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Two Neat Things To Do In NYC

This is a post from the past. But I think that these two activities are in the category of pretty neat things to do in New York City. In one day or apart. The Brooklyn Bridge is a fascinating structure with interesting cable patterns. The Cloisters is a step into the past, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Try them both!

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed suspension bridge in NYC. It connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, spanning the East River. The bridge has a main span of almost 1600 feet and a height of 276.5 feet above high water. It is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the country and was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge.

It was built over 14 years beginning in 1869. The towers are built of limestone from Essex County, NY,  granite from Maine, and Rosendale cement. The bridge was built with numerous passageways and compartments in its anchorages. The city rented out the large vaults in order to fund the bridge; the vaults were used to store wine as they were always at 60 degrees!

An enjoyable hour or two can be spent strolling across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway, enjoying the views and admiring the bridge construction. Or take a bit longer, stroll across to Brooklyn, have lunch and then cross back to the city.

 

The Cloisters

The Met Cloisters, which opened to the public in 1938, is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located in Fort Tryon in northern Manhattan, on a spectacular four-acre lot overlooking the Hudson River, the modern museum building is an ensemble arranged in chronological order. Elements from medieval cloisters and from other sites in Europe have been incorporated into the fabric of the building.

Much of the sculpture at the Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard, a prominent American sculptor and avid collector of medieval art. The generosity of John D. Rockefeller enabled the conversion of the collection into a modern museum structure which opened in 1938. Rockefeller donated some 700 acres along the palisades to preserve the spectacular view from The Met Cloisters.

Willow City Loop

A big event in the Spring in Texas are the outburst of wildflowers in many parts of the state. We all have Lady Bird Johnson to thank for these often splendid displays of bluebonnets, poppies, Mexican paintbrush, gallardia and several other species. Many enjoy driving through the  hot spots including Brenham, Hill Country, Ennis and many other areas of Texas. Some seasons are just OK, a few can be spectacular.

I have been visiting Austin for about 18 years, and living here for ten. Most springs we get to drive around viewing the wildflower displays at least once or twice. My perennial favorite area is the Willow City Loop. This is a 13 mile scenic drive that showcases the beauty of the Hill Country. Along Willow City Loop, gently rolling hills give way to textured rocks, deep canyons and phenomenal vista views. The rough road then drops down through expansive fields dotted with an assortment of old trees. Native live oak, pecan and mesquite trees can all be seen from the road.

The Loop is most stunning during wildflower season, which runs from March until May. Grassy green fields are transformed into sheets of color, populated by over a dozen different wildflower species. The location is along Highway 16 north of Fredericksburg to Willow City, where the Loop begins. It rejoins Highway 16 about ten miles further north towards Llano. Visitors are highly discouraged from stopping, parking and exploring as the road runs through privately owned ranch lands and property. Most of the photos in this blog were taken in 2019, with some from earlier years.

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Arizona Wildflowers

 

This is peak wildflower season in Arizona. I know I no longer live there. I know I took no pictures there – this season. But I did live there and took hundreds (or more) photographs between 2004 and 2008, and they look very similar. We lived in Carefree, and had easy access to my two favorite spots. One was on the west side of Lake Pleasant along Castle Creek Road and Pipeline Canyon.

My other favorite was along N. Castle Hot Springs Road adjacent to Bartlett Lake, a few miles east of Carefree.

And one other spot – the Superstition Mountains on the southeast side of Phoenix.

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Elephant Havens

 

As many are aware, we are Africa enthusiasts, especially the country of Botswana. We have been on extended safaris three times since 2013, and are headed back in a few weeks. We each have our favorites among the wildlife. Mine are the cats, especially cheetahs and leopards, and a sighting of these beautiful animals is a real thrill and a privilege. Karen, on the other hand, loves elephants – big, small, male, female, friendly…. or not, and we have seen them all.

In 2015 we spent three days at Abu Camp in the west Delta. They have a captive elephant population – six in number then, eight now. These magnificent creatures are “trained, not tame”, and spend their days in the bush and their nights in a boma. At that time the oldest at 50 was Cathy, the youngest at 16 months, Naledi (Star). Netflix has a documentary called Naledi, which is a fascinating story of this little elephant’s battle to survive. We were fortunate to ride (which is no longer allowed), walk, feed and interface with these delightful animals. Karen was quite adept at verbally getting Sharini to lift her trunk high, open her mouth wide and receive handfuls of pellets known as elephant candy. She was so adept that the main elephant handler, Boago (Bee) Poloko, offered her a job. We have since joked frequently with Bee via email and Facebook about her job, including through Bee’s nephew who we met at another camp in 2017.

About a year ago Bee and an associate left Abu to create an elephant orphanage, with the huge help of Debra Stevens and her husband Scott Jackson, who live in Dallas. They have been infatuated with Africa for many years, and Debra fell totally in love with Naledi early in the little elephant’s life; they are bosom buddies still today. So early last year Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation was created, and funded via a active and successful funding drive by Debra and Scott.The mission of Elephant Havens is to preserve and protect the African elephant. Through habitat protection, community outreach and hand-rearing of young elephant orphans, Elephant Havens aims to become a leading voice in wildlife conservation awareness and wildlife protection.

A baby elephant orphaned in the wild simply cannot survive. Not only do they need milk from their mother often up to six years of age, they also need constant care and companionship. Elephant handlers care for their charges around the clock and sleep with them in their enclosure. The elephants are fed a special milk formula every few hours when they are very young. Gradually they are introduced to the grasses and other vegetation they will one day rely on.

 

The orphanage is built on 11 acres that are nestled along the banks of the Thamalakane River. It is an ideal place for young elephants to live and receive daily care and companionship until they are ready to be reintroduced to the wild. The site is only 35 minutes from Maun, a jumping off point for many safari excursions into the Okavango Delta, the Chobe, the Linyanti, the Kalahari and other wildlife rich regions. Besides welcoming visitors, the orphanage will be a venue for educational programs for locals and those passing through to the Delta. The elephants will bring income through jobs in the wildlife and tourism areas.

The orphanage has so far adopted three elephants. Two were quite ill when they arrived at Elephant Havens, and despite heroic efforts by the loving staff and a very capable veterinarian, they both succumbed to their illnesses. However, we have one beautiful young girl, Maamotse, and the facility and staff are positioned to accepting new arrivals any day. Let me introduce you to Maamotse:

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We encourage everyone with an interest in wildlife conservation to consider supporting Elephant Havens. You can help by making a donation to the foundation (a 501C3 charity) though the website at http://www.elephanthavens.org.

Pittsburgh Glass Center

If you have a little time to kill while in Pittsburgh a visit to the Pittsburgh Glass Center on Penn Avenue. This is a nonprofit, public access state-of-the-art glass studio dedicated to teaching, creating and promoting glass art. PGC was established by local artists in the 1990’s to create an innovative glass art center.  The center has a flame shop, a kiln shop, a cold shop and a hot shop. the hot shop houses two glass furnaces each holding 1000 pounds of molten glass. There are eight workstations each with a reheat station and a work bench. Visitors are welcome to sit in the workshop and watch the artists at work.

 

The Hodge Gallery presents critically acclaimed glass art exhibitions throughout the year. A wide range of work in glass is showcased. During our visit the exhibit featured works by Kelly O’Dell entitled All of the Suddens. Her focus was on endangered animals.

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Espanola Island

Last island stop before the trip is done! Espanola is the oldest and southernmost island in the archipelago, and holds one of the most diverse sea bird colonies. Because of its isolation, this island has a high level of endemism (uniqueness to a given geographical region), reflected in species such as mockingbirds, waved albatrosses, marine iguanas and others.

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We made a dry landing at this location near the lighthouse. The trail – about 2.0 miles in total – was very rocky and narrow with some climbing involved.

 

GARDNER BAY

We snorkeled in the area, then landed at Garner Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos. We walked the beach, having a great time watching the sea lions, marine iguanas and mockingbirds.

Giant Galapagos Tortoises

These creatures were the feature attraction of our next stop at Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The town has a population of about 20,000 people, making it the largest city in the Galapagos.

We first visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located just on the outskirts of town. This is a biological research facility established in 1964. It is focused on the conservation of Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The center raises tortoises from eggs to adults, then releases the tortoises into the wild. They also operates a facility for raising iguanas. Both species have in the past been subject to human predators, but the role of the center has dramatically improved the population of both.

The center is a great place to visit, being well laid out with much information about the Galapagos, tortoises and other wildlife. There are restrooms, a museum with wonderful artwork and a cafe.

We also visited a privately owned tortoise sanctuary located about 13 miles from Puerto Ayora in the hills of Santa Cruz. The centers, adjacent to one another, offer a wandering tour of the grassy woods, inhabited by dozens of giant tortoises.

An interesting sidelight was the shopping areas and harbor of the small city. Many sea lions occupied the harbor benches!

Santa Cruz and Rabida Islands

 

BACHAS BEACH

Our next stop was Bachas Beach in the northern part of Santa Cruz. It consists of two beautiful beaches that combined are about one mile in length. The name originates from WW2, when the US Army left two barges discarded on the beach. The first settlers called it Bachas rather than barges.

We disembarked from our panga onto a beautiful white coral beach, a major nesting ground for the green sea turtle. we also visited a lagoon behind the beach where we saw flamingos, iguanas, a green heron and finches.

 

RABIDA ISLAND

Rabida, a short cruise form Bachas Beach, has a rich russet colored beach that gleams in the sun and gives everything on it a special quality of soft beauty. The reddish hue comes from the oxidation of the iron-rich lava that is the basis for the soil. We were unable to snorkel because of the windy conditions, but we did enjoy a late afternoon landing on the beautiful beach. There were lots of sea lions – young and old – and many small birds along the beach. Sunset with the red beach colors was fantastic.

 

Fernandina Island

After our initial visit to Isabela, we headed across the Bolivar Channel towards Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island.  Fernandina is just over 100,000 years old and is the youngest of the Galapagos Islands. Volcanically it is also the most active with eruptions from Volcan la Cumbre ocurring every few years. The most recent was in June 2018, so this is somewhere near the highly active Galapagos hot spot. No foreign species has ever invaded this island, so it is one of the world’s most pristine island ecosystems.

During our passage we were excited to see a manta ray majestically leaping out of the sea, followed by a large pod of common dolphins. Their acrobatics were spectacular.

PUNTA ESPINOSA

We enjoyed a double dose of this sand and lava point. First we snorkeled among marine iguanas, tortoises, hog fish, boobies and a manta ray nestled into the sand. The feeling of swimming with marine iguanas was particularly neat.

Later in the afternoon we made a dry landing and strolled for about a mile along the lava and sand beach. The point was an endless “pahoehoe” (basaltic lava forming smooth undulating or ropy masses) lava flow, and offered a wonderful view of the volcano. The wildlife among the lava, sand and tidal pools was spectacular, with endless masses of marine iguana, tortoises, sea lions, hawks, pelicans, penguins, flightless cormorants and the ever-present Sally Lightfoot crabs.

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Scenic and People

Bartolome Island

Next up – Batolome! This is a smaller volcanic cone east of the larger Santiago Island. The cone is easy to climb and the views are outstanding. The island is famous for its’ Pinnacle Rock, the distinctive characteristic of Bartolome, and the most representative landmark of the Galapagos. Our hikers went ashore to climb to the top of the island – 370′ – for a wonderful volcanic view of the whole island and Pinnacle Rock. The rest enjoyed a panga ride, a beach landing and later snorkeling in rather rough seas. The latter adventure – done by few – was rewarding for an experience watching a group of penguins swimming around and under the panga.

Views and People

Wildlife

Penguins

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