Key Largo Dive Trip 2017

At the end of June I was able to spend a week in Key Largo diving at the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. It was a rough week due to the weather, wind and waves. Lots of people got seasick on the dive boats (but not me!). Dive trips from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning were cancelled due to high winds and five to eight foot waves.

So I had a couple days to relax and do other activities. I took a short course at Rainbow Reef Dive Center to get my PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider certification. It was a fantastic course and I think  learned a valuable new skill that could help later if i take the rescue diver course.

I also had time to enjoy some long lunches at Skippers Dockside (formally known as Coconuts). I was finally able to have some conch chowder again, which is a dish you don’t see much in New Hampshire. It’s a little spicy so it sure hit the spot on Sunday afternoon when it was pouring rain outside.

The sign outside the men’s room made me chuckle.Mens Room Sign at Skipers Dockside Key LargoOn Tuesday afternoon I was hanging out at the hotel pool and talking to a women who told me about Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill on the bay side. She told me it was a popular place (especially on Tuesdays when ladies drink for free from 6 to 7 pm) with great sunset views. Naturally, I had to go check it out.

Wow, was it busy! I did well to find both a parking spot (after circling the lot 3 times) and a seat at the end of the bar. Much to my surprise the bartender I was talking to at Skippers Dockside at lunch was bar tending at The Big Chill that evening. Although it was too cloudy for a great sunset they did have a nice outside tiki bar and deck with a great view to the west. The band was playing a nice mix of 70’s and 80’s tunes.

Of course I was impressed with the statue of Captain Morgan. We had higher than usual waves for the rest of the week but it was manageable. During the trip I had several memorable sea life encounters and even got video footage of a few of them.

On Wednesday afternoon I was trying a new underwater video camera. It was an Intova X2 Waterproof Action Camera. It was a good first experience with the camera. I need a few more accessories like a tripod mount adapter and handle to get better video footage. However I did see a nice Queen Angelfish to watch for a few minutes.

On Thursday morning I switched back to using my GoPro Hero 3. Due to the waves and current we returned to Molasses Reef. During the dive I enjoyed watching a Porcupine Fish swim around for awhile.

On the Thursday afternoon dive we encountered a school of beautiful Yellow Jacks.

The second tank dive on Thursday afternoon was at Eagle Ray Alley. We saw three dolphins! This is the first time I had seen dolphins underwater. They swam by way to fast for me to get video footage but it was still thrilling to see them.

On Friday morning we were on Molasses Reef at a site named Aquarium. Within a few minutes after starting the dive a Nurse Shark swam right by me. This turned out to be one of my favorite video clips from the trip.

During the afternoon dive our group had special encounter with two Porcupine fish. They were swimming around like a couple on a date.

Towards the end of the dive we were lucky enough to have a Reef Shark swim by.

Saturday morning turned out to be very special. I was on a dive boat that was going to Molasses Deep for a drift dive. Soon after getting in the water I spotted a Nurse Shark swimming along the bottom. A little further on one of the guides spotted a Lion fish. Lion fish are an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean that is wrecking havoc on the food chain in Florida and the Caribbean. The guides are trained to kill them and one of them proceeded to spear it and finish it off quickly with his dive knife. The Nurse Shark must have caught a “scent” of the kill. It soon came over for a visit to check us out before swimming back to the dead Lion fish.

During the remainder of the dive we saw three sea turtles. An exciting moment occurred during our safety stop before surfacing when we spotted a large hammerhead shark swimming below us. This was the first hammerhead shark I had seen underwater.

I must say that the sunrises in Key Largo are beautiful. It’s the sun behind the cloud formations over the ocean that make it special. There were several mornings I was able to enjoy a similar sunrise to the one in the photo below.

Winter Hike to Smarts Mt.

On November 28th our Meetup group headed up the Lambert Ridge Trail on our way to the summit of Smarts Mt. in Lyme, NH. It was overcast and foggy for most of our hike across Lambert Ridge.

We were surprised to see numerous bear tracks in the area between Lambert Ridge and the base of Smarts Mt.

bear-track-smarts-mt-hike-2016Good thing we had Microspikes since the trail was steep and icy. It was a tough climb and I was happy to reach the fire tower at the top. The great surprise of the day was the view from part way up the tower. It was so overcast and foggy on the way up I never expected such a nice view. It was a wonderful combination of snow covered trees, valley fog and interesting cloud formations.

smarts-mt-nov-26-2016-2smarts-mt-nov-26-2016-5

Return to Blueberry Mt., September 2016

On September 5th, 2016 we returned to Blueberry Mt. What a big difference from our April hike. Everything was lush and green. And we found lots of ripe blueberries!

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-3blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-4This time we went past the summit and over the other side to a lookout with a view towards Mt. Moosilauke. Just off of the main trail we found a rocky area with a great view to have snack, relax and enjoy the view.  As luck would have it, our rest spot was surrounded by blueberries.blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-12

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-11I put on my 300mm lens for a zoom shot of the exposed rock near the ravine.

blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-15blueberry-mt-sep-5-2016-16The exposed “rock” looks more like loose gravel and dirt. I bet it’s a stream bed and waterfall during the spring.

We have already made plans to go back next season in early September for the blueberry feast hike.

Blueberry Mt. Hike, Benton, NH

On April 16th our Meetup.com activities group explored a trail we had not been on before. We went up Blueberry Mt. in Benton, NH. We had been to nearby Black Mt. many times. We heard from another hiker in our group that Blueberry Mt. was a little bit easier and had slightly different views than Black Mt. It was about 2.5 miles to the summit but the elevation gain was a lot less than Black. Mt.

View of Black Mt.
View of Black Mt. from the summit of Blueberry Mt.
View west towards Vermont.
View west towards Vermont. I think those are the mountains of Groton State Forest.
View towards Mt. Cube in Orford, NH
View towards Mt. Cube in Orford, NH. You can just catch a gimps of Lake Katherine.
View towards Peaked Mt. in Piermont, NH and the cliff on Rt. 5 in Fairlee, VT.
View towards Peaked Mt. in Piermont, NH and the cliff on Rt. 5 in Fairlee, VT.
View of Killington Ski Resort 50 miles away in Killington, VT.
View of Killington Ski Resort 50 miles away in Killington, VT.

 

Links to more info about Blueberry Mt.:

 

Hike to Mt. Cube on the Cross Rivendell Trail

On July 3rd I joined a Meetup.com group for a hike to the two peaks of Mt. Cube in Orford, NH. Last September I hiked to Mt. Cube on the Appalachian Trail, which is 3.3 miles from the trail head to the south summit. This time we would take different trail to the top. The Cross Rivendell Trail is only 2 miles from the trail head to the South Summit. I liked the idea of a shorter hike and I heard the views are better along the way.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-1

Everything I head about the views on the way up are true. There are several scenic views along the trail.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-4

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-5

One of the first scenic views faces Orford, NH and Fairlee, VT. I can see the cliffs of Fairlee peaking out behind Sunday Mt. in Orford.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-8

The view from the next scenic look out is even better.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-9

We can see Killington to the southwest.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-14

I can barely make out the ski trails through the haze.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-15

I can see most of Indian Pond behind that damn tree top. I also recognize the cliff face of Peaked Mt. up in Piermont, NH.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-16

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-18

We were all hungry by the time we made it to the top. We wasted no time digging lunch out of our packs and settling down to enjoy the view and eat.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-17

I recognized the distinctive shape of Mt. Cardigan in the distance. The hike to Holts Ledge helped me to recognize the mountain.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-20Way off in the distance we could see the windmills at the Groton Wind Farm in Groton, NH.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-23

A visit to Mt. Cube is not complete without a trip to the North Peak for some awesome views to the east and north. It’s only about another half mile hike.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-21

Mount Moosilauke dominates the view from the North Peak.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-22

I like the view towards Lake Tarleton and Armington on the right. I’m pretty sure that’s Black Mt. in the distance on the left.

Mt. Cube Hike July 3 2015-25

We easily spent anther half hour to forty five minutes taking photos and enjoying the view.

I have no doubt I will take the Cross Rivendell Trail rather than the Appalachian Trail on my next trip to Mt. Cube.

Kayak Trip to McDaniels Marsh

In late May I went on my first kayak trip to McDaniels Marsh in Enfield, NH. I heard it is a wonderful place to see birds and other wildlife so I made sure to bring my camera.

It was one of those mornings with abundant sunshine, no wind and calm waters.

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-1

At one point I broke off from the group to get photos of a Canada Goose. I soon found myself unable to paddle a direct course back to the group due to shallow spots and thick vegetation. I had to raise the rudder and find the deeper channels to work my way back to the group.

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-4

At the far end of the marsh I noticed one in the thick grass and the other “patrolling” close by. They both kept an eye on me as I drifted by snapping photos.

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-14

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-13

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-6

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-5

The marsh is also home to numerous Red Winged Blackbirds. It was easy to hear their distinctive song, “conk-la-ree” above the other bird songs and sounds of the marsh.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunshine. It was easy to find Painted Turtles sprawled out on a stump while soaking up the sun.

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-10

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-15

McDaniels Marsh May 30 2015-16

This one took the big jump from the stump.

McDaniels Marsh is now on my list of places to kayak, although I hear the vegetation gets thick later in the season. It’s probably better to kayak there during the spring and early summer.

My First Year Turkey Hunting in New Hampshire

I purchased a hunting license this year for the first time since 1993. I was inspired to get a license when my friend Kurt offered to take me Turkey hunting. Back in 1993 the State of New Hampshire had just started stocking Turkey in the Upper Valley so I never had the opportunity to hunt them.

Spring Turkey hunting seems different from other types of hunting. You can use owl calls, crow calls, turkey calls and decoys to locate and bring the Turkey to you. However, Turkeys have fantastic eyesight and good hearing so hunters must dress in camouflage, sometimes use a tent blind, and be quiet and still while calling them within range of your shotgun. It’s easy for hunters to screw up by moving (unless you are in a blind) or making sounds that could scare the Turkeys away.

Hunters can tip the odds in our favor (compared to other forms of hunting) by becoming skilled in locating and calling a Tom Turkey in to your ambush zone for the kill. The box call seems to be the easiest to learn. The glass or crystal call for imitating a hen seems to be the most useful for calling a Tom once you have set up the decoys around your hunting site.

I had to get up at 2:30 am in order to meet Kurt and hit the woods by 4:30 am. It was already light by 5 am when we arrived at our hunting spot. We wasted no time setting up the decoys and finding a spot to sit that had good cover yet had enough of a view to shoot. Once Kurt started calling we heard a gobble in the distance, which meant the Tom Turkey heard the call. Judging from the direction of the gobble, the Turkey must have been in the woods at the far end of the field. After an hour, a Tom and two hens came out of the woods a couple hundred yards away. It was pretty intense as we had to remain still and quiet as they crossed the field to the decoys.

Naturally the bird approached the decoys way over to my right. This meant I had to swivel around (and move which could scare them all off) and shoot through a very small opening in the brush. It turns out that I made a good head shot that blew him over, broke a wing, and killed him quickly. I have no doubt that the real skill of Turkey hunting is in the calling and scouting skills. My new goal is to learn to call for next season.

Turkey hunt May 24 2015
20.5 pound Turkey with a 1 inch spur and an 8 1/2 inch beard shot by Mark Karl.