The Grotto at Westcave Preserve

I think the word has gotten out about Westcave Preserve—our tour was crowded during our visit in July. Of course it didn’t help that it was the 4th of July weekend when we visited, but still. After you’ve come here several times and basically had a tour to yourself, you get spoiled!

We joined the tour and stuck towards the back of the line so Forest could walk slower and we could dawdle just a bit. And we had been here several times so we knew the main spiel already, though of course new things get sprinkled in as the years go on, particularly discussions about floods. Various flooding events rip through the grotto and ravine every few years and uproot vegetation and erode the pathways which creates work for the folks at Westcave.



It is always so peaceful here, even with a small crowd.



Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

The light was just right in the grotto for the water to reflect that beautiful blue. Certainly enticing to want to swim in on a hot, humid Hill Country July late morning!


Cypress holding down the soil along the creekside.



Black Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris

Stream Orchid/Chatterbox Orchid, Epipactis gigantea



Wand Butterfly Bush, Buddleja racemosa — I was on the lookout for this one as I had seen someone post it recently and I wanted to see it. It’s an endemic species to the Hill Country area and a buddleja to boot. Most people are familiar with the non-native buddelja that gets planted in butterfly gardens and is known to be an invasive species in some locales. This one is definitely not nearly as gregarious as that species but it is still rather fascinating, especially this one as it was clinging to the rocks along the trail. Keep an eye out for it when you visit!

There’s not a lot to say about this trip to the preserve but it is always a highlight when we do get a chance to visit!

Inside Passage Approach to Juneau, AK



















I think this is what is labeled on a topo as Suicide Falls coming out of Cross Bay Creek on the SE side of town.

Our arrival into Juneau wasn’t until mid-morning so we had plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and then bounce from outside deck to outside deck to take in the views as we slowly sailed into Juneau. With Admiralty Island and Douglas Island to our port side and the mainland to our starboard side, we had plenty of interesting things to see on each. The island side was less populated, less homes built and much more remote appearing. Once we crossed over to Douglas Island a road began on the mainland side which meant more housing and then eventually to the area where you see the fisherman wading into the water. They appeared as specks in the distance, finally coming into better view as we got closer and could be identified as humans instead of birds. I definitely picked out a house or two that would have been perfect for making as my hideaway cabin—perfect for writing and drinking a morning cup of coffee while I took in the scenes from the passage.

The one downside to sailing at night is that we didn’t get to take in the sights as we traveled through the passage but of course that would mean no town stops during daytime hours. Later on we’d get more glimpses of the water lanes we would be traveling but for now we had to take in what we could during arrival and departure.

A Visit to Fern Plantation











Arachnoides standishii





L to R: Jean, Cindy, Laurin, Andrea, Darla Fern Plantation’s owner, and me.

A few weeks ago I was invited to join some other garden bloggers for a little mid-week meetup at a local nursery. No one had been to it before but I had seen it on Google Maps as it is in our neck of the woods. Fern Plantation nursery had piqued our interest but because it seemed to be by appointment only (and it is) we didn’t really know if we could go and visit. Was it wholesale only? After the invitation from Andrea to join the group I knew that I wanted to go and find out more!

So I took a few hours off mid-day to meet up with the group and I knew most of these ladies via social media or their blogs, and I had met Andrea by chance at a Peckerwood Garden plant sale back in the spring. Other than that I had not met them in person and didn’t know much about them other than what I’ve seen online so it was nice to get to know them a little bit and hang out with some fellow gardeners.

The nursery itself is at the end of a dead-end road and you turn onto the driveway kind of unsure that you are in the right place, despite the signage directing you to the greenhouses. Once I arrived I felt instantly transported to the nursery areas of SW Miami-Dade county, in the Redland area where tropical plant growers abound. Chris and I used to drive those quiet backroads and find random greenhouses to peek into and buy whatever they were growing—anything from orchids and bromeliads to various tropical plants. Ah, I could go for a weekend doing that again!

Cindy was there first, chatting with Darla, and so I joined them while we waited for the rest to arrive. Darla has been into ferns for several decades but only in the last few years has she turned that into the business. There are so many ferns that I couldn’t even begin to name them all but I did see several glorious birdsnest and staghorn ferns that were very drool-worthy. I’m always looking for native plants so I asked about those first and was directed to the growing area for those. I ended up buying two native ferns and two non-native ferns: Dryopteris goldiana – Goldie’s wood fern, Athryium filix-femina – lady fern, Arachnoides standishii – upside down fern (labeled in the photos above), and Microgramma piloselloides – hairy snakefern–and it came in a mounted container as a more ornamental fern. Now to just make sure the deer don’t devour them once I plant them in the ground in the spring!

After our trip wandering the greenhouse we found some Tex-Mex for lunch and to chat a bit. It reminded me of the garden meet-ups I used to go to in Florida through Gardenweb, back when that it was in its heyday. Hopefully another meet-up will work out again in the future! But if you are in Houston and want to visit a very different kind of nursery, look up Fern Plantation and give them a call to drop by!

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly, Limenitis arthemis astyanax | Wildlife Wednesday






As seems to be the general case these days, I was digging around on my backup hard drive looking for another particular photo or set of photos and came across our photos from when Chris and I joined my brother and dad to hike the Eagle Rock Loop on the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas back in 2012. You can read day 1, day 2, and day 3 here. For those entries I had put together the photos into a sort of mosaic, mostly trying to conglomerate how many photos I had per post into something more reasonable, a feat that I’ve never really been able to replicate or reduce because if you read my blogs you know there are lots of photos!

That said, I wanted to upload the photos themselves to Flickr instead of having those mosaics and that prompted me to want to have a few select posts about the wildlife, the first being the red-spotted purple butterflies we saw. At the time I didn’t know what they were and probably thought they were related to swallowtails but instead they are in the brush-footed family, Nymphalidae. Despite there being quite a bit of sightings in Texas, I have only seen them or at least noticed them once, this last summer in a ‘burb of NE Dallas. And at that time I didn’t even know what it was until I put it into iNaturalist. But when these photos popped up I knew what they were immediately and that was quite exciting to see! We came across two different groupings, one at the Albert Pike Recreation Area where they were actively trying to enjoy the salt off of our hands, and another group at the trailhead to Little Missouri Falls where they were puddling on the ground.

There are two subspecies of the red-spotted admiral, Limenitis arthemis astyanax – the red-spotted purple, and Limenitis arthemis arthemis – the white admiral. The white admiral is the more northern subspecies ranging from the New England area into the Great Lakes over to Minnesota, and the red-spotted purple ranging in a much broader area from New England and south into the mid-west and dipping into east and central Texas. From what I’ve read the two subspecies will hybridize when their regions overlap and apparently they can also hybridize with viceroys, Limenitis archippus! Viceroys are monarch mimics for those who may know that name. Caterpillar host plants include cherry, vaccineum, and willow species among a few others.

Another check to the butterfly life list!

The Fields Aflame

Sometime in late 2010 I came to know of Florence + the Machine via the Lungs album. I bought the cd and ripped it to upload to my mp3 player and listened to the album on our 2011 Florida Trail thru-hike in the evenings while in the tent. Since then I’ve become a huge fan of her music and have bought her subsequent albums, mostly recently High As Hope, albeit over a year after it was released. I’m a little slow on the music front these days.

It was really one of the songs from that album that I came across on Spotify that sealed the deal to get back into collecting F + M music.

Snippets from my favorite lyrics in the song South London Forever, which is probably my favorite song on the album:

With your black cool eyes and your bitten lips
The world is at your fingertips
It doesn’t get better than this
What else could be better than this?
Oh, don’t you know I have seen
I have seen the fields aflame
And everything I ever did
Was just another way to scream your name

And we’re just children wanting children of our own
I want a space to watch things grow
But did I dream too big?
Do I have to let it go?
What if one day there is no such thing as snow?

Except that green is so green
And there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring
Oh, don’t you know I have seen
I have seen the fields aflame
And everything I ever did
Was just another way to scream your name

The two particular lines that I love the most:

“What if one day there is no such thing as snow?” —just the way she sings it and the song moves in this portion.

“And there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring” —I can feel these lyrics because I can completely understand them.

I’ll close with another video of another of my favorite songs on the album:

First Citrus Harvest











Finally, after all of these years of trying to grow citrus we are being rewarded with fruit! The oranges are from a tree I bought Chris when we were still living in our tiny rental here in Houston circa 2011/2012. The tree finally went in the ground when we moved in to the house and we added to the little grove over the years. The lemon tree we added as as a sacrificial tree for the giant swallowtail caterpillars that were chowing on our smaller trees out back, only we didn’t realize at the time of purchase that they were treated with a systemic pesticide and our act of goodwill was really an act of death. Lesson learned. The systemic is long gone and the tree has since hosted caterpillars and finally a bowl full of lemons this year!

Forest and I have been enjoying seeing them ripen over the last month and I know that I enjoyed coming home and driving up the driveway to the sight of bright yellow ornaments dangling from the tree. But it was time to harvest them and we ventured out yesterday afternoon to pick them off the tree. Forest helped—the lemons were much easier than the oranges to pull—and now we need to make something with them. Lemon curd is definitely on the agenda and maybe some kind of lemon dessert for Christmas. Do share your favorite lemon recipe with me!

Mendenhall Glacier | Juneau, Alaska

When we were planning our cruise and knew that we were going to be visiting Juneau, I knew that I wanted to visit Mendenhall Glacier. And at first I thought we would just figure out a way to get there on our own. Later when booking our tours, Chris found a whale watching tour with a side stop to the glacier. It wasn’t going to be for as long as I wanted to stay at the park but it would suffice.



I had vague ideas about the glacier from a former co-worker in Florida who had visited when he went to AK for a work trip. I recalled the photos and that prompted me to be very interested in the glacier. And after some Googling it was quite easy to come across a lot of photos showing changes to the glacier over the last century and decades.

With about an hour or so to linger at the glacier we made our way from the bus drop off at the visitors center and walked the paved pathway down to the viewing platform. There was a side trail that was a bit longer that would allow a slightly closer view but with Forest tagging along we didn’t think we had the time to get there and back.

The scenery was gorgeous no matter where you looked.

And Forest was far more interested in the rock slabs to climb on than he was in the glacier, which at this point is quite far away.




Back in the summer before we left for our cruise Chris’ mom had dug out a photo album from a cruise she took in the late 60s or early 70s with her family. There were photos of her at the glacier as well and it is a drastic difference in how close the glacier is to her in the photos to how close it is to us in 2019! Pretty dramatic for an approximately 50 year difference.






I was impressed by the glacier but not super impressed, mostly because of how far away it seemed. You didn’t get that ‘oomph’ that I was expecting. I would get that in a few days time when we went to Glacier Bay—which is still one of the highlights of the trip. That said, if you get the chance to visit the glacier don’t turn up the chance. It is still pretty impressive! And I would say I was probably more impressed when we were out Auke Bay on the whale watching boat and could see further up the glacier into the mountains.



I really love this photo Forest and I got together but we had no idea someone was photobombing us in the background! All of the photos that were snapped in that series had her in it and I will have to see if I can edit her out at some point. I attempted to when editing photos to share here but didn’t have the patience with the amount of cloning I was going to have to do to fix it.



We made a brief stop into the visitors center and gift shop for a few items and to see what their educational display was like but then ducked back outside to see what the small trails near the parking area were like. Again, we had very little time to really explore.

Gone to seed, fireweed. Chamaenerion angustifolium

Down by the parking area was a small creek filled with salmon both dead and alive. Chris wanted to spend some time looking at the salmon and Forest and I wanted to explore a small boardwalk that went into the woods a bit so we took off down that trail.


Green alder, Alnus viridis

Several piles of fresh bear scat were down below in the grass next to the boardwalk. Based on observations on iNaturalist the general population of bears in the area seem to be black bears.


The boardwalk wound around to a dirt trail and this really gorgeous scene. Several other people were standing there watching something and we paused. An animal skittered across and at first my brain thought “Otter!” and then, whoa, “NO! Mink!” I had no time to get my camera ready to even take an ‘I saw it’ shot so we just watched for a few seconds as the animal bounced around the edge of the creek and darted off into the vegetation. Apparently the people who had been standing there had been watching it for a few minutes before it sauntered off. High on a pretty uncommon sighting, at least in the Lower 48*, we returned to where Chris was, excited to share what we saw. And it turns out he saw a mink, too! There had to be a den somewhere very nearby. And I just checked iNaturalist—no one has logged a mink in that vicinity.

*We know of a mink that lives around the boat docks at Lake Livingston State Park here in Texas—I think Chris has seen it. And Chris and I have seen a roadkill Everglades Mink on Alligator Alley and saw its potential family member run across right after. We saved the roadkill and turned it into the state wildlife officials. And we had the opportunity to watch a live mink in Fakahatchee Strand several years back. And I guess I should say uncommon in the south—iNaturalist has a lot of sightings in the NE US but not as much in the south.

Our short time at the glacier was lovely! I hope the next time I visit the glacier isn’t another .5 mile up the hill.

Island Trail Exploration | Martin Creek Lake State Park

Let’s go back to Easter weekend this year where I left a post or two incomplete from our trip to Martin Creek Lake State Park. The promise of spring was so bright—plants were blooming, the earth smelled sweet…ahhh, only a few more months away!

Annual Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium rosulatum

Texas Vervain, Verbena halei

Green Antelopehorns, Asclepias viridis


Hercules’ Club, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis

Black Snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis

Lizard’s Tail, Saururus cernuus

Sugar Hackberry, Celtis laevigata

On the southeast portion of the park is an island that you can access by a pedestrian bridge. At the time we hiked there were portions of the trail that were a big soggy in places and others that were relatively high and dry. As you’ll see in all of the photos it definitely ranges from wetland to upland on the trails back there!



Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata




Chickasaw Plum, Prunus angustifolia

These were a sight to see and such a thicket of them! Unfortunately the fruits weren’t yet ripe so no hungry foraging for us!



I think this is littlehip hawthorn, Crataegus spathulata but I’m not 100% on that. Hawthorns can be tricky!


Texas Toadflax, Nuttallanthus texanus

Small-flowered Catchfly, Silene gallica – non-native but pretty.

A flock of vultures waiting for something to become available to forage.


See? A little bit squishy.



I went back on Easter morning to walk the trails again while Chris and Forest fished and to get better photos of the chickasaw plum thicket—that whole area is plum trees!

I loved this open field but was annoyed how the crimson clover had taken over. I wonder if it was seeded out here or if it made its way from the roadsides into this meadow over the years and just ran with it?


I still love this state park. I only wish that the power plant wasn’t directly across the lake because when in operation it is rather noisy plus it is unsightly when in view on the lake. Otherwise, this is a great state park in the northern part of east Texas!

Adventure Reads Part II

One post over the years that seems to have done well was my Adventure Reads post. So, I thought that it was high time to have an Adventures Reads Part II.

Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson
I’ve never had a burning desire to hike the PCT. The CDT was always what I wanted to hike next in the compendium of ultimate long distance trails. Even reading Wild didn’t really cement the desire to hike the PCT into my brain like it did to so many people who wanted to traipse in Cheryl’s footsteps. But Thirst fleshed out more of the details of the PCT for me, offering some vivid descriptions of the desert sections, the long-day struggles of hiking Heather went into as she progressed through the Sierras and into Oregon and Washington—the camaraderie she shared with folks who crossed her path along the way, it made me more interested in the PCT than I had ever been.

I wrote about the book in one of my book reports when the book came out but for those who are unaware of who Heather is, she’s most known for her 2013 self supported fastest known time (FKT) record on the PCT as a relatively unknown hiker. Since then she’s gone on to hike thousands more miles including most recently becoming the first woman to do a calendar year Triple Crown—hiking the AT, PCT, and CDT in one calendar year. At the time only 4 people had completed the feat. The logistics from travel and weather are quite complicated. But she did it! Here’s a great article if you are new to Heather and want to get an idea about her: NatGeo Adventurers of the Year.

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail
This book was very enjoyable and fast-paced. For those unfamiliar with Scott Jurek, he’s an ultra-runner with a long history of trail race winnings. You may know him from Eat and Run, a memoir about his running and running as a vegan. With the long distance FKT frenzy that really kicked off in the early to middle of the 2010s, Scott began eyeing an FKT of the Appalachian Trail, despite not really being a long distance backpacker. He was going after Jennifer Pharr Davis’ FKT of the AT that she set in 2011. With his wife running support for Scott, he set off north from Georgia to FKT the AT. I really loved that they alternated between viewpoints from him as a hiker/runner and from her as the support crew. It isn’t often we get to see what life is like for the support person on the other side of a supported FKT.

The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Since we’re on an FKT roll here, this one is on the same topic—hikers/runners who have set the standards of endurance on long distance trails. Jennifer takes us from Anish to Jurek and then digs even further back to when the idea of setting a record on a long distance trail even began. She chronicles people that I had heard of but new very little about (Scott Williamson) or controversial trail legends (Warren Doyle) and weaves in their stories about their feats of endurance on long distance trails. The book was not what I expected (I was thinking more of an all-round endurance book) but I ended up liking it even more because it was pretty much dedicated to those who have completed endurance records on long trails.

Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis
JPD has two trail memoirs of her own, the first being Becoming Odyssa about her first hike on the Appalachian Trail, which was not a speed record. It chronicles her hike as a newbie hiker fresh out of college, traveling as a solo woman. She encounters friends, creepy folks, a very disturbing situation at a shelter, but also many other wonderful circumstances. Her writing has definitely improved over the years as she’s written books (I think she has 4 under her belt now?) so this one is definitely of the freshman writing level but otherwise it is a great book to add to your trail memoir collection.

Walking with Spring: The Story That Inspired Thousands of Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers by Earl V. Shaffer
Sad to say that this, the ultimate trail memoir, took me years to get around to reading! I remember one of the first or second shelters we were stayed at on the AT that someone there was reading this book. I may have had a vague idea of who Earl Shaffer was but I hadn’t been heavily indoctrinated into the AT culture yet. Walking with Spring is Earl’s memoir of being the first person to thru-hike the AT, which he conducted to walk off World War II. At that time the trail was in many areas in different locations than it is today, running a bit lower in valleys and sometimes along forest roads, crossing closer to towns. I recall reading that when Earl walked again later in life he was a bit irked by the relocation to ridges away from civilization because it made it more cumbersome for resupply’s. Earl’s book isn’t thick but he has many poetic paragraphs about his time hiking and you can’t help but wonder what the trail would have looked like before it became inundated with hikers.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
This was a crazy book! A young man in the mid-1980s up and leaves his home in Massachusetts, drives to Maine, abandons his vehicle, and becomes a hermit in the woods around a lakeshore. He begins stealing bits of items from this summer community along the lakeshore, slowly building up an arsenal of items that will allow him to live a solitary existence in the woods for nearly thirty years. When you get to the part where the author describes the way he had set up to live during Maine’s harsh winters, you wonder at the fortitude he had to survive. This is one of those “Wow, I can’t believe this is real!” books that will have you keeping the page turning!

On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
I loved this book when I read it. I really should re-read it again. When you first pick up this book you kind of expect it to be one thing but it really evolves into this whole other, broader world about trails—how they are formed, cultural uses, historic uses, and how ancient paths are still used to today. Moor steps into the worlds of Navajo sheep herders, traces paths of ancient Cherokee routes in the Smokey Mountains and how some of them later evolved to roads, connects with hunters as they utilize animal trails for hunting, and even heads across the Atlantic to look at mountain ranges that were once connected to the ancient Appalachians and how they could connect as part of the greater international AT. If you are into the outdoors beyond even hiking you’ll find this a fascinating book.

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
Another book I really enjoyed, Fire Season tells the story about how Connors went from being a city living guy to manning a fire tower in New Mexico for part of the year. One season turned it another and then another and before he knew it he had this wonderful background to put together this book. Part history, part natural history, the book weaves in the story of how fire suppression in the US came to be, how the native peoples used fire on the landscape before colonization, and tidbits of fascinating and sometimes sad or scary stories that he experiences while working at the fire tower. Fire towers are becoming increasingly rare to see in many areas due to better technologies—you can often find remnants of them in southern US forests and other areas around the country—but many are still actively used. Another book I highly recommend.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman
This book is part adventure, part sad family tale. If you are familiar with Elliot Coleman of Four Season Gardening fame then you will know the name Coleman. Melissa is one of Elliot’s daughters and she tells the story of her family’s involvement in the back to the land movement of the 1970s, aided by Scott and Helen Nearing. If you’ve ever looked wistfully at ‘living off the land’ this book will set you straight on some of the hard truths. In some ways it was idyllic, in other ways not so much, and of course some of the things are focused on how it affected the family itself but other aspects you know would have affected anyone doing back to the land in the 70s and even now. Tragedy strikes and from there the family dynamic and idyllic lifestyle begins unfolding. A lot of the family is still into farming but other parts of it have moved on. It’s a sad but very captivating story.

Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail by Jay Erskine Leutze
Focused in on far western North Carolina, very near the Tennessee border, Jay Erskine Leutze writes how while living in the area he becomes informed about a potential mountain top removal project for mining that would impact his local community in numerous ways. It then becomes an investigative story on exactly what the project is, how it is potentially violating laws, and mixes with a history of the area. Not only is this mining project going to be problematic for local residents, it is also problematic for a portion of the Appalachian Trail viewshed. With that, Leutze is able to garner more attention for the mining violations and get some strength behind the fight to stop the project. The AT is constantly working to fight projects from powerline right of ways to pipeline projects—protecting more than just the narrowing footpath is as important as the viewshed itself. All of these come together in a very page-turning book to find out what happens next and just how hard it can be to fight these types of projects.

Alright, got an adventure book I should? Recommend something to me!

Totem Heritage Center | Ketchikan, Alaska

Our brief foray into the Totem Heritage Center was enjoyable. Forest was so enthralled by some of the totems outside as we took photos with them that ran up the ramp and really wanted to go in. Chris and I both had a feeling this would not be the place for a rambunctious 5-year old. He loves going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and even then we are bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, not really able to focus on reading any of the exhibit signs or really getting to absorb it. But he was adamant about going in and since he was free and we only had to pay for me and Chris, we decided to go in.


Forest really loved this totem because it resembled a dinosaur of sorts. I think it looks more like an alligator.

I tried to stop and read some of the displays, learning about the tribal cultures of the area.


The art that was on display was gorgeous and it was super frustrating that we weren’t able to really find a lot of local or indigenous art for sale in any of the towns we went through. I don’t know if we weren’t looking in the right places or what, but it would have been great to have found a piece that represented the trip for us.






The room that kept some of these old totems safe was very cool. I loved reading the cards and seeing the old photographs, trying to imagine life both tribal and of the white settlers during this time period. And just the sad stories that were shared on some of them, how the totems were taken for various reasons, and how the cultures began fading after colonization. I mean, it’s the same story of what happened in the Lower 48.

I really enjoyed the museum and if you find yourself in Ketchikan and have some time, do spend an hour there learning about the tribes of the Tongass.

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