Monday, February 25, 2013

MOUNTAIN VIEW CEMETERY: in Oakland, CA--Bankers, Chocolate Kings and Ordinary People

View of Mountain View Cemetery from the Fish Nichols plot
On a recent sunny afternoon, I visited Mountain View Cemetery in the Piedmont area of Oakland in search of the grave site of Juliet Fish Nichols, the lighthouse keeper on Angel Island from 1902 to 1914.  I had learned about her last summer on a trip to Angel Island and about her heroic efforts to keep the fog bell ringing on a very foggy night in the summer of 1906 after the devastating San Francisco earthquake. (See my post for July 30, 2012.)  After retiring, she returned to her home in Oakland where she lived until she died in 1947. She is buried in the cemetery alongside her husband, father, and mother.

Mausoleum of Charles Crocker (1822-1888) founder of Crocker Bank
I found Julia's tombstone in the family plot, high on a hill with a spectacular view and a host of impressive neighbors–Charles Crocker of Crocker Bank, Domingo Ghiradelli, the “chocolate king”, Julia Morgan, California’s first woman architect, James Folger, the coffee producer–and many more of the people who are integral to California’s history.  Luckily, we  had picked up a brochure at the park office near the entrance on our way in along with a guide to the cemetery and the graves of some of its notable residents--a kind of crib-sheet to local history.

Crocker's tomb, upper left; Samuel Merritt, right, with pyramid on top
The brochure also included a brief history of the building of the cemetery, which was designed by the well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park in New York City. In 1863, Olmstead was in California writing a report on Yosemite in an effort to convince Congress to make it into a national park.  The city of Oakland, rapidly growing on the East Side of San Francisco Bay, had bought 220 acres of land for a cemetery in the Oakland hills and invited Olmstead to create a design for it, which he did.  His design, an elegant blending of art and nature with majestic avenues, winding roads, shaded paths and inspiring vistas, among beautiful plantings of trees and flowers, became one of the most prominent garden cemeteries in America.

Avenue leading to top of hill
On the day we visited we saw some families tending graves, but the cemetery is so large that as we drove up the hill to find Juliet Nichols grave, we encountered few people and were aware mainly of the quiet and peacefulness of the site.  When we got to the top, we had stunning views of San Francisco and the whole Bay Area.  We were there in December and the entrance of the cemetery was decorated with a large nutcracker figure for the holidays and inside they had a special display of holiday lights.

You can take free docent led tours of the cemetery at 10:00 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. For more information about visiting Mountain View Cemetery and learning about its historic residents go to

Sunday, February 24, 2013

25,000 Views of The Intrepid Tourist

As of today, the counter has ticked over to 25,000 views of The Intrepid Tourist since I launched the blog in April 2011! When I started, I wasn't sure that anyone out there would be interested in reading my posts.  Apparently there are!  My thanks to all of you who have been reading The Intrepid Tourist!  According to the Blogger stats, 10,000 of your views have come from the United States, 2000 from Russia, 1400 from United Kingdom, and significant others from Canada, Ukraine, Germany, France, Australia, India, Poland, Taiwan, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore and Turkey. (It varies from day to day, so I am sure there are more countries not currently listed.)  I am gratified to be reaching such a wide audience.  You can look forward to more weekly reports!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Eagles in Iowa and Other Birds of Prey, Guest Post by Barbara Siebenschuh

Bald Eagles, along the Iowa River near Iowa City, Iowa
My friend Barbara Siebenschuh, classmate (Grinnell College) and roommate (University of Iowa), who still lives in Iowa City, recently went out on a cold winter day with two friends to look for bald eagles.  In winter, bald eagles gather, often in large groups, along the rivers and lakes of Iowa, where they hunt for fish.  I think you will enjoy reading her report.
On Saturday, I went with two friends to look for bald eagles and other birds. We were going to watch from observation areas in Muscatine, Iowa, and from our car, because it was soooo cold out. Our day began with a bang when we stopped in Iowa City near the recycling area and could see a "cluster bomb" of bald eagles in the trees near the Iowa River. Some were flying but most were just hanging out. Al got out and took pictures because we were on the other side of the river from the birds--otherwise the birds can get spooked. We proceeded to an area near the Iowa River in Hills, Iowa, and were still seeing birds. 
Barn Owl
Then we took off for Muscatine to a place near the Mississippi River. When we arrived, there was an "Eagle Watch" event. Not only could people be inside or outside, but sheltered, to watch eagle activity on the river; there was also a lecture being given with actual birds of prey. We missed the horned owl talk, but we saw a barn owl, a peregrine falcon, and a bald eagle. These birds were rescued from injuries and most cannot fly. They were magnificent none the less.
Bald Eagle

The handler of the eagle, who was from Wildlife Prairie State Park in Illinois, said all these birds tolerated humans but were not tamed or trained. The eagle was huge. One of his wings was deformed. The handler could never touch him or the eagle would rip at him. His beak can snap chicken bones into three or four parts. It was "mutual trust" that the handler would not touch the bird and the bird had never bitten him. Owls and other birds had bitten the handler though. While the talk was being given, each bird was sitting on the handler's arm, which was covered with a big glove.
The eagles were from a sanctuary in Illinois. We learned that the bald eagles got fish in the a.m. and a rat at night. One day a week they were not fed, as this mimics their life in the wild.  The mostly eat prey four pounds or under; so small cats and dogs are potential prey if the animals are small sized. Eagles soar the highest and have wonderful sight.
Peregrine Falcon
We were mesmerized at this live demonstration. The peregrine falcon was a lot smaller but we learned interesting facts about his coloring, big eyebrows, and speed. (They can dive at speeds up to 200 mph!) After the show, we could get a bit closer. It was awesome.
We then went to Davenport, Iowa, and to Credit Island Park where we saw more birds as we drove out of the park. Staying in the car, we were about twelve feet from bald eagles, who stayed in their trees, probably because we did not get out of the car. In areas where there was a lot of open water we saw eagles swooping to catch fish; where there was more ice but holes in the ice, eagles sat there dragging fish out when they could. Along the way we also saw hawks, gulls and blackbirds - but no wild turkeys.
It was really a neat outing.

Eagles near the Iowa River in Iowa City, Iowa
 We thank Al Persson for the wonderful photos of eagles and the other birds.

Monday, February 11, 2013

MARY ANNING's Amazing Fossils at the Natural History Museum, London

"Mary Anning" at the Museum of Natural History, London
In 1811, Mary Anning and her older brother Joseph discovered a strange-looking skull eroding out of the cliffs of Lyme Regis on England’s Dorset coast.  The fossil turned out to be the head of an ichthyosaur, a sea-going contemporary of the dinosaurs.  (At the time the word “dinosaur” had not yet been coined.)  This was the first of Mary Anning's many remarkable discoveries, now on display at the British Natural History Museum in London.
Meeting Mary Anning
On a recent trip to London, I visited the museum, and as I walked along the gallery where Mary Anning’s fossils are displayed, who should I see, but Mary Anning herself!  Of course, it was not the real Mary Anning, who lived from 1799 to 1847, but a character actor, who was delighted to interact with me and other visitors as if we were still in the early 19th century.  For me, this was a special treat, as I had researched Mary Anning’s life and written about her discoveries in two of my books, Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age and Pterosaurs: Rulers of the Skies in the Dinosaur Age.

Ichthyosaur fossil, 203 - 194 million years old. Like reptiles that live on land, ichthyosaurs needed to breathe air.  Their nostrils were located in front of their eyes.
Fossil hunting in Britain had its “golden age” in the first half of the nineteenth century.  People collected fossils for fun and profit as well as for academic study.  Mary Anning collected fossils from the rocks along the shore near Lyme Regis and sold them to support her family.  She had little formal education, but an uncanny ability to find fossils.  The ichthyosaur skeleton, and many of Mary’s other finds, were used by leading scientists of the time as a basis for their new theories about Earth’s history.
Ichthyosaur head. The large eye of an ichthyosaur was surrounded by a doughnut-shaped bone called the sclerotic ring.  Large eyes enabled ichthyosaurs to see well in dim ocean depths.
The cliffs at Lyme Regis, on England’s southern coast, are filled with the remains of marine animals that had lived 200 million years earlier, during Jurassic times, when this region was a shallow sea.  When Mary Anning’s brother Joseph first saw the ichthyosaur skull, he thought it was a crocodile.  Later, after a fierce storm washed away more of the cliff, Mary discovered the neck and shoulders of the animal’s skeleton. At the time, she was only thirteen years old.  She and her brother excavated the bones and sold them to a fossil collector from London, who thought they belonged to a giant fish.  At the time, little was known about prehistoric sea reptiles.  It was not until several years later, after similar fossils had been found, that the skeleton was correctly identified as that of an ichthyosaur.  Because these strange animals seemed to be part fish and part reptile, they were given a scientific name meaning “fish lizard.”
Plesiosaur skeleton, 203 - 194 million years old.  Collected by Mary Anning in 1824.
In addition to her discoveries of at least three ichthyosaur skeletons, Mary Anning found fossils of two plesiosaurs and a pterodactyl, as well as numerous fish, ammonites (spiral-shelled mollusks that are ancient relatives of the chambered nautilus), brittle stars, and other marine animals, including many belemnites.  Like squid, belemnites had ink sacs.  One of the belemnites she found was complete with its fossil ink!
Ammonites from Lyme Regis
Mary Anning collected fossils for many of the leading scientists of the day and her work helped develop new ideas about what the world was like in prehistoric times.  As a woman and without a formal education, she was not recognized in her time.  Today, she is given credit for some of the most amazing fossil discoveries ever made.

Recommended book:
I recently read about Mary Anning in the book, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracy Chevalier.  This fictionalized story of Mary Anning and her relationship with the Philpot sisters who helped promote her work, brings the town of Lyme Regis to life and makes you appreciate the difficulty of fossil collecting and the amazing contribution Mary Anning has made to our understanding of prehistoric life.  The book is also a window on the social and religious conventions of the time and how Mary Anning’s  fossils challenged many of those ideas.

Monday, February 4, 2013

MOROCCO: Marrakech, Fes and Rabat, Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman

Marrakech has a number of spice shops in the medina (the old quarter). These blue canisters were more elaborate than the enticements of most of the shops.
My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, is a professor at Arizona State University; she travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. She recently visited Morocco traveling to Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat and has graciously agreed to share some of her experiences. Kathryn is an avid and talented photographer and is exhibiting her photos during February and March 2013 in the Vault Gallery of the library of Arizona State University’s downtown campus in Phoenix. I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. Here are her impressions of her trip.

All the old cities in Morocco that I visited were enclosed by tall thick walls, punctuated by gates at key intervals. This gate in Meknes, a former royal capital near Fes, is typical in scale and elaborate decoration.
The year 2012 was special because my job at Arizona State University took me to some interesting places.  One exciting adventure was my participation in the International Women’s Forum conference in Rabat, Morocco in May. I met fascinating women from all over the world and learned more about the Arab Spring, the theme of the conference. We also had a chance to go to the royal palace for a reception hosted by Princess Lalla Salma, wife of King Mohammed VI.
One evening I discovered a lantern vendor on Djemaa el-Fna. The candles twinkled through the perforations in the brass lanterns, making a lovely pattern of light and shadow on the pavement and the people passing by.

I took advantage of being in Morocco to visit Marrakech and Fes—stayed in the medina in each place and absorbed the sights and sounds and flavors of North Africa. The shops in the medina sold basic spices such as cinnamon or mint, but each shop had its own special blend of dozens of spices for mixing with fish or vegetables.  My strongest memory is sitting on the rooftop terrace of my inn and hearing the sunset call to prayer coming from all directions as each mosque broadcast the time to its neighborhood.  King Mohammed has responded to the Arab Spring protests with a series of reforms, including a new constitution, that move in the right direction, although not as far or as fast as some would like.

In the medina of Fes, groups of women and groups of men get together (separately) to chat about everything from the weather to the absurdities of the tourists. Many women of all ages wear headscarves, even though Morocco is more relaxed about religious practices than some other Muslim countries. A surprising number of both women and men also wear caftans, perhaps for comfort, perhaps to keep their western-style clothes clean underneath.

The center of old Marrakech is Djemaa el-Fna, a huge plaza filled with tea vendors, snake charmers, trinket vendors, traditional musicians and dancers. In the evening, mobile restaurants move in, many of them serving grilled skewers of meats and vegetables. I ate at the stalls with the largest numbers of local people. Cheap and delicious!

In the 1920s, artist Jacques Marjorelle created a modernist garden of sunny yellow, cobalt blue, and cool green, later purchased by Yves Saint Laurent. A city park today, the garden is an oasis of trees, flowers, and structures in a busy section of Marrakech.

Left:  Blue doorway in the garden created by Jacques Marjorelle.