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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

27 August 2018 / leggypeggy

Grand Canyon really is grand

Grand CanyonGrand CanyonGrand CanyonHave you been hanging out for us to reach the Grand Canyon? I guess I was too. Even though I grew up in the USA, I’d never been there. Poor John had had only a fleeting stop in the early 1970s when he travelled across the USA by bus.

So finally reaching the famous location in Arizona was a huge treat for both of us. We had two half days to explore, including an option for a helicopter ride (more about that amazing experience in another post).

Grand Canyon

Thousands of canyons

Colorado River, Grand Canyon

A glimpse of the Colorado River

I was intrigued to read that the canyon is a composite of countless gorges. In 1895, John Wesley Powell wrote that, ‘In the Grand Canyon there are thousands of gorges like that below Niagara Falls, and there are a thousand Yosemites. Yet all these canyons combine to form one grand canyon, the most sublime spectacle on earth.’

Wow, he got that right.

I never managed to get a sunset or sunrise pic like the one I used to introduce this trip. You can see that here. But I did manage to get a lot of great pics and learned a lot about the canyon itself (tourist information centres are wonderful places).

Colorado River, Grand CanyonGrand Canyon

On our first day at the canyon, Poor John headed to the South Kaibab Trail and hiked as far as the Ooh Aah Point—a spot about one mile down the trail that offers a dramatic panoramic view of the eastern canyon. Sorry no photos from there. He doesn’t carry a camera or a phone! But he says the view is amazing.

Getting to the Ooh Aah Point is not an especially strenuous hike—the trail gets much harder past that point—but it’s still a dangerous spot. Jordan, our guide/driver for the tour, said one of his colleagues saw a woman fall to her death from Ooh Aah.

My hip was still bothering me that first day (it’s completely recovered now), so I confined my adventures to seeing the sights on the rim.

Besides the fabulous views, I loved walking the Trail of Time, seeing some of the wildlife, and visiting the Yavapai Point Museum and the Kolb Studio.

Cremation pegmatite, 1.698 million years old

Cremation pegmatite, 1.698 million years old

Elves Chasm gneiss, Grand Canyon

Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 million years old

The Trail of Time is a 4.56 kilometre-long (2.83 mile) geologic timeline. Each metre signifies one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. Walking the trail gives you an appreciation for the magnitude of geologic time. Bronze markers mark your location in time; every tenth marker is labeled in millions of year! The trail is lined with a series of rocks and exhibits that explain how the canyon and its rock formed.

At 1.840 million years of age, the Elves Chasm Gneiss (pronounced nice) is the oldest rock on display. My favourites were the Cremation Pegmatite and Bright Angel Shale, but that might be because of their names (in everyday  life I’m Peggy Bright). They are 1.698 and 515 million years old, respectively.

I’m a sucker for wildlife and am quite content to stand for hours watching them. When I was there, squirrels were the most common critters on the rim, although there were a few deer and plenty of birds (the condors were too high up to photograph well, hence the pic of the info board).

There are plenty of signs warning people not to feed or approach the wildlife but, of course, there are always some knuckleheads who do. One fellow was nearly taken out by the deer standing near the info board, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a pic.

Grand Canyon

One view from the Yavapai Point Museum

Grand Canyon

Another view from the Yavapai Point Museum

Grand Canyon

Another view from the Yavapai Point Museum

Grand Canyon

Another view from the Yavapai Point Museum

The Yavapai Point Museum claims to have one of the most fabulous views in the world. It’s an honest claim. In the 1920s, some of the most respected scientists gathered at the park to choose the best representative view of the Grand Canyon’s geology. And that’s where the museum sits. Exhibits explain formation of the rock layers, the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the carving of the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

See the zigzag path. That’s part of the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

The Bright Angel Trail zigzagging down the middle

The Kolb Studio was built in 1904 by brothers, Ellsworth and Emery. The Kolbs made their living by photographing visitors walking down the Bright Angel Trail.

In 1911, the brothers filmed their journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. They spent 101 days on the water (in two stints) and covered 1167 rivers miles from Green River Wyoming to Needles California. We saw a few clips of the movie, which Emery Kolb showed regularly in his studio until 1976, when he died at the age of 95.

Emery travelled the US to show the film and Ellsworth wrote an account the journey. His book, Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico, was published by MacMillan in 1914. Today the Kolb Studio is an art gallery and exhibition space.

I’m anxious to get this posted, so I’ll share some of the canyon’s amazing statistics in my next post on our flight over this remarkable scenery.

By the way, I’ve had a terrible time trying to choose pics to share. I took a couple of hundred shots at the Grand Canyon. Almost every single one deserves to be shared, but I had to show some restraint. Also, not all pics have captions.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon

The Colorado River snakes through the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

20 July 2018 / leggypeggy

Angels Landing—a challenge I didn’t try

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Angels Landing is at the top of that cliff. Photo by Victoria Herman

Every now and then my common sense kicks in! Recently it was helped along by a hip that was complaining bitterly (recovered now).

This all happened in Zion National Park when I decided NOT to tackle the 2.5-mile, 5-hour hike to Angels Landing. I mean, seriously, what business did I have scaling a ‘mountain’ that rises almost 1500 feet and includes more than 20 steep, treacherous switchbacks?

Angels Landing, Walk, Zion National Park

See that narrow ledge (in the shadow) that runs along the cliff? That’s the walk to Angels Landing. Photo by Victoria Herman

Angels Landing hike, Zion National Park

It’s that narrow path along the rocks again! Glad I didn’t try. Photo by Fiona Haddy

The trail, cut into solid rock in 1926, has an especially challenging last half mile. According to one website, that section of the trail is ‘strenuous and lined with numerous sharp drop offs and narrow paths.’ Luckily most of that last half mile also has well-anchored chains to cling to until you reach the top at 5790 feet (1760 m).

In addition to being physically challenging, the hike tests a person’s mental state. One website advises that ‘people who have a severe fear of heights should not attempt the final stretch but can enjoy the trail all the way to Scout Lookout.’ When you look at the pics, you’ll agree that ‘severe’ isn’t the right word. I reckon ‘any’ fear of heights would apply.

Angels Landing, Chains, Zion National Park

Would you like to drag yourself up those chains? Photo by Fiona Haddy

But many in our group were keen to make it to Angels Landing (yes, it has no apostrophe). Maybe they were tempted by the promised views. I so appreciate that they’ve been kind enough to share their pics with me, so you can get a feel for the experience.

When Victoria’s pics came through, I replied that they reminded me that I was very pleased that I hadn’t done the trek. She replied, ‘I don’t know why I attempted it. My legs were like jelly. Was pretty scary.’ So proceed with care.

As a complete aside, on another walk Poor John encountered a fellow who did Angels Landing ‘by mistake’. This guy had two new knees and was halfway up before he realised his error. So he kept going.

P.S. Many, many thanks to Victoria and Fiona for sharing their pics. Two of the three Peters have also offered to share, but they are still sorting pics and I was keen to get this posted.

P.P.S. Poor John doesn’t carry a camera, but he also decided he didn’t need to do this hike.

P.P.P.S. Fellow blogger, Michael Andrew Just, visits Zion National Park regularly. Check out his recent post on the Milky Way.

View from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Fiona captured the view from Angels Landing. Photo by Fiona Haddy

8 July 2018 / leggypeggy

Foolhardy behaviour in dangerous places

Grand Canyon, USA

Good view, big drop

One of the things that irks me most—whether travelling or at home—is how people assume that rules don’t apply to them.

I see it almost every day.

The most infuriating offence is a person who pulls into a disabled car space and then quite ably hops out to dash into the chemist’s or post office. When Poor John’s Aunt Esther lived with us (from age 89 to 97), I’d hop out of the car and let the offender know that’s why I couldn’t park in the only disabled slot in the local carpark.

Grand Canyon, USA

Get that selfie

There are plenty of other minor offences. Such as the car in front of me that does a U-turn at the sign that says ‘No U-Turn’. Or the person who plants their dirty boots on the bus seat opposite them, and under the sign that says you shouldn’t put your feet on the seats.

Of course, those behaviours reflect thoughtlessness. Every now and then you see the behaviours that stem from pure stupidity or maybe a death wish.

There were plenty of examples of that in the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon, USA

Grand Canyon, USA

Looking down from the rim. It’s a long way down

I’ll be posting many more pics of this amazing canyon (including some from the air), but I wanted to share these images of people who have climbed fences—that are emblazoned with warnings about how dangerous the cliffs are—simply to get ‘that’ picture.

No idea if any of them fell, but I’ve read that each year two or three people die in the Grand Canyon after over-the-rim falls. In most places the drop is about 300 feet.

As an aside, two fellows (Ghiglieri and Myer) have produced a book, Over the edge: death in Grand Canyon, that has accounts of all known fatal mishaps in this famous landmark.

So what thoughtless/stupid behaviours really irk you?

P.S. Not all the pics have captions.

Grand Canyon, USA

2 July 2018 / leggypeggy

Breathtaking hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos everywhere you look

Bryce Canyon National Park

Looking out over a bit of Bryce Canyon

Sorry to have been silent for so long. I’ve actually followed the wise advice given by those who said to enjoy the adventures and not worry about the blog until I had enough time and a better internet connection.

It’s given me the chance to savour all the sights and think about how to share them with you. So let’s start with one of the most unusual—Bryce Canyon.

Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon is actually a collection of giant natural amphitheaters running along the east side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon National ParkBryce Canyon National Park

Named after Ebenezer Bryce (a local settler) and designated as a national park in 1928, the canyon is a product of the weather.

Many millions of years ago, the area was filled with water. But after the water subsided, the transformation began with the limestone canyon walls (also called fins).

Over time (and still today), snow and ice settle on the fins. Then the sun comes out and melts both, and the resulting water seeps into cracks in the fins. When it re-freezes, it expands and cracks the rocks around it. Bits fall off, and this has happened again and again for millions of years. The process, called frost-wedging, is especially common in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UtahBryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Frost-wedging ultimately creates holes (or windows) in the fins. As the windows grow, their tops eventually collapse, leaving columns/pillars of rock. Rain further dissolves and sculpts these limestone pillars into bulbous spires called hoodoos.

Poor John reckons hoodoos look like the creations made when kids dribble wet sand onto columns on the beach. They remind me of stalagmites, the rock formations that rise from the floor of a cave because of water that drips from the ceiling.

Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Poor John thinks the hoodoos look like dribbled sand

But enough about how the hoodoos came to be. As an aside, hoodoos occur on every continent, but Bryce has the largest collection in the world.

We arrived at Bryce early in the morning, before the hordes came along and the temperatures rose.

Natural Bridge, Bryce Canyon

The Natural Bridge makes a fine picture frame

Our first stop was at the Natural Bridge, which isn’t a bridge at all but an arch. In geological terms, a bridge is created by rushing streams. Arches are formed by frost-wedging and a combination of other weather processes. This arch beautifully frames the Ponderosa forest behind it. 

My left hip was still bothering me, so for the rest of the day I wandered along the rim from Inspiration Point to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. The walk is mostly level, but all three points are at an elevation of 8000 feet (2400 metres) or more. Some of parts of the rim rise to 9000 feet (2700 metres).

walking trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

You can walk down, down and down

walking trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

See walkers on the trail on the lower left of the pic

Poor John descended into the canyon as far as the Ooh Aah Point—what a great name for a lookout. Others in the group descended even farther. I felt I didn’t have enough time to go down and get back. Oops! I misremembered this—Poor John says the Ooh Aah Point is in the Grand Canyon. I might have remembered if I’d done it! 🙂

I have to say that even though my hip (which is fully recovered by now) limited some of my expeditions, I never felt like I missed out on much—except one place that I’ll cover in the another post.

P.S. I haven’t added captions to all the pics. They speak for themselves.

P.P.S. Fellow blogger, Michael Andrew Just, features many national parks on his site. Here’s a link to some pics he took in Bryce Canyon in winter.

Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sunrise Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Heading up to Sunrise Point


11 June 2018 / leggypeggy

Zion’s popular Riverside Walk is postcard material

Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park

The Temple of Sinawava starts the Riverside Walk

Riverside Walk, Zion National Park

Poor John is dwarfed by the sandstone walls of the Riverside Walk

One of our favourite outings in Zion National Park was the leisurely and picturesque Riverside Walk, starting at the Temple of Sinawava, a massive stone amphitheatre that unofficially marks the beginning of the canyon.

The temple and the trail that runs alongside the Virgin River have become one of the park’s most popular destinations. Some of the gorge walls rise 1000 feet.

With lush green foliage, humbling views of towering sandstone, gurgling water and wildlife, the walk is pure postcard material.

Virgin River, Zion National Park

Views along the Riverside Walk

Virgin River, Zion National Park

The beauty of the Riverside Walk

Just over a mile in distance one way, the path is paved and mostly level. We set out in the early morning and there were almost no other walkers. Then traffic picked up.

A lot of people were outfitted in wet gear (special closed shoes, chest-high waterproof pants and long walking sticks) so they could wade into the waters of the Zion Narrows that stretch beyond the Riverside Walk. Apparently late spring and summer are the best times to tackle the narrows. That’s when the water is lowest and warmest.

Of course, we didn’t have any of the necessary gear, but after seeing that everyone was dressed almost identically, I realised it was possible to rent the gear. Maybe another time. One of our group had ventured into the narrows on a previous trip and said how breathtaking the views were. I think it’s possible to hike about two more miles into the ever-narrowing canyon.

We took our time, walking to the water’s edge a couple of times and me photographing everything around me. We got to the end in time to see some people heading into the narrows. It was a clear day and almost no chance of any flash floods, so I reckon they had an amazing outing.

The Narrows, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park

Walkers head into the Zion Narrows

There was a special treat on our return walk. I’m always scanning the distance for wildlife and I spotted a deer—as it turned out it was a female mule deer. She was drinking at the river’s edge and had her bum to us. But slowly she turned and made her way across about 50 yards of grassland.

She came right up to the fence along the path beside us and then slipped through the gap. She was aiming for the delectable leaves on a tree right in front of us. Miraculously, no one else came along to disturb the experience. We moved on after about 10 minutes, and just then she made a leap up the hill. Perhaps we were the only ones to see her.

I later learned that people often see mule deers on that walk, but we felt special and rewarded anyway.


Riverside Walk, Zion National Park

Sandstone walls rise up to 1000 feet