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Over the last week or two, the fall color has really peaked here in the Berrien area. However, it's been rainy and cloudy too! So while I have been personally thoroughly enjoying the color, it hasn't been good for photography and lighting. However, this afternoon it is super super sunny so out I went! You may remember that this past spring I went out with some friends to Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. I knew that Dowagiac Woods would look spectacular in fall color!

Here's some of my favorite photos...enjoy! :)


 If you look closely, you'll see my dear friend who came for a visit!





 The trail was so pretty!







 You'd never guess that this shot was taken just 20 minutes away from Berrien! ;)







 And on the trail continues...

So I hope you enjoyed my photos! It was such a beautiful walk, everything I had hoped it would be. So fun to see what beauty is close by to me. I hope you have a beautiful day yourself!
Austin
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Otherwise known as, my October trip to Warren Dunes State Park. But I gotta get your attention somehow! ;)

I usually try to write a little sooner about my trips than this, but I've a) been so busy with school & b) busy actually GOING places & c) busy editing video footage that blogging has gotten a bit of the back burner treatment. Hoping to fix that in the next few weeks :) (oh and did I mention that this fall I've been able to visit two MAJOR history museums, one in Chicago and the other in Kalamazoo??? Respective articles on both will be coming...eventually... :) )

Anyways. Back to our subject of Warren Dunes. I had gotten off of school a little earlier than anctipated, so I headed out to the coast a little early as to squeeze in some hiking prior to watching the sunset. As indicated by its' name, Warren DUNES state park does have sand dunes, actually quite a few of them, it's just that I'm so focused on the sunset I rarely have interest or time to check out all the other cool stuff the park has to offer. Also, there are some nice hiking trails in a forest. I've never gone back there, either. So I decided that I would fix that this trip...

Enjoy the photos!

 As I was walking across the parking lot to the woods (on the left of the photo), my eyes caught glimpse of two white-tailed deer!! Unfortuantely I did not have my telephoto lens on, but if you look close (and at the cropped version below), you might be able to make them out. But I mean guys, let's keep it all in perspective. Who cares if I even got any photos. I GOT TO SEE WILD ALIVE DEER IN A STATE PARK, GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO cool to wild wildlife decently up close and in person.

 So on my short little stubby human legs, I chased the deer up the dunes. As I suspected, I never caught sight of them again, but where I ended up absolutely left my jaw hanging wide open...

 I still don't believe that this is "just" southwest Michigan...Warren Dunes has many surprising, spectacular sides if you take the time to listen and soak it in...





 The trail begins...

 Absolutely loved the lighting!

There was a virtual cache along the trail where you were to take a picture of yourself with this tree, which supposedly looks like a buffalo (I kind of agree). A fun objective to have while hiking!
 Once I finished the hike and got out to the beach, I enjoyed taking wave photos!


 I love all the detail and 3-Dness of the foaming water here...
 Eventual personal stock photos, anyone?? ;)



I then ran across this little bird - killdeer, maybe? Will be getting the ID soon! - who did not fly away when I approached, but rather seemed to limp and move just fast enough to be just out of my reach...I quickly realized that I was falling for a common ploy. This was probably a momma bird who was trying to protect her brood and the nest or young were probably pretty close to me. Yup, sure enough, when I got a certain distance away "injured" took off perfectly and flew back to square one. And yup, there were her three young playing in the surf! Once again, I wished that I had had my telephoto on - maybe I'll just officially bring it next time?? - but I still got some decent photos.







And now for what you all knew was coming...the sunset! God never fails to disappoint, guys...


 I really enjoyed playing with angles, and including the pebbles in my shots...
 The waves, caught at just the right time, provide some great interest!

 It's so fun when you get to catch the sun reflected in the surf!
The grand show may indeed be eternal, somewhere, but for me and my viewing station, this signaled the end. Until the next time...
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Last month I had the opportunity to go take a break from school and spend a week or so with my family down in Tennessee! As you might imagine, I had a lot of fun doing so...and one of the many fun things we did together was visit the Tennessee Aquarium!

Hands down, the Aquarium is Chattanooga's star attraction, even over Point Park or Chickamauga in my opinion. It is such high quality and I really really love seeing all the animals there! My parents have taken me there many a time in the last eleven years or so and it is always such a pleasure to visit. One fun thing that we did on this visit was to hit up as many of the keeper talks as possible. I had not realized until recently that the Tennessee Aquarium has keepers and divers come into their exhibits multiple times a day - not just to feed the animals, but also to educate the public about the creatures. My family and I had never attended any of the talks, and doing so on this visit was so much fun. Great 10-15 minute chats on lemurs, penguins, sharks, river otters, and turtles. Hopefully someday we can go back and attend the talk on alligators!

Anyways, as you might imagine I filmed the talks...but in between greatly enjoyed taking still photos, too. Here are some of my favorite shots! Enjoy! :)

 The "Cove Forest" of lemurs (two species!!), fish, flowers, and stingrays is where you begin your tour in the "Ocean Journey" building.


 I love the tanks that have windows on their walls, because then I feel like I am underwater without having to get wet!!



Love their long ringed tails! Such cute little guys! I wanna get one for a pet.... :D


 I always make sure to pay a visit to the butterfly garden while I am there! So delightful to take photos of the winged beauties and their colorful perches.



 Next up are the penguins! Things might seen calm and serene up top...but it's anything but calm below the surface!


 Love the sense of awe, curiosity, and wonder in this little guy's eyes. Teach 'em young...and when they grow old, they won't depart from their ways!


 Sharks! This was by far one of my favorite keeper talks. Loved hearing about the behavioral differences between the sandbar and sandtiger sharks...and that the diver kindly answered my question!!


 Once again, I really enjoyed capturing this shot of this little girl interacting with the tank. The more I delve into photography, the more I realize just how much I enjoy capturing candid portraits of people interacting with their environment. Just has something that simple landscapes do not...
Top dog coming through...
 I had never noticed before that the Tennessee Aquarium had a Giant Pacific Octopus!! So cool to see it this time (above). Below, the orange/yellow sea nettle is pretty much an icon of the Aquarium. I've taken photos before, but just couldn't help myself taking a few more ;)

 River Journey building! Making our way through an Appalachian forest...we encounter river otters!! So fun to watch. I think if I had to be an animal, I'd be a black bear, sea or river otter, or lab dog. ;D Greatly enjoyed the talk, but the little guys were tricky to photograph! Below is one of my better shots...(thanks to the "sport" setting on my camera with rapid fire!!)




Such an incredibly fun place! Hope you enjoyed my little photo tour. Until the next time...

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Hey everyone!

So in addition to Warren Dunes State Park, my family and I also visited Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore while they were here! Indiana Dunes is located in Indiana, duh, on the small strip of Lake Michigan coast line that Indiana can lay claim to. It's intermixed like a potluck (here a little, there a little, etc.) with industry and the ever-reaching urban extensions of Chicago. So while I never felt like, "ahhhh....I'm in a national park" sort of relief that I do when I go to the Smokies or Mammoth Cave, I still did have a very fun time with my family exploring what the park had to offer. I was excited to visit Indiana Dunes as it is a national park (yay stamp!!), plus it looked like there were some pretty cool things there - beach, trails, old pioneer homes to name a few. Sounded like a recipe for a good time to me! :D

Anyway, the first place we went was West Beach. West Beach is a popular beach at the park (duh) and I'm happy we got there early because it really filled up fast. Spent a few seconds admiring the beach and lake, then onto what we really came there to do...hike the half-mile or so long dune succession trail. Basically, a long fancy name for a boardwalk trail that goes over dunes. You know that little kids song?

"Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we'll go!"

Well, the Indiana Dunes version would run,

"Over the sand dunes and through the traffic..." (remember this park is basically right next to the edges of Chicago) :P

The nice thing was though that the stairs were very sturdy (even though there were tons of them), lots of handrails were in place (thank you NPS!), and there were several benches and overlooks (yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayy!! ;) ). Actually I really enjoyed the view out towards Lake Michigan.



It was also fun see the different sand dunes and learn all that scientific stuff about ecology, succession, and the like (thanks for reading that brochure, Mom!). But I'm just sayin'...I definitely got my exercise!! ;) Still lots of fun to be with my family out in nature.




Hands down, though, what I enjoyed the most about West Beach was that on the paved trail out to the beach, there were lots and lots and lots of pretty wildflowers!! I had so much fun taking photos.







 I loved these purple flowers!!

 Oh, and if you wanted to see what the beach/lake looked like! ;) It's nice, but in my opinion doesn't hold a candle to Warren Dunes. This one is much smaller and more crowded.

Next we visited the visitor center for lunch and to grab that stamp, and there were even more wildflowers adorning the grounds of the visitor center! Seriously, our family spent more time outside taking pictures of the flowers than inside enjoying the exhibits. Hey, nothing wrong with that! ;)





 Yellow is my favorite color and so these black-eyed susans were definitely among my favorites! Just absolutely loved all the brilliant splashes of color they made!!



 To be continued...
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A covered wagon adds to the atmosphere at Sutter's Fort in California.
Well, if this sort of catchy title worked before, why not use it again? No kidding though, my
Fireproof article has almost 40 views on it so far. That's doing pretty good for my little blog!

And, of course, now that you're here... ;)

At the time of this writing (mid-July 2018), I've just had the opportunity to finish watching a truly phenomenal documentary/film series on the Oregon/California trail called Leaving Independence. But it's not your typical dry, dusty, lack-of-anything interesting movie. It's about David Vixie, an eighth grade teacher from Northern California who coordinates a week-and-a-half wagon train reenactment for his class, complete with period clothing. The oxen are real, the need for water is very real, and the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons is ever-present.

I have mad respect for the guy, not just for how meticulous and authentic he truly does seem to recreate the wagon train experience, but also for how skillfully he teaches. He takes just about any experience could imagine out there on the trail - mending a wrecked wagon, coming to a fork in the trail, or passing by a pioneer's grave - and organically turns it into lesson time. Not strict or boring or blank, but organic and fascinating and real. Relatable. So much so that you can easily see how these kids will be able to take these lessons home, off the trail, and apply them in their real lives. Side note, I also feel that these lessons are super applicable for me and probably a lot of other adults as well!

For example, mending a wrecked wagon is a chance to discuss how it is wise to pick up tools in life even when we don't see where we are going to use them on down the line...er, trail ;) On the California trail, as Mr. Vixie and his students are, this has a very real application. They could have very much used some string or wire to keep a wagon wheel from coming off. And earlier that morning they had bypassed some wire on the ground, and Mr. Vixie had pointed it out. But none of the kids picked it up. But that's the thing about Vixie's teaching method; he's way more into teaching kids lessons they will never forget, and ones that will aid them on down the line, than to be right or be first or make the most miles in a day. So while he points the wire out, he doesn't force anyone to pick it up. If someone did, later on it certainly helps with mending the wagon. If nobody did, it's a great opportunity to teach about acquiring skills before time, even when you don't have any idea where you might use that skill.

Coming to a fork in the trail provides the time to talk about why we make decisions in life. Do we make decisions based on what will be the better choice in the long run? Or do we make decisions based on peer pressure, who we'll be traveling the trail with? What are the best criteria to base our decisions off of? The easy road and the hard road both have pluses/minuses - both with regards to terrain, and also to chosen attitude. And I also like that Mr. Vixie very clearly points out that the hard road is not necessarily the bad road; struggles and challenges, he says, build strength and perseverance. Those can be good things to have later on down the trail. So he asks each student which trail they want to take, and then tells them to start walking down their chosen trail...and continue to do so. He then breaks up the wagon train (there's several wagons and adults to go around) and lets each student experience the consequences of their decision. In short, he knows each choice any student may make, and is fully able to deliver the consequences of those choices (good or bad-ish). He lets the students make their own decisions, but nothing they can do will be beyond the corners of his sandbox, if you will.

And passing a pioneer's grave gives Mr. Vixie a chance to impress on young minds the importance of human life, the importance of family, and of what one does - in how he phrases it - in "life's dash" (i.e., the time between birth and death on a gravestone). I've visited many graves in my lifetime, but certainly not with the attitude that Vixie has. His philosophy really makes me think. I really like how he uses the environment, circumstances, and just plain real life to teach lessons that reach far beyond the wagon train.

Little by little Vixie continues to hand over more leadership of the wagon train to his students, and the whole setup is ripe for opportunities to learn about leadership, communication, and teamwork. It's really quite an engaging movie as you watch, eager to learn if so-n-so finally learns to cooperate and pull their own fair share of the weight, what adventures or mishaps might happen on down the trail, and quite frankly, what amazing vistas just might be around that next turn!

***

It's funny how applicable I've found the messages of Mr. Vixie are to my own life. For example, I finished watching the series at a lunch time. Right after lunch I needed to go on into the biology department on campus and repair some of the traps I have been using to catch squirrels. Am I going to take the hard road of duty or the easy road of procrastination? As a grad student, nobody's keeping a hawk's eye on you and micromanaging your every move. I actually really enjoy being treated like an adult, but the flip side is that I need to take the "hard road" of sorts and actually self control myself, determine in my heart that I will indeed go on in to school and chop away at the list of duties that my professor has given me to do. And every good decision made, every decision to go down the "hard road" gives me motivation and propensity to choose this choice again.

Then I went to show my finished product to my professor, who in the course of some very helpful discussion shared with me that I had cut the trap flap in the wrong shape; it needed to be two layers of mesh thick, not just one. So, I would need to cut it all over again. But hey! What a golden opportunity to practice good interpersonal skills! Because as Mr. Vixie taught, interpersonal skills, and the overall comradery and spirit in  a group of people, is very important. And accepting wisdom from those who have already been down the trail you are currently traveling is a very good thing to do. So - inward sigh - outwardly, "Thank you, professor, I will gladly go cut another flap right away!" (and of course I say this with a genuine smile on my face).

See what I mean about the lessons from this movie being so applicable to real life? The wagon train environment certainly amplified the lessons and consequences, but the lessons themselves are SO applicable to real life (and of course, I know that's what Mr. Vixie was aiming for in the first place).

***

So yes, I loved the lessons in Leaving Independence. But as a history buff and travel nut, I absolutely loved seeing folks recreate an important part of American history and re-travel the actual trails in period clothing and transportation. It was really fun following Mr. Vixie and his students, seeing how they would transform over the experience, and repeatedly I found myself cheering them on. The country through which they traveled with simply breathtaking (especially those sunrises!!) If you're into American history, I highly recommend this film. If you're an educator, you're going to love this film. And if you're just simply a person who needs a booster shot of a positive attitude, or some ideas of how to look at life differently, you're going to love this film!

Watch the trailer here.
~Austin
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