Visit to the San Diego Zoo

My last clear memory of a visit to the San Diego zoo had been thirty years ago when my husband and I pushed my beloved, and adventurous, grandmother in a wheel chair up and down the hills of the rambling zoo. No buses (that I can remember) ran in those days inside the park. Since I was in San Diego for a writers’ convention a day early, a fellow author and I decided to check out the zoo again and see how it had changed.

Welcome to the San Diego Zoo

I will admit to sticker shock at seeing typical entertainment park prices, but the facilities, transportation, and animal conservation efforts made up for the price. The only drawback we discovered was not having a kid along to see the wonder in their eyes as they hunted out where the animals were “hiding” in their respective enclosures. Whether timing for feedings or weather for that day, a high percentage of the animals were easy to see and moving around.

A mellow-fellow (monkey).

A favorite was the small red panda which walked along a log perch and then shyly  climbed up a small eucalyptus tree into the foliage. His/her coat was a beautiful tawny red. The much larger black and white panda common in Asia (China) was napping belly up on a ledge behind a log in the next exhibit.

The red panda climbing around its enclosure and headed toward a favorite perch.

The red panda headed toward a favorite perch.

The African savannah and other range animals in the collection were numerous. The zoo is almost finished with a vast new range/display for them to roam which should open soon.

baby-giraffe

A curious baby giraffe.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

 

african-elephant

African elephant with the larger ears.

For those curious about African versus Asian elephants, the zoo had both. The ears are the biggest difference between the two, but also the Asian elephant has two bumps on its head, smoother skin, and eats mainly grass (African elephants eat leaves).

Asian elephant with the small ears.

Asian elephant with the small ears.

As usual, the meerkats were active, wrestling with one another and ultimately posing for photos. Their endless energy and sentinel, upright stance on their hind legs, makes for great photos. Years ago while visiting South Africa, I had a chance to see these creatures at a wildlife reserve. Two had gotten inside the reserve manager’s house and were standing in the picture window looking out at us. Delightfully rambunctious creatures.

meercat1

Ever seen Meerkat Manor?

As the day wound down, we stopped by the Koalas. Native to Australia, they are delightful marsupials  to watch, and their cuddly expressions are priceless.

kuala-bear-1-copy

koala-2-copy

The day ended with the rhinos. While I’ve seen them in the wild, it was fun to have a close up look at their thick, armored hide.

I also used a rhino midden in my latest romantic thriller novel OFF THE CHART which takes place in South Africa and Zimbabwe. A rhino midden is a huge rut or depression where rhinos defecate. The dominate male uses it to also mark his dominance. These two rhinos looked like I felt after spending the entire sunny day walking around the zoo.

If you enjoy reading novels with thrills, adventure, and a touch of mystery and romance, check out my newest TAKING RISKS SERIES which includes the novels UNDER THE RADAR and OFF THE CHART. It takes place in Africa where my characters might well run into a few of these creatures. Thanks for stopping by. Comments  are appreciated.

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Concrete Ships and California Beaches

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

While beaches, ships, and oceans fit well into the California landscape, the last thing I expected to find at Seacliff State Beach in Altos was a scuttled concrete oil tanker. Yes, you did read that correctly, the ship was made out of concrete, that heavy, friable, and not very tensile material.

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

So that begs the question, why would anyone build a ship out of concrete and place it in an undulating, variable environment like an ocean? The answer is timing, need, and history. World War I depleted the ready supply of steel required for shipbuilding, so the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company located in Oakland, California took a radical approach to building ships. They based their designs around the building material common on dry land…concrete.

Starboard side of ship.

Starboard side of ship. Some structural remnants and ship fittings are still visible.

Port side. You can see the rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) on the sides of the ship.

Port side. Rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) show on the sides of the ship.

On May 29, 1919 they launched the oil tanker S.S. Palo Alto, also know as “The Cement Boat.” The launch turned out to be ill timed as WWI ended and no one wanted the ship. It was docked in Oakland for ten years until the Seacliff Amusement Company purchased the ship in 1929 and sailed it (maiden voyage) to Aptos, California. At Seacliff State Beach, it was scuttled near shore and a long pier was then built out to the ship. The company then transformed the oil tanker into an entertainment mecca with arcades, a dance hall, gambling area, a dining room, and swimming pool. Again, timing doomed the ship’s active life. The depression ran the company out of business, and eventually the S.S. Palo Alto was stripped of its contents and metal.

In 1932 a fierce winter storm cracked the concrete hull. The company eventually sold the ship to the state of California for a $1. Now you can walk the pier out to the end where the S.S. Palo Alto is parked.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

For years, people fished off the ship hull until it deteriorated so badly the state finally closed it to people.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

You can see from this photo, though, that it has taken on a new life as a haven for birds. In the case of the photo below, it is covered in cormorants that dive deep into the ocean for fish.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Historic photos of the ship grounding at Seacliff can be seen at: http://bit.ly/1NIWiC1.

The S.S. Palo Alto has a sister ship, the S.S. Peralta, also an oil tanker which was launched in 1921. Over the years, it served as a sardine cannery and now acts as a floating breakwater on the Powell River. For more information on the S.S. Palo Alto or other concrete ships, these links might be of interest:

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/paloalto/

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/peralta/

If you enjoyed this post, please consider signing up to follow my blog for its posts on varied topics dealing with travel and aviation. I also have a newsletter that goes out infrequently to keep my reading fans up to date on new releases or specials I run on my award-winning action-adventure thrillers, with humor and touches of romance. Please sign up and look through my Sandy Parks website.

Thanks for stopping by. Here’s one last photo showing the pier, part of the beach, and the ship.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

A Camera’s View of the Alamo

The iconic facade of the Alamo

The iconic facade of the Alamo

A visit to San Antonio means a must-see stop at the iconic Alamo. The rainy weather served to highlight the stone features and added to the ambiance. Overall, the famous battle location was more than the typical tourist attraction I expected.

Welcome gate at the Alamo

Welcome gate at the Alamo

Old stone and wood mixed with desert landscape and lush gardens created an intriguing space where I could quietly contemplate the long and varied history of the Catholic mission turned military fort.

Carved stone showing niches.

Carved stone showing niches.

So how did the Alamo get its name? At one time beginning in the early 1700s (possibly earlier), the Spanish opened a mission (San Antonio de Valero) and a good number of Catholic converts were housed within its walls. In the photo above, you can see the niches (those would have held statues) left over from the mission days.

Old stone and wood walls inside the mission. I believe inside this building is a small museum.

Old stone and wood walls inside the mission/Alamo. Inside this building is a small museum.

The stone work of the walls within and the wood give that old Texas feeling.

A cannon in the courtyard.

A cannon in the courtyard.

In the late 1790s and early 1800s, the population of those living within declined and the mission was left in the military’s hands.  The French (in Louisiana) and American forces posed threats to the Spanish in Mexico, so they moved troops into the mission grounds.

The Mission Bell

The Mission Bell

The Spanish troop that arrived came from Alamo de Parras. Over time the compound simply became called the Alamo. A large population of family members came with the troops. A need arose for a hospital which they placed in one of the mission buildings. It became the site of the first hospital in Texas.

Close up of a frieze from 1936 showing the story of the Alamo.

Close up of a frieze from 1936 showing the famed men from the battle at Alamo.

The rest of the story, of course is history, and thus came the slogan “Remember the Alamo.”

The colors of a desert garden.

The colors of a desert garden.

I visited in late spring and found many things blooming in the gardens.

A single bloom. Pretty to look at, but not so wise to eat.

A single bloom. Pretty to look at, but not so wise to eat.

An agave and cactus (prickly pear) garden.

An agave and cactus (prickly pear) garden.

Texas and the Alamo are located in hot and usually dry country. The cactus garden appeared quite happy in its Alamo environment.

A tree in the middle of the grounds.

A tree in the middle of the grounds.

A sculpted tree with trunk darken by rain.

A last glimpse at the historic Alamo.

A last glimpse at the historic Alamo.

Plan a visit and don’t forget your camera. You never know what might intrigue you.

Also don’t forget about other close-by missions around San Antonio, all easy to see in a day visit. Check out my blog Stone and Weathered Wood- Mission San Jose for a few photos from those missions.

If you’re a history buff, this city link offers more information on the history of the Alamo.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

Bear Mountain Hike: Sedona, Arizona

The town of Sedona is nestled along the Mogollon Rim at the southern end of the Colorado Plateau in Northern Arizona. It’s famous red rock cliffs and formations make it a popular spot to escape the Phoenix desert heat. My family visits frequently and over the years we have checked out many of the hikes and still find the views breathtaking.

A canyon view looking toward Sedona

A canyon view looking toward Sedona.

Our last visit in January was welcomed by a light snow, most of which quickly melted in the morning sun. The shadows stayed cool enough to hold onto the snow and on a short hike to Doe Mountain we found icicles along the path.

Icicles on Doe Mountain hiking trail.

Icicles on Doe Mountain hiking trail.

From that path, we looked up at a ridge in the distance and noticed the trail for it zigzagging up the face of an opposing mesa. On the way home, we checked out the trailhead. Bear Mountain. We love challenging hikes, so decided to give this one a try the next day. It is a 2000 foot climb in elevation, the trails are not necessarily well-marked, and takes 4.5 to 5 hours round trip. I think we did it in 4…but the weather was cool and we were in shape. Even so, I wish we had taken more water (we took two bottles each and several energy bars). In hotter weather, a lot more water would be necessary and it could be brutal with no shade. Warning to those wishing to take this hike. Go prepared. This is the Sedona hike with the most rescues (and deaths).

You can see snow in the background shade of this photo.

You can see snow in the background shade of this photo.

The photo below is from the top of the first mesa in front of Bear Mountain. The views along this trail are spectacular, but at times deceiving. Bear Mountain is infamous for its false summits. That means a hiker will see a peak that looks like the top. By the time it is reached, a new summit becomes visible. For some people, this is the fun, unexpected part of a good hike, for others, it can be  discouraging. Did I say, I enjoyed this hike?

Photo from the mesa atop the first level of the hike. Only a few more stages to go.

Photo from atop the mesa at the first level of the hike. Only a few more stages to go.

If you’re interested in more detailed descriptions and topo maps of this hike, check out this site. It has a great photo at the bottom of the page that shows the various levels and false peaks. Speaking of false peaks, after reaching the one before Bear Mountain, I took a photo off the back side of the trail.

View off last level before the final climb to Bear Mountain peak.

View off last level before the final climb to Bear Mountain peak.

There is no doubt when you reach the top of Bear Mountain. The snow-covered Spanish Peaks on the Colorado Plateau were visible. A beautiful sight.

View from atop Bear Mountain of the Spanish Peaks.

View from atop Bear Mountain of the Spanish Peaks.

A Little “Diversion” on Trip to Peru

Overseas flights tend to be long, tiring, and for hubby and me, who seemed to be frowned upon by the Trim Gods, frequented by electrical problems that cause delays or diversions in the airliner’s flight plan. To prove my point, look back in the blog archives for a story about a fuel dump from last year’s trip to Morocco (Morocco Part One: Fuel Dump, and Flight to Morocco Part II).

Plane we took to Peru.

Plane Boeing 767 we took to Peru.

Headed to Peru and halfway to Lima on an evening flight, the Captain popped on the cabin lights and announced they had a little electrical problem and would be diverting to Guayaquil, Ecuador. While, I’m usually up for visiting new countries, we’d visited Ecuador a few years ago on a trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands (Blogs: Exotic Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and Galapagos (Giant) Tortoise). As travelers we have learned to be flexible and “go with the flow,” and lauded ourselves for planning in extra time at the beginning of our trip just for such an occurrence. Considering these delays have happened more than once, it’s not a bad piece of advice if you can afford the time.

Welcome to Guayaquil sign in Ecuador airport.

Welcome to Guayaquil sign in Ecuador airport.

Once on the ground, the Captain filled us in on the circumstances. The aircraft had a battery problem. The good news…maintenance would look into it. The bad news…maintenance had to get a copy of the battery (what they believed was causing the problem) manual. Ah, the joys of contract maintenance.

Pilot hubby guessed that it would probably mean a plane change, which considering our destination, posed a logistics challenge. There were no other B767s in Guayaquil. The plan…another flight from the airline would be arriving on a planned flight from Miami to Guayaquil in a few hours. Once unloaded, that plane would then take us to Lima.

The positive outcome? This time we didn’t land to fire trucks and ambulances, and the little cafe in the Guayaquil airport had coffees, tasty banana bread, and beer.

The little coffee, sweets and beer cafe in Guayaquil Airport.

The little coffee, sweets, and beer cafe in Guayaquil Airport stayed open late in the evening.

Eventually we made it to Lima, our connection picked us up (in the wee morning hours), and upon arriving at our delightful, boutique hotel, discovered cookies and champagne waiting in our room. Ate the cookies and saved the alcohol for the next night when we celebrated hubby’s birthday.

Bohemian little boutique hotel in Barranco (Lima), Peru. Loved all the little touches and wonderful art in the restored old summer home.

Hotel B, a bohemian little boutique hotel in Barranco (Lima), Peru. Loved all the little touches and wonderful art in the restored old summer home. Note champagne bottle at end of bed. Sweet little cookies were on the small desk. Security all over Lima and in this high-end area was high. Even though this neighborhood was a safe one and the Spanish embassy was across the street, a doorman had a key and unlocked the front door for arrivals and departure in the evenings. Absolutely wonderful  place if you’re one to avoid big hotels.

Galapagos (Giant) Tortoise

Studying science in college opened my eyes to the unique creations of our world and the men, like Charles Darwin, who have studied nature’s secrets. So when I had the chance in Spring of 2010, I grabbed my camera and headed for the equator. The Galapagos, discovered in 1535, is an archipelago (a collection of volcanic islands) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. The best way to experience them is to fly in and live on board a boat. While my stay was short and I made it to only half the islands, it is a place I never imagined getting to see firsthand.

Coral I. Our floating home while in the Galapagos.

Coral I. Our floating home while in the Galapagos.

One of the first stops I made was Santa Cruz Island where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located. The results of Darwin’s 1835 study of the Galapagos flora and fauna were published as “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.” People from around the world have become involved with saving these land tortoises and other natural species of the Galapagos. For more information check out the Giant Tortoise Recovery Project part of the Galapagos Conservancy.

Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island.

Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island.

I did have the chance to see one the islands most famous inhabitants, Lonesome George, a Giant Galapagos Tortoise. These tortoises made an easy meal for whalers and others who visited the islands in the 1700 and 1800s and almost became extinct from over-hunting. George recently died at over a 100 years old, and originally was thought to be last of his kind. Genetic studies started in the last few years have been done on young tortoises similar to George and provide evidence that hybrids of George exist and have been born within the last 15 years (since George had been in his safe reserve). Are there more of George’s family (subspecies) still out there somewhere?

One believed the last of his subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises.

Lonesome George. So named because he was once believed to be the last of his subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises.

There are actually 14 subspecies that have been discovered over the years although according to “Birds, Mammal, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands An Identification Guide” by Andy Swash and Rob Still, only 11 still exist many unique to a particular in the Galapagos Islands (remember these are land tortoises, not the Green Sea Turtles which also inhabit the islands and love the water). There are two categories into which these tortoises fall and that is determined by the carapace (body shell). One is a dome-like carapace and the other is called saddleback.

Dome Carapace

Dome Carapace

Saddleback Carapace

Saddleback Carapace

The Charles Darwin Research center (Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center) on Santa Cruz Island is hoping to restore the tortoise to the island where their habitat was wiped out by an introduced goat population. The photos below come from the rearing center.

Galapagos Tortoise hatchlings being raised in their pens at Tortoise

Galapagos Tortoise hatchlings being raised in their pens.

Growing up is so hard to do. It takes tortoises about 25 years to reach maturity.

Growing up is so hard to do. It takes tortoises about 25 years to reach maturity.

Darwin studied not only the creatures of the Galapagos, but also the flora. The two prickly pear trees in the photos below survived perhaps by necessity by growing tall. They are quite unique to the islands.

Perhaps to escape being eaten prickly pears grow into almost tree-like form on the islands.

Perhaps to escape being eaten prickly pears grow into almost tree-like form on the islands.

Look at the long trunk of the unique cactus plant.

Look at the long trunk of the unique cactus plant.

The following photos give you an extra insight into the physical appearance, slow movement, and daily life of the Galapagos Tortoises. Enjoy. If time and money ever permits, I’d love to go back someday and visit the other islands that I missed.

Galapagos Tortoises are large reptiles that move slowly.

Galapagos Tortoises are large reptiles that move slowly.

Notice the claw-like toes on this tortoise.

Notice the claw-like toes on this tortoise.

This tortoise knows how to pose for the cameras.

This tortoise knows how to pose for the cameras.

A drink at the water hole.

A drink at the water hole.

Ah, content.

Ah, content.

Full face close-up.

Full face close-up.

Move over. You're such a camera hog!

Move over. You’re such a camera hog!

Exotic Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands. Their unique flora and fauna once captured the attention of Charles Darwin and led to his writing the “The Origin of Species” in 1859. If you ever have a chance to go, take a camera and a video recorder. The photos below are from my trip (and require permission for use of any kind). You’ll be within feet of magnificent creatures and watch mother sea lions suckle babies, giant turtles swim, thousands of colorful fish swirl in the ocean, and giant birds play, nest, and court. Their antics are fun, amazing, and memorable, like the Blue-footed Boobie below.BlueFootedBoobie

We flew to the islands from Quito, Ecuador on Aero Gal. The airport on Galapagos is understandably small and open; a place to simply congregate for flights and check into the island on arrival.

AeroGal Airliner taxiing in after landing on the Galapagos Islands.

AeroGal airliner taxiing in after landing on the Galapagos Islands. Notice the frigatebird near the tail.

The number one way to get around in the Galapagos (a province of Ecuador) is by boat. Tourists often stay on one of many small yachts. Ours held about twenty people (there are large and small ones) and had a dive platform to ease getting on and off dinghies that would take us out to the islands.

These are the type boats typical in the islands.

These are the type boats typical in the islands.

The volcanic islands rest on the equator 960km from Ecuador. The black basalts are visible just about everywhere and create dramatic landscapes.

A nice little cinder cone peaking up from the island.

A nice little cinder cone peaking up from the island.

The first stop was at the National Park to see several different species of the big turtles and the nursery set up to study and nurture babies.

Galapagos National Park

Galapagos National Park

Galapagos Tortoise

Galapagos Tortoise

During our short stay we stopped on only half the islands (unfortunately I didn’t record the names of the particular ones we visited- lesson learned). One in particular had stunning basalt cliffs. Nazca Boobies, Marine Iguanas, sea lions, the largest breeding bird in the islands (the Albatross), and endless numbers of smaller creatures like lava lizards and crabs.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliffs

Large Marine Iguana

Large Marine Iguana

Marine Iguanas are well-camouflaged on the black basalts.

Marine Iguanas are well-camouflaged on the black basalts.

Beautiful sea scapes on the island.

Beautiful sea scape on the island.

Nazca Boobie's nest on this island.

Nazca Boobie’s nest on this island.

Two boobies with waves crashing in the distance.

Two boobies with waves crashing in the distance.

Parent and baby Nazca Boobie.

Parent and baby Nazca Boobie.

Blow Hole near nesting site.

Blow Hole near nesting site.

The sea lions had no fear of people. Kids in our group came across several sunning themselves on the beach and lay down with them, mimicking their sunbathing. Another day a sea lion launched himself onto our boat platform and worked himself up to the saloon. One of the crew eventually coaxed him off the boat.

Baby Galapagos Sea Lion nestled in the warm rocks.

Baby Galapagos Sea Lion nestled in the warm rocks.

Sea Lions on Beach

Sea Lions on Beach

The sea lion who climbed onto our boat.

The sea lion who climbed onto our boat.

Other islands had weathered down and provided interior marshes that were home to flamingos, smaller crab species, rays in the bay areas along the beach, and species of finches and other smaller birds.

I believe this is a Yellow Warbler. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.

I believe this is a Yellow Warbler. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.

Sea Urchins and echinoderms.

Sea Urchins and echinoderms.

Beautiful red crab.

Beautiful red crab.

One of the most fascinating islands gave a hint as to what awaited us as we approached the island. Cyclones of circling birds turned out to be frigates. Below the swirling birds, hundreds of nests were positioned in the rough scrub on the island.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Nesting area of the frigatebirds.

Nesting area of the frigatebirds.

Nesting frigate.

Nesting frigate.

Frigate baby.

Frigate baby.

The frigate island had huge Sante Fe Land Iguanas. We stood within 15 feet of a pair facing off, positioning, and enacting half-lunges. This was the trip of a life time and one if time permits may take me back to see the rest of the Galapagos Islands.

Santa Fe Land Iguanas facing off.

Santa Fe Land Iguanas facing off.