Category Archives: North America 1997

Majestic Canyons

Majestic Canyons

No matter how many times you’ve seen it, visiting the Grand Canyon never fails to take your breath away.

Grandview Lookout, Grand Canyon National Park
Grandview Lookout, Grand Canyon National Park

Of all the scenes in the America Deserta, none has captured the imagination of the world so completely as Grand Canyon. Even among the magnificent landscapes of the American Southwest, it stands alone in its distinction. There is no single aspect of it that is most impressive, unless it is size, and even that is impossible at a glance. Only in hiking some distance below the rim does one begin to come to terms with its enormity. Although having grasped the overwhelming depth and width of the canyon, there remains the fact that it extends for nearly 480km; the most panoramic viewpoints offer a look at only a portion of it.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

For geologists, Grand Canyon is the classic example of erosion in an arid landscape and one of the finest exposures of sedimentary rock in North America; for archaeologists and naturalists it is a wealth of information on the pre-history and natural history of the American Southwest. But for most of the millions of people who see it each year, and the many others in whose mind’s eye it lives as a dream or a memory, Grand Canyon is the ultimate American landscape.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

The Spanish called it the Rio Colorado because of the red colour of its muddy waters. It was, more than anything else, a barrier to further travel, and lay at the bottom of a gorge unlike anything they’d ever seen. Small wonder that among the feelings it inspired were discouragement and fear.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

As imposing as it must have seemed at the time, the Colorado River is no less fascinating today. Although by no means one of the largest rivers in North America, it’s not even in the top 25 and has less than one percent of the flow of Mississippi River, it drains one of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world. From its source in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Colorado River runs more than 2300km across the southwestern portion of North America to the Gulf of California.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is only one of a series of impressive canyons that trace the course of the river. In Utah, the river passes through Westwater Canyon, Cataract Canyon and Glen Canyon before it reaches Grand Canyon. Below Grand Canyon, along the Colorado River just below Hoover Dam, lies Black Canyon. These extraordinary canyons, each nearly as impressive in its own way as Grand Canyon, are a testimony not only to the power of Colorado River but to the erosive power of water in general. But the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River has come to be the canyon by which all others are measured.

Majestic Canyons

It is from the South Rim near Grand Canyon Village that most people see the canyon. Here the canyon rim falls away in a series of remarkable cliffs, broken occasionally by slopes of talus or rock debris. More than 900 meters below the rim, the walls give way to the broad green shelf known as the Tonto Platform. From the rim one can discern here portions of the Tonto Trail, the 1100-kilometer-long inner canyon trail whose faint outline parallels the rim of the Inner Gorge: the narrow V-shaped slot whose steep dark walls drop an additional 300 meters (or more) to the Colorado River below. There, at the bottom of the canyon, visible from only a few places along the rim, lies the Colorado River.

Bottom of the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, near Phantom Ranch
Bottom of the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, near Phantom Ranch

The view here is dominated by horizontal layers of sedimentary rock, traceable for miles in any direction, and by an erosional landscape whose shape is startling in its appearance. The unusual shape of the canyon is directly related to these strata. Each layer responds to erosion in its own characteristic manner: the shales tend to form slopes, the thick beds of limestone and sandstone form impenetrable cliffs, and the ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks exposed below the Tonto Platform at the very base of the canyon form the steep, somber walls of the Inner Gorge. Though the canyon is far younger than the ancient rocks in which it is carved, it owes its shape to this diverse suite of rocks and to the semi-arid climate of the region. While the river is responsible for the existence of Grand Canyon, the canyon owes its present shape and character to erosional forces other than the Colorado River.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

The North Rim is 16km across the canyon by air but a long 350km drive by car. The North Rim, at 2400 meters above sea level, stands 300 meters higher and consequently receives an annual precipitation twice that of the South Rim. The cooler and moister climate on the north side supports an altogether different community of plants and animals. The North Rim is at its most spectacular in early summer when New Mexican locust and lupine are in bloom, or in late September and early October when both aspen and oak, the latter scattered below the rim, give the canyon a splash of brilliant colour.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Stand before this vast rent in the earth’s crust and you’re looking down at two-billion years of geologic time. That fact does something funny to the human brain. Lit by flaming sunsets, filled with billowing seas of fog and iced with crystal dustings of snow, the mile-deep, 450-kilometer-long Grand Canyon is nature’s cathedral. You’ll feel tiny yet soaring, awed yet peaceful, capable of poetry yet totally tongue-tied.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the southern end of the Grand Staircase, an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretch south from Bryce Canyon National Park through Zion National Park and into the Grand Canyon. In the 1870s, geologist Clarence Dutton first conceptualized this region as a huge stairway ascending out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon northward with the cliff edge of each layer forming giant steps. Dutton divided this layer cake of Earth history into five steps that he colorfully named Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, and Chocolate Cliffs. Since then, modern geologists have further divided Dutton’s steps into individual rock formations.

Majestic Canyons

What makes the Grand Staircase unique in the world is that it preserves more Earth history than any other place on Earth. Geologists often liken the study of sedimentary rock layers to reading a history book, layer by layer, detailed chapter by detailed chapter. The problem is that in most places in the world, the book has been severely damaged by the rise and fall of mountains, the scouring of glaciers, etc. Usually these chapters are completely disarticulated from each other and often whole pages are just missing. Yet the Grand Staircase and the lower cliffs that comprise the Grand Canyon remain largely intact speaking to over 600 million years of continuous Earth history with only a few paragraphs missing here and there.

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon
Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon

At the top of the geological Grand Staircase sits Bryce Canyon. Surrounded by aromatic pine and juniper forests, it’s best known for its iconic hoodoos, weathered spires of rock that reach up to 10 stories high. Though Bryce Canyon is one of America’s smallest national parks at just 30km long, the concentration of sunset-coloured hoodoos creates a mesmerising effect. The park is not so much a canyon as the eastern edge of a great plateau, nibbled into a series of amphitheatres at a rate of about one metre every hundred years, through layers of limestone, siltstone and mudstone that give the hoodoos their segmented appearance.

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is a geologic wonderland. The erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater have produced here what is probably the Earth’s most famous example of pinnacled badlands. Within the canyon’s spectacular formations are deep caverns and rooms resembling ruins of prisons, castles, churches with their guarded walls, battlements, spires, steeples, niches and recesses presenting the wildest and most wonderful scene that the eye of man ever has beheld – truly one of the wonders of the world.

Bryce Canyon, Hoodoos Formations
Bryce Canyon, Hoodoos Formations

The famous spires, called “hoodoos,” are formed when ice and rainwater wear away the weak limestone that makes up the Claron Formation. For 200 days a year the temperature goes above and below freezing every day. During the day, water seeps into fractures only to freeze at night, expanding by 9%. As ice, it exerts a tremendous force (14-140 MPa) on the surrounding rock. Over time this “frost-wedging” shatters and pries rock apart. In addition, rain water, which is naturally acidic, slowly dissolves the limestone, rounding off edges and washing away debris.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos
Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

The result is thousands of delicately carved spires rising in brilliant color from the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon National Park. Tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name, these whimsically arranged rocks create a wondrous landscape of mazes, offering some of the most exciting and memorable walks and hikes imaginable.

The geologic term, “hoodoo”, lives on at Bryce Canyon National Park as perpetuated by early geologists who thought the rock formations could cast a spell on you with their magical spires and towering arches 🙂

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon

Because Bryce Canyon transcends 650m of elevation, the park exists in three distinct climatic zones: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest and Pinyon Pine/juniper forest. This diversity of habitat provides for high biodiversity. At Bryce, you can enjoy over 100 species of birds, dozens of mammals and more than a thousand plant species.

Star Lily at Bryce Canyon
Star Lily at Bryce Canyon

So many superlatives can be used to describe Bryce Canyon National Park that in the end it all becomes cliché. And even the beauty of the park itself can become a cliché: images of the park adorn so many postcards, book covers, table mats and billboards that one begins to forget the place actually exists. This small cove of rock and plateau is a lesson in meta-geology and an open invitation to trance like concentration.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre
Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre

In the tales of the Paiute people of Utah, long ago there lived the To-whenan- ung-wa, or Legend People, who were animals of all kinds with the power to take on human form. They were arrogant and misused the land, so in punishment, the coyote god, known as a trickster by Native Americans, turned them all to stone. They still stand in their thousands at Bryce Canyon National Park, as hoodoos.

The Scottish-born Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, who gave his name to Bryce Canyon in the late 1870s, called it ‘a hell of a place to lose a cow’. Only the park’s prairie dogs are oblivious to the maze of hoodoos, creating underground labyrinths of their own.

Bryce Canyon prairie dogs
Bryce Canyon prairie dogs

Zion is easily one of North America’s most spectacular national parks. The area’s primary attraction is its soaring rock walls, among the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world, which form an area geologists used to colloquially call standing-up country, and Zion Canyon, where many of the tallest cliffs surround the Virgin River, is a canyon in America likely rivaled only by Yosemite Canyon. Zion Canyon and its tributaries are departures in relief downward from the high-plateau surface. The canyons are so narrow, so deep and so well interlaced that in places the entire country seems to be made up of great gorges, cliffs, buttes, mesas and a marvelous variety of lesser erosional forms.

Inside Zion National park's famous "Subway" slot canyon
Inside Zion National Park’s famous “Subway” slot canyon

To this extraordinary relief must be added a lavish and bold colour overprint. The sedimentary rocks that form the walls and slopes are naturally white, red, yellow, green, purple and rust. Worked upon by the weather of countless years, the rocks have been broken to fragments and chemically altered. Today they seem to have been painted, by some monumental brush, with an infinite variety of vivid splashes and pastel shades. After rainstorms the colours can be startlingly intense. Artists and photographers are constantly being drawn here by the challenge of capturing Zion in its infinite variety of moods.

Zion's sandstone cliffs—in hues of creams, pinks, and reds—reveal clues to the geologic events that were important in shaping this national park
Zion’s sandstone cliffs, in hues of creams, pinks, and reds, reveal clues to the geologic events that were important in shaping this national park

Its name bestowed by Mormon settlers who found it utterly heavenly, Zion National Park is an oasis in the desert. Here a meandering river snakes between dizzyingly high canyon walls, and secret springs and emerald pools hide in shady grottos.

Zion
Zion

What makes Zion stand out is its accessibility. In Grand Canyon, you’ve got a superb view nearly 1,800 meters down to the Colorado, but to actually experience the river, to get down to it, you’ve got to be a bit of a brute; trails there either wind along the canyon rim or plunge down steeply to the river, and once you get there the only choice is to hike back out. In Zion, however, you start at the bottom, and while there are steep tracks that lead up towards the high country most of the trails follow the canyon bottoms into far recesses.

Zion
Zion

That confluence of canyon walls often exposes water seeping through the rock; when it bursts or bubbles out, small clusters of shooting stars, monkey flowers, evening primrose, larkspurs, even orchids, blossom back with gratitude. These oases contrast sharply with the stark desert landscapes that often lie just feet away, and the endless bare rock ramparts that rise dizzyingly out of sight. The result is a seductive wilderness of breathtaking beauty that at once beckons the casual visitor and the experienced backcountry traveler.

Zion
Zion

Even with eyes closed, Zion National Park overawes with the names of its mountains and valleys – the Court of the Patriarchs, Tabernacle Dome, the Organ, the Pulpit and the Great White Throne. Mount Moroni bears the name of the angel who Mormons believe appeared to the founder of their church in the 1820s, and even the area’s native religions get a look-in, with the Temple of Sinawava – that trickster coyote god again.

The Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon are made of Navajo Sandstone
The Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon are made of Navajo Sandstone
Zion Great White Throne
Zion Great White Throne
Zion Canyon as seen from the top of Angels Landing at sunset
Zion Canyon as seen from the top of Angels Landing at sunset

Zion Canyon’s grandeur and beauty inspire overwhelming feelings of awe, reverence and peace in all who view it. These are the emotions that no doubt prompted the exalted names that have been bestowed upon its natural features, names that have been retained and added to in like spirit: Watchman, Altar of Sacrifice, East Temple, West Temple, Angels Landing, Temple of Sinawava and Zion itself are eloquent examples. The word “Zion” is Hebrew for “a place of peace and relaxation”.

Majestic Canyons

Să te odihneşti în pace.

Un suflet blând, plin de dragoste şi bunătate s-a ridicat la cer lăsând în urmă multă durere şi lacrimi. Te voi păstra veşnic în amintirea mea.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

It’s the 1st of November, and a glorious day in San Francisco. It makes up for last night’s experience, of having arrived in San Francisco on a Friday evening and Halloween night and waiting forever to get a taxi to the hotel.

Being such a gorgeous day, we decided to join thousands of San Franciscans and other tourists in Golden Gate Park.

It’s a big park! You can spend a whole day there!

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

We did spend a whole day there.

In the 1860s, San Franciscans began to feel the need for a spacious public park similar to Central Park, which was then taking shape in New York City. Golden Gate Park was carved out of unpromising sand and shore dunes that were known as the Outside Lands, in an unincorporated area west of San Francisco’s then-current borders. Conceived ostensibly for recreation, the underlying purpose of the park was housing development and the westward expansion of the city. The tireless field engineer William Hammond Hall prepared a survey and topographic map of the park site in 1870 and became its commissioner in 1871. The park drew its name from nearby Golden Gate Strait.

In 1903, a pair of Dutch-style windmills were built at the extreme western end of the park. These pumped water throughout the park until 1913 when electric water pumps were installed. The north windmill has been restored to its original appearance in 1981 and is adjacent to Queen Wilhelmina tulip garden, a gift of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

The Murphy Windmill in the southwest corner of the park was restored in September 2011.

Statues of historical figures are located throughout the park, including Francis Scott Key, Robert Emmet, Robert Burns, the double monument to Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, General Pershing, Beethoven, Giuseppe Verdi, President Garfield, and Thomas Starr King. The bronze statue of Don Quixote and his companion, Sancho Panza kneeling to honor their creator, Cervantes, combines historical and fictitious characters.

Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller
Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller

The Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park.

The Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers opened in 1878
The Conservatory of Flowers opened in 1878

Closed for renovations (it reopened in September 2003), we could only admire the outside of it. This elegant Victorian Greenhouse has provided a tropical environment for specialised collections as well as seasonal flower displays since 1878. It is one of the world’s largest conservatories built of traditional wood and glass panes. It was prefabricated for local entrepreneur James Lick for his Santa Clara, California, estate but was still in its crates when he died in 1876. A group of San Franciscans bought it and offered it to the city, and it was erected in Golden Gate Park and opened to the public in 1878. The conservatory has had a rough time over the years with the main dome catching fire after a boiler exploded in 1883, then suffered another fire in 1918, after surviving the earthquake of 1906, it was declared unsound and closed to the public in 1933 and reopened in 1946. In 1995, after a severe storm with 160 km/h winds damaged the structure, shattering 40 percent of the glass, the conservatory had to be closed again. It was cautiously dissected for repairs and finally reopened in September 2003.

The Japanese Tea Garden, constructed in 1893, is the oldest Japanese-style garden in the United States. Garden highlights are cherry blossoms in late March and early April…

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

In November, we enjoyed other aspects of the garden.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Just inside the Main Gate to the garden, there is a clipped hedge in the form of Mt. Fuji. This feature pays tribute to Hagiwara’s Japanese roots, which were located close to this mountain in Japan.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the site originally spanned about one acre and showcased a Japanese style garden. When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity. He became caretaker of the property, pouring all of his personal wealth, passion, and creative talents into creating a garden of utmost perfection. Mr. Hagiwara expanded the garden to its current size of approximately 5 acres where he and his family lived for many years until 1942 when they, along with approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and move into internment camps. When the war was over, the Hagiwara family was not allowed to return to their home at the tea garden and in subsequent years, many Hagiwara family treasures were removed and new additions were made.

The Japanese Tea Garden opened in 1894
The Japanese Tea Garden opened in 1894

In 1949, a large bronze Buddha, originally cast in Tajima, Japan in 1790, was presented to the garden by the S & G Gump Company.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Buddha Statue in the Japanese Tea Garden
Buddha Statue in the Japanese Tea Garden

A pathway filled with character guides you to the Drum Bridge, where mesmerizing greenery and a noble Chinese pine reside. Reflecting a perfect circle, the Drum Bridge represents part of the 1894 Japanese Village.

Japanese Drum Bridge
Japanese Drum Bridge

Near the Gift Shop, you will encounter a peaceful waterfall setting surrounded by wisteria, azaleas, dwarf trees and the Japanese maple tree. The Japanese wisteria originates from the early-1900 specimens planted by Hagiwara. A small lake with island décor is situated in this section of the park, which was also part of the original Japanese Village. This sight is located in front of the Japanese Tea House, where you can enjoy some tea.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Another sight worth a look includes the Pagoda, which measures five stories.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

This attraction once graced the 1915 Japanese exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Pagodas hold a special place in Far East culture, as they serve as Buddhist shrines. The nine rings on this particular example symbolize the different heavens of the gods. Situated behind the Pagoda is the Zen Garden.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

In 1953 the Zen Garden, designed by Nagao Sakurai and representing a modern version of kare sansui (a dry garden which symbolizes a miniature mountain scene complete with a stone waterfall and small island surrounded by a gravel river), was dedicated at the same time as the 4,100 kg Lantern of Peace, which was purchased by contributions from Japanese children and presented on their behalf as a symbol of friendship for future generations.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Upon exiting th garden through the Main Gate, you may notice a large stone decorated with a bronze plague. It is here that you will find the words, “To honor Makoto Hagiwara and his family who nurtured and shared this garden from 1895–1942.”

Another garden within Golden Gate Park is the Strybing Arboretum and San Francisco Botanical Garden. When William Hammond Hall made the original survey for Golden Gate Park in the 1870s, he envisioned an arboretum for San Francisco. The arboretum became reality when Helene Strybing, widow of a San Francisco merchant, left a bequest to the city providing that an arboretum and botanical garden be established to include trees, shrubs and plants indigenous to or characteristic of California and also a collection of plants used for medicinal purposes. Mrs Strybing requested that plants be properly labeled.

Preliminary work began in 1937 with many of the earliest plants coming from Golden Gate Park itself, including a few specimens that had come from the New Zealand pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Today, the arboretum contains more than 7,500 plant species.

Redwood trail through the San Francisco Botanical Garden
Redwood trail through the San Francisco Botanical Garden

I wonder who the bears take after 🙂

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Hiking on Mt Mitchell

Strawberry Hill is a Golden Gate Park gift from nature in the form of an island that is situated in the middle of Stow Lake.

Stow Lake, the largest of the manmade lakes in Golden Gate Park
Stow Lake, the largest of the manmade lakes in Golden Gate Park

The name of this centrally located piece of land in Stow Lake comes from the wild strawberries that once decorated the exterior. Throughout the years, the plentiful nature of the wood strawberry was replaced by the aggressive takeover of cape ivy and ice plant hailing from South Africa.

Strawberry Hill in its heyday delivered the sweet scent of wild berries. Today, the presence of the strawberries is not entirely lost; vigilant examination of the sandy slopes may disclose the whereabouts of a few surviving patches. Additional blooms and other equally refreshing plants about the island include the Christmas berry, Dutchman’s pipevine, milkweed, seaside daisy, and Hooker’s evening primrose.

The journey through the island begins at either the Rustic Bridge or the Roman Bridge at Stow Lake, which are located on opposite sides of Strawberry Hill. Both bridges were completed just in time for the opening of the Midwinter Fair in 1894, and allowed visitors to gain easy, scenic access back and forth to Strawberry Hill and Stow Lake.

Rustic Bridge
Rustic Bridge

When part of the construction of Stow Lake took place during the 1890s, large boulders of the local chert (a tough sedimentary rock that when broken can form rather sharp edges) were transformed into this rustic-looking structure with the double arches.

The Huntington waterfalls on Strawberry Hill might be artificially made, but are still stunning.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Located on the western edge of Golden Gate Park is Ocean Beach, a stretch of sandiness that continues on for miles. It is here that you encounter a daily reminder of how the park was once covered in sand dunes.

Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach

1997 saw the 60th anniversary of Golden Gate Bridge, the most photographed bridge in the world.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

On a sunny day, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge glows an orangey-red on the backdrop of a bright blue sky. Although clear weather is no guarantee, taking in views of this impressive structure makes the short list for many trips to the Bay Area. Good news is that glimpses of the bridge can be found from many a hilltop in the city’s northern neighborhoods.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait, the mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The structure links San Francisco, on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, to Marin County. The bridge is one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco, California, and the United States.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

The Frommers travel guide considers the Golden Gate Bridge “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world”. It opened in 1937 and was, until 1964, the longest suspension bridge main span in the world, at 1,300m.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

The bridge was designed and built by engineer Joseph Baerman Strauss. It took him a decade to convince the city’s commissioners that his mathematics were sound and that his plan for the bridge was feasible.

Golden Gate Bridge Under Construction
Golden Gate Bridge Under Construction

It took less time to build the bridge, a little over four years, and the total cost of the project was $35 million. When the bridge was completed, San Francisco celebrated for a week, The Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta lasted from May 27 to June 2. Strauss, an engineer as well as a poet, read a poem he penned for the occasion, called “The Mighty Task is Done”, which begins:

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

A foghorn blared into the California dawn at 6 a.m. on May 27, 1937, to signal the official opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. That day, nearly 200,000 people walked, ran, tap-danced and roller-skated across what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. The next day, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to automobile traffic.

Pedestrians walk across the bridge on May 27, 1937
Pedestrians walk across the bridge on May 27, 1937

On “Pedestrian Day” 15,000 people an hour went through the turnstiles, each paying 25 cents to cross; some traversed the bridge on stilts and roller skates or on unicycles. Vendors set up along the roadway sold an estimated 50,000 hot dogs. At noon on May 28, Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House that announced the bridge’s opening to the entire world, and at 3 p.m. a fleet of 42 Navy ships sailed under the bridge; the day was capped off by a fireworks display at 10 p.m. At some point during the celebration, a Fiesta Queen of the Golden Gate Bridge was crowned, although reports differ as to who won.

The first vehicles, led by a police escort, cross the bridge and head south into San Francisco on May 28, 1937
The first vehicles, led by a police escort, cross the bridge and head south into San Francisco on May 28, 1937

The steel that arrived in San Francisco to build the Golden Gate Bridge was coated in a burnt red and orange shade of primer to protect it from corrosive elements. Consulting architect Irving Morrow found that he preferred the vivid hue of the primer to more conventional paint choices such as carbon black and steel gray. The “international orange” color was not only visible in the fog, but it complemented the natural topography of the surrounding hills and contrasted well with the cool blues of the bay and the sky. Morrow ultimately selected the bold primer color to coat the bridge.

Cool nights and warm days generate the foggy conditions so common over the Golden Gate in the mornings.

A Perfect Saturday in Golden Gate Park

Seattle – The Science City

It looks just like mine! Next year I’m going to stand my tower next to the big one! What a beary adventure we are going to have…

Seattle - The Emerald City

The Seattle Center with its landmark feature the Space Needle is a legacy of the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962.

After the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957, the United States faced a choice: redouble its efforts in science and technology or risk losing the Space Race. This new sense of urgency drove the United States to look for bolder, grander and larger-scale ways to inspire the public in science. They found one in a World Fair being planned in Seattle. Originally conceived in the mid-1950s as a “Festival of the West”, Sputnik prompted the Seattle World Fair to instead adopt science, aerospace and “the future” as the major themes of the exposition. The fair was alternately titled “Century 21” or “World of Tomorrow”.

1962 Seattle World's Fair Poster
1962 Seattle World’s Fair Poster

In hearings about the fair, civic leaders stated that America’s “very survival during the next century depends upon how well we develop our scientific resources.” It was decided that one of the cornerstones of the fair would be the United States Science Pavilion, a federally-sponsored exhibit to inspire and encourage young people to take up careers in science.

In appropriately futuristic fashion, a radio impulse was transmitted from the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., bounced off the moon, and then received in Seattle as the signal to break ground on the Pavilion on February 21, 1961. Designed by Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki, the United States Science Pavilion was a massive success.

1962 postcard
1962 postcard

Its architecture alone prompted nearly universal praise at the time. The art critic for the New York Times wrote, “The hit of the Seattle World’s Fair is the United States Science Pavilion, a dreamlike building before which people stand murmuring, ‘beautiful’.”

1962 postcard
1962 postcard

Journalist Alistair Cooke was even more enthralled: “As you come closer and are surrounded by the concrete surfaces everywhere, and the delicate and rippling interplay of light and water, arches and scintillating stone, it is as if the Gothic style had passed without a break [through the ages]. It is as if Venice had just been rebuilt.”

Yamasaki, along with the Pavilion’s iconic arches and foundations, even made the cover of Time magazine in 1963.

Pacific Science Center and Space Needle
Pacific Science Center and Space Needle

At the heart of the courtyard are five precast concrete 30 meters tall entry arches, now recognizable as an iconic piece of the Seattle skyline. Each of the towers supports identical custom light fixtures which light-up the arches at night. Every facet of the arches and courtyard was designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki. Originally, Yamasaki had planned a single, 33 meter tall tower to mark the entry, but after plans for the nearby 184 meter tall Space Needle were made known, he realized that the single tower would have appeared “diminutive” in comparison and opted for a multi-tower design. The towers are centered on the primary north-south axis of the Seattle Center, originally aimed at drawing visitors from the hectic 1962 World’s Fair into the peaceful courtyard oasis of the Science Pavilion.

Pacific Science Center at night
Pacific Science Center at night

The inside was just as intriguing. It was the first time a single exhibit of that size and scale had been devoted solely to science communication, and particularly, communication of “the connotations, the textures, and the innate joy of science, rather than its massive technology and often staggeringly complex findings.” Its theme did not dwell on one particular scientific discipline nor set of facts; instead it presented a storyline of humankind’s attempts to understand the universe, with the intention of sparking a better understanding and appreciation of science as a whole.

A visitor’s experience began in what is now the PACCAR IMAX Theater with a film by the legendary Charles and Ray Eames entitled “The House of Science”. The remaining buildings were then visited sequentially, giving visitors a storyline of scientific progress and possibility throughout history, with exhibits titled “The History of Science”, “The Spacearium” (now the Laser Dome), “The Methods of Science”, and “The Horizons of Science”. In total, 6,748,000 people visited the US Science Pavilion from April 21st to October 21st, 1962.

As the fair progressed however, there was the question of what would happen to the buildings after the fair was over. The US Government had a vision for Yamasaki’s quiet ponds, sweeping arches, gothic walkways and floral fountains: a storage facility. Seattle’s civic leaders however, had another idea: “It should enrich the life of the community. It should amuse, beguile, stimulate, inspire and inform. It should complement and supplement the interests and scientific resources of this area. […] The Pacific Science Center should pioneer in a great experiment designed to show that the essence, aims and methods of science can be widely appreciated in the general population.”

The government recognized the potential of such an institution, and agreed to lease the buildings to the newly-formed committee for $1 per year, and the name Pacific Science Center was chosen, the first institution in the world to call itself a “science center”. On October 22, 1962, the day after the Fair’s closing, the United States Science Pavilion reopened as Pacific Science Center.

What began as the highly popular US Science Pavilion at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair gave birth to the nation’s first museum founded as a science and technology center, housing not collections and artifacts, but instead expansive halls filled with hands-on exhibits, interactive demonstrations, and staff and volunteers trained in inquiry-based learning methods. Seattle journalist and World’s Fair historian Knute “Skip” Berger wrote about Seattle’s love of science and Pacific Science Center’s part in weaving science into the region’s cultural fabric. “The [1962 Seattle World’s] fair’s legacy would have been huge even if the Science Center was the only surviving pavilion — bigger than many a fair’s contribution to civic life. The Science Center stands today as a secular temple to the truth and its pursuit; it teaches and engages our children, it wows us with exhibits from robotic dinosaurs to King Tut and even brings us Laser Floyd.”

We’re going to call Seattle the science city! Seattle likes nicknames. It has a whole lot of them – Jet City, Queen City, Emerald City, Rainy City.

Seattle - The Emerald City

Our beary adventure at the Seattle Center will start at the West Lake Center and we’ll take a ride on the other fair icon, the monorail, right into the center station used by fairgoers. Elevated light-rail tracks now run in many parts of the world as everyday public transit, but this quaint relic is pure nostalgic fun, a short one-mile route that was a harbinger of things to come.

Seattle - The Emerald City

We’ll check out the International Fountain, another mainstay from the World’s Fair. It was completely replaced and expanded in a $6.5 million project in 1995. As the centerpiece of the broad open space and lawn, it has been transformed from its early days of hard iron nozzles and surrounding sharp-edged, white rock.

Seattle - The Emerald City

And then we’ll go to the Pacific Science Center to check out all the exhibits and the Willard Smith Planetarium for a sky show. They never have any clouds at the planetarium…

And after that we’ll take the elevator to the observation deck of the Space Needle in a stomach-churning 41-second ride so we can look over the whole city. We want a nice, clear day!

Seattle skyline from the Space Needle
Seattle skyline from the Space Needle

Cold and gray doesn’t look good on us…

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle used Queen City as its official nickname from 1869 until 1982, for being the largest city in Washington state but not the capital of Washington. In 1982, the name Emerald City was selected from contest entries as the new nickname for Seattle – since the city is green all year round due to the ubiquitous evergreens, and many other trees, shrubs, ferns, moss on just about every surface and wildflowers that are prolific in the Northwest. The nickname Emerald City also echoes Washington State’s nickname of The Evergreen State.

Seattle is the birthplace of Boeing Airplane Company (in 1917) and its longtime headquarters (until 2001). When the aerospace industry hit a downturn in the 1970s, an infamous billboard was erected, saying, “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?”

But people didn’t leave and today you can find in Seattle every sort of American you could imagine: Native Americans, whites who sprang from old Scandinavian and German stock, Chinese and Japanese, Senegalese and Eritrean, Hindu and Sikh and Jewish, gay and lesbian, and blacks whose families settled in the territory in the late 19th century.

The “spirit of place” (to borrow a phrase from D. H. Lawrence) is civility, or at least the desire to appear civil in public. The people, and especially artists, in this region tend to be highly independent and tolerant. The people who first journeyed this far west, so far that if they kept going they’d fall into the Pacific Ocean, came mainly to escape other people. Their descendants are respectful of the individual and of different cultural backgrounds and at the same time protect their privacy. They acknowledge tradition but don’t feel bound by it. As physically far removed as they are from cultural centers in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles (the distance from those places is both physical and psychic), they are not inclined to pay much attention to fashions or the opinions of others and instead pursue their own singular visions. The Seattleites include Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Ray Charles; August Wilson, Jacob Lawrence and George Tsutakawa; Sherman Alexie, Octavia Butler, Timothy Egan, Theodore Roethke and his student David Wagoner.

Jonathan Raban, an immigrant from England, captures the ambience of the city perfectly:

“It was something in the disposition of the landscape, the shifting lights and colours of the city. Something. It was hard to nail it, but this something was a mysterious gift that Seattle made to every immigrant who cared to see it. Wherever you came from, Seattle was queerly like home….It was an extraordinarily soft and pliant city. If you went to New York, or to Los Angeles, or even to Guntersville [Alabama], you had to fit yourself to a place whose demands were hard and explicit. You had to learn the school rules. Yet people who came to Seattle could somehow recast it in the image of home, arranging the city around themselves like so many pillows on a bed. One day you’d wake up to find things so snug and familiar that you could easily believe that you’d been born here.”

Seattle - The Emerald City

The city is built on immigration and technology. It has an ideal environment for nurturing innovation, individualism and the creative spirit. Maybe it’s the Northwest’s most talked about feature, rain, that invokes a misty and meditative mood and the wet evening air that causes portions of the geography to gleam and hazes other parts, sfumato, from November through February, in an atmosphere that is a perfect externalization of the brooding inner climate of the creative imagination. It is a place where the young, single, iconoclastic and open-minded seem to thrive. It’s hard to imagine a world without Nintendo games or Microsoft software; both came from Seattle companies. Do your bears play with Magic cards or dote on Pokémon games? They’re also made in Seattle. The world talks on cell phone networks pioneered by Seattle company McCaw Cellular, now part of AT&T, and buys things online at Amazon.com or offline at Costco Wholesale, two more Seattle companies. And with the downturns of the 1970s behind it, Boeing’s jumbo jets still rule the sky.

Seattle - The Emerald City

This is the city that also launched the grunge music movement and a national espresso craze. Starbucks is the most famous Seattle coffee expert, but the city is a hotbed of latte shops and espresso stands, each with their devotees. So much coffee is consumed that scientists have found that caffeine permeates the local seawater.

Seattle, on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, is surrounded by water, mountains and evergreen forests, and encompasses thousands of acres of parkland. There is poetry in the lavish scenery. The mountains rise up to over 4,000 meters above the sea. There are magnificent, rain-drenched forests, treeless desert lands, glacial lakes, some 3,000 kinds of native plants and hundreds of islands in Puget Sound.

Seattle - The Emerald City

One of the many parks in Seattle is Woodland Park, a 91 acre public park in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge and Green Lake neighborhoods that originated as the estate of Guy C. Phinney, lumber mill owner and real estate developer. Phinney died in 1893, and in 1902, the Olmsted Brothers firm of Boston (of the Central Park, NYC and Stanley Park, Vancouver fame) was hired to design the city’s parks, including Woodland Park.

Woodland Park Rose Garden
Woodland Park Rose Garden

Woodland park is split in half by Aurora Avenue N. and the western half is given over to the Woodland Park Zoo, which we visited. Woodland Park Zoo has won more Best National Exhibit awards from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums than any other zoological institution except the Bronx Zoo in New York. It has long been a pioneer in the field of immersion exhibits: Woodland Park Zoo created what is generally considered the world’s first immersion exhibit, a gorilla habitat, which opened in the late 1970s.

To be fair, we had a gloriously sunny day when we visited the zoo.

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

We can go and meet Towan!

Woodland Park Zoo’s Towan inspired much of the orangutan character, Maurice, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Towan
Towan

The Tropical Rain Forest exhibit won a Best Exhibit award when opened in 1991. A walkway leads up to the building with viewing into a habitat for jaguars, complete with underwater viewing. Nearby is a jungle researcher’s tent. Inside the building is a myriad of animals from Central America and South America, including a wide variety of tropical birds. An outdoor loop houses several African rain forest species, including red ruffed lemurs, colobus monkeys and a rambling gorilla exhibit.

Three-month-old ocelot kitten Evita
Three-month-old ocelot kitten Evita
Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)
Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

The Northern Trail exhibit also won a national Best Exhibit award when it opened in 1994. It is landscaped to resemble an actual trail in Alaska’s Denali National Park and it takes the visitor through the northern habitats of tundra, taiga and montane. The Northern Trail is home to a variety of North American animal species, including timberwolves, Arctic foxes, grizzly bears, mountain goats, Steller’s sea eagles, and Roosevelt elk (which are actually endemic to Washington).

Wolves
Wolves
Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear

The African Savanna was the first of its kind when it opened in 1980 and it inspired the building of similar exhibits across the country. We entered through a model African village, which blends in elements of African culture as well as important messages about the human/animal balance in conservation. The main “savanna” houses giraffes, zebras, gazelles, oryxes, and ostriches, while two connected exhibits house hippopotamus and patas monkeys. If you visit during the summer, you may hand-feed the giraffes for a small fee during scheduled Giraffe Feeding Experience sessions.

Seattle - The Emerald City

Woodland Park Zoo - Lion cubs
Woodland Park Zoo – Lion cubs

Monorail Bunny recommends the aquarium too. He had a beary good time there and came nose to nose with otters, seals, sting rays, octopi and almost anything else that swims at the Seattle Aquarium. Through the glass!

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle - The Emerald City

Seattle Aquarium
Seattle Aquarium

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

It’s Friday afternoon and we are at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Washington, one hour south of Vancouver, waiting to board the M/V Matanuska. While waiting, we stroll around the terminal and decide to buy two pairs of anti-nausea wristbands. They will turn out to be the best investment!

Bellingham Cruise Terminal
Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Located in the Historic Fairhaven District, the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, completed in 1989, is the southern connection for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The Alaska Marine Highway System began service in 1963 with three new ships named for Alaskan glaciers: Malaspina, Taku and Matanuska. The Matanuska Glacier is located in South Central Alaska and is the largest glacier in Alaska accessible by road, via the Glenn Highway. The name was derived from the Russian term for the Copper River people. The M/V Matanuska was designed by Phillip F. Spaulding and Associates of Seattle, Washington and constructed at the Puget Sound Bridge & Dry Dock in Seattle in 1963. After fifteen years in operation, the ship underwent lengthening and renovation at the Willamette Iron and Steel Company in Portland, Oregon.

The ship is 408 feet long and 74 feet wide, with a service speed of 16.5 knots. It is designed to carry 450 passengers. The onboard amenities include observation lounges with comfortable chairs, a covered heated solarium, a cafeteria-style restaurant, a movie lounge, showers, coin-operated lockers, writing and quiet lounges, and a child’s play area.

Matanuska Forward  Observation Lounge
Matanuska Forward Observation Lounge
Matanuska Solarium
Matanuska Solarium
Matanuska Cafeteria Menu
Matanuska Cafeteria Menu

As the throaty horn of the Matanuska resonates through the Bellingham harbour, it’s impossible not to feel excitement. The massive blue-and-white ship eases away from the dock and we are on our way to the Inside Passage.

For more than a century, fortune-seekers, tourists, adventurers and returning Alaskans have leaned against the rails of ships headed for the Inside Passage and waved good-bye to the ordinary world receding with the wake. Naturalist John Muir predicted this northbound pilgrimage. While making his first Southeast Alaska expedition in 1879, he wrote, “Were the attractions of this north coast but half known, thousands of lovers of nature’s beauties would come hither each year. I know of no excursion in any part of our vast country where so much is unfolded in so short a time and at so little cost.”

That is the essence of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Long before statehood came in 1959, the territory began developing a maritime transportation service as routine and ordinary as a bus line. The first short link, between Juneau, Haines and Skagway, has grown into a chain of routes that connect coastal communities in Southeast Alaska, Price William Sound, Kodiak Island, and along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Chain as far west as Unalaska. The fleet of eight “blue canoes”, as many locals fondly refer to them, call at 32 ports, including Bellingham and Prince Rupert (although not on this trip as Canadian and US authorities are in conflict over something or other and the ferries no longer stop at Prince Rupert). The service truly is an official highway system; federal highway funds helped the state build ferries and terminals as the system expanded.

This mid-October sailing begins under auspicious omens. Late afternoon sun warms passengers strolling around the decks. On the ferry’s cavernous car deck, deckhands have arranged cars, pickup trucks, container vans and motorcycles into sardine-like ranks. Foot passengers have come aboard lugging backpacks, sleeping bags, coolers and guitars.

One of the charms of the ferry system is the way people can fashion their own style of travel from the ship’s design. People who prefer beds and bathrooms (like us!) reserve staterooms months in advance. We booked a four-berth stateroom just before the trip, no doubt because of the time of the year, after the peak of the tourist season. Those who would rather rough it (so not us!) spread sleeping bags over lawn-chairs and across the floor in the open-air but heated solarium. Some people have brought along their own provisions. Others will eat all their meals in the cafeteria. Ferries are sometimes called “the poor man’s cruise”, but the view promises to be strictly equal opportunity and you have the freedom to create your own program.

As the Matanuska gains speed, the town of Bellingham and the state of Washington slip into a distant blue haze. The ship’s wake unspools like a ribbon, and before long, we wander forward from the bow to the stern. The ship is headed north, and we want to face that direction, to see where we’re going. The shadowed coastline glides by, homes giving way to unsettled landscape. We brace ourselves against the rails and take deep, rejuvenating breaths of cool, briny air. When the purser announces, “We’re on Alaska time now”, we set our watches back an hour and our minds ahead to the Inside Passage.

Matanuska leaving Bellingham
Matanuska leaving Bellingham

This is how Alaska should be approached – from the sea. Everyone who has ever claimed to discover it – as if a land already peopled by beautiful and complex cultures could be “discovered” – came by sea. Early adventurers searched this raw coast for the Northwest Passage. The Matanuska’s passengers make their own voyage of discovery as the ship crosses sounds, rounds capes, enters deep inlets. What we see is more than scenery, because scenery implies mere prettiness, a mild-mannered landscape. This is a thousand miles of wild beauty rimming the coast between Bellingham and Skagway, a thousand miles governed by the movement of the ocean, the flux of weather, the interplay of mountains and rainforest.

By the end of the second day, when we realise that the view isn’t going anywhere, we relax and watch the British Columbia coast slide by. The ferry provides the perfect opportunity to escape the modern world. The only information of value is spread by word of mouth. Quick! There’s a humpback whale to starboard! To the right! 🙂 Is it raining? Look at that tugboat. When will we reach Ketchikan? What’s for dinner?

The ferry brings together unlikely groups: senior citizens and school kids, fishermen and foreigners. Everyone headed to Alaska has a story, and on the ferry people have time to spin out their tales. Some want adventure. Some want peace and quiet. Some are going home. Some are seeking a home. Some have nothing better to do. Some are looking for something better. For many, the ferry ride represents but a leg of a longer journey. For us, it is the journey.

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

Dramatic features, mountains, glaciers, wildlife, overwhelm the subtle and meditative aspects of the journey. In a pale dawn, clouds avalanche in slow motion down an island peak. As the day progresses, the colour of the sea changes from a pearly gray to a mossy green until, finally, the caramel light of the sunset spills across the water. Even rainy days, and there are plenty of them, present a delicate palette of grays.

The water is always different too. Only when the Matanuska crosses Queen Charlotte Sound do we understand how sheltered the Inside Passage is. As the ship emerges from the east side of Vancouver Island into open water, big swells and whitecapped seas sweep in from the Pacific and roll the boat, as well as some stomachs. And we are immensely grateful for the anti-nausea wristbands we are wearing! They really worked wonders for us. After the two hour crossing, a seaman pronounces the passage through the sound “pretty decent”, which makes us grateful we only experienced a taste of the ocean’s power.

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

Early on the second morning, the Matanuska crosses Dixon Entrance and the invisible border separating Canada and the United States. Until now, communities appeared only as constellations of light and activity studding the coastline. When the Matanuska docks in Ketchikan, the first port of call, we are ready to walk on something that doesn’t move under our feet. The ship remains docked long enough to have breakfast in a nearby cafe and visit a grocery store. The town is still waking up, but it’s rowdy, hardworking character is clear.

Matanuska docked at Ketchikan
Matanuska docked at Ketchikan
Ketchikan Panorama
Ketchikan Panorama

Ketchikan, like most towns in Southeast Alaska, is linear, never more than 10 blocks wide, but several miles long. Tongass Highway, the main street, is built on pilings that take it out of the water in several places. Some of the “cross” streets are really wooden steps climbing the steep hillside.

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles, found throughout the city and at four major locations: Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park, Potlatch Park and the Totem Heritage Center.

The Totem Heritage Center displays preserved 19th century poles rescued from abandoned village sites near Ketchikan.
The Totem Heritage Center displays preserved 19th century poles rescued from abandoned village sites near Ketchikan.

The Matanuska resumes its northbound journey in a drizzle. There are two kinds of weather in southeast Alaska: the one that makes the area what it is and the one you hoped it would be. Then again, it is October, the wettest month of the year. In the afternoon, we dock in Wrangell. On shore, a few local kids appear and form a ragged line to greet disembarking passengers. They are the state’s youngest entrepreneurs, hawking garnets gathered from a nearby deposit willed to Wrangell’s youth by a local mayor. Over the years, the proceeds have financed everything from bubble gum to bicycles, and even the occasional college education.

Wrangell
Wrangell

Wrangell is the only town in southeast Alaska to have flown 3 flags. The Russians built Fort St Dionysius here in 1834 to guard the mouth of the Stikine against Hudson’s Bay Company trappers hunting sea otters. Later the British leased most of the area, calling their post Fort Stikine. Under the American flag, Wrangell, named for Russian Baron Von Wrangell, became the jump-off point for gold miners headed up the Stikine to the Klondike and Cassiars.

The approach to Petersburg is long and dramatic. The Matanuska crosses the Stikine River’s silty drainage and enters the Wrangell Narrows, a pipe cleaner of a passage that twists between Kupreanof and Mitkof islands. This is the high point of any ferry trip, the 46-turn slalom course for ships. A seaman watches from the bow for obstacles, boats and debris in the water as the wheelhouse crew smartly manoeuvres the ship according to a string of more than seventy navigational aids and markers along the 21 mile channel.

Seaman watching for obstacles in the Wrangell Narrows
Seaman watching for obstacles in the Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows

The landscape grows intimate as the waterway constricts into a green artery pulsing with the tide. The Narrows is a literal name! It is really narrow. New pilots train gradually and carefully for this stretch by learning it piece by piece under the tutelage of an experienced captain.

Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Wrangell Narrows
Sunset on the Wrangell Narrows, Inside Passage, near Petersburg, southeast Alaska
Sunset on the Wrangell Narrows, Inside Passage, near Petersburg, southeast Alaska
Petersburg
Petersburg

Petersburg was named by its founder, Peter Buschmann, who, with his wife and eight children, moved here in 1897. The similarity of the geography to his native Norway, the mountain peaks, the fiords, availability of good lumber for building, a good natural harbor and its position in the centre of the world’s richest fishing grounds made this an ideal site for his new home. Many people in Petersburg are of Norwegian descent and they are proud of their ancestry. The Norwegian character is evident in the town’s houses, gardens and boats. In May, on the weekend nearest May 17, Petersburg celebrates a “Little Norway” festival with Viking boats and Norwegian dancing, lots of terrific food, costumes, street booths, games and competitions.

Petersburg
Petersburg

When the Matanuska departs Petersburg at midnight, we are not awake to hear the ship’s horn echoing against the mountains. Through the night, the ferry rumbles north, the powerful engines vibrating in the bones. Night cloacks the flank of Admiralty Island as the ship crosses Frederick Sound and enters Stephens Passage. It is barely daylight when the ferry docks at the Auke Bay ferry terminal, 13 miles northwest of Juneau.

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

Juneau is Alaska’s state capital. It is nestled on the slopes between Gastineau Channel and Mounts Juneau and Roberts, which rise 3000 feet above the town. Since the glaciers dumps sediment carried by the Mendenhall River and Lemon Creek into Gastineau Channel, ships cannot pass north of Juneau and must go back down the channel and around Douglas Island. In order to avoid many miles of extra sailing, the ferries use a terminal at Auke Bay, 13 miles north of town.

Juneau
Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

As the Matanuska reverses away from the dock, we stay on deck for a last glimpse of the blue cascade of ice descending from the Juneau Icefield.

The Juneau Icefields and Mendenhall Glacier rise above Auke Bay
The Juneau Icefields and Mendenhall Glacier rise above Auke Bay

The ship continues on through Lynn Canal, a concentrated stretch of Inside Passage squeezed between the ragged white peaks of the Chilkats to the west and the stolid bulk of the Coast Mountains to the east.

After lunch, the public address system announces a weekly emergency drill for the crew. Evidently the excitement is a bit much for some passengers. Ten minutes later, the address system crackles on again with another message: “For the information of passengers, the drill is for crew only.”

By the time the Matanuska arrives at Haines, the skies are brighter. Up here, where the Panhandle is soldered to the rest of Alaska, the climate dries out a bit.

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

Haines
Haines

The upside of not travelling during the peak of the tourist season is that the ferries are not as busy, the downside is that many of the shops along the way are closed. But the ship stopped in Haines long enough for us to wander along Main Street and find Helen’s Jewelry & Gift Shop at 221 Main Street. The perfect place for a gift or two… and an Alaskan nugget.

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

Mine!

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

The Matanuska continues on its last northbound hour up Tayia Inlet, a tentacle of water reaching toward Canada. The layover at Skagway is a chance to explore Alaska’s most famous gold rush town.

Skagway
Skagway

This fascinating façade with nearly 9,000 small pieces of driftwood assembled into a checkerboard design is Camp Skagway No. 1, a brotherhood of gold speculators and miners that was established in 1899 when approximately 600 men a day arrived in Skagway by steamers from Seattle during the Klondike Gold Rush. It was the first of eventually thirty camps or brotherhood halls that would be created in Alaska and neighboring Canada with a peak of 10,000 members.

Camp Skagway No 1 Building
Camp Skagway No 1 Building
Skagway
Skagway

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway narrates how the wily and fiercely territorial Tlingit were inevitably overcome by the gold feverish stampeders – rugged individualists, perhaps, but aided and abetted by the US military – who transformed the aboriginal trade trails into “golden staircases” and a narrow gauge railway leading to the Klondike gold fields. The narrow gauge railway is now in operation purely for the tourist trade and runs throughout the summer months.

Commemorating the Gold Rush of 1897-98, this 13,191-acre park encompasses a six-block historical district in the town of Skagway, the nearby ghost town of Dyea and the famous Chilkoot and White Pass Trails. The streets of Skagway are lined with dozens of historic stores, saloons and public buildings of which the National Park Service has restored fifteen. In neighboring Dyea, the park interprets how a town, once the size of Skagway, disappeared in the years following the Rush, though it still serves as the starting point for hikes on the famous, 33-mile Chilkoot Trail, the most popular backpacking route in Alaska.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park - Skagway Museum
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Skagway Museum
The Skagway Centennial Statue -  Tlingit Packer leading a prospector up the trail in 1897 - Statue dedicated 3 July 1997
The Skagway Centennial Statue – Tlingit Packer leading a prospector up the trail in 1897 – Statue dedicated 3 July 1997
Skagway Centennial Statue Plaque
Skagway Centennial Statue Plaque

When gold was discovered in 1896 in Bonanza Creek, near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, Skagway and Dyea became the starting places for more than 40,000 gold-rush stampeders who headed to Canada primarily by way of the Chilkoot Trail. The actual stampede lasted only a few years but it produced one of the most colorful periods in Alaskan history, that of a lawless frontier town controlled by villainous ‘Soapy’ Smith who was finally removed from power in a gun fight by town hero Frank Reid. At the height of the gold rush, Michael J. Heney, an Irish contractor, convinced a group of English investors that he could build a railroad over the White Pass Trail to Whitehorse. Built with little more than gun powder and picks, the White Pass & Yukon Route climbs from sea level to 2,865-foot White Pass in just 20 miles, making it one the world’s steepest train routes.

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

Through the night, the Matanuska retraces its journey as far back as Juneau before heading to Sitka on the outer coast. The ship rounds Admiralty Island to sail down the wide marine thorough-fare of Chatham Strait. One of the marine highway’s main attractions lies at the mouth of the strait, where Sergius Narrows separates Baranof and Chichagof islands. From the wheelhouse a voice explains that the ferry can only transit the narrrows at slack tide, when the tidal current is not running.

Once docked at the Sitka terminal, the Matanuska has to wait a few hours for the tide to slosh through Sergius Narrows. So we abandon ship for a tour of the Russian-American town.

Sitka
Sitka

Sitka was the site of the first Russian settlement in southeast Alaska, established by Baranof in 1799. Originally built just north of where the ferry terminal now stands, it was wiped out by Tlingit Indians. A new fort and town were built at the present townsite. For years, Sitka was the European cultural centre of the Pacific. American, Spanish and British ships came here to trade with the Russians for otter pelts. When the US bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867, the change-over took place in Sitka. The town’s Russian heritage, the historic sites and buildings, the Sheldon Jackson Museum (with its excellent Indian collection) and the Sitka National Historical Park make a stopover here very rewarding.

Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka
Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka

St. Michael’s Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, is a cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America Diocese of Alaska in Sitka. The earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World, it was built in the 19th century, when Alaska was under the control of Russia. After 1872, the cathedral came under the control of the Diocese of Alaska. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962, notable as an important legacy of Russian influence in North America and Southeast Alaska in particular.

St. Michael's Cathedral, Sitka
St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka

The cathedral is a showcase of icons brought to Alaska from Russia. The two most prized are Our Lady of Sitka (also known as the Sitka Madonna) and Christ Pantocrator that flank the doors of the altar screen. Both paintings are attributed to Vladimir Borovikovsky, a leading 18th century portrait artist and one of Russia’s most revered masters.

St. Michael's Cathedral - Altar screen
St. Michael’s Cathedral – Altar screen
St. Michael's Cathedral - Altar screen
St. Michael’s Cathedral – Altar screen
St. Michael's Cathedral
St. Michael’s Cathedral
St. Michael's Cathedral - Bishop's throne
St. Michael’s Cathedral – Bishop’s throne

Resting on another Bishop’s throne 🙂

A Thousand Miles of Beauty

The Alaska Raptor Center is a raptor rehabilitation center in Sitka. Located on a 17–acre campus bordering the Tongass National Forest and the Indian River, its primary mission is the rehabilitation of sick and injured eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey which are brought in from all over Alaska. The Center (the largest of its type in the state, and one of the largest in North America) receives between 100–200 birds a year, with many suffering from gunshot wounds and traffic accident-related trauma.

Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Owl with an attitude at Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Owl with an attitude at Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center
In front of the Matanuska
In front of the Matanuska

As the Matanuska makes a wide turn to the south, we drift back to our seats. The journey back to Bellingham lies ahead. Tomorrow, more islands will appear. The Matanuska will call at other ports. The light will change. It is all the same, and never the same, on Alaska’s Marine Highway.

Vancouver’s Outdoor Playgrounds

What else did you find in the archive?

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Lots of paper!

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

This place looks interesting… And perfect for a beary adventure…

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Vancouver is a city meant to be experienced outdoors. Thanks to its temperate climate and abundance of rain, the city has an abundance of lush outdoor spaces, the largest among them being Stanley Park. The park was named after Lord Stanley, Canada’s sixth governor-general.

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Ideally situated on a peninsula at the northwestern edge of downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park is the largest city park in Canada. Much of the park’s design was based on the planning principles of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer behind New York’s Central Park and the landscaping for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Stanley Park is home to some of the city’s favorite attractions. You could easily spend more than a day here and still not see everything this urban oasis has to offer.

Stanley Park Seawall View
Stanley Park Seawall View

The Stanley Park seawall was originally conceived as a precaution to erosion in the early 1920s. Today you can cycle, walk or jog along the seawall that hugs Vancouver’s waterfront, the most popular recreational facility in Vancouver. The seawall continues outside of Stanley Park on both sides of the peninsula. The complete distance of the seawall from Canada Place to the Maritime Museum (in Vanier Park) is approximately 32km.

Vancouver skyline from Stanley Park
Vancouver skyline from Stanley Park
Vancouver skyline and marina  from Stanley Park
Vancouver skyline and marina from Stanley Park

Along the seawall in Stanley Park are several points of interest.

Deadman’s Island and HMCS Discovery  Naval Reserve
Deadman’s Island and HMCS Discovery Naval Reserve

This small five-acre island is a military base, annexed by the federal government in 1942 for use by the navy. The island’s name comes from the Squamish people who called it “MemlooseSiwash-il-la-hie” which means “island of dead men”. The island’s primary function seemed to have been a graveyard, as evidenced by human remains found in cedar boxes in the branches of trees. The island was also used as a burial ground for smallpox victims in 1888. There is no public access to the island.

Nine O’Clock Gun
Nine O’Clock Gun

The 1816 naval cannon near Brockton Point is the oldest manmade landmark in the park. The Nine O’Clock Gun, as it is known today, was fired for the first time in 1898, a tradition that has continued for more than 100 years. The cannon was originally detonated with a stick of dynamite, but is now activated automatically with an electronic trigger. You can hear the gun every evening at precisely 9:00pm. Originally, it was fired to remind local fishermen of fishing time limits, but now it sounds every evening at 9pm as a time signal and a tradition.

Stanley Park first nations totem poles
Stanley Park first nations totem poles

Totem poles are unique to the natives of the Northwest coast of North America, and tell eloquent stories about their family hierarchies. The totem poles are the most visited spot in the park, and the most popular tourist attraction in British Columbia.

The collection started at Lumberman’s Arch in the 1920s, when the Park Board bought four totems from Vancouver Island’s Alert Bay. More purchased totems came from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the BC central coast Rivers Inlet, to celebrate the 1936 Golden Jubilee. In the mid 1960s, the totem poles were moved to the attractive and accessible Brockton Point to allow the construction of an overhead road at Lumberman’s Arch.

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Many of the totem poles have been replaced with replicas, with the originals now kept in museums for preservation. The ninth and most recent totem pole, carved by Robert Yelton of the Squamish Nation, was added to Brockton Point in 2009.

Brockton  Point Lighthouse
Brockton Point Lighthouse

A number of ship collisions in the waters around the point led to the construction of a lighthouse and signaling station at Brockton Point. For a time, Brockton Point had a lighthouse keeper, who served for 25 years starting in 1855 and is credited for having saved 16 people from drowning. The present day lighthouse tower with an automatic light was built in 1914. It was designed by Thomas Hayton Mawson, who also constructed the lifeboat house located below the point and designed some of the landscape for Coal Harbour and Stanley Park.

The Girl in the Wetsuit
The Girl in the Wetsuit

The Girl in the Wetsuit is a life-size bronze sculpture by Elek Imredy depicting a friend of his, Debra Harrington, in a wetsuit with flippers on her feet and a mask on her forehead. The figure was unveiled in 1972.

Although some believe it was a replica of Copenhagen’s The Little Mermaid, the creator stated:

I didn’t believe we should have a copy of the mermaid. She is rightfully a symbol of Copenhagen… I proposed to have a life-size scuba diver seated there. At that time scuba diving was getting quite popular here in Vancouver and, just as important, I didn’t know of any similar sculpture anywhere in the world. It was a new idea… There was tremendous opposition and great controversy. I still don’t know why…

Siwash Rock
Siwash Rock

Legend has it that Siwash Rock is actually a young Indian chief who was turned to stone by four supernatural giants. The original fir tree atop Siwash Rock died in the dry summer of 1965, and through the persistent efforts of park staff, a replacement finally took root in 1968.

Empress of Japan figurehead
Empress of Japan figurehead

RMS Empress Of Japan was a ship built in 1891 in England for the Canadian shipping company, Canadian Pacific Steamships. The ship was used as a container ship between the west coast of Canada and the Far East. She would carry cargo such as tea and silk but also regularly carried passengers and was utilized in the mail service. During World War I she was refitted as an Armed Auxiliary Cruiser and saw active duty in Hong Kong. In 1916 she was returned to company service and in 1922 she arrived in Vancouver for the last time after making her 315th crossing, thus ending her career. The ornate dragon’s head was restored in 1928 to honour the original Empress of Japan.

In 1909, the City of New York presented Vancouver with a gift of eight pairs of grey squirrels for Stanley Park. Now the park is full of them! Hee, hee!

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

The Vancouver Aquarium, officially the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, is nestled within the park and is Canada’s largest aquarium. It is home to more than 70,000 creatures including dolphins, sea otters, anacondas, three-toed sloths, eels and more.

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Otter
Otter
Penguins
Penguins
Nyac was a long-time resident of Vancouver Aquarium and one of the last surviving sea otters from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, She died on September 23, 2008. During her 20 years of life, she won the hearts of the visitors, members, volunteers and staff of the Aquarium as they learned about sea otters and the issues that face them in our waters.
Nyac was a long-time resident of Vancouver Aquarium and one of the last surviving sea otters from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. She died on September 23, 2008. During her 20 years of life, she won the hearts of the visitors, members, volunteers and staff of the Aquarium as they learned about sea otters and the issues that face them in our waters.

Much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees, some of which stand as tall as 76 metres and are up to hundreds of years old. Some of those trees are cherry blossom trees!

Cherry blossom trees in Stanley Park
Cherry blossom trees in Stanley Park
Lost Lagoon
Lost Lagoon

Lost Lagoon is a man-made lake near the park’s entrance that features plenty of wildlife and a 1.75-kilometre trail around the perimeter. Jubilee Fountain was built in the middle of Lost Lagoon as a part of Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee anniversary celebrations in 1936.

Lost Lagoon Jubilee Fountain
Lost Lagoon Jubilee Fountain

Beaver Lake, which was once home to a beaver colony, is the lone natural, freshwater lake in the park. Herons and trumpeter swans are commonplace, and in summer colorful water lilies take prominence.

Beaver Lake
Beaver Lake

Towering over North Vancouver, Grouse Mountain has been a popular outdoor getaway for years, especially since the views from the summit span the entire city on a clear day.

Vancouver skyline from Grouse Mountain
Vancouver skyline from Grouse Mountain

Originally used only for skiing, Grouse now offers year-round activities, including the Grouse Grind, a nearly 2-mile trail often referred to by residents as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”.

The top of Grouse Mountain is the location of over a dozen intricate wood carvings displaying Canadian themes such as loggers and birds such as owls which are strewn along the mountain top trails. In the winter these are usually buried under the snow so they are only visible in spring, summer and fall.

The collection of 31 wood sculptures has been named “Tribute To The Forest” by the sculptor, Glenn Greensides. The collection symbolizes the feeling of being within an old growth forest.

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

The wood sculptures have been created from some of the most remarkable dead standing trees to be found in the province of British Columbia. The first log Glenn found for his Grouse Mountain project was a 1200 year old tree that was found lying on the ground for 25 years in the Coquitlum water shed north-east of Vancouver. The tree was cut into six pieces and transported to Grouse Mountain. Below is a diagram to show how the tree was cut and the carvings created from each piece.

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Vancouver Outdoor Playgrounds

Vancouver Outdoor Playground

The “Tribute To The Forest” project took 8 years and 30 logs to complete.

You can get to the top via the Mother Nature’s Stairmaster (Grouse Grind). The Grouse Grind was designed to be an upward hike only as the trail is so steep and narrow that downhill travel is not permitted by Metro Vancouver. The primary reason for this is safety – yours and the trails. Descending the trail will cause considerable damage to it and possibly to yourself. So you get back down via the skyride. Or you can take the skyride both ways.

Grouse Mountain Skyride
Grouse Mountain Skyride
Searching for bears on Grouse Mountain :smile:
Searching for bears on Grouse Mountain 🙂

Girls Night In

Girls Night In

Decisions, decisions…

Girls Night In

Hmmm, what dress should I wear with this necklace?

Girls Night In

You say people put holes in their ears to wear these shiny things? People are very strange…

Girls Night In

What’s this?

Girls Night In

It’s a paper photo album! This is how people showed their photos in the paper era. That was a long, loooong time ago. In a different century!

Girls Night In

And I found some paper photos in an archive… There were adventures before us!

Girls Night In

Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997, Mickey's House
Disneyland California, 1997, Mickey’s House
Disneyland California, 1997, Mickey's House
Disneyland California, 1997, Mickey’s House
Disneyland California, 1997, with Mickey :smile:
Disneyland California, 1997, with Mickey 🙂
Disneyland California, 1997, with Goofy
Disneyland California, 1997, with Goofy
Disneyland California, 1997, Beauty and the Beast :smile:
Disneyland California, 1997, Beauty and the Beast 🙂
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997
Disneyland California, 1997

Light and Shadow

Kumi Yamashita is a sculptor who uses light and shadow. She constructs single or multiple objects and places them in relation to a single light source to project unexpected and amazing shadows. The complete artwork is therefore comprised of both the material (the solid objects) and the immaterial (the light and the shadow).

She was born in Takasaki, Japan and now lives and works in New York City. I saw her art at the Seatle Art Museum in 1997, in what turned out to be her first solo exhibition. I was so impressed, 18 years later I still remember it vividly.

Here are some examples of her art.

“Fragments” is made up of colored resin tiles onto which is cast the light of one single source. The shadows projected onto the surface are the unique profiled faces of 40 residents of New Mexico whom Yamashita encountered in her travels in the state. “It is both testament and celebration of the people whose names may never make it into the history books or history museums, but who definitely make up the rich fabric of life in a pueblo, city, county, and state,” she writes.

Fragments
Fragments

In “City View”, the figure of a woman’s body stands straight, hands perched on a railing — but the silhouette is created entirely in shadows formed by aluminum numbers adhered at varying angles to the wall.

City View
City View
City View
City View

The captivating but mindboggling “Lovers” depicts a couple in motion, their hands nearly, but not quite, intertwined, their shadows separated by the cut aluminum plates that form them.

Lovers
Lovers

Origami 25 creates the profiles of 25 local residents from Grand Rapids in shadow using a single light bulb and 25 sheets of origami paper.

Origami 25
Origami 25
Origami
Origami

Art on the windows, creating shapes with magnets and recreating a cherry blossom tree using paper (Satoshi Watanabe and Kumi Yamashita).

Sakura - Pigmented paper on glass Temporary installation at Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh UK, 2007
Sakura – Pigmented paper on glass, Temporary installation at Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh UK, 2007

The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. has chosen Kumi Yamashita’s entry, Constellation – Mana, as a finalist in their Outwin Boochever Portrait Competiton in 2012.

The competition, which is held triennially and is the first national portrait competition to be held in the United States, asks artists to create a “portrait” from a living individual with whom they have had direct contact. Artists may use any medium. Kumi Yamashita’s winning entry is a portrait of her niece comprised of a wooden panel painted a solid white, approximately 10,000 small galvanized nails, and a single, unbroken, common sewing thread.

Portraits Made with a Single Sewing Thread Wrapped through Nails by Kumi Yamashita. incredible.
Constellation – Mana
Constellation - Mana - Detail
Constellation – Mana – Detail

This work consists of national flags from every country in the world sewn together geographically. The celestial symbols remain in the foreground while the other designs within the flags have been darkened to recede into the background.

Sunny Days and Stary Nights
Sunny Days and Stary Nights

Two current exhibitions that display works by Kumi Yamashita are ‘Less = More’ at the Honolulu Museum of Art and ‘Cosmos: Imagining the Universe’ at the Annemarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Centre, Dowell, Maryland. Less = More brings to the surface the mathematical concepts in the process and presentation of art. The artworks make tangible the principles of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication and illustrate how they can be used to transform the simple into the complex. The Cosmos exhibit explores the mysteries of the universe, both scientific and fantastical, theoretical and fictional, real and imagined. How do artists render the work of scientists, authors, explorers, astronomers, cartoonists, Trekkers, LARPers, astrologers, and philosophers? This exhibit embraces not only what science has revealed about space, but what humans have imagined about the cosmos. As part of the Cosmos exhibit, a 15″ model of the Space Shuttle Endeavor will be on exhibit courtesy of the new Spaceflight America Museum and Science Center from now until May 2. Better not let Isabelle see this or we’ll have to be on the first flight out to see the exhibition!

You can find out more about Kumi Yamashita on her website:

http://www.kumiyamashita.com