Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Turkeys and Deer in the Snow

My visits to see family in South Dakota have historically been confined to summer months, when the weather is good.  However, my parents aren't getting any younger, and now that I'm retired there's no excuse for me not visiting more frequently.  So I decided to do something I haven't done in nearly 30 years - go to South Dakota in the winter.

Three does checking me out

I planned my trip for the end of January.  Checking the local weather a few days before my departure, things didn't look too bad.  But after I arrived, the forecast changed dramatically.  A snowstorm dropped 12 inches one day, and the temperatures plunged below zero (Fahrenheit) for two straight days.

Another curious doe

What was I thinking?  The frigid weather had me realizing why I hadn't done a wintertime visit in many years.

Turkey in the snow

Despite the weather, I still had fun.  All that time spent indoors provided great opportunities to catch up with family members.

Turkeys huddled under the neighbor's bush

And I didn't have to travel far to photograph wildlife.  The resident deer and turkeys made daily visits to my parent's backyard.

Young buck

So enjoy these photos of the hardy animals who make South Dakota their home. (I think I took more critter photos than family pics!)

Snow on the pine trees

Lone turkey

Snow-covered turkey

Another trio of does

Huge turkey flock

My dad plowing the driveway

My dad is amazing.  Even though in his mid-80's, he still gets out to shovel and plow the driveway.

Time to shovel again!

One thing for sure, visiting an area that has real winters makes me appreciate the rainy, mild climate where I live.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Cape Horn

One of my favorite Columbia River Gorge hikes is the trail around Cape Horn.  Located across the river in neighboring Washington, it has the distinction of being one of the closest Gorge trails to the Portland Metro area.  This 7.5 mile loop is perfect when I want a scenic jaunt without the long drive.

One cloudy, but dry day in mid-January I joined friends Debbie and Barry for a revisit.

Foggy cliffs of Cape Horn

Cape Horn is a series of towering basalt cliffs that line the north side of the Columbia River.  This trail of the same name climbs up to the very top of these cliffs.  It then follows the ridgeline before winding steeply downhill to a lower path paralleling the mighty Columbia, boasting fabulous river views.  State Route 14 splits the loop, and one can either start the hike above or below the highway.  When I first started hiking this trail, I used to always begin with the trail portion above SR 14, leaving the lower section for last.  The only problem with taking this direction is the last mile is an uphill walk along a boring paved road.  Not fun on a hot summer's day!  (Trust me on this one)  Then someone mentioned walking the loop in reverse, traversing the road first.  After trying the opposite direction, I've never hiked it any other way.

Cape Horn Falls

So of course, my friends and I started out getting that pesky road walk out of the way.  Since the road is quite a bit lower than the highway, it offered good views of Cape Horn's cliffs soaring high above as we made our way along.  Today the cliffs were cloaked in fog, giving them an aura of mystery.

My friends below the falls

Soon we intersected with the official trail and began climbing this rocky path through the woods.  Not far from road's end, we made a quick stop to admire lovely Cape Horn Falls, gushing full from the recent rainy winter days. 

Crossing one of the large talus slopes

Immediately after the waterfall, my friends and I crossed a couple of large, moss-covered talus slopes.  Not the funnest to walk over, Debbie and I were on guard the entire time.  Neither of us wanted to trip or twist an ankle stepping around the large rocks.  Luckily, we all passed over these uneven trails without incident.

One of the many lovely Columbia River views

The lower trail is my favorite part of the loop because of the numerous viewpoints offering excellent river vistas.  The first clearing had sweeping views across the mighty Columbia.  We could see Beacon Rock in the distance, peeking out of the low clouds, and the tall cylindrical Cigar Rock closer in.  

Barry poses for me

Barry was a good sport and posed for a photo with the glorious river views and Cigar Rock in the background.  Looks like an REI ad, doesn't it?

Another pic of the foggy Columbia River

Although the cloudy skies didn't make great light for photography, I snapped several images anyway ('cause that's what I do).  

Bare, mossy trees

After following the river for another short stretch, our trail began to climb through a dense forest of leafless, mossy trees.  The path angled past another couple of developed viewpoints, complete with sturdy rock walls to keep folks safely away from the steep slopes.

Another viewpoint with brighter light

Beyond the "official" viewpoints, we wandered uphill through the forest until reaching State Route 14.  I've hiked this trail for many years, and in the "old" days, I remember darting across this busy highway.  But no longer!  There is now a tunnel under SR 14, enabling hikers to cross safely.

Gotta get a selfie for the blog

From the tunnel there's more climbing to be had.  My friends and I trudged upward through lots of switchbacks, stopping to admire the mossy forest and look for birds (Debbie and Barry are avid birders and I've learned so much from hiking with them.)

Columbia River above the highway

After about a mile of climbing the forested slope (with one really nice viewpoint) my friends and I arrived at the Nancy Russell Overlook.  The Cadillac of viewpoints on the Cape Horn Trail, this special site is comprised of a spiraling rock wall located on top of a prominent clearing.  Views extend eastward, past Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain, to the slopes of the Oregon side of the Gorge, with the mighty Columbia's blue water shining below.  This lovely vista is named for Nancy Russell, a friend, advocate, and protector of the Columbia River Gorge.

Huge forest full of mossy trees

The Nancy Russell Overlook is the perfect place for a lunch break.  My friends and I enjoyed our sandwiches, cookies, and hot tea (a thermos of tea is standard equipment for a winter hike!)

Nancy Russell overlook

Rested and refreshed we were then ready to finish the Cape Horn loop.  The trail led us to a road, which we crossed, and followed an old gravel track that led us back to proper trail.  After a short downhill run we again climbed and followed a trail through the woods to a series of viewpoints atop Cape Horn itself.  The most westernmost overlook, Pioneer Point, gives the best views in my opinion.

With a little more than a mile left, my friends and I now navigated the steep downhill path leading off of Cape Horn, back to the trailhead.  The trail wound endlessly through thick forest.  Now tired from our journey, the switchbacks seemed to go on forever.  But I reminded myself this was much better than an uphill trek on a paved road!

Birds-eye view from Pioneer Point

Finally trail's end came in sight.  Although the day had been cloudy, the clouds held their raindrops, and the temperatures remained fairly mild.  Not too shabby for mid-January!

It's always a treat to take a hike through the lovely Columbia River Gorge, especially in winter.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Birds Fishing

Well, the covid monster finally caught up to my hubby and I.  Although I got off with mild cold symptoms, hubby wasn't quite as lucky.  After a week, and he's still fighting a nagging cough.  Oh well, at least we finally got that over with - and we'll have immunity for a little while.


A few weeks ago, I took a morning walk around our local duck pond.  Of course, I always bring my camera, because you never know what critters will be there.  This time, I got lucky and spotted a cormorant that had just caught a big catfish.

"Let's take this fishie for a ride"

The cormorant was fun to watch.  He tossed the fish into the air, catching it with his beak.  Then he drug the fish through the water again and again.

Fish toss

The whole process took about 5 minutes.  Not sure what purpose the frequent dunkings served.  Maybe it provided lubrication to slide down the bird's throat?

Will he fit in my mouth?

The first time the cormorant tried to eat the fish, it appeared to lodge in it's throat.  It didn't look like that big catfish would fit.

Down the hatch

But somehow that bird got it in the right position, and before I knew what happened, he had gulped that fish down.

Tummy now full, it's time to fly away

Lunch now over, the cormorant flapped his wings and took off to another area of the park.

Pie-billed grebe with a crawfish

Just the other day I returned to the park to try out a new lens I'd purchased.  I had barely walked up to the pond when I spotted a pie-billed grebe with a crawdad in it's mouth.  As with the cormorant, I couldn't believe the grebe would be able to swallow something that big.  But after a few sessions of dragging it through the water, he did!

This grebe caught a tiny catfish

After making a circuit around the pond, I returned to the same spot, and there was another grebe (or maybe the same one?) with a tiny catfish.  Oh boy, more photo fun!

Proud of his catch

Between a trip home to see family in late January and being sick I haven't had much time for hiking.  But after next week's ski trip I hope to remedy that.  Stay tuned, I'll be posting more outdoorsy stuff real soon!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Sunny Day on Mt. Hood

Winter sunrises on Mt. Hood are the best.  The mountain is draped in her best winter white, the sky often has interesting clouds, and the sun doesn't rise until well after 7 o'clock, so one doesn't have to get up quite as early.  After capturing a nice sunrise last January, I decided it was time for another try.  So I diligently searched the forecasts for a clear morning.  Finally, spying a promising weather day, I set my alarm for a pre-dawn wake up.

Mt Hood before sunrise

It's always tough for me to rise early, but the hope of a colorful sky motivated me out of bed and on the road.  On this day, I arrived at Timberline Lodge with plenty of time to hike up the groomed climber's trail for a closer vantage.  Thinking I wouldn't need traction on a packed trail, I stupidly left my snowshoes in the car.  But getting to a good viewpoint required some off-trail post-holing through a foot of fresh powder.  Those snowshoes would've come in handy!

Brightening sky to the south

After arriving at my desired viewpoint, I then waited impatiently in the cold for the sun to make it's appearance.  The sky to the south and east began to turn colors first, so I pointed my camera in that direction.  There's always a great view of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters on the southern skyline.


Finally the sun broke above the horizon.  Mt. Hood lit up in lovely pink alpenglow.  I had to work fast, as this hue was fleeting.  I captured several frames of the rose-colored mountain before it began to fade.

Not sure what this building was but it made a good photo subject

After the sunrise show was over, I slowly began the trek back down the groomed snowcat track to my car.  The early morning light was so good, I couldn't resist capturing few more images of nearby sights.  I spotted a small, round building nearby.  I didn't know what the building was used for, but the light on it was so good, I took a bunch of photos anyway.

First tracks

As a walked back down the snowcat track, I was mesmerized by the beautiful view to the south.  There was a single ski track down the groomed track, and I thought it made a good image.  We skiers live for first tracks!

Vintage snowcat outside of Timberline Lodge

Timberline ski area has an army of snowcats that groom the ski runs.  When not in use, the snowcats are parked outside of Timberline Lodge.  In addition to the modern machines, there's also a vintage Tucker snowcat sitting in the lot.  I don't think it's ever used - the snowcat seems to function as a photo op.  Which is what I did - walking around the little orange 'cat documenting it from all angles.

Mt Hood and White River

Sunrise now successfully captured, the morning was still early.  But I didn't drive all the way up to the mountain just to turn around and head home.  It was time to find a nearby trail.  So I headed over to White River Snopark, one of my favorite winter playgrounds.

White River Canyon views

The White River Canyon is a popular place for winter recreation.  There's a nearby sledding hill for families.  Trails take skiers and snowshoers deeper into the canyon.  I could see remnants of the past weekend snowplay, as evidenced by the many snowmen of all sizes near the parking lot.

Heavily used snowshoe track

But I was here to hike up the canyon.  Strapping on my snowshoes, I set out, following a well-trod path through the snow.  The sun shone brightly upon the forest, the glare off the white snow forcing me to don sunglasses.

This poor little tree was struggling to stay above the snow

But after enduring days of rainy, gray skies this solar energy was most welcome.  Mt. Hood's white peak stood prominently against the clear blue sky.  The snowy forest sparkled in the sunlight.  What a wonderful day to be outside!

Wonderful views

I hiked about a mile and a half up the canyon.  After climbing the steep sledding hill, the path veered through a thick forest with occasional views of the mountain.  At 1.5 miles, the forest cleared and I was treated to an amazing view of Mt. Hood and the surrounding foothills.

Lunchtime break

A perfect place for a break!  I eased myself onto the snow and enjoyed a snack of hot tea, ginger cookies, and a cliff bar.  I watched two snowshoers try to navigate the extremely steep slope up nearby Boy Scout Ridge.  They got about halfway before conditions got too dicey - the snow was sliding out from underneath them - so the couple turned around and gingerly made their way back down.

Ripples on the snow surface

No steep slope climbing for me!  Break finished, I began to retrace my steps through the woods.  I contemplated slogging down to the river valley, but there didn't appear to be a good access point.  Then I met up with a man on snowshoes.  He pointed me to a gentle path down from the bluff that followed White River back to the parking area.  I followed the man's tracks down the embankment and after sliding down the last small dropoff, arrived at river level.

Snow-covered trees

It was fun to walk in the wide-open river valley.  Views stretched back to Mt. Hood in one direction, and towards the forested foothills in the other.  Although the snow was marred by many ski and snowshoe tracks, it was still a pretty scene.  White River wound through the valley, it's waters visible through the snow.  Although the river water wasn't frozen, most of the rocks had an icy coating, and there were plenty of icicles on the sides.

White River's icy banks

I arrived back at my car tired from my trek, but rejuvenated by all the beauty.  I'm glad I made the effort to get up early, not only to witness sunrise on Mt. Hood, but also to take a side trip through a lovely winter wonderland.