San Juan Goosenecks and Monument Valley

It is 309 miles from Trail Canyon to Grand Canyon and much of it is the usual wide open spaces. But some of it is the most iconic scenery in the USA.

Our first glimpse of Monument Valley gave us a distant view of the real stars of countless westerns. (If you didn’t like the movie you could always watch the scenery!)

A distant view of Monument Valley
A distant view of Monument Valley

But before we got any closer we saw the sign to the San Juan River Goosenecks which I remembered seeing in my copy of Arthur Holmes “Physical Geology” when I was a student. Not far off the main road we came to a car park, looked over the wall and saw the most spectacular incised meanders I know of.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River
Goosenecks of the San Juan River

As you can see we are on a plateau and all the topography is below – you look down at the cliffs. The river is about 1000 feet below and the rocks are of Carboniferous age.

The incised meanders of the San Juan river
The incised meanders of the San Juan river

One presumes that the river and the meanders were there before the uplift of the Colorado Plateau started and the rate of erosion downwards of the river was similar to the rate of uplift the plateau. The inner gorge is in limestone which seems to be more able to preserve cliffs than the sandstone and shale of the higher slopes of the gorge.

Of course such a resource cannot be allowed to go to waste and you can hire rafts and canoes to drift down the river.

Drifting through the Goosenecks
Drifting through the Goosenecks

Not all the rocks in the area are flat-lying – near the rock called Mexican Hat there is a sudden dip in the sediments.

Mexican Hat and some dipping sediments
Mexican Hat and some dipping sediments

The monocline is thought to be due to vertical movements.

But not very much further and we are in Monument Valley.

The road to Monument Valley
The road to Monument Valley

Monument Valley contains many buttes and mesas. A mesa is a large butte. Here is a photo of an isolated butte.

A butte in Monument Valley
A butte in Monument Valley. The butte is probably in Utah, I was in Arizona, or more particularly, in the Visitor Centre of the Navaho Reservation. Reservations are Federal land and completely ignore state boundaries.

The impressive bit in the middle is the butte with its vertical sides. It sits on its pediment which is the slope leading up to the cliffs. And in the foreground is the pediplain. And, strangely enough, most of the sculpture of this landscape is due to the action of water, even if we are in a desert. This is not the place to discuss desert erosion features but a web search will produce all you could ever want to know.

The shapes in Monument Valley are impressive but it is their combination with the rust red of the rocks and the blue of the sky which one remembers.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Erosion continues apace in the valley and landslides at the bases of buttes are commonly seen. Many of the most spectacular buttes look like skeletons of a once more considerable body.

Much eroded buttes, Monument Valley
Much eroded buttes, Monument Valley

After our stop in the Visitor Centre of the Navaho Reservation, which gives a Navaho perspective on the settlement of the area – they feel aggrieved, with good reason, – we pressed on towards the Grand Canyon.

We were crossing a featureless part of the route when we saw a sign pointing us to an Indian Market. And a small sign saying Little Colorado Gorge. The Indian Market was lots of stalls selling all the usual stuff – many of them empty as the tourist season was not really started – in a large car park. And the edge of the car park was the Little Colorado Gorge. Select the correct gear when leaving.

The edge of the Little Colorado Gorge
The edge of the Little Colorado Gorge

You look over the edge and it just keeps on going down. The rock types are less spectacular than the Grand Canyon but the depths are almost as great.

Looking down a gulley into the Little Colorado Gorge
Looking down a gulley into the Little Colorado Gorge

So this gave us an introduction to the glories of the Grand Canyon which will be the subject of the next post.

Mesa Verde

At Trail Canyon Ranch the nearest National Park is Mesa Verde. The usual way to get into it is from the north and that is pretty spectacular.

The way into Mesa Verde from Cortez
The way into Mesa Verde from Cortez and the north.

But this is rather misleading as Mesa Verde is not about isolated peaks but the high plateau and its deep canyons.

Mesa Verde from the west
Mesa Verde from the west

It is not bounded by faults but has been uplifted and what we see is what is left by erosion. The Mesa dips shallowly to the south and the characteristic canyons run from the north to the south. The Mesa is up to 2,000 feet above the surrounding plains.

Getting into the park is now an easy drive – long slopes, wide curves, a tunnel and steepish grades – but it was not always so. At one lookout I met a man who said he was the son of the man who was responsible for the park roads. In the mid 1950’s he and his father were in the last car to use the original entrance road (or rather track). Their job was to place the explosives which destroyed the road and remove any incentive to use the dangerous path.

The route of the original entrance into the park
The route of the original entrance into the park

He told me that rockfalls and landslips were a constant danger and a glance at the photo above suggests that he was correct!

It is a long drive to the park headquarters and there are several lookouts giving views of mountain ranges of which one has heard nothing, but which, in the UK or Europe would be hailed as great tourist attractions. My note taking is not what it should be so the mountains below have no name in this blog.

Distant mountains, viewed from Mesa Verde NP
Distant mountains, viewed from Mesa Verde NP

They may be the San Juan Mountains, but then again they may not.

When you get to the park headquarters you can sign up for various tours of the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous. There is much to see, just driving around, but to get into the cliff dwellings you need a ranger to unlock the gates and to tell you the story.

The first one we went to was Cliff Castle.

Cliff Castle, as seen from the Car Park viewing platform
Cliff Castle, as seen from the Car Park viewing platform

Impressive but you need your tour ticket to get any closer.

A closer view of Cliff House
A closer view of Cliff House
An even closer look at Cliff House
An even closer look at Cliff House
Round tower at Cliff House
Round tower at Cliff House
Square tower at Cliff House
Square tower at Cliff House, kiva in the foreground

There is remarkably little known about these places. My previous postings about Bandelier and Hovenweep hold for here also. The place was abandoned after hundreds of years of occupation and the people moved elsewhere in the area.

Cliff House from the far end, two kivas in the foreground
Cliff House from the far end, two kivas in the foreground
A kiva at Cliff House
A kiva at Cliff House

We then went to Balcony House, which is just across the Mesa from Cliff House but facing into a different canyon.

From the edge of the canyon it is almost impossible to see Balcony House, although it must be very evident from across the canyon.

Looking across the canyon from above Balcony House
Looking across the canyon from above Balcony House

You have to descend the cliff face.

The way down to Balcony House
The way down to Balcony House

On the way you see a water seep, associated with a thin, impermeable, band of coal. This was probably the reason why Balcony House is where it is – a reliable source for a little water.

Our Ranger shows us the water seep
Our Ranger shows us the water seep

After going down, you have to go up.

Our Ranger leads the way to Balcony House
Our Ranger leads the way to Balcony House

You then need to squeeze behind the first of the dwellings.

The last barrier to get into Balcony House
The last barrier to get into Balcony House

Then you find out why it is called Balcony House.

On the balcony at Balcony House
On the balcony at Balcony House

Balcony House is smaller than Cliff House.

Inside Balcony House
Inside Balcony House
Another part of Balcony House, with kiva in the foreground
Another part of Balcony House, with kiva in the foreground

Besides the difficulties of getting in and out of the dwellings, life must have been, in our eyes, unpleasant in the cliff dwellings. Water was scarce and difficult to get into the place. There are no toilet facilities. It is presumed that all waste, including the human sort, was thrown over the edge. Indeed the excavation of middens half way down a cliff is one of the delights of the archaeologist. I think I am glad that the smells have not survived.

Getting out of Balcony House is almost as exciting as getting into it. First there is a little tunnel.

Balcony House - the exit
Balcony House - the exit

And then another ladder. The Anasazi must have been agile people. The place was not built with modern ideas of accessibility in mind.

Mesa Verde is well worth visiting – good geology, good views, good ruins and good mysteries – why did people live there and why did they leave?

We left that to the experts and headed for the Grand Canyon, via the San Juan Goosenecks and Monument Valley – the subject of the next post.

END

Santa Fe and Around

Santa Fe is one of the oldest settlements in the USA, being founded by the Spanish in 1608. Of course the original inhabitants had founded many settlements long before this – we would see many of them in the next few weeks – but this is a definite date and more than a decade before the Pilgrim Fathers.

Its a rather strange place. The buildings are not original but are built in a style which present day people think the Spanish should have built in. The building materials are modern but are covered with “faux-adobe” pronounced fodobe. It is full of rather well off New Age people. Art Galleries abound and we are told that it is “Very Spiritual”!

A modern museum and art gallery, Santa Fe
A modern museum and art gallery, Santa Fe

The place is at an altitude of 7,200 feet and, at the end of April, when we were there, it is rather chilly. We were staying in a rather nice old house which we had found on the VRBO website. We had stayed in a VRBO property in Hawaii, but that was for a month. Staying in the Santa Fe property introduced us to the possibility of shorter term rentals, arranged at short notice. As far as we were concerned this was a great discovery!

Our house in Santa Fe
Our house in Santa Fe

Not only is Santa Fe a spiritual place, so is the food. This is the first commercial food I have found where the recipe comes from the Bible!

Bible food
Bible food

We had wanted to go to Taos Pueblo, which is not far away, but it was too early in the season for it to be open. So instead we went to Bandelier National Monument. The main attraction are the ancient dwellings of the Anasazi people. We would see much of these over the next few weeks. In Bandelier they started building permanent buildings in about 1150AD, but they moved out about 1550 to live nearer the Rio Grande. And that is where they are still.

The ancient dwellings are in narrow canyons with their fields on the mesa tops. The canyons and their walls provided materials and sites for their houses. They had two sorts of houses – those on the canyon floor and those built against the canyon walls.

Anasazi houses on the canyon floor
Anasazi houses on the canyon floor

The ones on the canyon floor, at Bandelier, form a circular group.

Anasazi houses on the canyon floor
Anasazi houses on the canyon floor

The ones against the canyon walls often incorporate man made caves – the rock is a soft volcanic tuff – and require the use of ladders.

Chris examines an Anasazi house
Chris examines an Anasazi house

Often rafters would be inserted into the cliff face and supported at the other end by the outer wall of the house.

Reconstructed Anasazi house
Reconstructed Anasazi house

Often the houses would be multi-storied, as can be told by the rows of rafter holes in the cliff face.

The remains of multi storied Anasazi cliff dwellings,  Bandelier National Monument
The remains of multi storied Anasazi cliff dwellings, Bandelier National Monument

The cliff and canyon bottom dwellings are close to one another.

View from one of the cliff dwellings
View from one of the cliff dwellings

Some of the dwellings, such as Alcove House, are high up on the cliffs and difficult of access.

The ladder access to Alcove House
The ladder access to Alcove House

Alcove House is in an overhang on a cliff face in which various structures were built, including a kiva – a pit thought to be used for community gatherings, perhaps of a religious nature.

Chris descends into the kiva
Chris descends into the kiva

There are also the vestiges of dwellings.

Chris rests after reaching the Alcove House, with rafter holes in the wall behind her
Chris rests after reaching the Alcove House, with rafter holes in the wall behind her

But once you get up to the Alcove House you have to get down again!

Chris descending from the Alcove House
Chris descending from the Alcove House

Then we had a walk back through the woods to the Visitor Centre.

The path back to the visitor centre from Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument
The path back to the visitor centre from Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument

I fear that this walk is rather different now; about two months later the largest forest fire in New Mexico’s history devastated Bandelier National Monument and this canyon has lost much of its forest cover and is now subject to flash flooding. I hope it recovers soon, because it was lovely.

After Santa Fe we were off to Colorado and that should be the subject of the next, catch-up, post.

Yucatan – Part I

We arrived at our hotel at 6 on a Sunday evening and found our arrival spoiled by the discovery that my Nikon camera had been stolen en-route from San Pedro in Belize. To cut a long story short: I have reported the theft to the police and registered my claim with our insurers. And my backup camera was not taken. Or the laptop on which I am writing this; it was in the rucksack with the Nikon but was in a slip case which looks remarkably like a brown paper envelope full of boring documents.

Our hotel was unlike any we had been in on our travels. It was an all-inclusive resort hotel. The price includes everything – accommodation, all meals, drinks, gym, pool. The only drinks you needed to pay for (or rather, charge to the room for later payment) was bottles of wine with your meal. And the house wine – by the glass – was free. So what looks very expensive at first glance becomes much more reasonable.

It is on the coast with all the usual – white sand, blue sea, waving coconut palms etc.

The beach at our hotel
The beach at our hotel

I even had my own dusky maiden.

Chris at the beach
Chris at the beach

Besides the beach there is a very large swimming pool which is slightly warmer than the sea at 33°C. It is good for lounging around.

The swimming pool at our hotel
The swimming pool at our hotel

It also serves as a training place for scuba diving and Chris took advantage of this to get a basic diving qualification. (She also had sessions in the sea.)

Chris and her diving instructor finishing a lesson at the pool
Chris and her diving instructor finishing a lesson at the pool

She also did some recreational swimming at the pool.

Chris at the pool
Chris at the Pool

The rooms were very good. The best bit was the Towel Sculpture which greeted us when we returned to the room after breakfast. The guy who did our room was a master!

For some reason the hotel had got it into its head that we were a honeymoon couple – I don’t know why – but they gave us their usual welcome!

The decorated door to our room
The decorated door to our room

The ambiance of the hotels was Mayan but on a vast scale, best shown in the roof of one of the restaurants.

The roof of one of the restaurants
The roof of one of the restaurants

Not very far from the resort was the Mayan archaeological site of Tulum. This is the only major one which was on the coast.

View of the Tulum ruins
View of the Tulum ruins

Not only is it an archaeological site, it is also a nature reserve, and so there are lots of beasties about.

Iguana in the Tulum Ruins
Iguana in the Tulum Ruins. Note the fossils in the limestone.

The place is built right on the edge of the sea.

Tulum's cliff-top ruins
Tulum's cliff-top ruins

What I find amazing is that the Spaniards, sailing past, were reminded of Seville when they saw Tulum. But still, when they landed, treated the Maya as savages and heretics. The church gave them some excuses as they could not decide whether the natives were actually human – were they descended from Adam and Eve? Adam was Old World and this was the New World. And if you did not want to go back that far, were they descended from Noah?

The church, as ever, was willing to give you the answer you wanted. Eventually it was decided that they were probably human, but still savages and heretics. Descent from Adam and Noah was, presumably, accepted, even if the logistics were not explained.

One of the Tulum ruins
One of the Tulum ruins

One of the beaches at the ruins is off-limits as it is important for sea-turtles. You can see their tracks on the sand and the places where they have laid their eggs.

Beach with turtle tracks and egg-laying sites
Beach with turtle tracks and egg-laying sites

However some of the beaches are still available for humans, and they are very welcome as Tulum is hot and sticky.

Tulum from the sea
Tulum from the sea

As you can tell we enjoyed our stay on the Mayan Riviera and decided to go back there for our final week in Mexico. In the meantime we have come to Merida from where we will look at more Mayan sites. And we will go to Palenque and Chichen Itza before we leave.

The Road to Santa Fe

Our road to Santa Fe was by way of Flagstaff, where we stayed for a couple of nights. It is a nice enough town with a big university, but most people come here to visit the great outdoors, not experience the blandishments of urban life. It advertises itself as a place from which to visit the Grand Canyon, even although the canyon is 80 miles away! But in American terms that is pretty close.

Flagstaff, and most of northern Arizona, is at about 7,000 feet, and in late April it can be pretty cold. Out of town we still saw snow on the ground.

On our day in Flagstaff we went to look at Red Mountain, which is about 25 miles out of town. This is a recent (¾ million year old) cinder cone which you can walk to fairly easily. The cinders are the most un-cinder like I have seen!

Inside the Red Mountain cinder cone
Inside the Red Mountain cinder cone

They look more like Old Red Sandstone than cinders! But you will find small amphibole and pyroxene crystals scattered about and there are some hoodoos. (Earth pillars protected by “hats” of resistant volcanic bombs.)

Hoodoos at Red Mountain, Arizona
Hoodoos at Red Mountain, Arizona

The mountain rises 1,000 feet above the plateau and is U-shaped. There is an amphitheatre, eroded out of the base of the U.

Chris looking at Red Mountain
Chris looking at Red Mountain

The open end of the U faces away from us, the amphitheatre faces towards us. There is a very good web page about the mountain HERE.

We then had a marathon drive to Santa Fe. Not long after leaving Flagstaff we drove a few miles off the interstate to look at Meteor Crater.

Meteor Crater from a distance
Meteor Crater from a distance

As you drive towards the crater you can see the rim rising above the plain. Once you get on the rim and defy the very strong wind, you can see into the crater.

Looking into Meteor Crater
Looking into Meteor Crater

From the edge you can see the inner walls of the crater and how they have been forced upwards by the force of the impact.

Inner wall of Meteor Crater
Inner wall of Meteor Crater

There is a surprisingly good and informative museum at the crater which tells you a lot about meteor impacts in general and this crater in particular.

We pressed on and came to Petrified Forest National Park which straddles the interstate. It was lunchtime and so we decided to go in and have our picnic in the park. And, as it was still National Parks Week, entrance was free!

A visit to the exhibit at the park entrance soon convinced Chris that she was fascinated by petrified wood.

Chris and a petrified tree
Chris and a petrified tree. Chris is at the top left.

These fossils are about 225 million years old, of Late Triassic age and can be rather beautiful. You can, for a price, buy specimens but unfortunately they were too heavy for us to consider. But one day…..

Cross section of a petrified tree
Cross section of a petrified tree

Part of the park is what is called the Painted Desert and this is quite a good name. While we were there the skies were overcast and the light flat so the colours were not at their best but it was still pretty good.

The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert

We had our picnic huddled in our car as the wind buffeted us and rain threatened, and then we set off for Santa Fe where we had accommodation booked and of which I will write soon.

Palm Springs and around

Back in the USA!

I’m almost up to date with Mexico so its back to the USA, and we start off with our journey from San Diego to Las Vegas, via Palm Springs. I’ll “do” Las Vegas next.

You can get from San Diego to Las Vegas in one day but it would be a lot of driving and not much looking at things. It is 450 miles by the route we took, so we split it into a two day drive, stopping at Palm Springs on the way.

As usual I am surprised by the ruggedness of the terrain in the USA. To get to Palm Springs you cross (on our route) the San Jacinto Mountains which are impressively high. Once over the crest you are in the rain shadow and in desert conditions.

In the San Jacinto Mountains
In the San Jacinto Mountains

At one scenic lookout we met a guy who was looking forward to “vacationing in London” and had booked a train trip to Paris for lunch. Which is very nice but rather a contrast to the San Jacinto Mountains.

The ruggedness of the scenery is tempered by the beauty of the cacti.

Cactus flowers in the San Jacinto mountains
Cactus flowers in the San Jacinto mountains

But soon we were in the very well groomed town of Palm Springs where the green grass is cut and watered and palm trees grace the boulevards. There is not much to say about the place if all you do is stay overnight in a motel. The motel was good of its type and we ate at a very nice restaurant. (American restaurants, of all classes, always have good enthusiastic waiting staff).

But worth mentioning, and characteristically American was the car we saw parked in the motel the next morning. The next few photos speak for themselves!

"Personalised" car in Palm Springs
"Personalised" car in Palm Springs

Its from Texas

Decorated car
Decorated car

The decoration is yarn.

Close-up of decorated car
Close-up of decorated car

No doubt this will inspire some of our readers.

Palm Springs is in a valley through which runs a branch of the San Andreas Fault, and some distance south of the town a manifestation of the fault can be seen at the Coachella Valley Preseve.

Water in the desert at the Coachella Valley Preserve
Water in the desert at the Coachella Valley Preserve, with Washingtonia Palms

This oasis in the desert is caused by the fault forming an underground dam, forcing ground water to the surface. The Washingtonia Palms are wonderfully hirsute and are the home of many sorts of creepy crawly.

Chris among the Washingtonia
Chris among the Washingtonia

But you don’t need to go far to find yourself back in the desert.

Chris in the blooming desert
Chris in the blooming desert

After our stop at Coachella we continued via the Joshua Tree National Park. Not only was this worth while seeing, being National Park Week, entrance was free!!

A Joshua Tree
A Joshua Tree

Joshua Trees are so-called because they reminded the Mormons of Joshua raising his hands up to the heavens while praying in the desert.

We continued across California, into Nevada, where we wondered at the improvement in road quality, and onto Las Vegas. This is in the desert but not of it. And, while we saw many raising their hands up in prayer, I don’t think they were praying for the same things as Joshua.

But we will tell you about that in the next post.

Guanajuato

Guanajuato is a five hour coach journey north west of Mexico City and is an odd place. It was, and is, a silver mining town, so its location is decided by geology, not convenience. It is situated in a narrow valley and level ground is scarce. But, to compensate for putting it in an awkward place, mining gives it a three dimensional road network. Tunnels are everywhere. They cut through ridges, they dive through the centre of town. The one way system in the town centre is above ground, one way, below ground, the other way.

One of Guanajuato's tunnels
One of Guanajuato's tunnels

One of the main tunnels in the city centre follows the bed of the local river. This had been diverted from its usual path following disastrous flooding.

This was once the river!
This was once the river!

Some may be mine workings brought back into useful service. Tunnel entrances appear everywhere.

The tunnel at the end of the street
The tunnel at the end of the street. I only noticed the armed men just now! I think they are some sort of police.

If you get in the wrong lane you are destined for the underworld!

Another tunnel entrance
Another tunnel entrance

Guanajuato is not a pretty town – it is too hard-working for that – but it has some impressive buildings. These were financed from the huge profits made by the exceedingly rich silver mines. Some of the money stayed in the town but much went back to Spain.

The Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato
The Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato

You can get some idea of the current mining operations HERE.

The town site is very steep and houses are close packed.

Houses on the valley side, Guanajuato
Houses on the valley side, Guanajuato. Bright colours seem popular!

The narrow alleys are called callejon and some can be very narrow!

A callejon in Guanajuato
A callejon in Guanajuato

But life can be very pleasant in a shady cafe by the Jardin Union.

In the shade in the Jardin Union
In the shade in the Jardin Union

We stayed on the edge of town in a casita in the garden of a larger house owned by an American couple who had returned to the husbands roots. We found it through VRBO which we have found invaluable for finding nice places to stay. We recommend it highly – we have not found a bad property yet!

Our casita in Guanajuarto
Our casita in Guanajuato

After Guanajuato we returned to Mexico City then went on to Puebla. Of which, more anon.

Mexico City

I am falling so far behind with my blog that I have decided to leave our journeys in the South-West USA until later and to get on with what is current. You can get a flavour of our travels in the US from THIS Flickr collection

We arrived in Mexico City after a long flight from Los Angeles. First impressions of Mexico City are not favourable. Its vast, noisy, crowded and rather smelly. A taxi ride from the airport to our hotel took us along busy roads with chaotic traffic.

But when we got within the gates of the hotel things were rather different. Outside – apparent chaos, inside – order. But once you get to know the place Mexico City is not all that bad. We never felt threatened on the streets or on the Metro. Both are rather dirty and smelly but that is because they are well used and full of people. And the people are all very polite and helpful.

On our first full day in town we went to the Xocala – the main square – where the cathedral is and found it to be very Spanish church with lots of decoration.

The main alter in Mexico City Cathedral
The main altar in Mexico City Cathedral

What was also noticeable about the place was that it was tilted. This is because any sensible person would not build a city where Mexico City is. The site is a lake which has been drained but the soil is still wet and not fully compacted. So the west end of the church with big heavy towers is sinking faster than the rest and there is a slope up to the altar end.

Looking uphill to the altar, Mexico City Cathedral
Looking uphill to the altar, Mexico City Cathedral

The Spanish built here because it was the site of the Aztec capital and they had just conquered them and the Aztecs built here because it was the centre of the universe – obvious really!

Some time after Mexico gained independence, there was a deliberate effort to promote the native influence and downplay the Spanish. So now the church does not have an official position in the state. But in the old days native culture was denigrated and destroyed. The cathedral is built on the site of an Aztec temple and many  others around were destroyed.

Nearby is the Temple Mayor which was not so much destroyed as built over and forgotten. This was the Aztec Centre of the Universe! In the 19th century a sewer was built through it and nobody noticed the ruins! But in 1978 workers from the electrical company found some artifacts and a major excavation project started.

Pyramids inside pyramids at the Temple Mayor, Mexico City
Pyramids inside pyramids at the Temple Mayor, Mexico City

The Aztecs had the same problems as the later Spanish. Their religious edifice – a pyramid – kept sinking into the ground. Also as they grew more prosperous they wanted a bigger temple. So instead of removing the older building they built another pyramid round the older one. And they did this six times! So now there are seven pyramids on the same site, one inside the other.

Replica artefacts as found
(Replica) Artefacts as found

The excavations found a plethora of things and these are displayed in the on site museum.

These vary from small objects in obsidian;

Obsidian artefacts
Obsidian artefacts

to large monoliths weighing tons.

Disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxauhqui
Disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxauhqui

The monolith shown above was the first object to be found and is a huge disk of over 3.25 meters (10.6 feet) in diameter, 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) thick and weighing 8.5 tons. The relief on the stone was later determined to be Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess, dating to the end of the 15th century.

There are many other objects. Those which intrigued me are shown below.

Flint knives with faces, used in sacrifices (often human)
Flint knives with faces, used in sacrifices (often human)
Turquoise mask
Turquoise mask
Statue with bowl for receiving tributes to the gods (hearts, blood etc.)
Statue with bowl for receiving tributes to the gods (hearts, blood etc.)

Near the Temple Mayor and the Cathedral is the Palacio Nacional, built on the site of Moctezuma’s Palace. Nowadays, what is of most interest in the palace is Diego Rivera’s murals depicting the history of Mexico. His painting style is very suited to murals – his paintings are less successful – all his portraits look like self-portraits – strange shaped head, bulging eyes.

He had very definite ideas about the Spanish Conquest and in particular did not like Hernan Cortes.

Cortes arriving in Mexico
Cortes arriving in Mexico

He also put people he knew into the murals including his wife, Frida Kalho, as a native princess.

Frida Kalho as a native princess
Frida Kalho as a native princess

I do not know the significance of the severed arm.

We also went to the Museum of Anthropology which covers all of Mexico. It would be foolish to try and summarize the anthropological history of Mexico in this blog – even if I understood it myself – so here are some things which I spotted in the museum.

Aztec statue
Aztec statue

I like the slouch!

Turquoise head
Turquoise head - Aztec
Mayan bowl
Mayan bowl
Mayan figurine
Mayan figurine
Jade death mask of Mayan ruler
Jade death mask of Mayan ruler

On a Sunday lunchtime we went to Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City to see the remnants of what much of Mexico City looked like many years ago.

On the canals of Xochimilco
On the canals of Xochimilco

The lake on which the city was built was drained by building small islands on which crops were grown, while the intervening canals were used for transportation.

Nowadays they are a welcome means of getting away from the dirt of the city. They are not a means of getting away from the noise – that comes with you!

Mobile marimba band on the canals of Xochimilco
Mobile marimba band on the canals of Xochimilco
Sunday lunchtime on the canals of Xochimilco
Sunday lunchtime on the canals of Xochimilco

Not far from the canals is the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino which has lots of paintings by Diego Rivera and Frida Kalho, which you are not allowed to photograph, but which also has lots of peacocks

Peacock at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino
Peacock at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino

hairless dogs

Hairless dogs at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino
Hairless dogs at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino

and lots of Mexican dancers (or there were on this Sunday afternoon) which you can photograph.

Mexican dancing at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino
Mexican dancing at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino
Mexican dancing at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino
Mexican dancing at the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino

And that was some of what we did in Mexico City. We then took the bus to Guanajuato and that will be my next posting.

San Diego

This posting has been much delayed. A more immediate source of news can be found on my Facebook page, the link to which can be found below and to the left in my Blogroll.

From Monterey we drove to Santa Barbara where we stayed overnight. There is no such thing as a cheap place to stay in Santa Barbara on a Saturday night. Even the cheap motel we stayed in (and it was a place in need of a lot of care and attention) cost us over $140. For not much better we could have paid an awful lot more – if we could have found any place with empty rooms.

The next day we set off for San Diego, passing through the vast expanses of Greater Los Angeles. We were impressed by the mountains in the north of the city – some of the scenery is quite impressive.

Eventually we got to Oceanside, a small dormitory town for San Diego, where my cousin lives. As expected we got a warm welcome and were told to stay as long as we liked. But as we had a booking in Las Vegas we could only stay two nights.

My cousin and her companion took us on a guided tour of the San Diego area. San Diego is very much a coastal town and has a lovely coastline. The San Diegans love it and so does the wildlife. And the wildlife tend to get the better of the deal.

Seals and pelicans on the San Diegan shore
Seals and pelicans on the San Diegan shore

In particular there is one beach, which used to be mainly a children’s beach, but has now been taken over by a colony of harbour seals as a breeding and nursery area.

Seals have taken over this beach!
Seals have taken over the Children's Pool!

On a nicer day it would be a good beach for children, but the seals think it is great for their children, in all weathers.

The Children's Pool, San Diego
The Children's Pool, San Diego

Characteristically, in the Land of the Free, there is a law which applies.

Laws regulating man/seal interaction
Laws regulating man/seal interaction

But San Diego is not only for seals – it is also a big naval base. There is an old aircraft carrier preserved.

Preserved aircraft carrier
Preserved aircraft carrier

And there are other manifestations of naval culture

The sailor is home from the sea
The sailor is home from the sea

Between the harbour and the sea is an offshore island which is connected to the mainland by a high bridge. From the island you can get good views of Downtown.

Downtown San Diego from across the harbour
Downtown San Diego from across the harbour

And on the island is the hotel which starred in “Some Like it Hot” – the film with cross dressing Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Also with Marilyn Monroe. It was set in Florida but San Diego was cheaper and nearer to Hollywood. So the Coronado Hotel is in the film. It is now a rather splendid place.

The main building of the Coronado Hotel
The main building of the Coronado Hotel

We were shown many other places in San Diego and saw places which we would not otherwise have seen. We can only thank my cousin and her friend for giving us so much of their time and hospitality.

Monterey and Hearst Castle

Driving from San Francisco to Monterey reminded us that we were living in a densely inhabited part of the world. We were used to empty roads in Australia, New Zealand and, even, Hawaii. But the coastal bit of California is full of people and cars.

Eventually we got to Monterey which seems a remarkably well heeled town. It has, for California, a long history, and is the place where the flag of the USA first flew in what had been part of Mexico. That was 1846, which is a very long time ago for California.

Monterey Customs House where the US flag first flew in California
Monterey Customs House where the US flag first flew in California

Monterey is on the coast and just offshore is a whale highway with lots of different kinds of whales heading north in spring time and south in autumn. So we decided to go on a whale watching trip. As far as whales were concerned it was a dismal failure. We saw the breath of what we were told was a Grey Whale, and glimpsed the back of another but nothing that could be photographed. But we did see a pod of Risso’s Dolphins which have a very shark-like fin.

Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin

And some Sea Otters.

Sea Otters
Sea Otters

They get shellfish from the sea bed then lie on their backs using a pebble to extract the food from its shell.

But the stars of our trip were the Californian Sea Lions which have taken over Monterey harbour. They are all over the place- on buoys,

Sea lion on bouy
Sea lion on buoy

on the breakwater, in vast numbers,

Sea lions on Monterey breakwater
Sea lions on Monterey breakwater
Sea lions on Monterey breakwater
Sea lions on Monterey breakwater

and on any convenient surface,

Sea lions take over a rather nice yacht
Sea lions take over a rather nice yacht

convenient for the sea lions, that is.

Sea Lions and Sea Otters were in danger of extinction not so long ago; obviously their numbers have increased enormously.

Harbour Seals have also recovered their numbers and we saw some just along the shore from the harbour – I don’t think the sea lions would let them into the harbour!

Harbour Seals
Harbour Seals - they don't have external ears

Monterey is a big fishing port, but it was even bigger in the first half of the last century. Cannery Row, John Steinbecks novel, is set in Monterey, and the street with all the fish canneries has been renamed after the novel. And at the end of this street is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

This puts on a marvellous show with all sorts of marine creatures on display. Their specialities however, seem to be jellyfish and sea horses.

Jelly fish on display in Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jelly fish on display in Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jelly fish
Jelly fish

There are several sorts on display.

Egg-yolk jelly fish
Egg-yolk jelly fish
Sea Nettle Jelly Fish
Sea Nettle Jelly Fish

Sea horses are, in general, less spectacular than the jelly fish, but there are exceptions.

Leafy Sea Dragon
Leafy Sea Dragon
Weedy Sea Dragon
Weedy Sea Dragon
Weedy Sea Dragon
Weedy Sea Dragon

There are lots of other fish on display but those from the nearby kelp forests caught my eye.

Fish from the kelp forest
Fish from the kelp forest

And, having come from various coral reefs, I was impressed with their reef displays.

Coral reef display at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Coral reef display at Monterey Bay Aquarium

There is a lot more to Monterey than just whale watching and aquariums – there are some rather good restaurants and Pebble Beach golf course is just along the coast, but we eventually set off further south to Xanadu. Well actually not there but the place which inspired it in the movie “Citizen Kane” – Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle from the coastal highway
Hearst Castle from the coastal highway

To get to the castle you have to park at the visitor centre and catch a bus up a very winding road to the “Castle”. William Randolph Hearst, who built the place stayed there as often as he could and invited guests to stay, and to keep him entertained. So there is Hearst’s “house” modelled on a Spanish cathedral, and several guest houses. He bought works of art from all over Europe to furnish the place and had others made to order.

A copy of Donatello's David at Hearst Castle
A copy of Donatello's David at Hearst Castle

His inspiration was eclectic and Greece inspired his outdoor swimming pool.

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

The front of Hearst’s house is rather grandiose.

Hearst's House
Hearst's House

And this is continued into the living room.

The living room, Hearst Castle
The Living Room, Hearst Castle

And the dining room.

The Dining Room, Hearst Castle
The Dining Room, Hearst Castle

Chris and I got some interesting ideas for decoration when we find a place to stay.

Hearst had a strong sense of taste and some of it was good, some less so. And he had the money to indulge it

We left the castle and went a couple of miles up the coast to see another conservation victory. This is the survival and spread of Elephant Seals. These were almost extinct a few years ago but a ban on hunting has seen their survival and multiplication.

Elephant Seals near Hearst Castle
Elephant Seals near Hearst Castle

Their numbers are now considerable.

Elephant Seals near Hearst Castle
Elephant Seals near Hearst Castle

But they are still ugly beasts. No doubt their mothers love them.

Elephant Seal
Elephant Seal

Then we headed south to Santa Barbara and, the next day, San Diego, of which more in the next post.