Monday, March 25, 2019

SPRINGTIME IN THE SONORA DESERT: At Tohono Chul Gardens, Tucson, AZ

Horse sculpture at the Tohono Chul Botanical Garden, Tucson, Arizona
It was springtime in the desert in southern Arizona. Wildflowers were blooming among the cacti, butterflies were flitting about, and a roadrunner dashed by through the underbrush. On the rocky ridge to the north, peaks capped with snow poked into the clear blue sky.
Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus)
In late February, I spent a week with friends in Tucson, Arizona. One day we did an excursion to the Tohono Chul botanical garden for a delicious outdoor lunch in the Garden Bistro, followed by a walk among the desert plants.
Cholla cactus
Tohono Chul, a garden, nature preserve and cultural museum, is located in Casas Adobes, a suburb of Tucson, Arizona. The words "tohono chul" translate as "desert corner" and are borrowed from the language of the Tohono O’odham, the indigenous people of southern Arizona.
Petroglyphs and grinding stone
In one part of the garden one can see a display of rock drawings and stone implements from that culture.
Succulents
After a delicious lunch on the patio of the garden bistro, we purchased our tickets and set off on the trails through the garden, passing various types of cactus, succulents, desert adapted shrubs, wildflowers, and various sculptures.
The garden docents are founts of information
As we stopped to admire some golden poppies, a docent pointed out some rare pink poppies she had discovered growing in a nearby exhibit.
Barrel cactus with a cluster of fruits, one partially eaten
We were a bit early in the season to see the cacti in bloom, but we found a number of barrel cacti covered in succulent fruit–one of them already nibbled by some hungry animal that had braved the sharp spines.
Vegetable and herb gtarden
As we continued along the path we came to a fenced “kitchen garden” filled with beds of lettuce, broccoli, beets, onions, and a wide variety of other vegetables that thrive in Arizona’s mild winter climate.
Milkweed pod ready to disperse its seeds
The Tohono Chul garden is a pleasant walk among a wide variety of desert plants--some familiar and others a surprise. On our way out, a metallic hawk cast its eagle eye on our departure.
For directions, hours, and ticket prices, click HERE.
One of numerous garden sculptures

Monday, March 18, 2019

ASIA MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, Taichung, Taiwan: Triangles and Flowers

At Asia University, on the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan, is the new Asia Museum of Modern Art, a striking steel and concrete building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Basing his design on an equilateral triangle, every part of the building reflects the triangle shape. During our recent trip to Taiwan, I was treated to a special tour of the museum.
On the lawn outside the glass and steel structure, Rodin’s Thinker greets visitors.
Inside the building, a model of the building's unique design can be seen in the lobby.
Model. The building is formed of three triangular floor plates, stacked as to provide a sheltered external patio at ground floor level, where open-air caf├ęs and other areas of congregation are formed
Throughout the building the geometry is repeated with V-columns supporting the structural steel frame.
Support beams
The museum features rotating temporary exhibits, and at the time of my visit last fall, it was the Language of Flowers, a theme chosen to coordinate with the 2018 World Flora Exposition held in Taichung.
Painting of flowers by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama with her signature polka dots.
The museum's goal is to display works from young Taiwanese artists and other artists from Asia, providing a global stage for contemporary works. For this exhibit, each room of the museum displayed diverse works of art that employ flowers as motifs.
Detail of painting made over a sheet of gold leaf, which can be seen peeking through the foliage
Works on display ranged from paintings and drawings to sculpture and jewelry. 
Hands holding a rose
One whole room was devoted to the glittering jewelry of Taiwanese jewelry artist Aka Chen who “fuses oriental philosophy and crafting technology to eternalize beauty of natural objects with precious stones and breathe life into their presentation.” Flowers and butterflies are among his most popular subjects.
The entry panel to the Aka Chen room is designed to allow visitors to strike a pose and become one of his butterflies.
In another room of the museum, paintings and other objects reflected the bright colors and floral designs of the indigenous cultures of Taiwan.
Woman in traditional dress wearing a floral headdress
The Language of Flowers exhibit was truly a garden of delights. My photos show just a tiny sample of the beautiful and creative pieces that were part of it.
For information about visiting the Asia Museum of Modern Art and other sites in the Taichung area, click HERE.

Monday, March 11, 2019

THE COLCHAGUA MUSEUM, Santa Cruz, Chile: From Shark Teeth and Pre-Columbian Pottery to Old Maps and Automobiles

Pre-Columbian sculpture from the Chancay Culture on the central coast of Peru at the Colchagua Museum, Santa Cruz, Chile
I never expected to find the giant jaws of megalodon, model ships, or the piano played Bernard O’Higgins, the founder of Chile, at a museum in a part of Chile otherwise known for its agriculture. It turns out that the Colchagua Museum, in Santa Cruz, Chile, is the largest private museum in Latin America and is packed with thousands of objects ranging from cowboy gear and weapons, to religious artifacts and pre-Columbian pottery and more. Founded by controversial tycoon Carlos Cardoen, the museum includes something for everybody.
The Colchagua Museum is located in the small city of Santa Cruz in the Colchagua valley, 110 miles from Santiago.
We visited as a day trip from Rancagua (about an hour and a half away), where we were visiting our son-in-law’s family. As we drove to Santa Cruz from there we passed orchards, vineyards, and ranches that are the heart of  this verdant valley and one of Chile’s several wine growing regions.
In the fossil and paleontology room
After purchasing our tickets at the museum entrance, we watched a short video and then set off to view the exhibits, listening to our English language wands for key explanations in each room. As you make your way from the entrance you pass through rooms containing fossils and exhibits of the early history of world, and then move forward in time through archeology of Chile, Peru and Columbia, then to the period of the conquest by Spain, to national independence, influence of the church, and up through life in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The last rooms on the main level feature old carriages, cars and farm machinery. A recently added exhibit, The Great Rescue, honors the men who were trapped and rescued from a copper mine in northern Chile 2010.
Portrait of Bernard O'Higgins, Chile's liberator, and his piano, which he imported from Europe
Every room was filled with so many fascinating objects that it is impossible to describe them all. Here are some of my favorites.
Fossil teeth in the jaw of the giant extinct shark, Megalodon. When a tooth fell out, a new one was always ready to rotate up and replace it. Megalodon could grow more than 50 feet long!
A small reptile (gekko) trapped in amber; from the Dinosaur Age
Ceramic vessel decorated with a bean design. (From the Nazca culture in Peru.) Beans (frijoles) have been a staple in South America for centuries.
Stone figure from the Pucara Culture, which developed in Peru in the area near Lake Titicaca.
Knotted strings called quipu, from the Inca culture. The knots were part of a counting system used in trade. The cords had different colors for each product and the spacing of the knots indicated the quantity sold.
Silver cup for tea (mate)and jewelry from the Mapuche culture of southern Chile.
Carvings and artifacts from Easter Island (Isla de Pascua). Easter Island, which gets its name from the day of its "discovery" by a Dutch sea captain in 1722, is part of Chile.
Our reflection, in the room at the museum displaying farm implements
We should have allowed more time to spend in the museum and to visit the associated Automobile Museum, located in a nearby vineyard, and the Chilean Craft Museum, located in a restored house in the nearby town of Lolol, featuring traditional crafts of Chile (stone carving, basket making, wood crafts, pottery, metals, naval and textiles.) As it was, after visiting the Colchagua Museum we took a walk through the center of Santa Cruz with its beautiful colonial era architecture around the main square and visited a few of the local shops before having ice cream at a favorite local restaurant. Someday we’ll have to go back to Santa Cruz to see the other museums and tour some of the vineyards.
For information about and directions to the Colchagua Museum, click HERE.
The Colchagua Valley

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Monday, March 4, 2019

ZIMBABWE, Birds of Hwange National Park, Guest Post by Karen Minkowski

Yellow-billed Hornbill in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
My friend Karen Minkowski is spending several months in Africa and sent me some of her wonderful photos taken on a trip to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Karen and I were on the same memorable trip to East Africa in 1971 that I wrote about in my post on May 16, 2011. Karen has been back to Africa many times since then, both for work and for pleasure. I thank her for sharing her terrific photos and observations of African wildlife with The Intrepid Tourist.

Last week Karen reported on some of the many wild animals of Zimbabwe. Here is the second half of Karen's report about Hwange National Park and some of the many birds she saw and photographed there.

Birds were everywhere, calling and singing and displaying.

White-crested helmet-shrikes cock their heads as they search for invertebrates in the bark of a fallen tree.


The Kori bustard is Africa's largest flying bird, but at about 40 pounds it does not often leave the ground. It hunts invertebrates, lizards, snakes and carrion, but also eats vegetable matter.
The male Red-crested Korhan can often be heard calling in preparation for his “suicide” display, an impressive aerial feat performed in hopes of securing a mate. The male suddenly flies up about 15-20 meters high, then stops flapping his wings and falls straight down as though he's been shot dead.  A couple meters above the ground, he spreads his wings and lands gracefully. While falling he is at risk of being grabbed by a raptor. 
Our guide told us that the Korhan displays to show the female that he is willing to risk his life for his family and is thus worthy of fathering her chicks...An amazing performance (and too quick for me to photograph, but you can watch an 11 second video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2o_c_TClSI ) The red crest reportedly is erected only as part of attracting a female; displaying it at other times might attract a predator.
This little Rufous-naped Lark positions itself on a termite mound or thin dead stump, about 2 meters above ground, and belts out its beautiful call. We heard and saw them all along our game drives.


Maribou Storks, above, White-backed Vultures below...not the beauties of the bird world but they do a lot of the cleanup.




Here's a mother Magpie-shrike (aka long-tailed shrike) gazing lovingly at her offspring. Or perhaps it's the dad.

A few of the many raptors in Hwange National Park include the black-chested snake eagle, the dark chanting goshawk, and tawny eagle and more.
Here is a black-chested snake eagle perched on a branch. This bird feeds mostly on snakes, but will also prey on lizards, small mammals and frogs.
The Secretary bird is a ground raptor. When it raises the quill-like feathers at the back of the head it brings to mind an old-fashioned secretary with quills tucked behind his/her ear.

When I go to Hwange I am accustomed to joining a walking safari. I love this way of seeing wildlife, following the tracker as he picks up the spoor of a lion or rhino. There's nothing between me and the wildlife, and ... I get to walk. On this safari we viewed everything from a vehicle, but I did appreciate that we were able to approach birds and animals much closer without disturbing them, and we saw more wildlife.