Bob's World Travels

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West Spanish Peak July 21, 2019
Peaks X and X Prime July 8, 2019
Patagonia December 1, 2018
England and Wales September 22, 2018
Ute Creek July 16, 2018
Crater Lake July 9, 2018
Fish and Owl Canyons April 21, 2018
Bryce Canyon March 21, 2018
Oaxaca November 22, 2017

West Spanish Peak

On August 18, Heeja and I climbed West Spanish Peak, a peak in the Spanish Peak Wilderness Area of Colorado, with a summit at 13,625 feet above sea level. The climb involved a two and a half mile hike through the forest and a final, steep one mile climb up the rock face of the mountain.  We climbed slowly, working our way vertically over the boulders and scree.  From the top we could vaguely see Wheeler Peak in New Mexico through the haze.  To the north, we could see the adjoining fourteeners, Little Bear and Blanca, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. To the west, there was another ridge of snow-capped peaks with the fourteener Culebra anchoring it on the southern end. To the east, we saw endless plains.

After celebrating on the top with other climbers, we began the difficult, rugged descent down the mountain.  As we descended, we spotted a large collection of yellow spots below us.  As we got near them, we saw it was a group of over seventy, middle-school age children with yellow t-shirts which said Camp Salvation.  When we were almost at the bottom, the leaders released them to stream up the mountain.  Further down, we looked back and saw they were moving quickly up, practically devouring the mountain at a rapid rate.

Peaks X and X Prime

On July 4, I climbed with a CMC group to the summit of two of the Peaks over 12.000 feet high in the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado.  It was a beautiful day and we spent hours above tree line. The views were forever. Wilderness is an important part of the American experience and character. There is no better way to spend the 4th.



Punto Arenas

On November 12, our first full day in Punta Arenas, Chile, we went to the docks to board a large, fast catamaran to travel to Magdalena Island out in the Straits of Magellan. Along the way, the crew pointed out some whales surfacing in the distance.  I was never sure what kind of whales they were but humpbacks are regularly sighted in the Straits. I enjoyed going out on to the top deck of the fast moving boat as the sun broke through the clouds and shined on the water. As we ran across the water, the waves became bigger and the ride bumpier and Magdalena Island gradually grew in front of us.

We soon disembarked from the boat onto the island and into Los Pinguinos Natural Monument and began to see the very cute magellanic penguins waddling about the island.  The magellanic penguins are medium size penguins native to the Patagonia area.  They are deep diving birds who feed in the sea and lay their eggs in burrows on the island.  Generally, the penguins mate for life. The island was also covered with thousands of kelp gulls. We walked the loop path, carefully designated to avoid disturbing the penguins, up to the lighthouse and back down to the boat. For some time, I watched a penguin busily gathering grass and rocks, putting them into the burrow to build the nest, looking for the right grass, picking it, and returning it to the burrow again and again.  It was a bit early in the year to see young penguins, which was good since studies have shown that the presence of people causes stress in young penguins. The primary threat to the penguins is oil spills, and because of that the magellanic penguins are considered endangered.

Back in Punta Arenas, after buying lunch in the large, busy grocery store across from our guest house, several of us took a taxi out to the Museo Nao Victoria, an open air museum on the edge of town by the water with replicas of the key boats that played a role in the history of the area. Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese sailor who was commissioned by Spain and was the first European to circumnavigate the globe and sail through the Straits of Magellan.  There were five ships in his fleet and we toured the replica of the Victoria, one of those ships.  The boat was nearly completely constructed of wood with crew areas below deck which were too low to stand in and a larger space for cargo below. The expedition returned to Spain in 1522 but Magellan did not survive the trip.

The Beagle was the ship used in the famous voyage between 1831 and 1836 to South American, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific captained by Robert FitzRoy to continue surveying activities, using the latest instruments. The ship carried Charles Darwin as its gentleman naturalist, and he in fact spent more of that time ashore than on the boat, studying the geology, flora, fauna and indigenous peoples.  Touring the boat, we found it obvious that ship building had made incredible advances in the three hundred years between the Victoria and the Beagle. There were small cabins for the officers and much more open spaces below deck.  There were well-engineered iron mechanisms and fittings.  Both FitzRoy and Darwin published books on the voyage and Darwin’s studies became the basis for his theory of natural selection.

We also found a replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat which Ernest Shackleton fitted for a desperate and stormy voyage through the worst stretch of ocean in the world to find rescue for his stranded crew.  After much difficulty, especially with the English admiralty, Shackleton rescued his crew in August of 1916 from Elephant Island using a ship provided by Chile.  Their arrival in Puntas Arenas was greeted with much celebration by the residents of the city.

We went back to the ticket office to get help with a taxi back into town but found the office empty.  A women in the yard told us that the man in the office was at lunch so we walked back out to the main road to see if we could hail a taxi.  Instead, an empty bus with a driver waited for us which we boarded for an inexpensive ride by ourselves to the municipal cemetery.  The cemetery was lovely with long rows of severely shaped evergreens and rows of graves and mausoleums. Near the back, we found the black monument to local people who were executed and disappeared during the Pinochet era.  Many were in their twenties and one was twenty years old. It was so moving that I could feel it in my chest.

We walked back into town and to the Plaza de Armas and the monument to Magellan.  The town is filled with lovely parks and buildings with strong European influences but uniquely its own. From there we climbed up the hill to a view point of the town and the Straits of Magellan.  For some reason, Punta Arenas felt like the edge of the world, and indeed, it is said to be one of the southernmost cities in the world, and people get on boats here to go to Antarctica. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Amar Mita where I ate a nice Guanaco bourguignon (it tasted like beef) and homemade cake.

Torres del Paine National Park and the W trek

Together, the open grasslands of the steppe, the tall jagged peaks, the enormous aquamarine lakes and the endless southern icefields give the area around Torres del Paine National Park in Chile a definite otherworldly feel.  The vast glaciers push the moisture from the nearby Pacific Ocean so that it boils up over the mountains and accelerate the winds to pound the hikers below. On November 13, we boarded a van in Punto Arenas for the drive north to Torres del Paine.  After leaving the city, we drove for several hours through the barren, flat Pampa, grasslands with occasional sheep mixed in with the large land bird, the Rhea, along with other birds.  After a bit of time, it became boring and a good time for a nap. When I awoke the countryside was hillier with occasional glimpses of snow-capped peaks far in the distance.

After a time, we arrived in Puerto Natales, a town located on a large body of water with snow-capped peaks on the other side of the lake. In town, we went into the tour agency offices and had a briefing on the W trek by a young woman who knew Torres del Paine very well. The W is a five day trek, shaped like a W, in the National Park. After the briefing we walked down to the beautiful water front on the Ultima Esperanza Sound, a body of water emptying into the Pacific through a system of fiords. After a nice Pizza lunch at the Guanaco restaurant, we were back in the van heading north to the Torres del Paine National Park. As we traveled, we began to see the Torres del Paine massif which was very impressive with its towers and high peaks, and near the park we began to see groups of Guanacos a wild relative of llamas in the camel family.  These tall, slender animals provide a primary food source for the pumas that live in the national park.  Stopping at one viewpoint above a lake, we found several interesting flowers in the brush, including small, yellow lady slipper orchids. After checking in at the park’s administrative offices, we arrived at the Refugio Las Torres.  It was a hostel type refugio with bunk-bed, dormitory-style rooms and shared baths. We had four of the women and two men in our room.

On Thursday, November 15, we started our first leg of the W with a hike to a viewpoint called Mirador los Torres. This would be a seven mile hike with considerable elevation gain. We started walking on level ground through the refugio complex and past the hotel and turned northwest and started climbing on a good trail.  Denise led and set a steady pace. We climbed to a highpoint where we had a nice view up the valley of the Rio Ascencio, and then from there, we descended into the lovely beech forest and down to the river. We crossed the raging, glacial river to the Refugio el Chileno where we stopped to eat snacks. Then we crossed the river again on a bridge and walked for several kilometers along but slightly above the river. Soon, when we reached an intersection with a trail to a camping area, it began to snow lightly, and we turned on the main trail and began to climb steeply. The trail became increasingly rugged with many boulders to cross. As we climbed, the forest thinned and we were soon above the tree line, climbing through a large boulder field. We climbed over a high point and down a bit to a sign for the mirador. Below the sign we found a large glacial lake, but above it we could see little because of the clouds and snow. We sat in the rocks near the sign and ate our packed lunch.  After I finished my sandwich, huddled between boulders, I began to get cold, and so, got up and began to explore the area. Standing on a flat rock next to the lake, I began to see the clouds dissipating and the towers began to appear. Soon I became quite elated because I could see the towers and began to excitedly take pictures. As the towers again disappeared, we began the long trip back.  Climbing down over the boulders was difficult and required some care. We were soon back in the forest which sheltered us more from the weather. As I approached Refugio el Chileno, it started to snow again. So I went into the dining hall of which was full of hikers, bought a coke and took the last remaining seat. Hiking again, the snow stopped by the time I reached the last high point.  I hiked the rest of the way with Dan and we got a bit lost among the trails in the Refugio del Torres complex.  I left Dan to get a beer in the main dining hall where I found Heeja.  Heeja and I celebrated the completion of what we were told was the most difficult climb in the W trek, properly, over beers.

The next day, we walked to Refugio Cuernos. It started as a warm, pleasant day as we walked over rolling hills.  Early in the walk we came into view of Lago Nordenskjold, a large aquamarine lake, and we walked just above the lake for some time. The terrain was very open with firebrush with its bright red flowers, low calafate shrubs with berries, and many small beech trees. The views over the lake and to the mountains above us were continuous. The wind began to pick up and soon we were under siege.  We were struck by powerful gusts.  One hit me and I suddenly found myself sitting by the trail.  Nearly everyone was knocked down and Steve lost his hat. We had to stop during gusts and brace ourselves with our hiking poles. We continued around the lake and came to Refugio Cuernos which consisted of a main building with small cabins up the hill. I shared one of the nice cabins with Denise and Dan.

I had been having trouble using my Chilean currency because no one want to change the large bills, so I had to use my credit card instead.  So in the afternoon, I bought everyone drinks to use some of the currency.  At the refugio, I saw an Argentinian guide who we had seen while hiking and I asked him about his mate gear which consisted of a thermos and a large cup with a metal straw. The cup was full of herbs and he poured hot water from the thermos into it. He said he made his own herb mix and liked his bitter. He said that mate was an important part of social gatherings. People would gather, not talking much, but when they drank the mate, they began talking. He let me drink a cup which tasted like herb tea and told me that few of the foreign clients drank the whole cup.

While we were at dinner in the dining hall, the staff lit fires in the woodstoves in our cabins so they became pleasantly warm. The dining hall had enormous windows with views up to the Cuernos formations above and over the lake. In the evening, the wind had died down, so I went down to the lake and took pictures.  It was a beautiful evening.

On Friday, November 16, we continued walking above the lake. After a couple of hours, we reached Campamento Italian which was a tent campground with primitive rest rooms raised into the air. By the time we reached the camp, it was overcast with occasional sprinkles. From the camp, we climbed up the Valle Frances on a rugged trail above the raging Rio Frances. For some time we hiked on a narrow moraine in the forest. As we climbed, we heard the boom of an avalanche from the large Glacier Frances above us. Soon we hiked out of the forest onto a level, rocky area which was the first viewpoint. Clouds limited our views but the glacier above us was clearly visible. At the top we heard another boom and saw yet another collapse and an avalanche of ice flow down from the glacier. There was another mirador above us but we were told to turn around if there was limited visibility at this first mirador, so we descended to Campamento Italiano. From the camp, we hiked for miles above the lake through the remains of a previous forest fire. I dropped back for a while to hike alone, enjoying the views of lakes, the mountains and the very unique countryside.
Around a bend, I came to a view of large Lago Pehoe and soon spotted Refugio Grande, our destination for the day. It had a large modern building with many brightly colored tents behind it. We were supposed to stay in tents with sleeping pads, sleeping bags and pillows provided. We became quite frustrated when we found that these items would be difficult to obtain. With negotiations and threats, we finally got the pads and bags. We never got pillows. Four people got very light bags and Denise had to negotiate additional blankets for them. After this, we spent some time in the bar, and I had two calafate sours, like pisco sours but using the local berries.

On Saturday, we hiked out of Refugio Grande, up a canyon, over a pass and into open country with small lakes and views over Lago Grey. There were large chunks of ice floating in the lake. We reached mirador grey were we had grand views of enormous Greys Glacier, the lake and the surrounding mountains. There we again met two other women from Colorado and took pictures with them. We then hiked down to Refugio Grey which was a lovely building with a long front porch. As we sat on the porch eating our lunch, a red chimango caracara landed near us hoping for food. The refugio was nice with pleasant wooden furniture and photos of the national park on the walls.

Waiting for our next activity, we sat in the deck chairs on the porch in the warm sun, looking at the high jagged ridge above us and at a condor soaring high above. A bit later, we got onto a small motorboat to cross the lake to La Isla o Nunatuk in order to walk on Greys Glacier.  The boat ride was bumpy with the wind blowing spray onto us. We disembarked onto the rocky island and our guide led us on a quick climb up the rugged trail to the glacier.  Twice, we had to climb ladders. On the top we put on the harness and crampons we had been given and were given a helmet and ice ax. After brief instructions, we climbed onto the glacier.  We visited a deep blue hole where small rocks on the surface had melted ice and we visited a number of other holes and cavities taking many pictures. We also climbed to viewpoints of the large glacier descending to the lake. Walking on the glacier was fun but the wind picked up and soon I was cold.  I was glad to climb down the rocky trail to the boat.  The mountains were dramatic above the glacier including a view of Paine Grande, the tallest mountain in Torres del Paine.

During the night in Refugio Grey, I awoke to find it pitch black in our rooms.  All the lights were off in the building. I had kicked my headlamp onto the floor and could not find it to go to the toilet. I left the room but could not find the bathroom but finding my way back to our room with my hands, I did manage to guess which door was ours.

On Sunday, we hiked back on the same route to Refugio Grande.  I got up early and started the hike before the main group to give myself plenty of time, as did a few others. Back at Refugio Grande after snacks and coffee, we got on a catamaran for the half hour ride across Lago Pehoe to where we met our van for the ride to El Chalten. With this, we completed the 44 mile W trek in Torres del Paine.

Los Glaciares National Park and Monte Fitzroy

From Torres del Paine, our driver was Raoul, and Raoul drove slowly. We did not ride far before we crossed the border into Argentina where we had to stop and go in an office to show our passports.  We went into a nearby store and restaurant to exchange our remaining Chilean currency for Argentinian Pesos. After driving across the Pampas, we started down a beautiful incline into the valley of the Rio Santa Cruz with views out to Lago Argentino in the direction towards El Calafate. Descending, Raoul pulled off the road to look under the hood after getting an engine warning light.  He talked about going into El Calafate for assistance but since it was Sunday evening, we persuaded him to turn north and continue to our destination, El Chalten. It was a beautiful drive around the large lake. We arrived at our hotel in El Chalten around 9:00 pm.  The hotel was nice with high ceilings and large rooms and a pleasant common area in which to sit. El Chalten is a small mountain town and gateway to Los Glaciares National Park.  In 1985 Chile and Argentina settled a border dispute by agreeing that this area was in Argentina, and the country began encouraging the development of the town as a tourism center. We ate at a restaurant called La Tapera which had fabulous food.  I had trout with a cheese sauce and a vegetable pastry.

Monday was rainy and windy in El Chalten and the guide said this was the best hiking day to skip.  So I stayed in town and did not go on the group hike. I took laundry to be done and Vaune, Dan and I walked to the pharmacy so Dan could get medicine for his bronchitis and Vaune could get a brace for her sore knee. Dan went back to the hotel and Vaune and I went to an outdoor shop, a gift shop and a bookstore. We went into a new café and had coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious lemon meringue pie.  The coffee had not been good in the refugios, so it was wonderful drinking great coffee. We then walked to the park headquarters and got a briefing on the trails and leave-no-trace practices from a ranger. In the afternoon, I rested, read the Post and listened to music. For dinner, we went back to La Tapera and I had one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. The great food was not expensive.

On Tuesday, I hiked directly out of El Chalten to Lago Torre. It rained for the whole hike. Pablo, our guide, was a young, intelligent Argentinian from Buenos Aires who was very knowledgeable about the plants, geology and glaciers. We started through open steppe country and stopped to photograph beautiful yellow orchids. We hiked through the forest over one glacial moraine after another. After a couple of hours, we entered an area with a climax forest with very large lenga beech trees. We stopped for lunch at a backcountry camping area and then hiked on to Lago Torre, a moderately sized lake around which we could see large, snow-covered mountains. The lake was surrounded by a terminal moraine with only a few pioneer plants. The glacier had only recently retreated from those moraines. Pablo pointed up at a 45 degree angle to a flat spot on the shoulder of a mountain above us and told us that would be our destination tomorrow. At the far end of the lake, we saw the large Glacier Grande intersecting with the smaller Glacier Torre. Because of the clouds and rain, we could not see the higher peaks above us. We were quite soaked by the time we got to the lake, and I was quite cold. We climbed over the moraine and began our hike back to town.  Pablo and Denise talked about food the whole time which made me quite hungry.

That evening we went to Estancia Madsen for dinner. Andreas Madsen was a Danish man who arrived in Argentina in 1901. He eventually established his ranch, Estancia Cerro Fitz Roy, on the Rio de las Vueltas where he raised sheep and a family. Madsen was influential in various ways in the area and helped establish the national park. His house was small with small rooms and was constructed from a variety of scraps and materials, whatever was available. In the dining room, we sampled Argentinian wine and liquor and had a nice stew for dinner. In the rooms, there were pictures of Madsen and his friends and family.  One set of pictures showed the pumas he killed to protect his sheep.

On Wednesday, November 22, I went on a world-class day hike to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. We started at the National Park Center where we saw a condor soaring above us. We hiked with Pablo up through the open steppe and again saw yellow orchids. We hiked on through flat, wet meadows and through beautiful forest composed of the lenga beech trees. There were views of the dramatic peak of Monte Fitzroy along the trail. Pablo showed us the pan de indio (indian bread) which is an edible mushroom growing like fruit on the trees.  I ate one of the mushrooms.  It didn’t have much flavor but was definitely edible. As we climbed the trees became shorter, and soon, we were above tree line climbing into the open, glacial terrain of the alpine area and walking through shallow, wet snow with bright sunshine. There were only small ground-cover plants on the ground. We had views of Fitzroy as we climbed and soon reached a large, level area where the views were astounding, with the Lago Torre below, where we had been the day before. Fitzroy towered above us but Cerro Torre was covered in clouds. We also had great views down to enormous Lago Viedma. We stopped for lunch shielded from the wind by large boulders, and a caracara, interested in our food, hovered above us in the wind. After lunch, the walk down was warm and pleasant with many views of Fitzroy. I added this hike to my list of the great day hikes in the world.

We had dinner at a tiny family restaurant and I had a nice, very creamy pumpkin soup and gnocchi. For desert, I had crepes with a rich dulce de leche sauce. After dinner, we were back in a van driving again through the insanely open pampas with views of Lago Viedma and a gorgeous sunset. I listened to music and dozed and got quite high on the beautiful landscape. We arrived late at our nice hotel in Calafate, our last town in Patagonia.

Perito Moreno Glacier

On Thanksgiving day, we took a boat ride to see Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. Flying from Santiago to Puntos Arenas we had seen the enormous extent of the ice fields in the area from the plane. We boarded a large, fast boat on a dock outside of El Calafate and began traveling on Lago Argentina. The boat sped across the lake for over an hour to a stopping point where we walked a short distance over a black sand beach and into a dense, temperate rain forest. The trees were enormous including the Abuelo (grandfather) tree, a particularly large beech tree. The forest was dense at this location with a heavy understory because of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the prevailing winds which brought moisture from the ocean.  Walking a bit through the forest, we reached a beautiful waterfall in a number of sections starting far above us.

The lake was enormous and we traveled up a large finger of the lake with high snowcapped mountains above. It was fiord-like with vertical, forest-covered walls. At our second stop, we walked for a half an hour to an open area where we admired the glacier high above us and pointed Mayo Peak across the lake. We ate lunch in the open area by a creek, enjoying the scenery.

Back on the boat, taking pictures from the deck, after another half hour, we began to see the large Perito Moreno glacier ahead. Close to the glacier, the pilot turned the boat to travel along of the 70 meter high front of the glacier. The front was jagged and broken with deep blue crevices. Several times while we were watching, large chunks of ice broke away, falling in a cascade into the water making a booming sound and a large splash. There were remnants of the glacier floating in front of the wall and out into the lake. As we moved toward the disembarkation dock on the side of the lake, a condor flew across the cliffs above us and made a beautiful turn to land on the side of the cliff. It landed near where another condor was already perched.

We disembarked and climbed up a series of carefully engineered walkways ascending the cliffs. Along the way and at the top we looked down on the incredibly vast top of the glacier.  At the top, we boarded a van for the very scenic drive back to El Calafate.  Along the way, the driver pointed out a very distant view of the Torres in Chile.  Back in town, on this Thanksgiving Day, I had a very nice dinner with a salad containing soft-boiled eggs, a pork shoulder with a delicious sauce, and mashed sweet potatoes.

Buenos Aires

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, a few of us flew to Buenos Aires where I had a full day layover on Saturday.  Vaune, Heeja, Martin and I took a shuttle from the airport to downtown Buenos Aires where we stayed in an older hotel.  The hotel was a bit rundown, but the room Martin and I shared was surprisingly quiet given its location in the busiest part of the downtown. From the front of our hotel, located on Avenida 9 de Julio, we were close to El Obelisco, the tall obelisk commemorating the founding of the city. At the end of our block was Calle Levalle, a pedestrian-only street with many restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, some a bit sleazy and some nicer. Heeja and I stopped in one of the small empanada shops for a snack. We walked around the area looking for the new Pacific Gallery mall.  I suppose we looked lost because a local man stopped us and asked if we needed assistance and told us how to get to the mall and about other places and neighborhoods to visit.

We found the mall and entered the portion of it that was an art gallery and performance center. We came to an open balcony where body painting was on exhibit with women, wearing only thongs, painted in intricate and colorful artistic designs while people took pictures. This was above the elegant and very new retail mall below.  We toured the galleries around the balcony, displaying local artists in a range of styles including fantastic and surreal paintings. The mall is in a Beaux Arts building constructed in the 1890s. The interior has been reconstructed in an historical manner with large, domed spaces and frescos.

From there, we walked towards the Atlantic Ocean and came to a large redevelopment area along canals which had once been a shipping, warehouse and industrial area.  The redevelopers kept the large cranes which were on display along with an old sailing ship in the canal. We ate in an upscale restaurant in a former warehouse building.  I ate a steak with a fried egg on it.

On a beautiful, pleasant Saturday morning, we went to the Plaza Lavalle by the Teatro Colon, the large historic opera house, to participate in one of the free walking tours.  Our guide, Juan, turned out to be a young urban design instructor and a concert violinist. He was very erudite, and I was surprised and pleased to be going on an urban planning tour. Juan explained that Buenos Aires always prided itself on being city in the European style, although he said it was a city characterized along most streets by a mix of buildings including the old and the new and the elegant and the ugly. There were many neoclassical style buildings, since the city was purposely rebuilt during the 1880s and 1890s when Argentina was at the peak of its economic success based on the export of beef. Juan told us that older buildings have frequently been demolished and redeveloped with the modern and the economically expedient. We walked through a number of lovely small and large parks with enormous fig trees, palm trees and jacaranda trees, including Plaza San Martin with its statue of San Martin, the great hero of Argentinian independence.  We were very fortunate to be in the city when the jacarandas were in bloom with their beautiful purple flowers. We talked about a jarring and controversial art-deco skyscraper from the 1920s which I actually liked. For a break we crowded into a small empanada shop and ate empanadas on the grassy slope of the large park across the street. We visited a small memorial park, which was where the Israeli embassy had been destroyed in a terrorist attack. We finished our tour at Plaza Francia with its large Saturday craft market.

After walking through the market with its fine crafts, we wandered into an old church and then into an energetic teen festival in a large complex with wild colors, electronic art attractions and a bandstand with live music and teens dancing. From there we visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery and found the grave of Eva Peron. We walked further and stopped to rest in the nice outdoor area of a restaurant adjacent to a park with a table full of drinks, snacks, salads, sandwiches and ice cream for desert. It was a beautiful day, pleasantly warm, and we enjoyed relaxing in the cool shade. Walking back to our hotel, the streets were empty and the shops were closed because of the final game of a South American soccer tournament with two Argentinian teams playing.

In the evening we went to a tango show that we had found in the Borges art center in the Pacific Gallery. It included a great four piece tango band with accordion, piano, stand up bass, and violin. They played wonderful music with two fine singers, male and female, and eight dancers, dancing passionately with extravagantly athletic moves. It was a great finish to my Buenos Aires experience.

In all, I experienced another world in the far southern parts of South America, vaguely familiar like a dream, but with its own unique beauty.



England and Wales


Llanberis and Snowdon

This is the day I was kidnapped. On Monday, September 3, I took the train from London to Bangor, Wales.  When the train got near Conwy, it was running just above the beach and the ocean waves. When I arrived at the Bangor station, I called the Barron car rental office where I had a car reserved and they said they would come and pick me up. A man drove up in a car and got out.  It was a large sedan and he was having trouble keeping it running. He motioned for me to get in and I said “Barron car rental?” and he answered in the affirmative. So I put my luggage in the trunk and got into the front passenger seat. I asked him again whether he was from the car rental office and he again answered in the affirmative, although I had some difficulty understanding him with his accent. We drove through town and I could see by the signs that we were headed for the next town of Caernoffen. I said that the car office was in Bangor and he seemed to say that there was also an office in Caernoffen. He pulled into what looked like an industrial operation with assorted outdoor storage and stopped the car and got out and told me to follow him. A man in the second story window above us started talking to the driver in Welsh.  The driver now realized he had the wrong passenger.

The driver asked me for the phone number of the car hire company and called them and agreed to take me to Bangor to Barron’s office. The people at the car company thought that the whole thing was hilarious, that I had a special tour of Caernoffen and they did not charge me the extra fee for the pickup. After all the formalities and forms, I drove out of the parking lot working hard to remember to drive on the left. The direction lady on my phone helped a great deal as did the many roundabouts and signs. My problems started in my destination town, LLanberis, where I made a wrong turn into a secure facility and had to do a three point turn to get back out. I stopped at a parking lot to take pictures of the beautiful lake and the rugged mountains behind it. Following the phone instructions, I turned into town and immediately came to a barrier for road construction and was forced to drive up the hillside into the residential part of town on streets not much wider than my car. I called the hotel and the woman on the phone helped me find my way.

The Dolafon guest house was a lovely, large old house recessed back from the street. My room was a large attic room up three flights of stairs with a bath but no shower. It turned out to be a great location in the small mountain village convenient for what I wanted to do, with a small grocery next door and a pub across the street.  Immediately after checking in at the guest house, I walked two blocks to the mountain rail station for the train ride up Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. I generally have a rule that I don’t climb mountains that you can drive up or ride a train up.  I asked the women at the counter when the next ticket would be available, and she said that I could buy a ticket for the last run of the day at 5:00 pm. I had time to kill, so I walked from the Dolafon on the main street into the village. A few blocks down the central main street were restaurants, a laundry, which I needed after two weeks of travel, and several outdoor shops.  At one of the outdoor shops, I bought a hiking guide and some more socks. This was clearly a village catering to hikers and climbers. I bought a cone at the ice cream shop and back at the station, I bought a beer in the restaurant.

I got on the train, which was a cog railway. We climbed through a bit of forest and by a waterfall but were soon above the trees.  A stark mountain landscape surrounded us, with sheep scattered over the grassy meadows and steep peaks above us.  At places the train was above vertical cliffs and below were creeks and lakes shining in the late day sun. Near the top, I could see the sunlight shining on the sea beyond the mountains. After climbing for about 45 minutes, the train stopped at the top by the visitor’s center and café, and I climbed above a short distance to the summit which was a small, circular area about twenty feet in diameter at 3,560 feet above sea level. On top, the wind was very strong and the 360 degree views were incredible. Then, we enjoyed a beautiful descent as the sun dropped in the sky down into the mountain village.

The Carneddau and the Glyderau

      O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,

      Let it not be among the jumbled heap

     Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,

John Keats

On Tuesday, September 4, I drove from Llanberis over Pen Y Pass to Llyn Ogwen. Llyn is a Welsh word for lake.  The Welsh, like other peoples, claim King Arthur as their own and some say that his sword was thrown into Llyn Ogwen. This day, I intended to hike the high Carneddau loop starting at Llyn Ogwen, a hike of about eleven miles with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet. I parked on the shoulder of the busy road across from the lake and asked other hikers to make sure the parking spot was legal. From there, I started a long climb through steep open country following a stream until I came to a basin containing a lake called Ffynnon Lloer. However, the trail did not go to the lake but instead circled around the foot of the high ridge above me and began climbing up a very rugged trail over boulders. At one place, I had to put my poles in my pack for a short, hands and feet scramble. The trail continued to climb steeply up to a high point called Pen-yr Ole Wen.

From there, I started a long walk along the Carneddau ridge , and as I did, clouds streamed in from the west, and I was soon walking in the dense fog of the clouds. The trail on top of the ridge was relatively level and easy and, except for in a couple of places, I had no trouble following it.  Even when I got a bit off the trail, into wetter terrain just below the top, I corrected by working my way back to the top of the ridge. I had seen a couple of people ahead of me climbing to the ridge, but now, I was alone and could see no one else.  It was an eerie feeling walking by myself in the clouds, but I was comforted by the ever present sheep.

The clouds were coming from the west so I couldn’t see any views in that direction.  I was sure the views would have been out to the ocean. I ascended to another high point, Carnedd Dafydd. Further on, the ridge narrowed and I was sure there were dramatic drop offs which I couldn’t see on either side. Views of the basins and valleys below on the east side, from where I had climbed, appeared and then disappeared into the clouds. I sat by the trail to eat my lunch, and when I started again, I ran into a group of seven people. I asked them if they were a group and they told me they were a fellowship group from Lancashire hiking for the day. The leader asked me where I was from and I told him.  He said he could tell I was not from around there. I asked him: “How can you tell?” They were doing the same loop but in the opposite direction.

From there, I began to ascend to Carnedd Llewelyn, the second highest point in Wales, named after a famous Welsh prince. At the top, I was completely in a cloud. I descended the eastern ridge and was soon in sunshine. I slowed my pace and explored the ridge and stopped to take pictures of the wonderful scenery on the east side. With some scrambling over boulders, I descended to a saddle where I had trail options. I could scramble an exposed trail section to a small summit or I could descend to another lake below.  Instead, I took a very narrow and rough trail that followed the contour across the face of the peak.  I soon came back to the main trail which descended the ridge through very grassy pastures.  At a junction, I took a side trail in the direction of the car.  I descended into a pasture densely population with sheep.  I came to a gate which was padlocked, so I had to climb over it. I was apparently somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I followed a trail by a canal and had to step over a short wire fence. There by a macadam road, I found a sign telling me to go down on the road to the highway. When, I got back down to the valley bottom, I looked back at Carnedd Llewelyn where I had hiked in the clouds, and it was now clear with blue sky above it.  Oh well.

Back in Llanberis, I bought a pint of ale at the grocery which I drank while I took a very nice warm bath in my attic room. I went across the street for dinner at the pub and had a nice Welsh Cottage Pie, which was a beef stew with a crust composed of mash potatoes and cheese.

On the next morning, I drove back to Llyn Ogwen to hike another loop hike in the Glyderau. This would be a six mile hike with just under 3,000 feet of elevation gain.  It turned out to be quite a bit more challenging than that sounds. It was mostly overcast when I started my climb from the lake with the well-constructed trail following a stream with small falls. I climbed steeply up to a stone wall and climbed over the wall on triangular ladders. Above the wall, I was a bit lost in a large grassy area with a lake.  Possibly, I took the wrong trail at an intersection, but I spotted the trail continuing up the ridge and walked to it through the tall grass. I climbed steeply up the trail to the top of Glyder Fach where there were distant views to the east and west and over the peaks to the sea. By the time I summited, the sun was out and it was very clear. On top, teeth-like boulders formed interesting rock sculptures.

With all the rocks on the top, the trail was not clear and I walked forward and backtracked several times. I came to a large, fantastic formation called Castell y Gwynt, Castle of the Winds.  It was clear I could not go around the formation on the right where there was a drop off. I tried going around the left on a rough trail that went steeply down, but I needed to continue on the ridge beyond the Castle and the trail did not appear to be going that way.  I saw others scrambling over the Castle. So I went back to it and tried to scramble over it. I scrambled up the rocks to a point where climbing became too technically difficult and then carefully scrambled back down. Going back around the left, I scrambled down the steep trail and came to a grassy area where I could see the trail continuing up the ridge to the top of Glyder Fawer, the third highest point in Wales. As I climbed, I passed a number of interesting, sharp rock formations. From the top, I could see back to the Carneddau and Carnedd Llewelyn where I had climbed the day before. I could also see the top of Snowdon, where I had ridden the mountain train. I could clearly see Llanberis, far below by the large lake.


The descending trail started gently following a series of cairns. Soon, however, the trail became more steep and difficult with switchbacks on a trail covered with loose, fist-sized rocks. Climbing down proved to be slow and difficult. I descended down into an area known as the Devil’s Kitchen, an area with interesting rock formations and rugged terrain. The trail appeared to disappear over the edge of the Devil’s Kitchen, and at the edge, I could see the trail drop vertically. The trail was constructed of boulders of various shapes and sizes and many were slanted. At one point as I descended, I had to drop my poles and scramble down boulders. At a couple of spots, I had to descend seated on my rear end. The trail reminded me of the climb Sam and Frodo had to undertake, except I was going down. It was slow going.  I came down behind a couple about my age who were struggling.  They had only one pair of hiking poles between them.  My poles proved to be essential, keeping my balance on the very steep and rugged trail. Eventually, I got down to a place where the trail became wide and more level and paved with boulders. The trail went around and above beautiful Llyn Idwal. From the end of the lake, it was an easy descent to the car.

The snack bar in the visitor’s center at the trailhead was closing, but I managed to snag a very American diet coke. Back in Llanberis, I had dinner at the Pub and ate a nice, creamy chicken pie with a flaky crust; that was with the two most common sides of chips (french fries) and peas (washed down, of course, with a pint of British ale).  It had been a difficult, exhausting and very satisfying two days of hiking.  That evening, I had some difficulty going up and down the three flights of stairs to my attic room.

Caernarfon, Conwy, and the Great Orme

On Thursday, September 6, I drove to the town of Caernarfon. It was not a long drive on good roads and was no trouble out in the countryside. In town, it was more difficult because the roads were narrower and not well marked, but I found the parking lot below the castle. It was still raining and a bit early to go in the castle, so I used my umbrella and visited the shopping area in the center of town. Soon, I entered the castle and began exploring.  There was a large courtyard inside and from there, I climbed into the castle and up to the higher level.  I walked completely around the castle on the upper levels and climbed a number of towers using spiral stairs, reminding me of the towers in Tuscany. On the top of the towers, above the roof, I had to use my umbrella to protect my camera from the rain. From one tower, I could see the whole castle, the town and the river and bay beyond with many boats.

Caernarfon Castle was constructed under the direction of King Edward I of England as a part of his efforts to conquer Wales. The English constructed a number of castles starting at Conwy.  The famous castle builder Master James of Saint George designed the stone castles and supervised their construction.  The construction of Caernarfon began in 1283.  Edward I’s successor Edward II was born in the castle and became the first English Prince of Wales. In 1294, Madog ap Llywelyn led a Welsh revolt against the English, took Caernarfon Castle, and nearly destroyed it.  The English later retook the castle and rebuilt it.  The investiture of Charles, the current Prince of Wales, took place in Caernarfon Castle in 1969. The medieval castles in north Wales are all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I saw a film on the castle and went through several large rooms in the castle with displays describing how they were used.  The royal family stayed in the castle and there was a space where the church had been and a large area for the kitchen. There was a museum to the Welsh Fusiliers, including a display on their role in the American Revolution, and they had some not so nice things to say about General Washington.

After touring the castle, I drove back to Llanberis and walked a bit in the rain, stopping for a sandwich and cappuccino in a busy coffee shop near the guest house.  After lunch, I took a nap in my attic room.  When I woke, the sun was out and there was blue sky out the window. So, I went for a walk around one end of the lake and ended up at the ruins of Dolbadorn castle with its small tower. From the ruins and the tower, I had great views back over the lake. From the castle, I kept walking to the posh Royal Victoria Hotel where I stopped for a pint of ale.  That evening I splurged with reservations at the higher end Pike Restaurant where I ate Thai fish cakes, gnocchi carbanora, and a toffee tart with ice cream.

The following morning, I drove to Conwy. Most of the drive was on a freeway which was easy driving, but again driving in the town was more difficult with roundabouts, narrow streets, and cars parked in the drive lanes. I first visited the Conwy castle, another castle built by Edward I, which was not as well-maintained as Caernarfon but was interesting with beautiful views from the towers to the town and the surrounding hills and estuaries. The castle had a chapel with stain glass windows. The cook rooms were on one side of the castle and on the other were the royal residences. Underneath the residences was the dungeon.



The nice lady at the castle admission center persuaded me to buy a double ticket for a couple of pounds more to allow me to tour Plas Mawr, a house in the town from the Elizabethan era. The house has been reconstructed inside to recreate Elizabethan life with authentic plaster work, antique furnishings and even food on the tables and in the kitchen. The first floor had a large room for greeting people along with a kitchen and brewery. On the second floor, I found the master bedroom of the aristocratic owner, a small room for his man servant, and his wife’s room. The large main room of the house, used for feasting and entertainment, with colorful plaster work and beautiful furniture, was on the second floor. The headset program featured actors playing the part of Elizabethan residents.

In the main room, I talked with a staff woman about historic preservation.  She knew surprisingly little about American history.  She had just discovered Lewis and Clark, and I told her a bit about the American Civil War. She mentioned the English Civil War, and I informed her that the English Civil War was also fought in Virginia. We talked about Trump. She didn’t know that he isn’t popular in the United States but thought that everyone liked him. Plas Mawr had the best gift shop I had seen in Britain and I bought dragon earrings for Karen and music CDs for myself. Next I walked a bit in the town and on the old stone walls around the town where I had great views.  I stopped for fish and chips which seem to be the thing to do in Conwy.

I next drove though Deganwy and Llandudno to the Great Orme Country Park, which is a large headland park jutting into the sea. The park has a large pasture with many sheep, surrounded by stone walls.  The views of the coastline and the sea were heart-stopping beautiful from high on the uplands under broken clouds and sunshine. I decided that Great Britain is basically a large sheep pasture from Scotland to Wales and from the top of high peaks to the sea with people who are friendly and even-keeled with a delightfully understated sense of humor.




London is a city of flowers and monumental stone, of great words and heroes.

I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport in the morning on August 20 after an overnight redeye flight having had just one or two hours of sleep. Some members of our walking group were with me and together we found our way to our hotel via the Heathrow Express train and the Tube.  We had to immediately figure out the ticket machines for the Tube but it wasn’t so difficult.

After storing our luggage at the hotel, Leslie and Kathy and I took a walk to Hyde Park. To get to the park, we walked through the higher-end Earls Court neighborhood with rows of townhomes and through commercial areas with shops and stores.  We specifically noticed the Ferrari dealer as an indicator of affluence. At the park, we started by admiring the Albert Memorial with its beautiful sculpture and golden statue of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s much loved husband. Prince Albert died of Typhoid Fever, an infectious waterborne disease common in the 19th century, in 1861 at age 42. Victoria remained in mourning and wore black the rest of her long life. The memorial was completed in 1876. Across Kensington Road from the memorial, we admired the Royal Albert Hall, the large round concert hall, opened in 1871 and constructed mostly of red brick with neoclassical architecture and friezes. It too, was dedicated by Victoria as a memorial to her prince.

It was a nice, partly sunny Sunday and there were many people in the park.  I noticed that in portions of the park the grass was mown but in other areas it was left in a more natural, unmown condition. We walked through the South Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens and enjoyed its beautiful flowers. We continued on to the Serpentine Lake where it was crossed by the stone Serpentine Bridge which was constructed in the 1820s and then to the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a roughly circular stream of moving water, in which children were playing on this warm Sunday.

Next, we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. On the way, we passed the Royal Geographic Society with its sculpture of Ernest Shackleton.  Leslie and I agreed that he was likely our favorite explorer with his unsuccessful trip to Antarctica but with his incredible adventures and success at saving his team.   We didn’t explore all the exhibits at the V & A Museum but instead enjoyed its public spaces and architecture. Mostly it is a late nineteenth century brick building with industrial and neoclassical motifs but also with some interesting postmodern structural elements added on the front.  The large courtyard was full of people with children playing in the parabolic water feature. We rode the tube back to the hotel and that evening we had our first English meal at Lilly’s near the hotel.  I had a vegetable pastry with Yorkshire pudding and gravy and, of course, a nice pint of cask ale.

On Monday, we rode the tube to the Hampstead area of London. Adam, a friend of Kris Ashton who lived in London, met us and walked with us through the neighborhood describing what he knew about the area. We walked through commercial areas comprised of shops, restaurants and pubs in old buildings.  Adam told me that Hampstead was originally a separate village overtaken by the growth of London. We passed a very old pub and arrived at a central square where, on the corner, there was a coffee shop which had once been a book shop where George Orwell had worked.  There was a marker memorializing Orwell. Kris had cleverly given us each an assignment of a person’s name to research and talk about briefly when we arrived at the appropriate location. I had drawn Orwell’s name and talked at this location a bit about the great essayist and novelist. I provided some aphoristic quotes which seemed appropriate given the situation at home.

A people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.

In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

We continued to walk into the residential portion of the neighborhood with its Georgian, nineteenth century and older homes. We came to the Keats house and Kris had assigned a couple of people to talk about Keats.  They talked about Keats and read some excerpts from his poetry. Keats was one of the great romantic poets who lived in the house from 1818 to 1820 and composed some of his best poetry while living there with his friend Charles Brown. In the summer of 1818, Keats and Brown walked through northern England, Scotland and Wales but had to cut the trip short because of a severe sore throat. He died in 1821 in Rome of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five.  Keats is known for his sensuous and monumental poetry, but he also wrote:

Give me women, wine and snuff

You may do so sans objection

Till the day of resurrection;

For bless my beard they aye shall be

My beloved trinity.

During those two years, this house in Hampstead must have been an interesting place to visit.

We walked on to Hampstead Heath, which is large open space park famous for its high hill overlooking the city.  It was another large park which, like other London parks had natural areas with in it, including large areas of unmown grass and forestland. We walked by the lovely Hampstead Ponds which reflected the old townhomes beside it and then climbed Parliament Hill.  From the top of the hill, we had a grand view of old London down to the Thames. In the center of the view, stood the postmodern Shard with Saint Paul’s Cathedral next to it with its grand dome. It was hard not to notice all the construction cranes in the view. London gives the impression of being vibrantly prosperous.

From the hill, we walked through the dense deciduous forest with its great diversity of tree species.  We walked through a large, open park area to arrive at the Kensington Mansion where we stopped for refreshment.  We walked from Hampstead Heath to the old Spaniards Inn where we had lunch. The Inn was built in 1585 on a tollgate boundary and the old tollgate building is still located across the road. It is sometimes said that Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale at the Spaniards Inn and Dickens wrote about it in the Pickwick Papers. Kris read the section of the Pickwick Papers describing the Inn and we had a nice lunch of well-prepared pub food.

From the Inn, we rode on top of a double decker bus to another commercial area and walked steeply downhill to Highgate Cemetery, and walked through the stone gate and between chapels to a courtyard where we met Neal, our guide for a tour of the cemetery. With Neal in the lead, we began climbing into the cemetery. The cemetery is a place of mournful celebration with sometimes elaborate and beautiful death monuments engulfed in intense vegetation. There are many stone angels in Highgate, some are sculpted as in mourning while others are shown joyful for the entrance of the soul into eternal life.

Most of the graves are from the Victorian era although new graves are still being inserted among the densely packed burials. Neal described the cemetery telling stories in a very entertaining manner with jokes and laughs and winks.  He explained that cemeteries were places you could laugh in celebration of the lives of those whose bodies were now interred in the graves.  Neal described the symbolic nature of the monuments: the many urns partially covered with carvings of fabrics represented the release of souls contained within. The stone wreaths represent eternal life. Highgate celebrates life and death as the solemn monuments gradually decay and are swallowed by never ending green riot of life.

Neal told us many stories about the graves.  At one mausoleum, he told a long story about a lesbian writer and her two conflicting lovers. Despite her inclinations, the writer had written disparagingly about gay and lesbian practices. Neal said he didn’t favor such disparaging terms, but didn’t mind being called and “old queen,” which he said he was. He also told us that he was against Brexit because he favored immigration to Britain as long as the immigrants worked hard.  He showed us the graves of immigrants who had worked hard.  Today, as in the past, you have to be wealthy to be buried in Highgate. He said that today a grave in Highgate cost 20,000 pounds.

After the tour, we visited the newer portion of the cemetery and found the grave of Doug Adams, the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Kris had assigned Leslie and Stacy to talk about Adams and Leslie talked while Stacy cleverly acted out the narrative in pantomime.  We next found the boldly monumental grave of Karl Marx and the assigned people talked about Marx. In bold gold letters, the grave read “Workers of All Lands Unite,” and there were a number of flower bouquets and tokens left on the grave of Karl Marx.


On the tube ride home, I left the group to visit Camden Market which a guide book had said was the top “alternative” tourist stop in London with its large outdoor market.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, the outdoor market was closed.  Generally, in Britain I found that, except for restaurants and pubs, commercial activity stopped by 5:00 pm. The commercial area and shops in Camden were obviously geared toward the interests of very young adults and many of the young folks there were relatively outrageous with their punk tattoos and fashions. I immediately escaped and walked a half a mile to Regents Park which was another lovely, very large park.  I visited flower and sculpture gardens, found the nearest tube station and managed to find my way back to the station near our hotel.  I ate dinner with some of the group at the Atlas which was a Mediterranean restaurant, with its façade covered in Ivy, where I had a nice, spicy penne dish.

On Tuesday, August 21, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey. This grand, gothic cathedral is one of the great religious buildings in Britain but also a key center of English culture and history. Under overcast skies, we spent some time admiring the details of the building.  Like most great cathedrals, one views it a section at a time without necessarily grasping the totality from the outside. It is easier to see it all from the inside and we entered the enormous space and used audio headsets as our guide.  The inside was highly ornate with its gothic arches and gilded sculptures. The primary activity in the Cathedral appears to be viewing the graves of kings and queens and other heroes and artists. I located the graves of the great scientists Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.  I found the tomb of Elizabeth I to be particularly grand and was interested that she was entombed above her half-sister and rival Mary I. I enjoyed seeing the grave of George Frederick Handel who wrote Water Music, one of my favorite compositions, well designed outdoor music with bold statements and flowing movement, composed for George I so that there could be fitting music for a royal celebration along the Thames River.  Handel’s grave was in the poet’s corner where a number of writers were buried including Chaucer and Dickens. I spent some time finding the grave of Edward I whose castles I would be visiting in Wales. After visiting the Abbey, we boarded a train for Bath.


On Friday, August 31, after visiting Bath and walking the Dales Way, we returned to London and the rest of the group left for home or other places. I spent a sunny and warm weekend on my own as a tourist in London. On Sunday, I started by going to the British Museum which was another large, neo classical building, but on entering, I found the large, dramatic hall of postmodern design spiraling around the central structure. At the morning opening, tour groups were already crowding the beginning, Egyptian exhibit featuring the Rosetta Stone, so I went to an exhibit on family associations in Polynesian and Australian cultures and down into the African exhibit where I was impressed by the intricately carved art and designs which have had such an influence on modern art and design. Then I toured the South and East Asian exhibits and was impressed with the varied collection of Buddhist art.

Then finally, I toured the Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek sections with their uniquely monumental art. I found the Assyrian section to be particular unique because I had never seen such a large collection of art from ancient Mesopotamia.  The sculptures were very large, intricate and representative of the gods and kings they depicted. There were also large guardian statues, winged beasts with human heads. I blitzed quickly through the Greek collection with its sculptures from the Parthenon. I suppose much of this collection probably came to the museum in a legitimate manner, but I couldn’t help but think that these were the spoils from the conquest of the British Empire.

I found the exhibits on ancient Britain to be the most interesting and most relevant to my trip.  They included artifacts from the Bronze and Iron ages and from the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. The Sutton Hoo exhibit was particularly impressive, whose items were from an Anglo Saxon ship burial from the 6th or 7th centuries. The famous Sutton Hoo helmet is particularly beautiful.

I next took the tube to Trafalgar Square which was full of people listening to some talented street musicians. After photographing the square and St. Martins in the Field Church, I went into the National Gallery where I saw several nice Botticelli painting and one by Leonardo.  The collection of low country art was quite large and again was something new for me. I particularly liked the Vermeer paintings with their special light and clarity. I also enjoyed the dramatic Turner seascapes.

Back out in the square, I went into the large Waterstones bookstore which was very well stocked and I walked from the square through the Admiralty Arch and onto the Mall which was closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, and to the lake in St. James Park. The park was full of people on this sunny Sunday. I walked on to Buckingham Palace, which was surrounded by a tall, ornate fence.  In front, there were many people on the steps of the Victoria Memorial with its gilt bronze angel and large statue of Queen Victoria. From the palace, I walked into Green Park with its carefully arranged, large trees. I rode the tube back to my hotel and my small efficiently arranged, “ethical” room and then ate fish and chips at an old pub around the corner.

But my peak day in London was certainly Saturday, September 1. I took the tube to a stop near the Millennial Bridge and after asking for directions, walked onto the pedestrian bridge across the Thames. From the bridge, I had a great view of the Thames water front in the morning light including views of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I arrived at the Tate Modern Art Museum for its 10:00 am opening and toured the free galleries which contained art from Monet to abstract expressionism, avant-garde sculpture and electronic art. I enjoyed the surrealism including Breton, Dali and Magritte and the pop art, including Russian pop art.

I had a ticket to see the Picasso 1932 exhibit and entered the rooms with a headset with an excellent descriptive program. The exhibit included all the work Picasso did in 1932 when he was fifty-one years old. During that year, Picasso was preparing for a show and worked in a range of styles and media, including oil painting, sculpture, charcoal line drawings and ink. He created series of works following themes like the woman in the red chair.  As the series progressed, he experimented with styles. There was so much production in so many styles it felt like the work of a team of artists. It gave me a new appreciation of the artist and his enormous imagination and work capacity. It was quite a trip into the mind of a master.

After the Tate Modern, I had a vegetarian pizza for lunch which was very nice with its Italian-style fresh crust and while I ate, I admired the view of St Paul’s and the northern shore of the Thames.

At 2:00 pm I had a ticket to see Othello performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a wooden structure built like the original. I sat on the second level balcony and watched the performance which was energetic and passionate in the old style with simple props. At several points, the cast broke into singing and dancing.  This great tragic play really has a simple and somewhat absurd plot. With my hearing limitations, I could not hear everything that was said but could easily follow the story and could appreciate the depth of the words. Mark Rylance, a highly regarded stage actor, recently seen in Dunkirk and Bridge of Spies, gave an amazing performance of Iago, highly mobile and very entertaining.  Tony and Oscar winner André Holland played Othello with great strength.

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,

Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak

Of one that loved not wisely but too well,

The theatre was open to the sky and much of the audience was standing in front of the stage. As they likely did in the Elizabethan era, the actors interacted with the audience shaking hands or pointing or winking. Late in the performance I sat in the sun and became quite hot.  At the end of the play the cast came out singing for their final bow. It was clear the audience greatly appreciated the performance, and not completely realizing the intensity of the experience, at the end, I was surprised to discover tears running down my face.

After the play, I walked on the Thames through the postmodern reconstruction of the commercial riverside and across the old Tower Bridge and by the ancient Tower Castle to the Tube.  All along the way there were crowds of people enjoying the beautiful day by the River.


On Tuesday, August 21, after visiting Westminster Abbey, we rode a train to the World Heritage City of Bath. We visited the main square next to the beautiful Bath Abbey.  Small stone angels climb the ladder to heaven while a few go the wrong way. With some spare time, I went to the Henrietta House where we were staying, a guesthouse in an historic Georgian townhouse with lovely antique rooms, built in a curved row of townhomes, which with the other three quadrants formed a circle.  To get there I crossed the Avon River on the Pultney Bridge, an old stone bridge with the crossing enclosed by small shops. Leslie and Cathy and I walked through the old mansion containing the Holbourne Museum and into the Sydney Gardens, a lush park with a beautiful canal running through it.

We next visited the Roman Baths. The Baths were built by the Romans between 60 and 70 AD on the site of thermal springs which were likely sacred to the local Celtic people, who at this site probably worshipped the mother goddess Sulis, possibly the goddess of the sun.  The Romans combined Sulis with their goddess Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. The Romans dedicated the Bath temple to Sulis Minerva. One of symbols of Minerva is the owl and around town we saw colorful, modern owl sculptures.

The actual baths are surrounded by various English structures including a museum built in 1889.  We toured the modern interior of the museum with a good audio program and viewed a great variety of Roman artifacts from the site and the area. There were many coins which were often offerings to Sulis who was known to help recover stolen objects or curse the thieves. Tablets have been found with requests of the goddess.

Solinus to the goddess Sulis Minerva. I give to your divinity and majesty [my] bathing tunic and cloak. Do not allow sleep or health to him who has done me wrong, whether man or woman or whether slave or free unless he reveals himself and brings those goods to your temple

Hot water rose up from the limestone aquifers below and into a main pool which we saw bubbling. The Romans did not bathe in that pool because it was a sacred place of the gods.  Instead they engineering an intricate plumbing system which brought the water into the bathing pool and into hot, lukewarm and cold water rooms. The site includes ruins of the Roman temple and a sacrificial altar, and the museum displayed portions of the triangular pediment from the top of the structure onto which the museum projected color to show how it originally looked. The temple originally had a roof which was 100 feet high at its peak.

That evening we went to a pub known for its pies called The Raven and I ate a nice chicken pie.

On the Wednesday afternoon, after visiting Stonehenge in the morning, a group of us walked all over Bath. We started by visiting the Austen house where Jane Austen lived and wrote for a period of time. We saw a presentation on Austen and toured the site with various period furnishings and artifacts from Jane’s life and a life size figure interpreting what she may have looked like.  Then, we climbed further into Bath and visited the circular structure of townhomes at the Circus and the long, curved structure of townhomes called the Royal Crescent. Bath is known for its beautiful and livable urban fabric with narrow streets and simply designed buildings of two to three stories. The Royal Crescent and most of the buildings in Bath are constructed with honey colored limestone called Bath Stone. Most of the buildings were built in the 18th century in the Georgian style and in all, there is a pleasant uniformity to the city broken by the hillside topography and the beautiful Avon River. From the Crescent, we continued to climb looking for views and then descended to a pub for pints and through the Royal Victoria Park and down to the central commercial area where I ate Pad Thai at a fancy Thai restaurant.


It is impossible today to say what Stonehenge was or how it was used.  There are in fact hundreds of henge structures from the Neolithic period scattered around the British Isles. Most were constructed in at least a roughly circular pattern and most were enclosed by a ditch and embankment. It is likely that most were constructed in locations that had significance to the people over time and they likely were used to create special places separated from the common world. Stonehenge was located in a much larger “ritual landscape” where there are burial and ceremonial mounds, constructed linear features and other henges some of which were constructed before Stonehenge. Below the surface on Stonehenge and the other features in the area, various artifacts are found in large numbers, including stone tools, pottery and animal bones, which may have been the result of offerings or feasting.  Also, found are various types of human remains.

We arrived at Stonehenge on the morning of August 22. We had ridden on a bus through the beautifully open Cotswold Hills, where we spotted a prehistoric white horse engraved into the side of a hill. Arriving at the Stonehenge complex, we left our bus to get on another shuttle to take us up onto the bleak Salisbury plain to see Stonehenge.  There were many people there walking on the circular path around the site.  You can no longer enter the actual Stonehenge, but we had been given audio sets that provided a great deal of interesting information.

Stonehenge was constructed in phases between 3,300 and 2,400 BC with the ditch around the site likely being the first phase. The ditch may have been six feet deep at one time.  Ancient post holes are found throughout the site suggesting that various structures constructed from large timbers played an important role at Stonehenge over time. The ancient people appear to have begun placing standing stones on the site in its early phases. Although a southern entrance was present at various times, the primary entrance appears on the northeast aligned with sunrise at the time of the summer solstice.

There are two types of stones at Stonehenge today, the large sandstone sarsens which were quarried locally and weighed up to 50 tons and the smaller bluestones which likely were brought to the site from Wales from quarries approximately 180 miles away. After visiting the site, we enjoyed the small museum in the visitor's center and the reconstruction of what the homes of people looked like.

Stonehenge and the surrounding area were obviously a place where many people gathered for significant social, political or religious occasions or events. Some believe that Stonehenge was a pilgrimage site and that people may have visited it from substantial distances.  The teeth from a man in one grave in the area show that he had grown up in Germany. Like modern pilgrimage sites, Stonehenge may have been a place of healing. On this day, there were many people from all over the world at the site.

Archeologist Francis Pryor believes that Stonehenge was a sacred place for ancestors and the dead.  Stonehenge is linked to an ancient travel way, following natural features and with construction predating Stonehenge, which archaeologists call “the Avenue,” linking Stonehenge to the Avon River. Pryor believes that another very large henge complex a few miles away, called Durrington Walls, was a place for the living, with its wooden structure and surrounding village.  There are more signs of activity at the Durrington Walls site, and it could have been a place for feasting and funereal celebrations after which the body would be taken to the nearby Avon River and transported to Stonehenge for funeral rites.  Then the body would be buried in the barrows and mounds which can be seen all around Stonehenge or perhaps cremated and deposited on the site. A common ritual activity appeared to be placing cremated human remains in the ditches. It is also quite likely that Stonehenge was used for a variety of events and occasions under conditions of changing religious beliefs.  Also, it is important to understand the various construction projects at Stonehenge were themselves major ritual events with large numbers of people coming together for a common purpose.  Stonehenge could have also served political functions; religion and political power tended to be closely linked in ancient times.  Imagine how impressed another tribe might be if you brought them to Stonehenge to establish an alliance. Construction and use of Stonehenge likely ended by 1,500 BC.

Dales Way

On Thursday, August 23, we took a train from London to Ilkley.  That evening, I went into the All Saints’ Church and viewed the ancient, stone Saxon Crosses from the 9th century that were originally a part of older churches which had been on the site. The next morning, we walked down to the stone bridge over the River Wharfe where the Dales Way walk begins. The Dales Way runs 82 miles from the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales National Park to Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District National Park. Our Colorado Mountain Club group, led by Kris Ashton, was taking seven days to complete the walk. The trail was relatively level, following the river, and we experienced what would be a constant along the Dales Way: walking through pastures full of sheep.

In the morning we walked through the graveyard of the old stone church near the village of Addingham and went into the church.  Inside, the organist was practicing what sounded like a Bach prelude.  I always loved listening to preludes and fugues played on church organs and was momentarily transported. We talked with the organist and I asked him what he was playing.  He said it was Mendelsohn who in fact did compose a small number of organ works. We walked on close to the river and through stands of trees and soon walked around the simple, but beautiful Fairfield Friends Meeting House.  We went inside and admired the simple benches and large wooden ceiling beams. It was one of the early meeting halls for what became known as the Quaker movement and a sign outside said that it was among the “top ten” sites for religious belief in England.

We continued walking through the rural countryside in a valley with steep hills on either side. We soon spotted stone ruins ahead which were the Priory at Bolton Abbey.  Originally, it had been an Augustinian monastery half of which was destroyed in 1540.  The remaining half continues to serve as the local parish church. A man outside the church told me about his favorite window and I went inside and enjoyed the stained glass.  Outside, I took pictures of the ruins. We had lunch in a tourist facility in a stone building. Walking along, we soon found ourselves in the Strid, a wooded section of the Wharfe River famous for its dangerous and deadly rapids, and there were signs warning against trying to cross it. The Strid is actually an ecologically important area preserving a diversity of deciduous trees and native flora. It is a lovely forest along the river.

As the forest ended, we came to the Barden Aqueduct crossing the river which still transports water, and we walked across the river on the path on the top of the aqueduct. We took a side trip to Appletreewick past a campground densely packed with tents.  It had become cold and rainy so we looked forward to stopping at the Craven Arms Pub, but it was so crowded that we decided to go ahead and walk to our destination for the day, Burnsall. Our entrance to the stone village of Burnsall was very scenic across a large, open meadow and a stone bridge.  We arrived at the Red Lion Inn an historic stone building. For dinner at the Inn, I ate fish and calamari and a fried, hard-boiled pheasant egg surrounded by black pudding.


In the morning, we started out from Burnsall.  As we were waiting to start walking, Leslie said “Onward, onward Christian soldiers,” and I started walking with that awful hymn, which I sang so many times growing up, ring in my brain.  In our hiking circles, we call a bad song playing in your head while you hike an “earworm.” The remedy that usually works for me is to think of a Beatles song to replace the earworm.  At breakfast, there was a framed poster on the wall for a local school festive in 1868 which described the various activities that would occur at the event.  It reminded me of the story about John Lennon, who was inspired by an old circus poster he had to write Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite which turned out to be a great walking song to play in my mind.

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline

There were a number of people on the trail as we walked, and as we passed, we said, “good morning” over and over. That made me silently take up another song.

I've got nothing to say but it's okay
Good morning, good morning, good morning

In popular music, there is nothing more British than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We continued this fourteen mile day walking by the river to Grassington where we went into the National Park visitor’s center. Outside the center, I met a family from Wales who were with two boxers. We talked about our boxers and what great dogs they were.  We agreed that they were a misunderstood breed since many people appeared to think they were scary, but we agreed they were a beautiful, happy breed. Their male boxer was very large and quite handsome. We talked about Wales and I told them I was going there and asked them which castle to visit.  They said to definitely visit Conwy.

Grassington is a lovely stone town and we spent time there visiting the shops and the central square where there was a Saturday morning outdoor market underway. Kris told us we would be out in the open countryside at lunchtime, so I bought a chicken salad sandwich and a fruit flapjack, the British name for a cookie bar, to put in my pack.

We next climbed steadily through the town and into the open pastures above, which were divided by stonewalls.  We were learning that we would constantly be going through gates in the walls or over the walls on ladders. We climbed and crested hills where we lost views of civilization except for the walls and the sheep. We stopped for lunch in a broad ravine area surrounded by high hills and then climbed up to a high point where we passed an old stone lime kiln.

We had talked about having an hour of silent hiking on this day and at lunch the group decided that this would start after lunch, but no one told me, and I was embarrassed when someone had to tell me to be quiet after we started to walk. At this point we were in high open country and had endless vistas for miles. We climbed until we reached the Conistone Pie formation which is a rock formation shaped like a round mushroom.  Climbing on top, we had 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys. As we walked silently, the puffy white clouds were moving across the sky projecting changing shadows onto the landscape below. The silence allowed me to focus on my hiking mantra from Nepal, Om Mane Padme Hum, and I soon reached a state of mind that was both serene and ecstatic with the glories of the place.

From there, we descended into the Kettlewell where I visited the church and had a pint in the pub.  From Kettlewell, we took a cab ride with a pleasant Scottish driver to Hubberholme and the George Inn where we spent two nights.


On Sunday morning, August 26, we rode with our Scottish cab driver Gordon from Hubberholme back to Kettlewell. We walked in the rain along the river through very green pastures over walls and through gates. We walked through the small village of Starbotton and on to Buckden where I had a nice steak and ale pie for lunch at the hotel pub. Back to Hubberholme, we visited the church across the street from the George Inn. Kris gave us the assignment of counting the mice carved into the pews by the “Mouseman of Kilburn.” In the evening, we had Sunday dinner at the George Inn.  I ate roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with an apple crumble with custard topping for desert.  Cathy read a section of l All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, a veterinarian who wrote about life in the nearby Yorkshire countryside. The inn keeper, Ed, entertained us with his dry English humor.

The next morning we started walking from Hubberholme in the cold rain. We walked through flat pastures, along the Wharfe River.  As we continued to walk, buildings declined in number until there were very few left. We passed a home called Oughtershaw Hall and began to climb away from the river up a side valley and into the high moors.  We walked on wet, grassy trails up to the Nethergill Eco Farm and into a large building where we were offered hot tea and a homemade flapjack.  The couple who owned the farm described how they were conducting sustainable farming.  They were planting thousands of trees on the hillsides and working to create and maintain habitat for diverse wildlife.  I told them about the American approach using conservation easements but that approach is dependent on our taxation system.

From the farm, we walked along the contour of the hillside on a very soggy and somewhat muddy trail crossing small streams running down from the moors above. We walked on up the valley to Cam House, another collection of stone buildings where we stopped at a picnic table in the intermittent drizzle to eat our packed lunches.  A young man came out of one building dressed in camouflage pants.  He had recently come from Scotland to serve as the gamekeeper for the Cam House estate. His main job was killing foxes and vermin, which killed the grouse and other birds, using traps and a rifle with a night scope. The owner of the property brought people one week of the year to shoot grouse.

From Cam House, we decide to take the alternative high route climbing steeply up a paved road onto a high ridge above the valley.  From the top of the ridge there were grand views of the undeveloped valley and open lands in all directions and of distant high hills with their tops covered in clouds. After walking along the ridge, we reached a marker and the high point on the Dales Way at 1,900 feet above sea level. From the top, we descended into the high moors on a trail called the Ribble Way. It was not raining at this point but remained overcast as we crossed the dark, brooding moors. We descended on the trail to a busy road and crossed it at an intersection and began to descend towards the Dee River. We spotted the beautiful Dent Head aqueduct below and when we arrived at the aqueduct, we admired its enormous arches. We walked along the Dee River which was dark and beautiful with rapids.  Just before we arrived at the Sportsman’s Inn, where we spent the night, we saw a line of ten small mole carcasses hung on barbed wire. At the Inn, the bartender told us about grouse and mole management.  Farmers who specialize in mole management, in competition with others, like to display their catch.  The Bartender told me that the trout had been removed by the government from the Dee. Apparently, this has been done to promote the populations of native fish, especially salmon.

On Tuesday, August 28, we walked on from the Sportsmen Inn and Cowgill along the River Dee, through and over many stone walls and past many sheep and cattle and a few horses. It was cloudy most of the day but without rain. We climbed at one point perhaps 100 feet above the river for some nice views, and then we descended back to the river and into the quaint village of Dent. We visited the churchyard and found the monument to the local nineteenth century vicar Adam Sedgewick, one of the founders of modern geology. We had learned in the villages to not all crowd into one pub if there were multiple choices, and I had a quiche for lunch with chips that seemed to be served with just about any meal. After lunch, we again walked along the river. We walked around the back of a mansion called Gap Manor past its old beautiful but decaying stone gate. Climbing around the back, we could see the large buildings below. We hiked up through the beautiful Gap Woods with its large, widely spaced deciduous trees, and as we climbed, we had extensive views of the valley below. Soon, we could see the more substantial town of Sedbergh below and had a nice descent into the town past stone homes, the well know Sedbergh School and into the large town center. My notebook was running out of pages and I needed a new one, but it was nearly 4:00 pm and the stores were closing. Only the Sleepy Elephant was open, which sold both books and outdoor gear. So I bought a lovely small notebook and a pair of socks.  The notebook had a cover with art from a Japanese lacquer box. I stayed in a large, antique room in Daleslea, a guest house in a large Victorian townhome. With some of our group, I had pasta and a nice glass of wine at an Italian restaurant.


It was raining the next morning when we started walking from Sedbergh. We took a short cut out of town climbing up through the southern edge of the Howgill fells, which gave us some fine views of the countryside. As we started to descend, we saw glimpses of blue sky and by the time we took a break in a large pasture by the River Lune, we were in sunshine.  As we rested, we spotted what was likely a heron across the river. As we continued, we passed under the impressively enormous, Victorian Lune Viaduct. We spent the rest of the day walking up and down through forests and pastures near the river and past stone houses and thousands of sheep, many cows and some horses, including miniature horses. We walked over the busy M6 highway on a bridge.  It was difficult to navigate at times and we had to walk on country roads, single file, on the right. After a long day of walking, we arrived at Burnside an hour and a half before we were to catch a train to Kendall.  So in Burnside we went to a pub for pints and ate fish and chips from the small shop next door. Finally, we took the train to the large town of Kendall where we walked for almost a mile past shops and restaurants to our hotel.

On Thursday, August 30, we took a cab from Kendall back to Burnside and started our last day walking on the Dales Way.  The day before, we had left the Yorkshire Dales National Park and today we would enter the Lake District National Park. We started our walk along the River Kent through beautiful country to the Village of Stavely where we bought food to put in our packs for lunch and had a long break in a coffee shop where I had an extended chat with Peter, a local primary school teacher.  We talked about the British medical system, which he said was good because it is universal. He also said that it was not perfect because rural areas sometimes lacked medical resources. We climbed out of the village into remote countryside where we had views back over the flowing Pennine hills we had been walking through. Ahead, the landscape was not smoothly flowing like before but much more rugged as we entered the Lake District. We stopped in high rugged terrain to eat lunch. From the high point, we descended to a stone bench with a sign marking the end of Dales Way. From that place, we overlooked enormous Windermere Lake and the large town of Bowness-on-Windemere. After taking pictures and celebrating, we descended into the tourist town which was packed with people.

In Bowness, we stayed at a nice old hotel and I walked into the main shopping area and went in an outdoor gear store which was having a closeout sale and bought more socks and a couple of shirts.  I struggled to find a place to take pictures of the lake and finally took a couple of shots on a floating pier.  We had a fine meal at a restaurant that specialized in food from the area. I had a delicious pheasant dish.

The next day, we traveled back to London in first class on a fast Virgin train. First class was a new experience for us and we were served complementary sandwiches, snacks and drinks. The Dales Way had been a magical experience, a full-on taste of the rural Yorkshire countryside, its historic stone villages, and the friendly people along the way.

Lone Pine to Ute Pass in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness

On Saturday, August 4, I led a group including Carol Bilberry, Denise Snow and Martin O Grady from the Lake Kathryn Trailhead up the Lone Pine Trailhead into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area of Colorado.  We left one car at the Lone Pine North Trailhead so we would not have to walk a mile on the dirt road at the end of the trip.  We hiked under sunny skies through deep forest where many of the trees were dead, killed by the pine beetle. Shortly after starting, we reached the junction with the short trail to Lake Kathryn.  We stashed heavy gear in the forest and climbed to the lake.  The lake is an elongated, tear-shaped lake with a high ridge above the eastern edge.  We did not see any people there.

We continued hiking through the forest and had some difficulty deciding where to go when the trail divided but took the left-hand route which led us on a steep climb to Bighorn Lake.  We had expected to pass an intersection of the Bighorn Lake Trail with the Lone Pine Trail but never saw the intersection.  We passed a smaller lake where there was a large group of young men yelling and throwing logs into the lake.  The large Bighorn Lake was quite beautiful set below the high ridges of the Continental Divide.

From the lake, we bushwhacked a short distance to another small lake and bushwhacked using our maps and GPS for not quite a mile back to the Lone Pine Trail.  We followed the trail across the Lone Pine Creek valley and began a very steep climb up to the Divide.  The trail climbed vertically, straight up, and I had difficulty getting a climbing rhythm going. It was quite warm and I had to let the others go a little bit ahead of me.  On top of the divide, the terrain changed dramatically into large relatively level or gently sloping areas of alpine tundra with scattered stands of evergreens and small ponds.  The views of the rugged mountains to the north, Little Agnes, Big Agnes and Mount Zirkel, were dramatic. We started looking for camp sites with good water and descended into the Gold Creek Valley, but did not find a campsite until we reached the creek.

The next morning, we started up the Gold Creek Trail and soon reached the junction with the Gilpin Trail. We again left our heavy packs or gear at the junction and ascended the trail, climbing above tree line to a small pass. On the pass, we look down on the beautiful navy blue, Gilpin Lake.  Behind it on the other side there were rugged mountains, including Mount Zirkel. As we watched, the color of the lake changed subtlety as the puffy clouds passed above.

We descended from the pass back to the Gold Creek Trail, crossed the open valley and began our second climb to the Continental Divide.   This climb was much better with long switch backs, interesting terrain, and beautiful views to Red Dirt Pass. After a forty-five minute climb, we reached the top of Ute Pass and stopped to enjoy the views to the east. Below we could see the trail cross open terrain with stands of trees and ponds.  We could just catch a view of Bear Lake. After the steep descent off the pass, we found a nice campsite next to a stream near the intersection with the Bear Lake Trail.


After setting up camp, we took a walk to Bear Lake.  The hike to the lake was over a mile with some significant up and down. We visited three separate lakes.  I sat for some time at the largest lake, watching as the color and texture of the lake changed with the wind and with the clouds streaming by overhead. The final day we hiked quickly down the Bear Creek Trail to the Grizzly Helena Trail.  The final stretch of trail to the car was surprisingly beautiful, descending gradually into the very large valley through stands of aspen trees. Everything went very well on this trip and it was a privilege leading this group of expert backpackers.


Ute Creek

On July 11, Cheryl Ames, Heeja Yoo-Warren, and I started a backpack up the Ute Creek Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness.  It was sunny with clear skies but we had heard that the yearly monsoon would be coming in with strength over the next several days. At the start, we had to ford the Rio Grande River which was perhaps fifty feet wide and only up to the middle of my shins at the deepest.  The water was very cold.

We climbed up from the river through open terrain and in to the forest.  We hiked through healthy stands of Aspen but most of the evergreens were dead or dying from the pine beetle. According to an article by Daniel Strain in Science magazine, the populations of the beetle have exploded killing trees from New Mexico north into Canada. Jeffry Mitton, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Boulder and his graduate student, Scott Ferenberg, discovered in the mountains above Boulder that the beetles are now out and laying eggs almost two months earlier than normal. Because of the longer reproductive season, the beetles produce an extra generation and many more individuals than in the past.  Because of this, most of the adult trees in the Weminuche are dead: yet another result of the changing climate. It is still a beautiful place, especially near the very long stretch of the Continental Divide running the length of the wilderness area.

After a mile through the forest, we found ourselves high on the side of the deep and wide, Ute Creek Canyon. For some time, trail was relatively level, climbing gently.  We passed a group of six people with a young dog.  I asked how old the dog was and they told me it was four months, which, of course, is too young for extended hikes but I didn’t say anything. They looked like they were having difficulty keeping the puppy on the trail. We never saw them higher on the trail.  There was a young couple from Snowmass, Colorado who we talked to repeatedly up the trail. They seemed to be enjoying the wild country immensely.

After some time, the trail descended to a large alluvial meadow at the bottom of the canyon.  The creek meandered and after we saw a beaver lodge the creek formed small ponds. After about a mile at the bottom of the canyon, we began to climb more steeply up switch backs.  We came upon the Snowmass couple watching a female moose grazing in the deep forest. Not long after, we arrived at Black Lake, a small lake in the forest, and a short distance later, we stepped out of the forest into a vast, open valley surrounded by peaks. We immediately came upon the intersection where the West Ute Trail separated and climbed into the mountains, and our trail became the Middle Ute Trail. After a short distance, we arrived at the junction with the East Ute Trail and began looking for a campsite. We camped on a rocky bench among some dead and doomed trees just above the confluence of Ute Creek and East Ute Creek. There had been clouds and periods of light rain during our hike, but at our camp in the evening, we enjoyed warm sun and clearing skies.

The next morning, we left at 7:30, hiking up the Middle Ute Creek Trail towards the Continental Divide under overcast skies. We had originally planned to pack up our camp and undertake a loop backpack up the trail to the Continental Divide Trail and then down the East Ute Creek Trail, but given the forecast for heavy storms, we decided to just leave our camp where it was and day hike to the Divide.  I had wondered if we were to see the well-known Rio Grande Pyramid with the Window formation next to it.  Not far from camp the Pyramid Peak loomed above us.  There was a tall rock wall on the ridge next to it with a large square gap shaped like a window.  We continued and soon saw a herd of thirty to forty elk below us on the other side of valley.  The herd included young elk and a large elk with antlers.

After a few more miles, we came to a stream crossing deep in the willows with an intersecting trail going off in two directions.  In each direction there was a pole with a vertical carving telling us that the trail was the Continental Divide Trail.  Both Heeja and Cheryl were surprised to come upon the CDT in this manner, and I asked them whether we should go to Mexico or Canada.  We decided to head towards Mexico. We climbed up through an area of dying forest and then through tall willow bushes tightly lining the trail. We soon came upon Twin Lakes, two large lakes set in a flat, wet area. As we continued to climb, the scenery became increasingly open and rugged with expansive scenery containing mountains and the ridge top of the Continental Divide. After climbing to a low area on the Divide, we saw mirror-like Ute Lake below us. The lake was almost two hundred feet below us in a steep sided basin.

We had decided to return to the Middle Ute Creek Trail via the Ute Lake Trail, and above the lake it took us some time to determine how to find the Ute Lake Trail.  Cheryl walked towards the lake and found a camp with lamas but no trail. We decided that we needed to continue on the CDT until we found the intersection with the Lake Trail.  I could hear the little pikas squeaking and spotted one among the rocks. We began to climb on the trail, higher and higher, and when I checked the GPS, I saw we had passed the intersection.  As we climbed, we hadn’t noticed patches of blue sky appear among the magnificently broken clouds. Heeja led us back down a short distance and found the unmarked intersection with Ute Lake Trail.  As we climbed on the Lake Trail, we were far above tree line and could see a large portion of the Weminuche Wilderness area. We could see many high peaks in the distance with Ute Lake and Flint Lake below. From there we were viewing the high peaks above Chicago Basin, and we were seeing the Needle Range. We became positively giddy with the breathtaking scenery around us.

As we reached the point where we were to begin descending back into the Ute Creek Valley, it began to rain and hail heavily. We put on our rain shells and descended steeply down the increasingly soggy alpine meadows. The rain did not end until we were almost down in the valley.  It rained off and on as we followed the Ute Creek Trail to our camp. Back in camp, the sun came out and it became quite warm for a couple of hours. While we prepared dinner, we saw a female moose and her young one in the willows along the creek below our camp. We retired to our tents early and in a little while it began to rain steadily.


On our third morning, we packed up camp and began to hike back to the trailhead. In camp and on the trail, we talked about many subjects including hiking and other pursuits and the political situation.  We talked a great deal about music.  When we got back to the meadow in the canyon bottom, there was a female moose in one of the beaver ponds, sticking her head in the water to eat the aquatic vegetation. As we hiked lower, it became quite warm with swarming flies.  If you stopped for too long, they would bite you.  At the bottom, we forded the river and were back at the car. We were all thrilled with our experience in this very wild, very beautiful place.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is certainly one of the most beautifully situated lakes in Colorado.  Over the 4th of July, Rick Andrews and his dog Griffin and I backpacked up from Monarch Lake on the western side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and camped above the lake. The trail to the lake provides a great hiking experience, passing a series of powerful waterfalls along its middle section. Just before Crater Lake, we arrived at smaller Mirror Lake with the sharply pointed Lone Eagle Peak behind it.  I had hiked there many years before. I am not sure what year, but it was when I was still taking pictures using film at that time.

We camped in a designated site on a stony knoll above Crater Lake. The lake is surround by high vertical walls composed of jagged granite. Directly on one side is the massive bulk of Lone Eagle Peak with its pointed top.

The second day I hiked by myself up into the Pawnee Basin, visiting Pawnee Lake and climbing to the top of the basin.  I could not pick out Pawnee Pass on the high wall above me, although on the map the trail appeared to zigzag up a vertical couloir.  Since I had climbed the pass from the other side in the past, I did not make myself climb the rest of the way to the top of the pass. On the way down, I stopped and rested on some large boulders and admired the view of Pawnee Lake below. Back in camp, Rick told me he had been visited by a mountain goat twice while I was gone. In a little while, Griffin began to growl, and we looked up to see the goat again on a rock above us, inspecting our camp.


Fish and Owl Canyons

On the Colorado Plateau, in southern Utah and northern Arizona, there are so many unique canyon and desert environments. In April, under overcast skies, we climbed steeply down into the striped sandstone Owl and Fish canyons, carved by the ages into the high Cedar Mesa. We were making this loop hike, down Owl Canyon and back up Fish Canyon, a loop hike of approximately 17 miles.  We started down the slick rock with an experienced group. Cheryl Ames, Carol Munch, Phil Kummer and I are trip leaders for the Colorado Mountain Club.  Also, along were Heeja Yoo-Warren, a longtime hiking friend, and Carol’s husband Ed. We were very fortunate to have Dave Manley and Leigh along from the Utah Rock Art Association. Dave has published a book of his rock art photos and Leigh has a Master’s Degree in Archeology. Dave and Leigh are friends with Cheryl who is on the board of the Utah Rock Art Association and who came up with the idea for this trip.

To descend, we had to walk on the sandstone slick rock following cairns consisting of piles of rocks, walking along ledges and eventually making a very steep descent to the canyon floor. The canyons are carved by Owl and Fish creeks into the enormous Cedar Mesa.  Logically, the predominant rock of the Mesa and the canyons is Cedar Mesa Sandstone, a light colored, red to brown layer up to 1,200 feet deep, formed from beaches and sand bars deposited by an ancient sea that covered the area during the Permian era, over 300 million years ago.

As we descended into Owl Canyon, we passed our first ruins  consisting of a small, round building with smaller granary in an alcove. The Cedar Mesa area has been occupied by people for thousands of years.  Between the beginning of the Common Era and the 1200s the area was fully occupied by ancient Puebloan people who left stone structures throughout the area.  As we walked through the canyons, we could see small structures hundreds of feet above us in alcoves and on ledges high on the canyon walls. Dave told us that parts of the Colorado Plateau had more people living there in the 1200s than today.

The trail was primitive and very rugged in the upper portions of the canyons.  As we descended down the canyon there were vertical drops or pour offs where the streams formed waterfalls during floods.  The first one we reached was several hundred feet deep and we had to climb steeply down over boulders and rugged terrain.  We climbed down to a lovely small pond at the bottom below a smaller, sculptured pour off.  There were several more small ponds in the upper canyons. Several of these pour-offs had vegetation hanging from the rock, dripping water into the small ponds below.

We had been worried about water but were assured that there was plenty in the upper canyons, but we were told that below, where the two canyons came together in a wide-open confluence area, there would be no water.  We were told that there was water less than a mile downstream from the confluence area. So most of us limited the water we carried to around 2 liters.

Hiking down Owl canyon we saw many beautiful towers and giant shapes eroded from the vertical canyon walls. Fish and Owl canyons are deeper, steeper and narrower than many of the other canyons in the Cedar Mesa area with an average depth of 500 feet. Because of this, these are particularly spectacular canyons. After we left behind the last water in the stream, we came upon a particularly beautiful collection of tall rock towers and next to them, we spotted the dramatic Nevills arch high on the canyon wall above.  Nevills arch is named after Norman Nevill, the first man to take customers on boat trips through the Grand Canyon. Nevills arch has a span of 145 feet and the height of its opening is 80 feet.

As we continued on, the canyon widened until we stopped for a rest at the dry bed of Fish Creek.  Here, we decided to turn up Fish Canyon and look for our first camp site there. We were hiking farther than I expected on our first day and I was running out of water.  Despite the clouds, it was a warm day in the canyons, and I began to focus on finding water. Others were tired and started talking about finding a campsite before we found water.  So I hiked by a large established campsite where the others stopped, and I continued to where I found water, about a half a mile beyond the camp site. The camp site had a large square boulder in the middle which served as an excellent table on which to cook dinner.

The next day was sunny and we continued hiking up Fish Canyon.  We continued to see a great variety of shapes, towers and natural sculptures carved into the canyon.  I saw a couple of small, ancient structures collapsed on ledges high above us. We hiked on for a few miles following Fish Creek as it twisted and turned and formed small pools. We started to see small trees chewed into points on the end, a clear sign that there were beavers in the canyon, and we arrived at a substantial beaver dam with beaver ponds where a large side canyon branched off of Fish Canyon.  Tomorrow, we would hike up the side canyon and climb back out to the Mesa above.

There at this confluence, Carol found a lovely established campsite on a bench above the creek. The campsite had a large, striped butte above it. Utah rock walls tend to be patterned with stripes and even polka dots.  The stripes above us were desert varnish, which is as deposit of an iron-manganese solution which runs down the rock when it rains forming dark patterns in the hot, dry climate.

After we set up our camp, Carol and Dave led Heeja, Leigh and myself on a hike a mile or more up the main Fish Creek Canyon.  The canyon was narrow with beautiful, high glowing walls.  On the ledges of one wall, we saw several stone structures on ledges at three different levels.  Back at camp, it rained quite a bit during the night.

The next morning was clear with bright blue skies and we started hiking up the side canyon where we found more pour-offs and pools.  We had to grab onto a small tree above us to climb up one short but steep drop off. After a couple of miles, we came to the turn where the trail began to climb steeply up the side of the canyon. The trail twisted and turned up nearly vertical sections in places, around enormous boulders and across stretches of slick rock.

Leading the group, just below the top, I followed the trail to a final rock wall.  There the trail became a crack running up through a vertical, twenty foot wall.  Dave climbed up the crack first and lowered a rope down to bring the packs up.  I climbed up first to help Dave with the packs.  The first move of the climb was the most difficult with limited means for a handhold and foothold.  With Dave anchoring the rope we were able to bring up the packs and everyone did a great job climbing to the canyon rim. On top we rested and admired the wide view of the canyon and the terrain beyond.  From the rim we hiked two miles through the rolling juniper-pinon-cedar forest on the mesa and arrived back to the cars late in the morning.

Leigh, Dave, Cheryl, Heeja and Phil immediately left for home, while Carol, Ed and I spend the rest of the day exploring the area by car. We drove to Muley Point Overlook where we could see a vast territory out to the buttes of Monument Valley over the amazing canyon of the San Juan River with its dark, layered geology. Next we drove down through the Valley of the Gods, a wide-open, rolling desert with huge, scattered buttes, fins and other indescribable rock monuments.

I had previously hiked through the Grand Gulch which is close to Fish and Owl Canyon.  The Grand Gulch is not as dramatic as Fish and Owl but is much more intensely filled with ancient ruins and incredible rock art. Together, Fish and Owl Canyons, the Grand Gulch, Muley Point Overlook, and the Valley of the Gods are areas that the administration recently removed from the Bears Ears National Monument.  This despite the fact that polls showed that over 60 percent of Utahans supported maintaining the monument.  Recent reports suggest that the removal was done to support oil exploration in the area.  In fact, I agree that the area should not be a national monument.  Instead, the greater Bears Ears Area, including Cedar Mesa, should be designated as a National Park for the enjoyment and appreciation of future generations.


Bryce Canyon

At the end of February, 2018, I went on a trip with a Colorado Mountain Club group led by Joanne Young and Renee Howbert. When I was in Nepal six years ago, I wondered momentarily whether there was anywhere else that was as beautiful, spectacular and magnificent as the Himalayas. I almost immediately had the answer; it would be the desert southwest especially the area from the middle of Utah south to the Grand Canyon.  Bryce Canyon is certainly one of the most special places in that southwestern area.

It took us a whole day to ride the bus from Denver to Bryce Canyon.  We stopped in Green River, Utah to spend an hour in the John Wesley Powell museum. Powell is famous for his exploration of the Colorado River and particularly his first recorded boat trip through the Grand Canyon.  However, he was in fact part of and a leader of the larger effort to create detailed maps of the southwest. Members of the exploration led by George Wheeler provided the first detailed documentation of Bryce Canyon in 1870.  Bryce Canyon is named after Ebenezer and Mary Bryce, settlers who grazed cattle and sheep in the canyon and who built a lumber road into the Canyon.  Ebenezer's famous comment on the canyon was: “awful hard to find a cow that was lost.”

Our first morning, we left Ruby Lodge at 6:30 am and went to Bryce Point on the rim looking across the canyon to the sunrise.  It was overcast but with a narrow gap between the horizon and the clouds so that the sun popped briefly through, brightly illuminating the canyon basin below. Bryce is not actually a two sided canyon but is instead a serious of basins eroded deeply into the eastern side of the high Paunsaugent Plateau which sits atop the Grand Staircase in southern Utah.  The sun shone on the vast collection of red hoodoos in the basin below. It was a panorama of light, colors and otherworldly shapes.

After breakfast, we hiked a short distance to Mossy Cave to see the ice formations, including large icicles in the cave and a frozen waterfall. In the afternoon, Renee Howbart led us on a hike on the rim from Fairy Land Point back to Ruby’s Inn. We walked along the rim, looking down into the eroded landscape.  We were told by a ranger that the snowfall this year had been fifteen percent of normal but there was still enough snow to contrast with the red and pink hoodoos below us.  After walking for a mile and a half, we came to a barbed wire fence and turned west, into the ponderosa forest on top of the plateau, through snow, looking for a gate. We had seen blue diamond ski trail markers on both side of the fence and so hoped there was a connection through the fence. We followed the fence until it turned in front of us at a right angle and decided the whole group had to go through the fence between the top two strands.  The Ponderosa forest was beautiful and open. We saw no sign of the mule deer which populate the plateau, nor of the mountain lions who prey on them. It was sunny by the time we arrived at Ruby’s Inn.

After a quick dinner at the lodge, we were out to Sunrise Point for a moonlight hike.  We met our ranger guide in the parking lot and went up to a high view point on the rim to watch the sunset. The sunset was behind us so it illuminated the landscape in front of us.  Bryce Canyon is known for its “100 mile views” due to its clean air, remote locations, and high altitude. Shortly after sunset, the full moon rose over the distant Table Cliff Plateau and hills beyond the Paria River.  The large bright moon lit the snow fields around us so that they glowed as it became dark.  In the dark, we could see our prominent moon shadows as we descended down into the dark hoodoos.  Our guide talked about the moon, how it was created and how it is essential for life on earth.  He told us that Bryce is one of the darkest places on the continent and pointed out the stars and the nebula that comprised the Orion constellation. He talked about the changing geology of the canyon and how the average age of a hoodoo was only 2,000 years. He told us he preferred not to use white lights but instead to allow our eyes to adjust to dark, and we could see almost as well as during the day except in the darker shadows.  The moon, almost as bright as a sun, gave the landscape, now colorless, a stark contrast of light and dark.  We hiked down into the Queene’s garden and saw the Queen Victoria hoodoo in dark silhouette. He told us to come back when there is no moon shining in order to see the stars and the Milky Way.

The second morning, we went out to Sunrise Point to watch the sunrise.  There were no clouds so the red and pink hoodoos glowed above the snow.

After breakfast, we began hiking down into the Canyon around the eight mile Fairyland Trail loop. On the upper part of the descent, we were surrounded by thin walls and fins; below that, we were among the hoodoos of all shapes and sizes.  In the bright, morning light, with a scattering of snow, the landscape down in the basin felt so open, so bright and so clean. The formations created varying small microclimates allowing trees of differing types to grow, scattered throughout the canyon.  Heavy rains during the summer storms erode the surface especially on the steeper slopes, creating what are technically badlands, flowing down in lines of gullies.  The gullies contained snow, creating white stripes on the landscape. The steeper slopes erode too rapidly to allow trees to grow except for a few smaller trees, like the limber pine, struggling to hold on with their prominent roots. As we continued to hike below the rim, it grew warmer in the sun. The trail ran up and down climbing over several ridges.  In every, case when we climbed around a bend and summited a ridge, a new inexpressible panorama stopped us in our tracks. We climbed through tunnels and by distinctive hoodoos back to the rim and back to Ruby’s just beyond the northern end of the park.

Late in the afternoon, we rode on the bus to the southern end of the park. The altitude of the park above the canyon rim runs from under 8,000 feet at the northern end to over 9,000 feet at the southern end.  So we stopped at the southern end of the road above 9,000 feet to hike the Bristle Cone Loop Trail. We hiked the one mile loop over the snow, under clear blue skies, through a Spruce-Fir forest, with gale force winds. We hiked to high viewpoints were we could see almost 100 miles.  Our ranger told us you could see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from one of these locations.  We didn’t know enough about what we were seeing to pick out particular places and could only stay a short time on the exposed viewpoints because of the rough, cold wind. We certainly could see for many miles.

Our last day in the National Park, we started again with sunrise at Bryce Point. Since it was a relatively cloudless morning, the light and the hoodoo colors were brighter than on the first morning when it was overcast.  However, the colors had been deeper and subtler when it was overcast.

After breakfast, we hiked back into the canyon on the Peek-a-Boo trail loop. There were white, red and pink walls, some enormous in scale, some with windows or tunnels, and then the loop descended into the hoodoos.  The hoodoos are formed by the freeze-thaw cycles when ice enters into cracks and freezes and later thaws, often during the course of a day.  The hoodoos are composed of various layers of rock of varying composition and hardness.  So the layers erode at different rates, creating the unique hoodoo shapes.  Often there is a harder capstone on top which keeps the hoodoo standing. Our ranger tells us that they lose a few hoodoos each year to erosion. Currently, there are 200 days a year at Bryce when the temperature goes below freezing. With warming, the number of freezing days may decrease, changing the pattern of erosion.

After lunch, we descended on the Navajo Loop Trail which has the most interesting descent, including a section of short switchbacks through a tight canyon.  We descended down into the Queens Garden where we again viewed Queen Victoria in her white stone dress, this time in the sunlight.  That evening, we celebrated our adventure with a happy hour and pizza.  A few of us snuck into the Ruby’s Inn cafeteria for ice cream.

Bryce Canyon is not permanent.  It is eroding rapidly and in a few thousand years might be just another canyon with steep sides.  It reminds me of a Tibetan sand painting where monks create elaborate patterns from colored sand. After the art is finished, the monks quickly and easily destroy it demonstrating that existence is ephemeral and temporary.  So you need to go see Bryce Canyon, a temporary work of nature’s art, before it is erased by water and weather.


Oaxaca Historic Center

I arrived at my Hotel Trebol in central Oaxaca, during the night. The door faced the street corner and the door was locked and the lobby dark when I arrived. I knocked on the door and someone appeared from within the lobby to let me in.  I managed to get the check in done with my broken Spanish. A young man took me to my room.  It turned out to be a very nice, authentic Mexican hotel built around a large courtyard.  I stayed there for two nights before joining the group.  The people at the desk were very nice but spoke no English, which was fine with me so I could try some Spanish. I had a good breakfast of mango and melon slices with yogurt and various grains, which I didn’t recognize, to put on it. I had some scrambled eggs with a black mole sauce.

The downtown historic area of Oaxaca is not large and very easy to walk through. The streets are lined with colonial era buildings which are horizontally monumental although no more than two or three stories tall.  Many buildings are painted in bright colors. Scattered throughout are old churches built of stone with varied rooflines composed of domes, towers, and steeples. After my first breakfast in the city, I walked from my hotel to the nearby grand Zocalo plaza, which was surrounded by old buildings with ground floor restaurants and shaded by many old trees. As I walked into the plaza, I was drawn into a restaurant by a woman who offered me a cappuccino, which turned out to be a lovely tall, layered concoction flavored with cinnamon.  After coffee, I took pictures of the Catedral de Oaxaca located on the north side of the Zocalo. I went into the Cathedral and admired its spacious colonial sanctuary with the morning light streaming through the stained glass windows.

From the Cathedral, I walked up the Andador Macedonio Alcala, a beautiful pedestrian-only street with brick pavement, lined by large old buildings. I walked to the Templo de Santo Domingo and entered the large church.  Inside it seemed to be covered with gold, with golden shapes, figures and bible stories.

Coming back to my hotel from the trip to Mitla, the streets were lined with merchant stalls and good booths. I went into the large indoor Mercado, across the street from my hotel.  The Mercado was crowded with booths displaying all types of merchandise including fragrant flowers. I next went into the adjacent food Mercado.  I entered through an intensely hot entryway where men were grilling meat. In the rear of the hall, there were butchers and seafood stalls, and the smell was overwhelming.

In the evening, I walked with the group back up to the Andador Macedonio Alcala for dinner.  On the way, we crossed a parade which likely was associated with the celebrations leading up to coming Day of the Dead. We went to dinner in a very interesting postmodern space with a rectangular pool of water, stucco brick walls, and a fabric roof.  Oaxaca is known for its mole, so I had grilled Mahi-Mahi with a delicious dark mole sauce. At around 9:00 PM, we walked back through the Zocalo which was full of thousands of people, including families and children, watching dancers, musicians  and films and eating and drinking outside at the surrounding restaurants. The great plaza was full of lights, noise and music.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the Mercado. I had queso with salsa and beans. People kept trying to sell us trinkets while we ate and musicians played for donations. After our visit to Monte Alban, we went to the village of San Antonio Arrazola and visited the home and workshop of the late Manuel Jiménez Ramírez , the originator of the Oaxacan alebrijes, wooden carved figurines painted with bright colors and intricate patterns.  His son demonstrated the technique they used to carve figurines varying in size from life sized jaguars to fanciful figures that fit on the palm of your hand.  After the demonstration, the family served us homemade quesadillas and fajitas, and we shopped for figurines to take with us.

Back in the city, I walked up through the Zocalo to San Domingo Plaza where I explored the museum located in the old convent of the church, the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. There, I explored the ancient sculptures, jewelry and ceramics from Monte Alban and the ancient valley. From the rear of the museum I looked down on the beautiful botanic garden. On the way back, I found a bookstore with many books in English. The owners were a couple, an American man and Mexican women both of whom spoke English.  I discussed Monte Alban with them, and the American owner expressed his wonder that the ancient city was occupied for so long.  They helped me find books on the ancient valley.

We had another free day in Oaxaca later in the trip.  It was a warm, sunny day and I spent it walking around the city.  I first walked to La Basilica De Nuestra Senora De La Soledad, another beautiful, large cathedral. After visiting the sanctuary, I went into an adjoining old building which turned out to be a municipal office building. It was full of art and meeting rooms named after local historic dignitaries.  I found what appeared to be the combined community development, public works, historic downtown, and zoning office. There were nothing but file cabinets within, which looked rather boring, so I didn’t go in.

From La Soledad, I climbed steep, narrow, residential streets to the Auditorio Guelaguetza, a large outdoor concert venue on a hill high above the city. After appreciating the views of the city below, I walked down the Escalaras de Fortin, a shaded walkway with tall trees overhanging the street, back down into the city. This walking route took me to the San Domingo Plaza.

The highlight of the day was an afternoon visit to the Rufino Tamayo Pre-Columbian art museum which houses the pre-Columbian art collection of the great Mexican artist. This is a museum that treats the ancient pieces as the great works of art that they are. It had a room of pre-classical art from the Olmec period including small, chubby, doll-like, ceramic human figurines, along with modest-size figures of gods. Most were from the Veracruz area.

There was beautiful room of classical era pieces from all over Mexico including tall carvings of Mayan priests with elaborate garments and high headdresses.  The seated figure of the goddess of death looked like the modern female figure of La Calavera Catrina commonly seen associated with El Dia Del Muertos.

For dinner, I went with a small group to the Casa Oaxaca restaurant near San Domingo plaza. We ate outdoors on the second floor patio.  I ate turkey breast with a wonderful black mole along with an unusual tomato salad and fried plantains. As we walked back, we stopped at the plaza to listen to an orchestra and four opera singers performing for a very appreciative audience.  Behind them, the old cathedral was lit with colored lights.

El Tule

Mitla and Monte Alban

On October 21, my first day in Oaxaca, I was picked up at the hotel by the tour company.  The group in the van turned out to be mostly Spanish speakers.  Driving out of the city, the driver maintained a narrative on what we were seeing alternating between Spanish and English. Our first stop was at Tule, a village with El Tule, said to be the widest tree in the world. It is a truly impressive Montezuma Cypress.

Next, we stopped in the village of Teotitlan del Valle at the house of the weaver Nelson Perez where he showed us how they wove rugs using wool, natural dyes, and traditional wooden looms. He used herbs, insects, fruit, flowers, minerals and lemon juice to create vibrantly colored rugs, many with traditional Zapotec patterns. Each line of a rug took one half hour to make on the loom.

Finally, we arrived at Mitla, my primary interest on this tour. Mitla was likely a sacred Zapotec site for millennia, but around 900 AD was probably taken over by the Mixtecs who lived there with the Zapotecs. We walked around the main buildings to a large plaza and walked up tall, steep steps through low doors in the walls into a rectangular room with three large columns. From there, we went through another door into a courtyard.  Everywhere in the site the walls were decorated with intricate abstract patterns. We went into smaller rooms off the courtyard.  One room had a re-creation of the original wooden roof. The Spanish had arrived at Mitla in 1521 and built a church on top of the main temple in order to seal the devil into the site. The buildings were rectangular single-story structures constructed mostly of stone with a plaster covering. Back in the plaza, one of the ancient tombs was open, which because of the low ceilings and doors, I had to crawl into.  The walls were covered with the geometric designs.

I left the others, who were doing a longer tour, and with another driver, Christian, who had lived in Las Vegas for nine years and spoke perfect English. We talked about things to see in the Oaxaca Valley and about the traditions surrounding El Dia Del Muertos. He told me how important it was to him to celebrate his deceased family members and how hard it was to celebrate the day in the United States. I told him that the holiday made sense to me, because I missed my parents and would love to celebrate them officially.

The following day, I went with our Colorado group to Monte Alban. We drove up from the city’s west side onto the mountain on which the Monte Alban site is located.  We parked below the visitor’s center and climbed up a path.  Our guide pointed out various vegetation including the cactus where the cochineal insects grow, which are collected by the rug makers for the bright red and purple colors. We reached the top of the mountain and immediately climbed up steep steps to the top of the large pyramid mound on the north side of the great plaza.

Monte Alban is the site of what is likely the oldest city in Mesoamerica.  Construction started on the city around 500 BC, and the city was inhabited for over 1,000 years.  The builders constructed large flat terraces on the rugged mountain top including the large, flat central plaza.  By mapping all the terraces, by studying their size, shape and orientation, and by inventorying pottery shards on the surface, archaeologists have suggested that there were over 2,000 dwellings on the site with a number of additional civic buildings. It is estimated that the population was between 15,000 and 30,000 people at its peak period. Archeologist Richard Blanton has theorized that city represented the capital of an allegiance of Oaxaca Valley groups, built above the smaller agricultural villages in the valley.  There was no water on the mountain and no place to grow food, so food and water were carried up by foot from the valley. There are famous stone carvings of what were called dancers, which actually probably represent the nude corpses of leaders of groups which the people of the city had conquered. Blanton suggests that the city may have been a military center.  He also suggests that it may have been a sacred site for the cult of Cocijo, the god of rain and fertility.

From the top of the mound we looked down upon the central Grand Plaza and the many pyramids and structures in and around the plaza.  Beyond the site, there were views in all directions of the surrounding mountains and the valley floor far below. On top of the northern pyramid, a Mexican group engaged in a chant that I did not understand. On the northeast side, there was a well-preserved ball court. Our guide suggested that there were three players on each side of the ball game who worked to keep a large rubber ball in the air bouncing it from the east to the west walls of the court, reenacting the movement of the sun. Our guide told us that there may have been human sacrifice at the end of the game, possibly involving the winner. A number of tombs have been found on the site containing valuable possessions which were buried with the dead.  We visited the small museum in the visitor’s center which housed some of the stone carvings, figurines, ceramics and jewelry found on the mountain.

The Northern Sierra

On October 23, I was sick, so instead of hiking, I rode in the van from where the others started hiking, up a dirt road through steep canyons to La Neveria where we spent the night.  The next day, we hiked through the high forest which were completely in the mountain top clouds. I felt well enough to keep up with the leader, a small Zapotec man who spoke only Spanish.  We walked the damp trail which was closely lined with wet grass and other vegetation.  We walked through mixed forest of tall deciduous and pine trees.  The trail led us to a dirt road where we saw our first large agave plants, some of the leaves of which had been cut.  Celestino, our English speaking Zapotec guide, told us that they made barbecue by putting wood coals in a hole and putting meat on the top of the coals and covering it all with Agave leaves.  The drippings from the leaves gave the meat a special flavor.

Celestino talked to me about their community organization.  The mountains are divided into areas called communes, and under the Mexican constitution, each indigenous commune has complete governmental and political control in their areas.  The communes own the land. Instead of taxes, each person is required to spend time, at different points in their lives, giving service to the community. Celestino said that he was currently serving as a policeman.  The policeman role was less about enforcement and more about being a first responder to emergencies and helping to solve problems.

Each commune has a commissioner, who is the chief administrator, along with an authority composed of various chief functionaries, such as the Chief of Police.  The authority is selected by the people each year in a large community gathering.

The subject of ghosts and spirits was discussed.  Our Colorado leader, Chris asked people, Americans and Mexicans, if they believed in ghosts. Our Spanish speaking leader was a devout Catholic and told her that if you believe in God, you don’t believe in ghosts.  Celestino told me a story of the enano (dwarf) nature spirit he saw as a child. It appeared to him as a small child who he saw move instantaneously from one place to another.  The spirit wanted him to follow it on a trail into the forest, but Celisteno didn’t follow. Celestino’s grandmother told him that the spirit had taken part of his soul.  Later in life, Celestina went to see a woman shaman who restored him through ritual.  Celestino experienced an awakening and realized he wanted to be someone.  He began to read and study about biology and history.  He knew all the plants in the mountains, including their Latin names, and could tell us a great deal about his people. He understood the ecology of his place and wanted to write books about that ecology and about the true history of his people. The ecology of the place is unique with tall trees in open, pristine forests. The Zapotec people are working to protect and improve their environment.

We walked into the large village of Benito Juarez named after Mexico’s most notable President from the nineteenth century who was a native Zapotec. The village is comparatively large with one thousand residents. By this time, the rain and wind had increased, and as we walked from the forest into the open village, we grew quite cold. We went in a dining room and had a great lunch of mushroom quesadillas.

From this place, because of the cold, most of our group decided to proceed from Juarez in the van. However, Chris, Wendy and I decided to continue hiking with Celestino and another guide Rafael. We hiked through the wet forest on a trail, a road, and another trail. We passed an interesting open area of pine forest with unusual mounds of grass below. Celestino said that the lichens growing from the trees were not negative but were instead an indication of a healthy forest without air pollution. We descended to a small cabin were there was a farmer who was carving wood. He had boxes of potatoes which are the cash crop at this high altitude.

We descended through a meadow where we passed a bull who was attached to a rope. We climbed steeply down past a stream where we saw a line of agaves with their tall blooms. We then climbed steeply up past a spring with a concrete basin where women washed clothes. We arrived at our destination, the Village of Cuajimolayas and walked through it for almost a mile. As seemed to be the case, it was particularly windy and cold as we walked through the village. We arrived at our cabana and soon found there was no heat nor hot water. I was wet from sweat and from the rain and found I was cold in the cabin. Chris got in her bed to get warm but was becoming hypothermic, so I put as many blankets as I could on her. Eventually, we got the fire in the fire place roaring and managed to warm ourselves and dry our clothes.


A Walk in the Valley

In the morning, the Cuajimolayas was still in the clouds and very wet and very cold, so the decision was made to go down to the valley.  Riding in the van, we were soon below the clouds, so we stopped to admire the views of the mountains and the valley far below. Down in the valley, Pedro stopped and  parked the van at the turn off to a dirt road.  We walked for several hours on the road in the warm sunshine. The views of the valley, with its pointed hills and surrounding mountains, were very expansive. We walked past beautiful flowers and a number of different types of tall cactus and through clouds off butterflies. We walked through two villages past people working and walking the streets.  We saw older people guiding donkeys piled with wood, and we frequently saw stray dogs.

The second village was again Teotitlan del Valle, the weaving village.  We went into a private home to the small second floor area where the mother and grandmother were cooking tortillas on large round pan over the coals of a fire.  The small room had a metal roof and was completely open above a waist-high wall.  There were views of the village and the wooded mountains beyond.  We went downstairs into the large, shaded courtyard, which was open to the sky.  There was a large table set for us, and we were served quesadillas and similar tortilla dishes. There were bowls of various types of salsas on the table along with beer, sodas, and the typical pitchers of non-alcoholic drinks mixed from teas and juices.  It was all delicious.

After the food, we went back up to the second floor to see a demonstration of how they made tortillas by hand. The process involved a multi-step process with organic corn and limestone and a final mashing using the mano and metate to create the tortilla dough.  Then the tortilla was flattened from a ball of dough by patting it rapidly, back forth, between the hands. They let us try it, but my effort was a failure. They cooked the tortilla on the pan for a very short time.

The daughter, Gloria, showed us how she made tortillas using a press.  She reminded me of my grandchildren. I took her picture and showed it to her.  I told her “Eres muy bonita.” She smiled and said, “Gracias.”   This was another weaving family, so we also had a weaving demonstration.

In the Hills

On Friday morning, we visited the market town Tlacolula and went into their large Mercado.  It was early and they were still setting up most booths.  However, there were large tables full of fresh pastries, and I bought a roll and a cookie for later. After breakfast, we drove to Mitla and started a hike up into the hills through gentle pastureland and into scrub oaks and other small trees. Our guide was Reynaldo, who spoke no English, but smiled and laughed constantly. He was patient with my simple Spanish, and we talked about where I came from and what the weather was like in Colorado.

Mario, our twenty-two year English speaking guide, pointed out the Mujer Mala, a small tree with wicked looking leaves which would cause a severe rash if touched. As we climbed, we saw plants used by the Zapotecs for many purposes, including the tiny beautiful smelling anise plants.  The meadows were fragrant with the lovely scent of lemon balm with its beautiful, small blue flowers.

We continued climbing steeply for the next hour and a half first through the small trees and then into the pine forest.  Celestino said that the higher we climbed, the taller the pines.  They would be tallest where the air was the cleanest.  There were many yellow, white and lavender flowers, including the yellow marigolds, a favorite flower used to celebrate El Dia Del Muertos. Up in a tree, in the shadows, we found a beautiful orchid.

Finally, we reached a spot where we found Nancy and Debbie resting with Pedro.  Pedro was a former farmer and bicycle racer who ran the travel agency we were with. We then began our final ascent into dense forest.  Just before the top, we walked through a dense forest of pine trees covered with Spanish moss. We next broke out into an open meadow with a 180 degree view of the mountains. There we rested, ate fruit, and took pictures. Below us, we could see the Hierve de Agua, the petrified waterfalls which were a limestone formation created by water. Our plan was to walk to the small village, San Isidro Roaguia, which we could see above the falls, where we were going to have dinner at Reynaldo’s house.

We started to descend through broken meadows and passed a small structure with open sides and a broken metal roof where farmers stayed to work their mountain corn fields. From this ridge, we could see a small corn field just below us.  We continued to descend on the rocky, primitive trail.

I was descending in front with Reynaldo when I heard some commotion behind and above me and turned to see Debbie lying across the trail with her legs drawn up, moaning.  I heard her say that her leg was broken. Chris went to her immediately and worked to stabilize the leg and make her comfortable.

The group discussed how we would evacuate her from this remote location.  The closest road was back over the mountain, the way we came. We talked about carrying her but knew how difficult that would be.  Celestino called Pedro on his cell phone many times.  They discussed the possibility of a military helicopter which did not sound likely.  The suggestion came up of carrying her out by burro.  Reynaldo whistled and descended a bit to find his brother nearby with a burro.  His brother quickly brought the burro to us. However, we knew that riding on a burro would be very painful for Debbie so we discarded that idea. Chris chose a small team to stay with Debbie including Janet, Georgie, and myself and sent everyone else on down to the village with Mario and Reynaldo.  Celestino and Reynaldo’s brother Efran stayed with us.

Soon Celestino told us that Pedro had found some Red Cross first responders to come down to Debbie. After a long wait, two first responders arrived with some men from the village.  The Red Cross men put a brace on her leg and attached her to a litter to carry her out.  The rest of us went ahead and hiked with a local guide to the Village of San Isdro and to Reynaldo’s house.  We arrived at 6:45 PM.  Mario was there with the van and immediately took Chris to meet Debbie at the waiting ambulance. The rest of the group was waiting on the courtyard patio of Reynaldo’s house.  Reynaldo’s wife had already fed the others and brought us some quesadillas. We sat and ate and drank Corona’s until Pedro came at 8:45 to pick us up.  I entertained the group with adventure stories.

Debbie went with Chris by ambulance to a private hospital in Oaxaca where she later had surgery and managed to get on an airplane to home.

Back to the Mountains

On Saturday, we went back to the mountains.  It was still overcast, but we walked on roads and trails through the open forests with very large trees and many flowers.  At the end of the hike we drove to a campground where there were a lot of local people camped and played games, but by late afternoon they were all gone.  I stayed in a nice cabin with Nancy.  There were two separate bedrooms, a small living room with a fireplace and a small kitchen.  I tried to take a shower but there was no hot water, so I tried to clean up as well as I could with cold water.  Outside it became quite cold and foggy.  I warmed up by the fire.

On Sunday, we stayed in the mountains but descended in the van below the clouds where there was sunshine. We took a very warm hike past various flowers and cactus with views of the surrounding mountains and down into the steep river valley.  We descended on the trail to a raging stream which we intended to cross, but the water was too deep and too fast.  Pedro tried to cross it from the other side but he turned back. So, we headed back and descended on a narrow, steep trail, past a burro, to a bridge where Pedro was waiting with the van.

We drove to Santa Catarina Lachatao where we were to spend the night and ate lunch by the old village church on an outdoor portico. Our cabanas were the loveliest we had stayed him.  They were constructed of brick with tile roofs and great views of the village and the mountains beyond. In the forest, in the clouds, there is an essential nobility to these mountain villages and the people, whose ancestors have lived in these places beyond memory.

Hierve de Agua

On Monday, we drove from Latuvi, three hours back to San Isidro, the village that had helped with Debbie’s injury.  While in Oaxaca, Chris had sent people to the local Wal Mart to buy childrens’ school supplies. We drove back to Reynaldo’s house where they gave us a breakfast for special occasions which was chicken and chicken livers with tortillas.  We shared the meal with the family and other villagers.  There were village and school officials there who looked just like the other villagers. Chris presented our gifts to them and thanked them for their help. The gifts were given to the family and officials so they could redistribute them. Chris’s speech in Spanish thanked them and told them how much Americans love Mexico. Pedro had certainly arranged all this behind the scenes and helped us thank them in the correct manner.

From the village we walked down to Hierve de Aqua, a waterfall frozen in limestone. It was a hot descent and climb back. We met the van above at booths were we bought fruit sherbert. On the way back to the city, we visited a mescal distillery where the liquor was made the old fashion way from a variety of cultivated and wild agaves.  A bottle of mescal made from the wild agave could cost as much as two hundred dollars. We sampled the product.

Dia del Muertos

On our final day back in the city, I walked around and saw the decorations and the preparations that were underway for the day of the dead celebration. People were constructing the ofrendas , the altars honoring the deceased, constructed with marigolds and other local materials.  Walking across the Zocalo, I was entranced by a solitary musician playing the ukulele and pan pipes.  I am not a poet but he forced me to sit down on the spot and write a poem:

On the Zocalo

A man playing

the ukulele and

the pipes






walked by him

but he is descended

from feathered kings

who worshiped the sun

worshiped the rain



most just walked by


That night, we went to the outskirts of the city where people were celebrating.  We walk through crowds, by booths and restaurants and art exhibits.  We visited two large cemeteries which were decorated with marigolds and candles and where families gathered to celebrate the deceased. It felt like a large joyous fiesta and a solemn commemoration, all at the same time.


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