Saturday, January 31, 2015

Santa Cruz Sunset

When I was in Santa Cruz, I stayed around long enough to watch the sun set over the Pacific ocean.  These are the results:

Debbie, wish you were here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Surfin' U.S.A.

Anyone who has grown up with The Beach Boys as part of the soundtrack of their lives likely considers surfing an integral part of California culture.

At various points in times past, I have seem the occasional surfer dude attempt to surf, however I've never really seen anyone actually get to their feet on a board and properly ride a wave.

During my stroll along the waterfront in Santa Cruz I finally got to see true Californian surfers in person.

Luckily I was armed with my new camera with a telephoto lens, so I got a few pics of the surfers in action.

This surfer is getting ready to jump into the ocean.
There were a surprisingly large number of surfers in the water. I didn't get an exact count, but I would guess 40-50 folks were in the ocean with surfboards at any point in time, with a steady rotation of people coming and going.

A surprisingly large number of them managed to actually surf a wave.
Sometimes I was surprised that none of the surfers ran into each other.
See what I mean?
The waves were quite high - often well over 6 foot in height.

Some of the folks out-ran the waves, and stayed up for a surprisingly long amount of time.
Other times the waves caught up to them.
According to a plaque posted near where I was standing, surfing was brought to California by three young Hawaiian princes in the summer of 1885.  They surfed in the waters near Santa Cruz using redwood planks that they had milled into surfboard shapes by a local mill.

Pretty soon the surfing craze swept up and down the coast.
Everybody's gone surfin'

Surfin' U.S.A.

See ya next time!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Stroll In Santa Cruz

On Sunday, after geocaching amongst the giant redwoods and accidentally ending up on a beach on the top of a mountain, we decided to hit the coast at Santa Cruz and check out the scenery.  The secondary benefit of such a scheme is eating seafood on the Santa Cruz Pier for supper.

Santa Cruz is one of those quirky towns that seems to revel in its own weirdness, like Seattle Washington, Portland Oregon, and a lesser extent, Asheville North Carolina.

There were many creative looking characters walking around, however I am horrible at people photography, so fortunately Santa Cruz also doubles as an amazingly picturesque coast line.

The rest of this posts are some pictures I took while exploring a little bit of the town. 
The surf was high, to the point where surf advisory alerts were posted, so the ocean was quite active.  It also caused a lot of mist, which makes for some interesting photos.
I am a big fan of this natural bridge (look at the water below the seagull).
The Santa Cruz coast line is full of these rocky outcrops.
This lighthouse, the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, was apparently originally closer to the ocean, but was moved when the erosion made its position precarious, so it was moved closer to shore as a preservation effort.
On the other side of this rocky outcrop is the Bay of Santa Cruz.  There were a lot of small watercraft, and a surprisingly large number of surfers.
On the north side of the lighthouse is a dog beach.  It was fun watching the hounds race thru the surf in search of super happy puppy fun times.
A closeup view of the lighthouse.
One last view of the coastline of Santa Cruz, before the sun sets.

Geocaching The Redwoods

Full disclosure: I am currently in California on a work trip.  As a geocacher this brings to light the following facts:  awesome nature to explore, great geocaching to conduct, and proximity to a co-worker who may be more addicted to geocaching than I am.

So on Sunday I met up with my geocaching co-conspirator, SaSiCo, and headed west across the mountains to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Located just northwest of Santa Cruz, the park has a lot of exactly what you'd expect: redwoods.  It also has a unique ecosystem, which is something I did not expect - but more on that later.

We started our hike my walking amongst these giant trees.  Redwoods are some of the tallest trees in the world, so we walked, and geocached, among some true gentle giants of the natural world.
As we soon discovered, the park features a wide variety of landscapes.  It also features a variety of transportation options depending on the trail used.  We saw walkers, joggers, cyclists, and many many horses.
What we didn't expect was that the top of the hill, in the middle of the park, is a completely different ecosystem than the surrounding area.  The Santa Cruz Sandhills is host to many species of flora and fauna that only exist in this area.  It also makes for some beautiful scenery,
At the very top of the Sandhills is an observation tower.  You can see Castle Rock State Park to the east from this tower.
When we walked up the hill we basically walked on forest trails.   In contrast, for the first half mile or so on the way down, we walked on what basically felt like beach sand.  We learned from an earth cache at the summit that this sand was the bottom of a sea at one point 4 million or so years ago, but tectonic movement has pushed the hills up a thousand feet or so above sea level.
Being so close to the ocean leads to some really scenic views of water.  This is the bay of Santa Cruz.
 We were soon back amongst the redwood giants, and we continued to geocache.  You can get a rough sense of the girth of these trees by comparing it to the size of a standard ammo can, nestled in a small crack in the trunk.
California is awesome for having a lot of surprises hidden in its hills.  When we turned a corner of the trail, we came across this amazing scene.   If you don't think The Shire when you look at this photo, then you have a vastly different brain than I do. The Tolkienesque qualities of this scene pleases me much.
For scale, the brown splotch in the middle of the trail is a guy on a horse.

We spent 5 hours in the park, found 12 geocaches, and walked 4.5 miles.  I even hit a milestone along the way.

All in all it was a perfect day of geocaching.  When we were finished at the park we headed to the coast and checked out Santa Cruz itself, but that is a story for a different post.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Wisdom Of Chocolate

Yesterday while hiking the trails and geocaching I was eating some Dove dark mint chocolate as a snack. If you have not had any recently, each piece of Dove chocolate is individually wrapped, and has an inspirational saying on the inside.  While I was standing at ground zero, I opened up a chocolate and read the following message:
Well played, dark mint chocolate.  Well played.


Today I hit another geocaching milestone: my 4000th find.  I  made the grab while hiking with my caching buddy SaSiCo in Henry Cowell Redwood Park near Santa Cruz California.

Details of the adventure coming soon, but for now, I give you the photo of victory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Camera

I have only ever owned point and shoot cameras.  While I have had good success with my current compact camera, it was getting time for an upgrade.

That upgrade comes in the form of a Sony Alpha A6000.

The full specs and camera details can be found here, however for the non-camera geeks the salient detail is that the camera promises DSLR level quality. However, it uses electronics instead of mirrors so it is in a slightly more compact form factor.

I bought the camera in a kit, which came with a bunch of goodies like extra batteries, travel tripod, lens filters, and two lenses:  a 16-50mm standard lens, and a 55-210mm telephoto lens. The telephoto lens really interests me as it allows me to take much better nature shots.  The following photo has the same shot taken from the exact same spot.  On the left is the max optical zoom from my old camera (a Canon S100), and the new is maximum zoom from the telephoto lens on the A6000.

I've already given this camera a workout by taking it to the NC Zoo last Saturday (pics here and here).

I am still working on learning this new camera - a process that will likely take months, but so far, its promising to be a valuable addition to my arsenal of tools used to capture my adventures.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Saturday At The Zoo: Lion's Pride Edition

Yesterday I took the family over to the North Carolina Zoo to both entertain the kid (and ourselves) and to test out my new camera.

We lucked out and got a very photogenic lioness and her cubs.  I took a mess of photos of them, so I decided to share several of the better ones all at once in their own post.

If you want to see pics of the other animals feel free, click here.

 As mentioned the lions in this zoo are prideful parents of a flock of baby lions.  

The cubs are named Savanna, Lololi, Khari, and Kirabo.  I am not sure which one is which, or really how old they are.  Actually, you will find that this post is almost completely devoid of any useful information of any kind.  

So lets dig in and look at some photos.
It has been an eventful date, and it is getting quite late.  So one more yawn...

... and its time to end.

In parting, remember that if you are in the company of a friend, and being chased by a lioness, you do not have to outrun the lioness.  You only have to out run your friend (hint: sweep their leg).

See you next time!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Saturday At The Zoo

It is the Saturday of a long weekend, I have two young kids to entertain, the outside temperature is in the 50s, and I recently purchased a new camera.

Sounds the the perfect reason to go to the zoo!

That is exactly what we did today. The following is the photographic evidence.

The cat in the first picture is a bobcat.  I have never seen a bobcat before, and I was surprised to find out that bobcats are not that much larger than your standard house cat.

The new polar bear exhibit has opened up at the NC Zoo, so this is the first chance we have had to check out the polar bear.  She had just gotten out of the pool.
Just before we left the polar bears, the keepers tossed in some food for her.
This picture of the owl was taken through glass.  The UV and polarized filters really helped cut down the glare.
I got to exercise the telephoto lens on my camera.  These bison where hanging out on the far side of a rather large field.
We also lucked out and caught the feeding of these baboons.  Baboons are monkees - I know this cause Larry The Cucumber told me in his informative yet silly song.
The zoo has a really cool enclosure that is essentially a ginormous field where many of the larger african herd animals hang out: gazelles, deer, and in this photo, rhinos and gemsboks.
A closer up shot of a rhino hanging out beside a bird.
The elephants are kept on the same african plains exhibit as the other animals, but are kept separate by a fence.
The giraffes, universally considered the favourite animal among the members of my family, hang out with zebra. This enclosure, which is separated from the african plains exhibit, is quite large.  We had to chase these animals down.  Because it was cold for African animals, many of the animals didn't come out until later in the day, so we lucked out to see these guys.
So that is our trip to the NC Zoo.  I still have a lot of learning on my new camera, but so far I like the results.