Thursday, November 26, 2015


We're on our way home by train. We stopped in Seattle to break up the journey (and since you need to switch trains anyway.) We prefer stopping in Portland, but the connection north to Vancouver works better from Seattle. It was quite a transition from sunny warm Santa Barbara to fresh snow on Mt. Shasta and cold rainy Seattle. (And news of snow waiting for us at home.)

We weren't too ambitious in Seattle so we headed over to the Space Needle area where we ended up at the Science Center. There were some pools of water and trees changing color which provided photography material (while Shelley waited patiently!).

This shot was bland out of the camera, but I quite like this heavily processed version. (Blowing out the highlights got rid of the distracting wall behind.)

autumn colors

I liked the floating leaves (with sunken ones as a backdrop)

floating autumn leaves

I even managed to combine favorite subjects with autumn leaves on reflections :-)

floating autumn leaves

There was a butterfly garden in the Science Center where I also took a ton of photos.




I like direct, "portrait" style shots like these, but it's also fun to try to find different compositions.


Owl butterfly

And just for something different, a final architecture shot.

hallway & fountain

For more photos see all 39 as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

San Jose del Cabo

Unless you like mega resorts with mega people and mega booze, stay away from Cabo San Lucas. And if you do, you're probably reading the wrong blog! To me, Cabo San Lucas has little to do with Baja, at least the Baja that we love. I don’t think Jacques Cousteau came to Baja to buy a Gucci bag.

But Cabo has the main airport and the easiest access to Cabo Pulmo. The answer is to stay in San Jose del Cabo, about 15 km down the coast and the historic town. It's still touristy with tons of souvenir shops, but at least it's not resort-land. There's a town square that has local (non-tourist) events, historic buildings, art galleries, and small hotels and restaurants. (Note: San Jose is not on the ocean, don't come here for beach time.)

We've previously stayed at El Encanto and the Tropicana (bigger). This trip we got a good deal at Casa Natalia and stayed there for the first time. It's in a great location, right on the corner of the main square. The hotel has a nice restaurant and there's a nice little coffee shop just around the corner. There's a small pool to cool off in after wandering around in the heat. (Even in November it's hot in the middle of the day.)

Casa Natalia

bougainvillea & view from our room at Casa Nataiia

There are lots of restaurants in the area. The Tasting Room has no menu, you tell them your food preferences and choose three or five courses, and they do the rest. Our being vegetarian was no problem and they served us tasty and creative dishes. We chose three courses and it was plenty since they also brought several "extras". It wasn't cheap but it was as good a meal as we've had anywhere. We also had a great meal at Don Sanchez, in a lovely court yard with a talented guitar player for entertainment.

Originally, we hadn't planned to spend much time here, but with our diving cut short we had a couple of extra days. It was nice to relax, catch up on photos and blogs, and wander around. Just nearby (within walking distance) there is an estuary that is a protected nature area. It's a bit rundown (like many things here!) but there were lots of birds and it was a quiet escape.


White-faced ibis

Osprey in flight

This next photograph was somewhat of an "accident". I had changed my camera settings for a bird against a bright sky and then forgotten to put them back. This ruined a number of other shots, but I actually like the way this one came out. I realized I should try "high key" (mostly bright) photos more often.

Soldier milkweed butterfly

I ended up taking quite a few butterfly photos this trip. I mentioned to Shelley that I didn't have the patience to try to identify them and she volunteered. (Part of the problem is that the butterfly app I have isn't as good as the bird apps.) I thought this was a Monarch and I was partly correct, it is a milkweed butterfly (like the Monarch) but this is a Soldier (we think).

White peacock butterfly (?)

Pipevine swallowtail

If you have a car, or don't mind a longer taxi ride, we'd definitely recommend a visit to Flora Farms. Make sure to allow time to wander around as well as enjoying the restaurant. They grow much of the food they serve and everything we had was wonderful. Check out some of their unique cocktails like the hibiscus mimosas which come with an actual hibiscus flower in them. (Hibiscus popsicles and jam are also tasty local specialties.)

hibiscus flower


cactus wren

As we were driving back from Flora Farms we passed a gap in a wall and in the split second glimpse I thought I saw something. I confused Shelley when I yelled "stop!" and got her to back up. Sure enough, here's what you could see through the gap:


The lizard (not sure what kind) was in someone's backyard so it was hard to get a clear shot, and when I got too close it ran away. It was quite large (relative to the usual small ones running around) - maybe 2 ft in length.


Also within walking distance from San Jose is Wirikuta, the cactus garden and nursery, and sculpture garden. It has no fixed hours and the first time we tried to visit it was closed, but the second time it was open and we enjoyed wandering around.

cactus flowers



There were lots of colorful spiders around but they were quite small and sitting on the middle of their webs getting blown about by the wind i.e. hard to photograph! Here's my best attempt of many. (This one was smaller than a raisin.)


In addition to cactus, there was lots of bougainvillea, and a variety of palms (I think these were African).

bougainvillea & palms

For more photos see all 59 as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cabo Pulmo Diving

"The world's aquarium!" 
- Jacques Cousteau's description of Baja's sea of Cortez

Cabo Pulmo is an isolated spot about 1.5 hrs drive from Cabo on rough roads. It's a protected marine area with more hard coral than other dive sites in Baja.

We took the bus to San Jose del Cabo, spent the night, and then got driven out to Cabo Pulmo. There are several dive operations. We chose to stay at the "resort" and dive with them. Note: This is not a resort in the Cabo San Lucas sense. It's a small collection of casitas (cabins), a restaurant, and a dive shop. So far Cabo Pulmo has fought off the advances of the big resorts, but they keep trying to move in and I fear one day they'll succeed.

One nice aspect of diving here is that most of the dive sites are relatively close - a 10 or 15 minute boat ride. Their is no marina or even dock here, the boats are launched off the beach. See Shelley's blog post for the amusing details.

The three days before we arrived they couldn't dive due to high winds and waves. It was slightly less windy our first day of diving and they managed to launch the boats. We got shuttled by van to the next bay which was more sheltered and the boats picked us up there. This is a busy time of year for diving and they had four boats, each with up to six divers or snorkellers.

Out first dive was at the sea lion colony. There were a few out on the rocks but we didn't see any in the water. We did see an eagle ray go by, the first of the trip. The second dive was better, on a shallow reef with lots of hard coral and fish.

Eagle ray

With new divers arriving all the time we ended up doing repeat dives to a couple of popular sites - Los Morros where a big school of jacks hangs out, and a small wreck. But there's always something new to see (and photograph!) even at the same site. The marine park also has monthly quotas for visits to dive sites so by the end of the month you can't visit some sites.

We got in four good days of diving before the high winds returned and stopped the diving. Rather than hang around for a slim chance of diving one more day we headed back to San Jose del Cabo. We were happy with our 29 dives in 13 days of diving.

One of the attractions of diving at Cabo Pulmo are the big schools of fish. They don't seem afraid of divers and would swim all around you.

so many fish!

Shelley watching (and videoing) the fish circling.

sitting down on the job

As well as the schools of fish, another sign of a healthy marine system is the presence of large fish (since they're what get fished out first). These guys were up to a meter long (3 ft)

Grouper & garden eels

In the background you can see the garden eels sticking out of their holes in the sand. It's hard to photograph them because as soon as you approach they disappear. I tried to get down on the sand and "sneak" up on them by moving very slowly (I think it's the movement of the water they sense, more than "seeing" you) but I had limited luck. You'd have to have enough patience to stake out a hole and wait (assuming you could stay motionless). This is cropped from a fairly distant shot.

Garden eel

Most of the time the problem photographing individual fish is that they tend to not like the attention and swim away when you come close. But this Cortez Angelfish was the opposite, it seemed quite curious and swam so close that I had to back up to photograph it!

Cortez angelfish

The Moorish Idols seem so graceful and elegant. One of the treats at Cabo Pulmo was to see larger groups of them (usually you only see one or two at a time).

Moorish idols

There were quite a few stingrays around. They are usually buried in the sand and hard to spot, often all you see is a vague outline and if you look closely, a pair of eyes. It was a fun challenge to try to spot them.

spot the stingray

stingray eyes

They would stay in hiding as you approached, but if you got too close (like taking closeups of their eyes!) they would take off, shedding their cover of sand.


Jewel moray eels seemed quite common (along with the usual greens). Around the small wreck we saw a number of them out swimming, often in and around the fishing nets from the wreck. Shelley got some good video of them.

Jewel eel

This green moray eel was inside a cavity in part of the wreck. The gaping mouth can look fierce, but it's as much a part of their breathing (because their gills are small) than a sign of aggression.

Green moray eel

Some divers are obsessed with seeing sharks. Don't get me wrong, sharks are cool and I like seeing them, but they're just one of many many amazing underwater creatures. We did one whole dive looking for bull sharks where all we did was swim along slowly about 15 m (50 ft) down and about 15 m above the bottom for 45 minutes and saw almost nothing but a few turtles in the distance. I'd much rather have spent that time on a reef seeing a ton of stuff.


For more photos see all 46 as a slideshow or overview

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cabo Pulmo Critters

Walking back up from the beach after diving, I glanced over at a large bush sized cactus to see a fair sized lizard sitting on a branch. It look somewhat like an iguana, about a foot long, maybe more with the tail. I only had my underwater camera with me so no pictures unfortunately. When we got closer it moved deeper inside the cactus plant. I went back multiple times to look for it, but didn't see it again.

Then when we were having supper I spotted movement in the garden beside the patio and there was a large beetle clambering over the grass. It had one “horn” on the top of it’s head and another two pronged “horn” coming out of the the front. (I think it was a rhinoceros beetle) It was 3 or 4 cm long. Again, I didn’t have my camera, and besides it was dark.

A few minutes later, as we were walking back to our casita, something moved at my feet. It could have been a leaf but the movement looked different so I stopped and aimed my headlamp down. It was a tiny toad (or frog, but there’s no fresh water so toad seems more likely). It was about 1 cm long. I moved it off the path, but again, frustratingly, no camera and no light.

The next morning, heading back to the same restaurant for breakfast, another tiny toad jumped at my feet. And when I knelt down there was a second. This time I had my camera, and a reasonable amount of light. One of the locals asked what we had found and when we told her, she said there are lots of them. That seems surprising in what’s pretty much desert. There must be enough water at certain times for their tadpoles to develop. I assume these were juveniles, based on the size. (Thanks to Shelley for providing the hand!)

small toad

Soon after we got to the restaurant I noticed something green in the center of the floor. Probably a leaf, but maybe not? I asked Shelley to look at it (her eyes are better than mine!) and she said she wasn't sure what it was, but it was moving. So I went to check it out and it was a praying mantis! I was excited since I find them fascinating and you don't encounter them very often. I picked it up and carried it back to the wall beside our table (they are relatively slow moving unless they decide to fly) It was still early and the light was a bit dim, but using the camera flash to fill in, I got some decent photos. This one was 5 or 6 cm long (about 2 inches)

praying mantis

praying mantis

There were a lot of flies around and I was tempted to try to catch one, pull off its wings, and offer it to the praying mantis. But I figured that was a little gruesome and probably wouldn't work anyway.

While I was taking photos of the praying mantis an interesting wasp landed on my camera case so I grabbed a few shots of it as well.


We saw a variety of birds, most of which I didn't manage to photograph. This one appears to be a flame colored tanager, although my bird app doesn't include Baja in its range.

Flame colored tanager (?)

There were also lots of butterflies, probably because of all the flowers planted around the hotel and houses. They didn't like to sit still to have their pictures taken, but I managed to catch a few of them. I think this is a monarch. (On a positive note, I've seen reports that the number of monarchs overwintering in Mexico this year is up.)


And maybe some kind of swallowtail?


I found quite a variety of these small colorful spiders, but it was hard to photograph the between their size (about the size of a chocolate chip) and the wind moving their web. This one might be a spiny orb weaver?


I like the designs and patterns of the cactus. (And they have the advantage of not moving!)


We've had some great sunsets during this trip. We encountered this sky filling array of colorful clouds on our way to supper one evening. (I know, this doesn't fit the "critter" title, but I'm throwing it in anyway.)


These shots were all taken with the Nikon 18 - 300 lens  - an amazingly versatile lens. I love it for travel. It handles everything from wide angle landscapes, to telephoto birds, to macro insects. Lens fanatics will tell you it's not the best at any of those things but given the flexibility I think it does pretty darn well.

For more photos, see all 23 as a slideshow or overview