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Dragoon Mountain Ranch & Council Rocks

March 4, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch & Council Rocks

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

I wake up shortly after 5AM and decide to get up, since the skies are clear and still dark, and the Milky Way looks spectacular curving over the Dragoon Mountains in the east to the south, with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in a broad alignment in the same region. I use my new Sony a7 III camera and the Sony Tessar 24-70mm zoom operating at 24mm for the first few photos, and then switch to my Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom and Sigma MC-11 converter to gain some wider perspective of the Milky Way all the way from the south to the north. Focusing manually using the Sony a7 III is dead easy, since when I touch the focus ring on the lens, the camera displays a magnified image of the star I’m using for focus.

Pre-dawn Sagittarius area of the Milky Way with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter over the Dragoon Mountains

My photos of the Milky Way turn out well, however I’m in for another treat an hour later after I spot the old but very thin Crescent Moon hanging over the Dragoon Mountains. I get my Sony 70-300mm zoom and take several photos with my Sony a7 III on Aperture priority and a -3 EV setting that seems to work very well. I have used my travel tripod up to now, but can handhold the lens for the final few shots as the Sun rises.

Very thin 27.7 day old waning Moon rising over the Dragoon Mountains

Garry takes on a hike into Council Rocks, so I take my Mavic Pro drone along. I fly the drone at the two rest stops we make, and capture some wonderful video and photos, despite me losing sight of the drone several times in the bright sunshine.

There are clouds building in the sky this afternoon as I prepare dinner for the group. I make a double batch of ground turkey pasta, made with egg noodles and Classico pasta sauce, and served with vegetables. As expected, there is no observing or photographing the night sky tonight due to cloud cover. I show the video and photos from my Mavic Pro drone taken earlier today on our hike into Council Rocks. Everyone is blown away by the high quality and smooth motion.

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Alberta First Nations

July 4, 2018 Wednesday – First Nations in Southern Alberta

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

This is the third day of tours after the RASC General Assembly, and this one is a bit more informal. Today we are being driven around in RASC members’ vehicles to two sites where significant events happened involving the First Nations of southern Alberta area. We take tobacco as a gift and to show respect, as we visit these sites today (with prior permission of the Alberta government).

Blackfoot Crossing

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; Chief Crowfoot's tipi village

Our first stop is to view Crowfoot’s last camp and burial site on Siksika Nation lands. Crowfoot was a Blackfoot Chief who negotiated Treaty 7 with representatives of the British Crown in 1877. Nearby Blackfoot Crossing Historic Park and Museum has lots of interesting artifacts in displays, a cafeteria (not open), informational videos in the theatre, and outside venues including the Chief Crowfoot Tipi Village down by the river.

Majorville Medicine Wheel

It takes us a couple of tries to find this sacred place on a hilltop surrounded by southern Alberta rangeland, but eventually we pick up the directional signs and make our way over remote range roads to the parking area.  We learn that Medicine Wheels are places where First Nations gathered to perform fertility and hunting rituals, honour their dead leaders, and present offerings.

Majorville Medicine Wheel from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

This medicine wheel was constructed about 4,500 years ago, starting with the main rock cairn atop the hill, with rocky spokes and other smaller cairns added later. Today, they are protected archaeological sites, with only a few visitors permitted each year. We were some of the lucky ones to see this medicine wheel. I was so happy to fly my Mavic Pro drone overhead to capture the site in high resolution video and photos from a unique perspective.

Reference: Canada’s Stonehenge by Gordon Freeman

Vulcan and Mossleigh

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; Old Pioneer Grain Co elevators beside the railway tracks

We make a quick stop in Vulcan so we can take some selfie photos in front of the Enterprise star ship the town has built to attract tourists. We make another quick stop in Mossleigh to see three grain elevators up close – two are relics and one is still functional. Our final stop is to have dinner at our guide’s home before returning to our hotel in Calgary – our last night before leaving tomorrow morning.

Back at Hotel Alma at the University of Calgary, I let the front desk know that I will be recharging my Tesla overnight in the lot across the campus. I want a full charge for my departure from Calgary tomorrow, enroute to Revelstoke.

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Machu Picchu

Monday, December 05, 2011 – Day 15 – Machu Picchu, Peru

Today promises to be the highlight of the whole trip. Rocio and Felix arrive at 5:50AM to transfer us to the Poroy train station, a few kilometers outside the city. Cusco has a train station dedicated to Machu Picchu, but the residents in the area had it closed down because of noise problems from the train running up a series of switchbacks to climb out of Cusco. I can sympathize with their concerns. Of course the city now fills up with all the tourist buses and taxis heading to Poroy station, but at least they are quieter than the train, although they cause much more pollution.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Train running through the valley belowThe PeruRail Vistadome train leaves Poroy station at 6:40AM, traveling through the agricultural valley of the Rio Cachimayo through several small towns. Once it passes through the town of Huarocondo, it starts to descend down the steep valley carved by the Rio Huarocondo. We are served a very nice continental breakfast snack, including good Peruvian coffee or soft drinks. At the half way mark down this valley, the train carefully negotiates a switchback built on the steep sides of the valley before traveling down to the junction of the Rio Huarocondo and the Rio Urubamba. We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the train soon arrives at Ollantaytambo station, where it makes its only stop for five minutes.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Peruvians pose for usWe arrive at Aguas Calientes on time at 10AM. This small community is jammed in a narrow valley where the only road is to Machu Picchu. Our guide Grimaldo meets us in the train station, and we then take a transfer bus to Machu Picchu. The bus climbs to the top of the hill on a gravel road with many switchbacks, some 800 metres above the valley below. We soon catch our first glimpses of Machu Picchu – it’s hard to describe using words or photos. It is a wonderful feat of engineering if you consider it has survived virtually intact for centuries through countless tropical rainstorms; hot sun, fierce winds, and yes…the onslaught of tourists.

We spend two hours walking the site, learning all the fascinating concepts, which Grimaldo so skilfully conveys to us. I would not want to see Machu Picchu without a guide, at least for a first visit. I can see where it would be wonderful to just go up there to sit and soak up the ambience of this sacred place on my next visit, which would require staying in a hotel in Aguas Calientes for several nights. We see the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows in the Sacred District. We also see a sundial, which still has perfect alignment with the cardinal directions.

There is a single hotel right at the entrance to Machu Picchu, where we had a nice buffet lunch after our walking tour of the site. I expect the rates to stay there would be very high. There are several hotel and hostels in Aguas Calientes, which no doubt offer less expensive options. We take the bus to the bottom then board the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes back to Poroy Station near Cusco. As the train makes its way back, the crew put on a fashion show and dragon dance. Of course they then come down the isle and sell the alpaca clothing they modeled.

Our trusty driver Felix and tour coordinator Rocio are waiting to transfer us back to Cusco and the hotel. By then it is 8PM, so we decide to skip dinner and go to bed since it was such a full day.

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Trujillo, Peru

Friday, December 2, 2011 – Day 12 – Salaverry (port) and Trujillo (city), Peru

Rotterdam creeps into port of Salaverry this morning sounding the ship’s horn as she goes through the thick fog that envelops the area. The Cruise Director tells us later that we almost had to miss the port due to the fog. My friends explore the city of Trujillo, taking a shuttle bus from the port to the city centre in Trujillo. They report that the central square is charming, but the abject poverty in the rest of the city is shocking.

I take a shore excursion to the Huaca Dragon (Temple), the Chan Chan complex, and to see the fishermen with their reed boats at Huanchaco, a popular beach resort area. Huaca Dragon is a small temple on the outskirts of Trujillo, and has a ramp up to the top of the single temple and also has some fascinating rainbow decorations on the walls. A pre-Incan culture called the Chimu built this edifice as both a temple and a place to store food.

Chan Chan is an immense adobe city (20 sqkm, 30,000 residents) also built by the Chimu people, but closer to the coast than Huaca Dragon. In fact, from high points in the complex, the Pacific Ocean can be glimpsed. We visit the three huge plazas and former living areas used by the Chimu people before they were conquered by the Aztecs, who destroyed much of this complex. The vast majority of this city is still buried in the coastal sand.

The reed boats at Huanchaco are an interesting diversion. A couple of our tour members have a ride on them or try to paddle them in the ocean. As we travel around to these various sites, I also take note of the disturbing poverty in this region, other than at the resort town of Huanchaco, which is rather posh in comparison.

Rotterdam leaves port on time at 5PM. My friend and I try to see the Green Flash of the setting Sun from the Sports Deck, but no joy since there is too much fog out to sea this evening. After dinner in the Lido this evening, I pack my bags for our departure from Rotterdam tomorrow for a three day excursion to Machu Picchu. We rejoin the ship in the port of Pisco on Dec 6th.

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Athens – day 5

April 11, 2006 – Tuesday – Athens – Olympieion, Zapion & National Archaeological Museum

I sleep in this morning, but by 10am I’m on the move, taking the metro from Omonia to Akropoli Station again, but this time I am heading for the Olympieion, the site of Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I initially walk in the wrong direction and end up in the Koukaki district at Syngrou-Fix metro station, but soon find my way back.

Hadrian's Arch
Hadrian’s Arch

Hadrian’s Arch is located outside the fence around the Temple of Olympian Zeus, right on very busy Syngrou Ave. It is very impressive in size, but has limited decoration. Admission to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is part of the €12 combination ticket I purchased for the Acropolis. It is a huge temple, but there are only 15 marble columns left standing out of the original 104. The rest of this site is mostly rubble, however the remains of the Roman Bath is interesting – worth a look.

I then crossed the street to see the Zapion and the National Garden. The Zapion and surrounding fountain, gardens and restaurant is impressive, however the National Garden is mundane. I try to visit the recommended Benaki Museum, however it is closed on Tuesdays. I obviously didn’t read my guidebook carefully enough!

Presidential Guards at the Hellenic Parliament
Presidential Guards

The Hellenic Parliament is across the street from Syntagma Square, and is an easy 10 minute walk from the Benaki Museum. The Presidential Guards wear ceremonial dress, including big puffies on their shoes! The real guards to the Parliamentary precinct (which is closed to the public) are armed police. Since the Benaki Museum is closed, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum.

Gold death-mask, known as the 'mask of Agamemnon'
Gold death-mask, known as the ‘mask of Agamemnon’

When I first visited this Museum on Saturday, it closed before I could see the showpiece gold artifacts recovered from Mycenae. This time I spend a full two hours viewing this important gallery. I saw the famous funerary Mask of Agamemnon, as well as many other superb artifacts (many made of gold). The side gallery showcasing Cycladic art was a surprise, since these are pre-Mycenaen. I believe this civilization was one of the first to form after man moved out of caves!

I must confess I’m not a fan of history, however visiting all these ancient sites in Greece and seeing so many fascinating artifacts brings ancient civilizations alive. I can understand why thousands of Greek schoolchildren visit these sites and museums every day.

Athens Metro ticket machine
Athens Metro ticket machine

I have used the Athens metro to get to some of the local sites. It is inexpensive, safe, and easy to use, so I would recommend visitors to the city make use of this form of transportation wherever you can. You must purchase a ticket, then validate it as you walk to the train platforms. If you get caught dodging the fare, you risk an on-the-spot fine of forty times the fare, so remember to buy and validate those tickets.

I catch up on my journal and rest for awhile before going out to dinner around 7:45pm. Ayah again for dinner: Roca salad and stuffed pork with roast potatoes. I planned to have Gemista tonight, but they didn’t have it. The pork was very tasty though. It’s 8:30pm and the restaurant is empty. Greeks certainly eat late!

Tomorrow I plan to get to the Acropolis as close to opening time (8am) as possible, and see the Acropolis Museum. Then I’ll walk to the Roman Forum and see the Tower of the Winds. So no sleeping in tomorrow morning…I’ll set my alarm for 7am.

I’m going to have to confirm my Alitalia flights from Athens to Milan and Milan to Toronto and Victoria either tomorrow or Thursday. Hopefully I can confirm online.

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Circle Tour – day 3

April 9, 2006 – Sunday – Circle Tour – Corinth isthmus & Peloponnese peninsula

Today is a full day tour with Paul, since getting to these sites without a car is difficult. Paul picks me up at 8am and we head out of Athens.

Corinth Canal

Bridges over the Corinth Canal with a ship passing through
Bridges over the Corinth Canal with a ship passing through

First stop is the north end of the Corinth Canal between the Aegean Sea and the Gulf of Corinth. It is obviously a very strategic waterway, since it eliminates sailing around the very large Peloponnese peninsula. Nero started the canal in 66 A.D., and used slaves and prisoners to dig 3.3km of the 6.3km total distance before having to abandon the project when he was arrested in Rome. The canal project wasn’t restarted again until 1882, and completed in 1893, paid for by the Greek government but built by private contractors. Sinking bridges at either end accommodate local traffic, however the expressway and other major roads go over top.

Ancient Corinth & Acrocorinth

Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth with Acrocorinth in the distance
Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth with Acrocorinth in the distance

Next is Ancient Corinth (€6 admission). There are lots of interesting ruins here and a decent museum. The Temple of Apollo’s pillars dominate the Agora site, but the Lechaion Road, Fountain of Peirene and basilica offer a glimpse into daily Roman life here

Acrocorinth is visible from this site, located 565m above the ancient city. Paul drives up the mountain to the first gate, and then I climb the steep and rocky roads through the three gates built by various occupiers of this strategic fortress. I can’t face the 4 km climb to the top where the Acropolis is located.

Mycenae

Next stop is Mycenae and the Treasure of Atreus (€8 admission). Perhaps this is the most interesting site I see today, although it is less dramatic visually. Mycenae (and other ancient sites in the area) were inhabited by advanced civilizations hundreds of years before Christ (BC), proving that the tales told by Homer were based on fact. Mycenae is located on a low hill, and the Treasure of Atreus is located in a beehive shaped structure nearby. Actually, the treasures are now located in Athens at the National Archaeological Museum. The gold masks are a must see when you visit the Museum.

Grave Circle A - Mycenae
Grave Circle A – Mycenae

Palamidhi Fortress & Nafplio

Palamidhi Castle walls and gun emplacements with Argos Bay behind
Palamidhi Castle walls and gun emplacements with Argos Bay

There are 900 steps to climb up to the Palamidhi Fortress from the pretty coastal town of Nafplio, however I opt to drive up (€6 admission). Palamidhi Fortress overlooks the town below, and the Bourtzi Fortress on Ayiou Theodhorou islet in Argos Bay. This is perhaps the most impressive fortress I’ve ever visited. It is perched on a steep hill, and the views are breathtaking. Like Acrocorinth, strenuous climbing is involved in exploring the site!

Epidaurus

Ancient outdoor amphitheatre of Epidaurus
Ancient outdoor amphitheatre of Epidaurus

Ancient Epidaurus, Theatre – (€6 admisson) – This ancient outdoor theatre is still used today to stage performances. It is not as large or as well decorated as the theatres we saw in Libya at Leptis Magna and Sabrata, however it is an impressive theatre nonetheless. It dates to the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, and is part of a larger complex of buildings, including a sanitarium.

Return to Athens

Expressway from Corinth to Athens, twin tunnels

It has been a long day, but very productive and rewarding, since I experienced so many ancient sites, thanks to Paul’s intimate knowledge. I go to the Ayah restaurant again this evening for dinner, and have chicken and rice with Rocket salad – excellent!

Greek restaurants will dress most salads with oil and vinegar before serving unless you catch them first. As well, olive oil is poured on almost all main courses.

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National Archaeological Museum – Athens

April 8, 2006 – Saturday

I walk to the National Archaeological Museum, which is only 15 minutes’ walk from my rental apartment in Exarhia. As with museums in Italy, it is endless. Hundreds of stelae, statues, and other artifacts from ancient times are beautifully displayed. Admission is €6, and they close at 3pm today.

April 11, 2006 – Tuesday

Since the Benaki Museum is closed today, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum.

When I first visited this Museum on Saturday, it closed before I could see the showpiece gold artifacts recovered from Mycenae. This time I spend a full two hours viewing this important gallery. I am amazed by the famous funerary Mask of Agamemnon, as well as many other superb artifacts (many made of gold). The side gallery showcasing Cycladic art was a surprise, since these are pre-Mycenaen. I believe this civilization was one of the first to form after man moved out of caves!

I must confess I’m not a fan of history, however visiting all these ancient sites in Greece and seeing so many fascinating artifacts brings ancient civilizations alive. I can understand why thousands of Greek schoolchildren visit these sites and museums every day.