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Photo: Walking Stick

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  Another photo from our “get out of the house and enjoy these final nice days” picnic.

I rarely see walking stick insects (members of the Phasmatodea order) in the wild, but I don’t know if it’s because they are uncommon or because they are so well camouflaged. My son found this one within minutes of stepping out of the Jeep.

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Plea in Abalone Plot

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From the U.S.Department of Justice: 
  

SAN DIEGO – Chula Vista, Calif., resident Yon Pon Wong pleaded guilty in federal court on Aug. 31, 2017, to illegally importing $3 million of abalone.

In pleading guilty, Wong, doing business as Lucky Company, admitted that he imported the abalone using commercial invoices that falsely identified the seller. The 43 importations Wong referred to occurred between February 2012, and July 2015, and involved a total of approximately 67,500 kilograms (148,500 pounds) of abalone. The invoices falsely stated the seller to be Exportadora De Mariscos De Mexico, SA de CV, at the false address of Calle Cubilete No 110, Fracc Capistrano, Tijuana, Mexico. As part of his plea, Wong agreed to forfeit $500,000 of proceeds of the illegal importation.

Abalone is a highly regulated fishery in Mexico. The laws of Mexico require that commercial invoices have sufficient information on them to allow tracking of the seafood to its lawful origin. An invoice lacking the true name and address of the vendor does not permit authorities on either side of the border to trace the origin of the product.

Photo: Lilly pads

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  Lilly pads floating on a lake. Photo from our “get out of the house and enjoy these final nice days” picnic. Also saw two frogs hop into the water as we approached the lake.

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Plea in coral smuggling case

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  From the U.S. Department of Justice:

A resident of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty today to two felony violations of the federal Lacey Act for collecting, purchasing, falsely labeling, and shipping protected marine invertebrate species as part of an effort to subvert Puerto Rican law designed to protect corals and other reef species, the Department of Justice announced.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Aristides Sanchez was the owner of the Arecibo-based saltwater aquarium business, Wonders of the Reef Aquarium. A large part of the business was devoted to the sale of native Puerto Rican marine species that are popular in the saltwater aquarium trade. Sanchez sent live specimens to customers in the mainland United States and foreign countries by commercial courier services, Justice officials said.

One of the most popular items that Sanchez sent off-island was an organism from the genus Ricordea. These animals are known as “rics,” “polyps,” or “mushrooms” in the aquarium industry. Members of the genus form part of the reef structure and spend their adult lives fastened in place to the reef. These animals are colorful in natural light, but what makes them particularly interesting to aquarium owners is that they “glow” under the UV lights that are typically used in high-end saltwater aquariums.

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Mountaineers rescued on Grand Teton

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  Courtesy the National Park Service:

MOOSE, WY—Grand Teton National Park’s Jenny Lake Rangers, Teton Interagency Helitack, and the Teton Interagency Contract Helicopter came to the rescue of two mountaineers Tuesday, August 15, 2017. 

The mountaineers, Nick Marucci, 30, of Salt Lake City, Utah,mand Laura Robertson, 23, of Orem, Utah, were attempting to complete the Grand Traverse when they became mentally and physically exhausted after five challenging days in the high mountains.
Marucci and Robertson ascended Teewinot Mountain and Mount Owen on the first two days of their journey before cool temperatures, rain, and hail hampered their progress on Sunday. On Monday, the two climbers ascended a portion of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton despite limited visibility and wet, icy conditions. After ascending a few hundred feet, suffering minor injuries, and loosing manual dexterity due to the cold, they called for help at 4:15 p.m. Their call was forwarded from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch to Teton Interagency Dispatch Center.

Jenny Lake Rangers took the call and attempted to talk the mountaineers through various escape route possibilities. Rangers stationed at the Lower Saddle also attempted to reach their location but were unable to do so due to the wet conditions. The rangers then advised Marucci and Robertson to descend to a small ledge and spend the night in their tent before descending two rappels further to the Grandstand feature the following morning.
After discussing options with the climbers to make the long descent out of the mountains Tuesday morning, it became clear that they were too exhausted and an aerial rescue would be the safest and most expeditious form of rescue. Rangers conducted a reconnaissance flight before configuring the helicopter for short-haul rescue. Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual or gear is suspended below the helicopter on a 150 to 250 foot rope.

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Trip Shot: Natural Bridge

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Location
: Natural Bridge State Park, Wisconsin

Conditions: Cloudy, wet from recent rainfall. Temps 60s F with a light touch of humidity.

Gear: Hiking shoes, pocket camera.

Away from the din of the water parks and go kart tracks and resort hotels that are The Dells, down country roads, past cornfields, tucked away amongst a stand of trees on a lonely Wisconsin hill is the wonder that is Natural Bridge State Park.

The site is delightfully remote. No crowds or lines or shops selling $3 bottles of cola. A state park sticker is required to enter, but there is no gate or ranger. Just a short road that leads to an empty parking lot and primitive restrooms. 

It’s best to memorize the map posted on the trailhead bulletin board. Signage on the trail is sketchy, but that’s part of the appeal. The path is simple and winds through a quarter mile of forest before emptying into a clearing surrounded by sandstone cliffs and the headline feature, the arching bridge, rocky with saplings and other vegetation clinging to its span. 
 

Back on tap

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  One of the welcome sights at National Park visitor centers in recent years has been the wall-mounted bottle filling station. Even though it means awkwardly balancing my floppy backpack water bladder under the sensor-controlled spout, I know I’ll have cool, refreshing water for the hike.

Those stations came about, in large part, with a plan to eliminate bottled water.

But now bottled water is back on tap, er, available again at National Park shops.

Back in 2011, the Park Service issued a memo encouraging parks to ax the sale of disposable water bottles in favor of the filing stations as a way to cut down on trash and eliminate waste.

On Wednesday, the Park Service “discontinued” the memo, citing, in part, the hypocrisy of still allowing sugar-packed soda.

“The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks,” Park Service officials said in a release announcing the reversal. 

According to the Park Service, only 23 of the 417 National Park Service sites were operating under the 2011 disposable bottle ban memo as of August. 
Parks will continue to promote water bottles recycling and filling stations..

Two charged with stealing sea turtle eggs

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 Two Riviera Beach men charged with stealing sea turtle eggs from a St. Lucie County beach in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Carl Lawrence Cobb, 60, of Riviera Beach, is charged by indictment with two counts of transporting sea turtle eggs for the purpose of sale, in violation of the Lacey Act and two counts of violating the Endangered Species Act by possessing the eggs. Raymond Saunders, 50, also of Riviera Beach, is charged by indictment with one count of transporting sea turtle eggs for the purpose of sale and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act by possessing the eggs …

According to the court record, on May 5, 2017, a concerned citizen reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that a man was disturbing sea turtle nests on North Hutchinson Island. A law enforcement investigation revealed that Cobb had removed over 200 eggs from two sea turtle nests. On May 24, 2017, law enforcement officials observed Cobb and Saunders remove approximately 469 sea turtle eggs from nests on North Hutchinson Island. Cobb and Saunders were arrested as they were transporting the eggs to Palm Beach County. The recovered eggs were relocated by marine biologists in the hope that some of them will yield hatchlings.

Trip Shot: Cloudy Sunset

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Cloudy sunset on Lake Delton, Wisconsin.

Trip Shot: Kayaking Mirror Lake

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Approaching the interstate bridge ove Mirror Lake, Wisconsin.

Kayaking
Location: Mirror Lake, Wisconsin

Conditions: Overcast, cloudy, light mist. Temps 60s F. Calm water. 

Gear: Two single kayaks, one double kayak, paddles, PFDs.

Trip Shot: Dubuque Funicular

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View of Dubuque from the funicular station. photos (c)2017 J.S.Reinitz

What started more than 100 years ago as a way for a man to get home in time to enjoy his lunch is now a landmark.

The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque began when a banker, who lived at the top of the city’s bluffs and worked below, tired of the half-hour buggy ride up and half half-hour ride down that ate into his lunch break. In 1882, he commissioned a rail elevator and had his gardner work the contraption. After awhile neighbors began asking for a lift (or a lower), and the banker began charging 5 cents per ride and eventually handed over the operation.

Today, a century and a few devastating fires later, the elevator (actually a funicular with two cars that uses the weight of the descending car to pull the ascending car) is still going. The ride is about 300 feet with a 200-foot elevation gain.

And the cost isn’t much more than when it started, only $3 round trip. The views of the town and the Mississippi River are worth it.

Our video of the ride is here.

Trip Shot: Rocky Arbor State Park

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If this wasn’t surrounded by water and marsh, I’d be climbing it.

Sometimes life’s little obstacles can open new doors. Such was the case with Rocky Arbor State Park in Wisconsin.

For years I’ve wanted to visit Witch’s Gulch, a canyon off of the Wisconsin River in The Dells, and this year I put it on our itinerary as a quick morning hike before a day of touristy stuff. But as I sat in our hotel room the night before trying to find directions to the gulch, I discovered the old drive-up, hike-in route was no longer available, and the only way to access it was to book a private boat tour at the cost of $30 per person.

We hadn’t budgeted for this, and I’m not too fond of tours that put exploring on a schedule, so I looked around for something similar and came up with Rocky Arbor State Park.

Tucked off of Highway 12, the park is a 500-million-year-old sandstone gorge with a playground/picnic area, a campground and a one-mile hiking trail. The trail skirts a marsh and low bluffs — below the cliffs one way, then a small climb and it loops back around on top of the cliffs.

Along the lower trail, we came across an isolated chunk of rock that looked like it had wandered away from the cliffs and waded into the swamp. It sat alone, surrounded by water and mud, trees and saplings growing from it, and I couldn’t resist the urge to climb it. I charted out a course — jump over to the large log to avoid the muck, ascend the north face, only about a dozen feet of challenge, then the going would get easy — but decided the idea reeked of a “hold my beer and watch this” moment that would leave me at the top with no real way down. Imagining the park ranger rescue that would follow, I decided to keep hiking.

Admission is $5 per car for an hour, $11 for a full day or free with the purchase of a $28 state parks sticker ($38 for out of staters), which grants entry to other state parks.

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