We have Lift Off!

Ever since I was a little kid, space has been a fascination of mine. Something about the beauty and the mystery, as well as humans traveling there, just drew me in.

I’ve witnessed numerous launches of Space Shuttles, and many different types of rockets, but my recent experience at the Kennedy Space Center tops them all. I had the privilege of joining a small group of people for two days of behind the scenes action, leading up to a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket launch. The CRS-12 launch was the highlight, but getting to tour the Vehicle Assembly Building and the Flight Control Center were high on the charts. We were even able to get up close to the Falcon 9 rocket, as it sat on pad 39A, just hours before its lift off! That is something I never in my life thought I’d be able to do! Another highlight to me was sitting in front of some NASA officials like: Astrophysics Director, Paul Hertz, and Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, as he spoke to us about his opinions, future space flight, and tons of other amazing things that NASA is doing and will be doing for this country, and the entire world!

This was an experience I will never forget, and I am so grateful of the NASA Social and everyone behind it. I can’t thank you all enough for the opportunity.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the amazing 2 days:

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Mark M.

Christmas in August, in Florida.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of my days at the beach, so I decided to take a short trek inland to go on a little adventure. A few of my favorite adventure spots in central Florida are in a little town called Christmas. It’s only about a 40 minute drive, so that is where I figured I’d set off to. My goal for the day was to find snakes. Venomous snakes. But that didn’t seem to happen. However, I did end up seeing lots of awesome birds, beautiful scenery, turtles, tortoises, deer, and my favorites, American Alligators.

I wanted to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, so I rode my bike, rather than walk. Part of my ride consisted of small dirt roads, winding through the swamps and wetlands, part of it through the woods, part through some tall grass, and part of it even involved a big grassy hill (big for Florida)!

Besides overlooking the wetlands from the hill, my favorite part of the adventure was with one of the Alligators I hung out with. I chilled around with a few, but this one was down for social interaction even more than the others. When I first walked up to the gator, it was laying down chilling on the side of the swamp. So I sat down with it and chilled a bit. When I got up, the gator got up and slowly went sliding into the water right next to me. It just kept a close eye on all my actions. Tje Alligator did not seem threatened, and neither was I. It was just a very cool, close, and relaxing experience. A nice vibe.

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deer alli

deer bird

deer road

deer gator creep

deer swamp

deer walking gator

deer dirt

deer swamp 2

deer gator

All in all, it was a great little adventure, and I am looking forward to more in the near future.

Get outside!

 

Mark M.

Ecuador Adventures in May.

Some of my favorite places I’ve had the privilege of visiting have been in Latin America. I love the foods, the natural beauty, and the complete kindness of almost everyone. People just seem to be more caring and giving. Even people with almost nothing to offer, will offer you what they have, just to make sure you are happy and enjoying yourself. It truly feels like another world in my opinion.

With all that said, when I was offered another trip to Ecuador, I had to say YES! I had visited Ecuador twice before, so I already had friends there, which makes trips more enjoyable. Also, I would be joining some other close U.S. friends of mine, which makes it even that much better! I arrived to Quito, Ecuador a little late in the evening, so I didn’t really expect much of a meet and greet from anyone, except a quick hello, and lets go..but to my surprise, I was greeted by my great friend Marco Calderon, and a couple other bmx riders. Instead of heading straight home and to bed, they took me around and showed me some beautiful sights of Quito. It was definitely a nice welcome to a beautiful country.

The next day, all the others flew in, and that’s when the trip really took off! We had the privilege of visiting the actual Equator! It was something I never really thought I would do or see. Funny thing is, there was a massive monument built many years ago, on what was THOUGHT to be the actual line.. but with better GPS technology, they found that the actual Equator is about 250 yards away from it’s original said location. Non the less, it was cool to visit both the real, and the fake locations.

From there, we packed up into a van and took an 8 hour journey from Quito to Macas, where we would be spending the next few days. The best part of the journey was driving through the Andes mountains! we passed by waterfalls, volcanoes, and so much beautiful scenery, some of which was so amazing looking that it looked almost fake. The not as good part of the drive was the rain, twisty steep roads with massive cliffs on the side, and some spots of the roads even completely washed away by landslides. It was an adventure, to say the least!

During our stay, we took a quick stroll just outside of Macas city, to a cool little spot on the outskirts of the Amazonian Jungle. It was amazing! We crossed over a roaring river on a sketchy bridge made of bamboo, which was almost totally separated in the center. It seemed like the little bridge could go at any second, but it was the only way to get to the hiking trails on the other side. we crossed the bridge, and I felt like I stepped into another world! It was simply amazing! We took a hike along the river, through the massive lush greens and tall palms. It felt like we were in Jurassic Park!

Basically, this adventure was a success! We rode bmx, hung out with the mayor of Macas, met great people, ate amazing food, saw some beautiful sights, and most of all, we were welcomed and cared for by every single person we crossed paths with. I have to give a huge thanks to my pal Marco Calderon for making this trip, one for the books.

Here are some shots from the trip.

Enjoy!7C6AF684-68A8-47FC-A561-C8F050A97C90The fake equator monument.

IMG_6643The sketchy bridge. IMG_6644Sketchy bridge again.

2A729DC1-E8C7-479B-914B-5A55B66274FBThe van. We packed 14 people, and bags in this.

7234AAA4-E5BE-4E1F-B506-20574D980DB0Everyday views in Ecuador.

D8AAD72C-75F4-4775-B6BC-32639627A3FEThe beautiful Cotopaxi Volcano.

906320E2-240F-4053-B7BC-048E772BC220City streets of Quito.

D117FC17-61FC-4FD4-9F74-8D7555E88262View #1 Parque SangayE7EF932B-63EE-4F52-841F-C7FB19FC5D2CView #2 Parque Sangay

CC9D97B9-9707-4197-9416-CB65381B9F62The flag of Ecuador, flying high above Macas.

 

-Mark M.

Manatees Gone Wild!

When you think of Manatees, you think of gentle giants, sea cows, or even cuddly vegetarians (which is usually the case), but not always!

While on a recent bike ride, I decided to take a quick break at this little park along the Banana River in Cape Canaveral, FL. Partially to rest up a bit, and partially to see if the local Manatees were around. Per usual, I brought my camera along just in case they may be present, and present they were.

Right as I rolled up, I saw some hefty numbers, and hefty actions! It was like they were playing, or wrestling or something, then it dawned on me: It’s Manatee Mating Season!

man tee

There must have been 10 to 15 Manatees all in the mix, and I believe only one was a female… like Bald Eagles, it takes Manatees about 5 years to become sexually mature, and when they do, its go time. When a female Manatee becomes estrus, tons of male Manatees get wind of this and form a mating herd. At times, there are up to 15 males in the mix trying to pursue one female. It’s a pretty interesting, and wild sight to witness..

man teee

After about 20 minutes of watching this Manatee orgy go down, I started to feel uncomfortable, so I ended break time, and continued on with my ride.

Get outside and adventure!

Thanks,

Mark M.

Shoot The Moon.

Lately, my Bald Eagles sightings have been at a record high number! However, my Snake sightings have been at an all time low. With that said, I’ll start my story from this most recent adventure:

I took my friend Ollie, and my lady on a hike to an eagles nest, in which I have been visiting for quite some time now. This particular nest housed a Mom, Dad, and three babies. I have been watching the babies grow pretty rapidly over the last couple of months, so I wanted to keep checking in on them and continue to watch their developments toward adulthood.

When we got to the location, we all noticed and mentioned how beautiful of a day it was.  There was clear skies, a light breeze, and it was about 70 degrees. I couldn’t help realizing that it was perfect temperatures for snakes to be out trying to catch some sun rays. We got about 2 minutes into the hike and I started to talk about snakes…about 2 seconds later, My lady (Melissa) almost steps on one! She jumped a few feet off the ground and yelled: SNAKE! Both Ollie and myself were excited now! I took a few steps closer to this dull colored orange beauty to notice It was a Red Rat Snake. Lucky for Melissa, It’s non-venomous. I got as close as i can pretty much get without touching it, but no movements.. So Ollie decided to give it a pat on the head to see if it’s alive, and sure enough, it awoke. Seconds later, I move to the side of it to capture a photo that would not have a bright glare from the sun, but it did not like that at all! The snake raised its head, coiled up, and took a strike at me! I didn’t know the snakes striking distance, but I will say, this Red Rat Snake was at least 3 feet in length, and I was only about a foot in front of it. At that point, we all backed up and gave the snakes it’s space. It slithered off next to a little creek and into hiding.moon rat snake

So after the snake excitement, It was time to get on with our hike, and on to the Bald Eagles nest. When we reached the nest, I noticed there was nothing in it. No adults, No juveniles, nothing! I was a little concerned at that point. We ended up stumbling across my friend Josh (who originally showed me this location), and he mentioned that the juveniles were flying around. Sure enough, we see one, then another, and finally the third! They are much larger than even my last visit from a couple weeks prior. They are really growing into themselves! We sit and watch as they soar around, flying from tree to tree, and at times circling their own nest.

As I mentioned earlier in this story, It was a beautiful day, but I forgot to mention the great view of the moon. At that point, I had one shot in my mind: A young Bald Eagle, and the Moon. I waited and waited for the right opportunity, and then it happened! DSC_6165 (3).NEF

I got the shot I wanted!

It has been such a pleasure watching these beautiful creatures grow up, and I plan to continue doing so.

Get outside and enjoy!

Thanks,

-Mark M.

Easter Adventure.

Everyone has their own way of celebrating holidays.. Some spend their time relaxing with loved ones, some go to the beach, some have a picnic at a park, or many other options. The woman and I like to get out and adventure!

It was an absolutely gorgeous Easter Sunday, here on Florida’s Space Coast, so we decided to do our usual, and take an adventure to a nice populated wildlife area. The temperatures were perfect for seeing Alligators, as it was a sunny 75 degrees. 75 is still slightly chilly for gators, so they were out trying to catch as much sunshine as possible.

In the hour and a half or so that we spent pedaling our bikes around, I’d say we saw about 15-20 Alligators, ranging anywhere from 1 foot to about 9 feet in length.

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No matter how many times I see these beautiful creatures, it’s always amazing! Of course, I had to approach them and hang out, partially to see how they would react, and partially for the excitement factor.

Alligators were not the only things we saw on this little adventure! We also saw a bunch of birds, as well as a cute little raccoon that was prowling the waterline, most likely looking for eggs. The raccoon would scrounge around a bit, then pop up and take a look to see where we were at, and back down on the hunt.

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I hope everyone had a great Easter!

Do yourself a favor, and get outside.

Thanks,                                                                                                                                                            Mark M.

 

Bring On The Rains.

Usually by this time of the year, Florida would have already started seeing the Spring / Summer thunderstorms….but that has not been the case as of yet, leaving many areas bone dry.

I took a short trek over to the Canaveral National Seashores / Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge recently to see how this current drought has effected the area, and I will say, we are in need of some serious rainfall. Most of the shallow marshes and wetlands were totally dried up and looked almost like the desert, leaving many animals on the search for any waterholes they can find.40C8B692-819F-4118-A5D9-7EAA826F1D09

Even I was on the search for some bodies of water. Anything! puddles! After some searching, I finally came across a small portion of a creek that had enough water to house a few local creatures, which included my favorite: the American Alligator.

9A3A38B8-E6FA-4557-9315-636373184399532082B3-0DA3-4FC0-A587-3B7A70D6D8D0

Also joining the scene were a fair amount of fish, which brought in the birds. There were tons of different types of shallow water wading birds, including: Herons, Egrets, and the always amazing Roseate Spoonbills!

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Fun Fact: Like Pink Flamingos, the Roseate Spoonbill’s pink shade comes from their diet.

Now back to the adventure: Tensions seemed high with all these creatures packed in together. Birds were fighting over fish. Alligators were fighting off birds who were eating their fish, and the Raccoons were coming in to scrounge up anything they could possibly find!

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When i got home from this fun / worrisome adventure, I looked at the weather forecasts expecting to see at least some rain soon…but that was not the case. Forecasts didn’t show anything for at least 7 days.

Hopefully the storms comes soon so we can stop all the wildfires breaking out, and keep these animals alive!

Thanks for reading, and GET OUTSIDE!!!

-Mark M.