Sunday, December 25, 2016


As we decorate our tree with family treasures and mementos from our travels through the years, we send best wishes to all of you for a very

Monday, December 19, 2016

HIKING THE ALPS: I’ll Take the High Road: Trek from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, Guest Post by Owen Floody

In June 2016, our friend Owen Floody hiked the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.  He writes, "A personal goal in the early years of my retirement is the completion of many of the world’s most scenic and famous treks: These fit perfectly with my interest in landscape photography and also represent activities that are best done now, while you know that you can." Here is his report of his trek and a few of his excellent photographs.
The Haute (High) Route is one of the most famous and challenging of European treks.  It begins near Mont Blanc, in Chamonix, France, and ends near the equally famous Matterhorn, in Zermatt, Switzerland.  My specific trek (the Classic Haute Route, offered by Wilderness Travel) involved about 65 miles of hiking spread over 8 days (total duration of trek = 12 days, including practice and rest days) and concentrated at altitudes of 6000-9600 ft.
The significant physical challenge posed by this trek related to altitude, but also to the many ascents and descents.  These each averaged about 2900 feet per day, with maxima of 4300 (a descent about which one of my knees still complains).  
Second and possibly most important of all, the terrain was varied and often very difficult, including everything from slippery loose scree to large rocks to even larger boulders to ledges and even ladders.  Imagine a steep descent over scree or hopping from rock to rock or scrambling through a boulder field and you will get the picture.
Any negative impact of these challenges was greatly eased by our amazing luck with the weather: In a summer of very mixed weather in Europe, we were blessed with clear sunny skies on all but one day.  In addition, we could recover in comfortable lodgings (dormitories in mountain-top refuges on two nights, rooms in small village hotels on most of the others), though only after enjoying the wonderful meals and wines forced upon us by our enthusiastic guides. 
I am sure that all of us expected to also be compensated for our efforts by spectacular mountain views.  I am happy to say that we were not disappointed.  We enjoyed the expected, but still wonderful, views of snow-covered mountains.  In addition, we marveled at massive glaciers, lovely lakes, high mountain passes, and beautiful Alpine meadows.  Still I think that my favorite section of the trek was that passing through the Grand Desert, a relatively stark, but starkly beautiful, moonscape of a valley scoured out long ago by a retreating glacier.  And, of course, the stunning views of the Matterhorn that greeted us upon our arrival at our ultimate destination of Zermatt didn’t hurt either.
In conclusion, this clearly was a successful and impressive trek through a beautiful and easily accessible part of the world.  Even so, I am uncertain about how to compare this with my other European trek, the equally famous Tour du Mont Blanc.  These share a focus on the Alps and even have routes that overlap in part.  The Haute Route definitely is the more strenuous of the two.  But are the views that it offers superior to those on the TMB?  My personal belief is that the views are more similar than different in quality, and that the TMB, as a consequence, may offer the better value for the money and effort.

Monday, December 12, 2016

DINOSAUR TRACKS! Near Tuba City, Arizona, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

Theropod (perhaps Dilophosaurus) tracks near Tuba City, Arizona

My friend and fellow children’s book writer Caroline Hatton saw these dinosaur tracks in March of 2016 when she was on a trip to Arizona.Tuba City is within the Painted Desert at the western edge of the Navajo Nation

Our guide’s name was Bertha. I think. I’m not sure, because even though she was shouting, the wind was screaming louder. It was blasting us—sandblasting us. Violent gusts slapped us around, deafening, blinding, asphyxiating!

I had read about dinosaur tracks off U.S. Highway 160, about five miles west of Tuba City, Arizona. Hand-painted signs showed where to turn off the highway, park, and meet a guide. Tours were free and donations appreciated. The minimal jewelry stands were empty because of the dust storm. 
Dinosaur trackway. Can you see the village near the mesa! Me neither.
With the wind shaking the car and the desert landscape visible only once in a while when dust didn’t fill the air, getting a guide sounded better than wandering off into a sandstorm searching for dinosaur tracks with no idea where to look.

Our guide walked a few steps away from the car and pointed down. Three-toed footprints raced away and every which way, deeply pressed into flat pink rock. The footprints had formed after the dinosaurs walked in mud tens of millions of year ago, and the mud later hardened and became rock. Fossil footprints fall in the category of trace fossils or ichnofossils, as opposed to fossilized body parts.

The dinosaurs who left these three-toed tracks belonged to a group called theropods, meat-eaters who walked on two legs. The best-known member is T. rex (Tyrannosaurus rex) but there are many species. The dinos who had stomped all over the spot where we now stood may have been Dilophosaurus. Even experts can’t tell from the tracks because they do not have enough information.
One set of tracks showed a pair of dinoraptors had walked together, one bigger than the other, perhaps male and female.

Tracks of small and extra small raptors—perhaps a mom and baby?
Another pair was small and extra small, perhaps a mom and a baby. And then we came across a footprint with an extra toe.

Four-toed dinosaur track
“Four-toed tracks. Triceratops,” our guide said. Lines of tracks criss-crossed the area.

As our guide moved on, she shared how she grew up “there” (between us and a low plateau or mesa on the horizon, where we could barely make out village dwellings during short bursts of visibility). As a little girl, she walked past these tracks every day on her way to the school bus stop. Her mom decided to find out what they were. After she did, she started offering tours. Bertha came along and learned how to do it, beginning at age five. And today Bertha’s five-year-old granddaughter tagged along with us.

The interpretation of some features was best left to the imagination. What were the stone balls embedded in the rock: dinosaur egg yolks, other parts too fierce to mention, or mineral formations?

What could these be?
My husband was smart enough to protect the digital SLR camera from dust by keeping a clear shower cap over it and taking photos through it.

I took the photos in this article with an eight-year-old Canon Powershot that had long had sporadic difficulties with the lens extension and retraction mechanism. The replacement cover for the battery-and-chip compartment had recently become increasingly temperamental. I kept my back squarely to the wind, the Powershot under my jacket, and tried to minimize how long I whipped out the camera to snap photos.

But the adventure proved fatal to both the lens mechanism and battery-compartment cover. A repair guru removed the chip surgically to save the photos, then declared the camera defunct—uncleanable. Too bad, but after all, no one knows how soon the camera would have croaked anyway. So it is now extinct, just like the dinosaurs whose tracks we followed in Arizona.

For more info:

See a Dilophosaurus skeleton and artist’s visions at “Dilophosaurus!” An exhibition narrated by its discoverer, the late Sam Welles, formerly a professor at the University of California Museum of Paleontology:

See an artist’s vision of a Dilophosaurus and read more about theropod tracks at

Read another post by Caroline Hatton about fossils, “Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs,” at