Monday, March 31, 2014

CAPE LEEUWIN LIGHTHOUSE, AUSTRALIA: Where the Southern and Indian Oceans Meet

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Western Australia
At a recent meeting of my book club we discussed The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, a story that takes place at a lighthouse station on an island off the coast of Western Australia just after the First World War.  The story is fiction but the setting is based on real towns and lighthouses on the Australian coast, and reminded me of our visit to Australia’s extreme southwestern corner in 2007.
The lighthouse, built of limestone, is 128' (39 m) tall.
We were visiting a friend who lived in Augusta, not far from Cape Leeuwin and its famous lighthouse.  One day we went to visit the lighthouse and nearby Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
Looking north from the top of the lighthouse. The buildings along the strip of land going to the mainland are used by the lighthouse keepers.
It was a beautiful day so we climbed the steep lighthouse steps for a view from the top. One can look south to the ocean--next stop Antarctica!-- or north to the mainland. Opened in 1895, the lighthouse has since been automated. The lighthouse, besides being a navigational aid, serves as an important automatic weather station.
Cape Leeuwin  is the most south-westerly mainland point of the Australian Continent, in the state of Western Australia. It got its name from the Dutch sailors who first came to the area in 1622.
And, of course, we couldn’t resist having our picture taken next to the sign marking the place where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean meet. In Australia, the Cape is considered the point where these two oceans meet; however most other nations and bodies consider the Southern Ocean to only exist south of 60 degrees South.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park has extensive heath vegetation and thick scrub which supports a high number of plant and bird species that utilise this coastal habitat.

Rottnest Lighthouse
On that same trip to Western Australia we also took a day trip to Rottnest Island near Perth.  Originally built as a penal colony, it is now a tourist destination.  No cars are allowed on the island, but one can rent bicycles, which we did, and rode to the Rottnest Lighthouse.  On our way we met numerous quokkas–small marsupials extinct everywhere in Australia except on Rottnest.  They were remarkably fearless and approached us hoping for a handout.

For more about the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, click HERE.
For more about Rottnest Island, click HERE.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Will Rogers House, Will Rogers State Park
When I have visitors in Los Angeles, one of my favorite places to take them is Will Rogers State Historic Park, the former home of the famous cowboy, humorist, film star and commentator of the 1920s and 1930s.  Tucked into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Sunset Boulevard, the ranch style home looks out over a broad lawn (once used by Will’s friends to practice golf) and a large field where Will and his friends played polo. The field is still used for weekend matches and occasionally we take a picnic and sit on the sidelines and watch. A short walk from the house leads to the stables where Will once kept his horses.  According to Will, “A man that don’t love a horse, there is something the matter with him.” Today one can go for horse riding lessons and trail rides in the park.

Horses in one of the corrals
On a recent Sunday when my brothers were in town, we spent an afternoon at the park.  We began at the small museum adjacent to the house.  People of our parents' generation have fond memories of listening to Will Rogers on the radio, seeing him in movies, and reading his newspaper columns, but for most of us today Will Rogers is a historical figure. Will was born in 1879 of Cherokee and European descent. He was raised on a ranch in Oklahoma where he learned to ride and rope, skills that led him to perform in Wild West shows, and eventually brought him to Hollywood. He died in an airplane crash in Alaska in 1935. In the museum are photographs and exhibits and a wonderful video showing his amazing rope tricks and clips from some of his speeches. 
At Christmas time the house is decorated by volunteers
Thursday through Sunday, volunteers lead free tours of Will Rogers’ house, providing an opportunity to see his collection of Western art, hear some of the many stories about his life, and get a sense of the casual and comfortable style of life he preferred.  Despite his fame and wealth, Will did not live the glamorous life of other movie stars of the time. Instead, he entertained with casual barbecues and sing-a-longs and decorated his house in a homey, ranch style. 
View of Los Angeles from Inspiration Point, Will Rogers State Park
After our tour we set out for a walk on the loop trail up to Inspiration Point.  Following the dirt path past the stables, we wound our way uphill.  As we passed the corrals, a few friendly horses came over for a pat on the nose. Although the trail is not strenuous, I chose to loop the other way and met the rest of the group on their way back down.  I have been to the top many times and the view of the city and Pacific Ocean is impressive.
Will Rogers lived on the ranch from 1926 to 1935
Perhaps Will Rogers’ most famous quip was: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” His house and ranch reflect his generous spirit and love of the outdoors. After Will Rogers died, his daughter donated the house and ranch to the state of California so that it would be preserved as a state park. We are lucky she did.
For directions and information about visiting the park go to .

Monday, March 17, 2014


The Vista Del Lago Visitor Center is a cool and refreshing stop along I-5
Along Interstate 5 an hour north of Los Angeles Pyramid Lake lies nestled between the steep hills of the southern California mountains.  The Vista Del Lago Visitor Center sits on a scenic overlook of the lake. The lake and dam are part of the California State Water Project. Most of the time as Art and I travel this route between northern and southern California we zoom by the lake, eager to get home. But on a recent trip, we decided to make the visitor center a rest stop and ended up spending considerable time looking at the many exhibits.

A zigzag line was the Egyptian symbol for water
Water has been important since the dawn of time. The exhibits begin with dioramas depicting the history of water use in ancient civilizations ranging from Roman aqueducts, to the Egyptian Shadouf and Nilometer, to China’s Dujiangyan Irrigation Canal, to the Stepwells of India and Pakistan.

A stepwell is a stairway into the earth, leading to an underground pool. Invented in the late sixth century, these ingenious devices allowed people to collect water at various levels, depending on the height of the water table at different times of year. Stepwells were both practical sources of water and beautiful structures. They were widely used for hundreds of years.  Then, during the mid-nineteenth century, as modern water pumps and plumbing replaced the need for open wells, most stepwells were abandoned and fell into disrepair.  Today, some have been restored and preserved as historic sites. 

Another exhibit is a video display projected on a map of the state of California. As you listen to the narration, bright lights illuminate various parts of the state water project (SWP), including Pyramid Lake and the dam.  According to the brochure I picked up at the desk, the SWP spans more than 600 miles from Northern California to Southern California and includes 32 storage facilities, 17 pumping plants, 3 pumping-generating plants, 5 hydroelectric power plants and approximately 660 miles of canals and pipelines.  I now have a new appreciation of the many canals that we see as we drive along I-5 between the Bay Area and southern California!

Another room provides a time-line of the development of water resources in California during the last century.  The doorway into the exhibit is the actual diameter of the pipe that carries water from the Castaic power plant at the end of the lake!

Pyramid Lake and Dam.  Completed in 1973, they were named after the pyramid shaped rock carved out by engineers building the Old Highway 99, now replaced by I-5.  Water stored in this man-made reservoir flows through the Castaic Power plant and generates electricity for the Los Angeles area.
After we finished looking at the exhibits we went outside to take in the view and watch the boats on the lake below.  Someday, we’ll stop longer and visit one of the picnic areas along the lakeshore. 

For more information about Pyramid Lake and the Vista Del Lago Visitor Center, click here.

Note:  Unlike many of California's reservoirs which are severely depleted because of the drought, Pyramid Lake is nearly full.  

Monday, March 10, 2014


Floating Market, Thailand
I have never been to Thailand, but I learned about the traditional floating markets when doing a research project. I would love to see them someday.  My husband’s Aunt Carolyn was luckier. She visited Thailand in the 1960's and '70's and wrote about the floating markets in her memoir.

Ready for launch trip to floating markets
Every visitor to Bangkok visits the floating markets. One takes a motor launch on the Chao Phyra River for some distance down stream, then turns off into a small canal or klong, for a close-up view of the klong people. Luxuriant vegetation and overhanging trees lining the klong show that the jungle is near.
Canal with boats

Soon the market appears with many sampans jockeying for position in the crowded market for the day’s trading. The sampans are filled with exotic fruits: mangoes, papaya, rambutan (a small red prickly fruit whose succulent pulp belied its outer appearance.)  I tried a “love apple” but found it loveless. Bargaining is done from boat to boat. There are also platforms built at the canal’s edge where more traditional trading is done.
Bargaining for Batiks
I first visited Thailand when there were no buses from the airport to the city.  The road had recently been graded, but not paved.  My tour group rode in a procession of cars.  In front of our hotel, the Erawan, the wide canal was being filled in and the street is now a wide boulevard. 
Excerpted from Up and Down and Around the World With Carrie by Carolyn T. Arnold

More about the floating markets:
Damnoen Saduak is a group of canals about fifty miles from the capital city of Bangkok.  It is the biggest floating market in Thailand. Its canals were built around 1866 when Thailand was called Siam and was ruled by King Rama the Fourth. (Siam began to be called Thailand in 1939.  The name means “free nation.”)

Every morning the canals are filled with long boats piled high with fruit, vegetables, rice and other crops grown on country farms.  Thousands of people, including many tourists, shop at this colorful and noisy floating market. The main canal at Damnoen Saduak, which connects the Mae Klong river and the Tacheen River, is 32 km long. About 200 smaller canals branch off the main canal and within this complex are three market areas--Ton Khem, Kia Kui and Khum Phitak.
Floating Market
Most of the goods at the floating market are sold by women wearing bright blue shirts and blue pants.  Wide-brimmed hats made of bamboo and palm leaves shade them from the hot sun. Expertly steering their boats, they paddle up and down the canals.  Some sell mangoes, grapes, coconuts.  Some cook noodles or fried bananas on small stoves on their boats.  Others sell fish, meat and other goods.

Most of Thailand’s food is grown in the rich soil on its broad central plain.  Water comes to the fields from the river through thousands of small canals, a system of water highways that connects farms to towns and cities. Canals used to be common in most towns and cities as well.   People used the water for washing and drinking and boats were the main form of transportation. In recent years, however, most of the canals have been filled in and made into streets. (See comment by Aunt Carolyn above.)  Now taxis, cars, and bicycles go where boats once traveled. People get the water they need from faucets connected to pipes underground and buy what they need from markets along the street. Just a few canal systems and floating markets remain in the towns of Thailand.

More about Caroline T. Arnold:
Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.

(All photos are by Carolyn T. Arnold)  

Monday, March 3, 2014


Grand Canyon, Arizona. The Colorado River winds along the bottom.
A few weeks ago, my brother Tom and a friend took a trip to the  Grand Canyon in Arizona, visiting the South Rim.  At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the top of the canyon can be cold and snowy in winter. Although there were a few patches of snow near the top, the weather was clear and mild–perfect for sightseeing and hiking.
Kaibab Trail to the bottom of the canyon
They began their hike at the South Kaibab trail. Tom’s friend continued to the bottom and then hiked back up the Bright Angel trail (a round trip of more than twenty miles, descending a mile into the canyon from the rim), while Tom, after going partway down, returned to the rim, stopping to take pictures along the way.  He has graciously allowed me to share some of them here.
Tom takes a rest with a view.
For people who prefer not to make the hike on foot, there is the option of riding a mule.
Mules ready for riders.
At the eastern end of the South Rim, Tom and his friend visited the watchtower at Desert View--so named because of views from there of the Painted Desert to the east.

Desert view from the Watchtower
The watchtower, which sits on a promontory at edge of the canyon, was designed in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Colter, who traveled throughout the southwest to find inspiration and authenticity for her buildings. The tower was patterned after those she found at Hovenweep and the Round Tower of Mesa Verde.
Watchtower designed by Mary Colter.
The white decorative stones near the top of the tower, which fade out as the eye goes around the tower, follow a pattern used at Chaco Canyon.

Navajo Etched Pottery in Kiva Room of Watchtower
The kiva room of the watchtower, which is now used as retail space, was originally designed as a rest area. It was here that visitors to the canyon in the 1930’s could sit in comfort and have outstanding views of the canyon. And if you climb the stairs to the top of the tower you get an even better view.

For a VIDEO and more of the fascinating history of Mary Colter’s Watchtower go to .

For a list of HIKES and useful information about hiking in Grand Canyon National Park go to the National Park Service web page .

While visiting the Grand Canyon, Tom and his friend stayed at Maswik Lodge.