Raw Beauty Unleashed

All photos and text by Alex Munoz
Editor’s note: I am proud to say that Alex Munoz was raised in my home town of Fillmore California. He grew up at the base of Mt San Cayetano and spent a lot of time around that mountain as a boy. I went to school with his younger brother, Raul. Alex currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

The Granite Dells, is a geological feature north of Prescott, AZ. The Dells, consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite. I am not from Arizona and these granite boulders still blow me away. I’ll spend hours taking close-ups of the veins in the rocks.

The next four photos were taken in each season of the year. I’ll revisit places several times to try to photograph something different.

The peaks in the background of the photo below are the San Francisco Peaks, the tallest mountains in Arizona. At the base of the peaks is the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

I’ve spent a lot of hours out there in the early in the morning and evening because the light is better  for photography.

Ten years ago, I joined the local photography club and developed a passion for what has become a gift at my age and a wonderful hobby as well.

In Sedona, this fall, it was a steep hike up to Devils Bridge. However, it was well worth the hike, as you can see from the next two photos .


I feel a very strong connection to the land. That is why I am always getting outside.

In the next two photos, you can see the light changing in the afternoon, as we made our way back to the trail head from the Devil’s Bridge.

Whatever light I had at any given moment was the light I needed to work with.

The next three photos show our approach to Cathedral Rock in Sedona, 2016.

The cloud patterns in Northern Arizona are very unusual.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Cathedral Rock Spires

Sedona Sunset

I’m not a professional photographer, but I am a person practicing a profession that I enjoy very much.

Alex Munoz

Posted in Photography/Art | 1 Comment

Close encounters with White-tailed Deer

photograph by Dale Antonson

If you live in a suburban area, white tail deer can be pests eating the hostas and the vegetables in your garden; destroying a young tree by making it a rubbing post during the rutting (mating) season.

But white tails are the largest wild mammal in our neighborhoods, and are incredibly beautiful and sleek. There is something special about taking a morning hike and watching doe and yearling bound away with their tails “flagging” in the air.

White-tail “flagging”
Photograph by Larry Wade

Below are some stories about white-tail encounters:

  •  On an October morning, I walked out to get my mail, it was during the rutting season, and a buck was trying to mount a doe in the street, not 50 feet from me (Hormones can be overwhelming for all mammals sometimes).   Larry Wade
  •  My wife and I were hiking and our dog, Hug, was barking wildly ahead of us. She had recently weaned her pups. We rushed up to see a wobbly newborn fawn nursing from Hug’s teats. The dog was standing with a bewildered look on her face, not sure if she  should try to take bite out of the fawn or lick it. Time slowed down to one frame per second. My wife, picked the fawn up and cradled it. Then we both realized what she has done and she laid the fawn down in the weeds. We continued down the trail, wondering if the whole event had even happened.
    Larry Wade

Photograph by Dale Antonson

  • I had the good fortune to have a free hour to spend before our worship service last Sunday, so I ventured over to Lake Ann in Chanhassen for a hike in the beautiful forest there. I was alone, so I prefer to move through the woods carefully and quietly. I was pleased to come upon a pair of deer. I paused and took some of the photos for this posting. Look carefully in the photo above and you can see the doe who blends so well into the background. As I began to walk away from them, the buck began to follow after me, which made me a little nervous. Thankfully, I was able to move up a hillside and lose his sight line.
    story by Dale Antonson
  • Many years ago, I was working with a group of 6 graders at a nature center. We were doing a deer study near a deer feeding station. I was showing the students how you could tell the age of the deer by looking at the scat (poop). I was getting less than 10 % interest from the group. So, having a few milk duds in my pocket, I reached down pretending to pick up some deer scat. I said to the group, “You don’t need to be so freaked out, because deer scat tastes pretty good”. Then I popped the milk dud into my mouth. I’ll never forget the look on those kid’s faces. Their jaws dropped and eyes bugged out, as they tried to fathom what had just happened.
    Larry Wade

 If you have a favorite white tail story post in the comments section.

Deer Population Study

Do you have a deer herd in your neighborhood? What is the population make-up the herd? By recording some simple field observations, you can get a good idea what age groups of deer live there. Below are three tools for studying deer populations including: scat analysis; measuring the size of deer beds; and analyzing hoof size.

Deer bed

What to do: Go out into woods looking for deer signs: including scat, tracks, and beds. You will need a tape measure to determine the deer bed size. When it comes to analyzing scat, count individual clumps. Make a tally for each of the signs that you find. The number of tallies that you make for each age class, will give a good idea what the population structure is in your neighborhood.

Photograph by Dale Antonson

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Mammals, Winter | Leave a comment

Nature School

Gatewood Elementary is becoming known as an environmental school in the west suburbs of Minneapolis. 4th grade teachers, Jeremy Hahn and Amanda Van Wye have incorporated environmental studies into their regular science curriculum. For many years, they have brought their students to Lone Lake Park for a fall environmental camp. This is an all day outdoor learning event.

photo by Amy Weber

On the nature hike, Mr. Hahn gave the students some “solo” time in the woods. They took notes, and or wrote poetry.

In the cold, Fall space I share
Beautiful long trees surround me with air
Fear not, I hear the bear stands here
Singing songs of joy that he hears.
Up in the trees with the beautiful colors
such as rose red stand right there.
Look down from every branch,
Getting darker by the time is near
After that, “Bye” I say to the calm and cold Fall air.
Queen Okunola

Jenny and Mia
photo by Amy Weber

Mrs Van Wye taught the macro and micro invertebrate class, using pond water from the lake. For the micro invertebrates, students used 30x microscopes. Students had to identify, draw and describe the behavior of the aquatic creatures.

Tree identification was the 3rd class that was taught. Students had to make leaf rubbings from leaves collected from trees in the park, identify them and write a note about them.

Tree lab
Photo by Amy Weber

The art work below was created by using plant pigments, dirt and Buckthorn berries.


Every Friday, Mr. Hahn and Mrs Van Wye take their students out for environmental studies. Below is some of their work that was completed during the peak of fall color.

Art work by Kayla

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Nature Poetry | 3 Comments

Spirit Walk

The untouched areas of the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan provided inspiration and learning for our group of nature seekers.

Sun on Escarpment Overlook
photo by Ken Brown

The songs of the forest felt alive in my cells. Never have I felt the natural life and death within a forest with such intensity. In this wilderness, death feeds life and life feeds death in a constant celebration.
Ken Brown

Photo by Jane Ball

When I walked or swam in the natural world, I used to try to have no impact. I wanted the life I experienced to go on living as it would if I were not there. I wanted to blend in, to be invisible. I realize now that I am not a visitor to Nature. I am part of it. Now, I hike down the trail and fin over the coral with no particular ego. I am myself, part of everything, no better or worse than anything else, just another life form incorporated into the big picture of Nature.
Jane Ball

Overlook Trail – fern forest
Photo by Ken Brown

Everywhere we walked the life of the forest filled the air with its own breath. My challenge was to experience something so alive without expectation. How do I learn to breathe with the forest as a leaf, individual yet all?
Ken Brown

Photo by Jane Ball

It was easy to give yourself up to this untouched wilderness.  At times, I felt like there was no separation between what was around me and how I felt inside of myself. In this trance-like state, the land shimmered like a constantly moving mirage.
Larry Wade

Sky Tree
Photo by Ken Brown

Going into the Porcupines, the first thing I noticed were the Hemlocks. The last time I saw a Hemlock forest was in New York where the large trees were about thirty feet high. Here there are seventy feet plus trees that have been around for up to 550 years( yes those were babies in 1470). Hemlocks are very selective about where they grow and I could feel that this was home for them.
Eric Wickiser

Sunbeam forest
Photo by Ken Brown

Walking under these old growth giants was a spiritual experience of wonder and awe at their size and beauty and sensing there was a lot of communication going on between them. Being there felt like enjoying old friends who I had not seen in a very long time and I wanted to lie down on the forest floor and look up at the canopy.
The trees each had a different configuration of limbs and trunks. Interspersed here and there were the seedling hemlocks with their feathery needles. I knew that it would be many, many years before these seedlings reached the forest canopy as hemlocks are very slow growing. My hope is that we take care of our home so that in another 550 years, all can enjoy seeing this magnificent forest.
Eric Wickiser

photo by Larry Wade

Rain Walk
photo by Larry Wade


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Seasons | 1 Comment

Hidden Beauty in Murky Water

Minnehaha Creek  flows out of Lake Minnetonka and lot of fish go over the dam during the spring runoff. I love to snorkel here until the creek gets too polluted by all the human activity on the lake. Winter is blessing for Lake Minnetonka because it is able to heal from the summer boating season.


Brown bullheads are bottom dwellers and they usually skitter away when danger approaches. True, most people do not like bullheads.  But when you are swimming in their element, it is easy to appreciate their uniqueness.

largemouth bass

Eye to eye with a largemouth bass.
One of the little surprises that continually occur while snorkeling in the creek.


Crappies are like angels with fins instead of wings.
They are so gentle and have a quiet beauty.

Northern Pike

This young northern pike allowed me to get within a few feet of it. The beautiful camouflage pattern made it difficult to see.


Walleye are so mysterious. They lurk in the shadows.


Male bluegill in breeding colors. I have not seen bluegill nests in the creek. Probably because the river’s current would wash them out.

Bowfin or dogfish

Primitive, creepy and beautiful. Bottom feeder.
I only saw one bowfin this year. This photo is from 2016 when there were dozens of them.

Smallmouth Bass

The creativity of nature continually amazes me.
The subtle pattern of a smallmouth bass is food for the soul.


In this photo you get a hint of how the light dances off the fish and the plants.

Northern Pike

Nothing like seeing a large pike to make your heart stop.


Posted in Animals, Photography/Art, Summer | 1 Comment

Addicted to Whale Watching


Would you pay $50 to go out on a ship, possibly get seasick, stand in the cold and get soaked for 3 hours, just to get a glimpse of a whale? It turns out there are millions of people a year who did precisely that (13 million in 119 countries around the world – (data from 2008)). Not only that, whale watching brought over 2 billion dollars into local economies (world wide).

Fin Whale
Justin Thomson

“Whales watches are exciting because you never know what you are going to see. Seeing a blue or a fin whale you realize the immense size of these creatures. With humpbacks they have so many different types of behavior like bubble feeding and breaching, so every time you go it’s a chance to see something different. Living in New York we are never immersed in nature but when you are out in the ocean it is so vast and the whales are so big, it really helps you let go of all your stress and just experience something totally different.
 Sarah Sable, Brooklyn, New York.

Humpback surfacing   –      Robert Sable

Whale watchers live to see a whale surface right off the bow. You hear the sound of the “blow” as the whale surfaces. You hear screams of joy and the permanent smiles on people’s faces. The “people watching” is almost as much fun as watching the whales.
L Wade

Humpback Fluke-up

What unique creatures whales are:
They are up to 3 school buses in length.
They have baleen which helps them filter small creatures (zooplankton)
Their flukes (tail)  propel them in the water.
Whales are like something you read about, but never get to see.
L. Wade

Blue Whale
John Calambokidis
Cascadia Research

I have been hooked on whales for over 40 years. The first blue whale I ever saw was in 1973. I was working with a group of whale researcher in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The whale surfaced right in front of us. It was dead quiet until someone whispered, “It’s a blue”. Then we started jumping up and down, like little kids, and screaming with pure joy.
L. Wade

Fin Whale Surfacing
Justin Thomson

“It’s exciting, it’s fun. You get to go out to the open seas like people of yore and you get to see these amazing large creatures that you couldn’t see otherwise.” Justin Thomson, Brooklyn, New York


The shearwaters and terns feed on the same prey as the whales. Many of these birds circumnavigate the Atlantic Ocean each year. The Great Shearwater nests on Tristan da Cunha Islands deep in the South Atlantic. While the Sooty Shearwater nests at the southern tip of South America (Tierra Del Fuego).

Humpback Whale just starting to “blow”
Robert Sable

“I like to see the whales spouting in our face”  Emeline Thomson-Sable ( 3 ½ years old)

This whale is named “Echo”. The pattern on the lower edge of the left fluke was made by a killer whale. To learn more about how individual humpback whales are identified go to: http://coastalstudies.org/humpback-whale-research/gulf-of-maine/a-humpback-whale-named-salt/
photo by Robert Sable

There has been a world wide ban on whaling for over 40 years. Sadly, Norway, Iceland and Japan still murder whales. Once you have seen a whale in the ocean, it is unimaginable to think of killing one.

Fin whale struck by ship
Cascadia Research

For the most part, whale populations world-wide are increasing. However, ship strikes are the leading cause of whale deaths. Other threats include, water pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. This summer (2017)there have been 13 endangered North Atlantic Right Whales killed by ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.

Posted in Nature Notes, Whales & Oceanography | Leave a comment

Smart Phone Naturalist

Steven Barnier is a senior at Hopkins High School in the Minneapolis Area. He has already completed AP Biology and Chemistry and is possibly interested in a career in forestry. Steven shared his photos with me during the Hopkins Field Biology class at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in July 2017. All of Steven’s photos were taken with a Samsung S8.

All text and photos by Steven Barnier

These mushrooms were so perfect that they almost looked fake growing out of a dead tree branch.

This was our camp-out at Eagle Bluff. I put the lens exposure as low as it could go. I really liked the glow of the coals below and the way the fire jumped.

That was very early in the morning at Eagle Bluff. The background was blurred out and created a mysterious image.

I found this green tree frog resting on a propane tank at Eagle Bluff. I bet it was eating the bugs on the tank. I thought it would jump away when I used the flash, but it stayed right there.
Nighttime sunset at the Grand Tetons, Jackson, Wyoming.

I love the way the pine trees form a frame around the bear which was less than 40 yards away (Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

Photography allows me to get a close-up view of the workings of nature. It helps me see how creatures live in the natural world.


This shows the artistic design of a spider web. The photo was taken at night. When you put the flash on them it reflects the web back. It was hard to shoot because the strands of the web would shake, making the other photos I took blurry.

This was a very unusual type of fungus. It was super puffy and looked like a plastic bag growing out of a down tree.

There was a hailstorm two years ago in Northern Minnesota and trees were damaged, like this aspen leaf that was torn from the tree.

Coneflowers at midnight, Eagle Bluff.
The flash created the unusual light on the flowers.

It was after a rain storm and I liked the water droplets that were suspended above the Jewelweed flower. It was so beautiful in the morning with the light on it.

Blue Dasher, Northern Minnesota, mid summer

I was attracted to the contrast of colors between the red mushroom and the patch of green moss. It really made the mushroom stand out.

This is the underside of some type of shelf mushroom. I slid my phone underneath the mushroom and it was backlit with the light shining through the gills.

A shelf mushroom growing upside down out of a tree. I thought it was phenomenal.

Skiing at sunrise in Salt Lake City Utah. I thought the beauty of the sun rising over the mountain was very special. The wind blowing the snow at the summit, was illuminated by sun.

Steven Barnier is in the foreground with Alex Patridge and Ben Johnson.

Posted in Photography/Art | 2 Comments

Changing the World – One birdwatcher at a Time

Posting and photos by Amy Simso Dean

I want to change the world. But how can one introverted, bird nerd from Minnesota inspire world environmentalism? I am no John Muir or Rachel Carson. My answer (or at least I hope it is): Kids.

My story starts in Minneapolis… ventures toward Azerbaijan… and ends who knows where.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
In 2015, I had the crazy idea of starting a youth birding club for 4th and 5th graders at my daughters’ school in South Minneapolis.

Luckily the school principal (“You want to start a what?”) gave me the go ahead. Julie Brophy and Amber Burnette, local birders, heard about my idea and stepped up to help.

We make poster and build our own birds.

Now each fall, winter, spring we spend 4–6 weeks introducing kids to birds. This fall, we’ll have grown to 5 sessions at 4 locations. MYBirdClub (MN Youth BirdClub) is a club, not a class, so learning happens organically as we wander or play indoor games and activities.

The kids play a game called “field guide race”, where they learn how to use a field guide to ID birds.

If you ever run across us in the field, be ready for high-energy, explosive enthusiasm. They point. They shout. They run. They battle with dandelions gone to seed. (And yes, they amble, quietly oblivious, engrossed in conversation.)
But when one birder spots a downy woodpecker, all the binoculars snap up. These birders run to see a Blue Jay teed up on a treetop, shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?” and “I see it! I see it!”

And the interest is contagious. They soon start pointing out birds to their parents and siblings. Suddenly an entire family is scanning the skies, lakes and trees; I have the email and texts to prove it.

I believe that once you notice something, you start to care about it. And once you care about something, you want to protect it. So, while I might not be able to change the world, maybe, just maybe, one of these kids will.

Youth in Azerbaijan
This summer’s rather harebrained scheme is gathering used binoculars to send to Nature Friends, a program in Azerbaijan that also hopes to inspire the next generation of birders and conservationists.

Bird Camp Besh Barmag,Azerbaijan. April 2017    © Emin Mammedov/Nature Friends


Minnesota birders, a truly generous flock, have rallied to the cause and donated more than 24 new and used binoculars. My next challenge is getting them there—a task that is proving to be much harder.

Transportation costs, customs, distance… I now have to figure out how to bridge these gaps. But if a Ruby-throated hummingbird that weighs as little as a penny can cross the Gulf of Mexico, I know I can get these binoculars into the hands of the next generation of Azerbaijani conservationists.

Who knows, maybe some day, one of them will team up with one of my Minnesota birders and set the birding world… or the entire environmental community… on fire.


Amy Simso Dean is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. She volunteers at The Raptor Center, runs MYBirdClub afterschool youth birding clubs and does a little stained glass on the side.
If you’d like to learn more about MYBirdClub, you can contact her at MYBirdClubInfo@gmail.com
Youtube video about bird camp in Azerbaijan: Bird Camp Besh Barmag documentary, Azerbaijan 




Posted in Birds, Nature Guardians | 2 Comments

Make Your Heart Sing

80 teenagers for a week in the woods Hopkins Field Biology class. Sound a little scary?…… No cell phones or electronics, just being in the woods with kids who were totally open to the beauty that surrounded them…..  it made my heart sing.

Lorie Regenold



Marbled skies peek through the branches
Like black veins leading to a rooted heart
Leaves shield raindrops like hands cradling children
From the earth as a fire lights the sky
Impatient with lust for a night as black as coal.
Ada Turman

Lorie Regenold

I see a fork in the road
Wondering which path I should take.
The dark woods with owls and raccoons
Or a bright green meadow, with flowers and bees,
I took the path to beauty and nature
A path I’ll never forget
Vienna A.


Hundred Year Moment

Don’t breathe
Don’t speak,
Don’t get lost.
Four hundred years of history all covered in moss
I tiptoe through the bushes – there’s a deer
Stranger danger!
There’s no time to hide
Or to call the park ranger
So I turn on the dime and slip into the mud
Awakening the frightful beast with a sloppy wet thud
I try to run away but my foot gets
Caught in brush and Bramble
I tear away from nature’s grasp in a desperate mad scramble
The deer charges
I loosen my feet and sprint away
Under the shade of oak
I couldn’t tell night
From day
I broke away
The deer was gone; silence reigned
Through the mossy scape
A bed of mushrooms lay in wait
I knew I’d made my escape
So don’t breathe
Don’t speak
And don’t get shaken
Just because the forest is quiet
Doesn’t mean it can’t awaken.
Alex Patridge

Wolf spider
Lorie Regenold


Rushing, bubbling down my bed, 
Going faster the farther I head
Over rock and tons of sand,
Traveling all across the land.
Past frogs that leap and croak,
And snakes that slither and gloat.
For I am the creek that rushes past
Bubbling and spraying everything in my path.
Helena Mitchell

The peaceful sound of the stream flowing
Flowers, trees and greens growing.
Footsteps are wandering
On the quiet, peaceful path.
Take it all in
The grass, trees, flowers and greens.
As each one has its story
Mother nature in its glory
Gracie Sundell

Lucy’s Nature notes

Thick underbrush grasps for pale sunlight
From thin stems reach fans of young leaves
A gentle bed, fit for a bumblebee
From shy sprouts spills royal bells
And bright yellow blossoms reach to the trees
Whom sit lifeless, waiting for a breeze
Songbirds twitter furiously in the branches
At the clouds, at the sky,
At the squirrel that skitters by

Lucy Smith



Steven Barnier


I see animals running and jumping on the ground

I hear many unique sounds in the woods
Everywhere I walk I see trees
and emerald green leaves

I see lots of flowers
and feel like I have lots of powers
I hope you know nature is everywhere.
I love nature

Danielle Lee

Nature Notes –  Hannah A.R.



The Senses of the World

Dobsonfly – photo  byLorie Regenold

I see the brown tree
I see the hollow river
I see that little bee
Mother Nature, the giver

I feel the sun
I feel its heat
When the sun is done
The crickets make a beat

I hear a caw
That comes from a crow
That’s what I saw
It’s a present without a bow

I taste the woods
I drank from a well
Its like a house without a head
The birds sing like a bell.

Joey K.


Great Spangled Fritillary
Vienna A.


Animals on Parade
Ants are wondrous, like plants all around
Stars at night, animals do not have fright
Songs heard by ear are quite clear!
An owl lays there, yes right there in the air
All around the river not a sound
So keep right there – Animals are always around

Henry Risser

Old Naturalist portrait
Ben Johnson















Night Hike

Vienna A.

Walking in the woods
Listening to the birds
Hearing the sounds of nature
Looking up at the trees.
Walking on the path
Pointing out things to eachother,
swatting gnats
In our faces.
What a beautiful night.

They are beautiful just like you and me!

Calais A.


Fungus – photo by  Steven Barnier

Fire in the night
The birds are singing
Squirrels are chattering
Water is flowing
Crickets are humming,
bugs are buzzing
Rustling leaves,
toads are crossing
People are walking
No more city lights
Just endless woods

Brody Hendershot




12th grade camp out –   photo by Trey Waterman


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art | 1 Comment

Lessons Learned at the Prairie – Year 22

Lessons learned at the prairie: 
” Nature can balance the rough places inside you.”

Cup Plant
The leaves of the plant form a “cup” that birds and insects drink from.

Lessons  learned at the Prairie:
“Let the beauty go deep into your bones”.

Pale Coneflower

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Every living thing has a unique vibration. Share your vibration with the plant.”

Mountain Mint
An August favorite of my types of pollinators.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
“Be appreciative of the life that is around you”.

Queen of the Prairie
A wetland plant in the rose family with beautifully scented flowers.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Life is so much better when your hands are digging in the Earth.”

Rattlesnake Master
A favorite of pollinators in July. The plant is a a northern type of agave .

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
Respect the weeds, they are teachers too.
(vetch, thistle, canada anemone, and European Spurge).

Lessons learned at the prairie:
“Say “good morning” to the plants and to the people walking by on the trail”.


Lessons learned at the Prairie:  “Work with others whom you care about.”

Friends of the Prairie
22 years later

Posted in Nature Guardians, Photography/Art | Leave a comment