Author Archives: coxdavid55

Report on W. Yellowstone & Tetons, Wy., June 2, 2024

My last report from Gardiner promised more Grizzly photos; they are included below. The first mama bear is known as Obsidian because of her homebase near Obsidian Cliff. I spent 2 hours following her and her 3 second year cubs during a heavy snowstorm for some great photo opportunities. Another mama bear, known as ‘Snow’ due to her light fur when a cub, I found twice with her 2 second year cubs near her homebase of Steamboat Point. Snow was the star of my grizzly photos 3 years ago, when she performed acrobatics on the log filled mountain side near Steamboat Point. This year she paid zero attention to the groups of photographers below on the roadside. Her cubs, to my dismay, were rather sedate – no rough and tumble.

Other grizzlies include last year’s star twins in their third year – I photographed them extensively over 2 days last year when they were the second-year cubs that every 5 minutes engaged in bite and tumble rough-housing. Their mother (tagged #864) had just kicked them out a few days earlier (according to a ranger I talked to) to be on their own after 3 winters. I spotted the mother with a new huge bruiser male a few days after she kicked them out. The youngsters now were about a mile apart in the area where they were raised. The one shown sitting sadly looks lost without her mother.

I also was fortunate in photographing a lone black male wolf for which I can find no information. He was traveling through the territory of a diminished wolf pack in Hayden Valley. My photos show him to be a beautiful black with orange highlights. I have included 2 photos in close sequence while he was hunting down an under-snow rodent (he tried but failed to catch it).

I had a couple of sad moments: first while still in Lamar River Valley, at the junction of the Soda Creek, a new-born bison calf (a red dog) failed to make it across the fast flowing river with its mother, and I watched its last minute of effort to keep its nose above water as if flowed feet in front of me down stream (last year the news media extensively reported the illegal efforts of an ignorant visitor to rescue such a calf – such calves will never survive without their mothers, and drowning is preferable to being pulled from the water to freeze, be killed by coyotes or, worse, starve. The other moment was watching a new-born elk calf balk at crossing the Yellowstone River together with its mother, and then spend hours on the wrong side of the river wailing. I left without finding whether it ever took the plunge; I expect not.

Forgive me, or rejoice, for fewer pics of Bison, by far the most photographed creatures in the park, causing endless traffic delays. I have just seen too many thousands. Still, I could not help including one photo below – a closeup of a soggy half-frozen bull bison head in fine detail.

On a lighter note, I have enjoyed pizza and other junk food in West Yellowstone. Not a lot of high dining here, but occasionally also the over-priced Chinese food or burger. As with last year, the 12-mile road from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction, by late morning, has been often backed up bumper to bumper traffic for the entire 12 miles. By that time I am, of course, going unimpeded the other way for lunch.

From West Yellowstone I moved to Dubois in the Wind River Valley, where I drove daily up over the Togwotee Pass at the 10,000-foot continental divide, then down into Grand Tetons National Park. No luck with more bears, but lots of mule deer and moose, and the best viewing ever of a Wilson’s Snipe, a very long-billed, short legged shore bird. The views of the Tetons, as usual, remain stunning. One aside; a location half way up the river from Dubois to the continental divide proudly exhibits its name as “Moose Dung Gulch”.

I have now moved on to Thermopolis, Wy. Set on the banks of the Bighorn River (the Wind River runs through the Wind River Gorge and exits at the southern edge of Thermopolis where it suddenly changes name to become the Big Horn River). The river continues north into Montana where it eventually joins the Yellowstone River. I will spend a few days here, probably again visiting the famous dinosaur museum, before moving on to Buffalo on the other side of the Bighorn Mountains.

Later. Dave



 First Report from Yellowstone Nat Park, May 25, 2024

I last reported from Rock Springs in southern Wyoming. From there I traveled to Lander, checking out the Seedskadee National Wildlife Reserve, a wild portion of the upper Green River providing nesting spots for many birds including Trumpeter Swans. I got a fairly decent photo of a mating pair of Swainson’s Hawks, for me an unusual sight.  In Lander, a town with no laundromat, the only washing machine in my motel broke-down with all my travel clothing locked inside. After multiple tries, finally we got the machine open, but leaving all my clothes a soapy wet mess. The handyman tried to talk me into using the machine again to rinse and spin dry the clothing (he later tried the machine and it locked permanently); when I refused he loaded my clothing into a large black plastic bag to await my finding the next washing machine to rinse and spin them. Not a great experience, and a first for me in my travels.

My next reserved stop was in Sheridan on the East side of the wild Big Horn Mountains.  As I approached the Big Horns from the West, the weather changed to pouring rain and freezing. At noon in Worland I had lunch and checked the State Highway road conditions for crossing the mountains. The Wyoming site stated that as of 11:30 am the highway was open as long as one had all-wheel drive. I headed into the mountains. After entering the 10-Sleep Canyon I encountered a flashing red light and closed highway gate, requiring turn-back. The drive around the mountains, either North or South, would have required an extra 5 hours. I returned to Worland where I was able to get a room for the night; the hotel in Sheridan, being used to visitors being trapped on the other side of the Bighorns, graciously cancelled my first night without charge. The next day I crossed the mountains on Hwy 16 enjoying a beautiful snow-covered landscape. From Sheridan I traveled several times into the Bighorns on both Hwys 16 and 14 looking for moose, but the forest service roads, off the paved highway, all were closed for the snow.

From Sheridan I traveled back West across the Bighorns to Cody where I spent a week in a large suite in the old historic down-town area. My first day the annual horse auction was taking place outside Buffalo Bill’s historic Hotel Irma, right in the center of town a block from my room. Don’t expect the streets to be clean of horse droppings for a day or two.

A week ago I finally entered Yellowstone, and spent the first 6 days in a rented room in Gardiner on the original Northern Park entrance. I spent most days motoring around the northern loop road and through the Lamar River Valley area. Along with some snowy scenes, I made the usual initial photos of the larger wildlife in the area, including Elk, Pronghorn, Moose, Coyote, Black Bear, Grizzly and several thousand Bison – half of the female bison had newly dropped calves called “Red Dogs” due to their bright orange coloration.  During the many bison jams, when herds decide to travel down the road, I took some photos out the window with no telephoto – you can see how close by the view. All of the above mentioned animals are represented in the photos below, along with a bratty raven seeking human snacks at an overlook. The Black Bear had a newborn hiding below the bush.

I have traveled now to the West Yellowstone entrance and am in a room about 50 yards from the Park boundary. I could walk across the road and be inside the thick pine forest, but it is not recommended due to bears. My next report should have many more grizzly pics. Later. Dave

Report from Moab & Vernal, UT, & Rock Springs, WY, Apr 28, 2024

I spent 6 days in Moab, UT, doing short hikes daily inside Arches National Park and the Islands and Needles divisions of Canyonlands National Park. I especially enjoy the climbing trek up to the famous Delicate Arch, although this trip I had to do part of the trek twice as I forgot placing my beloved hat under a rock at the Arch, while taking photos – and so retraced my steps. Unfortunately, the hat was no longer under the rock when I returned, and no one ever turned it into lost and found at the park visitor center. It was the second time I have lost the same brand of beloved hat, the first time left on the seat of a taxi in Marrakech 15 years ago. So now I will be forced to buy the hat a third time in something over 25 years. For those interested, the hats were the famous Tilley brand, sized for my head, made in Canada. I have included below a photo not of the hat, but of yours truly at the Delicate Arch, appropriately hatless for the photo.

In Moab I stayed at one of the original motels, the Apache, once on the main highway but now well off the new re-routed highway. The motel is known for hosting John Wayne during several of his movies filmed in and around Moab, most famously Rio Grande with Maureen O’Hara. He visited with his family several times in later years, staying at the same motel. The motel did sell the infamous John Wayne toilet paper, wrapped with the slogan “its rough and its tough and it don’t take crap off anyone”. Fortunately, the motel did provide another brand of paper in the bathrooms.

Just outside of Moab, inside the edge of the Arches Park, is the Courthouse Wash Panel, which was one of the great Barrier Canyon Pictograph sites, with the spectral paintings from the Archaic Period (5,000 to 500 BC) – now unfortunately forever diminished due to a one-night vandalism on April 16, 1980. Someone climbed the mountain at night and used wire brushes and soapy water to scrub the entire roughly 10 X 20 – foot painted panel, scouring all the original images. Major restoration efforts were made to recapture the images, but the original colors and outlines are forever diminished. I have climbed to photograph the panel several times, and with the newest high-resolution equipment and tools available in the Lightroom photo software, I have created several stitched high-resolution composite photos of the panel, and “enhanced” the contrast and remaining colors to bring out much of the original image, though with much subdued colors. A resulting image is included below.

From Moab I traveled to Vernal, Utah, and did some hiking in Dinosaur National Monument, including the Colorado side which in prior year visits always has had its road over the Blue Mountain closed for winter storms. The drive down to Echo Park is 14 miles of unpaved dirt, which starts with a mile descent on narrow single lane switchbacks with an average grade of 11%, much steeper at some points. If you are at the bottom after a heavy rain storm, driving out may not be possible until the road dries. Views at the bottom along the Colorado and Yampa Rivers at their confluence are worth the trip.

For the second time in this area of the Utah Colorado border I ran into swarms of Mormon Crickets, where the ground for several hundred yards appears to be a moving carpet – made up of millions of small crickets all moving together.  It very much reminded me of the one time I was inside a moving carpet of swarming Army Ants in Costa Rica. The crickets don’t sting, but it takes quite a stomach to walk and drive through the “carpets”.

Driving Hwy 40 one afternoon on a return to Vernal, the headwinds were blowing at over 40 mph and gusting much faster. This time of year, the tumbleweeds build up yard-thick walls of thousands against the barbed wire fences along the highways. The wind gusts were dislodging the tumbleweeds to fly over the barriers and then come careening head-on down the highway, bouncing up to several feet in the air as they approached for head-on collisions. It took nerve to keep driving as if into a charging army of 2-foot diameter balls of dried weed. The smacks against the hood and windshield were harrowing, though the damage was limited to stuck pieces of weed where-ever it could lodge under the car or even in the engine compartment.

From Vernal I drove up the West side of the Flaming Gorge to Rock Springs, a 19th century coal mining town with a continuing reputation for very hard-core residents. In the town’s museum of history, I admired a plaque listing about 50 names of just some of the town’s bars over the decades. Just north and east of Rock Springs lies the Red Desert; at almost 10,000 square miles, it is the largest expanse of unfenced land in the continental US, crisscrossed only by dirt roads maintained, if at all, for reaching gas wells. I have driven parts of it to visit native American rock art sites, and this trip to visit the unusual monolith, the Boar’s Tusk, a 500-foot jutting spire of black congealed lava which once formed the plug of an extinct volcano.

I arrived in Rock Springs just in the prime season for the mating displays of the endangered Greater Sage Grouse. These live in the high plains sage brush, and during mating season the males congregate in great numbers in specific flat open sites, known as ‘leks’, year after year where the males put on elaborate displays for interested females, with the tails fanned and the entire brilliant white breast area pushed into huge upward moving pulses. It is impossible to describe, but I am sure you can watch videos online if you search. I was given directions to find a viable lek 40 miles away, and have visited twice, needing to arrive well before sunrise, and watching the displays which last generally until about an hour after sunrise. Although most of the action is males, the females which show up seem to watch individual males for a short time and then move on to the next. Very picky. No idea what they are critically looking for in the displays. While watching the grouse on both mornings I had Pronghorn walk through the Lek site.

I have the next two weeks without current plans, before my initial reservations start at the various locations around Yellowstone – so uncertain where I will venture from Rock Springs. Later, Dave

Report from Canyon of Ancients, Glen Canyon, Capitol Reef & Arches Nat. Parks, Apr 13, 2024

Hello. From Northern Arizona I traveled first to Cortez in SW Colorado to spend time hiking in the Canyon of the Ancients and on the Mesa Verde top. After a week I moved on, driving through the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area for some photo ops along the Colorado River just below where it joins the Green River. From there I spent a number of days in Capitol Reef National Park for some new hiking destinations. Because the elevation of Torrey, the small Morman town at the park entrance, sits at almost 7,000 feet I found the early mornings still generally at freezing, but the mid-days were pleasant.

My hip replacement has functioned flawlessly for a year now, and I am back to finding my hiking limits (relatively short distances but including climbs) based partially on sore legs, but more than ever on soreness in the pads of my feet. I wear good hiking boots with inserts and medium heavy wool hiking socks, but I think I will need to find thicker cushioned inserts and socks for rocky terrain. On my slow progress toward Yellowstone, I currently am staying in Moab to do some short hikes in and around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Below are a number of Colorado Plateau scenic and colorful panoramic photos from BLM’s Canyon of the Ancients (Puebloan Culture), Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and the Capitol Reef & Arches National Parks in the Four Corners area. Until later. Dave




Report on Start of Road Trip – Tucson & Prescott, Az., Mar. 30, 2024

I have started another 3-month photographic road trip heading towards the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. During my last couple of months in Tucson I took a few good wildlife photos at Whitewater Draw, southeast of Tucson and Sweetwater, northwest of Tucson – included below are photos of Sandhill Cranes, Ruddy Duck, a hard to spot Sora, Bobcat and Coopers Hawk.

My first stop of the trip was Prescott, a longtime favorite where I stayed again at the St Michael’s Hotel, a historic 4 story brick landmark on the corner of Whisky Row and Gurley Street. I spent late afternoons in Jersey Lilly’s bar, a 1900s former place-of-ill-repute, on its large balcony overlooking the Courthouse Square.  Dinner was spent twice in the Palace on Whiskey Row, a 19th century historic landmark considered one of the 10 greatest historic bars in the country – prior to the great 1900 fire it hosted the Earp brothers, Doc Holiday and Big-nose Kate.

Mornings I spent walking through Watson Riparian Reserve, trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get close shots of the rare and always-hiding Wood Ducks, and then continueing around Watson Lake which is often crowded with a number of species of ducks, cormorants and other birds. The photos below include the Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, an Anna’s Hummingbird and both the Double-crested Cormorant and much less common Neotropic Cormorant.

From Prescott I will drive up through Holbrook and the Petrified Forest National Park and on to Cortez, Colorado in the 4-Corners area. Later. Dave

231127 Report on Valencia, Cuenca & Segovia, Spain

I traveled from Antequera to Valencia a couple of weeks ago.  I have visited Valencia only once before, in 2006, and was limited to 2 days for lack of accommodations. I had arrived just a couple of days before the commencement of the America’s Cup world sailing race – the city was totally booked. This trip I took 6 leisurely days to enjoy the coastal city. I was in a lovely one-bedroom apartment just a couple of blocks from the cathedral and Plaza de Reina, pretty much in the center of all the tapas bars and restaurants.

I spent one day at the Oceanografic Aquarium, the largest in Europe. It had a number of giant underwater walkways with sea-life from all the oceans of the world. It also had large numbers of schoolkids on group learning tours. The Oceanografic is the southernmost of 6 remarkable structures making up the Science and Arts city along the green zone. The architecture of these giant structures is designed to mimic giant crustaceans.

The Valencia Market is the largest of its kind, and wandering the stalls is a study in colors and crowd shopping. One huge section is all fresh and often living seafood, a veritable magnet for photography.  Next to the market is the most interesting structure of the city and a World Heritage Site – the Lonja de Seda, or Silk Exchange.  The building was constructed in the 15th century in late gothic style for commercial trading in various goods including silk. The giant interior hall rises to heights on slender fluted pillars. The entrances and roofing edges are carved with gargoyles.

From Valencia I took the train to Cuenca, the old town of which rises rapidly from the juncture of a river and small stream until it sits between two vertical sets of cliff faces. The road upward cuts a few hairpins until one reaches the elongated plaza mayor and cathedral, then continues to rise to the mirador (overlook). Three-and-four story old homes constructed right on the edge of the cliffs make for incredible sights as the sun finally rises high enough over the canyons to light the fall-colored trees. Overhead in the blue skies are groups of Griffon Vultures, impressive with 8 to 9 foot wingspans and colored gold and black. I had a tiny apartment just 100 meters below the Plaza Mayor where I spent time at the Meson San Juan Plaza Mayor, as it opened before dawn daily at 7am and did not close until midnight – serving lattes around a roaring fire in the dawn, serving great “menu del dias” at lunch and finally beer and wine with tapas in the evening. I hiked the steep roads down the mountain daily, and then (groan) back up to the mirador.

From Cuenca I traveled finally to Segovia, where I have visited twice before. The town, just north of Madrid, has perhaps the most impressive aqueduct in existence, built by the Romans in the 1st century ad. With double arches stabilizing the pillars, at over 100 feet in height, the massive stones use no mortar and have stood for 2,000 years. Equally impressive is the medieval Alcazar, first built in the 12th century and restored on several occasions with the last architectural phase in the 16th century. It often served to seasonally house many of the Spanish royalty over 700 years, and was where Queen Isabela became queen. A World Heritage site, its “witch’s hat” turrets almost certainly helped inspire the Disney castle. Finally, Segovia is simply full of medieval 12th century Romanesque churches with their classic narrow double columnated semi-circular windows and barrel vaults. All of the aforementioned surround the highest point where stands the golden late Gothic cathedral. Several times in Segovia I was fortunate to see the Cinereous Vultures overhead, equaling the size of Andean Condors as the largest raptors in the world.

I have sampled specialty foods from most of my stays in Spain. In Vigo it was the fresh seafood, but particularly the broiled scallops on the half shell drizzled with olive oil and lime juice. Salamanca, as always, famous for its Jamon Iberico bellota (ham from an ancient breed of black pigs, acorn fed). Cordoba offered its berenjenas califales con miel (crispy fried thin sliced eggplant drizzled with honey). Valencia, home of paella, offered saffron infused rice, slow cooked with rabbit and other meats in shallow black skillets to get a crispy slightly burned texture to the bottom layer; the authentic dish is prepared to personal order and takes from 35 minutes to an hour and is served in the skillet. Segovia is famous for its cochinillo, roasted suckling pig with crispy skin; I had mine as a quartered leg, hoof and all; dining alone provided the advantage of not having enough people to be served the entire pig, head and all. Amazingly, I do not believe I have gained any weight, probably due to walking many miles a day.

Mentioning the great foods requires some balance to the obverse – Segovia’s tapas almost always include various pig parts; I have carefully avoided sliced up strips of pig ears, but in dim light I mistakenly ordered sliced pig snouts the other night. In my travels over the years I have eaten fried rattlesnake, scrambled cow brains, beef tongue and tripe, estuarine crocodile stew, boot-of-Italy horse meat, Oaxacan fried grasshoppers and Peruvian roasted guinea pig BUT – I drew the line at pig ears and snout.

From Segovia I returned the 100 kilometers to Madrid, where I am spending 3 days before the flight back to Tucson.  Later. Dave



Report on Malaga & Antequera, Spain, Nov 14, 2023

After a relaxing 2 weeks in Cordoba, I took the train to Malaga on the southern coast. There I had a lovely apartment with windows and balconies over tiny alleys. The old central section of town does not exude the ancient architecture of much of the rest of Spain. Most buildings struck me as 18th and 19th century, with lots of flourishes to attract the eye. Walking about a kilometer north-east along the botanical gardens brought me daily to a new part of the harbor designed for luxury yachts.  While I was there several yachts docked, including the I Dynasty, built a few years ago in Germany for a Kazakhstan billionaire, which at over 300 feet is more than twice the average super yacht; next to it was the Neninka, at 220 feet only 50% larger than most super yachts – I guess these now must be called super-super yachts. It is hard to imagine owning one of these for private pleasure (I did try to imagine – hard – but not impossible). Just beyond the super yachts were the huge docks for cruise ships, 3 in port my last couple of days. Along the gardens and port are flocks of screeching monk parakeets, an invasive species from southern South America, which I have not seen before.

I was surprised encountering the bronze of Hans Christian Andersen on the Alameda (the Botanical Garden walkway along the harbor). I read that he stayed here in 1862, and fell in love with the city, describing it in his book ‘In Spain.’

Antequera is as I remember it from 2 decades ago.  An absolutely charming small town full of Renaissance era magnificent brick towers and structures. It originated as a Roman stronghold. What it may now be most famous for is the presence of caves and tombs of neolithic origin, particularly 3 massive dolmens, huge earthen mounds covering megalithic tombs. The most interesting to me, the Menga Dolmen, is also the oldest at ca 3,600 BC, a millennium earlier than both the great pyramid of Egypt and the large stone ring of Stonehenge. It provides an entrance into a chamber 90 by 20 feet, the entrance, walls and roof constructed entirely of just 32 gigantic cut rocks. The height of the walls and extent of the roof are all formed by single rocks – you will need to see the photo below to appreciate the extent of these megaliths. The largest roof stone is estimated to weigh 180 tons, easily exceeding the largest Stonehenge stone of 40 tons, and the 80-ton stone in Khufu’s tomb chamber, the largest of the great pyramid. The Menga is considered the largest dolmen of Europe. When discovered in the 19th century it held several hundred skeletons. If the dating is accurate, speculating on how the stones were carved and manipulated borders on requiring the miraculous. On my last two visits, about 20 years ago, reaching the dolmen just required a short hike out of town and a climb up the lonely hill. In 2016 it was named a World Heritage Site, so today it resides in a huge fenced area, landscaped with required walkways, a large museum, interpretive center and guards, and, of course, large tour groups arriving by tour buses. The Menga still is impressive.

I must comment on finding Cordoba, and then Malaga, in full Christmas decoration mode. I realize the US has long forgotten that the celebration should not start until after Thanksgiving (result of ever-growing greed among retailers). I had not realized Spain would follow (or perhaps it led – I have not traveled this time of year before).

I am now in Valencia for 6 days and will report on that later. Dave


Report from Cordoba, Spain Nov 4, 2023

My apartment in Cordoba is so modern and well located I have extended my stay here to 12 days. On the second level I have four floor-to-ceiling glass doors with small balconies, 2 facing northwest and 2 northeast. With a full kitchen, I have been eating many meals in the apartment. The complex has a full rooftop terrace, with views to the Great Mosque and Cathedral bell tower, where I pass most late days reading and watching the large flocks of Egrets passing overhead for the night roost. At sunset dozens of small bats emerge to take care of any flying insect problem. The downside has been the weather.  Although this is the rainy season, I am told everywhere these last several weeks that the storms are unusual in their rainfall and high winds.  Since Plasencia, I have walked through many parks in 3 different towns and found recently downed trees and large branches, cordoned off with police tape. Of course, the blame is directed to climate change – enhancing the already stormy season.

Cordoba is most famous for the 9th through 12th century Moorish occupation and the huge mosque (Mezquita) and Caliphate which for 200 years rivaled Mecca. After the reconquest by the Christian forces in the 13th century, most of the great mosque was left, but about 10% of its floor space, right in the center of the hundreds of double arched pillars, was converted to a Cathedral, with its towering dome more than doubling the height of the mosque in that restricted central space.  Altogether a most unique building, not even close to resembling anything else I am aware of.  Nearby is the Alcazar Fortress of the Catholic Monarchs, most recently used as a prison, and now a major tourist attraction.  Of course, as one of the earliest World Heritage Sites, the crowds of tourists, most in large tour groups, clog all the hundreds of tiny ancient alleys that run through the old town.

As I have visited Cordoba many times, I have spent much of my current visit wandering down by the Guadalquivir River where it runs under the Roman bridge. At the bridge the river broadens and runs through the ruins of four 19th century flour mills.  I have spotted a number of interesting bird species, but do not have the camera equipment for such photography. I also have spent a number of evenings supping at the Sociedad de los Plateros, an ancient fraternal order, which has several taverns where they stock and sell the famous Cordoba Sherries; I always order the Fino, a white fortified wine, together with the wonderful deep-fried eggplant drizzled with honey.

My small tourist apartment complex (13 units I believe) is managed by a young college student, Stanislav, from Ukraine. He came to the university in Cordoba as a foreign exchange student about 2 months before the war started, and continues his studies here.  I do not know his long-term plans, but assume he does not wish to return so long as the war continues.  I suspect he would be involuntarily drafted.

From Cordoba I travel to Malaga on the southern coast tomorrow.  I have never been there, but the Malaga region is famous for for its “White Villages,” which surround the city. Later, Dave

Report on Plasencia & Merida Oct 24, 2023

I traveled from Salamanca to Plasencia by bus as the rail system does not connect these. Looking back at Salamanca, my long-time favorite place in Spain, where I often have thought of purchasing a small second home, I now have very mixed feelings.  All the charm of the old city and fabulous Roman to medieval and Renaissance architecture, still is in place, but the tourist scene is out of control. Every day, even now, well outside the tourist season, the narrow streets and famous sites are completely congested with large (20-30 person) tour groups, with the guides often using portable loud speakers. They stop in the middle of streets, alleys, and entrances while the guides give lectures. I found after about 5 days I was getting very annoyed as I wandered around.

Plasencia is a small hill town, but with a wonderful Romanesque Old Cathedral with the New Cathedral, mostly gothic with Renaissance touches, built onto one side.  I guess the original plan was to fully take down the Old to expand the New, but instead construction stopped where they brought the two together, and one finds major gaps in the interior supporting walls where the two don’t quite connect.  The old has a picturesque cloister.

The city has a large section of original defensive walls from medieval conflicts still standing , and a wonderful heroic size bronze of Alfonso VIII, King of Castille in the 12th Century, rides a horse over a town square.  My hotel was the Alfonso VIII, a 4-star with an old world charming interior.  I had a large top floor room with an outdoor roof-top terrace larger than the room. The town also maintains its 16th century aqueduct. The weather turned cold and rainy the last couple of days, so sitting on the small plaza for drinks was uncomfortable.

I traveled by train south on to Merida, on a day with pouring rain and lashing winds.  Spain news reported on Borrasca Aline (Storm Aline), which apparently flooded much of Spain with record rainfall, and particularly the southwest where I was traveling.  My train was much slowed down, and at one point stopped for a downed telegraph pole to be removed from the tracks. My first day and half in Merida was almost continual rain and cold winds.

Merida, which I have visited many times, is the most Roman of cities, surpassing the ruins of much of Italy. It was founded in 25 BCE by Augusta Ceasar’s Legionnaires in retirement after successful battles, and was the capital of Lusitania, one of the 3 provinces of the Iberian Peninsula. First Century BC construction includes the longest existing Roman bridge (almost a kilometer), built over the Guadiana River, the finest (subjective) Roman theater in existence and amphitheater for gladiator battles, the huge remains of the hippodrome (horse and chariot races), long standing sections of 95 foot aqueduct towers,  a small forum, temple to Diana, and the ruins of a number of massive Roman villas, with mosaic floors and painted walls in place. Beyond this are numerous smaller remains, and perhaps the finest Roman Museum outside Rome and Naples. Obviously it was designated one of the original premier World Heritage Sites. I have several times in the past posted numerous photos of the Merida ruins, so will only post a few here below.

From Merida I travel again by train to Cordoba. Later, Dave


Report from Salamanca, Spain, Oct. 16, 2023

From Valladolid I traveled the short distance to Salamanca on October 5; transport was on a slow local train that terminated its line just a few blocks from the famous Plaza Mayor of the city. By slow I mean the train only ran up to 100 mph, compared to the Avias which go 160 and the Aves 230.  Designed with Renaissance touches, and considered by many the most beautiful plaza in Spain, the Plaza Mayor is a massive square completely enclosed by 4 story pinkish yellow stone buildings, with 10 arched entrance/exits. As usual in Spain, the plaza is filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants on all sides.  I stayed in the Ikonik Hotel fronting the Mercado and 1 block from the Plaza. Below my window was the outdoor seating for the local chocolate and churros café. Within 1 block were 2 Michelin starred restaurants, one right next to the outdoor café where I sat many late afternoons for my couple of beers or wines, and smoked my pipe; that is, I smoked my pipe most evenings until someone apparently absconded with my pipe pouch and paraphernalia while I visited the aseos (restrooms).

Always fun to watch the groups of young men, usually 8, or woman, out on Saturday evenings for pre-marital bachelor or bachelorette parties of all night rowdiness.  The best men dress the “unlucky” one, soon to leave bachelorhood, in the most embarrassing outfits and require the most embarrassing acts conceivable.  My first Saturday, the group a table down from me on the patio, had the unfortunate man in a bright pink full body rabbit outfit with enormous floppy ears, a gross straw-colored wig, and required him to continuously ring a large cow bell whenever someone spoke to him. Even worse was the poor guy I watched in the Plaza Mayor of Leon, whom his buddies had dressed in a lacy blue tutu, had carrying a yellow rubber chicken, and while they went off to a nearby bar to drink, left him taped to the lamp pole in the center of the plaza to have to answer to the general public who made snide remarks.  I cannot understand how Spain has a high marriage rate.

I enjoyed my many visits to my long-time favorite tapas taverns, the Meson de la Concha and Ruta de Plata. The latter wood fire grills pork ribs, pancetta (unsliced chunks of bacon meat) and sausages, dripping with mouth-watering fat.  I always have maintained a friendship with the grill master – this trip, my friend the prior grill master, Miguel, of many years had left, replaced by 6 foot 8 Sergio. Sergio, my first evening of conversation and showing him old pictures, intervened in the super crowded interior to personally serve me wine, and then grilled me 8 ribs for which he refused to charge. By the time I left my fingers were coated with dripping pig fat as my poor stomach was trying to deal with 5,000 calories of meat and red wine to bind it together.  I survived. My next time there Sergio and the waiters called “David, we have something of yours”, and astonished me with the recovery of my lost pipe pouch.  I do not remember how it got from the prior sidewalk café to the grill. Anyway, I was ecstatic, had some pictures taken of me and Sergio, and sat down to more wine and plates of sampling the grill fare for which Sergio would not charge me. Incredible place.

I had the unfortunate experience of again blindly planning travel right into a national holiday. I had booked ahead my next stop in Plasencia, just south of Salamanca, only to find 6 days in advance that of the 7 daily buses, no seats were available except a midnight bus arriving 2 in the morning.  I had no problem cancelling my booking, but then could find no rooms over the holiday weekend in Salamanca, or even in Madrid Letras Barrio, or nearby Avila or Segovia.  Finally, I found a late listed apartment available at last minute and was able to book through the weekend, and so simply rescheduled my route on to Plasencia.

I have revisited the fabulous twin cathedrals, the Viejo built from the 12th century starting with its amazing Romanesque dome, and 13th century interior wall paintings in a back chapel. Its altarpiece is a gigantic semi-curved soaring masterpiece of 53 individual paintings framed in gold, with the ceiling semi circular cupola overhead bearing a giant painting of the last judgement. The altarpiece was designed and painted by Dello Delli and 2 brothers from Florence, in the early 15th century, just the start of the Italian Renaissance.  The new cathedral is mostly Gothic in architecture, but with fabulous Renaissance Plateresque designs on all exterior entrances. Unlike anywhere else, the old cathedral was not destroyed to build the new, but had the new built cloaking around parts of the old.  Thus, the two form a single structure, with entrance to the old through the new.  The upper terraces view of the old and new domes together is, to me, one of the most fabulous architectural wonders of Spain.  I have posted before, but of course do so again, some photos below.

Close by the cathedrals the 12 century University facade is also covered with Renaissance Plateresque carvings.  In the nearby Claustro is the “Night-sky of Salamanca,” – a half planetarium sky dome with a heavily restored painting showing the major constellations and stars originally painted by Gallego in 1473.  This was 19 years before Columbus sought guidance for his voyage to the New World.

Other always-favorites include the Roman bridge across the Rio Tormes, the San Esteban Monastery with its Churriguera brother’s massive wood-carved gold-leaf Plateresque altarpiece, and the Renaissance cloisters in the Convent de las Duenas, the Casa de las Conchas and the 12th Century University.

Last evening I was having a beer on a small street a block from my apartment, and was told they had to remove all tables and stuff from the street by 7:30 for a religious procession to march up the street. I went inside and waited as dozens of others did to see the sight.  After an hour and half with no procession I gave up and bought some take-home food, and went to my apartment to eat.  At bed-time I realized I was hearing the drums and music of the nearby procession, which kept getting louder, until I realized it had turned off the street where I had waited, and now passed directly under my two balconies.  Who could guess.

Monday, I travel by bus a little south to the small hill town of Plasencia, from there Merida and from there who knows. Later. Dave

Reporting on Leon & Valladolid, Spain, Oct 6, 2023

From Ourense my train trip to Leon started with an unexpected 1 hour bus ride detour to a nearby town on the same rail line, as the train tracks out of Ourense were under construction.

Leon was the ancient capital of Castile & Leon after successfully driving out the Moors in the 9th century. With a long line of kings through the 13th century, its power and wealth saw some stunning Romanesque and Gothic construction. Even most of the 18th through 20th century buildings in the town center are “eye-grabbers.”  I had an efficiency apartment with balcony overlooking the Plaza Marcello, about 2 blocks from the Catedral and the Plaza Mayor.

The cathedral, an early 13th century gothic masterpiece, may be the most visually stunning in Spain. It sports some of the earliest gothic standouts – the ribbed vault ceilings soaring impossibly high, and wide pointed arch windows, here with over 18,000 square feet of stained glass, an unrivaled masterpiece. It is described as the most French of Spanish cathedrals, having been originally designed by a Frenchman. I sat daily in a sidewalk café on the square before the cathedral for my morning cappuccino.

The Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin, together with the cathedral, formed a triangle of winding tiny passageways comprising almost exclusively tapas bars and cafes. The main plazas filled with outdoor seating for drinking beer and wine from 6pm to 8pm – at 8 most of the tapas bars opened and the passageways became walls of people eating and drinking till midnight.

Just north of the cathedral is the Basilica Santo Domingo with a marvelous 13th century Romanesque cloister, Gothic church and interior Renaissance detail and staircases. The fully renaissance Convento San Marcos, across the Roman bridge over the Bernesga River, now is the city’s Parador (a Spanish government line of historic buildings turned into luxury hotels).

On the Plaza San Marcelo where I stayed, I visited the Leon Museum with its archaeological and Roman collection and 2nd millennium art. Next door was one of Gaudi’s earliest buildings, now called the Casa Botin with its historic Gaudi museum.

From Leon a short train ride south brought me to Valladolid, where I stayed in a suite with two balconies directly viewing the Parroquia Iglesia Santa Maria Antigua, a gothic church with an 11th century Romanesque masterpiece bell tower. The photo below of the tower at night with the full ‘Harvest’ moon was taken from my room’s balcony.  A block south is the city’s Gothic cathedral, sitting next to the original renaissance University building. Every evening I sat at an outdoor cafe below the façade of the cathedral drinking beer, and watched the white storks flying across the city for the night roost.

Some may have noticed my photos are showing many more bronze statues – not the old boring kind, but modern quirky pieces posing in public sidewalks or squares, seeming to be interacting with the surroundings. These started appearing 20 some odd years ago, and now are becoming much more common.  They are delightful, especially the lion emerging from a storm drain, and the man and boy admiring the Leon cathedral.

From Valladolid there is a daily ‘slow train’ running just the 100 miles to Salamanca. When I say slow, it means it didn’t ever get much over 100mph. The Alvia’s on which I usually travel are faster averaging top speed just over 150mph.  The newest long lines run the Ave trains which can get up to about 240mph. The rail system pretty much covers all corners of the country. Too bad the US is so far behind in high speed rail. I will write re Salamanca in my next report as I am booked here for 11 days.

Later, Dave



Reporting on Vigo & Ourense, Spain, Sept 26, 2023

From Santiago I traveled the short distance south to Vigo, a large fishing and cruise ship town on the Atlantic coast.  Beautiful panoramic views were available to those who climbed the steep hill crowned by the Castro Fort. My apartment was on the pedestrian street Rua Principe, the main elite shopping district, directly across from the Marco Museum (Museum of Contemporary Art). I could tell the time all night by checking the clock tower just outside my window.  Though I admit to not having much appreciation for contemporary art, the free entrance to the museum, 20 steps from my door, pretty much guaranteed my visit.  ‘Somewhat interesting’ will remain my critique.

Vigo is well known for its splendid variety of fresh seafood. I ate late dinners (around 9pm) most nights at one of the many seafood restaurants lining the old market at La Piedra. Lots of clams, scallops, mussels, giant shrimp, octopus and squid, along with many species of unknown fish, all bony – most rather pricey. Scallops (Zamburiñas in Gallego), seared in the half-shell (the shell is Santiago’s emblem) with a tangy butter-olive oil drizzle, are to die for – 2 Euros a pop.  I ordered a half dozen of these every place that had them.

It rained on and off most days, but was great sitting out under umbrellas at the maritime port, drinking cappuccinos and eating chocolate napolitanas, watching the cruise ships refilling with passengers back from day sight-seeing trips.

I traveled inland from Vigo to the hilly city of Ourense with its old walled section on the south side of the Rio Minho. The original roman bridge over the river carries inlaid bronze shells, marking this as the route of the Camino de Santiago. The old bridge is unusual with its high pointed arches, and provides a great view west to the novel modernistic design of the Millenium Bridge.

My apartment overlooked the small Praza do Ferro, just a block from the Romanesque Cathedral, which original 12th century Portals of Paradise form a fantastic detailed colorful entrance (paint added 18th century). The narrow passages threading from my plaza to and around the cathedral to the Praza Maior (the names here are Galician, one of the official languages of Spain, more closely related to Portuguese), simply are filled back-to-back with tapas bars.  A few blocks of climbing from my apartment gets to the Romanesque-Gothic transition San Francisco Church Cloister, a stunningly beautiful double columnated square. It also contains a one room Museum of Archaeology of Ourense, and out on the hillside the large ancient cemetery of Ourense. Just below the Cloister is the Mirador (lookout) over old Ourense with the cathedral backed by distant green hills – this my favorite spot for cappuccinos in Ourense.

Travel Report from Madrid & Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Sept 15, 2023

My Spain trip started poorly, as have my last 3 international flights, with an early am notice that my AA flight Tucson to Dallas was delayed, putting at risk my international connection.  I rushed to the airport and managed to get the last seat on an earlier flight, necessitating exchanging a first-class ticket for a center seat at the back of the plane. This successfully got me to Dallas in plenty of time, permitting me to “enjoy” the Flagship Lounge for over 7 hours.  The flight to Madrid was pleasantly boring and I got some sleep.  Amazingly, I got a notice several days later that AA had processed a partial refund to my account.

Madrid, as usual, was great.  I stayed in a small efficiency apartment less than ½ block from Santa Ana Plaza, my favorite haunt in the Letras Barrio (named the “Letters” as this was the historic district for many famous writers, from the great Cervantes, early 1600s, to Ernest Hemingway, early 1900s). The number of tapas bars is beyond count.  I visited for the third time the Archeological Museum with its wonderful pre-Roman funerary exhibits.

I took the new high-speed rail from Chamartin station to Santiago, a trip that used to take over 6 hours now barely taking 3.  I had a small room in the Pension O Codice, with 3 balconies overlooking the famous Rua do Franco, above a couple of tapas bars, and with a view of the cathedral just 200 yards up the street.  The Catedral of Santiago has been famous for over 1100 years as the burial site of Saint James, the Disciple of Jesus. Amazingly, his lost burial suddenly was “discovered” in Santiago de Compostela, 900 years after and 2,500 miles distant from his death in Jerusalem.  For over 1100 years pilgrims have been journeying hundreds of miles by foot, from France and Spain, as a pilgrimage to this Cathedral.  Whatever your beliefs, it is moving.  My first day I followed an old man, his wife 15 feet behind, both carrying packs with the inevitable white shell attached, walking the last 200 meters to the great square on the west side of the cathedral. Dropping their packs to the ground they stood in the middle of hundreds of other pilgrims, faces lifted to the great cathedral.  I watched the old man, eyes closed, mouthing silent prayers, and tears were streaming down his face. Then a group of maybe 40 young people entered the square with rousing songs as they danced and leapt in great circles, dropping their packs in piles.  It sounds trite, but the Camino clearly is a monumental religious experience for those who undertake the multi-weeks pilgrimage.  In order to earn one of the official certificates from the Cathedral honoring completion of the Camino, one must certify the walk was undertaken for religious reasons, and must obtain stamped attestations from pass points at least twice daily which establish a minimum of 100 miles covered.

I now have moved on to the fishing city of Vigo, just north of the Portuguese border. Later. Dave


San Miguel de Allende, Mex., for Music Festival, Aug 1-20, 2023

After 2 years of Covid cancellations, and missing the 2022 season due to my retinal detachment emergency, I have made it to San Miguel this August for the annual Festival of Arts, with many classical chamber music concerts.  I spent the first night of the trip stranded in Phoenix, courtesy of American Airlines, which somehow managed to not have a pilot for my short flight from Tucson to Phoenix, thus causing a number of us from Tucson to miss the daily flight from Phoenix to Mexico City. It really is a little beyond belief how poorly the airlines seem to be performing these last couple of years.

I spent a few days in Mexico City, staying again at the Hotel Catedral with its great restaurant and roof terrace views over the historic district. The ETN deluxe bus from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende was comfortable with just 3 seats across a double decker, most seats on the upper deck, the seats almost fully reclining.  Though leaving on time, it did manage to run an hour behind schedule.

San Miguel has changed little in the last 20 years; when I first visited almost 50 years ago it was a considerably smaller town, but the historic center remains almost untouched (it is a protected World Heritage Site).  Weekend traffic and crowds, though, have increased greatly, and the town is best during the week. Still, it presents a number of favorite restaurants and bars, and the main reason (or excuse) for coming in August is the annual music festival.  I attended my 10th concert yesterday; concerts at 4 different venues have included the famous string quintet by Schubert, great violin sonatas including Bach’s Chaconne from the 2nd Partida, a number of great operatic arias and a chorus and organ in the Capilla de Tercer Orden (chapel) performing Renaissance and Baroque classical polyphonic music.  One group played baroque violin sonatas – unfortunately the violinist, playing a period instrument, massacred Vivaldi’s La Folia.

Hank’s New Orleans café still has the best 2-4-1 drink deals every happy hour, plus great food.  Tio Lucas still serves good steaks, and Hecho en Mexico is the all-around best restaurant in town for my tastes and wallet.  I get breakfast included every morning on the rooftop terrace of my little boutique hotel, and most days climb the roughly thirty stories of steep steps and road from the Parque Juarez up to the Mirador (view point over the town).  Hiking up and down the cobblestone streets keeps me in shape.  For a time I considered buying a home here, but the weekend crowds and traffic allow me to be satisfied with my 3 to 4 week visits.

I return to Tucson next week, and the following week am off to Spain for 3 months.  Later Dave

230606 From Dubois, Buffalo & Rock Springs, Wy.

I last wrote from West Yellowstone.  From there I moved on to Dubois, Wy and then to Buffalo. I had poor luck in and around Yellowstone with wolves, only seeing them my first couple of days in Lamar Valley.  Black bears also were rarely seen, unlike prior years. It is possible it had something to do with the heavy haze in the valleys from the Canadian wildfires.

Grizzlies, however, seemed to pop up everywhere, and I had some exceptional luck both in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone, and near the Togwotee Pass between Dubois and the Grand Tetons.  In the Hayden Valley I was able to watch the bear known simply as #864 with her year-old cubs for several hours over 2 days.  The cubs were constantly wrestling each other.    On Hwy 26 West of Dubois the two young grizzlies I photographed on opposite sides of the continental divide may have been the offspring of the bear known as Felicia which I photographed with cubs a few years ago.

From Buffalo I spent hours in the high Bighorn Mountains finding moose and mule deer, both in the process of losing their winter coats, in the long valleys with willow covered creeks.  Finally, common birds can make wonderful pictures when in great settings.

Anyway, the photos below are mostly Grizzlies.  Enjoy.  Dave