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Stargazing 101

dweber posted this February 4th, 2016

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There’s more to the night sky than meets the eye. A lot more. On any given night you can see a thousand star, five of the eight planets, 88 constellations, the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies – all with the naked eye. Here are some facts and tips for optimal stargazing:

Clear and dark skies are good: Cold, windy, cloudless, moonless nights are prime time to check out the stars. Low humidity is also crucial to seeing those tiny details (like Saturn’s rings) through binoculars.

Look low for planets: Look for planets no higher than 30 degrees above the horizon (hold your fist at arm’s length; three fists up from the horizon is about 30°). Venus comes out just after sunset and before dawn, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible later at night. You’ll know it’s a planet because they don’t twinkle.

Stars twinkle, planets don’t: Stars sparkle because of helium and hydrogen gas within the star; when the gas burns out, so does the star.

Find the “bright star”: The North Star isn’t actually the brightest star in the sky, Sirius is. The brighter the star (or planet), the lower the number in magnitude. For example, Sirius is -1.44 in magnitude while the moon is a whopping -26.

Know the North Star: If you stood at the North Pole, the North Star (or Polaris) would be directly overhead all night long. But the further south you move, the more it rotates due to the degree of earth’s tilt. But if you’re in the northern hemisphere you can always find it. The brightest star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle is the North Star. Can’t see the Little Dipper? Draw an imaginary line straight through the two stars of the Big Dipper’s edge and toward the Little Dipper. The line will point to the North Star.

Know some galaxy facts: Our solar system is one of thousands in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one of thousands in the universe. Galaxies are made up of billions of stars and solar systems all bound to each other by the same gravitational pull. So galaxies can come in all shapes and sizes. The Milky Way galaxy is discus and spiral shaped, with Earth located deep within one of the arms of the Milky Way. That’s why when you look up, the Milky Way looks like a streak through the sky – we’re seeing it from the side!

Look for seasonal constellations: Look for Orion’s Belt in Winter, the Big Dipper in Spring, Sagittarius in the Summer and the Andromeda Galaxy in the Fall. Look up any night of the year and you’ll surly see low-orbit, man-mad satellites following a curved path.

Remember, the night sky is always changing: Depending on the seasons and which hemisphere you’re in, you’ll see different constellations. But one day your favorite constellation could be gone… The Milky Way is constantly losing stars and producing new ones – about seven new stars per year! With an estimated 2 billion stars and more than half of them older than our 4.5 billion-year-old sun, the Milky Way is considered a young galaxy. Makes you feel like a kid again, don’t it?

For more facts and charts, we like these tools:
stardate.org for everything about constellations
cleardarksky.com for stargazing forecasts
Sky Guide app to identify celestial objects

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Our First Time in Great Basin National Park

dweber posted this February 3rd, 2016

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When was the last time you did something for the first time? The last time you experienced something that made you see things a little differently? The last time you stood in a new place and felt an overwhelming sense of awe? That’s the feeling we set out to find. We grabbed some friends, packed up our bags and set out for Great Basin National Park – one of the least visited parks in the Lower 48 with some of the oldest trees and the darkest skies.

We left Salt Lake City after work on Friday (later than planned of course), headed southwest toward the Nevada/Utah border. Joel was driving Rita Jean, a semi-trusty ’86 Westfalia vanagon, with Brandon riding shotgun and Crystal and Hannah in the back. Van Morrison was also along for the ride.

240 miles later, we rolled into Wheeler Peak campground around 10:00, hungry but happy. We filled out the fee envelope, went to start up the van and snapped off the gear shaft. After 4 hours of climbing 10,000 ft, Rita Jean had had enough. We tinkered for an hour then we finally pushed Rita to an open site and whipped up some 11pm campside tacos. We all agreed they were the best tacos we’d ever had.

The closest “big” town to Great Basin National Park is Ely, Nevada – 70 miles north of the park. Deny and Trudy from Ely showed up the next morning with a flat bed truck to haul Rita back to Ely for fixing over the weekend. Carless but armed with a cooler full of bacon and bourbon, we got our day started.

We spent the next two days exploring Wheeler Peak. With a height of 13, 065 ft, the summit is covered with snow most of the year – an ideal climate for the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, an ancient pine species that’s been thriving for thousands of years (yes, we thousands). These pines are truly mind blowing. Huge, car-sized trunks give way to twisty bark, looking like a lightning bolt that’s been carved from wood. It’s gnarled and split as sections of the tree die off and peel over the centuries. But these mangled trees are alive and kicking, sometimes with only a narrow strip of living tissue connecting the roots to a handful of branches. And those needles that are sprouting out? Those same needles live for an average of 45 years. The oldest tree in the Western Hemisphere is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, still going strong at 5,062 years old. Those are some deep roots.

Along with ancient pines, we’d always heard about Great Basin’s killer stargazing. They say “Half the Park is After Dark”, and now we know why. Low humidity, minimal light pollution and high elevation give Great Basin the edge when it comes to stargazing. Combine that with Earth’s location deep within the spiral arms of the Milky Way and you’ve got a primo view from the inside looking out. Thousands of stars, five of the eight planets, 88 summer constellations, the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies – all with the naked eye. With binoculars we could easily see Saturn’s rings. Yes, Saturn.

On Monday morning Denny and Trudy picked us up and hauled us to Ely, Nevada. We reunited with a souped-up Rita Jean and hit the road back to Salt Lake City, taking the Northeast route via US-93. We took our sweet time, picnicking at a neat rest stop somewhere outside of Ely. Just across the Utah border, we took a detour off the I-80 to spend an hour cooling off at the Salt Spring Management Water Area , a marshland with natural salt springs and watering holes. Two hours and one roadside diner later we made it back to SLC – full of memories and ready for our next first experience.

To plan your own trip to Great Basin National Park, visit www.nps.gov/grba

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Win a Trip to Chile

dweber posted this February 3rd, 2016

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Maybe it’s the cobblestone streets, maybe it’s staggering scenery, could easily be the local wine… Whatever it is, there’s always a new sway in your step when you experience a place for the first time. We can’t get enough of that first-time-feeling and we’re all about sharing that experience. That’s why we’ve partnered with  LATAM Airlines, Eagle Creek and Turismo Chile to send you and a friend on an all-expenses paid 9-Day trip through the culinary heartland of Chile. Enter here to win Chile a la Carte, sweepstakes runs February 1 – March 4, 2016. Itinerary includes…

  • Two days at an eco-lodge on Chiloé Island to kayak, explore the Dalcahue market and ride horses
  • A private cooking class with Carolina Bazán, master chef at Ambrosia in Santiago
  • Two nights in the Maipo Valley, wine tasting and touring the Santa Rita Winery
  • Two days at UNESCO port town of Valparaíso
  • All this while fully outfitted in Toad&Co clothes and Eagle Creek travel gear
  • And when you get home, you’ll have a case of Santa Rita wine and a lifetime of memories to reminisce over your first trip to Chile!

Sounds pretty fantástico, right? Enter to win between February 1 – March 4, 2016.

The Canoemobile

dweber posted this February 3rd, 2016

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There’s nothing like your first time in a national park and we think everyone should have that experience. So as a part of our longtime social mission to provide opportunities for adults with disabilities, we’re giving a grant to the National Park Foundation to get 1,000 adults into national parks in 2016. How do they do it? Via the Canoemobile.

What exactly is the Canoemobile? Well it’s just what it sounds like – it’s a van that pulls a fleet of 24-foot Voyager canoes across the country. In celebration of the National Park System’s centennial, the Canoemobile, operated by Wilderness Inquiry, will connect 1,000 adults with disabilities to the national parks by getting them into canoes and out on America’s great rivers and lakes. Purple Mountains Majesty for all!

The tour kicks off on March 1, 2016 and runs through November 2016. The Canoemobile will be making stops across the country all summer, so keep an eye out for them. We’ve already got a handful of stops scheduled – places like Big Thicket National Park, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Golden Gate National Recreational Area– but the Canoemobile we’ll be adding many more stops as we get rolling.

Stay tuned for updates on the Canoemobile’s whereabouts and tour schedule!

The Boulevardier

dweber posted this February 3rd, 2016

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We all have that friend who’s ready for anything – he can open a beer with his shoe, navigate by the stars and always has a pack of cards handy. That’s our friend Joel. Joel came with us on our road trip to Great Basin National Park for the first time. He’s just the kind of guy you want around on a first time road trip when the van breaks down on the highway, when you’re looking at a billion stars, when you need a nightcap to warm you from the inside out… True to form, Joel came prepared. He calls it The Boulevardier, we call it Joel’s Lighter Fluid.

The Boulevardier aka Joel’s Lighter Fluid 
2 parts bourbon
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth

Combine ingredients in a shaker (or do what Joel did, put ingredients in his to-go coffee mug… just make sure it’s clean!). Take a lighter to the orange peel to warm it up, then twist peel to loosen up the oils. Serve up and garnish with the orange peel. Enjoy with good company and a raging campfire.

Best National Parks to Visit in February

dweber posted this February 3rd, 2016

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Punxsutawney Phil has spoken: It’s officially spring, folks! Okay, the weather may not be completely on board yet, but we are! We’re packing up the car, bringing a few extra layers and headed to some of our favorite national parks – ones that happen to shine during these crispy winter – errrr, spring days! So after the cold shock of unzipping the sleeping bag has worn off and the leggings have been hastily thrown on, you’ll be glad that little groundhog welcomed spring early.

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 Yosemite National Park is blissfully serene in cold-weather months, especially under the canopy of changing leaves and a blanket of snow. Winter means cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even downhill skiing—with a fraction of the approximately 4 million visitors the park sees year-round. A word to the wise, Tioga Road, the main access to the eastern parts of the park, is currently closed, meaning your excursions will be focused on destinations around Yosemite Valley. But there’s still plenty to do there (be sure to check out the park’s handy Yosemite Guide beforehand). We like to ski at Badger Pass (Northern California’s oldest ski area!), snowshoe and cross-country ski over traditional summer trails, and sidle up to the empty bar at the Ahwahnee Hotel for an après ski.

Olympic National Park has no shortage of amazing camping destinations, with five camping destinations that are open year-round. Chances are, if you camp in Olympic National Park in the off-season, it will rain on you. Off-season camping isn’t something everyone will enjoy, but for the foolhardy and the fearless, it is life-changing. Pack warm clothes, a waterproof tent, and a sense of adventure and determination, and Olympic National Park is your gateway to an unforgettable time in the wild. We like Graves Creek Campground in the Quinalt Rainforest and Kalaloch Campground on the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean.

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Arches National Park is breathtaking any time of year, but when the low winter sun illuminates the snowy white icing atop Moab’s velvety red rocks, you get a scenery that is unlike anything else on this planet. It’s a photographer’s dream, whether you’re a pro or just adding some brag-worthy shots to your Instagram feed. And because it’s winter, you can expect to share the entire park with only a handful of people, rather than the endless parade of visitors that Arches sees during summer and fall.

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of those places that you can visit a million times and never see the same place twice. We suggest Porter Creek Trail this time around. Porter Creek’s low elevation and gentle slopes make it especially wonderful in the spring, when some of the higher elevation trails are still unpredictable due to snow and ice. This gentle, peaceful 4-mile trail mixes beautiful wildflowers and lively waters with some notable historic sites – the old stone walls of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead and the tombstones of Ownby Cemetery, both from the early 20th Century.

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For those looking for a feeling of solitude, winter beauty and adventure, February is one of the best times to visit Glacier National Park. Don’t expect to find the usual restaurants and lodges in the surrounding towns – they’ve long been boarded up for the winter. But throw some extra blankets in your car, grab some hand warmers and just pick any old campground – most of them are wide open and free for car camping in the winter. If you’re not super gung-ho about camping in Montana in February, head out for a long day trip. Stand on the shores of Bowman Lake and let the silence crash over you, spot wildlife from your snowshoes on McDonald Creek trail, or strap some chains on your car and drive the gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road on the west side of the park. Be sure to check the current road status before your weekend getaway.

The Health Kick

dweber posted this January 12th, 2016

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New Year, new health kick. We’ve resolved to be healthier in 2016, to exercise more and get our daily fix of antioxidants and vitamins. So a modified whiskey sour is just what the doctor ordered: a mixture of immunity-boosting ginger, antioxidant rich honey, high in potassium egg whites, vitamin overload lemon and a dash of cayenne pepper (the ancient therapeutic wonder spice). And whiskey – for health and happiness of spirit. Lose the whiskey and combine ingredients with hot water for an even healthier health kick, or double the recipe and share with a friend. Go ahead, drink to your health!

The Health Kick
2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
5 slices fresh ginger
1 egg white
pinch of cayenne pepper

1. In a glass, stir honey into whiskey until smooth.
2. Muddle ginger in shaker.
3. Combine whiskey, lemon juice and egg white in shaker. Shake for about 15 seconds or until frothy.
4. Pour over ice and garnish with a pinch of cayenne – drink to your health!

Healthy Orange Carrot Muffins

dweber posted this January 5th, 2016

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We’re all trying to eat a little healthier these days. We’re letting our bodies recover from the holidays and starting strong with resolutions, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth then breakfast can be one of the hardest meals to get right. Luckily, these Orange + Carrot muffins from our gal Luci are low in fat and high in guilt-free deliciousness. Naturally sweet carrots and a healthy  dose of Vitamin C from means you’re getting in your vitamins before you’re even done with coffee. Bring on 2016, one resolution at a time.

Orange + Carrot Muffins (12-14 large muffins)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup nonfat greek yogurt
3 tbsp oil
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 tbsp orange zest
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (can use AP flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine wet ingredients (sugar through carrots) in large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.
3. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients.
4. Fill greased muffin tins at least 3/4 full.
5. Bake 20-22 minutes and enjoy with coffee! Refrigerate within 24 hours.

Easy Holiday Recipe

dweber posted this December 23rd, 2015

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Every holiday we roll up our sleeves, preheat the oven and get down to business. With full houses and empty glasses, we spend much deserved time with our loved ones and whip up our favorite things to share. So here’s our recipe for a perfect holiday:

Ingredients 
60 Minutes of volunteering (or more!)
52 Cards
24 Hours without the internet
12 Pack of your favorite local beer
10 year aged bourbon – take a sip, splash a sip
8 Tracks of The Boss (or whatever keeps the kitchen crew grooving)
4 Shotted-shotski (learn how to make one here)
Pair of stretchy pants
1 football
A liberal sprinkling of good company

1. Prep ingredients the night before.
2. Morning of, spend 60 minutes volunteering.
3. Preheat oven to 375, turn on 8 tracks.
4. Mix remaining ingredients, stirring occasionally.
5. Top with good company and share!

Tis The Season for Delivery Guy Appreciation

dweber posted this December 15th, 2015

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Every holiday season we reflect on the folks in our lives who make our days merry and futures bright. We give thanks for friends and family, co-workers, neighbors, four-legged friends… and the Delivery Guy! Whether it’s the holidays or not, these men and women are there every day bringing boxes and spreading good cheer. We should know – we get a lot of boxes around here, and for the past few years we saw Brett the UPS Guy on the daily. He ran this same route for 11 years, so he got to know the Toads (and really became acquainted with our guard dogs) and we got to know him. Brett retired a few weeks ago after 29 years at UPS, but it all started back in Thanksgiving of ’86 when he was a Holiday Helper…

Start with the beginning.
Brett: I was living in Long Beach working in an office and I was just feeling so cooped up inside. My brother worked for UPS and mentioned that they were looking for part time help during the holidays. I thought, “Hey – it’s outside!” so I just signed on for the holidays and ended up really liking it.

What was the best part about the job?
Brett: Being outside all day, getting to meet loads of different people – I became friends with a lot of my customers – and really getting to know the town when I moved here in ’94.

Have any favorite routes?
Brett: The one you guys are on! Most of the UPS guys don’t like that route because it’s got those narrow, windy streets in the hills, but it’s the only route with a constant ocean view! And really nice folks on that route. That’s when you really get to know people, when you see them almost every day for 11 years. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day it starts to add up.

Any crazy stories from your routes over the years?
Brett: Well I worked through two El Niños and dealt with some crazy flooding, there were a few flashes of nudity over the years (I walked into a pool situation once, that was strange…), and then there’s always the dogs – you never know what you’re gunna get.

Well you’re the dog whisperer at Toad! What’s the secret?
Brett: Treats! Always have treats.

Aside from Team Toad, any favorite people you met along the way?
Brett: Oh ya, lots of great customers! One of my good friends I met because he was the shipping and receiving guy at a tech company on my route – he’s my concert buddy. And actually just last weekend a family I’ve known for years took me to a Kings hockey game down in LA. Really nice people, I was lucky.

So we know you’re a big music guy since you’ve always got a new album recommendation. Seen any good shows lately?
Brett: Lots of great shows this year! Saw Florence and the Machine and the Alabama Shakes most recently, took my stepdaughter to see Katy Perry at the Staples Center (and I have to say, I was pretty entertained). The Avett Brothers were really great and the Foo Fighters are always awesome – I saw them in 1993 and was in the mosh pit, so it was a slightly different experience this time… But I think the best show of the year was Aerosmith. I was all the way in the nosebleeds but it didn’t even matter – they’re just legendary.

So you’re enjoying retirement then?
Brett: Definitely, but I’m going through clothes like crazy! Now that I don’t wear a uniform everyday I feel like I’m constantly having to look at my closet!

Thanks for the good company over the years, Brett. We miss seeing you on the daily so pop in any time. We always need a good music suggestion!