Category Archives: Travel


China had long been on my top 10 list of travel destinations to visit. This year brought an unusual confluence of events that made it a possibility. It arose at a time of year that is good weather for China and we were able to get virtually free flights from Janice’s sister who works for United. We spent two weeks traveling to Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing. We took the high-speed (300kn/h) bullet trains from city to city and I’ve got to say that they rekindled my enthusiasm for high-speed trains in the USA.

China was an amazing mixture of one of the oldest civilizations and the ultra-modern 21st century. It has one of the longest standing palaces: The Forbidden City and Shanghai’s Pudong district where 28 years ago it was farmland and now is a well-designed skyscraper-scape including the world’s second tallest building: Shanghai Tower. It was strikingly spotless; there wasn’t a piece of litter or a bit of graffiti to be seen. The people were very friendly and very helpful when asked a question. English is commonly understood in these cities and most of the attractions, street signs, and even mass transit signs were also in English. Security was abundant and the issues we were warned about, spitting, smoking, crowds, and air pollution were all non-issues. In fact, we only had one day that was a bit smoggy.

The challenges we ran into were a little unexpected. First among them was the amount of walking we did. The short distances, under 2 miles, are commonly walked by the Chinese. No taxis would consider picking up a fare for a shorter distance. Therefore, for instance, we walked from our hotel in Dong Chen to The Forbidden City entrance, 2.5 miles then walking around the complex is another 8 miles, and then another 2.5 miles back. Over the course of the trip, we walked an average of 12.5 miles a day which is a bit more than we normally do. Fortunately, the mass transit was easy to navigate, fast, and very extensive.

The other issues were minor but perhaps a warning never goes to waste. Eating was not as easy as we thought it was going to be. In the medium to lower end restaurants English was not widely spoken. Although the menus were full of pictures they did not describe the ingredients very well. We obviously eat and did so well, but we did more searching than we thought we would do. Finally, we did not see a single laundromat in our travels and when we asked the hotels they looked at us with a bit of confusion. Whether such a thing existed or not, we ended up doing our laundry in the hotel room sink.

Overall, China is a remarkable country and there’s so much more to see than just these three cities. I’m amazed by the sheer scale of their monuments and buildings. Their infrastructure, their art, and their commitment to preserving their history and culture are equally as impressive. Whether it was Deng Xiaoping’s opening of economic reform or any combination of events, China can certainly take its place among the most Interesting travel destinations and well worth a visit or two.

For those of you who may have more time on your hands or are just a glutton for images, there is a more extensive slideshow here: China 2018

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2017 Eclipse


It was my first total eclipse and it lived up to the hype! At 10:18 am day turned to night from our vantage point on the soccer field at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, OR. Although the real dark shadow lasted about 30 seconds, it was quite a spectacle on this picture perfect day.

For photo geeks, here’s the tech data for the shot: ISO 640, 560mm, F/8, 1/250th second with no filter. This image is cropped in quite a bit.


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Grand Canyon

It’s not the widest, it’s not the deepest and it’s not the longest but in all other respects, it is the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t been there since I was very young and as I had other business in Arizona, I leaped at the opportunity to get another viewing. In its typical manner, the park didn’t disappoint and was even surprising.

The South Rim has more amenities that I remember, replete with restaurants and shops but also had a very handy shuttle system to get you to all points of interest if you had already burnt out your legs on a hike. The paths were well kept complete with interactive exhibits and colorful information. I had forgotten that it is at 6,000 feet and we were even treated to a brief snowstorm one evening making for some great photos the next day.


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Yosemite in Winter

Turtleback Dome is just beyond the tunnel on 140 and a short scamper places El Capitain next to Half Dome

Turtleback Dome is just beyond the tunnel on 140 and a short scamper places El Capitan next to Half Dome

A friend and I were aching for years to get to Yosemite during the Winter. Fortunately, the El Niño of this year brought much needed rain and snow to the Sierra. So we hastily planned a three-day excursion. Winter in Yosemite is a completely different experience than in the other seasons. It’s almost what I would consider “uncrowded” -certainly by Summer standards. The Valley which is normally choked with smoke from the RV campers is nonexistent as the campgrounds are closed. And, if you listen hard, there are actually sounds of nature that can be heard in the Valley. Although it wasn’t really blanketed with snow, there were still many beautiful snow scenes to be had. We couldn’t have gotten luckier weather-wise, we arrived just upon the clearing of a storm and had two exquisite days of High Sierra sun.


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Oregon, the In-Between State

Wizard Island framed by the woods

Wizard Island framed by the woods – Click image for gallery.

For years I had pretty much skipped Oregon in my West Coast travels. I would fly directly from California to Washington or points further north. It wasn’t an intentional slight; I just didn’t know better! However, upon hearing a friend’s mesmerizing description of the amazing beauty described one night at dinner, a trip was planned within the week.

We took the route up Highway five with a long overdue stop in Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Then on to the Coastal Dunes, Salem and Portland, not forgetting the Columbia River Gorge. Then out to Bend, Crater Lake and finally one last stop at Mt. Shasta on the way back. It was a very enjoyable road trip -but 10 days is woefully too short a time for such a beautiful State and we’ve vowed to return.

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Prague: Still One of the Best Preserved Medieval Cities

Both sides of the Bridge have towers. Prague Castle is in the background

Both sides of the Bridge have towers. Prague Castle is in the background

This was my second trip to the city. The first was in 1995, only six years after the Velvet Revolution. I was forewarned that the city was already over run with tourists and that I should see it as soon as possible. I came by the overnight train from Berlin and arrived at 5am on a weekday. At the time I wasn’t preplanning too much so I hadn’t made any reservations, figuring I’d do it like all the previous cities and make them at the train station visitor’s office. Much to my surprise there was nothing open and not a person within a mile that even spoke a word of English. I could read the sign on the station windows that they would open at 9am. With the help of a crude map I made my way down to the shores of the Vltava River where I caught up on some sleep on a park bench until the tourism office was open. I was first in the line when the visitor office opened up but the person working there spoke very little English and the lonely Planet book didn’t help much. Fortunately a passing stranger helped me to ask for accommodation. There were very few affordable hotels located in the Staré Město (Old City) in fact the only accommodation I could get was in a Soviet era bunker at the end of the metro line which was about an hour out of the city.

After settling in I took the metro in and explored to old city area on foot. To my surprise, other than the few overpriced restaurants in the main square, the city was not over run with tourists. In fact, I had to seek out an expat bar just to have a conversation that didn’t involve something like Charades. While it wasn’t empty, it wasn’t over run by any stretch. There were so few English speakers that I had to spend most of my time in and immediately around the tourist traps by the Astronomical Clock to make sure I got something like what I ordered.

This trip, I wasn’t going to be caught as off guard. We rented an apartment for the week in the Nové Město (New Town) area -easily within walking distance of the Staré Město and close access to the metro for further travels. It was much more crowded than in 1995 but the City seemed to be handling it. We were able to shop at a local grocery that only spoke a little English and after you left the mob scene in front of the Astronomical Clock, all awaiting the animated parade of the Apostles which only occurs every hour, you didn’t have to go far to leave them behind. Although most sites were within easy walking distance of the Staré Město, we did make use of their punctual public transit system.

The Municipal Building and Powder Tower

Prague is ranked fifth best European destination according to Tripadvisor and its old city is included in the Unesco list or World Heritage sites. The word “Bohemian” has its origin here as the region was settled by a Celtic tribe called the Boii around 200 BCE. It was once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles IV and was the site of one of the first Christian reformations led by Jan Hus nearly a century before Martin Luther. It is where the term “Defenestration” (the act of pushing someone or something out a very high window) was coined. In fact, they mark two seminal periods of their history by defenestrations: the first igniting the Hussite War and the second sparking the Thirty Years War in 1618. Its patronage of science and the arts include Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonín Dvořák , Bedřich Smetana, Ludwig van Beethoven, Rainer Maria Rilke , Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera and Miloš Forman who filmed Amadeus there.

Night view of the old town square


Prague is one of the best preserved medieval cities primarily because it escaped two of the most destructive events in modern times. It escaped the carnage of World War Two because Hitler invaded and declared Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate in 1939, unopposed -he even thought that one day he would retire in the city. The Soviet Union liberated Prague on May 5th 1945 forcing many Germans to flee the country. There was a popular uprising against the Soviet regime in 1968 but was quickly suppressed by their heavy military presence. In 1989, along with the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the Czechs peacefully overcame the Soviet grip on power with what became the Velvet Revolution. As a result, Prague has buildings (not just ruins) dating back to the 12th century, architecture spanning medieval through modern and a wealth of art and relics from its rich and influential history.

Regardless of when you get to it, Prague is one of the must see locations of Europe!


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Rome [sic] if you want to..and I do


My apologies to the B-52s but the [mis]use of their lyric was too tempting. Although I’ve been to the Eternal City twice before in the 70s and 90s, I don’t think I gave it the attention that it deserves. In doing my research for this trip I was stunned with the number of innovations that are due to Rome and it’s empire. So much so, that this jam packed, week-long trip could have easily been another three without retracing any steps. Here are but a few Roman innovations that have shaped the western world.

The Romans invented concrete which allowed them to make formed, permanent structures. The Pantheon is the premiere example of this technology. For more than a thousand years it was the largest unsupported dome in the world and it still stands after nearly two thousand years. The ingenious coffering of the inside of the dome helped keep the weight down as well as choosing lighter aggregate in the concrete mix as the dome approaches the oculus. Romans even invented concrete that would set underwater. Regretfully, the recipe for concrete was lost after the sack of Rome and very rarely used until the technology was re-invented in the mid-18th century. Concrete is the most widely used man-made building material in contemporary times.

The city was probably the first in antiquity with an ability to support a large dense population. They were able to do this by building extensive aqueducts to get water into and sewage out of the city. This is the primary reason that the Centro Storico is navigated by piazzas and at the heart of those piazzas are fountains. They are more than elaborate, decorative elements for tourists; they were the primary source of water and represent the ability of city to support their population, thereby becoming the first modern metropolis.

The thousands of miles of aqueducts, each precisely slanted to give a regular direction of flow, were an impressive engineering feat in themselves but were made possible with Roman widespread use of the arch. This building technique has the capability to distribute the structures weight through the side columns allowing for a much larger, unsupported opening. Although this is not their invention, the Romans made the most extensive use of this technique in antiquity and well after.

Beyond those and many more innovations, Rome is a vibrant, clean, colorful and even a very walk able city. The sheer volume of art and history is staggering but coupled with the aromas and tastes, Rome deserves a visit or three.

Piazza della Rotonda



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The Newest National Park: Pinnacles National Park

Bear Gulch Resevoir

Pinnacles had been on my radar at least a couple of years before becoming America’s newest National Park.  It’s rhynolitic lava spires, talus caves, condors and remarkable proximity had been singing their Siren song for quite a while.  But now that it had become part of the National Park system, it was time to act upon it before it became too popular and inevitably too crowded.  The National Park status is important because they are set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States as opposed to National Monument status which are areas reserved by the National Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest.

The park is known for its astonishing geology. About 23 million years ago a massive volcano spewed lava in massive molten chunks in what is now the Los Angeles County. It was then transported to its current location (just 80 miles south of San Jose) via the San Andreas fault on a geologic time line. The lava cooled and years of erosion created tall pink spires while allowing huge boulders to fall and wedge themselves into the narrow canyons forming tenuous roofs for the talus caves.

Last April, a friend and I finally heeded that Siren call and set out for an over nighter in the park. It didn’t disappoint; we hiked the caves at Bear Gulch the afternoon of the day we arrived and did the climbs of the High Peaks Trail in the coolness of the next morning.  Although the camping areas are a little exposed, they are quite reasonable for a stay of a couple of nights. Although we never saw the much vaunted condors, the magnificent scenery of the hikes more than made up for it.


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Mexico City

Pyramid of the Sun with the lesser pyramids

I’ve heard all the reasons not to go to Mexico City: the overpopulation, the noise, the smog, the crime, etc. but we were on our way to another Mexican Riviera resort vacation and I felt the need for something more cultural along the way. In my research I found an amazing amount of interesting sites and attractions in and around the city. Although we only spent four days there it would have easily filled seven days of attractions and adventures.  Mexico City is a world class metropolis and deserves more credit than it gets.

We stayed right on the Zocalo (city center) and there were many things to see within walking distance -which was good because the inner city traffic rivals a Bangkok rush hour. We stayed at a very posh, French Style hotel called the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico for a mere $70 a night. There was never a time that we felt as if we may be assaulted and everyone was very warm and friendly. We did take a tour excursion to the Pyramids and although we did stop at a few curio shops along the way, it was still good. The culture is ever present in the city from the unbelievably stunning modern art to the ballet and symphonies. There was even a book fair that occupied the complete main square the entire time we were there.

Detail of the Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda, Diego Rivera

Highlights were the Temple Mayor museum, the Diego Rivera museum, the Palace of Fine Arts, La Casa Azul and of course the pyramids at Teotihuacán. If you are traveling through for any reason and can do so, spend some time in Mexico’s capitol -it just may surprise you.


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Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra


For more than two decades, I was hoping to go up to the Eastern Sierra to photograph the fall foliage. Either I was too busy or I just missed the narrow 2-3 week window out of neglect. This season, a photo buddy and I just marked it in the calendar and preplanned the trip –novel idea. The weather and the advance of Winter cooperated and we spent 3 full days traveling the Highway 395 corridor for all the great colors.

We stayed in Mammoth Lakes because it offered the most choice in accommodations and was about central to the travels. We used the guide provided by the Mono County Tourism board and talked with locals to find what was most turned at the time.

I brought along my dedicated IR point and shoot which rendered some interesting images especially in Bodie.


The complete gallery can be seen here:



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