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Posts tagged ‘Lilacs’

My 2016 Nature Trek: Sights & Surprises En Route

IMG_2947For three weeks in May 2016, I was on the road, enjoying my annual Nature Trek.  This year my major destinations included Yellowstone National Park; Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District; and Saguaro National Park.  I traveled 4,548 miles and stopped to play in five states:  Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona.   The drives were glorious, filled with wonderful wildflowers, ever-changing clouds, and speed limits often posted at 70 to 80 mph.    And there were no mishaps:  no accidents, no tickets, no problems with the rooms, not even any rude or ugly encounters with fellow travelers.

I will eventually post some blogs about my major destinations, but the day-to-day travels were fun as well.  For one thing, gas was pretty cheap, especially in comparison to California prices that always include high local taxes and fees.  But mostly, the trip was punctuated with quirky roadside attractions and out-and-out surprises.

It is the fun of driving:  Seeing the unexpected!

IMG_9800Have you ever been to Baker, California, to see the World’s Largest Thermometer? It was initially built in 1990 by Willis Herron and then—after it was not working for several years—it was working again in October 2104, thanks to Herron’s daughter.  It stands 134 feet tall.   I get a kick out of it every time I pass en route to Vegas.  On this hot day, the thermometer recorded that it was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit.


IMG_0398When I think of Utah, my mind always envisions the brilliant red cliffs and canyons of so many of its national parks.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to detour through Provo Canyon when I was driving from St. George to Salt Lake City.  Highway 189 North weaves its way through this cool, green, winding canyon, following the Provo River and passing at least nine local parks.  I also took the detour up to the Sundance Resort where snow and aspens dotted the route.  It was a glorious scenic detour!









IMG_0513I was traveling in May and heading at various times into mountains.  I was expecting to see remnants of winter’s snow at some of the higher elevations.  I was staying several nights in Bozeman, Montana, which sits at an elevation of 4,820 feet.  As I was driving in late in my first day there, the clouds were getting darker and darker.  A storm was obviously on its way.  I had already seen rain the day before, but—still—I was not expecting snow.  It was great.

IMG_0535In fact, this odd spring storm continued all of the next day.  Downed trees knocked out a transformer, cutting electric for about 4,000 people—including those of us at my hotel!  While snow accumulation was only several inches in town, several feet of snow accumulated in the mountains.  Although it did not stick around very long, the snow-covered mountains were pretty the next day.


IMG_1104mom with lilacsBozeman was the location for another delightful surprise on this year’s trip:  Lilacs.  Bozeman was my hotel anchor for several days as I explored Yellowstone National Park.  Every day, I drove several miles through town.  Those few miles contained literally hundreds of lilac bushes!  I counted.  They were everywhere:  outside the hotel, a row along a farm house, several bushes here and there by every other business.  I love lilacs in great part because my mom loved lilacs.  She would have loved this place.






IMG_2277Have you even visited Moab, Utah?  It is a great little town, located just outside two national parks:  Arches National Park and Canyonlands, Island in the Sky District.  There is a myriad of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy in the area.  When you visit here, you do not have to be scared about anything bad happening along the road.  Moab seems to have its own security patrol.



Have you ever driven south from Moab, Utah, on U.S. Highway 191 South, heading to Kayenta, Arizona?  Me neither.  I love Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park—it is one of my favorite destinations.  However, every time I have visited, I have accessed the park by driving north from Flagstaff through Kayenta, Arizona.  This year—although not stopping to visit Monument Valley—I drove to the area from the north, coming through Bluff and then Medicine Hat, Utah. I was officially traveling on U. S. Highway 191 S and then U.S. Highway 163 S. The route covers about 70 miles between Bluff and Kayenta, which is just south of Monument Valley.


IMG_2313Oh my goodness!  That stretch of road is absolutely stupendous.  It stretches straight through open fields for mile after mile.  The clouds and flowers on this spring drive were spectacular.  The best parts, however, were the twists and turns and dips that sprang up occasionally as the road passed through various canyons.  At times, it felt like I could have reached out to touch the rock walls reaching up along the side of the road.  And then the open vistas would return again.  The view of Monument Valley as its iconic rocks and buttes rose in the distance was mesmerizing.  I have to drive this road again!











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“Each day holds a surprise.  But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.  Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise. Whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”   Henri Nouwen

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”   Ashley Montagu

“Life is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”   Boris Pasternak

“Searching is half the fun:  life is much more manageable as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”   Jimmy Buffett

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.”   Ellen Burstyn

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”   Marcus Aurelius

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   Robert Frost

“Life is a celebration of awakenings, of new beginnings, and wonderful surprises that enlighten the soul.”  Cielo

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise.  Because that is how life is—full of surprises.”   Isaac Bashevis Singer

MY TRIP: By the Numbers

I am waiting for dinner to be delivered in my hotel room in Albuquerque, NM.  As I headed into town this late afternoon, I hit the first rush-hour traffic of my trip.  It was not terrible, but I was pleased to realize that I had not been dealing with such mundane things as traffic jams for the past several weeks. Given this is one night of traffic out of 19 days of driving, so far, I decided I would give an update about my trip by the numbers:

  •  19  Days on the Road
  •  6  More Days to Go
  •  1 Traffic Jam
  •  0 Tickets, Accidents, Flat Tires & Other Problems
  •  4  Terrific Visits with Friends & Family, 1 More Visit to Look Forward to
  •  4,179  Miles Traveled Thus Far
  • 12 States Driven Through (CA, NV, UT, CO, NE, IA, IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM) Thus Far
  • 11 Hotels Stayed in Thus Far, but not in eleven different states!
  • 8 Stops to Enjoy Nature and at least 2 More to Go
  • 2 Days Driving in the Rain
  • SOME Animal and Flower Sightings
  • LOTS of Bird Sightings
  • TONS of Photos Taken!

As the list suggests, I have been having a great time. 

I will be home in about a week.  Once I have sorted and edited all the many, many photos I have taken I will post about my various stops along the way.  Until then, I am off tomorrow to find some Nature to appreciate at either Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge or Cibola National Forest.  Maybe both.  Then on to visit with a friend in a few days before I head into AZ to stop at the Grand Canyon.  Eventually, I will end up back at home.


 Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Coral Reef National Park

Coral Reef National Park

Some Deer Near Coral Reef NP

Some Deer Near Coral Reef NP

Canyonlands National Park, Needles Section

Canyonlands National Park, Needles Section

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

View of Pike's Peak

View of Pike’s Peak

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

 Lilacs on a Country Road near Julesberg, CO

Lilacs on a Country Road near Julesberg, CO

Tulips in Pella, IA, Home of the Tulip Festival

Tulips in Pella, IA, Home of the Tulip Festival

Sunset Near Mingo, IA "Gotta Love Those Clouds!"

Sunset Near Mingo, IA
“Gotta Love Those Clouds!”

Driving into Albuquerque, NM

Driving into Albuquerque, NM







The Sweet Smell of Memory

Yesterday was a long, tiring day.  Not a bad day—I was visiting my Mom and Dad.  But where I live means it is 2.5 hours of travel one way and a fair amount of in-and-out running around as I progress through the day.  And I started out tired—not enough sleep because I stayed up too late finishing a novel. You know, just one more chapter.  Late in the afternoon, before settling in for a visit at my dad’s convalescent hospital, I grabbed a quick diet coke to boost my energy levels and took the time to drive through the window at one of my favorite bagel shops.  I snagged my usual order—onion, garlic and jalapeno bagels—and sped off to visit Dad.

Later, when I got back to my car, I was dragging—but looking forward to a late dinner with my sister before heading home.  I opened the car door and was treated to a delightful aroma—my bagels had filled the sun-baked car with their sweet, pungent aroma.  I know about comfort food, but comfort smells?  I was overwhelmed, in a good way.  I sat there, sipped a little more diet coke and was transported to many a good dinner, fun times cooking in the kitchen, meals with good friends over a good bottle of wine.  Forget Calgon, the savory garlic and onion took me away.  And I was thankful—it was a great pick-me-up to get me through the rest of night.

Today as I enjoyed one of the bagels for lunch, I kept thinking about the power of smells and their association with memories, or at least memory retrieval. We all know the typical examples:  a whiff of cotton candy and you are back at the fair, enjoying the excitement of the day, or the lingering smell of a camp fire puts you back on a camping trip enjoying s’mores. 

A fast trek to the internet confirmed the science of the relationship between smell and memory.  Neuroanatomy offers the reasoning, according to a quick review of a study by Mueller and Velisavljevic (June 2001): olfactory nerves are in close proximity to emotion nerves (amygdala) and thus are associated with the early processing of memory that takes place in the hippocampus.  Basically, smells help lay the emotional foundation of memories as they are first being processed and stored, thus the smells remain effective triggers to recalling those memories. Knowing that certainly appeases my curiosity—and makes the power of smells to trigger memories even more fascinating.

At this point, I cannot help but think of a friend from college who had lost her sense of smell, and the loss affected her sense of taste and enjoyment of food as well. I realize now that was a greater loss than it sounded like at the time.  Even the smells that are not necessarily “good” bring forth memories:  definite stink of skunk, either on the road while driving by or—worse—on your dog after a skunk-dog encounter.  Rotten eggs.  Dog poop—worse if in your house brought in on the bottom of your shoes.  Full diaper pail, even if the kid is cute.  For me, the smell of fish, especially if lingering in a restaurant, worse if permeating a walk along a wharf. 

Not all “bad” smells evoke negative memories.  I actually like capturing a whiff of dogs—not really dirty, need a bath, oh my goodness dogs—but their musty smell.  It always makes me think of the dog I had for 16 years—I still miss him!  But I am even more thankful for my favorite smells and the memories they conjure up!  So here are ten of my favorites, in no special order. I have added pictures where I could, many from other general sources than my own photos.  I could not figure out how to turn this into a scratch and sniff post—maybe technology can address that problem in the future.


A burning cigar:  Not being a smoker myself, I realize this seems a bit odd, but it brings to mind my Uncle Bob who smoked cigars when I was a girl.

Popcorn:  Especially wafting through the shared office when someone else took a break—the smell always made everyone take a break. Good snack for at-home movies, better if butter, garlic and parmesan cheese are added. 

Freshly mown grass:  Not that I ever enjoy this task, but it brings to mind leisurely summer afternoons.  See, I was not the one doing the mowing!

Apple pies with lots of cinnamon:  My grandma made great pies, and my sister has inherited that family gene/skill—great!

Lilacs: spring, Grandma’s garden, Mom’s favorite flower, and walks in local gardens.

Fresh fruits:  Peaches, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, coconut—so tantalizing, so refreshing, ingredients for great drinks, reminders of lazy summer evenings.   But not bananas—that smell is not so sweet!

Chocolate:  Well, chocolate—need I say more? 

Desert sage:  Whether walking in the desert and crushing the leaves or using a dried bundle to cleanse a new apartment, the smell brings comfort and mystery.

Coffee:  I do not drink the dark liquid, but the smell is overwhelmingly delightful, always makes me think I should try drinking the stuff again, but the taste never matches the expectation. The smells do remind me of friends who do enjoy the brew.

Garlic:  I do love the sweet aroma—and it brings to mind delicious meals with friends, trips to the Gilroy Garlic Festival where they even serve Garlic Ice cream, and drives along the fields before the garlic is harvested. 

What aromas are you thankful for—or wish you could avoid? 

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