Harpers Ferry–Then and Now

One hundred and sixty years ago, John Brown and his abolitionist brigade played a pivotal role in American history by raiding the South’s largest federal armory in Harpers Ferry with the intention of fueling a rebellion of slaves from Virginia and North Carolina, and envisioning a subsequent society where all people–regardless of color–would be free and equal.

confluence

The initial siege caught U.S. soldiers off guard and the armory and munitions plant were captured with little resistance. Brown’s marauders took sixty townsfolk hostage (including the great grandnephew of George Washington), and slashed the telegraph wires in an attempt to isolate the town from outside communication.

barrels

However, a B&O passenger train, originally detained at the bridge, was allowed to continue its journey to Baltimore, where employees sounded the alarm and troops were immediately dispatched to quell the insurrection.

trestle

In another of Brown’s miscalculations, the local militia pinned down Brown’s insurgents inside the engine house while awaiting reinforcements,

militia

yet newly freed slaves never came to his rescue.

St. Peters

Ninety U.S. Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee’s command arrived by train the next evening and successfully stormed the stronghold the following day. When the dust had settled, ten of Brown’s raiders were killed (including two of his sons),

Heyward Shepherd memorial.jpg

five had escaped, and seven were captured, including John Brown.

questioning after capture

John Brown was quickly tried and convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia.

trial

Just before his hanging on December 2, 1859, Brown prophesied the coming of civil war: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

hanging

How right he was! To the North, Brown was a martyr; to the South, he was a traitor. To a fractured and fragile country, he was the first American to be sentenced and executed for treason.

John Brown (2)

John Brown’s raid and subsequent trial hardenened the separatism between the country’s abolitionist and pro-slavery factions,

Appalachian Trail

…and advanced the disparate and insurmountable ideologies of the North and the South, until only the Civil War could satisfy the issue and begin healing the nation.

stone stairs to heaven


The term treason has been loosely bandied about of late and with tremendous fanfare, albeit little distinction. It’s become a familiar talking point for Donald Trump, whose insulting language and hyperbolic demagoguery continue to rouse his supporters as it diminishes the civility of our national conversation.

Bold and courageous public servants and patriots who are honor bound to defend democracy have been branded as traitors and accused of treasonous behavior because they dare to speak out against corruption and wrongdoing inside the White House.

white house

And the implications are worrisome, for the stakes are high. In a country that values free speech, treason is not about displaced loyalties; it has nothing to do with political dissent; and it has no standing in speaking truth to power. Treason is about pledging allegiance to power and greed instead of American values, like diversity and unity.

As before, politics continues to polarize the nation,

church nave (2)

while our Legislative Branch of government seeks a constitutional remedy against the Executive Branch through an impeachment process. And once again, ideological differences have fostered veiled threats of civil war.

If history is to be our guide, then John Brown must be our beacon. During his sentencing he lamented, “…had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends…and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”

gravesite

Sounds remarkably familiar.

More than ever, we must steer through political currents, and find our way around deception, obfuscation and misdirection if our democracy is to stay afloat.

floating

Tent Rocks

Leah and I were yearning for a satisfying hike through the mountains of New Mexico that we’d yet to explore. While we were happy hiking the Tecolote Trail in the Sandia Mountains–which offered pleasant panoramas of the desert floor stretching nine miles to South Mountain, and views of Sandia Crest that had us wishing we could stay longer–

Sandia overlook (3)

…the whipping wind that swept across the overlook killed any notion of lingering along the mesa top to enjoy the spots of fall color that recently dotted the evergreen terrain.

Sandia overlook4 (3)

However, the following day, a stroll through Albuquerque’s Old Town…

San Felipe de Neri

brought us to a photography gallery that showcased Southwestern landscapes and introduced us to Tent Rocks.

Old Town

“That place looks cool. We should go there,” I asserted.

“I agree, but how do you know if we can even get there from here?” Leah questioned.

After consulting Google, I learned that Tent Rocks was a National Monument located within the Pueblo of Cochiti, only an hour north of Albuquerque.

The following day, riding north on NM-14 (part of the scenic and historic Turquise Trail National Scenic Byway), we took a left turn onto NM-301, a rutted, dusty road connecting to NM-22.

We approached the earthen wall of the Cochiti Dam, a controversial water management project approved by Congress in 1960, and finished in 1975 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cochiti Lake.png

Stretching 5 miles across the desert, and rising 250 feet above the Rio Grande, the resultant lake flooded sacred lands and fields belonging to local tribes for centuries.

We continued west on NM-22 for two miles before arriving at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. We pulled up behind seven parked cars–each one waiting to pay five bucks to the BLM park ranger stretching his legs beside the fee station. Our SUV idled a minute or two, but the line was at a standstill.

The sign post beside us forecasted a 30-minute wait-time from our current position.

“I’m gonna take a walk,” and Leah was out of the car, working her way to the front of the line.

The news arrived in under a minute…offering a Trail Guide.

“All 94 parking spaces are taken,” Leah explains with a hint of exasperation. “They probably arrived when the gates opened at 8am.”

“Okay. So that was two hours ago,” I respond, admitting the obvious. “It says here on the map that the trail is 1.5 miles in and out, so hopefully, a lot of people should be on their way out by now.”

“How long do you think we’ll have to wait here?” asks Leah.

“According to the sign, it’s a 30-minute wait,” I assert.

“Smartass!” she hurls.

After 20 minutes of anticipation, I noticed movement in the ranks! Two cars in front gave up the wait and U-turned, leaving us in sixth place. 

Silly people. If only they had waited a few minutes longer. Soon after, a rash of cars passed us on the way out, and we were on our way, cruising through four miles of dip-after-dip, tribal land road, before reaching the parking zone.

While Leah and Carrie (Leah’s daughter) waited in line for the only outhouse in the vicinity, I caught up on my reading at the trailhead.

slot canyon info

History and Geology

Geologic treasure

volcanic activity

As interested as I was to learn about New Mexico’s volcanic eruptions and its pyroclastic flows, I was itching to get on the trail and weave through the slot canyon.

slot canyon

The canyon walls were so narrow in places, that only one person could navigate the labyrinth at a time.

slot canyon trail

It reminded me of the way that road crews monitor traffic on a one way road…

slot and boulder

…and it was vaguely reminiscent of a similar protocol at the fee station and toilet.

canyon walls

Of course, with so many early hikers already on the trail and now turning back, it made for several occasional stops, and many pleasant exchanges along the way.

However, when the canyon finally opened up, we were greeted with a greater appreciation of what seven million years had done to the place.

canyon trail

hoodoo cliff

hoodoo peaks

Leah and Carrie (2)

Even the trees seemed magical, managing to stand in the shadow of such uncertain footing. 

pine shadow

long root (2).jpg

Once we reached a clearing in the trail, we began our 630-foot ascent to the mesa top, giving us a better perspective of our lair,

peak towers

and freeing us from all obstructions,

canyon pan

until we could gaze across the Jemez Mountains,

Jemez Mountains (3)

and remind ourselves, once again, why it’s always a good idea to wait one’s turn in line.

Tent Rocks

A Sleeping Bear Dunes Ditty

Do not descend the dune.

Sleeping Bear Dune

A thousand feet of uphill sand could easily be your ruin.

Sleeping Bear

The Sleeping Bear will soon awake.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

He’ll cause your arms and legs to ache.

climbing the dunes

You’ll wish you never saw the lake,

Glen Lake

for now you sing a sorry tune.

Warning

 

 

 

Apostle Islands

We arrived at Bayfield Harbor for a sunset cruise across Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Bayfield harbor

The skies were flat with soft, diffused light, virtually eliminating all late afternoon shadows.

Island Queen

I had my doubts about a sunset, but at least the water was calm. We boarded the Archipelago, Apostle Island Cruises’ newest vessel–a 65-foot, 150-passenger catamaran,

Archipelago1

and soon got underway on our 2½ hour-cruise.

motoring aboard Archipelago

There are 22 Apostle Islands grouped within the archipelago,

map

and according to Captain Mike, we would be running by half of them on the way to Devils Island, the furthest outpost and the geological jewel of the Apostle Islands archipelago.

Just starting out, we passed Basswood Island, the site of Bass Island Brownstone Company Quarry, operational from 1868 to 1893. The bulk of the cut stone was shipped across the Great Lakes, destined for Chicago residences, but the stone stacked by the shoreline never made it off the island. It’s a reminder of a time when buildings seldom exceeded seven stories. 

Basswood Island brownstone

The quarry company went bankrupt after demand for brownstone was replaced by concrete and steel.

Continuing along, a pair of eagles nesting high in the pines was an unexpected thrill. Last year, 20 eagles were counted within park territory. This year the count has risen to 42.

eagles and nest (4)

Before leaving Basswood Island, Honeymoon Rock figured prominently off the northeast shore.

rockstack

One of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America is found on Stockton Island. Sadly, we found only trees and a rocky shoal.

Stockton Island

When passing Manitou Island, we were lectured by Captain Mike about several of the fishing camps that originated in the late 1800’s.

Cabins and sheds are still standing at the southwest corner of the island.

sand island smokehouse

After cruising through the channel for a half-hour, we arrived at Devils Island, the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin, and notable for the sea caves which undercut the shoreline.

 

Devils Island

We idled twelve feet from the rock formations for a closer look at the honeycombing…

sandstone layers

mask

leg in the water

grotto

While the overcast skies precluded any possibility of brightening the scenery, the balanced light offered views into the caves that otherwise would have been defeated by sunlight and resultant higher contrast.

cave column

caves and lighthouse

caves on the coast

Captain Mike promised one last photo opportunity before returning the Archipelago to Bayfield Harbor. He was referring to Raspberry Island’s lighthouse, once known as the Showplace of the Apostle Islands.

Raspberry Island lighthouse

As we trolled along the stone wall, we were greeted by the lightkeeper.

lightkeeper (2)

The National Park Service completed renovations of the 1906 structure in 2006.

Raspberry Island lighthouse (2)

On the return trip, Captain Mike asked passengers if they knew the origin story of Apostle Islands’ name. A few volunteers tossed out some theories. One guest suggested that there was something religious about the naming. Another guest offered that the area was first mapped by the Jesuits, so that explains why they gave it a holy name.

I thought the insight was interesting but unreliable, since there were 12 Apostles, for 22 islands. Could it be that the Jesuits had been drinking too much Lake Superior moonshine and seeing double?

Nobody knows!

But photographing Devil’s Island sea caves was a fleeting, yet near-religious experience… with ironic overtones.

 

 

Wise Guys

Although it’s been two years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day?


 

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Sunset over Agawa Bay

When the sun’s last rays warm Agawa Bay,

sun over the hill

the bugs attack without delay.

Agawa Bay

They make their way, prepared to stay

breaking at sunset

on a patch of skin, where they can win

lake and sky

to my chagrin, a forearm or a shin.

Stones and surf

Mosquitoes take top billing, and black flies are willing

colored pines

to make a killing from their drilling.

trees and sky

But I remain to snap a frame, and find it’s still fulfilling.

 

Neys Provincial Park

Dear Diary,

Today was unsettling, as nothing went as planned.

A high probability of intermittent rain had been forecasted throughout the day, which gave us very few options. Although we were snug in our pull-through campsite overlooking the northern boundary of Lake Superior from Neys Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, we were looking forward to exploring the stark coastal beauty of an area once known from 1941 to 1946 as Neys Camp 100–an internment facility for German POWs and Japanese Canadians.

detention sign

Prisoners arriving (2)
Kreigsmarine and Luftwaffe prisoners of war arriving at Neys, ca. 1941

Prevailing wind from the west had whipped up whitecaps across the water, and threatening skies promised to restrict our outdoor time, but we were determined to make the most of current conditions: buggy, chilly, yet dry.

Terrace Bay

A short walk to the Visitor’s Centre for sight-seeing suggestions proved useless since the door was locked–maybe from campground inactivity, I surmised. There was, however, an interesting park bench design overlooking the lake by Sean Randell. 

Trout bench Neys PP

With 144 sites covering 4 areas, Leah and I spotted less than a dozen occupied sites. Many of the seasonal campers left their trailer set-ups behind for greater comforts nearby. With electricity only provided at less than half the sites, we had the showers practically to ourselves.

We were determined to get a hike in, so we selected the 1 km Dune Trail loop for its brevity (in case of sudden rain), and our fascination with sand dunes by the lake. We followed each other single file through a skinny path snaking through a plantation of red pines and a forest floor of lichens, mosses, and herbs. But we never found the dunes–only rolling mounds of sand over soil. We began the hike with an interpretive trail guide corresponding to 7 markers, but mosquitoes quickly put an end to that. We found ourselves marching through the forest just to complete the loop. The roundtrip walk to the trailhead proved to be longer than the entire trail.

With a faint drizzle falling, we planned a 35-mile drive to Terrace Bay, following TransCanada Highway 17 west around the top of Lake Superior, but the truck refused to start. Earlier in the week, I was stuck in a parking lot under similar circumstances, but Leah located a Samaritan willing to give me a battery boost. Today, however, was a different mater. After shlepping a spare battery around America for tens of thousands of miles, I finally got a chance to use it.

The battery installation set us back half an hour. And then the sky opened up the moment I dropped the hood and climbed inside the cab. It was an auspicious moment in my life!

We finally arrived at Terrace Bay (pop. 1100) and descended an elaborate boardwalk to a high viewing platform that distanced us from Aquasabon Fall’s 100-ft. drop,

Aquasabon Falls

and the granite gorge that carries the spill water to Lake Superior.

Aquasabon Falls and Gorge

Back at the boardwalk entrance, I stood alongside a millennial male. We were studying an oversized graphic together about the geological properties and commercial significance of the Falls.

Falls and Gorge graphic

My neighbor had a cat perched on his shoulder wearing a harness with a leash. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall, spooking the cat. It leapt to the ground, surprising the host. He had control for a moment, but it squirmed out of his arms, and wriggled free of its harness. He dove for the hind legs, but the cat was too fast. It bolted 50 yards to the trees, and disappeared in the brush with his girlfriend chasing after it and screaming its name. We briefly watched in amusement, wondering if the cat would reconnect with its owners, but we had our doubts.

While in town, we filled the truck with $130 Canadian of gas, and searched for a lunch spot, but ended up at a Chinese Canadian restaurant in a strip mall just to use the internet. I had fried chicken balls (no joke), and Leah ordered dry-rubbed spare ribs. The food was as disappointing as a dead car battery and tasteless as a lost cat in the woods.

spare ribs

A stubby white lighthouse planted in front of the strip mall parking lot offered a view of Lake Superior. To Leah’s amazement, I passed on a picture of the tower and a view from the bridge. 

The ride back to Neys was rainswept and uninteresting except for a cow moose that galloped across TransCanada Highway 17, followed closely by two calves. They hurdled the guard rail and instantly disappeared into the forest. Maybe they’ll discover the cat.

 

Agawa Rock Pictographs

The trail was advertised as 0.5 km.

“It’s probably very steep,” Leah figures.

“How hard can it be?” I wonder, still a skeptic.

“It says so in the brochure,” she states. “I quote, ‘Caution is advised when venturing onto this rock ledge due to its slope and the unpredictable nature of Lake Superior and its wave action.'”

“Sounds like fun. We should see it,” I suggest. “This is ancient historical shit!”

“It sounds a lot like the petroglyphs that we saw in Nevada,” she offers.

“You mean the Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park,” I acknowledge.

“Exactly!” she states.

“But this one’s on the water, and not the desert,” I tease.

“I know that, smart ass, and it’s also harder to get to, so you need to be careful!” Leah lectures.

“Like I said, how hard can it be?” I reiterate.

We park the truck only minutes from our campsite at Agawa Bay, and enter the trailhead where we are met with a screaming red sign:

warning (2)

“Like I said…” drops Leah.

I deflect the dig. “Check it out.” I direct Leah’s attention to a different sign to our right–a red diamond hammered to a tree with a white arrow and 400 km on it.

“That’s where the trail begins. And according to that sign, we’ve already walked 20% of the trail!”

It’s true the trail is rugged and a scramble. The descent runs through a narrow chasm, over sharp boulders and bulging roots. But it’s only treacherous if wearing flip flops, which a student rangerette at the visitor’s center admits can be a problem with some hikers.

Halfway to our destination, a gash in the cliff exposes a 10 ft granite chunk mysteriously wedged between darkness and daylight.

split rock (2)

In 15 minutes we arrive at a clearing of flat rock where the sky opens up to the water. A colorful cliff 15 stories high looms above us, grabbing my attention.

Painted Rock

Leah is content holding onto a pipe rail that separates the adventurous from the cautious.

“Are you coming?” I ask.

“Down there? Not a chance!” Leah answers instinctively.

A short drop onto a wet ledge of granite sloping into Lake Superior takes added time, but planting my feet with measured steps is the best method for staying safe.

on a ledge
courtesy of Leah

Knotted ropes threaded through embedded pipes are there to assist the daredevils who spill into 50° F water.

from Picturegraph ledge

Once I get my footing, I can sidle across the ledge for a better look at the cliff face.

painted rockface

Venturing further out on the ledge, I meet Mishipeshu, the Great Lynx, who was empowered by the ancient Ojibways to control Lake Superior.

Mishibizhiw Great Lynx, who controlled Lake Superior

There are dozens of sacred drawings set in stone, dating back to the 17th century, but most are faded and nearly unrecognizable from eons of sun, water, ice and wind. Their message remains unknown, but experts reason that the pictographs depict historical events, and could signify manitous from shamanistic ceremonies.

I carefully manuever onto terra firma,

Agawa Rock Lake Superior (3)

and we hike back to the parking lot.

“That was amazing, down there,” I exclaim.

“It was alright,” notes Leah.

“But you never got to see the pictographs,” I mention.

“That’s OK. You did all the hard work for me. I’ll just have a look at your photographs,” she laughs.

 

 

 

Great Lakes Hyperbole

Of course, the Great Lakes are great; they constitute the world’s largest above-ground freshwater system in the world, containing about 18 percent of the world’s supply.

However, beyond its scale (larger than all the Eastern seaboard states combined), what about all the other awesome attractions that border its shorelines? Are they equally as great, or big, or best, or exclusive?

Let’s take a look:

Given the many possibilities for food around the Great Lakes, the area’s largest hamburger rests atop Burger King in Niagara Falls, ON.

Burger King

And the largest hotdog can be found in Mackinaw City at Wienerlicious.

Wienerlicious (2)

Both can be purchased with the world’s largest nickel…

biggest nickel

the brainchild of Dr. Ted Szilva,

Dr. Rred Szilva (2)

and on display at Sudbury’s Dynamic Earth.

Dynamic Earth

Only one mile away, Inco’s superstack–the tallest chimney in the western hemisphere–rises 1250 feet atop Vale Inco’s Copper Cliff processing facility–the largest nickel smelting operation in the world.

INCO Superstack

Nowhere as tall, Castle Rock (commonly referred to as Pontiac’s Lookout) is a natural 200-foot limestone sea chimney…

Castle Rock

overlooking Lake Huron and Interstate 75,

I-75

and considered the oldest lookout in St. Ignace, Michigan…until the Mackinac Bridge was built in 1957.

Mackinaw Suspension Bridge

Spanning the Straits of Mackinac, and connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge is hailed as the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.

Building the bridge

Although less of an engineering feat, the upside-down house, built in Niagara Falls, measures up to 1200 square feet of topsy-turvy, making it Canada’s most unusual landmark.

upside down house

Nearby, at Niagara on the Lake, locals can tee up at Niagara Golf Club, the oldest existing golf course (albeit, nine holes) in North America.

Niagara Golf

In Midland, Ontario, a grain elevator looms over a Georgian Bay harbor, featuring North America’s largest historic outdoor mural created by Fred Lenz.

Midland mural

mural history

History also abounds at Colonial Michilimackinac–

Fort Michilimackinac

a reconstructed 18th century frontier fortress originally garrisoned by the French during 1715, and later controlled by the British.

3 British Stooges

After 60 years of excavation, valuable relics from fort living continue to be unearthed, making it the longest ongoing archeological dig in North America.

digger

One of the many buildings discovered and recreated inside the fort belonged to Ezekiel Solomon, a fur trader who has been celebrated as Michigan’s first Jewish settler.

Solomon House

Solomon plaque (2)

And then there’s Niagara Falls, a natural wonder that needs little hyperbole.

While not the highest, or the widest falls, its combined falls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls) qualify Niagara Falls as the most powerful, forming the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America.

Niagara Falls horseshoe

While this “Great” list may not represent the best of all gilded attractions in the Great Lakes area to date, it’s the only list I’m likely to compile

…until the next one.

Rain or Shine…or Snow

It’s been two weeks since crossing over into Canada, and it’s been mostly cloudy and wet so far. I don’t know if this is a cause and effect circumstance, but locals are approaching me with snorkels and flippers.

The weather has put a damper on our outdoor time while extending our Airstream time. The mosquitoes have been hungry and swarming around the clock, turning mosquito swatting into a cabin past-time.

Nevertheless, it hasn’t been completely bleak and dismal. We had agreeable weather during a brief stay at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, where we visited Georgian Bay National Park on an unusually clear day, and took a 15-minute ride on a Daytripper ferry…

daytripper.jpg

to explore the network of trails on Beausoleil Island, guiding us to Honeymoon Bay,

30,000 islands

Fairy Lake,

Fairy Lake

and a keyhole to the many island cottages that dot Chimney Bay.

island cottage

The weather also cooperated during a recent visit to Discovery Harbour, once a British naval and military base in Penetanguishene commissioned to secure back door access to Upper Canada after the War of 1812.

nautical history.jpg

Of the two warships safeguarding the King’s Wharf at the time,

skiff and Tecumeth

the H.M.S Tecumseth has been replicated to stand guard once again,

skiff hull.jpg

Yet the schooner has been deemed unseaworthy by authorities, and is destined to be a floating exhibit, much like the original.

Tecumseth replica

Because the Rush-Bagot agreement between Britain and the United States restricted the number of active warships on the Great Lakes, the H.M.S. Tecomseth was decommissioned in 1817, and kept in a state of readiness until it eventually rotted and was reportedly scuttled in 1828.

However, its 1815 hull was raised from Penetanguishene Bay in 1953, and placed in a climate-controlled museum inaugurated in 2014.

1815 hull.jpg

As day turned to twilight, the clouds began to thicken,

tree silhouette.jpg

providing a curtain call that few campers had seen in weeks.

Sunset over Lake Mindemoya

Moving our location to Manitoulin Island did little to change a now-familiar weather pattern. We pondered whether sandbagging the Airstream might become necessary, but that thought slipped our minds soon after being preoccupied with scratching our mosquito bites.

Working around the rain was challenging. Under cloudy skies, we hiked the trail leading to Bridal Veil Falls’ 35-foot drop near the town of Kagawong.

Bridal Veil Falls.jpg

And despite the threat of rain, we continued on, climbing the cliffs of M’Chigeeng on the Cup and Saucer Trail,

The Cup and Saucer Trail.jpg

for splendid views of the North Channel.

Cliffside overlook.jpg

But our luck ran out as we drove to Ten Mile Point for a stormy lookout of Georgian Bay…

10 Mile Point

and found similar blustery conditions at Providence Bay, on the edge of Lake Huron,

Lake Huron surf

before returning to the sanctuary of our Airstream.

The following day, our four-hour travel time to Sault Ste. Marie was compromised by a tire mishap (see Blowout!). And then it rained…a lot!

By now, mosquito bashing had turned into a bloodsport. There were a few brief intermissions that allowed us to explore Sault Ste Marie’s famed boardwalk, which carried us past a whimsical sculpture in Roberta Bondar Park,

Three Bears

on our way along St. Mary’s River…

Soo Locks Boat Tours

to Sault Ste. Marie Canal–transitioning between Lake Huron…

Sault Ste. Marie Canal (2)

and Lake Superior…

Lake locks

before continuing across to Whitefish Island, where the convergence of Lake Huron and Lake Superior forms St. Mary’s rapids.

St. Mary's Rapids

And then a ride through downtown Queen St. produced a completely different climate,

Queen St.

where traces of snow formed around a movie set,

Christman in June

looking much like fire foam…

Fire foam (2)

to create a wintery look…

Fire Foam

for a Hallmark Christmas production adapted from Kevin Major’s The House of Wooden Santas.

Lamp pole and steeple

The weather always sets the tone for the trip. At the moment, rain amounts are up 30% over past years, and lake levels continue to rise above one meter.

This is a time for the birds…

bird on bird

the mosquitoes, and black flies.

And while there’s little we can do to control or avoid the weather, at least we are now prepared.

netting

Falling for Waterfalls

Leah and I are back on the road again, touring in our Airstream and excited to explore and record our impressions.

Before mothballing the trailer in North Carolina for the past 11 months, we had traveled 44,000 miles, crossing 33 states, 4 Canadian Provinces, and 2 Mexican States in one-year’s time (see Epilogue).

Unfortunately, there were glaring omissions in our route that never took us through the Rust-Belt, so for our second act, we are circumnavigating the Great Lakes–visiting 8 States and 1 Province.

Our summer journey begins with a visit to historic Jim Thorpe, PA in the Pocono Mountains–
St. Mark's Episcapol Church
a famed destination for winter sports and whitewater rafting.

steeple

With water levels high, and water running fast, it was shoring up to be a high-water adventure.

Lehigh River1

Class II and III rapids would be the perfect way to jump-start this trip.
Danger sign
However, I scratched the raft ride after learning that only family floats were running the Lehigh River,
Lehigh River.jpg
with the earliest dam release scheduled for the following weekend.

Lehigh River whitewater.jpg

Nevertheless, Leah and I were content to take a leisurely, 26-mile cycling tour down the Lehigh Gorge Trail, where we followed an abandoned railroad grade-turned-trail, offering river view…

river view

copulating snakes…

copulating snakes

canal lock relics…

Lock wall

and several hillside trickles…

rushing water

culminating in captivating waterfalls by the Rockport Access, with fast water cascading 50 feet over flat rock and flora at Buttermilk Falls;

Buttermilk Falls

and Luke’s Falls, featuring 50-foot water flowing over mossy ledges;

Lehigh Gorge falls

and occasional Lehigh spillovers on the side of the trail.

Lehigh Falls

While in the White Haven neighborhood, we ventured to the Park Office at Lehigh Gorge State Park for information on hiking the fabled Glen Onoko Falls Trail, but were informed that effective May 1, the Game Commission had closed the trail indefinitely until all safety issues have been addressed.

Glen Onoko Falls warning

Apparently, the risky behavior of many irresponsible and inexperienced hikers ended with far too many serious consequences, necessitating aggressive action. It was disappointing being unable to experience the Niagara of Pennsylvania, on a hike dubbed by Outdoor Magazine as “one of the 10 best waterfall hikes in the Northeast.”

Instead, the rangers diverted us to Hickory Run State Park, where we walked upstream along the Shades of Death Trail…

above Stametz Dam

to Stametz Dam, culminating in a 25-foot splash.

Stametz Dam Falls

While not a disappointing hike, it was anti-climatic and not what we came for, requiring some forward thinking.

When we eventually crossed into Canada at Niagara Falls, we were ready for sweeping views of gushing water…and we were not disappointed!

Top of the Falls

As a basis of comparison, we observed the falls from multiple vantage points…

Hornblower to the Horseshoe

multiple perspectives…

into the falls

changing light…

Niagara Falls

varying focal lengths…

Niagara Falls--US & CA

and different dayparts.

Niagara Falls pm

And we both came to the same conclusion: that Victoria Falls was more spectacular than all other waterfalls combined.

horseshoe (4)

Now I fear that seeing the Holy Grail of waterfalls has tainted my impression of all other falls to come, and that’s okay for now.

Main Falls

Eventually, I will come around, and perhaps by that time the Glen Onoko Falls Trail will welcome us back in earnest.

Elephants of the Okavango Delta

The Republic of Botswana alarmed conservation watchdogs and environmentalists around the world when the government announced the end of a five-year prohibition on elephant trophy hunting.
grazing
The ban was implemented in 2014 under then-President Ian Khama, an ardent conservationist, whose goal was to preserve the elephant population to increase Botswana’s eco-tourism industry, while conserving the species.
KT shows us elephants
The Great Elephant Census of 2016 concluded that Africa now has 352,271 savanna elephants –130,000 of which roam freely through Botswana. Of the 12 African nations surveyed, the elephant population dropped by at least 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, with approximately 8% of the herds now being lost every year to poaching. That’s equivalent to 27,000 elephants being slaughtered for ivory and other body parts.
tusks
Khama implemented a ban on elephant hunting, and enacted an unwritten shoot-to-kill, anti-poaching policy, giving rangers and soldiers the right to shoot first, and ask questions later. As a result, during his term as president from 2008 to 2018, the elephant population stabilized.
matriarch and offspring
But elephants are nomadic, and know no borders. They routinely migrate between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, making it difficult to consider them residents from one specific country.
elephant by balloon
The 2-year drought has expanded the elephants range considerably, driving them further south in search of fresh grass and water, while also bringing them closer to humans already occupying the territory.
hitch hiker
Consequently, human-elephant encounters have increased significantly, causing villagers to complain about elephants marauding through their fields, and destroying a season’s worth of crops in one night.
high grass
Lawmakers and The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism acknowledged that local community reaction to wildlife conservation was shifting away from the ban, with farmer’s acting more concerned about their loss of income.
elephants and croc
Current president, Mokgweetsi Masisi immediately repealed the shoot-to-kill policy, and disarmed the rangers of their military-grade weapons. He tasked a coalition of national and local stakeholders to review the ban, and the committee returned in February with a recommendation to lift the ban.
mud bath
Outrage against Botswana’s decision has been swift and universal. Conservationists have expressed regret, concerned that targeting elephants will open the door for increased trading of illegal ivory.
2 month old elephant
Additionally, experts say the move would be counterproductive, as hunting elephants will make them fearful of humans and provoke them, increasing the conflict with local communities.
sunset (3)
Ex-president Khama says that lifting the ban is both unwise and ineffectual. “Resorting to killing is a blood policy that should not be supported. This will not have an impact on human animal incidents. It is a political move.”
As legal controversy rages between humane versus economic interests, African elephants will continue to fight for their own survival, provided they still have a leg to stand on.
6 legs

Watch a primer on the elephant problem for added information…

The Cape Peninsula Tour

It was a beautiful day for a drive. We boarded a van for a tour around the Cape Peninsula of South Africa, and Michael, our driver was eager to show us the sights.

Thompsons van

Our first stop was Maiden’s Cove. The sun had just broken through a veil of ground fog and scattered clouds looming over the 12 Apostles…

12 Apostles

causing the breakers to sparkle from a beam of direct light.

Camps Bay Beach

Idle tide pools glimmered against a foaming sea in the company of sleeping rocks.

Maiden's Cove tide pool

Later, at Hout Bay, a seal was starved for attention…

Hout Bay Harbor

but easily satisfied by tuna bites…

Leah feeding Tiny

and a few strokes from Leah.

twins

We continued along Chapman’s Peak Drive, following the contour of Noordhoek Beach,

Noordhoek Beach

until we reached a pee-pee stop that also doubled as a sculpture park filled with wild animals…

sculptures for sale

and African villagers expertly carved from stone, and available for shipping anywhere in the world.

sculpture for sale

We resumed our tour at the gates of Table Mountain National Park in search of special geography.

Entrance

But not before stopping to study an ostrich by the sea, because an animal sighting always takes precedence over a landmark.

Ostrich (1)

Once we arrived, we patiently waited our turn in the drizzle so Michael could record our proud penultimate achievement.

Cape of Good Hope

Because 200 km across False Bay…

False Bay

lies L’Agulhas, the most southern point of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean… 

But we settled on Cape Point because we were already there…

Cape Point and Leah

and hiked to a decommissioned lighthouse…

Old lighthouse

and remote guesthouse that offers views…

Hut on the Point

Lighthouse

…in all directions,

signpost

and a special place where heaven touches earth.

Cape Point shoreline

The tour concluded at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town,

watching the penguins

where we enjoyed a late lunch of seafood, before returning to follow the antics of eager African penguins preparing for an afternoon swim.

Pengions of Simon's Town

 

Victoria Falls by Land and Water

“Prepare to get soaked,” warned Reason, our guide and driver for the day. In anticipation of the “rain”, Reason handed out rain parkas to each of us.

Leah rocked hers!

raincoat model

“These will come in handy. You’ll see. The rain will come from all directions,” he said.

We were in for a soaker. According to a park poster, May is considered one of the heaviest high water months.

seasons of flow

All the rushing water will be amazing to see, if we can actually see it at all through the spray and mist, which can rise over 400 meters…

Bridge and spray.jpg

and be seen from a distance of 50 kilometers. Reason explained that the best viewing along the eastern rim was from numbers 1 through 8 on the path.

Reason (1)

“From 8 to 15, you will get drenched. But if the water gets too much for you, there is a detour between 8 and 9, where you can walk inland and dry off.

“What about Niagra Falls? Isn’t that the largest?” asked one of the Canadians traveling with us.

“Sorry. Not even close. Victoria Falls is double the size of Niagra Falls. While it’s not the highest falls–that stat belongs to Angel Falls in Venezuela, dropping 985 meters; and it’s not the widest falls–that record belongs to Iguazu Falls, measuring 2700 meters across, and defining the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Parguay,” Reason clarified, “it’s the volume of falling water, and a combination of everything else that makes it number one…but you will see for yourself. The path is one mile from end to end, and you guys have two hours to experience it, so let’s get wet!”

Map of the Rainforest

Those panchos looked fine for keeping clothes dry, but my biggest concern was keeping my photo gear dry, so I opted out, and wore my own rain jacket, which was roomy enough to protect my camera from moisture…or so I thought.

From Points 1 through 5 on the walk, the wetness factor–on a scale from 1 to 10–was manageable at 3 for damp. Having a chamois helped to eliminate the mist from the lens hood and camera body between shots, so my shots were still sharp.

Livingston

plaque (2)

Zambezi River

misting rainbows

But things got dicey after Point 5. By now, water was dripping from the lens filter, and focusing became nearly impossible with water constantly blowing across my frame. That’s when I switched gears and opted for a more visceral interpretation of the falls, leaning towards a painterly impression.

Chainwalk

Devil's Cataract

Rainbow Falls

Devil's Cataract drop

The falls was a dynamic spectacle, that soon became a photographic nightmare. Weather conditions had pinned the needle on the wetness scale, guaranteeing that nothing about me was dry any longer: the plastic shopping bag protecting my camera had filled with water; the monsoon had penetrated my waterproof rain jacket, soaking my clothes from within; and my chamois was useless.

That’s when I turned to my Samsung Galaxy S8, almost too slippery to hold, and captured a few panoramas…

Devil's Cataract and Cataract Island

Sun over Main Falls

Dangerpoint

The rain had abated by the time I reached the Victoria Falls Bridge at the end of the trail.

Rhodes 1903 bridge

The bridge spans the Second Gorge and connects Zimbabwe to Zambia.

Built in 1903, it was originally conceived as a railway bridge by Cecil Rhodes, an English industrialist, who left his name and colonized imprint on a country (Rhodesia, until 1979) rich in natural resources, and easily exploited for the benefit of the British Commonwealth.

The afternoon was reserved for a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi.

Sunset cruise boat

Cruising gently down the river, we drank, we ate, we partied. The captain rounded a bend in the river…

Zambezi River

and behold, the omnipresent falls spray was there to greet us.

Falls mist

Mist over Zambezi

With the day losing light, the night lillies have unfolded…

night lillies

and the hippos have gathered…

3 hippos skimming the surface

napping in the water

with all the celebrants aboard our neighboring vessels…

African Queen positioning for sunset

to toast the sunset one last time.

sunset over Zambezi River

Victoria Falls by Air

Our African safari vacation to South Africa and Botswana came with an elective, 2-day excursion to Victoria Falls. Traveling half-way around the planet and being this close to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it seemed foolish to pass on the offer–the same thinking held by the other 10 in our party.

After a brief bus ride from Kasane (our last stop in Botswana)…

Botswana Customs House.jpg

to the border of Zimbabwe (where we acquired our $50 visa stamp),

entering Zimbabwe

we continued the 1-hr drive to Victoria Falls, where we checked into The Kingdom Hotel.

Kingdom pond

Kingdom pond 2

The rest of the day belonged to us–to shop, to rest, to sightsee.

Some of us considered a helicoptor ride over Victoria Falls, but also had to reconcile whether a 22-minute flyover was worth the $250 expense.

Victoria Falls Flights.jpg

“It’s a lot of money,” Leah addressed.

“It is, but I’m all for it. When else will we ever get the chance to do this in our lifetime…unless we’re coming back here, because I would come back here in a heartbeat,” I asserted.

“We’re in,” stated Linda and Heather from Colorado.

“I guess I’ll do it too,” commited Nathan.

Five of us took the heli-tour, while others walked to Zambia to view the falls from the other side. Although $250 for the loop seemed overpriced, I was eager to see the falls by air, regardless of the price. Afterall, when would I ever see it again?

After our briefing at the Boisair Heliport, we boarded our helicopter, and we were aloft,

Bonisair Helicoptor.jpg

doing a couple of figure eights over the falls,

mist and gorge

chasm of mist

falls drop

mist and rainbow

raging falls

Zambezi River to falls with bridge.jpg

a circle around the Bakota Gorge,

Bakoda Gorge

Zambezi River to falls with bridge

and a turn up the Zambezi River…

Zambezi River.jpg

Zambezi Islands

before returning to the helipad.

“How was it, Leah? Do you regret spending the money now?” I asked.

Leah (2).jpg

“Worth every penny!” she exclaimed.

The vastness and grandeur of the falls is best appreciated by clicking on the video!

To be continued with “Victoria Falls by Land and Water

Beasts of Botswana–Family Style

In the Animal Kingdom, animal magnetism has evolved over time–shifting between monogamy and polygamy, to cheating and outright promiscuity–something humans have been wrestling with since walking erect.

Every animal species is wired to adapt, survive, and pass along the blood line, no matter what, and the behavior dynamics are fascinating to observe.

For instance, the primary male lion roams with a harem of ladies in his pride, but will momentarily pledge himself to the lioness who bears his cubs.

nuzzling lions

However, a rival male to the pride will kill his predecessor’s offspring to force the pride’s females into ovulation.

2 female lions

Male and female Grevy’s zebras live apart until food and water are plentiful. Female Grevy’s zebras are polyandrous and will breed with many different males in succession.

Zebra family

Male Grevy’s zebras establish territories that lie along paths to water, often intercepting an ovulating female while passing through. And then it’s on to the next.

Zebras B&W

African wild dogs live as a monogamous breeding pair supported by a small pack.

2 dogs prowling (3)

The litter of pups is first cared for by the alpha female and guarded by the alpha male…

Nursing 3

who doles out hunting and caretaking responsibilities to subserviant wild dogs within the pack.

wild dog pups

A dominant impala ram will manage a harem of 10 ewes and their lambs, keeping them in line with his constant braying, biting and boasting. Young bucks continually challenge the ram in charge, insuring ewes will always deliver the strongest gene pool…

alpha male impala

thus providing a defense perimeter of plebes to discover danger from every direction.

herd of impalas

Baboons run in troops ruled by social dominance. When it comes to mating, any male of the troop will accept any female’s offer should she present her swollen rump to his face; however, the social rankings between males will often lead to aggressive fighting.

mother and child baboons

Females are the primary caretakers of the young, although males on occasion will babysit to win a female’s affection. 

baboon discipline (2)

Hippo bulls are polygamous by nature and insecure creatures by design. When the cows of the pod are fertile, the bull whips up a piss and dung cocktail that he atomizes with his propeller-like tail to capture their attention.

Great heron with catch and hippos

He will repeat this process until all the cows have been serviced. Should any of the offspring be male, the cow will protect it by hiding it near the fringe of the herd, lest it be killed by the bull.

hippo clash

Consequently, the bull fears his mature son will someday challenge him for control of the pod, and mate with his mother, creating a Freudian nightmare of hippo proportions.

grazing hippo

Rival bulls that follow a female tower of giraffes will often “neck” together (spar with their necks) for the attention of a fertile cow.

tall family

The victor will smell her urine to determine her readiness, and court her by resting his chin on her back.

sniffing urine

The females and their calves remain loyal to the tower, while the males move on, in search of long legs and firm hind quarters.

tower of giraffes1519442324641718967..jpg

Ostriches have seemingly taken their cue from the Mormons, where the dominant and polygamous cock will mate with many hens, while the hens remain monogamous.

Ostrich pair

The flock of hens have their own pecking order. As one female emerges as the dominant majority hen, she uses the minority females’ eggs to ring around her eggs as an extra layer of protection.

3 males_1 female

Dominant kudu rams will keep company with three to five kudu ewes within a herd of females and their calves.

2 kudus

Usually the ram comes a-knocking when it’s time to mate. Otherwise, the ram is a solitary creature that enjoys alone time.

kudu (2)

Male warthogs are not very selective. They will mate with any of their female counterparts wherever and whenever they may be found.

warthog in the grass

Maybe that’s why they are considered pigs.

Pumba

Several cow crocs may reside within the dominant bull croc’s territory, and each one is fair game for mating. The bull courts his cow in an elaborate and sensual dance that is certain to win her scales and tail.

big daddy croc_cu

It so happens that bull crocodiles are always ready! They keep their ever-erect penis tucked inside their body waiting for the right moment when both bodies are properly aligned under water.

croc at sundown

Dominant cape buffalo are distinguished by the thickness of their horns. They set the rules of their herd–

buffalo_cu

deciding whether to tolerate an overt act of copulation by a defiant subordinate bull, or keeping the cows in heat to himself by staving off all rival advances.

Cape buffalo herd

According to Kimberly Yavorski in “How do Elephants Mate?”:

“Elephants are social creatures and live in complex hierarchical communities. Each herd has one female that is the matriarch. She dictates where the herd goes and helps to teach the younger elephants proper behavior. Female elephants, or cows, live in multigenerational family groups with other females. Males stay with the family until they reach 12 to 15 years of age, when they leave the herd and live alone or join up with other bulls. Male and female elephants live separately with bulls only visiting when some of the females are in their mating season, known as estrus.”

elephant family walking by the river

“Elephants mature later than many other animals. Females reach sexual maturity at 10 to 12 years of age, males at around 25. A male doesn’t generally start breeding until age 30, when it has reached a sufficient weight and size to compete with other breeding males. At that point, it will start to seek out females in estrus.”

elephants' mudbath

“Bulls enter a state called musth once a year, and older bulls tend to stay in musth longer than younger bulls, up to six months. During this period, they have increased levels of testosterone. They secrete a fluid from their temporal gland between the eye and ear and will actively seek a mate. Dominant males, which are older, tend to come into musth when a large number of females are in estrus, and the males exhibit physical behaviors, such as flapping their ears and rubbing their head on trees and bushes to disperse the musth scent. They also have a particular rumble, a low frequency vocal call, used to attract females who are also ready to mate. Females sometimes respond with their own call, indicating interest. While a cow can mate with any male, those in musth may be more attractive to females in estrus.”

family of elephants drinking

“When a male approaches, a female in estrus may at first show wariness, but if she is interested, she will then leave the family group, walking with her head up and turned sideways to watch the male as he follows behind. The male may chase the female if she retreats and will chase off any other males. Elephants may stroke each other with their trunks before the male mounts the female from behind, standing almost vertically as they mate. Elephant sex lasts for up to two minutes and afterward, he will stay near the female and guard her from other males. Females may mate with more than one bull in each estrus cycle, which lasts up to 18 weeks. While elephants do not mate for life, a female may repeatedly choose to mate with the same bull, and bulls are sometimes seen being protective of females.”

mom and baby elephant

“At 22 months, elephants have the distinction of having the longest gestation period of all animals and give birth to live young. Pregnancy almost always results in a single birth; twins are rare. When it is time to give birth, female elephants move away from the herd and then return to introduce the new member, who is inspected by each other member of the family. At birth, babies weigh 90 to 120 kg (198 to 265 pounds) and are typically around 3 feet tall. Baby elephants tend to be hairy, with a long tail and a short trunk that grows as its diet changes. Offspring are weaned at two years, though some may continue to nurse up to age six and a half. Because of this long gestation and nursing period, estrus cycles are between four and six years apart. On average, a female elephant will give birth to seven offspring in her lifetime.”

2 month old elephant