Sunday, January 17, 2021

The "Christmas Star" and Winter Solstice

When I heard about the "Christmas Star" otherwise known as the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, it gave me a great excuse to get out of the house and try and photograph it. Since it was nicknamed the Christmas Star, I thought it would be nice to have a bit of Christmas in the scene, with the Nativity. Fortunately the local church had a Nativity scene out in the right direction.

The Christmas Star is over Joseph and to the left a bit.

I tried various lenses and distances, but never got quite what I wanted.

So then I took out the telephoto lens and tried for a closeup. Wow! I was very happy with this. I could see Saturn up high, and it looked a little oval with its rings. And below I could see Jupiter with four of her moons.

For winter solstice morning, I wanted to go out to the Baker Archaeological Site, where the Fremont culture had set up their buildings to celebrate different astronomical occurrences, such as the solstice. There weren't any clouds in the sky, so I knew it wouldn't be a dramatic sunrise. It was cold, and some friends showed up, and we shivered and laughed together and enjoyed the early morning light on the nearby mountains.


The sunrise was a little later than they said because it had to come up over the mountains. It came up so fast!

It made me feel good watching the sunrise on the solstice from this spot. And I was also happy thinking about how the days are going to get longer now for the next six months. It's not the most fun when the sun goes behind the mountains at 3:15 pm. 

That night I went back to try again with the Christmas Star.

I still couldn't get what I wanted, but I did get a nice view of the moon!
I tried again another night at a different location, but Jupiter and Saturn were running away from each other fast. The moment had passed, and even though I didn't get on camera what I wanted, the photos remind me of the cool things that we can view up in the sky. Here's to a fun astronomical year in 2021!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Ice Skating

We were very fortunate to be able to go ice skating at Stella Lake in Great Basin National Park in 2017, 2018, and 2019. But in 2020 we had a snowstorm that closed the road. We didn't know if we would be able to go ice skating. But then my friend Jenny said that Pruess Lake, south of Garrison, Utah was frozen solid and invited us to a skating party. 

How exciting! Desert Girl and I couldn't wait until the party and went early in the morning to check out the ice. It was good!


Then we went back in the afternoon, which was even more fun because friends were there. I'm so glad that they make kids' ice skates in adjustable sizes, as the kids feet grow so much from year to year. Desert Girl is in a bigger size now, and probably for just this winter. Desert Boy is wearing my husband's ice skates.

The older girls do a lot of roller blading, so they were off in a flash. But Desert Boy wanted to keep up, so he gave it a shot.

It was a bit surreal to be way out there on the lake, with such smooth ice! Since it was so nice, we decided to skate the length of the lake, probably about 3/4 of a mile at the lower water/ice level.

The kids also wanted plenty of time to play, and didn't seem to mind sitting on the cold ice.

It was such a fun experience!

 Desert Girl and I went back later to check on the ice, but found that the water level had come up and it had been warm enough that the edges were water.

The ice was quite thin by the edges. But Desert Girl urged me to go out deeper. "The ice will be thicker," she said.

She was right, and we walked quite a bit on the ice.

But we had to be careful at the edges.

Even though we didn't skate, it was still so much fun playing on the ice and learning more about when it would break. And when you can break ice and not get soaking wet, it's quite fun!

More ice skating adventures to come!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

So Long, 2020!

2020 will be a year people talk about for a long time. 

I like to focus on the positive, so here are some highlights from the year, in no particular order:

  • Comet NEOWISE was the first visible comet to the naked eye in quite awhile. I loved trying to find the best places to photograph it.
  • We broke our previous record for our Backyard Bird Count (set in 2019 with 45 species) with 47 species for 2020 (see sidebar).
  • I read a lot of books and listened to more. I'm starting to keep better track because I get most from Overdrive (the free app that lets you check books out of your library.) One that I listened to and then had to buy was Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, which is chock full of great advice on how to be a good leader (care about people, don't avoid the hard conversations, and communicate clearly are three main takeaways). 
  • Our family stayed relatively healthy.
  • I joined Toastmasters in October and have really enjoyed the weekly meetings to improve public speaking skills and leadership as well as listening and evaluation skills.
  • I got to do a fair bit of caving despite the pandemic, visiting caves in Nevada, Wyoming, and Arizona. This included finding some new caves and mapping them with the kids, teaching cave rescue, plus learning so much more about cave geology, cave LiDAR, and more.
  • We explored a bunch of our "big backyard." I especially enjoyed trips to the Fortification Range and the North Snake Range in Nevada. 
  • We decluttered the house a little more. 
  • Work was very productive for me this year, with lots of projects that could be done from home or out in the field. I particularly enjoyed helping with the inventory of Lehman Caves, lint camps, breeding bird and Christmas bird surveys, writing grant proposals, LiDAR of the Lehman Caves tour route, and learning more about the only glacier in Nevada.
  • Our local trails projects have gotten off the ground, with funding secured and progress happening (although slower than I wanted, there is some light at the end of the tunnel).
  • The kids have learned some new skills. Desert Girl has really improved her sewing with the help of a couple wonderful local women. Desert Boy has taken up forging and with the help of his cousin got his 3D printer working.

  •  Desert Girl has really bloomed with daily horse chores and weekly horse riding lessons.
  • The kids had a (mostly) successful 4-H year. (Desert Girl had issues with her sheep and wasn't able to show in the fair, but everything else went well, and she was delighted to get to show a goat in the round robin competition.)
  • My Aunt Pat passed away, and I have fond memories of her from various family gatherings. 
  • Ice skating was lots of fun.
  • We watched the kids grow amazing amounts this year and get better than me at things like cross-country and downhill skiing, running (Desert Boy beat me at Thanksgiving in a family 5k), and short hikes. 

I hope you've been able to find some bright spots in 2020. How we deal with our lives when they don't exactly follow the path we we thought we were taking tells us so much about ourselves. Here's hoping we can learn and have an even better 2021! Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Sacramento Pass 5K - Weaver Creek Trail

I've had a sore knee, so I've been walking more than running lately, and during Christmas break I wanted a longer walk. I also wanted to be away from the highway (near where I live, many of the loops I do include a highway section, and the dogs make me uneasy near the highway) and not in much snow. So what better place than the Sacramento Pass Recreational Area trails? 

I've done a post of the lovely 7-mile Sac Pass loop. And that's what I was originally intending to do. But then I didn't have as much time as I needed and somehow ended up on a dirt road heading up the country. I was surprised to see this trail marker, mile 1 for the Weaver Creek trail.

Upon arriving home, I looked it up, and found vague references to this trail, including on the BLM website and this horse-riding blog. Apparently it's a 6-mile trail that leads into Great Basin National Park (I'm guessing the Strawberry Creek area, but I couldn't tell from Google Earth). I will have to investigate sometime.

For this trip, I continued until I reached a four-way intersection along a fenceline. Apparently the Weaver Creek trail continues up hill, but I was ready to make a loop, so I turned right.

This is where it got fun. There were three ups and downs crossing small drainages.

One had a little snow, but fortunately nothing I couldn't handle!

When I got to the next intersection, I turned right. I had lovely views of the North Snake Range. I wish we had more snow up in the mountains, it's looking so very dry for the end of December.

Eventually I could see the upper part of the Sac Pass Rec Area camping (4 designated sites in the upper area, plus equestrian amenities). 

It turned out that the loop was about 3 miles or 5km. It was such a lovely 5k, and just what I needed, simple beauty and an easy-to-follow path so my mind could work on sorting itself out. I need these little explorations to both relax and rejuvenate. I'm excited that there are so many other roads in the area to explore, I have a feeling I'll be back in this area soon!
Red shows the designated Sac Pass trails, orange shows the 5k route I took. Highway 6/50 is in the upper part of the image and Weaver Creek (often dry) is the green line at the bottom part of the image.

I'm hoping you're able to enjoy some post-Christmas outside time!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

FREE! TAG: The Acronym Game

 In November I was ready for some new board games. So I ordered some. Some were good (for example, Don't Be Meme), but some weren't so good. And they were expensive. After a little thinking, our family came up with our own game, TAG: The Acronym Game.

It's fun, and we're going to share it with you free via my website. Just download the pages and print them, cut them to size, and you're set to go.

Example of some of the acronyms in TAG: The Acronym Game

The game has a simple premise. Take a known acronym (or initialism for those who want to split hairs), for example UFO for Unidentified Flying Object. Draw a theme card, for example Newspaper Headline. Now each person makes up a new acronym for that theme. UFO could now be United Forces Organize or Underwear Frees Odors. Okay, this can be hard! 

After each person goes, a vote is taken for favorite (we like to do it by counting down from 3 and then pointing at the person we choose). Whomever wins gets a point. Play to 7 points. Or 10. Or 15. The rules can be rather loose. 

After a round (4-5 cards), pick a new theme card, such as Food and Drink. Now UFO could be Ugly Fried Onions or Unbelievable Fritters and Oranges. It's a game that won't repeat itself for a long time. 

You might be asking why free? Because it's 2020, and everyone can use something positive in their day. And it's Christmastime, and we enjoy giving. And maybe, just maybe, we're just too lazy to try to do anything else with it.

Perhaps we'll try to come up with more games in the future. And perhaps not. But for now, go give TAG a try!

TAG: The Acronym Game

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