Letchworth State Park

Without question, the feature attraction of Letchworth State Park…

LSP signage

has to be the trinity of waterfalls in the southern corridor of America’s favorite State Park (USA TODAY, 2015 Reader’s Choice), that stretches from the newly-replaced railroad trestle crossing the Portageville Entrance…

Upper falls and bridge

RR smile

RR span girders

to the Mt. Morris Dam, 17 miles to the north.

Morris Dam

And it’s the mighty Genesee River that flows between both boundaries–

Hogsback Overlook pano

continuing to carve out a bedrock gorge of mostly shale,

Genesee S curve

with exposed cliffs that rise 600 feet into the air,

Hogsback Overlook

earning Letchworth the distinction of being known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” 

keyhole

But it’s the waterfalls that most visitors come to see…

curtain falls (3)

Well almost, because there are as many as 50 smaller waterfalls throughout the park that flow into the Genesee. But none are as impressive as Middle Falls, which cascades over a 107 ft drop.

middle falls day

As the name suggests, Middle Falls falls directly in the middle,

middle and upper falls

between Upper Falls…

pool of rocks

and Lower Falls.

20200807_144857 (2)

While the names of the waterfalls seem conventional, it was an unconventional man, William Pryer Letchworth, who had the foresight to buy the property surrounding Upper and Middle Falls to thwart the installation of a hydro-electric turbine, and save the falls from ruin.

trail

Letchworth also transformed an existing building atop the cliff overlooking Middle Falls into his estate, and named it Glen Iris.

Glen Iris B&B (2)

Today, it operates as a shabby-chic Bed and Breakfast, offering meals in the garden on the lawn, on the porch under the veranda, or in any one of several indoor dining rooms.

Leah and I sat outside, dining on spicy pizza and Parmesan-garlic chicken wings. We kept our eye on the New York sky, and we were eager for dusk to arrive.

At the appointed time–when daylight surrenders–the floodlights flashed on and burned onto the water spill.

Bar tab and entrees came to $60 bucks, but the view of the falls from the top of the cliff was priceless.

middle falls lit

Narvik

On our way to Bergen, Norway, the Viking Star docked at Narvik–a mountainside town reknown for its urban off-piste skiing,

Narvikfjellet_Skimap_2020 (2)

and notable for its ice-free harbor,

Viking Star at port

which was of strategic importance during World War II…

mother and child (2)

for transporting iron ore that’s been mined from the world’s largest underground reserve in Kiruna, Sweden since 1898.

distance and direction

Leah and I had hoped to ride the cable car to the mountain restaurant to enjoy the view, but on this particular day, the mountain was closed because of nasty weather.

Snorres Gate

Instead, we braved the treacherous icy streets…

hilltop advantage (2)

and climbed the hills for views of distant shores,

distant mountains

clusters of urban housing,

residential cluster

public art, 

wall mosaic

and commemorative sculpture, such as the National Monument of Freedom.

commemorative spire

Expanding our horizons, we boarded a bus bound for Polar Park,

road sign (2)

the world’s northernmost animal sanctuary,

signage (2)

and home to Norway’s large predators such as bears,

up from hibernation (2)

wolves,

wolf eyes (3)

and lynx.

chain lynx (2)

Although the animal habitats are vast,

You Are Here

and the wildlife seem well-cared for, it’s impossible to look past the fencing and not think of Polar Park as a winter zoo.

The wolves have been humanized since their arrival in 2006,

wolves on a hill

and available for kisses and snuggles, albeit for an extra fee.

wolf kiss

All things considered, I’d rather take my chances petting the barking dog that guards the reindeer down the road.

dog and deer (5)

Next stop…Bergen!

Ode to an Odyssey at Sea

The peaks were fearless

darkness falls

The winds were steady

lighthouse and building

The world was rushing by.

red boat and seascape

The clouds churned

redtop

About the mountain islands

mountain islands

Never budging

rugged cliff (2)

Anchored to an endless depth.

glass inlet

But when darkness settles

obscured by clouds

The sky salutes the sea

cloud cover lifting

Always reaching

green ice (2)

Never touching

snakehead

Until the two enlist the stars.

green curtain

Alta Mushing

Tucked into the Alta valley, lies a kennel of 98 Alaskan huskies that are so eager to pull a sled, that a team of six can pull their anchor out of the ground.

So much so that it took a Holmen Husky trainer to restrain them.

wanting to run

It was that kind of energy that had Leah and me so hyped to run the dogs on the trail, but only after properly outfitting ourselves…

boots

Leah posing

and learning the intricacies of mushing, as explained by Vicki from UK.

sled lesson

Most importantly, after witnessing the huskies’ enthusiasm, we focused on how to brake and when to brake!

how to use the brake (2)

After a visual review of the basic rules…

Basic Rules

we were appointed to our teams.

dog team and sled (3)

For the next 90 minutes, we rode through birch forests as the snow gently fell.

on the trail

Keeping our distance between sleds was our biggest challenge, as the dogs were more than up to the task of hauling a 25 kg /55 lb sled…

dog sled shed

with two passengers.

mush (2)

When occasional braking was necessary to prevent our sled from overtaking the sled ahead, the lead dog always turned to us, as if to say, “Why are you slowing me down?”

Why did we stop

And when Duke, one our wheel dogs sensed that his partner Nola wasn’t carrying her weight, he let her know about it.

pull your weight

Bred for speed and endurance, Holmen’s sled dogs can manage 10 to 14 miles per hour, and may travel over 90 miles in a 24-hour period, pulling up to 85 pounds apiece!

sled leads

The Holmen dogs are happiest when they are working, and even more so when they are racing.

diplomas

When our run was over, it was time to time to relax…

time for a rest

to pose…

leaders

and to cuddle.

time for love (2)

A fire, a biscuit, and some blueberry tea was the perfect nosh after our wintry mush.

fire aftermath

But doggone it, there would be no Northern Lights tonight!

Cathedral of the Northern Lights

Our quest to chase Aurora Borealis continued aboard the Viking Star, cruising northbound through Finnmark, the heart of Norwegian Lapland,

passages (3)

and on to Alta, our northern-most destination inside the Arctic Circle.

Viking docked (2)

Leah and I were praying for clear skies plus a surge in solar activity–given Alta’s reputation as the Town of the Northern Lights and home to the world’s first Northern Lights Observatory (1899) for conducting scientific research.

Alta harbor

To that end, we mounted a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Northern Lights to increase our chances of an anticipated sighting. However, on this temperate night, an unexpected veil of dew painted the town, offering up a cathedral bathed in shimmery titanium,

nighttime (3)

lunging 47 meters (154 ft) toward an elusive phenomenon.

belfry

To the townsfolk, this sanctuary is as much a tourist attraction as it is a church.

It represents “a landmark, which through its architecture symbolizes the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights,” according to John F. Lassen, partner of Schmidt Hammer Lassen–a Danish design firm that collaborated with Scandinavian firm Link Arkitektur to win the city council’s design competition in 2001.

And there is much to appreciate about the design–outside and in. The exterior’s circular body mimics a magic curtain of light once illustrated by Louis Bevalet in 1838.

lithograph

And the interior lighting resembles the long shafts of light associated with the Aurora.

Light shafts and altar

Religious overtones are emphasized through the metal mosaics representing Twelve Disciples…

12 Apostles

and the 4.3 meter (14 ft) modernist bronze of Christ searching the blue-glazed heavens, imagined by Danish artist Peter Brandes. While some worshippers may claim that a hidden face lives in the outstretched neck of the subject,

Jesus (2)

the illusion is subject to personal interpretation.

Jesus with 2 looks

Consecrated in 2013, the Cathedral of Northern Lights functions as Alta’s parish church of the Church of Norway, yet remains an open forum for assembly and performance.

One-year after the first benediction, the concrete walls had settled and the pipe organ was installed. The dynamic acoustics attracted notable talent and filled all 350 seats.

organ

Leah and I attended an organ recital by Irina Girunyan,

master organist.

Irina Girunyan

While following a complex score for hands and feet,

sheet music

Irina skipped and fluttered her way through an evocative program of classical and contemporary music.

organ performance with sheet music

The ethereal sound from 1800 pipes and 26 stops was heavenly,

med shot playing

and left me yearning for another reminder.

Northern Lights behind the Cathedral
The titanium-clad Cathedral of the Northern Lights (Photo: Adam Mørk/schmidt hammer lassen)

 

 

 

 

Ski-doo across the Arctic Circle

Whenever I’m traveling with Leah, the driving usually falls to me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. In fact, I enjoy driving as much as Leah prefers being the passenger. I figure our roleplay has lasted us through nearly sixteen years of togetherness and over 200,000 miles of highways and byways.

Over the years, we’ve worked out a reliable system where she tells me what to do and I’m inclined to ignore her.

Well, not exactly…

But ours is a predictable pas de deux that’s always destined for Bickerville.

For instance, if we’re traveling on the Interstate, Leah’s likely to order: “Slow down! You’re driving too fast.”

Typically, I’ll answer, “Okay,” and resume my present speed. I know it irritates her when I don’t accept her advice because she tells me so. Yet after a time, all is forgiven–but never forgotten. She never hesitates bringing it up again and again at my earliest convenience.

Similarly, if we’re driving in traffic, I’m likely to hear, “Why do you have to be on his tail all the time?” Her remark always seems to shift into hyperbole.

But I don’t blow a gasket. I simply suggest that if I was that close to him, I’d be able to read his license plate.

Then before too long, I’ll receive another Leah alert: “Slow down! You’re driving too fast.”

Occasionally, I’ll remind her, “You’re welcome to drive yourself, if you don’t like the job I’m doing.”

More often than not, she’ll respond with, “That’s okay. I’m good.”

But patterns are made to be broken. The chance of snowmobiling across the Arctic Circle brought a different scenario I didn’t see coming.

We arrived from Tromsø to Camp Tomak by the busload…

camp signage (2)

to participate in sledding for the day–either by dog…

dog sledding (2)

or by engine.

wave at the back

After gearing up for Arctic climate…

prep after

we were ready for our safety and operations briefing.

lesson (2)

That’s when Leah determined that she had no interest in driving, and even less interest in riding behind me.

“There’s no way I’m I getting on this machine with you,” she insisted.

“Why not?” I asked. “It’ll be fun!”

“Because I have no interest in getting hurt or dying,” she expressed.

“Neither do I!” I objected.

“And what if you should roll over?” she predicted. “I think I’d rather ride with Jan.”

Jan, our guide interceded and accepted to buddy-up with Leah. At first, I was insulted that she didn’t trust me–that she imagined I would risk our lives and limbs–until I realized what a huge favor she had done for me.

Without Leah behind me, I was free from scorn and criticism.

break time

The snowscape was endless.

running in a line

The cliff face was frozen.

icy ledge

The Nordic sky was vast.

driven snow

And the scenery was breathtaking.

mountains peak passes

The guests had good reason to be giddy.

zany behavior

When the sun set behind the mountain,

mountain sunset

we retired to the Sami tent for warmth, reindeer stew and tea.

keeping warm

Naturally, I thanked Jan for his hospitality and counsel.

“That was absolutely liberating,” I gushed. “I owe you big time for taking Leah along. Maybe you’d like to take her home with you,” I jested.

We shared a laugh together, but Leah wasn’t having any of it.

“Keep it up and you’ll be sleeping with Olaf,” she warned.

iceman

And that’s when I hit the brakes.

Chasing the Northern Lights

Our raison d’être for making this pilgrimage to Norway’s wintry Arctic Circle and beyond was to catch a glimpse of the elusive Aurora Borealis. Leah’s extensive web browsing helped us determine the best location and time of year when solar activity would peak,

solar flare

and Tromsø seemed to be a worthy contender for Northern Lights activity.

magnetic poles

Hence, our excursion to track the Northern Lights had been booked months ago using a local outfitter who would drive us a reasonable distance away from city lights to improve our viewing potential.

city lights (2)

We met Mag, our guide behind the Scandic Hotel, not far from the city square where earlier in the day the Samis were preparing for a weekend of Nordic games in celebration of their indigenous culture, including the reindeer race championship as the main event.

Sami selling skins (2)

Our plush mini-bus departed at 8:00 PM with 12 world citizens aboard–representing China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and Florida–all with an equal fascination for Northern Lights, and all bundled up, since we planned on sky-watching for 3 hours in frozen surroundings.

Of course, there was no guarantee that the weather would cooperate (nullifying any opportunity of seeing the Lights), but with passports in hand, our guide was prepared to drive us across the Swedish or Finnish border if need be, should our original destination in the direction of Overgård be too clouded over.

As he drove, Mag would occassionally crane his neck skyward, peering through the windshield in search of a sign. After an hour, he steered the van off the highway into a remote turnoff, and signaled that we had arrived.

He admitted that tonight would be tricky because of the full moon and passing clouds…

moonglow

but if we trained our eyes across the horizon, we might pick something up.

I planted my tripod and waited…and waited…and waited…

“There!” shouted Mag, “over the mountain.”

I panned my camera in his direction, and took a timed exposure, still uncertain of what I was shooting, and waited for results.

Mag was right! Something was there, but it was barely perceptible.

misty green

But who was I to judge? It’s just that I was looking for something more spectacular. Where were the crazy colors I craved, like the grand arc I recently recorded from a slideshow monitor?

grand arc

“Be patient,” he advised. “There’s something going on here. But the lights are fickle, and it’s too early to tell if the activity is significant or not.”

After making some exposure adjustments, I waited again…until I recognized a dim shadow moving across the horizon…[CLICK]…

green spout1

I was feeling somewhat gratified that I discovered the aurora on my own, but still, my Impression Meter was registering Underwhelmed, while my Expectation Meter was to set to Light Show!

Others among us wondered aloud if we should move to another location.

But Mag countered, “We could spend more time driving in the mini-bus, or we could continue to search the sky where we are standing. But I can guarantee that the sky we have here is the same sky we will find elsewhere.” 

Perhaps if I looked in a different direction…[CLICK]…

green moonbeam1

By now, only the hardcore remained outdoors, while Leah and half the others had retreated to a heated van. Hot chocolate and biscuits were passed around to reinvigorate us and keep our numbing fingers nimble.

The clock continued ticking and our time was coming to an end. Even though the solar activity in the sky was nominal, we were still standing under a full moon on a starry night with a beautiful backdrop.

icy mountains

But then…[CLICK]…

power lines

our brightest sighting of the night!

The hour ride back was quiet. Most were asleep. But in my mind, I was calculating how many more opportunities we’d have to see the lights once again.

Order of the Blue Nose

Captain Terje Nilsen of the Viking Star personally delivered the unfortunate news over the ship’s PA system during breakfast.

“Because of high winds, we will be cruising past the port of Bodø, and continuing onto Tromsø. I apologize for the inconvenience, but the weather is just not safe for us to make a landing.”

Of course, we were disappointed.

Bodø is a charming alpine village north of the Arctic Circle and home to Saltstraumen, the world’s largest maelstrom. Additionally, Leah and I had booked an excursion to Kjerringøy, and would have enjoyed hiking through this preserved trading post dating back to the 1800s.

But Captain Nilsen wasn’t kidding. If the gusting winds and pounding seas were any indication of what was witnessed as the Hurtigruten ferry attempted docking in Bodø, then I couldn’t imagine the Viking Star following suit–certainly not with so many passengers unable to handle the rough crossing from Tilbury, England.


Nevertheless, passengers were invited to the pool deck following breakfast to celebrate a longtime maritime tradition of crossing the Arctic Circle.

While Paulo serenaded us with folk classics and Beatles covers of Here Comes the Sun, and I’ll Follow the Sun, (ironic, don’t you think),

Here Comes the Sun

the crew assembled to initiate each of us into the Order of the Blue Nose.

Our Cruise Director, Brensley Pope took the microphone to give some background:

Good afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen and welcome! We have entered through the Arctic Circle, and it is time to make our journey official by welcoming you to the Order of the Blue Nose! First, a little history.

The word “arctic” comes from the Greek word arktikos: “near the Bear, northern” The name refers to the constellation Ursa Major, the “Great Bear”, which is prominent in the northern sky.

The region north of the Circle, known as the “Arctic” covers roughly 4% of the Earth’s surface.

The position of the Arctic Circle coincides with the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for a full twenty-four hours; hence the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” This position depends on the tilt of the earth’s axis, and therefore is not a “fixed” latitude. The Arctic circle is moving north at a rate of 15 meters per year, and is currently located at 66 degrees 33 minutes North latitude.

Captain Terje Nilsen interupted, “I believe that’s enough history for now…”

The crowd responded with laughter. And then it became official with his declaration…

Hear ye… hear ye….

Whereas by official consension, our most honorable and well-beloved Guests have completed successful passage through the Arctic Domain. We do hereby declare to all in attendance and that those who possess the courage to take the Aquavit cleanse shall be marked accordingly, with the prestigious Order of the Blue Nose.

(Applause)

Captain Nilsen continued…

This is to certify that you all have been formally and officially initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Chilly Deep, and should wear your blue noses proudly! With the order of myself, the Captain, I command all subjects to Honor and Respect those onboard Viking Star as one of our Trusty Blue Nose family.

We officially welcome you to the Blue Nose Order! Skol!

I got my blue nose and drained my shot glass of chilled Aquavit. Was I now a proud member of a society of alcoholics and sun worshippers?

drinking aquavit (2)

But I wasn’t alone.

Lines formed from both sides of the pool deck for distinguished crew members to efficiently annoint all worthy passangers with a blue-tinted dab of meringue.

closed eyes

What follows is a small sample of inductee’s portraits–some more enthusiastic than others…

red eye

pursed lip

plaid shirt

man wirth glasses

lady with glasses

grinning lady

glassy eyes

Chinese freckles

beard man

United in singular purpose, we now shared a common bond.

To validate our accomplishment, each of us received a certificate of achievement validated by Captain Nilsen.

Certificate

Soon after, while walking about the jogging track in whipping winds after a filling lunch, I caught a glimpse of what made this affair so special.

Arctic Circle marker

Now that’s what I call “Crossing the Line!”

Praying for a Glimpse of Pulpit Rock

Having pre-booked Rødne’s 3-hour scenic cruise through Lysefjord–Western Norway’s most picturesque passage–

route map

Leah and I were on an impossible mission to view Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), considering the current gray skies and dismal forecast. Reknown for its views, and famous for its cliffhanger scene in Mission: Impossible–Fallout, we considered Preikestolen a must-see.

On the bright side, there was plenty of legroom aboard Rødne’s Rygerdronningen, a 297-passenger, high-speed catamaran that carried only 24 guests this particular day, many with camera lenses as long as my arm.

boat tour

We pushed off at 11:00 am sharp,

playground

easing out of the harbor’s protected waters,

marina (2)

and beyond the bridge,

bridge columns (2)

where it became perfectly clear to us that this was a perfect day for seabirds,

seabirds

but less so for Leah–who required a double dose of dramimine to deal with the swells propagating across the horizon.

pier house

Along the journey, we passed scores of coastline cottages,

summer cottage

whose owners regulary commute to town by boat during the summer months…

boathouse

unless they have the means to vacation in Rogaland all summer long.

tiered roof

 

Midway through our voyage we passed under the Lysefjord Bridge–gateway to Lysefjord–

Lysefjord Bridge1

connecting Forsand with Oanes, a small farming village on the coastline,

mountain valley

that’s dwarfed by an imposing edifice.

gateway to Lysefjord

We eased into the fjord,

into the fjords

flanked by looming walls of granite…

cliffside

until the captain navigated the bow of the ship within a hair’s breath of the Vagabond’s Cave.

cave entrance (2)

Legend has it that the cave was named after a group of vagabonds who used the shelter as a hideout for months, trying to escape the police.

cliff face

As we backed out of the grotto to pursue a course to Pulpit Rock, the weather turned to sleet and snow, shrouding the cliff’s signature square flat top, 604 meters above the fjord, and driving most of the passengers indoors.

pulpit rock

But there were some intrepid sailors who were undeterred, because they had little choice in their RIB (rigid inflatable boat).

RIB (2)

We followed at our own pace…

falls and RIB (2)

until we reached Hengjane Waterfall, cascading 400 meters (1312 ft) into the fjord.

Hengjane Waterfall (2)

Soon after, we U-turned to retrace our wake before returning to Skavanger.

through fjord storm

Marie-Charlotte van Kerckhoven was among the few passengers on board. While nursing a hot coffee, Leah and I heard about her hiking expedition to the top of Pulpit Rock the day before. Braving freezing temperatures and two feet of snow, she and her hiking buddy made the ascent to the 25 by 25 meters flat top in 4 hours.

She was happy to share her view,

view from the top

and even happier to report that here was no trace of Tom Cruise ever being there.

Next port of call: Bodø

Night Lights in the Garden–Naples, FL

For some reason, thousands of lights wrapped around sultry-weather palm trees…

curved palm

don’t suggest Christmas or winter wonderland to me in quite the same way as a traditionally decorated evergreen.

Biltmore Xmas tree

A live oak decorated with oversized ornaments comes close,

oak and orbs

but it’s still no match for the festive vibe that envelopes New York City during the holidays,

Angels with Trumpets

where everything is bigger…

Big Ornaments

and brighter.

Xmas lights

Not that there’s anything wrong with lit palm trees.

lit palms

Nevertheless, there is a tradition in Naples, Florida that dates back to 2009, when tiki torches first illuminated the town’s 170-acre botanical gardens.

Gardens with Latitude

Since then, the holiday light show has evolved to “to accentuate the plants themselves and their textures, silhouettes and natural beauty,” according to Ralph Klebosis, event productions manager.

wrapped palms

While some of the displays were fascinating unto themselves…

floating pan

photographing the event pulled me in a completely different direction after I noticed a pulsing plant projector.

plant projector

If this event is about night lights, then why not capture the light source and paint with it, I mused? And so I did. The images are a product of serendipity, and represent a different take on Nights of Light.

spiral palm

shoelace palm

loopy palm

Rorshach palm

cosmic palm

swirl palm w spark

44 palm

All the same, artificial light could never improve on Mother Nature!

White Sands National Park

As of December 20, 2019, White Sands National Monument became America’s 62nd national park, and just in time for those seeking a very white Christmas.

Spanning 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin,

long shot (3)

the ethereal dunes sweep across an other-worldy carpet of snow-white gypsum–

pan shot

–remarkably cool to the touch,

foot printing .jpg

and perfect for sledding, 

girl on sled (2)

dog and sled (2)

or dog walking.

dog walking (2)

Despite initial impressions of isolation,

dunescape and mountains (2)

within a vast barren landscape…

yin and yang (3)

White Sands harbors a fragile eco-system that manages to survive…

scarab beetle (2)

despite its harsh surroundings…

anchor (2).jpg

and uncertain conditions.

pods

But whichever way the wind blows…

wind texture.jpg

the real fascination of White Sands occurs when the sun dips below the horizon,

sunset (2)

and awakens the magic that ignites the desert glow.

cactus glowing (2)

Have yourself a Happy Holiday and a White Christmas!

Leah and Neal (3)

 

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

Balloonatic

While I’m on the topic of balloons (see Balloon Glowdeo™, and Botswana by Balloon) I’ve recalled my first balloon ride from two years ago:



“$450 for a balloon ride?! You’ve got to be kidding” I exclaim to the Rainbow Ryder rep on the phone.

“That’s the price, sir. We are the exclusive balloon ride provider for Balloon Fiesta, unless you’re willing to fly outside the ‘Albuquerque Box’,” she managed.

“What’s the ‘Albuquerque Box’? I ask.

“It’s a weather phenomenon peculiar to Albuquerque,” she points out, “where the lowest winds move in one direction, while the higher winds are moving in the opposite direction. That way, our pilots can take advantage of the different air currents–by floating higher or lower, and returning you close to your original launch point.

albuquerquebox
*courtesy of Drumlineramos

“Uh, Ohh-kay,” I shrug, “and that’s worth $450?”

“That’s the rate for a balloon ride during Balloon Fiesta, sir. And I only have a few openings left for Saturday and Sunday,” she warns.

“Your price is sky high,” I offer, “so I’m gonna have to think about it.”

And the call is over.

I turned to Leah. “Looks like my balloon ride went from bucket list to “fuck-it” list.”

And that was a drag, since Balloon Fiesta is the largest gathering of hot-air balloons in the world, with more balloons lifting off together (mass ascension) than anywhere.

Leah sensed my disappointment. “Maybe it’s cheaper if you found an outfitter outside the box. Would you still be interested?

“I think I could manage to get excited,” I lamented.

After a flurry of phoning and pricing, I secured a dawn launch on Saturday for $250 with World Balloon, albeit on the northwest side of town, miles away from the Fiesta.

Launch day bears all the markings for a picture-perfect take-off: early air temperature hovers in the mid-40’s; the wind is streaming from the north at 8 mph; and the sky is clear as shimmering water.

A group of fifty men, women, and children are sub-divided into five, and assigned to a pilot and his balloon crew. Each chase van carries two wranglers, ten passengers, and a trailer packed with gear. We congregate at a barren football-sized lot, and watch as five balloons are prepared for flight.

Baskets are unloaded,

unloading the basket

and assembled.

building the basket

The burners are tested.

testing the burner

With dawn breaking over the horizon, the balloon is unfurled, and rigged to the basket.

rigging the lines

An industrial fan blows cold air into the mouth of limp polyester, and behold, the balloon takes shape.

dawn

raising the dome

filling the balloons

Roy aims the burner flame into the mouth to heat the air,

lighting it up

fire and rigging

and eventually expands the envelope to fullness.

inflation

The buoyant balloon rights itself,

sunrise

and the six of us scramble inside to bid adieu to terra firma, and gently float away…

aloft

…one step ahead of a second balloon.

balloon sun glow

All the while, balloons below…

balloon party

…are preparing to follow our Airstream (wink wink, nod nod).

USA balloons

Our pilot, Roy pulls on the burners,

Roy the pilot

carrying us to 5000 ft. above the treetops,

fiesta panorama

where a birds-eye view of the valley below,

self portrait.jpg

reveals a cityscape punctuated by fantastic dots of floating colors.

Balloons over Albuquerque (2)

Yet closer inspection reveals the full dimension of a multi-colored mushroom gliding through an azure sky.

baloon portrait

After forty-five minutes of soaring and dipping through neighborhoods–arousing excitable dogs,

annoyed dogs

and adoring children–

delighted-children.jpg

Roy is tasked with finding a landing site along our flight path–wide open and away from wires–and accessible to the chase team who’s been following us since our launch. After a few false starts, we locate a large house devoid of landscaping, and gently settle back to earth.

attempting to land (2)

However, a chain-link fence lines the perimeter, and a locked gate gives us no way out. A woman from Birmingham, AL vaults over the side of the basket and runs to the front door to alert the owners to unlock the gate, but nobody’s home.

So it’s back in the air, with the van in pursuit, until we mobilize at a strip mall.

landing place

crew pulling us in

After a quick exchange of passengers (six out and four in), our balloon is re-released with its second set of aeronauts,

group 2 on board

drifting higher into the blue yonder.

group 2 aloft

Fifty minutes later, the vacant parking lot beside the church provides the perfect setting for a second re-entry.

holy touchdown

Whereupon, the balloon is quickly collapsed,

gathering air

and folded,

wrangling the rigging

and packed away, until next time.

wrapped up

Back at base camp, it was time for a champagne toast, and a recitation of the balloonist’s prayer:

The winds…

flight certificate

I loved it, and I’d do it again. I guess that makes me a balloonatic.

 

Defying Gravity

Pittsburgh is best known as the “City of Bridges,” boasting a world’s-highest 446 spans.

Riverfront Park

Its residents have been crossing its rivers and hills before the French built Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in 1754 to protect their access to the Ohio Valley.

Fort Duquesne

After the British advanced, defeating the French and Native Americans, they established Fort Pitt in 1761.

Fort Pitt etching (2)

As Pittsburgh industrialized during the 19th century, so did its transportation network, and the bridges soon followed, connecting many of the elevated neighborhoods scattered throughout the vicinity.

3 sisters (3)
Pittsburgh’s “Three Sister” Bridges: the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Street Bridges. The “Three Sister” bridges were part of a massive series of bridge-building campaigns begun in 1924 by the Allegheny County Department of Public Works, and finished in the late 1930s by the Depression-period Allegheny County Authority. Credit: Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center

In fact, the “City of Bridges” moniker could easily be replaced with the “City of Hills,” given Pittsburgh’s challenging geography, for there are hills galore (North Hills, East Hills, South Hills, West Hills, Middle Hill, Upper Hill, Spring Hill, Summer Hill, Troy Hill, Polish Hill, Squirrel Hill, and the Hill District); and there are heights aplenty (Northview Heights, Brighton Heights, Crafton Heights, Duquesne Heights, and Stanton Heights); as well as a variety of lofty-sounding communities (Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Southside Slopes, Beechview and Fineview).

For me, growning up in Stanton Heights was a constant cardio workout of hiking and biking in my neighborhood. I still recall schlepping up Greenwood Street’s countless steps on my way home from junior high at Morningside Elementary School. And climbing those hills in an unforgiving winter frequently required fortitude and a layer of thermal underwear, which was sure-fire bait for bullies.

Characteristically, Pittsburgh’s reputation for having the largest collection of steepest streets in the world underscores the importance of living close to a world-class medical center (UPMC)…

whose headquarters, coincidently, occupy the US Steel Building–the tallest tower of Pittsburgh’s skyline.

steam paddle

It had been a long time between visits to Pittsburgh, so Leah and I relocated the Airstream to an RV park north of Pittsburgh for a few days, appropriately named Mountain Top Campground…

Mountain Top Campground (3)

and determined that a trip to Mt. Washington was a natural first stop for a lasting look at my hometown from the best possible vantage point.

But rather than drive to the top, we parked in a lot and rode the Duquesne Incline as tourists–

crossover

one of two remaining from the original 17 funiculars that Pittsburgers once relied upon to ease their commute to the heights throughout town–

incline graphic

incline car

incline track

incline house

for an unparalleled lookout of the Point.

skyline

After an overpriced lunch at The Grandview Saloon (poached pear salad for $14), we followed Jennifer (our GPS) to Canton Street,

Canton St. Google Maps

in search of America’s steepest street in Beechview.

steep st sign

Although it’s only one block long, climbing the 37% grade behind the wheel of my F-150 was somewhat disconcerting. Aside from the bumpy ride over cobblestones, the angle was so severe, I could barely see the road beyond the windshield.

steep v

A 37% grade! I can’t even imagine what it would take to climb Canton Street during a winter storm…unless you’re a mountain goat.

grazing goat (2)

But there was one last road phenomenon I needed to check out before we explored the cultural side of Pittsburgh. I had heard about a gravity hill near North Park that sounded like a too-good-to-be-true myth that needed busting.

Gravity Hill

When I reached the intersection of Kummer and McKinney, I made a hard left around the STOP sign onto McKinney Road, and passed an Audi that was there to perform the same miracle-manuever.

Kummer Road

Leah and I patiently waited off-road, watching the Audi repeat the same experiment… over and over again…until satisfied. 

rolling back

And then it was my turn.

I inched toward the STOP sign, and held the brake till I shifted to neutral. Leah stepped out of the truck to record the event on her iPhone. I hesitated for a moment thinking how crazy this seemed. Of course, the truck can’t possibly roll unhill. It goes against the fundamentals of science!

When I came to my senses, I released the brake, and the truck began rolling backwards. It was not what I expected!

I’m not a civil engineer, and I’m not a geologist, so I don’t have a reasonable explanation why the truck drifted backwards, so I consulted the experts:

According to Wikipedia, “a gravity hill is a place where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land, creating the optical illusion that water flows uphill or that a car left out of gear will roll uphill.”

So I was on a hill that made down look like up?

Gravity road intersection

How weird…but then it occurred to me that Donald Trump runs the country the very same way, and “the 37%” who follow him, must be living on their own personal “Canton Street,” unable to see the road ahead.

This is Detroit

Detroit has been working overtime on a public relations campaign to scrub the grime off its tarnished reputation and buff the rentability of its landmark towers. A downtown resurgence is helping to restore the luster of a once-burgeoning city that grew into an industrial and economic juggernaut during the first half of the 20th century, but became a municipal pariah after accruing $20 billion of debt since the 1950s.

In its heyday, Detroit was a magnet of opportunity, attracting new residents from all American sectors with the promise of manufacturing jobs. Consequently, its population swelled to 2 million.

The collapse of the city’s automobile industry was the catalyst for Detroit’s demise. Racial tensions culminated in riots in 1967 that led to a mass exodus, and Detroit shrank to a third of its size. Vacant lots and abandoned buildings became the norm. Ultimately, the city went bankrupt in 2013–the largest debt of its kind for an American city.

Today, Detroit is rebounding, but not without new growing pains. City leaders hope to strike a balance between renewed economic confidence and building a future that is more inclusive of long-term residents who have suffered the most.

As it’s explained by Pete Saunders for Forbes Magazine:

  • …A partnership between city and state government, business leaders and the city’s philanthropic community led an innovative effort to restructure the city’s debt, estimated at $19 billion.

  • Private investment in downtown Detroit, already on the upswing prior to the bankruptcy filing, continued to trend upward.  Last fall’s opening of Little Caesar’s Arena, part of the larger District Detroit business and entertainment area, the construction of a landmark mixed use development on a former iconic department store site, and the recent acquisition by Ford Motor Company of Michigan Central Station all demonstrate the accelerated pace of development in the city.

  • Detroit’s Midtown area, also just north of downtown and home to many of the city’s arts and cultural institutions and Wayne State University, has been the site of dozens of new mixed use developments with hundreds of new units designed to attract Millennial urban dwellers.

  • The city’s former warehouse district on the east riverfront is attracting development attention for high-end condos and apartments with downtown and waterfront views.

  • Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the city’s oldest neighborhood and one that’s grown in trendiness over the last half-decade, is set to receive more investment in commercial and residential development, pushing its recent successes to the next level.

  • The New Center area, further north of downtown, is beginning to see development activity tick upward as well.  Community anchor Henry Ford Hospital has just broken ground on a new cancer center.  The Detroit Pistons basketball team will build a new office and practice complex in the area as well.  More high-end condos and apartments are being constructed in New Center too, and the Motown Museum is planning for a $50 million expansion.

  • Detroit’s development resurgence is being tied together by a brand-new streetcar line that opened last year, the QLine.  The 3-mile streetcar connects downtown with the adjacent neighborhoods where activity is taking place, and there are hopes that the line could expand further outward and gain additional branches.

Leah and I took a walk around downtown to see for ourselves. First, we stopped at an Art Deco-styled landmark building celebrating its 90th anniversary.

front desk

Guardian arch

Guardian mural

Guardian entry

A short walk to the Detroit River brought us face to fist with an homage to Joe Louis.

homage to Joe Louis

Nearby, the Spirit of Detroit was undergoing a makeover.

Spirit of Detroit

We crossed E. Jefferson to arrive at Hart Plaza to gaze at Michigan’s Labor Legacy.

Labor's Legacy, Hart Plaza

Walking a short distance to the Detroit River brought us views of Windsor, Canada as once imagined by slaves making their escape through the Underground Railroad.

Windsor CA

In the distance, stands the Ambassador Bridge–the busiest crossing between U.S. and Canada–with 10,000 commercial vehicles making the trip daily.

Ambassador Bridge.jpg

Beyond Dodge Fountain, the GM Renaissance Tower rises from the International Riverfront. 

Dodge Fountain

A walk along the riverwalk delivered us to the GM Wintergarden, where a life-sized model of a Chevy Silverado was made entirely of Legos.

Lego Chevy left.jpg

It took 18 master builders over 2,000 hours and 334,544 “bricks” to complete. At 3,307 lbs., the sculpture stands at half the curb weight of its legitimate counterpart.

Lego Chevy rigft

Equally as impressive, and no less the engineering feat, the Fisher Building has been referred to as “Detroit’s largest art object.” 

Fisher Building

Finished in 1928, the 30-story building was financed by the Fisher family from the sale of Fisher Body Company to General Motors.

1928

Albert Kahn’s opulent 3-story barrel vaulted lobby…

Fisher Building arcade

decorated in paint…

Geza Maroti frescoe

and marble by Géza Maróti is considered a masterpiece.

Black marble

Alfred Kahn also spent time up river on Belle Isle (an island park originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1880s), where he designed America’s first Aquarium and Conservatory in 1904.

Auquarium facade

Belle Isle Aquarium

Marlin mosaic

Belle Isle Conservatory

Conservatory

Another part of Detroit’s revitalization effort included the construction of Ford Field, the domed home of NFL’s Detroit Lions,

Ford Field

conjoined with Comerica Park, home to baseball’s Detroit Tigers.

Comerica Park.jpg

Detroit has been hailed as The Comeback City, emerging from Chapter 9 with a new vibe that seems to be drawing people back to a city that was broke and broken, and considered unliveable only six years ago. With continuing investment and broad community suport, the prospects for Detroit are bright,

lungfish

and turning naysayers into believers.

Looking Back in Pictures

Leah and I are winding down our Great Lakes circumnavigation 200 miles south of Lake Erie, where a hundred or more local and distant celebrants have gathered in Ligonier, PA to party with Tiff and Jim on their 25th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, it was Ligonier and the surrounding Laurel Highlands where Leah and I broke our Airstream cherry. It was the cusp of winter/spring; it was the day after Leah’s 60ish birthday; and it was my first day of retirement.

We dug ourselves out of a major New Jersey snowstorm, and loaded up the Airstream and the F-150 with a year’s worth of gear and courage. Our maiden voyage left us white-knuckled as we precariously cruised the backroads to find Tiff and Jim’s country house in darkness. That was 29 months ago.

Today, we are seasoned road warriors who have grown in confidence, and somehow avoid repeating our original mistakes. Instead, we make new mistakes, which keeps us on our toes.

Circling back to Ligonier after three months of Great Lakes coastal roads has also given me time to reflect on the places I traveled, the things I’ve seen, and the moments I captured.

What follows is a snapshot retrospective along our route:

Niagara Falls ON
Niagara Falls, Ontario–Victoria Avenue

Wawa ON
Wawa, Ontario–Young’s General Store

St. Ignace MI
St. Ignace, Michigan–Castle Rock

Ft. Williams, ON
Fort William, Ontario–Mount McKay

Duluth MN
Duluth, Minnesota–Canal Park

Duluth MN (2)
Eldes Corner, Minnesota–Jay Cooke State Park

Carlton MN
Carlton, Minnesota–Buffalo Valley RV Campground

Cloquet MN
Esko, Minnesota–East Highway 61

Bayfield WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–Howl Adventure Center

LaPointe WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–1st Street

Musining MI
Munising, Michigan–The Dogpatch

Sturgeon Bay WI
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin–N. 3rd Avenue

Ellison Bay WI
Ellison Bay, Wisconsin–WI-42

Egg Harbor WI
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin–WI-42

Devil's Doorway, WI.jpg
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Devil’s Doorway, Devil’s Lake State Park

Baraboo, WI
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Circus World

Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wisconsin Dell, Wisconsin–Broadway

Plain, WI
Plain, Wisconsin–Ederer Dairy Supply

Milwaukee WI
Milwaukee, Wisconsin–Lakefront Brewery

Stay Puft
Highland Park, Illinois–Ravinia Festival

Niles IL
Niles, Illinois–Leaning Tower of Niles

Grand Rapids MI
Grand Rapids, Michigan–Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Traverse City, MI
Traverse City, Michigan–Warehouse District

Dearborn, MI
Dearborn, Michigan–Ford Rouge Factory

Detroit, MI
Detroit, Michigan–Heidelberg Project

Detroit, MI1
Detroit, Michigan–Comerica Park

Long Live Rock Leah
Cleveland, Ohio–Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Bellefountaine, OH
Bellefontaine, Ohio–S. Main Street

Pittsburgh, PA 1
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Andy Warhol Museum (Keith Haring)

Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Mattress Factory (Yayoi Kusama)

Willie and Leah
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–PNC Park (Willie “Pops” Stargell)

Ligonier PA
Ligonier, PA–Fort Ligonier

This is only the beginning for us. Stay tuned for more travel follies…

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Leah and I had set up camp near Muskegon, MI with plans to visit Grand Rapids for an evening concert with “Weird Al” Yankovic. Being one hour away, we decided to make a day of it and explore the Grand Rapids area, but we needed an activity to keep us occupied until late afternoon, and it had to be captivating. After an internet search, all roads led to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

Not knowing what to expect, we packed a lunch and set a course for what Trip Adviser informed us was the #1 attraction in Grand Rapids. With over 2800 reviews, who were we to argue with such a consensus. Upon arrival, our first impression was the immensity of the property (158 acres),  And the bigness was becoming bigger with new construction all around us.

garden map

Apparently, Frederik Meijer was a big success. Who knew? Turns out, Fred was a supermarket magnate worth billions, and this park was to be his legacy–with an endowment fit for a world-class museum, and subsequent listing by 1,000 Places to See before You Die as one of the “30 Must-See Museums” in the world.

There is an impressive conservatory on the grounds with flora from every climate and environment, including a trove of carniverous plants,

pitcher plants

and cacti…

red spine mammallaria

but it was a beautiful day and we were there to walk the Japanese gardens…

Japanese Garden2

Stone Lake Waterfall

and celebrate Meijer’s devotion to outdoor sculpture. 

These are a few of my favorite things…listed alphabetically by artist:

Nina Akuma's American Horse
The American Horse
A monument to creativity, The American Horse was created by famed animaliere, or animal sculptor, Nina Akamu. The work was inspired, in part, by a work created by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci for the Duke of Milan in the late 15th century. The project was championed by Fred Meijer in the late 1990’s, resulting in two casts of the 24-foot monument—one for Meijer Gardens and one for the city of Milan, Italy. In addition to inspiration from Leonardo, Akamu was also inspired by the history of equine imagery and the study of horses.

Hanneke Beaumont's Bronze 25 amd Bronze 26
Number 26 and Number 25
While these life-size sculptures are made from bronze, they are finished to appear more like terra cotta, which Beaumont often prefers. She is also known for her work in clay and iron. Their rough surfaces convey a strong sense of age, deterioration and simplicity, while the silence and stillness of the figures helps to create intimacy between the sculptures and the viewers. 

Jonathan Borofsky's Male-Female
Male/Female
One of the most recognizable and celebrated works in the Sculpture Park, Male/Female depicts the precise 180 degree intersection of a male and female silhouette. To fully understand the meaning and form of this colossal sculpture, the work is best viewed from a variety of vantage points. For Jonathan Borofsky, this sculpture represents two energies, the male and the female, coming together to create a stronger whole. In this way, his figures are not portraits, but symbolic images presenting the common human condition.

Louise Bourgeois' Spider
Spider
Louise Bourgeois was one of the most intriguing and influential artists in Contemporary art. Beginning her career as a painter, sculpture and installation work became her focus and strongest legacy. Biography and the relationships among family are frequently addressed in her work and Spider, one of her most iconic themes, is no exception. In tribute to her mother who made a living repairing ancient tapestries, Bourgeois portrays spiders as clever, dainty and protective.  The eggs described in the lower portion of the body emphasize the maternal symbolism of the sculpture.

Deborah Butterfield's Cabin Creek
Cabin Creek
Deborah Butterfield’s work focuses on the spirit and form of the horse as an intelligent mare rather than the war horse which is usually illustrated in art. Cabin Creek is the name of the location where Butterfield found a variety of materials for this sculpture. First, she assembled the found materials to form an image of a horse. Then each piece of wood was meticulously translated into bronze, then reassembled and patinated. Such a process allows Butterfield to create works appropriate for outdoor placement.

Mark DiSuvero's Scarlatti
Scarlatti
Since the 1960’s, Mark di Suvero has been at the forefront of Contemporary American sculpture. Working on a monumental scale and focusing on composition and space, he uses industrial building materials such as I-beams, scrap metal, and steel cables. Movement, whether actual or implied, is another key element in his sculpture. di Suvero frequently uses references to music and literature in his titles. Scarlatti is named for Domenico Scarlatti, the eighteenth-century Italian composer whose music di Suvero greatly admires. In this piece, the suspended “V” beneath the tip of the central beam is intended to move with the wind.

Jim Dine's Large Parrot Screams Color
Large Parrot Screams Color
Together with Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Dine helped define the Pop Art movement, which transformed the art world with the use of imagery from popular culture. The form of the heart has been a part of Dine’s artistic vocabulary since the mid 1960s and it has appeared prominently in his paintings, drawings and prints as well as in his sculpture. 

Andy Goldsworthy's Grand Rapids Arch
Grand Rapids Arch
Andy Goldsworthy works with natural materials such as leaves, sand, ice, and stone to create and often photograph highly ephemeral works of art. Permanent works, such as the Grand Rapids Arch, are more rare. Made with stone from the artist’s native Scotland, this piece is intended to be viewed as a work of sculpture rather than an architectural element. Goldsworthy sited the work during his visits to Meijer Gardens. For Goldsworthy, the arch is a way to talk about movement, commenting, “The arch seemed an appropriate form to talk about ideas of travel because the stone, out of the context of an archway or a building, a free-standing arch, has a sense of a stone taking a walk; a stride; a movement. So that became the really important motivating idea behind the arches,” he shares.

Keith Haring's Julia
Julia
The simple, graphic style Keith Haring used in his two-dimensional pieces often translated into his sculpture throughout his career. His three-dimensional forms primarily focus on balance and the energetic movement of shapes. As the only portrait sculpture Haring ever created, this piece was named after Julia Gruen, a friend of the artist. A dancer, Julia seems to capture the energy and excitement of 1980s New York.

Richard Hunt's Colum of the Free Spirit
Column of the Free Spirit
Richard Hunt lives and works in Chicago. Hunt is inspired by science, history, literature, music, and African art. Column of the Free Spirit was commissioned for Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in 1999 and installed in 2000. The columnar form references architectural monuments in Western art. The flame-like finial alludes to notions of freedom, inspiration and unlimited boundaries. 

Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred Meijer discovered the work of Joseph Kinkel in his travels and commissioned this portrait sculpture and several variations. The earliest version featured only Fred, but Lena Meijer was added by the artist. This charming duo is a favorite at Meijer Gardens and has been recorded countless times in photographs. Kinkel designed the sculpture so visitors could join the Meijer seated on the bench while the site was developed to allow groups to gather around.

Deitrich Klinge's Grosser Trefree
Grosser Trefree
Dietrich Klinge is a highly respected German artist who received training in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Much of Klinge’s early imagery references woodland spirits from tales of German folklore and legends. This sculpture was originally carved in wood and then cast in bronze to preserve the characteristics of the wood. The bold form and textured surface reflect early 20th century expressionism and non-western traditions.

Alexander Liberman's Aria
Aria
Concurrent with a distinguished career in publishing, Alexander Liberman was actively engaged as an artist, finding critical and popular acclaim for his paintings, photographs and sculpture. Standing more than 42 feet, enabling viewers to walk around and through the work, Aria clearly references the artist’s admiration for architecture. An “aria” is an elaborate melody sung by one voice. The organic shaped elements of Aria seem to suggest music notes, while linear elements seem to reference a music staff or interlocking sounds, with red color unifying the composition. 

Aristede Maillol's Torso of Summer
Torso of Summer
The early 20th century French master Aristide Maillol is viewed as the most influential sculptor in the generation following Auguste Rodin. However, unlike the expressive forms of the latter, Maillol achieved a new classicism inspired by the pose and attitude of Greco-Roman sculpture and, innovatively,  the sensuality of Indian sculpture. Many of his works utilize the female nude in symbolic or allegorical ways.
Torso of Summer is part of a series which celebrates the four seasons. Specifically, the rounded forms of the figure reference the fullness of summer.

Joan Miro's Woman and Bird
Woman and Bird
The imaginative nature of Joan Miro’s repertoire is widely admired. Although associated with 20th century Surrealism, his long career was highly individualized. Unlike his paintings and prints, most of Miro’s sculptures began with simple found objects transformed nearly beyond recognition to create another form or figure. In Woman and Bird for example, the body of the figure derives from an old milk stool and the head from the lid of a can. Shared with his two-dimensional works, his sculptures are frequently brightly painted vibrant colors contributing to the visual energy, even playfulness, of the work.

Henry Moore's Bronze Form 5 of 6
Bronze Form
Henry Moore is recognized as the single most important figure in the history of British art during the last century and his work has been of critical importance internationally for more than sixty years. Moore’s sculpture was initially highly representational, but he gradually moved toward a vocabulary of organic, simplified forms, frequently drawn from nature — including rocks and bones. In this piece, Moore has abstracted the human form and the shape of the sculpture changes greatly as the viewer moves around it.

Juan Munoz's Broken Nose Carrying a Bottle
Broken Nose Carrying Bottle Number One
Juan Muñoz was born and raised in Madrid, Spain but went on to study art in London and New York. Before his untimely death, he was an important figure in contemporary sculpture and held exhibitions internationally and was collected worldwide. He is known for his unexpected placement of figures which create tension between works and viewer. Muñoz was also a writer and was interested in other creative fields such as music, literature, history, and architecture.

Claes Oldenburg's Plantior
Plantoir
Claes Oldenburg gained initial acclaim as one of the leaders of Pop Art movement recreating ordinary objects from consumer or popular culture. Beginning in the late 1970’s, he began to work with Coosje van Bruggen as a husband and wife team on a series of large-scale public projects. The couple is celebrated internationally for the transformation of objects from everyday life into colossal projects. Plantoir is the first monumental sculpture created specifically for a garden context. It was sited specifically by the artists.

Roxy Paine's Neuron
Neuron
Roxy Paine is one of the most highly regarded Contemporary sculptors. Neuron reflects ideas about nature, industry and artistic processes. It is one of Paine’s most inventive forms, extending out from a central mass. It derives from his critically acclaimed Dendroid series which closely follow the shape and form of trees. Neuron goes beyond this tradition and simultaneously calls to mind a neuron and elevated root ball.

Juame Plensa's I, you, she, or he
I, you, she or he…
Jaume Plensa is primarily a figurative artist, often using ideas about language and communication in his sculptures and installations. This commission for Meijer Gardens includes a composition of three figures seated on boulders, whose shells are made of stainless steel letters. Faces are left unfinished to encourage the universality of the forms and visitors are encouraged to walk among the sculptures. The composition and setting were selected by the artist and he intendeds it to represent a kind of ongoing, silent conversation. Although most well-known In the United States for his Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Plensa’s is one of the leading international sculptors working today.

 

Rodin's Eve
Eve
Originally created in association with his famed Gates of Hell for the never completed museum of decorative arts in Paris, Eve became one of the artist’s most celebrated descriptions of the female figure. Standing awkwardly in an attempt to cover her body, the figure distorts the classical “controposto” or “weight-shift” position. Additionally, Rodin has forsaken the traditional smooth surfaces and rounded contours apparent in figurative sculpture since the Renaissance in favor of something highly textured and emotive. This is one of twelve known full-scales casts of Eve.

Sophie Ryder's Introspective
Introspective
Sophie Ryder is a figurative artist who focuses on animal imagery, in particular hares, dogs, and minotaurs, to comment on universal human emotions and relationships. She creates drawings, bronze sculptures, collages and prints, but is best known for her wire drawings and sculptures. Wire, which adds a heavy textured surface to the sculptures, is not suitable for outdoors, so some of the pieces are cast in bronze. This piece was created in response to the tragedy of 9/11 and the way in which many mourn.

Kenneth Snelson's B-Tree II
B-Tree II
Sculptor, photographer, and mathematician Kenneth Snelson has commented, “My art is concerned with nature in its most fundamental aspect, the patterns of physical forces in three dimensional space.” B-Tree II is a site-specific commission that while concerned with nature, firmly utilizes geometry, mathematics and engineering in referencing the natural world. Based on patterning systems using the number three and triangles, the colossal structure utilizes the artist’s patented “tensegrity,” wherein the carefully calculated tension of the stainless steel cords locks the tubular elements up and into space. B-Tree II is the largest structure Snelson created.

Bernac Venet's Two Indeterminate Lines
Two Indeterminate Lines
Bernar Venet never made preparatory drawings for this work and described each sculpture in his Indeterminate Lines series as “the result of improvised, intuitive, empirical work.” This sculpture highlights the use of industrial material, bent and twisted, to imitate a drawn line. His presence in public and private collections around the world is well known.

Bill Woodrow's Listening to History
Listening to History
Bill Woodrow is one of the leading contemporary British sculptors. He often addresses issues of humor and irony with his work. In his early pieces, he combined found objects to create new meaning. In Listening to History, the placement of the head on the ground with the book tied against it and blinding the eyes suggests many possible narrative meanings: learning from history, being blind to history, open/closed mindedness, and so on. Note the meticulous concern for detail in this work.

Our time through the park went quickly. We walked over 2 miles, and returned to the parking lot to find hundreds of people tailgating behind the amphitheater, awaiting Lyle Lovett’s evening performance. Had we not made previous plans to see “Weird Al,” it would have been the perfect venue for another songfest from Lyle (see Music City, USA).

We must return some other day…after checking the concert calendar first.

 

Prairie Stylings

There’s very little to write about Frank Lloyd Wright that scholars haven’t already written.

Frank Lloyd Wright

His affinty for nature, his indefatigable energy, his genius for design, his eagerness to experiment, his immense ego, his appetite for women, his dedication to family–it’s all been revealed and discussed in numerous books and lectures. But it’s also apparent from walking through his Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Taliesin house

Leah and I would have preferred the immersive, 4-hr Estate Tour, but when I checked on-line for tickets, only one ticket was available when I needed two. It seems that no tour exceeds 21 people, matching the number of seats on the shuttle. Instead, we opted for the 2-hr Highlights Tour.

We boarded the bus at the Visitor Center–

T Visitors Center

orginally designed by Wright in 1953 as a restaurant and “gateway” to Taliesin, but Wright’s death in 1959 stalled any further construction until his former apprentices completed the building in 1967.

tiger lillies

The ride took us past Midway Barn, Uncle John’s farming complex,

family farm

on the way to Hillside, the site of the home school he built for his Aunts Jane and Ellen Lloyd Jones.

School and Studio (2)

Currently, the building is occupied by a time-shared architecture “Fellowship”–funded by the Taliesin Foundation–that occaisionally gathers in the Assembly Hall,

living room1

Grey's Eulogy

and takes meals in the Fellowship Dining Room,

dining room

before returning to the 5,000 sq. ft. “abstract forest” Drafting Studio.

Fellowship

We finished up at Wright’s intimate, 120-seat Hillside Theater–originally intended as a gymnasium, but converted by Wright to a cultural space after determining that the arts were more important than sports–

Hillside Theater

and reboarded the bus for a brief blast of air conditioning and quick trip to Wright’s home studio,

studio

where we browsed through a drafting room filled with “Usonian” models, like the Willey House from 1934,

Willey House

and assorted personal artifacts.

typed letter

The house was noticably cooler, thanks to geothermal plumbing installed during the third re-build. We rounded the studio from the outside,

studio exterior (2)

walked across a mound with views of the restored Romeo and Juliet windmill,

Romeo and Juliet

and traversed the gardens,

gardens

before re-entering the house through the expansive living room,

Music room1

filled with wonderful flourishes, like glass-cornered windows (which Wright would ultimately perfect at Fallingwater)…

glass corner

built-in table lamps,

floor lamp

and integration of sculptures that survived the previous two house fires.

built.in horse statue

Roaming through Wright’s personal bedroom (because he was an insomniac), we discovered no door, a wall of windows without window treatments, and original electric- blue shag carpeting.

Frank's bedroom

The terrace offered glorious views of the Wisconsin River and Tower Hill State Park,

Tower Hill State Park.jpg

and Unity Chapel in the distance–

Unity Chapel1

 

the site of Wright’s maternal family’s burial plots, his stone marker, and his empty grave.

family grave

As our driver passed Wright’s man-made falls,

water fall

 

our docent passed along a local story of intrigue and scandal:

During March 25, 1985, under cover of darkness, Frank Lloyd Wright’s body was exhumed from his Unity Chapel resting place by his oldest granddaughter, Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, and moved to a burial site at Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

She claimed to be fulfilling the dying wishes of her grandmother and Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, whose ashes were united with her husband’s within a memorial wall overlooking Paradise Valley. The event sparked outrage around the globe from associates and friends who argued that the architect would have desired to spend eternity at Unity Church with his family.

Even now, Spring Green residents hope that one day their favorite son will get his ash back to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Dells

Long before kitsch and water parks ruled the region, visitors from around the world traveled to the Dells to marvel at the iconic sandstone formations carved by a glacier that plowed through Wisconsin approximately 15,000 years ago–leaving behind a 5-mile gorge struck from rock that’s older than anything on earth.

Cambrian Rock

Word of this discovery spread quickly, attracting Leroy Gates, a lumber rafter with a notion that promotion would bring tourism to the river he loved, and earn him a buck or two to boot. In 1856, Gates offered the first guided boat tours of the Dells of Wisconsin, and made sure everyone knew it.

Gates carving (2)

Supposedly, Gates and his associate guides would sit under umbrellas sipping lemonade, while the guests would paddle their boats up river to destined attractions…

Dells rowboat HH Bennett

until steamboats took over in 1873.

Escort 1892

Fortunately, landscape photographer H.H. Bennett was there to capture it all–taking souvenir photos of the tourists, and landing a place in history as “the man who made the Wisconsin Dells famous.”

HH Bennett plaque

Today, Dells Boat Tours continues the tradition on the river…

boat ride HQ

with a fleet of 17 vessels that carry half a million passengers year after year.

Dells Boat Tours

Captain Bob piloted our riverboat north through the Upper Dells,

Wisconsin River

while First Mate Abby called out the names of rock sculptures famously characterized by H. H. Bennett:

Blackhawk
Black Rock’s profile

Chimney rock
Chimney Rock

Lovers' Leap
High Rock

stacked rocks
Alligator Rocks

cliff
Romance Cliffs

After manuevering through the Devil’s Elbow…

Devil's Elbow (4)

Captain Bob turned into a slot canyon discovered–and affectionately named Witches Gulch by Bennett. Apparently, the name was intended to be sinister and provocative. His strategy was reinforced by similar names inside the canyon, such as:

Whirlpool Chambers
Whirlpool Chambers

Witches Window
Witches Window

Witches Bathtub and
Witches Bathtub and Witches Falls

Eventually, Bennett built a tie-up dock, threaded a boardwalk through the canyon walls, and created a photography concession at the terminus.  We were about to see why, as Captain Bob eased toward the mooring.

shallow river

Abby tied up the riverboat,

Wittches Gulch boat dock

and we walked the boards,

Witches Gulch

for a closer look at the beauty of ancient splittered sandstone turned emerald,

boardwalk

and the waves of light and darkness.

sculpted rock layers1

gradiant ridges

gatekeeper
The Winnebego Gatekeeper and His Dog

sedimentary formation (2)

Next, we cruised across the Wisconsin River to the western shoreline to visit the Dells’ most precious formation,

standing rock
Stand Rock

made famous by H.H. Bennett’s photograph of his 17-year old son, Ashley leaping onto the column from a neighboring cliff in 1886.

bennet-leap-2-e1563677024968.jpg
Leaping the Chasm

We gathered under the rock for an equally impressive demonstration by a trained German Shepherd from Juneau County…

5 ft 3 in

that jumped the 5-foot gap without hesitation.

leaping shepherd

We completed the trail back to the boat, passing other impressive formations along the way…

tower slices
Toadstool

vertical lips
Cave Lips

arch and cave
Three Tongue Cave

until it was time to reboard the Marquette and return to the tour operator’s dock. As we cruised back under sunny skies, boat traffic on the river had blossomed.

river activity

Locals were enjoying the river to beat the heat,

cooling off

which was way better than any water park would ever be.

The Trial of Devil’s Lake Trail

After searching for an escape from the plethora of water parks and souvenir shops in Wisconsin Dells, we settled on a hike around the quartzite cliffs overlooking Devil’s Lake. With temperatures climbing through the 90s amid an epic upper midwest heat wave, the lake was a winning getaway for hundreds of families cooling off in the water, but not for us. Reports of swimmers itch concerned us, and we scratched it off our list.

Devil's Beach

We sought hiking guidance from the Visitor’s Center, and learned of a steep trek up the southern end of the east bluff that would lead us to a flat ridge loop. The hike was demanding, stepping up and over a talus field of rock-hewn steps cut from car-sized boulders that crumbled in the wake of a glacier that shaped Wisconsin 30,000 years ago.

talus field

Miraculously, the moraine was raked and solidified by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and a trail was born.

The heat and humidity was taking its toll on us, and we were feeling our age. It was disconcerting to see millenials ambling up the bluff at twice our pace, but we perservered with patience and caution. Halfway up, our first reward was Balanced Rock…

Me and Balanced Rock

which offered spendid views of the beach.

crescent beach.jpg

Continuing our climb to 500 ft above the lake, we reached a forested plateau with trails running in multiple directions. We carried on toward Devil’s Doorway, the park’s signature rock formation…

thru Devil's Door

forged from Cambrian sandstone as old as 1.6 billion years,

Devil's Door

and today, an irresistable climb for teens with mountain goat skills.

poser

It was a mad scramble during the descent, and the perfect place for forgotten walking sticks.

grotto trail

Although the loop was under 2 miles, terra firma never felt better under our weary legs.