California Dreaming–Part One


Not dreaming, real.  My college roommate and husband (we all went to Grinnell College in Iowa together) moved to California a number of years ago.  We take turns visiting each other at least once a year or take a trip somewhere together.  This year was my turn to visit them.  First, I stayed at their house near Carmel.

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Taken later in the day after the fog lifted. They live where fog creeps in during the night and burns off slowly.

 

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Late one morning we drove to Big Sur for lunch at Nepenthe.  The name really fits.  It is Greek for pain free or painless.  Definitely this place makes everyone feel wonderful, especially the views.

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Succulent heaven resides in this area and around San Francisco.  Here are photos of a few near the shop below the restaurant.

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On another day, we drove through the Salinas Valley to Salinas to visit the house where John Steinbeck lived and the John Steinbeck Museum.  The following views show fields along the way.  This is lettuce country.  The majority of the lettuce consumed in the US grows in this valley.

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Taken from the car window.

The following is a photo of the John Steinbeck House.

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Volunteers dressed in costumes of the time serve a lovely lunch.

 

From an elevation nearly sea level, another day we drove on a gravel road up into the mountains above Carmel Valley to an elevation of 5000 ft.  About half way to the monastery at the end of the road, the road enters Los Padres National Forest.

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The pine trees in this area bear huge pine cones.  The tree here and a similar one in the previous photo possess unique trunks, limbs, and foliage.  I never learned the species of either. There is a parking area and some hiking trails.  While not particularly difficult, the trail we took goes up and down and can be a bit steep in places.  The views are spectacular.

Day Trip to Caprock Canyons


Caprock Canyons State Park, at the southern end of Palo Duro Canyon, requires about 1 1/2 hours to drive from my house.  Yesterday, we met the Panhandle Native Plant Society there to investigate flowers and grasses.

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When we first arrived, it seemed blue might break through the cloud cover, but it did not.

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The park ranger took us to several different sites to identify different flower and grass species.  The above is an area which in the early 90s was a cotton field and has been restored with native vegetation.

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We drove to another area which remained “wild”–never cultivated.

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Then we drove to a picnic area overlooking the lake.  Close to there we found the poppy below.

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After lunch, we parted with the rest of the group and drove to the end of the road.  Martina had hoped to see bison–the state bison herd roams there.  At this point we had seen none. As I drove along, a bison bull was strolling down the road.  Martina took this photo from the side window.  He was only a couple of meters from the car.

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We stopped and took a few more photos where the road ends. I have hiked from this point in the past, but not yesterday.

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After leaving the park, we headed to Silverton, Texas, to visit a coffee shop there which was recently featured in a Texas magazine as the place to go.

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I loved the murals and sculptures.  The owner is a sculptor and also a raptor trainer. The shop features coffee, desserts, unique clothing, and art.

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On the way back we stopped at the Palo Duro Canyon overlook/picnic area on highway 207.

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If you are in the Amarillo or Canyon, Texas, area, I highly recommend this day trip.

 

 

A Birthday Tale


Several weeks ago, the tail of my favorite horse, Miracle, disappeared.  When she died from colic after giving birth several years ago, one young lady at the vets took hairs from her tail, made a braid, and gave it to me.  Since then, it had hung in the hallway next to Dad’s spurs and a photo of the family farm above Dad’s parade saddle. Suddenly, it disappeared.  Where could it have gone?  No one had recently been to the house except Martina, my Italian exchange student, and me.  My daughter and grandson had stopped by, but no one else.  Nothing else had disappeared.  It was a mystery like the time I found a handful of dry dog food under the saddle.  I never solved that one and had given up on solving this one.  I had even considered looking for something else to hang in its place.

On my birthday yesterday, the principal walked to my room with a bouquet of flowers and a package.  The bouquet was from my grandson.  I opened the package. Much to my astonishment, there was Miracle’s tail, the top of the braid carefully and colorfully wrapped, a thin copper wire winding through it, and and then wrapped around the bottom.  My daughter had managed to take it without my seeing her do so, took it home, and had wrapped it so it would not come apart.  When I originally told her about it, she and my grandson commented how strange it was and made note of the dog food incident as if some mystery lurked in that particular place in my house.

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My grandson had picked out each individual flower.  He obviously knows my favorite color is orange.

Then to top off the day my son also sent flowers.  It dropped 50 degrees from yesterday afternoon to late last night, the wind shrieks, clouds loom dark and ominous.  It is a good day for bright flowers.

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Argentinian Adventure–The Road to Wine Country


Late on a Monday morning, Gaston’s parents and I headed toward Cafayate, a relatively small town at the edge of the sierra which grows some of the best wine grapes in the world.  It is a long drive through incredibly varied landscapes.

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One of the first towns we drive through is Jesus Maria.  As in many Argentianian cities, trees line many streets.  Here acequias provide water for the trees.

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Except where cleared for farming–giant soybean and corn fields, much of the land through which we drove looks like this.

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Taken as we sped along, this photo show soybeans in the distance.  Since it seemed relatively dry here, I asked if they were irrigated.  Gaston’s father told me no, that they had developed a type of soybeans that require much less water.

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When I first saw this out my window, I thought maybe water, but no, this was the beginning of miles and miles of salt.

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Another photo taken looking through my window.

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And then we speed into the cloud forest. I was astonished my whole time here.  I had to idea there was such a thing in Argentina.

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We climbed higher and higher and stopped at a visitor’s area where displays explained the flora and fauna which live here.

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This area is a subtropical jungle.

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Often we drove through clouds or along the side of rushing mountain rivers. And then as suddenly as we arrived in these mountains, we were on the other side where it was dry.  The selva–jungle–stopped almost as suddenly as it began.  One side of the mountains lush and green with ocelots, all sorts of other wildlife, and on the other semi-arid country, equally beautiful but so astonishingly different only a few miles away.

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Argentinian Adventure–La Finca


After sitting in the airport in Iguazu for four hours because the plane was delayed over and over, we finally arrived in Cordoba around midnight and rushed to La Finca, the family place out in the country, for dinner.  Yes, dinner.  Gaston’s family, including his 92 year old grandfather, uncles, cousins, aunts, everyone had actually stayed up and waited to meet us.  I could hardly believe it.

I know Argentinians are the biggest consumers of beef in the world.  We did not have beef; we had leg of lamb grilled over the special grill his father and uncles had built–a separate house just for grilling and eating.  It was a warm night and we ate outside. It is a family ritual for everyone to congregate on weekends, but especially Sunday afternoons at La Finca to eat and socialize.  Gaston and I went there both Saturday and Sunday.

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It was the end of summer (Southern Hemisphere in March).  The crop in the distance beyond the trees is potatoes.  Gaston’s grandfather, who is 92 now,  bought this land, planted the trees, created this peaceful get away in the country.  Gaston’s uncle and aunt now live there with their college age children.

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The building in the background houses the grill–chimney on the left–and the dining area I mentioned earlier.  We ate inside once around the table that must sit at least twenty.  The rest of the time they hauled the tables outside and we ate under the trees.

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Gaston’s grandfather and I standing before the trees he planted decades ago.

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The same trees upclose.  Yes, those are very sharp protuberances sticking out all over the tree.  You see these trees in cities too, but there they have cut off all the sharp pieces so people cannot get hurt on them.  I could just imagine what would happen if a person pushed another person against one of these.

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The drive from the main road to La Finca.  Sunday afternoon Gaston’s mom and I strolled up and down this drive while Gaston with his dad and uncle and a cousin installed a drip line to water the bushes on each side.  Like here, they are suffering a drought.  They did not want years of work to die.

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The original house where Gaston’s uncle and his family live is on the left.  I loved it here and felt very privileged to spend a weekend with the family doing whatever they do on weekends.  On Saturday, the men all went to help someone move while I sat with Gaston’s aunt, her friend, some cousins.  We chit chatted, drank mate, took naps, ate pear tart and other desserts, and whiled away an afternoon.

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Occasionally the peace was disturbed by the raucous chatter of parakeets.  The huge nest in this tree is shared by many parakeets.  They do not build individual nests.  When they get going, they are really loud.

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Just as in New Mexico in the US, water comes through acequias.  The drive goes over this little bridge in the foreground.

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Near this acequia the family grows lemon trees, vegetables, flowers, and other delectables for family use.

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It was so lovely and peaceful here, I did not want to leave.

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Gaston’s aunt and mother love succulents and flowers.  This is only a tiny portion of the plant collection growing everywhere around Gaston’s aunt and uncle’s house. His aunt is very proud of her plant collection. Many of her plants were familiar.  Some even have the same names in English and Spanish probably due to their Latin origins.

 

 

Argentinian Adventure–Iguazu Falls, The Argentinian Side


The largest park is a national park on the Argentinian side.  There are upper and lower hiking trails with an ecologically friendly train that takes you to where the trails begin.  For those who want to hike more, you can forget the train and hike through the forest/jungle to where the main trails begin.  We took the train.

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On the upper trail you can cross a portion of the river, cross just above the top of several of the individual falls, and get wet.

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The trails on the Argentinian side are impressive feats of engineering.  I kept wondering how they built them in some of the very daunting places, e.g. over tops of large falls, over the rushing river.

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I am standing in the middle of the “bridge” with the same distance over the river in both directions.

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You cannot stay in this location very long without getting quite wet.  The falls are so huge and the spray so extensive, a fine mist floats everywhere.  Talking normally means no one can hear you because of the roar.

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The land to the left is an island.  Because it constantly receives a fine mist, the plants look lush, glistening with water droplets.  Gaston said it reminded him of the movie Avatar.

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After all this hiking we decided to go to the hotel near the falls for a drink.  A man and a woman were teaching people how to tango.  Before I knew it, the guy had me dancing.

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The next day we took the lower trail.  One of the first things we saw was a group of monkeys.  Although there are signs along the road to please watch out for jaguars because too many get killed at night on the road, we did not see any.  It occurred to me several times one could have been 50 feet from me near a trail and I would never have guessed–the jungle is too dense.

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As you can see to the right in this photo, in many places the trail is right at the edge of the falls and sometimes the trail goes over the top so you are walking over where the falls drop to the gorge below.

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The immensity of the falls, the roar and power of the water, the lush jungle–a magical place which filled us with wonder.

 

 

 

Note:  There are several ways to spell the name of the falls, depending on the language.  I have used two of the ways.  The river which makes the falls is the Parana with an accent over the last a.

 

Iris Tough


In spite of less than 3/4 inch rain since last fall and minimal watering from the 400 foot deep well, iris bloom everywhere–even in unamended caliche, a glorious reminder of nature’s resilience.

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When I thinned these a couple of years ago, I had so many that I stuck them everywhere, even here at the end of the driveway.  I have watered them only once.

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A friend gave me just one.  I planted it by the barn among others of the color in the first photo.  In spite of the drought they multiplied a lot this past year.  Probably all the rain from last summer helped before it quit raining.

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I planted these a couple of years ago in front of the barn.  I watered them a few times this spring but none during the winter.  This particular iris reblooms in the fall and multiplies so fast it is difficult to keep up with separating it.

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Possibly because of their location by the retaining wall near the barn facing west, these are always the first to bloom.  I did water them a couple of times this spring. Insects have found them.