All the Roads

full map road tripsIt started with a dinner, Valentine’s Day, over five years ago now.  That was our first meal together, as friends, “not a date”, we both insisted, as my divorce wasn’t quite final.

We sat across from each other at Johnny Carino’s way out on the east side of Houston, after hanging out watching a dog agility competition, and set out to talk about what we had in common (geocaching, dogs, general interest in animals and the outdoors).  We ended up talking about road trips instead – trips we might like to go on someday.

He told me about a map and some information that a friend (Don) had given him, with advice about a road to take.

Four months later, we were sitting in a Johnny Carino’s in Billings, Montana, about to embark on that road together – the Bear Tooth Pass, Montana – gateway to Yellowstone.

My ex was coming home for two week leave literally the day after our divorce was final, and I needed to get out of town for a while while he visited our kids, at my house, in my bed, taking over all my general area.  I had realized that due to the divorce, I could travel anywhere I wanted to on my vacation, instead of having to spend it with my former in laws.

Jason asked me where I wanted to go, and told me he would drive me.  I told him Glacier National Park….I said Olympic National Park…but all those places were too far in 2010 for that maiden voyage.  We agreed on Yellowstone, on going to the road Don had suggested.

2010 Trip in Purple, 2014 in Red
2010 Trip in Purple, 2014 in Red

He gave me a laptop computer with mapping software to plan the journey. We both saved money individually, to pool together.  He brought the camping equipment, his dogs, his camera, and I brought the plans, made all the arrangements, gathered food supplies.   We spent two weeks on the road, camping most nights, learning how to be partners in a journey together, and I guess it just stuck – the mutual wanderlust, love of the open road, excitement of exploration.

There is a certain kind of relationship people must have to be good road trip partners, and we have those qualities.  We have these incredible conversations, share a sense of humor that leaves us sometimes laughing to ridiculousness levels, and get lost in mutual creative aspects, like recording scenes from the road with our cell phones and trying to match it up with music.  We can also sit quietly for a while, looking out the window or listening to audio books, just taking it in.  He takes the pictures, I write the stories – that’s always been how we roll.

2012 Trip
2012 Trip

Since that maiden voyage, we have been on two more epic road trips – one every other year.  I have mapped our journeys out on this map above, and included our little side trips over the years – various camping trips, geocaching events, visits to family and friends, exploration of Texas State Parks.  We’ve probably traveled over 12,000 road miles together (just last year’s trip alone clocked in at 6,600 miles).  We’ve taken a few trips via plane to places not included on the map, but where we also did some exploring, including Maryland and Puerto Rico.

We’ll keep going.  We’ll keep saving for that every-other-year trip, with smaller excursions in between.  We want to see all the roads, visit all the National Parks, stop at all the monuments, find all the oldest geocaches.  Or maybe that is just me, and he is willing to play chauffeur…either way, of all the things, this is what became our thing, and it’s one of those that defines us as a couple, and I love it.


Seven Meadows Duck Pond Walk

20150815_085352We have a way we like to walk, especially on days when we have a little more time.  Weekend mornings, some late evenings, catching sunsets or the morning dew as we go.  Sometimes my middle son is along, and we have the chitter chatter of sharing observations.  Sometimes it is just me and the dogs, with the jingle of their collars and their panting as the accompanying sounds.  Most days we hear mockingbirds and doves, sometimes starlings or grackels.  There has been an unexpected treat or two, like the belted kingfisher I saw last winter, or maybe a roseatte spoonbill, herons, egrets, or cormorants fishing along the little bayou that runs next to the path, or at the “other pond” across the street from this view here below.
20150815_085340 Mostly there are ducks, though, and lots of them.  As we walk, we are observing the world around us, with all the duck drama that unfolds.Usually, this little pocket park featured above and below, usually our second stop along the walk, has a few Muscovy ducks.  However, it is also the spot where the misfits hang out, the outcasts, the ducks that don’t fit in.  20150815_085213

Seen in the picture above is the current group of little duck rebels.  The two white ducks on the end, and potentially all of these, are domestic ducks that were most likely dumped at the park at some point, perhaps turned loose when they weren’t cute enough for Easter pets anymore.  The kids and I call the white ducks our “little friends”, as in “do you see our little friends today?” or “how are our little friends doing?”.  The two middle ducks in this row are two Mallard females who used to live at the upper pond with their mates, until the drakes disappeared one by one – to predation or accident, I am not sure.  The lighter duck in front was also one of a pair, kind of unusual blonde looking ducks, similar to the white ones but with sort of an apricot tinge.  They showed up one day when they were babies and grew up at the pond over the past year, but now one of them is missing as well.  The dark duck at the front is a new one.

The hig20150815_084443hlight of the walk is the first pond we come to, the great glorious duck pond.  This pond is able to support a huge flock of muscovies, many who have hatchlings during the course of the year.  The following pictures show the newest group of ducklings and their proud mama.  These ducklings haven’t learned to be afraid yet.  My dogs were sitting just a few feet away during these pictures, and the ducklings ran practically right up to them and probably would not have stopped except Scout started barking at them.

These ducks are fed by many, but fed correctly at least by one person, or perhaps the community organization.  We have seen duck food spread around the trees where they like to roost during the hot parts of the day.  Perhaps because of this boon, the flock has increased in size.  It usually has 30-35 members present when we show up to sit a while and take a census, marveling at the new babies.  However, today there was a surprising high of 53 ducks total at the pond.  20150815_084322I am curious if communities feel like having a duck pond is a positive feature for their neighborhood, and if they try to encourage ducks to come and stay, or if they wish the ducks would just go away already.  I wonder why the ducks picked this pond to live at, and not the two or three others further up which only have a handful of ducks.  The furthest north of the ponds, up where Gaston hits Fry Road, is bigger than this pond and even has a couple of duck decoys in the pond, presumably to draw ducks to it, but no live ducks ever stay.  Do the decoys scare them off?  Is there something unique about the water or availability of food here at this pond, or do the ducks stay simply because there is food that appears sometimes here, and if the food moved to the other ponds, would the ducks move, too?

At any rate, it is intriguing and somewhat relaxing to stop by the pond and see what is new today, what has changed, sometimes to feed the ducks or just sit a spell and listen to the water fountain.


Proxy Falls: Three Sisters Wilderness

Lao Tzu is credited with saying that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  In this day and age, we might change that last word to “click”.  Most of us make our arrangements for journeys, or get ideas on where to go and what to do over the internet.

_DSC1467Proxy Falls was such a case for us.  I had seen a picture while browsing earthporn images (arousal images for nature lovers, ha) and downloaded it as my wallpaper for my computer at work.  I decided to look up where that place was in the picture, and learned that this falls was located in the Three Sisters Wilderness outside of Bend, Oregon.

20150619_101920I stashed the information away on where it was located in case we ever made it to that area.  Well, in June, I was headed there for my work conference, and it looked like I would have enough spare time in the schedule to make the 1.5 hour drive out to the location, hike the (what we thought to be) four mile round trip, and make the drive back.

We_DSC1422 weren’t sure how hiking with baby Sebastian would work, but Jason always felt confident that he would be able to use the baby backpack to carry him, and that it would not slow us down terribly.  Of course, then he told me he would need to get in shape to be able to carry him four miles, and then never actually started working on that plan.  So I was a little apprehensive about our ability to complete the hike, given the extra weight, but it turned out to be little problem.

It was a good idea that we agreed that Jason would carry him, because despite the fact that the it was supposed to be an “easy hike, perfect for families”, it required a little agility to cover the initially-rocky trail, made doubly difficult by my still-wonky right ankle.  I am not sure why I thought the distance was that far, unless that distance was if you traveled clockwise along the loop, but going counter-clockwise provided a 20150619_103052fairly short walk for us to the base of the falls.  In looking up information afterwards, it appears it is only 1.5 miles, so perhaps I was just working off false information.  Luckily for us this time, the error was in our favor.

The trail was a mix between the rocky remains of a lava field and the ferny, mossy shadowy depth of the type of forest that I absolutely love.  There were flowers blooming along the trails, like these little purple bells cast about in shady little corners (or occasional patches of sunlight, like this):


There were patches of rhododendrons, and some other flute-like orange flowers that I don’t know the names of.  I really need to get on with the plant-learning business over here.  I was in heaven with the moss and the ferns.

We had some debate on whether or not I should have bought the parking permit, because where we stopped to buy it, the lady (who admitted she was new to this) said they only had one kind of pass, which was a one year NW (Washington-Oregon) Pass for $30.  Although Jason thinks I should have just not bought the darn thing then (we were thinking $5-$10 range for day pass), in the end I felt more secure having it since the rangers had stopped at the parking area as we were leaving to clean the facilities (and presumably check for parking permits).  So, if any of you are in the need for a parking permit for national recreation land in that area over the next year, let me know – have I got a deal for you – one lightly used pass, bone of contention.

Here are some other pictures from along the trail:

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These pictures below of the actual falls are some of my favorite pics from our journey. One we reached the base of the falls, we had to sort of scramble around to actually get up to the falls, which on one hand made me nervous that Jason was doing, and on the other, I couldn’t resist doing myself.

_DSC1463 _DSC1444 _DSC1456 It was simply awesome to actually get there in person, to feel the gentle spray on your face coming off the falls, and hear the rushing stream of water in person. All said, it was the best hike of our year so far, and probably the highlight of the year altogether.  These are the moments we aren’t likely to forget.