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Painted Churches

When Czech and German immigrants came to Texas in the 1800’s, many settled in the central part of the state and named their towns after the places they had left – Praha, Dubina, Schulenburg, Fredericksburg. These thriving communities prospered by working hard, helping one another and praying together.

In an effort to make their new churches feel more like the ancient Gothic structures of their homelands, these early settlers painted the walls, altars, and arches of their simple wooden sanctuaries in colorful patterns and clever tromp l’oeil images. These buildings came to be known as the Painted Churches of Texas. They have been preserved and stand today in honor of those whose artistry and devotion created them.

Across the landscape of the Texas Hill Country, there are 20 unassuming churches. On the outside they are white clapboard or brick. In general they are in unassuming towns. The Chamber of Commerce in Schulenburg has made it easy to see four of these beautiful churches with local, informed volunteer guides. We recently had the privilege of taking this tour, which lasted about three hours. We visited painted churches in Dubina, Ammannsville, High Hill and Praha.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Dubina

Dubina was settled in 1856, and is known as the “mother of Czechs in Texas”. Its first church followed 21 years later but was destroyed by a storm in 1909. The current church replaced the original in 1912. After completion the interior was painted with frescoes and the entire church was stenciled. In 1952 the entire church was painted over. It was recreated by artisans in 1983.

 

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, High Hill

A few miles away (and across the fascinating Piano Bridge) is St. Mary’s. Built in 1906, the imposing structure has an exterior of red brick, but the interior is alive with color and pattern. Bold ceilings are gold, with decorative vines and flowers climbing the arches. Every inch of the building is painted, gilded or adorned in some way. The flowers, palms and stars that grace the ceiling and walls were painted by Swiss fresco artist Gottfried Flurry. His tromp d’oeil designs mimic vaults, relief and marble seen in the ancient churches of central Europe.

 

Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville

The parish began in the late nineteenth century. The first church building, built in 1890, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The present church was dedicated in 1919. The interior is designed in the Gothic-Revival style, emphasized by the repeated gothic arch. It departs from the traditional basilica plan in that it has no columns, opening the entire nave to the gothic arched ceiling.

 

St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption, Praha

The church in Praha was built in 1895 with a soaring steeple and a beautiful stone facade. Inside the polished floors reflect the grand chandelier. The entire arched ceiling has a soft blue-green background, and around the edges are painted foliage and flowers. On the wall behind the hand-carved altar are three angels clad in yellow, blue and pink.

San Antonio Missions

If you are a visitor to San Antonio, it is likely you will tour the Alamo, famous for the 1836 battle which led to the establishment of Texas. The Alamo was originally established as a Spanish mission in the earl 18th century, then known as San Antonio de Valero. You are less likely to tour the four other missions located along the San Antonio River south of the city, all established in the 1718-1731 period by Spanish Franciscans intent on converting the native Coahuiltecan tribes to Christianity.

The five missions were named as a World Heritage site in 2015 and are well worth touring. Each was established as a mini-city complete with a church and living spaces for priests and natives alike. Each was surrounded by a wall, and contained farming and cattle raising space with water sourced from the San Antonio River. Weekly masses are still held at each mission, and the buildings for the most part are well maintained.

Mission Concepcion

Dedicated in 1755, the church at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion de Acuna remains true to its original design, look and feel. In fact, the church stands as the oldest unrestored church in the US. Exterior paintings have faded, but original frescoes can be seen in some rooms.

 

Mission San Jose

Considered Queen of the Missions.Established in 1720, San Jose y Miguel de Aguayo is the largest mission in San Antonio. Spanish designers built the mission using Texas limestone and brightly colored stucco. At its height, it provided sanctuary and a social and cultural community for more than 300 Indians. In 2011 it underwent a $2.2 million renovation of domes, walls and the alter background.

 

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Established in 1732, Mission San Juan’s fertile farmlands used to allow for a self-sustainable community, and its surplus helped supply the region with produce. Today, the chapel and bell tower are still in use.

 

Mission Espada

The southernmost mission in the series, Mission Espada was established in 1731 and boasts the best-preserved segment of the area’s original irrigation system used to bring water to the fields. Much was restored after a fire in 1826.

 

Redoubt Mountain Lodge

We had a great stay at this magnificent place in early August. Redoubt Lodge is located on Crescent Lake, 120 miles SW of Anchorage deep in the Chigmit Mountains, a sub range of the Aleutian Range. The five acre site sits at the foot of Mt. Redoubt, and active (latest 2009) volcano. The lodge is surrounded by Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, established in 1980. There are no roads; access is by float plane only. Crescent Lake is 9 miles long and 4 miles wide, fed by numerous mountain streams and the Upper Crescent River; the outlet – Crescent River – winds its way down 17 miles to Cook Inlet.  The waters are turquoise blue due to rock flour or volcanic dust. The site was initially established as a remote fishing lodge owned by a family from Homer who built the original cabin, and remained a fishing lodge until the mid-1990’s. In 1999 Wayne and Jeanie Holm bought the site, and started Redoubt Mountain Lodge in 2000.

The lodge has six log cabins for 12 guests. The Main Lodge is built of logs, requires the discarding of shoes to enter, and is the focal point of all three meals and social activities.

We began our visit on Lake Hood near Anchorage at Trail Ridge Air, an air taxi company which specializes in transport to remote lodges, bear watching and fishing tours and freight hauling. Our pilot Adam helped six passengers load into a Dehavilland Beaver, taxi out on the lake and take off, headed on a 1 1/2 hour journey to Redoubt. We flew over the east side of the Kenai Peninsula and across Cook Inlet towards Mt. Redoubt.  Our views of the Aleutian Range, Mt. Redoubt and eventually Crescent Lake were spectacular.

 

Lodge

Activities at the lodge include hiking, kayaking, bear watching, fishing and – if inclined – relaxing. On arrival each couple is introduced to their guide for the stay. Ours was John Brookover, or JB. He hails from Boise and spends several months each summer at Redoubt. In his spare time he loves to fish, and he is a very accomplished artist. We focused on fishing, which Karen loves, and bear watching and photography, which I love. There were between 10 and 12 guests during our brief stay, all of whom enjoyed the great outdoors. One couple was focused on visiting all eight National Parks in Alaska. The company was warm and enjoyable, assisted by Savannah Mellon, the hospitality lead, and the three meals a day prepared by Chef Sasha Kliman were delicious.

Scenery

Fishing

The lake and streams around the lodge are filled with sockeye spawning, silver and king salmon, arctic char, Dolly Varden and Lake trout. There are seasons of course – we were there when sockeye spawning was nearing and end, and before the silvers really arrived. The Dolly Varden were busy trying to fins salmon eggs. Most fishing is “walk and wade” fly fishing so we were outfitted with waders right away. One can also fish on the lake and the river from the flat bottomed boats.

Bears

About 98% of US brown bears are in Alaska, where salmon is the primary food source. Inland brown bears are also called grizzlies. Black bears abound as well. At this time of year, with the salmon spawning at Crescent Lake and River, the bears are in abundance and bear watching is a favorite activity. We were able to observe the bears from boats so were able to approach quite close, favoring the photographer.

Kenai Fjords Excursion

A highlight of our Alaska trip was an 8 1/2 hour cruise along the Kenai Fjords. Operated by Major Marine, the cruise runs from Seward to the remote, glacier-carved Northwestern Fjord. The ship Viewfinder has limited capacity (about 60 people) and provides the unique opportunity for up-close wildlife viewing and exploration. The cruise runs through Resurrection Bay past the Chiswell Islands into Harris Bay, with its’ views of hidden coves, rugged mountains and feeding whales.

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Northwestern Fjord allows views of numerous alpine glaciers nestled high on the cliffs; these are part of the huge Harding Ice Field. We visited three glaciers which abutted the sound including Northwestern, Anchor and Ogive Glaciers, all active, calving tidewater glaciers.

Wildlife viewing on this excursion was fair, as we saw numerous porpoises, whales, puffins, eagles, sea otters, shore birds, and sea lions. A highlight was the sighting of a large male orca, who teased us by disappearing and reappearing numerous times. At one point the orca glides alongside the ship and dove under; we had the pleasure of seeing his large dorsal fin literally within reach of the side walkway.

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Kenai Sights

On our recent trip to Alaska, we spent an evening in Soldotna, located on the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula. After dinner at an excellent Thai restaurant, we drove to the Kenai (town) area, specifically Old Town Kenai.This locale was established in 1791 by Russian fur traders and is situated on a bluff overlooking the Kenai River and Cook Inlet.

A significant attraction in Old Town is the Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, a Russian orthodox parish church completed in 1896. This was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The church is in a Pskov style, shaped like a ship, with three onion shaped domes. The inside, reportedly quite attractive, is home to several significant pieces of artwork, artifacts and icons, and is well worth visiting.

The site first had a church built in 1849 by Igumen Nikolai on a nearby plot. This church became a key for the assimilation of the local native population. The church was replaced by the Chapel of St. Nicholas in 1906 over the graves of Igumen Nikolai and two others. There is also an old fisherman’s cabin which is quite charming.

Lastly, one should take some time to gaze out at Cook Inlet and the Katmai Peninsula, especially in the late evening light.

Gulf Island Harbors

We were fortunate last month to spend several days on a 43″ sailboat in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. This is a delightful area of our world, and is much cooler than Texas. Our dear relatives always take us to interesting harbors to spend the evening during a casual voyage like this. Here are three of them.

North Saanich Marina

This marina is a favorite on southern Vancouver Island for sailing and boating in the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands and beyond. It is set in protected Shoal Harbor in Sydney, BC, about 20″ from Victoria and 10 minutes from the airport. Adjacent is the Sydney N. Saanich Yacht Club. We were picked up sailboat at this location, and began several days of cruising in the Gulf Islands.

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Genoa Bay

Genoa Bay is located on Vancouver Island near Duncan, BC. It was named by an Italian immigrant after his home town,  who established a business here in 1858. This is a sanctuary with tree lined hilly shores offering a sheltered moorage. The marina is a rustic hideaway full of old sailboats and funky, colorful boathouses. The cafe offers a delightful selection of Pacific Coast seafood and local produce, set on a lovely site overlooking the harbor. The approach to the Bay offers a panoramic view of both Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island.

 

Pirate’s Cove

Pirate’s Cove is a well protected smallish harbor on the SE coast of DeCourcy Island, located near Nanaimo, BC. The island is sparsely populated and is totally off the grid; the residents like this. The island’s history is colorful, from extensive First Nations use to a homestead for the Aquarian Foundation. That was a religious cult led by Brother XII who convinced some 8000 people to join him on the island in the 1920’s.

The harbor has a very shallow entrance, requiring many boats to enter at High tide. The BC Marine Provincial Park located here offers a very pretty walk through the woods and up several staircases to reach the rocky entrance to the Cove. The cove includes a normal marina with space primarily limited to residents, and a series of chain link connection for anchorage along the shore. We also found a delightful bakery stand along the road on a walk we took one day.

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Cruising

Giraffes

Giraffes are one of the most loved mammals in Africa, possibly after the elephant. Fully grown giraffe males can attain a height of 20′ – most of that neck of course, and weigh between 1600 and 2000 lbs. Females are about 20% shorter and lighter. On top of a giraffe’s head are ossicones, unique structures that are neither horns nor bumps; rather they are hardened bits of cartilage covered by skin. The uses are unclear, ranging from intimidation to sexually related to heat dissipation.

All belong to the same genus and species, with nine different sub species including the Nubian, the reticulated, the Angolan, the Kordofan, the Masai, the South African, the West African the Rhodesian and Rothchild’s. Some argue there are acually four separate species; the Northern, the Reticulated, the Masai and the Southern.

Giraffes range in the wild throughout Africa, but are most often found in the savannas and the woodlands. The most common herd is made up of adult females and their calves, and a few males. These can typically total 10-20 individuals. Herds are typically egalitarian with no clear leader.

The gestation period for giraffes is about 15 months. At birth, calves are about 5 1/2 feet tall. They are weaned at 15-18 months. Females have their first calves at 5-6 years.

Giraffes subsist on a variable vegetarian diet that includes leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. They do not have to drink daily. Their main diet consists of variants of the acacia tree. They are ruminants, and constantly chew their cud. Herds forage together, and have a home range that averages 100 square miles. Interestingly a group of standing giraffes is called a “tower”; when walking they become a”journey”.

Giraffes are classed as vulnerable by the IUCN, because of ongoing habitat loss, expansion of agriculture and population growth, civil unrest, illegal hunting and ecological changes. They are unlikely;y to be attacked by lions or hyenas, which may attack young, sick or aged individuals.

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African Wild Dogs

The wild or painted dog is a real favorite of mine.They typically roam the open plains and sparse woodlands of southern Africa, most particularly in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.The species was classified as endangered by the IUCN in 2016, as it had disappeared from much of its original range. The 2016 population was estimated at roughly 6600 adults, only 1400 of which were reproductive. The decline is ongoing due to habitat fragmentation, human persecution and disease.

These long legged canines have only four toes per foot. The dog’s Latin name means “painted wolf”, referring to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features patches of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern, and all have big, rounded ears.

The dog is a highly social animal, living in packs with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. The females are dominant. The female has a litter of 2-20 pups, which are cared for by the entire pack.

The dogs hunt in formidable, cooperative packs of 6-20 or more animals. Packs hunt antelopes and will also tackle larger prey like wildebeests. The average life span is up to 11 years. The dogs weigh 40-80 pounds, and are 30-43″ in size.

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Birds of Botswana

Just pictures in this blog. The birds are too spectacular for words.

Lilac Breasted Roller

 

Bee Eaters

 

Malachite Kingfisher

 

Pied Kingfisher

 

Hornbill

 

African Fish Eagle

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Ground Hornbill

 

African Hawk Eagle

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Martial Eagle

 

Secretary Bird

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Long Tailed Shrike

 

Brown Coucal

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Francolin

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Vultures

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Tawny Eagle

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Meyer’s Parrots

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Barbet

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Saddle Billed Stork

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Heron

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Hoopoe

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Starling

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African Jicana

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Spotter Dikkop

 

Grey Lourie (Go Away Bird)

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Sacred Ibis

 

Egyptian Geese

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African Darter

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Kori Bustard

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Special Moments on Safari

Every safari trip has those moments that seem special, that you will remember for a long time. We have these each trip, and this recent visit to Botswana was no exception. Of course our two days at Elephant Havens was very special; I have covered that visit in a separate blog. What I want to do in this blog entry is to try to relate a few moments that were special, and to try to convey that to you. And you should know that we love to find wildlife then sit/drive and observe that wildlife for a sustained period. So here are some moments.

Leopard – Gomoti Plains

We saw leopards several times at Gomoti Plains, including an encounter at night when we surprised a female leopard with two cubs in the darkness. But our real special moment occurred late on our first afternoon drive. We spotted the leopard creeping through the grass, then along a road. We swung the vehicle around and followed her to a large bush; our guide and driver pulled the vehicle up quite close to the bush. We then watched the leopard for about ten minutes, strolling around the bush and ignoring us, trying to detect the scent of another leopard. Then she sat close to the passenger side of the car and stared intensely at Georgia. Karen and I really thought the leopard was going to jump in her lap! An adjacent guide apparently thought so too, started his engine, and defused a potentially serious situation.

Mr. Special – Splash Camp

We encountered a particular cheetah several times during our stay at Splash Camp. He was known as Mr. Special by the guides, particularly because he climbed trees, which most cheetahs do not do. He is a beautiful animal, and seemed oblivious to us, focusing on spotting prey, marking his territory and gazing around the area.

 

Following the Dogs – Splash Camp

The African painted dogs, an endangered species, are one of my real favorites in the wildlife kingdom. They are a delight to see and observe. One afternoon at Splash we came upon a pack of eight dogs on the hunt. The alpha female was heavily pregnant, and having a hard time keeping up. Not that keeping up was so easy for us in the vehicle either. Nevertheless we followed the pack for a while across the plains and into the trees, through the trees then lost them. After driving around the outside of a copse of trees, we spotted an impala going into the copse. Then it immediately did a 180, raced into the open followed closely by a lone dog. We drove around and finally found the rest of the pack at a kill; the lone dog had evidently made the kill, ate its’ fill and was sitting on the sidelines.

Then things go interesting. Someone spotted a leopard in the adjacent bushes; it was closely observing the dog feast, waiting its’turn at the kill. It got a little adventuresome and wandered away from the bushes and into the open. Of course the dogs saw it and chased it up a tree. Next we see a lone hyena wandering into the area. For 10-15 minutes the hyena would edge up to the kill, the dogs would chase it away, biting at the hyena’s legs. The hyena screeching was intense. Suddenly the lone hyena was joined by a second, and the pair diverted the dogs and one hyena stole the kill.

For the next 20 minutes or so, the hyena ate and chased back the other, and eventually three others. She was not sharing her food! During this period the dogs crept away and the leopard was seen watching hungrily. Not this night!

 

Elephants – Splash Camp

We arrived at the main area for afternoon tea one day. There was a herd of elephants (15-20)  right behind the firepit, and beginning to wander in between units 1-3 adjacent to the main area. Nonchalantly eating leaves after a lengthy hydration at the water hole. They continued to move between the units. Georgia and Jan were unable to leave their unit, and were thrilled that the elephants were right up to their deck. Pro and TJ tried to shoo them away unsuccessfully. They eventually moved along at their own pace. We boarded our vehicle, drove around to the other side of camp and spent 30 minutes or so right in their midst, as they had generally switched for leaves to grass. What a great experience!

 

Tracking a Leopard – Splash Camp

The guides and trackers at Kwando Camps are superb trackers. We have observed this on many occasions. On this day TJ spotted fresh leopard tracks in the dirt road and we decided to try to follow the cat. We did so for 30-45 minutes, and AT was able to continually find fresh tracks. Eventually the tracks veered off into the grass, and we followed. Suddenly we almost literally ran into the leopard, who raced into a nearby stand of trees. We searched for a half hour to no avail. No photos! That’s why this cat is considered to be so elusive!

 

Big Man and Puffy – Splash Camp

We had great enjoyment in monitoring the movement of the two male lions named Big Man and Puffy over several days. Most of the time they were together. But one day they were separated, and Big Man poached an impala carcass from a pair of wild dogs. He basically hid in the reeds along the swampy area while he enjoyed his repast. Meanwhile his buddy Puffy was looking for him, wandering across the grassy plains and occasionally stopping on a hill and calling for Big Man with  huge roars.

Genet – Sable Alley Camp

Night drives can be productive. The driver both drives and waves a spotlight around and up into the trees. We have seen owls, large cats, elephants, antelope, bush babies and so on. Light is not to be flashed on the elephants in particular so we have had several near collisions on the road with rather large bull elephants! Noisy experience indeed. At Sable Alley we encountered genets two nights in a row. These are long, lean omnivorous cat-like animals that are 2-7 lbs and 16-24″ in length plus a tail as long as the body. They are nocturnal and live in woodlands.

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Elephants at Dusk – Sable Alley

One afternoon at Sable Alley, down at the river area, we discovered two male lions lolling on the grass. They had clearly had a huge meal and were resting. After a short while – no action – we moved along and watched a small herd of elephants (10-15) approach and crfoss the stream. After a while they moved back and we positioned ourselves to get a few neat shots backlit by the setting sun, swirling in dust. Great to have a guise with a photographic sense.

 

Lions – Sable Alley

Another afternoon we heard there were two male lions about 30 minutes away. After a hectic drive, we encountered the two wandering through the wooded area. We bravely tried to follow with some success. Eventually they came out into an open grassy area, and we watched them cross together. At that point the two sat together, and proceeded to nuzzle one another. Great look!

 

Chobe National Park – Lion Pride

Shortly after our arrival at Muchenje Safari Lodge, we did an afternoon drive. While we were driving along the highway, before we got into the park, we spotted lions along the road. This turned out to be a group of eight young lions, mostly males. We went back and forth on both sides of the tress to watch their activities. The lions were spotted later within the confines of our camp!

 

Elephants on the Chobe

Chobe National Park has one of the largest populations of elephants in Africa. A favorite activity of ours is a boat ride on the river, with the highlight always being the elephants swimming across the channel to the grassy island. This visit we also were thrilled by the elephants mud bathing; they cover themselves with mud after getting to the island in order to protect themselves for the sun. An added highlight was a drive along the water within the park, where we encountered literally hundreds of elephants of all ages, including lots of little ones. And we were amazed at how close they walked to us while we were sitting in the boat, and in the safari vehicle. Watching elephant behavior is absolutely fascinating, and this is a perfect location for this.