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11.28.2006 - 33 comments 

I took this shot from our room on the 18th floor of the architectually beautiful Marriott San Diego Hotel and Marina. It was just about sunset and the water reflected the lush yellow of the sunset and it was framed at the bottom by the palm and eucalyptus trees that lined that side of the bay.

That day we had seen several naval ships going in and out of the harbor there, but nothing seemed quite as picturesque as this shot of this lonely little sailboat gliding peacefully along this area.

There are way too many posts that could be done from one short week in San Diego. Of course there is always the Zoo and Balboa Park, with its many fine museums, the world's largest outdoor organ, trains, theatre, cafes, art, fountains, plants, flowers, trees and grass.

As another tourist's favorite place, I don't want to forget to mention Sea World either. But truly, some of the favorite things that we like to do while there are sort of the "off the beaten path" things like: Mission Beach -- Where there is Roller Coaster & Arcade; long white beach; unique places to eat (and drink); surf shops and just about the best people watching anywhere in the world.

Old Town San Diego -- Recreates early California, Its displays, historic buildings, shops and restaurants illustrate the changes that have taken place in San Diego since it was first settled in 1769. We especially love the Mexican restaurants when we are there. There are places where you can actually see tenured Mexican ladies making by hand the tortillas that you are going to eat. There is a real craft to the art of making a tortilla and those ladies are extremely gifted at doing just that.

Gaslamp Quarter --"The Historic Heart of San Diego" is just a short walk from the convention center. Fine restaurants, clubs, galleries and shops. Seaport Village -- Over 50 fine restaurants and shops along San Diego's sparkling bay. Just a short walk from the San Diego Convention Center. This one is literally a stone's throw from the Marriott and a place that no tourist would want to leave out.

Coronado Island -- Home of the historic HOTEL DEL CORONADO, and many fine shops restaurants and world-class beaches. The hotel is worth the visit to the Island itself. You can take the bridge (which is also spectacular in its design and placement) over to the island. But then, you may want to actually leave the island by the southern way. Because although connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, (the southern way off the island) Coronado is considered by many to be an island. Perhaps an island offering a different culture and tempo from the city across the bay, San Diego.

Horton Plaza -- 140 stores, restaurants in a 7 level, 6 1/2 city block mall that is a total delight to visit. You can also shop on-line. Also this is just a couple of blocks from the Marriott Hotel and Marina. It is sort of an outdoor / indoor Mall with about everything that anyone would want to purchase from a cup of coffee to an upscale luxury item.

Fashion Valley -- The most extensive collection of stores and restaurants in the entire region. Includes six department stores and over 200 distinctive specialty shops. Adams Avenue - Antique shops, bookstores, neighborhood cafés, shops and restaurants in the communities of Normal Heights and Kensington. Hillcrest - The village in the city. You can find almost anything you want along the tree-lined streets of Hillcrest. You can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, stores and entertainment.

University Heights - This great old neighborhood has many fine places to eat, shop, and just hang out. Books, coffee, art and antiques. Meet some new friends. North Park -- Located in central San Diego, this community is undergoing a renewal process that is preserving many fine old buildings, while adding new designs, shops and restaurants. The Boulevard -- One of the best places in San Diego to cruise in your convertible, (assuming you have one or rented one) and just hang out with friends.

For the very adventurous... you are only about an hour from Tijuana, Mexico. But if you've seen one Mexican border town... well you know. We preferred to go a little further south in Mexico to get rid of some of the T. J. hype. Places like Ensenada and Estero Beach. Don't forget to bring your Passport and expect a wait at the San Ysidro Border Station, in order to get back into the States.

All in all... San Diego is a nice place to visit, with a lot of things to do. Too much really to be able to do in just a week, but you can TRY!

"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list." - Susan Sontag Posted by Picasa


11.22.2006 - 38 comments 

Over the last few months of posts, I seem to be in a South Dakota blogging mode. But really, before having gone to South Dakota, I was sure there was absolutely NOTHING there (with the exception of Mount Rushmore). As you can see from the South Dakota posts I've offered up here, I could not have been more wrong.

Custer State Park boasts scenic drives such as the Needles Highway (SD 87), which twists and turns its way past towering rock formations and through narrow tunnels. At the end of one tunnel stands the Needles Eye, a granite spire with a slit only 3 to 4 feet wide but reaching 30 to 40 feet in the air. The Needles Highway actually gets its name from these very tall rock structures that are visable along this highway. They look as if they are made of the same rock as both Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore. They also standout because nothing really grows on them and they are in the forest, which makes their reddish color stand out even more.

There was one area on our highway tour, where the traffic came to a dead stop. Everyone was out of their cars, watching something (that I could not see from where we were). As I got out of my car and walked up to see what the hold up was, I saw a tour bus going through one of these tunnels VERY slowly. I say VERY slowly because there were literally just inches on each side (and top) of the bus. It took it about 10 minutes just to get through that 20-30 foot long tunnel. There must have been hundreds of photos shot of that particular bus coming through that tunnel. It really was something marvelous to observe.

Also, don’t be surprised if you encounter another type of roadblock on the Needles Highway, that of grazing bison in Custer State Park. A herd of 1,500 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Bison herd is one of the largest in the world.

Bison can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “tatanka” for food, clothing and shelter.
A word of caution: They say that Bison can be unpredictable and dangerous. The herd that went across the road where we were, had about 30 members, but we saw several other good sized herds of maybe a few hundred while in the park. It’s safest to view them from inside a car. (Although candidly), I got outside to get this picture of a mother bison and her calf. But then, sometimes I do stupid things just to get THE SHOT that I want!

Besides bison, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.

Favorite outdoor activities in the park include hiking 7,242-foot Harney Peak, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, chuckwagon suppers and jeep rides to see the bison. We saw many groups of climbers and were very impressed with how huge and verticle many of these rock formations were.

History and culture also abound here. You can walk the banks of French Creek, where Custer’s expedition first discovered gold in 1874. Take in a theater performance at the Black Hills Playhouse. Or, visit the log cabin that was home to Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet laureate.

As we left the park, I thought to myself... boy did I ever have a silly miss-conception of what there was to do (or more like NOT DO) in South Dakota! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and on voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my Fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." ~ Abraham Lincoln, October 1863 Posted by Picasa


11.16.2006 - 24 comments 

This was the first time I had ever been to Pikes peak and everyone suggested we go to Manitou Springs, Colorado and take the Cog Railway up to the top. The ride took about an hour to get up there with beautiful vistas all along the route.

As you can see from this picture, we are about to pass another COG Railway car. There are several sidings on the way up for the cog cars to be able to pass beside each other. This one ahead of us had just pulled over to let us pass on our way up to the top of Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer of the Southwest. Lieutenant (later General) Pike first sighted what he termed the "Great Peak" in mid-November of 1806. A few days later, he attempted to climb it with a small band of men. Heavy snows in the 10,000 foot area turned his party back. He estimated the mountain's height at over 18,000 feet (he was only 4000 feet off!) and is said to have claimed that it might never be climbed. However, a botanist who climbed many peaks in Colorado, Edwin James, did ascend the mountain in 1820. By the mid-1800's, a trail was well established to the top, and the first woman, Julia Holmes, climbed the peak in 1858.

Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer of the Southwest. Lieutenant (later General) Pike first sighted what he termed the "Great Peak" in mid-November of 1806. A few days later, he attempted to climb it with a small band of men. Heavy snows in the 10,000 foot area turned his party back. He estimated the mountain's height at over 18,000 feet (he was only 4000 feet off!) and is said to have claimed that it might never be climbed. However, a botanist who climbed many peaks in Colorado, Edwin James, did ascend the mountain in 1820. By the mid-1800's, a trail was well established to the top, and the first woman, Julia Holmes, climbed the peak in 1858.

Some interesting Tidbits: ~ Pikes Peak IS NOT the highest mountain in Colorado. It is 31st out of the 54 mountains in the state over 14,000 feet, the highest being Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet.

~ When traveling up Pikes Peak (or any mountain) ascending 1000 feet is like traveling 600 miles to the north. The temperature drops about 3.5 degrees, and different life zones are experienced. So, in general, the top of the Peak is 30 degrees colder than at the station in Manitou.

So what is a COG Railway and what is so special about it? Well, Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels upon the rails, called "adhesion", to provide locomotive power. A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear, "cog wheel", meshing into a special rack rail (mounted in the middle between the outer rails) to climb much steeper grades than those possible with a standard adhesion railroad. An adhesion railroad can only climb grades of 4 to 6%, with very short sections of up to 9%. A "rack" railroad can climb grades of up to 48%, depending upon the type of rack system employed. Some Swiss trains use a combination of "rack" and "adhesion". This enables the trains to reach much higher speeds on the adhesion sections (rack railroads can not go much faster than 25 miles per hour or they run the risk of dislodgement from the rack rail- M & PP Ry.'s top speed is about 9 MPH).

The first cog (or "rack") railway was built in New Hampshire in 1869, but the Swiss were quick to make use of this technology, and numerous rack railways were built there. Indeed, Switzerland is still the country where most rack railways are located. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is, however, the highest rack railway in the world as well as the highest railway in North America and the Northern Hemisphere. The M&PP Ry. has a perfect safety record!
The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway uses the Abt rack system. The maximum grades are 25%, which is about the upper limit for the Abt system. Many rack railroads use the Riggenbach system, also called "ladder rack".

The steepest cog railway in the world is the Mt. Pilatus Railway in Lucerne, Switzerland. It uses the Locher rack system to climb grades of 48% !

When we finally made it to the top, we got off and had donuts and hot cocoa. I even bought the cup because it said something on it like "best donuts at this elevation on earth" or something like that. The views on the way up were awesome. We started off and returned on the Cog Railway car back down to Manitou Springs (which itself) was a fun little tourist town. It reminded me of stepping back into the 1960's a little.

One more interesting tidbit about Pikes Peak ~ We owe the inspiration for the lyrics of the beloved song, "America the Beautiful " to the stunning vistas from the summit of Pikes Peak. It was the summer of 1893, and Katharine Lee Bates, a professor of English at Wellesley College, was in Colorado Springs to teach a summer session at Colorado College. On July 22, Katharine, along with several others of the visiting faculty, took a trip in a carriage to the summit of Pikes Peak. Horses got them to the halfway point, and, as was customary, a team of mules finished the climb to the 14,110 foot summit. Because altitude sickness affected one of the party, they only stayed on the summit for a half hour, but the brief experience was enough inspire a poem which was later put to music and is now one of the most honored of hymns about America.

"An erect, decorous group, we stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit...and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and sea like sweep of plain. Then and there the opening lines of 'America the Beautiful' sprang into being." ..... "I wrote the entire song on my return that evening to Colorado Springs." ~ Katharine Lee Bates (author of "America the Beautiful) Posted by Picasa


11.10.2006 - 26 comments 

As a Vietnam combat veteran, this day has had special significance to me since I lost several of my buddies over there in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. I often think of Allan Cameron Benson and the young widow that he left behind. You see, he and I were married on the exact same day and ended up in the same place on the exact same day. The difference was that he lost his life to a mortar round that landed almost directly on the center of one of our 105 MM howitzers in our Fire Support Base Schroeder with the 9th. Infantry Division in the Delta. I survived by being in a bunker less than 10 feet away from that exact spot where Benson lost his life. By the time I ran out there, he was already gone. In fact it took out the whole gun crew, none of which, we ever saw in the field again after they were medi-vac’ed from the FSB to the Hospital in Dong Tam.

The actual day to remember not only our fallen heros, but also those of us who made it back alive, is called Veterans Day. Not just war heros are honored on this day, but all Veterans that served our country both in war time and peace time.

A little history of Veterans' Day shows that November 11th is actually the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I, after four years of conflict.

At 5 A.M. on Monday, November 11, 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice, an order was issued for all firing to cease; so the hostilities of the First World War ended. This day began with the laying down of arms, blowing of whistles, impromptu parades, closing of places of business. All over the globe there were many demonstrations; no doubt the world has never before witnessed such rejoicing.

In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued his Armistice Day proclamation. The last paragraph set the tone for future observances: To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation.

In 1927 Congress issued a resolution requesting President Calvin Coolidge to issue a proclamation calling upon officials to display the Flag of the United States on all government buildings on November 11, and inviting the people to observe the day in schools and churches... But it was not until 1938 that Congress passed a bill that each November 11 "shall be dedicated to the cause of world peace and... hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day." That same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill making the day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia. For sixteen years the United States formally observed Armistice Day, with impressive ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the Chief Executive or his representative placed a wreath. (I have seen this ceremony several times and every time, I find it just as solemn as the first time I ever saw it.)

In many other communities, the American Legion was in charge of the observance, which included parades and religious services. At 11 A.M. all traffic stopped, in tribute to the dead, then volleys were fired and taps sounded.

But after World War II, there were many new veterans who had little or no association with World War I. The word, "armistice," means simply a truce; therefore as years passed, the significance of the name of this holiday changed because it no longer had the significance it did right after WW I. Leaders of Veterans' groups decided to try to correct this and make November 11 the time to honor all who had fought in various American wars, not just in World War I.

On November 11, 1953, in Emporia, Kansas, instead of an Armistice Day program, there was a Veterans' Day observance. Ed Rees, of Emporia, KS was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name of the observance to Veterans' Day. After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday. Act of Congress changed the name to Veterans’ Day on May 24, 1954. In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.

The first time someone actually recognized me publicly on this day was not until my oldest son and daughter in law took me out to lunch to celebrate the day several years ago. I told them at the time, that all these years since Vietnam, this is the first time that someone actually thanked me for my service. I could say, that the 60's and 70's were not good times to be a Vet, but then I think about the 55,000 of my brothers (like Benson) that gave their greatest sacrifice for the Love of OUR Country and I would say, NO ONE EVER THANKED THEM EITHER for making what turned out to be their ULTIMATE sacrifice.

In case you don't recognize this photo, it was one I took at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary. The ceremony of "The Changing of the Guard" is such a humbling expierence, that I am a loss for words to even try to describe the feelings that I felt the first time I ever watched it. It is a true honor to all those that we have been lost in battle over the years. It is done with all of the reverence of that of a Military Funeral.

To all the soldiers in all the wars who have made the ultimate sacrifice, my prayers go out to you and to those loved ones and families that you left behind.

To all of the Veterans out there, let me say, "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY!"

To all of the Vietnam Vets out there, let me say, as only you know what I mean when I say, "Welcome Home Brother!" ~ LZ Blogger Posted by Picasa


11.06.2006 - 24 comments 

More publicity has been allotted to magnificent Waimea Canyon, located in Koke'e State Park, than perhaps any other landmark in the Hawaiian Islands. It is on the island of Kauai also known as "The Garden Island".

Like the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the top of an enormous volcano rising from the ocean floor, with lava flows dated to about 5 million years ago; Kauai is the oldest of the large Hawaiian Islands. Roughly 4 million years ago, while Kauai was still erupting almost continuously, a portion of the island collapsed. This collapse formed a depression, which then filled with lava flows.

The words often attributed (mistakenly) to Mark Twain describe it best. This is the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," a breathtaking spectacle from any angle. There are a few ways to view Waimea Canyon; several tour companies offer helicopter or airplane tours. For this flight we hooked up with a Pilot named Jack Harter who was a Vietnam combat chopper pilot. He was found by contacting the Connoisseur at the Marriott in Lihue, Kauai.

Jack was the coolest guy I have ever seen in a chopper cockpit. He was very laid-back and just gave us a feeling of floating on the clouds for our ride. He also gave us a nice long ride and pointed out the things that all of us tourists love to hear about. He passed over (and pointed out) the waterfalls that were used in the making of the film "Jurassic Park". He even banked and turned several times so that we could get a shot of a rainbow as we flew over the wettest spot on the planet.

The flight was very smooth, not at all like I remember my chopper rides in Vietnam. Well... (and the fact that no one was shooting at us either helped)! We loved the views that this flight offered and Jack's comments made it all the nicer. Many people however, choose to make the trip to the canyon by car (which we actually did too a couple of days later). Outdoor enthusiasts often choose to camp in the park. But we chose the chopper ride and the stay at the Marriott in Lihue.

Waimea Canyon is the largest canyon in the Pacific and truly a dramatic sight to behold. The canyon measures 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,500-feet deep. It was carved thousands of years ago by rivers and floods that flowed from Mount Waialeale's summit. The lines in the canyon walls depict different volcanic eruptions and lava flows that have occurred over the centuries.

Even though smaller than the Grand Canyon of Arizona, Waimea Canyon rivals the beauty. Numerous lookouts and hikes offer terrific views of every aspect of this natural wonder. The canyon is protected by the Koke'e State Park, which encompasses 4,345 acres of land and has 45 miles of trails that run through the canyon and the nearby Alakai Swamp. The Ranger's Station is located at the Koke'e Museum has hiking maps of the area. There are no gas stations along the 40-mile Waimea Canyon Road so be sure to fill up before starting this trip. The main park area provides restrooms. The elevation makes the air 10-15 degrees cooler than in the valley and by afternoon many areas are often shrouded in clouds.

In the time since, rainwater from the slopes of Mount Waialeale have eroded Waimea Canyon along one edge of the collapse. The cliffs on the west side of the canyon are composed of thin lava flows that ran down the surface of the Kauai volcano. On the other side of the canyon, the cliff walls are built from thick lava flows that pooled in the depression. Over time, the exposed basalt has weathered from its original black to bright red.

Waimea Canyon State Park encompasses 1,866 acres (7.5 km²) and is a popular tourist attraction on the island. It provides a wilderness area with numerous hiking trails. It can be accessed from Waimea on Hawaii state road 550, which is 18 miles long and leads up to Koke'e State Park.

The perspective from either car or helicopter is quite different, but either way, it is a BEAUTIFUL place. By the way, Jack is still around and still doing his thing! If you get a chance, Jack gets the LZ "approval" rating!

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." -G. K. Chesterton Posted by Picasa