Angkor Wat

We spent four days in Siem Reap, primarily touring temples, and could have easily stayed longer. There are a couple hundred temples in the complex, but most tourists focus on three. We saw each of these twice and several others. Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, was built in the early 12th century and originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Later kings converted it to Buddhism and vice versa. Carvings depict battles, mainly hand-to-hand combat, between the Khmers and their enemies. The Bayon Temple, within Angkor Thom, is covered with smiling faces.  It was built in the late 12th or early 13th century by a Mahayana Buddhist king. He tried to make peace between the Hindus and Buddhists by incorporating symbols from both religions, however after his death Hindus removed most of the Buddha images. There is no official state religion today, guaranteeing religions freedom, but the king is required to be a Theravada Buddhist and most Thai follow this religion. When rediscovered in the late 1800’s all of the temples were covered with vegetation and organic debris. Much has been cleared away, and temples partially restored, except at Ta Prohm, a.k.a. the Tomb Raider temple, which is overgrown with trees.

19, November, 2019 – a floating village

We used the Grab App to get a taxi to the airport in Phnom Penh for half what it cost when arrived. Our 45-minute flight to Siem Reap was uneventful until Judith realized she was missing her new cell phone. After much angst, Find-My-Phone pinpointed it to the restaurant at which we had breakfast. Kind staff at the airport retrieved it and arranged to have it flown to Siem Reap where we picked it up then next day.

A tuk tuk driver took us to our hotel, oddly named and perfectly located Uncle Sam Villa. It’s a short walk to the shops and restaurants on Pub Street, but just out of range of the noisy bar scene. I immediately liked the feel of being in a smaller town. We met Jodie, a tour guide we’ve travelled with before and were introduced to Vanna, a tuk tuk driver she uses regularly. We spent much of several days being shuttled around by this very pleasant young man whose English is quite good.

We checked in and headed out for our first adventure through the countryside, stopping to buy our Angkor Wat passes, and visited a couple small temples and Vanna’s village before taking a long dusty drive to Kombong Phluk. This floating village is built on tall pillars to accommodate the rise and fall of the river. Some people live on houseboats tethered to trees. Traveling by riverboat we could see people repairing nets and catching fish. When we got close to the Tonlé Sap Lake, we transferred to a small pole boat for a magical ride through the Mangrove trees as the sun was setting.

We got back after dark and walked over to Pub Street for a light meal. Once again, our lights were out by 9:00.

20, November – Angkor Wat

Vanna met us out front at 5:00 a.m. and took us to Angkor Wat. There we joined hundreds of people waiting to watch the sunrise. I watched from outside overlooking the moat while Judith went inside the temple walls. While I’ve seen pictures of more spectacular sunrises, this one was lovely. I then spent a couple hours wandering around the many buildings, up and down stairs, exploring what must have been stunningly beautiful before the carving and colors were removed or weathered away. I ran into Judith just as I ready to leave, which is fortunate since our local sim cards have failed us. While we get bars indicating service coverage and can access the internet, phone calls and texts rarely work.

Our next stop was Bayon Temple where Vanna took dozens of pictures of us amongst the smiling faces. There were nice reliefs here too, depicting historical events and scenes from the everyday life of the Angkorian Khmer. Ta Prohm was the smallest of the three, but interesting to see tree roots everywhere. We treated Vanna to a late lunch, including two popular Cambodian dishes, fish amok and beef lok lak, I like the former more than the later and it was much tastier than the one we tried in Phnom Penh.

Vanna was ready to keep on going, but we were wiped out so we had him return us to our hotel in the mid-afternoon. We rested a bit, then headed out for our almost daily massage. It was nice until the construction sounds that started up half way through. Judith’s friend Jolene joined us for dinner at a restaurant across the river that Judith found online. They tried adventuresome dishes such as chicken with red ants and roast honeycomb. I didn’t care for any of the food. On the way back, Jolene and I took a short detour to photograph the colorful lights along the river. By the time I got back to the hotel, Judith’s eyes were closed and the lights off.

21, November – cycling through temples

Yikes, my earliest wake up yet, just as I’m finally ready to sleep in a bit. We got picked 4:40 for a bicycle tour to the same temples we saw yesterday. There were only two other people in our group, men from America each traveling alone. We started with sunrise at Angkor Wat. This time I went into the temple hoping to get a picture from the lily pond inside, but with a smattering of clouds it wasn’t colorful. We were grateful for the cloud cover later as it kept the temperature down a bit. We were taken by van to a tent structure in the jungle where we had a hot breakfast before mounting our bicycles and heading out along a dirt path. It was narrow at times, forcing me to focus on the ground and confirming that I’m not cut out for mountain biking. We followed a path along one of the Angkor Wat moats, no longer filled with alligators, through rice fields and a village, before reaching Wat Thom with its arched entryways. We road on top of the wall from the south to the west entrance, then headed into the center of what was once a city to the Bayon temple. I gratefully wiped the sweat off my face with the small wet towels provided and took a quick walk through and around the temple. From there it was a short bicycle ride along roads to a restaurant where we were served tasty Cambodian food.

If Vanna had been available the next morning, I would have loved to do nothing in the afternoon. Instead we showered and got picked up at 3:00 to visit a few smaller temples in the northern part of the complex. Presh Khan was very long and interesting except for the loud high-pitched insects; at first, I thought I was hearing a siren in the jungle. Neak Poan was small, but the view from the boardwalk made the stop worthwhile. We watched the sunset from on top of another temple then headed back to town, stopping briefly at silver and silk stores on the way. I bought a scarf.

We had our worst massage yet, followed by a short foot massage at a different place. My masseuse there was cute, friendly and chatty. She bicycles an hour each way and works six days a week. (Legal working hours here are 8 hours per day, 48 hours a week. Employees can work up to 6 days per week). We ate dinner at the Red Tomato and surprise, surprise, were asleep by 9:00.

22, November – Farewell Cambodia

 Ahh, I slept past 6:00. I then spent hours puttering in our room. I finally had a chance to post my Phnom Penh blog entry, a challenge given the slow internet and technical glitches with Word Press. Judith headed back to the Bayon temple with Jolene. I had a late breakfast, took a short walk, discovering cages of birds along the river, and met her at the Lemongrass spa for our best Khmer massage yet, this time with lemongrass oil. Vanna met us at our hotel and took us to the airport, where we hugged him goodbye. We flew to Bangkok, then to Phuket, reaching our hotel at 23:00, late for us.

Phnom Penh

I’ve started my Southeast Asia adventure in Cambodia. Judith, who I met four years ago on a trip to Cuba, will be traveling with me about half the time. We spent our first three days in the capital city, exploring a few sites and adjusting to the time change. It’s warm, humid, and smoggy here.

15, November, 2019 – a long travel day

I got a ride to the airport at 9 pm on the 14th, arriving early for our just-after-midnight takeoff. Our first flight, to Taipei, took almost 14 hours. I watched two movies and one documentary, and slept for a few hours here and there. The seats don’t tilt much, so when dozing off it’s easy to flop forward or onto a neighbor. We easily found our next departure gate, then sat on the runway for almost an hour. By the time we arrived in Phnom Penh, it was almost noon the next day.

16, November – an afternoon stroll 

It didn’t take long to get our visas and go through customs. We also got local sim cards for our old phones and a few Cambodia Riel from the ATM, which turned out not to be necessary since dollars are readily accepted everywhere (4000 riel = $1). Our taxi driver helped us find our riverside Airbnb sandwiched between a sports shirt store and a massage shop in what might be a red-light district. Door-to-door it took 24 hours to get here. Though spacious, our apartment is long and narrow and we quickly abandoned the bedroom furthest from the window since it smelled musty. Judith slept in the front room which on some nights was quite noisy with what appeared to be drunken revealers.

After settling in, we visited Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple built in 1372. At 27 meters (88.5 ft), it is the tallest religious structure in the city. Surrounded by a small park it felt like a mini-oasis after our walk over, darting in between cars, tuk tuks, and motorcycles to cross streets. Though not as intense as in India or Nepal, drivers have the same disregard for traffic lanes and the very few signals that exist. 

We spent a couple hours in comfy chairs at the Elephant Bar, a throwback to colonial times. While getting refreshed by expensive beverages and a yummy pad thai, we tried one last time to reach AirAsia and change an upcoming flights. Without notice they cancelled the one we had booked and moved us to the next day. We finally gave up, bought another ticket, rebooked two hotel rooms, and sent emails requesting a refund for the flight we won’t be taking.

The sun was setting as we walked back to our lodging. We visited the nearby night market where I purchased my first souvenir, a pair of cotton pants festooned with elephants, a popular decorative theme here. To help us recover from our sardine-packed plane ride, we treated ourselves to a full-body massage, only $11. We felt so good afterwards that we walked around the corner and had an hour of reflexology.

17, November – Royal Palace

After all that relaxation, I slept until 4:00 am, waking only two hours earlier than usual, not bad for the first day in a new time zone. When Judith arose, we headed to the Royal Palace, discovering Wat Ounalom on our way. This Buddhist temple compound was deserted except for monks heading to prayer. It felt peaceful and spiritual in the early morning quiet. The Royal Palace wasn’t open when we arrived, so we ate breakfast before entering the compound. From our guide we learned that the yellow color of the buildings represents Buddhism, the official religion of Cambodia, and the white Hindu, one of the earlier religions; most Cambodians now practice a melding of both. A flying blue flag let us know that King Norodom Sihamoni was in residence. This symbolic figurehead is elected for life from members of royal bloodlines. We visited the National Museum, a collection of decaying artifacts from antiquity housed in a red building inspired by Khmer temple architecture. Throughout the day we saw several small cats, many with short stubby tails, apparently a common genetic occurrence in Cambodia.

We wandered through upscale shops on 240 Street (Oknha Chhun), most of the cute cotton clothing was too small for me to be tempted. We continued through a more modern part of town, with bigger streets, and yet more vehicles, to Eleven One Kitchen, where we had a delicious chicken and broccoli salad. We took a tuk tuk back to our lodging, puttered a bit, then got another massage. Afterwards, we wandered around looking for, and not finding, groceries, though we came across a street market filled with good looking produce and dead animals covered with flies. We stopped at one of the dozens of bars in our neighborhood and I enjoyed a glass of wine while watching the flow of humanity. It already feels as if I’ve been gone for a week as my everyday world recedes and I’m immersed in new experiences. We had time to shower, with a little hot water, then walked over to Romdeng, a recommended restaurant, not as yummy as our lunch. Most of the tuk tuks here are carts pulled by a motorcycle. We took one back, letting our driver figure out to navigate the crazy traffic in the dark. 

18, November – a painful history­

We found a tuk tuk driver who took us to several places throughout the morning. First stop, after a refreshing cup of chai tea, was the Russian market – lots of stalls selling clothing, food, and household goods. We picked up a couple souvenirs then stopped at the Thai embassy to clarify what I’ll need to do since our flight change to that country will cause me to overstay my 30-day visa in that country. Ahh, the joys of international travel. I’ll only have to pay a one-day penalty upon exit.

After much hesitation, we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former high school which became Security Prison 21 (S-21) in 1976 under the Khmer Rouge. During their five-year regime, millions of people were tortured, executed, and starved, about 25% of the population. I couldn’t stay inside the buildings for long, but sat on benches outside listening to audio stories told by survivors, my eyes filling with tears. It’s hard to contemplate how much post-conflict PTSD this country has suffered.

To help clear our bodies from that experience, we treated ourselves to a three-hour spa treatment. Every cell in my body was content and I had no desire to move when it was over. Judith headed to a dance class while I took a sweaty walk back to our lodging to download and sort pictures. We reconvened for dinner followed by a dance show. Ninety percent of artists died during the Khmer Rouge régime and surviving dancers have worked to train youth in Cambodian arts. I appreciated the traditional dances more after Judith’s brief explanation of the movements, especially the hand gestures with curved fingers. Though not far from our lodging, we took a tuk tuk back and were both sound asleep before 9:00.

Wyoming

After leaving Colorado, I drove to Jackson to pick up Anne, who flew there to join me for the remainder of my almost-three-week road trip. We spent several days in Grand Tetons National Park, which exceeded my expectations, in terms of both hiking and sheer beauty, then drove through Yellowstone and headed home.

August 16 – Drive to Jackson

Sage and I were on the road by 7:00 a.m., her first car ride since we arrived in Fort Collins. During the first couple hours, I finished listening to “Slavery by Another Name”, the book I’m “reading” for my political book club. While sometimes painfully repetitive, this book opened my eyes to the fact that slavery in America didn’t fully end until WW II. This is the history that should be taught in school.

Taking Nancy’s advice, I drove the slightly longer, scenic route up Highway 287 through Wyoming. An excellent choice, especially along the Wind River. Making my typical stops – gas, bathroom, fetch with Sage, snacks, and a few quick photos – I would have reached Jackson around 4:00. Instead I drove through that tourist-filled town an hour later, after stopping at multiple viewpoints overlooking the craggy peaks of the Tetons. I had to drag myself away so I could get to Victor, Idaho by 5:00 to drop off Sage at the Hairball Hotel, where she is being boarded for the first time with a stranger. I nervously left her there for two nights so we can hike inside the national park. I had enough time for a quick stop at the Visitor Center in Jackson before picking Anne up from the airport shortly after 6:00.

We ate a mediocre dinner, including a shared buffalo burger, at the Mangy Moose next door to our mediocre lodging, the hostel in Teton Village. The salad with grilled watermelon was flooded with so much dressing that it was inedible. Fortunately, our waitress replaced it with one with dressing on the side, a big improvement, though still odd.

August 17 – Jenny Lake

After an uncomfortable night on a worn-out mattress, we drive north to Jenny Lake and took a boat shuttle to the opposite shore. There we took a beautiful hike up past a spot called Inspiration Point (I think every park has one of them) into appropriately named Cascade Canyon. Given the altitude, above 7000‘, we didn’t go too far, keeping our hike to 6-7 miles round trip. 

Back in Teton Village, we took the Bridger Gondola (free after 5:00 pm) up to the top. The Deck was closing when we arrived, so we ate indoors at the pricier Piste Mountain Bistro. We enjoyed a small meal, especially the wine and the view. 

August 18 – Sunrise and Hiking

We left our room at 5:30 am so we could reach the historic Moulton Barn before sunrise. This structure, all that remains of a homestead built in the early 1900’, provides a nice foreground for the mountain range behind. On our way, in the dim pre-dawn light, we saw an elk with the largest rack of antlers I’ve ever seen. And while we waited for the sun to reach the peaks we were entertained by buffalo blocking cars on the road. 

Afterwards, we ate a chilly outdoor breakfast at Dornans, then took another perfect hike selected by Anne: the Bradly and Taggart Lakes loop. With an early start we initially had the trail to ourselves, keeping one hand on our bear spray just in case we surprised one. The nice dirt trail, with gentle inclines and declines, provided great views of the jagged peaks and took us to the shore of two lakes. 

We were done before noon and drove up to Coulter Bay for a bit of souvenir shopping and lunch at Jackson Lodge. My trout was good. Afterwards we drove over the Teton Pass to pick up Sage. She was playing fetch when we arrived and seemed happy. We ate dinner in Teton Village at the Alpenhof Bistro; the apple strudel we split for dessert was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Aug 19 – Red Hills

We got a leisurely start this morning, sleeping in and going out to breakfast; we split a yummy crepe at Alpenhof. We ate on the deck so Sage could join us, almost staying warm at the only sunny table. We needed to hike outside the park since dogs aren’t allowed on trails in National Parks, so we searched online and found a short hike in the Red Hills, east of the park. After a dozen miles on a dirt road, we came up empty handed.  There were red hills, but no trailheads. Another couple came along looking for the same trail and they couldn’t find it either. We ended up taking a short walk along the base of the hills and heading back to the park. 

We got disappointing takeout food from Signal Lodge, intending to eat overlooking Jackson Lake. However, the only picnic tables were in the direct sun so we ate on a bench in the shade with trash cans blocking our view. Anne had a headache, so we headed back to the hostel. She rested in our dark room while I hung out at a picnic table near the hostel sorting photos with Sage loungeing beside me on the lawn. Several people stopped by to pet her and compliment her good behavior.

Aug 20 – Yellowstone

Another early rising, this time to catch sunrise at Oxbow Bend on our way to Yellowstone. It was not as colorful as we’d hoped, but peaceful with a bit of mist rising and the sound of unseen cranes whooping. In the distance I could see dots of buffalo, or perhaps elk.

We essentially spent the rest of the day driving through Yellowstone, a park too big to fully see in a day. We had originally planned to spend more time here, but the dog sitter I had booked through Rover cancelled and I was unable to find another with short notice. 

Old Faithful was erupting high in the sky as we drove up, so I missed photographing a geyser. The bright blue Grand Prismatic Spring was amazing. I first saw it from above, after walking a fairly long distance to a viewpoint south of it. We then waited for a turn in the parking lot near the spring and examined it up close from a boardwalk. It was other worldly. A slight overcast was keeping the temperature reasonable, so we could leave Sage in the car for short periods of time. 

We ate a picnic lunch at Canyon Village then visited Artist Point with a lovely view of the Lower Falls in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Anne’s headache was increasing so she skipped the next couple stops and we made calls to shorten our trip, cutting out the two days we had planned for Sun Valley, Idaho. 

We made two more stops on our way through the park: Tower Falls, which I found disappointing after the beauty of Lower Falls, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, another unearthly spot. By the time we reached our hotel in West Yellowstone, a huge improvement over the hostel in the Tetons, Anne’s headache had abated. We played fetch with Sage, losing a ball to a tree, enjoyed a glass, or two, of red wine, and had a pleasant outdoor meal on a deck next to a singer/guitarist. An enjoyable ending to a long day.

Aug 21 – Drive to Winnemucca

It was a long car day with a stop in Twin Falls, for a nice lunch on a deck overlooking the gorge cut by the same Snake River that runs through the Tetons. We nearly finished a long audio book: The Perfect Storm. The author did an impressive job tying together a compelling story with great information about weather, deep sea fishing, maritime rescue and other topics. Though I dozed briefly through one stretch of technical detail, overall the book was fascinating.  As with every leg of my trip, we encountered road work delays along the way.

Once a supply center for the Central Pacific Railroad, Winnemucca, is now a stopping point on I-80, hours from anywhere. It was in the high 90’s when we arrived so I kept Sage’s fetch time short, after which I had the worst meal of my trip at a place called the Toasted Tavern.

Aug 22 – Drive Home with a Hiking Break

We had breakfast at a casino then drove half-way home, to Truckee. There we drove up through Tahoe Donner to the Glacier Way Trailhead and enjoyed a short, four-mile hike along the Donner Lake Rim Trail overlooking Donner Lake and the neighboring mountains. We picnicked at the car, with the usual for this trip – gluten-free crackers, hummus, cheese, and olives – then continued on our way encountering more traffic than I’ve seen in weeks. Fortunately, we were going opposite the commute. After putting more than 3000 miles on my car, I’m sad to say that California has the worst roads. The temperature reached 101oF (38oC) as we drove through the Sacramento Valley, the hottest spot on my trip 

I dropped Anne in Marin and reached home in late afternoon. My older son, Alex, came by with groceries and fixed me dinner. A nice surprise. 

Return to Colorado

Annie and I arrived in Colorado after five days on the road, mostly in Utah. We spent three days visiting Lynne and exploring the Rocky Mountains, and then she flew home and I continued to Fort Collins to visit my friend Nancy and her family.

August 7 – A Long Day

We left our hotel in Utah at 7:00 a.m. and met Lynne at the Crooked Creek Saloon in Fraser at 6:30 pm. (See Southern Utah entry for what we saw along the way). It was benefit night with a portion of the proceeds going to the library where Lynne volunteers. We ate dinner on the outside deck and listened to a band.

August 8 – Fraser

For our first day at 8500’ (2600 meters) we took a short hike, 3-4 miles, along a ridge south towards Winter Park and back along the river. Spending the last four days above 5000’ made it easier than it would have been for us sea-level dwellers. There are patches of snow on Byers Peak and some of the other nearby mountain tops. 

Afterwards, Lynne took us on a driving tour of Fraser and Winter Park, including a stop at the cemetery where her father was recently buried. We ate lunch on the patio at The Peak, a brew pub which I’ve frequented on each visit. After a couple samples, I settled on Elk Bugle ESB as my favorite beer. Annie and Lynne enjoyed their IPA’s, and we all liked our salads. Sage is becoming a very mellow restaurant dog; she lay down and slept. 

We stopped at the grocery store on our way back and then watched a thunderstorm come through. Annie decided to take an introvert’s break and stayed in, while Lynne and I took a bottle of red wine and container of sushi to the Rendezvous Event Center in Winter Park for a free outdoor concert, by a rock & roll revival band called Wyatt Lowe and the Mayhem Kings.  Canvas chairs kept us off the wet lawn, but it was chilly after the sun dropped. 

August 9 – Columbine Lake

We picked up Lynne’s friend Jill and drove on a bumpy dirt road for about an hour to the Junco Lake trailhead. From there we took the seven mile out-and-back trail, eight according to our phones, to Columbine Lake. The skies were mostly blue and we had a grand time. Sage smiled as she ran free, except when I leashed her along the meadows where we spotted a moose. (Another hiker told us there was a youngster too, but we didn’t see it). I enjoyed conversing with wonderful women, taking pictures of cascades along the trail, and eating lunch overlooking the lake. It’s a good thing I sprayed on herbal insect repellent, both Lynne and Annie came back with mosquito bites. 

Back at the condo, we showered and rested before heading out for cocktails at a new distillery in Fraser, Mexican food, and more outdoor music, a couple singer guitarists at Cooper Creek Square.

August 10 – Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve driven along Trail Ridge Road and I never tire of the views. Lynne had to work today, so Annie and I got an early start and headed up into the park. Shortly after we entered, once again enjoying my lifetime pass, we spotted cars at the side of the road. Sure enough, there were moose in the meadow, a male and female. They were the most active moose I’ve ever seen and at one point the male headed in our direction. I was debating whether running behind a tree would help if he got any closer. 

After that, we stopped at a half dozen vista points, taking pictures under grey skies with occasional rain drops. We saw two herds of elk, one near the Alpine Visitor center, at the top of the stairs and another near the Rock Cut pullover. One marmot was licking the rocks at Forest View. We stopped at a dispensary in Tabernash to look at growing marijuana plants on our way back to Fraser, which we reached shortly after noon. We ate leftovers for lunch, stopped by to visit Lynne, and lingered around the condo all afternoon watching the weather switch from sun to hail and back.

August 11 – Goodbye to Annie and Lynne

We gave Lynne goodbye hugs and drove to the Denver airport where I dropped Annie off to fly home, wrapping up a rich, fun-filled week. I continued north to Fort Collins to visit my longest friend, Nancy, her husband Steve, and son Zach. Sage loves the large lawn in back of their home and quickly tired out Bella, the resident boxer. 

August 12-15 – Fort Collins

I spent a relaxing four days hanging out in Fort Collins. On the first day, I posted my Utah blog entry, paddle boarded with Zach, and enjoyed a steak salad – Steve’s barbeque with Zach’s Caesar salad. Nancy returned from the Bay Area later that evening; she’s been there helping take care of her father’s estate. The next couple days were primarily spent shopping, sewing, eating, and watching a bit of television (rare for me). I heard about a group of teenage boys who climbed all 58 of Colorado’s 14er’s (peaks over 14,000’, 427 meters), and a state record-breaking softball-sized hail that fell that week. On my last day, Nancy and I took a day trip. We went for a scenic drive though Gold Hill to Nederland where we had lunch, then a detour to Boulder, since Boulder Canyon Drive was closed for road improvements following past floods and rock slides. We were one of the first on the road when it reopened at 2:00 so we could visit Boulder Falls. Afterwards, we stopped at the DushanbeTeahouse for a refreshing ice tea and snack – the “Summer Peach Bruschetta” was delicious! Back in Fort Collins, we joined Steve and Zach for a sushi dinner, and I packed up, ready for the third leg of my three-week road 

Southern Utah

I’m on the road again, heading to Colorado with Sage, my almost two-year-old Border Collie, and my friend Annie. After driving though Yosemite and Nevada, we reached Utah, where we spent a few days enjoying red rock country. Annie and I are both early birds who like to hike and take pictures, so we traveled well together.

August 3 – Drive to Tonopah

I picked Annie up from an East Bay BART station around 7:30 am and we essentially spent the whole day driving to Tonopah Nevada, stopping along the way to take pictures, eat a picnic lunch, and play fetch with Sage. The car temp reached 99oF (37oC) so we were grateful for air conditioning.

August 4 – Drive to Escalante, Utah

We drove most of the day, with a few scenic stops along the way. In Rachel, a town of 50, they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of thousands of visitors seeking to get into Area 51, a gathering promoted as a hoax which they hope will not materialize. 

It started to rain a bit after we drove through Red Canyon, and on the way from Bryce to Escalante we saw many lightning bolts. My tire air pressure warning came on shortly before we reached Escalante. I was worried after experiencing a flat tire in Iceland, but it turned out to be low pressure in one tire. 

We checked into our tiny cabin with bunk beds – the only place available by the time Annie and I set dates for our trip. Fortunately, we didn’t see the grumpy women who checked us in after that evening; everyone else we encountered was friendly, especially the young women at the café with more energy than a Border Collie. She gave us great sightseeing tips. We went across the street and ate dinner at an outside patio; the rain and wind stayed away.

August 5 – Devils Garden

We ate breakfast at the tiny café adjacent to our cabins, then headed down Hole-in-the-Rock road within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This dirt road was in good shape considering the recent rains. It was 13 miles to Devils Garden. We had a whole hour to explore this awesome collection of sculpted rocks before anyone else arrived, and Annie earned the nickname “Panorama Queen”. On our way back, we considered a detour to Cedar Wash Arch, but the road wasn’t passable. 

Back on Highway 12, an incredible scenic road, we headed north to the Escalante Trailhead, stopping at numerous overlooks to ooh and ahh. We hiked/scrambled up to see petroglyphs, but skipped hiking to a rock bridge since it would have involved multiple crossings of a very muddy river, still dropping from the flood that came through yesterday.

As we were leaving, a young backpacker, April, emerged from the trail. We gave her a ride back to town. She had spent two nights out, including a whole day watching the river rise and fall.  We ate a late lunch at the café, where I enjoyed a tasty beer: Kiitos Brewing Amber Ale. (I later tried one called Juicy IPA which I enjoyed in spite of the fact that I don’t tike IPAs). We rested a bit at our cabinette, then drove to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park for a very refreshing swim in the reservoir. Sage chased balls and sticks into the lake and stopped when her belly touched the water. I carried her in a couple times just to confirm she could swim. She immediately headed to shore, grabbing her ball along the way.

August 6 – Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. 

It’s a good thing we got an early start on this scenic hike along the Escalante River; it was 90oF (33oC) by the time we returned to the trailhead shortly after noon. The official brochure says this hike is six miles, but according to our phones it was over seven. The trail was red sand and rock with nice views of red cliffs. The falls were beautiful. The chilly water felt great on my feet and Sage found several willing stick throwers. Along the way we saw a variety of lizards, including one chased by a snake – it got away. Between the heat and all her running back and forth, Sage was exhausted by the time we were done; I have never seen her this tired. The iced beverages that awaited us in the car helped revive us.

Next we drove to Torrey, along the way the temperature dropped twenty-five degrees, the skies darkened, and rain started. We checked into our hotel early, using a remote entry system. It was very basic, but clean and spacious compared to the cabin. We ate a late lunch at local burger joint and retired to our room early. I spent most of my leisure time downloading and organizing photos. 

August 7 – Capitol Reef

We got an early start so we could take a short tour of Capitol Reef National Park on our way to Colorado. Even under overcast skies it was beautiful. I could easily spend days exploring this colorful landscape, filled with red-hued striated mountains. On our way out we stopped at the Gifford Farmhouse for fresh pies, filled with fruit from nearby orchards; they were still warm.

After a few more scenic stops, we spent the rest of the day driving, mostly on I-70. Our conversations covered many topics. The skies remained cloudy with periods of rain. The speed limit dropped from 80 to 75 when we crossed the state line. Goodbye Utah, Hello Colorado.

Colorado Road Trip

I’m about to head off on another road trip to Colorado, so I figure I should post a few pictures from last year’s trip first. 

July 2018

I usually fly when I go to Colorado to visit friends, but drove this time so I could bring Sage, my then nine-month old Border Collie. Susan joined me for the first half of my two-week trip, to Fraser where we visited Lynne and enjoyed short hikes and beautiful views. I continued on to Fort Collins where Nancy taught me how to make quilt.

July 12 – Dive to Tonopah, Nevada

It was an overcast day as we drove through Yosemite and by the time we got through the mountains it was raining, so we skipped stopping at Mono Lake and drove through heavy rain with thunder in the distance.

July 13 – Drive to Escalante, Utah

A long drive with various scenic stops. At one point we were so low on gas in the middle of nowhere that we turned off the air conditioner. We made with a fraction of a gallon to spare.

July 14 – Scenic Drive into Colorado

We took a short hike in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, followed by a gorgeous drive on Hwy 12 up past Boulder and through Capital Reef National Park. The rain followed us, but we stayed dry. We spent the night in New Castle.

July 15–18  

We drove to Fraser, CO where we visited Lynne and her family, and took several hikes in the beautiful Rockies.

July 19 – Drive to Fort Collins  

Susan and I took a final hike, a short round trip to a waterfall. Then, after leaving a few things behind for Lynne to bring home for us, we crammed four people and luggage into my small car, a Subaru Cross Trek. I took Lynne and her dad, Jim, to a hotel near the Denver airport, they were heading out on a trip the next day, and then dropped off Susan for her flight home.

July 20-23 – Sewing, Sewing, Sewing

My friend, Nancy, an awesome quilter, taught me how to make one. I bought everything I needed, including a sewing machine, and nearly finished making one for a queen-size bed, not a small project for a new quilter.  

July 24-26 – Drive from Fort Collins to Home

After a final walk along the canal, now a bit muddy from last night’s rain, I packed up the car and headed home. Google estimated six hours to Vernal; it took me about seven and a half with a handful of brief stops, including a grassy park in Rock Springs, Wyoming for a bit of fetch with Sage. The final segment of our first day, south on 191, was the most scenic. After checking into the Sage Motel, we took a hot walk around Vernal, it was about 98oF (37oC) and I ate dinner at the outdoor patio of a brew pub. 

The next day, I drove to Elko. Listening to books on tape kept me entertained, including Call the Midwife. I headed out early the next morning and reached home in the afternoon of the third day.

Art Camp

June 9-16, 2019

I recently returned from my third year at Feather River Art Camp, rooming with Chris again. It’s great fun to spend a week in the mountains creating art with fellow campers. I started each day with Thai Chi exercises, spent the mornings in my core class (encaustics this year, mosaics last), then explored various workshops and hikes in the afternoons and evenings. The dining hall food was much improved, and I learned to play Mexican Train and Rummikub so I’m ready for game nights.

La Jolla

Though I still need to catch up on trips from last year, I’m posting this one now since it’s quick and easy.

September 25-28, 2018

I took a short trip to visit my friend Dede. We realized that it’s been four years since my last visit, too long. As usual it was very relaxing. I took daily walks on the beach and enjoyed wearing sandals.

Tuesday

Dede picked me up from the airport in the early afternoon. As soon as we got to her home, I headed to the beach. It’s about a 15-minute walk down and a 20-minute walk back up. I’m glad I went since this was the only sunny day I had at the beach during my visit. There is almost as much fog here as at home, but it’s warmer.

When I got back we enjoyed dinner on her patio. Her friend Victor barbequed ribs, and we enjoyed a bottle of red wine. For me, it’s a luxury to be able to eat outdoors in the evening.

Wednesday

 I took one of Dede’s three dogs, 90-pound Buddy, for a walk on the beach in the morning.  Dogs are only allowed before 9:00 a.m. and after 6:00 pm. Though he’s huge, he’s well trained and easy to walk. I’m not used to male dogs and counted 16 leg lifts at bushes and trees on our way up and down the hill.

In the afternoon, Dede and I took Buddy and a Ellie May, a small fluffy white dog, for a visit to a memory care center. Though some of the residents were not responsive, most perked up and were happy to pet them. When she’s a bit older, I’m hoping to train Sage, my almost year-old Border Collie, to be a therapeutic visitation dog.

Dede’s friend John later joined us for a barbeque at the beach. We had hoped for a nice sunset, but no luck. Given that it was mid-week and overcast we virtually had the beach to ourselves.  Salmon, corn on the cob, salad, and boysenberry pie, yum!

Thursday

We spent the whole morning glued to the tube watching the Kavanaugh hearing. Sadly things have not has changed much in the 36 years since Anita Hill bravely came forward. I broke away to take a long, leisurely barefoot stroll along the beach before attending a Veterans for Peace protest. They would like to see the Miramar airshow discontinued since it glorifies war.

Friday

I took Buddy for one last beach walk, then packed up and headed to the airport. My flight was delayed slightly due to fog in San Francisco, but was otherwise uneventful.

Bryce and Zion

After Switzerland, I told myself that I would stay home and not travel for a while, but when Anne invited me to visit Bryce and Zion, I couldn’t resist. Though I’d been to both of these places, I‘ve been craving a return to red rock country. It was Anne’s first visit to both national parks and my first use of my Senior Parks Pass. Though I’m not quite ready to consider myself a senior, it saved us $30 per park. I’m glad to say that Anne was just as enamored of these colorful parks as I am.

Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017 – Getting to Bryce

We met at the airport and flew to Las Vegas, where we picked up and upgraded (from economy, which should be called sub-compact, to compact) our rental car; I’m the designated driver. It was overcast. We stopped in Mesquite for lunch; I ate my packed salad outside a fast food joint. We overshot the Bryce turnoff and ended up seeing a slice of Cedar Breaks on an alternate route. We got to park in time for a scenic stroll from Sunset to Sunrise Point before the sun set.

From there, it was a 15-20 minute drive to Tropic. We stayed at a place called Bryce Valley Lodging, best described as a collection of cabinettes lined up on a gravel parking lot, reminiscent at drive-in movie theaters (remember those?). We walked across the street to Hustler’s, where I consumed BBQ chicken, sweet potato fries, and soggy vegetables. 

Thursday, Oct 19 – Peep-a-Boo Loop

The sound of rain before dawn caused me to turn off the alarm, there wouldn’t be a sunrise today, at least not a colorful one. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long, and we were able to do our planned hike (the one I took four years ago with no card in my camera).  The Queens Garden – Peep-a-Boo – Navajo loop is about seven miles; it took us five hours, mostly because we kept stopping to gawk and take pictures of the fantastical hoodoos.

We were tired afterwards, no longer acclimatized to hiking in the 8000-9000’ range (2400-2700 meters), so we found coffee for Anne at the general store, not the lodge as we first guessed. We skipped stopping at vista points and headed back to Tropic for an early dinner at Hustler’s. Afterwards a couple cats followed me around while I photographed sunset; there’s a nice view of the Grand Staircase out back.

Friday, Oct 20 – Bryce Sunrise to Zion Canyon

After convincing one of the cats that it couldn’t stay in our cabin, we drove back into Bryce to view the sunrise from Sunset Point. We stopped at Ruby’s Inn for breakfast after exiting the park, arriving early enough to beat the line. I ate everything I usually avoid: eggs, toast, and bacon. It’s been decades since I’ve ordered bacon!

We headed back east for a few minutes and reentered the park to hike appropriately named Mossy Cave. There were some nice red rocks and a small waterfall.

I skipped stopping at Checkboard Mesa after we entered Zion, regretting it when a herd of Bighorn Sheep walked by.

We found parking shortly before the tunnel and walked along the road to the Canyon Rim trailhead. I’ve done this three-mile hike many times over the years and still enjoy it. I’ve come to associate this trail with lizards, and sure enough I saw one this time too.

A long stretch of highway towards the end of Springdale is currently one-way, due to repaving or something. After a short wait we reached our hotel, where we parked and left if for the rest of the day. There is a free shuttle that runs through town, up to the park entrance. The stop near us, #7, was closed due to the construction so we walked to #6 and then kept on walking all the way to the park. Along the way, we stopped at a market to pick up breakfast and snack food, ate lunch at an outdoor table, and sampled beers at the Zion Canyon Brewing Company, licensed as a restaurant, not a bar. (There are no bars in Springdale). This meant that we could not order alcohol without food, so though not hungry we ordered an appetizer of hummus with veggies, with I promptly consumed. In Utah, draft beer can only be 4% (bottled beers can be stronger). We tried three, purchasing six-ounce samples since free ones aren’t allowed; they ranged from undrinkably bitter to “just right”.

We took the shuttle back to stop #6 and walked to the Quality Inn with a room bigger than our cabin in Tropic. I was too full to join Anne for dinner so she headed out on her own, returning quickly to report that the place across the street was too fancy and expensive; instead she snacked on munchies we’d picked up at the market.

Saturday, Oct 21 – Angels Landing

When we were planning this trip, I asked Anne if she’d be interested in hiking in The Narrows; she said absolutely not. I next suggested Angels Landing, while warning  her of the sheer drop offs. She surprised me and said yes. Both a little nervous after all the hype, we agreed to go and see how far we’d get.

We drove into park, parked at visitors center, and caught an 8:00 shuttle to The Grotto, our trailhead. We crossed the bridge and took the West Rim trail, zig-zagging up the cliff-side. It felt good to be hiking; I was refreshed and even Walter’s 21 wiggles didn’t seem difficult. From Scouts Landing (where Karen and I turned back four years ago) to the top was not as scary as it looked. Chains were installed in all difficult parts and we were early enough that peak crowds hadn’t yet arrived. The up and downhill climbers patiently waited for each other, passing in bunches. (Reminder for next time: avoid weekends). We spent a half hour at the top, which was larger than I expected, and though “only” 5,790 feet (1,760 m) the view is vast. By the time we returned to Scouts Landing for lunch, the stream of hikers arriving was backing up and they were starting to pass each other on the narrower, scary sections.

We considered taking the Riverwalk to the beginning of The Narrows, but were too tired to get off bus. Plus we didn’t want to risk having to stand for the 40-minute ride back to the Visitor Center, as could be the case with later buses. Instead we returned to Brew Pub and ordered a couple pints of Octoberfest, the beer we liked best yesterday. This time we split a salad (mixed greens, apples, cranberries, walnuts, cilantro dressing) – delicious! We walked back into the park to retrieve our car. After a rest and shower, we walked to Jacks Sport Bar for dinner – greasy sandwich and a bitter beer.

Sunday, Oct 22 – Weeping Rock

Anne joined me for sunrise. We again parked at the Visitor Center, this time catching a 7:15 shuttle to Canyon Junction, where we hung out for an hour watching the peaks around us light up. Back on the shuttle, we got off at Zion Lodge where we had breakfast (scrambled eggs and rye toast). Afterwards, we crossed the road and hiked to Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools. The lower, with water dripping over the rim, was my favorite. On our way back down, we turned onto Kayenata trail and walked above the river to The Grotto and then along the road to Weeping Rock. Only shuttle buses and bicyclists are allowed this far in the park, so we pretty much had it this scenic stretch to ourselves. We took the short walk up a paved path to Weeping Rock, where water seeps out of the sandstone and drips along a stretch of the cliff. We road the shuttle to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava, and once again considered taking the Riverwalk to the beginning of The Narrows, but we turned back in less than a mile, both too tired to want to walk further. My phone says we covered nine miles today, further than yesterday’s eight plus.

Back at the Brew Pub, we enjoyed our pints of Octoberfest and split the same salad as yesterday. This time it took 25 minutes to get through the construction backup. We rested at the hotel – I downloaded images, took a short nap, and showered, then risked the traffic and drove to The Spotted Dog for dinner. Fortunately, when we called earlier we were able to get reservations right after opening. It was the meal of this trip – red trout, veggies, and a flowerless chocolate dessert. Yum.

Monday, October 23 – Back Home

We ate the boring free breakfast and headed back to Las Vegas, detouring to the see more fascinating red rocks at Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park. It looks like the gods and goddesses have been playing with clay. Google got us to the off-off site car rental dealer from where we got a van ride to the off-site car rental center. Eventually reaching our terminal, we ate a late lunch before flying home, arriving a little, but not much, behind schedule.

Since my credit card was suspended, due to fraud detected while I was in Utah, I couldn’t use Lyft. Supershuttle had no shuttles so they sent me to Go Lorries. If you don’t mind being uncomfortably crammed in with others and wandering willy-nilly around the city for an hour or two, this is the way to go. I jumped out in the Castro and took a bus home from there. On the positive side, their vans are newer and don’t rattle like Supershuttle’s.

My roommate, Linda, shared her food so I didn’t have to go to the market for dinner. I was especially grateful since I had only a few hours to pack for my next adventure.  The cats and I enjoyed company for one night.

Zermatt and Zürich

Ahh, my computer is finally functioning well enough to sort photos again (a long frustrating saga). Here’s my last entry for the trip I took to the Alps last summer. Eventually I’ll catch up on my other travels.

Last summer after hiking part of the Haute Route through the Alps, Lynne, Hennie, and I headed to Zermatt where we enjoyed a series of gorgeous day hikes without the burden of  heavy backpacks. Sibylle and Carmen joined us for a couple days and when Hennie headed home, Lynne and I joined our Swiss friends in Zürich.

2017, 31 July – Zermatt

We started our day with breakfast at our hotel in Sion – chocolate croissants, smoked salmon, and cheese, yum. It was a short walk to the train station where we caught the first of two trains to Zermatt, arriving before noon. Our hotel, Alphubel, was perfectly located near the center of town. We had lunch overlooking the main street, Bahnhofstrasse – carrot ginger soup and a half sandwich, then explored the town. The goats came through at 3:30 and the Lindt store had many more flavors than I’ve seen at home. Tables were being set up everywhere in preparation for Swiss National Day, lots of food and drink. We opted to buy food at the co-op grocery store and corner sausage stand, and ate dinner in our room, where we watched a thunderstorm and heard an accordion playing for hours.

1 August – Gornergrat

Our hotel breakfast included cook-your-own hard-boiled eggs in a contraption we hadn’t seen before, ours were underdone. By 8:00 we are on the Gornergrat train. It took about a half-hour to get the top, where we were rewarded with awesome views of the glacier and surrounding peaks before they became covered with clouds. It was windier with less snow and more haze than when I was last here, in September 2014. We hiked down to Riffleberg, ate lunch on the deck with great views, then continued down to Riffelalp, steeper and less scenic than the earlier portion. The Matterhorn tried on variety of different cloud caps before hiding entirely.

It was still mostly sunny when we reached town around 2:00. We stopped at the market and took a brief rest in our rooms (I shared one with Lynne, and Hennie had her own), then toured the Matterhorn Museum. There was an interesting new exhibit about the first ascent of this famous peak, in 1865, on which four climbers died, and a very beautiful movie. I picked up a mediocre crepe along the way. With our balcony door open, we heard more fireworks than the previous night, and the accordion again in between thunderstorms. We stayed up later there than usual, until about 10:30, to watch the main fireworks out our window.

2 August – Klein Matterhorn (a.k.a. Matterhorn Glacier Paradise)

It was Hennie’s turn to be sick today, so Lynne and I took the cable car up to Klein Matterhorn, the Little Matterhorn. I’m sure early climbers would be shocked to see a major cable car station up this high. It was windy and cold with lots of snow. People were skiing and suiting up with crampons to climb nearby peaks. We toured the ice cave then took the cable back down to Trockener and from there hiked to Schwarzee. The retreating glacier provided a lunar landscape; sadly I fear the Swiss glaciers will be gone in my lifetime. Clouds played with the shadows on the surrounding mountains. We found the perfect lunch spot, a red bench above Schwarzee, wow what a view! We enjoyed a beer at the restaurant, then caught the cable car back to town. After a shower and brief rest, we did a bit of souvenir shopping and picked up food for dinner. Hennie was well enough to join us on our small balcony.

3 August – Connected with Sibylle & Carmen

We puttered around town, then met Sibylle and Carmen arriving on the 11:13 train. Lynne and Hennie headed to the Schwarzee cable car for a hike up in the hills, while I went to lunch with my Swiss friends. Our destination turned out to be a couple miles uphill in Findeln, a lovely spot for a tasty meal. We took a longer, scenic route down, nice except for one steep rocky portion. I barely had time to get to my hotel and shower, before it was time to meet for dinner. My lamb ravioli with veggies was delicious, one of the best meals on this trip. (Carmen knows all the best spots to dine).

4 August – Five Lakes Hike to Fluhalp

Lynne joined Sibylle and Carmen on a longer ridge hike to Fluhalp, our destination hut, while Hennie and I took a somewhat easier route past five lakes. There were lots of ups and downs; it was hot when we were in the direct sun. The first two lakes, both manmade, were not as scenic as the others. We saw lots of marmots along the way. We ate lunch on the shore of Stellisee, our final lake, then Hennie headed down to the cable car to begin her trip home, while I headed up to Fluhalp where I enjoyed an Aperol Spritz while waiting for the other three to finish their beers up at Rothorn and join me.

5 August – Suspension Bridge

After breakfast, we headed off in two directions, with Sibylle and Carmen taking a longer route (of course). Lynne and I hiked down to Blauherd, stopping at Stellisee to admire the reflections in the lake. It was our clearest and hottest day yet. We took the cable car and funicular down to town, stopped at tourist information to buy train tickets, then picked up Sibylle and Carmen’s bags from their hotel. I was craving another sausage, but the vendor wasn’t open yet. We caught the train to Randa where we tried to open the wrong door and missed our stop. We hopped off at the next station and returned. We couldn’t find any luggage lockers, so we talked a proprietor of a hotel and café into holding them for us. Before setting off on our hike, I ordered a “chicken sandwich” which turned out to be a piece of processed ham on a slice of bread.

Our goal was to meet Carmen and Sibylle at the newly opened suspension bridge. It was a relentless hour and a half uphill, with many switchbacks. We walked back and forth across the bridge a couple times, but missed them. The hike down is a bit quicker. We regained cell reception back at the hotel/café and let them know where we were. They arrived just as we were finishing our draft beers.

The train ride to Zürich via Visp took about three hours. I ordered a salad on the train for dinner. We arrived about 8:00 pm, bought a 24-hour bus pass, and then went to pick up the key to “our” apartment. Sibylle’s friend, Anya, was staying at her friend’s house while recovering from hip surgery (where she could use an elevator rather than stairs), so she was kind enough to let us stay at her apartment while we were in Zürich. Thank you Anya!

I recognized the route from my prior visit as we walked back beneath an elevated roadway and crossed the river to our apartment, not far from where Sibylle lives. I was sweaty, wiped out, completely wilted by the time I showered and crashed into bed.

6 August – Spa Day

We enjoyed a nice slow morning, repacking our stuff, then walked over to Carmen and Sibylle’s for an outstanding brunch: eggs, rolls, yogurt, fruit, cheese. Then Lynne and I found our way to Thermalbad; next time I’ll know that it’s near Google. When I first told Lynne that I wanted to spend a half day at the spa, she almost chose not to join my, but she was hesitant to leave after three hours of steaming, scrubbing, soaking, and enjoying the rooftop view. I felt renewed!

We rejoined our friends and walked back to the spacious apartment where Anya is staying, in an industrial area that’s becoming residential. There we enjoyed a most memorable evening. Anya introduced me to watermelon and feta, with a light dressing and bit of mint, a delicious combination that I have since prepared at home. We ate, drank, talked, and laughed for hours. It was the most fun dinner of our trip.

7 August – Zürich

Sibylle took us by train up to an overlook above Zürich and were surprised to meet Carmen; she rode up on her bicycle. The Alps were hazy in the distance. Back in Zürich, Carmen’s sister Simone joined us for lunch. We did a bit of shopping and walked all over town, climbing up the steps in the church tower, touring the campus where Sibylle went to school. Carmen rejoined us for dinner, delicious wok dishes, up on a hill above their apartment. It was a beautiful way to spent our last evening together, watching the moon rise over the city.

8 August – Back to London

Lynne and I took our dirty sheets and towels up to their apartment, said goodbye to Carmen, then took a tram with Sibylle to the train station. She headed off to work and we headed to the airport, catching an EasyJet to London. The rest of our trip has already been covered in an earlier post. Thank you both for a wonderful time. I hope to see you again soon.