Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Big Bend Experiences

Big Bend is known as the "last true frontier of the lower 48 states" (National Geographic). A landscape encompass Chihuahuan Desert, 7800 foot Chisos Mountains and Rio Grande. It is considered to be "three parks in one" (National Park Service). Ever since we moved to Texas, I was thinking about visiting Big Bend and we finally made the trip in the fall of 2006 with a Friend's family.

Despite thorough research of the park through nps.org, I was still amazed by what I saw when we entered big bend area: magnificent mountains in the horizon, expansive desert with surprisingly lush green landscape, blooming flowers, and diversity of desert life - lizards, birds, road runners.... We were lucky by chance because there were plenty of rainfalls in the winter, spring and summer at big bend.

The sound of Nature

We arrived at Rio Grande Village in an early afternoon. After setting up our tent at campsite for the first night we went to Boquillas Canyon hiking. Along the trail, cactus, and some other desert plants were all over places. On the trail, the children were very excited and loud. We climbed a small hill and came to the Rio Grande river bank. When I saw Rio Grande ahead us, I told everyone " I heard something". All stopped talking. It was suddenly so quiet, we heard the sound of running Rio Grande - the sound of nature!

Starry Night

The first night at Big Bend we camped at Rio Grande Village. There were only a handful of tents at the camp sites. It was our first ever camping. We were quite nervous first, after setting up fires for BBQ, got familiar with surrounding, we relaxed. A day's driving, hiking made us go to sleep early that night. I woke up in the middle of night for restroom. All I heard was the sound of insects, it was not too dark though - the sky was full of bright stars - I had not seen so many stars in the sky for a very very long time. Some stars were so bright, as if they were right at the top trees. I felt so close to the stars, and such a tiny tiny part of the inifinite universe.

Bird Watching

The next couple of days we stayed at Chisos Mountain lodge. That was our stretagy - camping and staying in hotel a few days and then camping for a couple of days, so we could take showers. The second morning Justin and I went out to watch birds in the early morning via a trail loop by the lodge. With a a binocular and a camera, we took off. It was quite easy to find blue jays because there were so many, and because of their loud chirps. We saw a pair of cardinals, and followed their chirpping for quite a distance but did not get chance to take a good picture. On the trail, we heard many different bird sounds, but saw few birds - the forest was so large, the woods were so thick, it was not easy to see them. That was why I was amazed last fall that it was easy to find more types of birds at Spring Ridge than at Big Bend. It was a good morning hike nevertherless, we enjoyed the beautiful bird songs, colorful desert flowers, the late rising Sun and the crisp, fresh air.

Javelinas

The fourth day we camped at Chisos Mountain. This campsite was full - Chisos Mountain was an ideal place to camp - due to its elevation, it was cool at night at the camp site even in a October night. We had picnic with our friends and were playing cards in a dim camping flash light when we heard a commotion at a neighboring tent - javelinas came to search for food!

One the way to the west side of Big Bend, I noticed there were something coming out from the bushes at the roadside. I slowed down and stopped our mini van, a few seconds later, two big javelinas with two small ones crossed the road one by one. When Lily took out camcorder, the wild pigs disappeared into the woods already. When she put down the camcorder, a couple more javelinas ran across the road in front of us. Sighing for the lost opportunities, one more javelina appeared; she hastily aimed her camera at the wild pig and caught it on the camera before it disappeared into the bushes again. It was exciting and hilarious.

Window Trail

One has to hike at Big Bend to truely enjoy its beauty. We hiked two 4 mile trails - those were two long hikes for Nicholas - he was not five yet then. Window trail was a flat easy trail - it was the first trail we took. Due to warnings of mountain lions and black bears from park rangers, we were quite cautious at the beginning, I led the way, all kids in the middle, my friend - the father of the other family, at the tail. There were plants and various vegetations along the trail, it was also good for this hot morning that there is a stream running almost parelle to the trail. As we almost reached the "window", the trail and stream crosses each other, we played in the water a bit. The "window" at the end of the trail is a chasm in a hugh rock, and it is also the top of a water fall. There is a lower window, with almost parralle rock formation. The view was breathtaking.

The expansive land provided us differnt vista on every turns we made. The desert to the east and west of Chisos mountains, the Rio Grande to the south, the expansive wilderness, the unqiue landscape, the unparellel solitude (no TV, no cellphone), and the natural dark night all make Big Bend the true wilderness in every sense. It was a wonderful trip for the whole family.



coming up :Experiencing Santa Elena Canyon River Rafting

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Top Family Events for the First Decade of 21st Century

In the first decade of 21st Century, our family grew, evolved and bloomed. There were a lot of ups and many downs. Looking back, several significant life events stand out.

Birth of Nicholas

In the early years of our career, it seemed that there was never a perfect time to have more children, even though we would like to have more. In this sense the birth of Nicholas was a miracle of the compromise between work and family life; it brought tremendous happiness to us.

Purchasing our first house

The purchase of the first house brought us great pride in ourselves. It was a colonial style 2 story house at northeast Ohio, beautifully landscaped, sitting on a half acre lot. I still remember the first day Lily came home to the house. When she opened the blinds of the kitchen window, we thought we were looking at a tapestry - large green meadow land, with line of trees at far end, a few horses munching by the trees - of course it was not; we were looking at our huge backyard, and horses were from the adjacent ranch. I also vividly remember our first Christmas at the house: on Christmas eve, it was getting dark, Lily was cooking in the kitchen, Christmas music was playing, Christmas lights were glittering, 4 year old Justin in a special Christmas outfit, was pulling a wagon around the sofa I was sitting, lap by lap, singing and having fun. The harmony, the beauty, the happiness over flowing from our hearts. That was the kind of life I dreamed of.

Moved to Texas

Moving to Texas was a significant milestone to our family. It was a move at the right time of our family, It was a move at the right time in our careers as well. We enjoy our jobs more, and we enjoy our life more. North Texas' abundant Sun shine, vast land just make it better.

Naturalized US Citizens

When we are settled, in addition to enjoying life, paying tax, we would like to participate in the democratic process, we want our voice to be heard. So becoming a citizen is not only significant legally, it is significant personally to us. We love this great country for freedom, democracy and laws, charity and volunteerism , now we are part of it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Snow at North Texas

We typically go to Taos, New Mexico to have real winter fun. However from time to time we do get plenty of snow at North Texas. In this past seven years or so we had snow once a year. The big ones were the snow in January 2004 and the snow this Christmas eve. Traffic aside, we always have a lot of fun when it snows.

The 2004 snow was really heavy, it snowed the whole night on Friday night, and when we got up Saturday morning, it was still snowing. Looking out it was a white world around us: The trees in the front yard were heavy with thick snow, the backyard was covered with half foot snow. After breakfast, the kids rushed out the front door to play.

Justin was busy making snow balls - see how big a snow ball he made and Nicholas enjoyed snow sledding. Looking at pictures: How cute they were then. How fast they have grown. Time really flies!

Playing in the front for half an hour, we went back into the house to warm up a bit - drank hot chocolate and then we went out to enjoy deep pristine snow in our backyard.

We got caught up by the winter snow storm this Christmas eve on the road (read the story) and missed the snow at home. I could only imagine how beautiful the Christmas lights would be in a white Christmas eve.

Fortunately it snowed again 5 days later. It started snowing late afternoon on December 29th. The snow was not heavy at all, it was however enough to cover the grass and trees, and Christmas lights were still on. Nicholas and I went out of the house to enjoy the snow. Colorful Christmas lights glowing in white snow, it was like a fairy land.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Taos Ski Trip - version 2009.2

We will lose an hour going home from Taos due to time zone change. Instead of rushing home at night, we usually take a short side trip to visit a place along the way and stay in a hotel approximately half way, so we can reach home early afternoon the next day. We visited Albuquerque Sandia Peak, Santa Fe historical downtown, Petroglyph National Monument, Los Alomos National Laboratory, Banderlier National Monument and Palo Duro Canyon State Park. A fixed way point is Trader Joe at Santa Fe. This year we chose Pecos National Historic Park, which is about 20 miles southeast of Santa Fe.

Per National Park Services: Pecos preserves 12,000 years of history including the ancient pueblo of Pecos, Colonial Missions, Santa Fe Trail sites, 20th century ranch history of Forked Lightning Ranch, and the site of the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass. For several centuries the Upper Pecos Valley has been one of those rare places where the impact of geography on human experience is strikingly clear.

We arrived at Pecos National Historic Park in the morning of December 23. It was snowing. There were only 4 vehicles parked at the visitor center parking lot. The visitor center is a adobe one story building. There is a gift shop at the entrance, and a museum at the side. A park ranger and a shop keeper greeted us when we entered the building.

We walked through the museum first to have a quick overview of Pueblo at Pecos and the Spanish missions. We then went on for a one and quarter mile self-guided tour of mission ruin trail. The trail starts at the back of the visitor center. Fresh snow covered the trail path, only a pair of traces of foot prints on it, those of an old couple who started walking the trail when we arrived. Light snow was falling, the sky was grey, low walls of ruins of Pueblo village were here and there, the boys were not very enthusiastic. Then we arrived at a underground structure with a opening and ladder. The boys got excited and they were curious of it - checking the guide brochure, it was a Pueblo ceremonial room. They entered the room to check it out.

When we got out of the room, the light snow stopped and the kids started to make snow balls and to have snow fights. While they engrossed in making snow balls, I enjoyed the sight of numerous blooming cactus around us; tried to capture the pictures of a large flock of alerted birds flying from beneath bushes. We moved ahead slowly. We passed a few pits - waste mounds Pueblo people built, and remains of a ancient village building foundation. There is a covered overlook at the right hand side of the trail. I went there to take a look at Pecos river and upper Pecos river valley.

When we reached the front of the mission ruin, we (the adults) were quite impressed by its size and could only imagine its past glory. The boys again were busy making snow balls, this time they wanted to make a snowman. By now, it was cleared a bit, clouds broke open revealing blue sky. I entered the ruin to take a look of it from different location and different angle. The ruin was quite beautiful under the blue sky and white clouds. When I came back to the front of the ruin, the snowman was made and I took a couple of pictures of the creators - Lily, Justin, Nicholas, Steve, Kevin, and Steve & Kevin's dad.

As we went back to visitor's parking lot, we walked through a patch of trees, several different types of fresh wild animal paw prints were visible here and there. Pecos national historic park not only preserves human history in the area, it also provides habitat for a few wild animals. I signed our family name on the vistor log to show our support to the park.

It was a fun excursion. We learned a little bit about 12000year history of Pubelo at Pecos. The kids had a lot of fun playing snow, I enjoyed the mission ruin trail.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Taos Ski Trip - version 2009.1

Among all the ski areas at New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley, which is about 700 miles from DFW, is our favorite. Ever since we moved to DFW area, we go to Taos for Skiing every year even though it takes about 12 hour drive to reach Taos, and return trip is treacherous from time to time.

Taos Ski Valley is located within Carson National Forests. Towering rocky mountains, perennial pine trees, running stream make the area very beautiful, especially in sunny days. It has almost half of its trails for beginning and intermediate level skiers. Several trails provide long runs and large vertical drops which make the downhill skiing extremely thrilling and pleasant.

This year we went to Taos on Saturday morning, the day after the school was over for winter holidays, with Justin's friend Steve and his family. The trip to Taos was uneventful. The four boys Justin, Nicholas, Steve and Kevin, alternated between watching TV, playing gameboys, chatting and playing games, actually enjoyed the ride. We arrived at Taos at 6pm local time.

The first day at Taos Ski Valley, Steve and his brother Kevin went to Ski School, their dad took ski lessons for adult. Our whole family can ski already. Allan and Justin are at blue/black level. Lily and Nicholas are at green level, they could ski well at the novice slops last year but they had not been to the trails in the mountains yet. Nicholas was all pumped up for going up to the mountains - to ski white feather trail, and honey suckle trails. He had everything figured out himself - practice at novice slops the first day, then go up into mountains the next two days, and play with Kevin in between. His mom was not so sure.

While the rest of our group stayed at the novice slops, Justin and I went up the mountains a few times to enjoy the smooth long downhill runs. In addition to skiing, we did something different this year, we hiked to west basin ridge and highline ridge near Kachina peak from the top of lift #2. Despite the fact that we carried only poles with us, the hike to the ridges was not easy. The steep slope, the deep snow and the high elevation made us breathless. We had to take frequent stops, and let expert skiers who carried their heavy skis with them to pass us. We finally reached west basin ridge - it was worth every bit of efforts we made - the view was spectacular! We were on top of the world!! Justin was exhausted from the climb, partly due to a cold he had the previous days, he did not want to climb further. I continued to a small peak along the highline ridge - the view was even more awesome, surrounding snow-covered mountains were under my feet, Kachina peak was at eye level to the east with blue sky in the back, and Taos valley to the west, under the orange winter Sun. I was itching to go all the way to Kachina peak, the crown jewel of Taos Ski Valley. Unfortunately the path to the peak was closed. So I stayed around for a few more minutes talking to expert skiers and taking more pictures.

The second day, Nicholas went up into mountains with me. He was surprisingly confident and capable - he was not daunted by occasional narrow steep slope along white feather trail at all, and did not fall during his first run in the mountain. He enjoyed the run so much, he asked me to take him to Porcupine - a blue level trail. I took him there - he did pretty well again - fell at the steepest section once. In the afternoon, Justin, Nicholas and I went to Honey Suckle trail, the highest and longest green trail - it took ~ 15 minutes for Justin to reach base, and 29 minutes for Nicholas. The trail surface condition was not as good as it was in the morning, more snow pile ups, Nicholas fell a few times during the run. In between our runs in the mountains, Justin helped Steve, Nicholas helped Kevin and I helped Lily and Steve's dad to improve skiing skills. At the end of the day, per my assessment, Lily and Steve were ready to go up mountains. Justin was delighted that Steve decided to go up. Lily was still not very confident despite finding her feel of control in skiing, she thought that it was not worth it to pay 250% lift ticket price for possibly only one run in the mountains. I assured her that she was more than capable to ski in the mountains and that money could buy satisfaction this time.

On the third morning, it was snowing lightly, our whole family went up the mountains to ski together for the first time ever. Steve was very cautious, he wanted to practice a few more times at novice slopes before going up. Once reaching the top of lift #1, Justin and Nicholas took off quickly on white feather trail. Lily followed them gingerly; she managed the initial slope well, and gained a lot confidence. The next slope was steeper after the first turn, she handled it well - one fall and get-up on her own. The rest of the way was no more daunting. The feel of on top of a mountain, the thrill of downhill speed, the control of her destiny during skiing all excited her. When we reached the base, Lily wanted to go up again!! The boys were no-where to see, they went to novice slope to relax and have some casual fun. So we two went up again by ourselves. Lily was so pleased and satisfied with the experience that she awarded me a kiss on the lift.

In the afternoon, our family and Steve went up the mountains together, first time white feather, then we went to the so called back side trails via lift#4. It was cold with blowing snow. Right before we reached lift#4, Nicholas realized that he lost one lens on his glasses. I would like to take him back to base but he insisted on continuing. The top of lift #4 is right at the foot of Kachina Peak, it is gorgeous there and the skiing condition was much better than front side since there were less skiers here. The run to the base was fantastic!

We were considering changing skiing location for next year before we went to Taos. Now we changed our minds: We would like to explore the backside trails more, we would like to have some more fun on the blue trails in addition to green trails, we would like to climb to Kachina Peak. We will continue our annual ski trip to Taos Ski Valley.