Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Yoga and Hiking in Sun-Kissed Sicily

April 23, 2018

Yes, our yoga and hiking retreat in sun-kissed Sicily will be taking place very soon.  I am excited about this yoga retreat coming up and wanted to include some of the trip’s highlights!

Temperatures look to be in the 70s for the week ahead. Many of my readers know that this is not the first time I am offering a retreat in lovely Sicily and that this will not be the last time I will be offering a retreat in Sicily.  I love this island, its history, the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the sea, the landscape, the food, and the Italian language and the dialect.  I love doing yoga at the villa, outdoors, looking out at the sea.

On arrival day, we will be greeted by this lovely family of caretakers of Piero’s villa (photo below). They are originally from Mauritius, have lived in Sicily for many years, and they make sure we are well cared for during our week on this magical Mediterranean island, the pearl of Italy, Sicily.

The Bangaroo family: Darwin (son), Sheemee (daughter), Luckshmee (mother), Narain (father)

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Retreat participants will be impressed by the inviting villa with its breathtaking views of the Ionian sea and Mt. Etna.  This is the view we enjoy as we do yoga. I have taken so many photos of this view.  It is different every morning and evening.

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On arrival day, we’ll unwind with a yoga session of deep stretching and relaxation.  Weather permitting, our sessions are held out on the lawn overlooking the most fabulous yoga setting I have ever experienced in my life.  All week, our yoga session themes will vary.  During shavasana, I will pepper the relaxing imagery with Italian words and the yoga retreat participants will be lulled into a deep transcendental state of being.

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And sometimes, we will go a little crazy with our yoga creativity!

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Yes, we will spend time on the road, en route to various hiking trails.  We are certain to pass field of wildflowers. Spring in Sicily is green!

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On Sunday, May 6 we will travel to Piazza Armerina and the nearby Caltagirone.  In Piazza Armerina, we will visit the famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our guide and archaeologist, Serena.  I visited this incredible site long ago, when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to go back. And I am finally going back! 

More on Villa Romana del Casale LINK

Thirty minutes drive is Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramic arts and for the town’s famous 142 ceramic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608.  Those who like, will climb this staircase with me and we will all have time to walk around the town. There are various festivals throughout the year when the ceramic staircase is covered in flowers or in candles. Ceramic Staircase

On Monday, May 7, we will visit the historical nature reserve of Vendicari. In the past we have gone on archaeological tours and birding in Vendicari.  We will certainly see the many birds nesting here as well as the archaeological sites as we hike to Sicily’s most beautiful beach, which also happens to be a part of the protected nature reserve, Calamosche Beach.   I can’t wait to do yoga on this beach!

Flamingos of Vendicari as seen through my scope:

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photo below taken in Vendicari:Untitled Design

Tuesday, May 8, we will go on a long day trip Mt. Etna, where we will hike, if it is safe to do so.  It is about an hour and a half drive from our villa. Mount Etna was known to the Romans by its Latin name Aetna.  The Sicilians call it Mungibeddru, which translates to “beautiful mountain”.  It is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. The name Etna comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”

Some facts about Mount Etna:

  • It is Europe’s tallest volcano and one of the most active in the world.
  • Mount Etna stands at 10,810 feet tall
  • Since 2001, Mount Etna has erupted every year except 2007. The last major eruption was in 1992.
  • The circumference of Mount Etna is 93 miles (over twice the size of Mount Vesuvius).
  • There is snow present on the volcano year round.
  • The soil surrounding the volcano is very fertile. 3/4 of Sicily’s crops are grown near the volcano.
  • The biggest recorded eruption was on March 8, 1669. The lava reached Catania.  At least 20,000 people died.
  • “Another myth surrounding Mount Etna is that the Roman God of fire, Vulcan, used the base of the mountain for metalworking. As God of fire, he was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron and armour, amongst other items. In this mythology, it is thought that Vulcan married Venus, the goddess of love and beauty after being promised a wife by Jupiter. At the base of Mount Etna, Vulcan built a blacksmiths, where he would beat red-hot metal whenever he found out that Venus had been unfaithful, causing an eruption.”

The photo below was taken by our hiking guide in March.  We will enter the park from Schiena del’Asino, which translates to “Spine of the Donkey” and take this trail for our hike.  Years ago, I went on a day trip to Etna.  At sea level, the day was warm enough for swimming in the sea, but up on the mountain, the wind whipped and chilled our bodies as we held our wind breakers tightly around us.

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After our hike on Mount Etna, we will head over to Taormina where we will have some free time to roam around this ancient Greek city.  We will have time to see the Greek Theater ruins and the romantic piazzas overlooking the sea and the butterfly-shaped beach below.

On Wednesday, May 9, we will visit the Baroque town of Noto and hike in the nearby Cava Carosello.  While on the hike, we will do yoga at this lovely spot photographed below by our trekking company, Siracusa Trekking:

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On Thursday, May 10, we will go on an Archaeological-trekking tour in Pantalica (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with archaeologist, Alessandro. Pantalica.  This is a place where ancient man lived and died in nature, a necropolis with honeycombed tombs dotting the sides of the trail. We will  have yoga at the ruins at sunset.

More information on Pantalica

Photo below Pantalica in March:

Pantalica (1)After yoga, we will head to the medieval town of Palazzolo Acreide where we will have dinner in a restaurant owned by two brothers by the last name of Gallo. They believe they are related to me, but I don’t think so because my father shortened our family name from “Brunogallo” to “Gallo” when he immigrated to America in the late 1950s…but you never know.

More on Palazzolo Acreide

On Friday, May 11, we will hike the nearby Plemmirio Nature Preserve where we will also have a peaceful and rejuvenating yoga session out in nature.  Later on, we will visit the colorful market of Ortigia and have free time to walk around on our own.

Link of Plemmirio Nature Preserve

I love this photo below. I saw this young woman texting on the side of this ancient cathedral in Ortigia.  The ancient and the modern side by side.  The cathedral was built over the Greek Temple of Athena. The temple pillars, dating back to 5th century BC, form the bone-like structure of the cathedral.  The open spaces between the pillars were filled in with stone to form an enclosed house of worship. The girl below is sitting on the original stairs of the Greek temple.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy:

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Follow us on our Sicilian yoga and hiking adventures by checking back in on my blog post.  Namaste, Fran

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Celebrating Winter Solstice

December 4, 2017

I know we are still days away from the Winter Solstice, but this weekend, we had our annual Winter Solstice Hatha Yoga Retreat, always held the first weekend of December.

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For me, this time of year is an opportunity to seek light, a time to put up Christmas lights and light candles in the early evenings.  I also see this as a time to surround myself with light, with people of light and radiance. I did just that this weekend with the lovely retreat participants! The early evenings and long nights leading to the winter solstice give ample time for restorative yoga by candlelight, time to contemplate, rest, reflect, and renew.

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Here is a passage I found on line explaining the significance of the Winter Solstice:

Embrace the return of light.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitiumsol meaning sun and –stitium meaning stoppage. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun.” Because the earth is tilted on its axis, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun during the winter solstice (on December 21 or 22), resulting in a long, dark night.

The winter solstice has carried strong symbolism for many, many years. Some refer to solstice as the rebirth of the sun—and not coincidentally Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son. Ancient cultures feared the light of the sun would not return unless they performed vigils and rituals on the solstice.

Solstice can be a magical, contemplative time—a night of spiritual reconnection and ritual. While solstice may not have gained the notoriety of Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, many people celebrate it as a deeply meaningful holiday—a time to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and gratitude for the coming light.

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During the weekend retreats, we often do shared readings.  The theme this weekend was winter solstice and I love what the retreat participants shared.  Below is some of what was shared:

“Did you rise this morning
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage, tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright.
Gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
Here
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you,
and together
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.”

– Audette Fulbright Fulson

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I found the following poem by Maureen Edden:

The Shortest Day

it is night when I get up each morn
I have hardly made it to the noon
before blue shadows cross the lawn
and I am looking at the moon

L1400277The following Turkish Proverb was shared:

Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light.”

And here is a good reflective poem by William Stafford:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
           world
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
          childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each
          elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the
          park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
         shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
         consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
          sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
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And the following two poems speak to tonight’s Super Moon.
On a night
when the moon shines as brightly as this,
the unspoken thoughts
of even the most discreet heart might be seen.
(Izumi Shikibu 10th-11th century)
All night I could not sleep
Because of the moonlight on my bed
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered, “yes.”
(Tzu Yeh 3rd-6th Century)
We experienced the very bright night skies last night and the night before as the Super Moon, not quiet yet full, was lighting up the cloudy night skies.  We especially experience the brightness of the moon here at Ocean Shores, where there is little light pollution.  Today, because of the gravitational pull of the Super Moon, when we took a walk on the beach, the tide was very high, leaving very little room to walk along the shore.  You can see the long shadows cast by the noon winter sun and the narrow stretch of sand on a beach that normally has a very large span of sand.
L1400275L1400282L1400278Lucky us…Jerry gifted all of us with her freshly pressed apple juice from her apple orchard.  So GOOD!!!!  Stay healthy and hydrated, readers!  And get out there and look at the super moon tonight!

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Giving Thanks

November 27, 2017

Last week, my classes were focused on gratitude.  And I have been especially filled with gratitude these past few days.  Thanksgiving and my birthday invite me to be thankful for the life I have, and for the people in my life: family, friends, students.  I have immense gratitude to be living in one of the most beautiful places in the continental USA, one filled with pristine forests, rivers, wildlife (we saw a herd of elk today!!), hiking and ski trails, and all the bounty that nature provides.  I am grateful for my own effort I put into maintaining my relatively good health.  Embracing yoga and making the yoga practice a part of my life, keeping stress levels low, eating a healthy, organic diet, keeping cardio-active, doing weight training, and getting enough sleep are disciplines woven into the fabric of my being.

I also have tremendous gratitude for my parents, who not only gave me life, but also gave me the best in education.  My parents grew up very poor in Sicily.  They both had to stop school in the 8th grade because of poverty and the need to work to help their parents make ends meet.  Instead of continuing on to the 9th grade, my father left school and did hard manual labor in the fields (no tractors or plows used) and my mother became a seamstress.  They worked hard their entire lives.  As far back as I can remember, they always told me that I’d go to college and, no matter how much my university tuition would cost them, they would cover it and give me the educational opportunities they never had.  And they held true to their dream.  They started this dream by sending me to private Catholic school from early on and supported me throughout my university years.

So thank you, mom and dad.  I am eternally grateful.

To celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving, two great days of gratitude, Rick and I went to La Push on the Olympic Peninsula.  Rick’s Grandma Glenda went to La Push regularly and she always told us how very special it is.  It is remote, a long way from Seattle. The ocean is wild, and the beaches strewn with much enormous driftwood. We have been there four consecutive years in a row and we now understand why Grandma Glenda went there year after year!

Below you will see many photos from the weekend, along with descriptions of the place and of my experience there.

In gratitude, Fran

Below: Lake Crescent, the third deepest lake in the USA.  Our long drive to La Push passes this lake:

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Arrival at La Push: stormy skies, wind, frothy sea, sun setting early

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My new rain boots. Every year, I have seen these boots for sale at the resort reception.  I leave, later wondering with much regret why I didn’t buy them. This year, they were on clearance and I was lucky enough to get the last pair in my size!  They were meant to be mine:

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La Push is on the Quileute tribal lands and these boots are decorated with the tribe’s hummingbird design:

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I was obsessed by both my new boots and this RED driftwood that looks like red-hot burning coals:

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IMG_0857And had to include the photo below..a friendly dog jumped into my photo as I was taking yet another shot of the RED driftwood:

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Most of the time we were there, it was storming.  At some point, the sky opened up…briefly. IMG_0862

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We cooked most of our own meals, but went out for breakfast twice.  There is one place to get a meal and we found it on our first trip to La Push.  Every time we go, we see a charming Quileute elder named Bev.  She always sits in the same seat in the restaurant. This time, as soon as she saw me, she held her arms wide open and gave me the warmest hug! She did the same for Rick. When she found out it was my birthday, she promptly disappeared for a while. I thought she left without saying goodbye, but she came back with a gift for me.  She gave me this precious woven basket, a miniature with a rose motif on one side and a duck on the other side, woven from cedar and local grasses:

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I had my heart set on buying fresh crab while out there, but we found out it is not quite yet the season. We saw crab pots everywhere..the crabbers are ready and waiting for the right time set out their pots.

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Salmon! The quote below comes from a board educating people about the importance of saving the salmon as they dwindle in population:

Generation upon Generation, the salmon have returned to our waters offering of themselves so that the Quileute People might live. There was a time, not long ago, salmon were many. Now they are few.  Generation upon Generation the salmon have helped the Quileute People.  Now the Quileute People must help the salmon.

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You can see the small island offshore, beyond the boats. It is called James Island, but in ancient times, the island was called Aka’lat, Top of the Rock, in the language of the Quileute People.  Aka’lat was the burial ground for chiefs. It was also a fortress in times of defense.  The steep walls protected the Quileute People.  The island is unoccupied, but the Quileute People believe the spirit of their ancestors live there.

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Quileute Tribal Art: Salmon

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Rialto Beach is a nearby gem in the Olympic National Park:

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Dancer’s Pose on slick/wet driftwood:

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The sea brings in a sofa!

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Stehekin-Dazzle

July 28, 2017

We made our annual trip to Stehekin last weekend.  Stehekin, Washington is a place that awakens the nature-loving adventurer and dazzles the eye of the outdoor enthusiast.  I didn’t see any bears this year, but I did see a grouse, big as a hen, on the trail.  Leslie and I also spotted a baby osprey in its enormous nest. The baby osprey was squawking for its parents.  While there, we hiked, read by the river, visited Karl’s Stehekin Garden.  And I got in a lot of restful sleeping time.  The bed in the cabin is so comfortable, the night so quiet, and the air coming in from the open window so pure, fresh, and soothing.  I slept deeply and dreamed of the night forest.

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Stehekin is a wilderness place of forests, waterfalls, mountains, and tumbling creeks (26 creeks flow into the river). It is a place where time seems to stand still.

Stehekin refers to the grand 17-mile long river, which carries glacial water from the Cascade Mountains. The Stehekin River a surreal blue as a result of the glacial melt.  It flows into Lake Chelan, a 50.5 mile lake.Stehekin also refers to the community, which sits in the Stehekin Valley and is part of the North Cascades National Park.

One reason why Stehekin remains so pristine and wild is because the area is not accessible by road.  You can only reach Stehekin by hiking, float plane, boat, or ferry.

Below are some photos from last weekend’s visit.  It was not quite as hot this year and the mosquitoes were not so bothersome as they have been in the past.  And there were no forest fires this year so the vistas on our hikes were very clear.

Our champ, Miss Winnie, resting at a creek after a long deep drink of cold water:

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Morning Sun on Cabin:

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The Stehekin River greets us in the morning:

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Reflections, a perfect Stehekin morning:

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And I found these waders drying on the clothesline amusing (along the forest path leading to Karl’s Garden):

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Old cars like this Chevrolet, in excellent running condition, abound in Stehekin:L1390773

Refreshing water stop during one of the hikes:

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A trip to Stehekin requires:

  • Hiking and a visit to Rainbow Falls
  • Fly-fishing (if you are a fisher-person)
  • A visit to the Stehekin Bakery (their pies are ridiculously delicious)
  • A visit to Karl’s Organic Garden

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A visit to Karl’s garden is one of my Stehekin highlights.  Karl’s produce is beautiful.  He keeps bees and sells honey.  And he has goats and sells goat cheese.  The perimeter of his vegetable garden is studded with flowers.  This time of year, Karl’s dahlias are in full bloom.  I could not help myself.  I kind of went crazy on the flower photography.

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Karl also offers food for thought on his white boards.  Here are some examples of his words of wisdom:

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I love Stehekin  (one of our hiking lunch spots below):

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Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Say Hello to Autumn

September 16, 2015

No time to post this yesterday (it was written, but I didn’t have time to edit until now)….so it goes out now (from Iceland!). Stay tuned…next blog entry within the half hour is from Iceland.

Written on Tuesday, September 15th:

In my head, it is officially Say-Goodbye-to-Summer-Time.  Today’s walk over to the Volunteer Park Cafe for lunch with Rick was a dose of reality for me.  Autumn is here.  It seems to have come abruptly on the heels of an unusually hot Seattle summer.  As we walked over to our neighborhood cafe, a few red maple leaves brightened the sidewalks, their colors matching the pro-teachers’ strike chalk-graffiti on Steven’s Elementary School stone wall.  (And it felt very eerie to walk past the very quiet empty school on a Tuesday.)

Below are a few photos from an interesting and pleasant hike I did with Leslie and Winnie two days ago to the Lime Kiln Trail. 

As the name would suggest, the trail meanders through a mossy forest and leads to a lime kiln.  Walking through the forest, it is really surprising to come across the old limestone kiln, embedded in the forest, a relic from the past.  It seemed to have jumped out at us when we least expected it.  The kiln is 20 feet tall and covered in moss and ferns.  The forest has almost completely taken over the area and today you can only see remnants of a business that was thriving and employing hundreds of people.  The kiln is in the Robe Canyon Historic Park and the trail is a gentle 7 mile round trip.

The kiln

The kiln with old broken saw blades.  I can only imagine how many trees needed to be cut in order to produce the wood that kept the kiln burning hot.

Below is the explanation I found on the kiln and how the limestone was used:

The kiln was built in the 1890s and used until the early 1930s to convert local limestone into “lime,” i.e. calcium oxide. The product was transported by the adjoining railroad, mostly for use as a “flux” to promote melting of ores in smelters in the Everett area. The limestone apparently was loaded into the open top of the kiln from carts that approached from the uphill side. Unfortunately, none of the loading structure remains. The kiln has stoking ports on three sides where fires would have been tended–gathering sufficient dry wood as fuel in this very moist area must have presented a challenge!

Close up view of one of three kilns

Close up view of one of three stoking ports

Another view of the kiln.  Here you can see the moss and fern covered walls.

Another view of the kiln. Here you can see the moss and fern covered walls.

Broken Saw Blade Composition

Broken Saw Blade and Mossy Tree Composition

Dense mossy forest of Kiln Trail

Dense mossy forest of Lime Kiln Trail

Our girl Winnie at riverside lunch spot.

Sentinel: our girl Winnie at riverside lunch spot

Serene lunch spot.  Already the maples are changing colors.

Serene lunch spot. Already the maples are changing colors.

I will also include a few photos from a summer hike to Pete Lake.  I didn’t have time to post these photos earlier and the place is so beautiful (another long but easy hike!) that I just had to include these few photos:

Gorgeous Pete Lake!

Gorgeous Pete Lake! (Model: Rick Clark!)

Scenes like this make me feel like I am in a movie.  I truly love summer and hiking in Washington!

Scenes like this make me feel like I am in a movie. I truly love summer and hiking in Washington!

Squirrel (one of the most difficult words for foreigners to say in English-especially my Italian cousins and my Japanese friends!).  This friendly guy kept trying to get into our packs in search of food! Probably getting ready for Autumn which is already upon us.

Squirrel (one of the most difficult words for foreigners to say in English-especially for my Italian cousins and my Japanese friends!). This friendly guy kept trying to get into our packs in search of food! Probably getting ready for autumn which is already upon us.

Besides colorful autumn leaves, spider webs are another sign that summer is on its way out!  Spider webs are everywhere at Ocean Shores.  I can’t walk in the garden without barging in on one.  These photos are of the webs up close. I caught the fractured sun beams and imagined this is how the spider admires our garden at Little Renaissance:

Our garden and forest from the Spider's Point Of View

Our garden and forest from the Spider’s Point Of View

Fractured Light from the spider's web

Fractured Light from the spider’s web

Stehekin Magic

July 21, 2013

Our annual trip to Stehekin is magical as ever. We are almost off the grid here, so WiFi comes and goes. Our dreamy days are filled with hikes (Fran and Leslie) and fishing (Rick). Leslie and I come back from our vigorous hikes in the intense heat, wondering if Rick has caught at trout (and yes, he has!). We did not see bears this time, but we did see adorable twin fawns playing and jumping over each other while their mother rested, semi-hidden among the trees. And though we did not see bears this time, we did see cougar scat and not far from that spot, we saw cougar paw prints along the shore!

I’d like to post some photo collages I put together from our stay here!

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