Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Totally Above Treeline: Horsethief Pack Trail in Colorado's San Juan Mountains

Sheep—not horses—graze at the Horsethief Pack Trail trailhead.
In the distance, 14,309' Uncompahgre Peak dominates the skyline.
Read about our previous summit of Uncompahgre here.
         Sometimes the perfect day aligns with the perfect trail.  On the final Thursday of August in Lake City, Colorado the sky was sparkling blue, the temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees, and I was in the mood for a hike with big rewards and not too much effort. Tim had a place in mind.  
           "How about that trail near the top of Engineer Pass?" he said.  And I agreed.      

            Horsethief Pack Trail starts at an elevation of 12,400' and over the course of a few miles the trail gains and loses little more than a couple hundred feet of elevation.  A bit of exertion is required due to decreased oxygen levels at that altitude, but the real effort is getting to the trailhead.  The 16 mile dirt road leading from Lake City to Engineer Pass is rough; 4-wheel drive is needed for the final 6 miles and the going is slow—it takes over an hour to drive those 16 miles.

           But after arriving at the top of the world the arduous drive is forgotten.   The trail starts with 360° views of the surrounding mountains and keeps getting better.
           As Tim, Annie and I walked along, pikas and marmots serenaded us with their chattering and chirping calls.   Most likely they were scolding Annie but she didn't seem to notice.  Annie did notice, though, a group of camouflaged White-tailed Ptarmigan nestled in a rocky chute.  She flushed the birds but thankfully didn't chase them.
        The Ptarmigan scurried away to bed down in a nearby rock-strewn meadow, and Tim and I were treated to as fine a view as we've ever had of these alpine and tundra game birds.
         We hiked for a few miles, then stopped for lunch near a hillside rock cairn.   This would be our turn-around point, but the trail continues above treeline for several more miles.

         The perfect totally-above-treeline trail on the perfect day?  You decide.

The trail's beginning immediately affords views of several of the San Juan
Mountain's 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks.

Annie loves nothing more than a cool high-alpine hike.

Tiny American Lake (center of photo) is a side destination on this hike.

Tim and Annie find the right spot for a  refreshing alfresco lunch.

Marmots surveyed and scolded us from the fields and rocky ledges.

A cute little pika watches us pass by.

One of the group of White-tailed Ptarmigan, showing off its summer plumage.
During winter the ptarmigan turn white, and are camouflaged by snow.

This photo shows the White-tailed Ptarmigan expertly camouflaged by the rocks.
Can you fine the Ptarmigan?
Click on the photo to enlarge.  The black arrow (top left) points to the head of the bird.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Maine in August: The Way Life Should Be

The Way Life Should Be

     Maine's state slogan (above) is reflected in the photos (below).
Enjoy these pictures, taken during an August 2016 excursion on the Maine coast:

Portland Head Light—the most photographed lighthouse in America—on Casco
Bay at the entrance to Portland Harbor.

Portland's Casco Bay, home to lighthouses, schooners, and... 

...lobster boats.  A lobsterman sets his traps in Casco Bay.

Kayaks for rent on Bailey's Island.

Five Islands Harbor, Georgetown, Maine.

A lobster boat motors in to Five Islands with its catch.

There's a lobster shack on every cove.

The marsh near Wells is home to Billy's Chowder House.
And Billy's is home to the delicious "lazy lobster" dinner.

Life isn't just all about lobster, you know.
How about doughnuts?  The Holy Donut in Portland is one of Maine's delectable donut shops.

A lobster, a doughnut and a cup of coffee.
What's not to like?

Ahhhh.  August on Maine's mid-coast.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Remembering Kapoho Vacationland and the Wai`Opae Tide Pools

         Four months ago, on March 20, 2018, Tim and I walked into our rental house in Kapoho Vacationland on the Big Island of Hawaii.  
         "Feels like coming home," Tim said.  Agreed.

         The house, christened Punana Kiowai, provided rest and relaxation for three nights, a comfortable and welcome tropical refuge.  A variety of outdoor living areas graced the premises, including a naturally lava-heated pool.

         But the best thing about this rental was its location, mere steps away from a significant marine conservation area, the Wai`opae Tide Pools.  The Tide Pools formed when the ocean found its way into an ancient lava flow, creating a series of pools and passages populated by coral, sea creatures and tropical fish.  Tim and I first discovered this area on a 2015 trip to the Big Island and I have returned three times since then, renting a total of four different homes in Kapoho near the spectacular Tide Pools.

         We unpacked our bags, settled in, and the backyard pool beckoned.

These lava-heated pools were a common feature of many homes
in Kapoho Vacationland.

       “You know”,  I said to Tim as I floated in the warm water, “lava-heated means there’s lava flowing underground, probably close by.”

       As it turned out, the phrase Naturally Lava-Heated Pool was indeed a warning.  Nearby Kilauea Volcano was biding its time, lying in wait to reclaim the land.

       And reclaim the land it did.  By mid-June of 2018, our rental home, Punana Kiowai, as well as 320 other homes in Kapoho Vacationland, the Kapoho Bay, and the Wai`opae Tide Pools, lay buried under up to 20 feet of lava.   
       Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth, has been oozing lava for 35 years.  This spring pressure built in underground vents which caused thousands of earthquakes, then massive amounts of lava spewed to the surface and bulldozed its way over the land. 

       What is lost:

Gone.  This view of the Tide Pools from our 2015
rental home—Mika Lani, Jewel By the Sea—will never be seen again.
20 feet of lava now covers this home and the surrounding area.
Four-spot Butterfly Fish swim and graze on the impressive coral in the
Wai`opae Tide Pools.
A Yellowtail Coris (bottom), Peacock Grouper, and Moorish Idols (top)
swim in the tide pools in this photo from 2016.
A pair of Ornate Butterfly Fish.  I wonder if these two, and the fish in
the preceding photographs, made it out to the open sea before
lava filled the Tide Pools?

        Am I sad the Wai`opae Tide Pools no longer exist in our world?  Oh yes, immeasurably so.  But do I consider this an ecological disaster?  No.  This is simply a volcano being a volcano, doing what volcanoes do best: reminding us that we are not in charge.  

        I can't claim expertise about the geology of the Hawaiian Islands, but it seems possible that some day, maybe hundreds/thousands of years from now, tide pools may again form in the new lava along Hawaii’s eastern shore.  And I have learned one important geological tenet:

        The earth moves not in human time, but in geologic time.  And geologic time includes now.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Channel Islands National Park, California

         "There are a lot of old people here!",  I overheard a third-grader say as he passed our tour group on Santa Cruz Island.  Several third grade classes were visiting Channel Islands National Park on a one-day field trip from mainland California.

         But did those third-graders hike the 4 mile round-trip to Potato Harbor and back?  No, they did not.   Did some of the "old people" tackle this trek?  Yes we did.

Potato Harbor Overlook.

        Like the third graders I was here to learn about Channel Islands National Park.  And to that end, I signed on with Road Scholar for a three-day learning vacation based in Ventura, CA—gateway city to the Channel Islands.  The trip included lectures about the archeology and biology of the islands, as well as an excursion to Santa Cruz Island—the park's largest isle.

        The five islands comprising the park—Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Anacapa—are reachable only by boat or seaplane.   Their relative inaccessibility, along with primitive and sometimes harsh conditions, limits visitation.  Despite sitting 25 to 70 miles off the coast of southern California in proximity to 18-20 million people, the park receives only ~300,000 visitors annually.

Scorpion Harbor, where the boats dock.
Anacapa Island can be seen in the distance.

        The Channel Islands are rich in human and natural history.  North America's oldest human skeleton — 13,000 years old— was found here and was once an Indian from The Chumash Tribe.  The Chumash inhabited the islands for many years before being "re-located" by early European settlers.  The islands were then used for ranching and military operations—which devastated the island's ecology —before being designated a National Park in 1980.
        Today the islands are regaining their natural diversity.  San Miguel is home to tens of thousands of Elephant Seals and Sea Lions who breed and hang out along the coastline.  Anacapa Island is home to the largest pelican rookery in the United States and the largest breeding colony of Western Gulls in the World.  The waters surrounding the islands are also protected, and are among the most nutrient-rich and bio-diverse in the world.  So let's hear it for nature making a comeback!

Yellow Coreopsis thrive on the islands.

The Island Fox.  These foxes only live on the Channel Islands—they
are found nowhere else on earth.

        As our group of not-so-young-anymore tourists boarded the boat to ferry us from Santa Cruz to the mainland we noticed the third-graders gathered 'round a national park service volunteer.  I hope they learned as much as I did.  And I'm hopeful they'll return to the islands someday, perhaps when they, too, have joined the ranks of old people.

Campground under the Eucalyptus Trees on Santa Cruz Island.

The park service provides an excellent website about The Channel Islands.  Learn more here.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Indulge in These Tasty Hawaiian Treats

         Skip the Luau the next time you're in Hawaii and head straight for the island's specialty sweets—Shave Ice and Malasadas.

         Shave Ice is like a snow cone, only 100 times better.  This is not your scoop of crushed ice with syrup poured overtop, oh no.  Shave Ice consists of several scoops of ice cream—your choice—on the bottom of a giant bowl with thin shavings of ice layered on top.  The feathery ice is flavored throughout with syrups or other sweet ingredients.
         On a hot Hawaiian afternoon there's nothing better than the Kona Coffee Special I ordered from The Big Island Shave Ice Company: a bowl of Kona Coffee flavored ice cream, topped with a mound of ice shavings flavored with chocolate/carmel syrup, and slathered with whipped cream.  If you're cravings run to the lighter side you may choose a fruit-flavored ice cream and syrups ranging from guava to watermelon.

Shave Ice with a Smile!
Our enthusiastic server hands Tim a grape-coconut-key lime concoction.

         Now, how about those Malasadas?  Hawaii is a multi-cultural state and a group of Portuguese immigrants brought their delicious donut recipe with them to the islands.  This Portuguese confection is made of egg-sized balls of yeast dough deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar.
         You may order your Malasadas plain or filled with chocolate, coconut cream, bavarian creme or fruit jelly.  And the great thing about Malasadas is they're good with whatever weather Hawaii throws your way.  On a cool and showery Hawaiian Day a box of warm Malasadas is the ultimate comfort food.

Fresh out of the fryer.  Tex's Drive-In, in Honokaa on the Big Island, serves
Malasadas 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. all day, every day.


         Luau, schmuau.  Skip the pork and pig-out on Shave Ice and Malasadas.  These Hawaiian delicacies are worth a side trip to the local food truck or shopping plaza.  And they're good with breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Peace in Union: Galena's Priceless Treasure

         My previous post posed this quiz:  The Smithsonian wants it.  Galena has it.  What is it?

         Any guesses?  See the answer below.  The mystery item is the painting titled Peace in Union, a representation of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

The original Peace in Union.  I'm afraid my photograph doesn't
do justice to this expansive and impressive piece.

         In the early 1890s former Galena resident turned Chicago newspaperman Herman Kohlsaat commissioned artist Thomas Nast to paint Lee's surrender.  Nast was a well-known 19th century illustrator, political cartoonist and artist who originated the images of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.
         After two years of research Thomas Nast presented his painting to the city of Galena on April 9, 1895, thirty years to the day after the end of the Civil War.

         What sort of research went into this painting?  Nast discovered the different personalities of Grant's Generals, and their reverence for Grant or disdain for Lee or for the proceedings is apparent in their expressions.  Nast also knew that General Lee arrived at the courthouse nattily attired in his best uniform, while General Grant—true to form—sported scuffed boots and a worn jacket.

         These details are easily evident on the massive and impressive original 9'x12' canvas.

         Representatives from the Smithsonian Institution have visited Galena three times to try and convince the good citizens of Galena to sell this painting to the Smithsonian's American History Museum.  But the museum's reps have been unable to put a price on this historic masterpiece, and Galena isn't selling.
         After all, Peace in Union is without doubt the most famous representation of the most important moment in American history.

         Upon entering the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum visitors are escorted into a room to view an introductory video.  Life-size holographic images of Ulysses and Julia Grant appear on the screen to welcome patrons to the museum and to the town.
         Throughout the presentation Julia affectionately refers to Ulysses as "Lyss".   At the end of the video Ulysses turns to the audience and says:
         “History doesn’t just happen, it’s made by people like you and me.”  Yes, that may be true.
         But some folks, “Lyss”, make a lot more history than others.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Honoring President Ulysses S. Grant on President's Day

The Grant home in Galena, Illinois on a bright blue October day.

         “Reports of Grant’s problems with alcohol are greatly exaggerated”, said the docent at the Galena and U.S. Grant History Museum in Galena, Illinois.

         I didn’t go to Galena expressly to learn about Ulysses S. Grant.  Galena is known as one of those “coolest small towns in America”, filled with art galleries, shops and restaurants.  
         As I drove into town on a crowded art-festival weekend last October I noticed the Grant Homestead and stopped in for a tour.  An hour later I had acquired new-found appreciation, admiration and respect for our nation’s 18th president.  

        The next day I visited the Grant Museum where the friendly and knowledgable docent was only too happy to dispel the notions many of us have about the Grant Presidency.  

        Yes, Grant struggled with alcohol, having developed a fondness for drink when he was stationed at a lonely outpost in the Pacific Northwest during his first stint in the army.  
         And yes, due to his naivete´ about business Grant’s administration had its share of corruption and scandals.

         Despite the above-mentioned problems those who knew Grant describe him as a decent, honorable and trusting man who, as President, navigated the country through reconstruction after the Civil War and was an early proponent of civil rights for freed slaves and American Indians.

        And let’s not forget his accomplishments on the battlefront.  While serving in the Mexican-American War Grant won every battle he was engaged in and this later caught the attention of President Lincoln, who had his own war to attend to.  Grant enlisted in the Civil War in 1861 and in 1864 President Lincoln tapped Grant to be his Lieutenant General in charge of all the Union armies.            
         According to those who worked with him Ulysses S. Grant was the right man at the right time.  He possessed the unique combination of strategic thinking and execution to win the Civil War.

         While the Civil War has been exhaustively studied and researched and you can find facts and statistics about the war in numerous publications, it was the details of Grant’s private life which proved most fascinating to me.

Did you know:

  • Julia Dent Grant was born into a wealthy slave-owning family in St. Louis.
  • Grant’s family (from Ohio) did not approve of Julia because her family owned slaves.
  • Julia Dent’s family, on the other hand, did not approve of Ulysses because he was from a lower station in life and would “never amount to anything”.  How about winning the Civil War and serving as a two-term United States President—does that count toward “amounting to something”?
  • In spite of their parent’s objections Julia and Ulysses had a reportedly very happy marriage.  How nice.
  • Julia was well-educated, was the first wife of a president to be called “First Lady”, and the first to have her own Press Secretary.
  • Julia was a good friend of Susan B. Anthony’s and fought for women’s suffrage.  How about that for a First Lady’s “issue or cause”?
  • General Grant loved his cigars and smoked up to 20 cigars a day.  
  • Sadly, Grant died a painful death from throat cancer at the young age of 63.  Most certainly the cigar habit, coupled with his alcohol abuse.

         General/President Ulysses S. Grant considered Galena his adopted home town and Galena has certainly returned the favor, embracing Grant and his legacy.

         I enjoyed learning about Grant on this trip and am now tempted to read the 900 page book Grant by Ron Chernow which, ironically, was released the day after I left Galena—so no, I didn’t jump on the Grant Bandwagon because of this book.  However, I’m on the bandwagon now, and invite others to join me.  If you’re ever traveling through Galena, Illinois, be sure to stop at the Grant Home and the Grant Museum.  You’ll be glad you did.


A little quiz which will be answered in the next post:

The Smithsonian wants it.  Galena has it.  What is it?

To read the fascinating answer to the above quiz, click here.