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Road Scholar Trip to Panama, Nov. 11 – 17, 2018 Part 3

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 — a long day in a bus.  Our trip today is ultimately to the first of the locks, Miraflores.  However, before we get there, we have some other places to visit.  Once on the bus, we head over the Bridge of the Americas, our first such opportunity.  Note the Biodiversity Museum on the left hand side.

IMG_2018Once we are over, we head into Panama City for a short shopping stop.  On the way, we pass below the terrace we stood on yesterday at the Panama Canal Agency’s headquarters.2018-11-14 06.26.47-2-0626.111418

The store, called Rey, is huge;  certainly larger than any market I’ve been in lately.  It has a profusion of products, many of them US-sourced.

Perhaps the best comparison is Costco, or Sam’s Club, although the ones in Michigan do not compare in size to this store.

Time for an economics lesson: living accommodations.  In Panama City, many of the buildings that are viewed as part of the skyline are actually high-rise apartment buildings.  Out here on the edge of the city, there are many apartment buildings, just not so high. 2018-11-14 07.23.57-0723.111418Once out a bit further, the land use is a little different.  Juan Carlos tells us that many of the small houses built on the cleared land are squatters — people who put up shacks and make a home for themselves.

Once they have been there for awhile, they get together with their neighbors and demand city-like services: connection to electricity, water, sewer, garbage collection and so on.

Once those things are in place, they then claim the land they occupy, and they have successfully established ownership rights. 2018-11-14 07.46.32-0746.111418The houses we see along the way are in various stages in this process.  The farther away from Panama City, it seemed, the earlier in this process the buildings seem to be.

Our bus continues on, and our next destination is Madden Dam.  This dam, completed in 1935 was built to prevent the occasionally torrential flow of the once wild Chagres River from interfering with the navigational route for the ships through Gatun Lake and to control the level of water in that lake during the dry season. Water from the dam’s reservoir is also used to generate hydroelectric power and to supply Panama City with fresh water. 2018-11-14 08.04.47-0804.111418

2018-11-14 08.22.42-0822.111418Whenever we stopped along the way, we were visited by the police.  There is only one police agency in Panama, the National Police.  There are no independent city or other entity police departments.

Our bus driver, who was very good at finding animals along the way, pointed out crocodiles in the lake.

On the way to Miraflores Locks, we stop as our route crosses the Camino de Crusces, the historic road from Panama City to a small village on the Chagres River called Venta de Cruces.

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The cannon marks Camino de Cruces as it crosses the highway

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, when Spain controlled Central and South America, gold would be brought to Lima, Peru and other main ports along the Pacific coast then shipped from there to Panama City.  It was then transported overland along the Camino de Cruses to Venta de Cruces.  There it would be put on small boats to transit the Chagres River out to the Caribbean and along the coast to Portobelo.  From there it would be put on ships for the trip to Spain.

Pirates were a constant danger.  In 1671, Henry Morgan reversed the path with an army of 1200 men, devastating Panama City, as well as Venta de Cruces, and taking 250 mules and 600 captives for eventual sale.

2018-11-14 11.25.49-1125.111418From here, it’s on to Miraflores Locks.  The visitor center sits across from the lock control center.  The control enter sits on the strip between the two parallel lock bay channels.  The viewing decks give access to watch the ships pass through the three lock bays on their way into or out of the Canal.

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We are told that the Control Area is quite spectacular, with electrically connected controls to perform all of the operations necessary to the operation of the lock bays, but much to the disappointment of our engineers, it is not on display for visitors.  When it was built, it was (along with many other aspects of the Canal project) a marvel of design, ahead of its time.

At Miraflores, each ship must pass through two lock bays.  Here, the Navig8 Turquoise, a chemical/oil products tanker, sits in the lock bay at full height, and then 15 minutes later, it been lowered approximately 27 feet ready for the lower lock gates to open allowing it to move to the second bay.

Now it has moved into the second bay, and 15 minutes later, it has been lowered to the level of the Pacific Ocean so it can continue, as shown below.

2018-11-14 12.56.55-1256.111418Ships carry many things in addition to the chemical and oil products carried by Navig8.  They all seem to have similar lines, but they vary widely within those lines depending on the actual cargo they are built to carry.  A couple of examples include

the Golden Rose, a bulk carrier, and the Dusseldorf Express, a container ship.

These large ships fit snugly within the walls of the lock bays, and well they might, as they were built to fit.  They move forward only on their own power, but to be sure they don’t bump the walls of the bays and damage themselves or the locks, the little engines, called “mules” that can be seen at the lower right in the last picture are used.  Through coordinated effort, lines tied to each of the mules maintain the right pressure to keep the tankers parallel to the bay walls.

Not too far beyond the lock bays in front of us can be seen a ship moving parallel to the ships going through the locks.  It’s larger than the ships in the near locks, and it is going through a new set of locks designed and built starting in 2004, and opened for business in 2016.  These locks enable ships carrying up to 13,000 40-foot containers to go through Miraflores.  We’ll visit the parallel new lock structure at the other end of the Canal (Agua Clara) in a couple of days to get a closer look.

We have dinner in the restaurant here at the visitor center, and then head back to the hotel.  Tomorrow, we sail through the Panama Canal!

 

 

 

 

 

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Hawaiian Holiday: 12/25/16 to 1/6/17 #3

Sandy, Victoria and Seth left us on Sunday January 1, 2017 and went back to their home in San Rafael, CA.  For the rest of us, it was on to the Aulani Resort (a Disney facility) on Oahu.  This transition went very smoothly, and we began enjoying ourselves right from the beginning.  The Aulani is on the western coast of Oahu, about 45 minutes from the main airport, and somewhat away from Honolulu, although how far is difficult to tell.  We stayed mainly at the resort, although on one day we ventured out to explore a bit more.

On that day, Courtney, Joey and I went to the Pearl Harbor memorial, while the rest of the crew went to various places around the island, including the Dole Pineapple plant, a spectacular donut shop, and other places.  We had only one car, so they dropped us off first, and we were able to spend most of our day at the memorial site.

The site is officially called the “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument”, which actually includes a number of related memorials located across the Pacific.  It includes the Visitor Center where the museum, theater, the submarine Bowfin and its museum, the ticket office and assorted eating places are located.  The harbor boat to the USS Arizona memorial leaves from this site as well as frequent buses to the USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum, Pearl Harbor, both located on Ford Island.

The most difficult ticket to obtain is the one to the USS Arizona memorial, as they only issue them the day before or the day of your visit.  We had tickets for the 1:00 tour, so we had to be in the line for the theater by 12:45.  As it turned our we made all our connections all day, so we spent the maximum time site-seeing.

First stop was the USS Missouri.  This is the ship where the Japanese government signed the Instrument of Surrender document in September of 1945.

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This is an excellent example of the Battle Ships that populated Ford Island’s piers on December 7, 1941.  There were eight of them, and all of them were harmed  by the bombing.  The USS Missouri was not there, as it was built between 1941 and 1944.  It is an Iowa-class “fast battleship” which saw service in WWII, the Korean War, and finally the first Gulf War.  She was “permanently” settled in Pearl Harbor in 1999.

The first picture is looking across the teak deck of the ship at the Arizona memorial.  I was unaware that ever since they started building metal ships, they have decked them in wood.  To those of us who do not spend a lot of time on board ships, the practical reason may not be obvious.  The wood decking provides needed insulation.  We were told it also is a tribute to the wooden ships of old.

The circle above marks the spot where the desk sat upon which the Instrument of Surrender sat for its ritual signing. The second picture is looking up from that spot at the guns and the equipment on the decks above the main deck.  The third picture looks across the harbor to the main island.

The next stop for us is the USS Arizona memorial.  We get back to the Visitor Center in plenty of time to make the cinematic presentation which precedes the boat ride to the memorial.  The film is quire good, explaining the context of December 7, 1941, and in particular what happened to the Arizona (a bomb designed to break through the top decks and detonate close to the ship’s hull actually did that, and ended up exploding in the ammunition store, detonating much more than just itself).  The Arizona sank quickly, and became the gravesite for over 1100 men, the largest single-ship loss of life that day.  After the movie, we all boarded a ferry for a 15 minute ride to the memorial.

The picture immediately below shows the largest stack still visible above the water.  A smaller stack is closer to the memorial itself, showing a ladder and electrical cables which have been cut.  In the center of the memorial, a square is cut out showing another stack on the upper right.

The top picture below shows the plan of the Arizona as it existed on that day, as well as the  way the memorial straddles the remains as they sit on the bottom below it.  The smaller picture on the left below shows oil seeping from the Arizona’s tanks.  This oil comes out in drips, dissipates colorfully and disappears, soon followed by another.  This has been going on since 1941.  ON the right below is the rear wall of the memorial, where the names of the men who died are listed.

Courtney and Joey said later they very much enjoyed seeing the memorial, and the associated museums.  The Missouri is in the background in the pictures below.

Our next stop was the USS Bowfin, one of the many submarines in service in WWII.  The Bowfin saw service from her commissioning in mid-1943 until the end of the war, and then in the Korean War.  She served as a training vessel for a number of years, and was finally sited at Pearl Harbor in 1971, and listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Viewed from the deck, the Bowfin is a sleek and efficient fighting machine.  However, to make this possible, the machinery and crews areas are efficiently laid out, but not very hospitable to the crew.  This is especially true of the hatches, which were not easy for me to maneuver through at my height and age.  Beds seemed to be everywhere, which they more or less had to be to accommodate the 80 man crew aboard the 312′-long by 28′-wide vessel.  In addition to the beds, of course, also inside are the diesel-electric propulsion system and numerous torpedoes, their main weapons.

Her service record is quite good, as the flags on her outer shell indicate.

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The Bowfin museum was very enlightening as well.  It gave me quite a lot of history of submarines in general (starting in the Civil War), and Joey and Courtney spent their time on more recent developments.

The last stop on our tour was the Pacific Aviation Museum.  The museum is also a WWII memorial , and the exhibits in it are primarily WWII related.  The picture on the left below is a painting of what a zero pilot would have seen on December 7, 1941.  The top picture on the right is of a fully reconstructed zero.  The zeros were technically ahead of anything else in the sky at that time.  In the hands of a well-trained and experienced pilot, they could outmaneuver anything we could put up against it.  That changed over the first year of the war in the Pacific for two reasons: the Allies obtained an in-tact example of a zero and the number of well-trained experienced pilots flying for Japan dropped swiftly especially with the Battle of Midway six months after Pearl Harbor.

One of the sidelights of that infamous day were the six private pilots up over Oahu who, once they figured out what was going on, scrambled to get on the ground and out of the way as soon as possible.  One was a young lady, a flying instructor and her student.  They got down successfully, and she (I can’t remember her name) shortly thereafter went into training in Texas to become one of the women flyers taxiing completed aircraft from the US to bases abroad where they would be used for the war effort.  Unfortunately, she was killed during the training sessions.

At the back of the Museum is a line-up of flight simulators.  Courtney was brave enough to try it, and duly took her place as seen below.  The simulators were loosely enclosed, with meters appropriate to the type of aircraft flown on a computer screen in front of them, a joy-stick control, and a large screen projection of what they would see out of the windscreen in front of them.  The picture on the right shows Courtney taking a hard right following her target (one of the other simulator pilots), which the picture on the left shows the con trail indicating her success at shooting him down.  The picture on the right of each picture below shows the type of aircraft simulated.  It looks like the P-38, which was the primary US fighter during most of the war in the Pacific.

Below is the view toward the ocean at the Aulani.  The featured image on this page shows the Aulani as seen from the beach.  We really enjoyed our stay there.

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Hawaiian Holiday: 12/25/16 to 1/6/17 #2

 

While we were on Kauai, probably the best visit for me was the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens.  This park, first established by Joyce and Ed Doty in 1982 was turned into a nonprofit in 1999 and opened to the public.  It contains 13 different gardens now, populated with many different kinds of plants, buildings, and (my favorite) over 90 statues.  While I enjoyed the flowering plants for their color, and the hardwood forests for the wood they would be producing (as an amateur woodworker), the numerous ,creative and unique sculptures I appreciate for their artistic merit and in many cases whimsical beauty.

We had a guided tour through the park, sitting on an amusement park-like open cart.  The guide and his wife have been conducting tours for 17 years, and knew quite a lot of stories about the park.  They were careful to point out many of the more interesting aspects as we went along.

Speaking of trees I’ve not seen before, here’s one.  The “bottle gourds” are as large as watermelons.

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As great as the earlier sculptures were, the next one really caught my eye and imagination.   Entitled Mr. Cheesencrackers.

More interesting plants.  Courtney is holding an example of the flowers traditionally put over a young lady’s ear, while Joey and the group are looking at a version of cotton.  They are staring in the third picture at a Sausage tree.

The pig in the first picture is Mr. Royal Hindness, while the group talking to Seth and Sarah are the Conspirators.

Joey has a Rambutan, one of the many fruits found to Kauai, but not in too many other places.  Sarah has another.  The yellow flowers  in the third picture are about the size of a grapefruit when fully open.

More statues: The baby elephant is having Stage Fright, while the other two are more obvious.

Next are two views depicting the experienced fisherman describing the One Who Got Away to his young and eager listener.

The next garden is a native Kauai village, populated by many sculptures.

The children’s garden is next.

Sarah enjoyed playing in this garden.

The next area looks more like a western US set-up than anything to do with Kauai.  The whole area is called “Navajo Country”.

The sculptures are very lifelike in this area, done by extremely skilled crafts people.  I especially like the juxtaposition of some of them.  The coyote chasing the rabbit above, and the playful fox pouncing on the mouse below.

The next area is bordered by hedges with occasional red blossoms.  The area is desert flora.  Notice the rooser in the lower picture — they are everywhere!

More sculptures:  the paper boy’s bicycle is unique in that it has no spokes.  The cat is entitled Silent Pause”.

One of my favorite sculptures is near here, called Valentine

Some of the more exotic plant life (Gwen is our resident botanist — ask her about “moss lawns” sometime…)

In 1982, when they first established the gardens, the Doty’s built their first house on the original 13 acre estate.  This house has its own exotic flora and pond.  They’ve since built another house, as the estate has grown to 240 acres for themselves, but this house is still in use by those running the gardens.  Joyce Doty is still alive, and takes an active interest in the guidance of the gardens, forests and parklands of the estate.

The house sits where it can look out over a promontory at the ocean beyond, but in the garden you only get a glimpse of that view.

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There is a boxwood maze, compleet with stone sculptures at the dead ends, and an area above where people can sit.

There are blossoming trees there, as well as Royal Palms bordering the area.

As Sandy and Gwen sat in the covered bench, they looked out on these sculptures.  It took a minute to understand the boy’s animation, as the rabbit is not casually spotted (the title for this pair is Lively Encounter).  The girl on the swing is also a conundrum waiting for the unsuspecting.  You slowly realize that the swing is only half there, with its one rope not even reaching the tree, yet it stands stably for all to see.  The sculptor, George Lundeen, named it Hearts on a Swing with pun intended — he met the young model as she sat for this sculpture, but they went on to get married.

A large lake surrounded with a variety of plant life and sculptures came next on our tour.

Above the large pond is a Tea House, complete with rock garden.

A day in the park.  Frozen in time in the form of the sculptures.  Sarah enjoyed the dogs, but my favorite was the old man and his granddaughter!

The last jaunt was out a long dirt road which topped a ridge leading out to overlook the ocean.  We stopped along the way as it is breeding season for the seabirds.  Thus they build nests in the pine needles in as protected an area as they can find.

At the end of the drive the ocean spans out before us!

And then its back to the visitor center for some Heavy Thoughts.

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Hawaiian Holiday: 12/25/16 to 1/6/17 #1

Oh what high expectations we had for this holiday!  And it was to start with a week-long family vacation to Kauai thanks ito the timeshare of Sandy and Victoria.   Gwen and I, Kyle (our son) and Suzie (his wife, 6 months pregnant), Courtney (our daughter), Joey (her fiancee) and Sarah (her daughter), and of course Sandy (Gwen’s sister), Victoria (her partner) and Seth (their son) all in attendance.

Off Gwen and I went to Kauai on Christmas day.  Sandy, Victoria and Seth were to precede us by a couple of hours (flying from SF to Maui to Kauai), while the rest were to join us the next day.  The flight to Lihue, Kauai (yes, unlike 44 years ago when we honeymooned in Hawaii, each major island now has its own airport large enough to handle the big jets) was quiet and uneventful.

Upon arrival, there was a phone message from Victoria with very disturbing news: Sandy had developed a medical problem just before they were to depart from Maui. As a result, she was hospitalized there, going through the process to determine what had happened.  A worried call to Victoria ascertained that Sandy was stable, thank goodness, but the doctors were yet to complete the tests necessary to determine what had happened, so of course no prognosis was yet available.  OK, problem 1: there was some possibility that we would have to move the whole party to Maui if Sandy was declared unable to fly.  Chances were, however, that she would recover sufficiently to make Kauai, but perhaps a day or two later.

Gwen and I proceeded to the timeshare, duly reserved by Sandy, and reconfirmed two days previously.   Problem 2: when we arrived, they could find no records of any reservation. It was as you will remember, Sunday, Christmas day.  Highest week for Hawaii’s long tourist season. The timeshare agency was as helpful as they could be, but spare accommodations for ten people for a week on Kauai was just nonexistent. They did find a suite to put the two of us up for one night, so tonight’s problem was solved. Sandy was the key because she had made the reservations.  But she had no written confirmation, and her electronic confirmation was on her computer back home.  They’ve been involved with this timeshare company for many years, and had never had any problems before.

Gwen was working hard with the timeshare folks, and with one of her college roommates, Sylvia Woods.  We were looking forward to spending some time with Sylvia while in Kauai, as we hadn’t seen her in over four years.  At that time, she made the move to Kauai, making it her permanent residence.  So, Christmas day ended with Sandy feeling better, but no answers on the travel to Kauai front, and Gwen and me sheltered for one night.

The next day Sandy was doing better, but still undergoing tests.  Much work was needed, however, to find accommodation for all of us.  Thanks to Sylvia’s friend, Marsha, by the time we picked up Courtney, Joey and Sarah, we had reservations for that night sufficient for all except Gwen and I.  We eventually took the three of them to the Westin Resort in Princeville, and when Kyle and Suzie arrived late that evening, they went straight there, our temporary haven.  Sylvia was kind enough to put Gwen and me up for the night.

The next day, things finally began to get resolved.  Happily, Sandy was getting better, and the doctors finished their testing.  They couldn’t find anything wrong, and determined she could fly to Kauai, and so she, Victoria and Seth made those arrangements.  In the meantime, Victoria got on to the timeshare folks by phone, and found out (eventually) that their international reservations group had been hacked.  Someone had gotten into their computer system and re-sold the timeshare weeks, wiping out our reservations (and presumably others), pocketing the money.  The timeshare company decided to take the financial responsibility, so the only problem left for us was to find places to stay.

It was Kyle who resolved this last aspect of problem 2 for us once and for all.  He got onto the internet and discovered that even though all the humans at the Westin were unable to find us any rooms, they indeed had enough for us all over the time we planned to be in Kauai if we reserved them through his favorite internet app.  So  Kyle booked reservations for us online, and we all happily checked in.

By the evening of 12/27, we were finally all together on Kauai, and ready to start our delayed vacation.

The next day we spent our time investigating what the Westin had to offer, mainly swimming and sunbathing.  Sarah spent much time in the pools, accompanied by one or more of us adults relaxing for the first time since we got to the island.

Sylvia told us that up at this end of the island (Princeville is on the northeast corner of Kauai), we were close to the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge, so one of our first trips was to this historic landmark.

The point on which the lighthouse stands, we are told is an excellent vantage point for seeing saline, like whales and seals and the like.

We saw none of that kind of thing, but we enjoyed the views very much.

The wildlife we did see was of the flying variety — the Nene bird.  This state bird is endangered, we were told.  The bird is about the size of a Canadian goose, which we are also told is a relative.

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The next day, we decided to go in the other direction, down to Hanalei town and the beach beyond it.  We started out with a late breakfast at a “lunch wagon” called Fresh Bite.  Ten people ordering at once turned out to be quite a tall order for them, but as long as we were willing to wait, they were more than happy to serve us.  Wait we did, but in the end, they provided a surprisingly good breakfast as agreed by one and all.

Walking to Fresh Bite, we noticed this restored red “woody”, complete with a chicken standing where the hood ornament should be.  It, as we quickly discovered, was artificial.  We had already noticed that the island seemed overrun with the birds.  They provided a morning chorus every day we were there.20161229-dsc_7158

After breakfast, we made our way to the beach.  Gwen and Kyle quickly got their feet wet, but were soon joined by Suzie.

Sarah was not far behind.  She and Kyle enjoyed jumping up just before the wave hit.  Gwen and Suzie were so concentrated on watching the fun, that the wave soon got to them as well!

Soon all were on the beach.  Victoria and Sarah decided to bury a coconut.

Seth and Sarah spent time catching waves on the beach, and all spent time talking and enjoying the sand.

It was cloudy and getting cold, so we decided to go back to the resort.  The resort sits on an overlook well above beach level, so there were some opportunities to get a broader view of the area as we drove along.  The first below shows the valley that leads to the town of Hanalei and the beach to its right, while the second one shows the rain coming down on  the hills beyond the beach.

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The road to Hanalei town took us past a very interesting warning sign, immediately followed by a one-lane bridge, which in its turn was followed by another strange warning sign, which turned out to have immediate meaning.

You know you are in Hawaii when you see large red flowers high up in the trees by the road.  For some reason, the pine trees have seem tall and spindly against their continental cousins we are more used to.

Other strange plants include the Hala tree below, whose branches seem to grow down into the ground rather than up to the sky.  Lots of colored flora adorn the garden areas around the Westin resort.

Next door to the Westin is the St Regis, a related resort, with marvelous views over Hanalei Bay.  We went over there to take advantage of the viewing deck (and their excellent restaurant, but that was a different time).  We watched a sunrise one morning.  Unfortunately, we were not on the side to see the best color.  I do love to watch the colors changing on the clouds as the sun comes up.

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January 18, 2017 · 5:30 PM

Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 4 – Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Today is spent all in the caldera. As most all our days, this one starts early, with breakfast at 6:00 and on our way at 6:30.  Morning light breaking through the clouds that seem to hover around the volcano early was fascinating to see from our vehicle as it headed down the steep road from the lip to the floor.  The reflection of the light in the infrequent water helped us see what was below.

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We spent about seven hours in the caldera, and it was fun almost from the get-go. The first of the highlights were the black rhinos, one of which we saw almost right off, and then later on we saw two more. All were at a distance, but hopefully the camera was up to recording them. We later learned that these black rhinos are extremely rare, there being approximately 25 left in the wild.  So seeing 3 of the 25 was even more of a treasure than we realized at the time.

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There are four lions sleeping in this stone formation.

The second was a pride of lions all sleeping in and amongst some rocks on the side of a rise toward the middle of the caldera. Down below them we noticed a number of hyena, and a jackal or two.

Oh, no you don;t!

Oh, no you don’t!

Three of the hyena, sometimes joined by a fourth had a piece of a kill about 100 yards below them, and were busily taking hunks out of it. 20150926-DSC_1422One of the jackals tried several times to get a few bites, but was chased off by one of the hyenas each time. It was only as we climbed the rise behind the lions that we were able to see there were a number of hyena congregated in a depression below the ground level a bit farther away from the lions. We surmised that they were devouring what was left of a carcass that the lions had brought down and had sated themselves with last night. 20150926-DSC_1351There was a hyena that we had first noticed on our left as we were driving toward the area where we first saw the lions. He (or she) crossed our path between where we first stopped and where the lions slept and headed for the depression, but eventually stopped, watched what was going on for awhile, and after the appearance of a couple of other hyenas, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and came back across the road where he watched what was going on. We only really understood his actions after we spotted the hyena group as we drove above it. One of Gwen’s favorite aspects of the day was hearing the hyenas “talking” to each other during this episode.

We saw quite a variety of wildlife, most of which we had seen before, but I can never get enough of them, especially the birds.

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

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Crake, Black

Crake, Black

Pelican, Great White

Pelican, Great White

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Bustard, Kori

Bustard, Kori

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Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg's

Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg’s

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We managed to get very close to some warthogs as we drove along.

20150926-DSC_1534 20150926-DSC_1678One of the more amazing sights were the herds of wildebeest stretching out to the horizon, or coming over the hill toward us at a distance.

A wildebeest herd and flock of birds in the Ngorongoro caldera

A wildebeest herd off in the distance

The third amazing find were a family group of elephants we passed as we came onto the rise where the road started to climb out of the caldera. This rise is hilly, with a number of trees of various kinds forming a loosely packed forest, enabling easy movement by the elephants as well as shelter from the sun when desired (like it was as it was well after noon by this time). 20150926-DSC_1887At first, we saw three females and two youngsters (one very young, a second perhaps a juvenile) eating grass and leaves from a tree not too far off the road. As we watched, the five became seven, as there was another youngster behind the tree-eater, and another older juvenile with the first youngster. 20150926-DSC_1875 20150926-DSC_1858There were about a dozen zebra on the other side of the vehicle happily munching away at the shorter grass shaded by the trees as well. As we continued on, the road took a turn which took us in front of the elephants, and we discovered the rest of the group, with at least three more adult females, a couple more juveniles and yet another youngster. 20150926-DSC_1895We watched them continue to eat, and some decided we were too close, so they headed away from us while two or three headed to an area we couldn’t see ahead of us. 20150926-DSC_1924 20150926-DSC_1923We eventually moved in that direction, and found a stream where four elephants, including one youngster and at least one juvenile were enjoying playing with the water. The baby was having the most fun, kicking up water with his feet and trunk, while the others were enjoying spraying themselves with the water, and doing their own dance to keep their feet cool. It was delightful to watch, and was a really nice way to end our tour of the area.

This afternoon we have another talk by Philip. He talked about Kenya and Tanzania, and the relative size and populations of them. In response to questions, he focused more on the education systems in the two countries and how they have evolved.

Tomorrow it is on to Oldivai Gorge (rather the museum the Leakeys created near there) to hear about the finds there, and then the afternoon is a tour which should end us in the Serengeti.

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Palm Springs, CA to Clarkston, MI, Day 3 May 8

Today is going to be a slow day. We took the tour of Monument Valley yesterday afternoon, and so today we have only the museum to visit and perhaps another trip to MV, if the wind dies down. Unfortunately the forecast suggests the wind will be replaced by clouds and rain, so we’re in for a slow and wet day.

 

May 2015-7751I’ve got to “renegotiate” my picture backup strategy – again – as Lightroom (I’ve only learned over the last several weeks) is based on your pictures being located where they are, and adding the adjustments each time you access that picture, rather than preserving the adjusted picture. Thus the program assumes you will preserve and backup the pictures yourself. It only backs up the adjustment record. So much of today’s computer time is being spent backing up the photos themselves, a time-consuming task that requires only minimal input from me.

May 2015-7713The workflow from now on is clear. However, getting the pictures already copied into the wrong place available to me is what is going to take lots of time and energy.

 

I did get some interesting pictures of the monuments we can see from our balcony chairs as they appear with the sun behind them (in silhouette). Yep, the clouds are definitely rolling in.

May 2015-7755

The museum is interesting. This place started out as a trading post built and operated by Harry and Mike (Irene) Goulding. They came here in 1923 and decided to build a business here. The museum building is their first trading post downstairs, with their residence upstairs. Apparently they never had children, but put their energies into building the business. They soon put up structures to house and feed visitors, and did the work necessary to develop a consistent source of water, one of the main necessities here. As you can see from the pictures, they nestled their business in the shadows of two large monuments with a striking view of many others. A choice spot.

May 2015--2

In the 1940s Goulding found out that John Ford was looking for a location for his next movie, and determined to present Monument Valley as that location. He went to Hollywood, and managed to make his point, at least getting Ford to travel here with his entourage and investigate. The result is a whole series of movies shot here, many of them highly successful. John Wayne starred in several, as well as Henry Fonda, Harry Carey, Jr,, and Ward Bond. Movies right up until the present day have been shot here, notably Thelma and Louise, Back to the Future III, and Forrest Gump. One room of the museum is devoted to telling this story.

May 2015-7719

The other story that features prominently is the history of the Navajo peoples who have inhabited this area from the earliest human habitation in North America. Much of the story as described in the museum relates to the encroachment of the area by whites in the mid 1800s, and the way the Navajos were treated by the whites through that period.   (Colonel) Kit Carson was one of the military leaders whose story is told, with an attempt to be relatively neutral.

May 2015-7776Personally I believe the Navajos were not treated well, and Kit Carson was no better than any of the other military types who were given the job of making the west habitable to the white population. He is singled out I suspect because of his popular reputation, which makes him useful to caricature and compare to the poor Navajos who were dispossessed and forcibly moved to reservations. All this energy expended to make the area safe for the whites who never really came here to do anything but enjoy the beauty. The presentation, which took the form of a video of about ninety minutes, also told the story of the Navajo chief (Hoskininni) who had leadership of a group who managed to evade the army elements sent to find them. Eventually those Navajos who were forcibly evicted and eventually encamped at Fort Sumner in New Mexico were let go.

May 2015-7768Those who had originated here in MV, returned and with the ones left from Hoskininni’s group are the source of the settlers who currently occupy the area. The Navajos today are the largest of the native American tribes extant. Their reservation covers some 17.5 million acres (according to one source).

May 2015-7767

Any such history is bound to view events through the eyes of the current-day people who put it together. As a reader of history, I prefer a version which makes more of an attempt to present the events in the context of the times in which they took place. There are certainly basic moral and ethical principles that one would want to believe apply to all.   However, even those have evolved over time, and a complete context must include some discussion of those prevailing principles. An individual is much more of a hero for asserting his adherence to these principles at a time when the prevailing understandings are against him than when they are in his favor.   Was Kit Carson a bad or a good person for what he did? Gwen and I spent the time to read up a bit, and then had a rousing discussion on that point. I leave it to the reader to guess who was arguing what points.

May 2015-7766

So, lunch was had, and then we settled down to a restful afternoon and evening. The only adventure concerned the lack of tea bags in the room. I ended up going to the restaurant where they had a box of Navajo Tea bags, which they happily sold to me.

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Palm Springs, CA to Clarkston, MI, Day 2 May 7

 

We are up early and on the road after a breakfast of Holiday Inn Express’s usual offerings. It takes us a bit over three hours, but we eventually arrive at Goulding’s Lodge just outside of Monument Valley National Park, just over the border from Arizona into Utah.

Main St; Kayenta, AZ; Monuments everywhere!

Main St; Kayenta, AZ; Monuments everywhere!

As might be expected, the buttes that rise above the ancient basin floor are not limited to the national park area.

Our room is not ready, so we go to their restaurant and have an excellent lunch. After that, we go back to the registration area, get our room keys, unload the car and settle in our room.

 

May 2015-7143May 2015-7149May 2015-7151

Monuments as seen from Goulding's Lodge

Monuments as seen from Goulding’s Lodge

At 4:00pm, we catch the bus tour of the park, where we see a lot of the monuments that make this place so famous.  On boarding the bus, we meet our tour guide, Carol.  She drives us the four miles to the park entrance, and gets us onto the circular tour road that enables us to get excellent views of the monuments.

Monuments as seen from first stopping point

Monuments as seen from first stopping point

The tour bus

The tour bus

This is the deluxe tour, meaning that the tour takes us into an area where the regular tour does not go, a homestead with dwellings for a family.  Also on this site are three Navajo hogan structures that look like mud-covered igloos.

Navajo hogan entry

Navajo hogan entry

Hogan's interior

Hogan’s interior

We are invited to visit one of the hogans to get a but of an education concerning Navajo life(the other two are set up as outhouses). The hogans are circular in shape with mud covering the entire outside surface except for the door and a circular hole in the center of the roof for a smoke stack. Once inside the hogan, we see that it is built of cedar logs, each 4 to 6 inches in diameter. At ground level the logs are set vertically, each about five feet high, formed into a circle about 10 feet in diameter. There is a gap for the door facing east. On top of this base are slightly thinner logs woven horizontally together at seemingly random angles resulting in a curve upward.  This curve comes together at the hole in the center of the ceiling through which a chimney pipe runs to a wood burning stove sitting immediately underneath.

Big Hogan natural shelter

Big Hogan natural shelter

The interior is set up to show a variety of practical Navajo products used in their everyday existence in years gone by. Our tour guide Carol uses these items as props to explain aspects of Navajo life in the times when hogans were the homes of choice.  Sheepskins for sleeping are laid out on the floor half way around the wall. Tools for the weaving of woolen cloth are on display, including a standing frame, a device for turning the carded wool into threads for use on the frame, and of course the cards themselves. Also on display are skeins of wool of several different colors.

May 2015-7657Two baby’s backboards are there, used by the mother to tie the baby in until they are about a year old or when they are beginning to be capable of standing and walking on their own.  There are grinding stones for the corn, and a variety of other things visible. The main things the Navajos are known for are their wool weaving and the silver and jade jewelry that they make.

Main homestead site

Main homestead site

From there, Carol takes us back into the area behind the homestead, and there we visit up close a number of the monuments.

Eye-like depression carved out of a sandstone wall by wind and rain

Eye-like depression carved out of a sandstone wall by wind and rain

The “monuments” are sandstone buttes created by the wind and rain over the last 50 million years by separating the softer sand from the remaining, harder stuff. The buttes are indeed monumental in size. They are usually banded horizontally in color, standing out as much as 1000 feet vertically from the surrounding plain.

Moccasin Arch

Moccasin Arch

The most unusual features are the holes in the rocks. In places it is possible to see where there will be holes in the future. These take the form of indentations in the side of a butte or butte wall that look like eye sockets when the sun hits them just right.  But the holes themselves, showing the sky behind and letting the sunlight shine through, are the most spectacular.

Petroglyphs; actual size of each is less than a foot tall

Petroglyphs; actual size of each is less than a foot tall

Carol also takes us to see a few petroglyphs carved in the rocks. How ancient these rock drawings are is hard to say, and Carol does not hazard a guess.

 

Horses foraging

Horses foraging

On the plains as our tour bus passes by are wandering horses and cattle. Navajos own the grazing rights, and usually use it for cattle.

Cattle foraging

Cattle foraging

Lands are fenced, and any private roads (leading to a homestead, for example) have the in-road barriers to discourage cattle from using them to get outside the fences. The horses are not really wanted, as they are not usually owned by the homesteaders.

 

Totem Pole

Totem Pole

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

Carol told us the story of the Navajos being given their land back by the last treaty (in 1863, she said, by General Sherman), but they had to keep animals on it and thus make use of it to keep their ownership up to date.

 

Gwen headed toward Sun's Eye

Gwen headed toward Sun’s Eye

The owner-Navajos grazed sheep and cattle primarily. However, horses have been brought in to support the horse-tour business done on the land, and they are not so easily controlled.

Looking up at the Sun's Eye

Looking up at the Sun’s Eye

The result is now the current Navajo owners are starting to round up the stray horses and eliminate those that are not claimed by the tour businesses.

 

Hogan turned into crypt with the death of inhabitant

Hogan turned into crypt with the death of inhabitant

Toward the end of our tour, the wind kicks up, blowing a lot of sand at us. The tour “bus” is an open set of seats set on the bed of a pickup frame, with the tour guide comfortably seated in a normal driver’s cab.

 

Wind-whipped sands beginning to obscure views

Wind-whipped sands beginning to obscure views

There is little wind protection for the us poor customers except for some plastic drop-down screens which are not dropped down. The windstorm keeps up for the rest of the tour, but for the most part it is over anyway.

Back at Goulding's Lodge, sand blown up obscures views

Back at Goulding’s Lodge, sand blown up obscures views

We get back to the Lodge and quite happily unload, retreating to our room. We shortly head over to the hotel restaurant to eat dinner. All the employees at the hotel are Navajo, and we noticed as well that they didn’t serve any alcoholic beverages. We clearly are on reservation land.

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