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28 October 2018 / leggypeggy

Now for a stroll in my garden

Orchid

The only orchid I’ve managed to keep

Hellebores (winter rose)

Hellebores also known as winter roses

Mock orange

Mock orange

We’ve been traipsing around the wonderful national parks of western USA, but we’re home now. I promise to share many more posts about the parks, but it’s spring in Australia and I have to share what’s going on in my backyard.

Actually this post covers three backyards.

Most pics are from my backyard in Canberra. Another is from our bush garden at the coast in Rosedale. A few others are from a front garden in Yass. Once a week, I drive to Yass to stay with my friend, Maggie.

Male fairy blue wren

Male fairy blue wren at Maggie’s

Maggie's irises

Maggie’s irises

Maggie's banksia rose

Maggie’s banksia rose

There’s not much by way of explanation. Just pics and captions (where possible) for you to enjoy.

As an aside, these last few days have been Australia’s annual bird survey. People are asked to watch (in blocks of 20 minutes) to see what birds visit their garden, local park, neighbourhood or any other address they choose.

You can count birds you hear (but can’t see) if you know their calls. You can count birds that fly overhead if you can recognise them.

I watched for a total of 100 minutes over five days and saw more than 25 different birds. Obviously, I didn’t get to photograph all of them.

House sparrow

House sparrow

Yellow bunny rose

Yellow bunny rose

Peace rose

Peace rose

Honeyeater at Rosedale

Honeyeater at Rosedale

26 October 2018 / leggypeggy

Let’s take a stroll down Park Avenue

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

The south entrance to Park Avenue with a wall of ‘skyscrapers’ on the rgiht

I’m not talking about New York City’s famous street, but the aptly named scenic trail in part of Arches National Park in Utah.

Early travellers noticed the similarities between the sandstone walls and spires and the skyscrapers along New York’s Park Avenue. The name has stuck. Of course, the main difference is that these western ‘skyscrapers’ have been sculpted by Mother Nature.

The trail is only a mile long and we were lucky enough to start at the south end, which meant the route was downhill all the way. It starts with a few stairs and a concrete path that turns into an unsurfaced, but well-defined trail.

Nefertiti's Head, Park Avenue, Arches National Park

Nefertiti’s Head is unmistakable at the south end of Park Avenue

Some of the landmarks along and near Park Avenue are Nefertiti’s Head, the Courthouse Towers, Baby Arch, Ring Arch, the Tower of Babel, the Three Gossips and the Organ. Except for Nefertiti’s Head, which is so darn obvious, I didn’t know any of these names when we were there. Of course, that meant I had no idea what I was photographing. As an aside, we saw the famous Nefertiti bust in a museum in Berlin, but no photos were allowed.

The signage was helpful and explained that Park Avenue is a wonderful example of Entrada Sandstone, something I’d never hear of. In addition to Utah, it occurs in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona.

 

It seems that Entrada Sandstone began forming more than 150 million years ago (the Jurassic period) as tidal mudflats, sand dunes and beaches. Over time, layers of rock, perhaps a mile thick, covered these deposits. The tremendous pressure from these layers compressed the buried sand into sandstone and cracked it.

Erosion eventually removed the rock layers and the Entrada began to weather. Over the past two million years, erosion of the cracks in the Entrada has left vertical slabs (called fins) like the rock wall that lines this Park Avenue.

The youngest layer (shown in yellow on the info board below) is called the Moab Tongue. The middle layer (orange) is called Slick Rock Member and the oldest layer (red) is called Dewey Bridge Member.

Explanation of Entrada Sandstone

This info board shows the layers of Entrada Sandstone on Park Avenue

A wall of Entrada Sandstone, Park Avenue, Arches National Park

See the info board above for an idea of the layers in the Entrada Sandstone at Park Avenue

In addition to the rock formations, we saw plenty of plant life, but no animals except bugs. Luckily we didn’t get bitten by any mosquitos, and the best thing was I could enjoy the beauty of this Park Avenue in camping clothes and tennis shoes—not some swanky outfit and high heels.

 

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

Admiring the view

11 October 2018 / leggypeggy

Joy and sadness packed into two weeks

Jake

Could you drop a piece of the meat you’re chopping?

Time for a little break from the beauty of western USA—more soon.

We’re back in Australia and have been on an emotional roller coaster over the last few weeks. I was overjoyed to have our daughters, Libby and Petra, home for a landmark birthday. More importantly, I was happy Petra was home to spend two weeks with her amazing rescue dog, Jake.

Petra moved to Vietnam last year for the Australian government. She thought about taking Jake but, once there, realised it wouldn’t be at all fun for him to live in an apartment with no garden, so he stayed with us.

Dogs in the garden

Jake and friends chill in our backyard

Jake and Indi (our dog) are great mates, and it was so easy to have him.

Earlier this year, when we were touring the wonderful national parks in the USA, we had a collection of wonderful people looking after the house and dogs. Back in June, Jake had his first major nose bleed.

Carers jumped on the issue. Jake was examined by the vet, got antibiotics and seemed fine. But another nose bleed happened…and another. More trips to the vet and things seemed to calm down.

Dog shaking hands

Feeling well enough to shake for a treat

We got home and another bleed happened. There was a surgery. Two masses were removed from his nostrils, a biopsy was done and the result was benign. That said, the diagnosis was nasal angiofibroma. This is a rare disease. What to do next?

To cut a long story short (feel free to ask questions if we can help your situation), we needed to do a CT scan. In Australia that costs about $3000, including specialist consultations. 

Smiling dog

A smile from Jake

We waited. Petra was coming home soon. Jake seemed happy enough and not in pain. He still bounced around and loved his food, walks and treats, but one look in his eyes and you knew something was wrong.

There were intermittent small bleeds that I could bring under control within a few minutes using a cold compress (namely, a bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel). Just before Petra got home, Jake’s breathing became laboured and he had another major bleed. I scheduled the CT scan for the day after she got home.

The news was terrible—the growths were not benign after all. An invasive cancer had consumed Jake’s right nasal passage and was invading the left. Nothing could be done, except to love him as much as we could for the next 12 days and have him put down the day before Petra went home. That way he wouldn’t have to watch her pack and see her leave.

Dogs on bed

Indi and Jake keep an eye on the neighbourhood

Instead there were extra walks, extra treats, extra bones, no furniture was off limits and the hugs were abundant. He even got a few stuffed toys to dismember. Mostly his breathing was quite good. Over those last days, many people stopped by to farewell Jake. He had a huge following.

Last Friday, the vet came to the house and Poor John took Indi for a walk. Jake slipped away peacefully and you can imagine the floods of tears that saw him off.

He’s over the Rainbow Bridge now and I hope he’s running with the dogs we’ve had to let go before him. Jake was a gorgeous, big-hearted, loveable dog. He will be hugely missed.

Many people have sent condolences to Petra. One included a link to some of the most beautiful prose, written in the 1940s by playwright Eugene O’Neill. It’s a farewell message from his dog. I hope you love it as much as I do.

P.S. All the pics here have been taken since August 2017. Jake loved the beach at Rosedale.

Dogs at the beach

Jake and Indi at the beach. The link just above is to a short video

 

8 October 2018 / leggypeggy

A breathtaking stop at Monument Valley

Panorama of Monument Valley

A sweeping view of Monument Valley from the North Window overlook (I think)

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

This famous lookout point is named to honour movie director, John Ford

There’s no mistaking Monument Valley Tribal Park.

As you approach you realise you’ve seen it many times before—in advertisements, holiday brochures, television and movies, especially American westerns.

Director John Ford used the location in about 10 of his films, including Stagecoach, which won two Academy Awards and made John Wayne a star. Ford once said Monument Valley was the ‘most complete, beautiful and peaceful place on earth’.

The valley is featured in more than 20 other movies. Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run there. Or maybe you recognise it from 2001: A space odyssey or Back to the future III or Thelma and Louise.

View of Monument Valley

Cars are parked where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run in the movie of the same name

No matter how many times you’ve seen it, the real treat is being there in person. It’s breathtaking to see the striking red mesas, buttes and spires surrounded by 92,000 acres of flat and mostly empty sandy desert.

Our group hired a Navajo guide and 4WD so we could travel along the 17-mile loop that weaves through the park.

Navaho guides are allowed to take you off the main track, so our excursion included some wonderful bonuses. We knew dinner was included—Indian fry bread, steak, salads and more. But we didn’t know we’d get to see the Sun’s Eye and nearby ancient rock art.

Next stop was a sort of rock amphitheatre where we were treated a ‘concert’. Our guide brought his traditional flute and played several haunting tunes. The enormous stone backdrops created perfect acoustics. 

Sun's Eye, Monument Valley

The Sun’s Eye where we saw the rock art

 

I was struck by how much the towering buttes, sweeping desert and rough scrub reminded me of Australia’s Red Centre and its massive sandstone monolith, Uluru.

As an aside, not all the pics have captions. As usual, I was in a quandary choosing which pics to share.

 

A little more about the valley
Monument Valley Tribal Park is part of the Colorado Plateau. In the Navajo language it’s called Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, which means ‘valley of the rocks’.

Of course, the place isn’t a valley in the conventional sense, but a wide flat, sometimes desolate landscape, with the crumbling formations that rise up to 1000 feet (300 metres), the last remnants of the sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.

Monument Valley is part of the much larger Navajo Nation Reservation, which covers about 17.5 million acres (71,000 square kilometres) in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. It is the largest land area retained by a Native American tribe, and has a population of about 350,000.

Spearhead Mesa, Monument Valley

Spearhead Mesa is near the park’s visitor centre and hotel

The valley is not a national park, like nearby Canyonlands in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but one of six Navajo-owned tribal parks. What’s more, the valley floor is still inhabited by Navajo—30 to 100 people, depending on the season, who live in houses without running water or electricity.

Valley residents rely on local natural springs for drinking and cleaning, and for watering their livestock and vegetable gardens. Water also plays a important role in Navajo daily and ceremonial life. Clan and community names often refer to water.

Plants, such as wolfberry and Indian ricegrass, grow around the springs. They provide forage for animals, and help to stabilise the sand and dirt. While plants such as snakeweed are used in Navajo ceremonies. Coyotes are central figures in Navajo life and culture. As an aside, I reckon coyotes figure much more widely in American life and culture. Poor John recently finished a book that says every single person in the USA lives within one mile of a coyote.

 

The Navajo Code Talkers
The visitor centre at Monument Valley has a wonderful display about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. There’s another display at a local fast food outlet.

Between 1942 and 1945, Navajo Marines spoke in a code forged from their native language. The tactic amazed American troops and completely baffled the Japanese, and helped to win World World II in the Pacific.

While Native American language had been used during World War I, the more recent effort began in 1942 with a pilot project that involved an original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. They initially developed more than 200 terms for the English alphabet, general vocabulary, ranks of officers, countries, military equipment and munitions. By the end of the war, the code included more than 800 terms and involved 400 talkers.

Navajo Code Talkers served in all six US Marine divisions. They provided the most sophisticated, accurate, fast and secure means of military communication during World War II. Their code was used to send combat coordinates, troop movements, orders and highly classified messages. They served on the front line, on ships and aircraft, with the US Marine Raiders, reconnaissance, and underwater demolition teams.

Their efforts were featured in the 2002 film Windtalkers. A documentary, The Code Talkers: a secret code of honour, was produced in 2003. In it, cast and crew from Windtalkers share their feelings about their service during the war and in the making of the film.

The Totem Pole, Monument Valley

The Totem Pole on the left

Camel Butte, Monument Valley

I’m pretty sure this is Camel Butte

The Mittens and Merrick Butte, Monument Valley

The Mittens (West Mitten on the left) and Merrick Butte (on the right)

24 September 2018 / leggypeggy

A bonus stop at the Navajo National Monument

Betatakin cliffs dwellings in the Navajo National Monument

The south-facing Betatakin cliff dwellings in the Navajo National Monument. 

Betatakin, Navajo National MonumentLuckily for us, our western USA camping tour included a brief stop at a site not mentioned on the original itinerary—the Navajo National Monument.

Named for the people who now occupy the region, the monument protects Betatakin, Keet Seel and Inscription House—three well-preserved collections of dwellings that were built hundreds of years ago by Ancestral Puebloans (sometimes called Anasazi).

About 800 years ago, the land surrounding the national monument was dotted with Ancestral Puebloan farms. Their villages were nearby and they traded in goods such as cotton, turquoise, sea shell and parrot feathers. Rainfall was scarce back then and the Puebloans were eventually forced to move on or relocate to the cliffs.

Betatakin, Navajo National Monument

The Betatakin cliffs and dwellings were what we visited. Well sort of. We hiked the 1.3-mile Sandal Trail that took us to a spot where we overlooked those dwellings.

As an aside, Inscription House is closed to the public and getting to Keet Seel takes many, many hours.

The Ancestral Puebloans lived in Betatakin from about 1250 to 1300. Their agricultural fields were on the canyon rims and floors, but they lived in the cliff face’s alcove. The alcove was deep enough to provide shelter from bad weather and, because it faced south, was able to make the most of sunshine in summer and winter.

Archeologists think about 125 people lived in Betatakin in the Puebloan heyday. They reckon the people spent most of their time outdoors, tending fields. About 135 rooms—used for food storage, living and ceremonies—have been documented.

The cliff dwellers stayed for about five decades, and then moved on. No one is sure why they did, but theories abound—drought, erosion, social pressures, religious dictates or other unknown causes? Tree-rings show that a 20-year drought ended about 1300.

These ancient dwellings were rediscovered in the late 1880s.

Our stop included a bit of time at the visitor centre, where artefacts—especially pottery—are displayed.

P.S. All the scenery pics are from our walk along the Sandal Trail, so not every pic has a caption.

Some definitions
Anasazi—Navajo (Diné) word meaning ancient ones.

Ancestral Puebloans—they also lived at Mesa Verde (coming soon), Chavo Canyon, Aztec Ruins, Wupatki, Walnut Canyon and more.

Betatakin—Navajo word meaning ‘ledge house’.

Diné—Navajo name for their own people.

Keet Seel—Navajo for ‘broken pottery scattered around’.

Betatakin, Navajo National Monument

14 September 2018 / leggypeggy

My butterflies hit the big time

Dryas iulia, Iguazu Falls

Dryas iulia

My recent posts have showcased breathtaking scenery in the USA’s national parks, but I’m ready for a little side trip. I promise to come back with more scenery. There are still heaps of great views of the parks, but today I’m going to revisit a blog post I wrote five years ago.

It was a simple enough post, featuring the many butterflies we saw at the magnificent Iguazu Falls that straddle Brazil and Argentina.

So why revisit a post?

Turns out two of those butterflies are a bit special.

In 2015, Derryl Rice from Parmenides Publishing posted a comment, asking if they could use the image of a red and black butterfly—a Dryas iulia. He wrote ‘It would be for a philosophy book cover. It’s a wonderful shot that would fit the cover perfectly. Time is of the essence as we are going to press, if you could let us know soon it would be appreciated.’

I sent the photo off straightaway and, in due course, I was sent a copy of the book. It is part of a series about the The Six Enneads—the collection of writings by Plotinus, a major Greek-speaking philosopher of the ancient world.

Ennead IV.3–4.29

Problems concerning the soul

Having never studied the subject, I didn’t know butterflies are significant in philosophy. So I went exploring and found an article by Raymond Tallis in Philosophy Now about Zhuangzi. Tallis says this great classical thinker  ‘fell asleep one day and dreamed that he was a butterfly. When he woke up, he did not know whether he really was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or whether he was a butterfly now dreaming he was a man. The story is intended as more than a charming episode in the life of a sage: it is meant to make a philosophical point about what we take to be real. Our dreams are utterly compelling, and so long as we are dreaming, we think they are real.’ If you are interested, Tallis’ full article is here.

I was thrilled to have my photo used (plus they paid me a little for the right and named me as the photographer). At the time, I meant to write about the book and pic, but got sidetracked with other travels.

Then a little earlier this year, I got more interesting messages on that blog post. Roberto R. Greve wrote and identified all the butterflies. In my original post, I identified only two by name (turns out I was wrong about both) and the rest by colours.

Greve asked specifically about one specimen. ‘I am a butterfly researcher, this beautiful orange butterfly is an Emesis fatimella. I would like to ask where and when it was photographed, was it on the Brazilian or Argentine side of the falls? Congratulations, it’s a new record for Iguassu!’

I was gobsmacked. To think I had photographed a butterfly not seen before in the area. I replied with the date and location of the photo—December 2012 on the Argentine side.

Greve replied, ‘Thank you very much. This information is very important for us, to know in what time of year this butterfly can be seen in the region. You guys were really lucky to be photographing this. I’ve done research in the area for almost 11 years and I’ve never seen it!’

Emesis fatimella, Iguazu Falls

Emesis fatimella

9 September 2018 / leggypeggy

Our bird’s eye view of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air

Helicopter flights over the Grand Canyon aren’t cheap, but Poor John and I decided it was something we should splash out on. Heck, we were camping instead of staying in hotels, and cooking most of our meals instead of eating in restaurants. We decided the flights could be our birthday presents to one another.

In case you’re wondering about the price, it was just under US$300 (or almost A$400) per person for a 45-minute flight. We travelled with a company called Maverick, but I can say the pilot was no cowboy.

All five passengers (and their cameras) were weighed before boarding and seating was assigned so as to distribute weight evenly across the helicopter. I was thrilled to be seated in the centre of the front row. Best seat in the ‘house’.

The airport is several miles from the south rim of the canyon so we got views of the countryside (not impressive enough to share pics) and then we were over the canyon.

We all wore headphones/earmuffs and, when possible, the pilot gave a running commentary on what we were seeing. Can I remember any of his spiel? Of course not. Oh wait, I think one rock formation is called The Castle because that’s what it looks like.

Castle-like formation at Grand Canyon

I think this is called The Castle. Can anyone confirm?

Some of the canyon’s vital statistics
Geologically, the Grand Canyon is significant because of the ancient rocks that are well preserved and exposed in its walls. These rock layers expose nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history.

While geologists disagree on some aspects about how the canyon was created, several recent studies support a theory that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago.

Today the canyon measures 277 miles (446 kilometres) from Lees Ferry in the east to Grand Wash Cliffs in the west. The Colorado River, which carved out the canyon, lies, on average, 5000 feet (1525 metres) below the rims.

Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air

Speaking of the rims, they are about 10 miles (16 kilometres) apart with the southern one being most popular with tourists. That rim has an elevation of 7129 feet, which is about 1000 feet lower than the northern rim.

Climate varies considerably according to elevation—the higher north rim is cooler and wetter than the south rim, and gets much more snow. Weather conditions can change rapidly on both sides, although we had excellent weather when we were there.

Lake Powell

A glimpse of Lake Powell

The canyon is bounded by two dams that hold back two large lakes. The Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell are upriver, while the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are at the other end. On the way to the canyon, we had a quick stop at Lake Powell and its visitor centre.

Plants and animals abound in the park, even though we didn’t see many. We had a few glimpses of bison on the north rim. Overall, the canyon area has more than 2100 species of plants and 90 species of mammals.

Bison on the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Bison graze on the north rim.

A little history
For thousands of years, the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans, who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the canyon a holy site, and made pilgrimages to it.

Spaniard García López de Cárdenas was the first European known to have viewed the canyon in 1540. He, along with Hopi guides and a small group of Spanish soldiers, travelled to the south rim. It is thought that their Hopi guides knew routes to the canyon floor, but were reluctant to lead the Spanish to the river. No Europeans visited the canyon again for more than 200 years. James Ohio Pattie, along with a group of American trappers and mountain men, may have been the next Europeans to reach the canyon, in 1826.

Near the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Near the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Near the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Near the north rim of the Grand Canyon

US President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903. An avid outdoorsman and staunch conservationist, Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve that year. The Antiquities Act of 1906 followed and gave Roosevelt the power to create national monuments.  He declared the Grand Canyon an official national monument in 1908. It became a national park in 1919.

And for those of you who want to know the gory bits—almost 800 people have died in the canyon since the mid-1800s. Causes have included falls, dehydration, drownings, lightning strikes, heart attacks, suicide and murder. The worst casualties were in 1956 when two commercial airplanes collided and 128 people were killed.

Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air

And finally a rant
The visitor centre wasn’t open when we first arrived at the canyon, so we stopped at the coffee shop. The fellow at the counter simply filled two paper cups with black coffee from a machine.

Imagine my surprise and rather enormous irritation when Poor John tapped his credit card to pay, a $1 tip was automatically added to the US$4.70 for the two coffees. A more than 20 per cent tip for virtually no effort or genuine service!

Maybe someday I’ll do a post on my attitudes about tipping in general.

P.S. Enjoy the pics and don’t worry about the absence of captions. Seriously, what is there to say?

Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air Grand Canyon from the air