telepathic stuntman

Creative Visualization by Keven Siegert

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Mount Wrightston, Madera Canyon and Saguaro National Park

August 14th, 2016 · 4 Comments

The clouds were hanging low to the ground and everything was soaking wet from the frequent storms during the past few days. The sky was dark and heavy with moisture. I walked silently along a trail, thickly padded with layers of pine needles. There wasn’t a breath of wind or noise of any kind and I had the entire mountain to myself.

cloudy hills

pine needles

After a few hours of hiking, I sat down on a low hill for a rest and water. When I heard the branch snapping behind me, I thought perhaps it could be a Coatimundi or Ringtail… so I was excited to creep around for a better look and hopefully a photograph. Then I heard the loud CRACK of a big branch and I knew it had to be a pretty large animal. Through the branches I could see him – a massive Black Bear!

black bear

Black Bear (hidden behind the tree)

I couldn’t get a clear shot, so I moved around the tree and that’s when he saw me. He turned from the tree and stood up on his hind legs – his head was the size of a garbage can lid and he stood a good seven or eight feet tall! My brain had an instant battle between “get the hell out of here!” and “shoot a photo now!”. The size of him was unnerving and “get the hell out of here” won – I backed away slowly and continued down the trail, glancing over my shoulder every ten paces and stopping frequently to listen.

trail to florida saddle

scarletbush

Scarletbush

 

side blotched lizard

Side Blotched Lizard

 

This starts a challenging and beautiful (and unnerving) trek into the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona, starting in the high desert at around 4,000 feet and ascending through Madera Canyon to the summit of Mount Wrightston (9,452 feet).

chaparral yuccaYucca

cholla flowerCholla Flower

I began the morning at Saguaro National Park to scout out a location for a photo shoot I wanted to do later in the week. I hiked around the park, exploring Signal Hill and found a fantastic site of ancient rock art, created by the Hohokam people more than a thousand years ago. There are dozens of petroglyphs on the rocky hill and I found the perfect angle for a sunrise and sunset shot. I walked through the Sonoran Desert Museum as a thunderstorm moved across the desert floor and hammered the valley with a torrential rain. The scent of Desert Sage hung heavy in the air and the cool moisture felt great.

desert ramblerThe Desert Rambler!

backlit cholla

Cholla

 

baja loop road

agave heartAgave

agave kaleidoscopeAgave

agave stalk

Agave Stalk

 

barrel cactus flowersBarrel Cactus

buckhorn cholla

Buckhorn Cholla

chrysocollaChrysocolla

 

desert storm

coville barrel cactusCoville Barrel Cactus

 

diamond cholla

Diamond Cholla

 

Engelmann Hedgehog CactusEngelmann Hedgehog Cactus

 

fishhook budsFishhook

fishhook cactusFishhook

 

fishhook flower

Fishhook Flower

 

golden agaveGolden Agave

 

huachuca agaveHuachuca Agave

 

ocotillo backlight

ocotillo cuOcotillo

 

ocotillo

Ocotillo

 

organ pipe cactusOrgan Pipe Cactus

 

prickly pear fruit

Prickly Pear Cactus

 

prickly pear long spikes

Prickly Pear Cactus

 

prickly pearPrickly Pear Cactus

 

 

After a short drive just south of Tucson, I reach the Santa Rita Mountains. Mount Wrightston is completely shrouded in clouds and the range looks ominous indeed. It’s a Tuesday and it’s been raining all day so there was absolutely no one around at all. I spent three days in the mountains there and didn’t see a single person.

santa rita mountains

santa rita range

The trail starts in Madera Canyon, a habitat that’s world famous for the variety of flora and fauna here, especially birds. Between the desert floor and the high mountain peaks, there are four distinct life and climate zones.

purple clump

 

The Super Trail is a wonderfully graded trail that follows a creek and provides many scenic vistas on the way to the halfway point of Josephine Saddle. I reach it late in the afternoon, and decide to camp there. A porcupine shuffles into the brush as I walk around looking for a suitable site for the tent. I’m still a bit nervous about the bear and so every noise signals an alert.

plaque

flowing water

I build a nice fire, cook up a bit of dinner and settle in with a book for the night. The rain drizzled on and off and it was too cloudy to see stars, so I crashed early and slept soundly all night.

camp1

Dark threatening clouds enveloped the mountain as I ate breakfast and packed up my gear. I continued along the Super trail, aiming for Baldy Saddle, and then the summit of Mount Wrightston. I was carrying a lot of photography gear and everything was wet, so my pack was really heavy. The ground was slick in muddy in places, so I moved fairly slowly up the mountainside. Again, there was not a bit of wind and even the birds were quiet. It was sublimely peaceful, but also just a bit disconcerting… where was everyone? Am I missing something and I’m not supposed to be here?

super path

super trailhead

thistleThistle

 

I sat down for a rest and the quietness was actually aching. I could hear the clicking of the tendons in my neck when I turned from side to side. It felt like I was in some kind of peaceful, semi-meditative state. Now at about 7,500 feet, I could see clouds below me, and thunderstorms moving across the desert floor.

fuzzy six leaf

gaillardiaGaillardia

As I continued ascending, I spied a few black lizards, rock squirrels, a number of unusual birds (I wish I knew my birds better), and a couple of Whitetail deer. I came to a point in the trail that was covered in spider webs – now I knew no one had been here for a while! I knocked the webs down with a stick and trudged upward. Each time the rain started up, I would hunker down under a tree with full rain gear on and wait it out. A couple times I just threw my tent up (which only takes about three minutes) and waited the storm out with my book.

web

western pine

white mushroooms

wild garlicWild Garlic

 

wood fern

Wood Fern

 

yucca w podsYucca

 

I made it to Baldy Saddle by mid day and the peak was still heavily shrouded in dark clouds. There would be no chance for any kind of photography up there, so I decided to make camp and wait for the clouds to clear. I napped, wandered and generally spent a really relaxed day just hanging out in the shadow of this impressive peak.

columbineColumbine

 

delicate center

desert willowsDesert Willows

false acacias

False Acacias

 

 

firecracker penstemon

Firecracker Penstemon

fleabaneFleabane

 

foggy valley

At this point I’d like to acknowledge a great set of photography products by Peak Design! I’ve tried a variety of harnesses, holsters, straps, etc., but have never found a comfortable way to carry my full size camera while backpacking. Well the Peak Design Capture Camera Clip is the answer. I’ve used it on a couple trips now and I really like it! I allows you to mount the camera to your chest, so there’s no swinging around, and it works fine with the Peak Design Rain Shell. I also carry the strap for day hikes and side trips, which clips on and off quickly. Nice work guys!

 

pd 1

pd 2

pd 3

pd 4

 

pd 6

pd 5

Finally at about 5pm, I decided it was now or never. Even If I got to the top and couldn’t see anything, I still wanted to do it. The final mile to the top was a bit steep but really nicely graded and fairly easy. I could hear and see thunderstorms all around me, and that was certainly scary. I almost quit and turned around three or four times, but it never came close enough to put me in serious danger.

 

It was a joyous feeling to finally reach the top! Sure enough, visibility was almost zero. I signed the book, hydrated and took a few shots of the clouds and then…

 

log book

baldy marker

Stunningly, the clouds started to dissipate and separate! I could now see spectacular epic views in all directions as puffy clouds floated through. I scampered around joyously shooting photos and shaking my head in disbelief of my good fortune! I could see a really cool thunderhead moving across the desert floor from Mexico towards Tucson. I saw bits of rainbows trying to peak through. At one point I saw a small circular rainbow with my shadow in the center of it, on the side of a mountain a good five miles away. I have no idea what causes this phenomena, and I tried to capture it with the camera, but couldn’t really get it.

sky starts to open

small rainbowUpdate: This is actually a phenomena called a “Brocken Spectre”:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocken_spectre

A Brocken spectre (German Brockengespenst), also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appear directly opposite the sun when sunlight meets a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets.

The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, even when seen from an aeroplane, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre was observed and described by Johann Silberschlag in 1780, and has since been recorded often in literature about the region.

 

cool sky

desert storm from summit

hazy mountains

panaromic 3

panoramic 1

panoramic 2

Then after about twenty minutes, I was again shrouded in clouds again, this time even darker as the sun started to set below the horizon and the thunder seemed louder and closer. Time to get down from here!

north view from top

 

clouds below

kev on wrightston

I had another restful night from this very nice campsite, one of the nicest I ever seen, with views to the east and west.

campsite2

sunset from camp

The next day I hiked down to the Florida Saddle, then across to Madera Road and back to my truck. I returned to Saguaro National Park West and setup for the sunrise photo shoot at Signal Hill. It was hot and steamy on the desert floor and again, no people to be seen anywhere.

richardsons geraniumRichardsons Geranium

cloverClover

 

green beetleBeetle

 

indian paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

 

jojobaJojoba

 

 

lupines

Lupines

 

mushroom with caterpillar

A nice collection of clouds gathered on the horizon as the sun set, and I captured a really great image of the rock art. It was fairly dark when I made my way back to my campsite and I cooked up a bit of dinner and then just sat still in the darkness and listened to the coyotes – about a dozen of them, yipping and yowling and crying in the distance.

abundant wildflowers

This night was a peak night for the Perseid Meteor shower, so I set up my camera for some star photography, set my alarm for 11:30pm and caught some sleep. I shot stars from 11:30 to about 1:30am and the shooting stars gave me a fantastic show! I saw about a dozen of them, including one that went the full length of the sky. Unfortunately none of the photos caught even one shooter (bummer).

Back awake at 4:30, I headed back to Signal Hill for the final shoot – a spectacular sunrise that unfolded exactly as I had hoped! The position of the sun, the clouds, everything was really great and I scored another cool photo.

pencil cholla catepillar

Pencil Cholla

 

signal hill sunrise

signal hill sunset 2

 

pincusion cactusPincushion Cactus

rock art alt sunset

rock art deer vert

rock art deer ws

 

rock art four

rock art two deer

rock art wheels

rock art ws

rock art ws2

rock squirrel 2

From there I packed up my gear and called it good. A wonderful trek in the spectacular wilderness playground of Arizona!

 

four spheres

artists conkArtist’s Conk

palafoxPalafox

 

pineapple cactus

Pineapple Cactus

 

range below

rattlesnake area

red spine barrel

 

 

saguaro forest on mountain

saguaro forest

saguaro national park ws 1

saguaro upshot

Saguaro Cactus

 

 

 

spiky nodes

spiky symetry

spiny center

spiral rock art

storm coming in from the west

sunflower dark bkgd

Sunflower

 

sunflower with miteSunflower (with a mite or spider)

 

sunflower

sunflowers

 

tiny purple flowers

top of truck landscape

 

turquoise

Turquoise

 

unknown blue mineral

velvetpod mimosa

Velvetpod Mimosa

 

vervainVervain

 

view from campsite 2

view to the north

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

→ 4 CommentsTags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Uncategorized · Weather · wildlife

Cholla Sunrise at Phoenix Mountain Preserve

August 5th, 2016 · No Comments

A couple shots from my hike this morning…

cholla sunrise

skeleton

spines2

spines

saguaro

 

→ No CommentsTags: flora · Landscapes

July 28th, 2016 · No Comments

Montage of my favorite shots from the last seven Coachella Music and Arts Festivals!

And here’s the video from 2016…

→ No CommentsTags: Art · Camping · crazy · funky · love · music · Travel

North Rim of the Grand Canyon

July 28th, 2016 · No Comments

Had a nice trip up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – it’s still really relaxed and not nearly as touristy as the South Rim. There’s a great restaurant there at the Lodge!

canyon view

big tree up

blue grouse

canyon view rock foreground

 

chairs on the porch

debi in cabin

fern

lodge

 

paintbrush

stlk

trees upshot

 

→ No CommentsTags: flora · Landscapes · love · Travel · Uncategorized

Nothing, Arizona

July 28th, 2016 · No Comments

nothing

→ No CommentsTags: funky · Landscapes · Travel

Shooting “A Proper Pint 2” and “A Proper Pint 3”

May 17th, 2016 · No Comments

We’ve just finished an extremely ambitious shoot in Ireland, capturing enough footage to create two more great films in the “A Proper Pint” series!

It was part adventure, part hard work and part driving/traveling, but a LOT OF FUN! Thank you to everyone who helped us a long the way, and a massive thanks to my crew, Tom and Greg for going on this crazy ride with me!

ws landscape w tom

Tom shooting down into a sparsely populated valley on Achill Island.

sun rays

Ashleam Bay

storm shoot

Shooting in a storm!

slieve mor

Slieve Mor

skiberdeen

Skiberdeen

sheeps head tom

Sheeps Head

sheeps head road

Sheeps Head

sheep at deserted village

Deserted Village, Achill

seamie

My good friend Seamie in Roscommon

roscommon sky

Roscommon

roscommon pub

Roscommon

roscommon pub door

Roscommon

roscommon church

Roscommon

roscommon castle ws

Roscommon Castle

roscommon castle wall

Roscommon Castle

rope heart

On the Fairy path in Achill

ready to cross

Getting ready to cross the dangerous channel in Europe, at Bullsmouth

omalleys castle

Grace O’Malley’s Castle, Achill Island

offerings at well3

Holy Well Tobar na súl (for the eyes) outside Skiberdeen

offerings at well2Holy Well Tobar na súl (for the eyes) outside Skiberdeen

offerings at wellHoly Well Tobar na súl (for the eyes) outside Skiberdeen

mohr castle

Castle at Cliffs of Mohr

metl balls

Metal bocce balls at the fairy path

mcloughlins

Tom visiting with Francis and Jackie at McLoughlin’s pub

lough hyne

Lake outside Siberdeen

labyrinth

Tom’s labyrinth, Ballyvaughan

kildownet cemetary

Achill Island

kev at omalleys castleAchill Island

keem beach rainbow

Keem Beach

keem beach rainbow ws

Keem Beach

keel

Keel

keel ws

Keel

keel ws w crew

Crew shooting epic landscapes at Keel

josie interview ws2

Interviewing Josie at McLoughlin’s

josie interview ws

Interviewing Josie at McLoughlin’s

joe crossing

Crossing the channel with Joe

jeweler

Watching John the Jeweler at work in Bantry

jackie interview2

Shooting Jackie’s interview at McLoughlin’s

jackie interview

Shooting Jackie’s interview at McLoughlin’s

inishbiggle

Stark landscapes in Inishbiggle

heading to inishbiggle

Making the dangerous crossing on a nice day

guinness

Ahhhh Pints!

greg at kildownet cemetary

Greg at the Achill Graveyard

francis at babys

Francis at Baby’s house having a bit of tea

francie and tom on beach

Francis picking periwinkles on Inishbiggle

francie and tom greg on beach

Inishbiggle

ferry boats

Curraughs at the Bullsmouth crossing

fairy tree

Fairy houses

fairy bridge

Fairy bridge

eileens pub

Having carrot cake and coffee with Eileen at her pub on Sheeps Head

eileens pub ws

Eileen’s bar – a wonderful little place

deserted village

Deserted Village, Achill

danger

Danger!

crew shot

Crew shot on Achill Island

crew at omalleys castle

Crew shot on Achill Island

coyle kegs

J. Coyle and Sons at Four Roads

coyle interior

J. Coyle and Sons at Four Roads

coyle interior ws

J. Coyle and Sons at Four Roads

coyle interior 2

J. Coyle and Sons at Four Roads

coye exterior

J. Coyle and Sons at Four Roads

cliffs of mohr

Cliffs of Mohr

beara pennisula

Beara Pennisula

beara coutrysidecows

Beara Pennisula

beara coutryside

Beara Pennisula

beara castle

Bantry countryside

bar doors

Ma Murphy’s Bar, Bantry

 bantry

Bantry

 bantry countryside

Bantry

bantry boat

Bantry

bantry anchor

Bantry

baby henry shoot

Baby’s House on Inishbiggle

baby henry shoot kitchen

Baby’s House on Inishbiggle

ashleam bay

Ashleam Bay

ashleam bay tom

Ashleam Bay

aheam bay

Ashleam Bay

aheam bay sunset

Ashleam Bay

achill south cliffs

South Coast of Achill Island

achill south cliffs tom_

South Coast of Achill Island

achill south cliffs tom greg

South Coast of Achill Island

achill sign

achill sheep_

Achill Island

achill sheep ws

Achill Island

achill road sign

Achill Island

achill gravesite

Achill Island

achill cliffs and road

Achill Island

achill church ruins

Achill Island

→ No CommentsTags: Ireland · Landscapes · love · motion projects · Travel

Argentine Giant in BLOOM

April 5th, 2016 · No Comments

The Argentine Giant only blooms once per year, for less than a day. I was lucky enough to see it today while testing out a new camera!

argentine trio

argentine w bees

yellow stalks

hedgehog

argentine vert

argentine vert2

caterpillar

single argentine w bee

yellow pods

argentine w approaching bee

yellow flowers galore

argentine center cu

prickley pear flowers

argentine trio 2

prickley pear flowers row

argentine ws

hedgehog ws

→ No CommentsTags: flora

Backpacking in the Snowy Grand Canyon

February 14th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Note: Because of the air clarity, many of the shots in the post look fantastic full screen! Be sure to click on some of them.

It’s February and snowy in the North Country, so why not try a backpacking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

looking back from near indian garden

tree silouette                         mathers point

mathers point view into canyon  mathers point pano

heading out snow ws      heading out snow              dawn at gc alt

 

 

It sounded a bit mad, but it was absolutely wonderful weather for hiking! There were six of us on this trip and the plan was to arrive at the South Rim in the afternoon, check out Hermit’s Rest, Powell Memorial and a few other viewpoints, try some jib shots with the new Kessler Jib, and enjoy a quiet evening of star gazing before heading down.

powell monument

powell monument mcu

kev jib

We enjoyed a fantastic meal at El Tovar and then headed out to see what we could see in the evening sky. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy, so we bagged it early and prepared for a predawn start the next day.

About an hour before sunrise we packed up and headed out to see if we could spot the five planets: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter all in a view simultaneously – something that was last seen more than a decade ago. (Photo by Elliot Herman)

planets

It was a chilly 17 degrees and the window of opportunity was tight – too early and we wouldn’t see Mercury rising over the horizon – too late and the light of the sun would wash it out… but there it was! All five planets lined up in the twilight! It was a cool way to start the hike.

At the Bright Angel trailhead, we stopped to put crampons on our boots – the trail was completely covered with snow and ice. As the sun started to peek over the far horizon, we began the descent down.

beginning the descent

 

The morning air was still and quiet, with the snow muffling all sounds.

sunrise peeking through

 

matt and george at start

There was no one else crazy enough to be out this early so we had the canyon to ourselves. The air was crisper and clearer than I had ever seen it. The sun kissed the top of the canyons plateaus as we made our way very, very carefully through the slickest sections. It was quiet and meditative but at the same time, a bit scary and required full focus of every step.

trio

After about the first two hours of hiking we had made it past the snow and ice section and were about to remove the crampons. From here we made good time all the way to the bottom, crossing the Silver Bridge across the Colorado River to the Bright Angel Campground, where we would stay for the next two nights.

century plant

quartzlike spheres

 

Bright Angel Campground is an idyllic oasis near Phantom Ranch. The delightful Bright Angel creek runs along all of the campsites and the sound of the bubbling rapids was a very nice accompaniment to our time spent there.

bright angel campgrounds

bright angel camp

bright angel creek2
After setting up camp, we wandered over to Phantom Ranch – they had beer! Cold Grand Canyon Amber Ales on a sunny afternoon in the bottom of the most amazing place on Earth – sublime!

group

phantom ranch chalkboard

 

phantom ranch mules

In the evening, we all cooked up dinners (I made “Deconstructed Lasagna” washed down with some Green Spot Irish Whiskey) and then hiked down to the beach where George led a fascinating and ultra informative star gazing session. The sky was super clear and the stars were impossibly bright – probably the best I’ve ever seen!

stars w tent

stars w cliff by beach

 

We saw Orion, the Charioteer, the Twins, the Big Dog, the Little Dog, the Bull, the Hare, Perseus, Cassiopea, Cepheus, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Virgo, Scorpio, Leo, and the Herdsman, which contains Arcturus.

group below stars

In addition, we saw shooting stars, satellites, the Milky Way and the moon even participated in the show by emerging up over the ridge, just a sliver but with Earthshine illuminating the dark side. It was phenomenal and THANK YOU GEORGE for the excellent information you imparted to us over those three nights.

stars w cliff light

It was a great night for sleep, with the temperature only getting down to 32 degrees, and we rose to another absolutely beautiful day. Bright, clear and cloudless – perfect for a day of exploring. After a breakfast of Whiskey Bacon Pancakes and coffee, we loaded up minimal supplies and headed out on the Clear Creek Trail – a superb trek that climbed high above the Colorado River and then followed it north toward Zoroaster Temple.

 

matt and george w deer

black bridge

blue buds

 

clear creek trail vista 2

Along the way we spied many deer, ravens, coyote, scrub jays and canyon wrens.

greg heading toward zoroaster

yucca

purple prickly foreground

brittlebush foreground

The following morning we made breakfast and prepared for the long and arduous climb out. It was extremely challenging but made much easier by the spectacular scenery. It was a Sunday and we were now starting to see more people. As the first of the two arches on the Bright Angle trail came into view, I knew the adventure was coming to the end. I shot a few final photographs from near the top and then emerged to the trailhead and civilization.

final arch

final vista

 

 

An absolutely stunning trip with a wonderful group of guys!

silver bridge bob

rock face

silver bridge craig

prickly pear vista

silver bridge looking south

→ 3 CommentsTags: Camping · Cooking · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Weather · wildlife

Superstition Wilderness – The Big Loop

January 28th, 2016 · No Comments

The weather has been perfect for backpacking, so I took the opportunity to backpack in the greatest playground ever: The Superstition Wilderness, east of Phoenix.

marsh valley

three amigos     Saguaros – “The Three Amigos”

prickly pear mcu  pond foreground

   miners needle w cholla

Cholla with Weaver’s Needle in the background       

From the First Water Trailhead, I set out on the Second Water trail, looping around to Dutchman’s and on to Boulder Basin, where I spent the night next to a nice little babbling brook. A wary coyote wandered by, keeping his eyes fixed on me the entire time, then skulked off into the brush.

prickly heartsPrickly Pear “Valentine Hearts”

 

I cooked up a Pho of beef broth, spring onions, snap peas and spicy summer sausage, then relaxed by the fire with a flask of Green Spot whiskey. The sky was clear and the stars were crisp. Early in the evening I saw a nice shooting star. With not even a breath of wind, there were no sounds or movement, except the low distant bubbling of the water.

stream2

kev by fire

Eventually the night air was to cold to be comfortable, so I retired to the tent, wrapped up in my trusty Montbell Spiral Hugger bag – probably the single best piece of equipment I own. I read for about an hour, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and it was somewhat of an epiphany for me to approach meditation in this way… more about this later.

tent at night

After a great night of sleep, I rose late in the morning, had a relaxed breakfast and read a bit more. I hit the trail refreshed and ready and it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

campsite 1

agaveAgave

saguaro spineSaguaro Ribs

I took my time and followed the trails to Bull Pass, Calvary trail into Marsh Valley, Boulder Canyon to Second Water and numerous side trips to explore little nooks and crannies in the rocks (perhaps THIS is where the hidden treasure is?)… and I didn’t see a single person all day.

balancing rock
Boulder Canyon

centruy

Century Plant

Late in the afternoon, I spied a big mound of snowy white fur moving along the banks of the wash in Boulder Canyon – it was a Hog-Nosed Skunk! The first time I had seen one out in the wild. He slipped away in the brush before I could get a decent shot of him, and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to go chasing after him!

hog nosed skunkHog-nosed Skunk (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

cholla gateway

twisty saguaro

 

music mountain

I found a nice little ledge on the side of the cliff with clear views to the south and decided to camp there for the night. I cooked up a really tasty dish of ham and rice with veggies in a cheese sauce, washed down with Green Spot of course. With no good source of firewood around, I decided to not have a fire that night and instead found a natural “easy chair” carved out of the solid limestone rock next to my tent.

 

I continued to read “The Miracle of Mindfulness” under the light of my headlamp and a lot of it resonated with me, primarily the concept of not stressing about the past or future, but focusing on the task or moment of the present, no matter what it is, from washing the dishes to writing a letter to a loved one, to hiking down a trail. I also learned some techniques for meditation that seemed to really work well, especially the high importance of focusing on breathing – the length and number of breaths and how often to meditate. I was so engrossed in the book that I didn’t realize how dark it had become and when I switched off my light it was absolutely pitch black.

 

Sitting high atop this mountain in the darkness, with not even a bit of wind, it was so quiet that my ears slightly ached from it. I sat still in the darkness for a long period of time, trying some of the meditation skills I had learned. The night air was remarkably warm, much warmer than last night. The stars were absolutely glimmering. I felt very connected to the planet, flattened against the rocky throne while hurtling through space. It was a surreal and sublime experience.

 

The winds picked up that night, making it tough to sleep despite walking for more than fifteen miles that day, and I rose early to cook breakfast in the predawn darkness.

 

Another fine day of walking and I was up and out of the Supes… a total of about 35 miles in three days. The Grand Canyon is next, in about a week and I’m ready!

keven in boulder canyon

cholla cu

cholla xcu

 

hedgehog

 

 

 

→ No CommentsTags: Camping · Cooking · fauna · flora

Douglas Spring Trail – Saguaro National Park

January 7th, 2016 · No Comments

My friend Bob and I recently backpacked the Douglas Spring Trail, which follows the boundary of the Saguaro National Park east pretty much the whole way to Douglas Spring campsite, 6.1 miles from the trail head. The trail is a nicely graded, uphill hike pretty much all the way to within a mile or two from the campsite, climbing more than 2,000 feet with an accumulated elevation gain of more than 2,500 feet.
trail head
prickly pearPrickly Pear Cactus
saguaro
Saguaro Cactus
  cholla red yellow    Cholla
fishhook
Fishhook Barrel Cactus
hillside  saguaro forest
With increasing elevation, the trail took us through multiple changes in ecosystems –  cactus gave way to grassy plains and then to short junipers. The weather was absolutely beautiful and the views were pretty nice, once we crested the ridge and left Tucson behind.  We arrived at the campsite (elevation 4,800 feet) late in the afternoon and were the only ones there. We enjoyed a fine meal of “Deconstructed Lasagna” washed down with a bit of whiskey and then chilled out while watching the stars. The temperatures dropped quickly though and we were both happy to crawl into the warmth of our sleeping bags fairly early in the evening.
The stars were especially bright, so  I slid my body out of the tent just far enough to have an unobstructed view of the sky. In the chilly calm I laid on my back and stared upward until falling asleep. I saw one shooting star zip all the way across the sky and it was awesome.
We made coffee in the morning to ward off the chill and I cooked up some tasty Whiskey bacon Pancakes with Maple syrup – YUM!
breakfast
pancakes
campsite
The return trip was all downhill and quite pleasant, with expansive views laid out in front of us for much of the way down. It was an excellent trip and all the better for doing it with an old friend!
overlooking tucosn
kev and bob

→ No CommentsTags: Camping · Cooking · flora · Weather

Las Noches do las Luminarias

December 8th, 2015 · No Comments

Featuring art installations by Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light at the Desert Botanical Garden

 

blue rose

 

bottles closeup

clusters

cu dome

hill ws

hill ws2

mariachis

path

purple shere

saguaro

saguaros in the night

twist

twist2

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Red Tanks Divide Loop – Superstition Wilderness

December 1st, 2015 · No Comments

My friend Matt and I just completed a challenging loop of about 25 miles through the Superstition Wilderness. We started at the Peralta Trailhead ad hiked the Dutchman’s Trail to Whiskey Springs. We hiked Whiskey Springs to Red Divide, camped just beyond the LaBarge Box Canyon and then took a side trip down the Hoolie Bacon trail. We then continued along the Red Divide trail, which really was not a trail at all, more of a collection of cairns and “suggestions”. We finished by taking Coffee Flat to Reed’s Water and camped there under an old windmill.

It was a difficult loop because of the lack of water, the overgrown catclaw that shredded our clothing and skin, and the challenging footing along the sides of the canyons. Still, the scenery was absolutely brilliant and we had the place to ourselves – wonderful solitude. Evening temperatures got very cold, well below freezing and our water was frozen solid. We had very nice fires each night though and that helped a lot!

saguro ridge

 

saguarosin the sun

saguaros

saguaro hill

 

saguaro forest

Coffee Flat

 

red tanks

red tanks 2

Red Tanks

 

prickly pear

Prickly Pear

 

 

 

ocotillo

Ocotillo

 

matt in labarge box

matt entering backside of red divide

labarge box

labarge box wall

jojoba

Jojoba

 

javelina chewed prickly pear

Prickly Pear cactus that had been eaten by Javelina

 

hedgehog

Hedgehog Cactus

 

 

daisy

 

coffee flat ws

 

 

cholla

Cholla

 

century plant

Yucca

 

bacon whiskey pancakes

bacon whiskey pancakes w maple syrup

Whiskey Bacon Pancakes with Maple Syrup!

 

 

agave

Agave

 

→ No CommentsTags: Camping · Cooking · fauna · flora · Landscapes

Dia de los Muertos

November 5th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

dancers1

altar

altar2

dancer

dancers

warriors

 

→ No CommentsTags: love

Adventure in the Superstitions!

October 24th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

sunrise campsite fremont saddleCampsite at Fremont Saddle

hoodoos

dutchmans trail signMiner’s Needle (In the background)

weavers needle

weavers needle sunsetWeaver’s Needle

wash with cairns

trail start

tarantulaTarantula

sunset from fremont saddle

scorpionScorpion at my campsite

saguaros

saguaro with prckly pear

saguaro up

saguaro forestAwesome saguaros looking toward Coffee Flat!

rugged landscape

puddleThe only source of water I found during the entire trip.

prickly pear detailPrickly Pear detail

nest in chollaBird’s nest in a cholla

monarchMonarch Butterfly

majestic saguaroMajestic Saguaro

looking north

kitchenMy kitchen with view!

deserted tentDeserted supply station

cholla in legOUCH! Jumping Cholla got me!

cholla detail

cholla background

camp fremont saddleSublime.

→ No CommentsTags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · wildlife

Japan!

October 17th, 2015 · 5 Comments

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.

Asakusa Sensoji rickshaw

big echo

sound leakage

asahi skytree skyline

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.

hamarikyu garden group

nikko lunch tad

hamarikyu garden guides

arashiyama garden guides

tomoko

tokyo view from room

umbrellas

hesca sign on bus

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.

IMG_3670

otani falls

otani garden statue

otani garden

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.

fish market info booth

street lanterns

 

 

fish market ws veg

 

fish market veggies cu

fish market veggies ws

fish market veggies

fish market mushrooms

 

fish market knife shop

fish market jo aranka

 

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.

 

fish market alley

fish market truck

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!

fish market breakfast

fish market sign

fish market ws3

fish market ws

fish market flat fish

fish market red fish ws

fish market eel

fish market red fish

fish market turtle sign

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.

tokyo boathouse

tokyo

pachinko

peace signs

 

yellow birds

IMG_3716

toilet controls

toilet sign 2

toilet sign

 

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.

opening dinner full

tad award

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.

golden gai street

golden gai street jo

golden gai lynn

golden gai jo ramones bar

golden gai jo kev deb

golden gai jo chuck

 

 

golden gai girls

golden gai bar1

 

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.

 

golden gai crazy woman bar

golden gai group

golden gai group 2

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.

imperial palace bridge

imperial palace bridge detail  imperial palace kev debi

imperial palace posers

imperial palace

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.

meiji jingu shrine gfateway

meiji jingu shrine bride groom photo

 

meiji jingu shrine prayers cu 3

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.

meiji jingu shrine carol cleanse

 

meiji jingu shrine jo cleanse

meiji jingu shrine cleanse

meiji jingu shrine ritchie cleanse

 

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.

meiji jingu shrine prayers ws

meiji jingu shrine prayers cu 2

meiji jingu shrine prayers cu

meiji jingu shrine prayers

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.

Asakusa Sensoji ws_

Asakusa Sensoji ws 2

Asakusa Sensoji with skytree

Asakusa Sensoji with girls

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.

 

Asakusa Sensoji ws market

Asakusa Sensoji sumo selfie

Asakusa Sensoji selfie

Asakusa Sensoji vendors

Asakusa Sensoji swords

Asakusa Sensoji sumo

Asakusa Sensoji ray and ritchie

Asakusa Sensoji rick fran

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.

Asakusa Sensoji side

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.

model trains

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!

sumida river cruise buildings 2

sumida river cruise angus sondra

sumida river cruise aranka jo carol

sumida river cruise barry

sumida river cruise buildings

sumida river cruise chuck

sumida river cruise industrial

sumida river cruise jim

sumida river cruise shery lynn shelly

sumida river cruise tad debi

 

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!

hamarikyu garden flowers cityscape

hamarikyu garden flower cu

hamarikyu garden flower cu2

hamarikyu garden flower

 

hamarikyu garden flowers

hamarikyu garden gate

 

 

hamarikyu garden waterway

 

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.

hakone ryoken dinner 3

 

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.

IMG_3705

IMG_3704

train

train ws

 

nikko bus driver

nikko bus tunnel

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!

nikko lunch cu

nikko lunch ws

 

 

nikko lunch tad saki

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.

ebisuya lake

 

ebisuya lake ws arlyn ritchie

ebisuya lake ws chuck shery

ebisuya lake ws

ebisuya lake ws rick fran

ebisuya lake ws carol

 

 

 

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.

kegon falls ws

kegon falls aranka jo tad carol ws

 

 

kegon falls debi

kegon falls elevator

kegon falls entry

kegon falls flag

kegon falls shrine

kegon falls carol chesnuts

ritchie at kegon falls

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.

nikko toshogu shrine building

nikko toshogu shrine gate

nikko toshogu shrine angus

nikko toshogu shrine arlyn tad

 

nikko toshogu shrine crane flag

nikko toshogu shrine elephant building

nikko toshogu shrine elephant detail

nikko toshogu shrine entrance closed doors

nikko toshogu shrine entrance detail

 

nikko toshogu shrine entrance detail3

nikko toshogu shrine entrance

nikko toshogu shrine fight flag

nikko toshogu shrine flag1

nikko toshogu shrine flag2

 

nikko toshogu shrine hesca flag

nikko toshogu shrine jo carol

nikko toshogu shrine lantern

nikko toshogu shrine lanterns

nikko toshogu shrine metalwork detail

nikko toshogu shrine monkeys detail

nikko toshogu shrine monkeys

nikko toshogu shrine mossy lantern

nikko toshogu shrine mossy lanterns

nikko toshogu shrine mossy panels

nikko toshogu shrine pagoda

nikko toshogu shrine panel detail

nikko toshogu shrine ray

nikko toshogu shrine shelly

nikko toshogu shrine shoes sign

nikko toshogu shrine shoes ws

nikko toshogu shrine shoes

nikko toshogu shrine sign shoes

nikko toshogu shrine sign

nikko toshogu shrine tad

nikko toshogu shrine tomb stairs

nikko toshogu shrine tomb

nikko toshogu shrine triumphant jo

nikko toshogu shrine walking

nikko toshogu shrine white dog lynn

nikko toshogu shrine white dog

 

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.

uedo park

artists by the river

artist by the river

 

cool building

parrot

little girl

fish head

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!

 

skytree street view

skytree base

skytree sign

skytree tower deck

skytree view 1

skytree view 2

skytree view 3

skytree view 4

skytree view 5

 

skytree view 7

skytree view 9

skytree view 10

skytree courtsey

From there we found a terrific crab house in Roppongi  and enjoyed cheap beers and good crab for the afternoon – perfect HeSCA Happy Hour!

crab soup

crab grilled

kev jo crab place

 

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.

motohakone tad

 

motohakone fountain

motohakone prayer card

motohakone prayer cards

motohakone prayers

motohakone seal

motohakone tad on water

 

motohakone chuck

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.

ashinoko lake debi lynn

ashinoko lake debi

ashinoko lake trail sign

ashinoko lake path

ashinoko lake path2

ashinoko lake boar sign

ashinoko lake trail owl

ashinoko lake trail rest area

ashinoko lake trail trees upshot

ashinoko lake trail trees

ashinoko lake w boat  ashinoko lake

ashinoko lake pink boat

From there we boarded a crazy looking replica of a Man-of-War pirate ship and cruised across the lake to the Komagatake Ropeway.

ashinoko lake boat

ashinoko lake boat mast chuck shery

ashinoko lake boat little girl

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!

ashinoko lake signage

hakone ropeway sign

komagatake ropeway car

komagatake ropeway interior of car

komagatake ropeway car going by

 

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!

komagatake ropeway tower

komagatake ropeway view from top

komagatake ropeway jo carol aranka

chuck

 

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.

hakone ryoken room

hakone ryoken room keven debi

hakone ryoken dinner group photo

hakone ryoken dinner arlyn shelly linda

hakone ryoken dinner barry shelly

hakone ryoken dinner fran rick

 

hakone ryoken dinner jim debi

hakone ryoken dinner jim linda debi

hakone ryoken dinner jim linda

hakone ryoken dinner jo carol aranka lynn

hakone ryoken dinner kev tad rick

hakone ryoken dinner keven chuck

hakone ryoken dinner menu

hakone ryoken dinner ray sandy sondra angus ritchie arlyn ray

hakone ryoken dinner rick tad

hakone ryoken dinner tad with women

hakone ryoken dinner ws

 

hakone ryoken kev

hakone ryoken breakfast menu

hakone ryoken breakfast

hakone ryoken breakfast2

 

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.

 

fuji from bus

fuji concrete gates

 

 

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.

fuji fall colors3

fuji clouds

fuji keven jo

fuji kids

fuji fall colors

fuji fall colors2

 

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.

 

bullet train station_

bullet train station ws2

bullet train angus

bullet train station barry

bullet train station chuck

bullet train station floor

bullet train station jim tilt

 

bullet train station jo debi

bullet train station ws

 

bullet train station ws3

bullet train station ws4

 

bullet train

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.

gion show comedy

gion show drummer

gion show geisha

gion show ikabana

gion show pupet

gion show

 

 

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.

kyoto dinner ws

kyoto dinner ws2

kyoto menu

kyoto sign

kyoto lantern

 

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.

nijo castle gate

nijo castle debi

 

nijo castle entramce detail

nijo castle gate detail

 

nijo castle grounds

nijo castle kids2

nijo castle roof detail

nijo castle shoes shelf

nijo castle shoes

nijo castle ws

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!

yasaka shrine exterior1

kev with girls at temple

yasaka shrine ray barbara

yasaka shrine aranka

yasaka shrine corner detail

yasaka shrine debi barry

yasaka shrine debi

 

yasaka shrine interior

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.

sanju sangendo entrance

 

sanju sangendo phones

sanju sangendo shoes

sanju sangendo statue

sanju sangendo street entrance ws

sanju sangendo street vendor

 

 

 

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.

sanju sangendo view of kyoto

sanju sangendo ws
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.

 

sanju sangendo vista

sanju sangendo pagoda

 

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.

nishiki market street scene

nishiki market veg

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!

 

IMG_3750

IMG_3754

 

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.

kinkakuji temple mws

 

kinkakuji temple ws

kinkakuji temple candles

kinkakuji temple chuck

kinkakuji temple debi

 

 

kinkakuji temple incense cu

kinkakuji temple jo

kinkakuji temple kids bell

 

kinkakuji temple statue

kinkakuji temple ticket

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.

kinkakuji temple gardeners

kinkakuji temple tombs

kinkakuji temple statue on pond

kinkakuji temple flower

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.

ryoanji temple zen rock garden

ryoanji temple fountain

ryoanji temple garden debi

ryoanji temple garden trees

ryoanji temple garden

ryoanji temple photogs

 

ryoanji temple pond pads

heron at zen temple

ryoanji temple pond

 

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!

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tenruji temple pond

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arashiyama garden path

arashiyama garden photogs

arashiyama garden pond with koi

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arashiyama garden tapestry

 

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.

arashiyama garden stream

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arashiyama garden temple

arashiyama garden kev meditate

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.

 

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umeda sky building debi minuro

 

 

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umeda sky building dogs

umeda sky building dogs sign

 

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.

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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!

nara candy makers

nara deer

nara signs

 

todaiji temple deer sign

todaiji temple deer

todaiji temple kids

todaiji temple lions

todaiji temple tad jo

 

 

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!

todaiji temple

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todaiji temple statue

todaiji temple best shot ever

todaiji temple arlyn ritchie kids

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.

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kasuga taisha shrine deer cu

kasuga taisha shrine forest gate

kasuga taisha shrine lanterns deer

kasuga taisha shrine lanterns

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.

 

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nara kofukuji temple barry

nara kofukuji temple bell

nara kofukuji temple candles

nara kofukuji temple debi

nara kofukuji temple silouette

nara monuments

nara pond

osaka temple

osaka

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.

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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!

– Keven

 

 

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Japanese Cuisine

October 15th, 2015 · No Comments

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!

 

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crab soup

crab grilled

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bullet train lunch

fish market breakfast

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tokyo dinner

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Ireland – Summer 2015

September 20th, 2015 · No Comments

foggy road sheep

roundstone hill

roundstonesky road

keel strand beach

bervie gate

foggy road achill

foggy road

jarvie on inis mor

 

noel redding

clonakilty main street 2

purple violet flowers

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debi at inchydoney beach ws

inchydoney beach ws

inis mor

enis mor

ennis

ennis church and hands

killarney

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killarney park valley

killarney park tree

killarney pass

glendore

dintys

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dromberg circle countryside

clonakilty main street

clonakilty colored houses

clonakilty river shot

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cottage interior

orange flower at fen

pads

orange petals

purple bud

lizard at fen

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waterfall

inspections

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blue flower bee

blenheim palace

vee canyon altar

 

omaley keep

shells

red white flowers

view from room at inis mor

beach at inis mor

dominic kennedy

black fort walls

black fort wall

black fort

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hole in the cliff

cliffs balck fort

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road to balck fort

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star bar

crucifix

craggy island

 

 

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cliffs at dun angus

 

angus cliff

 

 

 

 

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josie mcgloughlin

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connaughtons bar exterior

connaughtons bar

inishbiggle ferry boats

inishbiggle ferry sign

strand beach achill sheep

achill beach and sheep

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achill deserted village

achill sheep ocean

keem bay shack

keem bay sign

achill keem beach ruins

achill keem beach

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achill road

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achill labdscape

achill sheep

kilkenny cross

kilkenny church doors

kilkenny mural

kilkenny castle

kilkenny band

kinsale shops

kinsale arch

kinsale street

 

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Lotus Flowers at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England

September 16th, 2015 · No Comments

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Inchydoney Beach, Clonakilty, Ireland

September 16th, 2015 · No Comments

inchydoney beach ws

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Hoodoo You Think You Are? Bryce Canyon National Park

July 16th, 2015 · 3 Comments

Under the Rim and Rigg’s Spring Trails

rainbow point ws nice

 

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!

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lone yellow

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.

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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.

riggs spring campsite

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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looking down on hoodoos

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.

 

bear tracks

hawk tracks

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.

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riggs spring

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!

horned toad

 

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.

heading up to bryce point tops

 

ascent to bryce point

 

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.

hodoo wall

 

pointy top

 

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.

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iron spring cu

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.

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camp tree

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.

heading up to bryce point

conor on edge

Throughout the length of the trail we saw abundant wildflowers, Manzanita and chaparral, studded with weathered deadwood.

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white cluster

paintbrush

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.

bryce under the rim hoodoos

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.

bears and lions

parched earth

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!

right fork yellow creek campsite

rock scuplture

daniel and paz

 

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.

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hat shop 2

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.

first canyon

 

bryce hoodoos kev

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