Photo Walkabout at Okehocking Preserve

Before I get to the Piper pics, just a quick update to say that yesterday’s 5K was awesome. Despite the unseasonably (insanely!) muggy weather, our runner/walker turnout, enthusiasm, and venue exceeded all expectations! I’ll do a post on the 5K soon, but for now, I have some Piper photos to share!

Last Friday on the drive home from work I realized that the lighting conditions – flat, bright lighting with an even, white cloud cover – were perfect for photography.  Before my 8 minute commute was over I had decided that I would take Piper to Okehocking Preserve for a quick photo walkabout (aka an aimless hike with a dog and a camera in search of nice light!). I cajoled Matt into coming with me (someone needs to hold Piper’s leash while I snap her picture!!) and by 5PM my camera and I were standing shin-deep in the middle of Ridley Creek while sweet, happy Piper splashed around in the water.

The lighting and scenery were beautiful, and over the course of 40 minutes Matt, Piper and I meandered around the park, seeking out the best lighting and backgrounds. (Thank you Matt for your patience!!)

Piper enjoyed every second of our hike, and tackled the hills, stone walls, and high grass with her usual gusto. The shots above and below were taken at Okehocking’s historic bank barn.

Compare Friday’s pics to these two from three years ago, also taken at the bank barn when Piper was just 4 months old.  Same memorable white whiskers (and coincidentally, same leash!), just three years apart.

Here’s another fun comparison: three year old Piper in Ridley Creek last Friday vs. the shot that got my Instagram following started back in 2014. Same bend of Ridley Creek, but one looking upstream and the other downstream.

Six hundred photos later, the sun signaled the end of our photo walk as it slowly dipped behind the tree line. Just before the sun disappeared we found a spot on a hill with perfect “golden hour” light. Piper plopped down in the grass, happy to oblige in exchange for a few pieces of sliced meatball. No amount of photoshopping can produce glorious lighting like this!

Is it just me or is Piper totally posing in this next photo? Clearly, she is not camera shy.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for putting up with my constant photos of Piper! Which photo from Friday’s walkabout is your favorite? I am torn between the very first shot and this last one… 😄

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Climbing Old Rag Mountain

Over the past three years Matt and I have hiked and road-tripped our way through some awe-inspiring destinations on the west coast including Zion National Park, Sedona and Big Sur. Traveling “Out West” has become a yearly pilgrimage, yielding beautiful memories from past adventures and unlimited possibilities for future trips. (Portland! Napa! A train ride from SF to Chicago! The Grand Canyon! So much to see.)

With all of that excitement happening on the left coast, I haven’t given much thought to potential trips back east.  Sure, we take annual drives to the Poconos and the beach and make our way up to Vermont or northern New York every once in a while, but none of these places have rivaled the awesomeness of the western landscape. But all that changed on Friday when Matt and I hiked up Old Rag Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Continue reading

Zion National Park

Every January Matt and I spend a week working in Las Vegas at a big trade show. After many trips to Sin City, Vegas itself is not very exciting but that’s OK because our fun begins when the show ends on Friday. In 2014 we drove to Temecula for a weekend in southern California wine country and last year we road-tripped east through Arizona to beautiful Sedona for a few days. This year we wanted to find another 3-day weekend getaway within driving distance, so after much research Matt and I decided to visit Zion National Park in southeastern Utah.

zion-overlook

Why visit Zion from Las Vegas in January? Here were our primary reasons:

  1. Proximity: Zion is only 2 1/2 hours away from Las Vegas. You can easily drive back to Vegas to fly home, or catch a connecting flight out of the tiny regional airport in St. George, UT (that’s what we did).
  2. Off-Season: Like many National Parks, Zion is experiencing record numbers of visitors and over-crowding of the single park road, parking lots, and trails is becoming a real issue. We correctly figured that we’d miss out on all of that excitement and have the canyon more or less to ourselves during the third week of January.
  3. Weather: Zion usually has relatively mild winters and, unlike Bryce Canyon or northern Utah’s ski resorts, Zion usually doesn’t receive huge amounts of snow. We figured Zion’s winter weather would be perfect for hiking and we wouldn’t have to worry about trail or road closures in January. (This didn’t quite pan out!)

All of my research on the weather was well-intentioned, but sometimes you just can’t plan for mother nature.  Continue reading

The End of Blog-Crastination

Is it possible that I haven’t blogged since September? Yup. And the worst part is, the longer I wait to compose a new post, the harder it becomes to get motivated to actually sit down and write! Case in point: I have now run seven (SEVEN!) races since my last race recap. I’m a stickler for chronological recaps, and knowing that I need to reminisce all the way back to a mediocre race in early October before I can regale you with tales about my first California race (in San Diego!!) and my most recent 5K with Piper makes it that much harder to buckle down and get the writing done.

But today I’m putting an end to my blog-crastination! I am ignoring all of those accumulated races and turning to my favorite four-legged friend for inspiration. So without further ado, here’s a selection of photos (in chronological order) of Piper doing her thing from May thru December. Enjoy!

Did you make it through all of those photos? (Thanks!😉) Which is your favorite? I’m partial to Piper in her orange goggles. 🤓

Let it snow! Long enough for a run, at least.

We experienced some very odd weather in southeastern Pennsylvania yesterday… it snowed! And not just cute little spring flurries. This was real, accumulating, white-out conditions SNOW! The storm started mid-morning and dumped 4-5 inches on my daffodils, budding trees, and sugar snap pea shoots. There was nothing I could do to protect my garden so I decided to take Piper out for a trail run at nearby Okehocking Preserve instead.

Okehocking Snow Run

We ran a big loop around the preserve, enjoying the muddy trails, slippery hills and snowy grass. This might have been a freak storm, but it sure was pretty!

Okehocking in the Snow

I brought my Go Pro along and had fun running towards it on the trail. Matt gave me the Go Pro for my birthday last November and I’m still learning how to take advantage of the tiny camera’s super wide-angle lens and various shooting modes. Yesterday I played around with the Go Pro’s continuous photo mode and tried to avoid stepping on it each time Piper and I zoomed by.

Luckily no one else was out in the storm to witness this behavior… Piper thought we looked pretty silly.

Look at the camera, Piper

The storm ended at 5PM and immediately started melting. Our backyard is still blanketed in snow more than 24 hours later, but the temperature is supposed to rise to 62°F tomorrow so the snow should disappear soon. As much as I enjoyed my winter romp with Piper, I’ll be OK if I don’t see another snow flake until November!!

Okehocking Preserve (4/9/16)

Bradford Pear Down

Guess what? On Sunday Piper finally mastered “headstand.” We’ve been working on this trick for months and I’m SO proud of her!928 Headstand Piper

Oh wait, just kidding. Nope, the real truth is that a violent windstorm uprooted a perfectly healthy, beautiful tree on Saturday night, leaving a white wall of flowers and a giant sideways stump in our yard. Boo! 😣

943 The tree, Piper and Matt

And if you’re still trying to wrap your head around the first photo, maybe this will help:

699 Checking out the fallen tree

On Saturday night a storm front swept across southeastern Pennsylvania, bringing heavy rains and 45-60 mpg wind gusts. Despite the wind our power stayed on and Matt and I went to bed, blissfully unaware of the damage happening outside. We woke up early Sunday morning, looked out the window and BAM!! WHITE FLOWERS EVERYWHERE. Our Bradford Pear tree had tipped over on its side, taking a sizable chunk of lawn along with it.

649 Matt and the Tree

Piper was initially wary of the changed landscape, but she has quickly realized that the tree’s new position means she is MUCH closer to the birds and squirrels that hang out in it.  She’s been keeping a close eye on it ever since.

1008 Fallen Tree

Here’s what the tree looked like in its glory, back in 2014.  RIP, Bradford Pear Tree.

Bradford Pear in its former glory

Matt and I are getting estimates for the tree’s removal now. In the meantime, I’m sure Piper will keep herself very busy watching over the fallen white blossoms.  Like most outdoor activities, it’s a job that she’s taking very seriously!

1041 Piper and her fallen tree

A Weekend in Sedona

201 Mescal shadow panorama

Last weekend the East Coast was pummeled by a massive blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on our suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. If Matt and I had been home, we would have slow-cooked a stew, played with Piper in the snow, and stayed on top of shoveling our driveway. But we weren’t home… we were 2200 miles west in beautiful Sedona, Arizona!

Sedona Map

Map of all trails & points of interest mentioned below.

Matt and I had been in Las Vegas for work during the days leading up the blizzard. Normally we would have flown home on Saturday (aka blizzard day), but, as luck would have it, we had already decided to extend our time out west with a long weekend in Sedona that culminated in a flight home from Phoenix on Tuesday.

Saturday morning we rented a Jeep at the Vegas airport and set out for Arizona. The 4 1/2 hour drive took us past Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam (which we couldn’t even see from the giant new interstate bridge!) and sections of historic Route 66 before twisting south into Oak Creek Canyon, the gateway to red rock country.

Oak Creek Canyon

If you approach Sedona from the north like we did, your first glimpse of red rocks will occur in this dramatic canyon. The road switchbacked constantly as we followed Oak Creek and descended a few thousand feet through snow-covered forest. We initially thought about returning to the canyon for a hike later in the weekend, but realized after our climb up Devil’s Bridge that red rocks + snow and ice can be a little treacherous. Someday when we return to Sedona in less snowy conditions we’ll definitely spend more time in Oak Creek Canyon.

Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point (4.2 miles)

We pulled into Sedona at 3PM on Saturday and wasted no time getting our first hike underway. We followed the Little Horse Trail up to Chicken Point and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Cathedral Rock. After hiking 2 miles into the wilderness I was surprised when a pink jeep rolled up the rock from the opposite direction… apparently this lookout point is also a stop on the famous Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour that leaves from Uptown Sedona. Matt and I really enjoyed this relatively easy hike, but if you’re not in the mood for a hike I hear that the jeep tours are very popular!

Orchards Inn and Elote Cafe

We drove back into uptown Sedona just as the sun was setting and checked into our hotel, Orchards Inn. Although the entrance to the hotel is smack in the middle of a very touristy section of route 89A, all of the rooms face east towards a serene wall of beautiful red rocks. It was easy to forget about the commercial strip out front when gazing out at the view from our private balcony!

View from our balcony

Saturday night we had dinner at Elote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Elote doesn’t take reservations so we waited 45 minutes for a table while sipping margaritas and munching on free spiced popcorn on Elote’s back patio. (As you can imagine, the wait went by in no time!) Dinner at Elote was all we hoped it would be and well worth the wait. Everything we had was delicious… elote (a fragrant corn dip), tomato salad, smoked pork cheeks, and buffalo mole poblano short ribs. Yum! The meal was so good we bought Elote’s cookbook, so be ready for some Elote-inspired recipes on my blog later this year!

Mescal Mountain – Devil’s Bridge Hike (10 miles)

I woke up before sunrise on Sunday, thinking I might be able to snap a few photos of the sun coming up from our balcony. Since we faced east my photos didn’t turn out (the more dramatic views were looking west, where the morning sun was turning the rocks a fiery red-orange), but this got us up and out of bed and ready to start our day. We had a hearty breakfast of french toast and pancakes at Wildflower Bread Company (which I didn’t realize was a chain until we saw another one in the Phoenix airport) and then set out on our first hike of the day: Devil’s Bridge.

200 Devils Bridge Trail Closed

Devil’s Bridge is a natural sandstone arch located 400+ feet up the side of a mountain. Brave visitors can walk out onto the bridge, making this a popular destination for hikers and Pink Jeep tours. I was thrilled to see that we were the very first car to arrive at the Dry Creek Road trailhead (no crowded views for us!!) but my excitement was immediately crushed when I saw a little U.S. Forest Service sign at the start of the trail… CLOSED due to dangerous icy slippery conditions. NO!!

A map of nearby hikes was posted in the parking lot and we realized we could salvage the morning by taking the Mescal Trail north, away from Devil’s Bridge, and looping around Mescal Mountain. This 5 mile hike ended up being our favorite of the trip. We had the well-marked path almost exclusively to ourselves and Mescal Mountain loomed over us in the morning sun as we circled it clockwise. The best part of this hike was when we entered a horseshoe-shaped curve along the side of the mountain – it felt like we were walking in a natural amphitheater that had been carved out of the rock. Very memorable!

The parking lot was packed when we returned to our jeep. Lo and behold, the danger sign had been moved aside! We stopped at the car for a quick water break then set out south on the Chuck Wagon trail to access Devil’s Bridge trail. The trail was easy at first with no sign of snow, but then we began to climb up the north side of the mountain. The higher we went the more snow and ice there was… at first it was just on the sides of the trail but eventually the ice stretched straight across the natural rock stairs and narrow single-track trail that skirted the edge of the mountain. Eek! I don’t usually have any issue with heights but the combination of being on a cliff AND being on unsure footing was very unsettling.

Finally Devil’s Bridge came into view. A few insane people (with their kids!!) were actually sliding across the ice to walk out on the arch but Matt and I were satisfied with taking photos from the relative safety of our icy, sloping trail.  We headed back down the mountain and made it back to our car in just under 5 hours.  Not bad for a 10 mile round trip with lots of photo stops!

Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch / Red Rock Loop Road

390 Oak Creek BrewsBy the time we made it back to town it was after 2PM and we were HUNGRY! We recharged with a satisfying lunch of beer, soft pretzels and pizza at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque Village (an artsy, walkable shopping area) and planned our next move for the day.

After a quick stroll around Tlaquepaque we headed west down Red Rock Loop Road to Crescent Moon Ranch. This park offers fantastic views of Cathedral Rock across Oak Creek. We wandered around the trails along the creek snapping photos and taking selfies with my new GoPro Hero. This was the first trip that we’ve had the GoPro and we loved using it to get a different, wider-angle view of the beautiful landscapes around us. (And also for selfies… I realized that I have hundreds of photos of Piper but hardly any of Matt and I; hopefully now we’ll have more than three “us” photos to choose from for next year’s Christmas card!)

From Crescent Moon we drove clockwise around Red Rock Loop Road back to 89A. Most of the best views seemed to be in the eastern section between 89A and Crescent Moon, so we circled back down the loop road again, this time stopping at numerous pull offs and overlooks to see Sedona’s gorgeous red rocks in the setting sun. (Note: this was the only time we needed an SUV as some of the pull offs were a little rough; a sedan would have easily gotten us everywhere else we went on this trip.)

Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Hike (5 miles)

Monday morning we woke up early once more, this time to fit in one last Sedona hike before driving south to Scottsdale and the airport. After another breakfast at Wildflower we headed to Bell Rock, one of the most famous energy vortexes in Sedona. We followed the Bell Rock Pathway to connect to Courthouse Butte Loop, an easy trail that took us clockwise around the butte. The conditions were perfect – mid-50s with an intensely blue sky – and we were glad to take this final hike before leaving red rock country.

After circling Courthouse Butte we had lunch at nearby Red Rock Cafe in Oak Creek Village. Matt had a southwestern chicken fried steak scramble and I enjoyed a grilled roast beef sandwich with green chiles.  Yum!

Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale, AZ

We said goodbye to Sedona and pointed the car south towards I-17 and the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The drive only took 2 hours so at some point I decided that we should try to squeeze one more hike in. On our way into town we stopped at Pinnacle Peak, a popular hiking/trail running spot that offers great views of northern Scottsdale. We didn’t have a lot of time but made it up to the Grandview overlook before heading back down to our car.

Before I wrap up this (very long) post I have to mention the amazing dinner we had Monday night. From our hotel in Old Town Scottsdale we walked to Bootleggers, a “modern American smokehouse.” We ate on the back patio, right next to the stacks of wood that fuel the restaurant’s giant smoker. We’ve been paying more attention to smoked food ever since Matt bought a smoker last summer and Bootleggers was easily the best BBQ we’ve had thus far. We started with a tray of nachos heaped with smoked brisket and smothered with a perfect mixture of avocado, lime and cilantro (perhaps the best nachos I’ve ever eaten) and then enjoyed more BBQ brisket and smoked sausage for dinner. Our server brought us Bootleggers’ signature apple pie moonshine as a complementary dessert. Cheers!Snowy Driveway

The next morning we headed back to Philadelphia on an 8AM flight. Despite the fact that we had hiked 23 miles in 3 days we arrived home feeling refreshed, recharged, and full of energy. (The magic of a mini-vacation!) It was a good thing we felt energetic because we were greeted by 2 feet of snow waiting to be shoveled off the driveway. Welcome home!  🙂