Dia de Los Muertos is holiday celebrated in Mexico that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey.
This is also celebrated here in Phoenix, and these shots are from the Desert Botanical Garden.
Completed a super challenging hike of about 25 miles in the Superstition Wilderness. Dutchman’s – Whiskey Springs – Red Tanks – Dutchman’s – Peralta Loop.
I got lost several times, ran out of water, nearly nailed by a scorpion, fell three times, saw a tarantula, walked through swarms of bees, had a family of javelina walk past the opening in my tent, got torn up from cat claw, slept under the stars, saw sunrise from Fremont Saddle.
Other than that… nothing much happened.
Campsite at Fremont Saddle
Miner’s Needle (In the background)
Scorpion at my campsite
Awesome saguaros looking toward Coffee Flat!
The only source of water I found during the entire trip.
Prickly Pear detail
Bird’s nest in a cholla
My kitchen with view!
Deserted supply station
OUCH! Jumping Cholla got me!
Tags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · wildlife
October 17th, 2015 · 1 Comment
Japan is an amazing multifaceted feast for the senses! This is a culture steeped in traditions dating back thousands of years, but also a society with shifting fads and fashions and technological advancements.
So it was with great excitement and anticipation that a small group of old HeSCA friends met in Tokyo for a ten day trip to cultural and natural settings, led by our hosts Tad and Minoru.
After the long flights and shuttle rides, we met high above Tokyo at the 40th Floor bar in the Hotel New Otani for drinks and a great view of the city. It was a great chance to catch up with each other and start planning for things to do during our stay.
The next morning, I met up with Aranka and Jo at 4:30am and we took a cab to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market. We were hoping to catch the early morning auction, but even at this early hour, we were too late. Not a problem though because the area is an absolute cacophony of sights, sounds and aromas! We wandered through the vegetable vendors and small market shops. While Aranka and Jo shopped for handmade carbon steel knives, I caught a mushroom auction where men were bidding up to $200 for a single large mushroom.
Men were whizzing about everywhere on bicycles, motorized carts and trucks and it all seemed chaotic and dangerous but in fact is a well-rehearsed way of life that happens every single morning.
We had an early breakfast of tuna and salmon sashimi with rice and it was a bit of a shock to my system but very good. We then wandered over to the Fish Market, where things were being set up in anticipation of opening to the public in a few hours. The vast array of fish here is amazing!
I returned to the hotel in time for second breakfast and then headed out to explore Tokyo with Debi for the day. More than 35 million people live in greater Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world. It’s a very clean and vibrant city, with busy people constantly on their phones, great food and quirky shops and streets.
That evening we had our Opening Dinner, where we were greeted by our hosts and guides for the next ten days. It was a delicious traditional Japanese feast with plenty of beer and saki.
Following dinner, a small group of us ventured out to Golden Gai in the Shinjuku District. Just six tiny blocks are lined by almost two hundred tiny bars. Each building is only a few feet wide, and built almost touching the one next door. Some establishments are so small that only five or six customers can fit in at one time.
I picked one randomly for our first drink of the night and it was a doozey! The proprietor was an ex Geisha and now runs this five seat bar, serving only Jack Daniels. She (or perhaps He?) served up our drinks with a scowl and certainly gave the impression that we weren’t welcome, so we decided to drink up and pay. And that’s when the trouble started… she handed us a bill of 10,000 yen, when the drink prices were clearly posted outside the door at 700 yen. So when Jo offered her 4,000 yen she exploded, throwing candies and a dish, snatching the money from her and wielding a threatening bottle of Jack Daniels! We rushed out the door and down the stairs as fast as possible and got away from there – thankfully no one got hurt. The rest of the night in Golden Gai was a joy – we met some very nice people who guided us to the best bars and we spent the night in conversation with many people.
The following day was jam packed with sightseeing: Imperial Palace, Meiji Jingu Shrine, Asakusa Shrine, 100 Yen Shop, Sumida River Cruise, Hamarikyu Garden and a cruise through the swanky Ginza district. The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan and built on the site of the old Edo Castle. Surrounded by a large moat, it’s a large park that contains the main palace, private residences of the Imperial Family and some administrative buildings.
Meiji Jingu is Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine. Shinto is considered Japan’s ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religious conversion, but values harmony with nature and there is an unlimited number of divine spirits. This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken.
It was here that we learned some of the customs regarding Shinto Shrines. How to walk through the gates, learning to cleanse our hands and mouths at the fountain, properly offering prayer and how to approach and pray at the shrine itself.
I felt a very palpable aura here and a feeling of serenity despite the numerous people wandering about. Everyone moved about carefully with respect for each other and the grounds. Some of us wrote prayers on small blocks of wood that were then hung near the entrance of the shrine.
Asakusa Sensoji is one of Tokyo’s most popular and colorful Buddhist temples. According to legend, two Brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy out of the Sumida River in the year 628. When they put the statue back in the river it continued to return to them. So this temple was built for the goddess Kannon in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple.
We entered through the massive Thunder Gate and walked down the very congested market street of Nakamise, laden with shops filled with souvenirs, local snacks, clothing and other goods.
Beyond the gate and the market street stands the temple’s main hall and a five-storied pagoda. The Asakusa Shrine, built in 1649, is located here as well.
We swung through the 100 Yen (88 cents) shop for a quick visit on the way to the Sumida River. A small group of guys were there playing with an incredibly detailed model railroad.
It was now a gorgeous sunny afternoon when we boarded the boat for a relaxed cruise down the Sumida River. We enjoyed views of the city and the many bridges and it struck me how massive this place really was!
We ended the day with a stroll through Hamarikyu Garden as the sun settled down behind the sleek towering office buildings. What a wonderful start to the trip!
The evening featured a beautiful meal at a restaurant owned by one of Tad’s friends. Eating out in Japan is as much about the experience as it is about the food. All of it is beautifully prepared and always an adventure! On this night we were treated to Shabu Shabu, thinly sliced beef boiled in a pot of water at the table.
The next morning, we rode the subway to the train station and then took the train to Nikko for a day of exploring. The subway in Tokyo is amazing! Very easy to use and navigate and it goes virtually anywhere. Everyone is polite and quiet and there were only a few times that I found it to be super crowded.
In Nikko, we had a traditional lunch of Yuba, or tofu skin. I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much but I ate it!
From there we made a stop to take in the view from above Lake Chuzenji, located high in the mountains at the base of the sacred volcano Mt. Nantai. It was another absolutely gorgeous day and it was wonderful to be outside in it.
We followed that with another natural wonder, Kegon Falls. The viewing platform for the falls is accessed by riding an elevator down through solid bedrock for about 200 meters, then a walk through a long tunnel. At the falls, the air is heavy with mist from the spray off the rocks and the falls themselves were quite dramatic – I just wish there was a way to walk down into the falls area – that would have been very cool.
Toshogu Shrine in Nikko was the next stop, just a short distance from the falls. This shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the originator of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for more than 250 years. Ieyasu is enshrined at Toshogu as the deity Tosho Daigongen, “Great Deity of the East Shining Light”. We wandered past a number of extravagantly decorated buildings set in a beautiful forest, then a few of us climbed the stairs high up the hillside to see the tomb. Interestingly, Toshogu contains both Buddhist and Shinto elements, even though across the country, the two religions were separated. At Toshogu the two religions were so intermingled that the separation was not carried out completely.
Sunday was an open day for everyone and I began with a visit to Ueno Park, a large urban park that contains a spectacular lotus pond, and thousands of cherry trees. The Art Museum and National Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art and archaeology are also located here. It was crowded though, so I carried on the spectacular Skytree Tower.
The Tokyo Skytree is a television broadcasting tower that houses the world’s highest observation deck. The building stands at a height of just over 2,000 feet high, with two observation decks – the highest at 1,476 feet. Jo and I went to the upper deck and the views from here are absolutely stunning – looking out at the surreal sprawl of Tokyo in all directions!
From there we found a terrific crab house in Roppongi and enjoyed cheap beers and good crab for the afternoon – perfect HeSCA Happy Hour!
Our next stop was Hakone, situated in the southwestern part of Kanagawa, and is part of Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Hakone is internationally known for its Ryokans, a type of traditional Japanese inn. Hakone Shrine is located along the shores of Lake Ashi. The buildings are tucked into a dense forest but the huge Torii Gates stand prominent on the grounds. One of the gates is actually in the lake itself and provided a dramatic backdrop for photos. The shrine itself was beautiful and peaceful – far fewer people in this area of the country.
After a beautiful lunch of soba noodles, we then explored Hakone Sekisho – a collection of buildings and shrines along the lake with wonderful walking paths. I kind of lost the group here, so I wandered freely through the dense moist forest, taking in views of the lake along the way. It seemed like I had the place to myself, as I didn’t see any other people for more than an hour of walking.
From there we boarded a crazy looking replica of a Man-of-War pirate ship and cruised across the lake to the Komagatake Ropeway.
Hmmmm – let’s go to an area of volcanic activity, climb into a cable car that looks like it hasn’t been maintained since the cold war era, jam as many people as we can possibly jam in the car and ride the rusty cable to the top of a misty mountain… seems like a great plan!
The views here were nice, but the fog kept us from seeing the entire valley and lake below. Still, it was a bit of a rush and a cool experience!
After this long day of adventure and travel, we were all eager to check into our rooms at the Hotel Kara Kara and have a soak in the hot springs. The rooms here are very traditional and feature tatami-matted rooms with futons on the floor. We all enjoyed the Onsens, which are communal hot springs baths (gender separated), and everyone wore yakatas – a traditional robe. An epic dinner followed and we drank and ate and celebrated our trip to this point – all of us still in our yakatas! Later that night we enjoyed a shiatsu massage in the room from one of the locals – she didn’t speak a word of English and we know very little Japanese, but it was sublime and a perfect way to end the day.
We reluctantly departed from the hotel in the morning and drove directly to Mt. Fuji. When the bus rounded a corner and we all saw the first view of this majestic mountain, everyone exclaimed in awe! I’ve seen photographs of this iconic symbol of Japan many times, but seeing it in real life was stunning and a bit surreal. We were very fortunate on this day to have a clear view of the mountain because it’s often shrouded in clouds or mist.
We drove to a point about halfway up the mountain and had a chance to wander around a bit. It was crowded with tourists, but the views were fine and the fall colors were just starting to change, creating a beautiful frame for the mountain peak.
From there, we boarded the Shinkansen – Bullet Train to Kyoto. That first moment of standing on the platform and seeing – feeling – hearing the first bullet train whiz by was absolutely ASTOUNDING! Our mouths dropped and we yelled in glee as the train shot past at close to 200 mph. Riding the train was a very comfortable experience as it zipped smoothly along the tracks. The engineering of this system is amazing and a privilege to enjoy.
We had one slight mishap at the Kyoto station when a few people in our party got separated from the group and subsequently stranded in the station – but that was quickly resolved and we checked into our hotel. That evening, we all enjoyed a show featuring perfomances of seven traditionial arts of Japan: Tea Ceremony, Kyo-mai Dance, Flower Arrangement, Koto Zither, Gagaku Court music, Kyogen Theater and Bunraku Puppet theater.
This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at a restaurant owned by one of Tad’s friends, and we then strolled through the narrow alleys in the Gion district.
A full day of touring Kyoto was on the agenda for the day, starting with a visit to Nijo Castle. This castle was built in 1603 as the residence of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and later used as an imperial palace before being donated to the city and opened to the public. It’s a wonderful example of castle palace architecture and is very well preserved.
Yasaka Shrine was our next visit, a collection of small shrines and park-like paths with the main hall standing in the center of it all. It’s another gloriously beautiful day and perfect for walking and exploring!
We ride the bus into a very congested area of the city and decided to make our way on foot to the next destination: Kiyomizu Temple.
Halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is a historic temple that was established in 778. The street leading to the temple is narrow, lined with shops and jammed with people, but the view from the top is spectacular.
The Main Hall of the temple is the shrine for the Eleven Headed and Thousand Armed Kannon Bodhisattva – which is famous for the power of answering prayers – and we saw many people praying here. The veranda of the Main Hall extends over a precipice and looks down upon a large cleansing fountain. The temple grounds also include the impressive Deva gate, a beautiful orange three-storied pagoda and bell tower.
Nishiki Market was the next stop, and it looked like a super place to shop, but I wasn’t in a shopping mood so a few of us found a little bar and drank a few beers.
In the evening, a small group of us returned to the Gion District and had a fine meal followed by a session in a Karaoke club! Karaoke is very popular and very different than here in the states. Groups are given their own private room, completed with multiple microphones, tambourines, lighting effects and the Karaoke system. It took a little while to figure out the controls – all in Japanese, but we got it and were soon bellowing out classic songs!
Kinkakuji (which is my favorite name of any place we visited) is a Zen temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It was originally the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and then became a zen temple in 1408, in accordance with his will.
The temple is situated dramatically overlooking a large pond and is easily the most scenic of all temples we visited. The grounds are beautifully maintained and we saw gardeners working everywhere. Walking along the paths through forest and along the ponds was a serene experience indeed.
The theme of serenity continued as we then visited Ryoanji Temple, the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer. The garden’s designer and date of construction is unknown. Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear, so it’s up to each person to find meaning for themselves. Some believe that it represents a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. For me, the experience of sitting quietly and contemplating and making sense of the negative space, was challenging but an interesting exercise in visualization.
Our wonderful day of Zen continued with a trip to Tenryuji, considered the most important temple in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district. It’s registered as a world heritage site and we enjoyed a lovely vegetarian lunch here, the highlight of which was the roasted eggplant topped with miso – yum!
Tenryuji’s garden has survived for centuries in its original form. Created by the famous garden designer Muso Soseki, the beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested mountains. Inside the main Drawing Room was a perfect place to sit and meditate and look out upon the pond.
In heavy contrast to our day of nature and reflection, we then made our way to Osaka’s Garden in the Air at the Umeda Sky building – a gleaming metallic high-rise with stunning architecture and a rooftop viewing platform.
The evening in Osaka brought one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me – a concert by one of my favorite acts !!! (Chk Chik Chick) at a nightclub in Ame-mura. It was a hot, dark and intimate venue and we were certainly the only non-Japanese there, except for one couple (from Phoenix!) who joined us. The opening act was “Hungry for Saki” and they were great – a perfect opener for the rowdy dance party to follow with !!!. Fantastic night out.
Our final day of touring was spent in Nara, about an hour from Osaka. Hundreds of tame deer roam freely in this town – walking along with people and napping by the road. We visited Todaiji, one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and were immediately met by more deer – everywhere!
This temple was built in 752 as the head temple of all Buddhists temples of Japan. The main hall, Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two thirds of the original temple hall’s size. The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha at 50 feet in height and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas. On this day, the place was absolutely mobbed by small school children on field trips – all extremely well mannered and friendly!
Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns, which have been donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings, while as many stone lanterns line its approaches. The lanterns are only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid August. Again, the deer roam freely here and are quite tame. I wandered up a side path to find a prayer session starting – eerie music playing from musicians in a small pavilion as priests walked in single file line to the altar area and began rhythmically chanting.
Lunch was an epic affair, orchestrated by Minoru. There must have been at least nine courses, and all of it was delicious and interesting! We followed that up with a walk through a shopping area and then up more steps to the final temple, Kofukuji. Kofukuji was originally the family temple of the Fujiware, the most powerful clan during the Nara and Heian periods at around 710. At the height of their power, the temple consisted of more than 150 buildings, but today just a few remain, including two impressive pagodas.
After a trip like this, it was a bittersweet walk to our final event, the Closing Dinner. Our hosts had set up a grand farewell evening for us indeed! A huge banquet of food was laid out for us – sushi, sashimi, steak, chicken, pizza, roasts, vegetables, salads, noodles – anything you can possibly want! Huge bottles of Saki were brought out and served in small wooden boxes. Bottles of beer were stationed everywhere. It was a fine party! Tad, Minoru and Rick gave moving speeches and Fran delivered the evening’s toast. Carol wowed us all by reading an extended haiku she had written that was absolutely gold. We finished with a stroll back toward the hotel, stopping in a small bar along the way before finally and reluctantly calling it a night.
This was certainly one of the most fascinating trips I’ve ever been on and I’ll cherish it forever. The people we met were the kindest, most helpful people ever. The deep respect for customs and history was inspiring. The food was adventurous and delicious. And of course, my colleagues were wonderful fun traveling companions who amplified the entire experience. I feel absolutely privileged to have visited the places we saw and know the people we met along the way. Domo arigato to Tad, Minoru, Rick, Fran and everyone else who assisted on this amazing journey!
Tags: Travel · Uncategorized
Just returned from a 10 day tour of Japan and was privileged to enjoy incredibly diverse and beautifully prepared meals! Soooo many new flavors and textures – each meal was an adventure!
September 20th, 2015 · No Comments
Tags: fauna · flora · Ireland · Landscapes · love · Travel
September 16th, 2015 · No Comments
September 16th, 2015 · No Comments
Under the Rim and Rigg’s Spring Trails
Conor and I have just returned from a five day backpacking trip through Bryce Canyon in southern Utah. The landscapes were spectacular, the wildlife abundant and the trail was incredibly challenging – this is NOT AN EASY HIKE!
We parked the truck at the trail end, Bryce Point and from there we would need to find a way to the trail head, Rainbow Point, about twenty miles away. We hopped on the free shuttle, which took us to the main road, and from there we started hitchhiking. After just fifteen minutes or so we were picked up by a young couple Noah and Gal, who were visiting from Israel. We jammed ourselves and our giant packs into the backseat of his Prius and headed down the road.
They were a very interesting couple on a three month trip to various countries and had already been to Cuba, Mexico, South America and a few places here in the states. It was a gorgeous afternoon when we hit the trail at Rainbow Point (9115 ft) and our plan was to take an easy stroll to the bottom of the canyon and camp near Rigg’s Spring.
Bryce Canyon is known for its Hoodoos – dramatic pillars of rocks that have eroded into fantastic shapes and pastel colors. There are thousands of these pillars throughout the length of the park and we were privileged with the opportunity to wander amongst them.
The trail was beautifully graded and meandered through lush stands of pine and we arrived at the first campsite after just a few hours of hiking. Everything was going smoothly but there were a number of things that gave me an uneasy feeling… first, there were NO PEOPLE – anywhere – we hiked for five days and only saw two small groups on day three and one couple on day four. There was also no cell service anywhere along the trail.
And then there was The Silence.
This is the quietest wilderness I have ever been in. Perhaps it’s the way the canyon is situated, but the soundscape was eerily quiet… no wind, no birds, nothing.
The wildlife – we had heard numerous reports of bear and mountain lion activity in this area and we saw numerous signs of both, with warning signs posted at every campsite.
We made camp at Rigg’s Spring (7514 ft) and it was just barely flowing, I laid a pine needle in the flow to create a little stream and it took about five minutes just to fill a one liter bottle… but it was water, something very scarce on this trail.
I started smelling a very strong and pungent musky aroma from the nearby dense stand of trees. Something was in there – something big!
I whiled away the afternoon practicing snare setting and doing a bit of exploring, then settled in with a whiskey and early dinner. The first night was a bit rough – it rained about five or six times and I kept smelling the musky odor. Every rustle of the branches or flap of my tent fly was putting me on edge. By morning we were very ready move away from this area!
The next day brought a very tough climb back up to above the treeline and then down along the spine of the canyon, dotted with amazing hoodoos.
As we walked along, I was struck by how the landscape was constantly changing due to the erosion, and how the hoodoos catch the light and change colors while casting shadows that look like some sort of giant mythical creatures.
The weather was perfect and we set up camp at Iron Spring (7925 ft). Iron Spring was murky and brown and barely flowing, but it was water – the only source we would have until at least twelve miles. We filtered it as best we could, but it was still the ugliest water I have ever drank.
The night was spectacular and clear! Because of the remote location of the park, the high elevation and the clear skies, Bryce is famous for its night skies. I slept out in the open and just let the awesome cosmic blanket of stars envelope me – staring straight up for as long as I could keep my eyes open – what a treat! The morning brought a symphony of bird songs – the forest was alive with their calls and I saw four massive hawks, one could have even been an eagle, flying impossibly high overhead.
The third day was the toughest hiking day – up and down and up and down – a rollercoaster of a trail that left us absolutely exhausted. At one point we discovered bear tracks that looked fairly fresh. All the while, the dramatic canyon of pink and orange cliffs and hoodoos, made even more striking by the mantle of green fir, pine and spruce trees at their base, kept us company off to the left. The views over each pass were wonderful and spurred us along this very very difficult trail.
Throughout the length of the trail we saw abundant wildflowers, Manzanita and chaparral, studded with weathered deadwood.
We made camp at Right Fork Swamp Canyon (7515 ft) and there we saw a couple other groups for the first time. The campsite was situated in a dense muddy portion of the forest and not the greatest or most scenic location, but we were so tired it really didn’t matter. I collapsed into my tent at around 8pm and didn’t wake up until sunrise.
The fourth day brought us closer to the cliffs, through some stretches of very harsh, parched desert and then along the Yellow Creek. This section of the trail had a lot of cat sign – bobcat and mountain lion, and there were notices posted along the trail of recent activity – it was a bit unnerving, but there’s not much you can do about it.
We made it to our final campsite, Right Fork Yellow Creek (6980 ft) and it was the nicest of all the campsites on this trip! Plenty of shade and a little creek running nearby. It was a terrific place to relax and rehydrate before tackling the big climb out the next day. A young couple from Chile arrived late in the day and shared the site with us – Daniel and Paz – they had hitchhiked here all the way from San Francisco and were on a three month visit of the National Parks. Their platypus had sprung a leak and so I gave them mine – I know how frustrating that can be because it happened to us on the John Muir Trail!
The final day was all uphill, past the ethereal rock formation called “The Hat Shop” and then weaving in and out of the hoodoos all the way to the top of Bryce Point, where my truck was waiting for us.
The total distance was only 32 miles, but with 10,000 feet of climbing at this elevation, it was much more difficult than we expected! It was a fantastic trip – so rewarding on so many levels and I’ll cherish the amazing views of the hoodoos and night skies forever.
Tags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Travel · wildlife
With the temps climbing into the upper nineties here, I took the opportunity for a quick jaunt into the Superstions one more time before it gets too dangerous. The heat was certainly high on my list of concerns for this trip, but I was also a bit worried about rattlers. I knew they would be out there and I did indeed run into a couple of them.
I arrived at the trailhead just up the road from Apache Lake to find the place empty – I had the desert to myself! in fact, I didn’t see or hear another person during my entire time out in the wilds (no one else was dumb enough to be out there!) It was HOT but the cacti were in bloom and the wildlife plentiful.
I saw Engelmann Prickly Pear in bloom everywhere – beautiful vibrant yellow flowers against a background of nasty spines.
Buckhorn Cholla were also flowering.
Although it was quite warm with temps now approaching 100, there was a nice breeze blowing and the hiking was actually quite comfortable. I was trail testing a new pack, the Osprey Stratos 36 and carrying my lightest load ever – just 14 pounds before food/water/camera!
I had the entire place to myself and walked along in silence, scaring up some beautiful and large Whitetail Deer, gopher snake, rock squirrels, a rattlesnake who quickly slithered under a rock before I could get a good shot if him, hundreds of Chuckwallas and other lizards.
I followed the Reavis Ranch trail for a couple miles, then veered off to the north and descended 1,700 feet down into a canyon, and across the bone dry Reavis Creek.
Along the way I found a mysterious box chained to a tree, with a note to “take something and leave something, and write something in our book” – what a cool idea! I sat down and rummaged through the entire contents of the box, taking a much needed rest and getting a nice boost of joy from this interesting diversion. I wrote my entry in the book, took the toothbrush/tootpaste kit, and left a little Montbell tent lantern. The person responsible for this was listed only as “Mr. E” – a mystery indeed! Thanks!
I continued along the trail and up to a little rocky knoll overlooking an impressive vista of Saguaros and canyons, about eight miles from the trailhead. I made camp there and found a shady spot for a rest.
While lying on my back relaxing, I heard the buzzing of a hummingbird approach. He flew right up next to my face, perhaps just a foot away and hovered there as though he was wondering “what kind of flower is this?”
He left and kept returning – three more time he came back and curiously buzzed around my head! It was a lovely moment of nature.
When the sun set, I climbed to a rocky tor overlooking the campsite and setup for some night photography – I wanted to capture the iconic shot of “illuminated tent at night in the wilderness” and got some nice shots! I was also testing out another piece of gear, the Big Agnes Mtn Glo tent light system – basically a little string of Christmas lights encased in a luminous fabric – what a great idea! And it uses 3 AAA batteries, just like my headlamp, so serves as kind of a backup battery storage as well.
The heat and the hike eventually took its toll and I crashed hard, despite the bright moonlight coming through my tent mesh. At around midnight, the moon settled beyond the horizon and revealed a massive and bright starfield, and I laid there staring up at the sky for as long as I could until sleep came again.
I woke at first light and started the long and brutal hike out of there, passing by an impressive stand of Saguaros with beautiful blooms. It took about four hours to make it back to the trailhead and my truck was still the only vehicle there.
It was a terrific trip and I can’t wait for the fall temperatures to arrive so I can return!
Tags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Uncategorized · wildlife
For the sixth time in the past five years, I caught the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California. As always, it was a feast of music, arts and celebration while connecting with many old and new friends! Here’s a little video montage of the festivities…
Tags: Art · crazy · funky · love · motion projects · music
Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day? Why not!
We’ve just returned from another wonderful trip to the magical island of Ireland. As always, the people were incredibly friendly, the food amazing, the landscapes jaw-droppingly beautiful and the pints creamy and sublime. But this trip was a bit different from the previous ones in that we found ourselves in fortuitous places at the most opportune times…
We began in Belfast, a city that is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the world. There’s an unusual energy here… edgy, but interesting and fun and the locals are extremely gregarious!
Our first stop was the famous Crown Bar, just across the street from the hotel. Emma and Steph scored a prime snug and we relaxed there, decompressing from a long day of travel and enjoying their famous fish and chips. That night was spent wandering the city for just a bit, but exhaustion hit us all and sleep came early.
Day Two: Today is Steph’s Birthday and Ireland’s Mother’s Day! We strolled past the impressive City Hall that stands as the centerpiece of the city and through the pedestrian walkways on our way to a fabulous celebratory brunch at the Bar and Grill at James Street. From there we ascended to the top of the viewing platform at Victoria Square to see impressive views of the city, the River Lagan and the signature Samson and Goliath shipbuilding cranes which were used in the construction of the Titanic.
The girls split off to do some shopping while Conor and I sampled the pints at Bittles Bar. In the afternoon, we met up with some old friends, Garvan and Adrian, two Belfast natives that I met while working on the Pub Project film. These guys are mad and fun and we enjoyed a rousing session at the pub with them!
The first of many amazing opportunities presented itself to us that night, as we had learned that the legendary Van Morrison would be playing at a small club in our hotel that evening! Playing in a small venue in his hometown of Belfast, I expected a stunning performance… and he was great… but certainly lacked in his interaction with the crowd. Still a good night though!
The next day was a long day of driving. We crossed the country (with a stop in Adare for lunch) all the way down to Dingle, where we would spend the next three days.
Dingle is a happy and colorful little fishing village at the south west tip of Ireland. Numerous pubs, almost all with live music, line the streets.
They have a mad tradition here of marching at 6AM on St. Patrick’s Day, claiming to be the first parade in the country! So of course we just had to join in and march with the Dingle Drum and Fife Band. It was an awesome way to start the day and my most memorable St. Patrick’s Day ever.
Later that day a wonderful community parade marched down the street, all of the signs in Gaelic, the most common tongue here.
We spent three nights in this wonderful village, getting to know the locals, exploring the pubs, shopping and walking the piers. We also journeyed out into the country just a bit, stopping at Inch Beach and later attempting a hike to Anascul Lake. (We bailed partway there) Sullivan’s, Dick Mack’s, Ashe’s Pub, The Dingle Pub, J. Curran’s, Foxy John’s, Lord Baker’s, Brennan Hotel… all were terrific pubs and there were many more!
From there we traveled up and over the one lane road to Conor Pass, high enough to look down upon the clouds below!
Then on to Ennis and explored this vibrant little city. Numerous old shops and pubs line the impossibly narrow streets, mimicking the street scenes from the Harry Potter movie. We stopped at the Monastery and visited with an old friend, Father Gerard, who was giving a retreat to the Poor Claire Nuns there.
Now through the countryside and on to the Burren, my favorite area of the country. We stayed with Father Richard in Ballyvaughan and enjoyed his joyous hospitality and a raucous night at O’Loclainn’s Bar!
Our next day in the Burren might have been the best yet.
Richard and I were up early and on the road to view the solar eclipse from the base of the Poulnabron, a 5,000 year-old tomb high on the barren hills. A 92% solar eclipse, it was eerie and strange but entirely wonderful with light so surreal and impossible to capture. I’ll never forget the experience of being there and feeling the aura of something almost spiritual and all-engulfing. Yet another example of being in the right place at the right time, it was certainly the highlight of my trip!
After a quick stop at Newtown castle for some photography, we returned to the house and gathered the group for a day of exploring the Burren. We drove along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal road to a field of llamas, yes, a magical field of llamas.
We then stopped at my friend Donal’s farm because he was smack in the middle of lambing season – about half of his eighty head of sheep had already given birth in the past week and the rest were due to come within the week. He allowed us to play with and feed some of the three-day old lambs and the girls loved it of course. In a gesture of classic Irish hospitality, he and his wife invited us in for tea and they treated us with gingerbread, scones, muffins and some of Donal’s homemade (and highly potent) Poteen! (Irish Moonshine)
Of course a trip to Ireland is not complete without a trip to a castle! This one is a beauty – Gleninagh Castle sits perched on the edge of the sea, just down the path from Donal’s farm and certainly not easily accessible to the general public.
It was a beautiful day to be outside, but now we were getting hungry and it was time to feast! Linane’s Lobster bar is THE PLACE to go for fresh seafood. We enjoyed mussels, clams, oysters, crab claws, crab cakes, crab salad, seafood chowder, and washed it all down with pints of Guinness.
That night we screened my latest film, “A Proper Pint” at Richard’s house and then wandered back down for a few pints at O’Loclainn’s and then to the Burren Hotel that was opening for the first time in many many years that night. It was a big deal in the small community and it was cool to be part of the history.
We ended the night with a quiet brandy and port at Richard’s house and sleep came easily.
We finished the trip with a short evening in Dublin, where we enjoyed seeing Ireland win the Six Nations Rugby Tournament! The entire town was celebrating and we wandered just a bit before enjoying another epic meal at the Boardwalk Café. We finished the night by catching some live music at Whelan’s, one of Dublin’s best live music venues. Conor and I saw One Horse Pony, a five piece acoustic Blues band and they were really cool and tight.
It was a trip of incredible timings: Van Morrison, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Solar Eclipse, lambing at Donal’s farm, opening night of the Burren Hotel and the Six Nations Rugby Tournament… all under wonderful weather!
Thank you Ireland. You are a wonder.
Tags: Ireland · Travel · Uncategorized
My latest painting, inspired by Dinosaur Mountain in the Superstition Wilderness, Arizona.
Acrylic, 24 X 36
Tags: Art · funky · painting
“A Proper Pint” has been accepted as an official selection in the LAIFF in the categories of “Travel Film” and “Cultural Film”!
Tags: Ireland · motion projects
A website has been created for my latest film, “A Proper Pint” at: www.aproperpintfilm.com – I’ll be using that site to announce screenings and news about the film!
Tags: Ireland · motion projects
February 16th, 2015 · 1 Comment
With the weather steadily warming, the window of time for a trek through the Superstition Wilderness was quickly closing, so my friend Matt and I took the opportunity to take a fine backpacking trip through this incredible part of the Sonoran Desert.
It was a warm day with a clear sky as we set off from the Peralta trailhead. The plan was to follow Dutchman’s trail to Miner’s Needle, take Coffee Flat to Red tanks and then loop around to rejoin Dutchman’s, then take Bluff Spring back to the trailhead. About 21 miles total.
But the Supes are a tricky terrain and so easy to get lost…
We wandered through thick saguaro forests at a leisurely pace, taking great pleasure in the views around each corner and over each rise. The birds were plentiful, some of the flowers blooming, but the most striking thing was how GREEN the desert floor was. We’ve had a decent amount of moisture lately and I’ve never seen it this lush.
We crossed our fingers that this meant the spring would be flowing at our destination for the night, but we both carried A LOT of water just in case. My pack weighed about 45 pounds and Matt’s had to be close to sixty.
We made camp by the bend in a happily flowing stream and relaxed in the shade while sipping a bit of whiskey and scotch (Green Spot and Glengoyne).
Matt made dinner for us that night, Red Chile Pork with beans and it was delicious! The stars soon emerged in the clear night sky and we spent a few hours around the fire relaxing and enjoying one of the nicest campsites we’ve ever had.
The next morning I made potatoes and chorizo burros for breakfast and then we hit the trail, heading toward Red Tanks… at least that’s where we THOUGHT we were going!
Unfortunately we took a wrong turn directly out of camp and spent the entire morning hiking in the wrong direction! We backtracked all the wall back to camp, chilled out and had some lunch, then revised our original plan to shorten the loop and head directly to Bluff Springs.
It’s soooo easy to get lost in this wilderness! That’s why you really have to be careful, and carry plenty of water just in case.
It was a HOT day for hiking. 92 degrees, and I was sweltering, on the verge of a bit of heat exhaustion. The sun was relentless, so we slowed the pace, took plenty of breaks and finally made it to our next campsite: the flowing waters of Bluff Spring.
We were both pretty spent, having hiked about ten miles in the desert heat with heavy packs. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner of Mushroom Tortellini in a mushroom cream sauce with fried Pancetta, Porchini Mushrooms and Walnuts. It was divine!
It was an early night and that thermarest mattress never felt so good. It was quite warm that night as well, but a terrific sunrise welcomed us with a full orchestra of birdcalls.
We worked together to create a “kitchen sink” scramble – basically eggs with everything we had left in our food stores: roasted corn, peppers, beans, salami, ham, spices – and it was delicious. The meals were definitely a highlight of this trip!
It was a rare overcast day as we set out for the trailhead, and we easily hiked the final four miles back to the truck, where a cooler of chilled beer awaited us.
It was a beautiful scenic hike with very few people along the way and yet another wonderful excursion into one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Superstition Wilderness.
Tags: Camping · Cooking · flora · Landscapes
Tags: fauna · funky · urban · wildlife
Tags: fauna · Landscapes
Playing around with a new photo editing program, Topaz. This is Evolution Lake in the Sierra Nevadas of California, USA.
Madeline Island is one of the Apostle Islands, located on Lake Superior, in northern Wisconsin. With a population of just 250 residents, it’s a pretty and quiet little island that is reached via a ferry from Bayfield, Wisconsin. On this visit, the fall colors were at peak vibrancy.
Tags: flora · Landscapes · Travel · Uncategorized
*All images copyrighted by Keven Siegert
It was bloody good craic, that’s for sure!
We just spent two weeks in Ireland, shooting a film I’ve been working on for a number of years, about pub culture: “A Proper Pint: The Great Pubs of Ireland”. With me were my dream team crew: two of my best and oldest friends, Greg and Tom. Tom would be the primary Director of Photography and oversee all technical production elements, Greg would handle writing and consents for the show, assist with logistics and generally help where needed.
It was an amazing experience in so many ways! All of the shoots came together, the weather was beautiful, the food and drink sublime, our host Richard and Gerard were amazing, and we met MANY wonderful people, some of which I have no doubt will be longtime friends!
We flew into Dublin and picked up the rental car. It was supposed to be a mini van, but was more like a crossover SUV and much smaller than I anticipated, so we couldn’t pack as much gear as we wanted to. This actually turned out to be a very good thing since even a vehicle this size was a challenge to drive on the ultra narrow country roads of the Burren (western Ireland) and Dingle peninsula.
We drove to my friend Paul’s place to pick up some additional gear, getting lost in the Dublin side streets along the way and ending up on a lane the size of a sidewalk. It was so narrow that we had to bend the side mirrors in, and I think I must have had the car in the wrong gear because smoke started pouring out from the hood as we crept up the hill!
From there we crossed the country to the village of Ballyvaughan and the home of the Parish Priest there, Father Richard Flanagan. A beautiful little house nestled beside the imposing St. John’s church, this would be our home for the next week or so.
Richard and another mutual friend (also a priest) Gerard would be our hosts for the next week and they were absolutely fantastic to us. We enjoyed fine meals each morning and evening, wonderful “sessions” at the pubs and comfy accommodations.
The project focused on one particular pub, O’Loclainn’s in Ballyvaughan, owned by Peter and Margaret O’Loughlen and they were so gracious and generous with their time and access to their pub – THANK YOU!
The shoot began with a stroke of luck: the church roof had recently sprung a leak and a man named Graham was there with a 50’ scissor lift to inspect the steeple. He agreed to move the lift to the edge of the road and lift us up in it to shoot some beautiful aerial views of the village. BONUS!
Later that day we drove down the Wild Atlantic Way coastline road to Fanore and stopped at A. E. O’Donahue’s pub for a pint and crab claws. There we met longtime resident and local singer, John Joe, who gave us a few sweet songs. It was a beautiful day, the pints were creamy and cool and the crab legs (soaking in lemon, garlic and butter) were divine, and John Joe’s gentle voice quivered as he sang “A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing”. It doesn’t get much better than this.
We then explored the Fanore cemetery and continued on to Doolin to scout a potential shooting location. The evening was spent with Richard and Gerard, first with an amazing meal that they prepared (with fine wines) and then an evening at the pub.
One element of the film is to show a “slice of life” of the patrons of the pub and Richard agreed to participate with this – he leads an incredibly fascinating life as the parish priest and we were allowed to shoot one of his services and interactions with the congregation. Later that day we shot Richard’s interview and he nailed it. The footage looks terrific, thanks to Tom’s expertise and Greg was a great help in feeding me questions and lines of discussion.
The next shoot was a day with Peter, herding his cattle and then wandering through the family cemetery. Sitting high atop a high with beautiful views, the cemetery holds three generations of his family.
Back at their home, we interviewed Peter in the Dining Room and again, the footage looked great and Peter delivered some terrific soundbites. Afterwards, his wife Margaret treated us to tea and homemade chocolate cake that was absolute gourmet level. YUM!
The evening was spent at the pub, enjoying some fine whiskeys and numerous pints of Guinness. When the pub closed, we returned to Richard’s and spent an hour or so on the front porch, listening to opera while Richard explained the nuances of each performance, sipping on fine cognacs and smoking Cuban cigars under the stars. Absolutely sublime!
I received a tip from my friend Maurice about a musician named Blackie O’Connell who would be playing at McGann’s in Doolin on Monday night. Blackie is considered by some to be the finest Uilleann Pipes (the Irish bagpipes) player in Ireland and so we just had to try to record some of that! Fortunately, the owner was fine with us being there and Blackie and his band (Cyrill and Geraldine) also agreed to be recorded – SWEET!
We set up two cameras and a digital recorder and waited for them to start – and it was unbelievable. I’ve been in hundreds, of Irish pubs and heard hundreds of musicians and this was the best I’ve ever heard. The musicianship was astounding and powerful – kind of a “Lord of the Rings” vibe, mostly instrumental. At times I forgot I was recording and just got lost in the music, being completely transported to another place for a few moments. THANK YOU so much to Blackie, Cyrill and Geraldine for allowing us to record your performance! Their music will provide the perfect soundtrack to the film.
The next day was spent capturing landscapes, roaming the west coast in an area known as “The Burren” a geologically important landscape consisting of vast expanses of gray limestone, lush fertile valleys of grasslands and wild coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.
How lucky were we? Three close friends traveling together in this astounding landscape, enjoying jaw-dropping views, music, food, pints and each other’s company? Lucky indeed!
That evening we returned to the pub for more footage. Another band was playing, and they were terrific, but we really wanted to record a quick interview with Margaret behind the bar and the noise was a problem. Margaret brilliantly comes out with a tray of sandwiches for the band and tells them they can take a break! We landed the interview and Margaret was scintillating and gracious. Besides being behind the bar each evening, she teaches cooking classes and is an accomplished baker.
At that point, we had plenty of footage, so Tom put the camera down and picked up his pint – and from there a mighty craic ensued! It was one of those special nights – a night you could never plan in advance, with loads of singing from everyone in the place, Tom belting out gospel tunes much to the delight of Father Richard, the band joining in and stories being told! Peter and Margaret were also having a great time and we laughed and sang so hard we cried. Much whiskey and Guinness was enjoyed that fine evening!
Another day of landscape photography followed that, with a final night of shooting in the pub, in which we captured an interview with Father Gerard. Again, the footage looks great and Gerard delivered the goods. At this point I knew I had the footage I needed to make the film.
During one of the sessions we met a local Sheep Farmer and Entrepreneur, Donal, who invited us to his home for breakfast (well actually his friend Tom invited us to Donal’s place!) and a tour of the area, including Gleninagh Castle and Cemetery.
To celebrate the end of shooting, we took in a round of golf at the Gort Golf Course with Richard. Again, it was a perfect day to be outside and we had had a grand time hacking away at the little ball all afternoon. From there, the losers (Greg and Tom) treated to the winners (myself and Richard) to pints and seafood at Linanne’s Lobster Bar in New Quay.
Perched on the edge of the sea and looking out across Galway Bay, this is seafood at its finest. Super fresh, super high quality, and fine pints! Amazingly, we met Irish golf legend Christy O’Connor, Jr., who implored us to visit Dick Mack’s in Dingle, so that became the new game plan.
The pints were flowing freely that night and before leaving, Tom sang to some women sitting outside the bar. We finished with more pints at the Loge in Ballyvaughan, and that’s where Richard and the bartender talked Greg into played golf in a tournament with them the next day.
The next day, Tom and I took the ferry across to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands, about a thirty minute boat ride off the west coast. We enjoyed a nice pint in the ancient courtyard outside the island’s only pub, then arranged a ride with horse and buggy from Mike and his horse, Pilgrim. They took us around the island, incredibly interesting in its remoteness and otherworldly rocks.
We passed a shipwreck from the early sixties, a striking rusty hulk lying amidst stark white rocks, then rode through narrow roads that ran between stone-walled fields. It was yet another beautiful day to be out and about and we captured some very cool images.
The next day we headed for Galway and spent an afternoon and evening there with Gerard and another priest, Dominic from Rome. The music and sights were relatively unimpressive compared to what we had been experiencing the previous week, but it was a nice change of pace and stroll through some urban settings. Gerard treated us to an outstanding seafood dinner that evening at the Seafood House and that was certainly the highlight of Galway for us!
From there, we made out way down to Dingle, stopping in Adare for a bit of lunch. When we arrived in Dingle, every room in town had be booked, except for one, the last one on the hill, O’Connor’s B&B. The owner had one room with three beds in it – we’ll take it!
We enjoyed a night of pub hopping and more fine dining, this time at the Global Village. We met a couple pub owners that night, including the Nephew (Finn) of the owner of Dick Mack’s, the enigmatic Oliver MacDonnell. Finn assured us that we could show up with a camera and interview Oliver. We were excited for the opportunity, but wary that he would decline because he has a reputation for being volatile!
The next morning we ate a wonderful breakfast cooked by our host Tom at the B&B and then packed the car and headed down to Dick Mack’s. A quirky bar with an even quirkier owner, Oliver is a true character! He agreed to do the interview and was quite entertaining – another score!
We spent the afternoon driving along the coast, following the “Kerry Ring” to Slea Head and then back around to Dingle. The views were spectacular! Rolling grassy hills and valleys, sheer wild cliffs, sparkling blue ocean and yes… another beautiful day.
We stopped at Slea Head Beach for an hour or so and then continued on, arriving back in Dingle just in time for the start of the All Ireland Football Final, with Kerry taking on Donegal. Being in Kerry county, this was HUGE. The entire town shut down for the game and people gathered around televisions in the pubs and watched intently as Kerry pulled out a thrilling victory! Awesome.
Finally it was time to return to Dublin. We returned the rental car, took a cab into town and checked into the Grafton Capital Hotel, located in the center of everything. We enjoyed three nights of touring the capital city, taking in the Guinness Brewery tour, Jameson Distillery, Musical Pub Crawl, Uprising of 1916 Walking Tour and more. It was a fine way to celebrate a successful shoot.
To Greg and Tom – THANK YOU for you hard work and creative genius. It was an absolute dream come true to be working on a project like this in the place I love so dearly. THANK YOU to Richard and Gerard for hosting us and making us feel welcome. THANK YOU to Peter and Margaret for your cooperation in this project and thank you to all of the people we met and befriended – we felt like we were welcome everywhere and it was wonderful.
Tags: Ireland · Landscapes · love · motion projects · music · Travel