Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The tallest sand dunes in North America are the centerpiece of  Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. They rise in places more than 750 feet (229 m) from the floor of the San Luis Valley, on the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Range in western Colorado.

When I visited the area was still a national monument. It obtained national park status in 2004. The view was superb in May, 1990, but my shorts now look woefully outdated. My good friend Mike Muhr took this picture during a weekend hiatus from Colorado School of Mines field geology camp.

Just don't wear contact lenses.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Simmering in Dubrovnik – some half-baked travel tips cooked in a story

If you have only one day in Dubrovnik, Croatia and you need to lose weight, plan to walk the top perimeter of the medieval city wall. Seat of the renaissance Republic of Ragusa, Dubrovnik is shaped like a huge, tilted shallow pan, south-facing to capture the maximum intensity of the sun. In summer the wall is the narrow rim of a simmering cauldron.

Our only navigation aid was Tom's Port Guide to Dubrovnik, one of a series of superb amateur guidebooks that helped us throughout our holiday. If you are looking specifically for useful advice and verifiable facts, I advise you to stop reading this immediately and go there. We entered the old town through the western, Pile gate (Vrata od Pila), one of a handful of ingresses to the city. Busking minstrels dressed for a renaissance faire put people in a medieval mood at the entrance to the old town. Happily, some other kind tourists subsidized the performance. It's a bit like public TV that way.

At the entrance to the Pile Gate. Saint Blaise is watching over us.

It was recommended we take the walk in the morning, before it became too hot. Apparently, 9 o'clock am is already afternoon in August. I was soaking wet midway through the first set of stairs. We circumnavigated the old city for almost two hours in the heat. The city circumference is unofficially 1.2 miles, but when you unzip the twisting stairs and wrinkles like a harmonica, I figure it's about 26.2, so we made time worthy of a Kenyan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Airline Service at Westjet

Some North American carriers still offer more than bare-bones service. WestJet offers complimentary wine or beer for all classes of ticket between Toronto and Montreal (for instance). The standard soft drinks and snacks are offered as well.

And the flight attendants have some personality.

Here, I enjoyed a Coastal Ridge chardonnay. The red wine offering was a Gallo Family Vineyards merlot. Complimentary beer included Coors light, but I'm not sure of the other beer offerings.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Venice - A Desert on Water

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1797

Venice. It's hard to write a self-contained impression that's not as segmented as the city itself. But one thread is common to any experience of Venice, water. Crossing it, gliding along it, and sweating it--water is everywhere. This City of Water is a desert, where all you can think of on a hot day is drinking it.

Monday, August 5th was our last day in the City of Bridges and the first scheduled ship-to-shore excursion from our base on Ruby Princess. After a couple days getting lost on our own, we now followed the more structured agenda of a cruise tour. Following what will become the ritual of waking 14-year-old Tom up, we ate a big breakfast and made our way to the staging area in the Ruby's theater. Strategically-placed staff near the exits hustled bottled water at prices that would make a gas station owner blush just before a summer driving holiday. We brought our own reusable bottles I carried on a hip pack, temporarily filled with water from the ship's tap.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - 2012 Mexico Field Work

Mexico is so much more than just beaches. My travels to the interior, particularly in remote or rural areas, exposed me to fantastical landscapes and a cultural experience as rich as anything I've had in more traditional tourist areas, anywhere.

Valle del los Cirios, Baja, one of Mexico's largest protected areas. The boojum tree or cirio (Spanish) is essentially endemic to the Baja California Peninsula. It is related to the ocotillo. The moniker "boojum" is from Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark. The English translation of cirios is "candles."
The northern Baja desert flora includes cirios, mesquite, cardon cactus, cholla, agave and bichnaga (and ocotillo, a relative of the cirios on the right). The cholla were near lethal if you kicked one; the thistles go right through leather.
Cardon cactus, the tallest cactus species in the world  (up to 19 m, with a  trunk up to 1 m in diameter). I was quickly corrected that they are not saguaro! It differs in the location of blossoms, fewer ribs on the stems, heavier branching from the base of the stem, and in the location of the blossoms.
Baja California Norte traffic jam.
"El Gato" mining claim post near San Fernando, Baja California Norte.
Near La Huacana, Michoacan, Mexico (Inguaran valley). This fellow was guiding us around some old mine workings. He went back and forth from his home to the Inguaran minesite on the donkey. Strangely, he's carrying the drive-shaft to a car on his lap. I loved how he was wearing all his mining personal protective equipment during the commute. All he needs are the safety glasses.
Near La Huacana, Michoacan, Mexico (Inguaran valley). I loved this home-made saddle hand carved from wood and using rice bags to hold the stirrups. The folks here do not waste anything useful.
This small python (maybe 4 feet) was under the shade of a large boulder at the prospect. The small squirrel or chipmunk in its coils has seen its last sunshine.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Getting Lost in Venice

After seeming months of logistical preparation by my wife Stacey, I was finally embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime cruise on the eastern Mediterranean with my father and eldest son Thomas, book-ended by visits to Venice and Rome. Stacey's reward was two stress-free weeks without me agitating over something.

We wait in Frankfurt for the flight to Venice. The terminal at Frankfurt instantly made my list of the 5 most idiotic airports, defying common sense at every turn. And there were lots of turns. Of particular interest were the glass-enclosed (but leaky) smoking areas filled with a blue haze.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Roadside Shrine in Mexico

There are tens of thousands of these lovingly-maintained roadside shrines in Mexico, devoted to various saints of the Roman Catholic church. St. Jude Thaddeus (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, traditionally martyred by an axe. He is the patron saint of "difficult cases." This little chapel is located just west of the remote iron mining district of Hercules, in sparsely-populated western Coahuila State near the border with Chihuahua. I took this picture one late afternoon in January of 2011 while working in the region.

Hercules, Coahuila, Mexico. January 2011

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Three Sweaty Men and a Princess

Ruby Princess at the port of Kuşadası, Turkey.

When our older two boys began to take interest in the world at large, my wife and I devised a plan for special travel experience with each of our sons individually. Stacey takes the boy on a special mother and son trip when he reaches age ten, and I follow with an adventure of our own when he is fourteen. The personalized itinerary is tailored to each son's specific interests at the time. We've been blessed so far to have the financial means to travel internationally, but the most important takeaway isn't the destination. It is a week or so for my wife or I to spend quality time with a son and build a lifetime of memories. Hopefully the boys learn something without suspecting we're trying to educate them.

My oldest boy Thomas spent a week on Kangaroo Island, South Australia with his mother several years ago. He has long been interested in Ancient Rome and Greece, at least as much as a fourteen-year-old can be, and for his father-son trip last August (2013) we settled on a Princess cruise of the eastern Mediterranean with bookend visits to Venice and Rome. My father became aware of our plans that spring, and Thomas was OK with a stowaway. Dad has always wanted to travel in retirement, and he was happy to oblige my prerequisite to center the trip around Thomas' interests in antiquity and need to do our own thing, so we made a natural team. Dad's only request was to dip his toes in the Adriatic.

Then we three settled back while Stacey made all the arrangements for us, knowing that if it was left to me we wouldn't get beyond my driveway. An organized wife is another blessing that I don't take for granted. We'd be travelling between points of interest in style and comfort. But it was apparent we'd see a lot of ruins, we'd do a lot of walking, and it would be very hot.

Over the next several weeks I'll sketch my perceptions of three generations of American men sweating across the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas by boat between Italy, Croatia, Turkey and the Greek Islands.

One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Thomas (l), me and Joseph Orobona (r). We're on the east (back) side of the Parthenon, at the Acropolis in Athens.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Daintree Rainforest

The southern cassowary is a large flightless bird native to the tropical forests of New Guinea and north-eastern Australia. When we visited the Daintree rainforest in Queensland in 2009, we came across these slightly modified signs indicating a "sleeping policeman" (speed bump) ahead. I think it illustrated the threat of speeding vehicles to the endangered cassowary quite well. It may be the third largest living bird, but it's no match for a car.

It's not often I think graffiti augments a public service message.

Unfortunately, we didn't see a live bird in the wild (though we saw a few saltwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks of the Daintree River). But there's plenty of opportunity to encounter native wildlife at the Daintree Discovery Centre in nearby Port Douglas.