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.

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.:

 

Luoyang Bridge, Quanzhou, China

During my last day in Quanzhou I took a bike ride on Fenghai Road with the goal to visit Luoyang Bridge. The bridge is one of the four ancient bridges in China and is a major attraction in Quanzhou.

Luoyang Bridge
Luoyang Bridge from the Qiaonon Community side of the river.

The Travel China Guide Website says, “Construction of the Luoyang Bridge started in 1053 and was completed in 1059. The project of building the bridge was led by Cai Xiang, the governor of Quanzhou who was also one of the four famous calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Built with granite, the bridge features ship-like piers and a unique method of reinforcing the foundation.” Essentially they raised oysters near the piers so the liquid they “secreted would help to bind the piers and the footstones together.”

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-2

Each end of the bridge has two statues on either side of the bridge. I had to stop for a minute to admire the impressive workmanship that went into them.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-3

Partway across the bridge there is a small building surrounded by trees, statues and stone tables inscribed with Chinese characters. The ChinaCulture.org Website says, “Many stone tablets from past dynasties were erected near the middle pavilion on the Luoyang Bridge, including stone statues of pagodas and warriors.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-4

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-6

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-12

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-5

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-7

After a pleasant stop at the middle pavilion I continued my journey across the bridge. I wanted to get a closer look at the stature on the far side. I suspected it is a statue of Cai Xiang, who led the project to build the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-9
Statue of Cai Xiang

I enjoyed some wonderful views (a bit hazy but still nice) of the Quanzhou skyline during my walk back across the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-10

Like so many things in Quanzhou, this photo showing the modern skyline with the bridge and fishing boats is an interesting combination of the old and the new.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-11

I would like to visit the bridge again when the sun is out and the sky is blue so I can take more photographs. It would also be nice to see the bridge at low tide so I can see the “ship like piers” mentioned in the Travel China Guide website.

 

Qingyuan Mountain Hike in Quanzhou, China

One of the best adventures during my trip to Quanzhou was an early morning hike up Qingyuan Mountain. The mountain is favorite destination of locals and tourists alike. We arrived early so we would be there before the crowds. It was still dark as we started up the path. Eventually the “trail” became more of a staircase than a path. Climbing the stairs was a good workout. After an hour or so of hiking we arrived at Sky Lake. It was a beautiful little lake with an impressive visitors center on one side and function hall on the other. Much to my disappointment (I was hoping for a hot drink), the visitors center was not open yet. I was also looking forward to seeing the black swans and white swans that lived at the lake. Apparently it was even too early for the swans.

 

Sky Lake and the visitors center.
Sky Lake and the visitors center.

We continued past the lake where we noticed a sign for the Qingyuan Cave. We followed the trail to the cave, which took us higher towards the summit. Instead of an actual cave we found a small temple complex. A sign explained that the temple was built over or on the site of the cave, which made me happy since the temple site was very nice.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-4

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-1

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-2

Not only was the temple beautiful, the view from the temple was fantastic.

Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River
Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-7

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-8

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-5

Upon going back down the mountain we discovered the red roofed buildings in the photo above served hot tea and food.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-14

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-15

We were hungry and thirsty so this place was a welcome site. We got a package of tea, a tea pot, a thermos of hot water and a small heater to keep the tea pot warm for 15 yuan. Much of the food looked strange (like chicken feet) or was not what I would consider breakfast food (like yams) and stuff I could not even identify. We did find some red grapes, orange slices and french fries to eat which tasted pretty damn good to us at that point. It was just cool enough outside so the hot tea really hit the spot.

On they way down the mountain we got some fantastic views of Quanzhou near West Lake Park.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-18

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-17
The large modern looking building near the lake is the China Museum of Fujian-Taiwan Kinship. We stopped there for a short time on our way back to World City.

We took a different trail down the mountain so that we would end up at the Laojun Rock. Along the trail we observed numerous inscriptions carved into the rocks. The characters where painted red to make them easier for visitors to read. I think they were part of the Qi Feng Inscriptions mentioned on the Travel China Guide website.

Stone Statue of Laozi

Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi
Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi

The Laojun Rock is a beautiful statue in a very peaceful garden setting with a nice view of the mountain in the background. There is an incense burner in the viewing area which adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the exhibit.

The Qingyuan Mountain Website tells us, “The Song-Dynasty statue represents a man with a long beard-believed to be the philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder and Saint of Taoism.” China Culture.org mentions, “He is credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Dao De Jing” also known as Tao Te Ching.

Qingyuan Mountain would definitely on the list of places to visit again during another visit to Quanzhou.

Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, China

The first major sightseeing stop during my trip to China was the Kaiyan Temple in Quanzhou. It is an ancient Buddhist temple that was built in the year 685 during the Tang Dynasty. We took a cab which dropped us off at the West Street gate. There were a bunch of street vendors set up near the gate selling incense and other items. Once we went through the gate we were surrounded by bushes, hedges and ancient mulberry trees.

The temple grounds also has two ancient stone pagodas. The west pagoda is close enough to the gate to capture our interest right away. An article on the Website, China Through A Lens says,

The Twin Pagodas in Quanzhou rank the highest pair among Chinas stone pagodas. The west pagoda is called Renshou and the east one, Zhenguo. They stand on each side of the main hall of Kaiyuan Temple, some two hundred meters from each other.

Renshou Pagoda was originally a wooden structure constructed in 916 during the Five Dynasties. After it burnt down twice during the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt, first of brick, then of stone. Its appearance and structure are basically the same as those of Zhenguo Pagoda, but it is only 44.6 meters high, or 4.18 meters lower, and was built ten years earlier.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-1
Jennifer with the Renshou Pagoda in the background.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-2

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-3
Close up of the carvings on the first level

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-4

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-6
Looking to the Zhenguo Pagoda at the east end of the temple grounds.

The sign at the gate explains why there are so many mulberry trees on the grounds. Legend says, “the land upon which the Quanzhou Kaiyuan monastery was built was originally an orchard of mulberry trees owned by Huang Shougong. Tradition holds that Mr. Shougong dreamed that a monk begged him to have his land as a temple. He replied, ‘If my mulberry trees bloomed lotus blossoms I’ll grant you the land.’ A few days later the mulberry trees really bloomed lotus blossoms.”

The smell of incense filled the air and  as we entered the temple courtyard.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-7

We just stood still for a minute and took in the scene. People were lighting incense sticks and placing them in a ornate iron incense burner in the middle of the courtyard. Unfortunately it started to rain which put a damper on my photography.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-8

Jennifer and I wandered over to the main hall of the temple.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-9

The Wikipedia article tells us the main hall is known as the Mahavira Hall. Inside is the statue of the Vairocana Buddha. We were standing in the doorway admiring the statue of the Buddha when a monk walked by. I was surprised when he stopped and spoke enough English to invite us inside. After going inside I pointed to my camera and the statue in an attempt to ask him if I could take some photos. Much to my disappointment, he shook his head no.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-10

The architecture on the backside of the temple was just as impressive. The back courtyard had a small incense burner plus covered boxes filled with dozens of burning candles. By that time it was raining harder, forcing us to keep under cover as much as possible.

In addition to people selling incense there were lots of people with disabilities asking visitors for donations. We approached a side gate that was crowded with beggars and vendors. One of the lady vendors gave me gave me a sample of the berries she was selling. It looked like a large blackberry and tasted great. It was not until I got home that I discovered that it was a Mulberry that she gave me. I wish I had taken the time to buy some from her.

I plan to go back during another trip on a day when the weather is better so I can take more photographs and learn more about the place.

 

Full Moon Paddle on Grafton Pond

On Tuesday, October 7th I went to a meetup.com full moon paddle on Grafton Pond. The weather forecast looked pretty bad before the event and I expected it to the rained out. We got lucky and it cleared up just in time.

I arrived a little before 6 p.m.  The water was like a mirror giving us a nice foliage and sky reflection.

Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-2Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-5Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-3It did not take us long to get ready.

Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-7We could hear some loons calling as we headed out across the pond.

Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-10We eventually did see the loons swimming in the distance but it was getting dark pretty fast.

Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-8Grafton Pond Oct 8 2014-9The foliage on these couple trees were looking real good.

It soon got too dark for good photos. A couple more people arrived late so we circled back to the boat landing before going out to one of the islands. The clouds in the east were clearing so we could see full moon peaking out as we paddled around the islands. By the time we gt back to the boat landing it had risen above the clouds giving us a nice view. This trip was a great way to end the kayaking season in New Hampshire.

Long Pond rock cairn

Kayaking at Long Pond during foliage season

We were blessed with fantastic weather and colorful foliage over the weekend of September 27th and 28th. I decided it could be one of my last opportunities to use my kayak for the season.
I wanted to go someplace different with lots of foliage for my Saturday trip. I had not been to Long Pond in Benton, New Hampshire since the early 90’s. It’s a good place to go trout fishing in the spring and canoeing and kayaking during the rest of the boating season.

Long Pond Sep 27 2014-17

As you can see the pond is well off of the main roads. I took a tight off of route 25 in Glencliff onto High Street. There is no street sign for Long Pond Road (which is a dirt road), however there is an Appalachian Trail sign pointing the way to the trail crossings and parking. The road did not show up on my Garmin GPS either. From my previous trips I was was pretty sure it was the right road so off I went. I soon passed a White Mountain National Forest gate in addition to the Appalachian Trail crossing. Like many dirt roads in the area, it’s narrow and not always wide enough for two cars (or trucks) to pass.

I was surprised to see how busy the boat landing and picnic area was. I was lucky to find a parking spot.

Long Pond Sep 27 2014-1Busy boat landing at Long Pond.

Long Pond is located near Mt. Moosilauke, which give you a great view of the mountain. The pond is man-made with a dam on one end. It was probably designed to control spring flooding and provide a recreation area and fishing for visitors to the White Mountains.

Mt. Moosilauke
Mt. Moosilauke

The pond has a rocky shoreline with several small islands (also rocky) scattered throughout the pond, which makes it an interesting place to kayak or canoe.  The islands also make it a great place for Loons to nest. I did see some loons fishing at the south end of the lake but they kept their distance so it was difficult to get photos. I observed a couple adults and at least one immature Loon.

Long Pond Sep 27 2014-6Long Pond Sep 27 2014-7Long Pond Sep 27 2014-10Long Pond Sep 27 2014-13Long Pond Sep 27 2014-14

A unique feature of Long Pond a rock cairn near one of the islands.

Long Pond rock cairn
Long Pond rock cairn

I hope to return here is the spring for some trout fishing.