Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What The Hail Is This?

No chance of observing the Venus/Jupiter close approach tonight. The monsoon clouds haven't allowed any evening views of the conjunction for the last week other than 2 nights ago resulting in the last post. But we had something else pop up!

Right at 5:30 we had dark clouds approaching, and we were hoping for our first real rain of the season. So far we've only had enough to get the windshields dirty. But as the rain started, the pounding started too as we had some significant hail fall too. The cats didn't know what to think and most tripped over themselves headed to what they must have thought was the nearest storm shelter - the garage. We got some pretty good stones, some well over an inch diameter. I went to get the camera, but didn't risk injury by going out to pick any up till it was nearly over.

Just to prove how big they were, I threw the handful of them into the freezer while I chased down the ruler and got organized. The biggest was just under 1.5 inches. It was interesting to observe the growth rings by "polishing" them on the room temperature countertop to observe the internal structure.  We didn't end up getting much rain, and the vehicles and house didn't seem to sustain any damage. The forecast continues to show a good chance of rain through the next week, but I'm ready for something more substantial than the sprinkles we've gotten. As long as it is cloudy and overcast, it might as well rain!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Western Sky Show

Just a reminder in case you haven't heard - the bright planets Venus and Jupiter will be passing each other in the evening sky the next few nights.  A week ago at the Canyon, they made a nice appearance with the crescent moon.  The monsoon rains have moved into southern Arizona and I've not seen clear sky in the evening since then.  Fortunately, a break afforded a 10 minute window at the start of twilight tonight before the clouds moved in to hide the scene again.  Compare this picture of Venus and Jupiter, taken with an 85mm lens (1/2 second exposure) to the link above, with about the same focal length.  About 1.1 degrees apart (about twice the moon's diameter), in 2 nights (Tuesday) they will be .3 degrees apart - a truly amazing sight!  In a small telescope the phase of Venus, about half illuminated should be visible.  And even in binoculars, you might spot some "stars" next to Jupiter that will likely be some of it's Galilean moons.  If the weather cooperates, I'll try imaging it again, but was pretty hopeless for tonight other than this shot in bright twilight.  Fingers crossed it will be clear where you are!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 Canyon, Day 2 And Wrapup

In the last post, I covered the trip up to the 2015 Grand Canyon Star Party and day 1. I'd planned to sleep in the rear bench seat of the van at the campsite, but it didn't turn out so well. The seat is a little short and narrow to get very comfortable, so found myself moving to one of the captain's chairs at 4am, which was much better when reclined fully (nearly flat). But still, sleep didn't come easily - a couple hours at most.

It was easy to catch an early date for breakfast I'd learned about the night before. Bernie had seen our long-term ranger liaison, Chuck Wahler and he had invited him and me to join them at El Tovar at 8:30. You don't turn down a chance to eat at the grande dame of Canyon hotels, so was there when Chuck and his son Jake arrived. I'd first met Jake when he was 5, and he was now in his final training for ranger law enforcement and about to move to Shenandoah National Part. And of course it was great to see Chuck and hear that their daughter Erin was also doing well. Food was great, service was exquisite - expectations met!

After everyone had parted, I lingered near the rim. Not knowing if I would find parking, I had taken the bus to El Tovar, so for the first time this trip, took some stereo pairs - my latest craze. While most stereo images are of nearby objects, with an imaging baseline approximating the eye separation, I'm a fan of "hyperstero", where much larger baselines reveal depth at great distances. The canyon is a perfect testbed with ridges and valleys off to a dozen or more miles distant. These require an image baseline distance of 100 meters or more. For viewing these, you will need the red/bluish glasses to view these anaglyph images, but the results are quite amazing. These 2 images of the Isis Temple formation had a baseline between images of about 150 yards. While both of these are the same field, the right one is with the IR camera and offers superior haze penetration and sharpness.

Of course, for not-quite-so-distant fields, the baseline separation doesn't need to be so large. At left, Lookout Studio's precarious perch is revealed with a baseline of just a few yards. Visible in the background is where the West Rim Drive follows the Canyon rim, and also, the Bright Angel Trail can be seen switch-backing down the canyon wall below. When examined too closely, some ghosting can be seen because it took several seconds between exposures, so hikers and anything that moves do not line up correctly. But the net affect of the 3D is pretty powerful. The shot at right is of the western edge of Bright Angel Canyon, again, with a moderate baseline of 10-15 yards.

And while we're on the 3D, lets finish it out with these shots nearer to sunset from Yavapai Point. Shooting north towards the north rim up Bright Angel Canyon, the baseline for both of these was about 100 yards. Of course, I don't have a strong favorite of these, though I like the sharpness of the IR shot a little better. But likely some prefer the color image. An interesting effect visible in these is that the shadows were long enough nearing sunset to cause visible changes in the 3 minutes between the exposures. If you look at the full-size images out near the long shadow tips, some weirdnesses can be seen in the 3D image. It is probably easier to see in the higher-contrast IR image. Ok, enough for the 3D for now - but do let me know if you enjoy them and want to see more!

The highlight of the final day of the star party is usually the get-together picnic. This year, as last, the overlook at Shoshone Point was reserved for our use. It is closed to the public, so very nice to have use of the pavilion and grills for our own use. I'd been there decades ago when I jumped the gate and biked to the end, but missed last year's event, so it was a first for me! The idea of cooking didn't appeal to much for me, so brought a deli sandwich and some sides. Because of the heat and limited parking requiring car pooling, only about 25 attended, but it was a lot of fun. Shoshone Point is about 6 miles east of where I had taken the above pictures near El Tovar. Just right of center in the IR picture at left is Isis Temple, which was the center of the first 3D shots above. The view from the east here looks significantly different especially at it's tip. At right in another IR image, Bernie was taking a portrait of Mae Smith and her kilted son Carter.

In the image at left, our junior astronomer Robert has been attending with mom and dad, Lynn Ann and Brian since he was born, though I suspect he isn't allowed near the Nagler eyepieces with Cheetos dust on his fingers! After the requisite feasting, Jim O'Connor and Marker Marshall covered some details of the star party, revealed the dates for next year (4-11 June, 2016), and looked for feedback to improve the event from the attendees. Having been away from the organization of it for what, 6 years or so, I'm gratified the star party is improving and gaining more park support every year. It continues to grow and improve, mostly thanks to the volunteers with the telescopes and these two people at right.

This year the local elk population has seemed to explode! In my normal wanderings, seeing a dozen or more per day was not unusual, much more than even recent years. While no large antlered males were spotted, there were lots of cows and youngsters, and this fawn was seen hiding behind mom as we returned to to camp from our cookout.

Finally the last evening of the star party approached. I finally stepped up and set up my Celestron 14", going to the site early to get it installed well before the 7pm Otterpops meeting. Tonight I was joined by buddy Chuck Schroll! We had texted the night before - he had flown his plane down to the Bryce Canyon National Park's astronomy event for the weekend (Chuck has been spending the summer at Badlands National Park as their Summer astronomer). I offered to pick him up if he flew over the Canyon and he accepted! So we worked together to handle the big rush of crowds that started as soon as we picked up our first object - the moon. It didn't slow down for hours, so was great to have a partner to get a break once in a while.

My little experiment of the night was accidental. I used my 70-200 zoom to shoot a pic of the moon and planets in the west, then happened to do it again about 80 minutes later. I got the idea once home to use the stars in the frame to align them to show the moon's motion in that time. It worked great, as shown at right. The moon moves it's diameter about every hour, warping the triangle it made with Venus and Jupiter noticeably as time passed in the twilight. Interestingly, Jupiter wasn't detected to have moved, though Venus has a double image too . Thinking about it later, Jupiter is mostly moving with the stars, but Venus is still moving to maintain a nearly constant distance from the sun (for now), so is moving strongly towards Jupiter. They will have a very close conjunction next week...

We worked hard until well after 11, and finally got the scope loaded and headed towards camp about Midnight. Chuck had a long flight back to South Dakota, and I wanted to get to Tucson before it got too hot, so we agreed to leave about 6am. We made that schedule and I dropped him off at the GC airport on my way out. 6 hours later I pulled into the driveway in Tucson, tired and ready for about 2 days of sleep, but glad I made it to the star party. Not only did I maintain my 25-year streak of attendance, don't forget I was also there for the zeroth, since Vicki and I originally started it on our 1st anniversary and I was there for the honeymoon! So my streak is actually 26 years! Anyway, the event continues to be great fun - it is amazingly entertaining to impress people with the view through even a smallish telescope from a dark sky, and I hope it continues for a long time! See you there next year!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Grand Canyon Star Party 2015 - Day 1

In the last post I related how my 25 year streak at the Grand Canyon Star Party was in jeopardy with our Midwest travels and Melinda's chemo midweek. But she encouraged me to go, so found myself headed up for the last 2 days. So do check out that post as it has my early favorite images from this year's event.

It has been a long time since I've attended the event alone, so was a bit weird driving up by myself... It was great weather, though I was leaving behind an expected high of 111F in Tucson and 115F in Phoenix, so an early morning departure was called for!  Though I put off packing the van till Friday morning, I was on the road by 8:30, with lots of gear for observing, no so much for camping - was thinking of just crashing in the back bench seat for sleeping...

This was the first summer trip for the new van, and I've just figured out some of it's minor issues.  I'm thinking there is a vacuum leak in the control of where the blower air goes. When accelerating or climbing a hill, I'm not sure where the cool air goes, but doesn't come into the van! Letting up on the gas rewards you with a nice cool breeze - a nice reward not to be a leadfoot!

Fortunately, by the time we climbed the long hill into Flagstaff, the temperature had dropped into the 90s... As Flagstaff approached, the sky seemed hazier too. Finally pulling into town and gassing up, there was a single patch of snow on the south face of the San Francisco Peaks north of town. With the haze in the air, I shot the image at left with the infrared-modified camera - no trace of haze in that shot, but of course, the vegetation comes out white, and the sky darker than normal. The image looks over Mars Hill, and in case you can't spot it, that single patch of snow is up just left of the peak above the treeline. While there has rarely been snow on the south facing slopes in mid-summer, there had been snow falling recently, so was surprised to see almost none.

Taking route 180 NW towards the Canyon, much more snow was revealed on the north face as the route circled the range. Unfortunately I ran into road construction which added a good 20-30 minutes to the drive. Just short of Valle, I looked for the snow-capped peaks and had a hard time spotting them. In the clear air here, they should have been easily visible about 30 miles away, but the haze buildup (found later to be from the forest fire east of LA) made spotting it tough - visually the bright snow fields were nearly floating against the blue sky - the mountain outline was nearly invisible. At left is the view of Humphrey's Peak in the color camera, and at right is the IR view. Another demonstration of an advantage of IR imaging - haze penetration!

Finally arriving at the Canyon about 4pm I first made the pilgrimage to the original home of the Star Party - Yavapai Point. Normally packed with cars, it was nearly empty of tourists, so walked to the rim to check out the hazy view - it was about as bad as I'd ever seen it, so moved on to Mather Campground to seek out some of my buddies. Mae Smith had taken over camp organization and pointed me to site #20 which had just been vacated that day. Early morning and late afternoon shade - perfect! Walking across the road, I ran into the camp of long-time attendee George Barber, who now makes the trip down from Utah to join us. We sat for a while and caught up each others news. He moved on to fix some dinner, and I went to Maswik cafeteria for one of my favorites - the "burrito grande". It was as tasty as ever, but again, strange to be eating by myself - none of the regular star party crew in sight...

Finally headed over to the star party location - the bus overflow lot behind the visitor center. I had already decided to take it easy that night and not set up the scope, instead moving around with camera and tripod to take some pictures.  Just after sunset I walked to the rim to see if the 3-day old crescent moon provided enough light to illuminate the Canyon for night photography (it doesn't).  So I went back to the star party - a HUGE crowd of tourists, as well as plenty of scopes, so didn't feel guilty about not setting up. It allowed me a chance to take some images, like that of Mike Magras and his 14" scope with a line of folks at left. In deep twilight, Scorpio can be seen rising, being lead by Saturn, the brightest object atop it. Unfortunately, the Milky Way can't be spotted as twilight was a bit to bright in the 13 second exposure. At right Dennis Young's 28" behemoth again made an appearance, here with overexposed crescent moon joining in the Venus and Jupiter conjunction. At far right in the image, Geminii's Castor and Pollux can be seen in twilight in the 4 second exposure.

One of my little projects for the evening is that the International Space Station was to make a nice dark-sky pass, moving into the earth's shadow. To the eye, it fades pretty quickly as sunlight filters and fades into the earth's atmosphere. I was hoping to catch some sunset glow as it disappeared into the stars of Libra. I had a pair of cameras ready, one with a 200mm telephoto, the other with an 85mm as backup to catch it. As it turns out, I didn't know the disappearance point well enough to catch it with the longer lens, but was fortunate with the 85. Shown here is the untracked 4o second exposure of fading ISS, with the lights of a plane at lower right. Sure enough, the fully illuminated white light of the full sun quickly fades, but also changing color to a burnt orange before disappearing. At right is a full-resolution crop of the end of the trail. With the extra resolution and bit more contrast stretch, it seems the track can be imagined almost to the edge of the field. One of my interests is to try detecting the ISS when it is out of sunlight, but illuminated by the nearly full moon - I'm thinking it should be visible in big binoculars, and an appearance like this where it moves into earth's shadow with a bright moon might be a good way to try this experiment.

Walking down the row of telescopes, I ran into Bernie - a regular here for seemingly forever. He was taking some pictures with a new camera - a Canon 6D, like that my friend Ken Spencer let me use up on LBT a couple months ago. While Bernie had a 35mm lens he had recently gotten, I talked him into mounting my F/2.8 fisheye on his camera for the ultimate in wide-angle views. Shown at left is a 25 second (!) exposure at ISO 6400. It shows nearly a 180 degree sweep of sky from the bowl of the Big Dipper at upper left, to the Scutum star clouds at right. The green "clouds" near the horizon are natural airglow in the upper atmosphere.  We've seen these nearly every year recently at this event, but the first time they are revealed so well in the large-sensor 6D. Also visible at left is the green laser pointer of an observer pointing out something to a tourist. They are very common at the star party as everyone wants to know where the scope is pointed. Normally they aren't very apparent in exposures, but is easily seen in the short exposure.

It was about this time the long day hit me and I headed back to camp - but once there was inspired to take the images of the Summer Milky Way framed by the ponderosa pine of the campground. Go to that post to check out that image. Day 2 coming next!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Back From The Canyon!

This last week was the 25th Grand Canyon Star Party. Seems like just yesterday that I restarted it (from the 70s and 80s version the San Fransisco Sidewalk Astronomers ran) as the anniversary of my first wife Vicki and my anniversary in 1991. Since then it has been an annual festival of getting the public excited about astronomy from a truly dark sky site, and a meeting of friends far and wide as we reconvene at the south rim of the Canyon. With our travels to the Midwest, our uncertain return, and Melinda's chemo Thursday, my attendance streak was uncertain. But Melinda was doing ok after her treatment and encouraged me to go for a couple nights as she stayed with the cats. Our friend Donna, who usually attends the star party with us, instead came down to keep her company, so the 25 year streak continues!

Well, I safely made it back today. A more thorough review will wait a day or two, but wanted to get a couple pictures out.   I got up there mid-afternoon Friday and there were a huge number of telescopes, so wimped out, and instead of manning a telescope myself, walked around with camera and tripod to take a few shots. Even though the Canyon was full of haze and smoke from a fire east of LA, the sky was pretty good - check out the view from the rim looking towards the star party a couple hundred yards to the south at left. This is a 2-frame mosaic from a pair of 1 minute exposures with the Nikon 16mm fisheye at F/2.8. I liked keeping the footpath in the view of this wide-angle shot of the Summer Milky Way.

Have you ever noticed that when you get back to the campground that the Milky Way looks so much brighter when framed by dark trees? I think it is an optical illusion from the trees blocking out any ambient light, but I was determined to try a few frames when I returned to the campsite at Midnight. This is a single 30 second exposure with the same setup as above, so will let you decide, and regardless if it appears darker, it is an amazing shot...

Of course the goal is to promote astronomy and the dark skies to the public. After resting up Friday I set up the Celestron 14" on Saturday, so got in some public interaction. It was just as I remembered - as soon as you get your first object in the scope, the line forms and doesn't go away for hours. Here at left is a young lady who's jaw was still dropped when gazing at a 160X view of the moon. A little flash was used for fill, and in the upper right corner, the moon, Venus and Jupiter between and above are visible.

The night before when I was roaming with the camera, I ran into my friend Jim Palmer and his wife Vicki from Phoenix. Jim was evidently proficient in using visitor's cell phones to capture the view of the moon thru his scope and was kept busy to record the scene. Interestingly, some were content with the phone recording and didn't look thru the eyepiece! Note the arrangements of the moon and planets to the view 24 hours later above. The moon is substantially below Venus in this shot.

I've got huge amounts of pics to go through, including some IR and stereo views, so give me a couple days to rest up and catch up! There will definitely be more!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Back To The Desert!

Our last post related our night-o-fun dealing with the cancelled flight to Tucson and our search for a late-night way home. Recovering from cancelled flights has got to be hell for the airlines, and we weren't assured of seats until 2 days later. So today was the day! This time a 5:30 pickup for the 8:20 flight, no problems. Even though we took off in light rain, it was an uneventful takeoff and trip. Hoping for some shooting opportunities, I chose the right side so we would be looking mostly down-sun. We had pretty solid clouds well into Iowa, then they started to break, so I broke out the cameras. It was hazy enough I mostly shot with the IR camera today - much better haze penetration as you will see. I ended up shooting over 230 frames with that camera, and a couple dozen more with the normal color camera, many frames part of mosaics or stereo pairs - I see lots of posts in my future!

First up is the 2-frame mosaic shown at left. In the near IR (720nm up to about 1 micron), vegetation comes out appearing light, sky and bodies of water are dark. I wasn't sure of our exact path, much of our trip over clouds, so it is an exercise in Google Maps to find out later. The mosaic shows a huge reservoir, I was guessing somewhere in Kansas, and sure enough, from the distinctive shape, found it was Wilson Reservoir in north-central Kansas. It has over 14 square miles of water area, and more devoted to animal preserves and recreational areas. It was built for flood control in the mid-60s.

Passing somewhere over the intersection of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas, we noticed snow-capped mountains in the distance (shown at right). Looking on the Google Maps now, they are obviously the Rockies potentially far into Colorado, up to a couple hundred miles away - you can see a couple layers of ranges out to the horizon. Fortunately, haze is less and less the further west you go - almost none visible in this image.

We passed over Albuquerque, continuing south southwest. I knew that about 60 miles south and 60 miles west is the VLA radio telescope. It is difficult to describe, but is a "Y" shaped array of 27 radio telescopes. Each arm of the "Y" is 13 miles long, so the distribution of dishes can be up to 22 miles in diameter! Using aperture-synthesis, it can make radio maps as if there was a solid radio dish up to that diameter... I was thinking it would be easily visible from 30,000 feet, but I had to search hard to find it. The image at left is taken with the color camera (visible) with 100mm macro lens. You almost need to click on the image to see the dishes - the current configuration (it is regularly changed from spread out for highest resolution, to compact for better sensitivity) is spread out, so only about 8 of the 80 foot dishes are visible in this couple-mile-wide crop.

We headed south, passed Mount Graham and the LBT out my window, then turned west to go into Tucson.  We zipped over the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson at low elevation (those 3D images should be cool!), then did the normal long curl over the north end of Tucson before landing.  I had a great view of the Catalina mountains out my window, so took a frame every few seconds in hope of making some 3D anaglyphs.  One of the frames is shown at right, looking almost due north to Mount Lemmon.  At lower center is Thimble Peak, which bridges Sabino and Bear Canyons.  Some high clouds result in the sun-dappled slopes of the mountain range.

Finally our plane passed over our part of town in daylight with a camera in my hand! Over the years I can recognize neighborhoods around the University, so even at airline speed, I was able to snap a couple shots of the neighborhood, shooting almost straight down. I wasn't expecting much at such a steep downward angle through the plexiglass window, but was surprised how well it came out. This image is shown at full camera resolution. You can see why most people get lost getting into our neighborhood with all the cul-de-sacs and dead ends, but our "Ketelsen West" is marked here. You can also see the 5 acres of horse pasture south of us across the alley. While it may some day get developed into condos or apartments, we're glad it is currently undeveloped...

So it was a fun flight for me - it is always so nice to see the country roll by from 30,000 feet. Why would you want to read or sleep or play games on your phone with such a magnificent show out your window?!

Oh, and did I mention - we were greeted with a high temperature today of 109F!  No cooling trends soon - highs at or slightly over 110F the next few days...  Good to be home!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Our Midway Adventure!

When we come up to Illinois, we've almost never come thru Midway Airport.  From our lil' place in St Charles, O'Hare seems so much easier and faster to get into and out of.  But when we booked this most recent trip only a couple weeks in advance, the airfares into O'Hare were outrageous, so saved a couple hundred dollars flying Southwest into Midway.  The trip up was delightful - actual snacks handed out on the plane, friendly staff and a very congenial atmosphere.  There was a feeling that I might actually learn the way to the airport!

But yesterday, with storms in the area, it was time to return to the desert.  As we were loading the luggage into the car - the heavens opened and dumped on us - about the heaviest rain I've ever been in.  The 10 seconds moving from porch to the back of the car to throw 2 suitcases left me absolutely soaked.  Niece Kathy graciously offered to drive us, and we left our car at a friend's house as usual.  Worried about the rush hour drive for the 8:20pm flight, we left in plenty of time, even with the slow traffic.  Yea, it was a tedious drive, but we arrived at 6 to find I had an e-mail notification for our flight delayed a couple hours.  Our plane was delayed in arriving...  Which was fine - a relaxing evening, with fine dining at Midway.

Well the 2 hours turned into 3, the fine dining turned out to be McDonald's, then when the plane did arrive, evidently, the crew had worked enough they couldn't make the leg to Tucson, and walked off the plane without even telling the gate crew - flight cancelled!  Of course there wasn't another flight that night, and by the time I got to a woman w/a computer, the next day's trips would have been on standby, so the first guaranteed seats were for Wednesday, another day and a half in paradise!

But here we were at 11:30pm, 45 miles from our house, 30 hours from our flight and no luggage!  The ideal situation would be to get a rental car we could drive to our house the next 2 nights and return at the airport.  We took the shuttle to the off-site car rental places - no one had cars!  Something about the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup and no rental cars.  We called the limo company that had delivered us home 10 days before - no luck.  We called 3 cab companies that provide rides to the western suburbs (that's us) - no one available.  Finally the 4th said they could do it and picked us up at 12:30 for the hour drive to our car.  Our driver was a character, which made for an entertaining ride, and an hour later (and $100), we were delivered to our friend in the darkness, our lil' Toyota.  Fifteen minutes later we walked into the house we had closed up 10 hours earlier, made the bed and crawled into it by 3am.  We've already texted our cab driver to provide a 5:30 am pickup tomorrow and we'll try it again.  And while we've found the best plans can be waylaid by weather, Southwest had already lost some it's shine for us.  We'll see if we get back safely tomorrow, and evaluate our options in the future.

In the meantime, yesterday's rain cleared the air and today we've got blue skies and a high temp of 74F!  Truly one more day in paradise before a return to Tucson's 105F!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Baby Season!

Last weekend we went out to Iowa to visit family. Dean's older sister Kathy's 3 adult kids all had baby girls in the last year! The two living in the Iowa City area had theirs just a few months ago, and one of our requests this trip was to meet the great nieces for the first time. Tom and Sarah offered a cookout, so we couldn't resist! Iowa City is always a great destination, though we rarely go there directly. We found that we could get there in 3 hours, though - good to know for future reference!

At left are Jeff and Sarah, sister Kathy and Rich's son and youngest daughter showing off the new grandkids. At left, Jeff is holding Natalie, and Sarah is holding Adeline. Natalie is the older by about 3 weeks... Jeff, Sarah and their sister Jennifer, who lives in Connecticut, all have the "adorable photo" gene - difficult to take a bad picture of them. It remains to be seen if it gets passed on to the next generation, though at right, Jeff and Sandy's older daughter Claire is holding her cousin Adeline. It looks like Claire has the gene, so chances are great that family albums will be full of adorable photos!

Of course, you can't have a cookout without the cooking! Out Iowa way, the men do the meat cooking, usually with beers in hand, talking about sports teams. I joined Tom at left and Jeff, gathered around their "egg" smoker, me getting filled in on my old alma mater Iowa's teams, and of course, if the Cubs are going to catch the Cardinals in the National League Central division. The consensus is a definite "YES!" On the menu was the standard burgers and brats, with a couple veggie burgers thrown in, and from the local Fareway Market, some jalapeƱo and cheese brats - yum! Tom is quite the expert on these smokers - he has two, almost 3, though this last one ended up at a friend's house instead of his garage...

After the usual feast that results whenever Ketelsens get together, more pictures! I was in a phase once where I photographed people getting photographed, so this shot of my sister Kathy taking a picture of niece Breanna holding Adeline. Breanna is working as a nurse now in Davenport, and we got to meet her boyfriend Bryant for the first time. At left, Jeff's wife Sandy holds daughter Natalie. It was great seeing the latest additions to the next generation. We would have loved to stay longer, or spend more time in IC, but we had plans for another Ketelsen eating event, this time 90 minutes away back in Clinton at our usual Pizza Ranch location. This time brother Brian, sister Linda and their families joined in too. It was great seeing everyone and spending more time catching up before we headed back down the road towards Chicago. And of course, we felt we didn't need to eat at all on Sunday!

Here in our neighborhood in St Charles, I've been good and getting my daily exercise. My hip has been bothering me, so not much walking or hiking, but I've been riding the recumbent bicycle here almost daily or twice per day, mostly around a mile loop at a local park. It is really nice riding there - no traffic, and a good part of the loop is in open prairie with a couple little ponds. One of them has been drawing my attention as there is a nesting pair of sandhill cranes in residence! While we watch them by the tens of thousands in their wintering grounds at Whitewater Draw in southeastern Arizona, I've never seen them nesting. This pond has a couple of what has been called muskrat dens that the birds spend the night on, keeping away from predators. I don't know where they spend the days, as the "nest" appears empty, and the chicks (I think there are 2) are a little too small to wade through the foot-deep water. Here at left is shown the male and female, and at right 30 minutes earlier one of the chicks was peeking out over mom at me. Both of these were taken with the 300mm lens, at nearly full camera resolution. I'll be keeping my eyes on them while we're still here. Nice to see some of the local babies too!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fifty Shades of Green!

We've just arrived in Illinois for a few days in the Midwest. Hitting the ground running, we've already been to Iowa to visit Dean's family, and are relaxing at home for a few days now to catch our breath. With all of Melinda's treatments, we've had to miss a few trips here - have not been back since the start of Winter! If nothing else, we're catching up on our shades of green! Many of the Spring flowers are long gone, but it looks like we're going to get rained on a lot, and the green is a welcome respite from the hot and greys of the desert.

We woke to the sounds of rain on the roof this morning, Melinda turned over to go back to sleep - I watched a little "Sunday Morning", then roamed the yard for the first time for a few shots. As I've stated in the past, if there isn't anything that catches your attention, get out the macro and move in for something interesting! So mounted up the macro lens with a small extension tube to let me move in even closer. At left is some of the rain leftovers on the back of a fallen oak leaf, and at right the same on a broad grass leaf. I've posted similar shots before - I love the effect of the close-up of the water drops acting like little magnifying glasses!

Another tool I've added to the arsenal lately is a long 300mm telephoto lens that focuses to 4 feet!  Supposedly it can be used to good effect as a "faraway macro" to chase down those shy creatures like dragonflies and butterflies that got away from me this morning with the normal macro.  In a test a little later today, at left shows how well it worked on some of the happy (and GREEN) ferns growing near the house.

We escaped to a movie this afternoon (Mad Max: Fury Road), then met niece Kathy for dinner afterwards. On the way home there looked to be a beautiful sunset with clearing to the west. The setting sun illuminated some low mammatus clouds and formed a spectacularly sight from our house - luckily lasting long enough for me to grab the camera.

And with that, I'll close for today with the simple observation that Melinda and I have been married 7 years today. The ceremony was about 30 yards from where I'm sitting, in our yard. It also marks the 7th anniversary of this blog, which she started, and I continue. It has been a great ride - I hope all of you continue to join us vicariously through reading, or living through it with us in person. It is nice having you along!