telepathic stuntman

Creative Visualization by Keven Siegert

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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

→ No CommentsTags: Art

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.

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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.

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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

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nijo castle gate detail

 

nijo castle grounds

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nijo castle shoes

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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!

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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.

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sanju sangendo statue

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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

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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!

 

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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.

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kinkakuji temple statue

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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

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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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shigetsu zen lunch tad

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tenruji temple pond

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arashiyama garden path

arashiyama garden photogs

arashiyama garden pond with koi

arashiyama garden statue

 

 

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

arashiyama garden chuckieson

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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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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→ 5 CommentsTags: Travel · Uncategorized

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

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enis mor

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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

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cottage interior

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connaughtons bar

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achill deserted village

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→ No CommentsTags: fauna · flora · Ireland · Landscapes · love · Travel

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.

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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

 

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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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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

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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

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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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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

→ 3 CommentsTags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Travel · wildlife

Solitude in the Desert

May 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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.

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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.

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I saw Engelmann Prickly Pear in bloom everywhere – beautiful vibrant yellow flowers against a background of nasty spines.

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Buckhorn Cholla were also flowering.

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cholla-flower

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

mtn-glo

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.

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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.

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It was a terrific trip and I can’t wait for the fall temperatures to arrive so I can return!

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→ 1 CommentTags: Camping · fauna · flora · Landscapes · Uncategorized · wildlife

COACHELLA 2015!

April 19th, 2015 · No Comments

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…

 

 

 

→ No CommentsTags: Art · crazy · funky · love · motion projects · music

It’s All a Matter of Timing – Adventures in IRELAND

March 28th, 2015 · 3 Comments

Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day? Why not!

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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…

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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!

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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.

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belfast-statue

 

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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From there we traveled up and over the one lane road to Conor Pass, high enough to look down upon the clouds below!

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

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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)

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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.

 

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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.

Amazing!

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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.

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→ 3 CommentsTags: Ireland · Travel · Uncategorized

Dinosaur Mountain

March 6th, 2015 · No Comments

My latest painting, inspired by Dinosaur Mountain in the Superstition Wilderness, Arizona.

Acrylic, 24 X 36

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→ No CommentsTags: Art · funky · painting

Los Angeles Independent Film Festival

February 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

A Proper Pint” has been accepted as an official selection in the LAIFF in the categories of “Travel Film” and “Cultural Film”!
Laurels picture feb

→ No CommentsTags: Ireland · motion projects

“A Proper Pint” Website

February 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

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!

pint poster

→ No CommentsTags: Ireland · motion projects

Superstition Wilderness: Red Tanks Loop

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.

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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.

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But the Supes are a tricky terrain and so easy to get lost…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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→ 1 CommentTags: Camping · Cooking · flora · Landscapes

Parrots in the Yard

February 6th, 2015 · No Comments

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→ No CommentsTags: fauna · funky · urban · wildlife