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Posts tagged ‘Roadside Naturalist’

LANDSCAPES: On the Road Again!

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”  Kurt Vonnegut

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”  Susan Sontag

Entering Sequoia National Park

Entering Sequoia National Park, CA

I love to travel.  I enjoy visiting relatives, touring museums, shopping for souvenirs, and even trying local foods.  But the best travel plans for me mean getting in the car and driving any roads that help me explore Nature in all its wonder.

I am not really able to hike the trails anymore at the various national and state parks I visit.  Thus, I have become a roadside naturalist, often staying in the car as I cruise the scenic highways.  Whether traveling on paved roads or bumpy country lanes, I love the wide open spaces of Nature.  The colors that are mostly gentle and subtle until vibrant splashes of spring dot the landscape.  The trees and rocks, hills and mountains, rivers and trees that make each view unique.  The clouds that take over the horizon and stretch out forever.  When out in Nature, I leave any problems and nuisances behind and realize how small I really am in the scheme of things.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, AZ

As I drive, I stop fairly often to sit, reflect and observe Nature, often coaxing some wildlife out into the open.  Sometimes I park at official overlooks while at other times I just pull off the road and take a break.  I treasure the clouds and sunsets and open vistas.  I take pictures every chance I get to try to capture the calm and wonder of the day.

Over the last several years, most of my travels have been in California or throughout the Southwest.  The photos I am sharing show the roads that take me out into the landscapes that make every trip special.  These photos are my response to the Daily Post Photo Challenge: Landscape.

I sure am anxious to get out on the road again, soon!

California Highway 178

California Highway 178

Leaving Mono Lake

Leaving Mono Lake, CA

Traveling the Big Sur Coastline

Traveling the Big Sur Coastline, CA

Heading into Death Valley, CA

Heading into Death Valley, CA

Valles Caldera, NM

Valles Caldera, NM

Canyonland, Needles Section, UT

Canyonland, Needles Section, UT

Near Canyon de Chelly, AZ

Near Canyon de Chelly, AZ

Near Gallup, NM

Near Gallup, NM

California Highway 178

California Highway 178

Shiprock, Navajoland, AZ

Shiprock, Navajoland, AZ

Petrified Forest, AZ

Petrified Forest, AZ

Sunset Crater, AZ

Sunset Crater, AZ

Monument Valley, AZ

Monument Valley, AZ

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  Mark Twain

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  St. Augustine

“There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go.  But no matter, the road is life.”  Jack Kerouac

“A journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  John Steinbeck

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”  Lin Yutang

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  Henry Miller

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”  Moslih Eddin Saadi

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Mark Twain

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”  Miriam Beard

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure.  There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”  Jawaharial Nehru

“Do not follow where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by.”  Robert Frost

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”  Lao Tzu

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.”  Charles Dudley Warner

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”  Lao Tzu

“The journey not the arrival matters.”  T. S. Eliot

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  J. R. R. Tolkien

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”  Maya Angelou

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”  Anatole France

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”  Seneca

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”  Anita Desai

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”  Ernest Hemingway

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”  Anais Nin

 “The traveler sees what he sees.  The tourist sees what he has come to see.”  G. K. Chesterton

“Travel makes one modest.  You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”  Gustave Flaubert

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads.  Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.”  Rosalia de Castro

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”  Danny Kaye

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”  Henry David Thoreau

“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.”  Eudora Welty

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Andre Gide


I have always considered myself a Roadside Naturalist.

pink tree along I-5christio umbrellas along I-5Some roads are noted for their wonderful views, such as California’s Big Sur Coastline and the 17-Mile Drive outside of Monterey.  But even roads like I-5 can let you find a gorgeous tree in pink splendor or Highway 395 can drive you past autumn colors.  The noted artist Christo even planned his Umbrellas Exhibit—in both California and Japan—along common roadways.  No matter where I go, if I pay attention, I can usually find some glorious aspect of Nature to appreciate.

Lone pIne monterey

big sur

Bishop road

In fact, Nature and Solitude are such rejuvenating forces that I used to take Nature Solitude Treks every spring.  The frequency of those trips, however, stopped when I moved into administrative work and no longer had May as a regular time off.  And then I had a series of major surgeries starting in 2006 and my chances to get out into Nature dwindled even further.  I still valued Nature and sought it out, just with less planned intention.

Drive to Flagstaff 013This spring, I finally took another Nature Solitude Trek, this time traveling over 6500 miles and stopping at national parks and wildlife refuges along the way. I did not complete major hikes or camp out under the stars.  In fact, most places I visited I made sure had scenic drives as part of their layouts and options.  It is amazing how much Nature you can enjoy, literally, along the side of the road.  Some of those roads were bumpy unpaved dirt roads while others were interstates, and still others were county back roads.  But they allowed me to get close to Nature, even though I cannot walk very fast or very far anymore.

Below are some of the photos taken from the car that show the Nature I encountered along the many, many roads I traveled on this trip.  It was a glorious time.  And not one flat tire or speeding ticket!


Zion & Kolob Canyons 016

Zion & Kolob Canyons 120

bull close


Bryce NP, red rock canyon 006

Bryce NP, red rock canyon 117

Bryce NP, red rock canyon 100


Coral Reef National Park 093

Coral Reef National Park 123

Coral Reef National Park 094


Canyonlands Needles & I 70 206

Canyonlands Needles & I 70 216

Canyonlands Needles & I 70 213

Canyonlands Needles & I 70 293


CO national mon 2 & River Park 057

CO national mon 2 & River Park 062

CO national mon 2 & River Park 009


Pam Day 2 & Garden of the Gods 048


Pam Day 2 & Garden of the Gods 009


Bosque de Apache outside Albu 007

Bosque de Apache outside Albu 211

Bosque de Apache outside Albu 148

Bosque de Apache outside Albu 161

Bosque de Apache outside Albu 223


Saugaro NP Rincon & West 156

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 325

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 078

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 018

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 114


(Actually two little trips before and after my big driving trip in Spring 2014)












This trip immersed me into the overwhelming and rejuvenating power of Nature and Solitude. In today’s world, when we are urged to see multi-tasking as an expectation, when the Internet and social media bring us news and oddities alike in the blink of an eye, and when reality shows focus so often on people doing stupid things rather than on a delight of Nature, my escape into Nature was a real treat.  This trip confirmed that the best way to approach Nature is as a child excited by the ant and butterfly alike, curious about birds and squirrels and whatever catches her eye.  This trip reminded me of the power of wonder and mindfulness to help keep me balanced and spiritually aware. As a result of this trip, I remembered some simple truths that can help me lead an engaged, wonder-filled life, no matter how hectic my life gets:

  • Don’t multi-task your life away. If something is so unimportant that you need to be doing something else at the same time, why do it at all?
  • Slow down and look around.  You will never notice the natural wonders around you if you just keep rushing to the next item on your to-do list.
  • Be like a child and capture the wonder of each moment—it is the only way to build memories.
  • Express your gratitude and appreciation for nature, life, relationships often.

What truths about life help keep you grounded and sane?

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“Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.”   Basho

“ah, sweet spontaneous earth…”    e. e. cummings

“We need the tonic of wildness—we can never have enough of nature.”  Thoreau

“The spirits of the road beckoned, and I could do no more work at all.”   Basho

“Silence alone is worthy to be heard.”  Thoreau

“Be happy for this moment.  This moment is your life.”  Omar Khayyam

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  W. B. Yeats

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”  Emerson

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”   Betty Smith

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”    Franz Kafka

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”   Goethe

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”  Charles Chaplin

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”   Socrates

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”    G. K. Chesterton

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”    Aristotle

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”     Buddha

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”    G. K. Chesterton

“Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”   Neil Armstrong

“Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.”  Albert Schweitzer

NATURE CALLS: Musings of a Roadside Naturalist (1996)*

I have never hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon nor climbed past Yosemite’s Vernal Falls. I have not camped out in the wilds, ridden rapids or climbed steep canyon walls looking for petroglyphs.  But I have stood in dinosaur footprints, waded in the Colorado River, and walked through the ruins at Chaco National Park.  As I see it, such wanderings qualify me as a naturalist, even though I don’t often stray far from the roadside.  What matters is that I seek Nature’s comfort and spirituality.

monument valley 2Fortunately, this quest is not difficult.  At the beginning of every summer, I take off for a Nature and Solitude Retreat, just to rejuvenate my soul. On those trips I head for the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or maybe Canyon de Chelly. One year I toured the Acoma Pueblo; this year I visited Monument Valley. But I could just as easily delight over a drive along Route 66 or down the Big Sur Coastline.  Where I go does not matter—as long as I focus on Nature.

monument valley 3

Cactus along Route 66, Arizona

Cactus along Route 66, Arizona

Big Sur Coast, California

Big Sur Coast, California

red tail hawkpeacock arboretumI don’t even have to go on a trip to experience that refreshing connection.  At least once a week, I spot a red-tailed hawk circling over my morning commute.  Any weekend I can breeze through the Los Angeles County Arboretum, finding peacocks on display or some new flower in bloom. On the morning of the Northridge Earthquake, at about 6 am, most of us from my Chatsworth apartment complex were still sitting out by the cracked pool, avoiding the shattered darkness of our homes.  But as the morning brightened, there it was:  a tree in bloom, offering a silent protest against the morning’s jarring destruction.  Even the mocking birds were chattering away like it was any other day. How could my spirits not be lifted?

Morning of Northridge Earthquake

Morning of Northridge Earthquake

sunflower vaseBut being aware of my natural surroundings is not automatic.  I am often rushed and pre-occupied. If I can forget a loved one’s birthday, I can certainly block out the Wonders of Nature without much effort.  Therefore, I try to remind myself to stop and smell the roses. Although an obvious cliché, it’s still good advice. For a start, I try to consciously put nature on my agenda. At night, instead of watching the same old reruns again and again, I take a walk and notice the moon and the stars.  It’s best to make a wish!  Or I try to get up fifteen minutes early to feed the birds outside the window or to notice the bright blue sky before the smog settles in for the day. The colors and sounds and textures of Nature are always there, if only we take the time to notice.  Even the little things help, like putting a fresh flower on my office desk.

horses in NVWhenever I do plan activities away from home, I always keep Nature in mind. It’s easy to do; after all, Nature is just waiting to be explored. For example, for me, a trip to Las Vegas is not complete unless I also visit Red Rock Canyon that lies about 20 minutes outside the city. On my last trip, I was lucky:  I won $20 and saw a herd of wild mustang that calls that area home. Another time, I ventured a bit further—maybe two hours—to the Valley of Fire. Yes, it is as spectacular as it sounds.  I especially like the rock formation called Elephant Rock.

Wood Duck, Lithia Park

Wood Duck, Lithia Park

The point is that everywhere has some natural setting to escape to. Whenever I travel, I check for parks through cities, counties, and universities. For example, there’s a great arboretum at Washington State University in Seattle and some extensive rose gardens in Portland, Oregon. Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon, is a wondrous place.  Perfect for leisurely strolls. If you get there early enough, you may awaken the many ducks and swans that make the ponds their home. Bring bread crumbs!

Finding such places to visit is easy enough by checking tour books and maps of the area. Of course, AAA is a great source for such materials. But I also contact the local chapter of the National Audubon Society, since “birders” tend to know the prettiest areas to visit. In fact, any locals you can talk to will often give great advice. Without it, I never would have discovered a back road to Gold Beach, Oregon. But is proved to be a stupendous drive, full of gorgeous wildflowers and numerous butterflies.

Desert Sunrise

Desert Sunrise

Knowing where to find Nature is not the only thing that allows for a grand adventure.  I also need enough time. Time to wait, to notice, to watch. It’s hard to really enjoy Nature if you have to watch the clock so you can rush off to an appointment.  To allow a leisurely pace, I usually figure I need a four or five hour block of play time. The plan usually includes watching a sunrise or sunset, but such scheduling is not always possible.

sunrise 2

quailI do try, however, to schedule times during early mornings and late afternoons because I am interested in more than just scenery.  Those are the times when more animals and birds are active. For example, outside Tucson, Arizona, I once shared an evening picnic area with a large covey of quail, some persistent jays and a squirrel.


yellow headed blackbird 1yellow headed blackbird 2Anytime of day, however, can give me a slice of Nature to make my own. For example, it was about noon on a hot desert afternoon when I say a coyote.  He was too hot to care that I was following him along the road for a mile or so.  Eventually he slowly wandered away into the brush, but he was forever captured on the pages of my journal—along with the yellow-headed blackbirds I fed at a parking area in Yellowstone National Park, the bear I saw at a distance at Yosemite National Park, and the golden eagle I watched along the highway as it soared against an azure sky in New Mexico.

utah praire dogFinally, to make the most of my sojourns into Nature, I always bring along two things:  a camera and a journal.  Binoculars are a nice addition as well.  These items help me capture my thoughts, ideas, and experiences for later reflection.  Besides, sitting quietly for the few minutes it takes ti write that journal entry or to contemplate the best photo angle is often all it take to entice birds and animals back into action.  Sometimes right at my feet.  For example, on an afternoon in Bryce Canyon National Park, I took the time to entice a prairie dog out into the meadow with me. This species is an endangered animal that lives only in Utah, making the encounter all the more special.

bryce 5

Patience is such a great companion.  But perhaps the best tool for an effective Nature Adventure is simply a fine-tuned sense of Wonder.  As Albert Einstein says, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead, his eyes are closed.”  When I look with my heart as well as my eyes, I am never disappointed.

I invite you to be a Roadside Naturalist whenever you can.  It is a great adventure!

Where are your favorite places to travel and enjoy Nature?

*END NOTE:  I first wrote this piece about being a Roadside Naturalist 18 years ago.  This year, when I once again took a long driving trip into Nature, I was still contemplating Nature, Wonder and Spirituality. Thus, I decided to share my earlier musing via my blog.

My Upcoming Nature Trek: 4000 by 24

I love Nature.  My sanity and spirituality are grounded in wandering through nature and appreciating what all it offers.  In fact, I used to take Nature Treks every May.  But when I moved into educational management in 2002 with a 12-month contract (rather than a 10-month contract as a teacher), the chances to get away dwindled.  Then some health issues started surfacing in 2006 and my trips grew shorter and farther apart.  Over the last few months, however, I have started getting back into my role as a Roadside Naturalist.  First, I took an overnight trip to Yosemite and then another to Sequoia National Park, both in an effort to make sure my bad knees would not undermine my getting out in Nature.

Those short excursions went well.  I am excited now to be heading out in the morning for a longer rejuvenating trek into Nature.  I will be visiting some new places such as Canyonlands National Park, Pike’s Peak, and Starved River State Park as well as some favorites such as Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.  Along the way, I will stop and see friends in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, and New Mexico.  I will be gone for 24 days and will be covering at least 4000 miles.  This is going to be so much fun!

A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the adventure.  I am not fully certain my knees will hold up and let me explore everywhere I have planned, but I figure I won’t know what is possible unless I try.  The packing took some strategizing as well.  I needed to take enough “stuff” for almost a month, but packed in such a way that I can cart in to each hotel only what I need overnight.  Good thing I like planning and details.

One night last week—as I enjoyed some Orange Chicken and Beijing Beef for dinner—I opened two fortune cookies.  They confirmed for me that this trip will be a grand adventure:  

fortune 1

fortune 2

You might be wondering why I am alerting my readers to this upcoming trip.  I wanted to explain why I will not be posting very frequently.  I know! I know! I do not post very regularly as it is, so what’s the difference?  My usual tardiness just sort of happens.  With this trip, I am expecting I will not get much posted until I am home.  However, I will have internet access everywhere I stay, so maybe I will finish some drafts I have started or share some photos of my trip while I am gone.  My more official sharing of the photos I take on this adventure will be posted after I am home.

As I head out on this adventure, please keep your fingers crossed for me.  My goalis to find spring flowers, beautiful skies and clouds, and marvelous vistas on my journey as well as enjoy some long overdue visits with good friends.  I doubt I will get to photograph the bear who has been raiding the bird seed at my friend’s in Colorado, but the scenery will be terrific regardless. I am just hoping I am not delayed by a late snowfall or an Illinois thunderstorm.  But then, changes in weather often produce great photo opportunities.

While traveling, I am sure my mom and dad will come to mind.  Dad would love to be taking pictures with me at the various national parks I will be visiting.  Mom would love the flowers I am sure to find, such as tulips in Iowa.  I am also hoping my aunt’s lilac bush cooperates with some blossoms when I am in Illinois.

One of Dad's Nature Photos

One of Dad’s Nature Photos

When I am in Arizona, I will probably wander through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert as a tribute to my parents.  The last time I visited those locations was with them.  They were not hurt in the accident, but they totaled their car when they were in Arizona visiting friends. Rather than drive a rental or fly home—they felt those options were too expensive!—they called me to come pick them up.  I was able to juggle my schedule, hop in my car, and do just that.  But we played a bit on the way home!  I am sure they will be there with me this time around as well!

Finally, I hope you have some plans for a vacation sometime this spring or summer as well.  We all need to get away at some point to preserve our sanity!  What are your vacation plans?  If not heading off somewhere, what do you do to unwind and regain your sanity, balance, perspective?


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 “Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”   Maya Angelo

“When all else fails, take a vacation.”   Betty Williams

“There was nothing like a Saturday – unless it was the Saturday leading up to the last week of school and into summer vacation. That of course was all the Saturdays of your life rolled into one big shiny ball.”    Nora Roberts

“In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan  

“I’m going on vacation. I’ll bring you back a souvenir suitcase. It’ll be full of love, but otherwise appear to be empty.”  Jarod Kintz  

“Every person needs a time out, away from stressful jobs, pressures from employers or clients, home responsibilities, etc. Everyone deserves to enjoy, visit unknown places, try other things, meet a lot of new friends, and feel at the top of the world. Life is full of fun, excitement, and adventure. Thus, vacation is an experience that’s worth remembering for a lifetime. It heals a weary mind and soul.”   Alon Calinao Dy 

“Her purchases just about busted her vacation budget, but what else is a vacation for, if not for overindulgence and mindless extravagance?”   Candace Schuler

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”  Earl Wilson

“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.”  Robert Orben

“Vacation: Two weeks on the sunny sands – and the rest of the year on the financial rocks.”  Sam Ewing  

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a vacation….enjoy the simple things in life.”  Catherine Pulsifer

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