Monday, April 14, 2014

Santa Barbara

We have now been in Santa Barbara for a week, and I've posted several food-themed posts over at We've been doing lots of birdwatching, eating well, and enjoying the beautiful mountains, lakes, beaches, and the town. 

Last night we ate at the Enterprise Fish Co.
It's what I think of as a traditional California fish restaurant,
and has been in business for around 35 years. 
The building is kind of old and semi-industrial: seems once to have been a laundry.
Aromas of garlic mussels, freshly sauteed fish, and lobster are all enticing.
It's an aromatic environment.
This plant, which grows along trails everywhere, smells like dill and sage.
I guess I could try to identify it, but I like mysteries.
Here's a fellow birdwatcher enjoying Lake Los Carneros.
We walked around the lake (level dangerously low) looking at birds.
It smells of dust, herbs, and trees. 
Eucalyptus has an overpowering aroma, which always makes me think of California.
Kelp and the smell of the ocean are the other pure California aromas.
Arroyo-Burro Beach, also called "Dog Beach" because no leashes are required.
Seaweed, birds, and mussels on the rocks must also contribute
to the aromas of the beach.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Condors in Grand Canyon National Park

Our main activity during our one full day at Grand Canyon National Park last Friday was enjoying the views of the canyon, using the shuttle bus to get to the rim trail for a series of hikes. Then in the late afternoon, we listened to the park ranger's scheduled presentation about the California condor. A small number of condors have successfully been introduced into the park – they were once native here, but became extinct in Arizona in the 1920s. The park presents a very large, protected, and appropriate habitat for these huge birds.

Park Ranger demonstrating the use of a condor puppet from
the captive breeding program. Seeing the puppet rather than a person
prevents the condor chicks from imprinting on humans and
becoming unable to adapt later to life in the wild.
The canyon’s 70 condors, which fly as far as Zion National Park and beyond, are descendants of the 22 condors that survived in California in the 1980s. These were taken into protective custody and encouraged to breed in several zoo programs. Currently, we learned from our ranger, a total of 420 condors survive. Besides those re-introduced into the wild in Arizona and California, a majority remain in zoos and sanctuaries. 

The ranger talk included several suggestions about helping maintain and improve the survival of the condor. Lead poisoning from bullets in the carcasses or discarded entrails of hunted deer and other animals presents a continuing danger to carrion-eating species. Encouraging hunters to use copper bullets instead of lead is one of the principal ways to protect the released birds and help them once again become truly wild.

Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t warm enough during our stay for the Grand Canyon condors to come out of their caves and show themselves to us tourists. Len and I saw one of the Grand Canyon introduced condors a couple of years ago at the North Rim. And many years ago we saw two of the last truly wild members of this still-endangered species.

Early morning on one of the rim trails

Monday, April 07, 2014

Deer and Elk

Most of the big animals we saw were right by the road.
These mule deer didn't mind grazing beside a big intersection
with lots of tour buses that say "Grand Canyon."
These two deer's ears spread wide because they heard me sneeze as I was
about to take the photo. Why not sneeze?
Just before we left Grand Canyon we took a long and beautiful walk along the rim trail.
An elk walked right onto the trail -- he didn't know the rule about staying 50 feet from people.

Elk near a parking lot in the early evening -- we saw them as we were walking away from where we had dinner.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Albuquerque to Grand Canyon: Spring Back to Winter

April 3, 2014 -- post delayed due to no wireless internet or time for it while at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights! But now, here it is, as I wrote it down Thursday night.

West of Albuquerque as we drove onward this morning, the mountains were unimaginably beautiful. We came over a pass and I saw spectacular deep red cliffs, deep blue-green trees, and areas of vivid white snow, all illuminated by the rising sun. For a moment, I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing. Then: breathless.

On the highest pass we saw police and tow trucks working to clear a number of vehicles that had obviously slipped off the road earlier in the morning. Luckily, the pavement was quite safe by the time we drove by.

Just past the New Mexico-Arizona border we stopped at a landscaped rest area where all the flowering trees had pink blossoms drooping under deep snow. Bushes and yucca plants were outlined in snow. We definitely regressed from spring back to winter today.

Along the road in the mountains we saw four or five extremely long container trains with containers stacked two high on most of the cars. We also saw a couple of conventional freight trains. Sometimes you can’t see to the end of the train, they are so long.

The tracks parallel highway 40 – old route 66, as one is reminded repeatedly by tourist attractions memorializing the old highway. I don’t miss it at all: four lanes are much better than two!

Thanks to another time change, we arrived at the Grand Canyon by 2 PM and spent the afternoon looking into the canyon and birdwatching in the Kaibab National Forest (without much luck). The area near the visitor center is amazingly crowded despite being off season, though turnoffs along the road east were quite open. Quite a bit of the park is off-limits to private cars – you have to take a shuttle bus. 

We’re staying in the Yavapai Lodge, which consists of a number of single-story buildings like an old motel. The room is quite nice and we’re glad to be right in the park. 

On April 4, we spent the entire day in the park, and now we have made it to Ontario, California. I'll be adding more posts about each of these days and what we have seen, eaten, and done. We've definitely seen winter and spring alternating: our highest temperature on the trip was 80 degrees registered on the car thermometer and 22 degrees reported overnight at Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spring has come to Albuquerque

Traveling west from Oklahoma City today we enjoyed the changing scenery. Farmland and wind farms in western Oklahoma, the boring and very flat Texas panhandle including feedlots, and the desert and mountains of New Mexico. In Albuquerque, it's spring.

The sun was shining in the Plaza in Old Town.

Historic San Felipe church in the Plaza
Even the Mexican curio shops are full of sunshine!
Real spring flowers in bloom in the courtyards with tourist shops.

Wall paintings and benches in sun-filled courtyards
Around an hour before we made it to Albuquerque we changed drivers at a super-touristy roadside attraction called "Cline's Corners." (If you've read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, it's that kind of place, only bigger.) The copied ceramic story-teller statues and fake Indian pots all made in China, the junky copies of Indian jewelry and cheap imitation Indian blankets were depressing, but this was the worst:
"Medicine Man Speaks -- $1.00"
I really could not believe I was seeing this in the twenty-first century! I thought they got rid of this kind of thing long ago.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

From Winter to Spring

When we left Ann Arbor, everything was snow-covered.
West Lafayette was cold, but no snow, and the trees were bare.
We were very cold when birdwatching at Celery Bog.
Len and Elaine went down to the Wabash River and saw this eagle
while I was huddling by the fireplace.
As we drove towards St.Louis from Indiana, we started
to see a little bit of light green in the fields and on highway medians.
In St.Louis a few early trees and daffodils were in bloom,
including Jay and Ruby's star magnolia shown here. 
Tonight we are in Oklahoma City. As we left Missouri on highway 44 this morning,
the light greens turned to bright greens and we started to see trees with tiny leaves and
some in full bloom, like this one in a shopping center near where we ate dinner.
Besides birdwatching in West Lafayette, we went to two sanctuaries on
the Mississippi near St.Louis.

We were impressed by the bird blind that looked like a big sculpture.
What you can see from inside the blind.
The blind from outside. The ponds are controlled by levees, and invite both
winter migrants (which left a few weeks ago, alas) and summer resident birds.
We just saw a few, though quite nice ones.
Bridge over the Mississippi from the Riverlands Sanctuary.
Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I remember going near
here when I was a child, but it was all farmers' fields and you couldn't
get to the actual point from which we observed this. It was great!
Birds in the ponds of the Missouri Bottoms Conservation area,
which includes the south-west point at the confluence.
I also posted this on my food blog. Correction: should be Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The car is dirty from all that salt

It's been a terrible winter in Michigan. Though the car was washed earlier this week, it's covered with salty splatters again. In a week we are driving back to Santa Barbara. Not such great timing, you might say, since we just suffered through winter and will miss early spring in our own yard, but that's ok with me. I'm really looking forward to the drive out, and all the California fun -- including the world's most beautiful car wash (which I've written about here several times). Some repeat photos just because I'm thinking about it ...

Fountain in a corner of the carwash
I hope they are still in business

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Container Ships

Seattle, 2013
Colon, Panama, 2014

Colon, Panama, 2014, where we boarded the Sea Lion.
A vast number of container ships either travel through the Panama Canal or
drop off their cargo to be transported across the isthmus by rail and picked up by others.
Many of the container ships are too large to go through the canal.
Yesterday, I read an article about people who like to watch shipping containers, "Container Spotting," at Edible Geography, a rather strange blog I read occasionally. The article described the challenge of "container spotting" -- that is, identification of containers, where they might have come from, where they might be going, and what their contents might be. Evidently there are two types of spotters: "those who track container ships, and those who track the containers themselves on port and on land."

The blog post described a new book about to be written for those who love this pastime. Though I like looking at the containers on ships or in port, I never even wondered about identification. I guess I'm not going to participate in the Kickstarter campaign for the book -- it's already oversubscribed anyway. But it made me wonder just a little about what was in the containers we saw in Seattle and Panama.

The article also mentioned two other books on containers, Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George, and The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. I've already read The Box, which is a wonderful history of shipping containers and the labor issues that accompanied their takeover of worldwide shipping. Maybe I'll read the other book some time.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Not Mona Lisa: this is a Costa Rican Last Supper.
Original Last Supper -- Wikipedia
Our last bus stop on the way to the airport: a souvenir stand alongside the road, with vast quantities of wood carvings, weavings, pottery, and everyday tchotchkes.

I'm always fascinated by Leonardo parodies like the one above which featured prominently in the souvenir stand. The ewer and towel in the foreground are not present in the original, shown at right. The Central-American embroidery on the tablecloth is more prominent than the faint embroidery in the original. Most interesting: the length of the table is very condensed here, compared to the original, and the dramatic vanishing point effect is completely lost.

A Costa Rican slang expression: "Mae" means something like "Dude"
Who knew? "Pura Vida" is the national slogan. Like "Pure Michigan," I guess.
I bought a very nice woven bag for carrying miscellaneous stuff, and instantly used it as an extra carry-on bag for the plane trip home. I only collect Mona Lisa items, so I didn't buy the Last Supper, just took the photo. And I didn't buy the "Mae" license plate either.

This was also the first place where we had free wireless internet since leaving Miami a week earlier: a record for no-internet living.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


In the afternoon, hammocks cast a long shadow
Private inholdings in Costa Rica's national parks offer a
perfect place for relaxing on the beach
A multi-colored hammock casts an upside-down rainbow reflection
on a still pool near the ocean
When you think of a tropical retreat, maybe you picture a quiet beach hotel to which you bring one suitcase of books and one suitcase of clothes. A friend of mine mentioned that she was planning this sort of trip next month to Saint Martin in the Caribbean. A hammock on the beach, someone to bring you a drink... that's a vacation.

Nothing could be more different than our visit to Costa Rica and Panama. For us: no time to lie down! Each day we had two or three activities on foot or by boat: identifying birds or trees, scanning for monkeys or iguanas, and learning new things about digital SLR settings and framing images effectively. In fact, the rainbow hammock above was pointed out by one of the two photo professionals on our trip. While the ship was moving, we listened to lectures or workshop sessions about photography or learned from the naturalists aboard about the history and background of our visits. One evening, we watched a Nova special about the Panama Canal. No hammocks for us, except as photo subjects.