Mantua birding extravaganza

Sherrie and I went to Mantua Reservoir one afternoon this week with a two-fold purpose: do some walking around the lake, and see some birds (and hopefully get some good photos). We were not disappointed in either regard.

We saw some water birds, as expected. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but we saw a few Common Loons:

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and this cool-guy Black-necked Stilt:

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and the obligatory mallards:

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I managed to catch a Forster’s Tern diving into the lake; I believe he came up empty-handed, so to speak:

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We were amazed at the number of Western Tanagers we saw–we must have seen at least a hundred. Here are a couple shots:

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Lots of bugs at the lake also means lots of swallows flying about; here’s the Tree version:

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we saw some Barn versions as well, but I didn’t get a good shot. We saw some Goldfinches, and I got a view of one about to take a bath down by the water (or looking for bugs–one of the two):

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We also saw the Eastern Kingbird. No, that’s not a mis-identification. During breeding season, the Eastern Kingbird’s range extends just into Idaho and Northern Utah. He is uncommon in Utah:

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But the highlight of the day, saving the best for last, was that we saw a Bald Eagle nesting pair! Here are my favorites:

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It was quite fun to see all those birds! Unless you have binoculars (or a long lens on a camera), you don’t often appreciate the beautiful colors our feathered friends display.

It was the slowest walk around the lake we’ve ever had, but it was a fun day.

COVID-19: Backyard birding!

COVID-19 has caused Sherrie and me to stay at home a lot. We’ve spent some time hiking; yesterday we went to Green Canyon in the Logan area:

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We did the 8-mile up and back to the Yurt. It was a fun hike, but the bottoms of our feet were a little sore by the end–we need to hike some more!

We also went up above Mantua on the side-by-side a week or so ago and got stuck in a snow drift:

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but that’s a (not-so interesting) story for another day.

What I want to write about today is the fun we’ve been having spotting birds from our backyard. It is Spring, and the birds are movin’! We’ve spotted some old favorites:

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as well as some new friends we’ve not often seen around here:

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and

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as well as:

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All of these, and a few others, I identify on my photography blog; take a look if you’re not sure what they are. Stop by sometime and let me know what you think of those and my other photos.

So, if the COVID’s got you down, take a step outside, look into the trees, and see if you can meet some new friends!

Shortest route between all LDS temples in the 48 states?

I’ve become interested in linear programming recently as a tool to solve quantitative problems at work. In an effort to evaluate the various solution methods, I created an interesting toy problem. The problem is this: what is the shortest route to drive between all 89 announced temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the lower 48 states?

To solve this problem, I found the lat-lon coordinates of each of the announced temples, which is available from the church. Next, I used the time-distance matrix API service from openrouteservice.org to calculate the distance between each pair of temples. Armed with this distance matrix, I used the python pulp library to calculate the shortest route between the temples. This is not a trivial calculation: for just these 89 sites, it took approximately 11 days to calculate the solution using CBC on my Macbook Pro laptop. I would have preferred to use CPLEX, which would have been much faster, but it’s not free and it’s expensive. The CBC solution is guaranteed to be the shortest path for the given distance data.

I then created a google map of the locations and street directions for the optimal route between the temples. It looks like this:

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There are a few caveats. Some of the temples do not have exact street addresses yet (e.g., Taylorsville Utah). For those locations, the google map directions show directions to the town itself. Also, the distances from the google map may not match exactly the distances given by the Matrix API from openrouteservice.org. Nevertheless, I think it’s pretty cool.

The total distance is, by openrouteservice.org data, about 15,240 miles. The shortest leg? Between Provo Utah and Provo City Center (about 3 miles). The longest leg? 512 miles between Fort Collins, CO and Billings MT.

If you want the detailed data (exact route from temple to temple with distances), leave me a comment, and I’ll arrange a way to get it to you.

How do you say “Ouray?”

I walked into the Photos of Ouray store and asked the kind woman how to pronounce “Ouray,” as in Ouray, Colorado. There had been some discussion in the group about how to say it, and nobody seemed to know. I even asked a gentleman we met near Yankee Girl Mine on the Red Mountain Mining District Trail, but later I couldn’t remember his answer. I guess I’m not very attentive. I often forget people’s names five minutes after we’ve been introduced.

“It’s pronounced ‘You Ray’, with the emphasis on the Ray,” she answered. You-RAY. Rhymes with “Hurray!” Of course, I guess we should take that with a grain of salt, as she wasn’t a native, but it’s probably correct.

Hurray! is what I say about our trip to Ouray this past week. On the spur of the moment, we equipped ourselves to join our friends on a trip to Ouray to ride side-by-sides (Razors, or RZRs if you will). By spur of the moment, I mean my friend Scott called me on Saturday to point out a “Can’t miss this deal!” in the local classifieds on a 2019 XP Turbo, and by Wednesday morning we were on our way to meet them in Ouray, having procured the side-by-side, a trailer, and the immediately necessary accessories. We are usually a tad more deliberate about such things, but Scott’s been calling/texting/emailing me similar messages for about two or three years now, and we finally succumbed.

Our Ouray foray (couldn’t resist) was spectacular! We rode the aforementioned Red Mining District area, Black Bear Pass (not all the way to Telluride), Imogene Pass, Ophir Pass, Yankee Boy Basin, and Corkscrew Gulch in three days.

My takeaways were that (1) the area is absolutely gorgeous, (2) it’s still cold in the mountains right now, and (3) do not underestimate the power of an avalanche! I know that Colorado got a lot of snow this year, and it showed as we drove by several avalanche zones that look like this:

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We even drove through an avalanche “cutout” that had ~20 foot tall walls on the road to Corkscrew Gulch:

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The views were breathtaking:

IMG_0137.jpg(looking South at the top of Corkscrew around 8 in the morning).

We got a little rain here and there (mostly at night), and it was a little chilly, but we stayed warm in good gear and had a wonderful time.

Sherrie and some of our friends took the Ouray Perimeter Trail hike. They did this at the end of one of our long days of riding. I was quite tired. I had gone back to our room for a reason I can no longer remember and agreed to meet them at the trailhead. I was under the impression the trail was some sort of smooth path around town (nothing could be further from the truth! Read the link above), so I wore flip flops. We got to the trailhead near the Visitors Center, and I was like, “Yeah–you guys have fun. I’m not doing that in flip flops.” They tried to prevail on me to go, but I was having none of it. Based on how tired they were about 3-4 hours later, I got the better end of that deal! They had a great time, in spite of the 4-5 times they went up and down hundreds of feet of climbing. I wandered around town and asked a clerk in another store how to pronounce Uncompahgre (as in the mountains; it’s un-come-PAH-gray in case you are wondering).

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Based on their hike, we decided the next day to go to the Box Canon Falls (not a misspelling; see this). That was a cool (descriptively and literally) place. The power of moving water to change the world over time is amazing.

We are already looking forward to going again!

¡Cozumél!

Acabamos de regresar de Cozumél anoche. ¡Que buenissimo!

Our trip to Cozumél has to be one of the greatest highlights of our life together. We absolutely had a terrific time and we WILL be going back!

This is a long post–we apologize in advance!

The view from the second floor of our villa out over the water

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The boat picked us up each day at the end of the dock on the right side of the photo

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Front door service!

Here’s a typical neighborhood in Cozumél:

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We had the most incredible food while we were there. One of my favorites was “el Billy” who is an “asadero” (griller?!). They served piles of fresh grilled meats, espagetti, rice, and repollo (cabbage slaw), with house-made spicy sauces of course:

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Another favorite was Diego’s Tacos right by the airport; we went there on our way out of town yesterday:

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Diego’s serves the most awesome fish, shrimp, and meat tacos. And they have a cool board where you can write your name:

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My most favorite meal, though, was “Pollo Yucateo” (Yucatan Chicken) at El Moro. It was amazing! Achiote is a wonderful spice, which originated in the Yucatan I believe.

The diving was even better than I expected. We were a bit nervous on our first couple of dives the first day, but we became much more comfortable as time went along. We got better with buoyancy control and breathing, and by the end we did 60+ minute dives! Going deep was not a problem either; several of our dives were 70+ feet, with our max 79 feet.

We did 11 dives over four days (Three on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, a break Thursday, and two dives on Friday). Sherrie and I aren’t quite ready for taking videos underwater yet (that’s my next learning point), but we found a video that is a great representation of what we saw on our dives. We experienced essentially everything in this video:

Cozumél dive preview

Our favorite things to see were (in no particular order):

Turtles!

turtle_reef_cozumel_mapleleafscuba_mexicoPhoto credit: Maple Leaf Scuba 

Spotted Eagle Rays!

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The rays are amazing and majestic. They can be quite large–more than 6 feet across. They dig with their noses in the sand looking for conchs, and when they find them, crush them into bits to eat the snail part. Other fish follow along to get the scraps.

Splendid Toadfish!

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The toadfish is bashful and pretty rare. We only saw around five of them on all the dives together. Our divemaster Javier had a little lure that looked like a little squid that he would use to draw them out of their caves in the rocks. This little guy is rare and only found around Cozumél, so you have to go there to see him.

We also saw lots of eels–spotted and bigger green ones.

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One was particularly large–at least six feet long, as big around as a football, and very menacing.

Here are some more shots:

Getting ready to jump:

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Even though the water is 84 degrees (on the surface; 82 down deep), you still need a wetsuit or you’ll get cold after an hour:

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(I wore the shorty the first dive, but then decided it was too cold and went for a full wetsuit after that).

We dove with a dive company named “Dive with Cristina“. Cristina is a very experienced master diver, and has other master divers on her crew. One of them is her brother Chito, who made a fabulous lunch everyday (Chito is the one in the blue shirt on the ride side of this photo):

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which we ate after the second dive. They served fresh fruit and sandwiches with guacamole, but everybody’s favorite (well almost everybody; sorry Glen!) was the ceviche:

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Chito’s ceviche was very simple: raw white sea bass “cooked” in lime juice with cilantro. It was awesome!

After lunch, more diving!

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At one point, a member of our group gave Sherrie his GoPro to take some videos. It’s hard to communicate under water (read: impossible), so Sherrie thought she was using the camera to take some video of a sleeping turtle we saw under a rock ledge (at 60 feet), but instead she was taking video of herself–here’s a screenshot:IMG_1130

Sherrie is a fish! We couldn’t get her out of the water, either diving or the refreshing swim in the pool after the diving ended for the day. Witness her hand at the end of one day:6B69DADA-AAC7-4BEF-B67C-320FE3D8DC9A

I just learned why this happens: scientists now think it’s a nervous system reaction to help us handle things better when our hands our wet.

Our typical day was get up and eat breakfast and get out the door and get to the dock to get picked up at around 9 for diving. We stayed on the boat for three dives (with the requisite surface intervals), and then returned back to the dock around 4 in the afternoon. We spent some time refreshing ourselves in the pool and/or hot tub, then showered and went out on the town for dinner and a little shopping.

On Sunday, we didn’t dive but went to church

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(The meeting was entirely in Spanish) and then went for a drive around the island with our new friend Miguel Moguel-Fuentes, the taxista:

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Miguel was great to us all week. He came to get us when we needed to go somewhere, and helped us navigate around the town.

We stopped by the side of the road to buy some piñas:

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(That’s about $1 each; and they were excellent!)

On the other side of the island (the windward side) we got the full experience of trade-wind-blown salt spray in the face and on the glasses!

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The other side of the island does not have electricity, and is sparsely populated. There are a couple of restaurants and a small hotel. The southern tip has a beach/park with various attractions we hope to check out next time.

On Thursday, we decided to take a break from diving. The weather report predicted bad wind and rain and our dive masters were afraid the port might actually be closed.  (It turned out to be a great day for diving for those that went)  We were in on a secret that Glen, our friend who arranged the trip, didn’t know about.  His wife, Tracie (Sherrie’s amazing childhood friend) was coming to Cozumel to surprise him.  She doesn’t dive, so when the weather looked bad, we decided we would take that day off and spend it with Tracie (and we hoped, Glen, who never takes days off).  He ended up having some sinus troubles and decided before he knew Tracie was coming to take the day off as well.  It was a super fun surprise when she walked into our villa on Wednesday night!!   All but a few sat out that day and we all took the ferry over to Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun)–a 30-40 minute trip. We didn’t like Playa too much–it was very commercial and full of tourists.

Another thing we did on our day off was visit the Kaokao chocolate factory on Cozumél. They make chocolate using the original cacao bean (Criollo, not the Forastero developed in Europe and grown in Africa, or the Trinitario hybrid). As part of the tour, we got to make our own chocolate!

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This chocolate is to be used for drinking chocolate. During the tour, they made some for us in a traditional manner with corn flour, hot spices, honey from the special bees that pollinate vanilla plants, and of course the chocolate. It was yummy! We can’t wait to make some for whichever of our children are here for Christmas. We are turning into chocolate snobs like some of our kids!

We were so lucky to be invited and really enjoyed all of the folks in our group.  We totaled 13 divers plus Tracie for part of the week.  We were in two adjoining villas, and had so much fun going to dinner, exploring, and playing games together.  We hope to be invited back again!!

I’ve created a public folder on Dropbox

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wherein I’m going to put some photos and videos when we get them. There’s a link to a video of me and Sherrie and a couple of others jumping off the boat into the water and sinking into the depths. Some of the other divers took videos they are going to edit and post soon. Stay tuned!

Many adventures

We’ve had many adventures the last few weeks. Here’s a brief post with photos and stories.

On August 25, we went to Liberty Park in SLC to celebrate Sylvia’s first birthday. It was a nice day in the park and we all had a good time, except that Sylvia got stung on her lip by a wasp. Happy Birthday Sylvia!

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Those photos were probably taken after the wasp sting (?), which might explain her look of, shall we say, detachment?

On Labor Day, we hiked up to the Wind Caves in Logan canyon. Little Esther was amazing–she hiked up the entire trail all by herself. It’s nearly a two-mile route and climbs 1000 feet, so that’s no small feat (but her feet are small). On the way down, she took a ride in the backpack on Matt’s back, explaining that she was tired and needed a nap.

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(Esther holding court and explaining life during a short break)

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(The hiking gang, minus the photographer)

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(The holes in the wind cave look a lot like an ape skull from far away)

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September 13-15, we went to St. George to do some hiking in Zion and attend the play Matilda at Tuacahn. We went with our friends Scott and Marie. We played pickleball Thursday night, and Scott re-injured his calf muscle, so he and Marie were out for the hike in the Narrows on Friday.

We loved the Narrows! Sherrie had been before but I hadn’t. We went up around 3-4 miles and then came back out. The weather was great–a bit on the warm side, which made it nice wading in the river. Here are some photos:

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We were glad to have our trekking poles–it made it a lot easier to hike through the brown water–you couldn’t see any of the boulders under the water! We saw a few people go down in the water when they slipped on unseen rocks.

After the hike, we attended Matilda that night. One of our friends had said that she didn’t like it, but we decided that was probably because she didn’t know what to expect from a Roald Dahl story–we loved it.

On our trip to St. George, we went to the Payson Temple and saw the active Pole Creek Fire on the other side of the mountain from Payson:

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A number of people were evacuated from the area in the hills south of Spanish Fork, but no dwellings were lost during the fire.

Finally, yesterday, we went to Esther’s four-year-old birthday party. It was a magical affair, complete with unicorns! There were a number of fun activities, and we all had fun. Becky and Matt did a great job organizing the party.

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Cougars!

A short blog post. A couple of weeks ago, we hiked up into Flat Bottom Canyon and placed my trailcam on a tree near one of the jeep trails. We hiked up there today (a hard hike: 4.5 miles round trip, and 1300 feet of climbing) and extracted the memory card from the trailcam. Much to our surprise/wonder/amazement/joy, we found several photos with cougars in them in the bunch, and made this animated gif:cougars2

These photos were taken LAST NIGHT (9/17) at nearly the same time (just after sunset) we were there tonight. Hmmm. I wonder if they were watching us …

UPDATE: Apparently, there is some confusion about how many cougars are actually in the GIF I posted above. Here’s a single picture showing the three cougars that passed through:

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