Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park--Day 3

From my trip in mid February:

After the rains ended (see previous post), things got less "interesting" but more beautiful:

Beautiful cactus:  pencil cholla first and possibly cushion foxtail below.

 Lovely hikes:

And more wildflowers:

Great day.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park--Day 2

It was pretty chilly the day we arrived at Joshua Tree National Park in mid February.  But then it started getting colder.  Propane canisters on camp stoves general get condensation on the outside at the level of the gas.  Well, our condensation froze. 

It starting doing that thing that's not exactly snow, but like a fine mist of rain that freezes into little jumpy specs of white.  We hunkered in our tents.  Then it started raining.  It rained for about the next 15 hours. 

This is what happened to the campground (though luckily our site was on a little rise):

This is what happened to the trails:

This is what happened to the roads (photo by Jan Maly on the way out of the park):

We played cards in the tent, ate breakfast in the truck.  Then we drove around the park.  I put on my emergency poncho and hiked around a bit here and there.  When the rain tapered off, I tested out a jacket to see how rainproof it was.  It got soaked...but kept my torso pretty dry.  My pants and shoes were another matter.  But it was all so beautiful. 

When the storm finally quit, here's how much water we'd collected:

We measured.  Almost 3 inches! 

What a camping trip. 

But...the next day was beautiful.  More pictures to come.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park in February--Day 1

Mid February, I met some Czech friends in the California's Joshua Tree National Park.  It was a great trip...even though the weather didn't cooperate so well.  You'll see more about that on Day 2!

Wildflowers near the southern entrance:

Wildlife at Jumbo Rocks Campground:

Views from the Ryan Mountain Trail:

Joshua trees and pretty silver cholla, whiter and more compact than our Sonoran teddybear cholla

Friday, March 8, 2019

Packing for an Alaska Cruise

I tend to be a heavy packer (at least compared to my backpacker peers).  Don't get me wrong;  I've moved to Europe for two years with one frame backpack and a day pack.  But I'll never be one of those people who purposely takes a serious vacation with one regulation-sized carry-on and nothing else.

For an Alaskan cruise, my recommendation is this:  don't pack light; pack prepared.  If you're like me, the last thing you want to do on your dream vacation is waste time and money shopping for stupid things you didn't bring.  There are too many whales to watch and trails to hike and history to live and salmon to eat.  

Alaska cruise packing list:

Layers. Layers, layers.  In case you didn't get that, I'll repeat:  layers.  Don't take a heavy winter coat.  Instead, take 3-4 light layers you can wear all at once and take off as needed.  Sometimes you'll be cold, especially if you spend a lot of time outside on glacier days or get caught in a long rain.  Other times you'll be too warm in anything more than a light jacket.  I have a long-sleeved, hooded T-shirt that's big enough to wear on top of other things.  I also take a light fleecy jacket, a thin wool sweater, and a stupid-looking but effective emergency poncho.  But there are many other combinations.  If you get cold easily, consider long underwear or some sort of second layer you can wear over or under your pants.  I usually take thick nylons (more like tights):  small to pack, but surprisingly warm.
Rain gear. It will rain. The ideal is something fancy like Gore-Tex, which is waterproof but breathable.  However, you can do with a much more affordable alternative.  At the very least, carry an emergency poncho and just swallow your pride when you put it on.  It'll mark you as a tourist, but so will all your oohing and aahing and picture taking.

Hat and gloves. If you spend eight hours on the outside decks in Glacier Bay on a cool day, for example, you'll be glad you have a knit had and gloves.  And please, stay on the outer decks during glacier cruising, at least for a bit.  It's beautiful.  Brimmed hats are handy when the sun comes out (or when the clouds malfunction, as locals joke). 

Good walking/hiking shoes. You don't necessarily need hiking boots, even if you're doing something like Devil's Punchbowl or Deer Mountain or one of the other fantastic Alaskan hikes.  But if you plan on doing anything much active (and please do--it's Alaska!), take good walking shoes with decent tread.  I always take a second pair, since my first often get wet.  Sometimes very, very wet.

These are the most important things, in my opinion, but for more, read my book:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Crazy Desert Weather

We had a weird February here in the Arizona desert.  Here's an amazing sight you don't see every day...or every decade:

Yes, this is Phoenix Sonoran Preserve on the north edge of Phoenix, and those are mountains I have never seen that much snow on.  Spectacular.  

Pictures taken Feb 23, 2019.

Cholla with new growth...and snow:

And this crazy-white mountain:

And just some cholla, spring poppies...and snow:

And these little islands of green that are far too green for the desert:

And this mountain bluebird that seems rather lost:

And more flowers...and snow:

What a spectacular day!

So, this was a week and a half ago.  For several days we had to cover the plants in the garden so they wouldn't freeze  And today?  We had a high of 84.  That's a short spring even for Phoenix.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sonoran Desert Life

Here are some pics from my little hike last week at Thunderbird Conservation Park in Phoenix, Arizona.

California Poppy:

Roadrunner (running out of the shot):

Globe mallow and a yellow fiddlehead of some sort:

Pincushion cactus with fruits that look like tiny chili peppers stuck on the sides:

Purple and yellow fiddleheads:

Friday, February 22, 2019

Last Minute Cruise Deals

I love Vacations To Go (vacationstogo.com)

They often have the cheapest rates for cruises, and it's a great place to compare various itineraries, lines, dates, etc. to get a feel for what's available.

Their last minute deals can be quite affordable.  If you have the flexibility to drop everything and run to the port within a few days, you will be a very happy cruiser.  I've seen last-minute, 7-day Alaska cruises for under $300.  I've also seen very cheap last-minute cruises to other locations, including the Caribbean.  Keep in mind that's the base price for the cheapest inside cabins, so you'll have to add taxes, tips, and additional dollars if you want an oceanview or balcony.  But still...    

"Last minute" can also be a few weeks in the future.  I've booked most of my Alaskan cruises, for example, within 5 weeks of sailing, and all of those were around $400 per 7 days.  I also got a very good deal on a cruise to Norway, booked a few weeks in advance.

If you're traveling solo, sometimes cruise lines will drop or drastically reduce the single supplement last minute, meaning you can cruise just as cheaply as someone with a cruising partner.

If you're flexible, I think last minute is the way to go.  You probably won't get as many perks, freebies, or upgrades as you may get if you book far in advance, but if you're a budget traveler who can do without the bells and whistles, try last minute.  

For more budget cruising tips, check out my book:  Cruising Alaska on a Budget


Monday, February 11, 2019

Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield in Seward, Alaska

We had one day in Seward, and this was what we did.  Best choice ever.

You can take a shuttle from downtown Seward to Exit Glacier for $15 (roundtrip) if you don't have a car.  

Approaching the toe of the glacier:

Me on the Glacier Overlook Trail:

Harding Icefield Trail:

Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield, from the Harding Icefield Trail:

Just for a bit of perspective, try to find the people on the glacier below:

What an amazing place!

For more details on the trail, Exit Glacier, and Seward, read my book:

Available on Amazon for a budget price:  Cruising Alaska on a Budget: A Cruise and Port Guide

Monday, February 4, 2019

Spinglish; The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language

How to Succeed in Business and (and Politics and Everything Else) Without Really Lying;  Spinglish;  The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language

by Henry N. Beard and Christopher Cerf

Okay, this is maybe the longest title ever.

Spinglish is a darkly humorous and disturbing dictionary of overly PC terms and purposefully deceitful phrases, some so ridiculous they'd be indecipherable without the Spinglish dictionary.  The book's supertitle (if that's a word for a subtitle that comes BEFORE the real title) is  "How to Succeed in Business (and Politics and Everything Else) Without Really Lying."  And that pretty much sums it up. 

Some gems: 
"After-death care provider" –undertaker. 
"Core rearrangement"—a nuclear power industry term for the explosive destruction of the core of a nuclear reactor
"Engaging the enemy on all sides"—A US Dept of Defense phrase for getting ambushed
"Permanent pre-hostility"—another great term from our DOD friends.  This one rather depressingly means "peace."   
"Failure to maintain clearance from the ground"—a plane crash
"Percussive maintenance"—hitting a piece of machinery until it starts working again

And perhaps my favorite:  "Entrance solutions."  Any guesses?  Yes, those would be doors.

I do think the authors put too much of their own spin on some terms.  For example, they define "thrifty" as "miserly," "stingy," and "scrooge-like."  And "wetlands" as "swamps."  While "thrifty" and "wetlands" can be used as euphemisms, in general usage "thrifty" and "miserly" have different meanings, and "wetlands" is a broader term than "swamp."  Also, a rainforest isn't just some fancy environmentalist's way of making a jungle sound better, as the book implies.  It's a scientific term for areas that sometime are jungles and sometimes not.  Some of the political definitions have a fair amount of slant too.  Which perhaps only reinforces the whole theme of the book. 

It's a very interesting—but somewhat disheartening—book. How many ways can business execs come up with to make firing a bunch of people sound good? 

Friday, February 1, 2019

My story in Leading Edge

My short story, "Salvage Operations," appears in the latest issue of Leading Edge. 

While stranded on a strange planet, Peter has to decide whether letting one man live is worth risking the safety of the whole colony.

They created some lovely art for my story, which involves colonists salvaging the wreckage of a probe ship crash.  Now take a look at the cover.  Yes, the cover image is from my story. 

If you want to read more, buy Leading Edge Issue 73 on Amazon.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Haines, Alaska

I can't believe I never posted any of my pictures of Haines, a quiet port which doesn't have as much cruise traffic and therefore feels much less commercial. 

We took the cheap bus loop around town.  When we went, it was only a dollar per person for an all-day pass, and the "pass" was simply the bus driver remembering you and letting you back on later in the day.  We walked around, shopped in a few local shops, checked out the library (yes, I do library tourism), wandered around Fort Seward, and watched a man working on a Totem pole in the Alaska Indian Arts Center.  Then I took an easy hike out to Battery Point, through the outskirts of town, then woods, then beach, where I found what looked very much like live giant trilobites in the tide pools.  A very nice day. 

Fort Seward in Haines

Just a short distance from the cruise ship dock in Haines

From the hike to Battery Point, just out of Haines

Fun boardwalks on the trail to Battery Point
If you want to know more about how to see Alaska for yourself, 
check out my new book on Amazon:   Cruising Alaska on a Budget,

Friday, January 18, 2019

Yearly Anthologies

If you like short stories, check out my post on Writers on the Move about yearly anthologies.
For writers, it's a good way to study the market and the craft.
For readers, it's just a good reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Overpass Art in Quebec City

Quebec City really knows how to paint their overpass support pillars!

These really livened up the walk between the bus/train station and our hostel.