Friday, February 22, 2013

We Need Less Recycling

Amtrak has signs up to "Train Yourself to Recycle - Join us in our efforts to clean up the environment by recycling your waste"

The problem is that they then turn around and use disposable plates, cups, paper table cloths, bottled water, etc. And worse, they use "fancy" plates and cups that require even more materials and energy to produce.

Not producing garbage is far better than recycling it. Not using a disposable plate means not manufacturing it or transporting it or using energy to recycle (some fraction) of it.

And "green" disposable products aren't a solution either. Regardless of what they're made of, or whether they are compostable, a disposable product still means you're throwing away embodied energy after a single use.

And don't forget that "recycling" is mostly an oxymoron. Very few things are recycled into the same original product. In most cases they are "down-cycled" into different, lower quality products.

Often "recycling" is just another kind of green-washing. It lets us escape our guilt and feel better but it doesn't really solve the problem.

Don't get me wrong, if you're going to use disposable products then please recycle. But even better, avoid disposable products in the first place.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fish and Bugs

Some photos from the New Orleans Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium. Tomorrow we head to Florida, by bus unfortunately, since train service between New Orleans and Jacksonville hasn't been restored since Katrina.

(click to view photos)

I'm getting spoilt with these kinds of places. The aquarium was good, but not as good as Monterey. The insectarium was good, but not as good as Montreal.

I'm pretty happy with how the K5 II does in low light. Pretty cool to be able to get these kind of photos at 6400 ISO in very dim light. They don't all turn out, but a surprising number do.

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

New Orleans Audubon Zoo

Some photos from our day at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo.

(click to view)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dry, Prickly, and Cold

We paused our railroad journey to do some hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas. In three words - dry, prickly, and cold.

Dry - The park is desert. We saw water in a few places (e.g. Panther Springs and Boot Canyon) but none of the water sources in the park are dependable. Even the Rio Grande has stopped flowing on occasion. (The Rio Grande marks the border with Mexico in this area and Big Bend gets its name from a bend in the river.)

Prickly - Just about every piece of vegetation here has thorns or needles. At home you get accustomed to just pushing your way through the bush, with the worst you might encounter being a wild rose bush. Here that would be a serious mistake, you'd be scratched, impaled, and bleeding before you got two steps. Within the first ten minutes of our hike Shelley brushed against a branch of a bush and ripped a hole in her pants. (Much to her annoyance) Later she bumped a cactus and ended up picking 30 or 40 needles out of her leg. And then there was the Agave that drew impressive amounts of blood from her shin. I got off lightly - my arms just looked like I'd been fighting with a cat.

One of the worst bushes was called "catclaw" and that's exactly what its thorns looked like. They are amazingly sharp and snag skin as easily as cloth. If you walk into one by mistake it's a slow process to extract the thorns one at a time, often with the help of your partner.

Experienced hikers in this kind of area wear heavy duty pants and shirts, and leather gloves. We're in lightweight travel clothes. The trick is not to touch anything - hard when you're bushwhacking!

Of course, if we'd stuck to the established trails we wouldn't have had any of these issues, but what would be the fun in that! Seriously, I wanted to get off the beaten path to get a better feel for the countryside. Despite the scratches and punctures, I'm glad we did, partly because we hiked through quite different country. Our cross country adventure was lower down where it's just cactus and low bushes, whereas the other hiking we did was up higher in the mountains where it's more treed.

We didn't see a lot of wildlife - a few deer, a few birds (including colourful but noisy Mexican Jays). No lizards or snakes - presumably still too cool. Lots of signs warning about mountain lions but we didn't see any. The closest we came to seeing javelinas (collared peccaries)  was some chewed prickly pear cactus, which is a sign of them.

Cold - Although it was quite pleasant during the day, around +15c, it dropped well below freezing at night. That wouldn't have been so bad except that we only had our summer sleeping bags rated (optimistically) at 0c. We slept in all our clothes, jackets, and toques and it wasn't too bad. However, with the sun going down behind the mountains around 6pm and not coming back till 9am, we spent an inordinate amount of time ensconced.

Although Big Bend is quite far south (about the same as New Orleans), it's also at a higher altitude - we were between 5000 and 7000 feet. It was warmer in Alpine.

If you didn't want to camp, the Chisos Mountain Lodge seemed quite nice and many of the trails start right from the lodge (next door to the visitor center).

We didn't see too many other people until the end of our visit, when it was a long weekend and lots of people arrived. Of course, there was no one around on our cross-country adventure.

(click to view photos)
View from the South Rim

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Santa Barbara to Tucson

We didn't leave Santa Barbara till 2pm so we took the bus out to the old Mission and the Natural History Museum. See Shelley's post for more details. If you're in Santa Barbara, don't miss the largest Moreton Fig tree in North America, right behind the Amtrak station. (I love big trees!)

The trip from Santa Barbara was uneventful, although it was Friday and the train was busy. I was still under the weather from the cold I was fighting so we stayed in the LA Union station for our five hour layover. It's an impressive old station, but cold weather, no heat, and open doors and windows made it a chilly place to hang out. We were glad for our winter jackets!

We stopped in Tucson to meet up with Shelley's Dad (who drove down from Phoenix). We went out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - definitely worth visiting if you're in Tucson. "Museum" is a bit misleading, it's got live animals, aviaries, nature trails, and even an aquarium. I'm fascinated by the diversity of plants and animals in the desert.

(click to view photos)
Harris Hawk

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Santa Barbara

We spent a good morning at the Santa Barbara Zoo which is known as one of the better small zoos in America. It was nice that it wasn't too crowded with kids and we got a chance to talk with a few of the keepers.

After lunch at the Harbour Restaurant on the Stearns Pier we stopped at the Sea Center which is also on the pier. It's a tiny aquarium relative to the Monterey Aquarium we just came from, but it was still worth a visit. It was more intimate and we got to see some of the crabs and other creatures that they pull up through a hole in the floor from the ocean under the pier.

We stayed at a Hotel Indigo. It's owned by the same company as Holiday Inn but it's their small funky artsy offshoot. The room is small and the hotel isn't on the ocean (we have a view of the parking lot), but it's conveniently located right next to the train station and we liked it. And when we arrived tired and ready for supper we were delighted to find the recently opened Anchor restaurant next door.

(click to view photos)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Had a great day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium - definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. Nice to see the strong conservation message. We spent a couple of hours, went for lunch, and then came back and spent another couple of hours.

Foggy in the morning, but nice low sun in the late afternoon. It was a good ending to the day when Shelley spotted a sea otter feeding just off shore.

(click to view photos)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Monday, February 04, 2013

Seattle to Monterey

Amazingly, we made it through two days in Seattle with no rain! We finished our visit with coffee at Zeitgeist before boarding the train again for another 24 hour ride to Salinas. We went to bed (we had a sleeper again) with snow outside at Klamath Falls and woke up to palm trees in California.

This train (the Coast Starlight) is apparently the only Amtrak train with a "parlour car" (exclusively for sleeper car passengers). We spent quite a bit of our journey in here since it had good windows and comfy seats. We had another (mostly local) wine and cheese tasting. The other excitement was a couple who got drunk and disorderly and eventually "volunteered" to get off the train (rather than be arrested)

After getting off the train we had lunch at Olivia's - a little Mexican cafe near the Salinas station. Then we took the bus to Monterey - a bargain at $3.50 for the hour long ride. We could have taken another bus, but it was a warm sunny day so we decided to walk the roughly 3 kms to Pacific Grove where we were staying.

When we reached the waterfront the first thing we saw were harbour seals sunning on the rocks. They looked like they were enjoying the sun as much as we were. After leaving Saskatoon at -30c the sunny +15c here was very nice.

We followed the bike/pedestrian Monterey Bay Coastal trail past Cannery Row and the aquarium to Pacific Grove. Most of the walk is right beside the ocean. We're staying at Green Gables Inn. After arriving we sat in the front room and had tea looking at the ocean. Wine and appetizers starts soon so we better go get cleaned up.

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Saturday, February 02, 2013


A few photos from Seattle:

Waterfall Park
Waterfall Park

Tulips at Pike Place Market
Tulips at the Market

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project
Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project

Space Needle in the fog
Space Needle in the fog

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Friday, February 01, 2013

Minot to Seattle

Heading west from Minot the winter scenery is stark. It looked cold. The wind and blowing snow had polished the surface of the snow so it gleamed. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue with only a few high wisps of clouds.

There wasn't a lot of wildlife to be seen. Quite a few ring-necked pheasants around. They aren't native but they're still pretty birds. We saw a few bald eagles although I wouldn't think they'd like this extremely cold weather with little if any open water. There were a few groups of deer. Flocks of pigeons, especially around the grain elevators. Some groups of smaller birds that I couldn't identify. A few magpies.

It was nice to wake up in the mountains and watch the sun rise as we ate breakfast. Pretty scenery through the Cascade mountains. Warmer, judging by the puddles, but lots of a snow. Even peeking through the snow the green moss and ferns seem very lush compared to the frozen prairie.

We were three hours behind last night but we've made up time and are estimated to arrive in Seattle only an hour late. After sitting in the car and train for two days we're looking forward to stretching our legs wandering around Seattle.

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip