Amsterdam: Just Ducky… Things that Entertained Us

A plethora of rubber duckies.

We are never bored when we wander. There are always things that capture our attention. It may be something we find beautiful, or educational, or interesting, or simply amusing, like the whacky-quacky characters above. The store caught us by surprise with its large duck and all of its ducklings that represent a multitude of professions and occupations from kings to rabbits. We had a traditional rubber ducky for awhile. It lived beside our bathtub and was occasionally known to go for a dip. I suspect we still have it, packed away for the time being. Do you have a rubber ducky? Are you willing to confess to it? Note the bike reflected in the window. As I said in my last post, it’s hard to take a photo in Amsterdam that doesn’t include one.

I found drinking this large beer amusing. And it became more so as I worked my way through it. Peggy stuck with the smaller one. I’m used to drinking pints. There are a multitude of brew pubs found in the US and it’s always fun to sample their wares. The locals in Amsterdam seemed to love their beer even more. I noted many of them were sipping out of mugs that we would call pitchers. My elder bladder would have little sense of humor about that! I’d be up peeing all night.
A walk down any of the streets is heaven for cheese lovers like Peggy and me. Alas, we had no way to pack it up and carry it home. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Just one of these large blocks would have fed us for months. You’d certainly want to sample it first. Imagine getting it home and discovering you didn’t like it!
This woman, carrying her large blow-up doll certainly caught our attention. We could only wonder about the large pink appendage. 🙂
We had never found a take out place that featured only French fries. Peggy loves them. She almost divorced me once before we were married because I stole one of hers. This store featured the fries cooked in a multitude of ways.
Peggy went in and ordered their smallest container. The fries were soaked in garlic, and, at Peggy’s request, smothered in ranch dressing. It became dinner for both of us. Heartburn!
I like fries. I certainly ate my half of Peggy’s score. But this tasty grilled lamb rib is more to my taste. Finger food, right? My hair was looking wild because we had dodged into the restaurant during a downpour. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We had failed to notice the name when we dashed in. El Pimpi: The Pimp.
Maybe it was the reason I found the poster of this cool cat in the men’s room.
This cat was the major attraction of another restaurant we ate at.
Just across from the restaurant, someone had found a unique way to keep his window propped open.
At first I thought this dog in the window was part of the show at the Orphaned Art Gallery. Then it wagged its tail. The description of the gallery on its website noted: “We are definitely not a typical gallery. OODE brings the work of young Dutch designers together with orphaned art – art from closed museums and art institutions. For this we work together with the Foundation of Disinherited Goods (Onterfd Goed).

Not all coffee shops are alike. Our Uber driver was taking us into our B&B when Peggy noted a nearby Coffeeshop. “Oh good,” she exclaimed, “We can go there for lattes in the morning.” “Uh, Peggy,” I noted, “they might serve lattes but the primary purpose of most Amsterdam coffee shops is serving marijuana. Your morning pastry would probably be laced with cannibis.” “Oh,” she smiled, not the least bit daunted.
Unique art is something else that always catches our attention. Birds had added their decorative touches.
It’s impossible to walk up and down the canals of Amsterdam without admiring the unique look of buildings. And the unique method of getting furniture in and out of the apartments… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Let me note in advance, how narrow the stairways are. And steep. This led up to our room. Imagine trying to maneuver a couch up this stairway. Or refrigerator!
The buildings compensate by having a pulley system using the upper arm that can haul furniture up to rooms and then in through windows. Note the decorative sculpture.
The imagination that has gone into the narrow homes of Amsterdam seems almost endless.
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Larger buildings also had both beauty and personality. This is the main train station. Numerous restaurants and shops are inside.
This was once the Post Office.
Now it has been repurposed as an attractive indoor mall.
The Droogbak office building is another repurposed building of beauty. It was originally designed in 1884 as headquarters for the Dutch Iron Railway Company. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Several large churches dominate the Amsterdam skyline. I took several photos of this one.
A view from across the canal. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And from the street.
We caught this impressive spire from a canal boat we were riding in.
A close up.
And finally, a Catholic Church reaching toward the sky.

Our next major series will be on our Rhine River trip where we will take you along the river, introduce several castles, visit cities like Heidleburg, and make a journey into the Black Forest. But first, I thought it would be fun to take a quick break and catch you up to date on our present journey where Peggy and I will take you into Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Get ready for seeing rock spires instead of church spires and communing with prairie dogs, big horn sheep and buffalo, up close and personal from the safety of our truck.

Such as……This big guy was right beside the road 10 feet away. Peggy took the photo out her window. One does not want to get in an argument with something that can weigh up to a ton and run 35 miles per hour.

Amsterdam… An Intriguing City of the Past— And Future

Photo of Amsterdam canal with flowers by Curt Mekemson.
I’ve always found Amsterdam fascinating. Its unique history, romantic canals, and picturesque buildings are only a few of the reasons why.

I first stopped off in Amsterdam in 1967 on my way home from a two year stint of teaching World and African History to high school students in West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Peggy was a high school exchange student in the Netherlands at the time. She made several trips to the city. Imagine if we had bumped into each other!

I’d already visited Athens, Rome, Geneva, and Madrid when I arrived in the city. Only London was left on my whirlwind tour of Europe. In three weeks I was supposed to be in Philadelphia, teaching at a black, inner-city school. But first, I had to fly to California, visit with family, buy a car, and drive back across the country. I also had to check in with my draft board in Placerville. A war was raging in Southeast Asia and it had quotas to meet. It wanted my body.

One might think with all of this that my memories of Amsterdam would be vague, at best. But there was something about the city that captured my imagination. The canals were part of it, but there was also a rich history, buildings with personality, and great food connected to its Dutch/East Asia history. On later trips, I would add its passion for bicycles and liberal policies regarding prostitution and marijuana. The latter two because I felt that their prohibition created a lot more problems than their legalization.

Peggy and I were in Amsterdam this past summer in preparation for our boat trip up the Rhine River. Actually, we had planned the trip two years earlier to celebrate Peggy’s 70th birthday. Our kids and grandkids were joining us. And then covid had hit. We were fortunately able to reschedule it. The fact that our boat left from Amsterdam was a plus. We planned to spend a few days in the city before and after the trip to take advantage of our luck. The photos for today’s post and next Friday’s will focus on our time in the city. Today, I will feature canals, street scenes and bikes. Next Friday will be devoted to the city’s unique buildings and other things we found interesting and fun. Note: Peggy didn’t carry her Canon camera while we were in Amsterdam. She had decided to experiment with her iPhone, examples will be in the next post. 🙂

Photo of life along an Amsterdam canal by Curt Mekemson.
We stayed in a small hotel just off one of the canals when we arrived and spent a part of our evening sitting outside next to the canal drinking beer, watching the boat traffic, and enjoying a perfect evening along with several hundred other folks, mainly locals.
Houseboats are one of the reasons visitors find the canals so charming. Peggy and I admired a similar scene when we rented a 60′ narrowboat and explored one of England’s canals.
Photo of Amsterdam canal by Curt Mekemson.
Flowers, trees, and Amsterdam’s unique buildings all add to the ambience.
Photo of bikes along Amsterdam Canal by Curt Mekemson.
As might be expected, bikes are a part of most canal shots. You can’t escape from them!
Someone had even added flowers to a bike for photo ops overlooking the canal. I suspect a fee would be involved.

Amsterdam claims the title of Bicycle Capital of the World. Five minutes in the city is enough to agree. They are everywhere. It wasn’t the case in 1967 when I first visited. Like most other cities in the developed world, automobiles were in ascendance. Communities were being plowed over to make way for freeways. Bikes, people, houses and historic structures were considered impediments to the flow of traffic. Bicycle advocates in Amsterdam fought back in the 70s and government officials listened. It was a battle I also fought in Sacramento City and County where I organized the first county-wide conference of bike advocates to push for bicycle friendly policies on a city and county-wide basis. Bikes had served as my primary form of transportation at UC Berkeley and in Africa. I continued to commute in Sacramento. (My advocacy for bikes and other forms of alternative transportation would eventually lead to the City Traffic Engineer walking out of meetings when I walked in. When I was nominated for the board of the mass transit district, the mayor said ‘over his dead body.’ I probably shouldn’t have been proud of these reactions, but I was. Grin. BTW, I got the nomination.)

Photo of mass bicycle parking in Amsterdam by Curt Mekemson.
This photo of Amsterdam’s bike parking lot next to the train station gives a sense of just how impressive Amsterdam’s devotion to bicycles is. In addition to the ground parking there is a large two story parking garage. You certainly wouldn’t want to lose track of where you parked your bike. Peggy and I had that problem at Burning Man with its 70,000 bikes. There are close to 900,000 bikes in Amsterdam!
Bicycle parking lot in Central Amsterdam photo by Curt Mekemson.
This was a bike parking lot in central Amsterdam near the hotel we were staying.
When we returned from our Rhine River cruise, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel. I shot this scene from our window. In addition to Europe’s sleek and super-fast passenger trains, bikes can be seen stacked up alongside Amsterdam’s port. The docks for Rhine riverboats are on the left.
A closer look at the stacked bikes.
I was also impressed by the maze of tracks leading into the central train station. This was another photo from our hotel. I rendered it in black and white for fun. The emphasis on mass transit, bicycles and walking in Amsterdam is definitely a commitment to the future in the fight against global warming.
Amsterdam street scene photo by Curt Mekemson.
Walking the streets gave a sense of the domination of bikes. But it also it also provided a view of the beauty of the city, its unique buildings and fun shops.
Another street scene.
Walkway photo in Amsterdam by Curt Mekemson.
Quieter walkways with carefully tended landscaping were also fun to explore.
And, of course, you can spend hours walking along the canals. I’ll finish today’s post with this photo. Next week I will take a closer look at buildings and some of the fun ways we entertained ourselves in the city.

For those of you who are keeping track of Peggy’s and my journey, we are now in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tomorrow we will be in Badlands National Park.

A (not so rough)Base Camp… Loudoun County, Virginia

Serafina the trailer at our Virginia basecamp.

Basecamp Definition: A main encampment providing supplies, shelter, and communications for persons engaged in wide-ranging activities, such as exploring, reconnaissance, or mountain climbing.

That about does it, except for the mountain climbing. We don’t mind hiking up mountains, in fact we like mountains, really high ones. But dangling in the air while hanging on with our fingers on a sheer rock face a thousand (or fifty) feet above the ground really isn’t our thing.

Our basecamp in Loudoun County, Virginia is actually the result of a 16-year campaign by our daughter, Tasha, her husband, Clay, and our grandkids Ethan and Cody to persuade us to move closer to them. (Our son Tony and his wife Cammie also had their hat in the ring but the highest mountain in Florida is 345 feet— and yes, we’ve hiked up it— plus they don’t have space for Serafina or a handy dandy efficient apartment to hang out in when we aren’t traveling. Sorry kids.)

We are back on the road now, dashing across the country on freeways to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Serafina has an appointment for a checkup while still under warranty. As to why Sioux Falls instead of somewhere closer to Virginia, It has to do with my desire to explore more of the northern part of the Western US before the snow flies. Setting the appointment in South Dakota makes sure we get out there ASAP. Then we will slow down and return to moseying on back roads.

BTW, my apologies for being so negligent on keeping up on blogs and comments lately. Between moving, going to Europe, unpacking, and getting ready for another four months on the road, life has been a bit hectic.

As we return to the road, Peggy and I decided it would be fun to share what our ‘not so rough’ basecamp looks like.

As the first photo suggested, Serafina is happily parked in a woodsy area under a beautiful canopy of trees. The kids’ six acres is half wild and half domesticated. The woods harbor foxes, deer, raccoons, squirrels, eagles, and hawks, which is a bit like our Oregon home minus the bears, mountain lions and bobcats.
Our house in Oregon wasn’t large, only 1500 square feet. But still, it had two bedrooms, an office, a library, a large living room, a dining room and a kitchen, not to mention a sunroom and three outbuildings. Moving into an efficiency apartment took some adjustment: translate, serious downsizing. This is our living room and library.
Turning around, you can see our bedroom.
The dining room and one third of the kitchen is off to the side. Our mini-fridge, induction burner, air fryer, toaster and Insta-pot reside there. Another third of the kitchen can be found by turning left at the dining table. That’s where our sink and microwave live. Passing on through the kitchen is our bathroom. Note Eeyore peering down from on top of the bookcase.
The final third of the kitchen lives outside. The 2022 Genesis Weber is amazing in what it can do, including bake. It even comes with a pizza stone where I cooked a pizza the other day. I put the stove together. There were 52 steps. Peggy stayed far away!
The driveway leading to the kids’ house and our basecamp is off of Charles Town Pike. It’s a sure sign you are in the east when road names include pike. A pike is short for turnpike. In the old days, i.e. 1700s, most of the roads were toll roads built by private individuals. A large pole (pike) was stretched across the road. When you paid your toll, the pole would be turned so you could continue your journey, thus the name turnpike. You can see the house in the distance.
Our tool-oriented rooster (thank you to Jeremy Criswell, the artist and our neighbor) that greeted people when they drove into our Oregon home, made the trip east with us.
Tasha and Peggy were quick to plant a flower garden in front of one of our windows. We had just returned from our European trip and they were inspired by all of the window gardens.
An Amazon truck driver was responsible for planting a gorgeous pumpkin patch which is also in front of our basecamp. Nice of him, huh. He was turning around and drove over some pumpkins the kids had out for Halloween last year. The seeds from the squished squash responded by digging in and growing.
Peg’s sister Jane (and my friend of 50 years) made a quick trip out to see us and Tasha and Clay’s family before we escaped. Her daughter Jennifer (Tasha’s cousin) came along. Here we are sitting out on the deck eating a meal of delicious corn chowder Peggy cooked in our Insta-pot. Seated from left to right are Tasha, Jennifer, Jane, our grandson Cody, Peggy, and the Insta-pot. Clay and Ethan were off in Brazil at a jujitsu camp. Peg’s brother John and his wife came out from Texas the next weekend.
I’ll write more about our basecamp and the surrounding area when we return in January. I’ll close today with this photo of the Potomac River which is about 20 minutes away. Washington DC is a short 40 miles. Next Friday, I will start a series on our trip up the Rhine River this summer. First up: Amsterdam.

Surreal or Unreal… Bryce Canyon: Part 2

Photo capturing the awe-inspiring weirdness of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson..
I tend to think of surreal as real, but mind-blowing— striking and maybe strange, but possible. Last Friday’s photos of miles 4-18 of Bryce Canyon fit into that description. Unreal is more like, “No way. How can that even be possible?” That’s how I feel about sections of the Canyon in the first 4 miles, like the one in the photo above. It looks like it belongs in a fantasy movie.

Peggy and I are in serious countdown time here. On Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, we will be hitting the road— come hell or high water, as the old saying goes. Given global warming, there may be a bit of both. We plan to zip across the nation to the Bad Lands of South Dakota and then slow things down, way down— to a snail’s pace. It’s been an insanely busy month and a half since we got back from our European trip up the Rhine River. First up, we had to unpack from our Oregon move and set up our Base Camp/efficiency apartment in Virginia. Some fun. Try downsizing from a library, living room, dining room, two bedrooms, an office, two bathrooms and a moderate-sized kitchen to one room plus a tiny kitchen and bathroom. Fortunately we do small well.

Then there were the usual medical challenges: changing our medical insurance, finding new health care providers, and making appointments. I had six dental appointments. I’ve never met a dentist who doesn’t immediately start planning a vacation when he or she looks in my mouth—a luxury cruise around the world perhaps. I finished my last appointment yesterday. I sat in the dentist chair, was shot full of painkiller (ouch), and then tried to ignore the various drilling and scraping sounds as he removed an ancient crown that belongs in the Smithsonian. I’ve been there done that a lot. But yesterday was a first. I sat and read afterwards while he made a new crown for me in his office. In the past all sorts of measurements have taken place, a temporary crown attached, and the measurements sent out to a specialist who made crowns. It’s a one or two-week process. Yesterday, it was an hour. The tooth came out purple, was adjusted, went into the oven and came out white. My tongue is still checking it out.

I didn’t wear my new hearing aids to the appointment. Yep, you heard me right. Peggy and I have reached the point where we got tired of saying “What?” to each other. Now we can both hear birds we thought were extinct. I didn’t need to enhance the sound of the dentist drill, however.

On top of all that we’ve had the multiple chores that go along with planning for four months on the road. Peggy is handling inside Serafina, our trailer. One was rebuilding the flimsy drawers. My job is maintenance. I spent all day Wednesday going through my annual check list for Serafina. There were 33 items, but who is counting. We will be up to our new ears over the weekend with packing.

Then there was all the family stuff, fun but time consuming. Let it be suffice to say we’ve spent more time doing family things over the past two months than we normally do in two years. It’s a miracle I got any blogging done at all.

Today’s post features the first four miles of the 18-mile Bryce Canyon National Park road. It’s where most of the tourists go. Next Friday, I’ll do a post on our base camp. Then, as I mentioned in my last post, Peggy and I will be featuring Amsterdam and our river cruise before returning to the ‘Wild’ West with our focus on National Parks.

Photo of Curt Mekemson in Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Just like millions of other tourists, we checked out the main overlooks in Bryce Canyon. These photos are mainly from Bryce Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of crashing hand hoodoo at Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Again, this photo emphasizes the unreal look of Bryce Canyon. But check out the hoodoo in the front.
Photo of grasping hand hoodoo off of Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
It’s like a large grasping hand is reaching out to grab something. Unwary tourists, perhaps?
Photo of wall in Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy focused in on an interesting wall from our Bryce Point overlook. Note the peek-a-boo holes in it.
Photo of hoodoo seen through hole in rock at Bryce Canyon National Park bt Peggy Mekemson.
Her telephoto lens brought in what was lurking behind one of the holes. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Eroded structures on the sides of Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Even more fascinating were the caves/eroded structures lining the side of the Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Magnificent entry way of rocks leading into an arched cave at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
These eroded rocks seemed to serve as a magnificent hallway into an arched cave. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of 'rock hallway' at Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I took a close up.

Our cameras were busy the whole time we were at Bryce Canyon. We took well over one a thousand pictures. Here are a few more from the first four miles of the Canyon.

Note the trail winding its way through the Canyon.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Sharp edges of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
The Canyon has its share of sharp edges. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another perspective.
Photo from Sunset Point of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
I’ll conclude with this final view of the Canyon from Sunset Point by Peggy. Next Friday I’ll give you a look at our Base Camp in Waterford, Virginia along the Charles Town Pike.

Bryce Canyon: Finally… Part 1: Beyond the Hype, Miles 14-18

Photo capturing the bright colors of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Most people, especially if they are on a tight schedule, focus on the first 4 miles of Bryce Canyon’s 18 mile drive. It’s where all the services are. It is where the tourist buses go. It is where the Park busses run. And those four miles are spectacular— no doubt about it. There are reasons for the all of the hype. But today, Peggy and I are going to take you out the road from mile 4 to mile 18 and provide a perspective on why visitors should include it as part of their itinerary.

What’s not to love about the National Parks of America’s Southwest? Well, maybe not the extreme heat of summer and the flash floods of the monsoonal season. Beyond that, there is incredible beauty, geology, and interesting history. Peggy and I have worked to give you a sense of this beauty over the past several Friday posts if you have never visited the region, and some special memories if you have. Today, we are covering miles 4-18 of Bryce Canyon’s 18 mile road. Next Friday we will wrap up our visit to the Bryce area by covering the first four miles. Both were a treat for us, and hopefully, will be for you as well.

Then, we are going to take a break from the Southwest for a few weeks. First, I want to give you a look at our basecamp in Virginia where we will be hanging our hat, so to speak, between journeys. Second, we want to share our trip to Amsterdam and up the Rhine River this past summer, a trip that was postponed for two years because of covid. After that, we will finish off our Southwest exploration with the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, plus.

In the meantime, Peggy and I will be starting our next four month adventure in two weeks, working our way across the northern tier of states with more visits to National Parks and a possible jaunt into Canada until the weather drives us south into the Northwest and California, followed by a drive across the southern tier of states. This coming spring, we have booked a tour down the Nile River, after which we will spend a couple of months in Europe, starting with a month in the Greek Isles. At least, those are the plans…

And now: Miles 4-18.

Photo from Yovimpa Point in Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
This is where the road stops at mile 18 and 9,115 feet. We will be working our way back toward mile 4, more or less, visiting overlooks along the way. There were two stops here, Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point. Gee, I wonder where they came up with the name, Rainbow Point? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon raven by Curtis Mekemson.
We were not alone. A raven envisioned us feeding him. I told him it was against the rules.
He gave me the look. A stiff breeze was ruffling the feathers on his head.
View of Bryce Canyon's rainbow colors by Peggy Mekemson.
Another ‘rainbow-type’ shot by Peggy.
Photo along the Bryce Canyon road by Curtis Mekemson.
It really doesn’t matter where you are along the road, there is beauty.
iPhone photo of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
All of the views can be captured from different perspectives. This is a closeup of the photo I took above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson on our iPhone.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon Arch by Curt Mekemson.
Bryce Canyon has its own renditions of arches. This is where I met up with the raven.
Perspective of Bryce Canyon Arch by Peggy Mekemson.
A different perspective of the Bryce Canyon Arch by Peggy.
Photo of rock resembling the prow of a ship in Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I felt like I was looking at the prow of an ocean liner cresting a stormy wave. (Yes, as you know, I have a vivid imagination.) This is one of those sights, like the Arch, that one doesn’t expect to find in Bryce Canyon.
Photo of Bryce Canyon Hoodoo by Peggy Mekemson.
This, on the other hand, is expected: A hoodoo.There are hundreds, if not thousands. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon hoodoo poised on a pedestal by Curt Mekemson.
I caught a squat one poised on a pedestal.
Lined up hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
And Peggy caught a bunch. Lots and lots of hoodoos standing at attention and staring off into space.
Canyon ridge in Bryce Canyon photo by Curt Mekemson.
I love the ridges that head off into the Canyon. There will be knife-edged ones in my post next Friday.
Magical view of Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught this magical view looking down into Bryce Canyon. It’s my favorite of the several hundred photos we took in the Park.
The aspen in Bryce National Park at 9000 feet in May before leafing out. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
The aspen along the road had yet to leaf out at 9000 feet when we were at Bryce Canyon in late May.
Photo of Aspen at pullout along the Bryce Canyon road by Peggy Mekemson.
Their stark white trunks and limbs made a dramatic contrast to the dark green conifers. Peggy took this photo at one of the pull-offs.
Hole in rock photo at Bryce National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
A hole in the rock played peek-a-boo with us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of layering effect of different types of rock in Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
A final view along the Bryce Canyon road between miles 4 and 18 shows the layering effect caused by different types of rock. Next Friday we’ll be featuring the most popular section of the Park between miles 1 and 4.

Towering and Strange Cumulous Clouds… Mother Nature Struts Her Stuff in Virginia

“Quick, Curt. Grab your camera; the clouds are amazing!” our daughter Tasha urged. I did. This one featured a halo, but it was hiding its true nature: Flashing lightning, rolling thunder, roaring winds and pounding rain.

Nature is capable of putting on fantastic shows that can both awe and frighten. A thunder and lighting storm with its accompanying wind and rain is a prime example. Our grandson, Ethan, had spotted the towering clouds. They were looming over her and Clay’s home in northern Virginia. It’s also what I call our basecamp, a small attached apartment that we are using during breaks from wandering.

One look and I decided that the clouds were worthy of a post. (I admit my decision was aided by the fact that my Bryce Canyon post wasn’t ready.) Anyway, here is what we saw. Enjoy.

This cloud bares a striking resemblance to a friendly pooch, but what is that strange, round cloud peeking out behind? Apparently it also included rainbow colors. Peggy saw them but I didn’t. Another person did and sent a photo to a local TV station. Known as “iridescent clouds with a silver lining,” they are rare and sometimes include rainbow colors.
And, in conclusion, a black and white rendering. Next Friday, we will be back to the the Bryce series.

If You Liked Utah’s Scenic Highway 12, You Will Love This Old Cattle Route: The Burr Trail Road

Photo of towering red cliffs along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Do towering red cliffs along the road get you excited? You will find them on the Burr Trail Road off Utah’s Scenic Highway 12. Plus a Singing Slot Canyon— and ever so much more. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I was doing research for our road trip over Utah’s Scenic Highway 12 when I came across a rave review for the Burr Trail, a narrow road that branches off from 12 in the small town of Boulder. It looked exactly like the kind of backroad adventure we like. It could take us all the way to Glen Canyon or even up to Capitol Reef National Park. We opted to explore the first 15 or so miles. The route got its start in the late 1800s as a way John Burr found for for moving cattle back and forth between their summer pasture near Boulder and their winter pasture in Glen Canyon.

We were wowed by the first few miles of the road— and then we dropped into Long Canyon. It blew our minds! I’ll start today’s post with photos of the canyon and then double back to pick up the road in.

The Burr Trail winds its way through the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Long Canyon along the Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
We were driving along the Burr Trail Road when suddenly it dropped into Long Canyon. It was obvious we were in for a treat. Note the neat way the left and right hand sides of the road are separated through Long Canyon.
Photo of how the Burr Trail is divided as it makes its way through Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I took this photo to illustrate how the road was divided.
Photo of rock formation in the Burr Trail Road Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
The type of rock formations along the side of the road seemed endless.
Close-up of rock formation in the Long Canyon of Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.)
Their shapes reminded me of Tombstones. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
In addition to the fascinating formations, the colors were riotous.
Photo of colorful rocks along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took this close-up of another cliff. Green trees and shrubs all through the canyon added dramatic contrast to the reds, oranges and yellows.
Photo of colorful cliff along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I found these nearby. A hiking trail ran beside the cliff. Note the holes in the rock above.
Photo of holes in rock formation along the Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
We’ve found these holes in rock formations throughout the Southwest. Peggy loves them but I took this particular photo.
Picture of two interesting rock formations in the Long Canyon of Utah's Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
There are two interesting rock formations for the price of one here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of peak-like rock formation found in the long Canyon section of Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
I took a photo of the second formation from a different perspective.
Photo of colorful rocks along Utah's Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
One has to love the brilliant colors of the Southwest. Burr Trail’s Long Canyon is full of them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Will this seemingly tiny hole (probably 50 feet high) someday become a massive arch? It’s possible. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of many different rock formations found along the Burr Trail Road through Long Canyon. (Photo by Curt Mekemson.)
Yet another interesting rock formation we found in Long Canyon.
Photo looking up near Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
Looking up led me to take this photo. We had pulled off the road to see why four cars were parked in the area. That’s a major crowd for Burr Trail Road.
Photo of Peggy Mekemson at the entrance to Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
“Come on, Curt,” Peggy urged me to join her in finding what had captured everyone’s attention.
Photo of Singing Canyon, a slot canyon along the Burr Trail road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
An incredible slot canyon that towered 80 feet into the air. Peggy provides a good perspective on its size. It’s know locally as Singing Canyon because of its incredible acoustics.
Photo of ceiling of Singing Canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson
Peggy turned her camera up and caught this photo of the ceiling…
Photo showing red, orange and purple rocks of Singing Canyon on Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
And this. Note the deep purple as well as the orange and red colors.
Photo inside of slot canyon found along the Burr Trail Road in Utah taken by Curt Mekemson.
I focused on the slot canyons floor that was equally colorful.
Photo looking out from slot canyon, aka Singing Canyon, along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Turning around, there was a light at the end of the tunnel/slot canyon, and it featured a tree lit up by the sun.
Photo of tree at exit of slot canyon along Utah's Burr Trail Road in Long Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took a closer photo of the tree. I liked the way the trunk and limbs stood out. Several more things caught our interest outside of Singing Canyon.
Photo of cotton wood outside of slot canyon on Utah's Burr Road by Curt Mekemson.
An ancient cottonwood that looked like it could star in a fantasy movie…
Stump that looks like a giant sling shot outside of Singing Canyon on Utah's Burr Trail Road by Curt Mekemson.
The world’s largest sling shot?
Strange example of rock erosion outside of Singing Canyon on the Burr Trail Road. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
And a very unusual example of rock erosion.
Photo of rock erosion inside a hole in the Sandstone along the Burr Trail Road in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Meanwhile, Peggy was finding her own definition of strange by peering into the holes in rocks she liked. The hole had its own example of Burr Trail scenery.
Photo of wall running along edge of Burr Creek Road in Long Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I’ll conclude out journey through Long Canyon with a final view of the wall that runs along the edge of the road.
Photo of Rock formation near Boulder Town, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Burr Creek Trail road had its own interesting rock formations. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of scenic Burr Trail Road outside of Boulder Town, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Even the roadside was scenic!
Photo of trees and shrubs growing along the scenic Burr Trail Road in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
I like the contrast of these trees and shrubs growing among the rocks alongside the road.
Photo of tree in front of a rock formation outside of Boulder Town, Utah on the Burr Trail Road by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy captured this rock formation with a tree in front…
And a final Boulder Trail Road photo by Peggy. Next Friday’s Post. Finally, Bryce Canyon.

One of America’s Most Scenic Backroads: Utah’s Highway 12

It is a lovely and terrible wilderness… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed… and in its corners and pockets under its cliffs, the sudden poetry of springs. –Wallace Stegner 1960

I am continuing our Southwest series today. Peggy and I are now back at our basecamp in Virginia and will continue to be through August. There are chores to do: Unpacking, making doctor and dentist appointments, getting our Virginia driver’s licenses, etc. We are even having our hearing tested. There’s a lot of “What did you say, Peggy?” And vice-versa. It’s part of the joy of being in our 70s.

Assuming all goes well, we should be back on the road come September for another multi-month trip, this time traveling through the northern tier of states, and into the Canadian Rockies— assuming that the weather cooperates.

Views like this are what you can expect along Utah’s Highway 12. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy and I have spent a lot of time on America and Canada’s backroads, plus Mexico’s Baja Peninsula— some quarter of a million miles worth. So we know a bit about byways and we know a bit about scenic. Twelve years ago, when we first travelled over Utah’s Highway 12, our initial thought was Wow! It hasn’t changed. What else would one expect of a road anchored on one end by Capitol Reef National Park and on the other by Bryce Canyon? The short, 123 mile drive can be done in three hours. Or three days if you want to linger and explore the incredible scenery, state parks and historical areas along the way.

In 2010, we started at the small town of Torrey just outside of Capitol Reef, and worked our way south. The winding route took us up and over the 9,000 foot Boulder Mountain Pass where we were impressed with the aspen groves. They are always a treat, moving from the bright green quaking leaves of summer, to the gloriously yellow leaves in the fall, to the stark white trunks and limbs of winter. From the pass, our road dropped into the Escalante National Monument with its staircase look and then ended with the bright red, orange, and yellow rock formations of Bryce.

In May of 2010 when we made our first journey over Highway 12, the aspens at 9,000 feet were still dressed for winter.

This time we travelled in the opposite direction, beginning at Bryce and working our way northeast along Highway 12, stopping at the small town of Boulder some 90 miles into the journey. We wanted to explore the Burr Trail that begins there. The road is something of a scenic wonder itself and will get its own post.

Our recent journey along Highway 12 started with the red, orange, and yellow rocks of the Bryce Canyon area.
Ranch in Tropic, Utah along scenic Highway 12. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
We camped on Highway 12 in the town of Tropic, so named by an early land developer who wanted to encourage growth. This and the next three photos were taken from our campground.
Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Tropic, Utah photo along Highway 12 by Curt Mekemson.
Across the road from our campsite in Tropic.

Our journey to Boulder can easily be divided into two parts: the section between Tropic and Escalante where we were mainly looking up, and the section between Escalante and Boulder, where we were mainly looking down. I’ve combined our morning and afternoon photos for each section, which is why you will see the varying light. We will start by looking up. 🙂

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Part of the Grand Staircase. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the contrast here.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I caught this on our way out…
And Peggy caught it on the way back.
A quick look at the photo by Peggy here shows another example of erosion, possibly a future arch. But if you look more closely, you will see more: an ancient Puebloan granary. There are two structures here. People lived in this area for thousands of years before Europeans first made their way to North America.
Dark skies with sun breaking through always make for dramatic photos. I’m not sure which was more impressive: The orange butte in the foreground, or the white one looming in the background.
Peggy stopped to pet a large lizard in front of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in the town of Escalante. A few miles later we were looking down into a vast canyon.
An overlook provided our first view down into the Canyon. A huge truck was making its way out of the canyon on the curvy road that was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 30s. Both Peggy’s dad and mine had worked for the CCC. How do you think the truck made it around the hairpin curve? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Carefully. The highway patrol had required folks coming down into the canyon (us, for example) to park off the road until the truck was past. Coming up, you waited behind the truck. No one passed that puppy!
The vast canyon we were facing was carved by the Escalante River that flows into Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. One of the two things that caught our attention about the canyon was the unique geology. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It is a lovely and terrible wilderness… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
And the fact that the Escalante River was still working away, continuing to carve its canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Where there is water, there is life… the sudden poetry of springs.

I hope we have persuaded you to explore Highway 12 if you are in the area. Our next post will take you along the Burr Trail with its long, colorful canyon— including a slot canyon.

Who Let the Dogs Out: Woof Woof… The Hoodoos and Other Marvelous Rocks of Utah’s Red Canyon State Park

This is a typical view you can find in Red Canyon on a short walk. Expect to see pinnacles, spires, columns and hoodoos, the same things you will see in Bryce Canyon. But beware: You might get lonely. On our easy hour walk, Peggy and I only saw six other people. 

If you have been to Bryce Canyon, the odds are you have been to Red Canyon. You drive right through it on your way in if you come come into Bryce from the west on Highway 12. Very few people bother to stop, however. After all, it’s only a State Park, not a world renowned National Park.

If you do stop, however, you may find yourself wondering why it wasn’t included in the National Park. I did. It certainly qualifies. But then I thought to myself, “Whoa, Curt.” Peggy and I were wandering around in a beautiful area in the middle of rock formations dripping with attitude. And we were by ourselves. Changing its status to be part of Bryce Canyon National Park would be like unloading a mega-cruise ship on its doorstep every day. The trails would be packed. Thousands of people would add it to their bucket list.

Join Peggy and me as we explore what makes Red Canyon special. I’ll start with Hoodoos, tall spires of rock formed by erosion, sometimes in fantastical shapes. I mentioned before that one theory about the derivative of the word Hoodoo was a similar Native American word meaning scary. And I used the hoodoo dogs of Red Canyon as an example. There are other theories as well. One suggests a voodoo connection. Here’s what the Canadian Encyclopedia has to say about it: “The word hoodoo probably derives from voodoo, a West African-based religion in which magical powers can be associated with natural features. Hoodoos conjure up images of strange events.” Okayyy…

Photo of hoodoo dogs in Utah's Red Canyon State Park by Peggy Mekemson.)
Hoodoos often come in unique shapes. Can you spot the two ‘dogs’ in this Red Canyon photo. I used them as an example in an earlier post. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The question here is: Who let the dog’s out? Woof! Woof! As I recall, my blogging friend Linda Leinen suggested this question and this link. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Trio of hoodoos in Red Rock Canyon. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Not sure what these three amigos were up to. But I wasn’t going to question it…
Photo from Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson
They were big. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of hoodoo in Red Canyon State Park in Dixie National Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Long necked something here. Any ideas on what? Jurassic perhaps…
Hoodoo Family portrait in Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
A family of Hoodoos. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo Groot hoodoo in Red Canyon State Park, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
At first, I thought… an ancient king. Then I thought… Groot.
Photo of sinister stand alone hoodoo in Red Canyon, Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
This hoodoo didn’t need to look like anything. It was outstanding by itself. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of scary hoodoos in Red Canyon State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Maybe it was my imagination working overtime (it happens), but I found this trio scary, like something out of a dark fantasy, or a horror movie. The guy in the middle immediately reminded me of the monsters created by Saruman in Lord of the Rings. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of totem hoodoos at Red Canyon State Park in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
These two hoodoos were among our favorites. At first we thought they were called totems, as in totem pole. Looking at photos in Goggle, I discovered that most people called them salt and pepper shakers. The sun was lighting them up under dark skies, creating a dramatic effect.
Photo of totem hoodoo at Red Canyon Staet Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Salt shaker or totem. Or neither. What do you see? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

While the hoodoos of Red Rock Canyon State Park are fun to photograph and play around with, there are numerous other beautiful and interesting rock structures in the park to admire. Following are some of Peggy and my favorites. The photographs are from both of us.

I thought this dead tree stump fit the fantasy theme of this post.
Photo of impressive rock formation in Red Canyon State Park, Utah by Curt Mekemson.
Having just returned from our Rhine River trip and continuing with my theme, I couldn’t help but think this formation deserved a castle on top of it.
Photo from Red Canyon State Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
Or possibly a magical kingdom which seems like an appropriate conclusion to this post. Be prepared for another treat next Friday where we will take you for a drive on one of the Nation’s most scenic byways: Highway 12. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Bryce Canyon Series… Kodachrome Basin State Park— and a Movie Star

I start our Bryce Canyon National Park series today. Like we did with Zion National Park, Peggy and I explored other parts of the Park and the surrounding area as well as the four miles of Bryce Canyon that most tourists visit. I am starting today with Kodachrome Basin State Park. From here, I will move on to Red Canyon, Mossy Cave, Highway 12, and Escalante National Monument. I’ll finish with two posts on Bryce Canyon. The message is the same as it was with Zion: There are several other areas outside of the main tourist area that are equally beautiful and worthy of a visit while being far less crowded.

Kodachrome Basin State Park has lots of red rocks. And some interesting characters. What famous movie star does this remind you of? He is a bit hairy, has a thing for blondes, and likes to climb tall buildings.

Peggy and I stayed at a campground in the small town of Cannonville, Utah on Highway 12 for our exploration of the Bryce Canyon area— miles away from the crowds of the National Park. Kodachrome Basin State Park was just down the road from us. It received its name in 1948 when a National Geographic team explored the area and decided the basin reminded them of Kodachrome film. If you are old enough to remember when photography meant film instead of digital images, you may remember that Kodachrome was a special film designed by Kodak to bring out the red in photos. There are a lot of red rocks in the area— thus the name.

I decided that black and white might be a better way to render the look-alike movie star above. In my mind, it is definitely King Kong. Peggy agrees.
We decided this might be the skull of King Kong’s cousin.

Actually, we saw much more than red rocks and giant apes in the Park.

Photo of white rocks along road into Kodachrome Basin by Curt Mekemson.
This white rock formation was on the road into Kodachrome Basin State Park…
Photo of white rock sculpture taken by Curt Mekemson on the road into Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Plus this gorgeous white rock sculpture.
Photo of Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Our first view of Kodachrome Basin State Park promised that we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed.
Photo of Rocks at the beginning of Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
These two large rocks were located at the entrance to the Park, like guardians.
Photo of rock guardian at the entrance to Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Given its face, I thought of this rock specifically as the Guardian of the Park. It was the back of the rock on the right that held the surprise, however. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of sedimentary pipe in Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
An unusual white pillar shot straight up from the red rock. Turns out that they are found throughout the Park. The rocks are known as sedimentary pipes but the jury is still out as to what creates them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of white sedimentary pipe at beginning of Kodachrome Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I took a closer photo of the finger-like projection.
Photo of sandstone spire in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were also sandstone spires created by the more normal process of erosion. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Kodachrome State Park spires and stone monuments in a row. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
A number of the red sandstone spires and other rocks were in a row. I show some of them here. They were probably part of the same formation before erosion wore them down.
Photo of spire with caprice in Kodachrome Casin State Park in Utah by Peggy Mekemson.
This spire still sported its caprock. I loved the color on the rock to the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of hoodoo in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were also hoodoos found throughout the park like the one on the left. Expect many more in my other posts on Bryce Canyon and other parks in the area. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Kodachrome State Park Trail by Peggy Mekemson.
A number of trails lead into the park. This is the one we chose to hike.
Photograph of rock sculpture on Angels Palace Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
The trail wandered among the red rocks shown above and then shot up a steep but short wall. We came around a rock and discovered another hoodoo.
Photo of stone sculpture in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
It was a handsome rock…
Large sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
A big fellow…
Photo of colorful rock in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And colorful. I took a photo from the other side shooting straight up, and caught some of the rock’s color.
Photo of multi-colored rock in Kodachrome Basin State Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy’s photo on our return trip caught the color even more. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of slender, white sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were many other things to see along the trail. Peggy caught this photo of a tall, slender, sedimentary chimney. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of stubby sedimentary chimney in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
And a short, stubby one. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of red sandstone rocks in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
I took photos of red sandstone rocks…
Photo of red boulders in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And more sandstone rocks…
Photo of juniper in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
I found a small juniper that I felt looked like a Japanese bonsai.
Photo of wood sculpture along Angel's Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Curt Mekemson.
And, a twisted wood sculpture…
Photo of towering rock and massive cliff along Angels Place Trail in Kodachrome Basin State park by Curt Mekemson.
Finally we came to a steep drop off, towering rocks and a massive cliff that signified the end of the trail.
We weren’t any more willing to climb up the cliff than we were willing to drop into the canyon. Grin.
Photo of cliffs at the end Of Angel's Palace Trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy took a close up. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a similar photo that I rendered into black and white.
Other trails in the park promised many more opportunities for exploration. Unfortunately, we had run out of time for the day.
Photograph of Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah by Curt Mekemson.
I took a final photo of the park before heading on to our next adventure.

Next Friday I will feature Red Canyon, which in some ways matches Bruce Canon for sheer beauty and fantastic hoodoos. You won’t want to miss it.

Meanwhile, we wrapped up our Rhine River cruise. Here’s another teaser. We were wandering through Germany’s Black Forest when we came across this donkey at a historic farm museum.

Donkey. I found him very photogenic.