Celebrating Earth Day–Photos


I decided the best way I should share my reverence and love for nature and this precious planet on which we live is to share photos from various countries, states, and my own little piece of wonder.

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The three photos above were taken at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas about ten minutes from where I live.

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Above and below the Rio Grande looking into Mexico.

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Four photos above — Big Bend National Park.

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Between Marfa and Alpine, Texas.

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The Rio Grande north of Albuquerque on the Santa Ana Pueblo Nation.

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The above four photos taken in Simien Mountain National Park, Ethiopia.  The animals are gelada–the only surviving grass eating primates found solely in Ethiopia.  They actually “talk” to each other.

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Menelik’s Window, Ethiopia

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Awash Falls, Ethiopia

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Where the Blue Nile begins draining from Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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The photos above were taken at various places in Costa Rica.

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Northern New Mexico

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Grand Canyon North Rim

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The Missouri River running full.

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California dropping down from Sequoia National Monument

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Near Lake Marvin, Texas

Sunday Sunrise ©Dawn Wink

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The above photos were all taken within the last year on my little rim of wonder.

And finally below, my favorite animal.

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My Ethiopian Journey–Simien Mt. Natl. Park


No way was I prepared for these mountains.  Do you think of numerous peaks over 13,000 feet when you think of Ethiopia?  Probably not. There are even a few over 14,000 feet.  The whole area is often referred to as the Roof of Africa.

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There is only one road into the park.  To get in, a tourist must stop at the park office, sign in, passport number, address, etc.  Plus, you will be assigned a guard and a guide.  Our guard in the photo above carried an assault rifle.  No, it is not to protect people, it is to protect their rare animals from people, from poachers.  Wonder why he is wearing all these clothes?  It is cold at 12,000 feet even if you are near the Equator.

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The drop offs are terrifying, thousands of feet, the vistas endless.  Even though I have lived and been all over the Rocky Mountains and been to the Himalayas in both Kashmir and Nepal, I have never seen anything like these mountains for beauty, green, and endless vistas.

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My friends near the cliff are much braver than I.  In the foreground stands our guide, Michael, who spoke excellent English and was super funny.  He had us laughing all the time. People live and farm in these mountains–if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you can see fields.  However, the government is slowly relocating people in order to make the park a refuge for rare wildlife.

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The above photos were all taken on a hike early one morning.  Everything was wet because it was either raining or misty or we were in the clouds.

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Because I kept slipping and sliding, I decided not to walk along the cliff with my friends and the guard, who spoke the same Ethiopian language as my friend.  Michael and I took off across a meadow and suddenly here we were in the middle of all these gelada baboons, who paid no attention to us at all.  They were very afraid, however, of a predatory bird that decided to fly over. How do I know?  They suddenly started “talking” to each other in frightened voices.  Experts now think these primates actually have a language and do talk to each other.  Gelada are the last primates that are herbivores.  They eat grass.  All other herbivorous primates are extinct.  Gelada live only in the high mountains of Ethiopia and no where else on earth, a reason for a guard.  At night they climb down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from hyenas and leopards.

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If you look very carefully in the middle of this photo, you can see several duiker which are considered so common it seems no one thought to stop to really take a look so I took the photo as we drove along.

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Here we are above the timberline where some very unusual plants thrive.

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And some exceedingly rare animals whose camouflage makes them almost invisible until they move.  At this point we are about 14,000 feet just under one of the highest peaks in Africa.  Look carefully in the middle and you will see walia ibex.  People come from all over the world to see these endangered animals that live only in this park.  Sometimes the fog rolls in and no one sees anything.  We were lucky; we saw more than twenty of them. And then the fog rolled in.

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These giant lobelia thrive above timber line.  Some were considerably taller than I am.

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If you grow red hot pokers in your flower beds and think they are semi-arid flowers, think again.  Here they are growing wild.

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You can see red hot pokers in the middle of this photo by the stream.  These mountain streams run down to and often across the road, making the road a muddy mess.  Without 4-wheel drive and an expert driver we would have gone nowhere.  In fact, at one point we did have to stop because two stuck trucks blocked the road, one of which had a flat tire.

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The highest waterfall in Ethiopia is hard to hike to unless you are not at all afraid of heights.  My friends did hike there. Look a bit to the right of the groove through which the water actually falls.  You will see a sort of flat area.  It is only a few feet wide with a drop-off on each side.  Yes, that is where you hike.  When I saw this view, I was rather glad I decided to wait, look for birds, and chat with the driver.

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The fire pit at the highest bar in Africa is a very popular place on a cold night.  Even though we had beautiful rooms, with no heat at 12,000 feet it is not exactly warm.  Even the guides and guards were bundled up.  The only people who seemed toasty were Scandinavian tourists with their heavy wool sweaters.  The hotel staff gave us hot water bottles to put in bed with us at night.  Actually, it works.  Nevertheless, when you get up in the morning, it is really cold.

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The guards and guides live near the park.  We dropped off the guard here and watched him walk toward his house down where the trees are.  We dropped off the guide near his house in the town when we left the park.

 

Ethiopian Journey–Ancient Churches of Lalibela


In the 12th century the king of Ethiopia decided to build a New Jerusalem.  Eleven churches were carved out of solid rock on the mountain top in the village of Lalibela.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, these churches remain intact and in use.

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They were all carved from the rock top of the mountain down into the earth so that they remain invisible unless the person is only a few feet away.  This protected them from the vision of potential invaders, usually Muslims from what is now Sudan.  The above is probably the most photographed of these churches and stands separate from the others.

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My friend is standing near where the stairs lead down to the bottom where visitors and worshippers can enter the church.  Visiting all these churches in one day is not an activity for the faint of heart or for one terrified of heights.

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This is the first church we visited.  It still mystifies many as to how such incredibly intricate structures could me carved by hand out of solid stone.  Even these columns are carved out of the rock.  The “official” Ethiopian Orthodox Christian story relates how angels helped the builders.

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This and most of the other churches are connected by “waterways” where in the rainy season a sophisticated system of drainage keeps all of them from flooding and makes it possible for visitors and worshippers to walk along from church to church.

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Everything in the Christian churches in Ethiopia  symbolizes something related back to Jerusalem and the Bible.  Even though the guide explained it all in detail, keeping up with all the symbolism proved a daunting task.  Notice the swastikas.  They are ancient symbols of the eternal circle of life and death.  Hitler turned them backwards and into a totally different meaning.  There are also many different styles of crosses there, two of which can be seen in the windows of this church.

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This is a fertility pool.  In the past a priest got in the water–it is very deep–with a woman who could not conceive and bless her in the water.  At one point when it began to fill too much, they cleaned out the bottom and found many treasures buried there, apparently dumped into the pool to protect them from enemy invaders.

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The inside of the churches are intricately carved and sometimes painted.

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Two types of basalt exist on this mountain, soft and hard.  Churches carved out of the soft basalt have begun to deteriorate and as a consequence are covered.  As can be seen here, people still come to these churches to pray and attend services.

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Our guide lead us from church to church through these narrow passageways which are, as previously mentioned, used to drain water away from them in the rainy season.  If Ethiopia had a national color, it would be white.  It is not only worn to go to church and for religious purposes but in daily life as well.  It mystifies me as to how they keep whites so very white.

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The slit dug in the rock is part of the system of drainage.  The grass in the foreground grows out of a pool of holy water.  While we were there, a boy filled a plastic bottle with the water and left.

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St. George and the dragon are everywhere, not only in churches but also on beer.  He is the patron saint of the country, symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism as symbolized by the dragon.

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The carving in many of the churches reveal a sophisticated knowledge of how to work in stone.  It is difficult to believe that this was carved by hand downward into solid basalt centuries ago.

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The road to Lalibela is rather daunting, climbing  higher and higher with no guard rails, nothing.  As you can see from this photo, patchwork quilt  fields cover even the mountainsides.

 

 

To learn more about Lalibela, see detailed information and explanations of their River Jordan and other religious symbolism, go to my blog posts from August 2014.

Ethiopian Journey–From Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan


Addis is the second highest capital in the world.  Only La Paz, Bolivia, is higher.  To a large extent, altitude determines climate in Ethiopia.  Addis and the surrounding area, much of which is high altitude farmland, receives a lot of rain this time of year and looks totally unlike what a lot of people think of when they hear the word Ethiopia–not desert but rather miles and miles of green.

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We had not driven far from Addis when we crossed a river, an area of which is considered healing.  Many people had come for priests to bless them and to experience the healing power of the water.

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I saw only three tractors in ten days of criss crossing farmland.  Why so few?  One reason is rocks.  Many of the fields remain rather full of rocks in spite of many having been removed.

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Therefore, they farm the “old fashioned” way; horses or cattle pulling plows with a human behind.

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Houses in the villages in the farming areas demonstrate old ways alongside new.

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Winnowing the way we did in the USA a century ago.

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Much of the farmland is a picturesque patchwork quilt of browns and greens.

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Before dropping down to lower country, we drove by Menelik’s Window.   The drop off here is steep and far.  I did not go near it–I had not yet become used to the endless drop-offs or even realized that I would need to do so.  This is one of four places in Ethiopian where you can see gelada baboons.  They are extinct elsewhere. Menelik was an Ethiopian emperor.  This “window” allows one to look from the high country for miles and miles to the landscape beyond.

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The large tufts of grass provide food for the gelada which are grass eating herbivores, the last of the grass eating primates.  All others are extinct.  This same grass is used by the locals for roofing material so boys stay in these areas all day chasing off the baboons.

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To keep themselves busy they weave woolen baskets and hats to sell which they display in the grass.

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This ten year old boy happily donned the hat he had made.  I bought it for my grandson who was the same age when I took the trip.

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Except for the different vegetation, driving down the mountain looked a lot like driving through Colorado.

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Down from the mountain the landscape appears quite different and considerably drier.  We drove through several smaller towns on our way to Debre Birhan where we stayed the first night.

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Driving in Ethiopia requires navigating around animals.  Everyone drives their cattle, camels, horses, all livestock down the road whenever possible.  The roads are generally very good.  Many, built by the Italians, have stood the test of decades.

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Along the road we saw many of these “apples”.  My friend told us how they played with them as a child.  However, the adults all warned the children not to touch their eyes when they did–it will make you blind.  They are called Apples of Sodom–so many things in Ethiopia have symbolic meaning.

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These fruit could be seen all along the road and even on the road.  After driving through this drier area we rose above a huge valley with miles and miles of grass.

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A semi-nomadic group brings their immense herds of cattle here in the rainy season to graze.  When we drove further on above the valley, I saw the first tractor working a field as big as this grazing land.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Journey–Addis Ababa


We spent a couple of days in Addis staying with my friend’s sister who lives there.  Addis traffic is incredible.  In a city with millions of people I saw only one traffic light and it was not working.  Most intersections are giant traffic circles and getting through them is a rather daunting task.  On the way to my friend’s brother’s house one day, we sat stuck for nearly one half hour–we could not get through the circle.  Finally, the passenger in the car to the right of us jumped out and stopped the traffic so we and his driver could get through.

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Additionally, it rained often, streets and buildings were under construction, and mud and potholes showed up everywhere.  This is a nice traffic circle.

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A nice day with little traffic.

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They were building a new rail line across the city hoping people would use the train instead of driving.

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This is a typical residential street in a newer part of the city.  A gate with a guard can be found at each end of the street.

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In other parts of the city, houses have walls around them and you back your vehicle out into a street like this, then go to the main street.

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Walls around houses are not bare.  Lush tropical vines and flowers cover many of them.

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Many of the fancier, famous hotels, like the Hilton here, contain fountains and gardens. My friend and I could not resist a photo in front of the pool and fountains.

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After wandering around the Hilton we drove to see the grounds of another famous hotel where foreign diplomats often stay.  The plants in the foreground are papyrus.

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These extensive gardens take a while to walk around.  Many of the plants and trees are labelled.  From here we could see the Addis skyline.

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We stayed in Addis a couple of days.  Before we left on a ten day road trip, my friend’s sister took us to a traditional restaurant.  I expected it to be filled mostly with tourists–was I ever wrong.

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In addition to traditional food, this restaurant features traditional dancing.  Many locals came to compete, to try to out-dance the professional dancers.

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The lady on the left, one of the professional dancers, and the lady on the right having a little competition.  The lady on the left is dressed in traditional dress.

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In the background locals try to out-dance the professionals.

 

Ethiopian Wolves


When I went to Ethiopia a year and a half ago, I missed seeing these incredibly endangered animals.  Less than 500 remain in and around Bale Mountains National Park.  Unlike other wolves, they do not hunt in packs, perhaps because they do not bring down big game, but rather eat the large, big-headed mole rat.  The wolves use their extremely long noses to get the rats out of their burrows.  Another hunting tactic includes hiding among the herds of gelada baboons, the only remaining grass eating primate in the world.  These baboons, like the wolves, live only in Ethiopia.  The wolves and the baboons live peacefully together while the wolves hide among the grazing baboons, sneaking upon the unsuspecting rats darting from burrow to burrow.  Although the baby gelada are not much bigger than the rats, the wolves refrain from eating them.  Like the situation with many other wild animals, human activity ruins their habitat through subsistence farming and cattle grazing.  Rabies, caught from domestic dogs, further decimates the population.  For more information on these rare wolves and conservation efforts, go to:

http://www.ethiopianwolf.org

 

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gelada baboons–I took this photo summer of 2014

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Image from ethiopianwolf.org.

The Highest Bar in Africa


We sat around the fire

ALL of us

on The Roof of Africa,

the sign stating

“The Highest Bar in Africa”

at 3,260 meters.

We sat around the fire

All of us,

the British owner gone,

forbids natives to sit

with tourists.

We sat around the fire

ALL of us.

Shades of brown, black, cream,

peach, humanity.

I, for one, grateful for

the owner’s absence.

Whose country is it anyway?

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Gelada Baboons


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wall.”Last summer I spent a couple of days in Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia, one of the few places left on earth where these baboons still exist.  In the mist and rain one day, I accidentally walked in the middle of a large group. image

They remained unafraid and basically ignored me.  They are the only remaining grass eating primates.  The rest are all extinct.