Niagara Falls – on a cloudy workday

You’re not supposed to visit wonders of the world ad hoc. You’re supposed to plan this stuff out, make a day of it, or whatever. As always though, when work sends you somewhere you need to remain flexible.

I was supposed to be in Buffalo with my boss for two days of stupid meetings. In his typical manner (I don’t like my job) this trip was booked on about two days notice. We get stuffed (for his loyalty points) at a hotel well to the east of Buffalo itself.

We get into Buffalo–Niagara International late Monday morning, and go straight to an office. But instead of taking the allotted four hours, it goes for like 90 minutes. Then the dude looks directly at me and he’s like, “Are we done?” Uh, yeah sure, why not. Don’t have to ask me twice.

So all of sudden it’s like 2pm and I have the rest of the day. I’m in Buffalo, so now what? Hell, Niagara Falls, that’s down the road right? Sure, why not. But he’s got the rental car. Fortunately, he’s probably more of a loser than I.  He just wants to sit in the hotel. So I get the rental car keys he kindly offers. So, apparently, now I’m unexpectedly driving to Niagara Falls. Okay.

DSC00727.JPG

American Falls.

Once upon a time, before cheap discount air travel changed all of global travel, people vacationed or traveled to where a train or car could get them. If you lived in the American Northeast or Middle Atlantic, you didn’t jet set to Cancun or visit London or Iceland. Instead, you drove to places like Niagara Falls. For a good long while Niagara was the number one honeymoon destination on the planet. No more.

As I drove the back roads to Niagara from east of Buffalo I was struck by the starkness of the typical rust belt urban / suburban wasteland I’ve previously encountered. More than half the billboards were for things like opioid addiction, plastic surgery, and the like. It was like driving through other formerly paramount Northeastern tourist destinations that have been gutted by cheap air travel, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The swankiest looking building in downtown Niagara is (sigh) the freaking casino. Everything else looked burnt out, old, nostalgic from a different happier age. What’s been Cancun’s gain, is Niagara Falls’ loss. I’m not sure what to entirely make of all this, but it is what it is. That being said, Niagara Falls doesn’t disappoint.  It’s an awesome place to visit.

I was there on what turned into a cloudy summer afternoon. I kept fearing it would pour rain but I figured it was worth the risk. It misted a bit here and there, but otherwise the weather cooperated.

DSC00728.JPG

Long distance shot of Horseshoe Falls from Prospect Point.  Note tourist boat getting a good soaking.

Niagara Falls is actually a series of falls. Combine them all together, and depending on how you count, it’s essentially one of the top three waterfalls on Earth.

NiagaraFallsStateParkMap6864.jpg

Handy map for reference.  Not my shot.

DSC00731.JPG

Looking north down river into Niagara Gorge.  Note Rainbow Bridge, aka Department of Homeland Security parking lot #428.4b.

I ended up at Prospect Point. You can park there for a small fee. Walk over and you’re at American Falls.

DSC00733.JPG

Out of all the places I’ve visited in America, this was the most international I’ve ever seen a tourist crowd. I was one of the only home team members there. Almost everybody else was from elsewhere on the planet. This was on a summer weekday. So my only conclusion is that the international community is more into Niagara Falls than regular Americans. I guess USA folks take it for granted? Or maybe Americans prefer hanging out on the beaches of Cancun over seeing a big waterfall? Not sure.

DSC00741.JPG

American Falls Rapids.

Prospect Point is very crowded. You get a good view of the American Falls though. In the distance you can see Horseshoe Falls. But the best way to go is to walk a bit. Head across the bridge to Luna Island and Goat Island. It’s less crowded and your view of the Falls are better.

DSC00743.JPG

American Falls Rapids with American Rapids Bridge.

You could truly make a whole day at Niagara. Maybe not a whole week, unless it was actually your honeymoon and you were otherwise occupied, but a whole day yes. You could walk the Falls on both sides of the border. You could take the old fashioned boat to get soaked by the Falls. There is also a walkway near the Cave of the Winds where you can get soaked on foot at the base of the Falls. You could also hike all the trails and get a good view of all the preparatory rapids. It’s truly a full day awaiting you.

DSC00747

American Falls from Luna Island, where your doom over the Falls is literally three feet away from your face.  So awesome.

I was there for a few hours. I’ll be back.

DSC00751.JPG

DSC00757.JPG

PS I posted this groundhog a few weeks back. The answer to the riddle was Niagara Falls. This dude was just going about his day about four feet from the edge of Niagara Falls. You can see the mist in the background of the shot. The little guy (or gal) knows his (or her) stuff. I’m sure the groundhog fatality rate at the Falls annually is zero percent.

DSC00735

Toke up little buddy!

Advertisements

San Diego – Cuyamaca Rancho Park

On travel for work?  Got that rare day off?  Get outside, run.  Run away before they change their minds.  They know where you live, it’s how they pay you.  Run!

20170704_121601.jpg

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about a hour or so east of San Diego depending on whether you exceed the posted speed limit.  The park itself is massive and you could spend weeks there without seeing it all.  I had a day.

I did no research other than just to drive to the park.  The state highway snakes through it and you can get off at various campgrounds, trails, etc.

20170704_133050.jpg

Stonewall Peak.  One of the greatest feelings on the planet is to see a mountain and you’re like, “I want to climb that.”  So you do.  A campground sits at the base, you can park there for ten bucks or so with the park rangers.  It’s two miles up and two miles down.  It’s not too difficult if you regularly hike.  I did some other shorter hikes off the highway, but this was the longest and best part.

20170704_123218.jpg

The climb for the most part is a series of switchback trails carved into the side of the mountain.

20170704_123211.jpg

After a while you get the creepy idea that this place burned in the past.  Turns out I was right.

20170704_123205.jpg

In 2003 a lost hiker lit a signal fire in Cuyamaca Rancho and started one of the largest wildfires in California history, which is saying something.  Nearly the entire park burned including just about every long growth tree.

Once upon a time, the firefighters of the American West were dedicated to putting out every fire no matter how natural, no matter where it was.  This was a mistake.  It allowed decades worth of growth to accumulate into the forests.  Nature needs fire.

A forest of the West needs to burn as part of the natural progression of its ecosystem.  It cleans out brush, certain species of plant need the flames to reproduce, etc, etc.  By putting out every fire folks got in the way of this.

So when Cuyamaca Rancho burned for the first time in like five decades.  It burned hot and massive.  If you have a wildfire once every ten years or so, the ecosystem can recover.  That’s the way it’s meant to be.

But it seems when it burns once in a century, that the system can’t recover.  They’ve waited for Cuyamaca Rancho to regrow for these near 15 years and it’s become clear that some species aren’t coming back.  They were wiped out by the intensity of the flames.  So the park service has begun replanting by hand instead.

When you hear people talk about allowing natural wildfires pay attention.  This stuff is important.  It’s also why some folks who build brand new swanky houses up in the forests and then demand the state protect them are in many cases actually doing their surrounding forests genuine harm.

20170704_124337.jpg

Stonewall Peak and the nearby abandoned mine were named after Jackson by former Confederate veterans who’d come out West after the war.  What a tale some of those lives must have been.

20170704_110323.jpg

Immune to fire.

20170704_121452

At the summit.  The folks who put this up here were the real deal.  They got to the top before proper trails, before online park maps, and so on.

20170704_121604.jpg

Just one hill among many.  So much else to see.

Wisconsin – Kettle Moraine Forest

We’re back, after an unexplained 13 week absence. During that time we had the pleasure of enduring work, more work, a visit with a self-described crypt-keeper-leprechaun, some more work, and we fought a dragon. Now we’re back to mindlessly telling stories and share the breadth of humanity’s experiences. Because it’s what we do. Side note: don’t ever fight a dragon. This was a bad choice.

Anyways, as part of their desire to endlessly prove their incompetence, I ended up in Milwaukee again for work a whole day early. Rather than tool around downtown again I decided to venture out away from the concrete. So I planned a hike through Kettle Moraine Forest, Lapham Peak Unit. It’s about a half hour drive west of Milwaukee via I-94.

I hiked the Moraine Ridge trail which they clock at 6.6 miles. I broke with my usual practice and didn’t carry any weight. I even left the boots aside and just used my running shoes. I was just too tired to get crazy with anything.

I saw something new in that all the trails are actually made for cross country skiing. In most places the paths are cut through the woods with a very wide diameter. It’s weird. Though they probably don’t have any choice for skiing.

When I was there it was still the end of winter, only the very barest of green saplings were beginning to appear.

The various trails constantly cross each other at multiple points.  Accordingly, the park unit labels each intersection and provides an updated map.  Beyond that they don’t really label the trails at all.  I had to check multiple times to ensure I didn’t take a wrong turn.  Even so, I did actually take the wrong way once and had to backtrack.

Dude is glad winter is ending.

There were many other folks on the trails, but I would not call them crowded.  Like a dummy I dropped my gloves and had to go back and get them at one point.  A couple put them where I could see them after finding them on the ground.  I passed them later and they were happy to see I’d found them.  I thanked them, though was a bit embarrassed.  I was a nice human moment.  I think they were Quebecois.

According to the trail marker, the Native Americans that used to inhabit the park grounds bent these trees on purpose as their own markers.  This one marked the way to a water source.  Here is another example.

Note the difference between the trees just emerging from winter, and the pine trees who laugh at winter.

I didn’t time myself, I stopped here and there.  Again, I was tired to begin with so it didn’t matter.  But I had a great time.  It was a good release from paperwork and all the stuff that doesn’t actually matter.  So nature did it’s job.  Hail nature.

why is CNN on everywhere?

You get to the airport and CNN is on at the gate. You go hide in the bar and CNN is above the drinks. You check into the hotel and they’ve got CNN on the wall.

All last week I was strapped to four work colleagues for travel. Everywhere we went there’s CNN on some screen. I suppose I normally don’t notice it when I travel. I don’t pay attention. But the four of them were all into this political craziness. I’m seated at some hotel bar with them and CNN is literally on a screen at the table. There was no escape.

I wanted to run and hide under some coats. I don’t get cable news. It’s like some kind of putrid disease. Everything is breaking news. Every station is biased. The talking heads shout at each other even though they’re so dumb they likely forget where their chauffer put their car keys.

But people drink this stuff in to their detriment. I think if you strapped a live human to a chair and forced him/her to watch four hours of CNN and four hours of Fox News a day for a month, they’d come out the back end of the process as a truly demented person.

Why does everybody choose CNN for their airport/hotel/bar? Why can’t they put sports on? Or a channel about cats? I think it’s because CNN was one of the original cable channels and the original news channel. It’s the glory days of 1993 when television was just starting to dominate our lives. One upon a time there wasn’t television at every single darn airport/hotel/bar. And CNN actually used to attempt to be serious and even somewhat classy. Remember Vader’s, “This is CNN”?   No more.

Well, we at TAP are here to help. Instead of harming people’s brains, we want to improve the quality of all our lives. So we propose that CNN be replaced on all travel screens with The Arcturus Channel.

The Arcturus Channel will have content fit for the brain of a five year old for most of the day. It’ll show nature videos of giraffes, and tigers, and whales and all kinds of Earth stuff. We’ll do a whole three hour special about how awesome volcanoes are. It’ll be like all those nature channels were before every cable channel became the same generic stuff with different channel names.

And from 9pm on, we’ll have The Arcturus Channel (After Dark), for us adults, after the kiddies have stopped traveling. So when you’re exhausting waiting for a connection at Houston Bush at 10pm you have something decent to watch. It’ll show monkey’s copulating, gazelles getting ripped apart by predators, and snow bears devouring baby seals.

Overall, The Arcturus Channel shall focus upon nature topics that are meant to calm your brain rather than disturb it. No politics, no controversy, just something to make you happy while you grind through your journey on the way to a hopeful happy destination. What a novel concept.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

Ascending Start1.jpg

If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

Looking Down1.jpg

Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

DSC00678.JPG

Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

DSC00683.JPG

A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

I&G1

 

Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

Walking Up.jpg

Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

Looking Up2

The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

Looking Up3

Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

Descending.jpg

I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

IMG_0998

Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

IMG_1008

Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

IMG_1014.jpg

One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.