natural history

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland Museum was founded in 1852 as the first museum in New Zealand,. After several moves through the years to increase space for exhibits, the new and renamed Auckland War Memorial Museum opened in 1929 on the highest point in Auckland’s oldest park, the Auckland Domain.



Auckland Domain


View of Sky Tower from Auckland War Memorial Museum

We set off on foot with umbrellas in our backpack in case of rain.  Fortunately, we arrived dry at the museum in spite of the dark clouds that dogged us for most of our stay in Auckland. After a brief discussion, we decided to purchase the Moa package for NZ$55 (US$40) which included museum entry, highlights tour, and Maori cultural performance.

The highlights tour, while short, oriented us to the best exhibits in the museum. Without it, we may have missed important highlights simply due to the size of the museum. After the tour, we went back to spend more time in areas that interested us most.

We began on level 2 with New Zealand’s War Stories including exhibits from WWI, WWII, New Zealand civil wars, and other conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. The WWI Hall of Memories was especially moving to me. New Zealand sent more troops per capita to fight in WWI than any other country which meant every family in the country was personally affected by the war. Nearly all of the 18,166 who died were buried overseas and almost one-third of them are buried in unknown graves.


WWI Hall of Memories with Roll of Honour listing those who died in service from Auckland Province


WWI Sanctuary with bronze wreath of kawakawa leaves, a symbol of mourning


Stained glass ceiling with coats of arms of all British dominions serving in WWI

The Pacific Lifeways gallery contained exhibits with information about island groups in the Pacific. Of particular interest to me was our guide’s explanation of the spread of plants and animals throughout the Pacific which indicated the migration patterns of the people in the area. New Zealand was the last area discovered and settled, probably as late as 1300 A.D. by Polynesians from Southeast Asia who became the indigenous Maori people.


Migration routes in the Pacific

A carved statue of Kave, an evil goddess from the island of Nukuoro, greeted us at the entrance to the gallery. She was brought to New Zealand in the 1870s by a trader.


Carved statue of Kave

An outrigger canoe in the Pacific Masterpieces gallery came from the Solomon Islands as a gift from the Melanesian Mission.


The Red Feather Cloak from Hawaii was worn only by the highest chief for religious ceremonies or in war. The nearby sign explained a cloak similar to this belonging to King Kamehameha in Hawaii contained a half million feathers from as many as 80,000 birds.


Red Feather Cloak

All of level 1 in the museum is devoted to natural history. The highlights on this floor for me were the moa and the kiwi. The tallest known bird, this 1913 reconstruction of the extinct moa is from the South Island.


Reconstructed moa

The kiwi is the unofficial national symbol for New Zealand and the nickname for New Zealanders. They are unique to New Zealand but how they arrived is unclear since they can’t fly.  Because they can’t fly, the kiwi is under constant threat especially by predators such as dogs and the population has shrunk to around 68,000.


You can listen to the kiwi here.

The most surprising exhibit to me was the axe used by Sir Edmund Hillary in his 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. The famous Aucklander died here in 2008.


Mountain axe and painting of Sir Edmund Hillary

I especially wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, in our visit to this museum and our desire was satisfied. There are over 1000 artifacts original to the Maori. The gateway Kaitaia carving at the entrance to the Maori Court dates from the 14th to 16th century and is the oldest Maori carving still in existence.


Kaitaia gateway


I was fascinated by the Hotunui Preservation Project, a collaboration of museum staff, local experts, and descendants to restore a meeting house built in 1878.


Entrance to Hotunui Meeting House


Restoration in progress


Painted and woven restoration

But by far, for me, the high point of this museum was the Maori Cultural Performance. Lasting about 30 minutes, the performance ended with the haka, the traditional war dance.


It was an educational day orienting us to the natural and political history of New Zealand. With this background, we felt better prepared for our visit the following day to the Bay of Islands.

As we strolled back to our hotel, we found Solo Kitchen, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, and stopped in for a late lunch/early dinner. The lamb kofta with salad and three dips (sun-dried tomato, cacik, and baba ghanoush) was delicious.


Solo Kitchen


And the music added beautifully to an authentic ethnic experience.


Come back next week for my post about Bay of Islands.


Based on events from February 2017.





Categories: History, natural history, New Zealand, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stinking and Sinking in Puerto Aventuras

Our condo at Chac Hal Al overlooked Bahia de Fatima, a beautiful, serene bay with clear cerulean water perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or paddle boarding. For the less active, it was a beautiful setting for sunbathing or just sitting in the shade of a palm tree or palapa with a good book or a cocktail.


Bahia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our beach


Báhia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our balcony


Swimmers and snorkelers at the beach


Gail paddle boarding


Jim chillaxin’ poolside with a view of the bay


Gail sunbathing on the beach


Jim with a view of the pool and the bay


Time for nachos and Coronitas


My view

Idyllic, wouldn’t you agree? That is until our idyll was disturbed by two events. The first disruption occurred when we observed this.


What looked like brown seaweed invaded the peaceful azure waters and definitely discouraged water activities. My research revealed it was sargassum or sargasso seaweed, which is an increasingly common problem in the Caribbean. The free-floating algae originate in the Sargasso Sea located in the Bermuda Triangle of the North Atlantic. While its existence is nothing new, the amount has increased dramatically and may be attributed to the warming of the ocean due to global climate change. In normal amounts, sargassum provides habitat for lots of marine life including hatching sea turtles but the massive amounts washing ashore today can adversely impact tourism. Clogging the water, it discourages swimmers and snorkelers and the smell as it deteriorates drives away beach-lovers.

I was impressed to see residents and employees working side by side to rake and bag the sargassum and haul it away from the beach. Soon they had the beach looking pristine again and ready for activities. We did, however, observe sargassum at other beaches along the Riviera Maya during our stay so I wonder how they are dealing with the issue.


Jim walking back from the area where clean-up occurred

The next puzzling event occurred when we noticed a large ship which appeared offshore in Bahia de Fatima.


Large ship in Bahia Fátima

After several days continued presence, we asked a local realtor that paddle boarded to our beach about it. She said a Mexican Navy ship hit the reef and sank. I posted a teaser on Facebook and Twitter that a blog post would follow. This is finally that post.

We still didn’t know the full story. Why was the large ship there? Day after day, when I saw it was still there, I wondered what it was doing and how long it would continue to be present. It dominated our view and became a daily topic of conversation.


Mexican Navy Ship


View of the navy ship from our upstairs balcony

We even discussed it over cocktails at the Omni swim-up bar.


Our view of the navy ship from the swim-up bar at the Omni Hotel

And then it was gone and the drama ended. We finally learned from reading the local paper, The Pelican Free Press, a Polaris Patrol Interceptor boat lost power causing it to hit the reef. It was hung up on the reef for several days, where Jim first saw it, but it sank when it was pulled from the rocks. Salvage operations first centered around removing equipment and weapons from the boat. The Mexican Navy’s second largest multipurpose logistical ship, a BAL-02, equipped with a hoist arrived to refloat the sunken ship and tow her in for repairs.

Life on Bahia Fátima returned to its previous undisturbed halcyon state. But I’m sure the tourists and locals who were there sometimes say, “Remember when…”


Next time: Playa del Carmen

Based on events from January 2016.



Categories: History, Mexico, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Mauna Loa and Kilauea, on the island of Hawaii, are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and is due to erupt again. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. In addition, Mauna Loa is actually the tallest mountain in the world standing 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) when measured from the ocean floor rather than sea level. These two volcanoes comprise Volcanoes National Park and a UNESCO  World Heritage site. In my opinion, this was the single most important “not to be missed” sight on our Hawaiian cruise and for this reason, we booked an excursion to Volcanoes National Park through the cruise line. For $139 per person, we were transported to the national park, we hiked the crater of Kilauea Iki with a guide, and visited Akaka Falls, too.

The Pride of America docked in Hilo where our excursion began. Our bus stopped first at the Kilauea Visitor Center which interestingly, was built in 1941 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC was a New Deal program established during the Great Depression in 1933 that taught young unemployed men many valuable skills while improving the infrastructure of the United States.


Kilauea Visitor Center, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We began our 4-mile hike at the Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea) Trailhead. The trail followed the rim of the crater through a lush tropical rainforest, then descended 400 feet (122 m) by switchbacks and stairs to the floor of the crater, crossed the crater, and ascended again.  Our guide led us through the hot, wet, humid, tropical rain forest telling us about the vegetation as we hiked. Periodically, we had stunning views into the crater.


Our guide telling us about the rain forest on the Kilauea Iki Trail


Kilauea Iki Trail



View from Kilauea Iki Trail


Tropical rain forest vegetation


Fern fiddleheads in the tropical rain forest


Kilauea Iki Overlook


Looking into the crater of Kilauea Iki

Kilauea Iki last erupted in 1959. Prior to the eruption, the floor of the crater was 800 feet deep and covered with forest.  When a lava lake of 86 million tons flooded the crater, the floor raised 400 feet. Today the lava lake is solid but steam vents indicate it’s still hot inside.


Reaching the floor of the crater with rain to welcome us


Hiking into the crater at Kilauea Iki


We made it to the bottom but still had to hike across the crater and back up the other side


Lori and our group hiking the crater


The trail is marked by ahu (stacks of rock)

One of the advantages of an organized tour is the interesting facts the guide shares that you may otherwise never discover. One of those tidbits was Pele’s hair. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and Pele’s hair is the thin volcanic glass threads produced when molten lava blows through the air.


Pele’s hair

Our guide also showed us a steam vent which honestly, I would have told my husband to stay away from if we didn’t have a professional with us.

The incredible resiliency of our earth amazed me with the amount of impressive vegetation that sprouted in cracks and crevices of lava rock.


When we ascended back to the rim of the crater, we visited nearby Thurston Lava Tube, named after the discoverer in 1913, Lorrin Thurston. A lava tube is formed when molten lava flows through walls hardening around it. The Thurston Lava Tube is about 600 feet long.


Thurston Lava Tube


Thurston Lava Tube


Inside Thurston Lava Tube


Thurston Lava Tube

Our final stop in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to eat a sack lunch at the Jagger Museum offered views of the active Kilauea caldera from a safe distance. Active lava flows were only visible from the air during our visit. You can check the park website to find out whether views are safely available during your visit.


Steam rising from Kilauea Caldera

Next time I’ll show and tell about Akaka Falls. But let me just offer a spoiler alert right now. Our excursion to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Akaka Falls was the highlight of our visit to the Big Island and indeed, a top highlight of our entire trip.


Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iao Valley State Park, Maui

Iao (EE-ow) Valley State Park, with walking trails through the lush and verdant tropical vegetation, was a short drive from the cruise port, took just a couple hours to visit, and admission was free. The lushness is due to plentiful rainfall but luckily, we had a perfect day.

In addition to abundant natural beauty, this area possesses great historical significance. In 1790, Kamehameha the Great won a decisive and bloody battle here that eventually resulted in the unification of the islands into one kingdom for the first time under King Kamehameha I.


Iao Needle (Kukaemoku in Hawaiian)


View from the trail at Iao Valley State Park


Ian Valley State Park


Iao Valley


Iao Needle


Iao Stream


Iao Valley


Iao Stream


Vegetation at Iao Valley


Iao Stream


Iao Valley

Adjacent to Iao Valley State Park we discovered a free county park, Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens, which is a tribute to the various ethnic groups of Hawaii. We enjoyed the Chinese pagoda, tranquil Japanese gardens, native thatched hut, Filipino nipa hut, and a New England saltbox, among others. This would be an ideal spot for a picnic with the facilities provided on-site.


Chinese Pagoda at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens


Japanese Garden at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens


Banyan tree at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens


Filipino Nipa Hut at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens


New England Saltbox at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens

Post Script: Tribute to a Good Man

Jim and I visited my former boss, Allen Grooters, at Hospice prior to our departure for Hawaii in November. Allen had recently been diagnosed with ALS and the terminal disease  progressed quickly. I was hesitant to drop by Hospice but I texted him and he responded that he’d enjoy a visit. I knew Allen and his wife stayed on Maui each year so we asked him his recommendations for the island. He told us that Iao State Park was one of his favorite sites in Maui so we went there on his advice. Sadly, Allen died soon after our return from Hawaii. I will always appreciate the great advice and wise counsel he provided me over the 20+ years we worked together. His final recommendation was as much a winner as his earlier guidance.


Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aloha from Oahu

I’m a morning person. I enjoy rising early and walking on the beach before all the bodies are packed blanket to blanket in the hot sun. If I can find a cup of coffee to accompany my exploration, all the better. This is my reflection time. My meditation.

Our first morning on Waikiki, I was greeted with this pink-tinged sky over my water view.


Morning has broken on Waikiki

We had only a “partial” ocean view from our room and the sunrise was actually behind us so I wanted to get down to the beach to see more.


Waikiki morning


Early morning view of Diamond Head from Waikiki


Here comes the sun on Waikiki


Early morning view of Outrigger Waikiki

We checked out of the Outrigger Waikiki well before the noon deadline in hopes that we could check in early at the Marriott but we had no luck in that regard. We stored our bags at the hotel and headed to the bus stop to go to Diamond Head. While we waited for the bus, a taxi came by and offered us the same rate as bus fare so, needless to say, we hopped in. I noticed the meter wasn’t running for our ride, however, so I can’t guarantee the rates.


Entrance to Diamond Head

Diamond Head is a state monument with a 560 feet climb on a .8 mile trail from the bottom of the crater to the summit. Go early to beat the crowds and the heat.


Before our climb, we found a stand near the entrance selling shave ice, the iconic Hawaiian treat that everyone must experience while on the islands. We decided a cold sugar energy jolt was just what we needed before we hiked the trail to the summit.


Rick and Jim posing with their shave ice

This is a strenuous climb according to signs posted to warn those with heart or respiratory conditions not to attempt it. It’s deceptive, however, because the trail begins on the crater floor where it’s flat and paved.


The crater floor at Diamond Head

The ascent includes dirt paths, switchbacks, stairs, and tunnels.


Hikers on the trail ahead of us at Diamond Head


Tunnel along the trail


Stairs along the trail


Spiral stairs on the trail


Low ceiling overhead in WW2 bunker

But the views were spectacular!


View from the trail at Diamond Head


View from the trail at Diamond Head


View from the summit of Diamond Head


View of Honolulu from Diamond Head


Diamond Head Lighthouse

We worked up an appetite and we were ready for lunch after our hike. We’d planned to have a plate lunch of authentic Hawaiian food at a well-known local restaurant. Our taxi driver suggested we try Haili’s instead, a less well-known local place that he claimed served much better food at lower prices. He finally convinced us and we’re glad he did. This family-owned and operated restaurant deserves rave reviews. Mahalo (thank you) to our driver and Haili’s.


Jim at the counter placing his order


Traditional Hawaiian foods: poke is marinated ahi tuna, lau lau is pork cooked in taro leaves, and poi is mashed taro.



top row is kalua pig, lau lau, rice; bottom row is lomi salmon, haupia (coconut milk dessert), and poke


The same as above with poi instead of rice


Purple sweet potatoes



One of the family members who told us about each of the dishes and how to eat them with Jim, Lori, and Rick

We walked a little over a mile back to the Marriott and after an additional wait, we finally checked into our rooms. The view was definitely worth the wait.


View from our room at the Marriott

As much as I enjoyed the early morning on Waikiki, it was nothing compared to sunset. Watching the sun sink into the Pacific is an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of Waikiki for me.


Sunset view from our hotel room at Waikiki


Waikiki Sunset


Last ride at sunset

An extra special addition was the free hula show offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights at Kuhio Park on Waikiki Beach. With authentic live musicians and dancers, this show is a must see. Beginning at 6 or 6:30 pm depending on sunset, the show lasts just an hour so get there early with a blanket to sit on and your camera.


Hula show at Kuhio Beach Hula Mound at sunset on Waikiki


Audience at hula show at Kuhio Park


Hula dancers at Kuhio Park

Here’s a bit of video from the show to whet your appetite.

Check back next week for another highlight: Pearl Harbor.

Based on events in November 2015.

Categories: cruise, Food, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” Great Sand Dunes National Park

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” proclaims the sign at Great Sand Dunes National Park  quoting an unnamed visitor. Indeed. That says it all, accurately and succinctly. The 30 square mile dunefield at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is unlike anything I’ve seen before.


Approaching Great Sand Dunes NP


Entrance to Great Sand Dunes NP


View of the visitor center, dunes to the left, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind


Mule deer along the road in the park

When I saw the dunes, two questions immediately came to mind: Where did all that sand come from? What keeps it there? The simple explanation is the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains to the west and around 440,000 years ago prevailing winds blew the sand from the San Luis Valley to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sand was trapped there forming the largest dunes in North America. Countervailing winds occasionally push back keeping the dunes in essentially the same position. In fact, a display in the visitor center of photos taken 138 years apart shows hardly any overall movement of the dunes. It’s actually more complicated and new research continues to change and refine our understanding. You can read a more in-depth explanation here.

You, like me, may have visited beaches where signs admonish the visitor to stay off the sand dunes. The delicate ecosystem is easily disrupted and the sand dunes erode more quickly when disturbed.  Due to this prior experience, I was surprised to have full access to hike and explore these dunes. What an amazing experience that was!

To access the dunes, we first had to cross Medano Creek, which was virtually dry in September.


Nearly dry Medano Creek bed


Jim crossing the dry Medano Creek bed

Compare my photos to the ones with water in the park brochure here.  In springtime, when the water is flowing, the creek is another favorite feature of the park.

Walking across the flat creek bed was easy with the sand packed down, but the hike became more difficult as the sand got looser and the incline steeper. The highest dune is over 750 feet tall (228 meters) and the elevation at the visitor center is 8170 feet (2490 meters) so the air is thinner here, too.


Great Sand Dunes


Great Sand Dunes


The Sangre de Cristo Mountains


We’re going to climb THAT?


Jim hiking the ridge




Are we there yet?

IMG_7800 (1)

Jim’s enthusiasm is still evident


I’m ready for a rest

On the photo above, note the kids on the ridge behind me. They’re sand boarding down the slope. Rentals are available nearby for sandboards and sand sleds.  The surface of the sand in summer can reach 150 degrees so this is better attempted  early or late in the day or in spring or fall. Watch my short video of these kids sandboarding here.


View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes National Park was the last stop on the Epic Road Trip of 2015. After two weeks on the road traveling 4300 miles (6900 km) visiting 12 national parks and monuments as well as 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, various state parks and other points of interest, it was time to head home. Until the next time.

Based on events of September 2015.

Categories: National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking to History at Mesa Verde

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was the farthest point from home on our epic western road trip of September 2015. As we turned back toward home, Colorado offered us a couple additional sites we hadn’t visited before. We thought we’d check out the “four corners” where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. At the risk of sounding super cheap,  when we heard the entrance fee was $5 per person, we decided to pass. It just had the feel of a tourist trap.

On the other hand, Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is no tourist trap. This amazing park contains nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) from 550 AD until the late 1200s.


Entrance to Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is located in a valley at the foot of a winding road up to the mesa. Stop here first to plan your visit and purchase tour tickets.


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP


Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

The approximately 21-mile drive up to Chapin Mesa delighted us with breathtaking views.


View from the park road into Mesa Verde NP


View from park road into Mesa Verde NP

Five dwellings were open to the public in 2015; Spruce Tree House and Far View allowed self-guided tours but Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House required tickets for ranger-led guided tours. In September, Cliff Palace and Long House were already closed for the season but fortunately for us, Balcony House, the “most adventurous cliff dwelling tour” (Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide) was still open. We paid the $4 per person ticket price and scheduled our tour for the following morning. In 2016, only four dwellings remain open to the public. Spruce Tree House closed because of safety issues related to falling rock and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. How lucky for us to see this cliff dwelling before it closed.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. The trail is short but steep, changing elevation by 100 feet in a quarter mile.


Trail to Spruce Tree House


View of Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

We saw only a fraction of the 120 rooms and 8 kivas at Spruce Tree House. A kiva is a chamber below ground that in modern day pueblos was used for religious, social, or ceremonial purposes. Because the Ancestral Pueblo people had no writing system, we can’t know for certain but archeologists believe the purpose was the same in prehistoric times.


Kiva in Spruce Tree House


Jim climbing down the ladder to a kiva in Spruce Tree House


Inside a kiva at Spruce Tree House


Spruce Tree House

As I said, Cliff Palace was closed for the season when we arrived. The largest and most well-known cliff dwelling in North America, Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 21 kivas and was inhabited by around 120 people. Fortunately for us, we could view it from a distance and photograph it even though we couldn’t tour it.


Cliff Palace

Our ranger-guided tour of Balcony House the next morning was as much about the journey as the destination. The strenuous hike included steep stairs, three ladders, and a tunnel.


Getting ready for the hike to Balcony House


Our park ranger briefs us


Trail to Balcony House


One of the ladders on the trail to Balcony House


My hips aren’t as wide as Jim’s shoulders and it was a snug fit for me going through the tunnel.


We both made it without getting stuck!


Bringing up the rear, quite literally.


Catching my breath and taking a photo


Jim nears the top

The destination was well-worth the effort, however. This cliff dwelling consists of 38 rooms and 2 kivas. Our ranger knowledgeably shared information about the site and the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.


Balcony House


Balcony House



Kiva at Balcony House


A room with a view at Balcony House

Because Long House was closed for the season, we decided not to drive the 12 miles over to Wetherill Mesa where it’s located. We did, however, hike the Far View area. The Far View sites are farming communities on top of the mesa rather than cliff dwellings.

National parks in the United States preserve and protect historical and cultural sites like Mesa Verde as well as our amazing and abundant natural resources. For a couple history nerds like us, Mesa Verde was a place to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. As a result, we are better educated about and appreciative of the time and place of these early people.

Based on events of September 2015.


Categories: History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Found My Park Hiking the Hoodoos

Pun intended.

I think most visitors agree that Zion reigns supreme among the mighty five national parks in Utah. My pick, however, was Bryce Canyon. The unmatched beauty of the hoodoos called to me in a way that no other park has.

So, you ask, “What’s a hoodoo?” If another play on words wasn’t too lame, I’d say, “It just stands there and looks pretty. (If you missed both puns, leave a comment. I’ll explain.)

Imagine giant gothic sand castles made by dripping, drizzling, and sculpting wet sand into lumpy spires. Like this.


Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon NP

These spectacular geologic formations weren’t really formed by adding sand but rather by weathering processes that removed the rock in interesting ways. Frost wedging occurs when water seeps into cracks, freezes and expands, making the cracks ever wider as the process continues. Additionally, acidic rainwater sculpts the limestone by dripping onto the rock and carrying off particles of it. The end-result of this weathering after eons is a hoodoo.

We first spotted hoodoos at the Mossy Cave Trail along Hwy 12 before we even knew we had entered Bryce Canyon National Park. We saw a parking area with hoodoos in the background and pulled over for a better look.


Mossy Cave in Bryce Canyon NP


Trail to Mossy Cave, Bryce Canyon

It’s an easy trail of no more than a mile roundtrip but the views are quite stunning.


Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon NP


Mossy Cave Waterfall, Bryce Canyon NP

After this outstanding introduction, we were definitely excited to see more. Unfortunately, no rooms were available inside the park at Bryce Canyon Lodge. We checked into  Ruby’s Inn Best Western, a historic and somewhat campy hotel that claims to be the closest lodging to the park entrance, then headed back to Bryce for more captivating views.


Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

Luckily we were in the park at sunset which was spectacular.


Sunset at Bryce Canyon



Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset at Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon NP


Moon over Bryce Canyon NP

We returned early in the morning for sunrise which was beyond spectacular.


Sky at sunrise over Bryce Canyon


Sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP


Sunrise at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon NP

With two incomparable experiences now behind us, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail.  We planned to visit Queen Victoria Hoodoo then turn around and come back up the same way.


Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Queens Garden Trail


Hiking the hoodoos


Hiking the Hoodoos on Queens Garden Trail

Queen Victoria Hoodoo really did look like the British queen to us. On the photo below, look at the top of the hoodoo. It’s a side view of the portly queen holding her hands in front of her and a crown on her head. Do you see it?


Queen Victoria Hoodoo

Once our mission was accomplished to reach the bottom of the canyon and hike to Queen Victoria Hoodoo, it struck us as premature to immediately hike back up the trail. Why not enjoy the bottom of the canyon with the flat trail and shady respite? We decided to hike the combined Queens Garden and the Navajo Trail route which is only 3 miles but the climb of 580 feet at an elevation in excess of 8000 feet was plenty strenuous for us.


Hiking the Hoodoos at the bottom of Bryce Canyon

We saw signs at the trailhead and along the trail warning hikers about loose rock and rock slides with admonishment to wear appropriate foot gear. Then we would see girls on the trail in their flipflops.


Trailhead warning



Cautionary sign along the trail


Hiking the Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Wall Street section of Navajo Trail


Looking down the Navajo Trail from the trail above


Look closely to see the people behind us climbing the trail on switchbacks below


Back at the top on the Rim Trail of Bryce Canyon NP

The park offers a “Hiking the Hoodoos!” challenge to encourage visitors to be active in the park. You must hike at least 3 miles and have photos or rubbings from the benchmark survey markers. I took a photo of one of the markers below.


While we didn’t participate in the program, we are proud to proclaim we met the challenge and I found my park hiking the hoodoos.


Based on events in September 2015.


Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Find Your Park at Capitol Reef


Entrance to Capitol Reef

I love the national park slogan, “Find Your Park.” When we planned to visit Capitol Reef, my first thought was, “Find your park back story about the name.” The national park website told me Capitol comes from the white sandstone dome in the photo below that early settlers believed looked like the U.S. Capitol. (It’s the pointy one, third from the left.) Reef refers to the ridge formed by the Waterpocket Fold, a hundred mile long geological wrinkle in the earth found here. Thus Capitol Reef. And now you know.


Capitol Dome

We stopped first at Behunin Cabin, a 215 square foot one-room cabin built by Mormon pioneer Elijah Cutler Behunin in 1883. The family moved to Fruita after just a year due to repeated flooding that destroyed their crops. I don’t know how many Behunins lived here but they eventually numbered 15 so it was undoubtedly crowded.


Behunin Cabin

Elijah Behunin donated land for a school in 1896 where his oldest daughter served as the school’s first teacher at the age of 12. Kids must have been smarter then. Classes continued in this building until 1941.


Fruita Schoolhouse


Inside Fruita Schoolhouse

Our hike to Hickman Bridge was one of the most memorable of our trip. (Remember from my earlier post, a geological bridge is like an arch with water under it.) On the trail, we met a couple from Iowa who told us they had encountered a huge boulder in the middle of the road in Zion National Park from a rock slide early that morning. This would effectively close the road until it could be removed and the road repaired. So in addition to a wrinkle in the earth, there was now a wrinkle in our plan. Ah, well, we had Bryce Canyon to see first so we crossed our fingers that the road to Zion would be reopened before we got there. Thankfully, no one was injured because this couple arrived on the scene literally minutes after the event.


Trail to Hickman Bridge


Trail to Hickman Bridge along the Fremont River


We met another couple at Hickman Bridge, two young men from Washington, DC. One of them was with National Geographic and the other worked for a non-profit. We hit it off immediately and when Jim told them about my travel blog, we had a great travel discussion and even exchanged business cards. Then I tripped over my own feet and punctured my bum on a tree root sticking out of the ground and they had to help me up. I’m sure the memory is burned into their minds forever and I still have the scar to remind me of the experience.


Hickman Bridge


Hickman Bridge



Hickman Bridge

The Fruita Orchard within the park is open to the public with 3100 fruit and nut trees that produce at various times of the year. We happened to be there at apple harvest but other seasons include cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts. You can pick and eat whatever is posted as ready for harvest at the time. If you want to take produce with you, you weigh it and leave payment in the metal box. The apples were $1 per pound.


Fruita Orchard


Fruita Orchard


Jim using the apple picker at Fruita Orchard

The Fremont Petroglyphs, inscribed by early Puebloans and named for the Fremont River, decorate the red sandstone in many areas throughout the park. They are prominently displayed, however, directly off the highway along a pleasant walking trail.


Fremont Petroglyphs

The Castle, visible from the highway, is another well-known landmark within the park.


The Castle at Capitol Reef NP

As we exited Capitol Reef National Park, we took the scenic drive down Utah State Route 12 on our way to Bryce Canyon. When we stopped for gas and groceries in Escalante, Utah, I asked at the grocery store about buying wine. They directed me to the state liquor store which we finally found after much searching in Escalante Outfitter’s. According to their website they offer “tours, food, gear, cabins, and camping.” While not advertised, they also sell alcohol in a small closet at the back of the store caged in by chicken wire.

Once we procured the wine, we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park where I would indeed, find my park.


Based on events from September 2015.




Categories: History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Needles, Butler Wash, and Natural Bridges

We planned to miss the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park because the road to the entrance was an additional 50 miles off the highway. Then a ranger told us about an alternative called Needles Overlook that was only 22 miles off the main road. That fit our schedule better so we decided to have a look. I think there was one other vehicle the entire time we were there. This gem is definitely a well kept secret. We hiked to Needles Overlook and Indian Creek Viewpoint which were both easy walks with stunning rewards.


Jim on the trail to Needles Overlook


View from Needles Overlook


View from Indian Creek Viewpoint


Colorado River Overlook


Me on the trail where the soil surface and hard surface meet

Just west of Blanding on Utah SR 95 we stopped for a one mile roundtrip hike to Butler Wash Ruins, cliff dwellings of the Anasazi dating from 1200 AD. The trail begins on gravel but quickly becomes slickrock so be careful and mind the cairns to stay on the trail. Much of the trail is uphill going to the ruins which makes the return more pleasant.


Jim on the trail to Butler Wash Ruins


Jim climbing the trail to to Butler Wash Ruins


Butler Wash Ruins where Anasazi lived in cliff dwellings

Our final stop for the day before dinner and a hotel, was at Natural Bridges National Monument. Fortunately, we still had enough energy to tackle the bridges because it was intense. Or so we thought until we encountered an 80 something year old woman who went to the bottom of all three bridges…making us look like hiker pikers.


Natural Bridges National Monument

If you read my earlier post about Arches, your first thought may be, “What’s the difference between an arch and a bridge?”  A bridge crosses some kind of water at one time or another whereas an arch does not . Both are formed by erosion, however.

Your second question may be, “What’s the difference between a national monument and a national park?” A monument preserves a significant natural resource and a park protects a variety of resources within a significant area. Bridges National Monument, the first national monument in Utah, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to preserve the three natural bridges found here.

The trail to Sipapu is billed as a strenuous hike. Elevations ranging from 5500 to 6500 feet provided an additional element.  The trail began with stairs and as I climbed down, I told myself, “I have to climb back up at the end of the hike so keep a little in the tank for later.”


Stairs at Sipapu Bridge trailhead


Jim and more stairs on Sipapu Trail

We encountered a class that was listening to a lecture as we hiked to Sipapu Bridge. I wondered if they were resting on the way back.


Sipapu Trail

When we saw the views after some fairly rigorous hiking, we decided not to go all the way to the bottom.


Sipapu Bridge

The second bridge was Kachina and we decided right away not to go to the bottom since the view from the overlook was superb. If you can’t tell where the bridge is on the photo below, the green trees in the center of the photo are below the bridge.


Kachina Bridge

Finally, we hiked to Owachomo Bridge. We did go all the way to the bottom of this one.


Hiking to Owachomo Bridge 



 Owachomo Bridge




Selfie with Owachomo Bridge behind us




Beneath Owachomo Bridge


Owachomo Bridge above us

Whether you’re a hiker or not, this is a great place to spend some time. There’s a driving loop with stops and views of each bridge along the way and you can hike all or a portion of the trails with overlooks, too.

We planned to tour Capitol Reef National Park the following morning and wanted to spend the night near the eastern entrance. The drive on SR 95 was impressive.


Driving north on SR 95, Utah

Reception on my smart phone was very spotty in this area but I did find a room at the Rodeway Inn in Caineville. I also read there were no restaurants in Caineville so to prevent a restaurant search while hangry, it would be prudent to eat before our arrival. I think there were two or three eateries in Hanksville and we chose Blondie’s, a family owned burger joint. The extended family all seemed to be in attendance and our food was cooked while we waited–nothing fancy but tasty, nonetheless.


Blondie’s in Hanksville, Utah


Burger at Blondie’s

We easily found the Rodeway in Caineville, Utah, population 20, because it was the only building in this unincorporated town. The hotel was basic and overpriced including a gluten loaded breakfast of cereal and donuts. But it was the only option this side of Capitol Reef and our evening view was priceless.


View from the Rodeway Inn in Cainville, Utah

Check back next week for our tour of Capitol Reef National Park and prepare to be amazed. We were.


Based on events from September 2015.

Categories: natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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