Dan Hartford Photo: Blog https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog en-us (C) Dan Hartford Photo dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Mon, 13 Mar 2023 23:41:00 GMT Mon, 13 Mar 2023 23:41:00 GMT https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/img/s/v-12/u747240511-o764576718-50.jpg Dan Hartford Photo: Blog https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog 118 120 Scotland #07 – Isle of Skye https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/2/scotland-07 JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #07 – Isle of Skye

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

In this installment we talk about Isle of Sky, Dunvegan Castle, Flora MacDonald, Armadale Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Sterling Castle, and our travel woes getting home.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route on the Isle of Skye (2 days)
01 Map July 16-18 Isle of Sky01 Map July 16-18 Isle of Sky

The 639 square mile Isle of Skye sits along the Northwest coast of Scotland and is known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque fishing villages and medieval castles.  It is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago with a coastline of peninsulas and narrow lochs radiating out from a mountainous interior.  We spent 2 days touring the island from our base at the Tingle Creek Inn Mom and Pop hotel located a few miles north of Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland.

Homeward Bound, Part 1

On our tour of Scotland we were blessed with pretty good weather with little or no rain which is quite uncommon for the area.  We had a few sprinkles from time to time, and plenty of overcast but no real rain storms and it was also pleasantly warm.  But, as we approached the end of our trip, the news had started talking about a heat wave coming to the UK with predicted record setting temperatures coinciding with our departure day.  In the weeks prior to our trip, airports around the world had experienced utter chaos when they were surprised by the sheer number of people who hit the skies after staying near home for 2 years due to Covid-19.  And none was worse than the nightmare at Heathrow.  Of course all those people had purchased tickets in advance of their flights so it is a mystery why the volume of travelers came as that big of a surprise.  But a complete mess it was with last minute cancellations or delays and the ensuing storerooms and baggage pick up areas crammed to the ceiling with lost or misdirected luggage. 

But as Heathrow took center stage in world news coverage of this catastrophe, the government was determined not to have an encore.  They also knew that the last time England had a significant heat wave, it greatly slowed down the pace of take offs and landings at the airports and required rail traffic be slowed way down due to buckled tracks.  So, as a preventative measure, several days before the anticipated heat wave they imposed a requirement on the airlines to pre-cancel roughly 50% of all flights into and out of all UK airports when the heat wave was expected to hit – especially Heathrow. 

And then came the first ominous email from our airline echoing the government mandate that some of their flights would need to be canceled right around when we were scheduled to fly home (a few days from now).  Ok, but what is one supposed to do with that information other than lose sleep?  Then the morning of our first Isle of Sky tour day, another email was waiting when we awoke saying that due to the impending heat wave, our Edinburgh to London flight was cancelled and to please go to this link to re-book.  But, at least our departure wasn’t for another 2 days.  So, I got on the computer and went to the web site and logged into my airline account.  After scrolling down to where alternative flights are listed, I was quite disturbed to find that there were no alternative flights listed - none.  In their place was a curt note saying “No alternatives available, call our customer services department”.  So, I started calling.  Busy signal.  Call again, busy signal.  And on and on all through breakfast.  Finally, just before we had to board the bus I got through that first barrier and the phone actually rang at the other end.  But, rather than a cherry “hello, how can I help you” I was greeted with “All our agents are busy helping other customers, please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order of arrival”.  No option for a call back – just wait.  By now we were on the road in the bus on our way to Isle of Skye which is a sparsely populated mountainous land mass.  In other words continuous cell service was highly unlikely. 

Even though the likelihood of actually talking to someone when half the flights in the country had been cancelled overnight was exceedingly small, I persisted and kept listening to the bad music on hold and missing the commentary from our guide, as I watched my battery level go down.  About 45 minutes later, a live person came on the line.  Amazing.  By this time we were already climbing into the mountains so I quickly identified myself, the date and flight number that was cancelled and a request to be re-booked so as to arrive in London in time to make our connection to San Francisco (which had not been cancelled) – even if we had to go to London the day prior to our San Francisco flight or leave from Inverness rather than Edinburgh.  I also quickly gave the agent my phone number and told him that our tour bus was in the mountains and if we got cut off to please call me back which he said he would (not that I believed a word of it). 

While still on the line the agent informed me that there were no flights from any Scotland airport to any London airport leaving at any time that we could get on.  “But not to worry…..” , and that’s when I lost cell service.  Now what?  I tried calling back a few times when my phone showed any bars but usually the service cut out before the call went through.  So, you can imagine my surprise when my phone rang several hours later.  It was the same agent who actually did call me back.  I couldn’t believe it!  But, as all the airlines were in the same pickle, the best he could do was offer me a flight to SFO (with several connections) 3 days after our original departure date.  Well, that wasn’t going to work as we had our son and his family (including 3 young kids) arriving from Japan just a few days later.  I told the agent not to book that flight and also not to cancel our booking on the original cancelled flight. 

To be continued……..

Skye Bridge & Glen Sligachan

Even though I missed most of it, our first day on the Isle of Skye was circumnavigating the northern half of the island on a ring road.  After crossing the Skye Bridge which connects Kyle of Lochalsh to the Isle of Skye, we headed north up the east side of the island toward our first stop at Glen Sligachan.  Even though I was on the phone (mostly on hold) during this time I did manage to fire off a few shots through the bus window as we went. 

Loch Sligachan marsh
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Loch Ainort
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Easa Falls
Easa Falls, ScotlandEasa Falls, Scotland

Why there was no cell service as we climbed into the mountains
A87 near Sconser, ScotlandA87 near Sconser, Scotland

We stopped briefly at the Glen Sligachan trail head and looked at a few of the posted signs.  At first I was a bit startled to see on the first sign that the Glen was part of the John MuirTrust.  We all know that John was instrumental in the American west and in making the US National Parks system a reality, but then I remembered that he actually came from Scotland.  So, now it made sense. 

Glen Sligachan is said be one of the most popular hiking spots in Scotland with some of the most peaceful spots on the island.  It is a deep gash between Skye's two great ranges that runs from coast to coast all the way across the island and is the dividing line between the Black and the Red Cuillin Mountains.  As you walk along it, you get close-up views to your west of the cliffs and summits and great jagged ridge of the Black Cuillin, which are famed as Britain's most exciting ridge walk, with superb views of their Red counterparts on the other side.  Apparently this glen was fought over many times as different clans tried to rest control of this passageway from some other clan.

We didn’t get out and hike this glen but after this short stop we drove through some of it as we continued across the island to the west side of Skye then headed north up the western side.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the MacLeod Clan.  It was probably a fortified site from the earliest times.  The castle was first built in the 13th century and developed piecemeal over the centuries. In the 19th century the whole castle was remodeled in a mock-medieval style. The castle is built on an elevated rock overlooking an inlet on the eastern shore of Loch Dunvegan, a sea loch.

This castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years.  It is still occupied and enjoyed by the MacLeod family. While most of the apartments are open to the public, some rooms on the top floor are kept private.  However, unlike most castles open to tourists, pretty much all the furniture and knickknacks are still in place in the rooms open to tourists.  It really does look lived in. 

Dunvegan Castle
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Chair turns into a step ladder to reach high books in the library
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Along the Road

As we made our way around the island we passed sea lochs, quaint villages, picturesque farms with old houses – some of which are in ruins and some that have been updated and are still in use -- and dramatic landscapes.  Even though the road more or less circles the perimeter of the northern part of the island, it usually does not run right along the shore.  The reason is that the coast is quite rugged with many inlets, coves and bays which would make for quite a zig zaging road if it followed the undulating coastline  So, the road tends stay a bit inland from the water, many times part way up the hillside making for wonderful views down to the coast. 

As with most of the UK and Ireland, one finds a mix of the ruins of old stone houses, some houses being resurrected and modern buildings.  The Isle of Skye is no exception.  As we meandered up the A855 we passed examples of all three

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Coming Back
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As every farmer knows, rocks are not welcome where one needs to plow.  And, as any geologist knows, the British Isles have more than their fair share of rocks.  So, the obvious answer is to use those rocks as building material.  Of course, as we’ve seen, many houses have been made form these stones over the centuries and when clearing stones form fields the easiest thing to do with them is build walls.   These walls separate different fields on the farm, form a barrier along roads, and are used to make corrals or pens for livestock.

Sheep Pen
Sheep Pen, Isle of Skye ScotlandSheep Pen, Isle of Skye Scotland

As we meandered along we went through the little village of Idrigil where we were escorted into town by a flock of goats who decided to go into town for lunch.  But we didn’t mind the goats and they seemed to not care at all about the massive bus following them into town.

Goats heading into Idrigil
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Really?  I guess with little or no Cell Service, one has to use other means.
Lone red phone booth, Near Duntulm ScotlandLone red phone booth, Near Duntulm Scotland

Flora MacDonald

In the township of Kilmuir there is a cemetery with the grave of one Flora MacDonald.  Now, don’t go looking for Kilmuir on a map; you won't find it, yet this scattered area of hamlets and crofts has a long and rich history.  This cemetery is up a narrow one lane road – more like a driveway - and sits on a hillside.  There was once a 16th-century church here as well but it is long gone leaving just the historic cemetery containing many historic graves and monuments but the main one of interest is the striking memorial to the Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald.

Flora Macdonald grew up in the household of the chief of the MacDonalds of Clanranald, who firmly supported the Jacobite cause.  Remember the Jacobites from our previous installments of this travel series?  As you recall (or maybe not) the Jacoites were doing quite well fighting for independence until they were soundly defeated in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  This battle pitted Bonnie Prince Charlie commanding the Jacobite side against the Duke of Cumberland commanding the English side. 

After the battle, Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped and went into hiding depending on supporters to shelter him and hide him from his pursuers.  After several close calls, he eventually arrived on the island of Benbecula, where it was decided that he should move on to Skye.  Benbecula is an island in the outer Hebridies 70 miles west of Skye.  But the Isle of Sky was under strict travel restrictions, and the prince could not take the risk of being spotted.

A Jacobite supporter and distant kinsman named Captain Conn O'Neill asked Flora to help Charles escape.  Flora herself did not support the Jacobite cause, but she was moved by the plight of the Jacobites after the Battle of Culloden, and at length, she agreed. She later said that she acted from charity and would have helped the Duke of Cumberland had she found him in a similar situation. 

Anyway, following the rules of the times she obtained permission from, Hugh Macdonald.  Hugh was clan chief and commander of the local militia as well as being her stepfather.  She was granted permission  to leave her home in Benbecula with Charles and take him to Skye.   She was allowed to take two servants, and a crew of six sailors.  Bonnie Prince Charlie was dressed as an Irish spinning maid named Betty Burke, and in that guise he sailed with Flora to Skye on June 27th, 1746.  From Skye, he made his way at length to Moidart, where he boarded a French ship and escaped to Europe.

When Flora Macdonald's role in the escape came to light she was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Though she had committed treason by helping Charlie, the public, even staunch supporters of the English, regarded her as a heroic figure, primarily because she was a woman.  She was released from the Tower in 1747 and went on with her life.  She got married, moved with her husband and 7 kids to North Carolina where the husband joined the US Revolutionary war (on the British side of course).  After being captured and later released in a prisoner of war exchange they all moved to Nova Scotia, Canada.  In 1779 the whole family moved back Scotland and took up residence in Skye where she died in 1790.  It is said that she had 3,000 mourners attend her funeral and that she was buried in a shroud made from a bed-sheet used by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

At the cemetery we were met with a mighty wind.  I mean it was hard to stand up against the blow.  I suspect it is usually quite windy up here as Flora’s monument had iron braces at various levels of the tall structure anchored to the ground to keep it from blowing over.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the missing church had actually just blown away.

Flora MacDonald Grave
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Kilt Rock

From Kilmuir we headed north for a bit but then the road circled to the east coast where we turned south and started our way back stopping at the Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls viewpoint.  When we arrived there was a kilted musician standing at attention playing the pipes for donations which was quite nice. 

Playing for Donations
Bagpipe Player, Kilt Rock viewpoint, Staffin, ScotlandBagpipe Player, Kilt Rock viewpoint, Staffin, Scotland

But why the geologic feature is called Kilt rock escaped me.  When I got back home I had to look it up and discovered that the basalt columns over a sandstone base reminded them of a pleated kilt.  Well, I guess you need more of an imagination than I have. 

Kilt Rock
Kilt Rock, ScotlandKilt Rock, Scotland

Mealt Falls
Mealt Falls, near Staffin, ScotlandMealt Falls, near Staffin, Scotland

Homeward Bound, Part 2

As we were driving along, someone suggested that since we’d be arriving at a hotel near Edinburg in the late afternoon the day before our flights that we could take an overnight train from Edinburgh to London with enough time to take the “tube” or a taxi to Heathrow and still make our San Francisco flight and I should look up the times of the LNER (the main train company in the area).  The person who mentioned this also said that they had sleeper cabins.  So, onto the internet again with a low battery along with in and out cell service.  I did find the LNER website and indeed they had a train leaving Edinburgh in the evening and arriving in Heathrow with ample time to get to the airport 2-3 hours ahead of our flight.  So, I booked a couple of tickets while ignoring the pop up warnings that rail traffic might be slowed down due to the impending heat wave.  But what I couldn’t find was how to reserve one of those sleeper cabins I was told about.  And when I got my confirmation email I was surprised to see that we had a 4 hour lay over in some town about halfway to London and to add insult to injury we’d also have to change trains – at three o’clock in the morning – with all our luggage – and sitting up all night in a seat.  What a nightmare that was going to be.

By this time we had arrived back at our hotel to freshen up and had gotten back on the bus to go to dinner.  At dinner though I found out some more info.  First of all the UK Government was broadcasting that people should not travel by rail during the heat wave and that the speed of trains would be reduced by 50% once the ambient temperature got over about 85F degrees (they were predicting temps above 112F).  The second thing I found out was that it wasn’t LNER that had the sleeper cars, it was another line called the Caledonia Sleeper.

So, once back to the hotel after dinner where I could use my laptop rather than a phone, I got back online.  I did find the website for the Caledonia Sleeper which also had a train leaving just before midnight and they had 4 tickets left.  They were in first class but just in regular seats, not cabins with a beds.  Damn!   But, it was direct from Edinburgh to London with no lay over and no train swap.  So, I grabbed 2 of the last 4 seats.  I then started checking the website to see how to get on the waiting list for a sleeper cabin.  As I was doing so, I noticed that the entire train had now been sold out.  But I could find nothing about a wait list. 

Seeing as how it was around 10:30 pm and this company’s main thing was overnight trains leaving late at night, someone might be around to answer the phone.  But, that was not the case.  So, we went to sleep happy that we at least had a way to get to Heathrow in time for our flight (assuming the train arrived on time) without a layover or train swap in the middle of the night, but not thrilled about spending the night sitting in a coach seat with a hundred unmasked COVID 19 carrying strangers.

The next morning, I got back online and found that LNER was now telling people that the UK government required them to ask people not to travel during the impending heat wave and that anyone with a ticket during that time who cancelled could get a full refund, no questions asked.  So, I cancelled my LNER tickets (which I was going to do anyway) but happy that there would be one less hassle that I’d have to navigate later. 

But, my main goal at this point was to score a cabin with a bed.  After many attempts, I did finally get someone on the phone from Caledonia Sleeper.  They informed me that there was no such thing as a waiting list for a cabin but I could speak to the gate agent that evening  to see if there were any last minute cancellations.  Oh well, at least it was a chance.  So, I ordered “assistance” (wheel chair) to get us from the taxi to the train. 

To be continued……

Armadale Bay

On our second day touring the Isle of Sky, after crossing the cleverly named “Skye Bridge” onto the island once more we headed south this time rather than north.  Today though, now that we had a way to get home, I was more able to pay attention to our guide which is the main source of much of the information I share in these blogs.

Our first stop was somewhere on the coast near Armadale Castle.  I can’t find a town name where we stopped and to be honest the only thing there was a ferry terminal, a coffee bar and a couple of gift shops.  This didn’t even seem to be a fishing village even though it was on a lovely bay with a hand full of private boats anchored quietly out in the water. 

Boats floating in Armadale Bay
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As this was the last day on the tour prior to a day driving back to Edinburgh I think the main reason for stopping in this town was to satisfy the urgent need for gifts to bring home.  One of the shops was an authentic clothing shop, and the other two sold local handmade handicrafts.

But instead of shopping, we had a wander up a pier next to the one where a ferry was loading up cars and people for a trip across to the mainland (I presume).  So, while most of the people on our tour shopped, I watched the crew get the ferry on its way. 

Ferry loading cars at Armadale Bay
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Armadale Castle

From there it was only a couple of minute drive over to Armadale Castle.  Armadale is the spiritual home of the MacDonald Clan going back many centuries.  The clan chiefs called this home all they back to the mid 17th century. 

What’s interesting about this castle is that it clearly shows 3 major phases of construction side by side.   The MacDonald Clan established itself on Skye in the 15th century. They originally occupied castles at Dunscaith and Knock, both within a few miles of Armadale, and Duntulm Castle at the north end of the island.  The Macdonald chiefs began to stay at Armadale around 1650 in a house sited further west than the present Castle.  Around 1790 a new mansion house was built called Armadale House.  The only remaining part of this a section of the old house is called the White Wing.  It is the two story white section in my photos and is currently used for offices.

Armadale Castle
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In 1815 they extend the mansion with a more traditional “castle” motif which was rechristened Armadale Castle.  The Castle included lavish interiors with arcaded public halls and a great marble staircase.  A fire in 1855 destroyed the Castle’s central section but it was replaced using a new design.  The right half of this new reconstruction is shown to the left of the white buildings in my photo above. 

In 1925 the Macdonald family moved out of the castle and into a smaller house, leaving the castle to the wind and rain.  The deteriorating Castle was put on the market in 1972 and purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust.  By this time the west (left) part of the Castle, which had been the main entrance and housed the big halls, had become unstable, and in 1981 the Trust decided to demolish the building while saving as many remnants as possible.  What’s left of this section is the grand entrance with the main  staircase oddly leading into the treetops where the rest of the building used to be.

The eastern (right) half of the castle is more intact but is still quite unstable and as such is off limits.  This side contained more of the living quarters – bedrooms and such.  There is hope that one day it can be shored up and opened to visitors.

Demolished portion of the Castle
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Staircase into the forest
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Even though the Trust could not save the castle, they did put in significant effort to restore the gardens and they built a lovely museum off to the side.

Kyleakin and Princess Mary

On our way back to the hotel on the mainland, we stopped at a town just before the Skye Bridge called Kyleakin.  This town is positioned on a straight called Kyle Akin which connects the north end Loch Alish to the North Sea.  There is another straight at the south end of Loch Alish which also connects to the North Sea and combined they are what makes  the Isle of Skye an island.  The town of Kyleakin along with its mate, the town of Kyle of Lochalsh, on the other side of the straight were quite important as ferry terminals prior to the construction of the bridge which opened to traffic in 1995.  But now it’s a much quieter place than when ferries were coming and going.

The strait (Kyle Akin) takes its name from Acain, which derives from the name Haakon after King Haakon IV of Norway. It was here that King Haakon IV of Norway, supported by Gaelic forces from the Western Isles, anchored his fleet prior to engaging in battle with the Scottish King Alexander III in 1263. 

Legend tells that the castle was built here by a Norwegian woman named Mary who was married to a Mackinnon Clan chief.  It is interesting that they say “she” had the castle built rather than attributing it to her husband.  I assume that was quite unusual for the times, but does speak to the character of Mary.  It is said that she derived an income by stretching a large chain across the Kyle (straight) and would exact tolls from all ships passing through the narrows except those from her own native Norway. 

But Princess Mary is better known as ‘Saucy Mary’.  The story behind this moniker relates to her toll collecting business.  It is said that after a ship stopped and paid Mary the required exorbitant toll and was again on its way, that Mary would reward the captain by climbing to the top of one of the turrets of her castle and as the ship passed would disrobe and present her naked body for all on the ship to see.  This of course made the sailors quite happy with their captain for graciously paying the toll resulting in this display and also made Mary quite a name for herself.  Sorry, no photo of this activity but I do have one of a hotel-restaurant-bar that is taking advantage of this legend

Saucy Mary’s Inn
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Remains of Mary’s Castle (without Saucy Mary)
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Eilean Donan Castle

Moving back to the Scottish Mainland over the Skye Bridge we backtracked a bit to a castle we had passed a couple of days earlier while driving from Strathpfeffe to our current hotel.  This is the Eilean Donan Castle.  It is right along a main road and as such has become quite a popular tourist attraction. 

Eilean Donan is actually a small tidal island situated at the confluence of three sea lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh) near the village of Dornie.  It is connected to the mainland by a footbridge that was installed early in the 20th century and is dominated by a picturesque castle that frequently appears in photographs, film and television.   Some of the films shot here include Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), The Master of Ballantree (1953), The New Avengers (1976), Highlander (1986), Loch Ness (1996), Entrapment (1999) and James Bond - The World is Not Enough (1999).

The island's original castle was built in the thirteenth century and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies, the Clan MacRae.  However, in response to the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions (remember them?) early in the 18th century, government ships destroyed the castle in 1719.  And they must have been really pissed as they knocked the hell out of it.  Even well into the 20th century it was still no more than a pile of rubble left over from the 1719 attack.

Circa 1911 (image from Wikipedia)
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But the little island has history that goes back way farther than the Jacobite Rebellion.  It is thought there may have been a monastic cell there in the 6th or 7th century although there are no remnants left.  In the early thirteenth century, during the reign of Alexander II (ruled 1214–1249), a large wall was constructed enclosing most of the island.  At that time, the area around the island was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross making the spot a good defensive position against the Norse.

Later on, the island became a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail and included fighters from the Macraes and Maclennans who were closely associated with the Mackenzies.  Other than a rumor that Robert the Bruce sheltered here during the winter of 1306-07, the castle escaped other involvement in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

In 1331 Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, sent an officer to Eilean Donan to let them know that the Earl himself would be visiting.  In celebration of this visit they rounded up 50 wrongdoers, chopped off their heads and decorated castle walls with the detached heads.  When Moray arrived he thought that this was a fitting tribute and was quite pleased.  Those folks really knew how to have a celebration.

Over the ensuing years clan warfare was more or less a continuous affair with various sections of land going back and forth between clans as they won or lost battles.  Each time one clan prevailed over another, of course, the clan chief on the losing side was executed as they went along. But, as mentioned. this all came to an end in 1719 with the destruction of the castle by the English. 

Nothing more happened for the next 193 years.  The ruins of Eilean Donan castle were forgotten and just crumbled and decayed until 1912 when Major John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island for £2,500 with dreams of building a castle worthy of his status.  And perhaps, owning a castle would help him claim the ancestral title of  Constable of Eilean Donan.

After drawing up all sorts of fantastic plans, they started to build the castle after World War I.  The idea was not so much to build a replica of what had been there, but rather to build an idealized version of Eilean Donan castle, loosely based upon the decaying ruins.  It is said that the chief of works based the designs upon a dream he had of what the restored castle might look like.  Although the new construction used the same footprint as the medieval castle, they added and exaggerated lots of features to make it more cosmetically appealing.

What is interesting is that even though they used modern heavy machinery to build it, they used design principles and materials from authentic medieval castles.  The walls are just as thick, made of the same types of stones, with similar room layouts. 

It took 20 years, until 1932 for the castle to be completed which included the addition of a bridge to give easier access to the island.  The island and castle became a tourist site in 1955 and is now the third-most-visited castle in Scotland.  Now that it’s done, Eilean Donan Castle is described as "a romantic reincarnation in the tradition of early 20th-century castle revivals."

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle, ScotlandEilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Return to Edinburgh

As the next day would be mostly a driving day as we returned to Edinburgh for a farewell dinner and our journey home the next day, and in anticipation of the impending heat wave, the clouds started to break up and we were treated to a beautiful sunset from our hotel window that evening.

Sunset from hotel window
Sunset over Erbusaig Bay, ScotlandSunset over Erbusaig Bay, Scotland

Homeward Bound Part 3

The next morning before breakfast I jumped on the internet just to check on things again.  The first thing that popped up was news that indeed, they would be cutting train speeds by 50% when it got too warm (over 85f) and strongly suggested that people cancel or delay any travel plans starting the next day (the day of our flight back to California).  Wait a minute.  I’ve seen hundreds of trains zooming along at full speed through the deserts of the American southwest when it was well over 110f, so what’s with this 85f threshold?  I would think that this part of the world would be much better at this sort of thing than the train phobic US.  But, apparently not. 

The news also mentioned that all trains on the LNER line (that’s the outfit we had our first reservation on) starting that night were just plain cancelled.  I sure was glad we had switched to the other line.  Our Caledonia Sleeper reservation was still intact with no notices of impending delays or cancellations, so all was good.  It was also comforting to know that we’d be traveling tonight and the probability of it getting too hot during the night for full speed travel would be much less – especially as the heat wave was not expected to hit till the wee hours of the morning.  But, nonetheless I checked 3 or 4 more times during the day.

To be continued……

Back down the rift Valley

On our way to the Isle of Skye we traversed the Northeast portion of the long rift valley where we saw Lock Ness.  Now, we would be traveling the Southwest portion of the same rift valley.  If you go back to episode 1 of this Scotland series there is a map of the entire trip.  But first we had to backtrack a bit to get to the rift valley.  Along the way we once again passed by pretty Loch Duich, and then turned south into the mountains. 

Loch Duich
Loch Duich, ScotlandLoch Duich, Scotland  

The area we were traveling through is pretty rugged terrain and is very popular with hikers and mountain climbers with many of the most famous Scottish treks and trails heading off into the mountains from either side of the road.  One of our guides was an avid trekker and pointed out various trails as we went along.  Of course they meant nothing to me but he was quite excited to tell us about some of his hiking adventures as well as plans for future hikes.

One of many Trails heading up into the mountains
(hard to see, but just under the shadows on the left slope)
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As one can see in the photos I’ve been sharing, even though the landscape is lush and green with plenty of rainfall most of the natural areas, like in the photo above, are grass and shrub rather than forest covered.  This was not a natural occurrence.   I talked a bit about this in episode 4 (Black Isle).  Scotland’s ancient Caledonian forests grew at the end of the last Ice Age. Anywhere that wasn’t too rocky or wet was once part of a massive forest consisting of oak, birch, rowans, scots pine, elm, juniper and native yew among others.  

If you were a squirrel at that time you could travel from Glasgow to Aberdeen and beyond without coming down to the ground.  But wherever humans go, forests vanish.  Even after the human inhabitants cleared areas for farmland, towns and roads and ship building, some survived. In 82 AD, when Romans invaded Scotland, there were still many large forests between the farms.  But this was not to last due to another force that is responsible for the loss of Scotland’s forests – sheep.  As you recall, a prime motivating factor for “the clearances” was to turn the land into massive sheep operations, and that was the end of Scotland’s forests. 

But, even though most of the sheep farms are now gone, the forests have not returned.  Once the trees are gone and their roots die, the soil falls apart. Then the rain erodes the earth and the nutrients wash away.  Where forests once grew there is now peat.  Today, much of the land that was once forested is so poor in nutrients and lacking in soil that trees cannot grow.

But there is a strong “re-wilding” movement taking place where hundreds of groups are actively seeking out places where forests could take root and are planting patches of native trees.  This is forming a patchwork of mini forests.  It is thought that these patches will start rebuilding the soil and as they do will tend to expand outward eventually meeting up with other expanding patches.  As you drive along you can see some of these efforts.

Patches of re-forested land
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Stirling Castle

After descending out of the Highlands we came to our last destination of the tour which is Stirling Castle.  It is located in the town of Stirling which is close to the boundary between the Highlands and the Lowlands.  In addition it guards what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth.  These factors made it one of the most important fortifications in the region from earliest times.  Fitting its strategic location and royal use it is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland.

Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences.  Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary Queen of Scots (1542), and many others were born or died there.

Even though it was used as a royal palace, it was designed as a fortress,  As is the case with many Scottish castles, including the one in Edinburgh, it sits atop hill surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs making it hard to attack.  As one might expect, the castle has been involved in many battles over the centuries.  There have been at least eight sieges, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.  During the Wars of Independence, which were a combined civil war and a war for independence from England, the castle changed hands eight times in a 50 year span.

Most of the principal buildings date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but a few structures remain from the fourteenth century.  And, of course any castle of this importance comes with some interesting stories.

It is said that James V would dress down into peasant attire and sneak out of the castle to the old town of Stirling where he would mingle with his subjects posing as the Guid Man of Ballengeigh.  Another story is not about the actual castle but rather a feature on the flat land just below the castle called the “Kings knot”.  This is a set of raised concentric circles in a field.  Research carried out in 2011 revealed that King Arthur’s round table may well have been hidden beneath this feature.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle 02Stirling Castle 02

Ornate ceiling in one of the Royal Palace rooms in the castle.  Note the unicorns on the walls
Ceiling, Stirling Castle, ScotlandCeiling, Stirling Castle, Scotland

The Great Hall is the largest of its kind ever built in Scotland measuring 138ft by 47ft.  It was built for James IV in 1503 and has five large fireplaces to keep guests warm on those cold Scottish nights as well as galleries for minstrels and trumpeters.  After all, every gala banquet has to announce the arrival of the king and queen with a fanfare of trumpets.

Perhaps the most spectacular event held in the Great Hall was the banquet following the christening of Prince Henry in 1594. The highlight of the banquet was a wooden ship, 18ft long with masts 40ft high.  From it seafood was served to the guests. The ship came complete with 36 brass cannons that fired a salute to the Prince.

The Great Hall at Stirling Castle
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Scotland is famous for its love for and long history of myths and legends.  Therefore it is no surprise that a fabled creature such as the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal.  Unicorns have been linked to Scotland for centuries. While the animal is mythological, the ideals it represents are what make it a perfect fit as the national animal.  Like this proud beast Scots would fight to remain unconquered. 

The unicorn was first used on the Scottish royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century.  In the 15th century, when King James III was in power, gold coins even appeared with the unicorn on them.  When Scotland and England unified under the reign of James VI of Scotland in 1603, the Scottish Royal Arms had two unicorns supporting a shield.  When James VI became James I of England and Ireland, he replaced the unicorn on the left of the shield with the national animal of England, the lion, to show that the countries were indeed united.

The unicorn representing Scotland in the coat of arms is always depicted bounded by a golden chain, which is often seen passing around its neck and wrapping all around its body. The unicorn was believed to be the strongest of all animals – wild and untamed, and that it could only be humbled by a virgin maiden.  It is possible that the entrapment symbolizes the power of the Scottish kings – they were strong enough to tame even a unicorn.

Unicorn on top of one of the buildings of Stirling Castle.
Unicorn stautue, Stirling Castle, ScotlandUnicorn stautue, Stirling Castle, Scotland

Homeward Bound Part 4

And this brings us to the end of our journey.  The official tour booked us into a modern hotel near the Edinburgh airport for a farewell dinner and so that folks could be taken to the nearby airport the next morning for their flights back to North America.  As it turned out this was the most spacious room we had on the entire trip and the best shower.  Too bad we couldn’t make much use of it as we had to grab a taxi to the train station in Edinburgh around 10:20 pm for our rail bound trip to London. 

Still checking the internet and the website for the rail line, there was no indication that the train wouldn’t leave (and hopefully arrive) on time.  So, off we went hoping for the best but dreading having to sit in a train seat all night.  As has been our regular practice in airports in recent years we asked for “Assistance” at the train station due to mobility issues.  Upon arriving we sent the cab driver off to find the “assistance” after a bit of a wait, he came back with a wheel chair and attendant who took us down to platform level.  On the way we asked about the odds of getting a sleeper cabin but other than saying everything was chaos due to the travel restrictions and cancelled flights with every train sold out for the next few days he had no other info.

We were still about 40 minutes before boarding time so figured we’d just hang around till they opened the gate to the platform.  But, there was an agent from the Caledonia Sleeper company near the gate attending to some paperwork and he signaled to let the folks with the wheel chair onto the platform.  At this point a nice young lady in a train sort of uniform came over and said we were too early to board but could just hang around by the train till we could board.  I think she was the lead conductor.  I asked her about getting on a wait list for a sleeper cabin and she said there was no waiting list but she’d let us know if anything developed.  She also then changed her mind and said we could board the train and go to our seats as the attendant need to take his wheelchair back with him.

We stowed our luggage at one end of the car and found our seats.  Much better than airline seats with way more leg room, and more of a reclining angle but still just a seat.  But we got as comfortable as we could and settled in for a long night.

But then the conductor came back and informed us that they had a cancellation and a sleeper cabin had become available if we wanted it.  Are you kidding me?  Of course we wanted it!  I’m wondering if the wheelchair had any influence in this?  So she brought over the credit card machine, we paid the difference and were escorted to a nice cabin (actually it was a handicap cabin with extra wide door).  I then went back and brought our luggage to the cabin.  It had a little desk, space under the bed for luggage and a double bed with sheets, blankets, and real pillows – just like a hotel.  What a fortunate turn of events.  So, we went to bed. 

During the night, being the engineer type, I was so interested in the whole train experience that I kept waking up each time we slowed down, sped up, switched tracks, or stopped (apparently waiting for a green signal).  Each time we stopped I worried that the powers that be might have curtailed rail traffic.  But, it was the middle of the night and the real heat was not expected till after day break. 

We arrived on time, found a taxi for the 40 minute ride to Heathrow where we arrived in plenty of time to check in, have some breakfast and get to the gate.  Even though by our flight time Heathrow was operating at 50% capacity due to the heat wave that had arrived, our flight was not affected other than a 30 minute delay.  And, as it was a direct flight we didn’t have to worry about making a connection in some far flung airport. 

And that’s the end of our Scotland journey and this series of travel logs for Scotland.



This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


Photographs from Scotland can be found on my website here:


Check my travel blogs for other trips here:



Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Armadale Castle blog dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogscotland2022 Dunvegan Castle Eilean Donan Castle Flora MacDonald Isle of Skye Kilt Rock Mealt Falls Sterling Castle Suacy Mary Travel Woes https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/2/scotland-07 Sat, 04 Feb 2023 01:42:59 GMT
Scotland #06 – Glen Affric, Tartans, Plockton https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/scotland-06 JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #06 - Glenn Affric, Golden Retrievers, Balmoral Castle, Tartans and Plockton

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

In this installment we talk about Glenn Affric, Golden Retrievers, Balmoral Castle, tartans and Plockton along with some more history.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route these 2 days (portions described in previous installment)

02 Map 07-14 & 15 combined Labeled02 Map 07-14 & 15 combined Labeled

Glen Affric and Dog Falls

Glen Affric is a forested valley known for its stands of pine and is the third largest area of ancient Caledonian pinewood in Scotland.  The River Affric runs along its length, passing through a couple of Loch’s on the way.  This glen is often described as the most beautiful in Scotland.  The forests and open landscapes of the glen, and the mountains on either side, are a popular destination for hikers, climbers and mountain bikers.  We’re not talking Yosemite here but rather a quiet, low key place for a wander through the forest or along a small river. 

I think the reason we stopped here was mainly just to break up a long bus ride with a restroom and an opportunity to take a bit of a walk.  The chosen location for the stop was a trail head for Dog Falls.  Dog Falls is not a single waterfall but a series of small waterfalls and cascades. There are several marked paths to the falls which roughly follow the river and/or road.  So, we took a walk down to see the falls.

Dan on trail at Dog Falls
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One of several small falls collectively known as Dog Falls
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Another one of the Dog Falls
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Photographing Dog Falls
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Neat little set of rapids
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Tomich Village

As it was nearby Glen Affric and we had some spare time, the guide asked our driver to swing by Tomich Village on the way out of Glen Affric.  I’m sure many of you are familiar with the concept of a planned community with visions of Sun City complete with contemporary houses, golf courses, swimming pools and old folks tooling around in golf carts.  Well, our next stop was at the planned community of Tomich, a Victorian model conservation village located near Glen Affric.

This little village consists of about a dozen homes along a narrow 2 lane country road, plus the 1600 acre Guisachan estate - now with an upscale resort and hotel.  The village was built in the 1850’s by a fellow with the classic name of Lord Tweedmouth, but the estate is currently owned by the Fraser family.

Originally this part of the Highlands was controlled by the Chisholm and Frasier clans.  But by the middle of the 19th century the economics of the times required that they sell their land.  Similar to the history of Aigas (previous entry in this series), it was purchased by an industrialist who took a modest house and over a series of remodels and renovations expanded it into a Victorian mansion.  As the main house expanded, so did the need for support staff such as game keepers, grounds keepers, masons, craftsmen and the like.  What is now the village part of Tomich consists of the houses of these support staff.  Good old Tweedmouth was considered a very good landlord of the era.  He paid his workers well, looked after them and in general treated them quite well.  This can be attested to by the size and quality of the houses he had built for them among other things.

But, ignoring the resort hotel and golf course (which we never saw), the Conservation Village of Tomich now consists of a dozen or so of these worker houses which are now privately owned.  These buildings are just dripping with old world Scottish charm.  Some are B&B’s, others are single family biomes and a few have been converted to businesses.

Two Tomirch Village houses joined and converted to a boutique hotel and restaurant/bar (taken through bus window)
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Tomich Village house (taken through bus window)
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Another Tomich Village house (taken through bus window)
Tomich, ScotlandTomich, Scotland

But the most interesting thing about this little place is that it is where the Golden Retriever breed of dog was created.  It was in 1868 that Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (later to become Baron Tweedmouth) first created this breed that has gone on to become one of the most popular pet breeds in the world.  The breed was created from Flat Coated Retrievers judiciously crossed with Tweed Water Spaniels with a few other British breeds mixed in for good luck.

Monument to the creation of the Golden Retrieve r breed
Golden Retriever monument, Tomich, ScotlandGolden Retriever monument, Tomich, Scotland

Tartan’s and Kilts

The idea of a tartan goes way back in time, maybe as early as 200AD and way before the name “tartan” was created.  In the early days, they were just very simple plaid patterns, many times just in black and white or whatever color dye the local flora could easily produce.  As different plants proliferated in different areas, the colors tended to reflect the region where the cloth was made.  Another factor influencing the color choices was the kind of local terrain.  For example, if it was a forested area, you’d find more greens and browns in the weave to provide more camouflage for hunters. 

The weaving process then, as now, produces a long piece of fabric that is only as wide the loom used to weave it (around 2 to 3 feet).  The easiest thing to do with this cloth was to just use it as it came off the loom without cutting and sewing pieces together to make pants or shirts.  One of the most common uses was for shawls worn by local women.  But soon these long pieces of cloth became multifunctional.  Men would lay out a long piece; lay down on it and then roll it around themselves a few times.  They’d put a leather belt around it to hold it in place and would fling the extra bit over the shoulder and tuck it in around the back.  And thus you have a (long) kilt.  You could also carry things like food and bladders of water by tucking it in behind this over the shoulder bit.  At night they’d unroll a bit more and use it as a blanket.

So, all in all this simple length of cloth was very practical general daily wear.  However it was not very practical in a factory as it kept snagging and getting caught up in the machinery.  To deal with this, in 1727 an Englishman named Thomas Rawlinson had a tailor create a new garment from the same material that was smaller and less prone to be a problem in the factory.  So, using about half as much material this tailor created the “little kilt” which has evolved into the kilts we see today.

Kilted piper at Kilt Rock Viewpoint, Isle of Sky
Bagpipe Player, Kilt Rock viewpoint, Staffin, ScotlandBagpipe Player, Kilt Rock viewpoint, Staffin, Scotland

Kilted docent at Urquhart Castle
Docent, Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, ScotlandDocent, Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland

In common use, most groups had two tartans patterns.  One was used for making everyday wear.  This tartan design typically had more muted colors and simpler patterns.  The other would be made of brighter colors and was used to make dress clothes used for more formal occasions.

Tartan patterns
19 Tartan Composit 319 Tartan Composit 3

During one of the English occupations of Scotland, a law called the Dress Act was in force from 1746 through 1782..  This law only applied to men and boys in the Highlands other than gentry.  It banned the wearing of Highland clothes including the kilt, as well as any sort of tartan, plaid, or checked cloth in great coats or upper coats.  However, this did not apply to the army who then started wearing the Black Watch (or government) tartan.

But as the Dress Act only applied to males who were north of the highland line.  Weavers south of that line were free to produce and sell whatever they wanted.  So, in 1767, the Wilson family started a business weaving cloth and did very well supplying cloth to the British army.  Since the army had standard patterns, Wilson wrote down the various patterns so his workers could produce the same thing over and over.  Then, to make things easier he started giving names to these patterns.  He started with naming them after army regiments who wore that pattern but then went on to towns, surnames, and geographic features like mountains or rivers.

Up until now, the idea that a particular pattern represented a particular group of people or family simply did not exist.  However, as different army regiments adopted particular patterns for their troops, that pattern started to be associated with that particular regiment and the fact that Wilson had named the pattern after the regiment enforced this identity.  So a particular tartan soon became a symbol for a particular regiment – almost like a regimental flag.

But Wilson was a good businessman and collected a large number of these patterns, gave them all names, and published them in a pattern book that acted like a sales catalog.

Following along this trend the Highland Society in London had an idea and sent a letter to all the Clan Chiefs in the Highlands asking them for a sample of “their Clan” tartan.  The clan chiefs thought this was ridiculous and replied that they did not have a “clan tartan”, they just had whatever their local weavers decided to make.  But the Highland society persisted and tried again in 1815 when the chiefs were asked once more for “their” tartan.  This time though, rather than just replying that they didn’t have one, instead they just picked one from Wilson’s pattern book and sent that back as their tartan.  When this information was published, it established the idea that a particular tartan pattern was linked to a particular clan or family. 

Some “Clan” Tartan Patterns
18 Tartan Composit 218 Tartan Composit 2

In 1842 Albert and Victoria started visiting Scotland and fell in love with the highlands.  Sir Walter Scott was so thrilled by their visit that he encouraged the local residents to come out and cheer for the monarchs as they toured the countryside.  He also encouraged the locals to wear colorful tweed patterns representing their particular clan.  This really cemented the idea of each clan having its own pattern, or tartan.

Now, as a matter of prestige, every family wanted to have a “family tartan”.  By this time the industrial revolution with mass production was well underway and it didn’t take long in the 20th century for the tartan business to mushroom.  Not only could you get “your family” tartan based on your surname (even if they had to invent one on the spot) they started producing regional tartans like Edinburgh, Scotland, Isle of Sky, Cornish, Welsh, and several Canadian tartans.  Today tartans appear everywhere.  Sports teams, the Polaris Submarine group, many school uniforms and companies like Burberry all have their own tartan.  And on it goes.  Just this year a company has started selling a “Ukrainian” tartan with a blue and yellow color scheme with all the proceeds going to Ukraine relief.  And, in the USA apparently there is National Tartan day and in honor of that day, in 2002, over 7,800 pipers marched through Manhattan.

More Tartans
17 Tartan Composit 117 Tartan Composit 1

Victoria and Albert were so taken by the idea of tartan’s that when they built Balmoral Castle, they filled it with tartans.  This included carpeting, drapes and wallpaper.  They even had a tartan designed just for the castle (Balmoral Tartan).

Balmoral Tartan
20 Balmoral Tartan20 Balmoral Tartan

Balmoral Castle and Victoria’s “affair” with John Brown

Speaking of Balmoral Castle, after their 1842 tour of the highlands, in 1848 they returned to the Highlands to look for a castle to buy but they weren’t able to find one they liked.  So, they bought a chunk of land with a modest home on it instead.  The house was obviously too small for the Royal Family, so of course had to be replaced.

Once they took possession and started using the house for family get-a-way’s, they started construction on a more “royal scale” castle that we now know as Balmoral Castle.  Once the new Castle was complete enough for family use, they knocked down the original house and moved to the yet to be completed castle.  Although Balmoral was built in the architectural style of 19th century Gothic Revival, Albert was quite involved in the design and kept adding flourishes to the design.  An extra turret here, a clock tower there, and this over the top style came to be known as Balmorality.

Drawing of Balmoral Castle (from Wikimedia.org)
21 Balmoral Castle21 Balmoral Castle
Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Balmoral Castle is privately owned by the family and is not part of the royal properties owned by the commonwealth like Hollyrood, Windsor, and Buckingham palaces.

After Albert died in 1861 of typhoid Victoria never recovered.  Instead she retreated from public life and became a recluse.  She basically moved to Balmoral full time and disappeared from view in London.  This left folks in England wondering where their queen had gone and they started calling her the “Widow of Windsor”.  This is when she met John Brown (see movie “Mrs. Brown”). 

John was a “Gilly” (attendant, caretaker) at Balmoral.  This was basically a staff position well below what is called a Titled Position such as Duke or Earl.  Basically John was a senior level workman.  But John Brown and Queen Victoria got on quite well.  In fact, many say too well.  He was her constant companion and confidant.

One of the reasons Victoria took to him in such a significant way was that he treated her like a normal everyday person and not like a Queen.  He’d argue with her when he thought she was wrong, he didn’t bow and scrape when she entered the room, and, he spoke his mind to her when he felt like it.  No one else in the Queen’s world would ever dare such behavior but from him, it made her feel normal.

Some say they were lovers and some say they were even married, but there is no proof either way.  After Victoria died in 1901, based on directives she had left, the bottom of her casket was filled with items she loved in life.  Among other things, there was a plaster cast of Albert’s hand which it is said she had slept with every night since he died, some of Albert’s dressing gowns, and both of their wedding rings.  According to Victoria’s physician who dressed her and put her in the casket, she had him place a Primrose (Albert’s favorite flower) in her hands but underneath the Primrose was a lock of John Brown’s hair. 

A bit more Scottish History

In 1706 The Articles of Union (now referred to as the Treaty of Union) was signed.  This united the Kingdom of England (which already included Wales) with the Kingdom of Scotland under a new state called “Great Britain”.  By that time Wales had been totally subsumed by England and had no claim of equality with England or of being a separate entity in its own right.  But this treaty put Scotland in a different position.  The Scots would control their own Legal system, but would use the same currency used in England.  It also stipulated that all persons in both kingdoms would be equal in all regards.  The treaty granted Scotland a specified number of seats in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons putting them on equal legislative footing as England.

With this treaty in place, in the mid 1800’s several factors converged which propelled Scotland ahead while other British Empire countries lagged.  One of these was that in Scotland education became mandatory in 1872 and was really embraced by the Scotts.  Even though many students had to balance farm duties with school, education of their kids became very important to the families.  As evidence of this, England has 2 Universities whereas Scotland has 4.  But let’s look a bit deeper.  In order to attend one of the English universities (Cambridge or Oxford) you had to be Church of England which pretty much stifled diversity and greatly limited enrollment by foreign students.  But the Scottish Universities had no such restrictions and as such their graduates were far more worldly than those coming out of England’s universities.  So, Scotland quickly became an educated society.  

The most popular majors in Scotland were in the medical and engineering fields.  But what could one do with a medical or engineering degree in rural Scotland at that time.  The traditional path was to join the military to gain experience.  Now, in order to become an officer in the English military you had to have some serious family money to buy a commission.  So this path was effectively unavailable to even educated Scottish commoners who were more often than not poor folk.  But if you joined the civil service in India money was not required.  So, many Scots went to India and became doctors in the civil service as well as engineers on navy ships.  So even though it’s a stereotype (“Beam me up Scotty”) there is quite a bit of truth to the stereotype.

By the mid 1800’s, with a path for upward mobility and a way out of permanent poverty in the tenant farming economy, Scotland was quite content with their place in the English system.  They even referred to Scotland as “North England”.  This contentment persisted through WWII with no discussion or desire from Scotland to become independent.

But, between the wars a separatist movement started to form.  In1932 a Nationalist Party was created and nationalism continued to grow and gain popularity.  After WWII the labor party gained control in London which was OK with the Scots as they were mostly a working class society.  But then in a 1960’s bi election (off cycle, single member election to fill a vacant seat), in a very safe Labor seat, a feisty separatist, Winnie Ewan, was elected.  This horrified the establishment.  But the movement was so strong by this time that Parliament decided to allow Scotland to have a referendum on giving Scotland more power.  But due to an arcane voting rule for such things the required number of “yes” votes had to be over 50%  - not of the votes cast but over 50% of the registered voters.  Due to this it failed to pass even though it got more than 50% of votes cast (sound familiar?).  After that things got quiet again.  Even though there continued to be a strong national presence, it did not seem to be politically threatening to the status quo.

Then Oil came to the North Sea.  The Scots said that it is Scotland’s oil and Scotland should get the profits, but London said not so fast.  Ownership of mineral rights off the coast was not specified in any of the agreements so by default belonged to the larger UK controlled by London.  This stand off eventually resulted in the election of several nationalist members of parliament – but not enough to make much headway.

Then everything changed in 1979 when the Conservative party surpassed the Labor party and Margaret Thatcher was elected PM.  She was adamant that Scotland should not be given any more power than they already had (which caused several of her ministers to resign).  Needless to say Margaret was pretty much loathed in Scotland. 

Thatcher never quite got that she was hated in Scotland.  She thought the Scots were just like her, hard working, conscientious and business minded and as such supported her.  A few years later Thatcher gave a speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  This meeting was held at “The Mound” and the speech has become known as the Sermon on the Mound.  This particular group is a very conservative group but even so at the end of her speech the moderator said, “Thank you very much Mrs. Thatcher, you can be sure that never will you ever have been in a room where so many people have you in their prayers.”

Shortly thereafter, a non partisan organization consisting of members from all walks of life and across the political spectrum was formed and produced a document asking not for full independence but for “devolution” in order to self control more aspects of life in Scotland.   This included the request to form a Scottish Parliament. 

During campaigning, Tony Blair promised to allow the Scots to vote on a referendum in support this idea which he did.  This was a very interesting political vote.  The people who wanted Scotland to remain firmly part of GB, felt that this quasi self rule plan would make them happy and put an end to further talk of independence.  But the folks who favored independence saw it as just another step on the road to independence.  So, both sides voted in favor of the referendum and it was passed by a very large majority.  This gave Scotland its own devolved Parliament in Edinburgh and control of Education, Healthcare, Roads, Tourism, and the Environment.

As it turned out, the folks thinking of the referendum as just step toward independence were more correct and shortly thereafter the Scottish National Party came to dominate Scottish politics and has for the past 40 years.  Even though the parliamentary style of government is designed to prevent one party from having a straight out majority, the National Party gained and has held a majority on their own up till very recently where they had to form a coalition with the Green party to retain the majority.

In 2014 as the Scottish National Party had such a large majority, they went to the Conservative PM (David Cameron) in London to ask for a referendum of independence.  Surprisingly enough, Cameron granted them the right to hold this referendum as he was sure it would fail.  This became a big deal and engaged people at all levels so much so that voter registration surged to over 90% with over 70% of them actually voting which is unheard of.  So, in 2014 the referendum was held but lost 45-55.

And this brings up to the present day where the nationalist First Minister of Scotland is asking London for the right to hold another referendum next year.  But this time it is very unlikely to be granted as it would almost certainly pass.  But in the mean time, Liz Truss (the 7 week Prime Minister from this year) went to the Supreme Court for a ruling about the legality of Scotland holding a referendum without the approval of the UK Government.  When I first wrote this paragraph several weeks ago, this issue is still pending, but just yesterday, the Supreme Court of the UK ruled that Scotland could not hold such a referendum without the blessing of Parliament and they don’t have the votes for that.  We’ll see if they go ahead anyway?

Scottish Independence Rally, George Square, Glasgow, 2019
English: Scottish Independence Rally, George Square, Glasgow, 2019English: Scottish Independence Rally, George Square, Glasgow, 2019
Image by LornaMCampbell, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commonshttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scottish_Independence_Rally,_George_Square,_Glasgow,_2019_1.jpg


Plockton is a quiet coastal village on the west side of Scotland not too far from the Isle of Sky.  It sits on Loch Carron which is a salt water bay (not a lake) on the North Atlantic and sits on a little peninsula sticking out into the Loch.  In Gaelic the word “Ploc” translates as a pimple or bump and “ton” means town and thus this village became Plockton, or “pimple town”.

In modern times, many families have found that they have the means to afford a 2nd or ‘vacation’ home with many scenic regions attracting such people - and Plockton is one of them.  .  And, it is one of the first villages in Scotland to have a major influx of people buying second or vacation homes. 

So why, of all places, did Plockton become an early and popular destination for these upwardly mobile buyers?   Well it all traces back to a TV series that aired from 1995 through 1997 called Hamish MacBeth which was filmed in Plockton.  In the TV series the town was called Lochdubh but the screen credits revealed the real place where it was filmed was Plockton.  This series was one of the first appearances of the actor Robert Carlyle who went on to be quite a famous actor. 

It seems that people seeing the TV show thought the place was quite charming.  It had a whole host of eccentric, but loveable characters (all fictitious of course) and is set on the edge of a bay with beautiful green hills all around.  The town faces east, away from the prevailing wind giving it a quite mild climate considering its northern latitude.  Then add in that it is only a 2 hour drive from Inverness or less than 4.5 hours from either Glasgow or Edinburgh and it makes the ideal spot to escape to from the big cities.  So, people swarmed in and bought houses or plots of land for their get-a-way retreat.  But in just driving around, one does not really see much of this.  Yes, the town seems to be a bit larger in developed area than one might expect but it is really not “overrun” so to speak.

Of course, Plockton had some history before the new influx second home folks.  Unlike most villages which can trace inhabitation back many centuries, Plockton is somewhat new.  Remember our history lesson where we talked about the Clearances when in order to establish large sheep and cattle operations they booted out all the small farmers – mostly by burning down their houses and setting fire to their fields?  Well even though many of these displaced subsistence farmers fled the country, many stayed and had to go someplace.  Plockton was one of a couple of planned villages in this area created between 1814 and 1820 to take these farmers to try and convert them to fishermen.   And, there you have it.

Plockton – Old Village harbor side
Stranded Boat, Plockton, ScotlandStranded Boat, Plockton, Scotland

Plockton – Old Village harbor side
Flower Garden, Plockton, ScotlandFlower Garden, Plockton, Scotland

Plockton – Old Village harbor side
14 5d3R04-#895014 5d3R04-#8950

Plockton – Fishing gear and boats at low tide
15 7d2R04-#3445-Edit15 7d2R04-#3445-Edit



This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


Photographs from Scotland can be found on my website here:


Check my travel blogs for other trips here:



Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) blamoral castle blog dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogscotland2022 dog falls glen affric golden retriever john brown plockton queen vicotria affair socttish independence tartan history tomich village https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/scotland-06 Sat, 31 Dec 2022 19:03:26 GMT
LR016 - Quick Develop vs. Basic Panel https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/lr016-quick-develop-vs-basic-panel QUICK DEVELOP vs. BASIC PANEL

The Quick Develop panel in the Library Module contains controls used to select an adjustment preset, pick a different crop ratio, change white balance and for basic toning.  In the “Saved Preset” section, you select from one of several items in a pull down menu.  For white balance and basic Tone Controls you use stepping buttons.  These controls seem to be, and in many ways are, redundant with controls in the Basic Panel in the Develop Module but there are differences.

Quick Develop Panel

LR017 01 Quick Develop PanelLR017 01 Quick Develop Panel

The Basic Panel in the Develop Module controls many of the same things as the Quick Develop panel does.  You can pick a profile, change white balance and adjust tone controls using sliders.

LR017 02 Basic PanelLR017 02 Basic Panel

Differences between Quick Develop and the Basic Panel

All of the controls in the Library Module QD (Quick Develop) panel also appear in the Develop Module Basic Panel but they work differently.

Images applied to

In the library module grid view, the default mode for image adjustments is “auto-sync” whereas in the Develop module and the other Library module views the default is “single-image”.  With auto-sync, changes you make are applied to ALL selected images whereas with single-image, changes only affect the one Active photo.

Stepping Buttons vs Sliders

The first noticeable difference you’ll see is that the QD panel uses stepping buttons (you see no “value” numbers) whereas the Basic Panel uses sliders (and you can see as well as type in actual numeric values)

QD uses Stepping Buttons

LR017 03 QD 2LR017 03 QD 2

Develop Module uses Sliders

LR017 04 Basic 2LR017 04 Basic 2

The single arrow stepping buttons are 1 step and the double arrows are 3 to 5 steps each.  What a “Step” is varies from control to control but should be considered as a “just noticeable” amount.  For example, 1 step in the Exposure control is 1/3 (or 0.33) stop and the double arrow is 1 full stop. 

Sharpening and Saturation but no DeHaze or Texture

You may notice that “Sharpen” and “Saturation” are missing from the QD panel set of controls  However, if you hold down the “Alt” key (”Option” on a Mac) the Clarity and Vibrance buttons change to Sharpening and Saturation.

You’ll also notice that the QD panel is also missing “Dehaze” and “Texture”.  If you want to those tools, you’ll have to use the Basic Panel.

Quick Develop behaves differently than Basic Panel

On the surface sliders vs. stepping buttons seem to be a trivial difference but there is more to it than meets the eye.  When you make a change in QD, that change is relative to the prior value in each affected image whereas in the Basic panel it is an absolute value. 

Here’s what that means.  Let’s say you have a single image selected that has an exposure adjustment of 0 (i.e. you haven’t changed the exposure).  Then you click the “increase” stepping button for Exposure (single arrow in the QD panel).  This will increase the exposure 1 “step” on that image resulting in a new exposure of 0.33 (1/3 stop).  Similarly, if you go to the Basic panel in the Develop Module you can move the slider the equivalent of “1 step” from 0.0 to 0.33 (or just type in 0.33).  So far they are the same thing.

Now, after putting the exposure back to zero, go back to QD and select 3 photos that already have different exposure adjustments and click the “1 step” increase for exposure again. This will increase the exposure on all 3 images by 1/3 stop as shown below.

Original Exposure      New Exposure
0.0                                 0.33
0.5                                 0.83
1.0                                 1.33

Now, after putting them all back to their original values, let’s do the same thing in the Develop module.  There we turn on Auto-Synch so any change made to the active image is also made to the other selected images.  We then select the same 3 images on the film strip and change the exposure on the active image from 0.0 to 0.33 (equivalent of 1 step) as we did before.  Here’s the result:

Original Exposure      New Exposure
0.0                                 0.33
0.5                                 0.33
1.0                                 0.33

Here you see that the change is no longer relative to the original value each image had, but is the absolute value I moved the slider to.  That’s a very different concept.  Don’t forget to turn “Auto-Sync” off.


  • Changes in both the QD panel and Basic panel appear in the History Panel of the Develop module and can be undone using <Ctrl> Z (Mac: <Cmd> Z), or the Edit -> Undo command on the menu.


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Basic Panel DanLRBlog Lightroom Classic LrC QD QD vs. Basic Panel Quick Develop Quick Develop Panel Quick Develop vs. Basic Panel Stepping Button Stepping Buttons https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/lr016-quick-develop-vs-basic-panel Fri, 02 Dec 2022 23:01:29 GMT
LR017 - AI masks used with Healing tools https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/lr017-ai-masks-used-with-healing-tools AI Masks with Healing

(Posted 12/2/2022 as of LrC/12.0.1)

This blog relates to using one of the AI masking tools (Sky, Subject, background, etc.) in conjunction with one of the Healing tools.  When you do this, in some cases order matters and in some cases you will need to re-compute your AI Mask.  These interactions are somewhat complex but can be summarized in these 4 rules:

Rule 1 – When an AI mask is computed (either initially or re-computed) it uses the pixels as shown on the screen at that time, including any healing done prior to the mask being computed, to determine the area selected for the mask.

Rule 2 – Once created, the area selected by an AI mask is not altered unless you re-compute the mask. Sometimes this happens automatically, sometimes not.  For example you clone out a "Subject" after the Subject mask was created.  The area selected by the subject mask is still selected (and adjusted) by the subject mask even though the subject was cloned out and is no longer there

Rule 3 – If different content is placed into an area currently selected by an AI Mask, the Mask adjustments will be applied to those pixels as those places on the image are still selected by the mask.

Rule 4 – If Pixels are copied from an area selected by an AI mask to an area not selected by that mask, those pixels will lose the adjustments applied through the mask as they are no longer in an area selected by the mask.


One of the most common symptoms of when the above rules cause problems is “ghosts”.  This is where something that was removed still remains as a ghost of its former self.  Here’s a simple example

01 LR017 01 Ghost_01 LR017 01 Ghost_

If you wind up with a similar problem, Re-compute your AI Mask See “Recompute Masks” near the bottom of this blog for info on how to re-recompute masks

CASE 1 – Healing an area selected by an AI Mask (Order matters)

If you need to do a Healing operation where the destination of the Heal is in an area selected by an AI mask the order matters

So, let’s start with the shot below where I want to remove the left boy and convert the dad and right boy to monochrome.

02 LR017 Case 1 A02 LR017 Case 1 A

In test one, I first create an AI mask (in this case a “people” mask for all 3 people) and de-saturate the 3 people. 

03 LR017 Case 1 B03 LR017 Case 1 B

Then I go to the Healing tool (any of the 3, but in this case I used “heal” mode) and painted over the left boy to have him replaced by ocean wave.  As you see, even though the source of the “Heal” was blue and white water, when those pixels arrived at the destination location they picked up the B&W from the People mask even though the idea was to replace that portion of the People mask with water.  Oops.

04 LR017 Case 1 C04 LR017 Case 1 C

Now let’s try it in the other order.  First I do the “Heal” to replace the boy with water. 

05 LR017 Case 1 D05 LR017 Case 1 D

Then I add the People Mask.  In this case the “people” mask (all people) only found the two remaining people and as such the de-saturation only affected those two – not the “healed” area

06 LR017 Case 1 E06 LR017 Case 1 E

CASE 2 – Using area selected by an AI mask as a source for Healing

When you use any of the Healing tools on an image where there is an AI mask and the source pixels of the healing operation come from an area selected by the AI mask, the pixels it uses as the source for the healing do not include the adjustments made on the AI mask unless they land in an area which is also part of that AI mask. 

So, starting with the same image, this time I created an AI mask for the Background (everything but the 3 people) and de-saturated it. 

07 LR017 Case 2 A07 LR017 Case 2 A

Then I went to the Healing tool and removed the left boy (I used clone mode, but any of the Healing modes would do the same thing). It did indeed remove the boy but as the place the left boy had been is not part of the “Background” mask it did not pick up the desaturation from the AI Mask adjustments (meaning it got color in this example).  Depending on the aggressiveness of the adjustments you made using the AI Mask, this problem may not be obvious. 

08 LR017 Case 2 B08 LR017 Case 2 B

If I now go back to the Masks tool and select the background AI mask and hover over the Background component (circled in red below), there is a pop up warning (which I can’t get a screen shot of) that says “Adjustments that may affect <component name> changed”.   This means that you should Re-compute the AI Mask which in this case would change the blue hole where the left boy had been was to monochrome.

09 LR017 Case 2 C09 LR017 Case 2 C


CASE 3 – Healing creates new subject matter

Case 3 is where an AI mask selected some content, then a Healing operation created new content that the AI mask would have selected had that content been there when the AI Mask was created.  In this example, the All people AI Mask works as expected and detects the 3 original people who I de-saturated. 

10 LR017 Case 3 A10 LR017 Case 3 A

Then I gave the left boy a twin brother by cloning a copy of him to his left.  As the 4th person was not there when the AI Mask was created the Mask adjustments don’t include him and he’s in color even though the source of the clone was in monochrome.

11 LR017 Case 3 B11 LR017 Case 3 B

But if I re-compute the mask it finds all 4 and the 4th person gets the AI Mask adjustments

12 LR017 Case 3 C12 LR017 Case 3 C

Re-compute Masks

Re-computing masks applies to masks containing AI selection algorithms such as Subject, Sky, Background, People, Etc.  Re-computing is required from time to time when something has changed which would cause the computed area of the mask to be different.  A classic example is if you copy an AI mask to another image where the “thing” (e.g. “the subject”) does not occupy the same place in the target image as it did in the image the mask is being copied from.  Another example is if you apply a preset containing an AI Mask as the selected items need to be re-found in the new image.  Re-compute forces LrC to run the AI logic on the image again to determine where the targeted item is in those images.

To re-compute an AI Mask, go to the Develop Module and click on the “Settings” menu.  This is not “Catalog Settings”, and the menu item only exists when you are in the Develop Module - or use <ctrl>+<alt>+U (Windows) or <Cmd>+<Option>+U (Mac).  Then select “Update AI Settings” and it will re-compute the active image. 

13 LR017 Recompute A13 LR017 Recompute A

If you need to re-compute AI masks on multiple images, go to the Library Module, select the desired images and use menu path “Photo -> Develop Settings -> Update AI Settings” (short cut key combination <Ctrl><Alt>u (windows) or <Cmd><Opt>u (Mac). 

03 LR017 Recompute B03 LR017 Recompute B

For multiple images you could also use the menu item in the Develop Module with Auto-Sync turned on to re-computed all selected images (not recommended).

Prior to LrC/11.4 when an AI mask needed to be re-computed, you got a warning message when you selected the mask needing to be re-computed (below).  To recompute the mask click the “Update" button below the message.

02 LR017 Recompute C02 LR017 Recompute C

In LrC/12.0 there is no longer a significant warning message – only a flitting pop up message if you happen to hover your mouse over a Mask Component that may need to be re-computed.  But the warning message above returned in LrC/12.1 The warning message is at the top of the adjustments panel when An AI Mask needs to be re-computer AND you have the AI Mask Component selected or you have a Mask selected that only contains one component which happens to be an AI component that needs to be recomputer.  They say that AI masks are re-computed automatically in some, but not all, cases where it is needed. 

Below is an example where re-computing a mask is required.  In this image I created a “Background” AI Mask and lowered the saturation to B&W (2nd image).  I then used the healing tool in clone mode to loosely brush over the boy (3rd image).  Some of the destination area was already background and some of it was the boy.  LrC choose a section of water to use as the source of the clone.  The clone operation copied the pixels to the new location.  Those pixels that landed in an area which was part of the background mask got the adjustment from the mask.  However pixels that landed where the boy had been did not get the B&W adjustment from the background mask as that area was not part of the background when the mask was created.  In other words, the mask adjustment was applied to the pixels that landed in an area selected by the mask but not other areas (Image 3).  This is not what I wanted.

01 LR017 recompute D01 LR017 recompute D           

In order to fix this I re-computed the AI mask to make it decide again what is and isn’t “Background” (in this case).  This time it treated the cloned out boy as “Background” and that area got the saturation reduction applied through the Background mask.



dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) AI mask interactions with healing AI Masks Clone DanLRBlog Develop Module Ghosts left after Healing Heal Healing Tool Lightroom Classic LrC When order matters in LrC Develop Module https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/12/lr017-ai-masks-used-with-healing-tools Fri, 02 Dec 2022 22:53:39 GMT
Scotland #05 – Inverness. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/11/scotland-05 JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #05 Inverness. Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

In this installment we talk about Inverness, Loch Ness and Nessie, the rift Valley, Caledonian Canal, and Urquhart Castle.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route these 2 days (some portions covered in next installment)

02 Map 07-14 & 15 combined Labeled02 Map 07-14 & 15 combined Labeled


The name Inverness comes from “Inver” meaning top of and “Ness” is the name of the river that flows through it. So, Inverness is “top (or mouth) of the river Ness”. 

Given its strategic location on a sheltered bay on the northeast coast, it has been constantly raided by folks in the west as well as from invaders from the sea.  But, its location also allowed it to become a major world center of trade and thus it not only survived but thrived. 

Inverness traces its roots back more than 2,000 years to the Picts who preceded the Vikings.  We’ve talked about them before.  Of course a lot of history has come and gone that involved Inverness but I found a few tidbits worth mentioning. 

One involved good old Mary Queen of Scots.  In the mid 1500’s, before she became queen, Mary Stuart, as she was known then, had been traveling around Scotland.  When she arrived at Inverness, she was denied entry as she was deemed an undesirable person.  This was probably not a good decision by the leaders of the town as soon after she became queen (Mary Queen of Scots) she had those leaders taken out and hanged.  Talk about carrying a grudge.  But, then, all of a sudden, the remaining Inverness government officials became very loyal to Mary.  I wonder why?

Let’s see, what else happened here?  On September 7th, 1921, an historic gathering of England’s Cabinet was convened there by Prime Minister Lloyd George.  At this meeting the “Inverness Formula” was adopted.  This legislation paved the way for a treaty which created the Irish Free State.  This meeting remains the only Cabinet meeting of the UK Government to ever be held outside London.  The Irish Free State was a dominion of the British Empire and consisted of 26 of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland.  The other 6 counties (now Northern Ireland) opted to stay under the rule of England.  The Free State mostly had self rule but was still attached to the British Empire in many ways which gradually changed over time.  But, after a subsequent civil war, in 1949 it became completely independent from the UK and is now known as Ireland (or The Republic of Ireland).

Although Inverness has been prosperous and strategically important for both military and commerce it was only given the designation of being a “City” in the year 2000.  Up till then I suppose it was a “Large Town”.  In case you care there are currently 6 classifications for such things (village, small town, medium town, large town, city and core city).  This designation of being a city resulted in Inverness being the northernmost city in the UK. 

Of the 189 designated places to live in the UK, Inverness ranks as fifth.  It is currently one of fastest growing population centers in the UK with new people arriving not only from other parts of the UK but also from abroad.  Interestingly enough, according to the 2000 census, after English the 2nd most spoken language in Inverness is Polish rather then the historic Gaelic. 

Having a very good primary and secondary educational system has certainly helped attract new residents.  Speaking of higher education, the University of the Highlands and Islands is headquartered in Inverness.  This University has 13 campuses scattered throughout Scotland and is Scotland’s newest university.  It became an independent accredited University in 2011 providing degrees in Gaelic, Tourism, Viking studies and Sustainable Development.  It was Established to stem the brain drain of folks leaving Scotland for college and not coming back. 

Best Football Headline

As this was our last day staying near Inverness, I thought I’d share something completely irrelevant that has an Inverness connection.  In February 2000 there was a football (soccer to us folk in the US) third round match in the Scottish Cup.  This match paired a low ranked club from Inverness called the Caledonian Thistle which was a team from two local pubs and nick named “Caley”.  The other team was the best team in Scotland from Glasgow called the “Celtic” who were supposed to coast to victory without even breathing hard.  But, to everyone’s shock and dismay, the underdog Caley beat the Celtic 3 to 1 which is said to be one of the biggest upsets ever in Scottish football.  The next day, the headline read.....

17 Super Caley Headline17 Super Caley Headline

Rift Valley and Caledonian Canal

A knife straight rift valley divides Scotland in half.  It runs 60 miles from Moray Firth on the North Sea down to where it opens into the Irish Sea.  This rift valley forms a distinct bifurcation of Scotland into the NW section and SE section.  It is made up of two rivers flowing in opposite directions from the high point in the valley with each river punctuated with a string of long skinny Lochs.  In fact 40 of those 60 miles are Lochs.  The River Ness flows NE into Moary Firth a few miles past Inverness.  At the other end of the Ness River Ness is the famous Loch Ness.  Going the other way the River Lochy flows SW to the Irish Sea. 

Rift Valley
06 Map 08 Rift Valley06 Map 08 Rift Valley

In the modern age, we see large bodies of water as an impediment to travel requiring bridges, ferries and airplanes.  However in prior times bodies of water were considered as the only viable means of significant travel as most of the places one wanted to go to and from were on bodies of water.  But sometimes even sailing from place to place took too long a time if the route required one to go around a large land mass.  And so it was with Scotland.  Getting from the east side to the west side required a long voyage around the north of the country.

So, in the 1780’s they decided that they needed a shorter and safer way to get goods and navy ships from one side of Scotland to the other without spending days sailing around the north side of the island in the rough North Sea.  It was decided to build a canal through the rift valley.  The lochs themselves where already well suited for the ships but most of the rivers between them were too narrow and shallow to support the merchant and navy ships.  The plan was to widen and dredge the bigger rivers and to dig a man made canal parallel to the smaller ones.  Construction actually got started in 1804.  As it turns out, the highest loch along the route is Loch Oich which sits about 106 ft. above sea level (Loch Ness is only 52 ft above sea level).  So in addition to dredging rivers and digging 22 miles worth of shipping canals between the lochs, they also had to build 29 locks to raise and lower the ships along the route.

This new passageway was completed in 1822 after18 years of construction and is called the Caledonian Canal.  The full 60 miles was completed just in time for it to become obsolete for trade a couple of decades later due to the larger new steam ships which began taking over on the high seas and were too big for the canal.  However the canal is still used for pleasure boats and in the summer can be quite crowded with boats going both ways.

A Caledonian Canal lock at Fort Augustus
Lock on Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustine, ScotlandLock on Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustine, Scotland

Pleasure craft waiting to be lowered down into Loch Ness
10 5d3R04-#875810 5d3R04-#8758

One of the lock gates
09 5d3R04-#875209 5d3R04-#8752

Originally the mechanisms used to operate the locks were modeled after equipment found on sailing ships.  The large valves used to flood and drain the locks were opened and closed by manually turning large capstans like the ones used to raise and lower the anchor on ships and took two buff men to turn them.  They also used a system of ropes and pulleys like those used to raise and lower sails to manually open and close the large gates.  Over the years the locks saw several modernization projects and now they use electric motors to open and close the valves and gates but they still are operated manually by lock keepers.  The old manual valves are still there and could still be used in an emergency.

A Fort Augustus Lock Keeper at the controls of one of the locks.
Lock keper on Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustine, ScotlandLock keper on Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustine, Scotland

Controls for one of the locks
08 5d3R04-#874908 5d3R04-#8749

Loch Ness

Would you believe that in all of Scotland there is but one lake and that is Lake of Menteith.  All other bodies of fresh water in Scotland are called “lochs” and the term loch extends to some salt water bays as well.  But, even though Lake of Menteith is often thought of as the only body of water in Scotland that is referred to as a lake, actually, there are several others (some of which are man made).  But, why let facts get in the way of a good story.

Loch Ness is the largest of the lochs along the Caledonian Canal in the rift valley.  It is 23 mi long but only about 1 mile wide.  Even though it ranks number 2 in surface area in Scotland, due to its depth (average 433 ft. – which is deeper than the North Sea) it holds more water than any other body of water in the British Isles.  In fact, Loch Ness holds more water than all the other fresh water lochs, lakes, and rivers in the whole of the British Isles combined.  It’s a big lake (oops, I mean Loch).  At the north end of Loch Ness is the little town aptly name “Loch End” and at the southern end is the town of Fort Augustus.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness near Fort Augustus, ScotlandLoch Ness near Fort Augustus, Scotland

Loch Ness
15 5d3R04-#878515 5d3R04-#8785

Ship Wreck on shores of Loch Ness
Wrecked ship, Loch Ness, ScotlandWrecked ship, Loch Ness, Scotland


Even though it holds a lot of water, it really is not much different than any other loch or lake around the world.  But, it is known world wide.  If you ask people anywhere in the world to name any loch around the globe the only one they can usually come up with is Loch Ness and this is entirely due to one supposed inhabitant of the loch – Nessie (AKA the Loch Ness Monster).

Scholars of the Loch Ness Monster find a dozen references to “Nessie” in Scottish history, dating back to around 500 AD, when local Picts carved a strange aquatic creature into standing stones near Loch Ness.  But the earliest written report of a monster appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the sixth century AD.  According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events he described, Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he encountered local residents burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man was swimming in the river when he was attacked by a "water beast" that mauled him and dragged him underwater despite their attempts to rescue him by boat.  To further investigate this claim, Columba sent a follower, Luigne Moccu Min, to swim across the river to fetch a dinghy on the other shore.  And, the story goes, an aquatic beast approached the swimmer.  But Columba made the sign of the cross and said: "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once."  At this point the creature stopped as if it had been "pulled back with a rope" and fled.  The swimmer retrieved the boat, and rowed back to St. Columba where Columba's men and the Picts gave thanks for what they perceived as a miracle.

Following the St. Columba account, other than dubious sightings in 1871 and 1888 all was quiet on the Nessie front.  The first modern sightings started in 1933 after the lake shore highway was completed and continued through 1938.  Of course with the new road, came new hotels and restaurants along with increased tourist volume.  And, these new businesses had a vested interest in drumming up business for the area. 

Many of the sightings since the road opened were published in various newspapers.  One account had the animal on land, crossing the road with some sort of animal in its mouth.  The first photo of the creature was taken by Hugh Gray in 1933.  But it was widely discredited as being just a blurry shot of his Labrador retriever fetching a stick. 

Around the same time, the tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail, sponsored a big game hunter from Africa to come over and search for Nessie.  This fellow, with the posh name of Marmaduke Weatherall, set up camp on the shores of Loch Ness with a sizable entourage.  It didn’t take good old Marmaduke long to find footprints of Nessie in the mud on the shore of the loch nearby his camp (what a coincidence).  Plaster casts of the footprints were sent to the Royal Museum in London for scientific analysis.  And, lo and behold the result came back that the prints were made by an elephant foot umbrella stand which were common in hotels and homes at the time.  It is still unknown if the footprints were a prank by locals or an act of desperation by the famous game hunter trying to justify his fee.

In 1934 Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist got 4 photos (only one usable) supposedly showing the creatures head and neck which is now considered the “classic” photo of Nessie.  For the next 60 years believers offer this photo a proof but skeptics point out there is nothing in the photo to provide a reference of scale and many printed versions used a highly cropped rendition of the image causing the ripples to look like waves.  Due to this, the object in the photo has variously been identified as drift wood, an elephant (in Scotland?), and/or an otter or bird.  In 1993 a Discovery Channel documentary team went back and analyzed the original un-cropped images.  They found that all the images had a white object out in front of the “monster” which they said was the source of the ripples and evidence that the “monster” was being towed by a boat just out of the frame.  They also determined that the object being towed was only 2 to 3 feet long.  And thus, the classic proof of Nessie being real became dismissed as another hoax.

Wilson’s 1934 image of Nessie
12 Nessie 1934 image12 Nessie 1934 image

After the 1934 photos, nothing much happened for a few decades.  Then in 1954 a fishing boat crew claimed a sonar reading of something big swimming at a depth of around 480 feet but what it was has never been determined.  Another discredited photo showed up in 1965.  And on it goes.  Every few years someone turns up with a photo, video or sonar reading that “proves” the existence of Nessie – until it is discredited or debunked or at least attributed to an alternate explanation.  There have been studies by documentarians and universities over the years which tend to debunk the hoaxes but never seem to come up with anything resembling credible evidence for the existence of Nessie.

One of the problems in searching is that the water in the loch is filled with sediment and is pitch black below just a couple of feet from the surface.  This has thwarted almost all attempts at sending down cameras, as even with lights the visibility is only a few feet.  However sonar has been a bit more practical but can’t really resolve any detail and a school of minnows can look like a whale on sonar.  But that doesn’t stop them.

In the 1960’s the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau was established to investigate the legend but they disbanded in 1972.  In 1967 a major sonar based search was mounted through the University of Birmingham.  More underwater scanning projects took place in 1972, 1975, 1987, 2001, 2003, and 2008.  In 2018 an international team did a DNA scan looking for evidence of large animals such as sharks, catfish, or sturgeons that might be in the lake – they didn’t find any.

But finally, in July of 2022 we finally got proof of Neisse’s existence.  You’ll be happy to know that I was able to get a good photo of Nessie even though none of the other 200+ people on the boat even saw her (they must have been looking the other way).  And here it is, published for the first time as absolute proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nessie exists.

Proof that Nessie exists
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The Loch Ness Monster legend has even crept into our modern web-verse world where “believers” claim a darkish blob in Apple Maps App is Nessie.  And then Google Street View also got into the act when, in 2015, they spent a week on the loch photographing the lake from both above and below the water.  They then made these images available through a feature of Google Street View called “Google Doodle” which allowed users to peruse the images looking for Nessie.

Of course one should point out that the original Nessie would now be over 100 years old if one assumes that it was at least 10 in 1933 when the first photo appeared and several hundred years old if you go back to St. Columba.

Urquhart Castle

On the tip of a little peninsula that sticks out into Loch Ness are the ruins of a castle called Urquhart Castle, and we made a stop there.  The ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, but forts can be traced back to early medieval times.  Back in the 13th & 14th century’s Urquhart castle played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.  It was subsequently held as a royal castle and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross.  Even after the castle was given to the Grant Clan in 1509, conflict with the MacDonalds continued.

It was thought that building a castle on the tip of peninsula would make it very defensible.  For one thing, from this vantage point you can look all the way up and down the loch for approaching ships eliminating any surprise attack from the water side.  This left only the possibility of a land based attack.  To thwart land side attacks they dug a formidable moat with a draw bridge making the area containing the castle an island.  And the moat would never go dry was it was part of the lake.  Pretty good plan, if only it had worked. 

The problem it turned out was that just beyond the moat the valley land rises at a pretty steep angle.  Not so steep that an army can’t run down the hill but steep enough that you don’t have to go too far up the hill to be able to lob cannon balls down into the middle of the castle as well as hitting the castle exterior walls.  Pretty close to an aerial attack without the need for yet to be invented airplanes.  At the same time, the defenders in the castle had to fire their cannons up at a steep angle to hit the attackers above on the hillside which limited their shooting range.  This resulted in a situation where the cannon balls of the attackers could reach the castle but not the other way around.  And thus, the castle changed hands many times only to be re-attacked and defeated again and again.

Even after several upgrades that didn’t solve the problem, the castle was finally abandoned in 1692 at which time it was partially destroyed on the way out to prevent the Jacobites from being able to use it.  And, of course since that time it has further succumbed to earthquakes and the elements.  But, being right on the popular Loch Ness, it is now one of the most-visited castles in Scotland with over half a million visitors in 2019.

View from “up the hill” with now solid bridge where drawbridge used to be
Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, ScotlandUrquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland

Grant Tower at Northern end of Castle Complex
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Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) : best football headline ever blog Caledonian Canal dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogscotland2022 Inverness Loch Ness Loch Ness Monster Nessie Scotland Scotland Rift Valley Urquhart Castle https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/11/scotland-05 Thu, 24 Nov 2022 01:47:41 GMT
Scotland #04 – Black Isle, Aigas, Beauly https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/10/scotland-04-black-isle-aigas-beauly JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 #04 - Black Isle and Aigas

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

This installment covers the Black Isle, the Aigas Field Center and some more history.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route to Black Isle

02 Map 07-12 Black Isle02 Map 07-12 Black Isle

Rich Farm Land

Today we visited the Black Isle.  First of all it’s not an island at all but a peninsula and second it’s not black.  The theory goes that it got its name from a quirk of topography and weather.  In the winter when pretty much all of Scotland is covered in a white blanket of snow, the weather on the Black Isle is decidedly warmer than is found in the surrounding area and as such it is many times not covered in snow when all the visible area around it are.  So, from a distance it is a dark patch of land in a white winter landscape, and thus was named the Black Isle.

Another theory of why it’s called the Black Isle stems from the rich dark color (or colour if you prefer) of the rich soil.  This soil, along with a bit of a warmer climate than the surrounding area makes it ideal for the growing of crops.  The main annual crops are wheat, oilseed rape, seed potatoes, malting barley and carrots along with Christmas trees. 

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Scots Pine

Even though Scots Pine is native to most of Europe and Asia its common name comes from the forests in the Scottish Highlands.  Although you may be more familiar with this tree as a standard Christmas tree in the US (it can be pruned to many different looks), it is mainly prized as timber for construction.  It is fast growing, adaptable to many different growing conditions, the trunks tend to be straight and in natural forests only the top portion of the trees have branches.

Although most of the original Scots Pine forests have succumbed to centuries of logging for ship building, housing, and fuel one can still find patches of Scots Pine forests throughout the Highlands.  A few of these are old growth patches but most are the result of a massive “re-wilding” project taking place which is trying to return the landscape to its pre “human impact” natural state. 

Patch of Scots Pine on the Black Isle
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North Sea Oil Rigs

One of the big economic booms for the UK in recent times has been petrochemical drilling in the North Sea making the east coast of Scotland the closest land base to support those operations.  As it turns out the Cromarty Firth (bay) on the north east side of the Black Isle is the closest deep water, well sheltered, port for the support of the oil rigs.  As we neared the town of Jemimaville we started seeing dozens of oil rig platforms out in the bay.  Well, it seems that the boom days of North Sea oil have peaked and are in decline.  This in turn has resulted in the decommissioning of many of the rigs.  Once decommissioned, they are towed here to be dismantled. 

Interestingly enough, between the time we visited in July and when I’m writing this (October), the Ukraine war has put an energy squeeze on gas and oil for Europe so maybe they’ll stop dismantling these rigs and start putting them back together.

Oil Rigs being dismantled near Cromarty
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At the Northeast tip of the Black Isle is a little town of under 800 called Cromerty.  To be honest, not much really distinguishes it from any other small Scottish seaside village.  Of course there were a few people of note who either came from there or passed through the place – but none I’d ever heard of.  And, there is the obligatory history of making a living from the sea and hosting nobles from time to time. 

Over time though, the fishing industry has dwindled to practically non existence, support of the North Sea oil drilling is in sharp decline and support of the local farms can only go so far.  So what is a small village to do in order to remain viable?   Well, the answer is arts and tourism.  Over the years this town has become a hub of creative activities including music events, an annual “”Crime and Thrillers” weekend, a “Harp” weekend, an annual film festival, and an annual exhibition of local art and crafts including stone letter carving and silver working.  This seems to be keeping the little village prosperous, and life goes on.

Of course there are old churches, quaint cottages, and picturesque streets as well as odd little stories.  But, no “have to see” sites.

Quaint street in Cromerty
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“Walk-in” row of houses
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And my favorite sign which sums up this little village
Nothing happend sign, Cromarty ScotlandNothing happend sign, Cromarty Scotland

The rusty plaque underneath the green sign says “In 1862, however, James Mackay (aged 4) tragically died when he was struck by one of the iron gates that came away from the pillar”

Rosemarkie and Schooling

The next little town we ventured into was on the north side of the “island” is called Rosemarkie.  Much like Cromerty, it is quite and charming in an historical way.  Our main destination in Rosemarkie was the Groam House Museum.  As you may recall, around the times when the Vikings were settling the western side of Scotland (around 600-800 AD), a lesser known group called the Picts were doing quite will in eastern side. 

The Picts did a lot of large scale stone work, carving intricate designs on large slabs of stone as did many other cultures of the time.  The Groam House Museum has a small but interesting collection of some of these carved monoliths.  It’s not always entirely clear what these carved drawings and designs mean though they seem to tell stories of the power of kings, church and saints.

The upstairs of the museum talks to more recent history.  One of the exhibits I found quite interesting talked about the schools in Rosemarkie.  Today children must be in education from age 5 to 16 and the schools are free of charge.  However prior to 1872, education was neither compulsory nor free.  In 1844 Rosemarkie had two schools, both run by churches.  The term “school” may be a bit misleading as each one was merely just a room in someone’s house.  At that time kids could only attend if they were not required on the farm.  The fees were for 3 month at a time and the cost for a full year was a full week’s wages for a typical farm worker.   Classes were conducted in Gaelic or English depending on the time frame.  

Starting in 1872, school attendance was compulsory up to the age of 13, but the fees were the same as in 1844.  However they doubled when the child turned 10 year old.  But wages gradually increased and the state did contribute to teacher salaries and new school buildings, so it did become more affordable over time.  It wasn’t until 1890 that the fees were eliminated.  In 1901 attendance was required till age 14.

Mosaic of traditional designs outside the Groam Museum
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Downtown Rosemarkie
Rosemarkie, ScotlandRosemarkie, Scotland

The Plough Inn and tavern
The Plough Inn, Rosemarkie, ScotlandThe Plough Inn, Rosemarkie, Scotland

Rosemarkie Cemetery and Church
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The last of our stops on the Black Isle was in the little town of Fortrose.  This is sort of a twin to Rosemarkie and is another quiet little Scottish village.  Actually other than a golf course shared with Rosemarkie and a point from which people try to see bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth, the only thing Fortrose seems to have going for it is a ruined 13th century cathedral. 

Fortrose owes its origins to a decision by Bishop Robert in the 13th century to build a new “Cathedral of Ross”.  This was to replace the Church of St Peter in nearby Rosemarkie.  The cathedral was largely demolished in the mid-seventeenth century by Oliver Cromwell to provide building materials for a citadel at Inverness.  The only parts that remain are the vaulted south aisle, with bell-tower, and a detached chapter house which was used as the tollbooth of Fortrose after the Reformation.

And, other than a 3 day visit by Mary Queen of Scots and her court in 1564, that’s all there is to Fortrose.

What’s left of the Fortrose Cathedral
Fortrose Cathedral, Fortrose, ScotlandFortrose Cathedral, Fortrose, Scotland

And, that’s it for the Black Isle.

A bit of Scottish History part 4 – The Clearances

But, before we move on to our next day’s travels, let’s have a bit more Scottish History.  So far we’ve talked about:

124 AD – Roman’s advance up to the border of the Highlands, but were never successful in getting much further and then they left the British Isles

800 AD - Vikings began migrating from Norway and Denmark to trade and settle in Western Scotland.  Around the same time the Picts were doing well in Eastern Scotland.

1040-1057 AD – King Macbeth rules Scotland

1280’s – The unfortunate demise of King Alexander’s Royal family and the taking over of Scotland by King Edward of England which launched the first Scottish war of Independence.

1371 – 1714 – House of Stuart ruled Scotland (except for 1649-1660).  They ruled England from 1603 to 1714 (except for 1649-1660)

1745-1746 – Jacobite Rebellion ending with the Battle of Culloden

As we are talking in this edition about the Black Isle, this would be a good time to get into the Highland Clearances as the Black Isle was one of the first places to be “cleared”.  What we’re talking about is the removal of the “Gaels” from their land.  Much like how we in the US removed the indigenous peoples we found here from their lands. 

Of course such occurrences throughout history do not happen spontaneously in a vacuum.  They are the result of powerful and well connected people working through the government to institute laws and policies aimed at furthering their interests.  And so it was with the Gaels of the Highlands. 

Up to this point, the highland Gaels eked out a living on small farms with poor soil.  These tiny farms existed under the Clan system which had been in place for hundreds of years. Each “Clan” was ruled by one family one of whom was the clan chief.  The kinsfolk and others who made up the clan lived together in agricultural townships that functioned like collectives or joint-tenancy farms. The land was controlled by the chief but leased from him by tenant farmers, who in turn employed cottars (we got the term “cottage” from their homes) to help cultivate it.  Under this system there was an understood obligation of its members to take up arms at the command of the clan chief.  Of course that was not all bad as those fighting men shared the plunder gained from raiding neighboring clans.  In fact many of the surnames we find around the world today come from these clans such as Anderson, Campbell, MacDonald, MacLeod, Sinclair, Mackintosh, Mackinzie, Douglas, and MacLean to name a few.

Thousands of these Clan fighters were killed in the Battle of Culloden (1746) which we talked about last time, and in the subsequent months, some 1,000 Highlanders were hunted and killed by the English, wiping out whole Highland clans or forcing them to flee.

Shortly after Culloden, the British government imposed restrictions stripping power from the clan chiefs and the Gaelic culture it was based on.  Among other things they banned clan tartans (plaid textile designs) as well as bagpipe music. The government also authorized outsiders to seize much of the land in the Highlands for almost no payment. The new landlords were set on replicating capitalist, and profitable, agriculture models employed in the Lowlands and this did not include small family farms.

The Highland Clearances came in two waves.  The first wave (1810-1820) occurred when “they” decided that large sheep (or cattle) operations were better suited to the land than small single family farms.  So, they “cleared” out the tenant farmers, burned down their houses, knocked down their stone walls and made large grazing tracts.  The displaced farmers were sent to coastal crofts (small tenant farms), frequently on only marginally cultivable land.  To make ends meet they were forced to subsist by collecting and smelting kelp (a source of potash and iodine) or by fishing which they had no idea how to do. 

By the 1840’s a second wave occurred when the bottom had fallen out of the kelp and smelting businesses and there was a potato famine raging that included Scotland as well as Ireland.  Seeing as how these crofter’s had no legal rights to the land and were considered lowlife and a burden on society anyway, it was short order to round them up and ship them off to factory jobs in the lowlands or out of the country altogether – spreading their clan names across the globe.  Once all the damage had been done and they were rid of these people they set up a commission to investigate how this could have happened and later passed laws against it.  Any of this sound familiar?

Aigas Field Center

The day after our Black Isle day we headed south from our base in Strathpeffer to the Aigas Field Center. 

Map of our day to the Aigas Field Center and Beauly
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Aigas in Scottish Gaelic means "Place of the Gap" and there is a small hamlet here on the bank of the River Beauly.  We never actually made it to the town but rather spent the best part of the day at the Aigas Field Center a bit out of town.

The Aigas Field center is centered on the “House of Aigas” which was originally built as a tacksman's house sometime around 1760.  In the 1870s it was sold to a wealthy family of Glaswegian shipping merchants, and used as a hunting lodge.  During the Victorian era many additions were made to the house.  And in the 1880’s a small arboretum was installed and trees such as Giant Sequoia, Nootka Cypress, and Western Red Cedar were planted in the gardens.  The house was again sold in the 1950s, becoming a council-run old folks' home before being abandoned in 1971.

In 1976 Sir John Lister-Kaye bought the estate after finding it on the verge of being demolished.  Sir John is a celebrated English author and conservationist and has lived in and run the estate since then, providing many much-needed renovations and expansions. Under his direction the Aigas Estate has become an important conservation centre known as the Aigas Field Centre (www.https://www.aigas.co.uk/).  The centre runs environmental education services, nature-based holidays, and a Scottish wildcat breeding program.  Aigas has also been home to a family of Eurasian beavers since 2006.

Sir John is a real character and story teller.   He was born into an established family of landowners, politicians and merchants in the quarrying and mining industry.  But he was sort of the family rebel and did not go along with the program of following in his dad’s footsteps.  

From an early age he was fascinated with natural history which his family hoped was just a passing phase.  But his family’s wishes didn’t pan out.  In 1959, at the age of 13, his parents sent him to the Allhallows School, near Lyme Regis in Devon.  This school happened to be situated within an 800-acre national nature reserve and near the wilderness of the Lyme Regis landslip. After five years boarding there he was fully committed to environmentalism.

Once out of school in 1964, his family more or less forced him into accepting a management trainee position in a steel mill but to no one’s great surprise he didn’t take to it.  The defining moment came in 1967 when the supertanker Torrey Canyon sank near the Isles of Scilly causing an ecological disaster.  At this point he decided to have nothing more to do with the industrial world bent on profit over environment and quite his job at the steel mill.

Shortly thereafter, in 1968, he gained an invitation from the well known naturalist Gavin Maxell to move up to the Scottish Highlands to help him work on a book about British wild mammals and to assist with a project to build a private zoo.  But Maxell died that same year putting an end to the book and the zoo.  But Sir John remained in Scotland and wrote his own book about his short time working with Maxwell.  This book (The White Island) was a hit and has remained in print for over 30 years.  The success of his book prompted him to form Highland Wildlife Enterprises, a natural history guiding service based, near Loch Ness.  And, a couple of years later established a Field Center nearby. 

To accommodate the need of more space for his field center as well as his growing family he persuaded the Inverness-shire County Council to sell him the remains of the Victorian sporting estate near Beauly called Aigas.  And, in 1977, the Aigas Field Centre was opened.  Over the years Sir John and his family have completely restored the original house, added several new sections, built cottages for guests, and established a botanical park style garden around the house.  He has since gone on to write several other books. 

Aigas Field Center main House
Aigas Field Center, Aiges, ScotlandAigas Field Center, Aiges, Scotland

Sir Sir John Lister-Kaye
Sir John Lister-Kaye, Aigas Field Center, Aiges, ScotlandSir John Lister-Kaye, Aigas Field Center, Aiges, Scotland

Main room in the house now used as the dining room for guests and program participants
Aigas Field Center, Aiges, ScotlandAigas Field Center, Aiges, Scotland

Sitting room
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A bit of Scottish History part 5 – The Glorias Revolution

When King Charles II, king of Scotland, England, and Ireland, died in 1685 the Crown passed to his younger brother King James II (known as King James VI in Scotland).  This was at a time when relations between Catholics and Protestants were tense and there was considerable friction between the monarchy and the British Parliament.  This posed a problem as James was Catholic and married to a Catholic. 

James didn’t help this situation as he proceeded to appointed Catholic officers to the army, removed anti Catholic laws, established freedom of worship for Catholics, cozied up to Catholic France, and tried to dissolve parliament and form a new one full of members who supported him. 

Over the years, James’ wife had many pregnancies but of those that didn’t miscarry, none survived more than a few days.  So it was pretty unlikely that James would have a male heir in which case the crown would pass to his protestant daughter (from a previous marriage), Mary, and they’d not have to deal with those Catholics anymore.  So they just let it slide. 

But then to everyone’s astonishment, James’ wife had a son who, as a male, jumped ahead of Mary in the line of succession.  But did he really have a new son?  After all this son was preceded by a long list of previous miscarriages, still births, and short lived infants.  So now the appearance of a robust healthy boy was somewhat suspect.  A theory developed that that a live newborn from another mother had been smuggled into Mary’s bed in a warming pan to replace her own stillborn child and this surrogate was presented as the male heir to the throne.

Now they worried that a dynasty of Catholic kings and queens would be coming along and that could not be tolerated.  In order help get rid of James (and his new heir) they enlisted the help of William III of Orange to mount an attack.  William was the de facto ruler of Dutch Republic and was also the nephew of King James as well as the husband of his daughter Mary who had been the heir to the throne before this new son appeared.  Not only was James betrayed by his family, many of his officers and trusted parliament members also turned against him as well and the icing on the cake was that his health was failing,  But even though he tried to make amends, he was forced to flee to France where he eventually died. 

A newly formed “free” parliament decided to a joint Monarchy with William as King and Mary as Queen putting the Catholic threat behind them.  In the process parliament imposed further restrictions on the power of the Crown giving parliament the upper hand in the balance of power.  Shortly thereafter William and Mary signed the Bill of Rights drafted by Parliament.  This document established the right for regular Parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. Additionally, just to be sure, it forbade the monarch from ever being Catholic or being married to a Catholic and that is still in place today.  Many historians believe the Bill of Rights was the first step toward a constitutional monarchy. 

Legislation was also put in place that required a Sr. Member of Parliament (usually the Interior Minister) to be present in the room whenever there was a royal birth to assure that infants came from the mother and were not smuggled in.  This practice remained in place until 1948 with the birth of Prince Charles (who just became the King) when then Princess Elizabeth refused to allow spectators as she gave birth.

Beauly Priory

On the way back from the Aigas Field center we passed through the town of Beauly and as we had a bit of time we stopped in Beauly.  Beauly is yet another small village in the Highlands.  About the only thing of note is that as a teen ager Mary (later Queen of Scots) liked to visit Beauly and stay there from time to time. 

But, there is an old ruin of the Beauly Priory.  As ruins of churches, cathedrals, Abbey’s and the like go, this one is not remarkable.  It is modest in size and there is an ancient grave yard out front.  The walls of the main building are intact and in good condition but the roof is long gone. 

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Beauly Priory, Beauly ScotlandBeauly Priory, Beauly Scotland

However, there was one interesting thing concerning a widow.  Now a wife or widow can go by many names such as my better half, the wife, spouse or partner among others.  But this plaque refers to the widow of Alexander Chisholm as his relic.  Apparently this terminology comes from old French (relict) and means “(woman) left behind”.  Never heard that before.

And he left behind Elizabeth Wilson, his relict
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As we were being driven around in the bus we kept seeing these strange road signs telling you which way to turn for NC500.  So, we asked about it.  The NC500 (North Coast 500) is a marked loop route around northern portion of Scotland similar to Ireland’s “Ring of Kerry” or the “Ring Road” in Iceland.  Its intention is to bring more tourist traffic to the area. 

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NC500 route
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Well, it seems that governments are the same all over and Scotland is no different.  In 2015 the NC500 (North Coast 500) was created by the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative (NHI) to attract more visitors and is for the most part thought to have been a good idea.  However, the agency that put it together, got it funded, advertised it and put up all the road signs in order to attract more traffic to the route forgot that it would attract more traffic to the route. 

The good news is that it worked and folks flocked to the route in all sorts of vehicles.  The bad news is that there was no infrastructure improvements in the plan to accommodate all those new visitors.  At places roads are too narrow to allow bi-directional traffic, there was little or no parking at popular (advertised) view spots causing people to park on the already too narrow roads, restroom facilities designed for a couple dozen visitors a day over flowed with the now hundreds of visitors a day, hotels and motels quickly sold out leaving people to sleep in their cars and restaurants were too few and too scattered to serve the number of hungry people looking for something to eat.  So, all in all a great success, unless you lived along the route and couldn’t get out of your driveway.  But, there is now a new project underway to upgrade the infrastructure needed to support the increased number of visitors – and hopefully the funding will not be taken away due to recent UK economic woes.

Weird Traffic Control

As Scotland is part of the UK, you drive on the left side of the road which is fine (unless you have to do it yourself).  But I noticed these strange little slalom things as we traveled around in the bus.  They seem to be for the purpose of slowing traffic down in residential zones but what a way to do it.  As you’re driving along, these diverters force you through a one lane “narrows” and that same one lane is also used by traffic coming the other way.  So you have traffic going in opposite directions at the same time on the same one lane patch of road.  Brilliant!

Fortunately (unless the paint is worn off or covered in snow) one direction has a “yield” triangle painted on the pavement (but no sign) so at least you know who is to blame if two cars meet nose to nose.

Meeting on-coming traffic
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I wonder how well this would work in, say, New York City or Boston?  But I do suppose it would be fun to watch.




This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


Photographs from Scotland can be found on my website here:


Check my travel blogs for other trips here:



Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) aigas field center black isle blog cromerty dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogscotland2022 fortrose glorias revolution nc500 north coast 500 rosemarkie s sir john lister-kaye scotland scots pine the clearances https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/10/scotland-04-black-isle-aigas-beauly Sat, 22 Oct 2022 19:37:50 GMT
Scotland #03 – Culloden & Cawdor https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/9/scotland-03-culloden-cawdor JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #03 Culloden and Cawdor

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

This installment covers our first day (of 4) while staying at the Ben Wyvis hotel in Strathpeffer and includes the Jacobite Rebellion, Culloden Battlefield and Cawdor Castle along with some more history.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route this day
02 Map 07-11 Culloden & Cawdor02 Map 07-11 Culloden & Cawdor

Ben Wyvis Hotel in Strathpeffer
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A bit of Scottish History part 2 – Vikings & Macbeth

For logistical reasons, our bus tour was not able to visit sites in their historical order which makes following along quite a challenge.  But, I’ll try to keep a chronology list of the portions we’ve covered in our mini history lessons so far.  In previous installments we talked about:

124 AD – Roman’s advance up to the border of the Highlands, but they were never successful in getting much further and then they left the British Isles

1280’s – The unfortunate demise of King Alexander’s Royal family and the taking over of Scotland by King Edward of England which launched the first Scottish war of Independence.

In addition to the above, here are a few things that happened between these two events.

Ever hear of the “Vikings”?  Well the Roman’s never really made any headway defeating the Caledonians in Scotland and eventually they withdrew from the British Isles.  But around 800 AD the Vikings came along.  They were pretty good seamen by this point in history and they began migrating from Norway and Denmark.  One of the first places they landed to trade and settle was just across the North Sea in what is now the west side of Scotland.  Around the same time, the Picts were forging a new kingdom on the eastern side called the Kingdom of Alba.  But eventually the Vikings left and life just plodded along.

You might also recognize the name Macbeth.  Even though Shakespeare’s play was loosely based on fact – very loosely - King Macbeth of Scotland did exist and he was the King of Alba from 1040 to 1057.  But again in the grander scheme of things nothing significant took place under Macbeth’s reign, including pretty much anything Shakespeare may have told us.

A bit of Scottish History part 3 - House of Stuart

We’ll catch up on other events as we go, but as our next stop was the Culloden Battlefield we’ll skip ahead to that time frame (1740’s).  But first we need to set the stage for this battle and to do that we need to back track and talk about the house of Stewart.  Sorry if this is a bit long, but it’s a bit complicated

The name Stewart (later changed to Stuart) stems from a traditional custom of people names being a given name to which is attached their occupation or title.  Occupations usually followed the given name, for example Bob Smith (“Smith” for blacksmiths) or James Cooper (“Cooper” for barrel makers) but titles usually preceded the given name, for example Queen Elizabeth. 

The House of Stuart name stems from a fellow named Walter fitz Alan (c. 1150) who was the “High Steward of Scotland”.  The High Steward was sort of a combination of Secretary of State, Chief of Staff, and to some extent military advisor.  This Walter fellow was the first to have this role when King David appointed him in the 12th century at which point he became Steward Walter.  The role was subsequently given to Walter’s son, and then to Walter’s grandson, and so on for several generations during which the original surname “Steward” morphed into “Stewart”.  Along the way what had been a role appointed by the King changed into an inherited role and thus was born the “House of Stewart”.  At some point one branch of this family spent a few generations in France and adopted the French spelling “Stuart” which came back with them from France when they returned to Scotland.

Eventually the 6th High Steward of Scotland married Marjorie, the daughter of King Robert I.  When King Robert died around 1371, their son became king and took the name King Robert II and that’s when the royal lineage switched over to the House of Stewart (or Stuart). Starting in 1603 they also ruled England with the same person being king or queen of both.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Well, except for the period of 1649-1660, the House of Stuart ruled England and Scotland all the way up to 1714 when Queen Anne died.  But when Anne died there were no further descendents in the house of Stuart so under the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement, Anne was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover making Anne the last Stuart to rule.

But folks in Scotland and Ireland had another idea.  They were adamant that the throne be given to Anne's exiled half-brother, James who would normally be considered the next in line and which would have kept the throne in the House of Stuart.  The problem was that under the Act of Settlement, Roman Catholics could not ascend to the throne and James was a Roman Catholic.  And, of course as we’re talking about who would be king, neither side was in a mood to give in.

After raising a small army, in 1742 James’s son Charles Edward came back to Scotland to reclaim the throne for his father and the House of Stuart.  Unfortunately his small army consisted of only 7 men.  But, he was a bit of a schmoozer and was able to convince several of the Scottish leaders to support him and by 1745 a full blown rebellion was underway.  This rebellion came to be known as the Jacobite Rebellion as well as the Forty-Five Rebellion.  This Jacobite army met with quite a bit of success and after capturing Edinburgh James was proclaimed king with Charles his Regent.  This success attracted many more Scots to the cause and the fight continued. 

Plans were drawn up to invade England and to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne as well as the Scottish throne.  But these plans were only agreed to after being assured by the French that at the same time the French would invade England from the south and that there would be a large number of sympathetic English who would join the cause. 

With these assurances, the Jacobite army invaded England and once again met with success.   They captured Carlisle and continued south through Preston and Manchester and on to Derby.  But, there was no sign of a French landing or any significant number of English recruits.  So, the Jacobites risked being caught between two English armies, each one twice their size and they decided to retreat back to the north.

Apart from a skirmish at Clifton Moor, the Jacobite army evaded pursuit and crossed back into what is now Scotland.  Having succeeded in invading and returning from England was a considerable military achievement, morale was high and the Jacobite strength increased to over 8,000.  With the help of French weapons, various battles continued.  But due to a Royal Navy blockade shortages of both money and food were happening throughout the country.   So, it came down to one last all or nothing battle to reinstate the House of Stuart - and a Catholic - to the throne.  And this brings us to our next stop – the Culloden Battlefield.

Culloden Battlefield

The battle at Culloden took place in 1746 (30 years before The US’s Declaration of Independence).  It was the final battle of the Jacobites against the British and the last battle fought on what was then British ground.  It was also the last battle of the last war for independence. 

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Battles then were conducted differenlty then than by today’s standards.  One army would line up shoulder to shoulder along one side of an open field and the other army would line up on the opposite side of the field.  After flinging some cannon balls back and forth for awhile and perhaps a barrage of arrows as well, one army would charge the other at which point the 2nd army would charge back and there would be bloody hand to hand combat where they met in the middle with swords and knives. 

For this battle the Jacobite army was led by Charles Edward (“The Young Pretender” also known as “Bonny Prince Charles”) and the English army was led by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (known as just Cumberland). 

The highland Jacobite army had attempted a surprise night attack on Cumberland the night before but they were delayed getting there by men straggling in the search for food and never quite reached Cumberland’s camp by daybreak. So, they retreated to a field five miles east of Inverness, Culloden Moor, to await Cumberland.

Let me pause here to explain that Charles Edward had no real military training even though he had led some successful battles.  On the other hand Cumberland was well versed in military combat and quite adept at military tactics.   Through experience gained in recent battles with the Jacobite army, Cumberland knew how they liked to operate.  Their predictable mode of operation was a scary charge at the enemy lines with lots of noise and chaos which tended to rattle their opponents.  Cumberland trained his men to be prepared for this and not let it rattle them.  He also realized that the Highlanders would have a heavy shield held in front of them in their left hand while brandishing a heavy sword overhead with their right hand.  So he trained his men to ignore the attacker right in front of them and instead to thrust their sword into the exposed ribs of the attacker one position to their right whose shield was on the opposite side and whose near arm was raised with the sword.  This proved very effective.

So, getting back to the battle, the battlefield itself was not a good choice for the Jacobites.  It was quite rough ground and hard to run on, it afforded a clear field of fire to Cumberland’s superior artillery, was quite boggy at one end and had several stone walls criss-crossing it where the land was dry on the other end.  Also, the two opposing lines were not parallel to each other meaning that troops charging at one end of the line had a much longer way to go than those at the other end. These elements were not conducive to the battle style and plans of the Highlanders. 

Now, add that Cumberland’s army was well rested, well fed, and quite a bit larger than the Jacobite army. 

On the English side, Cumberland had things well under control.  First he shelled the highlanders with cannon fire for nearly half an hour without effective reply before the Highlanders had enough and decided to charge.  But, the order to attack passed slowly through the chaotic chain of command.  Due to this, different sections of the charge were ahead of or behind other sections leaving gaps between the divisions.  This was in addition to the poor soldiers at the bog end of the battlefield basically stuck in the mud and hardly advancing at all and those at the other end slowed down by those stone walls.

On the left, the MacDonald’s (in the bog)  never reached the British line at all.  But the large highland regiment on the right, Clan Chattan, eventually got to Cumberland’s line but after charging over 350 yards through rough terrain with bad footing and having to climb over stone walls along the way, they were exhausted and were repulsed after fierce hand-to-hand combat.  Only a few highlanders were able to break Cumberland’s first line but were thrashed when they hit Cumberland’s second line.

At this point Cumberland’s cavalry began to work their way around the highlanders’ flanks, converting defeat into a rout. The Highlands fled and Cumberland’s pursuit extended all the way to Inverness. The actual fighting had lasted about 40 minutes.

Explaining the battlefield
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Highlanders were in divisions by Clan commanded by the Clan Chief.
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Culloden Battlefield Memorial
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Culloden Battlefield Memorial, Plaque
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Leanach Cottage on the battlefield
Old Leanach CottageOld Leanach Cottage

Where did you say you parked the trailer?  (food truck at Visitor Center)
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Cawdor Castle

During the 1900s, more than 1,000 country castles and palace’s were abandoned or torn down as they became too expensive to maintain.  The peak of this was in the 1950’s when over 400 were lost.  However since that time the numbers have been decreasing as rather than giving up historic family homes, many estate owners have opened portions of their “castles” to the public as a way to generate enough income to keep up with the never ending maintenance.

Most of these homes were built in the 17th and 18th centuries as manor houses at the heart of an agricultural estate.  In the past, owners made money from renting land to tenant farmers, as well as investing in commercial enterprises to fund a country house and way of life.  These large estates provided employment for hundreds of people and supported providers of food, fuel and services. 

But this economic model ceased to be viable after World War II.  What with a couple of wars, a depression or two , new taxes including inheritance taxes, and famers no longer willing to put up with a near starvation existence as tenant farmers, the economic equation just didn’t add up anymore.  There were almost 5,000 such estates at their mid 19th century peak, but that number is down to about 3,000 today.

Salvation came in 1976 in the form of the Finance Act.  This legislation gave owners an exemption from inheritance tax in return for a commitment to open their houses to the public.  In short order, many hundreds of houses were saved.  The first of these we visited is called Cawdor Castle.

Cawdor Castle is built around a 15th-century tower house, with substantial additions in later years.  Originally a property of the Calder family, it passed to the Campbell’s in the 16th century. It remains in Campbell ownership, and is now home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor.

The castle is perhaps best known for its literary connection to William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth, in which the title character is made "Thane of Cawdor".  However, the story is highly fictionalized, and the castle itself, which is never directly referred to in Macbeth, was built many years after the life of the 11th-century King Macbeth.

One curious feature of this castle is that it was built around a small, living holly tree. Tradition states that a donkey, laden with gold, lay down to rest under this tree, which was then selected as the site of the castle. The remains of the tree may still be seen in the lowest level of the tower.

As is the case with most of these open to the public estates the main parts are set aside for the public and a much smaller section is used by the owner.  Many times the portion used by the owner had at one time been where the servants and staff had lived and worked – albeit with much remodeling and upgrades since that time.

Entrance drive into Cawdor Castle
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Exterior of Cawdor Castle
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Cawdor Crest
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The living room – pretty much how the Cawdor’s had it set up when they used this section
Sitting Room, Cawdor CastleSitting Room, Cawdor Castle

The kitchen
Kitchen, Cawdor CastleKitchen, Cawdor Castle

Part of a formal garden
Gardens, Cawdor Castle 01Gardens, Cawdor Castle 01

Flower Garden
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Interesting pruning of some tall bushes
Gardens, Cawdor Castle 02Gardens, Cawdor Castle 02

Flowers adorn old tree
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We’ll visit a few more non Royal castles later on in this trip.

And, I think that's where I'll end installment 3. 



This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


Photographs from Scotland can be found on my website here:


Check my travel blogs for other trips here:



Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Battle of Culloden Blog dan hartford photo DanTravelBlog dantravelblogscotland2022 Forty-Five Rebellion House of Stewart House of Stuart Jacobite Rebellion Jacobites Scotland Viking in Scotland https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/9/scotland-03-culloden-cawdor Sun, 18 Sep 2022 01:15:12 GMT
Scotland #02 – Edinburgh to Strathpeffer https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/9/scotland-02-edinburgh-to-strathpeffer JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #02 Edinburgh to Strathpeffer

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

This installment covers our journey from Edinburgh to the village of Strathpeffer a bit north west of Inverness where we spent a few days at the Ben Wyvis Hotel. 

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our route from Edinburgh to Strathpeffer
02 Map 07-10 Edinburgh to Strathpfeffer02 Map 07-10 Edinburgh to Strathpfeffer

This was one of 3 longer bus days of our tour.  We’ve been on some trips where a long bus day was 7 or 8 driving hours but this was no where near that.  According to Google Maps the straight through driving time from Edinburgh to our hotel in the tiny village of Strathpeffer is 3.5 hours so not really that bad considering that we made several stops along the way.

After leaving Edinburgh our tour headed north up the A90 motorway, stopping at various locations along the way. 


Our destination this day was Strathpeffer.  No, I’d never heard of it either but apparently it was quite the rage in the Victorian era.  After the discovery of some nearby sulfur hot springs in the area, Strathpeffer became a very popular resort destination.  People from all over the UK as well as Europe flocked to the spas in response to assurances that “taking the waters” would cure any number of ailments including gout, arthritis, and heart disease among others.  To support the more and more tourists who flocked to the area for a typical 6 week “cure”, large hotels were built as well as a new hospital.  In 1880 a pavilion was erected to provide a venue for entertainment.  By 1862 a railway line to nearby Dingwall was completed and in 1865 a rail line from Dingwall to Strathpeffer was opened.  Even though most of the facilities were taken over by the military in both world wars, the spa pressed on.  But then in 1942 the hospital burned down and by the end of the century the Strathpeffer pavilion fell into disuse and was abandoned (but has since been restored as a new venue for the arts, weddings and other functions).  However, even though the spa is no longer in use, a few of the grand old hotels are still in business – and one of those is the Ben Wyvis, where we stayed.

Ben Wyvis Hotel, Strathpeffer
19 Ben Wyvis Hotel19 Ben Wyvis Hotel
(photo from hotel web site)

Forth Bridges

Our first stop after getting through the Edinburgh suburbs was at Queensferry to see some bridges.  This is a narrow (a bit over 1 mile) section of the poetically named Firth of Forth.  A “firth” in Scotland is a small inlet of water, many times an estuary, but sometimes the word is used for other bodies of water.  On the north side of this firth is the town of Jamestown in the council district (i.e. County) of Fife; and to the south is the town of Queensferry in the council district of West Lothian.  This estuary, to the south of Fife, is fed by the river Forth and is called the Firth of Forth.  Are you following this?  

There are three bridges at Queensferry over the Firth of Forth collectively called the “Forth Bridges”.  The first bridge is the Forth Bridge which is a cantilever railroad bridge built in 1890. It is considered as a symbol of Scotland, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The second bride is a highway suspension bridge; creatively named the Forth Road Bridge.  This bridge was opened in 1964 with a span of 3300 feet between its two towers.  At that time the span of the Forth Road Bridge was (fittingly) the fourth longest in the world and the longest outside of the United States.  And lastly, the third Forth Bridge is the Queensferry Crossing which opened in 2017.  This is a stunning cable-stay bridge using a three tower design and is the longest such structure in the world.

Forth Bridge
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Queensferry Crossing- 01
Queensferry Crossing Bridge, Scotland 02Queensferry Crossing Bridge, Scotland 02

Queensferry Crossing – 02 (from Forth Road Bridge)
Queensferry Crossing Bridge, Scotland 03Queensferry Crossing Bridge, Scotland 03


After leaving Queensferry, we continued north on the A90 but transitioned to the A9 at Perth and continued north to Dunkeld.  Dunkeld is a small village on the banks of the River Tay.  This town is considered as being on the boundary between the Scottish Lowlands and the Scottish Highlands and is commonly considered (and labeled) “The gateway to the Scottish Highlands.”

Like many such villages it sprang up where a main road, in this case the main road into the highlands, hit a river that had to be forded.  This many times resulted in a medieval traffic jam so to speak when the river was too high or the shallow section too crowded.  This in turn encouraged the building of inn’s, bar’s and stores to cater to the folks stuck at the ford.  Of course, later a ferry was put in which further slowed down traffic but at least you could now stay dry as you crossed – or as dry as is possible in rainy Scotland  And, then in due course, a bridge replaced the ferry. 

The current bridge was built by Thomas Telford and financed by the 4th Duke of Atholl.  It was originally budgeted to cost 15,000 pounds but wound up costing 40,000.  Well, the Duke was not amused by the cost overrun and to recoup some of that cost he set up a toll on the bridge.  But, the toll didn’t sit well with the residents of the town and even though the citizens were considered to be a dutiful, law abiding, sensible and respectable set of folks, in 1868 they rioted forcoing the Duke to abolishe the tolls.  This bridge was completed in 1809 making it over 200 years old as our guide mentioned as our bus headed toward the bridge.  Wait, how heavy is a tour bus?  Apparently a large tour bus is not too heavy for the 200+ year old bridge as we passed over it, twice, with no problem, no toll, and no riot.

Dunkeld is a sleepy little place that according to Wikipedia is considered to be a remarkably well-preserved example of a Scottish burgh of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  Apparently around 20 of the houses in Dunkeld have been restored by the National Trust for Scotland. 

Dunkeld main drag (Cathedral Street)
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We didn’t spend a lot of time here but did do a bit of a walking tour to a couple of interesting places.  The first was a quaint little square with the “Atholl Memorial Fountain” in the middle.  This monument was financed by public subscription and built in 1866 to honor George Augustus Frederick John, 6th Duke of Atholl.  The Duke’s claim to fame – and to the fountain – is that he brought piped water to the town relieving the locals from having to fetch water in a bucket from the river.  I guess a water fountain is a fitting tribute – especially if you were the family member charged with fetching the water each day.

Atholl fountain
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Near the fountain was one of those classic red British phone booths with a faded banner across the top reading “Leif Phone”.  So I would guess it was requisitioned at some point from Leif (the waterfront area of Edinburgh).  Of course it is now non functional and instead looks like it is being used as a storage locker for someone.

Classic Phone booth – now personal storage locker
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We then moved on to the main Dunkeld attraction which is the Cathedral that is still in use (Church of Scotland denomination), albeit now just a church as no Bishop resides there.  The construction of the cathedral was started in 1260 and completed in 1501, 240 years later.  It was built on the former site of the Culdee Monastery of Dunkeld and many of the building stones from the monastery were used for the cathedral.  Most of that original cathedral is now a ruin except for one end which has been kept up and is currently the ongoing church.  Even though we were in Dunkeld on a late Sunday morning, they were gracious enough to let us in to tour the inside of their church even as the parishioners were filling the pews for services.  It was quite a nice little church and one could still see the original walls of the cathedral.

Dunkeld Cathedral (ruined portion on right, currently in use part at left)
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Interior of Dunkeld Cathedral
Dunkeld Cathedral, ScotlandDunkeld Cathedral, Scotland


Open space park area in front of Dunkeld Cathedral
Dunkeld Cathedral Grounds, ScotlandDunkeld Cathedral Grounds, Scotland

Climbing into the Scottish Highlands

The Scottish Highlands cover the entire Northwest half of Scotland.  However, as the highest peaks in the Highlands are just over a whopping 4,000 feet, the term “Highlands” rings a bit hollow to folks living near mountain ranges that top 12,000 feet like the Alps, Himalayas, Rockies and Sierra’s.  But, compared to the rest of the area, this area sports some of the tallest peaks in the British Isles. 

There is no definitive boundary separating the Highlands from the Lowlands as each map you look at shows it differently.  But, there is general consensus that the line is north of Dunkeld (which is north of Perth) and north of Sterling but just how far north of those cities is not consistent.

Moving into the highlands where the hills start to rise (Pitlochry)
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Dirt road leading up into the mountains to off the beaten track farms and communities (Dalwhinnie Area)
Dalwhinnie Area, ScotlandDalwhinnie Area, Scotland

The Highlands are quite different than the lowlands in many aspects beyond the mountainous topography.  Throughout history the Highlands might well have been considered as a separate country altogether.  Folks from the lowlands have historically feared the Highlanders as a bunch of uncivilized savage warriors with no morals whose only purpose in life is to rape and pillage.  This was fine with the Highlanders as this wide spread fear kept Lowlanders from venturing into the Highlands at all, let alone with an eye for taking over some of their land.  In essence the Highlanders just wanted to be left alone and were not at all interested in interacting with people outside the Highlands.

The Highlanders were quite happy living in isolation from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.  But, of course, if you don’t pay attention to other countries (empires), they’ll pay attention to you.  Around the first century AD, the Roman’s were making quite a name for themselves by conquering most of the known world and this included the islands now known as the British Isles.  They started on the south coast of England and crept north subjugating everyone they came across and by 0120 AD had pretty much all of what is now England and Wales up to the current Scottish border under their control.  The area north of this was called Caledonia and in order to protect themselves from raids from the Caledonian’s the Romans built the 73 mile long Hadrian’s Wall along what is for the most part the current border between Scotland and England.  But the roams wanted more and twenty years later they built another wall further north called the Antonine Wall which is roughly at the border between the Scottish Lowlands the Scottish Highlands.  I guess the more peaceable Lowlanders were fair game, but taking on those war like and fearsome Highlanders in the mountains was another matter altogether.  So, the Roman’s built a wall to protect themselves from those Highlanders.  The 39 mile long 2nd wall was a dirt and stone affair and marked the northern most extent of the Roman Empire.  Even though this wall was 10 feet tall and 16 feet wide it probably had a wooden fence on top.  But, just to be sure, they also dug deep ditch on the northern side.

Scotch Whisky

No matter where you go in Scotland, one unifying feature is whisky, or more precisely Scotch Whisky.  As of 2020 there were 134 distilleries operating in Scotland.  It is most likely that whisky was introduced to Scotland from Ireland as there is evidence of Irish Whiskey dating back to 1405, which is nearly 100 years before it shows up in any Scottish context. 

Originally Scotch was made from malted barley but commercial distilleries started switching over to wheat and rye in the late 18th century.  Even though Scotch has been around for centuries the first known written mention of it is from a 1494 document where the Exchequer recorded that 8 bolls of malt had been given to Friar John Cor for the purpose of making “aqua vitae” (scotch) the prior year.  It should be noted that “aqua vitae” is Latin for “water of life”.  Eight bolls is enough to make around 1,500 bottles worth of scotch which implies that the Scotch making business was well established by that time.

All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels and the youngest whisky used in a batch must be aged at least three years.  If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whisky in the blend.  A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed-age whisky. A whisky without an age statement is known as a no age statement (NAS) whisky, the only guarantee being that all whisky contained in that bottle is at least three years old.

In the highlands (up to the 1820’s) Scotch was produced by a mix of legal and illegal operations.  Most of the legal distilleries were owned by the wealthy land owners (duh) who also happened to be the Highland Magistrates.  But, they turned a blind eye to the bootleg operations as most of those operations were conducted by their tenant farmers and the bootleg income was used to pay them rent.  So, either way, they got the profits. 

Starting in 1823 parliament started making changes that relaxed the requirements for legal distilleries while clamping down on the illegal ones.  But one of the main things that boosted the popularity of Scotch was a shortage of wine, brandy, and cognac in France in the 1870’s and 1880’s.  This was caused by an infestation of the phylloxera bug which destroyed many of the vines.  By the 1890s, almost forty new distilleries had opened in Scotland to fill this void.  The boom years continued until World War I and later, by the Great Depression.

On our drive up to the Inverness area we passed by the Dalwhinnie Distillery.  This facility is the highest distillery in Scotland.  So, now you know.

Dalwhinnie Distillery, near the town of Dalwhinnie
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Highland Folk Museum

The Highland Folk Museum is the first open air museum in the UK having gotten its start in 1935 through the vision of Isabel F Grant (1887-1983).  The museum has moved several times since its founding and is now near Newtonmore on an 80 acre site. 

In the 1930’s, Isabel was worried that a way of Highland life, going back to the 1700’s was quickly being replaced by modern inventions and would soon be lost.  So, basically on her own, she started visiting long held farms in the Highlands to try and rescue artifacts from a by gone era before they disappeared altogether.  Her mode of operation was to visit these farms and get to know the owners a bit.  She would then propose that they give her various items she noticed in and around the premises and in return she would replace them with their modern equivalent.  The families were certain she was nuts.  What?  You’re going to give us a brand new electric washing machine if we give you this rickety old manual turn crank machine with hand wringer grandma used to use?  Are you Crazy or something?

But, crazy she was not.  Talk about a win/win proposition.  Word got out that this crazy woman was collecting old junk and replacing it with new items and folks from near and wide were offering her all sorts of stuff.  It wasn’t long before she ran out of room and had to look for larger storage facilities.  Eventually she found a space where some of this collection could be displayed to the public.  And, finally an open air museum idea took shape where they’d construct replicas of houses, mills, workshops and barns and then place the artifacts inside as they might have been at that time.  Add to this a set of docents in period costume to tell visitors about life in that era and what you wind up with is the Highland Folk Museum.

The museum is basically in 4 sections along a 1 mile long walking path:  Aultlaire croft (farm), Balameanach Middle Village, Pinewoods, and Baile Gean.  The Aultlaire farm was the original farm which was on the new site and stems from the mid 1800’s.  It includes 11 buildings, but some of them like a post office and store more rightly belong to a town.  The Balameanach Middle Village contains 13 buildings which in addition to a 1 room school house also has several shop-craft buildings (weaver, clockmaker, carpenter, etc.).  The Pinewoods is a forested area with 4 exhibits that would be more typical in a forested area than in a farming area.  And lastly Baile Gean is a 1700’s village with 5 buildings. 

Due to a major storm a few months before our visit, only the first 2 areas were open due to downed trees and washed out pathways so we weren’t able to see those areas.

Road sign possibly from the mid 1900’s
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Highland Cottage with docent
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Hielan Coo (Highland Cow)

The Hielan Coo (Highland Cow) is an ancient Scottish breed of cattle that originated in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides Islands (just off Scotland).  The ancestors of this breed were brought here a couple thousand years BC but the breed is strictly Scottish.  The island variety is a bit smaller and they are black whereas the mainland variety is larger and is more of rust to reddish gold color.  In a book of breeds published in 1885, both of these varieties were listed as a single breed.  Now though, due to significant cross breeding, it is difficult to know which is which.


This breed is used mostly for beef.  Both males and females have long horns, but nowhere near as long as a Texas Longhorn and, unlike in Texas, you don’t see posh cars driving around with sets of horns affixed to the front grille.  But the main feature is how it has adapted to the frigid winters in Scotland.  In the late fall, most breeds of cattle living in cold climates put on copious layers of fat which insulates them from the cold.  However, the Hielan Coo has very little fat (making for leaner beef) and to make up for that as winter approaches they put on a very thick and shaggy coat of fur which keeps the cold out.

Hielan Coo (Highland Cow) at the Highland Folk Museum
Highland cow (Heilan coo).  Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, ScotlandHighland cow (Heilan coo). Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Scotland

Hielan Coo (Highland Cow) near Duirinish
Highland Cow (Heilan coo), Duinnish, ScotlandHighland Cow (Heilan coo), Duinnish, Scotland

A Bit of History I

In 1280 AD Scotland was doing quite well under King Alexander and seemed quite secure.  He had 2 adult sons (an heir and a spare as they say) and a daughter who was married to the king of Norway.  But things didn’t go too well for the Scottish monarchy.  In 1281 the youngest son died.  But that’s okay as he was only 2nd in line for the throne.  But two years later, in 1283 the daughter died (grand daughter in Norway).  But then in 1284 his eldest son died.  So lacking a male heir Alex remarried with the thought of producing a new heir.  But then on a dark and stormy night he decided to return to a battle that was going on a ways away.  During the night he was separated from his entourage and the next morning they found his horse at the top of a cliff with Alexander dead at the bottom.  So, they sent for his grand daughter to come from Norway to be Queen.  But in route she took ill and died.  So in the course of a hand full of years what had been a very secure royal succession totally fell apart.

Fourteen men – all relatives of one form or another - claimed the throne.  So the lords asked Edward the 1st of England to help choose among them to be the next king.   Edward was the powerful and successful, warrior king of Scotland’s archrival country who had recently attacked, defeated and occupied Wales.  What could possibly go wrong? 

As it turns out Edward choose the candidate who had the most legitimate claim to the throne – John Balliol.  But this was only after John Balliol agreed that Edward would be “his superior” in all matters of state.  Oops.  Well, it wasn’t long before puppet Balliol (who gained the nickname of “the empty coat”) allowed English troops to be stationed in castles and towns throughout Scotland.  Eventually this troubled John Balliol a bit but it wasn’t until he refused to send Scottish troop to fight the French on behalf of Edward that Edward sacked a Scottish town and killed most of the residents to show is displeasure.  Edward boasted of this when he said, “It is a good day’s work when you rid yourself of shit.”  Within a short period of time, Edward completely took over all of Scotland. 

But it wasn’t the Aristocracy that fought back with their private army’s, it was the gentry.  And out of the ranks rose the first of Scotland’s great hero’s, William Wallace of the movie “Braveheart” fame who led the first war of independence against England. 

And, that’s where I’ll leave you for now.



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Or, the whole Scotland 2022 series (as I write them) here”


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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the Road Scholar Guides)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Blog dan hartford photo DanTravelBlog dantravelblogscotland2022 Duke of Atholl Dunkeld Dunkeld Cathedral Firth of Forth Forth Bridge Forth Bridges Forth Road Bridge Hielan Coo Highland Cow Highland Folk Museum King Alexander Queensferry Crossing Bridge Scotch Whisky Scotland Scottish Highlands Strathpeffer https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/9/scotland-02-edinburgh-to-strathpeffer Sat, 10 Sep 2022 18:56:04 GMT
Scotland #01 – Edinburgh https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/8/scotland-01 JULY 2022

Scotland July 2022 - #01 Edinburgh

This travel-blog is for a trip we took to Scotland in July of 2022.  Other than a few days on our own in Edinburgh at the beginning this was on a formal tour of the Scottish Highlands operated by RS (Road Scholar, www.roadscholar.org).  

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip Track01 Map Full Trip Track

Detail of our routes in Edinburgh
01 Map Edinburgh Tracks01 Map Edinburgh Tracks

Arriving in Edinburgh

As is our custom for international trips including formal tours, we scheduled our flight to arrive a few days ahead of when the formal tour starts.  We do this for a couple of reasons.  First is that if we are delayed in route we can still usually meet our tour at its start.  But a second important advantage is that we can adapt to the local time zone before we have to start adhering to time tables set by the tour which usually include wake up times earlier than our bio-clocks would like if still on California time. 

At the time of this trip the airline industry was still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic during which they furloughed or gave early retirement to much of their staff.  But then in the spring of 2022 there was a massive (and somewhat unexpected) rebound in the travel industry as stir crazy people longed to get away and most Covid related restrictions and mandates had been lifted.  Whether or not they should have been lifted is another question that only time will tell, but lifted they were.  Of course the airlines were very happy to sell seats on planes, not withstanding the fact that they didn’t have enough people to fly the planes, maintain them, or support their customers.  And at the same time the airports didn’t have enough people to deal with the associated logistics that come along with increased flights such as luggage handling. 

Of course to no ones great surprise chaos ensued.  Thousands of cancelled flights, hundreds of thousands of bags shoved into empty rooms at airports as there were no workers available to get them to their owners.  Every night on the news were stories and lists and lists of cancelled flights and shots of luggage piled up literally to the ceiling with no idea when or how they’d ever be reunited with their owners.

So, here we were embarking on a 5,000 mile trip to the other side of the planet, with Covid-19 cases rising again and in the middle of this melt down of the travel industry.  Well, we lucked out.  Our flight left only 2 hours late.  We deliberately paid extra for a direct flight as the risks involved in a layover were just too high for our taste.  Having (again deliberately) given ourselves 3 hours of layover time at Heathrow, we had no trouble making the London to Edinburgh connection and that flight too was for the most part as scheduled.  Whew!  And not only that, but all of our luggage showed up on the carousel in Edingurgh.  What a relief!

After surviving this all night flight from California, getting through Heathrow, flying to Edinburgh and checking into our hotel (which had mixed up our reservations and it took 4 room attempts before they got us into a room where the electricity worked, and that was not in the dungeon).  It was a tiny room, but by that time we were beyond caring. 

By the time we got settled in it was pretty late and we were beat.  Dinner that night was a bag of potato chips and a soft drink at the hotel’s bar.  The next day, still dealing with jet lag, we took one of those hop-on hop-off city bus tours to get a lay of the land and to decide what we wanted to see when we were more energetic later on, and then went back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.  But the next day we were ready to sightsee.  What I describe below is a combination of things we did on our own the first couple of days in Edinburgh and what we saw on the formal tour.

Edinburgh in General

Edinburgh is not the largest city in Scotland being only about half the size of Glasgow. And, unlike Glasgow which grew up as a heavily industrialized city (ship building, coal, steel), Edinburgh was established as a city of the church, education and the law.  The city is really in two parts, old town and new town, which are quite distinct from each other.  The new town areas started being built in the 1820’s whereas old town can trace its roots back to the first century AD. 

One architectural feature found in parts of new town is that entire city blocks of multi story houses were designed as a single unified façade even though they were individual units.

Entire city block designed as a single unified façade (Charlotte Square)
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Edinburgh’s nickname is “Whiskey Row”.  This came about as many shipping merchants lived here and one of the main products they shipped out of the port was whiskey.  As it turned out, the street where our hotel was located (Royal Terrace) was occupied by many of these merchants.  Being on a hillside facing the port a bit under 2 miles away, the houses on this street had a clear view all the way down to the harbor and the owners could watch their ships coming and going from the comfort of their homes so this street became quite popular for those owners.

View down to the waterfront from Royal Terrace
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Edinburgh is built on some hills a bit away from a bay on the North Sea.  It is said that Edinburgh is built on 7 hills (same as San Francisco), but it seems that each book that references the 7 hills lists a different set of hills as being the 7 - but so goes history.  But whichever the 7 hills are, the terrain of the old city is marked by a series of steep narrow valleys.  In the beginning, buildings were built along the ridges in order to avoid flooding and for defense from invaders with each ridge being a separate group of people – almost like a separate little village.  However, over time, these separate communities found it cumbersome to have to go all the way down to the bottom of the valley and up the other side to conduct trade or to visit with one another.  So, they built bridges from ridge to ridge to alleviate this problem.  Most of these bridges, although rebuilt many times, are still present.  But, then as more and more people moved in, they started to develop the sides and bottoms of these valleys’s filling in the gaps.  These lower sections of town basically passed right under those bridges with only a few places where you could drive a wagon between the upper and lower areas. 

In our modern age this can be a bit confusing to travelers looking at a map as in many places it looks like there is an intersection when in fact one of the streets is several hundred feet above the one it is crossing.  Here’s an example.

01 Map 01 Bridges 101 Map 01 Bridges 1 (image from Open Street View)

If you were walking along South Bridge St. and wanted to go to some place on High street, you could just go to the intersection and turn left or right.  However, if instead you wanted to visit someplace on Cowgate St., once you got to the intersection you’d see the scene below with no way to get down to Cowgate Street from South Bridge Street.

01 Map 02 Bridges01 Map 02 Bridges (Image found online)

From a tourist perspective though, Edinburgh is a very charming city with lots of historical architecture, statues, and monuments going way back in time as well as interesting neighborhoods to wander around with lovely parks scattered about.  And, like any other self respecting old European city it has a handful of old homes of famous people which in Edinburgh’s case includs Sean Connery, Iain Glen, J K Rowling, Dolly the Sheep, Alexander Graham Bell, Stuart Sutcliffe, Gail Porter, and Irvine Welsh.  Even so there really are only a small number of major attractions to visit.  Of course, like any old European city there is the obligatory museum which we didn’t visit but heard from others that it was quite well done.  The main other attractions are Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, HMY Britania, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.  There are other 2nd tier attractions as well such as famous folks houses, historical buildings, and other museums, etc., but those are the main hits in this city.

National Records Office with Duke of Wellington Statue
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Property taxes were based on the number of windows.  Ergo, many blocked up windows
Edinburgh, Castle St. at Queen St.Edinburgh, Castle St. at Queen St.

In Edinburgh there are many places, typically in the more affluent neighborhoods, where there is a small park (called a Garden) ringed by streets with houses on the other side.  One would think that these are just small city parks to give the residents some green space and something nice to look at from their front windows.  But, these are actually private parks with fences all around.  Only households which pay an annual “garden fee” are permitted to set foot in them.

One of the many “Private” parks scattered throughout the city (Charlotte Square)
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HMY Britania

Our first port of call in Edinburgh was to take the bus down to Leif to see the HMY (Her Majesty's Yacht) Britania sometimes called the “Royal Yacht”. Leif is the dock area of Edinburgh which is currently undergoing an extensive gentrification with new apartment buildings and shopping malls sprouting all over the place as well as the construction of a light rail extension from Downtown Edinburgh.  According to a taxi driver, the light rail extension is apparently in the 10th year of a 4 year project, and does not look anywhere near being done.  The redevelopment plan was part of the deal that resulted in the Britania being docked here after decommissioning.

The yacht was used by the Royal family from 1954 through 1997.  The idea of a royal yacht goes back to King Charles II (1660), with this vessel being the 83rd, and last, Royal Yacht.  Over her 43 years of service, she traveled over a million miles and circumnavigated the glob several times. 

The Britannia was launched in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II and commissioned in January 1954. And, as it turns out it has only served one Monarch.  Even though it is not a sailing ship per-se, it has three masts and is 412 ft long.  As WWII was pretty fresh in peoples mind when it was being designed the architecture was such that it could be converted to a hospital ship in times of war. But this capability was never needed.  In the event of nuclear war, it was intended that the Queen would take refuge aboard Britannia along the North West coast of Scotland. 

The motion to decommission it was put forth in 1994 by the Conservative government of Tony Blair following through on a promise to bring “austerity” to the running of the country.  Another historic icon of the British Monarchy to go was the Royal Train.

If anything, this ship is defined by “attention to detail”.  For example, from the outside there are no visible rivets holding the metal hull panels.  Above the waterline, it is painted a solid dark blue except for a thin yellow line just below the level of the main deck.  In order to keep the look of the ship clean and sleek, there is no lettering on the hull at all – not even the name of the ship. One of the more interesting features is that the ship has its own automobile garage.  It took the crew the best part of a day to move the Royal Rolls Royce into or out of the garage and onto dry land, so it was not all that convenient.  Especially as the bumpers had to be removed in order for it to fit inside the garage.

The engine room is spotless with polished brass fixtures, painted machinery and perfectly wrapped piping.  When a visiting dignitary was being given a tour of the ship, after being shown the engine room remarked, “That’s a fine museum, now show me the real engine room”.

For all practical purposes, the ship interior is a downscaled Buckingham Palace with grand dinning room, lavish sitting room and well appointed bed chambers.  Even today, all the silver dining and serving pieces and all the brass on the ship is polished by hand daily.  When in service, in addition to the regular crew was a full platoon of Royal Marine musicians that played everyday at meals and for formal events.

The tour of the ship is self guided with a hand held listening device and is quite well done.  You tour 5 of the decks starting at the top on the bridge and working your way down to the engine room.  Along the way you see both crew areas as well as Royal Family areas and both are exquisite.  It is one of the best ‘museum’ type audio augmented tours I think I’ve experienced and well worth a trip down to the Leif area to see it.  They limit how many people can enter each quarter hour but once on the ship you can go at your own pace, including a stop in the “tea room” for a light lunch or just some tea and cake.  Timed reservations should be acquired ahead of time to avoid long lines.

On the Bridge
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Command Communications
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Sitting Room
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Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

The RBGE is 70 acres in suburban Edinburgh with over 13,000 different plant species.  It is one of 4 Royal Botanic Gardens (Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan, and Benmore).  Founded in 1670 this botanic garden has been quite mobile, as far as botanic gardens go.  It was originally founded at St. Anne’s Yard near Holyrood Palace and as such is the second oldest botanic garden in the UK (the one at Oxford is the oldest).  It was initially populated from the collection of Sir Patrick Murray (2nd lord Elibank) after he died.  This site was only a 40 by 40 foot square and by 1676 was crammed with 800 to 900 plants.

Due to the cramped space at the Holyrood site, in 1676 it was moved to grounds leased from the Trinity Hospital where it was called the “Old Physick Garden” as many of the plants grown there were for medicinal purposes.  But progress marches on and this site was taken over by the Waverely train Station of the North British Railway.  So, in 1763 it was moved again to a 5 acre site site on the west side of Leith Walk covering an area now called Bellevue. 

But, once again it outgrew its area and in the early 1820’s was expanded and moved again.  This time it was moved to its current location.  It was then expanded again in 1881 with the addition of an adjacent estate.

Like many such attractions in Scotland, the botanical gardens have no entrance fee which is quite nice.  There is a lovely new visitor center with interesting displays and a cafeteria with both indoor and outdoor seating.  But mostly there are manicured grounds featuring domestic and exotic plants ranging from desert succulents to Giant Redwood trees – and everything in-between.  Some of the more notable areas include the Rock Garden, the Alpine Houses, Woodland Garden, Pond, Arboretum or tree collection, Chinese Hillside, Rhododendron Collection and the Scottish Native Plants Collection. On our visit they were doing an extensive remodel of the glass conservatories where the tropical plants were kept so those buildings were not open.  But the rest of the area was accessible. 

Walkway to the vegetable garden area
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A little pond near “The Botanical Cottage” (an education space)
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Royal Mile

The Royal mile is a series of city streets that run between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace an imperial mile away (slightly longer than a regular mile).  Today the Royal Mile looks like one boulevard from point A to point B, but in fact it is made up of several different streets (5 to be exact).  In the olden days it was not even a contiguous route as one had to navigate around non aligned streets, toll gates and the walls surrounding different jurisdictions.  But however you slice it, it forms the main thoroughfare of the Old Town and is ground zero for tourists. 

The upper end starts at Edinburgh Castle and the road descends 1 mile away to Holyrood Palace.  The slope is a modest 4.1% (a bit steeper than most mainline railroads).  It doesn’t look like much, but if you are on foot, going up takes significantly more effort than going down.  So, most people take transportation up to the Castle and then walk down instead of the other way around.

The term “Royal Mile” was first used descriptively by W M Gilbert in 1901 where he said "...with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between".  The term was further popularized as the title of a guidebook published in 1920,

As is the case for many cities with castles in the middle, the castle is built on a butte.  These buttes are the remains of ancient volcanic plugs.  When glaciers came along during the ice age, they tended to flow around both sides of these plugs (sometimes sheering off the tops of the plugs leaving a flat top).  As they flowed around the sides they carved the sides of the plug into steep vertical cliffs making the top a very defensible place to build a castle.  However on the downstream side of the plug the glacier deposited debris into what is called a “crag and tail” formation.  This can be seen as a thin ridge that slopes down from the top of the butte to the bottom of the valley gouged out by the glacier – in this case a mile away and 228 feet lower.

The Royal Mile follows the top of this ridge as it descends from the Castle to the Palace.  As one walks the Royal Mile, one can look down steep little alleyways on either side of the main road called “Closes”.  These closes descend down the steeply sloped sides of the crag and tail.

Today, the Royal Mile is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions. For the most part the stores are tacky overpriced tourist stores selling cheap trinkets.  But every once in a while there is a shop selling quality locally made goods.  In addition there are several historically significant establishments along the mile in addition to the castle and the palace.  And there are some well known pubs.  Some interesting stops are a museum dedicated to whisky, the John Knox house, the old Canongate toll house, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Socttish Parliament.

Royal Mile – Tourist Central for Edinburgh
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Royal Mile
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John Knox House
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Toll Booth Clock Tower
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Canongate Kirk (church) - where the queen attends services when in town)
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The Witchery Restaurant and Hotel
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Holyroodhouse Palace

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace or Holyroodhouse, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.  Holyrood is pronounced “holly-rude” – like Hollywood but with an “R” rather then a “W”. It is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile with the Edinburgh Castle at the other end,  Holyroodhouse has served as the principal royal residence in Scotland since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.

Back in the 12th–15th centuries this location was an Augustine Abbey named Holyrood, founded in 1128.  “Hollyrood” is a concatenation of two words, “Holy” meaning very religious and “Rood” meaning a cross or crucifix symbolizing the cross on which Jesus Christ died

With Edinburgh recognized as Scotland's capital, her kings chose to live in Holyroodhouse, surrounded by parkland rather than in the bleak and drafty Edinburgh Castle, high on a rock and exposed to the elements.  And, as Kings tend to do, they made their accommodations somewhat more to their liking than one would normally associate with the living conditions of monks in the 13th century.  In 1501 James IV cleared the ground close to the Abbey and built a Palace for himself and his bride, Margaret Tudor – the sister of Henry VIII.  His successors continued to add towers and wings as time went on and that even continued after Scotland became part of the UK.  So far this palace has been a Royal Residence for over 500 years.

Mary Queen of Scots spent most of her turbulent life in the Palace and married two of her husbands in the palace. Her private secretary David Rizzio was murdered in her private apartments by a group led by her husband Lord Darnley, who was jealous of Rizzio's influence over Mary.

Currently Queen Elizabeth II spends one week in residence each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies.  Due to health issues, this year (2022) no one expected her to come all the way up to Edinburgh so they were quite surprised when she showed up, right on schedule.

The 16th-century historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.


Grand Entrance to Holyrood Palace
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State Dinning Room in Holyrood Palace
Royal Dining room,  Holyrood PalaceRoyal Dining room, Holyrood Palace

Kings bedchamber at Holyrood Palace
Kings Bedchamber, Holyrood PalaceKings Bedchamber, Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace front courtyard
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Holyrood Abbey

The ruined Augustinian Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 at the order of King David I of Scotland.  A Papal legate was received here in 1177, while in 1189 a council of nobles met to discuss a ransom for the captive king William the Lion.  Robert the Bruce held parliament at the abbey in 1326, and by 1329 it may already have been in use as a royal residence.  In 1370. King James II was born at Holyrood and was crowned, married and laid to rest at Holyrood becoming the first king buried there. James III and Margaret of Denmark were married at Holyrood in 1469.  

The early royal residence started out in the abbey guesthouse, before the building of a proper palace.  Over time though the Abbey itself fell into disuse and has since become a ruin.

Holyrood Abbey
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Holyrood Abbey
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Holyrood Abbey
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Edinburgh Castle

As mentioned, Edinburgh Castle was built on the top of a butte (or mesa) which is called Castle Rock for obvious reasons.  The exterior walls of the castle flow right into the sheer cliffs of Castle Rock making it hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

Castle Walls flow right into sheer cliffs
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Indigenous peoples occupied Castle Rock well before historical records and over time there had been various forts built on Castle Rock including by the Romans.  However, the area wasn’t called Edinburgh until 638 AD when an invasion by the Angles forced out the Romans. 

The structure on Castle rock became Scotland’s main royal castle in the Middle Ages, and was the center for local law enforcement as well as the military not to mention being where the crown jewels were stored.  But, it wasn’t until 1130 AD that King David I first built some of the structures we see there today. The chapel, dedicated to his mother, Queen Margaret, still stands as the oldest building in Edinburgh even though it was damaged many times during various wars and conflicts – mostly at the hands of the English.

Going through the back and forth of the castle changing hands between the Scots and the English is like watching a tennis match.  The first was when Edward I took it after a 3 day siege in 1296.  Then in 1314 it was taken back by 30 men under the command of Sir Thomas Randolf Earl of Moray acting for the benefit of Robert the Bruce.  Twenty years later the English took it back again and seven years after that the Scots took it back once more with soldiers disguised as merchants.

Over the years, a succession of various monarchs made additions and alterations to the castle.  For example, David’s Tower was built in 1370 by David II, the son of Robert the Bruce as part of a reconstruction after the Wars of Independence.  But then the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots married James Hepburn which didn’t go over well with the nobles of the time and forced Mary to flee to England.  But even though Mary left, a battle ensued which lasted a year.  A year into this battle, David’s Tower was destroyed which cut off the only remaining source of water for the castle.  A few days later they surrendered the castle and the battle ended.  After the siege, the tower was replaced by the Half Moon Battery that is still there.

Before she became married to James Hepburn, Mary gave birth to James VI (in 1566 to her previous husband, Lord Darnley) who also became James I of England in the “Union of the Crowns”. It was then that the Scottish court departed from Edinburgh for London, which left the castle with only a military function. The final monarch to reside at the castle was Charles I in 1633 before his coronation as King of the Scots.

But even this did not protect the castle.  The Jacobite rebellions in the 18th Century caused much unrest. Jacobitism was the political movement fighting to reinstate Stuart monarchs to their thrones in England, Scotland and Ireland. In Edinburgh it was to return James VII of Scotland (aka James II of England). The 1715 rebellion saw the Jacobites come dramatically close to claiming the castle in the same style that Robert the Bruce’s men did over 400 years before; by scaling the north facing cliffs. The 1745 rebellion saw the capture of Holyrood Palace (at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle) but the castle remained unbroken.

Main gate to Castle over ditch (a moat with no water)
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Playing the Hurdygurdy in the castle courtyard
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Socttish National War Memorial across the courtyard from the Great Hall
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St. Margaret’s Chapel
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Stained Glass in St. Mararet’s Chapel
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Mons Meg is a super canon with a 20” diameter barrel designed to smash castle walls.  It was built in 1449 by the French Duke of Burgundy and given to James II of Scotland as a wedding present in 1457.  Ironically, shortly after receiving this gift, King James II was killed by an exploding cannon during the siege of Roxburgh Castle.  Mons Meg was only used a few times in battle before it became apparent that the time and effort needed to move it to where a castle was being attacked was just not worth the effort.  However it continued to be used for ceremonial purposes.  One such event was to celebrate the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots in 1558 when the “gunstone” it fired was later found in a field over 2 miles away.  The final firing was in 1680 during a visit by the future King James VII when the gunpowder charge burst the barrel.

Mons Meg
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Edinburgh Fringe and Military Tattoo

Each August since 1947, they hold a month long celebration called the “Edinburgh Fringe”.  The 2020 festival was cancelled due to COIVD-19 and the 2021 version was scaled way back, but during our visit in July they were quite busy setting up for the full scale return of the festival scheduled for August 2022. 

The Edinburgh Fringe is the world's largest arts festival, which in 2018 spanned 25 days, featured more than 55,000 performances at 3,548 different shows in 317 venues and attracted over 430,000 people.  It is surpassed only by the Olympics and the World Cup in terms of global ticketed events and has placed Edinburgh in the forefront of world cities more than anything else. 

During the Fringe, the esplanade of Edinburgh castle is used for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands, and artistic performance teams.  Normally the esplanade is just an asphalt area where tour busses park, but in July each year they set up massive grandstands which can seat 8,800 people.  Through much of August they host performances including performances with hundreds of bagpipes played by military bands marching in formation. 

While we were there they were putting the finishing touches on the grandstands.  As it turns out, the upper rows of these grandstands extend out over the edge of the cliffs upon which the castle is built proving to be quite a vertigo inducing experience. 

Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, set up for the Royal Military Tattoo
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This blog is posted at:


All Images from Scotland can be found here


Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .

Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford unless otherwise stated.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)





dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) blog dan hartford photo DanTravelBlog dantravelblogscotland2022 Edinburgh Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Military Tattoo HMY Britania Holyrood Abbey Holyroodhouse Leif Mons Meg Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Royal Mile Royal Yacht Scotland https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/8/scotland-01 Mon, 15 Aug 2022 22:51:46 GMT
LR015 - Grid Cell Shading https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/4/lr015-grid-cell-shading Canvas Color and Shading

The grid itself (in the central section) contains a wealth of information (depending on your customization preferences).  Each image is in a rectangular cell.  The canvas (background) of each cell is used to optionally show selected metadata about each photo.  The color or shade of gray of the canvas areas are used to convey additional information.

Grid View SampleGrid View Sample


Full Color Canvas (has color label)
A full color canvas denotes a non selected image that has a color label regardless of its participation in a stack.  If the image is the active image (first one below), there is a thin colored line between the image and the background canvas denoting the color label.

Grid Color Label ExamplesGrid Color Label Examples


Gray Canvas Shading Meaning

Grid Canvas Shading 2Grid Canvas Shading 2

1) White - active
The image with a white canvas is the “Active” image.  Another way to think of this is that it is the “Most Selected” image.  Commands or actions that are designed to operate on only one image are applied to this one only

2) Very Light Gray - also selected
Images with a very light gray canvas are also selected.  Commands or Actions that operate on multiple images at once will be applied to all selected images (including the active image).

3) Medium Light Gray - not selected, mouse over, not expanded stack
Images that are not selected and are not part of an expanded stack but have the mouse pointer over the image.  In other words they may be the top image of a collapsed stack or not in a stack at all but either way are not selected and have the mouse pointer over the image.

4) Medium Gray - not selected, no mouse over, not expanded stack
Same as Medium Light Gray but without the mouse pointer over the image. Very subtly darker than with mouse over.  Hardly noticeable.

5-6) Dark Gray - not selected, expanded stack
A dark Gray canvas denotes a non selected image that also happens to be part of an expanded stack.  These images get very subtly lighter canvas when the mouse pointer is over the image (not shown).


Posted 4/19/2022


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) DanLRBlog DanLRTip Grid View Canvas colors Grid View Canvas Shading Grid view Shading Lightroom Classic Lightroom Classic Grid view Lightroom Classic Grid view shading Lightroom Classic Stacks Lightroom Classic Tips LrC Stacks LrC Tips LrC` Shades of gray Shades of gray in Grid view Stacks` https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/4/lr015-grid-cell-shading Tue, 19 Apr 2022 19:33:02 GMT
LR014 - LrC Tip01 - All Photos Really https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/4/lr014-lrc-tip01-all-photos-really Tip01 - How to show all images, including those in collapsed stacks

LrC Tip 01 – All Photos Really

4/14/2022 – (LrC 11.2)


LrC (Lightroom Classic) has a special collection at the top of the “Catalog” panel in the Library Module called “All Photogrpahs”.  However, when you select it, it does not necessarily show you all the photographs.  In the screen shot below, you will notice that the “All Photographs” special collection indicates the there are 105,160 photos known to LrC.  But after selecting this “All Photographs” special collection and then selecting all the images in the grid, the count at the top of the film strip show that there are only 50,107 images being shown.  What happened to the other 55,053 images?

Screenshot 1Screenshot 1

Well, the answer is that when you have images stacked, the images buried in collapsed stacks are not shown when you select the “All Photographs” special collection.  In most situations this is desirable as the reason you put images into stacks and collapsed those stacks was to hide all but the first image in the stack as the rest are for the most part redundant with the top image.  In other words “out of sight, out of mind”.  But, there are times when you actually do want to see “ALL” your images regardless of their stack participation and position in the stack.


The solution to this problem comes in the form of a Smart Collection.  As it turns out Smart Collections ignore stacking when displaying images.  So, what we want is a Smart Collection that selects all images.  Here is such a Smart Collection

Screenshot 2Screenshot 2

This Smart Collection has a single rule which selects all photos where the star rating is >= 0 stars.  In other words, every photo. 

If I click on this Smart Collection rather than the standard All Photographs special collection I now get them all.

Screenshot 3Screenshot 3

Now you can see that the Smart Collection is providing all 105,160 images as the current source.  Of course, as is the same with the the “All Photographs” special collection, you can still narrow down your selection through the use of the filter bar but you are working with the entire set of images – including those buried in stacks.


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) All Photographs Collapsed Stacks in LrC DanLRBlog DanLRTip Lighroom Classic Hidden Images Lightroom Classic Lightroom Classic Stacks Lightroom Classic Tips LrC LrC hidden images LrC Stacks LrC Tips Seeing Hidden images in LrC Showing hidden images in LrC Showing images hidden in LrC Stacks Stacks https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2022/4/lr014-lrc-tip01-all-photos-really Thu, 14 Apr 2022 23:05:56 GMT
LR013 - KEYWORDS for People https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2021/12/lr013-keywords-for-people KEYWORDS for people

Updated 4/24/2022

In LR there are many ways to do the same thing, each with pros and cons.  Some make more sense to some people and other methods make more sense to other people.  Here is what makes sense to me and what I use.

Note:  As of version 6, (and CC 2015), LR offers a “face recognition” feature.  Just be aware that when you use the LR Face Recognition tools the end result is a Keyword for each person you care about.  Prior to LR6, this was a manual process.  The changes brought in with LR6 is that LR itself helps find faces in images and suggests who each person is through face recognition programming.  But, however you do it, either with our without using the Face Recognition tools in LR, the net result is that there are keywords that represent people.  And that’s what this blog is about.

Note:  I strongly recommend that you use full names with dashes or underscores between first and last name because at some point you’re going to have duplicate first names as well as duplicate last names among the people you’ll be adding.  By following the example (note check boxes), I can search for “Dan-Hartford” and get only that one person rather than all the other Dan’s and/or Hartford’s including images shot in Hartford CT. 


The problem

At some point in time you will have so many images of people you know that you start having trouble finding them when you want to.  Usually this happens with photos of family members and close friends but can extend to co workers, and famous people you encounter (e.g., My Selfie with Obama). 

What is typically desired is a not too complicated way to be able to find photos that have specific people in them and even better specific combinations of people.  For example, find all the photos that have BOTH Fred and Betty in them, have ONLY Fred and Betty or any other combination or people.

Concept of the solution

The key to this problem utilizes keywords, text filters, and smart collections and is really quite simple once you get the concept.  What we’ll do is create a keyword for each person we want to track by name.  These keywords of individual people may be nested into groups such as Family, Co-worker, Politicians, Performers, etc. but all must be under a common parent KW which in my example is KW “ALL-PEOPLE”.  In my example we using the “x” family with 4 members, April, Bob, Charlie, and Dawn.


Assigning the Keywords

This is not as difficult as it might seem, even if you have, literally, thousands of images.  Perhaps you even have some prior keywords set up (like one keyword for each combination of people) to help you zero in on the photos you want.  Or, you can use the LR Face Recognition tool (as of LR6) to help find them or just add them manually.  Then, using the Grid view in the Library module, simply click, shift click, or Ctrl/Option click to select images that contain a certain person and assign that persons keyword to those images.  Then go on to the 2nd person, etc.  In this way, if you have an image with 3 people, it you will get 3 keywords – one for each person.

Set Up

Once your images with people have been assigned keywords (with or without face recognition) you can use filters or smart collections to quickly retrieve images of the people you’re looking for if you set it up properly.

Start with the “ALL-PEOPLE” keyword, then within that create a KW for each grouping of people that interests you.  Some examples are a group for your immediate family, one for extended family, one for friends, one for Co-Workers, etc.  In other words look at the people you wish to identify by name and see what sort of natural groupings they tend to fall into.  I name these groups with “KWList” at the end of the name to assure they are unique.  Then place a KW for each person within their group.  This whole thing will work a lot better if you use full names with hyphens or underscores instead of spaces.  For example “Fred-Smith” rather than “Fred Smith”. 

When talking to many people on this topic, it turns out that many want to be able to include or exclude images depending not only on the named people they know but also the existence (or non-existence) of other people in the photos.  To accommodate this, you may want to add two more “names” to your structure within ALL-PEOPLE but not in one of the sub groups.  These two pseudo people are “Unknown-Person” and “Crowd”.  An Unknown-person is someone prominent in the image that you just don’t happen to know the name of (or maybe don’t care).  “Crowd” is the existence of a crowd of other people in the image, like at a concert or sporting event.


For complex mix and match selections you’ll also need two more KW’s that are not under ALL-PEOPLE.  One for people you want to include and one for people to exclude.

For my examples, I’ll be using this people structure which contains 4 known people (the “x” family) as well as the extra keywords I just discussed.

What follows are examples of various mix and match scenarios to demonstrate the concept.

Case 1 - One Named Person (text filter)

(Regardless of other people in the image)

This is the easiest.  Just open your filter bar (“\” speed key toggle the filter bar on or off).  Select Text filter type tab then “Keywords -> Contain -> the name of the person”.  Here’s an example looking for all images that have April in the image.  As soon as you finish typing the persons name those images will show up in your grid


In my example images, the first letter of each persons name is on the cartoon figure in the images.  “U” is for unnamed persons, and “crowd” indicates that there is also a crowd of people in the image. 

For this test case, you could also click the right facing arrow to the right of the name “April-x” in the Keyword list.  This will create a metadata filter (rather than a text filter) and will accomplish the same thing but for various reasons I prefer typing in the text filter.

Case 2 - Any of Several named people (text filter)

(Regardless of other people in the image)

The process here is the same, except you use 2 or more of the specific people keywords in the text filter.  For the text filter use “Contain” to get images that have ANY of the named people.  In the example below, images that have either April or Charlie or both are found.


Case 3 - All of several named people (text filter)

(Regardless of other people in the image)

Use “Contain All” operator in the text filter to get images that have ALL the named people.  In the example below an image must have both April and Charlie to be shown.


As you can see, all the images have both April and Charlie.

Mixing and Matching People

The above examples are simple cases that most people already know how to do.  Where the trouble comes is when you want to do more complex mixing and matching some with exclusions.  For example I want all images of Dave as long as they don’t also have his ex-wife Darlene in them.  Or, I want images of Dave and his new wife Debbie, but just the two of them – no one else can be in the image.

To accomplish these sorts of complex cases we’ll need to establish two Smart Collections as well as making use of those special KW’s I mentioned at the top of this blog and in some cases also a Text filter.  As a reminder, a Smart Collection is a group of images that meet the criteria set forth in a set of rules.  You create the set of rules then LR automatically keeps the collection populated with the images that meet that set of rules.  As discussed above, we need two parent keywords which define lists of people to INCLUDE and to EXCLUDE respectively.  We drag the KW’s for individual people to one or the other of these parents and then use a smart collection to show the images.

Here are several different cases of mixing and matching people. 

  • Case 4 - Images that have anyone on the INCLUDE list with or without others as well
  • Case 5 - Images that have anyone on the INCLUDE but without anyone on the EXCLUDE list
  • Case 6 - Images that have anyone on the INCLUDE list but no one else
  • Case 7 - Images that have all on the INCLUDE list but no one else

Smart Collections for complex selections


This Smart Collection will return images where one or more of the people on the “INCLUDE” list are in the image as long as non of the people in the “EXCLUDE” list are in the image



This Smart Collection will return images where one or more of the people on the “INCLUDE” list are in the image as long as no one else is in the image as well.  “No one else” means no one listed with a keyword that is within the “ALL-PEOPLE” parent keyword


Case 4 – Any INCLUDE list person

(Regardless of others in the image)l

We saw this already as case 1 and 2, but let’s do it a different way which in many ways is easier than typing names in a text filter.  This time we’ll use our INCLUDE keyword list and one of our new smart collections.  All we do is drag the KW’s for the desired people down to the “PEOPLE-INCLUDE” parent and then click on the “PEOPLE: INCLUDED minus EXCLUDED” smart collection.  In this case I dragged April and Charlie down to the “INCLUDE” list.


The result is all images that contain either April or Charlie, regardless of any others in the image.


To add another person to the mix, just drag their KW to the INCLUDE parent. To remove someone from the mix, drag their KW back up to “”OurFamilyKWList” parent

Case 5 – Any INCLUDE list person minus EXCLUDE list people

(regardless of others in the image)

This case is done the same way as Case 4, except that we also drag the KW’s for people we want to exclude to the EXCLUDE list.  As we left Case 4, we are seeing all images that have either April or Charlie.  But now we want to exclude images that also have Bob in them.  So, we just drag the Bob KW down to the exclude list.  Now we’re seeing all images that have either April or Charlie in the image as long as Bob is not also in the image.  Compare the screen shot below with the Case 4 screen shot and you’ll see that images that had Bob in them are now excluded


Case 6 – Any INCLUDE list people but no one else

So let’s take this one step further and get all the images that have either April or Charlie but only if they don’t have anyone else in the image as opposed to just not having Bob.  First we’ll drag Bob back up to where he belongs, leaving April and Charlie in the INCLUDE list.  But this time we use the “PEOPLE: INCLUDED EXCLUSIVLY” smart collection


Now you can see that we have images that have either April or Charlie but only if the image does not have any other people from the ALL-PEOPLE parent.  You’ll notice that images with KW “Crowd” are being excluded as “Crowd” is under ALL-PEOPLE.  If we decided that April or Charlie as part of a crowd is OK then we just drag KW “Crowd” out from under ALL-PEOPLE (for example into “PEOPLE-EXCLUDED” just to keep “Crowd” nearby to drag back later).  Now we have April or Charlie without other folks except for “crowd”.


Case 7 – All INCLUDE list people but no one else

This is actually the same as case 6 except we add a text filter for “Keyword -> Contains All -> (names)”.  The list of names in the text filter are those that must all be present in the image.  So, continuing where we left of in case 6, if we only want the images that have both April & Charlie (with or without the crowds), we add a text filter listing April and Charlie.  As you can see below, we now just have the images that contain April and Charlie, with or without the crowd but as long as no one else in the “All-People” hierarchy are also in the photo.



As you can see, simply dragging keywords in and out of the INCLUDED and EXCLUDED keyword parents and picking one of the smart collections gives you a broad spectrum of mix and match options for folks which can be further narrowed by use of the text filter.

At this point, I’m hard pressed to come up with a likely case that this model doesn’t handle.  Of course there are some off-the-wall cases like “must have April and Charlie but not if both Bob and Dawn are also in the photo” (Bob without Dawn is Ok as is Dawn without Bob), but maybe one of my readers will rise to the challenge and point one out.

When you’re done with your mix and match searches, don’t forget to drag your people keywords back to where they belong.


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) DanLRBlog Excluding People Finding groups of people in LR Just certain people Keywords Keywords for People Lightroom Lightroom Classic LrC Managing people in LrC Named People Only People People Keywords Some people but not others https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2021/12/lr013-keywords-for-people Mon, 13 Dec 2021 23:25:35 GMT
Big Sur Coast #01 https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2021/4/big-sur-coast-01 MARCH 2021

4 Days on the Central California Coast (Big Sur) #01

This travel-blog is for a 4 day trip from our home in the San Francisco Bay area, down to the Big Sur area in March 2021.  We stayed the 3 nights at the Big Sur Lodge which is pretty much in the middle of the Big Sur Coastal Region.

Entire Trip map
01 Map Full Trip01 Map Full Trip

Detail of places mentioned along Central (Big Sur) Coast
02 Map Central Coast02 Map Central Coast

One Year Later

It was almost exactly 1 year earlier that we took our last trip which was just prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns.  Who would have thought that it would take a full year before the light at the end of the tunnel even came into view.  This isn’t to say that we are out of the dark tunnel but we can see the end.  Vaccinations are well underway (now that we have a competent government in the White House), Ellen and I have both had both of our doses more than two weeks earlier, and spring was around the corner.  So, even though we had not been to a dine-in restaurant for over a year and are still wearing masks and using gloves when punching in numbers on public key pads or wrangling gas pump handles, we decided that the time had come to venture out into the world, just a bit, to see how things go.  Not to mention a March birthday ending in a zero for Ellen. 

We thought about this a bit and decided pretty quickly that we are still not ready to navigate airports and sit in a (supposedly well ventilated) metal tube with 300 strangers for many hours.  We also wanted to start easy with just a few days – sort of a test run – and be close enough to home in order to be able to bail at any time and get home the same day.  This of course limited our options to a driving trip in the 300-500 mile range.  So, as it was still winter in the mountains (and we’re not winter people), our choices were either the rugged coast north of San Francisco (Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties), or the world class Central California Coast south of Monterey (Commonly called the Big Sur Coast). 

As my wife's dad lives in Sonoma County, we tend to go north more often than south, and we hadn’t been to the Big Sur area since 2011, so we decided to go down there and booked 3 nights in the Big Sur Lodge in a cabin with a kitchen (so we could avoid restaurants most of the time), living room with fireplace, and separate bedroom.

We left Palo Alto mid morning so as to get to the North end of the Big Sur Coast around lunch time where we could gas up and eat in Monterey, Carmel, or Pacific Grove.  We pulled into Carmel around lunch time but even on a weekday it was just too crowded – couldn’t even find a parking space, so we headed further down to Pacific Grove which is much less pretentious, is less expensive and one can find parking places.  We found a charming little restaurant in an old Victorian house with both indoor and outdoor seating.  However, upon inquiry discovered that the heaters in the outdoor section were all out of propane and as it was pretty chilly we decided to do our first indoor dining experience in over a year.  We also discovered that in that year technology had passed us by once more.  As it turns out, there are no more paper menus.  Now you only get a laminated card on the table with a QR code.  One scans the QR code with your smart phone and you read the menu on line.  Assuming of course that your phone is not in the car and after going to get it, discovering that the phone’s camera does not react to QR codes as the phone is too old.  Even the waiter couldn’t get it to work.  So he recited the menu to us verbally – which he couldn’t do very well and resented having to do at all.  What a waste of time and quite inconvenient.  Come, on guys, print a few paper menu’s for us dinosaurs.  But, we got fed, filled the gas tank and headed into the target area.

Big Sur Coast

The Big Sur Coast in Central California is generally thought of as extending 71 miles from just south of Monterey Bay down to around San Simeon. Along this stretch of rugged coast line, the Santa Lucia Mountains rise directly out of the Pacific Ocean to a height of nearly 6,000 feet, making for one of the most spectacular coastlines one will ever see.

Sometimes these dramatic seaside cliffs have eroded into sea stacks (small rocky islands just off the mainland) and many of these have subsequently formed sea caves and sea tunnels.  I presume most of these have names, but for the most part people just refer to them by what beach or river they are nearest to.  They are literally all along this coast.  Pull off the road in one of the many parking areas and look closely – you’re very likely to see one.  Depending on the direction of the arch, in some cases early or late in the day the sun illuminates the inside of the arch making for a very dramatic scene.

Around every curve along this stretch of 2 lane road one will find a stunning view, each one surpassing the previous one.  One will also find dense redwood forests, hidden (and not so hidden) beaches, waterfalls, sea stacks caves and arches, flowing streams and an iconic bridge.  What’s amazing is that all of this is within a few hours drive for about 7 million people who live in the San Francisco or Los Angeles areas – not to mention the thousands of visitors from across the world.

It is among the top 35 tourist destinations world-wide and receives about the same number of visitors as Yosemite National Park, but offers only limited bus service, few restrooms, and a narrow two-lane highway that for most of its length clings to the steep coastal cliffs.

As one can easily imagine the ruggedness that makes this coast so visually awesome also made it impossible to traverse in older times.  Due to this most transport during those times was done with boats going up and down the western edge of North America or along “roads” set up by the Spanish missionaries to get from mission to mission which for the most part were on the east side of the coast range.  This mission to mission road was (and in many places still is) called “El Camino Real” (the Kings Road) and is roughly the route of US-101 today. 

During that time, what is now the Big Sur coast was left to the Native Americans.  The actual coast was mapped to some degree to aid nautical shipping but beyond what you could see from a ship at sea, not much was known about the area.  And, this brings us to the name “Big Sur”.

Like the names of most things in the southern half of California, the name “Big Sur” comes from the Spanish.  The original Spanish-language name for the mountainous terrain south of Monterey was El País Grande del Sur, which means "the big country of the south."  Later, English-speaking settlers anglicized and shortened the name to just "Big Sur" as the name for their post office which then became the name for the entire area.

Little Sur river meets the Pacific
Little Sur River meets the seaLittle Sur River meets the sea

Crashing Waves
04 c031_2804 c031_28

California Route 1

Other than a strip of land along the coast, most of the land to the east, including the Santa Lucia Mountains is the Ventana Wilderness.  The only road that services the Big Sur area is California Rt-1 running North-South hugging the coast between Carmel Highlands (just south of Carmel and Monterey) and Cambria (just south of Hearst Castle in San Simeon).  Between these two end points there are no roads going over the mountains toward the east and unless you have a boat or plane going west is quite damp. 

The interior region is mostly uninhabited and the sparse year-round population (around 1,800 people) are scattered along the lower western slope of the mountain range.  Other than 4 small settlements near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park there are no villages or settlements and even those 4 settlements are really not more than a restaurant, gas station, campground and sometimes a motel.

The region was considered one of the most inaccessible areas of both California and the entire United States until 1937 when – after 18 years of construction - the Carmel-San Simeon Highway (now labeled CA route 1) was completed.  California Rt-1 through this area has rightfully been called the "longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States" and "one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world”.  Quite a reputation - but accurate and well deserved.  While officially it is a portion of California Route 1, when built it was known as the Carmel San Simeon Highway.  In Los Angeles the road right along the water is known as the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) so many folks from that area just apply the same name for the portions further north even though that is not technically correct.

Along with the ocean views, this winding, narrow road, had to be cut into the face of towering seaside cliffs in places and with numerous bridges over rivers crashing down the steep slope of the Santa Lucia mountains.  The highway was actually considered quite an engineering feat as most prior studies had declared a coast highway through the area impossible to build. 

With such a precarious landscape to plant a road on, keeping the road open is a constant battle.  The highway has been closed more than 55 times by landslides.  In May 2017, a landslide blocked the highway at Mud Creek near the San Luis Obispo County line. The road was closed for 16 months and reopened in July, 2018 only to be closed again in late January 2021 by another even bigger landslide.  Even though CalTrans (California state roads department) had been working around the clock to stabilize the mountains after the August 2020 Dolan Fire, a strong winter storm washed a big chunk of the road south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park at Rat Creek into the Pacific Ocean.  So, now a 23 mile stretch of highway 1 is closed to traffic with a re-opening date of April or May of 2021.  Of course there is always a bright side.  With the highway closed, no traffic can come into the Big Sur area from the Los Angeles area without going all the way up to Monterey first.  This has greatly reduced the tourist congestion which is good, unless you’re trying to run a business there.

The suggested direction of travel for sightseeing is heading south from Carmel.  This puts the Pacific Ocean (where the dramatic scenery is) on your right.  This also puts 95% of the pull offs, vista points, and scenic overlooks on your right which makes it much easier to pull into a parking area on the spur of the moment than having to make a left turn across what could be a steady stream of traffic.  No matter which way you head on the road, be sure to take a look behind you as you go as sometimes the view looking the other way is better than the one in front of you.  Many a time I’ve glanced over my shoulder and spied a sea arch or dramatic cove which wasn’t visible from my direction of travel.

Typical rocky coastline scene
Big Sur Coast North of Bixby Br.Big Sur Coast North of Bixby Br.

State Parks and Hikes

From a terrain perspective, the Big Sur Coast starts with Point Lobos State Park which sits between Carmel By the Sea on its north side and Carmel Highlands on its south side.  Now don’t be confused by the name.  Carmel Highlands is not high up on the mountainside.  It is right along the coast highway – so why it’s called highlands is a mystery.  However it is a fully developed suburb, so I don’t really consider the Big Sur scenic road to start till after you pass through Carmel Highlands. 

Even though we didn’t stop at Point Lobos on this trip I’ll talk just a bit about it.  Its main feature is that it is always either closed or crowded.  It is quite scenic once you get inside with Monterey Cypress and Monterey Pine forests, rocky coastline, tide pools, rocky coves, and sandy beaches with plenty of hikes and trails.  However even somewhat off season and in the middle of the week they have to meter the cars entering the park using “a one out – one in method” resulting in a long line of cars idling on the shoulder of CA-1 waiting to get in.  Sometimes the wait is measured in hours.  To make matters worse – at least for photographers - they don’t open till somewhat after sunrise and start shooing people out before sunset  which are the best times for photographing the spectacular scenery.  So, by all means go if you’ve never been before but go in the middle of the week in mid winter and don’t expect to be able to be there for sunset (or sunrise for that matter).

Once you get south of Carmel Highlands, you’ll find yourself out in nature.  As you proceed you’ll come across a string of state parks with many miles of trails, interspersed between widely spaced private homes evidenced by the end of a long driveway going either down toward the ocean or up into the mountains, or a mailbox or sometimes a privacy fence.  However, most of the time what houses there are tend to be well hidden from road.

All along the road, even outside of the parks, there are many places where there is enough shoulder to pull off the road and find a trail out to the cliff edge or down to the water or on the other side up into the mountains.  These are well used by surfers and divers as well as just plain tourists.  Just look for some cars parked alongside the road for no apparent reason and you can be sure there’s a path to some scenic overlook or down to some sort of beach.  One caution for these non “park” trails is that many are just a narrow gap through the vegetation (unmaintained other than just by people walking on them) and much of that “vegetation” is poison oak.  So, try not to brush up against the plants, wear long pants, and use both preventative and post contact topical or you’ll have a very uncomfortable night later on.  Poison Oak is also along the trails in the parks, but those trails are usually wider allowing you to avoid contact with the plants.

Crashing Waves

The central California coast, geologically speaking, is a jumble of rock masses from literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different places.  The chunks of crust you find here have ridden a long series of geologic plates from different parts of the world and been jumbled up here as those plates slid under the North American plate more or less scraping off what was on top and piling it all up in what are now the Santa Lucia Mountains.  At the same time, rough seas and heavy winter storms have been eroding these mountains and coastline washing the looser soil and small rocks out to sea and leaving bigger chunks in the crashing surf. 

No matter where you stop you will see waves crashing into half submerged rocks or the cliffs that rise directly out of the ocean.  On calm days the water more swirls around the rocks but on rougher days the sea crashes over these rock formations in a rather dramatic fashion.

Calm waves at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP coast 2Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP coast 2

Churning surf flowing over wall of rock
Big Sur SurfBig Sur Surf

Sometimes you can feel a wave hitting a rock head on
Wave on RockWave on Rock

Garapata State Park

The first State Park you come to after Point Lobos is Garapata State Park.  Like most of the parks along this road it was someone’s ranch not too long ago and many “ranch” things like old barns and machinery are still present.  Unlike most of the State Parks in the area, Garapata doesn’t have its own “park road” into the park or any sort of entry gate or pay station.  It is just a series of parking strips along CA-1 that have trails leading away from the road.  One of the most popular is the bluffs trail which follows the top of the cliff edge with dramatic scenes.  There are also trails leading up into the mountains on the east side of CA-1. 

We stopped at the Sorbanes Trailhead, which is about in the middle of the park.  On Google Maps this is marked as Sorbanes Point Trails: Gate 8.  There’s another “Sorbanes Point Trails” gate further south.  We had been informed of an old barn a short distance up the trail to the east so decided to give it a try.  Turns out the barn wasn’t that old and was corrugated metal.  Not too bad but not what I was expecting.  However, near the barn was a nice scene of the trail going through a canopy of trees.

(Not so old) barn
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Sorbanes Canyon Trail (just east of gate 8)
Garapata State Park TrailGarapata State Park Trail

On the coast side of CA-1, the Bluffs trail comes very close to the highway at gate 8 so we took a walk out to the edge.  Our trip this year was the day after a rainstorm had blown through the central California area (including the Bay area) and the storm left behind a somewhat thick fog which gave the views quite a mysterious soft appearance.  Sometimes the fog was too thick to drive more than 25mph but at other times thinned out enough to see a mile or so.  As it turned out, even though there was no ground fog over by the barn, just across the road on the bluffs side, it was still socked in.

Foggy coastline from Bluffs Trail
Foggy day at Garapata State ParkFoggy day at Garapata State Park

On the stroll back to the car we met a full wedding party consisting of maybe 15 to 20 people coming down the trail the other way in full wedding attire including spike heels (on the muddy trail), strapless dresses covering shivering young women, men in tuxedo’s and one photographer in hiking boots and a warm jacket.  But, as cold they were, everyone looked happy.

Notley’s Landing Viewpoint

Continuing to the south our next stop was at Notley’s Landing viewpoint.  Like most viewpoints, trails and beaches this one is not marked with a name.  I was only able to determine the name after we got home using GPS coordinates and Google Maps.  As it turned out there was a big sea tunnel visible through the fog from this pull off.  The ocean was still quite rough from the storm with large waves that crashed into a little cove – totally covering it in a mass of white just in front of the sea tunnel.

Wave Crashing into cove through fog at Notley’s Landing
Rough Sea on Foggy Day near Big SurRough Sea on Foggy Day near Big Sur

Sea Cave at Notley’s Landing
Arch and Rough Sea on Foggy Day near Big SurArch and Rough Sea on Foggy Day near Big Sur

Bixby Bridge

A bit further south from Notley’s is the famous, and photographically iconic, Bixby Creek Bridge, commonly referred to as just “Bixby Bridge”.  It is one of the most photographed bridges not only in California but in the world due to its aesthetic design, graceful architecture and magnificent setting.

Prior to the completion of the bridge residents of the Big Sur area to the south were virtually cut off during winter due to blockages on the often impassable Old Coast Road which led 11 miles inland.  When completed in 1932, at a cost of under $200k ($3.2 million in 2019 collars), it was the longest concrete arch span in the California State Highway System (360 feet) and also the highest single-span arch bridge in the world and it remains one of the tallest.  In fact at 260 feet it is 40 feet higher than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Interestingly, the two massive, vertical buttresses (supporting pillars) on either side of the arch, while aesthetically pleasing, are functionally unnecessary and were placed there to make the bridge look more substantial.  An alternate plan for a bridge upstream would have required an 890 ft. tunnel along with a 250 ft. bridge, but it was rejected in favor of the current bridge location closer to the sea.  Some of the reasons were that the upstream plan would have been less safe, less scenic and more destructive to the environment.  

The next planning decision was what to make the bridge out of.  The debate over a steel bridge vs. a concrete bridge went in favor of the concrete design which would cost less in materials, would be easier to maintain, would fit in better aesthetically with the terrain, and would allow more of the bridge cost to be paid to workers rather than suppliers.  After all it was the depression and the New Deal.  Let’s hope we can get back to valuing people over profits.

While the bridge was completed in 1932, the actual highway was not completed until 1937.  So, even though there was this wonderful new bridge, what traffic there was still had to contend with the Old Coast Road (dirt in summer, a muddy bog – and closed - in winter) which meandered 11 miles inland.  This old road was one lane in most places (just one lane, not one lane each way),  And, to put things in perspective, the 30-mile trip from Carmel to what is now Andrew Molera State Park (10 miles south of Bixby Bridge) would take three days by wagon or stagecoach.

Bixby Creek Bridge from North end pull off
Bixby BridgeBixby Bridge  

Bixby Bridge from east on Old Coast Road
East view of Bixby BridgeEast view of Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge from pullout south of the bridge
16 7d2R04-#083416 7d2R04-#0834

Old Coast Road

From Bixby Bridge to Andrew Molera State Park is an 8 mile drive along CA-1.  Along the way are many scenic pull offs.  The photo of the Little Sur River meeting the ocean near the top of this article was taken in this section.  A naval installation at Point Sur including the unimpressive Point Sur lighthouse (check the Internet for occasional guided tours of the lighthouse) is also along this section. 

However, if it hasn’t rained in several days, you have 4WD vehicle with decent ground clearance, won’t need a bathroom for several hours, and are up for an adventure, you should consider the Old Coast Road.  This is the 1 lane, dirt/mud road that preceded the opening of CA-1 which provides views of the Bixby bridge from the east side, goes through several old growth, never logged Redwood forests, does not skimp on sharp curves and is quite a scenic drive.  Do not start this drive past mid afternoon or if it has rained in the last day or two.  Don’t even think about it at night.  You will not see many houses (I think we saw two), there are no services, and on our drive (started at 11:00 am on a Sunday) we saw exactly 1 other car through the entire 12 miles.

The north end of this road connects to CA-1 right at the North end of Bixby Bridge.  It climbs up the north side of Bixby canyon for a bit under ½ mile providing several views of the bridge from the east side.  This section of road is mostly 2 lanes and not muddy.  Even if you don’t intend to drive the whole thing this section is worth the views of the bridge from the “other” side. 

From there the road narrows, and drops down into the valley eventually crossing Bixby creek 1 mile from where you started at CA-1. 

Bixby Creek from Old Coast Road bridge
Bixby River from Old coast roadBixby River from Old coast road

From there the road starts up the other side of the canyon and starts going through several patches of old growth Redwood forests.  In a few heavily shaded low spots what was a hard pack dirt road morphs into a muddy swamp,  Our sunny Sunday was 4 days since it had rained and the mud was maybe 4 inches deep in places.  Drivable with 4WD but I wouldn’t chance it with a 2WD vehicle.  Just take it fast enough to not get stuck and slow enough to maintain directional control.  If you’ve driven in 3 or 4 inches of snow much (you east coasters) this is about the same and comforting how quickly it all comes back to you.

Old Coast Road through one of several forest areas.
Old Coast Road through old growth forestOld Coast Road through old growth forest

Eventually you rise up onto a plateau of private ranch land (and pass one of the two houses we saw) with wide open meadowland carpeting the rolling hills.  At this point you are pretty high up on the flank of the mountains.  After a few more turns, the ranch land gives way to the natural scrub vegetation and you start getting vista’s all the way to the coast.

View to the Pacific from Old Coast Road
19 5d3R04-#761419 5d3R04-#7614

Andrew Molera SP beach from Old Coast Rd.
Andrew Molera State Park beachAndrew Molera State Park beach

From here the road drops down and rejoins CA-1 right across from the entrance to Andrew Molera State Park where you can find a bathroom.  Speaking of bathrooms – if you decide to take the Old Coast road in the other direction, starting at Andrew Molera State Park, when you arrive a Bixby Bridge at the other end there will be no bathroom.  Our journey on the Old coast road was about 2.5 to 3 hours including photo stops.

Andrew Molera State Park

Like many of the State Parks and preserves along the California coast, the Andrew Molera State Park was recently a private ranch subsequently donated to the state.  It is located where the Big Sur River meets the Pacific Ocean and is mostly an undeveloped park. 

The property was part of the Rancho El Sur land grant, and later owned by California pioneer John Bautista Rogers Cooper and his descendants.  Cooper's grandchildren Andrew and Frances Molera inherited the property in 1918 and popularized artichokes in California.  Andrew died in 1931 and in 1965, Frances sold the property to The Nature Conservancy, stipulating that the park to be created should be named for her brother.  The park has miles of trails, beaches, a walk in campground and “the most reliable surfing area in Big Sur”.  In the winter they take out the bridges so to get to the beach entails wading across the Big Sur River which looked to be over knee high (we didn’t).

Having been a working farm/ranch as recently as 1965, many of the buildings are still present.  Some of these buildings are now used for various environmental groups such as Ventana Wildlife Society.  The oldest building on the property (and in the entire Big Sur area) is the Cooper Cabin built in 1861.

The White Barn
Andrew Molera State ParkAndrew Molera State Park

Oak tree in field in front of White Barn
Oak, Andrew Molera State ParkOak, Andrew Molera State Park

Main ranch road – hiking trail
Andrew Molera State Park 2Andrew Molera State Park 2

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

About in the middle of Andrew Molera State Park, CA-1 starts following the Big Sur River and veers away from the coast.  The Big Sur river goes up a valley which is for the most part parallel to the coast but behind a ridge.  This causes a distinct change from being right along the ocean part of the highway.  For one thing that ridge cuts off the incessant wind that one finds right on the coast.  The second feature once you get in behind the ridge is that the climate is much more hospitable to the growth of Redwood trees.

It is along this section that you will find the only real services between Carmel and San Simeon.  There are four clusters of businesses along this stretch in between sections of forest.  Each one basically consists of a gas station, eating establishment, gift shop, and a campground and/or rustic motel.  If you plan to overnight in the area, this is where you’ll wind up.  Make reservations well in advance as once spring hits, the entire area is sold out till late fall.  This is also the area you’ll come to for a meal or to spend some time in a bar.

All the restaurants offer outdoor dining and take out and a couple had an indoor dining room open at limited occupancy due to the pandemic.  The menu choices were somewhat limited and maybe 25% to 50% more expensive than the same thing in Pacific Grove. 

Near the south end of this stretch, just before the road diverges from the river and climbs over the ridge back to the coast you’ll find Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  The park has a large campground as well as many hiking trails and swimming holes along the river (in designated locations).  The park is best known for its groves of Redwoods and abundant hiking trails.  One of the redwoods named “the Colonial Tree” is estimated to be 1,100 and 1,200 years old,

Big Sur River, behind Big Sur Lodge
Big Sur River, Pfeiffer Big Sur State ParkBig Sur River, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

This park is somewhat developed and has been in state hands since 1933.  There is a café, sort of upscale restaurant, souvenir shop, motel and several dozen modern cabins, some with kitchens, fireplaces, and separate bedrooms.  There is also a pool for those staying in the motel or cabins.  As mentioned the lodging is quite pricey – especially in peak season – but may be worth the splurge for a special occasion.

Cabins at Big Sur Lodge
25 Big Sur Lodge Cabins25 Big Sur Lodge Cabins

On this trip to the area, we stayed in one of these cabins for 3 nights.  As we weren’t quite sure about the restaurant situation in the area we opted for a cabin that included a full kitchen and as long as we were splurging, got one with separate living room including a fireplace for which they provided a free bundle of wood each day.

The first known European settler in Big Sur was George Davis, who built a cabin in what is now the park.  In 1868 Native Americans Manual and Florence Innocenti bought Davis' cabin and land for $50.  Then, in the winter of 1869, Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer were on their way to the south coast of Big Sur when they were forced to stop for the season in the Sycamore Canyon area near present-day Big Sur Village.  They liked the area so much they decided against moving on the following spring. They brought their four children with them: Charles, John, Mary Ellen, and Julia and subsequently had four more, William, Frank, Flora, and Adelaide.  I guess those winters can be long.  As the children grew up, got married and moved out, some acquired their own land holdings in the general area which is why just about everything has a Pfeiffer name in it somewhere.

In 1930, John Pfeiffer was offered $210,000 for his land by a Los Angeles developer who intended to build a subdivision.  Fortunately Pfeiffer wanted to preserve the land he and his family had grown to love, and instead sold 700 acres to the state of California in 1933 – and thus we now have Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Right next to the state park is something called “Big Sur Station” which is a multi-agency facility (Caltrans, National Forest, and CA State Parks) that includes a visitor center (closed for renovation when we visited).

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is National Forest land, but is managed by the California Coastal Commission.  As such none of the federal or state park passes work there.  It’s also why the turn off onto Sycamore Canyon Road is unmarked.  If you head south on CA-1 from the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for 1.1 miles you will find a small road coming in on the right.  There is a large yellow sign there saying “NARROW ROAD – No Pedestrians - No RV’s – No Trailers” – believe them!  You’ll have to navigate a very sharp hairpin turn to the right to get onto the road down to the beach.  This is more like a U-Turn than a right turn.  If it’s busy you may want drive past the road and find a wide spot for a U-turn on CA-1 and come back to the turn from the other direction. 

Sycamore Canyon Road is 2.2 miles of winding single-lane pavement.  There are five spots along the road where two vehicles can pass each other.  So, when it is busy this can be a bit challenging if other drivers don’t understand to concept of letting opposing traffic go by before entering a one lane section.

Suffice it to say, this is a very popular destination as it is one of only places along the Big Sur coast where you can drive to a beach.  As it also features great sand and 2, magnificent sea caves very close to (or actually part of) the beach at low tide it is a popular destination for photographers as well as beach goers in general.  On a limited number of days in December and January photographers crowd the beach to obtain pictures of the setting sun visible through one of the arches.

The $12 per car parking lot at the beach accommodates 65 vehicles and is usually full on summer and holiday weekends and on most other days near sunset.  If you’re after sunset photography here, plan to get down to the beach one or two hours ahead of time as otherwise your sunset will happen while you’re sitting in a line of cars waiting at the pay station for some other car to leave.  During the summer, a shuttle operates from the US Forest Service headquarters at Big Sur Station to the beach.  It is a short walk from the parking lot to the beach. For the record, don’t confuse Pfeiffer Beach with the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (where McWay falls is).

The beach itself is around 1 mile long and according to Wikipedia is known for purple patches of sand that are occasionally visible, especially after rain.  Since Pfeiffer Beach is on Federal land, nudity is legal and state nudity laws and state park nudity regulations don't apply. The north end of the beach is sometimes clothing optional. 

This beach is also quite famous for strong consistent wind.  Man, does it blow.  Don’t even think about changing lenses out there and bring your sturdiest tripod along with your lead shoes.  Staying closer to the cliffs is less windy but also tougher to photograph the sea arches from there. 

Double Sea Arch at Pfeiffer Beach
Double Arch at Pfeiffer Beach 1Double Arch at Pfeiffer Beach 1

Wind whipped waves crashing into rocks at Pfeiffer Beach
Surf , Pfeiffer BeachSurf , Pfeiffer Beach

Keyhole Rock, Pfeiffer Beach
Single Arch Sea Tunnel at Pfeiffer Beach 1Single Arch Sea Tunnel at Pfeiffer Beach 1

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The farthest south we could get before hitting the road closure was about 4 miles beyond Julia Pfeiffer Burns Stat Park a bit past Lime Creek.  I talked about the massive landslide which caused the road closure earlier in this article so won’t bother with it again.  Suffice it to say that if we had wanted to see points further south such a Lime Kiln State Park. Sand dollar Beach, Ragged Point, Elephant Seal Beach, Hearst Castle at San Simeon and the entire southern half of the Big Sur Coast Region, we’d have to backtrack all the way back to Carmel, head east from there to US-101, head south to Pasa Robles, then east back to the Coast Highway and then north again to the southern end of the road closure.  This would be a 4.5 hour detour.  We didn’t.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is 12 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and its main feature is McWay Falls.  In addition to the falls, the park also contains Redwood groves with some trees topping 300-feet that are over 2,500 years old.  The park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns who lived in the area for much of her life until her death in 1928 but who never actually owned any of the land of the park that now has her name.  I’ll tell you about that in the McWay Falls section below.  The 3,762-acre park was established in 1962.

Unfortunately due to fires this past summer, the only part of the park currently open is a small parking lot, the bathroom and the trail to McWay Falls viewpoint.  The rest of the park is closed due to last summer’s fires.

McWay Rocks sea Arch from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Vista Point
Single Sea Arch,  McWay Rocks, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkSingle Sea Arch, McWay Rocks, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

From Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Vista Point
Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP coast 1Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP coast 1

Double cove Beach just north of McWay Cove
Double cove Julia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkDouble cove Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Waves, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, South of McWay Cove and Anderson Creek
Big Sur Surf 2Big Sur Surf 2

McWay Falls

McWay falls is arguably one of the most beautiful and most photographed small waterfalls in the world.  It is 80 feet tall, with a year round flow from McWay Creek in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, that falls into McWay Cove.  During high tide, it is a ‘tidefall’, a waterfall that empties directly into the ocean. The only other tidefall in California is Alamere Falls.

Nestled into a hillside opposite the falls are the remains of Waterfall House, long-gone but for its imported palm trees, foundations, steps and terraces.

The house was built by the Browns.  Back in the 19th century huge tracts of California wilderness were deeded to pioneers willing to work it (homesteading).  One such tract was a big chunk of Big Sur going to Christopher and Rachel McWay who first homesteaded the land in 1887. They worked the land for decades, finally selling it in 1924 to the Browns, who built themselves a modern (for the time) home called Waterfall House.

The Browns used the place as a getaway until 1956, when they packed up and moved to Florida (what fools).  When Lathrop Brown who happened to be FDR’s college roommate and best man at his wedding) died a few years later Helen gave the entire property to the state, but with a couple of provisos:  First, it would be a park named for one of the old pioneers, her good friend Julia Pfeiffer Burns.  Second, Waterfall House was to be turned into a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Big Sur.  But she stipulated a time limit on the museum’s creation – if it wasn’t done within five years, the house was to be razed. When five years passed with no museum, the house was taken down.

The remaining terraces and foundations are still there, with the bottom level now a viewing station for McWay Falls and the magnificent coast to the south.  From the parking lot there is a short trail that goes through a tunnel under the Coast Highway and out to the cliffs above McWay Cove.  From there the trail is just sort of carved into the side of the cliff and at some spots is actually a wooden boardwalk hung out over the edge.  At the end of this trail is the area where the house and gardens had been with great views of the falls and cove with the falls being almost head on.  There are palm trees (unusual for this climate) left over from the when the Brown’s lived there as well as all sorts of exotic flowers – now gone wild.  This area has lots of room for visitors and plenty of places from which to see and photograph the falls (and take those selfies). 

Unfortunately you can no longer get to that location.  In February of 2021 the last section of the trail leading to the house site was closed ‘due to trail erosion that has caused dangerous conditions’.  So now the trail just abruptly ends with a formidable chain link fence just before where the boardwalk section starts.  You can still see the falls from the current end of the trail but it is more of a side view than what we used to get further down the trail.  There is now only short section where you can get a clear shot of the falls and as one might expect that section is in high demand.  I hope this closure is only temporary

McWay Cove and Falls from the house site (2011)
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McWay Cove and Falls from the house site (2011)
McWay Falls Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park CAMcWay Falls Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park CA

McWay Falls from the 2021 end of the trail
McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkMcWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park


The region is protected by the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan, which preserves it as "open space, a small residential community, and agricultural ranching."  Approved in 1986, the plan is one of the most restrictive local-use programs in the state, and is widely regarded as one of the most restrictive documents of its kind anywhere.  The program protects “viewsheds” from the highway and many vantage points, and severely restricts the density of development. About 60% of the coastal region is owned by governmental or private agencies which do not allow any development. The majority of the interior region is part of the Los Padres National Forest, Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness or Fort Hunter Liggett.

If you go

If you decide to go, avoid the peak summer season and holiday weekends as the road is often jammed with people taking in the scenery.  This makes it hard, if not impossible, to find space in the vista parking areas, and frustrating to be stuck in a line of 20 to 30 cars behind a slow RV driven by someone from the plains where this is their first experience driving a curvy mountainous road in a vehicle that is way too large.  In the summer months there is often a 20 mile traffic jam extending from Big Sur Village all the way up to Carmel where there are a few strategically placed traffic lights to assure that traffic doesn’t flow too freely.  The time to go is in the spring and fall.  It’s easy to tell when the high season is.  Just look at the prices for a room.  If the price is outrageous, it’s off season.  If the price is ludicrously outrageous it is a shoulder season.  And, if the room rate is approaching the cost of your car, then you’re in high season.

You should also be aware that aside from WiFi in restaurants and motels, there is no cell service from Carmel Highlands all the way down to San Simeon.  So, you may as well turn your phone off.  If you plan to use your phone’s GPS with something like Google Maps, be sure to download the map to your phone before you leave home as once you lose cell service Google maps can no longer get the map you see from its servers.



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Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford unless otherwise stated (some from a trip in 2013).  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)




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SW Deserts #04 – Whitesands, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/11/sw-deserts-04 MARCH 2020

Desert Southwest #04 – White Sands & Petrified Forest

This is part 4 of a 3,246 mile driving trip we took in early March 2020 to the desert SW of the USA.  On this trip we visited Lone Pine, Alabama Hills and Manzanar all on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains in California, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Tombstone Arizona, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, White Sands National Park also in New Mexico and a quick run through Painted Desert – Petrified forest National Park in Arizona.

This installment is for the last part of the trip where we visited White Sands and Petrified Forest.

Entire Trip map
05 Map 1 - Whole Trip05 Map 1 - Whole Trip

Carlsbad Caverns marked the eastern extent of this trip and the next day we started heading back west toward home. 

Carlsbad Caverns to home
06 Map 9 Carlsbad to Palo Alto06 Map 9 Carlsbad to Palo Alto

Carlsbad to Alamogordo

The drive from Carlsbad to Alamogordo (near White Sands) was only 150 miles so even on 2 land roads was under 3 hours.  Our route had us go north on US-185 but then rather than go all the way up to Roswell and cut across on I-70 we turned west on US-82.  This road is 2 lanes (one each way) and in many regards is similar to RT-66 – except with no towns to speak of.  The first 2/3rds was flat and straight across the desert but then it climbed up into the Lincoln National Forest and got a bit curvier.  And, compared to an interstate it was much more interesting.  It eventually rose up to around 8,700 feet which is not giant but respectable. 

As we climbed, the scrub desert gave way to pine and fir forests and the air got cooler.  But, except for one or two small towns near a ski resort there was not much in the way of civilization which was quite nice.  What made it especially nice was that I-70 (140 miles further north) takes the bulk of the east-west truck traffic.  So, US-82, the road we took, was empty.  In our entire drive until we descended into Alamogordo we didn’t come across any vehicles going our way and only 2 or 3 going the other way.  Now, this is how driving should be.  All in all it was a very pleasant drive.


Alamogordo, with a population of around 30,000 is quite unremarkable.  So, why does that name sound so familiar?  We’ve all heard of the place, but maybe can’t quite recall why it sounds familiar.  Well, the fact that the name translates to “Fat Cottonwood” doesn’t help.  As it turns out, it got its name from the location of the Trinity Test site.  Still drawing a blank?  The Trinity Test site was the location of the first test of the Atom bomb in 1945.  The top secret “Manhattan Project” research site where the bomb was invented is closer to Los Alamos, 350 miles away, to the north of Santa Fe.  “Trinity” was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear device which occurred on July 16, 1945.  The test was conducted about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on what was then the US Air force Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range but is now part of the White Sands Missile Range.  So, that is why we remember the name Alamogordo.  I guess the folks who built the bomb – or as they called it “the gadget” –didn’t want to be too close to it when they set it off.

For the bomb test, the only structures in the vicinity were the McDonald Ranch House and its ancillary buildings which scientists used as a laboratory for testing bomb components.  A base camp was constructed, and there were 425 people present on the weekend of the test.  The Trinity site is at the north end of base but the city of Alamogordo is right next to the base nearer its southern end.

Speaking of the missile range, route US-70 cuts across the south eastern corner of this facility (and is where the entrance to White Sands National Park is located).  Roughly twice a week, when they test something, they close the highway for an hour or two.  This is usually known in advance and announced in the newspaper, on TV and the radio and I imagine on other medial platforms as well.  It is just one of the things you get used to if you live nearby.

Today the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) has some claim to fame in its own right.  NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia landed on the Northrop Strip at the missile range in 1982.  This was the only time that NASA used WSMR as a landing site for the space shuttle. 

Although not an actual part of the WSMR, next to is Spaceport America.  Spaceport America is an FAA-licensed spaceport directly west of and adjacent to U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range.  This facility is the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport, designed and constructed specifically for commercial use that had not previously been an airport or federal infrastructure of any kind. The site is built to accommodate both vertical and horizontal launch aerospace vehicles, as well as an array of non-aerospace events and commercial activities. Among other tenants, Virgin Galactic is using it as their base of operations.  Spaceport America is owned and operated by the State of New Mexico, via a state agency.

White Sands National park

White Sands National Park is actually in what was part of the Bombing and Gunnery Range approximately 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo. The park comprises the southern part of a 275 sq. mi. field of white sand dunes and is the largest of its kind on Earth.

Like Joshua tree, White Sands was first a National Monument, designated in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover.  It became a national park in 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019.  Wait a minute.  The year 2020 sounds familiar.  Holy cow, that’s just this year!  As we visited in March, I’m not entirely sure if it was a monument or a park when we visited.

The park itself is 145,762 sq. mi. of which 115 sq. mi. are the dunes themselves.  So what’s so special about these sand dunes?  Well I’ll tell you.  Most sand dunes are made of silica sand commonly known as beach sand.  This is the stuff you see along many ocean boundaries, and in various deserts.  However the sand dunes at White Sands are made of Gypsum Crystals.  Regular (non crystalline) gypsum is what they make sheet rock out of so you are probably within a few feet of a bunch of it right from where you are sitting. 

Even though there are many different kinds of sand, such as black or red volcanic sand, Gypsum Crystal ‘sand’ is much different than regular sand.  For one thing, regular sand is usually a muted yellow color whereas Gypsum Crystal sand is blinding white with a bit of a sparkle to it when hit by sunlight.  Another difference is that when you walk on regular sand your feet tend to sink in and if you are ascending a dune, even slide backwards some with each step.  But this sand behaves differently.  When you step on it, it compresses just a bit but is quite solid just below the surface.  Like walking on a concrete slab covered with a half inch of regular sand.  According to the park brochure water holds this vast dune field together. The top couple of inches, having been dried by the sun, are very sand like.  However, it is moist just a few inches below the surface.  It seems the dunes stay moist even during the longest droughts.  This is probably caused by the gypsum crystals becoming water tight when they are moist and there is a bit of weight on them from the couple of inches of loose sand on top.  The moisture acts like a glue causing the gypsum crystals to interlock with each other and become quite solid. 

The depth of gypsum across the entire field is about 30 feet below the bottom of the little valleys between the dunes.  From this level the tallest dunes are about 60 feet high making them quite climbable.  As these dunes are more solid than normal sand dunes they are easy to walk on and are great for sliding down on plastic snow saucers or just a piece of cardboard

About 12,000 years ago, the land within the Tularosa Basin (where the dunes are now) featured large lakes, streams, and grasslands.  Ice age mammals lived by the shores of Lake Otero, one of the largest lakes in the southwest.  The dune field formed about 7,000–10,000 years ago.  It was created when exposed gypsum in the mountains to the west was dissolved by water from rain and glaciers and then eroded into gypsum grains.  These grains were then transported eastward by wind and water runoff into this geographical depression.  As is the case with most sand dunes these blow around a bit as the wind changes but in general they just move back and forth within this area.

When you enter the park from the highway, after stopping at the visitor center for a map, there is a single road leading to the dunes.  This road is paved for a while then becomes a Gypsum Crystal road made up of the “sand” compressed by the daily passing of hundreds of cars.  They do run a grader over it from time to time forming a bit of a ridge along the shoulder so you’ll know where the road actually is, but other than that it’s just the gypsum.  About 6 miles in, the road makes splits into a 3.7 mile loop with large graded parking areas all about. 

White Sands National Park is the most visited NPS site in New Mexico, with about 600,000 visitors each year.  Three picnic areas are available, as well as a backcountry campground with ten sites for overnight camping in the dune field.  Five marked trails totaling 9 miles allow visitors to explore the dunes on foot.  In these cases a trail is a series of flags stuck in the dunes spaced such that from each flag you can see the next flag in each direction.  This works well in the daytime but is a bit more challenging at night. 

After driving from Carlsbad and checking into our hotel in Alamogordo we killed some time in town as we didn’t want to be on those snow white dunes in mid day light.  We left town around 4:30 and headed over to the park where we arrived around 5:00 and got out to the dunes around 5:30.   There were people there but it was not crowded by any stretch of the imagination.  Kids were sliding down the steep slopes on snow saucers or cardboard near the parking areas.  Others were setting out their picnic dinners and one could see the odd form of a hiker out on the dunes.  The wind was calm and there were some high thin clouds struggling to stay intact in the dry air rising off the desert. 

We drove to the far end of the loop and found a trail head.  Grabbed the gear and headed out.  As advertised, walking on the dunes was way easier than, say, the sand dunes in Death Valley.  In the windswept valleys between the dunes the footing was quite solid and some grasses and small scrub bushes were eking out an existence.  At first glance those areas looked like they were covered with vehicle tracks.  But upon closer inspection it was natural ridging due to the winds racing along between the dunes and scouring the bottoms of the little valleys.

Wind ridged valleys between the dunes

For photographic purposes we wanted to put some distance bet Gypsum sand dune #1Gypsum sand dune #1
ween us and the people closer to the parking areas so even though the flags marking the trail are on top of the dunes we walked in these lower valley areas between the dunes.  But, of course that doesn’t give much of a view of the dunes going off into the distance.  So after about a mile or so, we trekked back up to the tops for a look see.  The idea was to take advantage of the sunset over the mountains to the west with the dunes leading off to those mountains.  Not as many puffy clouds as I would have liked but a few could be seen way off over the distant mountains. 

But we were still a bit early for the sunset which provided an opportunity to do some more intimate photography.  Although the plant life was scarce and animal life nonexistent on the dunes, there was some opportunity for exploring form and texture with the camera.

Wind ripples in the sand
Gypsum sand dune with woman in blackGypsum sand dune with woman in black

Dune ridges
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Small peaks of wet sand resist wind
Gypsum sand dune peaksGypsum sand dune peaks

After waiting for the sun to go settle onto the distant mountains, it was time to try for the sunset shots.  Unfortunately the clouds were not really doing much and were too far away anyway and even though we had small flashlights, they would be useless in trying to find the next trail flag once it got dark.  And, as is attested to by many signs it is very easy to get lost in these dunes at night.  So I took a bunch of shots for the heck of it and we started to head back.

The first batch was while the sun was still visible above the horizon and kissing the tops of the dunes warming the color from its normal cool white to mellow amber.

Sun starting to set

Sunset over White Sands #1Sunset over White Sands #1

However shooting into the sun like this is rarely successful for my taste but I figured that things might get a bit more interesting once the sun was below the horizon.  And it did.  Of course once the sun is below the horizon and you enter the blue zone the color cast changes from yellowish to blue.  In this case the sun made the clouds a bit more interesting as well.

sunset over White Sands #3sunset over White Sands #3

Well, now that it was really starting to get dark and we were still a half mile or so away from the parking lot we picked up the pace while we could still make out the flags to guide our way.  But I kept looking over my shoulder to the west to see what was happening with the sunset.  During this time the clouds had started to come in over the mountains and the last rays of the sinking sun caught their underside and lit them up quite nicely.

sunset over White Sands #4sunset over White Sands #4

Just as it became pitch dark, we were close enough to the parking lot to be able to see headlights from cars which was good enough to keep us heading in the right direction and finally made it back to the car without a problem.  As I was shifting my gear into the car another couple came in from the dunes and stopped to say thanks.  Turned out they had hiked in further than we had and had neglected to bring any lights with them.  And, each time I turned around to check out the western sky, they caught sight of my head lamp and thereby could follow along.

If you go to White Sands National Park, check local resources as both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces are subject to closure when tests are conducted at White Sands Missile Range which completely surrounds the park.

Code Talkers Museum, Gallup, NM

After leaving Alamogordo the next day, we continued heading back to the west and spent the night in Gallup, New Mexico.  Gallup has a population of a bit over 21,000 (2010 census).  Most of the population is Native American, with residents from the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes.  Gallup is the most populous city between Flagstaff and Albuquerque, along the historic U.S. Route 66. 

Gallup was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The city was named after David Gallup, a paymaster for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.  During World War II, the city fought successfully to prevent 800 Japanese American residents from being placed in wartime internment, the only New Mexico city to do so.  Gallup is known as the "Heart of Indian Country" or "The Heart of Indians" because it is on the edge of the Navajo reservation and is home to members of many other tribes as well.

We needed a place to sleep somewhat near The Painted Desert – Petrified Forest so that we could get there before the light got too bad and Gallup was the nearest city of any consequence to the parks.  Well, as long as we were in Gallup we looked for something of interest to see and found that there was a WWII “code talkers” museum in the Chamber of Commerce building.  This museum is in an old train depot with a gift shop and meeting room on the first floor and offices plus a small museum containing a collection of memorabilia from World War II on the second floor.  Among other things, this museum showcases the contribution of our Native Americans to the war effort.   During the war in the Pacific the Navajo Code Talkers used their native language as the basis for communication.  As this language was not based on any other European or Asian language it was too difficult for the enemy to decipherer.  No view upon WWII is complete without knowledge about this individualized skill that saved the lives of thousands, and if you had or knew someone who served in the Pacific WWII theatre, they would testify that this small group of warriors saved more lives than any other aspect of American soldiering.

Choctaw soldiers in training for coded radio and telephone transmissions (Image from Wikipedia)
14 Code talkers 114 Code talkers 1

Comanche code talkers of the 4th Signal Company (Image from Wikipedia) 15 Code talkers 315 Code talkers 3

Painted Desert

(Note: the rest of this blog consists of photos and experiences from this trip in 2020 as well as a trip in 2013).

Our final destination on this particular trip was a re-visit to the Petrified Forest National park in Arizona.  As I understand, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest were at one time two separate parks but over time as they both grew they wound up touching each other and are now both included in the Petrified Forest National Park.  The Painted Desert part is on the north side of I-40 and Petrified Forest part is on the south side.  The main (only) paved park road goes north-south through both of them and Interstate 40 slices through going east/west.  If you ever find yourself traveling along I-40 across northern Arizona don’t miss the opportunity to jump off the freeway and see these parks.  The park entrance is literally at the end of the freeway exit ramp so not wanting to detour from your route is no excuse.

We got to the park around 9:15 am mid May on the 2013 trip and a bit later on the 2020 trip so in both cases the light was already past it's prime for photography.  But the Painted Desert was so gorgeous with all the striated colors in the rolling landscape I shot photos anyway.  Surprisingly, many of them came out OK but I sure do wish I'd been there closer to sunrise or sunset.  In the Painted Desert part of the park you are on the top of a mesa, looking down into the landscape that extends off into the distance as far as the eye can see.  The literature says this is the southern edge of the Painted Desert but even so it was pretty spectacular.

Painted Desert From Tiponi Point
01 5d3R01-#217501 5d3R01-#2175

Volcanic landscape from Tawa Point
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The Painted Desert is a set of badlands that run from near the east end of Grand Canyon National Park southeast into Petrified Forest National Park. It is most easily accessed at its north end its own exit on I-40.  The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors that not only include the more common red rock one sees throughout the American Southwest, but also shades of pink, blue, gray, and lavender. 

It was named by an expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, which he actually did locate some 40 miles east of where the park is now.  However, contrary to the common wisdom of the time, the cities were not made of gold.  By the time Coronado got to the Seven Cities of Cibola he was somewhat short on supplies so sent an expedition to find the Colorado River which could be used to find a settlement for supplies.   On the way to the river they passed through an area of wonderland colors which they named El Desierto Pintado ("The Painted Desert").

The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale. These fine grained rock layers contain abundant iron and manganese compounds which provide the pigments for the various colors of the region. Thin resistant lacustrine limestone layers and volcanic flows cap the mesas.

Stratified layers from Kachina Point
Painted Desert 1, AZPainted Desert 1, AZ

And, from Pintado Point
Painted Desert 2, AZPainted Desert 2, AZ

As we had on our prior visit, we entered the park on its north end where the park road is an exit on I-40.  This is the end that first goes through the Painted Desert on the north side of I-40 and then continues on into the Petrified Forest on the south side of I-40.  There are 9 scenic overlooks in the Painted Desert part of the park before crossing old RT-66 and I-40 into the Petrified Forest section.  However, I must say that there was plenty of painted desert on the south side as well and to be honest many desert vistas south of I-40. 

From Katchina Point
03 5d3R01-#221503 5d3R01-#2215

From Kachina Point
Painted desert from Painted Desert InnPainted desert from Painted Desert Inn

Where the park road crosses the path of old Rt-66 there is a little pull off and a sign but it just looked like the rest of the desert.  As much as I tried I could not detect a more level strip that could have been where the road was.  However, they were kind enough to place the rusted shell of a 1930’s or 1940’s touring car near the sign just so it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time making that stop.  I also liked a concrete block with an embedded car grill near the sign.  I wasn’t impressed enough to bother taking a photo there but seeing as how I now find myself writing a paragraph on the location I grabbed a couple of shots from the internet (Google Maps). If you’re keen eyed you may be able to make out some modern trucks on I-40 in background.

Route 66 marker.  I suppose the line of telephone poles marks the side of where the road was
02 Rt66 Sign & Car02 Rt66 Sign & Car

The Grille
01 Rt66 Grille Monument01 Rt66 Grille Monument

Painted Desert Inn

The Painted Desert Inn is one of the few remaining establishments built in the late 1800’s by Fred Harvey and which came to be known as “Harvey Houses”.  If you recall much about American History (when they taught such things in school), that was a period of westward expansion accompanied by massive railroad projects to link up the continent starting with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.  Fred noted that on long trips “out west”, finding a place to eat when traveling on the trains was sketchy at best.  This was before dining cars on passenger trains were introduced and the only option for a meal was a roadhouse located near the railroad’s water stops.  These typically consisted of nothing more than rancid meat, cold beans and week old coffee.

Fred set out to change this as well as to make money with a string of high quality restaurants with good service at railroad meal stop locations in the west.  After a failed attempt to build a few cafes in Kansas in 1876, in 1879 Fred convinced the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) to give him a contract for several eating houses on an experimental basis, starting in Florence, Kansas.  These were so successful that he was able to rapidly expand into a chain of restaurants (said to be the first chain restaurants in the US) that eventually numbered 84.

Painted Desert Inn – “Harvey House”
Painted Desert Inn #4Painted Desert Inn #4

The company and its employees, including the famous waitresses who came to be known as Harvey Girls, successfully brought new higher standards of both civility and dining to a region widely regarded in the era as the "Wild West". The popularity of the Harvey Girls grew even stronger in 1946 when Judy Garland starred in the film version of Samuel Hopkins Adams’s novel The Harvey Girls.

Railroad officials and passengers were impressed with Fred Harvey's strict standards for high quality food and first class service and as word got out passenger traffic significantly increased.  As a result, AT&SF entered into subsequent (mostly oral) contracts wherein he was given unlimited funds to set up the series of what were dubbed "eating houses" along most of the railroad routes.  At more prominent locations, these eating houses evolved into hotels, many of which survive today.  By the late 1880s, there was a Fred Harvey dining facility located every 100 miles along the AT&SF.  What made this work was that the Railroad agreed to transport fresh meat and produce free of charge to Fred’s restaurants using its own line of refrigerator cars.  Fred Harvey even establish two dairy farms out west (the larger being in New Mexico) to assure a constant supply of fresh milk. 

Harvey's meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public; for instance, pies were cut into fourths, rather than sixths, which was the industry standard at the time.  The Harvey Company and AT&SF established a series of signals that allowed the dining room staff to make the necessary preparations to feed an entire train in just thirty minutes.  Harvey Houses served their meals on fine China and Irish linens.  Fred Harvey, a fastidious innkeeper, set high standards for efficiency and cleanliness in his establishments, personally inspecting them as often as possible.  It was said that nothing escaped his notice, and he was even known to completely overturn a poorly set table. Male customers were required to wear a coat and tie in many of Harvey's dining rooms.  The Harvey Houses served free meals to GIs traveling on troop trains during World War II.

Later, when dining cars were added to long haul passenger trains, the Fred Harvey Company was contracted to operate the rolling version of his restaurants which the AT&SF advertised as “Fred Harvey All the Way”.

Even with the fine cuisine and spotless facilities, one of the most enduring things about Harvey Houses were those “Harvey Girls” who served the meals. The recruiting advertisements called for "young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent, as waitresses in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad in the West."  In exchange for good looks, manners, and service, women found well paid employment, adventure, and oftentimes, marriage beyond the opportunities of home and farm.  At that time The West was pretty uncivilized but these women had to maintain a reputation for femininity and morality strictly enforced by their employer.  All donned a standard uniform of black or white starched skirt, high-collared blouse, with a bib and apron; they served their patrons with practiced precision.  Harvey Girls contracted for six, nine, or twelve months of service and received a salary, room and board, tips, and free tickets on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. In addition to previously unheard-of salaries for unskilled women at the time, they gained a sense of pride and independence.

One of the best preserved Harvey Houses is the "Painted Desert Inn" in what is now the Petrified National park where it has been restored and is open as a museum.  Inside we ran into a ranger who told us the Fascinating story of the place.  Then, when he saw we were actually listening and interested, took us around back and unlocked some doors into rooms where the "Harvey Girls" lived while they worked there and told us what it was like for them.  Quite fascinating. 

Painted Desert Inn Lobby
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Living Quarters for a “Harvey Girl”
Guest room, Painted Desert Inn Harvey HouseGuest room, Painted Desert Inn Harvey House

Petrified Forest

Now, I've been to many "petrified forest" attractions in many different parts of the country before.  In most cases you may see a bump in the ground that they say is a petrified tree stump, or you may see a little fragment of something here or there.  In these places the vast majority of the petrified wood you see is in the gift shop.  So, my expectation was that this park would be somewhat similar.  Maybe a few more fragments scattered about as the Park Service may be more diligent in keeping relics from wandering off but I didn't expect much.  In fact, I presumed that the most interesting thing would be watching a few trains go under a bridge on the main park road.

One of the first turn off’s was to some petroglyphs called “Newspaper Rock”.  I’ve seen a bunch of those before but as long as we were here, might as well check it out.  Well, it turned out to be a dud.  You can't get close, they're at a weird angle to where you're standing and it’s just one smallish rock.  They do have a scope to help you see them, but we’ve seen much better elsewhere.

Newspaper Rock
Painted Desert 6, AZPainted Desert 6, AZ

However, from then on, every turnout had great views of the Painted Desert landscape - each one with different formations and colors - or had tons of petrified logs, or both.  Between the two trips we stopped at just about every turn out and took several of the shorter loop trail walks.  On the 2020 trip though our plans were thwarted due to a bridge being rebuilt stopping us at Blue Mesa.  To get to the southern half of the park you’d have to backtrack all the way back to I-40, then loop all the way around the park and re-enter at the southern entrance.  This would add more than an hour and would then also require back tracking once again when leaving so we opted out of that.  However on our 2013 trip we were able to do the whole park.

After the disappointing petroglyphs, the next major attraction is Blue Mesa.  In terms of petrified wood, there are entire petrified logs lying around as well as smaller chunks. By small, I'm guessing over 100 pounds each as most all of the "carry-able" pieces nearby the trails had been stolen and carted off by tourists long ago. We won't go into my opinion of people who do that sort of thing other than to say it's not high.  Not only was there loads of petrified wood to see, much of it had incredible colors and patterns. A real delight to see. 

Unlike the reds/oranges of the Painted Desert section, here the color palette is in the blue/violet range
Blue Mesa #3, Petrified Forest NPBlue Mesa #3, Petrified Forest NP

Blue Mesa Textures
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Blue Mesa Dome
Painted Desert 8, AZPainted Desert 8, AZ

Piece of petrified log at Blue Mesa
Petrified Tree #1Petrified Tree #1

After Blue mesa, on our 2013 trip we continued on through the rest of the park.  However on the 2020 trip the road was closed just south of the Blue Mesa turn off due to a bridge being missing.  So, the rest of these photos and descriptions are from the 2013 trip.

While there are many named pull off spots south of Blue Mesa the one that stands out is the Crystal Forest.  This location has a several trails, including a self guided accessible trail through the area. 

The Crystal Forest area was once covered in sparkling quartz and purple amethyst crystals that developed in the hollows of the logs as the trees petrified.  Unfortunately, in the late 1800s, before the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument, many ancient logs were dynamited by those seeking the semi-precious gems.  Massive petrified trees were blasted into the small chips you can still see scattered about alongside the trail.  But, much of the forest is still present.

While the bark of these petrified trees is quite similar to the petrified logs at Blue Mesa and other pull outs, what makes these special are the interior of the logs which can be seen where they have broken apart. 

Petrified log, Crystal Forest
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Real sense that there was once an actual forest worth of trees (Crystal Forest Area)
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In bright sun, the crystallized quartz and amethyst sparkle and almost glow with color as the light refracts through the crystal structures. 

Crystal forest
Petrified Forest 6, AZPetrified Forest 6, AZ

Turned to Stone
Petrified Forest 7, AZPetrified Forest 7, AZ

The core of the log
Petrified Forest 8, AZPetrified Forest 8, AZ

Crystallized Bark
Petrified Forest 2, AZPetrified Forest 2, AZ

The Painted Desert and half of the Petrified Forest marked the end of the destinations for this trip.  We spent that night in Needles and the next day drove back home on the same route we use for most all of our southwest trips (through Bakersfield, up I-5, over Pacheco Pass to US-101 and then home).

I hope you enjoyed reading about our visit to several desert locations in Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico and that you’ll follow along on future trips it we’re ever allowed to go anywhere again.


On the days covered in this episode, the world kept going.  The last 3 days of the trip saw the President declare that the death count would be no worse than that of the common flu.  And when the numbers kept going up he said, “Well, this was unexpected”, “We're prepared, and we're doing a great job with it”, and “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away”.  Two days later the US suspended all travel into the US from Europe for 30 days.

When we started the trip there were 16 confirmed cases of COVID19 in the US, by the time we got home there were close to 1,300 and on the day I’m writing this there are 7,345,406 confirmed cases.  In terms of COVID19 deaths, there had been one the day we left, 37 known or probable by the time we got home and today over well over a quarter million with no end in sight.

By the time we returned home, nothing had been shut down.  We still had not heard of “Shelter in Place”, one could still go to a ball game, concert or movie and could travel to most places in the world.  Face masks were suggested only for first line medical workers and deemed not needed for the general public.  It wasn’t until 2 weeks after our return that any business or travel restrictions were put in place.



This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/american-sw-desert-2020-03  (all images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford unless otherwise stated (some from a trip in 2013).  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)




dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Alamogordo Atizona blog Blue Mesa Code Talkers museum Crystal Forest dan hartford photo dantravelblogdesertsw2020 desert sw Gallup Gallup NM Harvey Girls Harvey House Kachina Point New Mexico Newspaper Rock Painted Desert Painted Desert Inn Painted Desert NP Petrified Forest Petrified Forest NP Petrified Wood Pintado Point Tawa Point Tiponi Point united states White Sands White Sands NP WhiteSands WhiteSands NP https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/11/sw-deserts-04 Fri, 27 Nov 2020 22:19:01 GMT
SW Deserts #03 – Tombstone & Carlsbad Caverns https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/10/sw-deserts-03 MARCH 2020

Desert Southwest #03 – Tombstone & Carlsbad Caverns

This is part 3 of a 3,246 mile driving trip we took in early March 2020 to the desert SW of the USA.  On this trip we visited Lone Pine, Alabama Hills and Manzanar all on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains in California, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Tombstone Arizona, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, White Sands National Park also in New Mexico and a quick run through Painted Desert – Petrified forest National Park in Arizona.

This installment is for the Tombstone & Carlsbad Caverns part of the trip.

Entire Trip map
01 Map 1 - Whole Trip01 Map 1 - Whole Trip

After leaving Joshua Tree National Park, the five and a half hour drive through Phoenix to Tombstone was uneventful.  We really had no reason to stop over at Tombstone other than getting all the way to Carlsbad in one long drive was too much and Tombstone was about in the middle and sounded more interesting than either Phoenix or Tucson.  So, Tombstone it was.  And, as it was Tombstone why not spend the night at ad “Dude Ranch” called the “Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch”.

Joshua Tree to Carlsbad Caverns
02 Map 7 - JT to Carlsbad02 Map 7 - JT to Carlsbad

Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch

The guest ranch is located 2.5 miles from town in the Tombstone Hills of Cochise County. The ranch itself is built in the image of an old western town. The guest rooms line “Main Street” and each room is styled after a famous building form the folklore of the wild west.  For example, you can stay in the “Grand Hotel”, the “Marshall’s Office” the “Blacksmith’s” or even the “Jail”.  For some reason that I’m still trying to figure out, we were assigned to “Miss Kitty’s Whorehouse”. 

On the first floor of the “Grand Hotel” is the “Old Trappman Saloon” complete with swinging doors a massive bar to slide a whisky down along with a vintage pool able as well as card tables where Arizona Bill or Wyatt Earp will teach you how to play 5 card draw, Texas Hold ‘em or Faro (Wyatt Earp’s game).  They bring in live western music 2-3 nights a week.

We were only there one night so didn’t have time to take advantage of their “ranch” activities.  As a dude ranch they offer activities such as horseback riding at several different levels of riding skill, shooting and archery lessons and tours into the Dragoon Mountains to explore where Apache Chief Cochise and the Warrior Geronimo had a stronghold.  They also offer trips to Wilcox or Sonoita and Elgin for wine tasting and visits to Kartchner Caverns.

Old Trappman Saloon, Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch
07 7d2R04-#006707 7d2R04-#0067

Good Advice
06 5d3R04-#697006 5d3R04-#6970

Guest rooms along Main Street
Guest rooms, Tombstone Monument Guest RanchGuest rooms, Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch

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04 7d2R04-#005204 7d2R04-#0052

Tombstone, Arizona

After leaving the guest ranch the next morning, we went on into the actual town of Tombstone for a look around.

There are certain town names that have become synonymous with the “Wild West”.  These are places like Dodge City, El Paso, Deadwood, Virginia City, Cody, Durango and the best known Tombstone, Arizona. 

For those of you too young to remember the age of Westerns on TV and in full length feature films (mid-late 1950’s through early 1960’s, these town names may not mean much.  But to us old geezers, who can forget the Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, the Hole in the wall gang, Kit Carson, the Lone Ranger and many more.  Much of this real, as well as made up, folklore took place in Tombstone. 

As far as Wild West towns in the USA go, this one is probably the most recognized even though its role in the Wild West era was more toward the end of the period.  It was a big mining town, and it had plenty of cultural activities (like an opera house) for the rich folk, and a great selection of saloons, gambling halls, and other less respectable places for the grittier types.

But it is most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral made famous by the 1957 movie, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday as well as the 1993 movie “Tombstone”, starring Kurt Russell.  Both of these movies give great representations of how events went down back in the day and have cemented Tombstone as the epitome of the Wild West.

Tombstone has a current population of around 1,400 and they are milking their Wild West connection to the hilt.  Today Tombstone offers a glimpse into the past with historic attractions such as museums, history tours on foot, by stagecoach or trolley, underground mine experiences, paranormal adventures, shopping, dining and of course gunfight reenactments!

We got there around 10:00 AM when the town was just starting to open for the daily influx of tourists.  The store keepers were putting their signs out,  The museums were unlocking their doors, the stage coach was just pulling up to the old hotel to await paying customers and the decked out actors who stage the many shows and demonstrations in town were arriving in the street to drum up business.  But, it was still a pretty quiet time as most the tourists had yet to show up.

Main street Tombstone, waking up in the morning
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Waiting for the first customers of the day
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Actors hawking their shows
Drumming up business in tombstoneDrumming up business in tombstone

Now there’s a combination you don’t see very often
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White’s City

After our evening at the dude ranch and morning exploring Tombstone we headed east, through El Paso, another 434 miles to the Town of Carlsbad New Mexico.

The Carlsbad Caverns are 28 miles from the town of Carlsbad.  Right at the entrance to the park is another town called White’s City which also has lodging and is only 7 miles from the caves, so why didn’t we stay there you may ask? 

White’s City had its start in the 1920s as a commercial resort owned by Charlie White. Currently it is an unincorporated community with a permanent population of 7 as of the 2010 census.   The town sports a café, grocery store, gift shop, gas station, RV park, and a motel.  It should be noted that in the gift shop you can get your fortune read by an automated “Zoltar” which is about the most exciting thing one can say about this town. 

But of course there is some history.  Folklore has it that White’s City was founded by James (Jim) Larkin White who is credited with the discovery of the caverns.  However this is not the case.  The town was first settled in the early 1900’s by Charlie White (no relation to Jim White).  Charlie (born in Kentucky) was a college educated and successful businessman with many varied enterprises in several New Mexico towns. 

One day, Charlie was on a family vacation to visit the Carlsbad Caverns, when he had the idea to purchase the land adjacent to the dirt road leading to the caves. With very little capital and a great vision, “White’s Cavern Camp” was established.  White’s City Cavern Camp originally consisted of a single home, 13 visitor cabins, and a fueling station. Years later (approx. 1963) the name was changed to White’s City and the city was officially registered as a recognized Census-designated Place in the state of New Mexico.

During the Great Depression, the Pueblo Motel was built to expand capacity for travelers. Charlie also opened a car garage, a drug and grocery store, and a museum to help serve Carlsbad Caverns’ visitors.  Over time, descendants of Charlie White eventually took over the family business and grew the city to have more attractions and offerings. Other attractions that previously existed early in White’s City’s history included a chair lift ride up to the top of Walnut Canyon, a melodrama theatre, The Million Dollar Museum, the Velvet Garter Saloon, and other tourist-associated shops.

It is not entirely clear why there isn’t a real town here or nearby on US-62 to cater to the Carlsbad Caverns crowd as there certainly is demand.  But the theory goes that good ol’ Charlie was a shrewd businessman and even though funds were scarce he did manage to buy up all the land along the highway in both directions in order to prevent any competition from gaining a foothold.  That is why you need to go all the way to the town of Carlsbad to find any sort of selection of lodging restaurants and other “proper town” amenities.

When we visited Carlsbad Caverns on a 1973 camping trip (we were living in Boston at the time), we had planned to camp in White’s City but when we got there it was well over 100 degrees and the campground was just open desert with picnic tables.  Not even a bush let alone anything resembling a tree for shade.  So, even though we were poor college students we decided to spring for a motel. 

There were two motels in town at that time.  One was contemporary and priced at about 4 times more than any motel we’d used on the entire trip.  The other was well past its expiration date.  Probably was the original one from 1920’s or 1930’s.  A long skinny building one room deep and maybe 30 rooms wide.  It was hard to tell how long it really was as other than the first 10 or so rooms the rest of the building had literally collapsed into a pile of rubble.  But the price was just very high rather than bank breaking ludicrous.  The room had a double bed the shape of an old horse on its way to the glue factory.  There was a separate bathroom with no door and a dresser but you couldn’t open the drawers more than a few inches as they hit the bed.  In fact, the front of the dresser was so close to the bed that you couldn’t walk past it to the bathroom without climbing on the bed. 

But we were out of the sun and the room had Air Conditioning – or at least that’s what the front desk clerk told us.  Yes, there was a unit stuck in the wall that was wheezing and groaning as it attempted to fight off the 100+ degree air outside.  Had there been a TV or radio in the room the noise from the AC unit would have completely drowned it out.  It was actually what is called a swamp cooler rather than a proper air conditioner. 

For those of you not familiar with swamp coolers here’s a comparison.  A proper air conditioner has a set of pipes containing a refrigerant (used to be Freon).  This fluid goes through a compressor and set of expansion coils.  The compressor squeezes the refrigerant making it hotter and a fan blows that heat outside.  Then, once inside the room the refrigerant goes through a device that lets the refrigerant expand which causes it to get very cold and a fan blows air over those cold refrigerant pipes and into the room.  On the other hand, a swamp cooler has a fan that blows air into the room but in front of the fan is a sponge like material that has water dripping through it.  In other words it’s like sitting in front of a fan with a spritz bottle of water.  It does cool the room (a bit), but also fills the room with moist air making everything clammy.  But, it was what it was and even as bad as it was it was better than sleeping in a tent that had been in the sun all day.  That old motel is now completely gone.

But, this trip we stayed in the town of Carlsbad, 28 miles away. 

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico and is the most well known limestone cave in the US.  It is not the largest, longest, or deepest but is the most popular cave in the US.  This is probably due to it being discovered and opened to the public earlier than many other larger cave systems – some of which are also in Carlsbad National Park.  The park itself contains over 119 named caves three of which are open to public tours. Carlsbad Caverns is the most famous and is fully developed with electric lights, paved trails, and elevators. Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spider Cave are undeveloped, except for designated paths for the guided "adventure" caving tours. 

Another cave in the park is Lechuguilla Cave which is well known for its delicate speleothems and pristine underground environment. Over 120 miles of Lechuguilla Cave passages have been explored and mapped so far and they aren’t done yet.  Some of those passages have descended to a depth of 1,600 feet, making it the second deepest limestone cave in the U.S.  But to protect the fragile environment, access is limited to scientific expeditions only.  In addition to Lechuguilla, other cave systems in the US are also larger than Carlsbad such as Mammoth Cave (KY), Jewel Cave (SD) and Wind Cave (SD).  But, Carlsbad is far and away the first one that springs to mind when thinking about large caves in the US.

There are two ways to get into the cave.  You can either hike in through the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center.  The hike in route descends 750 feet (vertically) over a 1.25 mile steep narrow and twisty pathway with many switchbacks.  Until the elevator was installed in 1955 the hike-in route was the only way into the cave which wasn’t so bad.  But the hike back out again was a bit more challenging.

Profile of Carlsbad Caverns cave system showing hike in trail (where bats are flying out) and elevator from visitor center (vertical white line)
12 Map 8 - Carlsbad Caverns12 Map 8 - Carlsbad Caverns

Although Native Americans had known about the cave for hundreds, if not thousands, of years there is no evidence these native peoples explored deep into the cave.  But they were certainly aware of its existence.  Eventually Spanish and European Americans began settling the area.  In their explorations they soon stumbled upon the gaping mouth of what is now known as Carlsbad Cavern.  Several of those individuals claim to be the first to have entered the cave, but they have mostly been forgotten by history.

The first credited cave exploration happened in 1898 when a sixteen year-old cowboy, Jim White, was rounding up cattle one evening and spotted smoke from a wildfire off in the distance. He went into high alert as even then fires were a serious event.  In order to report back to camp about the fire, he rode closer to gather information.

As Jim approached the smoke, he noticed something strange: he couldn't smell the smoke, hear the crackling of flames, or feel the heat of fire. Jim realized he wasn't seeing smoke. He was watching thousands-upon-thousands of bats which led Jim to the mouth of the cave.

Figuring that the other cowboys would give him a hard time he didn’t tell anyone about his find.  But, his curiosity got the better of him and on a day off went back to the cave with some pieces of wood and wire to fashion a ladder.  So with a lantern in one hand and the other hand gripping the twisting and turning ladder he got to a floor 60 feet down and started to explore. 

At first, Jim was very uncomfortable in the cave which is indicated by some of the names he assigned to formations nearer the entrance.  He named the first drip pool Devil's Spring.  That was soon followed by the Devil's Armchair, Devil's Den, and Witch's Finger.  These features are still easily seen today as you walk down the natural entrance route.  As he spent more time in the cave, Jim became more comfortable with his surroundings. His naming became more matter of fact: The Big Room, and Left Hand Tunnel." There were some places that sparked Jim's imagination though.  He named the "King's Palace" and even found a royal family in residence.  Other places he named are New Mexico Room, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room, Green Lake Room, Totem Pole, Giant Dome, Bottomless Pit, Fairyland, Iceberg Rock, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages.

After a bit, Jim started to lead tours into the cave for the brave of heart as people did not believe his stories.  Eventually he tricked a newspaper reporter to come out to the area and convinced him to come along for a cave tour.  The awestruck reporter couldn’t believe what he had seen and returned later with a photographer to capture some of the sights in the cave for publication. 

Now, you have to remember that there was no lighting in the cave at that time and flashlights hadn’t been invented yet.  So, the only light they had were basically candles, a flaming torch or perhaps a lantern so the illumination went maybe 10 to 15 feet making the grand views of the large rooms we see today impossible to see back then.  But, once it hit the papers, people started coming. And have been coming ever since.

What Jim might have seen with his candle or lantern light
Kings Palace #2, Carlsbad CavernsKings Palace #2, Carlsbad Caverns

Same scene as we see it today
Kings Palace #2, Carlsbad CavernsKings Palace #2, Carlsbad Caverns

When we visited the caves in 1973 you could only see it on one of a half dozen or so guided tours.  As I recall the place was mobbed.  Each tour group was 30 or so folks and there were dozens of them in the cave at a time.  If you wanted to take more than one tour you had to ascend back up to the visitor center when one ended and then go back down for the next one.  But with so many people it was impossible to get onto more than one tour -- or if you were lucky (and rich) -- two on the same day as they all sold out quite quickly each morning. 

As I understand, it is even more crowded these days.  So, as we were just there, why did I say “as I understand”?  Well, if you’ve been following along on these blogs you’ll know that we visited in early March of 2020.  At that time the COVID19 virus was a “thing” but as of the day of our visit, there were only 402 known cases in the US.  There were some cruise ships with outbreaks but nothing was shut down, there was no shelter in place orders, no one talking about wearing masks or social distancing and the president was saying things like “… no worse than common flu” and “just stay calm, it will go away in a few weeks” and we were just introduced to Dr. Fauci. 

But despite the White House being in a state of denial, people were starting to become concerned.  Maybe not enough to abandon dining out or going to a movie, but apparently enough to postpone taking driving vacations.  Then add that it was just the beginning of the tourist season in the Southwest as the kids were still in school and still too early for major tour companies to start their tours for folks from other countries. 

Given the “Grand Central Station at rush hour” experience we had in 1973 we arranged to be at the visitor center when they first opened in order to book some tours.  Through prior research we had discovered that the bulk of the cave, including the “Big Room” no longer had guided tours, you just walked through at your own pace.  However the only way to see the Queens Chamber was on a guided tour.  So, we booked space on the 11:00 am tour.  There were about 20 people on this tour and the tour lasted nearly 2 hours. 

After the tour we headed back up to the visitor center to get some lunch, then went back down to do the self guided areas arriving in the big room a bit after 2:00 pm.  And we were all alone.  There was no one else down there!  Well, almost no one.  We spent over 2 more hours walking and photographing the “Big Room Loop Trail” and in that entire time we saw a total to 2 other couples.  One young couple passed by me and my tripod as I was shooting a feature.  We spied the other couple on the other side of big room when we were near a high point with a view of most of the room.  To be honest it was both amazing and somewhat spooky.  Great for photography as there were no other people getting in the way and I didn’t need to be concerned about blocking the pathway with my tripod as there was no one to block.  But that primal part of the brain was concerned at being 500 feet underground, in an unfamiliar landscape, and for the most part all alone.  Sure am glad there wasn’t a power outage.

Many people are surprised that the lighting in the caverns is not colored as it used to be.  Well, as it turns out, the lighting in this cave (which has been redone 3 times) has never been colored.  So what about all those photos from the past showing colors?  Well there are three probable causes of this.  First is that many caves around the world do utilize colored lighting and people may be remembering other caves.  The second is that in the black and white era of photography, many photographers hand tinted their photos to add some color.  But the most common cause of this is that different types of light photograph differently.  For example, florescent light (which had been used in places in the cave) tends to photograph green where incandescent lights tend to photograph with a yellowish tint.  Then add to that the choice of film.  Outdoor film is designed for white light and is what most people on vacations were using.  This film exaggerated the yellow color cast from the incandescent lighting.  On the other hand if the visitor was using indoor film, it blocked the yellowness of the incandescent lights but kept the greenish of the florescent lights.  One also can’t discount the possibility that professional photographers who procured permits for commercial photography in the cave brought their own color lights for the photo shoot.  So, all told, many old photos look like colored lighting was present when in fact it was not.

Now comes the hard part – picking the photos to show you.

Papoose Room
Kings Palace Papose Room., Carlsbad CavernsKings Palace Papose Room., Carlsbad Caverns

Queens Chamber
Kings Palace #7, Carlsbad CavernsKings Palace #7, Carlsbad Caverns

Big Room #11, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #11, Carlsbad Caverns

Small Reflecting Pond
Big Room #14, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #14, Carlsbad Caverns

Top of the Cross (seating area for Cave Talks)
Big Room #15, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #15, Carlsbad Caverns

Mirror Lake
Big Room #18, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #18, Carlsbad Caverns

The Totem Pole (Big Room)
Totem Pole, Big Room #25, Carlsbad CavernsTotem Pole, Big Room #25, Carlsbad Caverns

Pillar of Light, Big Room
Pillar of Light, Big Room, Carlsbad CavernsPillar of Light, Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns

Flowstone in the Big Room
Flowstone Big Room #21, Carlsbad CavernsFlowstone Big Room #21, Carlsbad Caverns

Rock of Ages, Big Room
Rock of Ages, Big Room #22, Carlsbad CavernsRock of Ages, Big Room #22, Carlsbad Caverns

Lions Tail
Big Room #06, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #06, Carlsbad Caverns

Flowstone, Big Room
Big Room #23, Carlsbad CavernsBig Room #23, Carlsbad Caverns


I hope you enjoyed reading about our time on PEI and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/american-sw-desert-2020-03  (all images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)



dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Big Room blog California california desert Carlsbad Caverns Carlsbad Caverns National Park Carlsbad National Park Carlsbad NM Charlie White dan hartford photo dantravelblogdesertsw2020 desert sw Fairyland Flowstone James White Jim White Lions Tail Mirror Lake Papoose room Pillar of Light Rock of Ages The Totem Pole Tombstone Arizona Tomstone Monument Guest Ranch Top of the Cross united states White's City https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/10/sw-deserts-03 Mon, 12 Oct 2020 23:13:43 GMT
SW Deserts #02 – Joshua Tree National Park https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/9/sw-deserts-02 MARCH 2020

Desert Southwest #02 – Joshua Tree NP

This is part 2 of a 3,246 mile driving trip we took in early March 2020 to the desert SW of the USA.  On this trip we visited Lone Pine, Alabama Hills and Manzanar all on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains in California, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Tombstone Arizona, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, White Sands National Park also in New Mexico and a quick run through Painted Desert – Petrified forest National Park in Arizona.

This installment is for the Joshua Tree part of the trip.

Entire Trip map
01 Map 1 - Whole Trip01 Map 1 - Whole Trip

After leaving the Manzanar Internment Camp near Lone Pine, we headed south, back down US395, through Barstow and down to 29 Palms just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.  Joshua Tree is 50 miles east of Los Angeles but coming in via the Owens valley we bypassed all the LA chaos. 

Manzanar/Lone Pine to 29 Palms/Joshua Tree
02 Map 3 - Lone Pine to 29 palms02 Map 3 - Lone Pine to 29 palms

Joshua Tree National Park

We spent 2 nights in Twentynine Palms giving us one full day in the park.  We limited our visit to the northwestern portion of the park which is where most of the major sights to see are located.  The side by side towns of Joshua and Twentynine Palms border the north edge of the park on its western side with an entrance road into the park form each.  These towns have copious options for hotels and restaurants and are quite convenient to the park. 

Joshua Tree Park Map
01 Map 6 - Joshua Tree Park Map01 Map 6 - Joshua Tree Park Map

Our Route in Joshua Tree NP
03 Map 4 - Joshua Tree03 Map 4 - Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National park straddles two desert ecosystems in Southern California – The Mojave and the Colorado deserts.  The park entered the National Park system in 1994 but had been a National Monument since 1936.  The park itself is roughly 12,000 square miles in area making it slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island.  But, unlike Rhode Island, it doesn’t get 2 Senators or its own 2 members of congress.

Camping in the 1950’s

As a kid in the 1950’s our family visited the then National Monument many times.  We always seemed to camp in the Belle campground and as I recall it was site 7 (or maybe 9).  Belle was (and still is) a dry campground.  The only stuff you can drink is what you bring in with you.  There is no piped in water.  Not too far down the road is the only other campground whose name I remember from the mid 1950’s which is White Tank.  White tank always intrigued me as a kid for two reasons.  First of all, in that time period, TV and movies were ripe with World War II shows and in all my watching of those shows I never did see a white tank – and no army tanks of any kind could be found in the White Tank campground either.  The other intrigue was that White Tank had water spigots (still no flush toilets though) –so why we kept camping in Belle and having to schlep over to White Tank every day to fill our green army water tanks – you know the kind that you’ve seen on the back of army jeeps in WWII movies – was a mystery.  My dad shopped a lot in Army-Navy surplus stores for our camping gear.

Belle Campground, Site 7 (or is this 9?)
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The Meeting to Two Deserts

The Southwest US, once you get away from the coast consists of a patchwork of deserts with lots of different names. However, the main ones tend to fall into a gap between the Sierra Nevada mountains going north from Barstow and the Santa Ana range going south from Los Angeles.  These tend to form the western edge of the desert region as they block the moisture coming in from the Pacific Ocean.  Now, one could argue that the Coast Ranges going from Los Angeles to near the Oregon border cause the big California Central Valley to also be a desert region and that is true.  However, with the entire central valley being irrigated farm land it usually is not included when we talk about the deserts of the American Southwest. 

As the wet Pacific air rises to get over these formidable mountain ranges it loses its moisture as rain or snow on the western flank of the mountains making what’s to the east of these mountains a desert.  On the east side of these deserts are basically the Rocky Mountains.  This range blocks the very wet air masses coming up from the Gulf of Mexico from getting to these deserts.  This leaves the middle between these ranges quite dry which is why they are deserts.  The difference between these deserts is mostly due to altitude but also other meteorological factors that cause each to have a different ecosystem of flora and fauna.

The two deserts we’re talking about in terms of Joshua Tree national park are the Mojave desert and the Colorado section of the Sonora Desert.  For reference the southern end of the Sonora Desert is well down in Mexico and includes all but the NW corner of Baja California.  In Mexico it goes up both sides of the Gulf of California all the way to Joshua Tree at its northern end.  It extends east covering the southern half of Arizona three quarters of the way to New Mexico.  The north western section of this desert is called the Colorado Desert.  The Mojave Desert picks up at the north end of the Sonora Desert and continues up the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains to Death Valley.  To the west it goes as far as Lancaster near Los Angeles and to the east it goes across the southern tip of Nevada to Arizona – including Las Vegas.

Map of major desert areas in SW USA and northwestern Mexico
04 Map 5 - Western Deserts04 Map 5 - Western Deserts

The Sonora Desert is called “low desert” and typically resides below 3,000 feet elevation.  The Mojave is “high desert” and is typically above 3,000 feet.  Joshua Tree National park straddles this boundary.  Most of the eastern part of the park is in the Colorado Desert portion of the Sonora Desert and the western part of the park is in the Mojave Desert.

As you go east from the boundary between the two deserts toward the Colorado River and Arizona, you lose elevation and as a result the temperatures get higher.  And going the other way you gain elevation and there are cooler temperatures, more rainfall and thus more vegetation.  But in the summer, either way you go, it can get damn hot so Joshua Tree is best visited in the late fall through spring..  On our trip at the beginning of March it was quite pleasant.  Not too hot for hikes and no need to carry a jacket in the evenings.

Joshua Trees

The park is named for the Joshua trees (Yucca Brevifolia) which are native to the Mojave Desert but can certainly also be found in some portions of the Sonora Desert where the elevation is right. But, first a bit of history.  You may be wondering how they got such a name.  The story goes that upon seeing them, Mormon settlers were reminded of a biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands to the sky.  Sounds to me more like what a Saguaro cactus looks like but what do I know.

Although Joshua trees are found throughout the Mojave Desert including parts of Death Valley and along many of the highways that traverse the southwest corner of the US, the park exemplifies Joshua Tree forests found throughout the area. 

Joshua Tree Forest at Juniper Flats
Juniper Flats Joshua Tree GroveJuniper Flats Joshua Tree Grove

Lone Joshua Tree casts its shadow
Joshua Tree and ShadowJoshua Tree and Shadow

Joshua Tree framing small boulder pile
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A Bit of History

The earliest known residents of the area were the people of the Pinto Culture (8000 to 4000 BCE).  These were hunter-gatherers but little else is known about them.  Of course then the climate was much different than today so there was much more to hunt and gather than what we see today.  The Pinto’s were followed by the Serrano, the Cahuilla, and the Chemehuevi peoples, also hunter-gatherers who lived around what is now the town of Twentynine Palms.  A fourth group, the Mojave, used the local resources as they traveled along trails between the Colorado River and the Pacific coast. 

In 1772, a group of Spaniards led by Pedro Fages were the first Europeans to lay eyes on Joshua trees.  This occurred while pursuing native converts to Christianity who had run away from being enslaved at the mission in San Diego.  By 1823, the year Mexico achieved independence from Spain, a Mexican expedition from Alta (now Los Angeles), is thought to have explored what later became the park.  Three years later, Jedediah Smith led a group of American fur trappers and explorers along the nearby Mojave Trail, and others soon followed. Two decades after that, the United States defeated Mexico in the Mexican–American War (1846–48) and took over about half of Mexico's original territory, including California and the future parkland.

White settlers began moving in around 1870 (5 years after the end of the Civil War). In 1888, a gang of cattle rustlers moved into the region and hid stolen cattle in a box canyon at the aptly named Cow Camp.

Throughout the Anglo occupation, water has been in very short supply in this part of the world.  There are no flowing rivers or lakes and what little rain falls quickly disappears into the sandy desert floor.  Every now and again though a rock jumble forms sort of a basin where rain water collects but that’s about it.  These large puddles are called “tanks” (Ahhh, so that’s what the “tank” part of White Tank Campground is).  As ranchers moved in during this time they looked for these tanks and oftentimes helped out nature with crude dams to allow the water level in the tank to go higher.  Sometimes they just built a dam to make a tank where there was none before.  But, they also dug wells which was hit and miss at best. 

One of the hikes we took was out to Barker Tank which is one of those created by a dam and is somewhat larger than is typical of the area.

Barker Tank. You can see on the rocks how high the water can get – but evidentially not often
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Adobe walls form cattle watering trough just below Barker Dam
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Between the 1860s and the 1940s, 300 small pit mines populated what would become the park area.  The most successful, the Lost Horse Mine, produced gold and silver worth about $5 million in today's dollars.  Another, whose name seems to come right out of an old John Wayne movie is The Desert Queen gold mine .

The park itself got its start in 1936, when a local committee persuaded state and federal governments to protect the area. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the power of the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish Joshua Tree National Monument at about 1,289 sq mi.  In 1950, the size of the park was reduced by about 453 sq mi to open land to more mining.  Then in 1994 the monument was redesignated as a national park under the Desert Protection Act which also added 366 sq mi.  In 2019 (hey, that was just last year!), the park expanded by another 7.1 sq mi under a bill included in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

Geological Formations

In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California's deserts.  The dominant feature being mounds of bare rock broken up into loose boulders perfect for rock climbing and scrambling.  Many times the flat land between these boulder piles is forested with Joshua trees which together with the boulder piles make the landscape otherworldly.

Boulder Pile near Cap Rock
Boulder Pile Near Cap rockBoulder Pile Near Cap rock

Looking for a way down
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And with such a wealth of these boulder piles strewn about, it was only natural that some would obtain unique and even human or animal like shapes – even more so when you’ve been out in the desert sun too long.

Cap Rock
Cap Rock.  Joshua Tree NPCap Rock. Joshua Tree NP

Mushroom (left) and bear or lion (right)
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Rear View of an elephant
Elephant Rear, Joshua Tree NPElephant Rear, Joshua Tree NP

Skull Rock
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree NPSkull Rock, Joshua Tree NP

The numerous boulder piles are wonderful for scrambling around for those of any skill level.  There are flat sandy pathways between for the less ambitious, couch sized boulders for the little ones, and on up to those requiring ropes and technical climbing skills to get to the top. 

One area formed by these boulder piles is Hidden Valley.  Hidden Valley is a 55 acre area which at that time was full of grasses and is surrounded by natural rock formations on all sides except for one gap which formed the entrance to this natural corral.  The story goes that in the late 1870’s, brothers Bill and Jim McHaney formed a gang called the McHaney Gang.  With the help of a little bit of dynamite they closed off the one exit except for a narrow passageway where they could put up a fence and gate.  The McHaney gang rustled cattle from Arizona and horses from California and drove the herds into this area for rebranding and eventual sale in other states.

Steep walls kept cattle from wander out of Hidden Valley
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The grass in Hidden Valley is now gone
Joshua Tree and rocksJoshua Tree and rocks

Trail leading to narrow gap in the walls surrounding Hidden Valley
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On to Tombstone

The next day, we headed east into Arizona and the town of Tombstone. 

So, what happened in the world on our day in Joshua Tree and drive to Tombstone you may ask?  Well, let’s see.  Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US is now at 217 but it’s still okay to fly to most of the world.  Still no Shelter in Place orders or any large scale testing going on.  A bit of Q&A screening at airports is taking place.  Restaurants, movie theaters, bars, sporting events and concerts are all still operating as they had.  And, the federal government is calling the COVID-19 a hoax, a Democratic plot and insisting it will be gone in a few weeks of its own accord.



I hope you enjoyed reading about our time on PEI and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them. PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS AS I ENJOY HEARING YOUR REACTION TO WHAT I'VE WRITTEN

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Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)



dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Barker Tank Bear Rock Belle Campground blog California california desert Cap Rock Colorado Desert dan hartford photo dantravelblogdesertsw2020 destert sw Elephant rock Hidden Valley Joshua Tree Joshua Tree National Park Mojave Desert Mushroom Rock Scull rock Sonora Desert TwentyNine Palms united states White Tank Campground https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/9/sw-deserts-02 Sat, 19 Sep 2020 18:21:51 GMT
SW Deserts #01 – Lone Pine, Alabama Hills, Manzanar https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/9/sw-deserts-01 MARCH 2020

Desert Southwest #01 – Lone Pine, Alabama Hills, Manzanar

This is part 1 of a 3,304 mile driving trip we took in early March 2020 to the desert SW of the USA.  On this trip we visited Lone Pine , Alabama Hills and Manzanar (all on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains in California), Joshua Tree National Park in California, Tombstone Arizona, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, White Sands National Park also in New Mexico and a quick run through Painted Desert–Petrified Forest national park in Arizona.

This installment is for the Lone Pine/Alabama Hills/Manzanar portion of the trip.

Entire Trip map
01 Map 1 - Whole Trip01 Map 1 - Whole Trip


Racing a Pandemic

We left Palo Alto on this 10 day trip on March 1st, 2020.  For those of you who are paying attention and can remember back to March there was something else getting some attention worldwide. 

So let me recap the months leading up to our departure.  Starting on December 31st and into January there was talk of a new virus in Wuhan China.  During January:

  • The CDC started screening incoming passengers at 3 US Airports (JFK, SFO, and LAX)
  • The first confirmed case in the US was found in someone who had recently been in Wuhan
  • China locked down Wuhan with a quarantine of the entire area (no one in, no one out)
  • The World Health Organization of the UN (WHO) declares a Global Health Emergency
  • By the end of January there were 8 confirmed US cases and no deaths
  • The White House stated:
    • “U.S. experts are on top of situation 24/7"
    • “We think we have it very well under control”
    • “The U.S. has very little problem with five cases”.

In February:

  • Inbound passengers from the China province where Wuhan is located were required to self-quarantine for 2 weeks
  • Inbound passengers from other areas of mainland China were screened and had their temperature taken at the airport
  • A 3,600 passenger cruise ship was quarantined in Japan
  • The US declared it as a health emergency
  • The death toll in China surpasses that of SARS from 17 years ago
  • The CDC warned that this may turn into a pandemic
  • Confirmed cases in the US went to 74
  • I know it seems much longer ago but the first week of February was when Trump was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial
  • We were introduced to Dr. Fauci
  • The White House stated:
    • “The virus becomes weaker with warmer weather, and then is gone"
    • "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA"
    • "Within a couple days is going to be down close to zero"
    • “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done"
    • “The virus will disappear one day like a miracle"
    • "Everything is really under control and we've done a great job”
    • "We've taken the most aggressive actions by any country”

On the last day of February the first Coronavirus death in the U.S. was recorded in Washington State.  We left on our trip on the next day on March 1st.   You’ll notice that other than restricting some international air passengers coming into the US not much was going on here.  There was no one suggesting shelter in place, no suggestions that masks should be worn and “social distancing” was what the family did in relation to uncle Fred after last year’s Christmas party.  So, even though caution was prudent and we weren’t planning to go to any real cities or take any airplane flights there was no reason not to go on the trip as planned.

Route for this episode
02 Map 1a Palo Alto to 29 Palms02 Map 1a Palo Alto to 29 Palms

Getting to Lone Pine

After leaving Palo Alto on March 1st, we headed down through the central valley and following our typical route turned left in Bakersfield and climbed up over the Tehachapi’s on CA-58 and then swung North on US-395 up into the Owens valley on the Eastern side of the Sierra’s to Lone Pine.

Most of this days travel was bright and sunny with temps in the mid/upper 70’s along with a modest breeze coming from the north.  However, after we turned north on US-395 we spotted some heavy clouds coming up over the Sierra’s and sweeping down the Owens Valley toward us.  As we went the clouds got darker and darker and the head winds became stronger and stronger as the outside air temp gauge on the dashboard dropped to the mid 30’s.  The mid 30’s?  In March  in southern California?

And now some light rain was coming down as the clouds closed in completely swallowing the mighty Sierra Mountains.  Then a fog bank swept over us limiting visibility and reducing our speed from 70 mph down to under 30 mph as we were now following an 18 wheeler on a two lane road and with the fog no chance (or desire for that matter) to pass.  The temp was still dropping and was now hovering at around 33 with that obnoxious little snowflake icon next to it.  We had chains with us but I really didn’t relish putting on chains with only 20 or so miles to go so I was quite content to follow along at 30mph in the mud spray of the truck. 

We found our motel without much trouble, found a place for dinner and called it a day.

During this days travel:

  • Governor Cuomo of NY announced that state's first COVID-19 case in a woman who had just come back from Iran
  • Oregon confirmed its second case in the same household as its first case
  • Rhode Island Department of Health announced two suspected cases in two folks who had traveled to Italy in mid-February. 

But, our drive and restaurant lunch in Bakersfield and dinner in Lone Pine was nothing out of the ordinary.

Lone Pine

Lone Pine, Alabama Hills, Manzanar route
03 Map 2 - Lone Pine area03 Map 2 - Lone Pine area

Lone Pine is a modest little town with a population of just over 2,000 (2010 census).  The town is named after a solitary pine tree that once existed at the mouth of what is now called Lone Pine Canyon. 

Prior to those pesky “white” people arriving the area was the territory of the Paiute people.  The first white invasion occurred when a family built a cabin here in 1861.  Over the next couple of years others arrived and a small settlement developed.  Lone Pine got its own post office in 1870. 

Things in Lone Pine were pretty quiet until March of 1872 when a massive earthquake hit the settlement and killed 26 people, destroyed most of the town and formed Diaz Lake.  At the time, the town had 80 buildings made of mud and adobe of which 60 were destroyed and the remaining 20 were heavily damaged.  But the town pressed on.

During the remainder of the 1870s, Lone Pine became an important supply town for the many silver mines in the area including one of the largest in the country at the time.  In support of mining and smelting, in 1883 the Carson and Colorado Railway line was constructed from Belleville, Nevada, across the White Mountains to Benton, and then down into the Owens Valley, through Lone Pine and ended in Keeler (17 miles SE of Lone Pine). The arrival of the C&C rail line, with its engine "The Slim Princess" along, with a stagecoach station in Keeler gave a major economic boost for the area.

But Lone Pine’s main claim to fame came through the movie making industry.  In 1920, a movie production company came to the Alabama Hills just outside of Lone Pine to make the silent film The Round-Up.  Other companies soon discovered the scenic location, and in the coming decades, over 400 films, 100 television episodes, and countless commercials have used Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills as a film location.  Notable films shot here in the 1920s and 1930s include:

  • Riders of the Purple Sage (1925) with Tom Mix
  • The Enchanted Hill (1926) with Jack Holt
  • Somewhere in Sonora (1927) with Ken Maynard
  • Blue Steel (1934) with John Wayne
  • Hop-Along Cassidy (1935) with William Boyd
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) with Errol Flynn
  • Oh, Susanna! (1936) with Gene Autry
  • Rhythm on the Range (1936) with Bing Crosby
  • The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) with Gary Cooper
  • Under Western Stars (1938) with Roy Rogers
  • Gunga Din (1939) with Cary Grant

In the coming decades, Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills continued to be used as the setting for mostly Western films, including:

  • West of the Pecos (1945) with Robert Mitchum
  • Thunder Mountain (1947) with Tim Holt
  • The Gunfighter (1950) with Gregory Peck
  • The Nevadan (1950) with Randolph Scott
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy
  • Hell Bent for Leather (1960) with Audie Murphy
  • How the West Was Won(1962) with James Stewart
  • Nevada Smith (1966) with Steve McQueen
  • Joe Kidd (1972) with Clint Eastwood
  • Maverick (1994) with Mel Gibson
  • The Lone Ranger (2013) with Johnny Depp

Through the years, non-Western films also used the unique landscape of the area, including

  • Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) with Robert (Bob) Cummings
  • Samson and Delilah (1949) with Hedy Lamarr
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) with William Shatner
  • Tremors (1990) with Kevin Bacon
  • The Postman (1997) with Kevin Costner
  • Gladiator (2000) with Russell Crowe.

Now I don’t know about you, but even though I wasn’t around in the 1920’s, 1930’s or 1940’s I am old enough to remember several of these older movies and stars from re-runs on TV in the 1950’s and early 1960’s as well as most produced in the 1950’s and beyond.  Any of you remember the “Million Dollar Movie” TV show which played a full length feature movie on TV every weekday afternoon in the mid 1950’s?  When I was sick at home these movies became a highlight of an otherwise terminally boring day lying in bed with a sore throat, rash or fever. 

But the most important movie filmed in and around Lone Pine is said to be director Raoul Walsh's High Sierra (1941), starring Humphrey Bogart as Roy Earle in the role that moved Bogart from respected supporting player to leading man.  Cast and crew lodged in Lone Pine, and Walsh shot various scenes in and around Lone Pine.  For the film's mountain chase scenes, Walsh took everyone to nearby Mt. Whitney, where pack mules lugged camera equipment up the mountainside.  On a slope on the side of Mt. Whitney, a group of twenty men from the studio worked four days to clear a path so that mountain-trained mules, packing cameras and other equipment, could get up to the shooting area.  For one scene Bogart had to run three miles up a mountainside over the course of two shooting days. For another scene Walsh ordered all the big boulders removed from the path of Bogart's final fall, but the little ones remained which did not make Bogart happy, and he complained about that plenty.  Bogie especially did not want to trek up that mountain over and over for take after take.

Today, there is an interesting Museum of Film History in the town of Lone Pine.  This museum contains countless artifacts from the shooting of those old films including cameras, props, costumes and much more. It is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area and are a bit nostalgic for the golden era of film making.

Alabama Hills

The next day, March 2nd, broke crystal clear with a bright warm sun rising over the Inyo mountains to our east.  Across the road from our motel were the Alabama Hills sitting in front of the Sierra Mountains which had received a blanket of snow overnight down to almost our level.  What a difference a day makes. 

Sierra’s and Alabama Hills from in front of our Motel in Lone Pine
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We checked out and headed into the Alabama Hills just outside of town.  Even though the film crews used Lone Pine as their base camp, the shooting was mostly done in the Alabama Hills.  In fact if you remember pretty much any western coming out of Hollywood you can bet that it was shot either in the Alabama Hills or in Monument Valley Utah with Alabama Hills being a far more popular shooting location.  Its popularity stemmed from several factors.  It is less than a day’s drive from Hollywood, has very predictable and usually clear weather through most of the year, has an actual town with hotels and restaurants to support the film crew and cast, and it has easy access to a very “western” landscape with the towering Sierra mountains in the background, often times with a mantle of snow.  It is really ideal for shooting westerns.

The Alabama Hills is BLM land (not ‘that’ BLM, this one is Bureau of Land Management) and it consists of a low range of hills and rock formations. Though geographically separate from the Sierra Nevada, they are part of the same geological formation. 

The rock formations are mostly rounded contours which contrast nicely with the sharp ridges of the Sierra’s to the west including Mount Whitney which is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.  The topography itself was quite conducive to movie making as it includes plenty of boulders to hide behind during shoot outs, flat plains for chase scenes, plenty of tallish rock formations forming narrow canyons for stunt men to jump down onto unsuspecting riders passing by or to ambush a stage coach.  Many of these familiar western movie areas have flat smooth roadways next to them from which they can use truck mounted cameras to race along with the action.

But putting all the movie stuff aside, although the Alabama Hills is not an overly large area it does have interesting rock formations, including many natural arches all back dropped by the mighty Sierra Mountains.

Typical rock formation with the Sierra’s in the background
Alabama Hills rock formation and Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range #3Alabama Hills rock formation and Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range #3

Many small arches can be found in the Alabama Hills
Alabama hills small archAlabama hills small arch

Can’t you just see a gang of bad guys galloping through this ravine chased by a posse of good guys?
Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range from Alabama Hills #1Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range from Alabama Hills #1

More typical rock formations
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Cute double arch on the ridge
Alabama hills double archAlabama hills double arch

Mobius Arch with Snow Capped Sierras in background
Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, CAMobius Arch, Alabama Hills, CA


We exited the Alabama hills at its North end, closer to the town of Independence so that we could take a look at the Manzanar Internment Camp. 

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that required people of Japanese ancestry living along the Pacific coast to be placed into one of ten “relocation” camps.  One of these camps was Manzanar, 7 miles north of Lone Pine. 

More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II from March 1942 to November 1945.  These camps were not filled with criminals nor were they were used for prisoners of war or for illegal immigrants or for terrorists or spies.  They were used to warehouse law abiding American Citizens who happened to have ancestors who came from Japan.  Along with what we did to the Native American cultures, and recently with the immigration camps, these camps are a major black mark on American History. 

During WWII we were fighting the Japanese, Germans and Italians as the major enemy powers.  But, for whatever reason we only imprisoned descendants of Japan – not Germans and not Italians.  And, we didn’t even include those Japanese in Hawaii where the Pearl Harbor attack actually took place and is one of the closest US owned land areas to Japan.  But, putting all of that aside, we as a country created these camps, rounded up those citizens and forced them to leave their homes and businesses – most of which were sold for pennies on the dollar as the buyers knew the sellers had no choice and we have to live with that as part of our history.  So, keeping places like Manzanar around to tell that story in the hopes that it will not be repeated is a good thing. 

But, the Japanese weren’t the first folks here.  Long before the internment camp the area was home to Native Americans who lived mostly in villages near several creeks in the area.  Ranchers and miners formally established the town of Manzanar in 1910.  Manzanar translates to “apple orchard” in Spanish.  We don’t know why such a name was given to this place as there were never apples grown anywhere near it.  But, it sounds much more attractive than “desolate empty desert” so I guess that is something.  But the settlement was abandoned by 1929 after the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights to virtually the entire Owens Valley. 

The Internment camp was created in March 1942 and the last residents of the camp left in November 1945.  After the war, the government removed most of the structures and buried the gardens and basements.  As time passed, Manzanar was further buried, both in sand and in memory as the desert reclaimed the land.  One would look over the landscape and presume nothing was, or had been, there.  But, if you took a closer look you might see the stub of a pipe sticking up out of the ground that had been a water faucet where children splashed water on their faces in the heat of the summer.  An exposed foundation slab shows a Childs footprint where they walked on the wet cement. 

In the 1980’s and 1990’s former detainees became concerned that the memory of the camp and events related to it were fading away so worked to protect Manzanar and to establish it as a National Historic Site.  After much work, Manzanar National Historic Site was established by Congress on March 3, 1992, to “provide for protection and interpretation of historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.”  While Manzanar is best known for its wartime history, this story can’t be told without including layers of larger themes of American history, including displacement of native peoples, the settlement by ranchers and farmers, water wars, and the consequences of prejudice which all meld together as part of the history of the site.  This all gives context to the stories of those who were incarcerated there, and as a national historic site it is now recorded and preserved for current and future generations.  But the primary focus of the site is the Japanese American incarceration era.

The camp site is situated on 6,200 acres leased from the City of Los Angeles, with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acres.  The residential area was about one square mile, and consisted of 36 “blocks” of hastily constructed, 20-foot by 100-foot tarpaper barracks.  These barracks provided zero insulation from the over 100 degree summer days nor the freezing cold winter nights. 

Recreated barracks building
15 5d3R04-#678715 5d3R04-#6787

Each barracks building was split into 20-foot by 25-foot "apartments" for a family.  The construction did very little to keep the wind and sand from coming through the wide gaps in the walls – and the wind blows almost constantly and fiercely.   Each block had 14 barrack buildings, a recreation hall, mess hall, small ironing building, small laundry building, women’s and men’s bathhouse buildings each of which had a shower area, sink area, and toilet area.  It should be noted that the toilets were just lined up in an open room with no partitions or doors.  Not having partitions or stalls in the shower and toilet area was one of the hardest things for the Japanese to deal with. 

Typical barracks “apartment”
Barracks, Manzanar Japaneese Internment CampBarracks, Manzanar Japaneese Internment Camp

The mess hall in each block was large enough to serve 300 people at a time.  Each was assigned a cook from the block who then could recruit other staff members to help out.  Of course, some “cooks” were better than others as some had actually been a cook in a restaurant.  But, some blocks didn’t happen to have a real cook in their midst so someone with absolutely no experience was just appointed.  It soon became well known which blocks had the good food and which didn’t and residents would accidentally find themselves in a mess hall line in a block other than their own.  Well, after all, one line looks like another and these camps had plenty of them.  You had to wait in line to eat, to go to the bathroom, to take a shower and to do the laundry.  About the only thing you didn’t have to wait in line to do was to get into another line.

Mess Hall with seating for 300.  Kitchen is seen in the back, beyond the tables
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In addition to the residential blocks, the camp had a high-school auditorium, staff housing, chicken and hog farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, and other necessary amenities that one would expect to find in most small American towns.  What one didn’t usually find in most American towns were the eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police, and a five-strand barbed wire fence around the whole thing.

There’s no place like home in an “Apple Orchard” with armed guards in watchtowers
manzanar watch towermanzanar watch tower

Although this was a prison in most senses of the word, there were many differences.  There were no locked cells (well no locked anything for that matter except the outer gates).  The residents had access to mail – both in and out – were permitted to “own” things, could decorate and appoint their living area as they desired, could purchase items through mail order and were free to wander the site at will.  As part of this “deal”, each camp was intended to be self-sufficient.  So, cooperatives and small businesses sprang up to provide some semblance of normal life.  Most blocks had some sort of Co-Op store, a beauty and barber shop, shoemaker, lending library and more – including a camp newspaper (censored of course).  Most of these were run out of personal living spaces.

Recreation of men’s latrine/shower house (left) and mess hall (rear)
Manzanar Japaneese Internment campManzanar Japaneese Internment camp

As one would imagine with so many people living in close quarters illnesses such as measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, and diarrhea swept through large portions of the population.  Eventually a hospital was built but before that people were just treated in their barracks which had no heat, no running water and no bathroom facilities.  Once the Manzanar Hospital was built though, it included a kitchen, operating rooms, treatment wards, laboratories, and other facilities.  All medical treatment in Manzanar was provided at no charge.

Among the enterprises run by the inmates, was the Manzanar Children's Village, an orphanage housing 101 Japanese American orphans.  As we know, Japanese families and individuals were rounded up and shipped to these camps, but as it turns out that wasn’t all.  In order to deter terrorist attacks and spies passing military secrets to Japan, we also grabbed children out of orphanages.  These orphanages were in the Los Angeles area as well as locations in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska and the Japanese children were shipped - under armed guard – to Manzanar.  This included infants who just happen to look Japanese.  You really have to be careful of those infant terrorists and spies.  But the Manzanar orphanage was such a success that other camps sent newborns from unwed mothers to Manzanar from those other camps.

One hundred and forty-six Japanese Americans died at Manzanar.  Fifteen were buried there, but only five graves remain as most were reburied elsewhere by their families.  The Manzanar cemetery site is marked by a monument that was built by stonemason Ryozo Kado in 1943. There are 3 inscriptions on the monument, written  in Japanese.  They read, "Soul Consoling Tower",  "Erected by the Manzanar Japanese" and "August 1943".

Manzanar Memorial Tower
Buddhist Monument, Manzanar Japaneese Internment campBuddhist Monument, Manzanar Japaneese Internment camp

Strings of Paper Cranes placed around the monument in memory and for good luck
Paper Cranes for good luck.  Manzanar, CAPaper Cranes for good luck. Manzanar, CA

While many left the camp voluntarily when it closed, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. As such, they had to be forcibly removed once again, this time from Manzanar.  The last Manzanar internee left the camp at 11:00 a.m. on November 21, 1945.  It was the sixth of the 10 camps to close. 

Although the Japanese Americans had been brought to the Owens Valley by the United States Government, they had to leave the camp and travel to their next destination on their own.  The WRA gave each person $25 ($355 today), a one-way train or bus fare, and boxed meals to those who had less than $600 ($8,521 today).

After the camp was closed, the site eventually returned to its original state. Within a couple of years, all the structures had been removed, with the exception of two sentry posts at the entrance, the cemetery monument, and the former Manzanar High School auditorium, which was purchased by the County of Inyo. The County leased the auditorium to the Independence Veterans of Foreign Wars, who used it as a meeting facility and community theater until 1951. After that, the building was used as a maintenance facility by the Inyo County Road Department.

The Manzanar Historic site was identified by the United States National Park Service as the best-preserved of the ten former camp sites.  For you music fans, here is a link to a song about Manzanar sung by Tom Paxton and Anne Hills which is worth a listen - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOqvmT4YhsA

Today’s COVID19 Update

While we were visiting the Alabama hills and Manzanar:

  • Trump held a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • The United States confirmed 13 more cases, bringing the total number to 102
  • There were 5 more US deaths bringing the total number to 6
  • At his rally, Trump declared that Covid-19 was no worse than the common flu.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Lone Pine area and will come back for my next installment


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/american-sw-desert-2020-03  (all images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .

Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)



dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) alabama hills blog california desert dan hartford photo dantravelblogdesertsw2020 destert sw lone pine manzanar manzanar relocation center united states https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/9/sw-deserts-01 Fri, 04 Sep 2020 23:08:12 GMT
Canadian Maritimes #04 – SE Nova Scotia & Cape Breton Part 2 https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/8/canadian-maritimes-04 OCTOBER 2019

Canadian Maritimes #04 –Cape Breton Part 2

This is part 4 of a trip we took in October of 2019 to the southeastern portion of the Maritime Provinces in Canada.  On this trip we visited Halifax, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.  We flew into and out of Halifax Nova Scotia but the rest of the trip was by rented car. 

Three major destinations on this trip
01 Map 00 - Overview01 Map 00 - Overview

This installment is the second part for Cape Breton Island (or just Cape Breton as most call it).

Where we went on Cape Breton
02 Map 07 - Cape Breton Route Map02 Map 07 - Cape Breton Route Map

Cape Breton Historical sites (Continued)


Nova Scotia’s colonial history was largely shaped by decisions made in Europe. When the War of Spanish Succession was settled with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain was given control of mainland Nova Scotia and France was given Ile Royale, what is today known as Cape Breton Island.  On the eastern side of Cape Breton, the French found an ice-free, sheltered harbor to act as a base for France’s interests in the cod fishery and to serve as an important trading outpost because of its proximity to Europe and colonies in both New England and the West Indies. They named it Louisbourg, in honor of King Louis XIV.

Over the three decades, they surrounded the town and garrison with massive stone walls that would make it one of the most extensive fortifications in North America.  This 2.5 mile long wall measuring 30 feet high and 36 feet thick in places cost so much to build that the French king joked how he expected to be able to see it from his palace in France.

During its peak Louisbourg was the third busiest port in North America and was considered the jewel of France’s holdings in the new world.  To the lower class in France Louisbourg represented hope and prosperity and many of France’s poor and impoverished took the bait, leaving their homes behind and set off for a chance at a better life.

Despite the towering walls, the Fortress of Louisbourg had some weaknesses that its engineers struggled with.  While the fortress was well defended against attacks from the sea, it was vulnerable to land-based assaults, and when France and Britain went to war again in 1745, this weakness was exploited.  The attackers this time were New England militia who saw Louisbourg as a direct threat to their colonies and the nearby fishing grounds.  Remember, in 1745 New England was still a British colony.  They erected siege batteries on the hills overlooking the fortress and through a series of bombardments and assaults, forced the defenders to surrender.

A few years later in 1748 a treaty returned Louisbourg to the French.  It also prompted the British to establish a new fortress at Halifax to counter the French presence in Cape Breton.  Over the next decade, French and English forces battled for control of Nova Scotia during the French and Indian War and the Seven Years War.  During this time, in 1758, the Fortress of Louisbourg once again fell to the British. 

But the Brits already had plenty of forts in Nova Scotia so even though they waged a major battle to conquer Louisbourg they had no intention of occupying it or using it for their own benefit.  They also didn’t want to take any chances of a future battle once it was returned again to France so they literally destroyed the town and dismantled the fort, and even shipped some of it off to Boston to construct Louisbourg Square and other buildings in that city.  They completely flattened the place leaving absolutely nothing standing and promptly left.

You following this?  French -> New England Brits -> French -> British (who destroyed the place then left) -> French (at least on paper).  I guess the residents just kept a stock of both British and French flags and changed them out whenever the town switched hands.

The site was designated a National Historic Site and partially reconstructed in the 1960s.  When the town and fort was originally constructed, they brought French architects and engineers over form France to do the planning and construction.  As it turned out the French at that time were great record keepers and all the plans and drawings (what we’d now call blueprints) were dutifully shipped back to France for approval and all these documents were filed away (and for the most part forgotten about).  But when, in the 1960’s, it was decided to reconstruct Louisbourg they found this archive of documents which allowed them to do a 100% accurate reconstruction.  I mean, these plans were really detailed.  They showed pretty much every beam and board and even included specs on what types of wood to use for each part of the building, how those pieces would be fastened together, and how many nails were to be used in each.  This reconstruction has become the largest reconstructed 18th-century French fortified town in North America, with archaeologists, and engineers and historians working together to recreate the town as it was in the 1740s era.

Current Louisbourg site map
14 Map 09 - Louisbourg14 Map 09 - Louisbourg

Inner courtyard of the fortress
fort Louisburg #3 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)fort Louisburg #3 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Reconstructed street in the town area
Fort Louisburg #4 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Fort Louisburg #4 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Docent in a Louisbourg (upper class) home showing off the automatic “spit” rotation device used to keep the meat turning in the fireplace for even roasting
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The inner courtyard of the fortress
Sentry, Fort Louisburg (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Sentry, Fort Louisburg (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)


The history of coal mining on Cape Breton began in the early 1700’s when coal was needed in Louisbourg for the French to construct the Fortress.  At that time coal was extracted from exposed seams along the cliffs and then in 1720 the first below ground mine was officially opened at Cow Bay.  From 1784 to 1820, coal was mined on a small scale by either the colonial government or through lease by private individuals.

In 1826 the Duke of York was granted sole right by the Crown to all coal resources of Nova Scotia (wasn’t that nice of them as I’m sure the Duke could use the income).  The Duke subleased these rights to a syndicate of British investors called the General Mining Association who then sank shafts mainly around the town of Sydney. The Association built workshops, company houses, a foundry and a railroad to North Sydney. In 1856, the General Mining Association surrendered its mining rights and the province invited independent operators to apply for leases and subleases. From 1858 to 1893, more than 30 coal mines were opened, producing 700,000 tons in the last year.

In 1873, there were eight coal companies still operating in Cape Breton. The miners were paid from 80 cents to a $1.50 per day and boys were paid 65 cents.  At Glace Bay there were 12 mines.  In 1894, the government gave exclusive mining rights to an American syndicate, the Dominion Coal Company.  By 1903, the Dominion Coal Company was producing 3,250,000 tons per year. By 1912, the company had 16 collieries in full operation and its production accounted for 40% of Canada’s total output.  This was a big economic deal for Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.

However, over the last 30-50 years, worldwide demand for coal has been on a steep decline and mines closed one after another.  One major causes of the collapse of the coal mining industry was a strict federal restriction on emissions which was implemented recently.  While great for the environment, this has been quite traumatic for the blue collar workers both in the mines and in the support industries.  When these new restrictions were put in place, resulting in most of the Cape Breton mines shutting down, the government put in a retraining program for the displaced miners.  Quite a few of them were retrained as stone masons, and carpenters and formed a large portion of the workforce used to re-build the fortress at Louisbourg.

In order to preserve their legacy and tell their story, in Glace bay a group of miners got together and established this museum.  It’s quite well done.  There are some modest exhibits in the museum building but the main attraction is the underground mine tour.  In this area the massive coal seam tilts downward as it goes out under the sea.  So, rather than spend time, energy and money on acquiring land and mineral rights from farmers and residents most of the mines acquired a modest amount of land by the edge of the sea and ran their mines out under the ocean.

In order to build this museum, due to environmental restrictions they weren’t allowed to acquire an existing mine so they dug a new one for the express purpose of making it part of the museum.  In other words they dug a museum that just happened to look and act just like a mine.  But there were no restrictions on building museums.  In fact, during construction they sold the construction debris (i.e. the coal) at a good price which actually paid for the whole project.  But, make no mistake, this is a real mine, not just a facsimile or “for show” mine.  It contains several spurs of tunnels and is quite authentic. 

This mine is modeled to represent mining in the 1930’s.  When you take the tour they give you a hard hat and cape as mines under the ocean tend to drip.  The tour shows how coal was mined by pick and shovel with steam drills for drilling holes for the dynamite.  The coal was hauled out with “pit ponies” who pulled carts on rails (rails were later taken out due to guest safety issues).  The tours are led by retired miners many of which are the last of several generations of miners. 

In the tour they describe conditions and methods.  One interesting fact is that in the 1930’s they had “pit boys” working underground along with the men.  These kids, some as young as 8 or 9 years old had special jobs that didn’t require physical strength.  First of all they tended the pony’s who stayed in the mine for 9 months to a year at a time.  There was an area in the mine that was used as a corral for these small horses and the kids made sure they had food and water and – you guessed it – cleaned up after them. 

Another job for these kids was “door guard”.  In a 1930’s mine, well before forced air ventilation, managing air flow in the tunnels was a significant challenge unless you wanted a lot of dead miners.  Mines had at least two entrances at significantly different elevations.  As we know warm air rises compared to cold air.  So the idea was that cool air would enter the mine through the lower entrance and then had to be channeled through the matrix of tunnels eventually exiting at the higher entrance.  When this was done properly, the natural convection kept fresh air flowing through all parts of the mine. 

But, a mine is not just a single tunnel like a circular drive.  Rather it is a labyrinth of interconnecting and crossing tunnels.  So, to keep the air flowing through all the tunnels they installed solid wooden walls at strategic locations with doors that could be closed to force the air the way they needed it to go.  One of the jobs of these kids was to assure that whenever a door was opened to allow passage of a load of coal or group of miners to pass through, that the door was quickly re-closed as soon as the cart passed by.  Even though this was not a physically taxing job, it was considered one of the most important jobs in the mine as if a door wasn’t reclosed in pretty short order you’d find a dozen dead miners someplace further down the mine due to an accumulation of various poisonous gasses that escaped from the rocks as they were dug out.

When you enter the mine, you go through one of those airflow blocking doors and are in a concrete lined tunnel about 6 to 7 feet tall.  The only portions of such a mine that used concrete liners are at the entrances where the tunnel is near the surface.  As you descend the concrete disappears, the water starts dripping and the floor becomes mud.  But not only that, due to the height of the coal seam the ceilings get lower.  After a short bit, only the shortest people on the tour could stand upright.  The rest of us had to bend over to keep from banging our helmeted head on the cross beams that hold up the roof.  Eventually the tunnels got down to well under 5 feet high.  Now, as a 5’ 9” person, a ceiling of around 4 ½ feet doesn’t sound too bad but after 10 to 15 minutes of staying leaned over it was becoming quite uncomfortable.  I can’t imagine doing it through an 8 hour shift. 

Only the entrance, where the tunnel is near the surface is concrete lined.  One of the rail cars used to transport coal and workers
Entrance Tunnel, Glace Bay Miner's Museum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Entrance Tunnel, Glace Bay Miner's Museum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Typical tunnel with sea water leaching in, mud floor and low ceiling.
Mine Tunnel Glace Bay Miner's Museum(Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Mine Tunnel Glace Bay Miner's Museum(Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

About the only “power” tools they had was a hydraulic drill used to drill the holes for the dynamite
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Our Guide demonstrating use of the hydraulic drill
Hydraulic Drill demonstration Glace Bay Miner's Museum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Hydraulic Drill demonstration Glace Bay Miner's Museum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Cape Breton Highlands and Cabot Trail

In many countries whose roots stem back to colonization by Great Britain, with the notable exception of the US, not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road but they designate roads as “trails” or “tracks”.  Cape Breton has 6 named scenic “trails”.  We drove a few parts of several of them but did the entire “Cabot Trail” which is the only noteworthy one of those we drove or partially drove.

Cabot Trail
01 Map 10 - Cabot Trail01 Map 10 - Cabot Trail

The world famous “Cabot Trail” (actually a road) is a 186 mile long loop that runs from near Baddeck in a north west direction, across the peninsula to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  It then follows the coast line north and into Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

As mentioned earlier, the land on Cape Breton gets higher as you go from the south to the north, with the northern end of the western most peninsula rising into actual mountains and including the 366 square mile Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  When the Cabot Trail hits the northern edge of the park it turns east roughly following the park boundary till it hits the other side of the peninsula at which point it turns south terminating at the Trans Canadian Highway near the town of St. Anns about 22 miles north of where it started. 

This is the “clockwise” direction and the one suggested by most travel guides.  However, it is the suggested direction as it puts you on the inside lane along the winding road cut into sheer cliffs on the coast which is a bit less stressful for tourists not used to mountain road driving.  As such there is usually more traffic going this direction.  However, the counter clockwise direction is said to have better coastal vistas  - especially on the west side – as you your coming down from the mountains and can see long distances of coast line as you descend.  Either way lives up to its reputations as one of the world's most scenic drives, with stunning ocean vistas, old-growth forests, prehistoric rock scarred by glaciers, and the mysterious Cape Breton Highlands.

On one day we drove about 1/3 of it in the counter clockwise direction before turning back in order to have time for dinner and to make our evening concert.  On another day we did the whole thing in the clockwise direction as we were already nearer the south end of the loop.  This is one of those drives that you can do in a day but can also spend 2 or 3 days at it if you like to take strolls on the many beaches and take advantage of the many hiking trails.

Here is a potpourri of sites along the way. 

By the time we drove the Cabot Trail, the fall yellows were raging.  And to be honest if I ever had the opportunity to drive the Cabot Trail again in another season it would pale in comparison to seeing it in full fall Technicolor color.  Those of you who live in fall color country will probably react with a “that’s not so great, you should have seen (fill in location) in (fill in a year)…….” sort of remark, and you may be right.  But here in the west we have real mountains – so there.  We heard that on the day we arrived, the reds along the Cabot Trail were at their peak but by the time we got up there, 3 days later, the reds had started to fade but the yellows were going full tilt.

As we drove along, we often encountered signs that we found interesting.  Of course I can’t remember any of them now, but one was so good that after we passed it, and thought about it a bit we turned around to go back and take its picture.

North Gut Cemetery
North Gut Cemetery (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)North Gut Cemetery (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Okay, when we got home I had to look it up as I was pretty sure this wasn’t a cemetery for parts of people’s insides.  As it turns out a “Gut” is “A narrow coastal body of water, a channel or strait, usually one that is subject to strong tidal currents flowing back and forth. A gut may also be a small creek”. 

We never saw anything resembling a town of North Gut.  No outpost, building or any sort of manmade architecture other than the road and the cemetery.  I imagine there must be some sort of settlement but maybe it was off in the woods someplace.  But, where the road dipped around the end of North Gut bay, and crossed over a small creek, it was quite lovely.

Creek in a meadow in North Gut near St. Anns
05 7d2R03-#926105 7d2R03-#9261

South end of North Gut Bay near St. Anns, where a creek flows in
North Gut Bay #6 at St. Anns, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)North Gut Bay #6 at St. Anns, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

South end of North Gut Bay
North Gut Bay #5 at St. Anns, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)North Gut Bay #5 at St. Anns, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

North Gut Bay
North Gut Bay at St. Anns (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)North Gut Bay at St. Anns (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

It seemed that around every curve in the road was some sort of stream, river, creek, lake or  pond.  Sometimes the water was rushing down a steep slope but in most cases the water was quite placid.  There didn’t happen to be much wind this day so many of these bodies of water proved quite photogenic with the fall colors reflected in the smooth as glass water surface.

Unknown pond near Hunters Mountain
24 7d2R03-#9353-9355 HDR24 7d2R03-#9353-9355 HDR

Barrachois River
Barrachois River (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Barrachois River (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Lake O’Law
26 5d3R04-#648826 5d3R04-#6488

Another Pond near Hunters Mountain
Fall Reflections Cape Breton IslandFall Reflections Cape Breton Island

As the Cabot trail is a loop that goes up one side of a peninsula and down the other, you are by the Gulf of St. Lawrence much of the way.  However, on the east side of the peninsula the road tends to be a bit inland only offering glimpses of the gulf where it has to skirt around a bay or inlet.  On the west side though, especially the northern section, it is in many places right along the coast where the highland mountains dive down to meet the gulf.

Cabot Trail along west cost of the peninsula in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
28 5d3R04-#651728 5d3R04-#6517

Pillar Rock Beach, on west side of the peninsula above Petit Etang
Pillar Rock Beach (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Pillar Rock Beach (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

East side of peninsula near Ingonish
07 5d3R04-#633907 5d3R04-#6339

The Cabot Trail road goes across the peninsula along the northern border of the national park, climbing up and over the spine of the mountain ridge and the “highlands plateau”.  In some places you have grand vistas overlooking a patchwork of yellow trees interspersed with sections of green evergreen trees like a carpet extending to the horizon. 

Highlands Plateau, Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Fall color carpet over MacKenzie Mountain area hills (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Fall color carpet over MacKenzie Mountain area hills (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Creek carved valley, Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Yellow and Green Valley (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Yellow and Green Valley (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

But then in other places the road just meanders through the forest crowding in on the right of way from both sides with a palette of green, yellow, orange and red.  But then you go around a corner and what had been a “tree canyon” opens up onto a view of a hillside carpeted with a pattern of colors as it ascends to the sky.  A little bit further you find yourself in an intimate glen with a burbling creek gliding through the woods on its way to the sea, or just an interesting structure nestled in the trees forgotten and ignored except by the passing photographer.

Lone Shieling Area, Cape Breton Highlands National park
Cabot Trail, Lone Shieling Area #1 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Cabot Trail, Lone Shieling Area #1 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Old, abandoned garage being swallowed by the woods near Rear Little River
Garage (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Garage (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Hillside ablaze with fall color near Cape Smokey
Fall Color Hillside, Cape Smokey (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Fall Color Hillside, Cape Smokey (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Colorful hillside ascending from Ingonish Harbour
08 5d3R04-#634508 5d3R04-#6345

Green and Yellow blend together along highway in warmer valley where color change was just getting started
Cabot Trail, Lone Shieling Area #2 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Cabot Trail, Lone Shieling Area #2 (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Tranquil Glen near Lone Sheiling
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A turn in the road and another hillside ablaze in color (Near Indian Brook)
Indian Brook Hillside (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Indian Brook Hillside (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

I hope you enjoyed our visit to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.  If you enjoyed reading this series, take a look on my website (links below) for travel blogs for other trips we’ve taken.  I’ll leave you with this one last shot, taken from the deck of our rental cabin early one morning

View from the cabin in the early morning
23 5d3R04-#6451-6453 HDR23 5d3R04-#6451-6453 HDR


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-2019-10l  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-favs-2019-10  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)



dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Nova Scotia blog Cabot Trail canada cape breton Cape Breton Coal Mine Cape Breton Highlands National Park cape breton island Cape Breton Miners Museum at Glace Bay Coal Mine dan hartford photo dantravelblogmaritimes Fall Color at sunrise Fall Colors Fort Louisbourg Fortress Louisbourg Glace Bay Miners Museum Hydraulic Drill Louisbourg Miners Museum North Gut North Gut Bay nova scotia NS https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/8/canadian-maritimes-04 Wed, 12 Aug 2020 20:57:27 GMT
Canadian Maritimes #03 – SE Nova Scotia & Cape Breton Part 1 https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/7/canadian-maritimes-03 OCTOBER 2019

Canadian Maritime’s #03 –Cape Breton Part 1

This is part 3 of a trip we took in October of 2019 to the southeastern portion of the Maritime Provinces in Canada.  On this trip we visited Halifax, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island.  We flew into and out of Halifax Nova Scotia but the rest of the trip was by rented car. 

Three major destinations on this trip
01 Map 00 - Overview01 Map 00 - Overview

This installment is for southeast Nova Scotia and the first part for Cape Breton Island (or just Cape Breton as most call it).  After our visit with some friends on PEI, we headed out to our final destinations of this trip – the southeast shore of Nova Scotia and the island of Cape Breton. 

Prince Edward Island, Southeast Nova Scotia and to Cape Breton route
02 Map 06 - PEI to Cape Breton02 Map 06 - PEI to Cape Breton

Southeast Shore of Nova Scotia

After leaving our hosts on Prince Edward Island we head south for a one night stop over on the southeast coast of Nova Scotia before heading to our final destination on Cape Breton Island.  We really didn’t have a real reason to go down to Liscombe on the south shore other than to break up what would have been a long drive but decided it would be interesting to add another sightseeing stop on our trip.  So we booked a night at the Liscombe Lodge which was sort of a resort type operation.  It was nice but not having much time there (got there just before dinner, left the next morning) we didn’t really have time to go out in one of their boats or take one of their numerous hiking trails but we did play a bit of ping pong. 

During our time in Halifax as well as on PEI we were somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t as much fall color as we had hoped.  An odd tree here and there with some color was about it.  But as we left Liscombe on our way to Cape Breton we started to see a bit more color.  In the San Francisco area of California, where we live, fall color is not a “thing”.  Yes, there are some well colored trees planted along some of the streets but the native trees don’t put on any sort of fall show.  There are parts of California that are magnificent in the fall like Aspen groves in the Sierra Mountains whose vibrant yellow color is shocking in its intensity and other places in the state where red’s and gold’s proliferate and the desert wildflower blooms in some springtime’s are magnificent – but we only visit those areas.  So, stopping to photograph red, orange and yellow trees was definitely on the agenda.  Not knowing what the fall color situation would be on Cape Breton, as we toured the Halifax area and PEI, not wanting to miss what may be our only opportunity, we stopped at several “ho hum” locations to photograph what Northeasterners get to see every year.  But, I haven’t shown you any of those photos as Cape Breton delivered the goods (see next installment in this series).  But, on the way to Liscombe and then again on the way out, we still stopped at some fall color spots for a few photos.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Even though there were some nice patches of fall color it was not what I would call spectacular or even up to par with what I remember in New England every fall for the 10 years I lived there.  But it was there, and so were we, and photographing in the digital world is cheap so why not stop the car and rip off a few shots.

Fall color along the St. Mary’s River near Stillwater, NS
Fall on St. Mary's River (NS, Canada)Fall on St. Mary's River (NS, Canada)

NOPE (No Open Pit Excavation) over some oak (I think) saplings near Stillwater, NS
NOPE (No Open Pit Excavation) sign near Stillwater (NS, Canada)NOPE (No Open Pit Excavation) sign near Stillwater (NS, Canada)

On the way out of Liscombe and always on the lookout for something interesting we noticed a sign for the Sherbrook Historical Village.  Well, as we were in the town of Sherbrook at the time, we figured it probably wasn’t too far off our course so we made the turn.  And, we were right, it was just a few blocks down the road.  But, being mid October they must have either closed for the season or at least moved off their summer schedule as the sign on the gate to the parking lot indicated that they were currently closed.  Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

But, lo and behold there was another sign pointing down the road indicating that there was an historic sawmill down there someplace.  So, just to be sure it was in the same time zone we goggled it and indeed it was just a mile or so further on.  So, why not. 

And there it was.  An historic water wheel powered sawmill – also closed.  But, one could wander around outside and even though we did not get to see the “Saw” part inside we were able to see the “Mill” part outside (well at least the water wheel part) so it was not an entire loss.

McDonald Bros Sawmill Waterwheel, Sherbrook, NS
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McDonald Bros Sawmill Waterwheel, and mill pond, Sherbrook, NS
McDonald Bros. Sawmill Waterwheel 2McDonald Bros. Sawmill Waterwheel 2

But daylight was burning and we had a bit of a drive to our rental cabin at the far end of Cape Breton Island and neither our GPS nor Google Maps seemed all the certain exactly where it was so we wanted to assure we got there while it was still light out.

Cape Breton Island

After waiting for 30 minutes at the drawbridge over the channel that makes Cape Breton an Island we entered Cape Breton at its southern end. 

Where we went on Cape Breton
08 Map 07 - Cape Breton Route Map08 Map 07 - Cape Breton Route Map

Wait a minute.  Why is cape Breton an Island?  The dictionary defines cape as “a point or extension of land jutting out into water as a peninsula or as a projecting point”, and an Island as “a body of land completely surrounded by water”.  So how can it be both?  Well I need to tell you that I wasn’t able to find out.  All evidence is that it has been an island since the first humans showed up so how it became “Cape” Breton is a mystery.  But theories abound.

One theory is that the full name - Cape Breton - came from Capbreton near Bayonne France, but more probably from Cape and the word Breton, the French demonym for Bretagne, a French historical region.  But this too is challenged as when the name first appeared the area was occupied by the British, not the French, and it is unlikely for the Brits to name a major land area after their arch enemy the French.  As an alternative argument, the earliest form of the name appeared on Portuguese maps as "Bertomes" which at that time meant “The English” and referred to the region which John Cabot and his Bristol Englishmen discovered on their voyage of 1497...therefore our today’s Cape Breton would mean 'Cape of the English'.  But this still doesn’t explain the “cape” part of the name.

Cape Breton Island is just east of the smaller Prince Edward Island (PEI).  Although PEI is 50% smaller in area the Cape Breton, PEI is its own province but Cape Breton is just a part of Nova Scotia.  Cape Breton contains 4 of Nova Scotia’s 18 counties and has around 15% of the population. The southern part of the island where the only road bridge onto the island is located is rolling farmland and the island gradually slopes upward as you go north.  The northern end of the island is a mountainous area called “the highlands”. 

Much of the middle of the island is occupied by the 424 square mile Lake Bras d’Or (“Arm of gold” in French).  This lake is over 63 miles long and is rated as one of the largest salt water lakes in the world.  There is a very narrow isthmus, barely one third of a mile wide which separates the lake from the Atlantic Ocean at its south end so it is pretty obvious that it was recently a giant bay rather than a lake.  I suspect that with global warming and associated ocean level rise this isthmus may be breached in short order.  But wait a minute.  The middle arm that heads up north to the town of Bras d’Or seems to have a channel between the north tip of that arm and the open sea.  And look, the northwest arm actually does open to the sea without the need of a channel.  So, not only is cape Breton an island but Bras d’Or Lake is a bay.  I guess Geography was not a popular subject in these parts when things were being named. 

A bit of History

Cape Breton's first residents were likely archaic maritime natives, ancestors of the Mi'kmaq who lived there for several thousand years and continue to live there to this day.  Their ocean-centric lifestyle on the eastern edge of the continent however made them among the first indigenous peoples to discover explorers and sailors venturing out from Europe.  The Englishman John Cabot possibly visited the island in 1497 but histories and maps of the period are of too poor a quality to be sure whether Cabot visited Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island.  But that didn’t stop Cape Breton from applying his name to a major highway as well as many other land features. 

Over the centuries, the native population traded with European fishermen and didn’t put up much of a fuss when fishermen began sticking around in small settlements (circa 1520’s).  But of course no good deed goes unpunished and as a part of the French – Anglo war (1627-1629) the area was claimed by European countries.  But treaties with the natives didn’t come along till several decades later.  I’m not going to bother going over all the French, English, Scot, and Portuguese wars that came and went and the number of times the island changed “ownership”.  But it wasn’t until 1713 before anything resembling permanent European settlements were established that weren’t abandoned later.

Cape Breton wasn’t incorporated into Canada until 1820 when it was merged into Nova Scotia against its will.

During the industrial revolution Nova Scotia and Cape Breton became centers for coal mining and steel mills and those industries fueled the economy.  However as is the case in the US, over the past 25 years the island has consistently lost industrial investment and jobs.  In December 2018, Canada announced regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030.  This pretty much ended any semblance of an industrial based economy on Cape Breton and subsequently mine after mine closed down.  However, the closing of the coal and steel industry coupled with the presence of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which buffers the pristine northern half of the island from its more commercialized southern half, have no doubt contributed to the island's very positive ratings for ecological stewardship and great scenery.

Finding our Cabin

Once we got over the bridge and onto the island we decided to head directly to our rental cabin on the other end of the island after stopping to pick up groceries.  As I mentioned earlier our GPS was providing some strange looking directions.  Google Maps was also providing strange, but significantly different directions.  One had us go up the west side of a large peninsula and then cut all the way across the peninsula - on what looked like cow paths on the map - to the east side where the cabin was.  The other had us go up the east side (the cabin was on the east coast of the peninsula), but then hang a left and wander around again on marginal looking roads before reconnecting with the eastern edge of the peninsula.

Ok, deciding on trusting to blind faith in technology we headed north on the proscribed road following the recommendations of the GPS that at least had us on the correct side of the peninsula.  We carefully watched the “next turn in” box as it counted down, 1 mi, 0.9 mi…..0.5 mi, 500 ft, 200 ft, 100 ft, zero ft.  Time to turn left.  Wait a minute – not only is there no road there it’s a sheer cliff where the road we were on was cut through a ridge.  Ok.  Maybe the GPS was off a bit so let’s continue a bit and if we don’t see a road a bit further on turn around and try going the other way, back south at bit in case we missed it.  Well no road (not even a driveway) in a couple of miles either side of where it told us to turn.  Ok, let’s see what the other GPS has to say for itself.  Hmmm.  It has us turn on the same road name as the first GPS but placed it 5 miles south back the way we had first come.  Ok. Let’s give that a shot.  So, we backtracked to the turn and were pleased that there was no cliff but at the spot where we were to turn there was just what looked like it had been a single lane dirt road 20 years ago but was now completely overgrown with brush and trees growing up in the middle of the one lane track - and a locked gate. 

Ok, let’s go back north again and see if we can find someplace to ask (as there certainly wasn’t any such place for many miles the way we had come).  So turn around again.  A mile or so further along than we had gone before we saw a sign saying “Cape Dauphine Next Left”.   Wait a minute, wasn’t that part of the address of the cabin?   Quick find that paperwork.  Yep, Cape Dauphine.  Well, even though both GPS were still insisting that we turn around and go back the way we came, we decided to give this a shot.  So, we made the turn onto a well graded dirt road wide enough for two trucks to pass with plenty of room to spare.  Both GPS’s showed that we were indeed on a road that they knew about but kept telling us to turn around and that our destination was close to an hour away in the other direction.  About 3 or 4 miles down this road I glanced down at the GPS’s and now both were saying that our destination was just 2 miles away in the direction we were heading.  We hadn’t passed any intersections of any kind coming in from side, no change in the road itself, no boundary signs, no nothing.  For some reason neither GPS thought that road went through.  But we arrived with plenty of daylight to spare and moved in.

The cabin was near the north end of Cape Dauphine (which is a peninsula) right on a bay (actually the bay that connects to Bras d’Or Lake) and the fall color was starting to get impressive.

View from Cabin
Autumn Sunrise in quiet Cape Dauphine Cove, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Autumn Sunrise in quiet Cape Dauphine Cove, (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)

Scottish Roots

One of the more interesting aspects of the colonization of Cape Breton is the Scottish influence.  While England had by far the largest impact on the settlement of the eastern half of northern North America, the Scots carved out what is now Nova Scotia as their strong hold on the continent.  As it turns out the name “Nova Scotia” is Latin for “New Scotland” and was applied to this area in 1621.  Although there were occasional Scots among the early settlers, they did not come in large numbers or establish permanent communities until 1773 when emigrants from the north-western coast of Scotland arrived in Pictou lured here by the name “New Scotland”.

The early Scottish settlers were attracted here by the prospect of owning their own property free from landlords.  Scotland, like Ireland, was over-populated and unable to support their population making emigration a necessity, even though they lamented leaving homes and relatives behind it was better than starving at home.  But, after 1820, thousands of Scottish families were actually forced to emigrate during ‘The Clearances’.  The Clearances was a period when landlords, eager to consolidate small properties into large profitable sheep farms evicted their tenants.  Nice guys.  But around 1840, after most of the evictions had been completed, Scottish emigration to Nova Scotia virtually ceased.  It did not resume in any significant way until the late 1800’s when many Lowland Scot coal miners came over to work in newly-established mining towns.  In all these later cases, they spoke English and a Lowland Scots dialect and were quickly absorbed into the prevailing culture.

As groups of Scot settlers arrived they tended to settle in towns and villages made up of others from their home towns in Scotland.  Of course when they came they brought their language and customs along with them and as they were isolated in homogeneous communities their customs and the Scotch Gaelic language persisted and is still in wide use today.  In fact in many parts of Cape Breton, Scot Gaelic is a primary language used in conjunction with English in everyday life.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few isolated pockets of French where remnants of the Acadian’s still live and they speak French, but for the most part it’s Gaelic and English.

Gaelic is an ancient and treasured language, but it is one of those that is dying out. There are very few places in the world where Gaelic is still spoken as a language these days. Some areas of Ireland, of course, still maintain the use of the language (but they now call their version of the language “Irish”), and the same is true in Scotland. The residents of Cape Breton also are going out of their way to speak Gaelic – known colloquially as Nova Scotia Gaelic.  Gaelic had become nearly extinct after the 1900s when an education act forbid schools to use or teach it. But, the locals kept the language going in secret and it is now making a comeback.

As most of you know, Canada is a bilingual country where both French and English are official languages.  As such, all civic sings – such as road signs – must be in both French and English as are all legal documents.  However, there is one place in Canada where this is not true.  In Cape Breton everything is in English and Gaelic (not French).

09 Gaelic Sign09 Gaelic Sign

Musical Cape Breton

Over the years, Cape Breton communities such as Christmas Island, Whycocomagh, Mabou, Grand Narrows and West Bay, where the residents were primarily Gaelic-speaking retained their enthusiasm for Gaelic song and story, as well as for piping and fiddle music – even if they had to do it underground when the language was banned.  Most families have some sort of musical gift rooted in the Scottish tradition.  Indeed, it is believed that there is a fiddle in every home on the island; not to mention the fact that at least one person in almost every family is believed to be a proficient musician.

In addition to music, story-telling and the recitation of historical lore and genealogical connections are part of most family gatherings such as kitchen parties.  Kitchen parties are a wide spread tradition on the island where families will host a ceilidh (believe it or not pronounced ‘kay-lee’).  A ceilidh is a party involving plenty of drink, food, music, and dancing, and has very definitive Scottish roots. The name is a Gaelic word meaning a gathering of people, and most likely originated in the 18th Century, when the Scottish settled here. The ceilidh is a big thing in Cape Breton, and there is a huge focus on music in these gatherings.

World’s largest fiddle at the cruise ship dock.
17 7d2R03-#934717 7d2R03-#9347

And, this brings us to the reason for our trip.  There is an 8 day, island wide Celtic music festival on Cape Breton each fall at the peak of the fall color season.  This festival is called Celtic Colours and features some international artists as well as many, many locals. 

As the coal industry plummeted, the island struggled with how to keep its economy going.  About the only thing left from an economic standpoint was a bit of farming and tourism.  But, with a short tourist season (basically May-Sep) and a topography not conducive to opening ski resorts for winter tourism they were on a downward trajectory.  But, after some brainstorming they determined that it would be a great help if they could somehow extend the tourist season through October – but how.  They didn’t really have the resources to compete with New England for fall color tourism,  There’s nothing to attract eco-tourism or even high adventure tourism and even though there is a lovely national park it’s not enough to get people out to this off the beaten path destination. 

So, they took a look at what they had that no other place did and it was their Scot Celtic culture.  So, they created a music/dance/folklore festival timed to take place in mid October at the peak of the fall color.  And just to make sure there was no mistake they named it “Celtic Colours”.  This festival was created in 1997 and has grown in popularity ever since.  By the way, for those of you who follow basketball, the Boston Celtics is pronounced “cell-tik” but everywhere else in the world the word is pronounced “Kell-tik”.

On our visit in 2019 they had 42 formal concerts in addition to 300 community events such as dances, traditional meals, tours, workshops and a plethora of other activates.  These concerts and events take place literally all over the island in local fire halls, parish halls, community centers, school rooms, and just folks houses.  In some cases they literally move the fire trucks out of the firehouse to accommodate a dance.  So, let me tell you.  Trying to figure out where to stay and which concerts or events to sign up for was quite a challenge. 

Map of the Celtic Colours festival venue’s in 2019
07 Map 08 - Celtic Colours Map07 Map 08 - Celtic Colours Map

We didn’t spend the entire 9 days there but rather planned out a modest 5 day itinerary.  We booked a musical concert for each evening as well as cultural events during a few of the days leaving other days for just plain sightseeing. 

Even though we enjoy and listen to a fair amount of Celtic music, other than the Chieftain’s (festival opening “BIG” concert in the hockey stadium) we were not familiar with most of the bands and performers.  We were able to find some samples online but for the most part we had to trust to luck.  But we had to have some way to narrow 42 potential concerts down to 5.  So, as we strongly prefer groups with singers rather than just instrumentalists we narrowed the field down by looking for groups where the photo on the Festival website showed the group with microphones.  Well, it was better than random guessing.  For the most part it worked out pretty well.  The Chieftain’s, who we did know, were wonderful as were the many guest artists they brought on stage with them throughout the concert.  Over the course of the week, one group we saw was way too raucous and loud for us – and didn’t have a singer, but for the most part the bands were good and had some songs mixed in with the reels, jigs and hornpipes.  Lots of fiddles, concertinas, all sorts of bagpipes, guitars, and a whole bunch of instruments that we could not identify.

However finding these venues was at times a challenge.  The address in the book was something like “Fisheries Building, Eskasoni” or “St. Mary of the Angels Parish Hall”.  For the 2nd one, Googling came up empty (at least empty on Cape Breton).  There is a St. Mary’s Church on the island but nowhere near the pin number on the festival map.  But we wanted to be able to use our GPS to get us to these spots so it was important to have something to type into the destination box and names like those listed just weren’t found.  Using street view on Google Maps near where the pin on the festival map was not only didn’t find a parish hall, it didn’t even show any buildings at all along that stretch of road.  And, in a couple of these cases, our GPS came up blank as well.  So, we just drove down to the town and looked for a bunch of parked cars and as it turns out we were able to find the venues without much trouble as most were right on the main highway through that town.

Of course the word town in many cases is a bit generous.  In one case the “town” was just the one parish hall building, just plunked down along the highway in the middle of nowhere.  Probably some farmer donated a corner of their farm to the church for the parish hall.  No actual church though, just the meeting hall and the name of the “town” became the name of the farmer who donated the land.

But the concerts were great and we must have chosen well as everyone was packed and we now have a definitive study of the relative merits of a wide variety of uncomfortable folding chairs.

Cape Breton Historical sites

During the day we tried to visit historical sites and museums.


In the town of Baddeck is the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.  This modern museum follows the life and inventions of the prolific inventor, including much of his personal life.  As we know he invented many things across many disciplines such as aircraft, kites, and artificial respiration.  But he’s best known for his work in audio with his invention of the telephone.  I didn’t know this, but it seems he first became interested in the science of sound because both his mother and wife were deaf. His experiments in sound eventually let him to want to send voice signals down a telegraph wire and as we all know, that resulted in his invention of the telephone.

Graham era telephone switchboard
Switchboard, Highland Village Musum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)Switchboard, Highland Village Musum (Cape Breton Island, NS Canada)


The Highland Village Museum (An Clachan Ghàidhealaich for you Gaelic speakers) is an outdoor living history museum dedicated to Nova Scotia’s Gaelic folk-life, culture, and language located in Iona.  It sits on 43 acres of natural landscape overlooking the Bras d'Or Lake in Central Cape Breton.  Even though you can visit this place on your own like any other museum they scheduled some special tours as part of the festival (one of the 300 cultural events).  This was an extended tour through all the buildings on the site with an in character, in costume docent in each building who talked to us as if we were just a neighbor dropping in for a chat.  This tour included many extras not normally provided to general museum attendees.  For example in one house they treated us to tea and biscuits they had just made over the wood fire in the big fireplace.  In another house they showed us, and allowed us to take part in, softening woven fabric in the traditional manner (video for those reading this on my website).  The presentation was quite interesting and really gave a sense of life on the island in the 1800’s. 

Docent in a traditional house
Docent #2, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton IslandDocent #2, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton Island

In one house we were invited to participate in the singing of a “Waulking” song while “fulling” (waulking) cloth. This practice involved a group of women rhythmically beating newly woven tweed or tartan cloth against a table or similar surface to soften it.  Simple, beat-driven songs were used to accompany the work.  A waulking session often begins with slow-paced songs, with the tempo increasing as the cloth becomes softer. As the singers work the cloth, they gradually shift it to the left so as to work it thoroughly. A tradition holds that moving the cloth counter-clockwise is unlucky.  Typically one person sings the verse, while the others join in the chorus. As with many folk music forms, the lyrics of waulking songs are not always strictly adhered to. Singers might add or leave out verses depending on the particular length and size of tweed being waulked. Verses from one song might appear in another, and at times the lead singer might improvise to include events or people known locally. The chorus of many waulking songs consists of vocals, in which some of the words are meaningless, while others are regular Gaelic words, but sometimes have no meaning in the context of the song.

Some of the folks on our tour participated in a Waulking session
(video if reading this on my website)

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General Store
General Store, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton IslandGeneral Store, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton Island

Blacksmith shop
Black Smith, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton IslandBlack Smith, Highland Village Musum, Cape Breton Island

Well, his portion of our trip has turned into a blog too long for one segment, and this looks like a good spot end part 1.  In Part 2, we’ll explore some more historic sites on Cape Breton including a tour inside an undersea coal mine as well as a tour of the highlands.


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-2019-10l  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-favs-2019-10  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .

Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) alexander grahm bell museum blog canada cape breton cape breton island celtic colours dan hartford photo dantravelblogmaritimes highland village museum mcdonald brothers sawmill music on cape breton nova scotia ns sherbrook stillwater waulking song waulking the cloth https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/7/canadian-maritimes-03 Fri, 31 Jul 2020 19:22:00 GMT
Canadian Maritimes #02 – PEI https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/6/canadian-maritimes-02 OCTOBER 2019

Canadian Maritimes #02 –Prince Edward Island (PEI)

This is part 2 of a trip we took in October of 2019 to the southeastern portion of the Maritime Provinces in Canada.  On this trip we visited Halifax, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.  We flew into and out of Halifax Nova Scotia but the rest of the trip was by rented car. 

Three major destinations on this trip
01 Map 00 - Overview01 Map 00 - Overview

This installment is for PEI (Prince Edward Island).  After spending several days in Halifax we hit the road for PEI.  The bridge to PEI is less than 3 hours from Halifax mostly on 4 lane highways through a nondescript landscape of farms, fields, rolling hills and a forest or two, and not many places to stop for lunch.  However in route we did find some of the town names quite interesting.  There was Shubenacadie, Stewiacke, Bale Verte, Jolicure, and my favorite – Sackville. 

Halifax to Stanley Bridge (PEI)
02 Map 04 Halifax to Stanley Bridge PEI02 Map 04 Halifax to Stanley Bridge PEI

The last (and only other) time I was in PEI was in 1968 when I was a student in bad standing in Boston.  My live-in (runaway) girlfriend at the time had a sister who had moved to Charlottetown on PEI so I volunteered to drive her up there in my 1963 Dodge Dart station wagon for a visit.  Six hundred miles each way.  In January.  With virtually no money.  And who says young folks have no sense.  Well, long story short, somewhere along Trans Canadian Highway in New Brunswick between the middle of nowhere and the edge of nowhere we wound up in a “white out” blizzard.  Now who would have thought that it might snow in Canada in the middle of January?  But there we were – going nowhere. 

But, lo and behold there was a small ratty motel on s little hill all by itself just ahead.  We managed to slip and slide up the hill and into the parking lot and they had one room left.  But there was nothing else for miles around in any direction.  But, we were well prepared.  After all, I was a Cub Scout once.  Our dinner that night was stale packets of saltine crackers, with ketchup, mustard, and relish in those little packets that I had liberated from a Burger King the prior summer and stashed in the glove box for just such an occasion. 

The next day we crept along till we came to the ferry dock as there was no bridge at that time.  Now, the ferry has a summer schedule and a winter schedule, and this being January they were on the winter schedule which as I recall was once a day each way – and they don’t sail in bad weather.  But after spending many, many hours with the car in line and us in a waiting room with vending machines we finally made it on board for a middle of the night rock and roll voyage to the island.

Confederation Bridge

So, why did I tell you all of this?  Well, on this 2nd trip in October it was beautiful fall weather, no rain (let alone snow), and they now have a bridge.  The bridge is named the “Confederation Bridge” and it opened in 1997.  At 8 miles long it is the longest bridge in Canada.  It also happens to be the longest bridge in the world that goes over ice-covered water.  So, given my first experience, having a bridge was quite a luxury.

When PEI joined Canada in 1873, the Canadian (then the Dominion of Canada) constitution was amended to require that the federal government supply efficient steamboat service for the conveyance of mails and passengers between the Island and the mainland throughout the year.

Ferry service came and went over the years on different routes and with various degrees of reliability and comfort.  The winter server was especially bad using primitive “iceboats” (ice breakers).  In 1915 (maybe 1917) they implemented a “railcar” ferry service where you could stay on the train during the ferry ride which was vastly more comfortable than the hard benches of the boat itself, and a car ferry opened in 1938.  But as time went on it became more and more apparent that boats weren’t the answer anymore. 

Various proposals for a fixed link (a bridge) can be traced as far back as the 1870’s. It took another 100 years or so, till the 1980’s, for there finally to be a proposal which would result in the construction of a bridge and that required an amendment to the constitution to replace the “steamship service” with an all “weather bridge”. But built it was and has been in operation since 1997.

Once we crossed the bridge and onto the island itself, we still had to cross the entire width of the PEI to get to our destination on the north shore in a place called “Stanley Bridge” where we had arranged to stay with some friends we had met on our Ireland trip.

So, off we went following the instructions provided by our GPS.  Almost immediately we were off the highway and following narrow country lanes wedged between farm fields.  I seriously think our GPS was on an acid trip that day.  Turn left, turn right, turn right, turn left.  If it weren’t for the sun hitting my left ear through the window I’d have sworn we were going in circles.  In fact at one point I pulled over to look at the GPS map a bit bigger to see if we were even headed in the right general direction.  But we were so we dutifully followed the electronic voice and actually did wind up at the house whose address I had plugged in.  Never would have found it otherwise.

Prince Edward Island History

Prince Edward Island (PEI) is an island next to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but it is also its own province making it one of three Canadian Maritime provinces.  It is the smallest Canadian province in both land area and population, but interestingly it is the most densely populated with 158,158 year round residents.  In fact in terms of size it is not even the largest island in Canada and only ranks in at number 23.

The mainstay of PEI is farming which produces 25% of Canada's potatoes.  Other important industries include fishing and tourism. 

Originally part of the home territory of the Mi'kmaq, it was subsequently claimed by France, then Britain and finally incorporated in the Federation of Canada as a province in 1873.  The island has several informal names such as "Garden of the Gulf", referring to the pastoral scenery,  It is sometimes also referred to as the "Birthplace of Confederation" or "Cradle of Confederation", even though it was the seventh Canadian province.  However, it is one of Canada's older settlements and demographically still reflects older immigration to the country with Scottish, Irish, English and French surnames being most common.

Speaking of the French, a Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, was the first European to see the island.  And in 1604, the Kingdom of France laid claim to the lands of the Maritimes, including Prince Edward Island, establishing the French colony of Acadia.  The island was named Île Saint-Jean by the French.  The Mi'kmaq of course never recognized the claim but welcomed the French as trading partners and allies. 

During the 1700’s the French and British were fighting it out in many areas of North America.  On PEI they engaged in a series of battles.  The French formally ceded the island and most of New France to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

The British Initially named the island St. John's and it was administered as part of the colony of Nova Scotia until it was split into a separate colony in 1769.  In the mid-1760s, a survey team divided the Island into 67 lots which were allocated to supporters of King George III – all in England - thus making all the residents “tenants”.  This was not met well with the settlers on the island who were unable to gain title to the land on which they worked and lived. To add insult to injury, and in true British fashion, these absentee landlords charged the locals exorbitant rent and provided little in return.  This feudal system in tern dissuaded new settlers from wanting to come over from Europe.  As a ploy to get more settlers the British governor of St. John’s (what PEI was called then) got the colonial assembly to rename the island to “New Ireland”.  But the home office back in London put the kibosh on that idea pretty quickly.

So what else of interest happened here.  Well, during the American Revolution, PEI was raided by a pair of American-employed privateers using armed schooners out of Beverly, Massachusetts.  During and after the American Revolution, the governors of St. John put a fair amount of effort into attracting British loyalist refugees from the rebellious American colonies and this effort met with some success as many took up the offer.  As it turns out, one of them, Edmund Fanning, wound up being the 2nd governor of the colony.  Under his rule, a large number of Scottish Highlanders came over in the late 1700’s giving St. John’s the highest proportion of Scottish immigrants in Canada.  And, of course these folks came speaking Scottish Gaelic and bringing Highland culture with them.  To this day, they say that the traditional Scott culture  present on the island is stronger than in Scotland itself as the settlers could more easily avoid English influence than those in actual Scotland could being adjacent to England.

The island officially changed its name from Saint John’s to Prince Edward Island in 1798.  This was to avoid confusion with other St. John’ in the area such as the cities of Saint John in New Brunswick and St. John's in Newfoundland.

It wasn’t until 1853 that the Island government passed the Land Purchase Act which empowered them to purchase lands from those owners who were willing to sell, and then resell the land to settlers for low prices. This scheme collapsed when the Island ran short of money to continue with the purchases.

In 1864, Prince Edward Island hosted the Charlottetown Conference, which was the first meeting in the process leading to the Quebec Resolutions and the creation of Canada in 1867. However, PEI did not find the terms of union favorable and balked at joining in 1867, choosing to remain a colony of the United Kingdom. In the late 1860s, the colony examined various options, including the possibility of becoming a discrete dominion unto itself, as well as entertaining delegations from the United States, who were interested in Prince Edward Island joining the United States.

In 1871, the colony began construction of a railway and, frustrated by Great Britain's Colonial Office, began negotiations with the United States.  In 1873, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, anxious to thwart American expansionism negotiated for Prince Edward Island to join Canada. The Dominion Government of Canada assumed the colony's extensive railway debts and agreed to finance a buy-out of the last of the colony's absentee landlords to free the island of leasehold tenure.  Prince Edward Island entered Confederation on July 1, 1873.

Our hosts on PEI

Even though PEI was the 7th province to join Canada, as a result of having hosted the inaugural meeting of Confederation, the Charlottetown Conference, Prince Edward Island presents itself as the "Birthplace of Confederation" and this is commemorated through several buildings, a ferry vessel, and the Confederation Bridge (constructed 1993 to 1997).

Our guided tour of PEI area near Stanley Bridge.  (My GPS died so dotted line is a guess)
03 Map 05 - PEI Excursion03 Map 05 - PEI Excursion

On PEI we stayed with a wonderful family, the Croziers, that we had met on our tour of Ireland a few years ago.  They were the greatest hosts.  They invited some of their clan in and prepared a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner for us.  Thanksgiving in Canada is pretty much the same as in the US but it is in mid October rather than the end of November.  Then they spent an entire day taking us on a sightseeing tour of their part of PEI.  Now, that is Canadian hospitality.  I hope that some day they venture out to the San Francisco area and we can return the favor.

They have a lovely house on the shore of a peninsula sticking out into New London Bay in the town of Stanley Bridge. 

View from their backyard of sunset over the bay
Backyard Sunset.  Stanley Bridge, PEIBackyard Sunset. Stanley Bridge, PEI


Cavendish Beach

Our first stop was the very nearby Cavendish Beach which is at the western end of the PEI National Park.  Prince Edward Island National Park is located along the north shore of PEI, fronting the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Established in 1937, over time it has grown to about 37 miles long,  It is definitely a seashore of park with broad sand beaches, sand dunes, both freshwater wetlands and salt marshes which is a haven for birds. 

As you know from reading this, our trip to the area was in October of 2019.  What you may not recall is that Hurricane Dorian clobbered PEI in September of that year and the area of Cavendish was quite heavily damaged.  Whole swaths of forest were ravaged and the clean-up/salvage crews were quite busy cleaning up the mess. 

We first visited the west end of the Cavendish Beach area and its very lovely beach.  A bit on the cold and windy side in mid October but in the summer I’m sure it is jam packed with people enjoying the broad warm sand, gentle surge of the waves and the fantastic views.  This is a nice sandy beach backed by small grass covered dunes.

West side of Cavendish Beach
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Boardwalk leading to fresh water lake (Lake of Shinning Water)
Cavendish National Park Board Walk (PEI, Canada)Cavendish National Park Board Walk (PEI, Canada)

The east end of the Cavendish part of the park is completely different.  Here eroded red sandstone cliffs plunge directly into the bay with no beach at all.  The erosion of the cliffs has resulted in all sorts of fantasy shaped contours, pockets, caves and outcroppings – all in a brilliant red that contrasts beautifully with the blue water below.

Eroded red sandstone bluffs at east end of Cavendish.  West end beach can be seen in background
Cavendish National Park East Beach (PEI, Canada)Cavendish National Park East Beach (PEI, Canada)

Eroded cliffs
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Green Gables

Many of you may be familiar with Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote the Green Gables novels in the early 1900’s.  Cavendish is where the Green Gables farm and house are.   The house, which has been incorporated into PEI National Park, was designated as a National Historic Site in 1985 and it can be toured.

The Green Gables farm was owned by the MacNeill family, who were cousins of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. The farm's name is derived from the rich dark green paint of the gables on the farmhouse. The main exterior walls of the farmhouse are painted white.  Montgomery visited the farm as a young girl and based the location of her best-selling Anne series of books on the Green Gables farm.  She drew romantic inspiration from the house, as well as the surrounding area, including the "Haunted Woods", "Lovers' Lane", and "Balsam Hollow."  Upon Montgomery's death in 1942, her wake was conducted from the living room of the Green Gables farmhouse.

There is a modern visitor center where you can book a guided tour.  While waiting for your tour of the house to start, there are displays about the author and many of the characters in the book (or the actual people those characters were modeled after).  There is also a Lego model of the house on display. 

One is usually allowed to roam around the grounds in order to discover the places described in the books, but due to the hurricane most of the property was still closed for clean up and safety inspections.  However, we were able to get to the entrance to Lovers Lane where I could get a photo over the barricade.

Lego model of the House of Green Gables
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Green Gables house
Anne of Green Gables House (PEI, Canada)Anne of Green Gables House (PEI, Canada)

House of Green Gables Sitting room
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Lovers Lane
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North Rustico Harbor

North Rustico is a small fishing harbor on the north shore of PEI facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  It was incorporated in 1954 but changed its status to a town on in 2013.  The town is known to locals, as well as many others, as "The Crick" for some unknown reason.  The population as of 2016 is a whopping 607 people which I guess is enough for “town” status. 

Like many small towns, North Rustico has a claim to fame.  Each year it holds a Canada Day celebration on July 1.  The event usually attracts in excess of 10,000 people, which packs the town quite full and parking must be a nightmare.  . The festivities include a parade down main street as well as a boat parade on Rustico Harbor. The day is completed by a fireworks display over the bay.

The village of North Rustico was founded circa 1790, around a small harbor and was home to a remnant Acadian population who fled British capture and deportation during the Seven Years' War.  English, Scottish and Irish settlers moved into the area during the remainder of the 18th century and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  The name Rustico comes from Rassicot, the name of one of the first settlers from France. 

The fleet here are the smaller to mid size fishing craft.  Probably single boat family operations.  The harbor has around 40 craft that call North Rustico their home port but this includes pleasure boats as well as working boats.  Although there are some seasonal residents that just show up in the summer, most of the 344 dwellings are year round.

So, now you know all there is to know about North Rustico. 

But it is a very charming low key fishing village that is off the tourist track.  You don’t see ice cream, popcorn and corn dog stands.  You don’t see booths selling harbor cruises or souvenir shops full of T-Shirts and baseball caps, and best of all you don’t see throngs of tourists.  Of course we were there off season.  Wikipedia says, “In the summer, it is one of PEI’s most popular destinations. On a warm summer evening, dozens of people can be found strolling the town's waterfront boardwalk.” But even so, I doubt it’s all that different in mid season, even with “dozens” of tourists. – expect of course for Canada Day. 

Small fishing craft in the harbor
North Rustico Harbour (PEI, Canada)North Rustico Harbour (PEI, Canada)

Working Wharf
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Sport fishing
Fishing Rods (PEI, Canada)Fishing Rods (PEI, Canada)

Lobster traps waiting for the season.
Waitng for lobster season, North Rustico Harbour (PEI, Canada)Waitng for lobster season, North Rustico Harbour (PEI, Canada)

Typical small commercial fishing business
Lobster traps, Boats, and Buoys (North Rustico PEI, Canada)Lobster traps, Boats, and Buoys (North Rustico PEI, Canada)

Through the lobster trap
Through the lobster trap (North Rustico  PEI, Canada)Through the lobster trap (North Rustico PEI, Canada)

French River

On our tour led by our friends, we came to another picturesque small fishing village called French River.  According to a sign at a highway overlook on the other side of a small bay,

“French River is one of PEI’s most famously picturesque fishing villages.  Among the area’s most unique features is the contrasting yet complimentary combination of water view and farmland within a single vista.  It’s this gentle mix that has led French River to become one of the Island’s most sought after locations for artists, photographers, and visitors alike.”

The French River inlet is also known as “Yankee Hill”.  It seems that the area was used by American fishing vessels whose crews would buy supplies from an American merchant there.  This name is also given to the nearby pioneer cemetery and an adjoining farm.  Approximately 25 American sailors drowned during the Yankee Gale in 1851 and are buried in the Yankee Hill Cemetery.

French River also seems to have had a hand in the fox farming business.  During the 1930’s and 40’s, Fox Farming became quite popular and profitable in certain areas of PEI, including French River.  Records show that there were at least 9 farmers operating fox ranches here at that time.  Of course in the fox trade the product is the fur not the meat and in the case of the PEI most of the fur was sent back to Europe for women’s fashion.

French River fishing village
French River (PEI, Canada)French River (PEI, Canada)

Cape Tryon Lighthouse (near French River)
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Along our wonderful all day tour, we also passed all sorts of churches, farms, forests, and vistas way too numerous to go into here, so I’ll just leave you with a shot of a church and a sign in front of a church that was pointed out to us.

St. Mary’s Church, Indian River
St. Mary's Church, PEI, CanadaSt. Mary's Church, PEI, Canada

Sign in front of a church in Malpeque
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I hope you enjoyed reading about our time on PEI and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


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These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-2019-10l  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-favs-2019-10  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Anne of Green Gables blog Canada Cavendish Cavendish Beach Confederation Bridge dan hartford photo DanTravelBlogMaritimes French River Green Gables Indian River New London Range Rear Lighthouse North Rustico North rustico Harbor PEI Prince Edward Island St. John's St. John's Island Stanley Bridge https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/6/canadian-maritimes-02 Mon, 22 Jun 2020 21:17:34 GMT
Canadian Maritimes #01 – Halifax & Area https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/5/canadian-maritimes-01 OCTOBER 2019

Canadian Maritimes #01 –Halifax

This is part 1 of a trip we took in October of 2019 to the southeastern portion of the maritime provinces in Canada.  On this trip we visited Halifax, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.  We flew into and out of Halifax Nova Scotia but the rest of the trip was by rented car. 

This installment is for Halifax and area.

Three major destinations on this trip
02 Map 0 - Overview02 Map 0 - Overview


Where we wandered in Halifax
03 Map 01 - Halifax03 Map 01 - Halifax

From our home base near San Francisco, we had an uneventful flight to Halifax where we picked up a rental car a bit before midnight and drove the 20 miles to our Hotel in downtown Halifax where we spent several days.  During our stay in Halifax we wandered around on foot, took a Duck Tour, went shopping for a yoga mat on the other side of the bay and took two driving excursions along the coast to the east of the city.

Halifax is the capital of the Nova Scotia province. It had a population of 403,000 in 2016 – making it a bit bigger than Tulsa Oklahoma.  As the capital of the province, Halifax is of course a major economic center for the Atlantic coast of Canada.  And understandably has a large concentration of governmental buildings as well as private businesses who need (or want) to be near the center of government.

Even though Halifax has a robust economy with a mix of shipping, manufacturing and government, it also has a fair tourist trade as well.  Many cruise ships make a stop here and dozens, if not hundreds of restaurants, shops and hotels have opened to cash in on the ever increasing number of visitors.  The skuzzy old area along the downtown waterfront has seen a major gentrification and transformation into the tourist center of town.  There is now a wide harbor walk where you can stroll 2.5 miles along boardwalks, floating docks, and asphalt promenades along the edge of the water which are lined with tourist shops, restaurants, and lodging of every variety.  And this tourist area continues to take over more and more maritime facilities as it extends in both directions.

So, why Halifax instead of any number of other harbors along the east coast of Canada one might ask.  One of the things that made Halifax a significant seaport was a lucky state of geography.  As it turns out, Halifax harbor is the closest large harbor to Europe (by ship) in North America that does not freeze over in the winter.  In terms of location it is two days closer to Europe and one day closer to Southeast Asia (via the Suez Canal) than any other North American East Coast port.  Add to that the fact that it is a year round port and you can understand its popularity throughout modern history. 

For being so far north it is quite unusual for harbors not to freeze, especially considering harbors much further south that do freeze such as Boston, Portland and New York.  This strange phenomenon for a harbor so far north and where the winters are quite chilly is due to the harbor being over 65 feet deep throughout its length.  In the clutches of winter it is the only Atlantic seaport in the country of Canada that remains open for shipping.  Another nice feature of the harbor which made it even more popular in the sailing ship era was that the tidal surge in and out of the harbor is quite weak with very low water level change between high and low tides.  

But, let’s look at a bit of its history.  Of course the area was inhabited way before the European’s arrived in the 1400’s.  In the US we call these people “Indians” or “Native Americans”, in Canada they are known as the “First Peoples” – a much better term in my opinion.  For the most part between the 1400’s and mid 1700’s Canada followed more or less the same trajectory as did the US.  This time frame was filled with wars against the native inhabitants, westward expansion by the settlers, differences of opinion resulting in small wars between various European countries trying to claim territory, Etc.  As for Halifax itself, it was formally established in 1749 by the British which of course started a war – this one called Father Le Loutre's War. The war began when Edward Cornwallis arrived with a fleet of ships to claim the area for Britain and to establish a port for the Hudson Bay Company which was funding much of the occupation of North America.  This, it turned out, was a violation of earlier treaties with the Mi'kmaq tribe that was signed 23 years earlier in 1726 after some warfare.  Pretty much the same pattern as in the US where we invaded the native lands, had some wars, signed some treaties and then disregarded those treaties later.  Well, when Cornwallis arrived he brought with him 1,176 settlers and their families to start the town. 

So, here come the Protestant British to settle an area that had been given to the Mi'kmaq, and to which the Acadian’s and the French also had a claim.  In other words, a dicey situation.  So the first thing that Cornwallis did was to build a string of protective forts, including one on Citadel Hill in Halifax (1749), one in Bedford (Fort Sackville- 1749), Dartmouth (1750), and Lawrencetown (1754).  All of these are now inside the greater Halifax Regional Municipality.

The Citadel

The Citadel sits atop an expansive hill overlooking the city of Halifax and provided the main defense of the city from 1749 through 1906.  During that time frame it was rebuilt four times.

The first iteration of the fort on the hill was built by Cornwallis in 1749 which was just a wood garrison typical of frontier forts of the time.  With the fort for protection, this new community felt secure, much like a whole series of other British settlements throughout Nova Scotia.  Not too long after, the French had regained control of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island nearby, and the British believed they would attack the mainland and they didn’t care for that idea.  In fact the British deduced that Halifax, with its deep ice-free harbor, would be the prime target for the French.  As it turned out, climate, not the French artillery, posed the greatest threat to the wood fort as the French never attacked.   Fog, rain and cold winters along with neglect over time contributed to the decay of the old wooden fort.  But even as the fort withered away, Halifax itself continued to grow, becoming the capital of Nova Scotia when representative government was granted to the colony in 1758. 

By1761, the first Halifax Citadel was in shambles, due to decay.  Work began on a new fort that year, but luck was not on their side.  Plans for the new Citadel required that the top 40 feet of the hill be removed and that job fell to the soldiers stationed there.  I’m sure they were thrilled.  “Hey guys, it’s a nice summer, here are a few shovels - go remove the top 40 feet of that hill”. 

But there were very few soldiers stationed there and not much progress was made.  Even though 1,000 soldiers came up from Massachusetts to help out, winter set in with little progress to show for the summer worth of work.  Well, there’s always next summer.  But before then the French attacked St. John’s, Newfoundland.  So, here in Halifax, resources were diverted away from rebuilding the fort and put to work on harbor defenses on Georges Island in the bay and the Halifax and Dartmouth shores for fear of a naval attack.  And so it went. 

It wasn’t until the outbreak of the American Revolution in the 1770s for focus to shift back to Halifax’s land defenses and the Citadel.  Now remember at this time there was no “Canada” or “USA”, it was all just British colonies with a few French enclaves thrown in for good luck.  Well, as it turned out, many Halifax residents had come from what later became New England to the south, and supported the US revolution.  Fearing the Americans would launch a land attack and be joined by the local US revolution sympathizers, British troops led by Captain William Spry, finally constructed the new fort on the hill, using an expanded version of the plans from 1761. The highlight was a large octagonal tower, which served as a barracks for 100 soldiers.

Like the fort before it, this second Citadel never saw battle.  By 1784, it too was in ruins due to neglect and Nova Scotia’s climate.  Well, as we know, the best remedy to get neglected forts fixed up is a good war and the British and French obliged with renewed hostility.  This then put in motion the effort to build a third fort atop Citadel Hill.

By 1794 the French and British war was well underway, albeit nowhere near Halifax.  However when Prince Edward (Duke of Kent) arrived as commander-in-chief of British forces in Nova Scotia he felt that the French might attack this strategic British naval base.  And so he started construction of the third Citadel.  Although plans for the fort were approved in 1795, a shortage of men and material (after all there was a war going on) meant work did not really get underway until 1796. By then, the old fort had been leveled and the hill cut down by 15 feet.

Four years later the new fort, the first one to be set directly atop the hill was completed. This one was smaller than its predecessor and was made primarily of earth and timber.  There were just three major buildings within its walls: a barracks, a provision store and a powder magazine.  And much like the first two this one never saw battle either.  They tried to keep it up over the years with many repairs, including patchwork during the War of 1812 but by 1825 it too was in ruins.  So, planning began for number 4.

During the 1820s, tensions between Britain and the United States were running high. So much so, that Britain believed US forces would try to seize Halifax, possibly by land, if a war broke out. Once again, they set out to strengthen the town’s defenses, but this time was different. This time, they decided to build a permanent fort that would protect this vital naval base for generations to come. And in August 1828, work began on a fourth Halifax Citadel.

This one is a star-shaped stone fortress and was expected to be finished in just six years.  However flaws in the design caused delays in construction and the Halifax Citadel was not completed until 1856, 28 years later.  Like the citadels before it, this new fort never saw battle, and advances in weaponry would soon render it obsolete.  This is the one that is still there today.

In 1906, the British handed it over to the Canadians.  During World War I, it served as soldier barracks and a command center for Halifax Harbour Defenses.  It remained a temporary barracks for troops in World War II, and was their last glimpse of Canada before heading overseas.  Today, the Halifax Citadel is among the nation’s most significant and beloved historic sites. Operated by Parks Canada, it has been carefully restored to its Victorian-era glory.

We spent several hours in the Citadel, including a wonderful docent led tour, some exploring on our own and a close up view of the daily firing of a cannon at noon.  What’s funny is that when the fort was built and the daily noon firing tradition was started, the cannon they used had a clear view of the entire harbor over the tops of the city buildings.  However now, the cannon seems to fire right into the side of a tall office building.

The site is currently “manned” by docents in authentic period clothing worn by soldiers of the time.  As in most militaries, there are different types of these soldiers who wore different uniforms.  The black uniforms were mostly for the guards.  The red seemed to be more for what we’d call the infantry or foot soldier, etc.  We were told by our guide wearing a red uniform that these garments are quite accurate; not warm enough in the winter and way too heavy in the summer.  About the only thing (other than modern restrooms) that was admittedly not an accurate representation of the period is that today the “soldiers” are mixed gender whereas in the 1700’s it was male only.  But interestingly enough, if you look at the uniforms, most could be considered unisex by today’s standard.  The kilts worn by the males, serve equally well on the females.

Docent guarding front gate of the Halifax Citadel
Guard, Halifax CitadelGuard, Halifax Citadel

Our tour guide telling us about the brig
Docent, Halifax CitadelDocent, Halifax Citadel

The cells of the brig served double duty, also being used for cannon placements.  One of the punishments for inmates was to move a stack of cannon balls from one side of the cell to the other.  And then move them back again – all day long. 
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Many school groups visit the Citadel as part of their history requirement. 
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The Citadel is quite well restored
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Preparing to fire
Getting ready to filreGetting ready to filre

Just after firing the daily shot announcing noon.  Notice the office building in “the line of fire”
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Halifax was primarily a naval base from a military perspective.  So, of course a fort on the top of the hills should have a couple of masts.  These were used to raise various flags as a way to send messages to other forts in the area as well as to the population of the town.

Two signaling masts on the hilltop fort
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The Town Clock (sometimes called the Old Town Clock or Citadel Clock) just outside the fort, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the urban core of Halifax.  The idea of a clock for the British Army and Royal Navy garrison at Halifax is credited to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent in 1800. It is said that Prince Edward, then commander-in-chief of all military forces in British North America, wished to resolve the tardiness of the local garrison.

The clock went into operation in 1803.  It sits in a three story octagon tower built atop a one story white clapboard building. It was erected on the east slope of Citadel Hill facing Barrack (now Brunswick) Street. The clock face is 4-sided displaying Roman numerals. As with most clocks the "4" is shown as IIII for aesthetic symmetry and not as IV.  The mechanism uses three weights along with a 13-foot pendulum.  To this day the weights are manually winched up twice a week.   Its bell strikes hourly and quarterly and the durability of the mechanism (which dates to the original installation) is attributed to its slow movement.

Halifax Citadel Clock Tower
Halifax Citadel Clock TowerHalifax Citadel Clock Tower

Harbour Walk

Once we’d exhausted seeing the Citadel, the other main area of Halifax we visited was the waterfront, about 4 blocks from the hotel.  As is the case in most all harbor cities, the waterfront was the historical center of commercial and naval activities.  In other words it was a bustling working harbor supporting the growing city.  Eventually though, the shipping business moved from the manual loading and unloading of ships to containerized shipping displacing large numbers of dock workers and this in turn led to property deterioration as businesses moved elsewhere in the harbor.  Over this same period, Halifax declined as a fishing port.  So, all in all things were not looking too good for the Halifax waterfront. 

Then in 1960, the Harbor Front Highway project was proposed right along the shore that would cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city.  In fact, if you look at many harbor side cities in North America at that time, many actually built such highways along the shore.  One of these was San Francisco where a freeway from the Bay Bridge was to go along the shoreline, right over the top of Fisherman’s Wharf and all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The first section of this was actually built but was severely damaged in the 1986 earthquake and subsequently was torn down to everybody’s delight.  In Halifax though, a community led movement got the proposed highway project replaced by a more progressive strategy for their waterfront. 

The resulting Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk is a roughly 2 mile long public footpath that stretches from a Casino at the north end to an immigration museum at the south end and by the looks of things may be extended further.  In addition to these two book end attractions you will find a lovely maritime museum and some historic ships you can tour near the middle.  Of course this is in addition to the ubiquitous snack stands, restaurants, hotels souvenir shops, marinas and excursion booking kiosks.  Mostly the Harbour Walk is between the city buildings and water but one place it is out over the bay due to construction and at another place is actually a floating dock you walk on.

Typical section of Halifax Harbour Walk
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Small Marina’s dot the length of the Harbour Walk
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At some spots the walk is out over the bay.  Here you can rent a snooze in a hammock
Hamocks on Harbourside Walk, HalifaxHamocks on Harbourside Walk, Halifax

For those of you with kids, you may be familiar with Thomas Train children’s books.  Well, not to be outdone, in Canada there is a similar series of books called Theodore Too which are based on a tug boat.  And here it is in real life

Theodore Too tug boat from a series of children’s books
Theodore Tugboat, Halifax, N.S.Theodore Tugboat, Halifax, N.S.

And, what self-respecting city doesn’t have modern art installations in high tourist areas.  Now usually I don’t care for these sorts of things that much but in this case I found the art quite amusing (which was its intent).  This art is by Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg and consists of three modern street lights doing very human activities.  One shows the street light taking a leak over the edge of the dock.  The other two depict a drunk who fell down being looked over by a concerned friend.

Taking a Leak,  Fallen Drunk, Concerned Friend
The Way Things Are sculpture (Halifax)The Way Things Are sculpture (Halifax)

“The Bicycle Thief” metal sculpture in front of a bicycle shop
Red Bike Pile (Halifax Harbourwalk)Red Bike Pile (Halifax Harbourwalk)

One of the things we enjoyed while traversing the Harbour Walk are the reflections in some of the newer buildings that line the walkway.

Hotel reflection in office building window
Halifax Building ReflectionHalifax Building Reflection

Harbour Walk reflected in building window
Halifax Harbourwalk reflectionHalifax Harbourwalk reflection

Immigration Museum

At the south end of the Harbour Walk is the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.  I don’t have any photos of this museum but it tells quite a remarkable story which is barely known to those of us in the States – and in many ways quite different then our Ellis Island in New York Harbor. 

The museum occupies a former ocean liner terminal which also served as the “immigration shed” from 1928 to 1971.  Yes, 1971.  Pier 21 is Canada's last remaining ocean immigration shed. The facility is often compared to Ellis Island (1892–1954) in terms of its importance to mid-20th-century immigration.  Canada’s eastern coast also had other 19th century immigration sheds such as Grosse Isle, Quebec (1832–1932) and Partridge Island in Saint John, New Brunswick (1785–1941).

This is not a particularly large museum but is quite well done.  The museum shows visitors what it was like to immigrate through Pier 21 between 1928 and 1971. Visitors can open replica children's trunks to see what five immigrant children might have brought with them to Canada, walk through a replica of the colonist train cars that newly arrived immigrants boarded for the next stage of their journey, and even dress up as some of the key staff and volunteers at Pier 21.

Among other things, you can see a replica of the inside of a transport ship used to bring immigrants across the Atlantic showing sleeping quarters and dining facilities for the immigrants.  This was quite interesting.  In one exhibit they had a ships dining hall table set up as it would have been at the time.  This was a table for 4 people.  There was a pressed white table cloth.  Each place setting had a china plate, bowl, saucer, tea cup and water glass.  The chinaware was painted with an intricate design.  For silverware there was a knife, several forks, and several spoons.  All was topped off with a neatly folded and pressed white cloth napkin.  It really looked like one of the posh table settings in the Titanic movie.  The question asked by our guide was, “Whose dinner table was this?”  Captain?  Officers?  First Class passengers? 2nd class passengers? 3rd class immigrant class passengers? Or Crew?  .  The group all guessed at one of the first three but in reality it was typical of the 3rd class immigrant class.

Unlike NY’s Ellis Island, Immigrants coming into Canada where “processed” much more quickly.  But one of the biggest differences is that in the US, once you were approved for entry you were just released on the streets of your entry city.  For some period of time they required you to have a “sponsor” which many times was just a name and address you got from who knows where.  This is how ethnic ghetto’s sprang up in New York, Boston and Philadelphia among others.  Due to language, and economics, new foreign arrivals just tended to gravitate to the areas where previous immigrants from the same country were living.  However, in Canada, things were done differently.  When you were released from the immigration shed (usually in under 24 hours) your family group was paired up with a family somewhere in the country with whom you and your family would stay for a while.  These were usually places in the middle of the country where they needed more people.  it was very rare for new immigrants to be released into their arrival city.  These sponsoring families throughout the country were paid by the government and they would help the immigrants get acclimated to life in Canada, would help them learn the language, find a job and get a place to live for their own within a specified amount of time. 

To make this work, the government had immigration trains that would pick up the immigrants right from the Immigration Shed and take them all the way to their destination depot where the sponsoring family would meet them at the station.  That is the reason that immigration port cities such as Halifax never had those waves of new people deposited in their midst forming country by country ghetto’s like in New York.  It is also why diversity in Canada was more homogeneous rather than isolated to specific areas.  Of course there were problems as there are with any government run program but all in all it proved to be a pretty good system.  

One of the stories we were told involved the Immigration train.  Once you boarded the train, you were not allowed to get off till you got to your destination station which in most cases was several days away.  So, they would give the immigrants boxed meals to take on the train for the journey.  The contents of these boxes were usually donated by companies as a way to get the new folks acquainted with their products and as such would be more inclined to buy those same things once they got settled.  Ok, sounds good but sometimes the best laid plans just don’t work out.  It seems that the Kellogg’s company was one of the suppliers and they put boxes of corn flakes into these meal boxes.  That makes sense.  You can eat them dry as a hand held snack, or add milk in a bowl.  Well, it turns out that in Germany and much of Europe the only thing corn is used for is pig feed.  People don’t eat corn.  So, the good old Kellogg company got known as the pig food company and pretty much all the cornflakes wound up being thrown on the floor.  Not to mention that this fostered a sentiment of “what kind of country did we come to where they treat new comers so bad by giving them pig food?”

Another story was of a family whose meal box contained things to make sandwiches.  Well, many of the European’s had never heard of bread that was pre-sliced and white.  After all, bread was heavy, very dark in color and came in a loaf.  So, what was this flat thin white stuff?  Well the obvious answer was some sort of weird napkin that was so poorly made that it fell apart when you tried to use it. 

Several families figured out how to use their new Canadian dollars to get folks standing on station platforms to go buy some better food for them and bring it back to the train.  In fact many prior immigrants from similar countries who had landed in such places came to the station just to provide that sort of aid to their fellow countrymen and knew what to get them.  Sausage was a well-received item – especially for the Germans.  So with sausage in hand, and with that weird mustard in their boxed lunch – it was just like home.  But that mustard was just awful.  Not only was it a strange color, and too thick, it tasted horrible.  What is wrong with the people in this country – Not only is it freezing cold and they don’t even know how to make a loaf of bread they can’t even make edible mustard?  So, the mustard jars went out the window of the train as it sped along.  But then the oddest thing happened.  Folks who had houses or farms near the tracks kept finding all these mostly full peanut butter jars in their yards and fields.  Very perplexing.

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum is more or less in the middle of the Harbour Walk.  This museum includes a traditional indoor museum but also a few ships floating at docks nearby.  There is the CSS Acadia and the museum ship HMCS Sackville. 

The museum itself is not a very large, museum, but is very nicely done with some very interesting exhibits.  I recommend the guided tour but you can certainly do it on your own. 

One of the focus points in this museum is on model replicas of historic and modern ships which can be seen throughout the facility.  Many of these representing historic cruise ships are on the 2nd floor and are quite large – in the 8 to 20 foot long range.  They also have a model building room with a glass observation window so you can watch expert model builders doing their work.  It is quite difficult to photograph these models, which are in glass cases, due to reflections of the overhead lighting but I was able to get a few shots.  Here’s one of a quite large model cruise liner.

Model of an early cruise ship
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019

Along with the expected exhibits, there were some that I found especially interesting or unique.  One was a live sailors parrot named “Merlin” who is a Rainbow Macaw.  Then there was the Fresnel lens from the Sambro Island Lighthouse off the south coast of Nova Scotia, and a room of small boats one whimsically being attacked by a Kraken (giant squid) and a couple of others I’ll talk about later.

Fresnel lens from the Sambro Island Lighthouse
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019


Re-creation of original marine supply hardware store inside the original building (gray box is a manually operated fog horn)
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One of the interesting things that I had forgotten was that the when the Titanic went down, Halifax, being the nearest full port to the sinking site, became the recovery operations center.  In the museum there is a pretty extensive exhibit devoted to this disaster.

As we all know the Titanic is considered one of the greatest marine disasters in recorded history.  The ship left Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 on her maiden voyage and 4 days later struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and the “unsinkable ship” sank.  The first vessel to arrive at the scene was the Cunard Liner RMS Carpathia and she was able to rescue more than 700 survivors.  Shortly thereafter the White Star Line dispatched the first of four Canadian vessels to look for bodies in the area of the sinking.

On April 17, Halifax sent a ship with a minister, an undertaker and a cargo of ice, coffins and canvas bags to recover bodies.  They found and recovered 306, 116 of which had to be buried at sea.  Several other Halifax based recovery ships followed.  The majority of the bodies were unloaded at the Coal or Flagship Wharf in Halifax and horse-drawn hearses brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink.

Of those bodies, only 59 were returned to their families.  The remaining victims were buried in three Halifax cemeteries.  Most of the gravestones, erected in the fall of 1912, were paid for by the White Star Line and are plain granite blocks.  In some cases, however, families, friends or other groups chose to commission a larger and more elaborate gravestone.  All of these more personalized graves, including one with a striking Celtic cross and another being a beautiful monument to the “Unknown Child”, are located at Fairview Lawn Cemetery.

But, none of the graves were for the fictional Jack Dawson from the movie.  However in the Fairview Cemetery where 121 of the Titanic victims are buried, there is a grave labeled "J. Dawson".  The real J. Dawson was Joseph Dawson, who shoveled coal in the bowels of the ship.  But this nuance seems to be lost on the thousands of tourists who each year descend on this cemetery to see where the hero of the film is buried.  Local tour guides each year keep track of how many people ask them how to find this grave site and at the end of each tourist season the guide with the most requests is treated to a beer.

Another transfixing exhibit is dedicated to an event that happened mid-way through WWI that almost destroyed the city.  This was not an attack by an enemy air force or navy but rather was self-inflicted.  This was the December 6th, 1917 Halifax Explosion.

It seems the ship the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship which was laden with war bound high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbor to Bedford Basin.  The Mont-Blanc was under orders from the French government to carry cargo from New York City via Halifax to Bordeaux, France and was trying to join an Atlantic convoy.  At roughly 8:45 am, she collided at low speed, with the empty Imo.  Neither ship was severely damaged but on the Mont-Blanc, the impact caused some benzol barrels stored on deck to fall over and break open.  Benzol is a highly flammable fuel (a variation of which is now used as an octane booster in gasoline).  These barrels were stored on deck as they were deemed to hazardous to be in the cargo hold.  This benzol flowed across the deck and down into the hold leaking vapor as it went and was eventually ignited by sparks.  It’s not clear if the sparks came from the collision or from the reversing of the engines.  At any rate, a fire started and quickly got out of control with all that Benzol sloshing around. 

Several ships came to lend assistance with rescue operations and firefighting.  They even had started an effort to tow the damaged ship away from a pier it had drifted into to keep the pier from catching fire.  It was then, 20 minutes after the initial collision, when the fire reached the munitions stored in the hold of the Mont Blank and explosives do what explosives do and it was a whopper of an explosion. 

The blast devastated the entire Richmond district of Halifax which is a kind way of saying that it leveled it.  Approximately 2,000 people were killed outright by the blast, debris, fires, or collapsed buildings, and an estimated additional 9,000 others were injured.  The blast was the largest man-made explosion in history, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT (20% the size of the Hiroshima atomic bomb).  Nearly all structures within a half-mile radius of the ship, were obliterated.  A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, created a tsunami, and scattered fragments of the Mont-Blanc for miles in all directions.  Across the harbor, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage.  The tsunami created by the blast wiped out a community of the Mi'kmaq First Nation people who had lived in the Tufts Cove area for generations.  Airborne debris from the explosion went mostly south and east of the explosion site some tearing into homes and businesses nearly 5 miles away.

Relief efforts began almost immediately, and hospitals quickly became full. Rescue trains began arriving the day of the explosion from across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick while other trains from central Canada and the northeastern United States were impeded by blizzards.  However help did arrive.  The city of Boston mobilized their Red Cross organization who sent a large contingent of doctors, nurses and other disaster experts to Halifax by ship, thus avoiding the snow bound rail lines.  Construction of temporary shelters to house the many people left homeless began soon after the disaster.

The initial judicial inquiry found Mont-Blanc to have been responsible for the disaster, but a later appeal determined that both vessels were to blame.

Debris fall
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019

Fragment from the Mont-Blanc hull found embedded in the wall of a house 2.5 miles away.  It was discovered decades later when the roof was being replaced
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019

What used to be a city
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019

What used to be “home”
Halifax Maritime Museum.  Halifax, NS, Canada 2019Halifax Maritime Museum. Halifax, NS, Canada 2019

Out on the piers by the museum are a couple of ships.  One is the HMCS SACKVILLE which is the last of 269 corvettes built for WWII of which 123 were built in Canada.  This one has been restored to her wartime configuration and is the last one still afloat.  These ships were mostly used in submarine hunting. 

Depth charge launchers, HMCS Sackville
HMCS Sackville, Halifax NSHMCS Sackville, Halifax NS

Peggy’s Point

While staying in Halifax we drove out of town on two occasions.  The first was a late afternoon trip down to Peggy’s Cove to take a look at the lighthouse at sunset which was highly recommended for photographers.  The second time was a full day trip where we went back to Peggy’s cove to take a better look at the village itself, but then continued along the coast to the east winding up in a town called Lunenberg

Our excursions outside of Halifax
01 Map 03 Peggy & Lundenberg P1 Full enhanced01 Map 03 Peggy & Lundenberg P1 Full enhanced

Peggy’s Cove and Lighthouse

Peggy's Cove is a small community on the eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay about 26 miles from Halifax.  It was established in 1868 and has remained a fishing village ever since but in recent years has become a very popular day trip for tourists visiting Halifax.  It is only one of many such small fishing villages along the shore outside of the city but this one is exceedingly charming – and I might add picturesque.  On our first visit we arrived a bit before sunset and went straight to the lighthouse just dashing through the village itself so as not to miss the last light on the lighthouse itself

There is Peggy’s Cove, Peggy’s Point, and Peggy’s Lighthouse.  So, who was Peggy?  Well it seems no one knows for sure.  The first recorded use of the name in regard to this area was in 1766 where Peggs Harbour is mentioned.  But the records from the time do not include anyone of import with that name.  The best guess is that since Peggy’s Point marks the eastern side of the entrance to St. Margaret's Bay, and many times people named Margaret call themselves Peggy, that that must be where the name came from.  OK, but St. Margaret is not a saint one hears about all that often, so who was she?  Well, she was a real person (1045 – 1093) who was also known as Margaret of Wessex, an English princess and a Scottish queen.  Margaret was sometimes called "The Pearl of Scotland". Born in exile in the Kingdom of Hungary, she was the sister of Edgar Ætheling, the short reigned and uncrowned Anglo-Saxon King of England.  So, now you know.

But, that’s not the only story.  Another story suggests the village may have been named after the wife of an early settler. This popular legend claims that she was the sole survivor of a shipwreck at Halibut Rock near the cove.  Artist and resident William deGarthe said she was a young woman at the time while others claim she was just a little girl too young to remember her name and the family who adopted her called her Peggy.  The young shipwreck survivor married a resident of the cove in 1800 and became known as "Peggy of the Cove".  Visitors from around the bay eventually shortened that to Peggy's Cove.

The village itself was officially founded in 1811 through a land grant of more than 800 acres to six families of German descent who relied on fishing as the mainstay of their economy but also farmed where the soil was fertile.  In the early 1900s the population peaked at about 300. The community supported a schoolhouse, church, general store, lobster cannery and boats of all sizes nestled in the cove.  Today the population is smaller but Peggy's Cove remains an active fishing village.  In recent years the economy has been “buoyed” by a robust tourist trade and is quite a popular destination for artists and photographers from around the world.

Rentals going up
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Ready for the foot weary
Peggys Cove Chairs (NS Canada)Peggys Cove Chairs (NS Canada)

Hunger & Thirst
Green Dory at Peggys Cove (NS Canada)Green Dory at Peggys Cove (NS Canada)

The setup and the shot
35 7d2R03-#9013 - 5d3R04-#6064 Pair35 7d2R03-#9013 - 5d3R04-#6064 Pair

The Old and the New
Marooned Dory, Peggys Cove (NS Canada)Marooned Dory, Peggys Cove (NS Canada)

House on the cove
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Living on the cove
Peggys Cove, NS, CanadaPeggys Cove, NS, Canada

Peggy’s Lighthouse is an active lighthouse and an iconic Canadian image.  It is one of those “everyone has photographed iconic post card” shots for the area.  Its draw of artists and photographers has made it one of the busiest tourist attractions in the province of Nova Scotia and is a prime attraction on the Lighthouse Trail scenic drive.

This is a classic red-and-white lighthouse which is still operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.  It sits on an extensive granite outcrop allowing views from all sides.   This lighthouse is one of the most-photographed structures in Atlantic Canada and one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the world – and for good reason.  Whether you are at eye level from the town behind it, on the same level from the granite plateau it sits on, or are below it near the water shooting up at it – it is as picturesque as they come.  But be careful.  Not only watch your footing when scrambling around on the rocky outcrop looking for the ideal composition, but watch out for sneaker waves if you are near the water.  Despite numerous warning signs of unpredictable surf, several visitors each year are swept off the rocks by waves.

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
Peggys Point Lighthouse, N.S.Peggys Point Lighthouse, N.S.

After scrambling around on the rocks for an hour or so trying every angle I could find as the light faded, I finally figured it was enough.  Especially as no matter where I stood or how long I waited, there was always a bevy of people around the lighthouse distracting from the scene I envisioned.  In fact in the shot above there are 3 tourists walking in front of the lighthouse but I waited till they were obscured behind that top rock in the shade.  Just 1 or 2 seconds when they were all hidden.  So, with the last bits of light after sunset receding I clamored back up the rocks toward the parking lot.  On the way, I turned around for one last look before driving back to Halifax in the dark and decided to grab one last shot.  Didn’t even bother setting up the tripod.  You know, one of those “I’ll never be here again, so why not take one more shot” sort of things.  When I got back home it was not that great of a shot as there were a half dozen folks standing at the base of the building.  But, I really liked that one person off to the side.  So, I darkened the entire lighthouse to pure silhouette (thus hiding the people in front of the lighthouse and turning the lone person on the side also to silhouette as well and it became one of my favorite shots of the trip.

The winning shot
Peggys Point Lighthouse Sunset SilhouettePeggys Point Lighthouse Sunset Silhouette


Lunenburg is another picturesque fishing village a bit farther down the south shore of Nova Scotia.  Founded in 1753, the town was one of the first British attempts to settle Protestants in Nova Scotia in an effort to displace the French colonial Roman Catholic Acadians and indigenous Mi'kmaq.  The economy has always been based on offshore fishing and today Lunenburg is the site of Canada's largest secondary fish-processing plant. The town flourished in the late 1800s, and much of the historic architecture dates from that period.

In 1995 UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. UNESCO considers the site the best example of planned British colonial settlement in North America, as it retains its original layout and appearance of the 1800s, including local wooden vernacular architecture.

Prior to 1753 the native Mi'kmaq lived in the area.  Then around the 1620’s French colonists, who became known as Acadians, settled in the area.  The Acadians and Mi’kmaq lived peacefully and some intermarried creating networks of trade and kinship.  When Edward Cornwallis, the newly appointed Governor of Nova Scotia, visited in 1749, he reported several Mi’kmaq and Acadian families living together in comfortable houses and said they appeared to be doing well.  The town was officially named in 1753 after the Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg who had become King George II of Great Britain.

Britain and France who had been battling each other in Europe in the 1700s eventually signed a Treaty in which France ceded the part of Acadia (today known as peninsular Nova Scotia) to Britain.  But the French and native inhabitants of the area did not welcome this development.  So, to guard against Mi'kmaq, Acadian and colonial French attacks, Cornwallis ordered the town destroyed – which it was. 

So now that those pesky French and Mi'kmaq were gone, the British sought to settle the lands with loyal subjects, and recruited more than 1,400 Protestants from Europe in July 1753 to populate the site.  And, those settlers arrived with 160 soldiers to build the town of Lunenberg.

During the American Revolution, privateers from the colonies raided Lunenburg, including a 1782 raid which yet again devastated the town.  In retaliation British officials authorized the local “Privateer Lunenburg” (sort of a volunteer national guard), to raid United States American shipping.  It’s not clear if they followed through and if so did any damage but in general the local ships from these privateer groups were no match for the ships of the US fleet.

But, all that aside, it is another very popular destination for photographers and artists.  And again for good reason.  The town sits on one side of skinny bay where you have a splendid view of the town from the other side – if you don’t mind trespassing along a well-worn path on the edge of a golf course.  The waterfront of the town is chock full of colorful vintage buildings behind a bay full of moored boats.

Lunenberg boats in the harbor
Lunenburg Harbour #4 (NS, Canada)Lunenburg Harbour #4 (NS, Canada)

Red clapboard fish processing “factory”
Lunenburg Harbour #2 (NS, Canada)Lunenburg Harbour #2 (NS, Canada)


I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Halifax and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


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Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-2019-10l  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/nova-scotia-pei-favs-2019-10  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .

Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) blog Canada Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 Ciotadel Clock dan hartford photo DanTravelBlogMaritimes Halifax Halifax Citadel Halifax Explosion Halifax Harbour Walk Halifax Maritime Museum Lunenberg Maritime Museum in Halifax Nova Scotia Old Clock Tower Halifax Peggy's Cove Peggy's Cove Lighthouse Peggy's Point Peggy's Pont Lightrouse Pier 21 Immigration Museum The Citadel https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/5/canadian-maritimes-01 Tue, 26 May 2020 22:42:21 GMT
Greece #07 – Syros & Aegina https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/4/greece-07 APRIL 2019

Greece #7 –Islands of Syros and Aegina


This is part 7 of a trip we took in April of 2019 to Greece.  Except for some days on our own in Athens and surrounding areas, the bulk of the trip was an organized Road Scholar cruise through several Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.


This installment contains the islands of Syros and Aegina.

Full Trip Map
01 Map Full Trip01 Map Full Trip


Islands & locations visited during the cruise portion of this trip.  This episode is for Syros, a swing by Cape Sounion, and Aegina
03 Map #04b 3 Islands03 Map #04b 3 Islands


In this episode I’ll be covering the islands of Syros and Aegina as we close out our tip.  After seeing Athens, the northeastern section of the Peloponnese peninsula, sunset on Cape Sounion, and the islands of Poros, Folegandros, Santorini, Paros, Delos and Mykonos we were quite interested in seeing if these last two islands would be more of the same or something different.  Well, to be honest, although Syros was quite charming and interesting in its own right, it was – after all – another Greek Island -- and in many regards similar to others we had seen.  Aegina on the other hand, while also similar to many of the other islands was a bit less interesting with less to see.  But we’ll start with Syros.

Syros Island

Our travel path on Syros
04 Map #07a Syros04 Map #07a Syros

Syros is a 32 square mile Greek island in the Cyclades, in the Aegean Sea with a population of roughly 21,507 (2011). The largest towns are Ermoupoli, Ano Syros, and Vari.  Ermoupoli is the capital of the island and of the Cyclades.  Our ship docked in Ermoupoli but we ventured up the hill to Ano Syros for some sightseeing.

The city of Ermoupoli is built in a natural amphitheater flowing down to the harbor.  The architecture is mostly neo-classical buildings, old mansions, and white house’s ascending up the hillside from the harbor.  It was built during the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s.

The history of settlement on Syros goes back at least 5,000 years, to the Early Bronze Age of the Cycladic civilization. This is when the hill-top settlement of Kastri began.  Kastri, dated by archaeologists to 2800-2300 BC, was one of the earliest settlements in Greece that was protected by stone walls with rounded bastions.  Like the rest of the area, Syros was occupied and controlled by a succession of empires that we’ve seen before including the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and several others, however it did not play an important role during antiquity nor the early Christian years.  It was not even a diocese at a time when even the smallest islands possessed their own bishop.

Let’s see what other trivia I can dig up on Syros.  Ah, here’s one.  In the Middle Ages, following an agreement between France and the Holy See with the Ottoman authorities, the Catholics of the island came under the protection of France and Rome and so Syros sometimes was called "the Pope's island".  Okay, not all that interesting, but it was all I could find.

So, who might you know that counted Syros as home?  Well again, not a long list here.  The only one I found mentioned is the philosopher Pherecydes who was the teacher of Pythagoras of triangle fame.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a popular place, just no one famous called it home.

Later on and due to its position in the Aegean sea, Syros became known as a maritime way-point. Moreover, the special social, religious and institutional conditions prevailing on the island, led residents to be considered neutral at the beginning of the Greek Revolution in 1821. As a result, Syros became a secure shelter during the Revolution, attracting many Greek refugees from Asia Minor, Chios, Spetses, Psara, Aivali, Smyrna, Kydonia, Kassos and other places. These refugees built the city of Ermoupoli, down by the bay below Ano Syros.

As we all should know by know if you’ve been following along, Greece won its independence and shortly thereafter, in 1827, Syros became part of the newly founded First Hellenic Republic and later (1834) the Greek Kingdom.   And, here it sits today.

After docking in the town of Ermoupoli in the middle of the night as was the typical routine, we spent the entire next day touring Ermoupoli and Ano Syros (a hill top town that was once a separate village but has now blended together with Ermoupoli).  Ermoupoli was founded during the Greek Revolution in the 1820s, as an extension to the existing Ano Syros township, by refugees from other Greek islands because of the War.  It soon became the leading commercial and industrial center of Greece, as well as its main port.  Eventually Ermoupoli was eclipsed by Piraeus in the late 19th century.  In the following decades the city declined.  Recently, its economy has greatly improved, based on the service industry.

When you look at Ermoupoli from the bay, you notice that it descends from two prominent hills, each with a large structure on top.  As it turns out both of these buildings are in Ano Syros

Ermoupoli and Ano Syros from bay.  Left hill topped with St. George’s Cathedral and right hill topped with the Church of Resurrection
05 5d3R04-#5193-V205 5d3R04-#5193-V2

This is a somewhat quiet (tourist wise) town with laid back streets, idyllic views and a turquoise bay.  Many home are built right on the edge of the bay making a plunge into the Aegean sea on those hot summer days a backyard affair.

Houses built right on the bay make it easy to take a swim on a hot summer day
Ermoupoli waterfront #1Ermoupoli waterfront #1

With our guide we first did a walking tour of Ermoupoli.  Our first stop was at the Monument of Resistance.  Most of us are aware of the French Resistance during WWII, but Greece also had a robust underground army, with some branches being armed and others not, but all defying and making life difficult for the Germans.  Throughout Greece there are many monuments to the resistance including one in Ermoupoli.

Ermoupoli monument to the resistance
Resistance Monument, SyrosResistance Monument, Syros

Ermoupoli has a great number of architectural marvels. Exquisite specimens of Neoclassical architecture, old mansions and whitewashed houses ascending the hill and near the harbor are marvelous churches, known as the jewels of Syros architecture.  Now, when touring Europe one can quickly acquire an aversion to ABC (Another Bloody Cathedral) and Greece certainly has its share of churches and cathedrals.  But every now and again one area stands out from the others in some aspect of their churches.  It is not exactly clear why this is.  Perhaps at one time there was a tit for tat where each congregation had to one up the congregation down the street in an continuous escalation of one-upmanship.  Ermoupoli seems to be such an area.  Of course we didn’t go into every church in town, and I’m sure our guide led us to the most spectacular ones, but I was impressed.

One such church is the Dormition of the Virgin Mary which was built in 1828-1829. It is a three-aisled basilica without a dome. Inside the church is the icon of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary which is the work of Dominikos Theotokopoulos (aka El Greco).  One of the first works of El Greco, it dates back to 1562-64.  But what I liked in this church was the blend of colors which was greatly enhanced by light coming through large glass windows along the top of the side walls and the mix of opulence (gold pulpit) and simplicity (straight back wooden chairs instead of pews).  The ceilings in the side galleries are painted a light blue with star like gold designs and the ceiling in the central gallery contains an iridescent – almost electric like – blue when the light hits it right.  The columns are made of a green veined stone which offset the gold pulpit and throne and rich brown tones of wooden railings and chairs.  Really quite impressive

Church of Dormition of the Virgin Mary
Church of the Dormition in ErmoupoliChurch of the Dormition in Ermoupoli

Central and side gallery ceilings
Church of the Dormition in Ermoupoli #2Church of the Dormition in Ermoupoli #2

Bishop’s Gold throne
Church of the Dormition #4Church of the Dormition #4

Another elaborate church just a couple of blocks away is St. Nicholas.  This one is a Byzantine Church that was built between 1848 and 1870.  Saint Nicholas, who happens to be the patron saint of Ermoupoli, stands out for its lavish interiors and impressive architectural structure.  Some features include the icon of St. Nicholas that was silver-plated in Moscow, the despotic marble throne, the pulpit and the marble iconostasis designed by George Vitali.  Like the church described above this one also has a rich palate of color and many of the design features are the same as the other one.  For example, the blue ceiling with gold objects is quite similar as are the chairs in place of Pews among other things.  Like the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church, St. Nicholas has large clear windows, including a large circular skylight but it also has some stained glass windows as well.  When we were there that stained glass cast gorgeous colored light into the interior.  It lit up a silver chandelier in blazing gold and a 2nd floor alcove behind it in crimson red.  It also cast rainbow like light patterns in several patches of the floor adding to the color palette and making for a very beautiful sight.

Interior of St. Nicholas is in many ways similar to Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church
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St. Nicholas Church silver chandelier tuned gold by light through a stained glass window.  2nd floor alcove in background turned red by light from a different stained glass window.
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St. Nicholas ceiling motif similar to that of Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church
Arched ceiling,  Saint Nicholas Church, ErmoupoliArched ceiling, Saint Nicholas Church, Ermoupoli

We were visiting these churches the week before holy week which includes Good Friday and the subsequent Easter holiday.  Due to this, as evidenced by a cleaning bucket on a chair in the photo below, pretty much every church we visited was in the midst of being cleaned and spruced up by parishioners to make it ready for the ceremonies of the upcoming week.  According to Greek City Times, “Holy Friday is the most sacred day of Holy Week and is a day of mourning.  It is the day that commemorates the Passion of Christ, with his funeral.  In the evening there is a procession and the Epitaphio (tomb of Christ) is carried around the church and surrounding streets, accompanied by parishioners holding candles.”  That must be a wonderful site to see but, alas it would be the following week.

Colored light from stained glass windows play on the chairs and floor
Stained glass colors on chairs Saint Nicholas Church, ErmoupoliStained glass colors on chairs Saint Nicholas Church, Ermoupoli

Another charming church (well cathedral) is St. George which sits at the top of one of the hills overlooking Ermoupoli in the town of Ano Syros.  While you can drive to Ano Syros, the streets and alleys of the hill tops are way too narrow for vehicles so it is foot traffic only.  Our bus let us off at a high point where we visited St. George’s Cathedral and then wandered our way down through charming narrow passage ways to a lower part of the town where our bus picked us up. 

St. George’s is quite nice it its own right but is done in more pastel colors than the other two we’ve talked about.  It is also a bit more formal.  For example it has regular pews rather than just chairs and it is not as cluttered, nor ornate as the others. 

St. George’s Cathedral in Ano Syros
St. Geeorge's Cathedral, Ano SyrosSt. Geeorge's Cathedral, Ano Syros

As we wandered down the streets of Ano Syros enjoying the quiet charm of an area not overrun with tourists, we encountered several locals at their homes.  Of course they spoke no English and we spoke no Greek, but with a few common words we told them where we were from and we wished each other well.

Streets of Ano Syros
Ano Syros stepped walkway with green doorAno Syros stepped walkway with green door

Now that’s a lot of dog
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Watching the world go by in front of his home
Ano Syros manAno Syros man

Ermoupoli waterfront at night
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Ermoupoli with Ano Syros above at night
Ermoupoli waterfront at night #1Ermoupoli waterfront at night #1

Aegina Island

During the course of our trip, I had been showing folks some of the images I had taken at the Temple of Poseidon when we were on our own.  You already saw these images in part 3 of this Greece series of travel logs and there’s one at the end of this edition.  I think that may have caused several of our group to ask if we could sail by Cape Sounion which was only a small detour in our route between Syros and Aegina.  So, Athena, our tour guide, prevailed on the captain to leave Syros I bit earlier (but still in the middle of the night) and to swing by the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion just after sunrise. 

Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion from the ship
Morning at the Temple of PoseidonMorning at the Temple of Poseidon

But, our next – and last – port of call before returning to Athens for our flight home was the island of Aegina where we docked in the town of Ag Marina. 

Our walking route in Ag marina on Aegina
22 Map #07b Aegina22 Map #07b Aegina

During ancient times Aegina was a rival of Athens, the great sea power of the era.  It is roughly a triangular shaped island, with an area of 33 sq mi and has a population (2011, including some smaller islets nearby) of under 6,000.  So, it’s not one of the more populated islands. 

Two-thirds of the island is an extinct volcano.  The northern and western sides consist of stony but fertile plains, which produce luxuriant crops of grain, with some cotton, vines, almonds, olives and figs, but the most characteristic crop of Aegina today is pistachio.  Another economically important industry is sponge fishing.

But, to be honest it’s not all that an impressive island.  Maybe we’d just seen too many gorgeous islands already and were just burned out on Greek Islands, but there really just wasn’t all that much of interest to see here.  I think the only reason our ship stopped here is that it is quite close to Athens for our departure the next day and they needed to find a place to kill some time between Syros and Athens.

But, here we were for around 4 hours before heading back to Athens or our departure the following day.  Like I said, really not much to see here.  There is a wharf area with a flock of pleasure boats and a fair number of fishing boats (some of which were interesting), and a cute church at the end of a dock.  There is a street that goes right along the water and a couple of other shopping streets of little interest or character.  A few side streets were a bit charming but several leagues less so than what we’d seen on other islands.  In other words, a very nondescript town.  Of course that didn’t stop us from roaming around a bit to see what we could see.  Mostly we saw other members of our group roaming around as well. 

Pistachios are Aegina’s claim to fame
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I presume these are sponge fishing boats
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Holy Chapel of Agios Nikolaos of Thalassinos Greek Orthodox Church at the end of a dock
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An almost charming street
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Off the commercial street. A sort of home furnishings store
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I think the horse agrees that this is not an exciting town
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I hope you enjoyed joining us through this 7 part travel log series of our trip to Athens and several Greek islands and will come back for future travels.  Don’t forget you can also see prior travel series on my website at www.danhartfordphoto.com/ under the “blogs” menu.

And, I’ll close with my favorite shot from the trip

Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion
Temple of Poseidon with setting sunTemple of Poseidon with setting sun


I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Delos and Mykonos and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-2019-04  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-favs-2019-04  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Greece Syros Aegina Aegina Island Ano Syros blog Church of Dormition of the Virgin Mary cycladic islands cycladies dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelbloggreece Ermoupoli Ermoupoli Syros Greece greece greek islands greek orthodox church St. George's Cathedral St. Nicholas Syros Syros Island https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/4/greece-07 Sat, 11 Apr 2020 21:40:04 GMT
Greece #06 – Delos & Mykonos https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/3/greece-06 APRIL 2019

Greece #6 – Delos and Mykonos Islands

This is part 6 of a trip we took in April of 2019 to Greece.  Except for some days on our own in Athens and surrounding areas, the bulk of the trip was an organized Road Scholar cruise through several Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.

This installment contains the islands of Delos and Mykonos.

Full Trip Map
01 Map Full Trip01 Map Full Trip

Islands & locations visited during the cruise portion of this trip.  This episode is for Delos and Mykonos
02 Map #04b 3 Islands02 Map #04b 3 Islands

In this episode I’ll be covering the two side by side islands of Mykonos and Delos.  Mykonos is a populated island with towns, farms, places to stay, and restaurants.  But Delos is no longer inhabited.  In ancient times Delos supported quite a big population but now the entire island is an historic site.  We docked at the town of Mykonos but our first adventure here was to the island of Delos.

Delos Island

From the city of Mykonos it is about a 30 minute ferry ride over to Delos across a channel separating the two islands.  On our day, the ride over to Delos was quite fine.  We caught the 8:30 ferry right near where our ship was docked.  The wind was starting to kick up making for some choppy water, but for the most part the wind was going our way so the ride over was not too rough.  It was a bit too breezy to be out on deck though and unless you like looking at water, not all that interesting a view.

Delos is a small rocky island roughly 2.8 miles long and 3/4 of a mile wide with no potable surface water and no farmable land.  Even though it is quite desolate, it has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC when people lived on the hill tops where they could keep a watch on the sea for pirates.  Of course that made it quite inconvenient to get to their fishing boats in the morning and to carry their catch back home in the evenings.  These were piratical Carians and they were eventually expelled by King Minos of Crete.  The Mycenaeans who came later (end of 15th century BC) felt a bit safer so they moved on down closer to the sea – and closer to their boats.

Then along came the era of the Greek Gods.  As it turned out, Delos was declared to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis who were twin children of Zeus.  For those of you who don’t have your Greek Gods straight, Zeus was the ruler of all the Mount Olympus Gods.  In turn, Apollo was one of the Twelve Olympians.  In other words these were not just run of the mill Gods, they were part of the upper tier of gods.  As you probably know, each Greek god was the god of something.  In the case of Apollo, he was the god of light, harmony, balance, healing, medicine and archery, as well as music and poetry.  Artemis – his twin sister – was the Moon Goddess.  And as Delos was their birthplace it became a very important center in the Greek culture and attracted a thriving community of followers who built homes and businesses here in order to be closer to the Gods and have some of that Godliness rub off on them.  And, all of this was despite it being a wind swept rocky wasteland with little in the way of mineral resources and even less use for agriculture. 

But, not content to leave well enough alone, along came government interventions.  The city-state of Athens decided that the conditions on Delos were not really worthy for the proper worship of the gods.  So, they ordered a number of "purifications" to make things right.  The first purification took place in the 6th century BC by the tyrant Pisistratus who ordered that all graves within sight of the temple be dug up and the bodies moved to another nearby island.  Okay, we can’t have dead bodies lying around and upsetting the main gods of the time.  But then things got even weirder.  In the 5th century BC (during the 6th year of the Peloponnesian war and under instruction from the Delphic Oracle), the entire island was purged of all dead bodies.  Well, I can understand that one of the Gods may decide to leave the temple for a stroll around town, and “god forbid” they should happen to stumble upon a grave stone. 

But, it seems that was still not enough.  They then ordered that no one should be allowed to either die or give birth on the island due to its sacred importance and to preserve its neutrality in commerce.  Huh?  Well, it seems that if no one is born there, and no one can die there, then no one can claim ownership of any land through inheritance.  But even that wasn’t the end.  Four years later, all inhabitants of the island were removed to Atramyttium in Asia as a further purification and to leave the Gods to have the entire island just to themselves.  I suppose that worked out okay for the Gods - if you don’t count the thousands of tourists who now show up every day.

But things move on and Greek management was replaced by Roman management so to speak.  Even though Delos is quite desolate with no productive capacity for food, fiber, or timber, and limited fresh water the Romans brought it back to life.  In 166 BC the Romans converted it into a free port.  This was partially motivated by seeking to damage the trade of Rhodes, at the time the target of Roman hostility. In 167 or 166 BC, after the Roman victory in the Third Macedonian War, the Roman Republic ceded the island of Delos back to the Athenians.  But then the Greeks, never missing an opportunity for trade, allowed Roman traders to come and purchase tens of thousands of slaves captured by the Cilician pirates or captured in the wars following the disintegration of the Seleucid Empire.  In fact, Delos became the center of the slave trade, with the largest slave market in the larger region being maintained here.

But, even with all these comings and goings, Delos was quite modern for its time.  As fresh water was a scarce resource on the island, they create an extensive system of aqueducts, wells and cisterns as well as a sewage system.  They also built many niceties like theaters, sports complexes, had paved streets as well as community halls and the like. 

It was also around this time that Delos was declared a free port resulting in a massive influx of people as all the commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean flocked to the island.  Rich merchants, bankers, and ship owners from all over the world settled here.  This in turn attracted builders, artists, and craftsmen to build and decorate luxury houses and commercial buildings.  These were richly decorated with Frescoes and mosaic floors and inlaid walls not to mention statues and fine carved stone work adorning the structures.  All in all, the island became the greatest commercial center of the world.

Well with all this commercial activity, booming economy, and being the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos became quite important in ancient Greece. 

Map of Delos (As it was)
03 Map #06b Delos (then)03 Map #06b Delos (then)

The excavations on the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean with many of the artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

When you arrive in Delos, you first notice how massive the ruined city laid out in front of you is.  You also notice how much of it is still visible.  Much like Pompeii in Italy, it is impossible to see the whole thing in one day as it is just too big.  But you can get a good flavor of the place over the course of several hours.  We were on the island for about 2.5 hours (9:30 am to Noon).  The first half of the time we were with our guide on a guided tour of the part of town south of the ferry dock called the theater district.  Then for the 2nd part of our time we were on our own and mostly wandered around the part of town north of the dock, including the museum.

Map of Delos (Present day)
05 Map #06a Delos (current)05 Map #06a Delos (current)

Our walking route on Delos
04 Map #06cb Delos (Route)04 Map #06cb Delos (Route)

After a bathroom break at the dock we headed to the first place you come to which is what had been the central plaza, or town square of the town called an “agora” (meeting place).  As the breeze stiffened a bit, we stopped here for a talk about the history of Delos.  Not much of this area is left standing except for the marble paving that formed the courtyards and streets of the area. 

Central Agora near the docks
Delos Archeology Site #1, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #1, Greece

I have no idea what this is or was, but it certainly is interesting
Delos Archeology Site #3, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #3, Greece

From this main agora area near the ancient harbor, we headed to the south, toward the amphitheater and through the section of town that has the most remnants of buildings, mostly housesm of all levels from modest one room affairs to significantly larger multi room, multi level villas with courtyards in the center. 

Typical “Street” through area of modest homes
Delos Archeology Site #5, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #5, Greece

The walls of all the buildings are now shorter than they had been when in use due to natural forces as well as the repurposing of stone blocks from older structures to build new ones.  But, in most cases they are tall enough to give you a sense of the rooms.  Over the centuries, adornments like statues as well as household items like pots and tools have been looted or moved by archeologists to museums or other safe storage locations.  However, some were either recreated or re-positioned back into various dwellings to give the viewer an idea of what sort of things might have been in such houses.  But, the artifacts are not typically placed where they might have been, but rather just set out on the floor somewhat haphazardly more like a garage sale.

Some houses have real or replica artifacts displayed in them
Delos Archeology Site #4, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #4, Greece

Enough wall left to show alcoves where items were stored or displayed and a bit of a fresco
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In some cases of the larger and more luxurious villas, there are still remnants of marble support columns that can be seen throughout the site.  During this era, Greek columns were not one long solid piece of marble, but rather they were made of shorter sections stacked on top of each other.  While much more practical to build them this way, they are less stable over long periods of time due to wind and earthquakes.  Most columns have completely toppled over but many have just lost some of their upper sections.  In a few cases, like those on the left below the whole column is still intact including the top plate which supported cross beams holding up the roof or a second level.  However, most of the columns have mostly or partially collapsed leaving various column heights.  As you look out over the city, you see these columns poking up haphazardly above the rest of the ruins

Columns of various heights sprout from the ruins throughout the site
Delos Archeology Site #7, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #7, Greece

In addition to columns every now and again you find an intact window or door frame.
Delos Archeology Site #10, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #10, Greece

Most of the buildings were typical of each other but a few were of special interest from an archeological perspective.  One is the House of Dionysus.  The House of Dionysus is a fine example of a large and lavish private villa from the end of the 2nd-century.  It’s not clear who had it built or owned it but they must have been pretty well off as it was originally built on two levels (you can still see the remains of a stone staircase to the second level).  It was over 21,000 square feet which is pretty big even by today’s standards.  Of that area almost 6,000 square feet of flooring was covered with mosaics.  The highlight of all of this is the central courtyard.  The courtyard is rimmed by elegant marble columns used to support the 2nd level which probably featured an open balcony all around the courtyard. 

Marble columns surrounding the central courtyard of the House of Dionysus
Delos Archeology Site #8, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #8, Greece

The main feature of interest in this courtyard is the mosaic floor depicting Dionysus riding a tiger.  The god is presented with wings, a crown of ivy, and is seated on the back of the tiger around whose neck is a wreath of vines and grapes.  He (Dionysus, not the tiger) is holding a staff decorated with a ribbon as though it were a spear.  On the ground is a fallen silver wine cup which relates to his god role.  Some say that as the silver wine cup seems to have been discarded, meaning that Dionysus had renounced being a god to become a Daemon.  But putting that aside, among other things he was the god of creative power that fertilizes nature and by granting humanity the divine gift of the vine allowing them to become equal to the gods for a short period of time.  In other words, Dionysus gave them the gift of wine and drinking too much of it made them feel like god till they sober up.  But, being the “wine god” made him quite popular.  On Delos (and next door Mykonos) he was worshiped as Leneus – the god of the grape harvest – and as Baccheus – God of mystical drunkenness and orgiastic ecstasy – how’s that for a business card title?

But, back to the mosaic floor.  The craftsmanship of this mosaic floor is remarkable.  It was made with semi precious gems, glazed ceramics, terracotta, and natural stones.  The mosaic pieces were all fashioned into pieces measuring roughly one millimeter square (much smaller than normal for that period), allowing for an elaborate color scheme and sharp detail.  To add to the almost painting like look, the mosaic pieces were held in place by glass paste mortar mixed to match the colors of the mosaic pieces, thus disguising the space between the stones. 

Over the centuries the floor has lost much of its luster and the original floor has been moved to a museum and has been replaced at the house with a replica.

Dionysus mosaic floor replica
Delos Archeology Site #9, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #9, Greece

As the wind picked up a bit more on our way on up to the theater we stopped at several other houses with special features such as the House of the Trident.  But we’ll skip those and move on to the cisterns and theater (or theatre if you prefer).

Fresh water on Delos was a problem from day one.  Probably not an issue for the God’s who lived there as they could just conjure up a cup of wine when desired, but for the regular folks who took up residence it was an issue.  There are no rivers, lakes or ponds on Delos but it does rain.  So, in order to survive, the Greek engineers came up with a very clever system of cisterns, aqueducts, and underground channels to catch, store and deliver water.  In fact most all the homes had running water and some sort of sewage system.  Much of this was built in the 3rd century BC such as a large cistern near the theatre which is the largest on Delos at 27 feet deep and with a capacity to hold nearly 71,000 gallons of water.  Much of the water that fed this cistern was collected from the outdoor theater through an underground system of channels.  This cistern was originally covered with marble slabs forming a sort of patio.

Large cistern near theatre
Delos Archeology Site #15, GreeceDelos Archeology Site #15, Greece

Speaking of the theater, Delos had quite an elaborate one.  In Ancient Greece, theaters were outdoor affairs built around one side of a circular or semicircular stage or platform.  The seats ascended up a hill and were divided into an upper seating section (26 rows) and a lower seating section (17 rows) for a total capacity around 6,500.  All the seats were stone benches which, except for the “premium” first row, had no back rest. 

This particular stone theater was built between 296 BC and 240 BC making it a 56 year construction project.  The excavation of the Theatre was undertaken in 1882 and published in 2007 making for a 125 year gap between the research and the resulting paper.  Well, we’ve learned a lot about how to conduct archeological digs since 1882 but back then they just sort of “went at it”.  For example, any marble architectural members in their way were just moved to the orchestra or into a nearby field without being recorded or documented and leaving no information about where it came from.  So, we now have hundreds of unidentified building stones scattered around the surrounding area that can’t be put back in place.  The result is that this theatre is in quite poor condition with little hope of it being restored.

Theater at Delos
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First row of benches had back support for honored guests
Delos Archeology Site #13 (theater seats), GreeceDelos Archeology Site #13 (theater seats), Greece

Sometimes one has to wonder about the mental state of folks who manage historical sites such as Delos.  For some unknown reason they decided that it would greatly enhance the visitor experience if they randomly plopped down modern sculptures in the middle of the most popular ancient buildings on the site.  I can’t imagine what they were thinking but many (perhaps most) of the most interesting buildings had some totally inappropriate modern art construct right in the middle of it.  For example, below is a section of the same photo of the theater from above before I cloned out the intrusion.  Except for the theatre photo, in most places I was able to find an angle that didn’t include the art work.  For example position myself so the sculpture was obscured behind a column or piece of wall.  Or, I just didn’t take a shot of that building.

Totally inappropriate modern art in the middle of an archeological site of historic import
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After our guide led time we were left to wander the rest of the site on our own.  Turns out the bathrooms are at the other end of town in the museum and as we hadn’t seen that end of town yet, we headed that way as the wind got stronger. 

The north end of town hosts the famous Lions of the Naxians.  These lions were given by the Naxians to the Sanctuary of Apollo around the end of the 7th century – more or less.  They were situated on a natural terrace along the road leading from the north port to the Sanctuary.  This was quite impressive to the pilgrims as most had never seen a lion before.  They don’t currently know how many of these lions there were but they think it was between 9 and 19.  We can still see replicas of 4 or 5 of them with another 3 or so empty pedestals. 

During the Hellenistic era of the island’s history, the island’s sanctity gave way to an intensely commercial and cosmopolitan scene and it is very likely that the lions were moved further south during this time frame to make room for the construction of lavish villas.  The original terrace was probably destroyed in the 1st century BC at which time parts of the lions were used as construction material on a wall built in 67 BC to protect against pirates.  However, reports show that up through the 18th century parts of the lions were still visible.  In 1716 some Venetian visitors saw one of the now headless lions and it reminded them of the lion of St. Mark.  So, they had it transported to Venice where it can still be seen in front of the Arsenal with an “exceptionally ugly added head” (quote from a sign in font of the lions in Delos).  Parts of lions were discovered in 1886 and 1893 although most of the pieces were found in 1906.  It was then that they were placed on high bases so as to be at the original height of the old terrace.  Then in 1999 they were moved to the Delos Museum and replicas erected on the pedestals in their place.

Lions of the Naxians
Delos Lions #1Delos Lions #1

Many of the artifacts collected from Delos have found their way to museums all over the world, with a large number in Athens.  However, there is also a museum on Delos that has many original pieces from the site.  Other than the lions, the most interesting are the mosaic floors and the artwork from walls.  We talked a bit about the mosaic flooring above but here are a couple of museum shots, one of a mosaic floor and one of a wall

Fresco removed from the wall of one of the houses
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Mosaic floor removed from one of the houses
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As it was mid April, in these latitudes that’s prime spring time.  Even though Delos is a pretty barren landscape and as we were told always windy (which it was), the profusion of wild flowers was astonishing.  As I wandered around I found myself taking more photos of the flowers than the ruins.  As you have seen, pretty much every photo includes wildflowers growing out of every nook and cranny giving the ruins and the landscape a pop of color that folks coming in the height of tourist season won’t have.  This added splash of yellow, pink, purple and red waving in the breeze like the wheat fields of Kansas did wonders to offset the drab gray/brown color of the stone buildings and general look of the natural barren landscape.

The density of the wild flowers was astounding
Wild Flowers at Delos #1Wild Flowers at Delos #1

Mostly yellow but with a fair amount of purple and a smattering of Red
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Wildflowers add some color to the ruins
delos Archeology Site #21 Greecedelos Archeology Site #21 Greece

Literally all over the place,  here are some of those red ones I mentioned
wild Flowers at Delos #3wild Flowers at Delos #3

Our return boat ride to Mykonos was quite a wild ride.  As mentioned throughout this travel log, the wind had been picking up since we had arrived.  But now it was time to head back to Mykonos with a whipping cross wind coming around the islands from all directions.  It seems that this was not an uncommon occurrence as in each seating section of the boat was a fellow standing at the front with an arm full of barf bags keeping a keen lookout for anyone in distress.  It seems the boat operators had a great plan.  The guy’s in charge of cleaning the boat after each run were the ones given the opportunity to keep watch with an arm full of those bags.  Talk about motivation!

I must say, many of those bags were put to good use as it was quite a ride with the nose of the boat becoming airborne 15 feet or more before slamming down into the trough of the wave.  Add to this a fast paced side to side rolling motion of perhaps 30 to 40 degrees and it was all you could do to stay in your seat.  Sort of like riding a cork in a washing machine.  About an hour before we were to board the boat for the ride back to Mykonos, our thoughtful guide, Athena, passed out sea sick pills to the entire group and for the most part everyone took advantage.  And, those that didn’t wished they had.  But, although many were green, our group all made it without needing a bag.  I can’t say the same for other tourists on the boat though. 


The city of Mykonos on the island of the same name and where our ship was docked is pretty much a typical Greek island town.  Having seen so many so far on our trip, it was not all that exciting.  However, had this island been nearer the beginning of our trip rather than nearer the end we would have found it quite pretty and fascinating. 

Mykonos is about 33 square miles with a permanent population of around 10,000 (2011 census).  The largest town of course is Mykonos which lies on the west coast and where tourism is the major industry, especially as it is the only place you can use to get to Delos.  Appropriately enough the nickname of the place is "The Island of the Winds".  But, in its own right, Mykonos is known for vibrant nightlife and for being a gay-friendly destination with many establishments catering to the LGBT community.

Carians seem to have been the original inhabitants of the island with Ionians from Athens coming along next in the early 11th century BC.  During this time many people lived on barren Delos as well which meant that Mykonos became an important place for supplies and transit for the Delos population.  Even though it had a bit more ability to sustain itself than Delos, it was, however, a rather poor island with limited agricultural resources.

Like most islands in the area it was occupied and owned by many different empires over time including the Romans, the Byzantines the Catalans, and the Venetians in 1390.  Then along came the Ottomans.   In 1794 a battle was fought between British and French ships in the island's main harbor but I don’t know who won or who was on the side of the Ottoman’s.  But, the Ottoman’s hung around till 1830 when Greece became an independent state.

In Greek mythology, the island was named after its first ruler -  Mykonos - the son (or grandson) of Apollo and a local hero. The island is also said to have been the location of the “Gigantomachy”, the great battle between Zeus and Giants and where Hercules killed the invincible giants having lured them from the protection of Mount Olympus. According to myth, the large rocks all over the island are said to be the petrified corpses of the giants.

But we were here to see the sights.  For folks staying a few days on the island, its beaches are said to be some of the best with soft white sand.  But we only had the late afternoon, from about 3:30 till dinner on our Delos day to see the sights. 

The north end of the town of Mykonos is built along the shore of a semicircular bay but most of old city sits on the south side of this bay.

Map of Mykonos and our walking route
26 Map 06d Mykanos26 Map 06d Mykanos

Along the shore near the docks
Red display boat, Mykonos IslandRed display boat, Mykonos Island

Lovely beach
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One of the main attractions here is an area of town called either “Little Italy” or “Little Venice”.  This non vehicle section has rows of fishing houses lining the waterfront with balconies hanging over the sea. The first of these was constructed in the mid-18th century. They originally belonged to rich merchants or captains and had little basement doors providing direct access to the sea.  This along with underground storage areas led people to believe that the owners were secretly pirates.

Little Italy or Little Venice
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The non sea side of Little Italy has the traditional narrow walkways with stone pavers where the spaces between the stones are painted white.  Although some of these buildings are rental units, most have been converted into bars and cafes as well as shops and galleries.

Typical Little Italy walkway catering to the tourist industry.  Post card anyone?
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Little Venice is considered one of the most romantic spots on the island and many people gather here to watch the sunset. The area attracts many artists who come to paint the picturesque coastline.

Another main attraction is a row of windmills on a little hill overlooking the bay.  It seems that all of these are now residences of one kind or another.  It was hard to tell if they were rentals or locals live there – or some of each.   Although there are windmills scattered all over the island, these six in a row, right in the middle of tourist nirvana are the most popular. 

Three of the six windmills
Three Mykanos WindmillsThree Mykanos Windmills

Windmill overlooking another section of town
Mykanos windmill and archMykanos windmill and arch

As you can see by the little crosses on my Mykonos map, this town, like most Greek Island towns, is chock full of churches.  Some are quite small and others large, but most are old and some are quite ancient.  One such ancient church is the Paraportiani Orthodox church. Its name literally means "Our Lady of the Side Gate" in Greek, as its entrance was found in the side gate of the entrance to that area if town.  The construction of this church started in 1425 and was not completed until the 17th century. This whitewashed church actually consists of five separate churches which are joined: four churches (dedicated to Saint Eustathios, Saint Sozon, Saints Anargyroi and Saint Anastasia) are at ground level and constitute the base of the fifth church that has been built above them.

Paraportiani Orthodox church
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As one wanders through towns and villages all over the world, especially those who owe their continued existence to tourism, you of course wander through the areas of town that cater to the tourist trade.  In these sections of town, everything is pristine with freshly painted buildings, attractive shops and end to end restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.  Even so, it’s also interesting to venture into sections of town that have not been groomed to perfection.  Here you can find scenes more evocative of how people there actually live in real life.  You find buildings that are kept up and middle class but you also find ones that have fallen from grace and need some tender loving care. 

Well manicured residence in tourist section of town
Two way Mykanos stairwayTwo way Mykanos stairway

More middle class complex of homes with evidence of everyday life
Small Mykanos squareSmall Mykanos square

Seen better days
Needs Paint in MykanosNeeds Paint in Mykanos


I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Delos and Mykonos and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-2019-04  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-favs-2019-04  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) blog cycladic islands cycladies dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelbloggreece Delos Delos Island greece greek islands greek orthodox church Lions of Delos Lions of the Naxians Little Italy Mykonos Greece Little Venice Mykonos Greece Mykonos Mykonos Island wildflowers Windmill windmills of Mykonos https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/3/greece-06 Mon, 16 Mar 2020 01:15:18 GMT
Greece #05 – Santorini https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/2/greece-05 APRIL 2019

Greece #5 – Santorini Island

This is part 5 of a trip we took in April of 2019 to Greece.  Except for some days on our own in Athens and surrounding areas, the bulk of the trip was an organized Road Scholar cruise through several Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.

This installment contains the island of Santorini.

Full Trip Map
01 Map Full Trip01 Map Full Trip


Islands & locations visited during the cruise portion of this trip.  This episode is forSantorini
02 Map #04b 3 Islands02 Map #04b 3 Islands

Santorini Island

Santorini (officially Thira or Thera in classic Greek) is the most popular of the islands depicted in my Greece travel log series.  It is shaped like a backwards letter “C”.  At one time the island was a regularly shaped mountain top sticking out of the sea.  But then, in one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history (the Minoan or Thera eruption) which occurred about 3,600 years ago in 1316 BC (more or less) all that changed.  In that eruption the mountain literally blew its top and the resulting caldera sank below sea level and was filled with water.  What remains is just the rim of this caldera on the north, east and south sides.

This eruption took place at the height of the Minoan civilization and may have led indirectly to the collapse of that civilization on the island of Crete (68 miles to the south) due to a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.  Even today the island is the most active volcanic center in the South Aegean Sea.

But that eruption was not the end of volcanic activity at the island as many eruptions have come and gone over the years.  More recently (relatively speaking) in 1707 an undersea volcano popped up in the middle of the sea filled caldera forming a new island called Nea Kameni and it continues to shake and bake.  Moving into modern times there have been 3 more eruptions, the last being in 1950.   Then in 1956 there was a serious earthquake in Santorini.  But, notwithstanding recent earthquakes along with steam and carbon dioxide continuing to be released, the official line is that the volcano is now dormant. I wonder if the Santorini Tourist Board had any part in that designation. 

Between January 2011 and April 2012, small tremors and reports of strange gaseous odors prompted satellite radar analyses of the area.  This analysis revealed that the magma under the “dormant” volcano had doubled (swelled by 353 million cubic feet to 706 million cubic feet) in that time frame.  This also caused parts of the island's surface to rise out of the water by a reported ¼ to ½ foot. Scientists say that the injection of the new molten rock was equivalent to 20 years’ worth of “regular” activity.  Yep, “dormant” as they come.

Being the remnants of the rim of a volcanic caldera, the inner slopes of the island are very steep with little or no buildable or farmable land near the sea.  As such pretty much all the development has been on the top of this caldera rim, many hundreds of feet above sea level and on the more gentle outer slopes.  As with most Greek islands, building on the tops of the mountains also helped keep local pirates from attacking the residents.  The slopes on the outer side of the caldera rim are more reasonable so that’s where you find more farms, shipping ports, the airport, and paved roads from the coast to the top.  It is also where you find the less tourist oriented towns and villages.

Santorini Island, town of Fira at top of caldera wall
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Historically Santorini supported a modest amount of agriculture of which a bit of wine production is still present.  But in today’s world the economy is based on tourism.  In fact if you ever discuss a trip to the Greek islands the first island asked about is usually Santorini.  In the summer it is not uncommon for there to be 4 large cruise ships anchored in the bay, not to mention numerous other smaller cruise ships.  Then add to that the tourists who book lodging on the island and you wind up with quite a crowd in the narrow streets of the popular towns. 

The main “tourist” town on the island is Fira.  Even though the actual town is on the top of the caldera walls 1,300 feet above sea level it is where most of the cruise ships come in.  Down at sea level, Fira has a very narrow strip of land called “Old Port” with a dock, a bunch of souvenir stores, kiosks hawking guided tours, a whole bunch of snack bars, a half dozen restaurants and at one end a small hotel.  If you come by ferry from Athens or another island, you’ll land a bit over 2 miles south of Old Port in a place sometimes called “New Port”.  This is just a set of massive concrete docks with a constant flow of large ferries coming and going.  Our ship anchored just off of “old port” so that’s where the tender dropped us off.

Small hotel at one end of Old Port
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From Old port there are three ways to get to the actual town of Fira on the top of the caldera wall 1,300 feet above you, and where the real action is.  If you are very fit you can take the walking path up to the top which includes 588 stair steps.  Or you can book a ride on a donkey to the top.  I should point out the donkeys use the same stair studded pathway as the hikers, so if you decide to walk, watch your step.

Donkey and walking path to the top including 588 stairs
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Or you can queue up for a cable car ride to the top.  The cable car can handle 1,200 people per hour but from what our guide told us, in peak season when cruise ships are in port the queue for the 3 minute cable car ride can be as long as 3 or 4 hours.  And that, my friends, explains all the tourist junk shops, snack bars and restaurants in Old Port.  But, as discussed in my prior sections of this Greece Blog series, we were here in mid April which is just before the start of tourist – and cruise ship – season.  So, our wait for the cable car was roughly 5 minutes.  Timing is everything in the highly mobile society of this century.

Three minute Cable car ride to the top
Fira cable car, Santorini islandFira cable car, Santorini island

The town of Fira at the top of the cable car is, well, quite touristy.  In fact the cable car deposits you smack dab in the middle of the most touristy section of town.  What a coincidence.  Most of the interesting streets are narrow walkways between shops of every conceivable variety.  The main tourist walkway more or less follows the edge of the cliff but with pathways forking off in both directions.  A block or two inland from this rim path one finds the vehicle streets that in turn have very little in the way of tourist shops. 

Santorini and Fira is “tourist land”
Fira, Santorini IslandFira, Santorini Island

As Santorini gained worldwide popularity, the city has crept farther and farther down the steep slope of the caldera.  So now there are many side paths that lead you down the side of the caldera.  These little side lanes are just waiting to be discovered.   As you depart that main drag, you quickly loose the kitschy tourist vibe as shops and stores give way to hotels, restaurants and B&B’s with magnificent views around every corner.

Hotels, Restaurants, and B&B’s cascade down to slope of the caldera
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However one has to be somewhat careful.  It is quite easy to wander down some of these lanes only to discover that you have descended several hundred feet below the rim requiring you to climb back up.  Knowing that, and detecting that you are descending, you find yourself saying, OK – I’ll just go down to that next bend in the lane and turn back.  Then you get there and notice that the next visible section around the bend is only a hundred feet and there’s this interesting building at the next bend.  So, you say – OK I’ll just continue to that next bend, but that’s it - no farther.  But the story repeats and finally, there you are 300 feet below the rim.  But, you don’t have to go back up the same way you went down and can discover more delights on your return trek – just with a bit more huffing and puffing.

Don’t go down farther that you can walk back up
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Fira is the capital of Santorini and is the main town on the island.  However, other than stunning views, and lots of tourist shops there are only a few things to see here.  But if you are planning to stay on the island it is a good hub as it is centrally located, has plenty of lodging opportunities and has loads of restaurants and bars. 

As is the case with most Greek towns, Fira has its share of pretty churches such as the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and Saint John the Baptist Cathedral among others.  In addition, near the south end of town is the Thera Prehistoric Museum which conveniently is right next to the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.  This museum contains many of the artifacts excavated from the ruins of Akrotiri farther south on the island.  The museum has more pots, pottery and other household items than you can shake an antique stick at, but the highlight is the frescoes of the blue monkeys.  This fresco is a mystery since historians say there is no evidence that there were ever monkeys of any variety on Santorini.

Blue monkeys fresco in Thera Prehistoric Museum
Mural, Thera Prehistoric MuseumMural, Thera Prehistoric Museum

Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral #1, Fira, Santorini IslandOrthodox Metropolitan Cathedral #1, Fira, Santorini Island

Saint John the Baptist Cathedral
Saint John the Baptist Church,  Fira, Santorini IslandSaint John the Baptist Church, Fira, Santorini Island

After our visit to the museum we boarded our bus for a tour of the rest of the island.  Our first stop was at the ruins of Akrotíri, about 6 miles south of Fira and on the southern portion of the Caldera Rim. 

The town of Akrotiri was destroyed in the Theran volcanic eruption sometime in the 16th century BC and, like Pompeii, was buried in volcanic ash which preserved the remains of fine frescoes and many objects and artworks.  The settlement has been suggested as a possible inspiration for Plato's story of Atlantis.  Starting in 1967 Akrotiri has been excavated and extensively studied.  Now the village is protected inside a massive building that covers the site and includes heating and air conditioning as well as raised walkways for the visitors.

The earliest evidence for human habitation of Akrotiri can be traced back as early as the fifth millennium BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By the end of the third millennium, it had expanded significantly. One factor for its growth was it being strategically located on established trade routes with other cultures in the Aegean like Cyprus and Minoan Crete.  Over time it became an important point for the copper trade and along with that processing copper.  This idea explains the discovery of copper molds and crucibles.  Akrotiri's prosperity continued for another 500 years with paved streets and an extensive drainage system.  The arts flourished in this time frame with the production of high quality pottery, painting and copper items.  This all came to an end sometime between 1570 and 1500 BC with the volcanic eruption of Thera.

Akrotiri Dig
Prehistoric Akrotiri Site #2, Santorini IslandPrehistoric Akrotiri Site #2, Santorini Island

Akrotiri Dig
Prehistoric Akrotiri Site #1, Santorini IslandPrehistoric Akrotiri Site #1, Santorini Island

From Akrotiri we backtracked to the north toward Fira with a side trip to the hilltop town of Pyrgos Kallistis.   It is located in the Mount Profitis Ilias foothills and is surrounded by vineyards producing renowned Assyrtiko white wines.   To be honest, I really don’t recall much about this town, even when reviewing the photos I took there.  But, apparently it has some nice churches and many traditional charming whitewashed houses.

From there we continued on up north and did a loop around the northern part of the island arc.  Along the way we passed many quaint villages and farms.  During this ride much of the commentary by our guide was concerning the growing of grapes and production of wine on the island.  Now, as we live very close to California’s Napa and Sonoma wine region, hearing about the prowess of Greek Island wine was not all the impressive.  But, one thing about it I found quite interesting.  Here in California the vines are grown on long wire fences maybe 4 feet tall and oriented for the optimum sunlight hitting the vines.  In fact all the wine growing we’ve seen in various parts of the world has the vines on one sort of trellis or another.  But here in Santorini apparently that wouldn’t work well due to the constant winds.  So, they don’t use any sort of structure to hold up the vines.  Instead the vines are laying right on the ground (less wind at ground level) and formed into wreath like circles.  Well, we just had to get a photo of that so we implored out guide to make an unplanned stop at such a field for a photo op.

Wine Grapes grown in wreath like circles on the ground
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Our next, and last real stop before returning to Fira, was at the gorgeous town of Oia.  Possibly the most picturesque of all the Greek towns we visited on this trip.  But we only had a bit over an hour here – I really wish we had a lot more time, including sunset and less time in Fira – but at least it wasn’t high noon although 2:00 pm isn’t much better than noon for photography.  As it turned out, after Oia we headed back to Fira where we were given several hours of free time on our own.  I would have very much preferred to have those hours in picturesque Oia rather than kitschy Fira.

Had we not been in a tour group, we would have stayed longer in Oia for some of that wonderful golden late afternoon light the city is known for.  But, alas it was not to be.   However, we did have an hour or so and off we went to the main tourist street of town.  We knew it was the main tourist section of town as it was squeaky clean, every single visible building was picture perfect, every inch of storefront was a tourist oriented business of one form or another and there was a sea of tourists plying this walkway along the edge of the caldera. 

As we walked along it became apparent that pretty much every place in the world where you can buy postcard pictures of Greek islands, most of the pictures on those postcards were photographed here.  Scene after scene that came into view as we walked we’d seen before on a postcard someplace.  And, rightly so.  The views were magnificent.  Snow white buildings with Greek Blue trim carved into the steep hills and cascading down to a blue sea below.  There were also Blue domed white churches interspersed between pale earth tone houses.  It would be hard to argue that Santorini owes its popularity to the town of Oia.

As an aside there is a theory about why so many Greek buildings are snow white with blue accents and domes.  First there is a practicality to the white.  The white color is made of white lime water so that rainwater be collected and used.  But there is also an historical reason for the white and blue.  It seems that during the 400 year Ottoman rule of Greece the Greeks were not allowed to fly their white and blue flag. In defiance they painted their entire housing complex in white with blue domes and trim giving the village an effect reminiscent of their banned flag.

Blue domed white church in Oia (who hasn’t seen this on a postcard?)
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Church bells looking out into the caldera
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An older section of town
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Red trimmed church bells and crosses.  Tourist shop in background
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Earth tones intermingled with the classic blue and white make for a very pleasing scene
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After leaving Oia and spending a couple of more hours looking at tee shirts in Fira, we headed back down the Cable car, took a tender from the dock at Old Port back to our boat in time for dinner on board.

Fira in the late afternoon golden light I wish I had at Oia (taken from our ship)
Fira on Santorini Island #2Fira on Santorini Island #2



I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Santorini and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.


This blog is posted at:


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website. 

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-2019-04  (all images)

         https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/greece-favs-2019-04  (subset of images)

Check out my travel blogs for other trips under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .


Thanks for reading – Dan


(All images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)


dan@danhartfordphoto.com (Dan Hartford Photo) Akrotiri Akrotiri Dig blog Blue Monkeys Fresco cycladic islands cycladies dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelbloggreece Fira Fira Cable Car greece greek islands greek orthodox church Oia Oia on Santorini Old Port Santorini Santorini Island Thera Prehistoric Museum https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/2/greece-05 Thu, 13 Feb 2020 17:42:28 GMT
Greece #04 – Poros, Folegandros, Paros https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2020/1/greece-04 APRIL 2019

Greece #4 –Islands of Poros, Folegandros, Paros

This is part 4 of a trip we took in April of 2019 to Greece.  Except for a few days on our own in Athens and surrounding areas, the bulk of the trip was an organized Road Scholar cruise through several Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.

This installment contains the islands of Poros, Folegandros, and Paros.  Poros and Folegandros were are first 2 islands followed by Santorini.  I’ll get to Santorini in a later edition so included our 4th island, Paros, in this edition.

Full Trip Map
01 Map Full Trip01 Map Full Trip

Islands and Locations visited during the "Cruise" portion of this trip

01 Map #04b 3 Islands01 Map #04b 3 Islands

Our Ship

Our ship, The Callisto, was originally built in 1963 as the Marina but was converted into a cruise vessel in 2000 and then Renovated in 2015.  It holds 34-passengers with a crew of 17 giving a 2:1 passenger to crew ratio.  This is what is called a no-frills vessel that is more akin to a private yacht than