El Chalten, our hiking adventure

About 130 miles north of El Calafate is El Chalten. All the local maps indicated we would have 30 miles or more on gravel road, but fortunately we didn’t. Instead we had this:


Deserted highway on the way to Fitz Roy (the tallest mountain in El Chalten).

Patagonia is a backbacker’s mecca. We saw numerous pairs and triplets of hitchhikers trying to get rides to cross many miles of the desolate terrain.


Northern entrance to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, still many miles to the glaciers.

The hitchhikers carried heavy packs with camping gear. We didn’t go that route, but did some glamping (glamorous camping), staying in an ecodome. The accommodations offered simple geodesic domes, each with a bed and a small bathroom, with a shower and hot water. The days were so hot we didn’t think we’d need a fire, but after the sun set, we were happy to have our little wood-burning stove.


Our ecodome village  in the Andes.

The big advantage of staying in the ecodome was the access to hiking trails into the mountains…along with a very comfortable bed, hot shower, protection from the elements, heat, and a fantastic parilla (grilled) dinner.


The view from our bed. Mount Fitz Roy on the left and Cerro Electrico on the right.

Notice that Cerro Electrico is red while the other mountains look black in the right light. That gave rise to the name Cerro Electrico and the river between the two mountains, Rio Electrico, with red anode and black cathode peaks overlooking the fast-flowing water. A strong current, get it?


The Cerro Fitz Roy and Electrico  view, even more impressive at sunrise with changing colors.


Why do men climb mountains? Because they’re there.

The mountain, Cerro Fitz Roy, was named by Francisco Moreno (the scientist and scholar that Perito Moreno glacier was named after). He selected the name Fitz Roy after Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the HMS Beagle that sailed up and down Patagonia’s coast and hosted Charles Darwin on his famous visit to the Galapagos Archipelago and many other South American regions.


The deck of our ecodome, a nice spot to watch the peaceful sky over the Andes peaks.

Mount Fitz Roy is the tallest mountain in Los Glaciares National Park. It’s not as tall as other global giants, such as Everest, but it’s a very difficult climb, with technical challenges and highly changeable weather. Yvon Chouinard, originally from Maine, was one of the early climbers of the “California route” up Fitz Roy in 1968. Later he founded Patagonia clothing products while his fellow climber, Doug Tompkins, founded The North Face. (Sadly Tompkins died while kayaking with Chouinard in Chilean Patagonia just a couple months ago at age 72.)


The familiar Patagonia logo is Cerro Fitz Roy! Who knew?

We decided to hike as close as we could get–comfortably–to Fitz Roy. No need for the heavy-duty climbing gear from the outdoor clothing companies, just a few layers and some water. The hiking route was identified as a 6-hour round trip. Ha! Quite a bit longer for us.


A mile into the hike, the air was still chilly and the peaks were far away.

We kept at the hike, getting much closer,  with only a few hundred feet of elevation change. (It seemed like more.) 🙂


Warmer now, with Fitz Roy still far distant in the background.

The rise behind us was a serpentine path very much like Quarter Dome on the way up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Of course, we hiked that over 20 years ago!


Lots of twists and turns still to go…

The last bit of climbing was above the treeline, with nothing but rock and thin air. Michael charged ahead. Nancy took  her time. At the summit of our climb we were about 2,500 feet above our origin, looking down at the lake, Lago Viedma, at the level of the town of El Chalten.


Look how far we’ve climbed! Nancy is one of the tiny ants at the bottom of the photo, with the yellow jacket wrapped around her waist.

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Michael, cheering from the top. Note that he hasn’t climbed down to accompany Nancy on the home stretch!

At the top, the view was worth the arduous hike. Although Mount Fitz Roy still looks far away, we were fairly close to a glacier slowly melting to create this blue-green lake high in the mountains. Climbers hike to this level and camp close by to start the actual technical climb early in the day.


Laguna de Los Tres

We dipped our toes in the water. Not that cold!


A very refreshing break after the climb up the mountain.

At that point, we could have gone on..if we had Patagonia or North Face climbing gear and a lot more energy…but we simply enjoyed the views.


Nancy has conquered the top of Cerro Fitz Roy.


Can’t get away from the view without a selfie of Nancy, Michael and Fitz.

Counting steps, we had over 36,000 that day, about 18 miles. The next day was a bit more relaxing, taking a boat tour to see more glaciers.


Glaciar Viedma in Lago Viedma, viewed from our large catamaran tour boat.


The icebergs from Glaciar Viedma can be huge!


Too soon, we left the glaciers behind.

We covered a lot of ground (and water) on this short trip. Moving on, we have a few more insights on Argentina before we travel to Chile.

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El Calafate, home of Perito Moreno glacier

Our next Patagonia location was El Calafate. This town is the jumping off point for exploring spectacular glaciers. But first, a bit of other information. El Calafate borders Lago Argentino. Along the shore and growing wild throughout the area are calafate bushes with blue berries.


The calafate berry and its thorns

The berries taste more like plums than blueberries and they have 1/4-inch seeds. They’re used for jam and alfajore fillings, as an alternative to dulce de leche. Unlike easy-picking blueberries, these bushes have sharp thorns.

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Like picking blueberries at Bedient Farm. Look how full her bucket is. She warned me about thorns.

Near the lake is a very nice park, Laguna Nimez Reserve, with an interpretive nature trail. This is where I saw an Argentinean dwarf armadillo, a pichiy. It was small (around 8 to 10 inches) and hairy. The guide here said that her boyfriend’s family eats these cute little guys. Eew!

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The pichiy simply scurried around poking its head in the ground, oblivious to the people around it.

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Late afternoon reflections of the mountains in Laguna Nimez Reserve.

El Calafate is also loaded with lavender at this time of year, giving the whole town a nice aroma.


Tallest lavender we’ve ever seen!

Los Glaciares National Park is located here, with some of the most amazing glaciers anywhere in the world.  On the way to the park is a fascinating museum, known as the Glaciarium, that explains the history of this ice field as well as comparisons to glaciers elsewhere and warnings about global warming.

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The Glaciarium rises up from the rugged, rocky land. We realized that the facade has a resemblance to Perito Moreno glacier.

Most of the glaciers we’ve seen elsewhere have been up in the mountains, melting, and displaying all the dirt that has fallen on them. Perito Moreno is not that. It’s brilliant blue, so close we could almost touch it, and expanding rather than shrinking. The most exciting part is that it ends in a river, so it doesn’t just melt but “calves,” creating ice bergs that float down the river.

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As we drove toward the glacier on an 80-degree day, we saw this blue iceberg a couple miles downstream from the glacier face.

That iceberg was enough to ooh and aah over, but as we followed the winding road we came across the glacier itself, truly spectacular. It’s named Perito Moreno after Francisco Moreno, a scientist and scholar who explored numerous areas in South America in the late 1800s. He also created the Boy Scouts of Argentina.

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Viewing Perito Moreno glacier over the Brazo Rico arm.

As the glacier comes down from the Andes, it meets a peninsula of land. When this ice is jammed far enough downstream, it blocks off the water of the Brazo Rico arm from the rest of Lago Argentino, leaving that section of lake 20 or 30 feet higher than the rest. Eventually the ice bridge at that point ruptures, allowing the Brazo Rico level to equalize again, at least temporarily. View the satellite images of Perito Moreno on Google Maps. Quite impressive.


The giant face of Perito Moreno glacier. It’s alive.

The glacier truly does seem to be alive. It advances up to 6 feet a day, although we couldn’t detect forward movement. But we did see and hear plenty of activity. The glacier is almost 250 feet tall (above the water) at this front point and stretches back almost 20 miles. Behind the face, ice is melting and trickling down through cracks, with some chunks falling. This is invisible from the front, but still makes loud creaking noises and sometimes creates waves.


Watching and listening for more than an hour. Very peaceful.

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We didn’t really want to turn our backs on the glacier and miss the next section of falling ice.

As we watched, ice fell frequently. Smaller pieces made the sounds of gunshots or fireworks. Larger pieces, some the size of a house, made giant splashes, creating large waves, and a massive spread of ice floes. It’s easy to miss the start of this because the sound is a bit delayed…and then it’s thunderous. Finally the largest chunks of ice floated back up to the surface, the “calves” that moved into the river as ice bergs.

Turn up the volume and go full screen to see for yourself in this video:

We saw another odd phenomenon as we watched and listened for falling ice. We heard a very loud noise, almost like the sound of a whale breaching, but we didn’t see any action on the face. We realized that a large iceberg in front of us had rolled over, probably from a change in center of gravity as parts of it melted.

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Even long after falling into the lake, this ice continues to be fascinating.

The park is extremely well done, with miles of wood-and-steel walkways offering viewpoints for thousands of people at a time without crowding.

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The glacier looks a little different from every vantage point.

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Do you see a stocking-hatted man in profile? When we returned two days later this whole section of ice had fallen away.

Less than a mile downstream of the glacier, we found access to the lake. The water seems quite warm, at least in this shallow area, probably in the 60s. Even so, the ice is slow to melt.

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My own personal iceberg!

We’re not done with glaciers. More to see in El Chalten.

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Sun setting over Lago Argentino. We head north to those mountains next.

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Patagonia, starting in Bariloche

Patagonia is the vast southern end of South America, stretching between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and encompassing parts of Argentina and Chile, with the tall Andes marking the international border. We visited three areas and were awed by the mountains, lakes, and glaciers.

We started in San Carlos de Bariloche, a town in the foothills of the Andes, actually fully inside Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.


Michael found a nice golf course, Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao).


The 18th hole at Llao Llao is pretty, but the 120-yard carry can be a bit tough.

This was our first glimpse of lavender in South America. Lots of it. We expected to see it in Provence last spring but were too early in the season. Here in Argentina it’s at the peak of its bloom.


We’ve found our lavender fields again. At Llao Llao golf course, with the Andes rising behind.

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And looking in the other direction, toward the lake.

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LOTS of flowers.

Bariloche was established along the shores of the glacial lake, Nahuel Huapi, hundreds of years ago, with Spanish missionaries arriving in the 1600s. It’s also possible that some German war criminals arrived here in the 1940s.


Beautiful iron work outside Bariloche’s cathedral.

The lake has its own sea monster, Nahuelito. We didn’t see it. 🙂


Lake Nahuel Hualpi

We did see something quite rare these days…


You would think Kodak was still alive and well.

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Twisting Ronaldo Street, very much like Lombard in San Francisco. Another crooked street is John O’Connor. Yes, a bit of Ireland in Argentina.

The national park has a short circuit (Circuito Chico) and a long circuit (Circuito Grande) around parts of the lake. Michael biked the short route, competing with speeding cars on the narrow twisty road. See his route and photos on Strava.  We also drove the long route, passing seven lakes and numerous waterfalls (cascadas).

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Still plenty of water in the height of summer.

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Water and mountains everywhere.

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Shrines along the road honor Gauchito Gil, a Robin Hood figure from the 1800s. Folks add bright red clothing and scraps of fabric.


Flying over Patagonia’s seven lakes.


After the golf outing, Llao Llao resort was a great spot for lunch, dinner too.

Bariloche is famous for its chocolates, with a chocolate museum, chocolate factories, and numerous chocolate shops, established in the last century by German and Austrian immigrants. Our favorite chocolate shop was Mamuschka. We made MANY stops here.

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The nesting dolls at the entrance of Mamuschka spin around, watching the tourists in Bariloche.

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Cappuccino, thick hot chocolate, and tasty little bonbons at Mamuschka.

Next, we’re back to Buenos Aires and then on to other parts of Patagonia and glaciers!

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Buenos Aires, She is a Diamond!

We’re on the road again, this time to South America. So what happens now? It’s another suitcase in another hall, starting in Argentina, the land of tango and beef and wine and Evita. We used Buenos Aires as our base for three or four weeks and made side trips to other parts of this long, narrow country.


One of our two new favorite airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas (and LAN)

If you wonder whether Evita Peron is reviled or revered in modern Argentina, there is no doubt here in BA. She rose from the slums as an actress before becoming the young wife of a somewhat nasty president, Juan Peron. After climbing (some would say sleeping) her way to the top of the country, she was a passionate champion for the poor, underprivileged, children, and working women. Although she died young, she left behind a tremendous legacy.


Our first glimpse of Evita, larger than life size, but no larger than her presence in the hearts of her countrymen.

Our first stop in the city was to get money. Walking along Florida Street, every 10 feet or so we heard someone say “Cambio. Cambio” under his breath. At least 30 of these moneychangers were operating on the street. We found that we couldn’t even change money at a bank, but the cambio men offered better deals than ATMs. Local residents are anxious to get US dollars. In fact, our travels here came at a good time. The exchange rate has changed by over 50 percent in our favor between December and now. From the time we got here on January 9 we’ve seen a continued climb…and the money kept rolling in.


The primary neighborhood where we stayed (and returned several times) is Recoleta. We settled in and found our favorite confiteria for delicious cookies, a movie theater (The Big Short in English with subtitles sold out!), and easy walks to museums and galleries.


This statue of Evita in Recoleta is now fenced in, but it captures some of her dynamic spirit.

Recoleta is known for Cementerio Recoleta, a huge cemetery, one of the world’s best according to BBC and CNN. This is a beautiful, peaceful spot for morning walks. Many of the mausoleums are small upright cubes with stairs descending to crypts holding the dead.


View of Cementerio Recoleta from our hotel rooftop.

Eva Peron is buried here. When her husband was running for reelection in 1951, she was so high-flying, adored that the common people. or descamisados (shirtless ones), urged her to be his running mate. But she developed cancer and died in 1952 at age 33. Just as she was adored during her lifetime, she is honored more than 60 years later by hordes who visit her grave.


The María Eva Duarte de Perón mausoleum, the most visited site in Recoleta Cementerio.

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Some crypts are ornate with numerous religious artifacts.

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Others portray the occupant as he was or wished to have been.

Buenos Aires has many parks. One particularly beautiful section of Palermo Woods is the Rosedal, with roses, obviously, and also palm trees, a large white arbor and bridge, and statues of poets.


Beautiful Rosedal inside this city of 3,000,000 people.


Another “flower” is Floralis Generica at the United Nations Plaza. Its petals spread from about 50 feet when closed to 100 feet when open during the day.

Tango is everywhere in BA, in the parks, on the streets, and of course on stage.


The “Broadway” of Buenos Aires has tango theaters one after the other.


We attended a show with a dozen dancers and a dozen musicians. Accordion is an important part of the performance.


On weekends many al fresco restaurants have dancers who pass a hat around to collect tips after their informal shows.


Others seem to tango for pure joy.

Buenos Aires, she is a diamond. As Tim Rice wrote:

You’re a tramp, you’re a treat
You will shine to the death, you are shoddy
But you’re flesh, you are meat,
You shall have every breath in my body


The heart of the arts center of Buenos Aires.

The city appears to have constant demonstrations.


We didn’t quite make it to the balcony of La Casa Rosada where the heroine of Evita sang don’t cry for me, Argentina, but we gazed at it from the front, outside a  tall fence. Unlike the US White House, this official residence doesn’t have a grand lawn.

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La Casa Rosada, the Pink House, of the Argentinean government


Grandchildren of the people of the age of Evita.

If you’re wondering why all the hyperlinks, it’s because they will take you to songs from Evita (music by Andrew Lloyd Weber Evita and lyrics by Tim Rice). In the early 1980s on one of our first trips together, we (Michael and Nancy) went to New York and saw Evita on Broadway. Great show then, with a few memories to help us navigate this part of our trip.

Good night and thank you!

We’re on to a new Argentina next, or at least a new spot for us.

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Our Northern California Getaway

After traveling the world for more than a year, it was great to stop and nest in northern California, Truckee to be specific. We found a home away from home in Stephen and Kathy’s Tahoe Donner house (thank you!), in a large community where many other Bay area residents come to spend summer weekends hiking and winter weekends skiing. Glorious! Given our retired status and the transitional time of year, we were able to enjoy both of these activities and much more.


View of the Sierras before the snow arrived.

The warm autumn let us get in hikes to some beautiful hikes. Five Lakes is high in the sky between Squaw and Alpine Meadows, with a 4-mile hike up about 1,000 feet in the Granite Chief Wilderness.


We walked around all five lakes. This is one of the biggest.

Five Lakes is nearly the same elevation as the tops of  Squaw and Alpine, formerly separate mountains, now part of the joint Squaw/Alpine resort but separated by a narrow strip of land. Troy Caldwell owns this land and has been trying to create his own ski resort, White Wolf Mountain.  The towers for a proposed ski lift have been under debate and construction for years, but slow negotiations have kept the project from completion.


Chairlift to nowhere…

In December of 2011, we visited Eagle Lake, overlooking the western shore of Tahoe Lake. There was almost no snow, but ice thick enough for playing hockey.


Chris, Liz, Meghan, the two Pats, and not our dog on nature’s ice rink at Eagle Lake, winter 2011

This fall we returned to Eagle Lake to see it still looking pretty but now pretty different in warm weather.


Eagle Lake, autumn, 2015

Michael’s bike rides gave him lots of views of Donner Lake, Donner Pass, and Lake Tahoe. He made the 10-mile climb up about 1,200 feet to Donner Pass.


Michael’s “selfie” from the top of Donner Pass

We also enjoyed the hiking trails inside Tahoe Donner, particularly the interpretive nature trail past a beaver dam.

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Extensive beaver dam inside residential area of Tahoe Donner.

Of course, the neighbors living just behind this spot  were not all that excited about losing their trees to beavers.

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They had to put their poor trees in cages to keep the beavers away.

We learned that the rather tall trees in the area, including many in S&K’s yard, are Jeffrey pines, that smell like “pineapple and vanilla.” I’ll vouch for the vanilla, actually very lovely, but still haven’t discerned any pineapple. We had never heard of this, but when the Jardims visited us, Philip (retired biology teacher) knew all about it.


Smelling the Jeffrey pine for essence of vanilla (yes) and pineapple (not really). Try it!

The Donner area is of course known for the Donner Party, 87 people who arrived at the east side of the Donner Pass in October 1846, with early snows stranding them with limited food, clothing, and shelter. Some tried to make it over the pass but the major rescue didn’t happen until February. Only 48 survived. The Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center tells the story of this awful four months, with a few references to the cannibalism that eventually occurred.


The top of the base of the Pioneer Monument represents the 22-foot depth of the snow when the Donners were stranded here.

While the Donners (and Reeds and Breens and Murphys and others) were freezing and starving at this time of year, we were enjoying daily visits to the rec center with outdoor pool heated to 80 degrees and our choice of three hot tubs. Michael also got in half a dozen rounds of golf, with Nancy as an occasional caddy and ball finder.


The Nakoma golf course yielded 36 lost (and now found) balls on 18 holes! One hole alone had 10 just off the tee. The golfers were probably too embarrassed to look for them 🙂

We really felt like locals, participating in the Truckee River cleanup (very little river to clean, hardly any water now), taking advantage of the community flu shot drive, going to Thursday night trivia competition (and winning several free pizzas!) and getting a CSA share for the first time (unless you count growing up on a farm as Nancy did.)


We DO NOT want a repeat of Hong Kong flu (although this particular vaccine variation probably won’t prevent that strain, but better safe than sorry!)


Some of our CSA bounty. What do we do with all this?

By the end of October we were starting to have hints of winter arriving. Dusting of snow in the mountains showed where the ski runs will soon be. Winds whipped up on Lake Tahoe. By the way, there is a theory about how Lake Tahoe got its name. (This may be the only place you’ll ever hear of this theory.) The Mandarin Chinese words for big and lake are da and hu. So when Asians traveled across the Alaskan land bridge, moved south to Truckee and saw this big lake, they called it DaHu. Native Americans kept the name and it was eventually anglicized as Tahoe.

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Note how low the water level of Lake Tahoe is. That first step off the dock to your boat is a doozy.

Stephen and Kathy hosted the Thanksgiving for the masses in the Bay area. Truly “A lovely time was had by all.” Thank you!


A mess of O’Connells, Meblins, Jardims, Kalishes, and a few one-offs.

As fall turned to winter, Michael salivated for skiing. In recent years, the area hasn’t had much decent snow until January. But just for us, big dumps in November, so skiing at Alpine started by Thanksgiving. In fact, Michael recouped his season ticket costs by mid-December and got in 25 days of skiing (400,000 feet of vertical) before we left in January.


Stephen’s long arm doing a ski selfie including Michael, Chris, and Pat Brien

By Christmas we had had several one-foot dumps of snow, a very good start to a great ski season we hope (for Stephen’s sake) and good for California’s drought conditions, as the snow will provide plenty of spring runoff.

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Plenty of wintry forest for cross country skiing.

More O’Connells arrived for the year-end holidays. Kevin and Dennis from Texas. Daniel, Paul, and Claire from Maryland. Liz and Jesse (honorary O’Connell) from Virginia.


We recreated Treat Box sandwiches, a delicious reinvention of Egg McMuffins.

The new year started with a lovely winter wedding, welcoming Alison to the O’Connell clan.


Alison said she was warmer than Tom. She had boots; he had shoes. No cold feet though for either… (photo courtesy of Meghan O’Connell)

Our new year continues with three months in South America. First stop, Buenos Aires.


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Have You Heard of Hearst Castle?

On our drive up the Pacific Coast Highway California Route 1, we stopped for several hours in San Simeon at Hearst Castle. San Simeon is the town, but it’s best known for Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst once had an estate here with 250,000 acres! He built his own personal castle on La Cuesta Encantada, “Enchanted Hill.” Once the Xanadu of Hollywood’s elite, it’s now a state park where “everyman” can visit…although the pool is not likely to be open to visitors.


Approaching from the south. The “castle” is a few miles inland of the coast.

The grounds were once used as a ranch. The Hearsts did a lot of camping here decades before the current structures were built, probably that era’s version of glamping, given the family wealth. (His father had made millions in silver mining.) When W.R.Hearst had the property, he installed a zoo for the entertainment of his guests. Zebras still roam the grounds alongside beef cattle. Today Hearst Beef is featured in the cafe, which promises “something for everyone,” hopefully no zebra steaks!


Who would have imagined we’d see zebras in the American West on this leg of our travels?

The structure is imposing, with unusual architectural features. Hearst worked closely with his architect Julia Morgan (imagine, a lady architect in the early 1900s!) to design and redesign the structure. They started construction in 1919 and still hadn’t finished when Hearst left with dwindling health in 1947.

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The structure is considered Mediterranean Revival. Hearst was inspired by many trips he took to Europe and the Mediterranean with his mother.


Casa Grande is the largest of several buildings, with nearly 70,000 square feet and 38 bedrooms.

Hearst is well known for his publishing success. He also produced 100 or so films. One was  The Perils of Pauline, a silent film serial featuring a heroine in antics worthy of The Amazing Race (e.g. mountain climbing, balloon riding). Very inspirational! This starred Pearl White, a young starlet. Hearst was surrounded by many beautiful young actresses as Hollywood transitioned from silent movies to talkies.

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Life imitating art or art imitating life? This sculpture could easily be one of the castle’s young female guests frozen in time.

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Not a bad view!

Inside, the castle is filled with artwork Hearst collected on many trips to Europe.


This tapestry is from 1550, the Continence of Scipio.

This tapestry, large as it is, is dwarfed by the long dining room table where Hearst and his muse Marion Davies entertained celebrities.

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Imagine dining here with Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, or Charlie Chaplin.

While much of the art would fit extremely well in a museum of European treasures, some of the artwork is more whimsical.


This golden princess is holding a crowned frog prince.

The Neptune Pool looks like a great setting for an Esther Williams movie. It’s over 100 feet long and up to 10 feet deep. Even more impressive are the bas-reliefs, Greek columns, and Vermont marble. The pool was drained several years ago to repair leaks. Given the drought conditions in California, there are no plans to refill it with the 345,000 gallons it holds.


A little more impressive than the local Y. Very tempting to jump off the terrace into the deep end.

The second pool is an indoor Roman bath. This one features eight Roman and Greek statues and tens of thousands (maybe millions?) of 1″ glass tiles creating colorful mosaics of blue and orange florals and geometrics.


A great place to luxuriate.

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This pool does have water in it. Note the design on the pool floor.

We weren’t invited to stay in the guest house, so we left Hearst Castle to go to Truckee.


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Driving up the California Coast

Hordes of people have asked for the blog to restart, so here it is…

First we’ll catch up on September, yes September! Remember the blue moon? We saw ours in Palm Springs.


The blue moon looks rather orange…

This was part of a second annual trip to Palm Springs with Stephen and Kathy.


Bloody Marys first thing in the morning. Can’t beat it.


We did find a roadrunner, but it’s hard to get him to stand still in the sun for a photo.


Kathy is testing the multi-functional sandals Michael received from Liz and Jesse. Great for opening a cold Corona.


For a sense of how hot it was (~100), realize that the ice around these beers melted before we could finish drinking the contents.

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Not much green here except where the golf courses and resorts are irrigated.


Despite the heat, the boys enjoyed some golf.

We visited Sunnylands Center and Gardens, once the winter home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. (Yes, related to the Annenberg foundation that often sponsors NPR segments.) He was the ambassador to Great Britain under Richard Nixon, but made his billions from the creation of TV Guide and Seventeen magazines. The estate has frequently hosted political and royal leaders. In fact, Barack Obama has been there six times.


Unusual to see so much green in Palm Springs.

After a lovely time, mostly at the pools, we headed toward the Pacific Ocean and up the California coast.

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Riding dirt bikes is popular here. We met a 14-year-old looking to get on the pro circuit.

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An enterprising artist has created a park of huge sculptures of dinosaurs and other rusting beasts.


Statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed on the west coast of North America in 1542. This is at Point Loma Peninsula west of San Diego.


Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery near San Diego has more than 100,000 military graves.


Near Laguna Beach

In San Simeon, another publishing mogul, William Randolph Hearst, spent 28 years building Hearst Castle. Interestingly, the architect of this grand estate was a woman, Julia Morgan. This was the place to be when Hearst and his sweetheart, movie starlet Marion Davies, hosted the elite in the early days of Hollywood.


80 years earlier we’d have been rubbing shoulders with Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Greta Garbo

Farther up the coast, the California shoreline is rich with colors of blue water and sky and textures of scrubby plant growth.


The view north…


and south.


Sheltered beaches…


and striking bridges.


Beautiful weather perfect for sunbathing.

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Michael found some bathing beauties.


They called to him to join them lazing in the sun…but Michael declined.


We passed on surfing too…


but saw plenty of folks enjoying great waves.

Next we moved from California’s coast to California’s mountains.

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Red Rocks Revisited, this time in Sedona

The last time we visited Sedona in 2010, we had a downpour and could barely see the giant red rocks. We never expected such rain in Arizona, but it happens. This time we had beautiful weather and clear views of massive red peaks.


Michael’s view from his morning run along the “Airport Trail.” The airport is actually on a cliff above the town.

As in Utah, the red color comes from iron oxide. The top layers of the land here are basalt and limestone that are harder than the underlying sandstone. As water erodes the sandstone, it undercuts the upper layers and whole sections of rock fall, leaving a sheer cliff. Thus the striking formations in Sedona.


Bell Mountain, one of the most photographed spots in Arizona. Note the bell shape. There are actually a couple people on the top in this shot.

It’s very hot here. Late September and the daytime temperature is still over 90F. But it’s a dry heat, so we were able to go for a hike to enjoy some of the rock formations close up.


Selfie with Cathedral Rock rising just beyond Owl Creek.

Oh wait, that isn’t us. It’s Jimmy Stewart and Debra Paget in Broken Arrow. This is us:


Fording Owl Creek to get to the Cathedral Rock trail.

These striking backdrops make Sedona popular for filming movies. Watch a few old Westerns and you may see more.


Burt Lancaster (playing an Apache Indian) in Apache. He’s about to cross Owl Creek, heading toward Cathedral Rock, 1954

Nancy, playing herself, crossing Owl Creek, in front of Cathedral Rock, a little downstream from Burt.

This is the view today of Owl Creek and Cathedral Rock undisturbed by people.


Owl Creek and Cathedral Rock, 2015. Not much different from 1954, except that Indians are now Native Americans and would not be portrayed in films by Caucasians.

Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and several other locations in Sedona are known spots with vortex energy. In 1987 thousands of people gathered around Bell Rock for a Harmonic Convergence. Not much happened. The same for us today; we didn’t notice any special consciousness during our visit, just an appreciation for the area’s beauty.


A majestic view from just south of Sedona.

Sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude was so impressed by the beauty of the area that she commissioned the construction of the Chapel of the Holy Cross church here in 1956. Click on the photo above to enlarge it and see the cathedral in the lower right.


Seemingly carved into the stone, the chapel is a spot of natural peace and spirituality.

From rocks shaped like cathedrals to cathedrals built on rocks, that’s our short trip to Sedona. Sayonara to Sedona and on to Palm Springs.

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Utah’s Red Rocks and Missing Mountains

The rocks of Utah are as red as the Golden Gate Bridge and hundreds of millions of years old (or 6,000 depending on your point of view). The large concentration of iron oxide colors the rocks red and the lack of vegetation lets the rock color stay exposed. On our drive east in May we visited some of Utah’s five national parks, each with distinct features, but having the commonality of red sandstone eroded into fascinating shapes.

In Zion National Park, we hiked along the valley of the Virgin River, staring up at the high canyon walls etched to expose the many layers of red and white sandstone.


The Virgin River in Zion National Park, with surprisingly low flow during our May visit

Arches National Park has over 2,000 arches, many with interesting names: Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Double Arch. Some of them started out as domes. Then erosion over the millennia mysteriously took away rock on all sides and hollowed out middles.


Delicate Arch is actually a very massive rock structure, making the visiting tourists look the size of ants.

In another view from a distance, Delicate Arch (at the very top center) does look delicate compared to the rest of the massive surrounding rock formations.


Climbing under these arches is allowed, but not on top.


Double Arch. Maybe this is the inspiration for Ray Kroc’s two golden arches of McDonalds.

Other formations in Arches National Park have names based on what observers saw in their shapes, such as Tower of Babel, Balanced Rock, Three Gossips and Elephant Butte. Identifying these shapes is a bit of a Rorschach test in rock rather than ink.


These Three Gossips have been telling their tales for thousands of years.


Balanced Rock has been balancing for thousands of years. It seems like one hurricane-force wind might knock it over. (Not likely in Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park has more white limestone than red sandstone. Both parts of the layered rock are carved away in U-shaped amphitheaters. Here you stand above the erosion rather than below peaks and arches.

The tall, narrow spires in Bryce’s Canyon are known as hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon’s 15 seconds of family fame: On a long-ago Jardim family trip here, Jesse once saved the life of his brother Jonathan by preventing a fall. That would have been a big drop!


Standing 10 feet from the edge made my knees shake.

This week, driving from Colorado through Utah to Arizona southeast of the parks gave us the opportunity to see more strange formations, a new landscape around every corner. Even outside the national parks, stone arches are fairly common. Near Moab, we saw Wilson Arch before sunset, catching the moon rising beyond the opening.


Wilson Arch is right next to the highway. You can see a natural wonder like this for free from the air-conditioned comfort of your car.

We drove on through Monument Valley. This landscape may be familiar from the Forrest Gump film. If you remember, Forrest was the originator of the modern running craze (at least according to Winston Groom. It’s a great book, by the way). Forrest jogged across the country several times in the 1970s. Then one day he just stopped running.

Forrest, no longer running, and his confused followers with the peaks of Monument Valley in the distance.

The road is still here and the monuments still stand. The followers have dispersed.


This marker reads “Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run at this spot. 1980”

A whole town is named after one formation, Mexican Hat. The lands around this odd formation are like those that showed up in John Wayne westerns, with scrub brush and vultures and no water in sight. It’s easy to imagine a bad guy dressed in black with pistols in his gunbelt riding up on his black horse ready to rob us of our valuables. No gold, silver coins, or bank notes these days, just credit cards, cell phones, cameras, laptops…


Mexican Hat, another balanced rock.

Elsewhere are buttes, again created by erosion. In this case, it seems that the level of the land has just dropped, leaving tall, often cylindrical pillars hundreds of feet high. This one is Mitchell Butte on the Navajo Nation. You can see a small amount of rock extending around the base, apparently having fallen from the top and sides over many years. But the big question is: Where is all the “stuff” that made up the land that once surrounded the buttes? It’s a lot of missing mountains.

Mitchell Butte. Why does this one giant rock stand hundreds of feet over the rest of the land?

Just beyond Mitchell is Utah’s southwestern border. Almost immediately when we crossed into Arizona, the rocks changed, losing some of the red color, showing more signs of tilt in the sedimentary layers, having more vegetation, and appearing either more smoothed and mounded or sharply pointed.

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Like Mitchell Butte, but whiter and not as cylindrical. The top is probably about 1,000 feet over the road and there is a canyon below too.

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In northern Arizona the sandstone is whiter and not as uniformly eroded.

In fact, the very first Arizonan formation we saw reminded us of a saguaro cactus, the often two-armed “tree” that produces the Arizona state flower.

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Not a typical cylindrical butte. See the stubby saguaro arms?

That same formation from a different direction looks like an owl (thinking of Linda)… or a turkey (anticipating Kathy’s Thanksgiving feast!)…or an elephant (remembering a recent conversation with Francene).

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Hoot. Hoot. See the very large owl?

One more set of formations reminded us of days on the farm.


They’re like “cow pies” without the odor.

We did find an answer to “Where did all the stuff go?” Across Utah are multiple types of sandstone formations, some that once formed compacted sand dunes and others that were sediment at the bottom of an inland sea as much as a billion years ago. Some of this rock was thrust upward, while other sections remained flat, rather than dramatically tilting like the plates in the Rockies. Then rainwater carved small cracks by dissolving chemicals in the rock and carrying away  the softest parts of the sandstone. Water seeped into cracks and broke apart solid rock as it expanded as frost. Wind, blowing viciously and carrying small rock particles, cut into the land like a sandblaster, smoothing surfaces. Over many years, the particles of red dirt blew away or were carried off as silt in the rivers, helping to etch away further depth in the canyons. Much of what was once Utah is probably in the Gulf of California now deposited where the Colorado River once flowed briskly into the sea.

The hard sections of sandstone that remained standing actually became stronger from the weight of the remaining rock creating stress and in a sense compacting the particles. The arches and hoodoos and buttes seem strong and sturdy, for now at least. But by the time our children’s children’s children visit these lands, some of the arches will have fallen and the owl may look like a pussycat.

Utah has the Colorado River too, but that’s a story for another day…

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The mighty Colorado River, complete with dogs on paddleboards

The Colorado River starts as a small stream in northern Colorado, grows wider and grander through several states and ends up small once more, with not enough water for all its users’ demands when it reaches California and Mexico. We’ve followed the river’s path on the western leg of our trip.

The Colorado actually starts north of Denver, not far from Estes National Park and Fort Collins, which used to have a large Kodak manufacturing plant. Then it travels about 200 miles southwest, where we met up with it in Glenwood Springs outside of Aspen.

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Pat, 1,300 feet above the Colorado. It’s already a fairly “grand” canyon.

Here it joins the Roaring Fork which flows in from Basalt, where Pat and Jordan live. We could look down on the combined rivers and see people floating along in blue or yellow rafts.

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A beautiful day for a raft trip

Glenwood Springs Adventure Park is 1,300 feet in the air over the rivers. Pat did a quick ride on the alpine slide.

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The Colorado meandering south after teaming with the Roaring Fork. Patrick racing downhill. Look Ma, no brakes the whole way.

The Colorado flows down through Utah, passing the red, iron-rich sedimentary rocks that were once under an inland lake. Spring snow melt means rapid currents and rough whitewater. Now in September, the waters are fairly mild, but still with some thrilling rapids.

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A lot of this raft trip was a “lazy river” ride with the guide steering and the current floating the raft. The temperature was pushing 90F.

We had several rafting experiences at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, a good simulation of real rapids. When whitewater is visible, the boat guide shouts, “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” and all the passengers paddle like mad, falling into or out of the raft. Meanwhile the guide seems to use this moment for a bit of a rest.

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Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!

In the old days, river runners used dory boats, rafts, and kayaks. In recent years, as on Keuka Lake, paddle boarding has gotten popular. Much of the river is calm enough to stand and paddle or just float with the current.


Paddleboarders on the Colorado River near Moab. Click to enlarge to see who is wearing red.

But the Colorado River rapids are a bit more treacherous than the boat chop on Keuka Lake. These experienced paddlers–and their dog–dropped to their knees to get through the rough patches.

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Man’s best friend seems comfortable braving the rapids.

On the calm waters just after this rough section, the paddler went into the drink. So did the dog in its red vest! While the man struggled to get on the board in the river current, the dog swam to the edge of the river and started running happily along the shore. He didn’t seem to want to get back on the board. He was probably bored.

The river goes on and the cliffs are more sharply defined. These are near Mendocino Utah.


The Colorado River meanders southward.

In 1963, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed construction of the giant Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado gorge at the northern part of Arizona, just south of Utah.


Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell

This formed Lake Powell, a massive reservoir that not only stores water for agricultural and municipal uses, but is a popular spot for boating, specifically houseboating.

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Boaters get up and down to the dock by golf cart on a long ramp to the water of Lake Powell. The lake is about 100 feet lower than past levels.

The dam was controversial when built. Fifty years later, the Glen Canyon Institute and many other groups continue to advocate for removing the dam. Just south of the lake, the river once again becomes a shallow flow in a deep canyon.


The Colorado River in Horseshoe Bend

We bypassed the Grand Canyon on this trip. But we visited it several years ago. It probably hasn’t changed much since then.


That tiny river carved through all these layers of rocks.

The canyon is 4,000 feet deep. Pat and Jordan hiked down and back in one day over Labor Day. Crazy kids!


The Grand Canyon (from February 2010)

The Grand Canyon and Colorado River trail through much of northern Arizona. Finally at the Nevada border, the giant Hoover Dam creates Lake Mead.


The Hoover Dam, a stimulus work during the Great Depression. Note the old high water marks on Lake Mead behind it.

We noticed that Lake Mead’s water level was extremely low when we visited last spring, so much so that the lake surface was less than 30 feet above the water intake for Las Vegas, with levels continuing to drop.

Six years ago work was started to install an additional water intake 190 feet below the existing one, giving Las Vegas some breathing space, or drinking space in this case. The project was completed just this week. Read an interesting description of how the work for the new water intake was accomplished as a 3-mile-long tunnel more than 600 feet underground.


The line of white shows Lake Mead water level in past years.

The water that remains in the river continues on toward Mexico. After 1,450 miles and millions of water users, very little flow is left when the Colorado approaches the Gulf of California in Mexico. It rarely makes it there and the Colorado Delta is now just a dried sediment flat.

Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities pull water from the Colorado River for agriculture, manufacturing, landscaping, and of course showers, cooking, and drinking. With global warming causing less snowmelt entering the river and increasing user demands causing greater pull from the river, many of these areas are on permanent water restrictions. One of these cities pulling water from the Colorado is Palm Springs. And that is where we’re heading next–after a short stop for more red rocks in Sedona.



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