Tag Archives: Smithsonian Journeys

Finding Our Inner Iguana…

My favorite 16 year old and I decided while interacting with the local wildlife population that, during times of stress, we needed to find our inner iguana.  We both found the large lizards fascinating.  Our favorite was watching them pensively contemplate the ocean waves while maintaining the yoga position of “cobra”.

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Their nonchalant attitude toward life intrigued me and I found their herd dynamics (interactions between one another) thoroughly entertaining.

The only other animals that I enjoyed more were the sea lions.  The swimmer in me loved the harmonious way that they moved through the water.  I spend the summer trying to get my athletes to find that same sense of natural harmony!

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Researchers use EID tags similar to what we use to track cattle health and performance to better understand their habits...

Researchers use EID tags (orange circular button) similar to what we use to track cattle health and performance to better understand the sea lions…

When they were not gracefully frolicking in the water, the sea lions reminded me of our house cats — Lazy with a capital L combined with just a touch of drama 🙂

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It seems that everywhere I go, I find fascinating creatures to study.

 

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The Daphne Islands and Bahia Ballena Bay…

I over heard my favorite 16 year old tell a friend, “We are the Burkholder family.  We do not go on vacation to relax, we go to learn.”  The utter truth to this statement made me laugh. 

One of my father-in-law’s missions on the trip was to see the Daphne Islands.  Viewing where Darwin had his “lightbulb” moment has long been on his bucket list.

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My Father-In-Law studying the Daphne Islands…

In later years, biological researchers Peter and Rosemary Grant spent decades studying finches looking for keys to the science of evolution.  These isolated islands provided a perfectly pristine place for research, and we circled them in boats looking at the beautiful bird inhabitants.

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Later, we traveled by boat to the Enchanted Beach in Bahia Ballena Bay.  Here we saw a pair of sea turtles mating as well as the tracks of other female turtles on the beach where they traveled to lay their eggs.

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The mating sea turtles can be seen in the middle right of the picture…

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This afternoon proved to be the favorite time of the trip for all three of my girls demonstrating that the Burkholder learning gene runs true 🙂 

You can't change "ornery"...

You can’t change “ornery”…

While the girls obviously enjoyed playing in the water by the Enchanted Beach, the science and history held a fascination for them as well.  As for me, it was a wonderful time for me to play with my camera capturing the beauty as well as the memories.

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The Galapagos Islands…

I grew up by the ocean.  Playing in the sand, fishing on the water, and (during my teenage years) competing in ocean mile races to train for swimming.

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I love the vastness of the ocean horizon.  I love the sound of the waves.  I love the feel of the warm sand on my feet.  The ocean brings a comforting sense of peace to this introverted Florida girl turned Nebraska farmer.  Although I have happily made my adult life on the plains of Nebraska, there are times when I miss the ocean with a deep seated yearling.

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The Pacific Ocean near the Galapagos Islands combined exquisite beauty with melodious power.  We spent hours on the water traversing from island to island by boat — time walking the beaches and lava rocks looking for wildlife — and wonderful days snorkeling the reef areas.  Although I traded the Atlantic for the Pacific in our Ecuador trip, it did seem a bit like “coming home”.

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As we snorkeled the reefs, my mind went into the slow motion patient mode that I use when I handle cattle — recognizing that the more that I quietly watched, the more I would experience.  I took pictures with my mind as I explored underneath the ocean surface finding multiple types of rays, feeding sea turtles, a sea horse, a beautiful purple star fish, a group of sharks hiding underneath a ledge of rocks, and a vast array of colorful fish. 

With nothing more than a mask and snorkel, I floated above the ocean city taking periodic shallow dives down to further explore the life of the reef.  My favorite farmer and I generally were the last of the bunch to climb back aboard the boat as we both found contentment observing the ocean’s treasurers.  The girls also enjoyed the mysteries of the underwater world, although it took a bit of time for them to pick up the art of snorkeling 🙂

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Perhaps my favorite day of the trip was the afternoon visiting the Daphne Islands followed by a morning of exploring and snorkeling at Bahia Ballena.  I will share those photos in the next post.  Needless to say, the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands created quite a splash for the feed yard foodie family…

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The Andes Mountains…

Day 2-3: The Andes Mountains, the Canari Ruins and the Tomebamba River Valley…

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E1rockclimbcollage.jpgI packed my faith and climbed with the family even though I am afraid of heights.  My favorite blonde cowgirl (upper pictures) received the nickname “La Cabra” from our local guide which means “goat”. She out-climbed everyone mastering the rock that stumped her daddy…

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The kids, the classroom, and the library — The native Spanish spoken in Ecuador was very clear and reasonably easy for “gringos” to understand!

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Manglares-Churute…

Day 1: On mainland Ecuador, the Churute Mangrove Reserve (120,000 acres) serves as the largest mangrove reserve in the country.

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The "fan" tail of a crocodile...

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The natural salt flats of the Manglares-Churute serve as popular feeding spots for roseate spoonbills, ospreys, egrets, and even crocodiles with beautiful fan shaped tails.

The mangroves work in partnership with the crabs.  Leaves that are sacrificed to soak up the salt in the plant fall to the ground to serve as the food source for the crabs.

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A dense forest surrounds the salt flats making homes for Howler Monkeys, sloths, termites and a host of other creatures, including mosquitoes who found us quite tasty!

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Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands…

Every once in a while my favorite father in law decides that we should take a family trip.  Four years ago, we went to Kenya to view the gorgeous animals and diverse types of agriculture.  This Christmas we visited Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

I am a bit of a homebody in addition to being a work-a-holic so it takes a herculean effort to get me to leave the farm.  My father in law is a very smart man. He recognizes that leaving the farm is an important part of personal growth as it allows for a more mature and diverse perspective.

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Both times, I came home to the farm smarter than when I left so I guess that proves him right 🙂

I am going to spend the next few weeks sharing pictures and experiences from the trip.  I took 1000 photos, and have them whittled down to a short 100 that I plan to share.  For clarity, I broke the trip down into two major components:  Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

There will be a regular blog post each Monday talking about a component of the trip followed by additional posts that share the “story” of our trip through visual images.  I appreciate your patience as I take a side-trip off the farm and into a different world!

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The dichotomy of ecosystems that make up much of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands left me in awed fascination. While the animal life completely captivated me, the plant life offered a continuous surprise.

Our first day began at Churute Mangrove Reserve not far from Guayaquil.  There we took a boat ride to view the vast array of birds and a hike to see Howler Monkeys. While there, we gave our own personal blood donation to the hoards of mosquitoes that waited excitedly for us!

The bus ride from sea level up into the Andes Mountains amazed me.  The tropic jungles at 8000 feet defied rational explanation to a farm girl who lives far from the equator.  The mountains peak at about 13,000 feet with an interesting change of plant life and no sign of snow.

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While in the Andes, we visited a middle school in the village of Cojitambo (near the city of Cuenca).  My girls loved the lively soccer game against the local students.  From there, we spent an afternoon rock climbing and visiting Canari (pre-Inca) ruins.  We rounded out our time in the mountains horse back riding and learning to cook authentic Ecuadorian dishes.  My favorite 16 year old was even “cleansed” by an older native woman at the public market in Cuenca.  This local ritual brought the rich culture to life for my American “Gringa girl”.

Leaving the mainland of Ecuador for the Galapagos Islands brought more natural dichotomies in the midst of an incredibly diverse wildlife population.  Cactus plants growing amongst mangrove bushes — both of them nestled together in volcanic rock along the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  Penguins living side by side sea lions and pelicans.  Land tortoises, flamingos, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, mating sea turtles, crabs and a host of sea life captivated my fledgling photographer’s eye.

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In Kenya, I took a diary full of notes and a few pictures.  In Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, I took a diary of photos with only a small amount of notes.  The images captivated me and seemed to tell a story independent of the written word.

 

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