drinking bird

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

At the end of March we visited a state park about an hour's drive norhtwest of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire. The name is a bit overdramatic, and this small park doesn't compare with some of the Utah parks, like Zion, or Arizona ones, like Monument Valley, etc. Nevertheless, it has interesting rock formations, mostly Aztec sandstone, with occasional limestone and conglomerates. It is a part of the Mojave desert. There were some early Indians here, the Anasazi [or Ancient Pueblo People], who have left petroglyphs in various places. They took advantage of the black "desert varnish". This a thin depposit on the rock of clay with iron oxide and manganese dissoved by rain. You can see it for instance in the Canyon de Chelley, Arizona. You can make out a few towards the bottom of this rock formation.

Rock wall.JPG
There are several easy trails in this park. The most interesting is the Fire Wave, about 1.5 mile return walk. Though the walk takes quite a while, as you have to go over very sandy areas where your feet sink, and slippery rock with ups and downs. There is no shade at all, so hats and water are recommended. You do see some interesting flowers along the way.

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This an Opuntia, a very common cactus.

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A desert primrose

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A desert daisy

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On the way, notice the row of little erosion holes, where wind and water have taken out softer rock.

wavy formations.JPG
The rock is very striated. Sometimes you can imagine swirls of molten rock, millions of years ago.

rock swirls.JPG
Here is an example .

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And then at times, there is a larger swath of color.

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The trail goes on, but it's not too much further. Have no illusions, the guy at the upper right seems to be jogging, but he wasn't, he was just walking with a little more energy than we were. You cannot run on these surfaces. Finally, you arrive at:

FireWave 2.jpg
The Fire Wave. Sorry, I had to borrow someone else's picture, as mine didn't come out, so the format is different. Actually, it is a bit of a let down after all one has seen along the way.

Still, it was a worthwhile hike. Luckily, several parking areas have shaded tables where you can sit and have a pcinic. There are also some basic toilets.

Canyon de Chelly.

We spent time looking at the many ruins. Virtually every cave has ruins. Some have crumbled, but in most cases they remain, with the walls fairly intact. One of the first we saw was Mummy House Ruin, so-called because early occupants [before 400 AD] buried people in "cysts" [hollows in the ground walled with slabs of rock and covered with more slabs] where the dryness of the climate has allowed good preservation of the bodies. Those early occupants were the Basket Makers, who did no pottery, but were masterful in their weaving of even waterproof baskets. Next came the Anasazi. They occupied Mummy cave from around 400 AD to 1300.

You can see the houses huddled in the cave. Anasazi pottery was also found there.

Next we went to the largest settlement, White House

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The White House is so called because the main ruin has white plastered walls.

This is a partial view.

As you can see, there are also some more damaged houses on the canyon floor.

An interesting feature of the Canyon are the many petroglyphs, made at various periods.

The figure on his back playing the flute is an early "Kokopelli", a character or divinity often seen in the Southwwest. The white hands are just painted on, the dark ones are made by putting the hand on the wall and spraying color on it.

This a later, more sophisticated one, done by Navajos, and showing Spanish riders. The Navajos could see the usefulness of horses. They stole some from the Spaniards, and used them for raids to advantage. The Spanish attacked the Navajos many times, but didn't succeed in subduing them. These horses are still raised in the Canyon, along with sheep.

Another ruin in a curiously shaped cave.

Another small one.

The Canyon is a very pleasant and peaceful place. Many visitors just drive along the rim, without ever actually visiting it.

This is a typical spot. On the right is the frame for a characteristic summer shelter. It will be covered with brush and branches to provide shade. Similar "shade houses" are used for summer cooking .

Canyon de Chelly is one of the many unique sights in Arizona, and remains one of my favorites.

A short trip to Northern Arizona

I spent last week in Northern Arizona, for a return visit to some ancient sites I particularly like. We went north from Flagstaff to the Cameron Trading Post. On the way, you can see the San Francisco Peaks [3,850 m] towering by the road.

The Cameron Trading Post is about 100 years old. Now it has become a large motel and restaurant with a big souvenir shop. Some of the items are indeed Native Indian, but others are made cheaply elsewhere. Check the labels! It is a fairly good place from which to go visit the Grand Canyon and other sites.

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We chose to go look at the Betatakin ruin, at the Navajo National Monument. Contrarily to other Anasazi [or "Early Puebloan"] ruins in the general area, it was only occupied from 1250 till about 30 years later. The consensus is that a bad drought drove the people away, as from the other villages. Betatkin means "house on the ledge". It is built in a natural cave on the side of the cliff, a common feature offering safety as well as protection from the elements. The park entrance is about 15 km from the main road. Then you walk about 1.6 km roundtrip to the canyon and the ruin, an easy walk. There are signs giving the name of various plants. A certain number of pinyon pines are there. Some of the dead ones were curiously twisted.

On the way.

First view from a distance.

Unfortunately, we were there late in the morning, and the view is better earlier, when the sun illuminates the cave. You can see the houses huddled all along the rear of the cave. The upper ledges were used for storage.
There is another ruin, particularly well preserved, Keet Seel, but it is a 30 km hard hike round trip.

We then drove across the large Navajo reservation [and a large part of Arizona] to Chinle. This is a small town from which you can visit the Canyon de Chelly. It is a beautiful canyon, with the interesting characteristic of starting on the mesa, at the mesa level, 1700 m., while the walls of the canyon rise around you as you go deeper into it, and it narrows. There is a stream at the bottom, fed by the snows and rain of the Chuska Mountains to the east of it. The area belongs ot the Navajos, and you can visit only with a Navajo guide, in an SUV or a jeep. The stream has to be crossed repeatedly, and a knowledge of the area is necessary, as there are spots of quicksand. The Canyon actually is made of several different ones [de Chelly, del Muerto, Monument] which converge at the entrance. It has been occupied by Navajo families for 300 to 400 years. They have apricot orchards, among other cultures, and raise sheep and horses.

The entrance to the Canyon.

This shows the characteristic colored streaks down the walls of the Canyon, made by water seeping through manganese deposits. Notice the swirly layers of rock on the lower part.

This is a typical view, with more streaks, and a small cave wiht a ruin in the lower part. Cottonwoods are growing alon the stream.

I still have to show the various sites along the Canyon, so be sure to come back and look!
Kyoto, kamigamo shrine


Spring has arrived in Las Vegas, though it is still only mid February. The deciduous trees are pushing out little green leaves, and some of the others are in bloom.

Here is a Bradford pear:


And a flowering plum:
Here is a close up of another one:
The blossoms are pale pink, but the leaves, once mature, are a dark red.
drinking bird

Fall colors in Kyoto

Recently my friend Aya-san sent me some pictures of the gardens at Renge-ji, a small temple in Kyoto, well known for its fall colors, and at Ruriko-in. The latter is a hidden jewel, as you can only visit it for a couple of weeks in November. In fact it was closed to the public for a while, to protect the fragile gardens and buildings.



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More scattered leaves
scattered leaves

A lovely pond
Some of the many kinds of mosses at Ruriko-in

I had trouble choosing among Aya-san's many wonderful pictures! I hope you have enjoyed this small sample.
drinking bird

Takeda castle ruins

This is just a short post to let you see some pictures of Takeda castle ruins [Hyogo prefecture in southern Kansai]. My friend Aya-san took them on a recent trip there. The castle was built in 1445. It fell to Hideyoshi towards the end of the 16th century, but was abandoned in 1600.

It is high up on a mountain top, and must have been very imposing.
Now that it is uninhabited, pines and sakura grow on the grounds. What it is famous for is the fact that occasionally, in autumn, clouds surround the castle and give it a rather surreal appearance.

Takeda ruins
So it is often called "the castle in the clouds".

Takeda ruins 2
Here you can see some of the walls [and the pines].

The castle is a longish walk from the railway station, but taxis are available. I regret never visiting it!
drinking bird

Zion National Park

We decided to have a look at Zion Park since we had a little time and the weather was great. It is definitely worth a longer visit. It is in a very mountainous area, with slot canyons, waterfalls, springs and seeps, many trees and other plants, with often spectacular scenery. We only had a glimpse of it.

approach to Zion
the approach to the park
layers, Zion
rock layers
layered rocks, Zion
deeper in the park
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shiste layers
A characteristic feature of Zion seems to be the presence of water under the rocks, enabling the survival of many plants and trees.
rocks and pines
This, plus the cover and food the plants supply, allows an abundant animal life. From fish and lizards through birds, including condors and spotted owls.
Not snow, just white rock at the top!
leaving Zion 2
Leaving Zion. I definitely hope I can return for a longer visit.
drinking bird

Northern Arizona, continued.

Our next visit near Page was to the Horseshoe. It is a bend in Glen Canyon. In fact, an interesting feature of the area, generally a flattish mesa, is all the deep canyons interrupting it.

Glen Canyon
Glen Canyon

approach to the Horseshoe
The approach to the Horseshoe Bend
horseshoe 2
The Horseshoe
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The next day, the weather was unfortunately overcast and at times drizzly. Nevertheless, we decided to drive to the Grand Canyon, which is always spectacular. I have been there a couple of times, and always enjoy it.
colors, Grand Canyon
Some colors, but very low clouds
low clouds and mist, Grand Canyon
In spite of the weather, there was a fair number of visitors
observation platform
An observation platform
clouds lifting
The clouds lifted a bit at times.
You are not seeing the bottom, which is too far down to be seen from the edges, but one of the intermediate levels.

The next day, on the way home, we briefly looked at Zion National Park in southern Utah. I will post my pictures in another entry, I hope very soon.
drinking bird

A short visit to Northwest Arizona

I recently stayed a few days in Page, AZ. The purpose was primarily to visit Antelope Canyon, a "slot canyon" located on Navajo Tribal land. The interest of the place is the effect of erosion on the reddish sanstone, and the play of light on the walls and the floor, though this last is more visible in summer than fall or spring.

the entrance
entrance to slot canyon 2

different tones
first encounter with the different tones of the walls
sculpted walls
Looking up

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looking up
and again
looking up (2)
a narrow passage
narrow passage
photogs at work (2)
Photographers at work
leaving the canyon
Leaving the canyon.

I am unhappy that somehow the photos colors don't appear as vivid on LJ as on my Picasa album. Imagine it all a little redder, please!

We went on for a very short look at the Grand Canyon, and at Zion Park in Utah on the way back. I will show my photos over the next few days.
drinking bird

Last few days in Las Vegas

I want to show you some pictures of the garden where we were. It felt like an oasis.

putting green
Please note that this "putting green" is actually artificial grass. In this photo, only the very bottom of the picture shows real turf. The dark wine colored tree is a flowering plum. There are in fact 4 of them.

covered terrace
This is the covered terrace at the rear of the house. It is always shaded and very pleasant. Against the back wall you may be able to distinguish a couple of rosebushes. There are several on the property. Roses seem to do very well in Vegas.

Outside is a common area with mostly shaded walks.


common ground

We went to see Lake Las Vegas, a development and recreation area not far from the city, with an artificial lake. You can go boating or paddle boarding on it, or simply swim. What I found strange, when we arrived, was to see an imitation of Florence's Ponte Vecchio!

Ponte Vechhio
Of course, Las Vegas is the city of make believe...
However, the rest of the place was more as expected.



Definitely a nice vacation!