Friday, October 31, 2008

Pat and I were abducted by aliens... had to use their restrooms...

We went to Sedona yesterday to do some hiking. At the end of the day we ate at the Red Planet Diner, which is a cross between a 50's diner and an alien museum. Great burgers!!! Here's a shot of part of the interior.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Great Antelope Canyon slot tours in Page Arizona with Carol Bigthumb...

OK, I'm going to plug a tour business we used... Pat did some research of tour guides when she was setting up our slot canyon tour and had read some great things about her tours. We took it and it was great. Many of the slot canyon tours hit Upper Antelope canyon and call it a day, others have access to other specific canyons, but the access to the various canyons are typically controlled. Pat found Carol Bigthumb's Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours. Her company has access to Upper Antelope canyon and two additional slot canyons that her family, which grew up on the property, controls.
The slot canyons we toured are fascinating. They're formed by flash floods rushing through sandstone washes. Upper Antelope is probably the most photographed slot canyon in the Page area, it's large and accessible and numerous tours came through it while we were there. It has a sandy bottom and is easy to walk through. The canyon is quite deep, and while light can get in through the entire canyon, it has wonderful effects as the bright spots and shadows play off the reddish sandstone walls. There are numerous spots where patters resemble various animals or people, in a shot below the light pattern resembles a candlestick and flame.

We did Upper Antelope canyon first, walking to the gulch at the back of the canyon, when you get outside, you'd almost not know the slot canyon existed if you're further than 50-80 feet away. We took a bit of a break to wait for the light to get more overhead to show off the color better before taking a slow trip back through to take a lot of pictures. Taking pictures in the canyons is pretty easy, despite the low light. You'll do best with a tripod, but most of the point and shoot digital cameras will do just fine if you rest it against a canyon wall as you take the photo to help keep the camera still. . I found most of my handheld shots did OK, but the ones with the tripods did slightly better. The shots in this post with solid looking walls and blurry people were probably running about a 1-6 second exposure using a tripod. People moving can almost look ghostly at a slow exposure.

After we finished we all moved on to a canyon Carol calls "Mountain Sheep Canyon". Her son Woody lead this trip. Mountain Sheep canyon is a long canyon, quite different than Upper Antelope in spots, and quite similar in others. Overall it is narrower, I've got a photo that shows one of the narrowest spots. It's definitely a bit more challenging than Upper Antelope, requiring a bit of high stepping with 30-40 inch climbs at times and one ladder climb of about 8 feet or so, but for the most part it's not very difficult. Upper Antelope is easy enough for nearly anyone to walk, this on may not be for some but overall wasn't difficult for anyone in average health or condition.

After Montain Sheep Canyon, we moved on to "Rattlesnake Canyon", another canyon that only Carol's company offers at this point. This one was more like a mini-Upper Antelope canyon. It was definitely narrower and required two short ladder climbs and some more sliding and climbing than the previous canyon. Here's a shot of a spot where Pat had to hand up her tripod and pick a climbing spot... it looks more difficult than it really is... the climb was only a few feet. There are some gorgeous spots in this canyon. There was a small room where the canyon ends that has a "hole" up about 7 feet above the floor. Woody had a couple of the people on the tour climb up there for pictures. Pat thought she'd never be able to get there, but you don't climb straight up, it's more like climbing around the inside of a huge round toilet bowl... starting on one side and climbing around the bowl at a slight angle to reach the hole on the other side above the floor.... makes for a nice shot.

This adventure has been the highlight of the trip so far... almost as good as scuba diving! I'm starting to get antsy to get diving again. We get home in a couple days and I've got charters starting up again on Tuesday after a day or two break to get back to "Hawaiian Time" and catch up with some things. I'm hoping my e-mail is getting through, Pat and I hav been trying to keep up with mail but there's some issues when using hotel's wireless systems and trying to send mail through both it and our mailing hosts can involve jumping though some hoops... darned technology.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ok, this was fun... Upper Antelope Canyon...

Pat had heard of Antelope Canyon and wanted to go there after our Vegas visit. I really wasn't aware of what it was, but it sounded interesting. This is, so far, the neatest thing we've done on our trip... beats seeing the Grand Canyon in my opinion. We signed up for a tour with a Navajo woman who grew up on the property and does half day tours through this and two other slot canyons... very fun trip. I'll post a more thorough report in the next day or two. Here's a shot of Pat and I in one of the more famous rooms in the canyon... we're standing under a bear... look hard and you might see it. Here's the same shot with a little help. The walls and lighting in the canyon form the pattern of a bear standing up, use a little imagination and you can clearly see it standing and facing left.



Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon, Arizona room steakhouse...

Pat and I went from Vegas to the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had ever been there before and we figured this was our chance. We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge, litterally a hundred feet or so away from the south rim of the canyon. The lodge is a rustic spot, primarily built of logs, and has a combination of private cottages and lodge rooms. We stayed in the lodge, the rooms there are a mix of 12X14 foot rooms with a private bath and rooms with just a bed and the bath and shower being down the hall... quite a change from the MGM Signature, but the rooms were clean and kept up.

That evening we ate at the Arizona Room steakhouse at the lodge. We were surprised to find a darned nice casual restaurant at a national park. Service was fantastic, the prime rib I had and the salmon Pat had were both very good, and the black bean soup was fantastic. Surprisingly, the food and beverage prices at the park resorts are reasonable, especially when you consider they more or less have a captive audience.

We were up at 6 am to catch the sunrise at the canyon and take photos. There was a fair amount of haze from a prescribed fire miles to the southwest and it took a while to figure out how to take decent shots... darned cameras, it's never easy.

We left mid morning to head to our next adventure.... which so far has been the neatest thing we've done on the trip... I'll post a bunch of photos from that experience when we get to our next location.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jimmy Buffett and other stuff....

The Jimmy Buffett concert was great, getting free tickets was a bonus. Once we started to head towards the concert from our hotel (more on the hotel in a minute) we realized there's more going on at a Buffett concert than what's happening on the stage. There's a whole lot more paraphernalia, or should I say parrotphenalia, involved than any other concert I've been to. We stayed at the Signature at the MGM Grand, which is out back of the MGM where the concert was, and in the 6-7 minute walk to the concert we literally saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with parrot hats, shark hats, cheeseburger hats, grass skirts, men with water filled plastic bikini tops and such. The crowd was a sellout, which apparently is in the 15K-17K range at the MGM Gardem Arena, and probably half of the crowd had been to the bar before the show.... lots of atmosphere at the show... and I suspect most of them have been to a concert of his before.

On the MGM Signature: This is the nicest place I've ever stayed. We used to get a rate that was around half off rack rate. Be careful when you use this service as you'll be dealing with individual owners of the condos, we've always had great luck, but we had family members who rented from an individual who had his condo foreclosed, made for a sticky mess on arrival, luckily they paid by credit card and they'll get their money back. This place is 5-6 minutes from the MGM monorail station, and only minutes from the MGM concert venue. We went to see Earth, Wind and Fire up at the Waikaloa Queen's shops venue at home a couple months back and it took an hour and a half to get out of the parking lot, this show had at least triple the attendance and we were back to our room within 10 minutes or so.

I'm using Pat's computer tonight to post, so I have access to her photos... Here's a very nice pic of a Raccoon Butterfly she took on a dive earlier in the month.



Saturday, October 25, 2008

The DEMA show just ended, now it's time to play... sort of...

We've kind of been playing all along when we could. Tonight's plans changed suddenly when I won a drawing at the show by one of the scuba training agencies I'm affiliated with (SDI)... Pat and I are going to see the sold out Jimmy Buffet concert!! I'm not a big parrothead, but that was a lucky score.

I pretty much accomplished what I wanted to do for the show. Target number one was to make a decision on what gear I'm going to pick up the next time I buy BCDs and regulators. We've got that figured out. The next plan was to get a handle on starting up a dive travel program... that one will be a work in progress, but we've got some ideas on how to get started at least. Pat's major goal was to try on wetsuits for a perfect fit and found one she liked that she was able to take away at the end of the show. The particular brand she found has something like 24 women's sizes rather than the typical 6-7, we'd been interested in this suit for a few years but this is her first time to do a fitting... found one that worked very well.

We're leaving Vegas in the morning for parts unknown (OK we know where we're going to be for 2-3 days, but beyond that we're wingin' it). Between spending time with family and the dive show we almost could use another day or two in Vegas just to loaf around and take in the pool and bars and restaurants, but we'll do that again in another couple of years, for now we're excited to go where we're headed next (to be discussed in a future post).

I originally thought I'd do a huge DEMA show report, but I didn't bother taking pictures and really don't need to get into it much other than saying it was a pretty good show, attendance was not bad, and it was fun as usual.

One interesting thing, I did have someone approach me today to tell me they enjoy reading my blog... sort of the you don't know me but I know you thing... it was nice.

Here's a night shot of the New York New York hotel and casino. I like night shots.

Later.... Jimmy starts in 2 hours and I've got a buffet (now isn't that a coincidence... Jimmy Buffet, dinner buffet) to go to first. I've recovered from my trip to Texas de Brazil (mentioned in the previous post) - I wasn't hungry 'til the next evening, so it's time for another big meal.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Texas de Brazil Las Vegas report/review.... Meat Meat Meat!!!!!

Tonight Pat, I and our families (we're meeting with both our parents and an aunt and uncle on the front end of the trip) went out to Texas de Brazil, a newly opened churrascaria just to the south of the strip, for dinner. Churrascaria might be one of my favorite kind of meals... "Gauchos" stab a bunch of meat and then carve it off onto your plate (in 1-3 ounce serving portions) and you just keep eating 'til you can't eat any more.

Tonight's meal, for me anyway, was black beans, sauteed mushrooms, spicy cold shrimp, a salad (they have a 60 item salad bar at this place), assorted sliced meats and cheeses (the previous were all in the salad bar area)... then the real stuff... In order I had... roasted pork loin, top sirloin, parmesan pork, parmesan chicken, garlic sirloin, bacon wrapped filet mignon, flank steak, another garlic sirloin, another bacon wrapped filet mignon, 2 bone lamb chop, another 2 bone lamb chop, smoked sausage, another parmesan pork, another flank steak, and finished it all off with a couple of slices of roast lamb....Yum Yum.

Ok, now that sounds like a lot of meat, and it was. Yesterday we went to the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood (my favorite buffet so far in Vegas) and I was rather disappointed in the fact that I can't eat anywhere near as much as I could in years past.... but I felt more like my old (or should I say younger) self today... I even had room for a double chocolate mousse slice afterward tonight. Luckily the place we're staying has a a pretty good workout facility, and I'm trying to use it every other day or so.

Anyway, Texas de Brazil just opened their Vegas location this last month. Service was very good, the meats were very good (a couple items were on the well cooked side but they generally strive for medium rare), as was the salad bar selection. Price for the meal is $44.95 but they'll nickel and dime (more like 3-5 buck) you like mad on beverages... they'll push their "bottled water service", if you don't want to pay for water just ask for ice water. Still, it's a better price than you'll pay for a high end meal on the strip in most places. I'd say everyone gave it a big enthusiastic thumbs up for the evening.

Here's a picture of a "gaucho" with a skewer of top sirloins.

Las Vegas and the DEMA scuba show will be the blog topic for the next few days....

I'm in Vegas to attend the '08 DEMA show. It starts up tomorrow morning. At the show I'll be attending seminars and the show floor which will be loaded with scuba related manufacturers and dive resorts displaying their services and products. It's a pretty big show, typically having 11K plus attendees, it'll be interesting to see if the numbers are down this year as they held the show in Orlando the last two years and you never know if the east coast stores might take a year off visiting. I'll be posting pictures and reports of the show the next few days.

Here's a shot of the Bellagio hotel, one of the many mega-resorts here. It has fabulous fountains out front and they do a show a couple of times an hour. I'm wanting to get some video of it at night one of these evenings.



Monday, October 20, 2008

Time to recharge....

Whew, I've been working pretty much continuously since mid-March and it's time to take a breather. I'm in Las Vegas to attend DEMA, the scuba industry show. I'll be posting some Vegas and DEMA reports the next little bit. Here's a shot of Paris from the Bellagio fountains earlier today.

Just thought I'd make a post... We're heading downtown to see the Fremont Street Experience in a few minutes.



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

You talkin' to me?

We saw this turtle at "Turtle Pinnacle", which is historically a very popular and well known dive site in Kona. It (the dive site) was featured in a recent IMAX 3D movie last year. Turtle Pinnacle is a large rock structure with a turtle cleaning station below it... turtles come in and present themselves to juvenile surgeonfish/tangs, which eat the algae off their shells. In the last year or two, the sightings of the turtles seems to be down, at least in our opinion. The other week Cathy and I were looking for a site for dive #2 and decided to hit this site as it's got a lot going on critter wise... we told our customers we were thinking about calling it "Turtle Cynical" because we hadn't really seen turtles there in quite a while... but there was a turtle anyways... Bonus!! It's a pretty nice site without turtles, but we've seen them a couple of times recently. I saw this one on a trip this week, thought it looked a little defiant.. hence the post title.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kailua's really quiet right now...

Ironman is over and the town emptied out quite quickly. Pat and I were running errands today and drove through town and it was about as empty as you'll see in on a late afternoon.

We had a pretty good swell come in during yesterday's dives. Today it was coming in real good from the north, it's supposed to be coming down tomorrow. We'll just dive some south facing dive sites and stay clear of the north facing ones for an extra day.

I've been trying to get a decent shot of a Flame Angel (Centropyge loriculus) for quite some time. They're really tough to get a photo of because they are very shy and flighty and will dart into the finger corals if you approach them or swim above them. They used to be pretty rarely seen a few years back, but they're seen quite a bit more often these days.

I saw 5 of them on my dive yesterday. I saw this one towards the end of the dive and decided to try something... in underwater photography, the general rule is get as close as possible, get as little water between you and your subject as possible. As this is really really difficult to do with Flame Angels I decided to take a different tack. The Canon G9 camera has a pretty darned powerful flash, and you usually use the diffuser to help it light up your subject as the flash is very directional and won't get good coverage when shooting close. I decided to not use the diffuser and see if the flash was strong enough to light up the Flame Angel at a longer distance with the camera really zoomed in. The first of these pics was taken at the usual distance before removing the diffuser, I was just lucky to see it for a moment and get a shot off. The second one was taken at a distance of about 5 feet without the diffuser on the flash. This is about a 2 and a half inch fish so the camera was really zoomed in for that shot, but it worked OK. I'm thinking Pat actually has some better pictures of one, but these give you a great idea of how colorful this little fish is.



Short underwater video of dophins on a dive in Kona Hawaii....

Spinner Dolphins on a dive in Kona Hawaii from Steve on Vimeo.
Here's a quick video clip I took on a dive the other week. We were checking out some pinnacles and a few spinner dolphins swam by.... It's short, I had to change the camera into video mode, but you get the idea. We were probably within aobut 20 feet of them when they went by.



Friday, October 10, 2008

Fun manta ray night dive last night in Kona Hawaii...

Last night we did the manta dive up off the Kona airport. Three mantas showed for the dive, spending the first part of the dive with the divers and then moving up to the snorkelers. I was leading the night dive, when the mantas moved off we went on a tour of the reef. One of the other DMs wrote me a message that there was a big nudibranch off the deeper end of the site. We went and checked it out and found a big Clumpy Nudibranch ("Clumpy" is the actual common name of this species), roughly 5 inches by 7 inches in size. Pat took pictures, I'm hoping she'll let me post one. We also saw a couple species of lobster and tons of shrimp on the dive as well as a few other goodies.

We've got another night dive tonight with a group snorkelers that contacts me whenever they have family coming into town. They tried it several years ago, thought it was fantastic, and continue to do it when family is in town and the mantas are showing.

Here's that Reticulated Frogfish (Antennarius tuberosus) I promised in the last post. These small angler fish (you can see it's lure in the center of it's forehead) tend to hide in coral heads, and look like a cone snail with encrusting coraline algae growing on it. We're always excited to find these.



Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ironman triathlon in Kona Hawaii is this weekend, October 11th...

It's a fairly busy week here in Kona... Ironman is this Saturday. Ironman is likely the world's most famous triathlon event, held here annually for almost three decades. I can still remember the big worldwide showing of the '82 Ironman on television where the woman who was leading collapsed just short of the finish line and was passed after what seemed like minutes of crawling (she eventually made it) which turned into a huge PR boon for the event.

The only time I've gone downtown to see the finish of the race was back when I was here on vacation over a decade ago.. lots of good energy... I was really impressed that there were people in the miles before the finish line looking at contestant's numbers on their shirts with binoculars, then looking up the names and cheering them on by name as they passed to finish the last miles of the race... pretty cool. Being the slow season in October, we're sometimes out of town that weekend, most of the times I've been here I've just avoided the traffic and stayed home. The town pretty much shuts down, at least the north end of it outside of downtown, that day. I'm debating between heading downtown for some good energy or just watching college football for the day and avoiding the crowds.

We've been having fun on our charters this week. We had our newly certified students on board yesterday and did a one way drift north of Hoover's (the northern most mooring off the Kona airport) that I led... I love that dive... lots of pinnacles, saw a flame angel, a big spiny lobster in a hole, a very cool Reticulated Frogfish (which I'll post a pic of on my next post) in a coral head, and DOLPHINS UNDERWATER ON THE DIVE!!!! Yes, I have a very few seconds of that on video to be posted later...

Here's a photo of a Zebra Moray (Gymnomuraena zebra) that we came across on that dive.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Short, poorly shot octopus video...

Octopus... eating another octopus! from Steve on Vimeo.
I mentioned in my last post that we saw a large octopus at Kaloko. A week or so earlier we saw one. It was heading to a large rock and I started to switch the camera into video mode. It slid behind the rock and suddenly a small octopus popped out and the bigger octopus came out behind it... I'm thinking "I'm gonna get some octopus sex video", then suddenly it engulfed the smaller octopus and there was a huge ink cloud. By then I've got the camera in video mode, but I didn't have the time to change the camera to underwater white balance from what it was already set at... so the white balance is pretty funky... the focus is off too. Anyway, it appears the bigger octopus ate the smaller one. You can sort of tell there's something within it's mantle. It booked off shortly after I started the video so this is very short.

To bad I didn't have a camera for the octopus 2 days back, as it was cooperatively posing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why is this frogfish sooooo happy?? Airfares are finally dropping!! Come visit Kona Hawaii....

Ok, this is a pretty commercial topic. I've been checking on airfares on a trip we picked up tickets for back in the spring, we picked up ours just in time. I kept an eye on it and the price increases were downright surprising over the course of the spring and summer... nearly doubled... just recently they took a nosedive and are approaching what we originally purchased them for. Tonight I checked for some flights from the mainland to here just to see if the prices have dropped coming this direction... nice to know you can get here from Seattle for 350, Portland for 480 and Los Angeles for 550 or so again now... I'd had people tell me of much higher rates a couple months back.

While I'm at it... I might as well mention our vacation rental still has a bunch of openings in November and December, kind of slow for this time of year, but it's loading up the first quarter of next year quite nicely. I suspect a lot of the hotels and vacation rentals have availability if you're thinking of coming over.

Weather wise and as far as diving condions lately... it's been wonderful! We've done some great diving the last few days, primarily intros and students getting their open water certifications. Our intros the other day got to see a white tip reef shark on thier very first dive!!! The students got to see a lot of great stuff too, I wasn't able to produce a shark, but today we saw a great big (well, great big for here, nothing like the Pacific Giants back in the northwest) octopus at Kaloko - maybe 20 feet from where we saw a similarly sized one just over a week ago, if it is the same one I'm hoping maybe that's it's favorite hangout for a while - who gave us a great show posing/shape changing/color changing for a couple of minutes. We were able to approach it from slightly below it so it didn't seem to take us a much of a threat.... no pictures though as I don't take cameras on teaching dives.

Anyway, I thought a heads up on the airfares might have been in order just in case people've been looking earlier and seeing them go nowhere but up.



Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What dive sites do we dive???

One of my almost pet peeve questions that I hear fairly frequently when people sign up for a dive is "do you know where you're going?". I'm getting to dislike that question, but I guess I just need to get over it. There are some places that feature one or two better dives and practically everyone goes to the same spot, practically every day... thank goodness Kona isn't one of those places. We've got lots of very good dive sites up and down the coast that we can do. Actual choice of where we are diving on any given day depends on what customers want to see, what they've already dove, and the water conditions of the day, and in some cases if there's a mooring available when a lot of boats are on the water. We rarely pick dive sites 'til we're outside the harbor on the water and can check conditions.

Kona has a fairly extensive day use mooring system, primarily between the Kona airport and just north of Kealakekua Bay. The mooring balls are roughly 15 feet down and chained to the bottom, dive operators will send a crew member down with a rope to tie off to it. The first day I hopped on a boat with the first operator I worked for, I'd never really jumped a mooring before. Being the new guy, that was pretty much my only job - the instructions from the boat captain were "I'm going to head the boat towards the ball, and when you think you can reach it, jump." OK, easy enough... so I go for my mask and fins and am immediately informed that those are "only for sissies". Anyway, it's pretty easy to make it down to the balls unless you have a stiff current, there's a couple that are sitting at around 22' that are tougher to get to if you aren't expecting to have to dive that deep.

The story behind the moorings is kind of interesting. Kona didn't always have a mooring system, the dive operators used to drop anchor everywhere. From what I understand (I wasn't here yet in those days), a rather well known individual (start guessing who now) inquired as to why we didn't have a mooring system like some of the places in the Caribbean. I think the response was money, so he decided to help out. Anyway, he had the means to generate the money to get the mooring system started and the dive ops contributed the labor to put them in. Nowadays there's a local non-profit that raises funds for maintaining and adding moorings to the system. Oh, the individual's name was Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, and he was an avid diver. Apparently they held a concert to raise the initial funding... a very nice thing to do.

Anyway, the mooring system has been great for the reef as anchors are only dropped infrequently by dive operators anymore. We do have some anchor sites, and most boats take care to make sure they're hitting sand when they drop anchor. This spring I decided to start keying in our positions on our boat's GPS, and we're up over 50 spots already (still haven't keyed them all in, I try to add them as we dive them), so we've got a lot of variety to choose from as long as the swell cooperates.

Here's a shot of a diver taking a picture of a yellow frogfish in a rubble area. Cathy found this frogfish back in February or March. It was about the size of a nickle/quarter back then, we've been watching it grow since and it's getting to be pretty good sized... I hadn't realized they grow that fast.