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Sea Lions, Elk, and Killer Hiking

Oregon’s Central Coast

Today was an interesting mix of large wild animals. We started at the  Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area where we saw at least 45 elk–mostly males–enjoying breakfast in a meadow. At this time of year, the males and females are usually separated, probably because the females will give birth in June.  We only saw a couple females, and those were at quite a distance from the males.

Overall, the elk were spectacular and it only go better when a bus load of about 60 third-graders arrived. They were so excited, it was contagious.

From there, we headed to the Umpaqua Lighthouse State Park, which was kind of a bust. It has a whale watching station, but at this time of year, only about two are spotted every hour. Not much to see.

Our next stop was the Oregon Dunes Overlook. The sand dunes are enormous, sometimes drifting to 600 feet. They are the result of the erosion of the Cascade Mountains.  The cover miles of coastline in this area of Oregon.

We found a mile-long trail that led from the forest, over the sand dunes, and through the shoreline forest, ending on the beach. It was a killer. The sand was so soft and each step was work! Add in the elevation change and the ever-present mosquitoes, and you have two very tired hikers! The whole way to the beach I couldn’t get the song out of my head–“I keep on hopin’ there’ll be cake by the ocean. Aye yi yi yi yi yi!” There wasn’t, but the view made up for it. 🙂

We ended our day at the Sea Lion Cave. It’s the largest natural sea cave in the US and its the permanent home to hundreds of sea lions. They are enormous (females weigh 700 pounds, males can be a ton, and the babies are 50 pounds when they’re born!) and they are stinky!  We were several hundred yards away but he stench hung in the air.

They were also incredibly noisy. They sounded like the creatures in a Star Wars movie. Sort of a cross between a Wookie, a tauntaun . . . and extreme intestinal distress. I’ll add a video so you can hear for yourself! In the mean time, here are the pictures:


These are Roosevelt Elk and they’re Oregon’s biggest land animal.


We counted 45 in the meadow. The brochure indicated there are at least 140 in the heard. Since most of these were males, that’s probable true!


I took this from the view platform above the Oregon Sand Dunes. We walked down the cliff side, across the dune you see here, through the forest in the distance, and finally found the beach. In this picture, you can see the waves breaking.


I found this lonely foxglove along the way. It was the only one I saw all day.


Here’s Bob heading down the side of the cliff. This is where we were just starting to find sand on the trail. Believe me, we found PLENTY!


It’s deceptive how big the sandy section is. It’s at least 200 yards. The hardest part was going over the swells. Uphill was brutal.


We finally made it to the beach! Almost no one else was there–big surprise, considering how hard it was to get there. It was beautiful, pristine, and incredibly noisy. The wind and waves were thunderous.


Again, the picture us deceptive. This was a steep hill down to the beach. Going down was slippery, going up in that soft sand was a challenge.


Lots of enormous drift wood on the beach.



The viewing platform where we started is just to the left of the top of the sand. This was taken at the top of the sand hill that lead to the beach. It gives you an idea of how far we had to go back.


Here are a couple shots to show the trail along the way. In places the sand was so soft it was like walking in snow.



Sea Lions! Look closely, there are tons of them.





The coast is also a rookery for many sea birds. Here are some black cormorants. (They’re the black dots on the white rocks.)


We took an elevator down 20 floors, through solid rock, to the sea cave. This is one of the views out of that cave–Heceta Lighthouse is in the distance.


Another view of the coastline.


Toketee Falls

Along the way from Crater Lake to the Oregon Coast, we stopped for a short hike to Toketee Falls. The falls were great, but the half mile hike to the Falls was my favorite part.

To begin with, there was an old irrigation project that consisted of a pipeline made entirely of redwood. It ran right through the parking lot like a giant caterpillar. It was completed in 1949 and still carries water to generators that produce electricity for more than 50,000 homes. It was pretty cool looking.

Once we left the parking area and stepped onto the trail, it was like entering a different world. The vegetation was lush and full of ferns and giant plants. It felt medieval. Also, the trees were enormous!  I took a short video to try and show the height of the trees and if I can figure out how, I’ll post it.

Another wonderful thing about the trail is it was full of steps. Some were carved into the rock, other were dirt, still others were man-made. The entire trail went up and down, up and down, so you never knew if the next section was a climb up or a descent. It drove Bob nuts that the number of steps up weren’t equal to the number of steps down. 🙂  all i know is it made the hike interesting, fun, and really scenic.

Here are some of the pictures:



One of the man-made stairs.


The trees were enormous.


Here’s an idea of how big they were around.


The fuzzy caterpillar of an aqueduct. It’s made of redwood and it’s about 25 feet in diameter.


Saw this at the ranger station.



This morning we caught the train from Rome to Naples, then we hired a car to take us to Sorrento.  What a beautiful area of Italy.  We walked the streets, had lunch at a cafe where we could watch people come and go, and we explored the cliffs.  It’s a magical place!


I took this on the train because if made me smile.  The equivalent of flight attendants went through the train offering snacks and drinks, just like on a plane, but this cart was set up to make espresso on demand.  Only in Italy!


This was the view of Sorrento along the road from Naples. What a beautiful coast! Here you actually see four little towns; Sorrento is all the way out on the end of the peninsula. It is all completely charming.


This is the view of the square from our table at lunch.  It was beautiful.  We even saw and bride and groom stroll by with a film crew following them.  They could have been locals getting good shots for their wedding video or maybe they were a crew filming a segment about a romantic Italian wedding for Say Yes to the Dress.  Who can say?


A real, honest to goodness, original Caprese salad.  Yum!




After lunch, we decided to wander the shopping district in Sorrento.  No cars allowed; these alleys are too narrow for even motorbikes.  Above are a couple of different alleys, and a little square we stumbled on by accident.


This is an entrance to a private residence.  I liked the little statue of the Virgin Mary watching over it.


We found some artists!


This is a grocery store for the locals.  Apparently, this region is known for its incredible produce, so there was plenty of it for sale.


This is one of the walkways we found back at our hotel.  It’s an old monastery that sits on the cliff.  It’s incredibly beautiful.


This is the pool at our hotel.  When we arrived we startled a cat that was sitting by the pool admiring its reflection.  We’ve seen a few stray animals in Rome and Sorrento, but not a lot.  None of them were neutered.


A view of the cliffs from the walkway behind our hotel.


Here we are with the Sorrento Bay behind us.





This series of pictures shows the staircase that leads down the cliff face from our hotel to the landing below.  It is ancient.  You can see in places where it was once decorated with beautiful tiles and paint, but it is long gone.  At one point, the staircase cut into the cliff face like a cave.  Thank goodness Bob had a flashlight app on his phone or we would have killed ourselves in the pitch black.  At the bottom, everything was closed and we couldn’t get out onto the docks.  Luckily, we didn’t have to climb up — we found an elevator that worked!  What a relief!


Of course, once we were finally back on top safe and sound, we noticed the candles that were kindly provided for anyone who wanted to venture down.


More of the cliffs by our hotel

The Streets of Rome

Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij

Getting lost was the goal today and we managed that within blocks of our hotel. I swear, navigating Rome’s streets, alleys, and even pathways, is like trying to find your way in a rabbit warren.  No rhyme or reason, certainly no grid pattern, and no map to be found that has all the streets labeled.  I thought that was a problem with the maps, but I think it’s because those streets have no signs at all!  But I have to say, getting lost was the best thing that happened to us because we happened upon many really great things.  I think the story is best told in pictures, so here we go!



The Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij wasn’t the first place we found, but it was one of our favorites.  We stumbled off the hot, crowded street, into this beautiful, cool courtyard.  We also needed a bathroom, so buying an entrance ticket was a no-brainer. I think it turned out to be my favorite thing in Rome, so far.


The Palazzo was built by the Doria-Pamphilij family in the 1600s and its been in the family every since.  It’s a huge building and even though part of it is open to the public, the family still lives here.  The room above was the first we entered (after the bathroom : )  The ceiling must be 20 feet, or more, so the room feels enormous.  The walls are completely lined with paintings that were commissioned for this room.  You can get an idea of just how big everything is in this room by looking at the chairs and sofas up against the walls.


This is the only galleria where there are windows on both sides.  Instead of paintings, they lined the walls between the windows with mirrors, so light is reflected everywhere.  The incredible ceilings are well lit and absolutely mind boggling in their beauty.  It was a magical corridor.


This is one of the many galleries.  They are hung with paintings collected by members of the Doria-Pamphilij family for centuries.  Many were purchased directly from the artist or commissioned by family members.  Somewhere in the past, an ancestor found a way to prevent a member of the family from inheriting the art if he/she didn’t agree to keep the collection together.  The current owner says it is both a blessing and a curse because the responsibility for keeping the collection is huge.


I loved this room because its the ballroom.  It is actually two rooms, both covered in beautiful silk wallpaper.  The floor is parquet wood, perfect for dancing.  On the far left side, you can see the little area where the orchestra would have sat.

We saw many other incredible rooms of the Palazzo (which means “palace” in Italian), but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.  Most I’ve included here came from the web.  If you ever get to Rome, you must plan a visit here.  It’s well worth a couple hours of your time.



Next was the Pantheon, or as it’s known today, the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs.  It is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome because it was converted to a church during the 2nd century.  If you were curious about where all the bones from the catacombs we visited the other day, many were moved here.  It was thought appropriate at the time because they believed many of the bodies buried in the catacombs were martyrs.


This is the alter inside.  It’s one of the few churches we’ve been in that actually has pews and a posted Mass schedule.


The church is also the burial place of Raphael, yes, THAT Raphael.



Here’s my attempt to show you just how big this building is.  Its either the largest dome, or the second largest, in the world.  It’s an engineering marvel that the Emperor Hadrian was said to have personally designed.  The scale is huge and the opening at the top, known as the oculus, is 9 meters wide and completely open to the elements.  When it rains, it rains in a perfect circle in the church.  Yes, there’s drainage that appears to work well, because it doesn’t seam to be a problem.

The second photo above is actually three separate photos, all hooked together. It was the only way to get everything in one shot.  If you overlap them in your mind, you can get an idea of what the inside of the Pantheon looks like.



This is the fountain outside the Pantheon.  As you can see, it is another Egyptian obelisk.  These obelisks are real.  They were made in Egypt about 1300 B.C. and brought to Rome around the time of Christ.  You can tell that this one was “exorcised” of any demons because a Christian symbol has been added to the top. But up close, you can still easily see the Egyptian markings. I think this one used to be in Helios and was also at Circus Maximus for centuries.

When Christianity rose in Rome, many of the obelisks were removed from the city’s older buildings and put in front of churches. It was sort of an ancient map quest device. It let pilgrims know which buildings were important to visit.


Here we are!  And yes, that’s a horse-drawn carriage behind us.  I can’t even begin to imagine taking a carriage ride through Roman traffic.  It’s completely horrifying.  That’s also the entrance to the Pantheon behind us. We are standing on the steps of the fountain in the pictures above.


This is Piaza Navona.  It has several fountains by Bernini, a very famous sculptor and architect.  It is said that in his lifetime, Bernini created over 3000 sculptures, including the Tevoli Fountain.  He also had something like 11 children, so he was a busy guy.


Another fountain in Piaza Navona.



This is the famous fountain in Piaza Navona.  It represents the four great rivers of the world.



We found a little goofy gladiator fun along the way.  : )


Okay, this one had me in hysterics.  Only in Rome would hot priests make it in a calendar!


We saw signs for McDonalds everywhere.  They always had an arrow and “3 minutes” if you walked that way.  But we could never actually find one.  Well, we discovered why.  The one we stumbled on by accident was just a doorway that lead down steps, like you were walking into a subway.  The McDonalds was way under the building and way back off the street.  It was also enormous — like the size of a high school gym.  There were many walk up counters and I couldn’t see the end of the seating area.


There were also about 20 of these self-order stations.



And what’s up with the menu?  We only get cruddy fried apple pies.  I want what the Romans get!


The Spanish Steps were more involved than I originally thought.  I thought it was a staircase.  No, it’s actually a series of staircases.  At the end of a long day, it about did me in.


So I stopped on one of the landings to take a picture.  My favorite part is the father patiently letting his son wear himself out by climbing and climbing and climbing.  I predict that kid will sleep well tonight!



This is Piaza Del Popolo.  It’s huge and was full of people, but there wasn’t much else here.  Well, except for another obelisk.



Bob meets Barbie!  She invited him to her house.





Apparently not all Italians are known for their pride.


When I took this picture I thought “Italian Westie!” but after chatting with the owners, this is actually a Swiss Westie on vacation.  We got it on good authority that he really hates Rome and is looking forward to going home.

Tivoli, Italy

A view of the Organ Fountain from below. Villa D’Este.

Today, we took a short day trip to Tivoli, the ancient home of emperors and popes.  There, we saw the Emperor Hadrian’s home. It was a technological marvel, built in the 1st century A.D.  It’s a single home, with many different buildings, that sits on about 120 hecatres. Considering the entire city of Pompeii sits on only 60 hectares, that’s a big, incredible house!

Some quick facts about Hadrian’s villa:  It had two baths, one for Hadrian and his guests (the Small Bath) and another for the nearly 2000 slaves who worked at the villa (the Large Bath).  That’s a lot of slaves and Hadrian couldn’t have them wandering around disturbing his peace, so there are several kilometers of tunnels running under the villa.  In fact, the only entrance to the Large Bath was from this underground tunnels.  Those tunnels are considered the world’s first subway because they were big enough for chariots to make delivers to the various buildings.

My favorite part was the outdoor dining room that could seat 600 guests.  At the front of the room was an alcove where Hadrian and his closest 20 (or so) guests would eat.  If Hadrian wanted privacy from the 100s of guests, he only had to flip a switch and a waterfall would tumble from the roof and provide a curtain between him and his most important guests and the rest of the rabble.  : )

Finally, most of Hadrian’s villa was used as a marble quarry when Cardinal D’Este built his home in Tivoli in about the 1500s.  That Cardinal was an important (and rich!) man since he was the son of Lucretia Borgia and a nephew of the pope at the time.  His home is known for its gardens and the nearly 500 fountains it contains.  It was incredibly impressive and was used as a model for people like the Vanderbilts in the 1880s-1890s when they were building their incredible homes in the United States.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking!


The large bath at Hadrian’s Villa.


This is the outdoor dining room that seated 600 people, believe it or not.  The guests sat all along the sides of the pool (which was NOT for swimming!) and Hadrian and his VIPs sat at the end under the roof.  The only reason any of the statues or columns still exist is they had fallen into the pool and were covered with dirt, so they weren’t noticed when Cardinal D’Este carried away all the rest of the marble for his villa.


A view down the side towards where Hadrian would have sat for dinner.  You can see how the waterfall would cascade from the roof and curtain off the crowds.


Here’s an idea of where the underground tunnels would have looked like.  Of course, they would have been covered in Hadrians day.


Bob actually ordered a Diet Coke with his lunch.  Mark it down! We sat next to a mother and her 19 year old son from England and had a really delightful lunch.  Since Mom was originally from Scotland, we had quite an animated discussion about the Scottish vote for independence taking place today.  That conversation had the Australians across the aisle from us involved, as well.


The fountain in the courtyard of Villa D’Este.  The statue of Venus along the bottom, just above the plants, was probably originally at Hadrian’s Villa.


The gardens at Villa D’Este are built on a steep hill. Here’s a picture of what they originally looked like.  All visitors arrived at the bottom of the gardens and had to climb their way to the top to meet with the Cardinal in the Villa.  We made that climb and I can tell you, it’s a cardiac workout.


A view from one of the terraces on the way down.


This is the Organ Fountain.  The internal mechanism diverts water in a way that air is pushed through organ pipes and water plays over the keys, thus playing the organ.  It’s a little like a player piano, only there’s no finesse.  I thought the music sounded like a child’s attempt.  Here’s a short video, you can judge for yourself!



Here we are in front of the Organ Fountain.  We’re facing the fountain and the picture below shows what it overlooks.  It was so peaceful.


A view from the terrace where the Organ Fountain is.


Not far from the Organ Fountain is this restful grotto.  It was blocked to tourists, but there is a colonnade that runs through the back of this fountain.  On a hot day, it would have been cool and restful.


This is the walkway of 100 fountains.  Again, it was wonderfully cool and an nice break from the heat.


This is the Dragon Fountain.  I’m sorry I didn’t get a better picture of it because it was quite impressive.  From the terrace I’m standing on, two grand curved staircases descend on either side.  Both have water running along beside them and it was very grand.


A view of the Villa itself from the walkway of 100 Fountains.  You get the idea of how steep the hillside is.  It was quite a climb!


I don’t know the name of this fountain, but it has several tiny models of some of the ancient buildings in Rome. Some of them show us what those buildings looked like since they fell down long ago.


I’d kill for a curling iron!  : )


This is the Organ Fountain from below.  It’s a showstopper.


5,250 Miles.

Okay, the Blue Ridge Parkway was kind of a bust.  We tried to drive its entire length, but we ran into a detour that took us off the road for about 50 miles.  Then, when we got back on, we realized Spring really hadn’t sprung, yet.  There were very few budding trees and everything was gray and wintery.  Also, none of the visitor centers were open — so no bathrooms.  They were kind enough to leave Port-A-Potties in the parking lots, but beyond disgusting doesn’t even begin to describe them.  So after a morning of frustration, we just plugged our next destination into the Magellen.  After hours of driving, we were only 15 minutes closer to that destination than we were that morning at the hotel!  Ugh!

That destination was Charlottesville, Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson’s home is.  It’s called Monticello.  You’ve all seen that home:  its on the back of every nickel.  Take a look at the pictures and see for yourself.  They’re here.

I learned some very interesting things.  First, about the house.  I always saw pictures of the house, like what you see on the nickel, and assumed that was the entire house.  Not so.  The majority of the house is actually in the basement.  The construction was ingenious (no surprise, Jefferson designed it himself).  The main part of the house that we’ve all seen is where Jefferson lived and conducted his work.  Inside are bedrooms, a receiving room, a parlor and a dining room.  The rest of the necessary rooms to run a house are one floor below under long walkways that extend out of the sides of the house and then make right hand turns and extend even further from the back of the house.  These “basement” rooms include the kitchen, a smokehouse, the ice house, several privies, slave quarters, storage rooms, and more.  All the areas are well lighted, well ventilated, and they stay nice and cool. The roofs are covered by earth, but the land drops away so the sides of the rooms are completely open.  See the pictures, it was very interesting.

The second thing I learned blew my mind.  Maybe I’m naive, but I just never thought about it.  You’ve probably heard that after Jefferson’s wife died in 1782, he had a slave mistress for 4 decades with whom he had 6 children (4 lived to be adults).  After lots of scholarly debate and some DNA evidence, it is largely accepted that this is all true.  What I didn’t know is the woman in question was 3/4 European ancestry and was reported to be exceptionally beautiful, white, and she had long, straight hair.  What’s more, she was a half sister to Jefferson’s beloved wife.  That means the children she had with Jefferson were ⅞ Eurpean. In fact, when the children came of age (about 1810 to 1825), Jefferson allowed them to leave the plantation and 3 of the 4 passed into white society, married and carried on with their lives.  The fourth one identified himself as mulatto and married a mixed race woman.  His family continued to intermarry through the generations and his is the only branch of the family that is of color.  One of the other sons formerly changed his name to Jefferson and he and his son spent years of their lives working in their state legislatures (Ohio and California), and it was known that they were the son/grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

I found this whole dynamic fascinating.  What’s more, the children apparently looked just like Jefferson.  On several occasions, guests at dinner looked from the servant to Jefferson and obviously realized the connection.  One minister who was a guest at Monticello wrote in his diary his disapproval of Jefferson holding his own children in slavery.

Apparently the lives of all the slaves at Monticello were pretty good.  Jefferson’s own children were allowed to stay in the house and were assigned light household duties when they were children.  When they became teenagers, they were assigned to their mother’s brother (also a slave) who was a master carpenter, so they learned a trade that they could use to support themselves outside the institution of slavery.  His daughter became a weaver.

When Jefferson died, his two youngest children were teenagers and hadn’t been freed yet.  Jefferson’s will freed them, as well as their mother’s brothers. It didn’t free Sally, their mother.  However, Jefferson’s daughter (the only surviving child that he had with his wife) allowed Sally to leave with her sons and she lived as a free white woman for the remaining 10 years of her life.

The question I had is what was the nature of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally?  Did he love her?  The general thinking is that yes, he did.  Their affair began when Sally traveled to Paris with Jefferson’s daughter as a lady’s maid. Sally and the daughter stayed for a time with Abigail Adams and her husband in England. During that time, Abigail wrote to Jefferson stating the maid who had accompanied his daughter was a handful. I forget the words she used, but the gist was Sally was a hot little number and looking for trouble. She’d need a lot of supervision to keep her out of trouble.

I’m guessing Jefferson wasn’t immune to her charms. 🙂  When Sally entered France, she became a free woman under French law. She could have stayed, it was her choice.  Instead, Jefferson begged her to return to the US with him and he promised to treat her well.  He also promised to free all her children when they came of age.  She agreed and he kept his promises because Sally had an easy life working in his home at light chores.

For more details, see the Wikipidia entries for Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Jefferson-Hemings Controversy.

The Dry Tortugas

3365 miles traveled.

Today was a bucket list day for me.  I’ve always wanted to see Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, and today was the day.  It’s really an amazing place.  To get there, we had to take a boat about 70 miles due west of Key West.  There sits Fort Jefferson. It looks like it is just rising out of the ocean. It is the largest structure built from brick anywhere in the world.  It took 16 million bricks and it was never completed.

Fort Jefferson is a five-sided, two story structure that was made to hold over 400 guns (cannon sized) and 2,000 men.  It was one of the first major undertakings of the Army Corp of Engineers and certainly the first project they built at sea. Construction began in 1846 and went on for 30 years, until the fort was abandoned in 1874.

The fort is built on a 10-acre sand bar in the middle of nowhere.  Why?  Why would they build something so enormous and labor-intensive in the middle of nowhere?  After all, everything needed to be shipped in.  All the building materials, all the food, even the drinking water, had to be shipped.  At the time, that meant wooden sailing vessels.  So, why?

It all began right after the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the US in one fell swoop.  It also gave us the very valuable port of New Orleans and use of the entire Mississippi River as a means of moving goods.  That was worth protecting.  The location of the fort allowed the US to control access to the Gulf of Mexico, thus protecting our trade routes.  Also, the island is the only safe harbor for 70 miles.  It has a natural deep water channel that’s perfect for anchoring a boat and that channel is surrounded by shallower areas.  In a storm, a boat anchored in the harbor is protected from most of the pounding waves by the surrounding shallow areas.  Even today, when a hurricane approaches, the channel fills with all kinds of boats from all over the Gulf because of this protection.  In the 1800’s the fort could deny anchorage to an enemy vessel and leave it to the mercy of an approaching storm.

While the fort could, in theory, train 125 guns on any target, no matter the angle of approach, and it could fire a shot 3 miles, it never saw a battle.  The closest it came to was in 1861 when Florida seceded from the union.  One fishing boat sailed up and demanded the fort (which was a Union post) surrender.  The commander allowed the ship to sail away unharmed to spread the word that the fort was under Union control.  It was all a bluff because most of the guns hadn’t been delivered yet and the fort was nearly harmless.

The fort is most famous as the prison of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a convicted co-conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination.  He’s the guy they’re referring to whenever someone says “his name is Mudd.”  Anyway, he was imprisoned at the fort for 4 years when a yellow fever epidemic hit and killed every single member of the medical staff.  Dr. Mudd volunteered to help and he did such careful research and kept such detailed notes that later analysis helped the docs in Washington figure out better treatments, and ultimately the cause, of yellow fever.  Dr. Mudd’s services were so valuable, the soldiers at the fort petitioned President Johnson to pardon him and it was eventually granted.

Take a look at the photos here.  There’s so much to tell you about the fort, especially its construction, that I put most of the details in the captions on the photos.  It’s really a cool place.