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Saturday, November 11, 2017


One of the most amazing places in the world is PETRA,
an ancient site located in Jordan
and dating back to 300 BCE.
The rose color of this building, known as The Treasury, is one of many carved into the sandstone along with figures, and tombs, and other incredible carvings.
Visitors enter and leave through a slotted canyon named El Siq.  I walked down and rode back on a donkey.  

Tuesday, November 07, 2017


Leaving Cody, Wyoming we are treated to another eye-full drive.  We roll along part of the 146 mile shoreline of the reservoir formed by the Buffalo Bill Dam.  Like spider threads thrown off the water are irrigation canals for agriculture.  It makes the area bloom.

We don’t leave Buffalo Bill behind easily.  We make a stop at Pahaska Tepee, Cody’s hunting lodge, and it’s beautiful.  It’s the original building and so are many of the furnishings.  This is no rustic cabin. In the 1920s in one of the eight bedrooms upstairs, the Prince of Monaco slept.  I’m glad we didn’t miss this.  It's such a reflection of the man who built it.

This is the main room of Pahaska Tepee, Buffalo Bill Cody's hunting lodge. 
It's very comfortable with leather chairs and a huge, stone fireplace.
I got a kick out of the fact that Bill's own portrait hangs above the fireplace.
No visiting upstairs because of the wood stairs that they say is a safety risk, but the back room is a long dining room, almost like a banquet room.

Along the road to Yellowstone National Park is the strangest structure, The Pagoda.

This is known as The Pagoda.
It was started as a "weekend project" in the 1950s
and for one reason of another, the builder gave up at this stage.
Here is stands for all this length of time.

As we drive through the valley, we see Nature's sculpting ability
in the formations rising high above us.
Do you see the bear, the lion, and the blacksmith?
What else do you see?

The land is so beautiful.  In the far distance, the mountains don’t look real; they appear as a painted landscape.  There is an other worldly aspect to their beauty, and we are anxious to reach them as we drive through the Shoshone National Forest.

Beautiful, isn't it?
It's so rugged, and it looks like a painting as we speed past.

Our destination is Yellowstone National Park, a place with more geysers than New Zealand or Iceland, countries known for their geysers.  The Yellowstone we visit was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions so huge that the central part of the park is actually a 35 by 45 mile caldera.  If you have ever been to Volcano National Park in Hawaii and flown above to see the caldera of Kilauea or have climbed to the caldera of Diamondhead, you will literally suck in your breath when you think of the eruption that produced Yellowstone.

The geysers, mud volcanoes, fumaroles, hot springs and other thermal phenomena are caused by the still-active magmatic forces bubbling just below the surface.  You are above seismic activity.  If it should blow….

Just one of the many thermal wonders spouting the steam created
by the activity below the earth's surface.
Makes you really wonder about the earth on which we stand.

These thermal wonders as well as the magnificent wildlife, the beautiful trees and rugged mountains are what we see during our three days in Yellowstone National Park, and our excitement is practically palpable.

Actually, traffic moved pretty well along the park roads, one reason that we looked for a late season visit there, but one occurrence consistently stopped everyone dead in their tracks—the appearance of wildlife.  Here you can see what constantly happens when bison decide to cross the road!!!!  I don’t believe anyone minds however; the thrill of seeing them never fades.

Bison are incredible.
But it really isn't wise to get too close.
People really do get hurt.

All the traffic in the world doesn’t matter when you take the time to explore Yellowstone.

The gorge that is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is magnificent: the layered rock strata of blacks and browns dotted here and there with tenacious pine and worn away by the constant forces of rushing water cascading down the crevice creating rising mists at the base before it hits another drop and becomes a waterfall again. The sound of the roaring water does not lessen the beauty of the browns, blacks, greens and whites against a blue sky.  It is spell-binding.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Please follow the link in blue for a description of how this incredible canyon was formed.

This is only the beginning.  On to some of the great thermal sights in the park.  One thing to keep constantly in mind are the warnings about nature’s display.  It’s dangerous and tricky.

Other signs gave some of the numbers of people injured and burned.
Sometimes people are so strange.  We saw teenagers testing with their feet, and we saw, in another area, adults letting their children romp off the designated paths.
Wonders never cease.

We began touring the mud volcanoes, highly acidic and accompanied by pungent sulfuric odors.  The path is a boardwalk, and the different mud volcanoes bubble and spurt steam and gasses, rumbling at you as you walk by.  There’s nothing inviting here, but you cannot resist a fascination with the bubbly mud and the steam emanating and rising into the sky.

It's impossible to forget what is going on under your feet.
I wonder what possesses people to test the acidity and to disregard the warnings on the signs.
This is an incredible walk, and I wonder what happened to people prior to the boardwalk.
Mud volcanoes change.  In 1870, explorers were amazed at a volcano spewing steam and mud into the treetops and shaking the ground; two years later, the volcano had blown itself apart and became the muddy, bubbling sight that greeted us.  Some mud volcanoes, on the other hand, appear overnight. 

Some areas are quite beautiful, but we soon learned that the colors are caused, for the most part, by bacteria.  That sort of takes the edge off, so we just shake our heads in amazement at nature’s artistry.

Steam and boardwalks and vibrant colors.
It's almost difficult to believe that this is how it has "always" been.
It's also hard to believe that the vivid colors are caused by bacteria.
I’m glad we stayed in at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel in the park because as the clock gets closer to dinner time, there is a mass exodus of park visitors. Those are the real lines of traffic.  Hotels outside the park are quite a distance.  But there are other reasons that this hotel is so exciting. 

The beautiful Yellowstone Lake Hotel.
Travelers rode two days into the park to reach this hotel.
It is simple and grand at the same time.
Its atmosphere reflects the calm beauty of its enviornment.

It is 175 years old, and yes, it has been remodeled, the last time in 2014.  As a member of Historic Hotels of America, it is not allowed to install wifi although wired internet is in each room.  Nor are there televisions.  Board games are available if one desires, and there is a real attempt to preserve the atmosphere as it once was.  The original 300 rooms are now shrunk to 157 as bathrooms (thank goodness) ate up a great deal of space, so the Yellowstone Lake Hotel has a glamour of its own that makes a stay here utterly charming.

We walked down to the gorgeous lake and just reveled in its beauty.

Quiet and peaceful.
There is an overwhelming sense of calm down by the lake where some people sit, some stand, but all stare, overcome with awe.

Another magnificent day.  Awaiting to see what is in store tomorrow.

Saturday, November 04, 2017


Traveling through that engineering wonder, the Panama Canal.
Looking closely, you can see how little space is left on either side of a ship moving goods
and/or people from one ocean side to another.
Cruise ships like our Coral Princess must be smaller to go through.
We went on a repositioning cruise as the Coral Princess moved from its winter Caribbean itinerary to its summer Alaskan itinerary.  Most cruises do not go all the way through from one ocean to the other.
The three steps of the Gatun Locks, via gravity, each lower ships 28 feet to the level of the Atlantic Ocean.  You can see that how much lower the cargo ship is in front of us.
A great book about the Panama Canal is David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Yes, Virginia, there is a Walton’s Mountain Museum, and if you were a fan of that television show, it is definitely worth the visit to Schuyler, Virginia not far from Lynchburg or Charlottesville, Virginia.

More than two years ago while driving down to North Carolina, Rob and I passed a sign advertising the Walton’s Mountain Museum, and I’ve been anxious to go ever since.  We were passing through the Rockfish Valley at the time, part of the Walton Mountain’s locale.  It was kind of exciting that we finally did visit the museum.

I’ll be honest and say that I thought this would be a quick visit simply to satisfy my curiosity.  I loved that TV show.  But we spent two good hours in the museum throughout which time people constantly came and went.  It’s a busy place.  It is a good museum.  I’ll also add that Richard Thomas, the actor who played John Boy, the oldest son, was coming the following weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the museum.  Events were scheduled, and I bet it was going to be nice.

So many discussions took  place in the Walton living room where people entered directly through the doorway
Walton’s Mountain ran from 1971-1981. We viewers watched this Blue Ridge Mountain country family make it through the depression and through part of WWII.  The children grew up, got their educations, married, and followed their dreams. We viewers were all part of it.  New characters were added, and some departed.

Decisions were often made around the family's kitchen table
Grandpa Zeb passed away when the actor Will Greer died, and Ellen Corby who played Grandma had a stroke and was out of the show for a while recuperating, unable to walk and barely able to speak. 

I learned at the museum that Ellen Corby really wanted to return to the show.  She was the long-time actress you might remember in It’s a Wonderful Life as the woman in the Savings and Loan whom George Bailey kissed when she asked for only a small amount of money. 

On The Walton’s, one of the most meaningful episodes for the writers as well as for the cast was when Grandma returns home from the hospital after her stroke, barely able to speak.  The family hustles about to do everything for her, continually asking her what she needs.  Finally Grandma says two words, “Need me.”  That says it all, doesn’t it?  Thematically it fits right into the series’ aim.

A visit to the museum begins with a video about the series.  It includes interviews with the cast members and their feelings about the show as well as their special memories.  We also get to see them as they were when the video was made, and it’s always nice to get the “Where are they now?” viewpoint.  Then there’s time for visitors to tour the museum.

That’s when I learned that Kami Cotler, who played the youngest Walton, Elizabeth, was so impressed by the locale (although filming was done in California) that she became a teacher and went to the Blue Ridge to teach for a number of years.  She then went back to California and opened a Charter School.

Schuyler, Virginia is actually a pretty little town where the show’s creator, Earl Hamner, Jr. grew up. His voice is the show’s narrator, ostensibly an adult John Boy.  The Walton family is based on Hamner’s own.  In the museum’s photographic displays, we see that the actors actually resemble their real-life counterparts.  Some of the locations for the show are still there in Schuyler, a tiny town of about 2,000 tucked away in a beautiful section of Virgina.

The picturesque Rockfish River  runs alongside Schuyler, Virginia
The road to Schuyler is only a bit more than six miles off Rt. 29, but it is slow going.  It follows the twists and turns of the Rockfish River, and though it is barely wide enough for two cars, the speed limit is 55mph.  As Rob rarely broke 35 because of the twists, turns, and narrowness, we joked that if a person really drove the speed limit, it would be a one time drive.  It was a pretty road, though, as it came into the town of Schuyler with its general store, homes, and churches.  “Country—After All These Years.”  (Chet Atkins)

The museum is housed in Schuyler’s former elementary school.  The former classrooms are decorated to replicate the series’ sets, so a visitor enters the Walton’s house and sees that famous kitchen and living room, visits John Boy’s room, Ike and Cora Godsey’s store and post office, and even has an opportunity to visit the Baldwin sisters’ living room and see a still where bottles of “the recipe” fill the shelves.  The still used in the museum is actually one “confiscated” but not working.  However, diagrams teach how one could put it back in action. It just makes me smile even to think back on it now.  It’s all there; no imagination needed.  An absolutely pleasant visit. 

Here are the delightful Baldwin sisters, those lovely Southern ladies who just loved to make "Papa's recipe."
There is a gift shop, of course, and I couldn’t resist sending a few post cards and taking a picture with Ike and Cora at the Post Office.  And I could not resist buying a t shirt.  It was a good day. 

I couldn't resist taking a picture with Ike and irrepressible Cora Godsy right in their store that doubled as the post office.

Schuyler was proud of its native son, and it honored Earl Hamner, Jr.

And with this final photo of my tshirt, I will give a Walton's line that every fan memorized:  

Friday, October 20, 2017


This is Virginia's Natural Bridge
It is 215 feet high, 55 feet higher than Niagara Falls
It is 40 feet thick and 100 feet wide.
Look at the people walking beneath to get some perspective of size.
It was created over time by the small Cedar Creek flowing toward the ocean
It belonged to Lord Fairfax who, in 1750, hired George Washington to survey. 

Washingtonscaled 23 feet to carve his initials in the stone. 
 Those initials can still be seen today.
Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and surrounding lands on July 5, 1774.
The Monocan Indian Nation called it "The Bridge of God."
It has been mentioned in books such as Moby Dick, and it is the subject of many paintings by American artists.
Heading down Route 81 or Route 15?  Spend time here and its environs. 

Monday, October 16, 2017


Sometimes life ain't easy

Our Tauck group walked into the Sheridan, Wyoming Holiday Inn after a day crossing part of Wyoming, having a great time at the TA Ranch, and enjoying every moment of the day.  

Despite the entertainment possibilities of the hotel which was quite inviting, I think most of us called it an early night. It was not until breakfast the following morning that we had the great surprise of being able to catch a bit of a cattle auction in progress right in the hotel and attended by ranchers and others not only from Wyoming but also from all over the west.  Cowboy hats and boots and a thick, printed catalogue were the order of the day for them, and we noticed immediately.

Lots of advertising, quite unlike what any of us were accustomed to seeing
As each of us found out we were welcome in the huge room with big screens where the auction was televised, we let others know, and most of us eventually went to see what was going on.  Haha No cattle in the hotel; we saw men and women leafing through their auction books, and we heard the real life sounds of the auction bidding occurring before our eyes.  It was barely 8:00 AM. As we were all from the Eastern Seaboard, Chicago, or California,  this truly was a first for us all.

The auction was pretty exciting, and people kept drifting in and out of the room
We were definitely acting like tourists taking in everything, and the people running product sales tables outside the auction room were friendly as can be and gave us hats, pens, pot holders, and all kinds of souvenirs.  Those hats became chapeau de jour for a large part of the remainder of the trip. 

After breakfast, however, we were off to cross our first mountain range. We climbed the majestic Bighorn Mountains on our way to Cody, Wyoming.  We crossed the peaks at 9,300 ft.  What a view we had from Cutler Hill at 8,347 feet.  Then we passed through towns like Greybull, WY with a population of 1,837, and Shell, WY with a 2010 census count of 83.  Ten miles outside of Cody there were wild mustangs running on the flats.  Exciting to see them gallop across the range.

Pretty magnificent, wouldn't you say?
I wanted to share this picture of a house by the side of the road.
Somehow I don't think this would be the plot of land I'd buy for my home.

In Cody in time for lunch, we also had free time to wander downtown, and do some shopping before heading to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a fascinating museum and a real treasure trove of information and artifacts about Buffalo Bill, the West and the tribes that live there.  The Center is really five excellent museums in one, but we did not have time to take it all in.   Most online travel sites, not surprisingly, suggest a 2-day pass to see it all.

One museum is specifically about William  F. Cody’s life, not quite what we’ve been led to believe, but fascinating nevertheless.  What a showman he was!  The museum has many of his personal items but also posters, books, and history.  

This is a representation of the kind of sets used during the shows.
Cody not only brought his Wild West Show around the United States
but also spent several years touring Europe and becoming the
toast of the continent.
The Whitney Western Art Museum highlights the scope of western-inspired art in sculpture, paintings, and prints, and it, too, is a treasure.  If you visit the museum site, you will be able to view their online collection.

We didn’t have a chance to visit the Draper Natural History Museum, but it might have been good to add to our knowledge before we entered Yellowstone National Park.

There’s the fascinating and informative Plains Indian Museum.  This is more than a collection of artifacts and art.  Rather it is a history of the people, their culture, and today a study of the movement of the Plains Indians over the course of 250 years is underway.  Additionally, the people are seen in the context of  their life today.  It is an impressive place to visit, and there is a lot to learn.

The Cody Firearms Museum is reputed to be the most comprehensive in the world. Rob liked that one.

It was at the Museum, too, where we had a private show (yes, just for the 16 of us) by the Dan Miller Trio, a band specializing in country, bluegrass, Americana, gospel.  They were terrific. 

On a personal note—Because I need hearing assistive devices, the Tauck director brought along what we’d successfully been using on the tour, but Dan had his own equipment as his sister is deaf, and he wanted to share his music with everyone.  We used his equipment; before the show began, he made sure I could hear, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!  Never forget how nice people can be.

Dan also played “Happy Trails to You,” and, of course, we all knew it and sang along. Our travel companion, Maurice, related a story.  As a small boy in Northern Ireland, he belonged to the Roy Rogers Riding Club.  Every Saturday morning, they met to watch the Roy Rogers Show on TV.  We loved that. On the last evening and dinner together on the tour, we all sang that song to him.  That’s the kind of group it was.

The day was not nearly over.  We checked in to the Best Western Premier Ivy Hotel, and after dinner headed to the Cody Stampede for the rodeo.  Cody, WY is no ordinary town.  It bills itself as the Rodeo Capital of the World, and, incredibly, there is a rodeo EVERY NIGHT throughout the summer.

Great time at the rodeo.  Dangerous and adrenaline producing.  I like the team calf roping and the barrel racing best.  I cannot believe the angles at which those horses round the barrels.  There was plenty of see, plenty of oohs, and plenty of pictures.

The Rodeo opens with a display of beautifully executed synchronized horsewomanship and flags
and recognition of the many sponsors.
Bull riding is as dangerous as it looks

My favorite is the barrel racing.
I am wowed at the angles at which the horses move around the barrels
running as fast as the riders can handle
and as close to the barrels as a rider can get
so she can cut time off her ride.
True team spirit and ability.

Just look at that horse's legs.
That may be close to 1,000 pounds rounding that barrel.

By the time we finished the rodeo, it was time to head back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.Yellowstone was coming up next.

Friday, October 06, 2017

There's a thrill going into caverns.  Whether it's Carlsbad, Meramec, Luray,  Ausable or
any other of the many caverns that can be visited, you will be amazed.
Nor does it matter how many times you go.  It's always different.
It's always amazing.  It's always something that makes you shake your head in wonder.
This picture was taken in Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley's Luray Caverns, one of the many we've visited.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


South Dakota with its natural and man-made wonders gives me quite a few awe-inspiring moments but does not seem to daunt Tauck Tours.  They are ready to WOW us again.  Leaving South Dakota for Wyoming, we are ready for another incredible day as we head to Buffalo, Wyoming and the TA Ranch.

Wide open prairie--so different from what I'm used to
Here we are in the Great Plains.
Wyoming is unique.  It ranks 50th in population with a 2016 population of only 585, 501 people.  Crossing the state, we pass through towns with double digit and even single digit populations.  Once a car leaves the main highway, it is more than likely to do the rest of its travels on unpaved roads that traverse open prairies and hills.  Yet Wyoming is not bleak; it’s beautiful.  Along the road I see large quantities of shrubbery, and it hits me that this is sagebrush.  The word conjures up all the cowboy movies and shows I’ve seen, and it reminds me of Rob’s and my cross country drive years ago when we saw signs out west that read, “Do not drive into smoke.”  Sagebrush fires. 

Because we pass through towns near major tourist attractions, the towns are geared to satisfy the whims of out-of-staters—restaurants, gift shops, local attractions, tours, etc.  There is a tawdry atmosphere, but that’s not unusual around any tourist attractions.  It just is a bit shocking as we drive through open country that must look similar to the way it looked 100 years ago and then pass a few blocks of charmless tourist lures.

Visitors come to Wyoming for great and beautiful reasons. Most of Yellowstone Park is in Wyoming, and in 2014, 10.1 million visitors came to Wyoming.  That’s probably the biggest reason. This year, with the solar eclipse, that alone was predicted to double the state’s population.  The ranches, mountains, rivers, rodeos, and peacefulness are all part of the allure. As I said—unique.

This day we head to Johnson County and the city of Buffalo, Wyoming , once considered  “a rogue society in which rustlers controlled everything— politics, courts and juries.”     If you’re a movie fan, you know about the Johnson County War that might be the biggest piece of Wyoming history. You know it from Shane and The Virginian.  The biggest event of this war occurred right where we head, The TA Ranch.  We think we are going to have a great day at the ranch, riding, seeing some exhibitions of horse mastery, and cowboy cattle work, but as has been the way of this Tauck tour, it goes beyond expectations.

We arrive just in time for a buffet lunch, and I ask if anything is local.  That’s what I choose—beef—right from their ranch, I think. This is a working cattle ranch.  Since everything is locally sourced, that’s exactly what I want.  And it’s delicious.

Then surprisingly we are treated by Barbara, who runs the ranch with her daughter Kristen Giles, to a brief but intriguing introduction to the TA Ranch and its history, including tales of the Johnson County War.  This is the ranch which the cattle barons occupied for three days and where the shoot out occurred.  It’s an exciting story.  Barbara even offered books about this part of Wyoming history, including this one.

I will list other books at the end of this post. It's a very interesting piece of western history.

Then off to take a trail ride.  I love horses, and though this is a slow, easy ride, it is wonderful to ride and happily breathe in the beautiful scent of the horse against the clean, distinctive, hot aroma of the prairie.  Riding further gives us the sense of the land's openness as well as views of the hay bales that are part of the necessary preparations on a working cattle ranch for the brutal Wyoming winter. I feel a further amazed appreciation for the individuality and perseverance of the homesteaders who crossed much of the county to come out here and make Wyoming their home.

This is my horse, Hercules.  But looking out at the landscape is spectacular.
Taking a selfie on Hercules was a challenge, but fun.  Rob is wearing the blue cap.
But look at that landscape.
Preparations for the harsh winter are well under way.
Cattle must be fed.
When we finish our ride, off we go to a corral where we meet a horse whisperer, a trainer who works with the horses and teaches them to obey commands she signals without even touching them.  Her demonstration is quite interesting.  She rides her own beautiful brown horse with the loveliest lines and neck while a black horse with a dashing white streak down his face walks, trots, canters, and reverses, all by her direction but not by her touching in any way.

Isn't her horse beautiful?
They never got closer than this!

Our demonstration is cut short because it is so brutally hot, and Barbara transports us over to another corral where we are treated to a demonstration of cowboys separating cattle.

Four cowpokes (two men and two women) demonstrate cutting one, then two, then three and then four cattle from a group and bringing them to the far side of the corral.  Their horses follow their directions.  No words are spoken.  They act as one unit.

Because I love horses, I am fascinated by one cowboy whose horse’s bridle does not have a bit.  He  trained his horse, and all the horse has is a bitless noseband.  Yet he follows all directions and the horse and cowboy act as one.  It is thrilling to see.  In fact, the entire display of control and unity between horse and rider is thrilling to see. 

There is time to spend sitting in the shade of the porch before going in for drinks and a fine dinner, once again locally sourced.  Rob and I both choose the Wyoming Lamb Chop—pan seared topped with cherry balsamic chutney/creamy scalloped potatoes/grilled asparagus.  Salad and dessert, of course.  Not exactly what you picture as “ranch food.”  Well, the TA Ranch isn’t an ordinary place, and if you ever get a chance to come here, go for it!

We move on after dinner, heading for Sheridan, Wyoming to spend the night in a beautiful Holiday Inn.  We are in for a great surprise the next morning.

Here are some books Barbara suggested about the Johnson County War:  Banditti of the Plains by Asa Mercer (1893), War on Powder River by Helene Hunlington Smith (1950), The Cattlemen by Mari Sandog (1950), and Johnson County War by Bill O'Neal (2005)

Sunday, October 01, 2017


Blue skies, creeks, and one of the ranch houses out on the TA Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Open sky country. The Great Plains.  Great for raising cattle on this working ranch.
Peaceful now, but in 1892 the barn and ranch house were occupied by the Cattle Baron invaders
and a three-day shootout occurred during the Johnson County War, a fight
between the cattle barons and the small ranchers. It's a war you may be familiar with from
the movies Shane and The Virginian.