Wednesday, October 26, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - The Journey Home

Well, all good things must come to an end, so it was on this day that we had to pack up and start for home.  We planned to drive back to Salina, KS, albeit via a different route from the way we came, then drive home the following morning.

We had breakfast, then sandwiches were made for the road and put with a couple of bottles of frozen water in the small collapsable cooler we brought.  Todd loaded up the car and we we were off...almost.  We made a short stop down at Sylvan Lake for one last look before driving to the lodge to check out.

Goodbye you gorgeous place
After checking out at Sylvan Lake Lodge, we were truly on our way...well, almost.  Our route took us south past Wildlife Loop Road and as we passed through, lo and behold:  buffalo!

Hello sir

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 6 - The Rest

This is part 3 of a 3-part post about the 6th day of our trip.  See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Let's see...where did we leave off?  Oh yes: it was 1pm and Todd and I had just returned to the cabin after our hike up Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak.

We got out the sandwich stuff and Mom, Todd, Shirley and I sat down for lunch.  After our sandwiches and chips we cleaned up and got in the car - the plan was to spend our last day in Custer driving around the park.

A map of the park

Monday, October 24, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 6: Summit

This is part 2 of a 3-part post about the 6th day of our trip.  See part 1 here.

Picking up where I left off in the last post:  Todd and I had just hiked up to Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak) and were about to enter this cave:

The mysterious cave
Turns out it's not a cave - it's a rock chamber that's open on top.  Along one wall there's a set of steps that spirals up... these stairs which bisect the top of the chamber.

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 6: Ascent

Today was the big day:  Our hike to the top of Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak), which is the tallest point in the U.S east of the Rockies.

We'd been looking forward to this ever since we planned the trip!  Todd and I got an early start (Mom and Shirley stayed in the cabin area and went to the lodge) and arrived at the Cathedral Spires trailhead right at 7am - we were the only ones in the parking lot and the first ones up the trail.

The trail from Cathedral Spires to the peak and back is 7+ miles, and the elevation at the peak is 7,242 feet with an elevation gain from our starting point of about 1500 feet.  Harney Peak is the tallest At the summit is an abandoned fire tower that is open to hikers.

Wildlife spotted along the way:  chipmunks (so many chipmunks), deer, woodpeckers, squirrels, hawks, various other birds.  There are no bears here, but there are mountain lions; luckily we didn't come across any.

There's a lot of pics for this day, so I've broken it up into three separate posts:  Ascent, Summit, and The Rest (of the day).  I'll try to keep the text brief.

Let's start with the ascent.

The car's done a great job so far on this trip.  Time for the wheels to have a rest while we put our legs to work.
Wish us luck - in case we don't make it back

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pet Shop Boys In Concert In Las Vegas

Just returned from a quick trip to Las Vegas to see the Pet Shop Boys SUPER tour - had a great time! I can't wait to share it with you, but first let me finish up with posting about South Dakota.  Next post coming soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 5

On this day we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial and walked around Sylvan Lake by our cabin.

I woke up early and was the first one ready, so I walked down to Sylvan Lake for some photos.  The lake was formed in 1881 when a dam was built across a gulch, and is most recognized as a location from the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The morning was brisk and still and beautiful.

Heading down from the cabin
A variety of watercraft are available for rental

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 4

This was the day we migrated from Rapid City to Custer State Park.  After a leisurely morning spent having breakfast and coffee at Alternative Fuel Coffee House then walking around downtown one last time, we packed up the car and checked out.

Gardener's quiche and vanilla latte at Alternative Fuel.  Yummy!  On a scale of 1 to 10, I gave it a 12.
A great little coffee shop/eatery in downtown Rapid City

Sunday, October 16, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 3

I believe we were talking about breakfast?  We needed delicious fuel to start the day before visiting Wall Drug and Badlands National Park:

Waffles with yogurt and fruit at Tally's Silver Spoon

Friday, October 14, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 2

An early start today on a bright and beautiful morning.  After the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (omelettes, sausage, biscuit, cereal, banana, juice, coffee - you know I'm not much of a breakfast eater but on vacation I love a big breakfast to start the day) we checked out and were on the road at 8am.

Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Yes, I know that's from the musical Oklahama!; as soon as they make a musical called Kansas! you be sure to let me know.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

South Dakota Road Trip - Day 1

South Dakota here we come!

When we decided on relatively short notice that we wanted to take a road trip with my mom and my aunt Shirley, we knew that we wanted to go someplace familiar that would be a great getaway.  South Dakota quickly topped the list.

Todd and I had previously driven to South Dakota in 2013, and had had a great trip.  Custer State Park was a standout of that last journey, so this time we knew we wanted to stay in the park.  With that in mind we booked a cabin and set the following itinerary:

Day 1:  Drive from Dallas to Salina, KS - check in to the Holiday Inn Express
Day 2:  Drive to Rapid City, SD - check in to the Hotel Alex Johnson
Day 4:  Check in to the cabin at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park
Day 7:  Drive back to Salina and stay at the Holiday Inn
Day 8:  Drive home

When the day came we loaded up the car with luggage, snacks of nuts and dried fruits, and were on our way.  So, with that out of the way, let's be off!

Our chariot awaits!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 5: Going Home

All good things must come to an end, and so we had to bid farewell to Universal Orlando and the Loews Royal Pacific Resort.  It was hard too because we woke up to such a beautiful day:

Hard to leave, but it's gorgeous after days of rain and it's Saturday - crowds are sure to be out in full force.  Our timing seemed to work out perfectly.
Todd's in good spirits waiting for the shuttle to the airport
Just plane fun
Ha ha, made you laugh
Why is the window wet?  Adjust focus...

...oh crap.  What happened to the great weather?!
This looked a lot worse in person - like the hurricane had circled back around and was headed straight for us.  The plane took forever to taxi - we kept willing it to go faster.
Phew! - we beat the storm and weren't delayed.  It didn't take long to go from this... this.  Then it was clear skies all the way home.

We had a great time.  Next time (next year?), we're planning on going during Halloween Horror Nights.  They were setting up some of the outdoor areas while we were there and it already looked amazing.  Can't wait!

Thanks for reading.  Coming up next:  South Dakota - so stick around, we'll be right back!  ;o)

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 4

Strong wind and rain overnight, but Hurricane Hermine ended up not being a threat for this area.  The only impact was that we'd have rain on and off throughout the day (which again was fine by us).

We woke up to heavy rain that stopped by the time we were ready to walk over to the park.  On the way over the path was strewn with palm leaves, mulch, and other natural detritus.  I also noticed for the first time these beautiful and alien plants - don't know what they are though:

I'll call you Audrey II
Amazing color

We started off with Universal Studios today, and then took the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure.

The sky doesn't look too stable

Monday, October 10, 2016

Go Speed, Go!

I made this for Todd the other day, because...why not?  Plus, it's almost Halloween.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 3

This was our Universal Studios day.  The park opened at 9am, but we weren't in any hurry and headed over around 10.  On the walk over I found a little friend on the underside of a leaf:

Hello little snail

But you'd rather see more about the park, wouldn't you?  Ok, here we go.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

South Dakota Success!

I just got back from a week-long road trip to South Dakota, and it was incredible!  Perfect weather, the biggest, bluest open skies I've ever seen, amazing hiking and great company - it couldn't have been any better.

I'll finish up with the posts from Universal Orlando (I'm slow, I know) then begin writing about Rapid City and Custer State Park.  In the meantime, here are a couple of teaser pics I took:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 2, Part 2

Tip:  Always take a ziploc bag with you to a theme park - it's great to slip your phone/wallet into on water rides, and comes in super handy if it rains.  Also, you still need to wear sunscreen on overcast days.

After Jurassic Park, we continued on and came to the newest attraction at Universal, Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Just like the Harry Potter area/rides, Skull Island gets extraordinary marks for theming.  On the outside it really looks foreboding with a huge weathered black wall covered with skulls, spears and torches, giant carved gorilla head (through which you enter) and mist-covered mountains rising in the distance.  Off to one side there's a huge temple with massive doors that open for the ride vehicles to pass through.

My current wallpaper
Just amazing from the outside

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 2, Part 1: Harry Potter and Jurassic Park

Today we set off for Islands of Adventure.  The park opened at 9am, but guests staying on-site get one hour early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter section - another perk of staying with Universal.

Fun with mirrors
Good morning Orlando

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip - Day 1

We just got back from spending 4 days at Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, and it was a blast!  The attractions ranged from fun to amazing, the parks were clean, and the employees were friendly and efficient with lots of smiles.  The crowd levels were low, plus we had plenty of rain (which didn't bother us) which drove the numbers down even lower.

In case you forget where you are

I'd be remiss if I didn't start off by saying that although I'm not a big Harry Potter fan (the movies were fun to watch, but once was enough, and I haven't seen the last 3 or 4 of them), the Harry Potter areas and rides at Universal were nothing short of incredible.  Talk about being transported!  Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios are the most well-done, well-themed, areas I have ever seen at any theme park.  The queues and rides in those areas are so fully-immersive; it's like being in that world.  It really is worth the cost of travel and price of admission to see, and that's not even including the new Reign of Kong, or the fun Simpsons Land, or the etc., etc.

Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure

We stayed on-site at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and it was also great.  We had a slight problem after checking in, and the hotel staff immediately resolved it:  The hotel rooms are all non-smoking, but when we got up to our room it smelled, strongly, of cigarette smoke.  I called down to the lobby and requested they move us.  Within 5 minutes a member of the front desk staff brought up key cards to another room, apologized for the inconvenience, and we were set.  Great service!

Now, on to the photos.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Passiflora Incarnata

In 2008 I took this picture of a flower while on vacation in San Francisco:

Spotted in the Grace Marchant Gardens as we descended the Filbert Steps from Coit Tower down Telegraph Hill.

I had never seen anything like it and had no idea what it was, other than amazing.

Imagine my surprise then when a couple of days ago I spotted its purple cousin while on a walk in my own neighborhood in DFW.  Thanks to the community at iNaturalist, and the iNaturalist app, I now know that it is a Purple Passionflower, and that it is a native plant of Texas.  Funny that I've lived here my whole life and never seen one.

Vines overgrowing the hedge with just a few blossoms by the side of the street
An amazing flower
It's like a purple sun with a yellow carnival ride in the middle

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bananas Foster Sorbet - OMG

The peach sorbet was good, the cantaloupe sorbet was great, the bananas foster sorbet is amazing!

Bananas foster sorbet

No recipe for this one - I just tinkered.  I started with a simple syrup, substituting brown sugar for white.  When the sugar was dissolved I took it off the heat and added about a tablespoon or tablespoon-and-a-half of unsalted butter and let it melt in.  A teaspoon of rum extract (I would have used actual rum, but I didn't have any on hand.  Next time.) and a healthy dash of cinnamon topped off the mix.

I added it to my bananas in the blender, pureed it, then put it in the refrigerator for an hour to bring the temperature down.  After that I processed it in the Cuisinart ice cream maker for 35 minutes, then let it sit in the freezer overnight.

The results were delicious!  This one definitely goes to the top of the list.  Now, what to try next?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Rainy Morning On The Canal - Videos

After a week long summer cold I was back to walking for exercise yesterday.  Of course as luck would have it it was raining, but not too bad, and the temperature was down so it wasn't so hot.

While I was out I shot a couple of videos:  one of the rain on the water and a duck coming in to land, and the other a slow motion shot of a fish breaching the surface of the water.  Enjoy.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Speedwalking In My Asics

A short time-lapse video I made on this morning's walk.  The music is "The Best Revenge (Tocadisco's Macaco Gordo Mix)" by Fischerspooner, from the Danse en France EP (not available in iTunes).

Let's go!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tunnel Vision

You may recall that while the local park is closed (due to flooding aftermath) I've been sometimes walking along the canals that snake through our neighborhood (ooh, foreshadowing).

Along the way there are several tunnels; I thought I'd chronicle a few below.  There are more after the jump.

I don't go through this one anymore - their are light fixtures along the left wall and all are thickly covered with spider webs and a disturbing amount of harmful-looking brown spiders.  They're on the ceiling too and the thought of one dropping on me makes my skin crawl.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sunday: A Second Serving Of Sorbet - The Results

Ok, so I have to say this turned out to be one of the best things I've made.  The key is definitely ensuring the melon is at the peak of ripeness.

Cantaloupe sorbet

Working with an Alton Brown recipe as a starting point, I tweaked it to my liking and taste.  The result is a smooth, cold, sweet, perfectly cantaloupe-flavored treat with a little twist and kick.  Very refreshing.  The recipe is below.

4 cups chilled ripe cantaloupe, diced roughly into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons Absolut Raspberri Vodka
1 to 1/4 cups sugar, depending on ripeness of melon
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon fresh-ground coarse black pepper, to taste

Place the melon in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Add the lemon juice, vodka and sugar and process until the sugar is incorporated, about another 30 seconds.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator until cold (30 min to 1 hour depending on how cold the melon was going in).

Add the mixture to the ice-cream maker of your choice, and process according to the manufacturer's directions.  (I used a Cuisinart ice-cream maker, and let it churn for 30 minutes).  Approx. 5-10 minutes before completion, add the cracked black pepper and let the machine mix it in.

Transfer the sorbet quickly to an airtight, freezer-safe container, and let chill for at least 4 hours; preferably overnight.  For best results, serve in a chilled dish or bowl.