We camped near Rapid City, South Dakota, beneath this dramatic sky. The national weather
forecast was daunting, compelling us to make haste toward home to outrun high wind and
Fortunately we had two sunny days in South Dakota before we headed west across Montana
and Idaho and over the mountains into Washington State. But I'm ahead of myself. After leaving
Washington, DC and Virginia, it wasn't long until we were in Lexington Kentucky, considered by some
to be the "horse capital of the world". Certainly the farms are beautiful. The structure below is not a
house but a stable, typical of barns in the area housing the award winning race horses for which
the region is famous.
In addition to equine fame, Kentucky is noteworthy for its variety of wonderfully lubricating
Bourbon distilleries - the barrels below full of Woodford Reserve.
Crossing the Missouri River to get into Iowa into Nebraska was challenging - Nebraska
suffered enormous flood damage this spring and most of the bridges across the river near
Omaha were impassable. Below: a screen shot of road closures necessitating detours.
Then - prairie landscapes where frequently the most compelling view is the sky above.
The Black Hills rise from the desert in southwestern South Dakota - home of Mt. Rushmore.
The surrounding country roads are a joy to drive in the off-season - narrow hairpin turns lead
to tunnels designed to frame unique views of the monument.
And then there is the Pinnacles Highway in Custer State Park,
once again affording wonderful views of remarkable rock formations,
and making driving an adventure and welcome change from
Then road, road, road.
I amused myself with my camera, trying to "capture" reflections of semis - we passed them
going up; they passed us going down.
Prairie towns often offer a special brand of humour. Broadus Montana characterizes itself as
"The Wavingest Town in the West".
With that we were waved right home - and delighted to return full to the brim with
adventure and be back to the comfort of home once again. Thank you to those who
"came along for the ride".
Still engaged in what one of our guidebooks terms "the pleasantly impractical endeavour of sightseeing". Finally heading west and slowly northwards with an eye on the weather hoping to wend our way past water, wind and snow.
Backtracking to Charleston, South Carolina to begin this chapter. Charleston lives up to its reputation as a charming city, its graceful mansions lining brick and cobblestone streets in the historic seaside quarter.
Visitors to the Information Centre in Charleston are greeted in spring by the glorious blooms of a Peppermint Peach Tree. Hot pink and white blossoms bloom in unison on a single tree - the colours occasionally sharing even the same blossom. Budding trees and glimpses into courtyard gardens in the city provide further evidence of spring.
We toured two of the city's historic homes - one had been restored to its pristine former beauty
while the other was preserved as it was, virtually untouched since the 1850's.
Life in southern mansions relied entirely on the labour of enslaved servants. Slave quarters
in the preserved mansion were featured on the tour, and showed clearly the stark contrast
between the living conditions of masters and slaves. The staircases in the photos below mark
this contrast, as does the image of the slave quarter's corridor, also below.
From Charleston we headed north to Richmond, Virginia, the state capital, visiting Civil
War battlefields along the way. Richmond is the home of another of America's exceptional
art galleries - the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - Jaume Plensa's outdoor sculpture coaxing
us to stop and contemplate, even in the rain. (jaumeplensa.com)
Then - Washington! We are fortunate to have friends who welcomed us to their home and
filled our two days to the brim with the best the city has to offer - and it offers wonders.
We visited the White House before walking the monuments - a 10k loop that took us from the
Washington Monument to - in order I think - World War II, Vietnam, Lincoln, Korea, Martin Luther
King, Roosevelt, Jefferson. Monuments of Washington, then Lincoln show below, followed by
Roosevelt and the Korean War Memorial.
Roosevelt's words (above) read "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the
abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little".
From the monuments, we went on to tour the Capitol building - stately, imposing, beautiful.
Washington's seventeen Smithsonian museums offer free entry at all times. We visited the
newest, the African American Museum - its magnificent grill work shown below. It is a
sobering showcase of the history and lives of black Americans from their arrival from Africa
to today in America.
Steeped in American history, we left Washington to travel to Jefferson's Monticello - the home
he designed for himself and to which he ultimately retired. From his hilltop home, Jefferson viewed
the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the time considered to be the "edge of civilization". The man himself -
what a complex, conflicted and enigmatic character - brilliant, knowledgeable, articulate, caring
("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ) - yet in spite
of promising to free his slaves he never did grant their freedom, neither during his life nor in his will.
Satiated, we head west and home, hoping to cross that border a couple of weeks from now.
Beautiful beaches, glorious gardens, wonderful wildlife, magnificent art and architecture - an
eclectic and engaging mix of miles from Naples on the Gulf Coast of Florida to Savannah on
the Atlantic Coast of Georgia. Naples feels laid-back and relaxed compared to other cities in
Florida - its beach lined with stately homes not locked in gated communities. The perfectly
manicured historic homes and tree-lined streets shaded by majestic Royal Palms are inviting
and welcoming and jaw-droppingly beautiful.
and, the back gate...
Within an hour the landscape changes dramatically to miles and miles of Everglades with
bird and wildlife abundant in the natural habitat -alligators and a few crocodiles, great
blue herons and white egrets. The anhingas, similar in some ways to "our " cormorants,
caught the attention of my lens.
A sign announcing a three foot summit tickled our funny bones.
From the Everglades to the Keys - on the map a tempting string of islands dividing the Gulf of
Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. We found the islands to be overly popular, overly populated,
and overly commercial and didn't make it out to Key West. Even the previously cute pelicans
became a nuisance!
North to Miami where the Art Museums pulled us to the centre of the city. The architect who
designed the Miami Pérez Art Museum (firm: Herzog & de Meuron) will be designing the new
Vancouver Art Gallery. The Pérez is spectacular and extremely difficult to photograph
given its size and location. Shown below - one of the museum statues with Miami skyscrapers
in the background.
The opulent Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, also in Miami and formerly the private residence of James
Deering, is lavishly furnished and beautifully landscaped. Below: the interior foyer and sumptuously
decorated living room, one of many stained glass windows, and a view of the garden fountain.
North of Miami, the Kennedy Space Centre where we were a week late for the SpaceX launch
to the International Space Station. Seeing the enormity of the space shuttle Atlantis was
Off to Jekyll Island just across the border in Georgia, a glorious world away from the boisterous
commotion of urban Florida. The island, once a private estate, became a State Park in 1947
guaranteeing its preservation as a natural wildlife sanctuary with strict limitations on development.
The former historic "cottages" of the likes of Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Pulitzer have been
transformed into idyllic guest accommodations. Miles of bicycle trails beneath moss-draped
oak trees, some hundreds of years old, lead through the historic area to the beaches.
An hour or so north another gem - Savannah, with its graceful mansion-lined squares and
dozens of magnificent old oak trees. Every bit the blueprint of a glorious bygone era, the city
retains its magnetic charm to this day.
Leading up to St. Patrick's Day, Savannah colours its fountains green. To me, more interesting
is the history of the Victorian fountain below - residing in Forsyth Park, its ornamental cast-iron work
dates back to 1858 when it was built - after being ordered from a catalogue!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
St. Petersburg, Florida where the locals boast of 361 days of sunshine a year:
Breaking the weather rules, it is teeming rain, so a good day to update "Musings", beginning by
backtracking to New Orleans.
NOLA - how to characterize this complex city given that we barely skimmed the surface? Leading
up to Mardi Gras there is electricity in the air and colour everywhere. The French Quarter is
simultaneously stately and elegant, boisterous and boozy.
In the elegant residential areas we explored outside the French Quarter, graceful old oak trees overlook
sprawling mansions. The homes may appear small but often stretch backwards and upwards
to reach 2 or 3 or - some many more - thousand square feet.
Pastel colours reign adding a festive atmosphere not limited to Mardi Gras.
"Old" is cherished here and new homes are constructed to conform to the late 1800s look.
Many homes feature elaborate wrought iron clad "galleries" (balconies).
Winter storms unleashed on the mid-to-upper US dampened the Gulf Coast with dense fog
and rain as we drove through Alabama and Mississippi. Arriving at Mexico Beach on the
Florida Panhandle left us in no doubt about the destruction "real" storms can wreak in this
part of the world. Hurricane Michael devastated this pristine white-sugar sand beach
community on October 10th last year.
White sugar beach...
From Texas to Florida the beach colours in favour are pastel - and there is no doubt they
epitomize the vacation vibe.
One of the reasons people flock to Florida (home to 30 million in the winter) is the birdlife.
Pelicans are abundant (collectively they congregate as 'pods') and captivating.
Until next time I'll sign off with a flock of ibis marching past our campsite this morning ...
In case this is getting to be too much of a travelogue lacking enough art, I include this picture taken in Alpine, Texas. I love that ART comes first!
And here is historic Murphy Mercado itself!
South of Alpine there is a languid bend in the Rio Grande River defining the border between the US
and Mexico. Big Bend National Park is a treasure.
Looking west (above) Mexico is on the left, the US on the right. Looking east (below) the US is on the
left of the Rio Grande, Mexico on the right.
San Antonio - the Alamo, Davey Crockett. The location of the photo on the left below is the
back of the Alamo - taken to represent the magnificent trees of Texas. At the latitude of San
Antonio and Houston the land in Texas is flat and generally monotonous - but the urban trees
are striking in their size and beauty. Subsequent shots show the lovely river walk that characterizes
downtown San Antonio.
The hill country towns in Texas are numerous, each boasting distinctive historic flavour -
but cowboy attire is ubiquitous, as is the US Post Office, this one dated 1850.
And wow, the ART in San Antonio and Houston. Wonderful collections in expansive galleries
and museums where space is generously allotted. The staircase below is in the exquisite modern
art McNay Museum, once the home of philanthropist Marion Koogler McNay.
Turning to Houston - the illuminated corridor below connects the two buildings housing the Museum of Fine Arts.
Space seems unlimited and one European master after another is given space to breathe.
Another female philanthropist, Ima Hogg, donated her home to the Museum of Fine Arts - featuring
American furnishings and paintings, and wonderful manicured gardens.
Filled to the brim with beautiful artwork, we left Houston for Galveston Island. The contrast
of art with the monstrous and seemingly endless oil and gas installations is stark - the reality
is that oil and gas revenues funded (and probably continue to fund) the purchase and display
We breathed relief as we arrived at the shore. The pastel beach houses rise on stilts
and it's easy to see why - the elevation of Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico is 17 feet, and this
is hurricane country. Here signs indicating hurricane evacuation routes are as plentiful as tsunami
evacuation route signs are on the west coast.
The historic Victorian homes of once-extremely wealthy Galveston are colourful and often
unpretentious (by today's standards). Cruise ships and oil rigs share the harbour.
We left the island by free! ferry and I attach the image below because we were amazed
to see that the ferry was being loaded and unloaded simultaneously.
Arrived in Morgan City. Louisiana is for the birds!
Oh yes, and then there's other wildlife, but not in the RV park!
New Orleans next!
First have to backtrack - I forgot to mention that we passed a signpost for a town whose name continues to entertain us with our attempts at pronunciation. The town of Soda Springs, east of San Bernardino CA, became Zzyzx in 1944.
On to Arizona and THE Canyon - as Grand as ever, and lovely with a skiff of snow.
From there to Jerome, an old 'hippy' mining town featuring wonderful galleries and historic buildings. Below -
an elaborate entry to what used to be a hotel in Jerome, followed by two pictures of The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.
From Arizona on east and southwards. Two random photos, so New Mexico, taken in Las Cruces.
Four more, taken in the oldest part of Las Cruces where a tremendous amount of reconstruction
is in progress. Guard dogs abound. As the third image indicates, there's a long
way to go to get the homes looking like the well-cared for adobe house in the fourth photo.
Then - dining at its finest! Not brave enough to try the green chile sundae, I regretted it afterwards
- though compensation was hot fudge with the crunchiest, most delicious toasted pecans
ever. Along with chiles, pecans are a gourmet local treat.
From Las Cruces we drove to Carlsbad for the Caverns - awesome in their enormity; mysterious,
mystic, magical in their scale and formation. The photo below shows the "natural" entry to the caverns;
we descended switch-back style down 80 stories to end up 750 feet below the surface. The alternative
was an elevator which we wisely used to ascend! We were fortunate to be almost the only visitors
for the hour it took to descend. We had been warned to whisper (voices echo loudly in the cavern
chambers) and the quiet, soft lighting, and beauty were other-worldly. Very tough to translate to "film"
in the dark - no tripods allowed.
A 1.2 mile circular walkway leads around the perimeter of the "Big Room" taking an hour to traverse.
The Big Room cavern measures 40 acres and the 'ceiling' is 250 feet high in places. More 'rooms'
are continually being discovered; at the moment the caverns stretch for 40 miles.
Up to that point, our tours had been self-guided. In addition we booked a ranger-led tour to the “King's
Palace”, the deepest part of the cave at 850 subterranean feet.
(For the record - we elected not to do the “Hall of the White Giant Tour” - a “strenuous 4 hour guided
tour that leads to a remote chamber. Participants must crawl long distances, squeeze through crevices
such as the tight Matlock’s Pinch and climb a slippery passage”. In addition to hiking boots, kneepads,
gloves and 3 new AA batteries are required for the headlamps provided).
The King's Palace lived up to its royal reputation, and we left feeling enormously fortunate to
have visited the caverns at Carlsbad.
Continuing east, we're in Texas tonight. Stay tuned.
Pender Island to Prescott Arizona - a journey of thrills, some good, some not-so-good. The weather in southern Oregon and northern California presented a harrowing challenge. Driving rain erased the view and
pooled along the roads. Illuminated highway signs ominously read, "Severe storm. Expect flooding" and the
result was a torrential rain, high-wind-warning drive.
No vacancy at the RV park - not normally a January problem, but space is currently
reserved for California refugees from the Paradise and Camp Fires. Fortunately a truck
stop adjacent to the RV park was able to accommodate the overflow. The motorhome
was ‘rockin and rollin’ in the wind all night long. We joined the big leagues - flanked by
a cadre of tractor-trailer rigs that arrived after we went to bed.
The adventures became lighter and sunnier as we drove south, and we relaxed when we were
able to camp and ride our bikes under the orange trees near Bakersfield CA.
Gentle rolling hills east of Bakersfield lead upwards toward an engineering feat - the Tehachapi
Loop, where elevation change necessitated construction of a circular rail track built in 1876.
If the train is long enough, it is possible to simultaneously view engine and caboose, one above
the other as the train gradually descends before entering a tunnel to continue westbound.
Then - Las Vegas! Celine Dion - the theatre, capacity 4300, was full. The audience was young,
loud and REALLY into Celine - and what a show it was - an amazing performance with a
phenomenal cast of back-up musicians and extraordinary stage effects and lighting; a true
Vegas entertainment extravaganza.
Las Vegas glitz: Chihuly glass ceiling at the Bellagio Hotel
and life-size white and dark figures fashioned entirely of chocolate and poised on sugar 'glass'
advertising Cirque de Soleil's "O".
Today a trip to the snow-dusted Grand Canyon in sunshine - just downloading pictures now.
Will post again in a couple of weeks from somewhere east of Arizona - but in no rush to leave
good friends and the beauty of this state.
And, for us, it begins with adventure - just as the old year ended (and I'm not talking about THE storm of December 18th). We are once again venturing out in our motorhome and heading for warmth. Most of you have been on my Musings mailing list for some time. I have taken the liberty of adding a few names - names of people I think might enjoy "coming along for the ride", but please feel free to ask to have your name removed if you are flooded with emails and need no more. I get it. On the other hand, if you are interested and would like to read earlier iterations of Musings, including some of our previous travel adventures, go to my website, click on the Musings tab and scroll down - http://www.dianemacdonaldphotography.com
To get into the habit of posting (I've been remiss for awhile), and to whet the thirst for travel, I will begin with our December adventure at Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. We walked to Botanical Beach at sunset:
We were surprised:
We drove the pot-holed logging road to find Big Lonely Doug, a regal Douglas Fir saved by a
caring logger in 2011:
We are lucky - we don't have to travel anywhere to see the glorious sunrise!
More from the road! Wishing you a happy, hopeful new year.
Excited that, for the eighth consecutive year, my work has been juried into the Sidney Fine Art Show.
The show opens in less than two weeks on Friday, October 12th and runs for only three days through
Sunday, October 14th. For further information about show times and venue (the Mary Winspear
Centre in Sidney), go to http://www.SidneyFineArtShow.ca
As the SFAS website notes, "this is THE show to see." The show "has become one of the largest and most prestigious juried art shows in British Columbia". This 3-day event has grown, now attracting over 3,000 visitors. A diverse selection of painting, sculpture, fibre arts, photography and more is selected from approximately 1,000 entries.
A break from "the road" for a news update. The Red Tree Artists'
Collective is excited to be branching out to show at Goward House in Victoria.
The show opens next Sunday, one week from today, with an afternoon reception
from 1:30 to 3:30. Artists will be in attendance and we would love to welcome
our friends and yours to our first-ever show outside the marine confines of Pender Island.
Refreshments will be served.
I apologize to those who have received this message more than once and hope you
will forgive the overlap in messaging.