Living An Earlier Dream

In 2014, we visited Moab, UT and visited Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, and Dead Horse State Park, as well as Potash Road.  When in Canyonlands, we sat on the edge of Shafer Canyon Overlook and looked at the dirt ribbon winding roads beneath us.  Tom had said at that time that he would be back and would ride down into the canyon and out onto Potash Road next time, but on his mountain bike.  Well, on this day, he and his friends decided to do just that.

They arrived at the head of the trail – Shafer-Potash Trail – and prepared for their adventure.  Rachel and I planned to take the same route in the truck, staying behind them a bit, playing “sweep” for them, should any need arise.
20150712-DSC_440520150712-DSC_4429From the top, looking down at the road below, we knew that this would be the road that they would begin on during their journey.

20150712-DSC_5094But first, they had to get through the various tight switchbacks, with sheer drop-offs along the way.  I remember last year getting tense and a bit queasy just sitting up there and looking down.  It’s hard to get perspective on the enormity of the area and depth of the drops, but I’ll do my best to convey it to you.DSC_4339Before long, we got our first sighting of the trio as they began their initial descent.  I was nervous already … for them, but also for me, having to follow them.  LOL20150712-DSC_5049Zooming in on Tom, he didn’t seem to have a care in the world.20150712-DSC_5056As they made their way to the first switchback, I found myself mentally telling them to go slow and ride cautiously.20150712-DSC_5059OK, first perspective shot … in the image below you can see a white vehicle making the left bend in the road trail.20150712-IMG_2719In this shot, you can see the same area with the guys hanging out on that corner cliff.  Yikes!20150712-DSC_5070Then the carry on along the red dirt road, which was surprisingly smooth when we drove down.20150712-DSC_5074Once at the bottom of the canyon, they rode on the canyon’s floor along that Shafer-Potash Road.  At this point, we decided it was time to follow them.20150712-DSC_5107So off we went … thank goodness Rachel was driving, as I was a bit scared at the thought of it.  But Rachel was a real trooper about it.  20150712-IMG_2727Once we got to the bottom of the canyon, after numerous OMG moments and stops, we realized that in hindsight, it really wasn’t that bad and we both had a great sense of accomplishment.  Smooth sailing from here, we both thought.20150712-DSC_510520150712-IMG_272320150712-IMG_2736Most of the time, the road trail was clear and simply graveled.20150712-IMG_2739But sometimes, the road trail was difficult to navigate or even know which direction to take.  That’s the point I questioned our sanity in following down after them into the canyon.  But there was no turning backing now….20150712-IMG_273720150712-DSC_511020150712-IMG_2731

The scenery was quite beautiful down there … so iconic of the area as well … and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day…. thankfully!20150712-DSC_5120We arrived at the potash plant evaporation ponds, which were absolutely the most amazing color blue (though I doubt it was natural) I’ve ever seen.  Even more striking than the glacier fed lake color, but a bit eery knowing that the entire area had fencing around it and signs for “No Trespassing”.20150712-IMG_2742Eventually we caught up with the guys, who had actually been stopping along the way waiting for us.  Guess that they might have been concerned with us getting down as well.20150712-DSC_512320150712-IMG_2748After I realized that I think that we had a rougher ride getting down there than they did.  So Glad that Rachel powered through it.  There’s no way that I would have done it alone.  20150712-DSC_4449When the road turned from red dirt to asphalt, we decided that we would pick them up, since we were then on our way to our next stop … Grand Junction, CO.  While the guys were loading up their bikes and gear, I took the opportunity to get some more wildflower images.  Yes, it was a nice sunny day.
20150712-DSC_5124While I’m sure that the guys had wonderful memories from Moab, my favorite memory (one that I still drool over) was from my amazing lunch at the Peace Tree Restaurant … YUMMY!
20150712-IMG_2755Next on our journey is more mountain biking (and more) in Grand Junction and Fruita, CO.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Park City & the Relentless Rain

After visiting my daughter, Kelli, and attending her “White Coat” Ceremony, it was time to return back to the cycling road trip.  It was my turn to support Tom wholeheartedly in his cycling endeavors, but in reality it wasn’t too hard of a task.  We were off to Park City, Moab, Grand Junction/Fruita, Mt. Evans, Colorado Springs, Denver, and wherever else Tom’s spirit felt like taking him.  🙂

Up at a horrendous time in the morning to catch a flight to Salt Lake City, I was rewarded by on-time flights.  Didn’t travel with much more than a small carry-on backpack, since I had left all of my camera gear with Tom when I left Baltimore (actually left Washington, DC, but Baltimore had direct flights).  When I arrived in Park City, Tom picked me up and before long we met up with some long time mountain biking friends, Dawn & Daryll.  Tom and Kelli used to race for years with them in Florida when Kelli grew up.  It was amazing to see them again and I know that Tom certainly enjoyed his riding time with them.
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Our condo faced the Park City ski area, which was very convenient for them.  The resort offered downhill mountain bike/chair lift tickets and they all took advantage of it.  I, on the other hand, stayed away from the biking, since I tend to be “accident-prone” when cycling.  🙂

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However, most of the afternoons looked like this out of our condo…. that’s right, pouring down rain, complete with very close vicinity electrical storms as well.  Ugh!  Of course, the guys and Dawn would set out in the sunshine in the morning with the best of intentions.  They would come back and tell me about the moose and her calf that they saw on the trails … the “lemur”, which was actually a weasel (don’t ask – LOL) … and the golden eagles they encountered.  Me, I was inside watching the Tour de France.  Ugh!

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We spent 5 days there with the same routine each day.  I outsmarted my bad luck by dragging Tom out really early one morning, before his cycling.  We drove up Guardsmen Pass and were treated to wonderful views.

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The wildflowers were also in bloom and quite beautiful.

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Just before leaving the Park City / Deer Valley area, of course, the sun emerged and blue skies broke through the clouds.  Oh well, it probably didn’t rain for the next week!  LOL

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It was nice for Tom and Todd too, as they got to reunite with one of their dear friends, Ed, who spends part of his time out in that area.  They used to work at the Dania Beach Fire & Rescue together and reminisced over the good days.

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Of course, I would not be skunked on the wildlife front … unfortunately, this was the best I got during those rainy 5 days.  🙂

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Totally not what I expected in terms of the lack of wildlife, but the trip was young still.

Next up:  Onward to Moab, UT … the mountain biker’s mecca.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Cycling … It’s What’s On Tap For Today’s Post

The 2015 World Police & Fire Games were recently held in Fairfax, Virginia.  Tom and some of his fellow firefighter colleagues, as well as police and law enforcement officers, from around the world showed up in full force to compete in the “Olympic-like” Games…. dubbed “The Games of Heroes”.  Tom competed in both road cycling and mountain biking events.  Let’s see the competition in images and stories…. this way ….

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One of the Road Cycling events, and the first that Tom competed in, was the Criterium race.  Crit races are generally a mile or so circuit lap, repeated for a specified amount of minutes, then a designated number of additional laps.  In The Games, the competitors are divided in age groups, to keep the competition fair.  Funny because often the strongest riders are not necessarily the youngest.  When the start was whistled, off they went on their first lap.  I think that there was about 20 in Tom’s group at the start.

20150628-DSC_3557To help cheer Tom on, my cousin Violet and her daughter Nicole, who live nearby showed up and kept me company during those tense moments.  It was great to see them.

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Before long, the group dropped over half of the riders, leaving just 8 lead riders.  The racers had timing chips, so that kept the # of laps straight, as several of the riders were “lapped” before the end of the race.

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It was easy to spot Tom because thankfully he had on his sun sleeves, which help keep him safe from the sun.  Today, they were also the identification key for me as they zipped by with each lap.

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About 1/2 way through the race, the 8 riders thinned out to only 6 in the lead group.  Tom kept his position in that group.

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On the bell (final) lap, the 6 riders sprinted to the finish line.

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Tom finished in 3rd Place … not bad for a guy that, though he rides his bike almost daily, hadn’t raced on the road in a very long time, especially in a crit race.  See, in a crit race, it’s more of a strategic race and it’s not necessarily the strongest rider, but rather the “smartest” rider that wins.

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After the victory laps for the 3 medalists, it’s time for the Medal Ceremony.  Congrats guys!

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The next day, it was on to the Mountain Bike Cross Country race and there were many more medals on the line.

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The start of the race featured a bit of a road climb to “thin the pack” into the singletrack of the course.  Tom went into the course in 2nd position.

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While Tom was racing in his age group, one of our friends Johnny Sobkowski (Sunrise FD), was racing in his younger age group and went on to take 3rd Place.

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Another friend, Scott Sherry (Palm Beach FD) was also competing in his age group.

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Tom arrived to finish his 1st lap, navigating in preparation of running through the ribboned route through the scoring area.

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As he entered his 2nd lap, he was situated in 1st place…. Go Tom!

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Todd Neal (Broward County Fire & Rescue) finished up his 1st lap as well.

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Finally, after 1 hr, 18 mins Tom emerged to finish his race.

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Such determination shown in the fierce look of a competitor, as Tom crosses the finish line in 1st place!  WooHoo!

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John Cole (Ret. Charleston FD) was also racing and part of our traveling group.  This was just the 2nd race ever for him.

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Gil, who was from Washington state, works for the National Park Service and finished his age group in 1st place as well.

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On the podium stood Malcolm Bow (Peel Regional Police Dept from Ontario) in 3rd Place, Tom (my person hero and sherpa & Ret. Dania Beach FD) claimed 1st Place, and Randy Winwood (Nanpa FD from Idaho) picked up 2nd Place.  I was quite proud of Tom.  It was a mere 14 years ago when he last competed in “The Games” and took 1st Place honors as well … guess the guy still has it!  LOL

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After the races, it was time for some beers and lunch at a local brew pub.  Good times with good friends, for sure.

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In celebration of the games also, we had a wonderful dinner with my cousin Violet and her husband, Bob.  Such wonderful memories!

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At this time, I had to say goodbye to Maria Scherer (Dale City FD), who graciously hosted John, Todd, Tom & I during our stay at The Games.  She was so supportive of the guys and a great new friend for us as well.  🙂

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© 2015 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Note:  This blog post also takes a moment to honor the memory of Carlos Silva, Brazil PD and also in thought for the 2 other cycling competitors injured during the road race cycling event.

 

I Need My Photography Fix!

After spending several days skiing, while Tom, Kelli & Mitchell snowboarded, I decided that I wanted to have a break.  I dropped them off at Powder Mountain near Ogden and started my way to Antelope Island State Park.  I had been there last winter and it was so beautiful all covered in snow, with the waters frozen as well.  Of course, that wasn’t the case this year, for the winter had been such a mild one … no snow at all … limited ice … warm … I couldn’t believe it!

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Unsure as to what I was going to see, I began to tour the island and look for wildlife.  Usually, one doesn’t go far before bison, mule deer, coyote, etc are spotted.  But what in the world was this?  I had no clue, but learned about it along the way.

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It was a chukar partridge, which is in the pheasant family.  Not native to the area or anywhere in US, it was imported here as a game bird … makes sense.  Come to find out that its actually an Eurasian bird, and the national bird of both Pakistan and Iraq!  Well, I guess you learn something new everyday (at least I do – LOL).

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This guy was so beautiful with such remarkable markings in its feathers.  It would sit up on one of the large rocks on the landscape and watch … and call out … and observe some more.  I was being very careful as to not disturb it and to my surprise it just let me photograph it.  He apparently was communicating, in a sentinel fashion, with the rest of his colony, though I never saw them.

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Further up the road, I encountered several coyotes as they searched for a quick bite to eat.  It was amazing to me that in the brown past-winter landscape, how difficult it was to spot from afar.  Thank goodness I had my binocs with me.  🙂

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Being that he was very intent on hunting, thus probably very hungry, I didn’t shoot long.

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Ended up down by the ranch, where a lone pronghorn antelope was making its way.  Wonder why he was there all alone like that?  Seemed like out on the flats like that, all alone, he/she would be an easy target.  Looked for the great horned owls … found their nest, but didn’t see either of them this year.  All in all, it was a beautiful day, but a bit slow for wildlife.

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So, as I made my way back to exit the park, I bid my new Chukar friend, adieu.  He was still hanging out and playing the role of “the watchman”.  Doing a fine job at it as well too.

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This shot from the Visitor Center area gives you some perspective of the landscape both there as well as SLC area across the way.  So very beautiful!

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The next day, we had one more day of snowboarding/skiing before we had to say goodbye to Kelli & Mitchell.  Gosh, it’s so pretty out this way in the winter.

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Next up:  “Hoooo” wants to see more owls?

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?

Each year that we travel to Alaska, we always make sure that we experience something NEW … something that we hadn’t tried before … somewhere that we hadn’t been before … or something that we haven’t photographed before.  In 2014, one of our NEWs was traveling across the Denali Highway – from Paxson to Cantwell … all 135 miles of it!

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Though this was already our 8th trip to Alaska, it was of course, our 1st across this infamous stretch of lonely road.  Why?, you might wonder.  A few responses come to mind, such as “the more travelled Glenn Highway is wonderful as well”, “the road is too slow for our pace”, “what if we got a flat(s) along the way?”, and being a relatively un-maintained road, “how bad is the road really?”.  The road had a reputation of being primarily washboard like and extremely dusty.  Caution went to the wind and onward we drove.  Well we began on our journey early one morning and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by almost 24 miles of paved road right off the bat!  The scenery along the way, on this mostly clear day, was unmatched as well.  Like the Glenn Highway, it was breathtaking views, but it all felt so much closer on the Denali, as it climbed steeply up the foothills of the central Alaskan Range.

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OK, maybe not that close … but you get the idea.  🙂

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Everywhere you looked, there were jaw-dropping views.  We found ourselves experiencing “shock & awe”  Awed by all of the beauty and quite honestly shocked that we had never traveled this way before.  Of particular beauty was the area around Triple Lakes … gosh how I wished I could own that cabin!  LOL

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At precisely MM 21.3, was where the paved road ended and the gravel road began.  We both paused for a moment – yes, to take the image, but also to vow to each other that no matter what happened, we were in it together and wouldn’t place any blame on each other.  LOL.  We were going full steam ahead in our rented 28′ RV (which wasn’t restricted from the “highway”, but rather not encouraged, with warnings to proceed with caution).  Heck, we figured it couldn’t be worse than the year that we drove a slightly larger RV over Hatcher Pass … not a good idea for anyone wondering about that trip.

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Various lakes and kettle ponds dotted the road and the views continued to wow us.

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We even got to shoot some hawks along the way.  The wildlife however was otherwise non-existent … but who could blame them for hiding, since it was an active hunting season.  Sort of bummed about that.

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Views of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hayes, Mt. Hess, as well as the overall Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaskan Range were offered up along the way.  At the Mcclaren Summit, the road reaches a height of 4086′, which earns it the 2nd highest road in AK.  The area also serves as a drainage for the Cooper River, Tanana/Yukon River, and the Susitna River.

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In the distance, you can see the Maclaren Glacier and the Maclaren River, with the mountains looming even further in the distance.

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We found it really difficult to make our way across the highway on our adventure, as we couldn’t have pictured it nicer and so far, pretty uneventful as far as the road was concerned.

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All that we were missing was the wildlife, but as I mentioned earlier, I was glad that they were all in hiding.  Though there were numerous hunters camped out, we didn’t see any of their successful conquests … thankfully.

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As we neared the 2/3 marker of the highway, the weather began to get dreary and our visibility began to diminish, so we made more of an effort to simply get it done.  Gone were the promised views of Denali, but hey, it was an amazing run while it lasted.

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Would we do it again?  There’s a 3-word response to that question … In A Heartbeat! It just goes to prove the point … “sometimes the road less traveled is the most amazing one”.  On a side, for those with good recall and might have been wondering, Yes, we were still talking when our tires once again hit the pavement for the final 2-3 miles.  In fact, I believe that we were closer than ever … very tired, but exhilarated at the same time.

Stay tuned for our unexpected surprise along the Denali Highway … you don’t want to miss it, I promise.  🙂

© 2015  TNWA Photography

 

 

Yes, 2014 Was A Very Good Year!

I think one of my favorite times of the year is the New Year.  For some, it’s about making BIG party plans and ringing in the new year with champagne toasts, dancing, and fireworks.  For me, it’s a much more reflective time … a time to take stock in the year’s adventures, personal achievements, challenges conquered along the way perhaps … and especially a time to look forward … to 2015!

I made a promise at the beginning of 2014 – to take the time needed to travel at least quarterly.  I wanted to experience new places, new adventures, new friends, and of course, new challenges.  I had some personal goals related to even this blog and I’m happy to say that I think that I accomplished most of them.  As usual, travel and photography went hand in hand and played a large role in my life for 2014.  I’ll try to re-cap some of it – very briefly – here.

I travel so much with Tom, aka my husband and “sherpa”, and I began to wonder if I could make it into the wilderness shooting without him.  LOL.  So, while he went off to snowboard for weeks on end, I decided to head out to Yellowstone NP in the dead of the winter (Jan) without him.  I wanted to see “what I was made of” … and to my surprise, I realized that when I needed to get it done myself, I actually could!  In addition, I made a bunch of wonderful friends as well on Daniel Cox’s Natural Exposure Invitational Photo Tour.

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For 4 months (Jan thru Apr), I had the pleasure of discovering that a pair of eastern screech owls had taken up residence in our owl boxes, but they graced us with raising 3 baby owlets as well.  I have to admit that it was a challenge, but the experience was incredible!  I’ll never forget my astonishment and joy when we peeked in, via a small “Go Pro-like” camera and saw 3 tiny furry owls, all bopping and circling their heads as owls do.  My heart melted and my love for owls immediately soared!

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In Feb we joined my daughter and her husband for some snowboarding/skiing in UT and a bit of photography as well.  I spent a few days at Antelope Island SP capturing bison, deer,  pronghorn, eagle, coyote, porcupine, and other images.  Loved it!

_DSC7954 _DSC8107 Of course, Everglades NP is always just around the corner for us, so several trips to photograph the migratory and resident birds were part of our year.

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Orlando Wetlands Park was a new location for me Jess was gracious enough to show it to me one day.

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We also made it up to Vero Beach and Blue Cypress Lake for some osprey photography with Jess and Michael … always a pleasure.

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In April, we flew out to Denver and made the circuit between Denver, Colorado Springs (Garden of the Gods), Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Monument Valley, Moab, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point SP, and eventually Rocky Mountain NP.  For part of the trip, we met up with Rodney Lange for some landscape shooting, including some night photography.  We had such a great time!

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From May to June, the early mornings and early evenings were filled with burrowing owl photography, as we’re blessed with having many burrows within 30 minutes of our home.  To spend hours with the parents and their young and literally watch them grow up before our eyes is always a thrill and an honor.

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Another endearing time was had in June when I almost got to witness the hatching of a newborn sandhill crane colt.  I say almost because my friends and I witnessed the cracking of the egg, the hole in the egg enlarging, but the threatening skies kept us from the “whole enchilada” as they say.  The next morning we were thrilled to photograph the newborn colt as it already toured around the wetlands with both of its parents.  Yes, I’m also a craniac for sure!  (Shout out to Monique!)

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A quick trip to the Palouse was also made, since I was already in San Diego for work.  The rolling hills of the farmlands and the shadows cast during sunrise and sunset provide for variations on the landscape … always beautiful.

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“The mountains are calling, so I must go” … for me that was the message I received from the Canadian Rockies.  In late June and early July, we traveled within Alberta and British Columbia to Yoho NP, Jasper NP, Banff NP, Lake Louise, Waterton Lakes NP, as well as Glacier NP in Montana.  Landscapes to die for were around every corner and amazing wildlife, as well as the company of good friends … I didn’t want to leave.

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Our last “big trip” was to Alaska, on our 8th trip.  It was as good as any of the others … and in some ways, even better.  From photographing the brown bears of the Russian River area, to flying out for a few days of Katmai NP bears (my personal favorites) – in the company of fellow photographer and friend Tom Blandford, to touring Valdez and kayaking the ice caves, to crossing for the first time the Denali Highway on our way to Denali NP and being treated to incredible scenery along the way during the day and the mystique of the northern lights in the darkness of the night, and finally varied conditions while staying at Denali NP, including a winter snowstorm … it was all a blast.  All that while catching up with our Alaskan friends.  🙂

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It seemed fitting that on Dec. 20th, I returned to the Deering Estate to photograph the winter equinox and it’s sunrise … OK, I know that was one day early, but who cares, it was fabulous either way.

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So, as you can see, 2014 was an amazing year for us and one that will be hard to beat.  Of course, we’ll give it our best to do so.  As I reflect on my goals for this new year, I can assure you that 2015 will have some exciting adventures and big events as well, so stay tuned for more.

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Wishing everyone a wonderful and healthy 2015, with lots of photographic opportunities either in solitude or in the presence of friends (both good), but always one with nature.  🙂

Regards,

Debbie & Tom Tubridy (TNWA Photography)

Ice Caves Anyone?

Valdez, AK has a lot to offer for the outdoors enthusiast and we ventured there this year with a particular item on our “To Do” list.  While we’ve gone sea kayaking in Alaska on a few of our trips, and also ventured out on glaciers for hiking and ice climbing, there was still something related to both of those activities that we had yet to do…. ice cave exploration on kayaks.  So while we were in Valdez, we did just that.

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We set out for the Valdez Glacier, aptly named as it is located near the town of Valdez.  Just a quick drive to our launch site, where before long, we were on our way on the icy waters filled with icebergs.

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For this trip, I was well equipped with my gear … 2 cameras, landscape lens, telephoto lens, and trusty iPhone.  I quickly informed Tom that though we were sharing a 2-man kayak, that he should be prepared to do the lion’s share of the paddling, as I would be shooting stills and video.  🙂

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We would let the others get ahead of us, so that we could stop as we needed, always being sure to keep them in sight.

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As we meandered through the beautiful iceberg formations, I could help but feel myself at total peace with this place and I couldn’t wait to get to the ice caves, not really being sure of how it would be.  We passed an area where the icebergs had trapped a pool of water within it and I desperately wanted to portage into its center, though I knew that it wasn’t possible.

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See, the glacial and iceberg formations are constantly changing from year to year, season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day.  Not to even mention what they say about the “tip of the iceberg” … and what lurks below.  It was so beautiful to even hear the ice crystal in the glacial features popping, the water dripping, the wind blowing.

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When we reached our first preliminary ice cave, I was taken back by the beautiful blue ice at its center.

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We were to paddle up to the formation, turn around, pose for a snapshot, and paddle out, but Tom had specific orders to pause for as long as we could so that I could take it all in.

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As we approached the terminus of the glacier, I could feel my excitement mounting and I was thinking about how fortunate we were to have such beautiful weather.

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Ice caves of different stages of development were seemingly everywhere.  Take a look at the amazing blue ice shining so brightly.  It was stunning to be in the midst of it all.

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Below is an image of the Valdez Glacier terminus and all of those “rocks and dirt” in the foreground are actually part of the moraine of the glacier and under it all is the actual glacial ice … on top is the earth which had been deposited on it as it made it way in its advancement stage.  Of course, very few glaciers are advancing today.  It always amazes me how this type of glacier almost appears to be a big driveway into parts unknown.

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We grounded our kayaks, secured them, and began our exploration of the actual glacier and some of its features found in this limited portion (think a speck on an elephant) of the Valdez Glacier.  Glacial pools were numerous, as were crevasses and moulins.  It was all so amazing.

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In an attempt to provide some perspective, I chose to take an image with some of the others in it.  This is one place you don’t want to lose concentration on, as it could turn dangerous, if not deadly, real quick.

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Not sure why I opted to keep my life vest on … possibly too cold … probably too lazy.  Haha!

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Of course, this guy decided to forego the glacier hike part of this tour and chose to catch some zzz’s instead.  I guess he didn’t want to take chances either, as he kept his life vest on as well … possibly for comfort … probably too lazy as well.  Guess the paddling was too strenuous for him.  I wouldn’t know, as Tom became “paddler Tom” for me.  :-).  OK, I admit, I’m a bit spoiled.

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After lunch and hiking, we returned to kayaking and were really treated to an amazing ice cave.  As we lined up to enter individually, I readied the gear.  After hearing the feedback from the kayaks ahead of us, I decided to take video on the way in and still images on the way out.  For the purpose of this blog, I changed the order of the images.

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As we entered the cave, we first had an obstacle of melting ice water falling all around us to go through.  All I can say was C-O-L-D!  Immediately I forgot the cold and my sense took a visual turn and all that I could say was …”OMG!” … I’m talking repeatedly!  Each turn inside the cave was followed by that OMG statement and since I was sitting in the front of the kayak, I always had that momentary sneak preview before Tom could catch his glimpse.

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Turn after turn, it just kept getting better.

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Do I look forward, to the left, to the right, behind, or overhead?  I had sensory overload and a touch of attention deficit going on at the same time.

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Natural water fountains flowed and others used it to fill up their water bottles but my hands and my mouth were way too busy to think of that while in there.

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The glacial blues were all around us, along with your standard icy looking surfaces.  I didn’t want to leave.  “Keep going” I kept telling Tom.

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At one point, Tom drove my head into the ice and I started to duck and I became aware that I didn’t want to tip this kayak too much … water was way too cold, of course ice was our only surrounding, and my gear couldn’t be jeopardized, as we still had another 11 days to our trip.

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Though I didn’t want to leave, I knew that we had to, so we carefully back out the way we came.  I wished I knew how far that cave went, but suffice it to say, it was a good distance.  Never once did I fear for my safety inside it, though clearly this was a precarious place to be should anything disastrous happen.

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All in all, it was a wonderful day doing that “something new” on what was actually our 6th wedding anniversary.  Very appropriate for the day.  🙂

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Can’t help but wonder where we’ll be on our 7th … I’m a lucky girl!

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for the next post:  The Denali Highway Adventure.

© TNWA Photography

 

 

 

Katmai … Here We Come!

Rain, rain, rain … combined with fog, wind, and completely overcast skies.  That’s how it was the night before we were to fly over to Katmai NP.  When we woke up, it wasn’t raining, but the fog, wind, and heavy skies were still ominously present.  I told Tom that I wasn’t in a panic as I packed my gear, fluids, and nutrition … I was pretty sure that we weren’t flying out.  Thank goodness I was proved wrong!  Somehow, the fog on the lake lifted just enough and the trip was given a green light.

With us this year, we had the pleasure of spending a few days in Katmai with Tom Blandford, a friend of mine whom I met through the world of photography.  In addition, we had 2 lovely ladies who had been shut out by bad weather for several days already.  As the plane lifted off from the surface of Beluga Lake, I began the anticipation of what was to come… like a child the night before Christmas.  🙂

Because the weather had been very rainy, the rivers were a bit more swollen than usual, so we landed at “Just Enough” lake … that is, just enough room to land and take off safely.  LOL.  We unloaded and began our trek through the wilderness of Katmai NP & Preserve in search of coastal brown bears and lots of salmon.  See, they go hand in hand.

While we got to peek at a few bears from a distance, it wasn’t until we came across one not too far off that we began to get anxious with our gear.  Anticipating a bear’s next move is always challenging, but we seemed to get it right and before long we were greeted by a fabulous specimen coming around a corner, catching us a bit by surprise.

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Or guide, Dave, made sure that we were respectful to the bears personal space.  Our goal is also always to observe the bears in their natural behavior, rather than having them adjust to our presence, we would adjust to theirs.

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That plan always works perfectly … this bear accepted us being there without any reservations and before long, began chasing salmon swimming in the creek.

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We remained patiently observing this bear and let it pass us by.  It’s always quite the thrill for me when our eyes meet for the first time … OK, actually every time … to me, it’s the validation that we’re connected at that moment … in each other’s world, if you will.  Always amazing as well how they pass us so peacefully, not like how many would be led to believe.  For bears are actually very peaceful and predictable … honestly!

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Often people want to know how close we get to these magnificent creatures.  My answer varies with each situation, location, bear, etc … but you can see in this image that it’s not very far away at all.

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Generally, the bears pass by and get on with their day at hand which mostly revolves around chasing down and eating salmon.  They are quite skilled at it too!

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Sometimes lens choice is an issue and your full image view becomes simply a head shot due to their proximity to us.  It’s a GOOD problem.

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Not all of the bears are chasing salmon, some are simply catching a siesta in the wilderness landscape.

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Of course, before long, they’re up and repeating the cycle … find salmon … chase salmon … catch salmon… eat salmon… and so their day goes on.

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Somebody looks as though they got caught raiding the cookie jar … or should I say the salmon pool.  LOL

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One of my favorite sightings of the day came with a sow and her young cub, probably a yearling.  We watched them as they made their way down the creek towards us.  The sow was a beauty too … a real blondie!

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Her cub followed her dutifully, not too far behind, and it was already checking things out for themselves along the way.

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As mom went on the hunt for salmon ….

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… her cub did the same.  It was amazing to me to see how it already had quite big paws and claws!

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When the young one would get a fish from mom, it would climb up on the shore to consume it, as mom continued to fish.

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Now on this trip, it wasn’t only bears of course.  There were a few birds … yellowlegs, juvenile harlequin ducks, ptarmigan, and of course, gulls.  The ptarmigan were so much fun to watch as they congregated in a group of perhaps a dozen and all took flight, with their beautiful markings showing the signs of the upcoming seasonal changes.

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Yes, it was a fun filled day so far and I for one, didn’t want it to end.  Looks like my new little friend didn’t want us to leave either!  LOL

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We pulled up our waders and made our way across the treacherous creek.  OK, maybe treacherous is a bit of an exaggeration, but the current was moving quite quickly and the water level was a bit higher than our boots!  The river rocks were also quite slippery and the water quite cold.  As I made it mostly across the creek safely, I quietly thanked goodness that Tom (aka my sherpa) had my gear safe and sound, and most importantly, dry.  What would I do without him?  I did however have a hole in my waders so I drained them out on the other side… woo hoo, it was quite refreshing!

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Heading back to the plane is always the worse part of the day, but we still had more time to spend in Katmai, so it was a bit easier to swallow.  Here’s a shot of Tom B. (aka not my sherpa Tom) and our pilot Wes of Beluga Air.

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That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more adventures from Katmai NP and my beloved coastal brown bears!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

 

A Magical Place … Lake Clark NP

Every time we venture over to Alaska, we always try to do something different (sea kayaking, paragliding, whitewater rafting) or go somewhere different … and this year was not an exception.  OK, so it’s no surprise that we LOVE the brown bears.  We always fly over to Katmai or visit the Russian River to spend time with them, but we had never gone to the other area national parks, which are also renowned for their bears.  So, off we went to Lake Clark National Park for a new adventure.

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It was a short flight from Soldotna to Lake Clark and it was also an outstanding one – once we got off the ground.  The views were incredible!  That being said, for a few hours, I thought for sure that we would not be going, as the fog layer was quite thick in Soldotna.  That’s pretty much a way of life in Alaska … flight delays  😦  … and to make it worse, the weather was reportedly beautiful on the other side of the inlet.

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But we finally made it there.  We usually fly over in a floatplane to Katmai, so it was quite a treat to experience a beach landing!  Pretty nice arrival, I must say.

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We had plans to stay at the Alaska Homestead Lodge, hosted by James & Shelia Isaak, on the shores of the Cook Inlet, with Mt. Iliamna looming in the backdrop.  What a fabulous place with great views, great food, great lodging, great guests and great “neighbors”.

The first “neighbor” to greet us was a brown bear nicknamed “Trouble”.  How excited I was as I rushed to grab my gear to document the welcoming party.  It came strolling down the “road” … I say “road” because the dirt road in front of the property was also the “runway” for James’ personal airplanes.

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Trouble didn’t get that nickname for nothing, as he immediately found the barrel out in the garden and began to try to roll it around and mess it up.  To us, it was fun to watch though and quite comical.

What an innocent looking young bear!   ... Not!

What an innocent looking young bear! … Not!

Meet Trouble ... doing what he did best  :-)

Meet Trouble … doing what he did best 🙂

Eventually, with a bear just being a bear, it found the cover to the septic tank and began to gnaw on it.  Well, that didn’t sit well with the owners and he got yelled at and as it ran off, it tried to take the cover with him!  LOL

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After a quick orientation to the property, we were off to find the bears.  There were signs of them along the way, as we ventured out to the shores of the inlet.

Now that's a big one!

Now that’s a big one!

Before long, we came across our first brown bear … coming in from the water it was coming right towards us … and continued past us.  Trouble was also present and we thought that we might have an interaction between the two, but Trouble was quite the submissive one around other bears.

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Most of the time, we found this bear doing one of two things ….  sitting and looking around

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…. or resting on a pile of warm sand, probably with its fresh catch buried under the mound.

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But you couldn’t beat the view!

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The bears weren’t the only ones fishing off the coast, as one morning we were treated to a bald eagle flying in, hitting the waters surface, grabbing a fish, and flying off with the prize.

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Again, the bears wouldn’t be outdone by the eagles, so they would catch their own, carry it off, bury it, and of course, take a nap!

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During our stay, the bears were less plentiful than even just a few days ahead, but none of that mattered to us.  We were just so happy that we could spend our wedding anniversary in the most magnificent place around.  Our “30th” … maybe, but probably more like our 5th.  See, our hosts had a 30th celebration for us, which made us laugh, but we took that as a good omen to come.  Thanks to all at the Homestead that helped to make it special for us.  🙂

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Until next time …. we leave you with the serenity of Lake Clark NP

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Next up for the Blog …. All aboard in Talkeetna!!

Welcome to My Blog

Happy New Year!

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I had a New Year’s Resolution in 2012 … it was to begin my personal blog.  I did create the blog site, however, I never got around to posting any blog entries.  Not that I hadn’t thought about it … for every month it seems, as I saw my “To Do” list … there it was …. “Write a blog entry”.  So, guess what my first 2013 New Year’s Resolution was?  You guessed it, finally the first entry!  This all seems a bit weird for me.  Those of you who know me, know that I’m not short on words, but this is so “out there” for me, so have some patience with me as I undergo my first post.

What to talk about?  Let’s see … overall I want to share random thoughts about life, travel, wildlife, nature, and of course adventures experienced.  I have always loved to LIVE life to the fullest … trying to never have regrets about something I did, but more importantly something that I didn’t do.

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I thought that it would be best if I took the first post opportunity to reflect upon my life in 2012.  It was a very busy one for me!  From wedding planning to a return journey to Alaska to a family reunion (and its extension travel, of course) out west, it was a challenge to say the least.

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PART 1:  See, early in 2012, we were putting the finishing touches to a year’s worth of planning my daughter Kelli’s wedding.  Well, she actually did the vast majority of the work – bless her heart – all while finishing her Master’s in Human Performance at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL  (yes, she’s a Gator – after spending 6 years pursuing her educational goals – but she did me proud by graduating With Honors, with a B.S. and her M.S.), while still holding down a research position and then a FT job as an Exercise Physiologist in Ocala, FL.  All the while her husband-to-be was traveling for his job and spending a full year in Arkansas.  Imagine my surprise when she told me that she wanted to get married in the Georgia mountains!  Now that planning was quite complicated, but it did have benefits – as we needed to travel to Cleveland, GA to visit Neverland Farms (no, not Neverland Ranch). The wedding was the most amazing one – so relaxed, so natural, so beautiful, so “country chic” as my daughter calls it.  (Note:  the wedding images are not mine, simply borrowed for the blog, yet impressed in my memory – thanks to Matthew for capturing through images this spectacular day for us).

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These wonderful candles are available from our friends @ Drunkenbottle  (www.drunkenbottle.com)

These wonderful candles are available from our friends @ Drunkenbottle – the art of recycle  (www.drunkenbottle.com)

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I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever felt so proud … the moment when the ceremony was over and Tom & I were watching everyone have an amazing time at the reception.  How beautiful Kelli was and what a lovely young lady she had become – so caring, yet strong, and how mature she had become over the years when I wasn’t looking.  🙂  I distinctly remember looking at Tom and declaring … “We’ve done good”!

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Immediately after the wedding, they took off on their honeymoon to Costa Rica, where apparently my daughter and Mitchell walked through the croc-infested waters unknowingly, because they didn’t want to be “tourists” and take the boat over to the other side.  Yes, she’s got a bit of me in her – always seeking adventure.  Yikes!  They are now living in Brockport, NY, where Mitchell’s job has taken him.  Of course, this called for a visit where we toured Niagara Falls, Rochester, Hamlin Beach, Braddock Bay and the quite impressive Letchworth State Park.  Destination for 2013?  Who knows, but hopefully somewhere fun!

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Over the next few months, we visited the Everglades quite a bit and had a crocodile experience of our own!  What a thrill!

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Do a Blog : Check!

Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, & 4 of my 2012 Year in Review.