt obligated to pick a handful, getting my arms torn to shreds in the process, and munching them as I walked. Blackberries are such a cruel fruit!

prarie sandstone trail-3

By the time I finished the 4.5 mile loop I had seen an owl, a turkey, lots of tadpoles, several quail, and numerous other birds that I could not identify. If you have never encountered quail, it is kind of a startling experience. Especially if it’s quiet and you are alone on the prairie!

Given my obsession with trees, some might find it unusual that I frequent this state park, known for it’s lack of trees. But there are times where the open space and sound of the wind is exactly what I need!

My Backpack

Posted on May 5, 2017 in My Thoughts On... | 0 comments

Today is a bittersweet day. I bought a new backpack. Sure, it’s always fun to get new things, but I have developed a bit of attachment to my old backpack. Not because it’s anything special, but because I have had it for so long and taken it so many places!

Back in my college days I kept losing pens and other small objects through the worn out bottom of my cheap JanSport pack. So mom made a trip to Springfield and took me to the mall to get a new one. The one I liked was a North Face Recon and while I thought it was absurd to spend $90 on a backpack, mom insisted it would hold up better than the walmart garbage I had been replacing every year up to that point. That was 16 years ago.

Really, the pack is still in pretty decent condition and I will still use it for things like atv riding, cave exploring, and kayaking. For long hikes, I’ve already started using a larger “backpacker” style pack that is much bigger but significantly more comfortable to carry because it’s supported at the waist instead of just the shoulders.

So in honor of this long lasting pack, I’ve dug out some old photos to remember and enjoy the many things I’ve done with it.

backpack-2 copy Not really an adventure, but back when it was fairly new, around 2002 this backpack was the victim of Ian’s granola vandalism in my bedroom. I retaliated by opening a bag of wheat seed and throwing it back into his room. Because what college student doesn’t keep a 10lb bag of wheat seed in their closet ready for just such an occasion? Ian didn’t talk to me for probably at least a week after that. Probably because that’s how long it took him to vacuum it all up.

backpack-3In 2004 I learned to use this backpack as a pillow for my frequent trips to the beach.

backpack-4Here we are taking a break from a bike ride to enjoy a beautiful view. Also 2004.

backpack-52005: The pack climbed up Katahdin, the beautiful Maine high point and northern end of the Appalachian Trail.

backpack-6 copyI’ve carried the backpack through more airports than I can count, sometimes taking it as my only item. I’m not sure what airports these are here, but I think it’s Athens and Kansas City. The pack also came in handy as a pillow while sleeping under a bench at the Cairo airport.

backpack-8I don’t know the year of this photo but the pack has spend many a summer at the lake.

backpack-9Exploring and suffering the sweltering heat of the middle east in 2006. The pack was nearly stolen from me on this trip but I refused to give it up!

backpack-10Climbing up the horrifically exposed “Beehive” in Acadia National Park, summer 2007. Easily the most terrifying hike I’ve ever done.

backpack-12In 2008 I carried the backpack across Missouri on my bicycle as I rode the entire Katy Trail.

backpack-11Here the backpack hangs out while I eat a bag of donuts during a thunderstorm in Arkansas.

backpack-13The climb up my first (and only) 14er would not have been possible without my backpack, which was probably starting to show some age by now. 2009.

backpack-14Emma has also enjoyed the backpack as well. Apparently I took her hiking and let her wear a dress??

backpack-16This was a nice spot where I enjoyed a snack, courtesy of the backpack in 2012.

backpack-17The pack has also been on many kayak trips, including this one in 2014.

backpack-18And what is better than getting refreshed under a waterfall in an ozark cave. Nothing. Except maybe getting refreshed under a waterfall in an ozark cave and then eating an ice cream cone.

backpack-15I have found the best way to get a backpack extremely dirty is to strap it to the front of an ATV and ride through mud. 2015.

So this pack has been through a lot! The new pack will be nice but I doubt it will ever totally replace my one!

Ozark Adventure

Posted on Apr 16, 2017 in Day / Weekend Trips, Rural America | 1 comment

The other day Emma asked me if we could do another “long” hike sometime soon. So naturally I started making arrangements for us to do a 10.2mi hike in a wilderness area where I have hiked and backpacked a few times before. When the day came, we left the house bright and early and drove to the trail.

hiking17-1The girls always want to stop and add rocks to these piles when they see them. Since this area is a “wilderness”, it is by law generally void of anything man made, which includes bridges and trail signage. So navigating the area can be a bit challenging at times and these rock piles can be useful to point out the spot where you are supposed to cross the stream.

hiking17-2After a couple miles, I saw a large “mountain” off to the side of the trail, which according to my topo map was called Pilot Knob. While most hills in the Ozarks are covered with trees, top to bottom, this was mostly open and exposed, so I asked Emma if she was interested in scrambling up to the top to check out the view. Of course she was, so we left the trail behind and up we went! Once we made it, the view was indeed pretty great. We sat on a rock ledge and rested, then checked out some cactus growing in the area before making our way down the other side and re-joining the trail.

hiking17-3We had lunch near a waterfall. Although I am generally pretty averse to being wet, I do make an exception when it’s a natural water feature on a warm day. So we stuck our heads into the icy waterfall.

hiking17-4The area was loaded with Dogwood trees and they were in full bloom. So we enjoyed seeing all of the white flowers throughout the forest.

hiking17-5Eventually we had to cross back through the stream from earlier in the morning, although in a different place. Emma decided to find a nice rock and lay with her head in the rippling water. We again decided to ditch the trail and find our own way by hiking in the creek. Which was a lot of fun until I slipped and fell into a pool of water and submerged my camera.

hiking17-6Eventually we reached this very cool spot with several waterfalls.

hiking17-7Again we decided we needed to stick our heads in the waterfall, even though it was freezing cold.

hiking17-8We enjoyed a snack on these big rocks. On a side note, I camped in my hammock in this exact spot a couple years ago.

hiking17-9And here she is, with just about a half mile to go. She is quite the hiker!