Dan Hartford Photo: Blog https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog en-us (C) Dan Hartford Photo [email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Tue, 25 Jun 2024 16:46:00 GMT Tue, 25 Jun 2024 16:46:00 GMT https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/img/s/v-12/u747240511-o764576718-50.jpg Dan Hartford Photo: Blog https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog 118 120 LR021 - Image Size, Aspect Ratio, Resolution, and Files for Printing https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/6/lr021-image-size-aspect-ratio-resolution-and-files-for-printing LrC Blog 021 – Image Size, Aspect Ratio, Resolution, and Files for Printing

Article written June, 2024

There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation related to digital image size metrics, resolution meaning and how this all plays into creating image files for printing.  In this article, I explain the meaning of the various values related to image size, aspect ratio, resolution and also how to use LrC Export and Print Modules to produce files for printing, websites, gallery shows, and competitions.

Pixels and Resolution

For those new to this whole thing, a “pixel” is a dot of color in an image file.  One pixel represents one, and only one, color.

The more pixels your image has, the more detail can be represented and as such would have a higher resolution.  For example, if I have a photo of something that has, say 100x100 pixels.  That means that the scene is divided into a 100x100 grid where each cell in the grid can only be a single color.  Now, let’s take that exact same scene and photograph it at 200x200 pixels.  What had been 1 cell in the 100x100 version containing 1 color per cell, is now 4 cells in the 200x200 version where each cell could contain different color.  In other words, you can have up to 4 times the amount of detail.   If you’re photographing a clear blue sky this is not relevant as all 4 of those cells would be the same anyway.  However if you’re photographing something with fine details, like sand on a beach, you may now be able to see individual grains of sand in the higher resolution version where you would not in the lower resolution version.

Pixel Dimensions

The first and by far the most important values in relation to digital image files is the pixel dimensions.  These are two values that show the number of pixels in the horizontal and the vertical direction.  So, in my prior example, the 200x200 image has 4 times the number of pixels over the 100x100 image so has 4 times the resolution.  Everything else is either just a convenience or a vague value that could be used as a rough representation for comparing the quality of a set of similar images.

Camera manufacturers describe how many pixels their camera sensors have using “Mega-Pixels” (Mpx).  “Mega” means “million” and is usually rounded to the nearest integer (but sometimes with one decimal value).  So, a camera that produces 4,000 x 5,000 pixel images is a 20 Mpx camera.  The actual number of pixels in images though is usually a bit less as pixels on the edges of the sensor are usually not used in the final image.

In LrC, you can see both the un-cropped and the cropped pixel dimensions in the “Exif” section of Metadata Panel

01 LR021 Pixel Dimensions01 LR021 Pixel Dimensions

As shown above my Canon 5D Mark III is said to be a 22.3 mpx camera which produces images of 5760x3840 pixels (22,118,400 total pixels).

File Size on Disk

This is a value that is many times inaccurately used to assess image quality.  It is the number of bytes that the image file occupies on disk.  For images this is usually represented in  Kb (K=1,000) or Mb (M=1,000,000).  The file size can be seen in Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder and can also be seen in the Metadata panel (when “EXIF and IPTC” is chosen)

02 LR021 File Size (LrC)02 LR021 File Size (LrC)

A typical, uncompressed RAW file from my 5dK3 camera is roughly 29.3 Mb as shown below.

03 LR021 File Size (Windows)03 LR021 File Size (Windows)

Here is why this is for the most part a non-meaningful number for evaluating resolution or quality.  How much space an image file consumes on disk is vastly dependent on the file type and the amount of compression used on the file.  Here is that same image in several different formats (the Jpg’s have different “quality” settings).  As you can see the original 29.3 Mb RAW file grew to 64.8 when converted to PSD or TIFF and down to 1.7 when saved as a Jpg with a quality of 25.  In all cases the image files all contain the same number of pixels

07 LR021 File Size by File Types07 LR021 File Size by File Types

But even with the same file type and same compression, the amount of detail in the photographed scene also affects file size.  Below are 4 images from the same camera with the same file type and same settings.  The variation in file sizes is due to some images being a more complex (detailed) scene than others.

06 LR021 File Size by content06 LR021 File Size by content

And, another little known fact is that brighter images are larger than dimmer images.  Below are 3 bracketed shots of the same scene where 0041 is the middle, 0042 is the under exposed, and 0043 is the over exposed

08 LR021 File Size by Brightness08 LR021 File Size by Brightness

The bottom line here is that File Size on Disk is not at all useful in determining the resolution or quality of an image.  About the only thing it is good for is seeing how much space on disk the file is occupying.

Resolution, DPI and PPI

Now we get into another murky area.  First, let’s define some terms.  I should note that even though DPI and PPI are different, in general use the terms are many times used interchangeably.

PPI stands for Pixels per Inch.  This relates to display screens.  Your display screen has a specific number of pixels it can display.  For example HD monitors are 1080(h) and 1920(w).  But that is just the number of pixels available on the physical screen.  Another factor is how big (in inches) that screen is.  Let’s say the HD screen in question 26.6 inches wide.  That means the resolution is 72 PPI (1920/26.6).  But if the screen were only 10” wide, the resolution would be 192 PPI (1920/10).  In both cases you still have the same number of individual dots of color meaning that the true resolution is the same, but in the later case those pixels are each smaller and closer together.

DPI stands for Dots per Inch.  This relates to printed images.  Each printer has a specific number of dots it can print across the page, usually in the 300 range for consumer printers.  When the width of the printing area is taken into consideration this then determines the size of each dot.  But, just like displays that is just the number of dots it can print across the page.  When that number of dots is divided by the width of the print area it is referred to as the “resolution of the printer” and is usually measured in DPI (DPC for centimeters in metric countries). 

The other factor is how big the paper is you are printing on.  If you put in a piece of paper that is only half the width of the printer, then it can only print half as many dots on that piece of paper.  In other words the DPI does not change with paper size.

Resolution is the murkiest of all as it means so many things to so many different people.  For an image file the only true measure is how many pixels in each direction are contained in the file.  But when talking about screens and printers, the PPI and DPI are considered the measures of the resolution.

Let’s take an example.  If I have an image file that is 600 x 600 pixels and in LrC, when zoomed into 100%, I can see a certain amount of detail.  I then print that image on a 2” x 2” paper on a 300 DPI printer.  If my eyes are good enough I can still see each and every pixel from the file and the same amount of detail is in the print as was in the file itself.  However if I printed that same image on a 300 DPI printer that was 60” wide each image file pixel would need to occupy a tenth of an inch giving me 10 DPI and the image would look very pixilated even though all the image pixels were used.  In reality that doesn’t generally happen as the print driver would realize that it has 300 dots per inch available but is only being given 10 pixels per inch and rather than printing the same color 30 times in a row it would extrapolate from surrounding pixels to form “made up colors”  which is still not great but not as bad as the repeating option.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is the ratio of 2 adjoining sides of the image.  For example a print that is 3” x 4” has an aspect ratio of 3:4.  But, a print that is 6x8 or 9x12 also has the same 3:4 aspect ratio.  Aspect ratio has nothing to do with inches – it is only the ratio of one side compared to an adjoining side. 

So, let’s start with the aspect ratio problem in printing.  In LrC, your (cropped) image has a certain aspect ratio.  For example, let’s say the (cropped) image is 3000x4000 pixels, which is an aspect ratio of 3:4.  This can easily be printed as a 3x4 or 6x8 or 9x12 print as those print sizes also have a 3:4 aspect ratio. 

The problem arises when we need a print that has a different aspect ratio than our image.  Let’s say you have panorama image that is wide but not too tall. 

11 LR021 Pano11 LR021 Pano

I know this is an extreme example, but if you try to print it on a square piece of paper you have a problem.  There are really only two solutions (other than changing the paper size to match the aspect ratio of the image file). 

  1. You can crop the image (the width in this case) so that the aspect ratio of the cropped image file is also square.  If the aspect ratios are only slightly different this is many times an easy solution.  However in our example, this would mean losing most of the panorama image

12 LR021 Pano Square Crop12 LR021 Pano Square Crop

  1. The second option is to include blank space along the top and bottom to make a square aspect ratio.  This is called “letter box” style.  The blank space can be white, a color, or even a texture.  If you also add a bit to the sides this can look a bit like a mat.  In this case I used a color.  By using the letter box style you can still show the entire image but it will fit a cell. frame, or mat having a different aspect ratio.  I’ll explain how to do this further down.

13 LR021 Pano Add Canvas13 LR021 Pano Add Canvas

Using LrC to create files for printing

When we want to have an image printed (other than on a locally attached printer) we need to create a file (usually Jpg) which will be what is printed.   Sometimes we need to send this file out to be printed by some 3rd party like a print lab or a gallery.  In some of these cases we need our print to fit into a pre-defined mat or frame. 

When dealing with these cases many times the print lab or gallery will indicate the specifications for the output file.  Sometimes this includes a maximum file size, and/or a maximum number of pixels on the long edge.  Although it is useless, for some reason galleries and competitions also tend to specify a “resolution”. 

To create such a file we use the Export dialog in LrC (see letter boxing below for exception). In the export dialog there are two panels where these parameters are specified.

The first is the “File Settings” panel.  Here you specify the export file type, JPG compression (quality slider) and the color space – none of which relate to this discussion.  However, if you are required to keep the size of the file on disk under a certain size you need to check the “Limit File Size To:” check box.  Then type in the limit size.  This number is shown in K (Kb), so if they specified the limit in Mb just multiply their number by 1,000.  For example 8Mb becomes 8000K and 3.5Mb becomes 3500K.

09 LR021 Expoort File Settings09 LR021 Expoort File Settings

The next Panel is the real resolution panel which is called the “Image Sizing” panel.

If you don’t check the “Resize to Fit:” box, your output file will contain the same number of pixels as does your cropped image in LrC.  Once you check this box then the other fields become usable. 

04 LR021 Export LE in Inches at PPI04 LR021 Export LE in Inches at PPI

The first pull down (“Long Edge” in screen shot above) determines what you want to use to limit the number of pixels and has these options

10 LR021 Export Img Size pull down options10 LR021 Export Img Size pull down options

Depending on which one you select, other fields in this section change to allow you to enter constraint values relevant to what you selected.  For example, if you selected “Percentage” then you’ll get a field to enter a percent value. 

  • Width & Height and Dimensions are virtually the same.  You get two boxes to type in along with a pull down where you select the unit of measure for those values (Pixels, Inches, Centimeters).  LrC will resize the image to fit inside a box having the dimensions you type in.  Depending on the aspect ratio of the image itself, it may not use the entire height or the entire width you typed in.  This tool cannot be used to produce a “letter box” output or for cropping.  For example my NY skyline image is roughly 5800x2800.  If I type in 5800x5800 my output file will still be 5800x2800.  But if I type in 2900x2900 (half of 5800) my output image will be 2900x1400 (both directions will be half their original value)
  • Long Edge and Short Edge have you specify the limit of just one edge with the other edge being calculated by LrC based on the aspect ratio of the image file.
  • Megapixels.  Here you specify the maximum number of pixels of the output image
  • Percentage.  This is used reduce the number of pixels by a certain percentage.  You cannot use this to increase the number of pixels regardless of the state of the “Don’t Enlarge” checkbox

In all cases, the aspect ratio of the cropped image in LrC will be maintained in the output file even if this means that fewer pixels result in one direction than the maximum you specified or it calculated. 

Also in all cases, if you have “Don’t Enlarge” checked LrC will not expand the number of pixels in either direction in order to reach the maximums you specify.  If you leave this unchecked then if there are not enough pixels in the image to meet your specified values, LrC will create them through mathematics based on surrounding pixels.

The Resolution value and unit of measure IS ONLY USED by LrC if you specified a length measurement (inches or centimeters) in the sizing fields.  LrC must know the maximum number of pixels to allow in the output file, so if you told it that you want the long edge to be 15”, then it needs to know the resolution of the output device (screen or printer) in order to calculate the number of pixels.  E.g., if you specified 15” as the Long Edge and a Resolution of 300 PPI, LrC will calculate that the Long Edge can be up to 4,500 pixels.  If you specified anything other than a length in the sizing the values you put in the Resolution fields are just included in the output file’s metadata in case some other program later on cares to see what you selected.

Creating “Letter Box” output

Let me start out by saying that there are some 3rd party LrC plugins that, among other things, can produce letter box output.  One of these is LR/Morgify2 (https://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrmogrify2.php) which can do all sorts of other things as well. 

However, LrC can also produce Letter Box jpg files using the Print Module.   It should be noted though that when using the Print Module to output a JPG, you may have to do some math by hand instead of LrC doing it.  But you can pretty much get the same amount of control as you have in the Export Dialog, its just a bit more complex to get there.  Here are the major panels needed for a letterbox output file (in the order I set them)

Layout Style.  The only thing here is to select Single Image.  This will give you one JPG file per selected image.

17 LR021 PrinMod Layout Style17 LR021 PrinMod Layout Style

Image Settings.  Nothing here unless you want some colored borders around the image.  You may want to select “Rotate to Fit” if you have some vertical and some horizontal images.  Zoom to fill will crop the image thus defeating the purpose of letter boxing.

01 LR021 PrintMod Image Settings01 LR021 PrintMod Image Settings

Print Job. Now we jump down to the bottom panel.  Here you set the output to “JPEG File” and set your File Resolution.  The file resolution is important in this case.  Then in the Custom File dimensions section put in a number of inches wide and high for the jpg file.  What you’ll get are these numbers multiplied by the File Resolution.  In the screen shot below, my output file will be 3000x3000 pixels (10 inches x 300 PPI).  If you’re after a certain number of pixels, then you have come up with a custom dimension that when multiplied by the PPI gives you the number of pixels you are after. 

Further down select your Color Profile.

18 LR21 PrintMod Print Job18 LR21 PrintMod Print Job

Page.  Moving up from there, If you want a color canvas behind the image rather than white, check the box as shown below and pick a color with the color box.  This panel can also be used to add an Identity plate, water marks, titles, captions and the like.

15 LR021 PrintMod Page15 LR021 PrintMod Page

Layout.  Moving up again, this panel has lots of values but what you want is for all the margins to be zero, Rows and Columns to each be 1, and the cell sizes to be at their maximum.  The maximum will be the same number of inches you specified in the Print Job Panel. 

16 LR021 PrintMod Layout16 LR021 PrintMod Layout

The cell size section relates to the image itself so if you don’t want the image to consume the entire width or height, back off on one of the sliders in the “Cell Size” section.  In the example below I left ¼” on the left and right sides

19 LR021 PrintMod Estra side space19 LR021 PrintMod Estra side space

Now click the “Print to File” button at the bottom of the right Panel group. 

Saving your settings as a preset

Many of us tend to post images on the same websites or have them printed at the same print labs or submit them to the same competitions or galleries over and over.  If that is your case you should save the settings for each of these uses as a preset.  A preset is nothing more than a saved set of values you’ve entered into LrC.  In this case it would be the values you used in either the Export Dialog or the Print Module for a specific purpose. 

For example, let’s say your camera club requires that images be no larger then 1920x1080 pixels and must be a JPG in the sRGB color space.  Once you input those requirements into the Export Dialog, click the “Add” button at the bottom of the left panel in the Export dialog and then give it a name.

01 LR021 Export PACC01 LR021 Export PACC

From then on, to use it, just click on it in the list.  DO NOT check the box – rather highlight the name.  This will fill in all the info on the right side from what was saved in the preset.  At this point you can just use it as is or change any values you wish then export.

02 LR021 Export Select Preset02 LR021 Export Select Preset

In the Print module, after setting all the parameters in the right panel group as desired, click the “+” on the “Template Browser” panel name in the left panel group.  Then give it a name

03 LR021 PrintMod Add New Preset03 LR021 PrintMod Add New Preset

To use such a template, just click on it’s name which will set all the parameters in the right panel group at which point you can change any you wish prior to clicking the print button.

04 LR021 PrintMod Select Template04 LR021 PrintMod Select Template


[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) aspect ratio danlrblog dots per inch DPI Image size Image size on disk Jpg file for printing Jpg files for posting lightroom lightroom classic Lrc Pixels per inch PPI Resolution https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/6/lr021-image-size-aspect-ratio-resolution-and-files-for-printing Wed, 19 Jun 2024 21:02:25 GMT
LR020 - Sharing LrC images with others https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/6/lr020-sharing-lrc-images-with-others  

Sharing your LrC Images with others
(V01, June 2024)

This article discusses how to share images from LrC with others on the Internet or through email.

Most of us like to have other folks see our images and the most popular way to do that is to share them on the Internet.  But, there are many ways one can do that – some are somewhat easy and some are more complicated.  Here are some examples that I’ll talk about in this article:

  1. Upload images to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X, Etc. or image sharing sites such as Google Photos, Flickr, SnugMug, 500px, Apple Photos, Etc.
  2. Put images in a file sharing system such as Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive, Etc. and share the link with others
  3. Email limited number of small versions of your images
  4. Create a web page for a group of images using LrC or LR and share the link
  5. Build a custom web site using Adobe Portfolio
  6. Build a web site with Web Module
  7. Build a web site  using non Adobe services such as SmugMug, Zenfolio,

Lightroom has facilities for several of these options.  So let’s start at the top.

Social Media & Image Sharing Sites

Most social media sites these days have the ability for you to upload and share images.  Some examples are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Many of these allow you to place your images into folders, albums or collections. 

In addition to these are sites that are designed for the sharing of images.  These sites tend have a bit more flexibility and also include social media aspects like posting messages, adding comments to images, allowing “likes” or “favorites” and permitting others to include your images in their galleries. Some examples of these sorts of services are Google Photos, Flickr, SmugMug, and Apple Photos.   Some of these services have a few rudimentary image editing capabilities thrown in as well.

Placing your images in such services can be done in a couple of different ways.  In the base case you simply export selected images to a temporary folder on your computer and then log onto the web service and upload the images into the photo stream and/or folders/albums/collections you create on the service.  Below is an example from Flickr.

03 LR020 #02 Flickr Example home page03 LR020 #02 Flickr Example home page

A second method of managing images in some of these websites is to use an LrC feature called Publish Services.  Using an adobe or a 3rd party Publish Service plug-in simply allows you to manage the content of your images on the web service from within LrC itself.  In most cases you can create folders or albums on the service as well as add and delete images from the service.  In addition LrC keeps track of any changes you make to images in LrC and then gives you the opportunity to update those changed images on the web service – all from within LrC.  With Publish services in LrC you see your albums/folders in LrC along with the images in each.

Below is an example from my Flickr publish service showing one Flickr Album

04 LR020 #03 Pub Serv Fllickr_04 LR020 #03 Pub Serv Fllickr_

Here’s that same album as seen in Flickr itself.

05 LR020 #04 Flickr one Gallery05 LR020 #04 Flickr one Gallery

Another benefit of using LrC Publish Services is that in many cases comments on your images entered on line by your followers come back to LrC and can be viewed in a special section of the Metadata panel.

Cloud File Sharing Services

There are many cloud file storage/sharing systems on the market today and most have an amount of storage you can use for free before having to pay for more.  Some of the more popular ones are Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive and Google Drive. 

Some of these tools are designed to act like an additional disk drive on your computer and can accept pretty much any type of computer file.  These types are many times integrated with your operating system and mirror the content of a designated folder from your computer to the cloud.  For others you need to upload files from your computer to folders in the cloud system.  Some of these tools have web viewers that can display the content of the most popular file types such as Word , Excel , PDF files, and JPG images. 

I’m not going to teach you how to set up or use these services, however from LrC just export the images to a folder on your computer.  If the folder you export to automatically syncs with the cloud service then that is all there is to it.  If not, then after the export completes, open the cloud service in a Web browser and upload the images from the folder.

Attach images to an Email

If your preferred sharing method is to attach images to email messages, you can do that as well.  However as I’m sure you’ve discovered if you do this much is that email servers have a size limit of how large an email can be.  This size limit includes the message itself plus the size of the attachments.

With LrC you can do this in two ways.  As in each of the above cases you can simply export JPG’s of your images (probably with reduced size) to a temporary folder and then attach those image files to an email message.

If you’d like to skip a step or two in that process you can chose the “For Email” preset from the Export Dialog or pick any other preset and then change the “Export To:” box at the top of the dialog box to “Email”. 

06 LR020 #05 Export as email dialog box06 LR020 #05 Export as email dialog box

Doing this will cause your selected images to be exported to a temporary folder as before but instead of just stopping there the export process will then invoke your system default email client with the “new message” option selected and with the exported images already attached.  Then all you need to do is supply the email address(es) of the recipient(s), add a subject and type a message.

07 LR020 #06 Outlook Compose07 LR020 #06 Outlook Compose

Single Webpage on Adobe Server containing LrC images

So, now we’re going to get to features built into LR (Lightroom cloud based) and LrC (Lightroom Classic).  The first is a simple creation of a single web page hosted on an Adobe Server and accessible to anyone with the URL. The good news is that you are already paying for this feature with your Adobe Plan so there is no extra cost unless you run out of cloud storage space.

First turn on syncing between LrC and the LR/Cloud ecosystems if not already on (Edit -> Preferences menu, Lightroom Sync tab).  You will have to sign on with your Adobe ID if not already signed on.  

Then “start” syncing.  To start syncing prior to LrC/10, click the down arrow to the right of the identity plate and click “Start” on the first line
08 LR020 #07 Sync status old08 LR020 #07 Sync status old

After LrC/10 (or perhaps LrC/9.4) , they moved this option to a cloud icon at the right end of the top panel group. 
01 LR020 #08 Sync status New Start01 LR020 #08 Sync status New Start

In either case, Click the “Start Syncing” button in the pop up box.

Once syncing is turned on and running, create a regular collection in the normal manner and populate it with images you want to share.  You can’t use Smart Collections for this.

Follow this by enabling sync for that collection.  You can do this by right clicking on the collection name and selecting “Sync with Lightroom”.  You’ll know the collection is syncing when it has a double headed arrow to the left of the collection name.  You can also turn sync on and off by clicking on this icon (or the place where the icon should be).

When viewing a collection that is set to sync, you will get a line above the filter bar in the Grid view.  At the right end of this line will be a button labeled “Make Public”.

11 LR020 #10 Make Public button11 LR020 #10 Make Public button

If you click this button, it will create a web page containing the images in the collection and the button will change to “Make Private”.  The URL of this web page will show up just to the left of this button. Clicking “Make Private” will remove the web page.

12 LR020 #11 URL of Web Page12 LR020 #11 URL of Web Page

Click on the URL and you’ll go to that web page.

01 LR020 #12 Make Public Web Page01 LR020 #12 Make Public Web Page


Changes you make to the Collection in LrC or the Album in LR/Cloud are synced to the web page automatically so it always stays current with tweaks you make to images or the addition/removal of images to/from the collection/album 

Anyone you give the short URL to (found above the filter bar in LrC) or the full URL it resolves to in your web browser will be able to see the page.  Here’s a sample “shared” LrC Collection Example of "Make Public" LrC Collection

Custom Web Site using Adobe Portfolio

While sharing a collection is easy and quick, the resulting web page is rather simple and is a unique individual page per collection - if there are too many images for one page you'll be able to go to additional pages for the remaining images.  But it is not an integrated set of pages which would be considered a web site.  But, Adobe has another product called Adobe Portfolio which is also included in your plan.  This product is a more robust photo website builder tool.  It is a bit more complicated but is substantially more configurable and the result is a web site (not just a page) with navigation between pages and many other features.  With Portfolio you start with a template and then customize from there to your hearts desire.

Here’s a link to my demo Portfolio website Example of a Portfolio web site (home page shown below)

01 LR020 #00 Sample Page01 LR020 #00 Sample Page

I am not going to teach you everything there is to know about Adobe Portfolio in this article but will give you enough to get started and create a basic website. 

Go to https://portfolio.adobe.com/.  If you’re not already logged into your Adobe Account, click the Sign In button at the top right and log in.  On the login screen you may want to check the “Stay logged in” button so you don’t have to keep logging back in.  You will now get a welcome screen with a “New Site” button (white plus sign in blue circle).  If you already have one or more Portfolio websites they will also be shown and you can pick one to edit.

The first step is to pick a theme for what you want your website to look like.  This can be changed later and can be tweaked (for example if you don’t like their choice of colors or fonts) as well. But for now just pick a theme.

14 LR020 #13 PF Theme selection14 LR020 #13 PF Theme selection

For this example, I selected theme “Hegen”.

What you see next depends on which theme you selected.  The screen will show you a sample page for the selected theme.  Click the “Use this Theme” at the top right

15 LR020 #14 PF use this theme15 LR020 #14 PF use this theme

Next you’ll get a blank version of the landing page for the selected theme.  As you move the mouse around, you’ll get a little blue pop up button that allows you to edit the content of each section.  For example, the top center is the “masthead” section and if you click the Edit button you can change the text as well as the font, colors, etc.  Depending on which section you edit, the editing tools may be different.  For example, if you click in the grid you can change the number of rows and columns and add space between the cells.

From here there are all sorts of things you can do, but probably you should start by adding pages with your images.  In the menu of things on the left is an “Add Page” button (plus sign in blue circle) at the top right.  Click it and you’ll get a list of page types you can add.  You can also click the “Pages” menu item to see a list pages already present and the “Add Page” button is at the bottom of the list of pages.

18 LR020 #21 Add Page menu18 LR020 #21 Add Page menu

In this example we want to add pages for LR/Cloud Albums (which came from synced LrC Collections) so we choose the “Lightroom Album” option.  Clicking “Lightroom Album” will then take you to a screen showing you all your Adobe Lightroom folders and albums.  These are the ones in the Adobe Cloud which may or may not have come from syncing collections from Lightroom Classic.  The top section contains the Adobe/Cloud Folders and the bottom section are individual albums.  Click on an album or click on a folder to see the albums in that folder.

19 LR020 #21b PF Select Cloud Album19 LR020 #21b PF Select Cloud Album

In this case I clicked on my “Subject” folder, then I selected the “Wildlife” album (as shown below) and clicked the “Import Selected” button.  This will build a page for that album by importing the images from Lightroom/Cloudy.  As before, you can mouse over things like the album name and change them.

20 LR020 #21c Select Cloud Album 220 LR020 #21c Select Cloud Album 2


You can now go back and add other albums as desired.  

Once you have a bunch of PF pages created from your Lightroom images, you can then create a page from which the user can pick which one they want to see.  PF calls this type of page a “Collection” but I’ll call these “PF Collection” pages to differentiate them from “LrC Collections”.  These are pages containing a grid of PF Albums to choose from.  This is like a menu of albums. Here’s an example of a PF Collection page of albums by Subject.

21 LR020 #22 PF Colleciton page sample21 LR020 #22 PF Colleciton page sample

Using this same menu you can also add these page types:

  • A custom page you design on your own
  • A welcome page (Home Page)
  • Or a link to another website.

As was the case with the initial home page, each page is made up of blocks (or sections) of data and you can alter the look and text in each block.  As you hover your mouse over these different blocks on the screen, a blue “Edit” button will pop up and if you select it, a dialog box will appear in the left panel with all the changes you can make.  For example in the above PF Collection block I made it 4 columns wide and put a bit of space between the thumbnails.  Had I clicked on the edit button on the mast head, I could change the text and the font attributes.

You can then build a menu across the top of your PF website.  This menu can contain the names of your pages, PF Collections and a few other things.  You turn on this menu using the “Navigation” tool in the left panel.  Click the slider button to the right to turn it on and then select which types of items you want on the menu.  Below is what I selected the result of which you can see.

23 LR020 #24 Menu Navigation23 LR020 #24 Menu Navigation

Anyway, that’s a quick get started set of steps.  I’m sure you can find more detailed info on the internet about all the functions and features of Adobe Portfolio.  If you dig down it can be quite customizable, but has some shortcomings.

The net is that you can build a pretty good website but a couple of things.  One is that images are populated into the PF Albums when you create the PF Page.  Subsequent changes to the LR/Cloud Album (probably synced to a LrC Collection) do not migrate to the PF Album page unless you

  1. Click the “Pages” menu item in the left panel
  2. Click the gear icon on the PF collection name
  3. Click “Reset from Lightroom”
  4. Repeat for each PF album needing to be updated
  5. Click “Update Website” at the bottom of the left panel

22 LR020 #23 Refresh Images22 LR020 #23 Refresh Images

Web Module

Way back in the early releases of LR (as it was called then), they added the “Web” module to the program.  This was way before LR/Cloud was even an idea.  This is a very rudimentary web page builder tool that has for the most part become obsolete – not that it was ever that useful. 

What you do is that using this module you build what will become a web page containing the images selected. 

24 LR020 #25  Web Module tool24 LR020 #25 Web Module tool

Then you export (or upload) the web page content as a file to your computer.  In the exported folder you can click on the “Index.html” file and see your generated web site.  The next step is to copy this code to a Web Server someplace where others can access it.  The generated website looks like what you see in the central viewing area of the Web Module.

There’s nothing really wrong or bad about the Web Module, but in order to make it visible to others you’ll have to have access to a web server someplace and would also probably need to create (register) a domain name for your website and deal with all the issues involved with managing a web site (security, hacking, backup, Etc.).  So, in general more work than its worth considering that you now have all these other options.

Non Adobe Custom Web Site

The last option is to create a custom website using a commercial development tool.  There are many on the market and each one can be anywhere from simple for non techies to complicated needing programming skills and anywhere from one size fits all to highly customizable.  The simpler and less customizable sites may be better for folks who just want to get something up and not spend a lot of time on it.  On the other hand, tools that allow more customization or even programming will take longer to learn, and customize but you have way more control over the final product.  It is really up to you.

Some popular such tools are

  • SmugMug
  • Flickr
  • Zenfolio
  • WordPress

SmugMug and Zenfolio are template driven (similar to Portfolio) but more sophisticated and more configurable than Portfolio.  These two also have 3rd party plug-in for LrC Publish Services which allow you to manage the images and folder/album/collection structures on the website from within LrC.  I use Zenfolio for my website (www.danhartfordphoto.com) but SmugMug is an equally fine choice. 

WordPress on the other hand is a generic website framework that can be used to build any sort of website.  It is incredibly flexible, but is high maintenance.  It is constantly changing and unless you put in a fair amount of effort keeping an eye on upcoming changes and testing new versions, sometimes those changes can cause your website to behave differently or even to break.  I do not suggest this type of tool unless you want to go through a steep learning curve and then devote a fair amount of time being an IT department for your website.



[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Build Web sit with Adobe Portfolio danlrblog Image posting Image Sharing lightroom lightroom classic lightroom cloud lrc LrC build public web page LrC Make Public LrC Web Module Make Public Portfolio Sharing via File Sharing sites Sharing via Photo Sharing sites Web Module https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/6/lr020-sharing-lrc-images-with-others Tue, 04 Jun 2024 18:27:51 GMT
ESCAPE TO IRELAND #02 – Dublin City https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/5/escape-to-ireland-02 May/June 2016


ESCAPE TO IRELAND #02 – Dublin City


Map of our route

01 2016-05-31 Map day 02 Dublin01 2016-05-31 Map day 02 Dublin


Dublin is a fair size city, similar in population to Boston, with plenty of sights to see.  Driving in big cities is a pain even in the best circumstances and just plain out of the question in tenuous circumstances such as an unfamiliar city, where you drive on the wrong side of the road with a jet lagged driver.  So, all along we had planned to let the car rest in the FREE parking lot of our suburban hotel and see Dublin without the aid of our own vehicle. 


Seeing as how we were armed with a totally useless guide book we planned to grab one of those “hop on hop off” sightseeing busses that all major cities seem to have these days.  There were a few things we knew we wanted to see, but felt the best bet was to take a seat on the top deck, do a full circuit to get the lay of the land and then decide on the places we wanted to “hop off” as we went around the 2nd time.  So, the day before we went down to the concierge of the hotel to see about cab fare into the city and where to go to hook up with one of those buses.  Conveniently enough, it turned out that one of the 3 such bus companies in town has an arrangement with our hotel.  At 10:00 AM, at no charge, they’ll come out and pick up folks wanting to book a ticket on their bus.  So, we signed up and the concierge called to confirm that they would be there at 10:00 to collect us.  It would only work one way though.  We’d need to grab a cab to get back (we’re not up for public busses in strange cities if at all avoidable). 


The next morning after the included “Irish Breakfast” at the hotel we made our way to the front door by 10:00 to await the bus.   Ten past 10 no bus.  So back inside, and the front desk called the bus company again.  “Oh, we didn’t know anyone had signed up.  You really need to call the day before so we have you on the list.”  Wait a minute.  We did call the day before and got on the list.  Really, hmmmm.  That must have been Megan who’s off today.  Ok, we’ll send a bus on over.


“Half 10” as they say on that side of the pond, meaning 10:30, no bus.  Finally it showed up near 11:00 and off we went – the only 2 people on the bus.  The bus wound its way down broad 4 lane boulevards lined with shops and squeezed down narrow lanes barely wide enough for a Pedi Cab let alone a bus and into a 6 lane divided thoroughfare lined with hotels and large stores.  Here we were asked to get off so we could get in line with a bunch of other folks for a bus actually on the official route.  I guess they decided sending a bus to the hotel to collect 2 people was more practical than having someone drive a car out.  Oh well, not my problem.  10 minutes later another bus showed up – this one already being about ¾ full and we all piled on. 




Let me switch gears now for a brief history of Dublin.  The oldest recorded info starts with Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century.  The folks being raided joined forces and established a settlement on the Southside of the Liffey River near the sea and named the place  Dubh Linn - which translates to “Black Pool”-  after the lake where the Danes first moored their boats.


Despite stone fortifications, Dublin was sacked many times over the next two hundred year but always recovered. By the 11th Century, it was doing quite well, mainly due to close trading links with the English towns of Chester and Bristol.


Moving on to the middle Ages, the year 1169 marked the beginning of 700 years of Norman rule. The King of Leinster, Mac Murrough, enlisted the help of Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke, to conquer Dublin. After Mac Murrough’s death, Strongbow declared himself King of Leinster, defeating both the Vikings and the High King of Ireland to win control of the city. However, the king of England, afraid Strongbow might become too powerful, pronounced himself Lord of Ireland and gave Dublin to the merchants of Bristol.  Sounds like a soap opera.  Anyway, Dublin burned down in 1190, only to be rebuilt again.  


Moving on, it was part of the English Crown from the 14th to 18th centuries, and known as “The Pale”.  For the Brits in London this was considered “out there to the west somewhere” giving us the phrase “beyond the pale".  In 1537, a revolt occurred when the Lord Deputy of Ireland was executed in London. His son renounced English sovereignty and set about gathering an army to take Dublin away from the English. However, he was defeated and subsequently executed as well – I guess being executed runs in the family.


Dublin continued to prosper in the 16th Century and boasts one of the oldest universities in the British Isles, Trinity College, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I. By 1640  the city had grown to 20,000, but the plague in 1650 wiped out almost half of the population.   But the city prospered again soon after as a result of the wool and linen trade with England, reaching a population of 60,000 by 1700.


The city grew even more rapidly during the 18th century. The beginnings of the City Corporation was created in 1757 when a group of men formed to widen, pave, light and clean the streets. Ireland's famous Guinness stout was first brewed here in 1759 and a stagecoach service to other towns began. A police force was established in 1786.   By 1800 the population was up to 180,000. However, this overpopulation brought with it great poverty and disease making the place less than ideal to live in.


Dublin suffered a steep political and economical decline when the seat of government moved to Westminster in 1800 under the Act Of Union.  However as we moved into the 1900’s change was a foot.  Around Easter time in 1916 there was a War For Independence (The Easter Uprising) and a subsequent Civil War which eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.


Since the mid-1990s, an economic boom they call the ‘Celtic Tiger’ brought lots of expansion and development to the city which is now the single largest metro area in Ireland with some 1.2m people which is 28% of the country's total population of 4.2m. 


Hop on Hop off tour


Getting back to our visit, we decided to take the full route on the city Hop on Hop off bus (red route to be exact).  This is a roughly 90 minute loop which hits all the major sights in the city.  As mentioned, Dublin is a proper city about the size of Boston, but way older.  Most of the downtown and commercial areas are 3 and 4 story brick or masonry buildings with stores on the first floor with apartments above with a very odd, and totally out of character, ultra modern building popping up from time to time. 


Typical Dublin Commercial Street

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And, like most cities, especially Boston, the downtown is a mess of construction.  It turns out that they are installing a light rail system throughout the city and pretty much every street of any significance is torn up with heavy construction, diverted traffic, and only one driving lane.  A real mess.  Thank goodness we didn’t try to drive as I’m sure our GPS would not understand all the blocked roads, restricted turns, and temporary one way streets.  However, our bus knew how to adapt to the situation.  Along our route we passed Trinity College, Dublin Castle, too many churches and cathedrals to keep track of, the Guinness Brewery (a very popular stop for people getting off to tour the factory), the Kilmainham Gaol, and many others.


One of the places we knew we wanted to tour was the “Kilmainham Gaol.”  In Irish (Gaelic) the word for “jail” is “gaol” which interestingly enough is pronounced the same as our word, jail.  Unfortunately, there were 2 cruise ships in port at the time.  With Dublin being a recent addition to cruise ship itineraries the tourist infrastructure is still trying to figure out the logistics involved with these massive influxes of people all at once.  As it turned out all the tours of the Jail (or Gaol) were already full for the entire day so we didn’t bother getting off the bus.  As the bus wandered back in toward the center of the city we decided to forego the portion of the route that goes off to the zoo and the outskirts of town and got off nearer the main action – much of which we passed earlier. 


River Liffey and North vs. South


We got off the bus at the River Liffey which divides North Dublin from South Dublin.  For as long as Dubliners have lived on either side of the river there has been fierce debate as to which side contains the biggest pack of losers, criminals, and idiots. When Dublin first became fashionable in the Georgian era, the Northside was considered the place to be.  No self-respecting aristocrat would want to spend time among the Southside lowlifes. Then, suddenly, the Earl of Kildare decided that, actually, he'd quite like to build his new palace on the Southside and, just like that, the whole argument got turned around and to this day Dublin's Northside is considered to be a sort of genetic waste bin for substandard Irish DNA -  well, perhaps not by the majority of Dubliners who actually live on the Northside.


As it turns out the Liffey River as it flows through Dublin isn’t even a river.  It is actually more of an estuary with the water level rising and falling with the tide in the bay.


River Liffey

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Christ Church


On our way to Dublin Castle, we made a quick photo stop to shoot the exterior of Christ Church Cathedral.  Dublin has the dubious distinction of being one of the only cities with 2 cathedrals – the other being St. Patrick’s - in this case only a few blocks apart.  I never did quite get how that happened but there seems to be all sorts of church rules pertaining to what each was used to be used for (e.g. this one for inaugurations, that one for state funerals, etc.) – and even more documentation of all the times some king or bishop did it the other way around.


Christ Church Cathedral stone bridge

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Temple Bar Area


As is the case with any self respecting city, Dublin has its cultural and nightlife zone.  In Dublin’s case, both of these are the area called the “Temple Bar” which sits more or less between Dublin Castle and the River Liffey.  Given its role as the cultural center of Dublin, it was only fitting that it is made up of the two most popular aspects of the Irish culture.  Of course I’m referring to Music and Beer.  This area is chock full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pubs, saloons, taverns, and even more pubs.  In the daytime one can get lunch here and check out the architecture, but at night it is a mecca for traditional (or “trad” as the signs say) Irish music and the Irish beverage of choice.


Temple Bar in, well, Temple Bar

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Sick & Indigent Society rooming house, AD 1790

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Metal Door on night club

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Street in Temple Bar area

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Dublin Castle


Dublin was the seat of the United Kingdom government administration in Ireland until 1922, and is still a major Irish government complex. Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland. The Castle served as the seat of English, then later British government of Ireland under the Lordship of Ireland (1171–1541), the Kingdom of Ireland (1541–1800), and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922).  After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the complex was ceremonially handed over to the newly formed Provisional Government led by Michael Collins.


As with most medieval castles it has had many incarnations.  It was established by King John of England in 1204AD.  This Norman Castle was built within the SE corner of a pre-existing Viking town which had been founded in the 10th century at the confluence of  the Liffey and Poddle rivers – probably at the site of a Gaelic ring fort.  Starting as a wooden fort it eventually evolved into a large fortified stone complex inside a walled area where hundreds of people worked in support of the royalty of the house.  Originally the river more or less came right up to the castle walls but over time the river was corralled a few blocks away.  If one goes down a few levels in one of the buildings one can still see the original moat (which connected to the river) and the narrow stairs cut through the perimeter wall to allow access to and from the river. 


Today, the Upper Castle Yard is overlooked by the State Apartments which are still used by visiting dignitaries, state functions, and for the inauguration of a new president every 7 years.  It is also where the handover of power to the new Irish State took place in 1922 after the Irish won independence from England.


Today, one can wander around the grounds and visit the Royal Chapel as well as the State Apartments.


As a side note, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula worked here from 1866 to 1878 in the Register of Petty Sessions Clerks office – whatever that is.


Royal Chapel

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Grand Staircase, State Apartments

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State Apartments

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State Apartments

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Trinity College


Trinity College is the sole college of the University of Dublin. It was founded in 1592 as the "mother" of a new university modeled after the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but, unlike these, only one college was ever established. It is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, as well as Ireland's oldest university.


Originally it was established outside the city walls of Dublin in the buildings of the dissolved Augustinian Priory of All Hallows (as in Halloween).  As are many things in Ireland, it too is caught up in the Catholic vs. Protestant tension.  It was set up in part to consolidate the rule of the Tudor monarchy in Ireland – in other words for the Protestant Ascendancy. Although Catholics and Dissenters had been permitted to enter as early as 1793 certain restrictions on their membership of the college remained until 1873 (professorships, fellowships and scholarships were reserved for Protestants). From 1956 to 1970 the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade its adherents from attending Trinity College without permission from their archbishop. Women were first admitted to the college as full members in January 1904


Trinity College is now dab smack in the middle of downtown Dublin on College Green, opposite the former Irish Houses of Parliament. The college proper occupies 47 acres.  As of 2015, it was ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings as the 160th best university in the world.  The Library of Trinity College is a legal deposit library for Ireland and the United Kingdom, containing over 4.5 million printed volumes and significant quantities of manuscripts (including the Book of Kells), maps and music.


The college is built around a series of grass quadrangles, like many universities.  But oddly enough in this era of Ultimate Disk and Grass Volleyball, no one is allowed to walk on or sit on the grass.  So, when the sun shines (rarely so they say) and the temperatures get warm (equally rare so they say) all the college folks head over to St. Stephen’s Green which is only a few blocks away.  On our day in Dublin, the sun was shining, the temperature was warm and the park was full.


Fellow Square, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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Hardly an unused patch of grass in the sun.  St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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Book of Kells


So what is this “Book of Kells” thing?  It is a stunningly beautiful manuscript containing the Four Gospels and is Ireland's most precious medieval artifact - generally considered the finest surviving illuminated (illustrated) manuscript to have been produced in medieval Europe. 


The Book of Kells was probably produced in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland, to honor Saint Columba in the early 8th century. After a Viking raid the book was moved to Kells Ireland sometime in the 9th century only to be stolen in the 11th century, at which time its cover was torn off and the book itself was thrown into a ditch. The cover, which most likely included gold and gems, has never been found, and the book suffered some water damage; but otherwise it is extraordinarily well-preserved.  In 1541, at the height of the English Reformation, the book was taken by the Roman Catholic Church for “safekeeping” – kind of like all the gold they took out of Central and South America “for safe keeping”.  It was returned to Ireland in the 17th century, and Archbishop James Ussher gave it to Trinity College, where it resides today.


After some prefaces and canon tables, the main thrust of the book is the Four Gospels. Each one is preceded by a carpet page featuring the author of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  The Book of Kells was written on vellum (calfskin), which was time-consuming to prepare properly but made for an excellent, smooth writing surface. 680 individual pages (340 folios) have survived, and of them only two lack any form of artistic ornamentation. In addition to incidental character illuminations, there are entire pages that are primarily decoration, including portrait pages, "carpet" pages and partially decorated pages with only a line or so of text.  As many as ten different colors were used in the illuminations, some of them rare and expensive dyes that had to be imported from the continent.  The workmanship is so fine on this artwork that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.


Example of an illumination page from the Book of Kells

12 Day 02 Dublin - 12 Book of Kells12 Day 02 Dublin - 12 Book of Kells



Stairs to upper deck of library (Trinity College, Dublin)

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Antique books library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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Antique books library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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So ends our 2nd day in Ireland, again Bright Sun, mid 70’s (f), and no rain




Next on our agenda – County Wicklow


I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future trips.  


- Images of this trip will are published on my website




Thanks for reading -- Dan



[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Book of Kells DanTravelBlog DanTravelBlogIreland Dublin Dublin Castle Ireland Temple Bar Trinity College Trinity College Library https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/5/escape-to-ireland-02 Thu, 30 May 2024 18:28:42 GMT
Four Corners #04 - Goosenecks, Gump, Bridges https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/3/four-corners-04 October 2023 Trip

Four Corners October 2023 - #04 Goosenecks, Forrest Gump and Bridges

This Four Corners series of articles is for a one week driving trip we took to the Four Corners area of the USA in October of 2023.  The main destinations on this trip were Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley with some other stops along the way. 

Entire Trip map
02 Map 1 - Full Trip02 Map 1 - Full Trip

In this article (the last of the 4 Corners series) I’ll talk about Goosenecks State Park, Forrest Gump Hill, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Route on our Goosenecks and Natural Bridges day
01 Map 6 - Natural Bridges Day01 Map 6 - Natural Bridges Day

Other side of Monument Valley

While still staying at Gouldings, we spent a day driving north up into Utah to see some other sites.  US-163 heads northeast from the Monument Valley Turnoff and skirts around the north side of the Monument Valley Tribal Park on up to Mexican Hat.  From this road you can see many of the same monuments that you see from inside the park but now you’re looking at them from the North and East rather than from the West and South.  In the morning you get more front light on these features but in the late afternoon they are illuminated with side light or are silhouettes with backlight.

The photos below show some or all of Brighams Tomb,  Stagecoach, Castle Rock, Bear and Rabbit Summit, Big Indian, and King on his Throne  from along US-163. Unfortunately, other than Brighams Tomb, it is not clear which of these is which.  Doing a Google search for these monument names produces loads of photos which are mostly not labeled, but for each feature the few photos that labeled their photos have different labels for the same features, with no apparent majority of which name goes with which feature. 

Brighams Tomb from US-163
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Probably Castle Rock, Bear and Rabbit, and Stagecoach Monuments.  From US-163
King on his ThrownKing on his Thrown

From US-163
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Forrest Gump Hill

Many of you may recall the Forrest Gump movie.  At the end of his 3 year running phase where he crisscrossed the country several times he was running through a desert with an entourage of followers tagging along.  At one point, to the puzzlement and dismay of the groupies following him he just stopped.  Turned around and just started walking back the way he came.  When asked what he was doing he just said he was tired and it was time to go back home to Alabama.  And he just strode off down the road leaving his followers just standing there in the desert looking bewildered.  Well that scene was shot along this section of US-163 with Monument Valley in the background.

Over the years since the movie debuted, and this location was identified, tourists have flocked to this isolated stretch of road to see the location, to run along some of the same stretch of road and to film themselves re-enacting that scene.  This has gotten so popular that the highway department had to lower the speed limit along this stretch of road to try and keep crazy tourists from being run over as they jog, sit, and even lie down in the middle of the highway for the sake of a selfie.

It’s really quite weird driving along an otherwise remote desert highway and all of a sudden coming upon several dozen people standing in the middle of the road taking selfies or running up and down the middle of the road with someone filming them with a cell phone.

Forrest Gump Hill (US-163)
Forest Gump HillForest Gump Hill

Mexican Hat

As you continue NE on US-163, you dip down into a valley and cross a canyon with the San Juan River at the bottom and drive into the little town of Mexican Hat.  ‘Town’ may be an overstatement for this widely spaced handful of businesses.  As I recall there was a motel, gas station, restaurant, and general store.  The town name of “Mexican Hat” stems from a nearby balanced rock that goes by the name of “Mexican Hat Rock”.  This geological feature has been used as a landmark going way back to the wagon trains and I’m sure the indigenous people also used it as a reference point as well as a sacred site. 

It has also been featured in films including  the 1950 film "Wagon Master" and the 2006 and 2011 animated features “Cars” and “Cars 2” where it was called “Willy’s Butte” and was said to resemble a classic Pontiac hood ornament.  And, for you old timers who remember the old slow speed ‘Mine Train’ ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA this rock formation was part of the outdoor portion of the ride through the desert.  I’m not sure if it is still part of the replacement faster roller coaster ride called ‘Big Thunder Mountain” or not.

Mexican Hat Rock
Mexican HatMexican Hat

Goosenecks State Park

Just up the road from Mexican Hat is Goosenecks State Park (Utah) which you get to after a couple of left turns.  The San Juan River, which eventually joins up with the Colorado River above Lake Powell goes through this park.  Starting in Mexican Hat there is 15 to 20 miles or so of river through a series of tight “S” curves at the bottom of a deep canyon.  That 15 to 20 miles of river advances you only about 5 miles as the crow flies. 

Goosenecks of the San Juan River
San Juan river at Goosenecks State ParkSan Juan river at Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park overlooks this deep ‘meander’ of the San Juan River.  Millions of years ago, there was some serious uplift of this area (similar to the Grand Canyon area) which forced the river to carve down as the land rose up.  This resulted in a canyon here that is over 1,000 feet deep (300 m) that twists and bends like a Side Winder snake.  The official name of this sort of geologic feature is an “incised meander”. 

Other than the view there’s nothing else in the park except for a few picnic tables, pit toilet and some primitive camp sites.

The rim where you can look over the edge is about half a mile long providing a range of different views.

San Juan River from Goosenecks State Park
San Juan river at Goosenecks State ParkSan Juan river at Goosenecks State Park

Up a Level

From here we headed off to Natural Bridges National Monument.  One of our GPS devices had us take a route of 81 miles at 1 hr 25 min.  The other GPS plotted a route that was 41 miles and 55 Min.  That’s quite a difference.  Usually the two devices (Google Maps vs. Garmin GPS unit) agree for the most part so seeing that much of a variance was quite odd, but there must be something about the short route that prevented the other device from recommending it.  There are no tolls or freeways involved with either so that couldn’t be it.  But, throwing caution to the wind, we opted for the shorter route – if nothing else it would be an adventure.  This route took us due north on UT-261 across the Valley of the Gods. 

The Valley of the Gods was not much different than all the other areas we’d been driving through over the last several days which was flat scrub desert.  Easy driving but the road seemed to be heading directly into the base of a huge cliff.  I kept expecting the road to turn but straight as an arrow it kept heading directly to the base of the cliff face.  But, I figured they knew what they were doing and we pressed on.  As we approached the base of the cliff, still no turns and no apparent pass, tunnel, or road zig-zagging up the vertical cliff.  I sure do hope it doesn’t just dead end at some one’s ranch or some forgotten local park.  It was encouraging though that every now and again a car passed us going the other way, so one must have faith.

05 Valley of the Gods (google)05 Valley of the Gods (google)

Just as we got to the base of the cliff, we were presented with a thought provoking sign, indicating a 10% grade (presumably up), loss of pavement on the road, and a 5 mph speed limit.  And the road still headed right into the base of the cliff – but wait, there was just a hint of the start of a switch back.

Base of the cliff
06 Valley of the Gods 206 Valley of the Gods 2
(photo from Google Street view)

Well we’d already invested a dozen miles that we’d have to backtrack if we bailed out here to go around the other way.  So, nothing ventured, nothing gained and we started up the side of the cliff to the next higher mesa.  And, it was well worth the effort.

The road did indeed become a dirt road in short order, but it was well graded and just as wide as the paved road leading up to it had been.  Yeah, a bit steep in a spot or two and you had to plow through a dust cloud whenever a car came by the other way – but all in all not bad.  And, the views were out of this world.  There were even places to park off to side to admire the view of Valley of the Gods and take a few photos.

Valley of the Gods
Valley of the gods from UT-281Valley of the gods from UT-281

Up the switch backs
UT-261 7.7 Mi N. of  Jct UT-316UT-261 7.7 Mi N. of Jct UT-316

Once we reached the top of the next plateau (or is it a mesa?), the asphalt pavement reappeared, the road straightened out and the speed limit went back up to 55mph.  About 40 minutes later we arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears is named for a pair twin buttes which have been a significant landscape landmark for thousands of years.  This area was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan people (Anasazi) and subsequently tribes like the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute who still maintain deep cultural ties to this area.

If you pay any attention to current events in the US, “Bears Ears” should ring a bell.  As background, this part of the Four Corners area is a patchwork of Native American reservations, National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation areas, Bureau of Land Management land, Forest Service land and private land. 

In the late 1800’s, when the US government finally saw fit to actually give native tribes their own swaths of land, this was deemed to be the most inhospitable and useless land there was with absolutely no economic value or resources – not even trees – so naturally it was the perfect place for the reservations. 

But, over time, various natural wonders in these lands started to become more well known and that attracted tourists.  Many of these areas eventually became National Parks, Recreation Areas, Forests, and Monuments.  For the most part the tribes were not in favor of the government taking land for such public use as they just saw it as yet another instance of the US going back on treaties and taking away their land once it gained some value.  And, I suppose they were not wrong. 

A few such places escaped this such as Monument Valley that was ‘discovered’ late enough that the Navajo were able to fend off the movement to make it a National Monument or National Park and instead made it into their own Tribal Park.  I bet the movie industry helped that out as Hollywood certainly did not want to have to deal with US government red tape each time they wanted to make a new film here had it been a National Park.  Canyon de Chelly turned out to be a hybrid where the land is still owned by the natives but the historical and archeological features are protected by the National Park Service.

But, technology marches on and it was discovered that what was once considered worthless land had some valuable resources after all.  Petrochemical deposits where the technology had advance to make extracting it profitable were found.  Other minerals and elements that are found in these lands all of a sudden became way more valuable for use in electronics and batteries.  And, of course mega corporations descended into the area to exploit these resources.

This caused much turmoil in the tribal governments as one faction wanted to lease the land to these developers and reap badly needed profit, even at the risk of the natural environment.  Another faction was more keen to keep these corporate leeches out altogether.  As time went on, mining and drilling was allowed by some tribes in some areas while other tribes kept them out and of course on the non reservation land it was full steam ahead.  But, the corporate interests had way more money than the tribes, had much better lawyers than the tribes and owned way more legislators than the tribes.  A legal and legislative onslaught ensued and in many cases the corporate interests won and environmentally disastrous extractions started taking place. 

By 2015, some of the tribes saw the hand writing on the wall and formed the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, advocating for federal protection of the land.  The idea was that if the area was designated a National Park or National Monument, the corporations would have to fight it out with the US government which has way more and better resources to fight such things than the tribes.  So, after much lobbying they persuaded the Obama Administration  that the Bears Ears area with more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings, rock art panels, and artifacts that offer insights into the lives of the Hopi, Zuni, ancestral Puebloans, Ute, and other tribes who have called this area home, was worthy of protection. 

House on fire cliff dwelling in Bears Ears (Mule Canyon 2013)
House on FireHouse on Fire

Then, in December 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated 1.35 million acres the Bears Ears National Monument, citing its cultural and historical significance and the need to protect it for future generations.  The designation was made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the President to designate national monuments to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.  This was the first monument designation that was to be administered by Native American tribes.

Bears Ears National Monument Map
09 Bears Ears (Wikimedia)09 Bears Ears (Wikimedia)

However, the establishment of Bears Ears was controversial with some local residents, politicians, and industry groups opposing it. They argued that the designation would restrict access to the land and limit economic opportunities, such as mining and grazing.  Of course that was the whole point in the first place.

But then Trump was elected.  He figured that if a president could declare an area as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, a president could likewise un-declare such an area under the same act.  So, he had a study done to determine which areas should be removed from the National Monument.  The committee he set up to draw these maps decided to ask the big corporations who had been complaining the most what they thought and would they please draw up some maps showing the areas they were interested in exploiting – which they did.  And, guess what?  The committee decided that this saved a lot of time and just plain adopted the maps drawn up by the corporations. 

Using those maps, in December 2017, President Trump signed an order reducing Bears Ears by 85%. and dividing it into two separate monuments, Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument. This 15% that remained were the areas where the commercial interests, well, had no commercial interest.  This move was met with legal challenges from tribes and conservation groups who argued that the President did not have the authority to shrink a monument.  The legal battle over Bears Ears National Monument continued throughout the Trump administration. 

Then Joe Biden was elected and his administration indicated its intention to review the monument's boundaries and potentially restore them to their original size and a committee was formed to do that.  As of this writing in March of 2024, the fate of Bears Ears National Monument remains uncertain.  Its smaller size is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, with a focus on protecting cultural and natural resources. Hopefully it will be restored to its original size and management turned over to the Tribes as originally planned.

So, why am I telling you all of this?  Well, Goosencecks State Park marks the southern tip of Bears Ears National monument, and Natural Bridges is nestled inside of Bears Ears.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument (not to be confused with Arches National Park which is a totally different experience) is located in the western side of the Bears Ears National Monument about 50 miles Northwest of the Four Corners. 

It features three massive natural bridges carved from the white Permian sandstone of the Cedar Mesa Formation. The bridges are named Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo, all Hopi names.

The monument is also home to some of the darkest skies in the country, making it a great place for stargazing. In fact, Natural Bridges was designated the world's first "International Dark Sky Park" by the International Dark-Sky Association.

The park has a nice visitor center with real restrooms and an 8.7 mile loop drive mostly along the rim of the mesa you are on with around 9 parking areas at trailheads leading to viewpoints or down into the canyons.  There is also a nice picnic area with shaded tables as well as a campground.  Even though you can see some of the bridges after a short walk from the parking areas on a paved trail, the best views are if you hike down the trails to the canyon floor.  Due to physical limitations (we’re old) we opted to stay on the rim, but we did walk out to the view points at most of the stops.

Owachomo Bridge (1 min walk from parking lot)
Owachomo Bridge Overlook, Natural Bridges US-MonumentOwachomo Bridge Overlook, Natural Bridges US-Monument

Kachina Bridge from View point (4 min walk from parking lot)
Kachina Bridge Veiwpoint, Natural Bridges US-MonumentKachina Bridge Veiwpoint, Natural Bridges US-Monument

In addition to the bridges, the canyons themselves are also quite lovely.

Waterton Valley from Sipapu Overlook
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Waterton Valley from Sipapu Overlook
11 A7R5-#0599711 A7R5-#05997

As you wander around this park, from the various viewpoints and overlooks sometimes you stumble on some interesting rock formations, many times hiding in plain sight, maybe on the other side of the canyon, but sometimes closer at hand.

Beehive formation at Kochina Brige Overlook
13 A7R5-#0601113 A7R5-#06011

Mushroom formation at Kochina Bridge Overlook
Kachina Bridge Veiwpoint, Natural Bridges US-MonumentKachina Bridge Veiwpoint, Natural Bridges US-Monument

Parting Shot

The next day we started our trek back home to California from Gouldings at Monument Valley.  As most of this route was backtracking through areas we’d already explored on this trip as well as previous trips we opted to do this in just two long drives.  The first took us from Monument Valley to Barstow and then the next day from Barstow to Palo Alto.  As the first day would be 530 mile drive taking over 9 hours including a quick lunch stop in Williams we rose before dawn to get packed up and on the road.

Sunrise over Monument Valley from the front porch of our Cabin at Gouldings
16 A7R5-#0604216 A7R5-#06042



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Or, the whole 2023 Four Corners series I posted here (as they are created)


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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)


[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Bears Ears National Monument blog Butte dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogfourcorners2023 Forrest Gump Hill Goosenecks State Park Mesa Mexican Hat Mexican Hat Rock Monument Valley area Natural Bridges National Monument San Juan River Utah Valley of the gods https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/3/four-corners-04 Sat, 23 Mar 2024 17:48:41 GMT
Four Corners #03 - Monument Valley, Gouldings, and Moive Making https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/3/four-corners-03 October 2023 Trip

Four Corners October 2023 - #03 Monument Valley

This Four Corners series of articles is for a one week driving trip we took to the four corners area of the USA in October of 2023.  The main destinations on this trip were Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley with some other stops along the way. 

Entire Trip map
04 Map 1 - Full Trip04 Map 1 - Full Trip

In this article I’ll talk about Monument Valley and some more Navajo History.

Gouldings and Monument Valley
05 Map 4b - Monument Valley Day05 Map 4b - Monument Valley Day

On to Monument Valley

After leaving Chinle and Canyon de Chelly we headed almost due north to our next stop at Monument Valley.  This took us along 2 lane roads through the deserts of the Navajo Nation.  This is mostly flat scrub desert with isolated homesteads scattered around at great distances from each other.

Indian Rt 93 near Rough Rock
06 Rough Rock (Google)06 Rough Rock (Google) (Google Maps, Street view photo)

After a half hour or so, we gradually climbed out of a flat valley and more into red-rock country.  We could hardly tell that we were gaining elevation but the landscape started having Buttes and mesas which definitely indicated a change in elevation. 

NW of Many Farms
08 A7R5-#0554308 A7R5-#05543

Lone spire in a cataract canyon
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Eventually we went through the town of Kayenta before reaching our destination at Monument Valley.  Kayenta is not much more than a greasy smudge on the map with absolutely nothing going for it.  We were forced to find lodging there on a prior trip in 2011 and found that there were absolutely no redeeming qualities of the town.  The lodging options were dreadful and restaurant selections were even worse.  And, add to that it wasn’t even all that close to Monument Valley.  

The only other option for lodging, both then and, now is Gouldings (just outside the entrance to Monument Valley) and the View Inn (inside Monument Valley Tribal Park).  Unfortunately both Gouldings and the View Inn were fully booked in 2011 so we had to make do with Kayenta and deal with getting ourselves to the park in the pitch dark in order to be on time to meet our guide for a sunrise shoot in the park.  On that trip we swore to never make the mistake of staying in Kayenta again if we ever returned.  Even though Kayenta has since grown quite a bit with more lodging and eating options with new schools and parks, it’s still not the best choice if you are there to see Monument Valley.

From Kayenta you head north on US-163 and once you get near the turn off for Monument Valley, buttes and mesas start appearing all around you.  In essence you are on the top of a mesa where the soft sandstone of a once present higher mesa has eroded away leaving the harder rock “monuments” sticking out of the ground.  And, with Monument Valley as a prime example, the mesa you are on is in turn eroding way exposing a lower level leaving rock formations, or monuments, sticking up.  But this is going on all over the area, not just in the formal Park and you can see these things just driving along the highways.  Or, if you have 4WD for the sandy spots, the area is crisscrossed with dirt roads that are quite drivable if it’s dry.  The three photos below were taken from one of the dirt/sand side roads which was labeled tribal road 6410 in AZ.  In this case it was just a few miles past Gouldings Lodge.

11 A7R5-#0557511 A7R5-#05575

Possibly ‘Devils Palm”
TR-6431 SW of GouldingsTR-6431 SW of Gouldings

West & East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte (which are inside Monument Valley)
East Mitten, West Mitten and Merrick ButtesEast Mitten, West Mitten and Merrick Buttes Buildings in front of Merrick Butte (on the right) is the View Inn and visitor center complex

Gouldings & Movie Making

Having had the Kayenta experience, we made a point for this trip to book early.  But, even though we were booking in May for a mid October trip (which is way off peak season to boot) we were still too late to get a room in the View Inn.  It seems that large tour groups book all the View Inn rooms a year or more in advance.  But Gouldings still had vacancies and we booked a nice cabin in a new development with a kitchen (they didn’t have this cabin village back in 2011).  This put us within a mile or two of the entrance to the park.

Gouldings is a sprawling landmark fixture at Monument Valley with an old west theme.  It has a couple of rows of single story motel style rooms on a hillside so that even the rooms in the back row have a clear view of the landscape. They have a restaurant, museum in what was the original Gouldings house, theatre, and trading post.  Down the hill is a large gas station, much needed car wash, convenience store, air strip, laundramat, super market, and a cluster of around 50 standalone cabins on a slope so that they all have a view.  And a little bit up the road is an RV park tucked in a canyon to be out of the wind as well as a small USU (Utah State University) campus.

The story of Gouldings begins in the 1920s with a sheep trader named Harry Goulding and his wife Leone, nicknamed "Mike" for some unknown reason.  When looking for a place to settle down and build up a homestead, they were captivated by the majesty of nearby Monument Valley. As the Paiute reservation had relocated at that time, it left areas open for purchase.  So they seized the chance and bought a hunk of property in 1923.

Starting off in tents, they established a trading post to get things going, bartering with the local native people who traded handcrafted goods like rugs and jewelry for staples like sugar and flour and some manufactured goods. This early interaction laid the foundation for Gouldings' long-standing commitment to supporting the local Native American community.

Recognizing the tourism potential, the Gouldings expanded their operation with permanent buildings.  1928 saw the construction of a permanent wood house, now the Goulding's Trading Post Museum, and eventually, comfortable guest accommodations arose, forming the foundation of today's lodge.

Eagle Mesa from Gouldings Lodge parking lot
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But then the 1930s brought the Great Depression impacting their business.  By mid decade things looked pretty bleak for the Gouldings.  People were not coming to stay at their Inn or buy things in their store.  But Harry was a creative sort and realized that the movie industry had not been all that impacted by the depression and was going strong.  He figured that the scenery of Monument Valley would be a grand place to film westerns which were starting to show up in movie theaters.

Around that time their path crossed that of a fellow named Joseph Muench.  You photography folks should recognize that name.  Joseph was a German who had to flee Germany at the age of 27 in 1927 after hitting Adolf Hitler with a tomato during a speech (even though Hitler was surrounded by SS officers at the time).  After escaping Germany he worked in a Ford Motor Company factory.  Eventually he saved enough to afford a Model-A roadster and headed west landing in Santa Barbara near Los Angeles where he worked as a landscaper.  This was in 1930 and by this time he had become interested in photography and started making photographs.  Apparently he was pretty good at it as he sold his first commercial photograph the following year to Trailway’s Magazine.  He continued working as a professional photographer with the popular Arizona Highways Magazine where they were a regular customer of his work. 

In 1935 Joseph found his way to Monument Valley and stayed at Gouldings Lodge.  He immediately fell in love with the scenery and it became his favorite shooting location.  In short order, he and the Gouldings became fast friends.  So, when Harry came up with the idea to pitch the area to the movie industry, he called upon Joseph to provide photos.  Joseph produced a book of stunning black and white photos of Monument Valley for Harry to take to Hollywood.  With photo book in hand Harry headed off to Hollywood where he wangled a meeting with John Ford and showed him the photo book.

Harry's gambit paid off.  In 1938 John Ford filmed Stagecoach in Monument Valley.  The movie became a success, not only reviving the western genre but also permanently associating Monument Valley with classic Westerns and in the process sparking tourist business for Harry and Mike, saving their little enterprise. 

1939 “StageCoach” movie poster
16 Stagecoach Poster (www.movieposterdb.com)16 Stagecoach Poster (www.movieposterdb.com) Poster from www.movieposterdb.com

This marked the beginning of Monument Valley's ascent as a cinematic icon, with countless Westerns like "The Searchers" and "Fort Apache" following suit.  Each evening Gouldings offers a free showing of one of these movies in their little theater.  We saw Stagecoach with a very young John Wayne in a lead role with an equally young Andy Devine.  The cinematic beauty of the area still attracts movie makers to this day.  Some more recent movies that used Monument valley include Back to the future III,  Wild Wild West,  Lone Ranger (the Johnny Depp version), and A Million Ways to Die in the Old West.

During the filming of the many John Ford movies here, he treated the Native Americans quite well.  Even when not filming, he came back every 2 years and threw a big barbeque for the local population.  The film crews also treated the locals quite well with plenty of food on set and good working conditions in general.   Out Guide, tells:

One of the earliest films shot here was Stagecoach,  When the native people heard that John Wayne and John Ford were coming here to make a movie, they rode their horses from 50, 60, 70 miles away to be in the movie and be able to chase the cavalry and shoot bows and arrows.

Each of them was paid $20 for the day and that was a lot of money in those days.  You could buy almost anything for $20.  With $20 in your pocket you were a rich man.  And if it went for 2 or 3 days that money could last the whole year. 

And so they came out here with their horses.  But of course none of them could speak English and the film crew could not speak Navajo.  So with hand gestures and a word or two of English, it was just enough to get by.

In one of the movies they were told ‘OK, we want you to come charging out of that canyon on your horses and John Wayne is going to take a shot at you and one of you has to fall off your horse.  So, here they come charging out of the canyon go around the corner and John Wayne takes a shot and all four of them fall off their horse.  It’s still in the movie.  It was such a beautiful shot, they never took it out.

The grandfather of one of tour guides was in that movie.  If you have the movie and turn the volume way up you can hear the others watching the filming laugh like crazy.

That money that comes from filming, goes into an educational fund for Navajo kids who want to go to college.  My son was able to get one.  He went off to get his degree and has returned and now runs a Utah State off campus program here in the reservation. 

In about 3 years they’re going to build a University right here at an old high school.

But the Goulding’s vision wasn't limited to lodging and commerce. Appreciating the Navajo culture and land, they advocated for responsible tourism and respect for the environment.  This legacy continues through guided tours led by Navajo guides, offering deeper insights and access to restricted areas.

From Gouldings Lodge
Eagle Mesa from TR-421 by Gouldings LodgeEagle Mesa from TR-421 by Gouldings Lodge

Today, Gouldings stands as a historical landmark, inextricably linked to Monument Valley's story. It's not just a hospitality complex, but a testament to entrepreneurial spirit, cultural respect, and a deep connection to the land. With every visit, guests step into a place steeped in history, adventure, and the unique beauty of Monument Valley.  --- And it’s a nice place to stay.

Oljata Mesa (behind Gouldings Cabins)
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Seeing Monument Valley

The Navajo name for Monument Valley is “Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí Naʼashjéʼígíí” (at least according to a translate app I found) which means “Trails of the Wind”.  And, indeed, the constant swirling winds in the valley are largely responsible for carving the features of the park. 

Monument Valley is essentially a large box canyon with mesas scattered about which form visually stunning shapes.  But, even though Monument Valley is a tribal park (a Native American equivalent to a US National Park) underneath it all it is part of the Navajo Nation reservation and is Navajo Tribal land. 

Whereas National Parks prioritize the preservation of natural and historical resources for the public, Tribal Parks often have a deeper emphasis on cultural preservation, traditional land uses, and the continuation of tribal knowledge and practices connected to the land.  So, for example, other than park staff, individual families and commercial enterprises like farms, ranches, logging and mining are not permitted in National Parks.  But Navajo families do live in Tribal Parks where they have traditional farms, ranches and can make money providing services and selling crafts to tourists that are attracted to the park.  As an example, at the present time, 14 separate families live inside of Monument Valley Tribal Park.

The entrance to Monument Valley is on US-163 right where it crosses the Arizona-Utah boarder halfway between Kayenta and Mexican Hat.  At the turn off from US-163 to the park entrance is a brand new Navajo Welcome Center.  It looks like it was built within the last year or so.  Thinking this was the Monument Valley visitor center we stopped to get some information and use the restroom.  The museum area had literally nothing in it.  There was a walk up window where you could ask questions but they had no maps or for that matter not much info on the park either.  Maybe they were just ramping up the facility and hadn’t really gotten it going yet.  But the bathrooms were very good.

From here, you get into the park by turning east at a round-a-bout.  Gouldings would be turning west at this round-a-bout.  Three miles down this road is the pay gate where you get a map and then you are at the main parking area for the View Inn, the park Visitor center, large gift shop and a restaurant.  This area is right on the rim looking over the valley.

There are 3 ways to see Monument Valley beyond what can be seen from US-163 to the north of the park (we’ll see this in the next installment).  The first is that you can just go out on the large patio by the gift shop on the rim of the canyon on look over the edge.  This is a great spot for getting a late afternoon shots of East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte or a sunrise shot putting those buttes in silhouette. 

 East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte at sunset from rim (2011)
West, East and Merrick Buttes, Monument ValleyWest, East and Merrick Buttes, Monument Valley

 East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte at sunset from Patio (2023)
West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte'sWest Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte's

But you didn’t come all this way to stand on a paved patio looking over the rim. 

So, this brings us to method 2 for seeing the park.  If you have a reasonably high clearance vehicle there is a 15 mile self driving scenic drive with numbered stops annotated on the map you got at the pay gate.  OK, let’s get real here.  The first quarter mile is terrible driving.  Our guide said that there is talk of paving some of the drive and hopefully this would be the part they pave.  This is the section that descends from the upper mesa to the valley floor through a series of switch backs.  This is said to be a dirt/gravel road but mostly it was a boulder strewn, pot hole laden affair.  If you take this at more 3 or 4 MPH you’re going too fast if you want to have any suspension left when you’re done.  It’s pretty wide with plenty of room for two way traffic (of which there is usually a lot) and when there is no oncoming traffic you can delude yourself into thinking you can move over and find a smoother part to drive on – there is none.  Make sure your seat belt is tight because you’ll be banging against your doors with each bump and divot.  OK, I paint a pretty bleak picture but a regular car, driven carefully should have no problem.  A rough ride but the car should be capable of doing it unless it’s a low slung ‘sporty’ model which is likely to bottom out quite often.  If you have a trailer with you on your trip, leave it in the parking lot up on top.  I would also not try it in any RV bigger than a camper van.

But once you get to the valley floor things get much better.  It’s still a dirt road but now it is mostly compacted dirt and in some places gravel.  You can actually get up to 20 mph in spots with no problem.  There are 11 marked ‘stops’ which you can follow along with on the map.  Each stop has a large graded parking lot and some have trails if you’re in the mood for hiking.  However, I don’t think we ventured more than a hundred yards from our vehicle at any of them. The first 5 or so miles is two way traffic, but then there is a one way loop that circles Rain God Mesa so be sure to keep track of which part you’re on so you don’t inadvertently go against one way traffic.

Many of the main features are included on this scenic drive.  On our first visit we did this route in our 2WD Volvo station wagon laden with camping gear.  On this trip we did the drive in our 4WD Volvo XC70 which is a cross between a station wagon and a mid size SUV.  We left the rim about 9:00 am and got back to the rim around 11:00 AM. 

Self driving loop map
15 Map 4c - Monument Valley Loop Drive15 Map 4c - Monument Valley Loop Drive (map from www.truckcamperadventure.com

The third method of seeing the park is with a Navajo Guide.  These guided tours usually cover the same 15 mile self driving route but also go off into the back country where many of the more interesting park features are located.  These tours can be canned group tours that are offered at set times and durations throughout the day or you can book a private tour.  The group tours, especially in peak season, are in open vehicles but some can be found in enclosed SUV’s.  Be aware though that the driving is on very dusty and sandy tracks through the desert and much of that dust and sand envelopes those folks in the open vehicles.  So, if you have any notion of taking a camera with you – which of course you will – it’s either going to spend a lot of time in your camera bag or will be covered in dust within a few minutes.  Also note that it can be quite hot or quite cold depending on the time of year and time of day which may become quite uncomfortable in an open vehicle.  The private tours can be booked for a closed SUV. 

There are a dozen or so companies which offer tours including Gouldings Lodge, The View Inn and dozens of other companies and independents.  After a day or two on Google reading web sites and emailing back and forth we opted for a private SUV tour with “Monument Valley Safari” (https://monumentvalleysafari.com/ ).  Our guide on this private tour was a Navajo elder named Don Mose who not only told us about the scenery but also told us all sorts of stories about the area, its people and personal experiences.  I’ll scatter some of these throughout this article and put a long “Grandpa’s Origin Story” at the end – more or less as an “extra”. 

Here’s what the website says about Don Mose:

A respected elder, educator and ambassador of the Navajo Tribe, Don Mose has made significant contributions in fostering the Navajo culture through his involvement in developing the Rosetta Stone Diné Bizaad course and the Navajo Language Curriculum for the San Juan School District.

He considers Mother Nature the master artist of Monument Valley. The Diné (Navajo People) have an old saying, “Beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty above me, and beauty below me.”  This is called the “Beauty Way,” or Hózhó – a Navajo concept of striving to live in balance and harmony; spiritually, physically and mentally.

Through his knowledge and understanding of Navajo lore and ceremonies, Don shares a deep and important message with his visitors. His passionate storytelling leaves his guests inspired and asking for more.

On our ‘inside the park’ day, we decided to use the morning doing the 15 mile self driving loop, have a picnic lunch back at the valley overlook by the View Inn and then do the private guided tour from around 3:00 pm to sunset followed by dinner in the View Inn Restaurant.  What follows is a combination of what we saw on the 15 mile loop and the private tour.  A map of our entire route is at the top of this article.

It should be noted that you are only allowed beyond the 15 mile scenic drive, into what they call the backcountry, if you are with a Navajo guide.  Once you leave the Loop Drive the roads are just 1 car wide and are in many places quite sandy.  It is not uncommon for tourists who don’t think the rules apply to them to get stuck in the back country even though they are in expensive 4WD SUV’s or pickup trucks. Having 4WD is important but that by itself, without knowing where the soft spots are is not enough. 

East & West Mitten Butte

The first stop on the loop drive is the East and West Mitten Butte view point.  From here you get the same view direction as from the rim but from a lower angle.  According to ChatGPT, the Navajo names for these are  "Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii" (East Mitten Butte) and "Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaií" (West Mitten Butte).  But our guide later in the day told us that the Navajo called them "nłįįʼ yiłbah." Meaning “Hands of the Giant”.  The story goes that John Wayne couldn’t pronounce nłįįʼ yiłbah so the film crew started calling them East and West Mitten Buttes and those names stuck.

From here there are trails to each of the two mittens.  From right by the parking area there are many opportunities for finding foreground elements to enhance your images. 

West and East mitten butte from stop 1 on the loop drive
Monument Valley, AZMonument Valley, AZ

East mitten butte framed in a dead tree
West Mitten Butte with treeWest Mitten Butte with tree

West Mitten Butte with two different foreground elements
22 A7R5-#05731, #05740 diptich22 A7R5-#05731, #05740 diptich

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters (stop 3 on the loop drive) are three 1,000 foot tall spires in a row at the end of Mitchell Mesa.  These naturally eroded figures are said to resemble a Mother Superior, a Sister (nun), and a tiny novice with a veil proceeding toward the bulky cathedral (Mitchell Mesa).

Three Sisters
Three SistersThree Sisters

Indian Gold and Silver Story

When the Spanish were occupying the area it is no secret that the Natives used to raid their wagon trains and settlements.  Mostly they were after horses, rifles and cooking utensils.  But legend has it that in one raid they found a chest full of gold and silver jewelry that probably belonged to the Franciscans, which of course they took.  They had never seen these metals before and didn’t quite know what to think about them or what to do with the stuff.  So, they melted the objects down and made beads out of them and gave them to their women.  Later when the soldiers came to remove the Indians from the land they noticed all these silver and gold necklaces being worn by the Navajo women and they started asking questions about where they got the gold and silver.  The women told their men that some of the low ranking soldiers had been asking about the gold and silver so the men (supposedly) gathered it all up and hid all the jewelry out in a nearby valley.  From that time on, fortune seekers have searched high and low for this treasure but none has ever been found.  But due to this legend, that valley is now known as Mystery Valley since it’s a mystery where they hid the treasure.

Artist Point and North Window viewpoints

These are two stops on the loop drive with similar views across long distances to the North into the lower valley with an array of monuments, buttes, mesas, and spires.  On the map they give you Artists Point is labeled “Navajo Code Talker Outpost” but I did not see anything there pertaining to the Code Talkers.  These two locations are good both early in the day and in late afternoon when you have that golden side light.  On our trip we were at these two viewpoints around noon so did not experience the low angle light.

View from Artists Point
Monument Valley from Artist's PointMonument Valley from Artist's Point

View from North Window Overlook
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Indian Warrior, Snoopy, and The Rooster

Even though many park features have traditional names going back perhaps hundreds of years, over time, tourists have come up with modern names for various rock formations.  They have posted these names online making them become more and more popular for others visiting the area to ask to see.  Here are a few.

Indian Warrior
Indian WarriorIndian Warrior

Snoopy Rock (laying on the top of his dog house)
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The Rooster
The Rooster, Monument ValleyThe Rooster, Monument Valley

Pictographs and Petroglyphs

As we’ve discussed, pictographs are painted on and petroglyphs are carved in and Monument Valley has lots of them.  Just like today, where many people live, there is an urge to draw on walls.  Today we call this graffiti but back in the old days it was more story telling and the leaving of an historical record of who lived here, what animals were around and how they conducted daily life.  In almost every case, where you find a bunch of this rock art they also find evidence that there were houses or a village there as well. 

For years archeologists were puzzled as to how the Native peoples were able to create some of their rock art so high on the canyon walls.  Some thought the land had been higher and had since eroded away.  Others thought they repelled on ropes from above or had very tall ladders (even though wood to make them would have been extremely scarce).  However, today it has become more apparent that there had been houses built up against the canyon walls, some being 3 or even 4 stories high and they just stood on the roof to create the rock art.

In rock art of this area, a hand print symbolizes a clan group that lived there.  Near the hand print are other symbols that show which clan group it was (e.g. Tonal Clan, Turtle Clan, Snake Clan, etc.)  Ripples tend to symbolize canyons or a snake.  Stick figures that sometimes look like aliens are shamans or medicine men.

Petroglyphs, Monument ValleyPetroglyphs, Monument Valley

When the Navajo arrived, the Zuni noticed that they planted their corn in a weird way.  Rather than planning in rows, they planted corn in a big spiral which they found particularly “foreign”.  As such they kept calling these newcomers “the nava” which in their language means “culturally different” and that is where the name “Navajo” comes from – “They that cultivate differently”.  And, you see this in Navajo pictographs all over the place.  A spiral pictograph means “we farmed here”.  It also means “good land for farming” and if there is an animal nearby it means “we also raised that type of animal”.   Two spirals connected with a line or symbol in the middle means that “we stayed here and didn’t migrate away”.  On the other hand a spiral with 1 line next to it that doesn’t connect to anything means that we farmed here but we left the area.

No, this is not a goat on wheels. Two spirals with line and goat between means: We lived and farmed here and raised goats and did not migrate to someplace else.
Petroglyphs, Monument ValleyPetroglyphs, Monument Valley

The Navajo call themselves Dine and use the symbol of 2 diamonds touching each other which I’m sure you’ve seen woven in blankets or painted on pottery.  “di” means Father Sky (the heavens). “ne” means Mother Earth. Human beings are where the two meet (the tips of the 2 triangles that touch).  A Double diamond represents male/female, earth/heaven, harmony, equality, balance.

Diamond patterns in Navajo artwork
39 Navajo Designs39 Navajo Designs (Google search screen shot)

The symbol for family is a hand print.  In a hand print the thumb represents yourself.  The Index finger is your mom (most important and next to you – lineage follows females), middle finger is your father (usually from a different clan group), ring finger is maternal grandmother and pinky is maternal grandfather.  So when they shake hands it is a spiritual greeting with your whole family touching their whole family. In old movies, Indians are shown greeting others by raising their hand in the air (and saying “how”).  Showing the hand in this way is saying “I’m greeting you with my whole family”

If you see 5 marks in stone, it represents a foot print that means “we heading in that direction” – sort of like a forwarding address

Big Hogan

Big Hogan is a large concave erosion in a butte which forms an amphitheater complete with a hole in the top.  Local guides will point out patterns and formations in the rock resembling a large eagle, a bear and a Navajo Man.  But even if you can’t visualize these things the scale of the dome you are in is impressive.  Many of the more talented guides will play a flute or sing a Navajo song here taking advantage of the superb acoustics. 

Big Hogan Arch
Big Hogan Arch #2, Monument ValleyBig Hogan Arch #2, Monument Valley

Sun’s Eye

The Sun’s eye arch is another alcove in the side of a butte with a hole at the top. 

Sun’s Eye Arch
Sun's Eye Arch #2, Monument ValleySun's Eye Arch #2, Monument Valley

More Navajo History

We saw before that the Anasazi came to the area around 600 AD and then between 1275 AD and 1300 AD they vanished.  Well, according to our guide that isn’t exactly true.  From an archeology perspective the record of new buildings being constructed stopped and other evidence of inhabitation also disappeared from the fossil and artifact record.  Then, due to many reasons, when interviews were conducted with Navajo elders by historians and scientists, as there is no hard evidence, they chalked up what the Navajo told them to being “legend” and “myth” and that’s how they wrote about it in the literature.  So, when the Navajo told them that the Anasazi didn’t just vanish, but rather due to extreme drought they migrated to higher ground where water wasn’t as scarce it was described as myth, legend, and fairytale.  But those Anasazi who left became the Hopi, Zuni, Taos, Acoma and other Indian populations.  But not the Navajo who had a different origin story (see addendum at end of this article).  The Anasazi clans that had made Monument Valley their home went East into what is now Mesa Verde.

Ear of the Wind

This is one of the most photographed features in the Monument Valley back country.  The reason is that there’s this dead tree forming a “Y” shape that you can use to frame the hole.  In order to get this shot you have to climb a small hill then scoot your butt a few feet up onto a sloping rock to get the hole perfectly framed in the notch of the tree.   In fact this shot is so popular a photo to take that some enterprising guide carved a big “X” into the rock right where you should put your butt in order to get this shot.  I guess in the peak tourist season having this “X” there speeds the queue of people up quite a bit.

Ear of the Wind from “X” marks the spot
Ear of the Wind #1, Monument ValleyEar of the Wind #1, Monument Valley

Of course that isn’t the only angle you can use to photograph the hole with the tree.  For example, on our 2011 trip, before the appearance of the “X” I framed the shot a bit differently.

Different framing of same scene
Ear of the Wind, Monument ValleyEar of the Wind, Monument Valley

Or, you can walk on over to the arch itself and clamber up the sand dune at its base.

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Boarding School

In the late 1800’s the US government decided that the best way to deal with ‘the Indian problem’ was to turn them into white Americans by forcible indoctrination into American Culture and stripping them of their own culture.  This idea got into full swing in 1887 with the enactment of the ‘Compulsory Indian Education Act’ which funded boarding schools and fostered the removal of children from their families and communities. By the 1920’s there were over 60,000 kids in these far distant schools whose primary goal was cultural assimilation.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the program began to be dismantled and the last school was closed in 1972. 

These schools were poorly run prison like affairs where there was little regard for the well being of the kids.  Reports are now being verified of wide spread disease, terrible living conditions, inadequate food, almost non existent healthcare, and physical abuse.  Numbers are still being researched but some researchers estimate that considering all 408 such schools, upwards of 40,000 children died while attending these schools.

One of the stories Don (our guide) told us was about his personal boarding school experience.  Kids from his area were sent to schools in Phoenix, California, Brigham City, and Kansas.  He was sent to the one in Phoenix. He says,

 They were run like a military school.  It was horrible.  Once you got there, they cut your hair and told you it was forbidden to speak your language, perform ceremonies, or talk about home.  Of course you couldn’t talk to other kids since none of them spoke English and you were not allowed to speak your own language.

My sister went off to the Apache country, there was this boarding school there (White River).  Our little sister also went there and never returned.  They say she died of an illness.  And, now they’ve found that lots of them were killed.

Unlike others, when I went to boarding school, I knew just a bit of English.  When they put me in a classroom situation they thought I was retarded or something.  I wasn’t handicapped, I just didn’t understand the words but they thought I was slow mentally so they put me in a special Ed program.

They gave me a big old puzzle to solve and used a stop watch to see how long it would take to put it together.  I just put it together in no time and he just looked at me and thought I had cheated.  So he gave me one a little harder – try that one.  We went through 3 progressively harder and harder puzzles and I did them all in very little time.  He went back to the principal and said, ‘He’s not handicapped.  He’s not mentally deficient.  He just doesn’t understand English”

Both my parents went to Boarding School but they valued what they went through.  Because when they returned they were the only two in the village that spoke any English.  And, so when the new way of life started, they were right there at the pickup of everything because they did the interpreting.  They wrote letters.  They helped run new programs that were coming in like the Post Office, and things like that.  They were the ones that taught me that you can have both worlds.  You can learn from both worlds.  My mom was that way, she valued both worlds.  You always go through hardship but you learn from that. 

My son didn’t have to go to boarding school, he went to schools right here.  With a university coming here soon they have no more excuse but to be educated.

A lot of them that went off to get a degree, got so gung-ho that off they went in every direction.  But, two years later, here they come back to their homeland.  It’s a culture shock living and working in non native areas.  I mean coming from a place like this to the big city is just too much of a change.

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei

These features in the back country have been used in many movies. Here’s another little story from our Guide, Don, 

“One time I had an elderly German woman who wanted to see this area.  I took her to one of the high points where you could see much of this area. And she said, “I’ve been waiting all of my life to come out here.  Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to come out here.  I had all these John Wayne movies.”  She pointed and said “That’s where John Wayne came out and the Indians came from over there”.  She had memorized every bit of this place from all those movies.”

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei
Totem Pole & Yei Bichei #2, Monument ValleyTotem Pole & Yei Bichei #2, Monument Valley

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei #1, Monument ValleyTotem Pole & Yei Bichei #1, Monument Valley

Totem Pole
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As you roam around Monument Valley in early morning or late afternoon light, the low angle sunlight projects shadows of one feature onto another making for interesting visual impressions.

Near “The Thumb”
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Near John Ford Point
Shadow on Snoopy RockShadow on Snoopy Rock

Merrick Butte
Shadow on Merrick Butte, Monument ValleyShadow on Merrick Butte, Monument Valley

ADDENDUM:  Grandpa and Navajo Origin Story

Our guide, Don, told us this story about the origins of the Navajo people. It is quite long with no corresponding photos so I put it down here at the end.  It is a good story involving a trip to Russia and some interesting information about connections to other places you may find surprising.  Here it is, in his own words

My grandfather who never went to school, didn’t have a word of English, and never left Indian land says, 'There's no Indian come from here, not even them [meaning the Anasazi or Hopi]'.

But I'm a small boy and I ask, well grandpa where do we come from?  ‘We come from the 'under world. The dark world, the blue world’. 

But I don't understand that, the Dark world?.  ‘Yes, the underworld. We once knew a group of people called ba-dah-de-deh which means they that stayed or we left them behind’ 

But I'm too young to understand the words.  Then grandpa says we also knew another group of people called Al-as-kai.  What does that sound like?  Alaska.

Exactly, Alaska. This word is interpreted in Navajo as 'They that went further'.  That's what Alaska means in our language - 'They that went further.'  So the word Alaska is actually a Navajo word.  In this case referring to the migration across the Bearing land bridge into the northwest part of the continent but rather than staying there 'we went further' - to what is now the Four Corners area of the US.

And grandpa said those people in Alaskai are called Na-din-eh which means another Navajo.  And that's what they call us all the way up in Canada "another group of Navajo".  But Alaska is not even near Four Corners. And, grandpa knew that.  But I don't understand at all I'm too young.

Well I grew up with that and I never argued with grandpa.

Years and years later [after attending boarding school] away from Navajo land I returned back home with education under my belt.  By that time the young people were losing the language and culture.  They wore their hats backwards, had baggy pants and had nothing to do with the language or culture. 

My job was to bring back language and culture.  'You're an educated indian now'.  You better get a school going to teach these kids the Navajo language and culture because you're an educated Indian now.  But, I don't even know how to read or write Navajo, let alone teach anyone. They told me that didn't matter as I knew how to speak Navajo and they put me in place with no qualifications.

So I went to work. But it wasn't long before I was ready to give up on these kids?  Lo and behold here comes a computer program called "Rosetta Stone".   Well, that was a way to learn language by using a computer.  So I said, well that's where the kids are.  I'm gonna see if the Navajo language and culture are in that computer.  That's the way the kids are learning to be sure.  And, it got so popular that one day my boss calls and he said Don. “How would you like take this program to Moscow Russia?

What in the world are the Russian people gonna do with Navajo language and Navajo culture?  Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, there's a group of people in Siberia, way up north who are losing their language. They're losing their culture.  They want to know what native people here are doing to preserve our language and culture here in our country.  Okay, we think you’ve got something going here that they could use. Take it. We'll pay your way. We'll give you college credit.  But you gotta go in December.  To Siberia.

Well, I've barely ever been out of the 4 Corners area let along out of the country in my life but what an opportunity.  So away I went to Moscow.  From Moscow they sent me off to Siberia.  Moscow to Siberia is like a flight from here in Arizona to New York City. That's how far Siberia is.  Yeah, there I was on the other side of the world. 

These people were coming to this small village called Khazim. Here they come and I'm looking at these people and I swear they were called the 'hunty' the 'montage' the 'kite' but are better known as the reindeer people. Here they come and I look at those people. I thought, that one sure looks like Aunt Louise.  Oh, it’s old Uncle Henry over there.  They look like Native [American Indian] people even though they had a very light completion because the sun doesn't shine much in Siberia. 

Well, here they came and I thought how am I going to introduce myself?  I'm standing there and I look at these people and decided I'm going to do this the old ancient way, by my clan group.  That's why our people put their hand prints on the walls, leaving a spiritual greeting to those that pass behind.  So I say "she-re- Don Mose. United States of America" followed by [in Navajo], "I greet you with my family" and held up my hand with palm facing them.

Well, I'll be darned, there was an elderly lady that came up to me and said, “Well I belong to the stone clan and also belong to the bear clan".

The bear clan are the Apache.  Adopted to the Apache are the Navajo. Navajo and Apache are the same people.  We speak the same language.  They speak a quicker tongue, just like Spanish from Spain vs. Mexico. And here they are, on the other side of the world.

I say, well how do you say sky in your language? We say 'a-kous' they say 'a-kous'. I asked how they say something is sweet and they say "su-kun" and we say "su-kun". The words are almost identical.  On the other side of the world we use the same words.  Suddenly my thoughts went back to Four Corners and grandpa, ‘We once knew a group of people, the ones we left behind'.  He does not speak English. He never went to school.  ‘We come from the underworld the dark world’.  He's really saying 'we come from the other side'.  We now know the world is round, not flat, but how did he know that?

Now take a look at this.  This is why native people are misunderstood.  They're trying to tell you the two are the same. Well, here we are in the Four Corners, and there is Siberia. Along the way between the two, I'll be darned, is Alaska.  Over 10,000 years ago, my gosh, you could walk into Alaska from Siberia, right?  This is only 60 miles, right?  You can see from here to there.  Scientists say, they went one direction'. Oh no, we went back and forth and scientists are just now beginning to figure that out.  But old grandpa, he knew it because he said 'the ones that went further'. It was back and forth.

If you and I, all of us went on to Australia. Where have we been?  Down and under.  That's the same theory grandpa is using to say we went that went further.  But I didn't understand that until I was educated and became aware of where Siberia and Alaska and Four Corners were.  That's important, why keeping education is keeping your culture.  If we all know one another's culture, we get along a whole lot better because we're pretty much all the same. 

Oh my goodness. Look at what this world is missing.  We fight over simple things. If we could just understand one another's Culture we probably get along the whole lot better. If I didn't learn from the white people…

Along with most Native American kids I was sent to boarding school.  It was horrible to be at boarding school, but there was a purpose for it.  So that I can have two worlds.

My culture, the anglo side of it, oh my gosh, I make a living out of that now because I have two worlds.  I didn't drop the other one. It made me better to appreciate it, especially standing on the other side of the world when that woman touched me on the shoulder.  Well, I think I understand. It totally changed my whole life.

Well, what happened is when there was this land bridge, there's ocean, water now, and it's how we crossed into Alaskai.  So, I went there. Those people heard that I was coming to Alaska and said, you're people and our people, we have the same name.  Come over here.  We found something you'd be interested in. I went and they took me over to a glacier. Well, yeah, it had been frozen solid but with recent melting they were able to begin to excavate down there.  They found bone tools, they found arrowheads, they found corrals, where a group of people once lived.

But before that, they kept saying there was already a group of people that once lived in the glacier.  But nobody believed them until it started to melt.  I'm standing there while they were excavating. 

I said, well, what happened?  He said, well, how can you live in the ice.  We tried to tell them for years that the Navajo's once lived in the glacier, but nobody believed us.  Grandpa already knew that.

Well, now.  I said, the Navajo lived here?  Yes they said.

So what happened, I asked?  A volcano erupted in White River Alaska!  "Boom" we're talking about 10,000 years ago.  When the ashes finally settled, four to five feet of ash settled and you could not live there anymore. That's what triggered the migration of the native people out of Alaska.

Away we went again, and here we come, we had a destiny.  It's like this pandemic, it's changing our whole world.  Ever since this disease came in, everything, boom, like a volcano, it's changing always.  There's something that has got to be renewed. 

Look at what Grandpa said. “There's going to be one more time in migration”

One day, we moan and groan about people coming into this country.  It's already happening from South America.  Well, I'll be darned, my people are lined up with these people.  We arrived here in 1600.  By that time these people were already gone.  Well, where in the world did they come from?  Grandpa said they didn't come from here.  No. Well, look, down here is South America.  The Aztec, the Maya, lined up with the Four Corners area.  They come from South America.  That's why they already knew how to make pottery. They first got here. they were great astrologers, and they built homes.  Everything the Anasazi have is like the Mayan style.  They come from South America to here.

Now, if you look clear beyond this side of the world, I'll be darned.  There's another group of people that look just like our native people.  They do sand painting.  They have sacred mountain stories, river stories.  They do weaving.  Their land, this is amazing, the latitude lines up with four corners. The Mongolian people.

So what are we looking at?  A connection here and a connection this way in the center.  Ah, that big spiral.  You see it everywhere.  These people had a destiny.  When they say sacred mountain, they're not talking about a pile of dirt.  It's sacred to them because I'll bet you anything that they are lined up with the stars. They were doing things like the Egyptian people.  You see, father sky, mother earth, and human beings are the centerpiece.  So that's why Navajo wear their hair style in a hair bun that's round and ties here.  It's that same diamond shape and if you fold it, it becomes a pyramid Like the Egyptian.

Well, grandpa's gone, the songs are gone.  He sang about it.  But I have knowledge.  I remember some of the songs. [sings a song in Navajo language] that tells story of how I journeyed till I found the sacred mountains.  So when you have that knowledge, you don't quit there.  It's in the smoke, it's in the air but with no written language it becomes a ceremony.

So I decided I'm going to do my DNA, spitting into a tube.  Not because I don't believe in grandpa, but I wanted to learn.  And away it went and I'll be darned.  Two months later it finally shows up.  It shows that I have 11% Asian blood.  Grandpa was right on the button that we come from the underworld - the other side.  He's talking about Asia.  But he can't say it.  He didn't know they had the word for it. 

That's why I think we're misunderstood.  Because he was trying to tell the whole world, this is our identity.  Nobody has a print like your thumb, they already knew about it.  This is so important to your hand.  How you greet people.  How you do things in a circle?  How you unite and stay united together.  It's human being.

If you and I, we put our hand prints in the sand, you won't see color, but you see human beings.  That's what native people have been trying to stress, but it's in the ceremony.  It's right under the nose but they haven't figured it out. 

Today in the Grand Canyon.  They're looking at pictographs like this, as I did.  They're well, well schooled people.  They're saying, hey, this doesn't look at all like the old Anasazi, but it does look like something what we saw in the pyramids in Egypt.  They found pottery which was very much like the Egyptian style down in the Grand Canyon.  They found caves.  Long before they even came up here, they looked in caves and looked at the artifacts.  My goodness.  Egyptian style there too.  The native people already knew about it.  So they came down and excavated these caves, and they said, forget it.  Too ridiculous.  Just close it down and don't let it out.  And today it's closed. 

But Grandpa, you can't keep that away from Grandpa.  He already knew it.  He said, well, yeah, these are what we call 'they who started a way of life'.  And then another group came, 'they who came and left too'.  Then the Anasazi, the small people he called them, then [garbled audio] they're the oldest tribe in the United States today.  We know who these people are.  Is he saying that Egypt people were the first ones here in America in the United States?  That's a whole new ball game. If they let that out they change the whole history of the world.  That's what they're afraid of.



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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)


[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Anasazi Aritst Point Veiw Big Hogan blog Butte dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogfourcorners2023 Ear of the Wind East Mitten Butte Goulding Lodge Gouldings Harry Goulding Indian boarding Schools Indian Warrior Rock John Ford Kayenta Merrick Butte Mesa Monument Valley Monument Valley Tribal Park Movies making in Monument Valley Mystery Canyon Legend Navajo Culture Navajo in Alaska Navajo Nation Navajo Origin Story North Window View Petroglyphs Pictographs Pictographs and Petroglyphs Snoopy Roch Stagecoach Sun's Eye The Rooster The Three Sisters Totem Pole & Yei Bichei West Mitten Butte https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/3/four-corners-03 Sun, 10 Mar 2024 01:08:42 GMT
Four Corners #02 - Navajo, Canyon de Chelly https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/1/four-corners-02 October 2023 Trip

Four corners October 2023 - #02 Canyon de Chelly and Chinle

This Four Corners series of articles is for a one week driving trip we took to the four corners area of the USA.  The main destinations on this trip were Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley with some other stops along the way. 

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

In this article I’ll talk about the Navajo Nation, the Navajo people , the Navajo WWII Code Talkers, Canyon de Chelly, the Anasazi as well as some other tribes that call the four corners area home, and Indian trading posts..

Three Days in Chinle Area
03 Map 3 - Chinle Days03 Map 3 - Chinle Days

Navajo Nation

This trip took us into the heart of the Navajo Nation which is mostly in the northeast corner of Arizona, in the Four Corners region where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet.  The reservation covers over 27,000 square miles and is the largest tribal land in the country.  If it were a state, its area would put it half way between West Virginia and South Carolina making it bigger than 10 other states (RI, DE, CT, HI, NJ, MA, NH, VT, MD, WV).  It is estimated that over 300,000 people call it home. 

Navajo Nation (with the Hopi Reservation insdie it)
01 Map 8 Navajo Nation01 Map 8 Navajo Nation

Like other tribal reservations in the US, the Navajo Nation operates as a sovereign nation with its own government which includes an elected president, vice president, and a legislative branch.  And like other sovereign nations, including the US, politics are messy.  As it turns out, the Navajo are one of the few tribes with no casinos.  According to our guide, it seems that an ex president of the Navajo Nation was publicly opposed to gambling in the tribal area  due to gambling’s negative impact on society, while at the same time embezzling the cash the tribe had been accumulating – much of it ear marked for economic development such as building casinos.  I wonder of those two things are related?  Nothing much was ever proven but much of the money that could have been used to build a Navajo casino was gone.  Now though they have new leadership and the discussion of casino building is back on the table.

The Navajo Nation is home to remarkable landscapes and cultural sites including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and the Painted Desert. These areas attract visitors from around the world and contribute to the local economy.  But not nearly enough to lift it out of poverty.

The tribal government owns all the land and leases it to residents for different purposes.  Let’s say you lease a dozen acres for a home.  You pay an annual Homestead fee (tax).  Then, if you want to raise a few sheep, you need a “livestock” permit which is an additional annual fee.  And, if you want to sell jewelry out of your front yard, yep another fee for that.  But, to prevent speculation or hoarding of land, all leased land must be in use for its leased purpose or the lease is forfeited.

Young Navajo relative of our tour guide.
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But, even so, homesteads of Navajo have stayed in the same clan for dozens of generations being handed down from generation to generation.  In the Navajo culture, land “ownership” follows the woman’s side of the family.  According to custom, Navajo rarely sell or otherwise give up their rights to their land as that is considered stealing the land from their descendents (current and future). 

Navajo Code Talkers

One thing that has fascinated me ever since I heard about it are the World War II Navajo Code Talkers.  While conducting wars being able to communicate with and between all of your far flung battle fronts is critical to success.  And keeping the enemy from intercepting and understanding those communications is equally important.  In the days before “data” over the air capability this was limited to either voice (telephone or radio) or a binary code such as the dot-dash Morris Code system.  Of course now days it’s all satellite encrypted telecommunication.  But before that what was one to do? 

Well, the answer was to use some sort of code in those communications.  This is so important that all militaries put a great deal of effort into creating “unbreakable” codes while at the same time employing hundreds of people and technology to break the codes of the enemy.  But developing a good code is not simple.  First of all someone in every platoon, ship and air force squadron needs to be able to translate messages, and that’s a lot of people that have to know how the code works.  Another factor is that the process of encoding and decoding messages must be speedy.  It doesn’t do much good to tell a gun battery where an enemy ship is if it takes so long to code and de-code the message that the ship is no longer there once the message is decoded.  And coding and de-coding must be error free and should not require any sort of machine or written keys or instructions that can find their way into enemy hands.  That’s a pretty tall order for a good code.

Navajo WWII Code Talkers
National WWII Museum, New Orleans, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/american-indian-code-talkersNational WWII Museum, New Orleans, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/american-indian-code-talkers
National WWII Museum, New Orleans

Due to these requirements, the best (pre computer) codes were based on a spoken language that was not generally known outside of a small area owned by your side.  It is also true that no matter what you devise, it will eventually be broken.  If it’s good it will last the entire war but all codes tend to be compromised either during or shortly after the end of each war and can’t be used again. 

During World War I, the Choctaw language was used in the transmission of secret tactical messages. It was instrumental in a successful surprise attack against the Germans.  Due to this, after the war Germany and Japan sent students to the United States to study Native American languages including Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche in preparation for the next war.  So, understandably the U.S. military was uneasy about using Indian based languages as a base for codes when World War II came along. They were afraid the code would be easily cracked, but that was before they learned about the complexity of Navajo. 

In 1942, Philip Johnston read an article about an armored division in Louisiana that was attempting to come up with another code. Johnston grew up learning the Navajo language and customs as he spent most of his childhood on a Navajo reservation while his parents served there as missionaries.  He became so fluent in the language that at age 9 he was asked to serve as an interpreter for a Navajo delegation sent to Washington, D.C., to lobby for Indian rights. He thought that Navajo would be perfect for a new unbreakable code.

Johnston pitched his idea to the Marine Corps and in spite of concerns about using a code based on a Native American language, they decided to give it a go.. They approved a pilot project to develop a code based on the Navajo language and Johnston recruited 29 volunteers to get it going.  The code was based on word association, where they would substitute bird names for different classes of aircraft and then the Navajo word for that bird was used in the message.   For example, a dive bomber was a chicken hawk which exhibited a similar behavior so was easy to remember.  The Navajo word for chicken hawk is “gini” which is what was put in the message.  A bomber became a buzzard or in Navajo “Jay-Sho” and so on.  They used other word substitutes for other words or phrases common in military communications.  A battleship was a whale, a destroyer a shark, Etc.  The initial code consisted of 211 words which during the course of the war expanded to 411.  For everything else each English letter of the alphabet was assigned a Navajo word for an animal.  For example and an ant was the letter “a” and a bear was the letter “b”.  A string of the Navajo words for these animals spelled out the text of the message.

During testing of the idea, Johnston’s group of “Code Talkers” could translate 3 lines of English in 20 seconds without error rather than the 30 minutes it had taken with the current codes in use by the Marines – and it did not require the use of machines or code books (which could be captured).  This coding system was only used in the Pacific campaign and eventually there were over 400 native Navajo Code Talkers throughout the course of WWII.  The code was never broken during the war.

WWII Code talkers Preston Toledo and Frank Toledo
Navajo Indian Code Talkers Preston Toledo and Frank Toledo (National Archives, The Unwritten Record,  https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/)Navajo Indian Code Talkers Preston Toledo and Frank Toledo (National Archives, The Unwritten Record, https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/)
(National Archives, The Unwritten Record,  https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/)

The Code Talkers were used in every major operation involving the Marines in the Pacific Theater. Their primary job was to transmit tactical information over telephone and radio.  During the invasion of Iwo Jima, six Navajo Code Talkers were operating continuously.  They sent more than 800 messages. All of the messages were transmitted without error.  The Navajo Code Talkers were treated with the utmost respect by their fellow marines. Major Howard Connor, who was the signal officer of the Navajos at Iwo Jima, said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

Canyon de Chelly Overview

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "de-shay") is next to the town of Chinle in northeast Arizona.  It is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation oversees the land area and activities within the canyon, and the National Park Service manages the visitor center as well as protecting the ancient ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs.

Unlike parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, there is no real entrance station or marked borders and there is no entrance fee to drive to various scenic view spots along the canyon rim.  However, you are only allowed to enter the canyon itself with a Navajo Guide.  In the past you could hike down into the canyon from the White House Overlook to the canyon floor at the White House ruins, but that overlook was closed in March of 2020 and due to COVID-19 and other circumstances has not re-opened (more on this later). 

Chinle is at the downstream (western) end of the canyon where it is hardly a canyon at all as the walls are only 25 to 30 feet ft tall.  As you head east up into the canyon you are in a section called “Chinle Wash”.  As you proceed the walls get higher and higher.  Along the way there are several side canyons on both sides.  After a few miles the main canyon splits into two separate canyons.  The south one (to the right) is Canyon de Chelly and the north one (to the left) is Canyon del Muerto.  Canyon del Muerto eventually becomes Tsaile Creek Canyon and Canyon de Chelly goes into Whisky Creek.

Most of the canyon (especially the downstream end) is a wide sandy riverbed festooned with countless tire tracks from passing tour vehicles and jeeps owned by residents of the canyon.   The sand in the river bottom is quite fine and powdery and forms quicksand when wet.  And it gets into everything.  According to our guide it really messes up their cars and trucks getting into the transmission, brakes, and steering box and everything else that moves.  It also gets into the electronics of the vehicles and shorts things out.  In the Chinle Wash section where it is quite wide the annual floods deposit sand gradually raising the valley floor.  But upstream where it is narrower the floods scour sand out sending it downstream making the valley floor lower than it had been in the past.  After each set of floods they always find newly exposed things in the riverbed like old vehicles and from time to time new archeological sites.

Chinle Wash section with wide sandy river bottom
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On tour the going is mostly on the sandy river bottom.  But where there are islands or shoreline with firm ground where we tended to drive when possible as the driving is easier and a bit faster.  These raised areas are covered with Cottonwood, Willow, Juniper, Pinyon Pine and the invasive Tamarisk (Salt Cedar) trees along with various grasses and shrubs.  Most of the vegetation is native but the Tamarisk was foolishly planted by the CCC in the 1930’s for erosion control and quickly became a problematic invasive species crowding out the native plants and causing more erosion by constricting the flow of the river.  They keep trying to get rid of it but it keeps coming back.

The climate here is called “semi-arid”.  The winters are not too cold with the days in the 40-60 degree range and nights many times below freezing.  However the summers can be quite hot (and dry).  Last year (2022) they clocked 112f on several days.  It doesn’t rain much but when it does it can be a doozy, especially in the late summer when a monsoon or two can come through causing flooding in many areas.  But, generally if you go in spring or fall the weather is ideal.

The canyon boasts 2,600 known ruins spread between the Anasazi, Hopi and Navajo.  Some are cliff dwellings and some - known as pict dwellings - are on the canyon floor but it is pretty certain that most of these Pict dwellings have washed away in floods.

Seeing the Park

There are two ways to see the park.  One way to see it is to drive the two Rim drives.  There is one along the north side of Canyon Del Muerto appropriately call “North Side Drive” which is also Route 64.  Similarly there is a rim drive along the south side of Canyon de Chelly which is Route 7 and turns into an unmaintained dirt road after the last Canyon de Chelly overlook. While you can’t actually see the canyon from either of these roads, they each have a multitude of paved side roads that lead to scenic overlooks.  Some of these overlooks have a short path from the parking lot to the rim while at others the parking lot is right at the rim.

Canyon de Chelly Scenic Overlooks
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The views from the overlooks are definitely worth going to and offer dramatic views of the canyons.  These can be photographed quite well with lenses in the 17-200mm range (full frame equivalent) but to really zoom in on some feature which are on the opposite side of the canyon you may want a 400mm (FF equivalent). 

However, if you want to get up close and personal to some of the ruins and be able to closely examine the petroglyphs and pictographs you’ll want to book a guided tour along the canyon floor which brings us to the other way to see the park. 

There are several dozen companies that provide group and private tours in the canyons.  Most of these tours range from 2 to 4 hours but longer ones can be arranged.  Some offer specialty tours such as star photography tours at night.   Most of the group tours put you on benches bolted to the back of a truck.  While this provides for great viewing in all directions it does have its drawbacks.  For one thing there are no roads in the valley only vehicle tracks in the dirt or sandy river bottom which throw up a lot of dust as you go along.  Another thing to consider is that the weather can be EXTREMELY HOT in the summer and VERY COLD in the shade of the canyon walls (which happens quite early in the bottom of the canyon).  Some tour outfits offer enclosed vehicles such as Jeep’s or SUV’s – at least for the private tours. 

On our trip we booked a 4 hour tour with Beauty Way Jeep Tours.  We opted for a private tour in an SUV rather than a group tour which would typically be in an open vehicle.  We did this as I wanted to spend as much time as I wanted to at each stop for photographing rather than having to adhere to the group schedule.  And, we wanted to have more control over when and where to stop and for how long which you can’t do in a group tour.  If you are looking for a tour, most all of them tout using only Navajo guides, but a couple, like the one we choose, only use guides that still live inside the canyon itself (other than in winter).  By growing up and living in the canyon itself they have more insight (and information) about the things in the canyon that they take you to see.

After meeting our guide at our hotel he drove us to the Navajo back country permit office where we paid our per person backcountry fee ($8.00 each) and filled out a permit form which then allowed us to enter the canyon, but still only with a Navajo guide. We then drove through a small picnic area, stopped to put the SUV into 4 wheel drive mode and bounced into the wash itself. 

Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center

As with most parks, a good place to start is the visitor center where you can pick up some maps, and ask about what’s worth seeing given the amount of time you have.  Many visitor centers also have a modest museum and perhaps a short film.  

As our guided tour was scheduled for 2:30 on our first full day in Chinle, we decided to do the North Rim Drive that morning, drive back to town for lunch and then meet our tour guide at 2:30 at our hotel.  Our first stop on the way to the North Rim Drive was at the visitor center to see what was there and to get a more detailed map and find out more about the canyon.  The visitor center is only a couple of miles from our hotel, the Best Western. 

Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center
(Halloween is not really a Navajo thing but I guess the rangers decided to go with the flow)
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At the information desk we picked up a “Motoring guide” which detailed the rim drive scenic overlooks.  There was no real museum but we watched a short video about the Navajo people and the canyon.  However outside there was a traditional Navajo hogan.

The term "hogan" is a Navajo word that can refer to any kind of dwelling, but when used without qualifiers, it usually means a traditional Navajo home.  The traditional ones are typically constructed with a framework of logs or poles and covered with a variety of materials, such as logs, bark, and mud. The traditional structure is round or octagonal, with a conical or dome-shaped roof.  Although most Navajo now live in modern homes which we’d typically call “tract style ranch homes”, some still live in the traditional hand made Hogan’s.  Many families living in modern homes have also built a traditional Hogan near their home or someplace they like to go for ceremonies, reflection or spiritual renewal.  In some places, Hogan’s are now used for cultural demonstrations of native craft making or for the selling of native crafts.

The entrance to most Hogan’s traditionally facing east. This is because east is associated with the rising sun, which holds spiritual importance in Navajo culture. The east is often considered a sacred direction.

Hogan at the visitor center
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Inside of Hogan at visitor center
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Geologic Features of Canyon de Chelly Monument

The lower end of the canyon complex is called Chinle Wash which is named after the stream that flows through it (Chinle Stream).  Eventually this stream joins the San Juan River near Mexican Hat Utah 75 miles to the north (near Monument Valley).  The geology of the canyons, which is mostly weathered sandstone, can be seen quite well from the various scenic overlooks on both rim drives as well as from the valley floor.

400’ tall Junction Rock at confluence of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto
Junction RockJunction Rock

Canyon del Muerto from Antelope House Overlook looking east (North Rim Drive)
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Canyon del Muerto from Antelope House Overlook looking west (North Rim Drive)
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Many of the canyon walls have what is called “Desert Varnish” which is a dark staining of the red walls where years of water flow have left mineral deposits (mostly iron and manganese oxides) on the walls.

The Navajo call this portion of Desert Varnish in Chinle Wash on a 600 ft tall wall “Mother Earth Hair”
600 ft tall
Desert Varnish
Mother Earth Hair600 ft tall Desert Varnish Mother Earth Hair

Sometimes the desert varnish forms strange designs.  In this case it resembles a walking woman with a fancy hair doo
Water Stained wall looks like walking woman with fancy hair dooWater Stained wall looks like walking woman with fancy hair doo

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Spider Rock (South Rim Drive)
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The Anasazi

In order to appreciate the features in the park it is good to get a sense of the history of the place.  The first people to inhabit the area are commonly referred to as the Anasazi even though there is a movement to change this to the more politically correct term of “Ancestral Pueblo” or “Ancestral Puebloan.”  The word Anasazi translates in Navajo to “people that moved on or migrated on”.  But, the Navajo and Hopi people don’t like the term Anasazi and prefer names like ‘The Ancient ones”, “Enemy Ancestors”, “basket makers” or “Pueblo people”. 

Whatever you call them, they were here from about 1AD to around 1300AD.  To put this in perspective, this was from the time of the Roman Empire through near the end of the Middle Ages marked by The Black Death plague, the Hundred Years War between England and France, the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in China.  Over here on this side of the pond, The Aztec Empire was ascending and the Inca Empire was expanding.

The Anasazi were the only people who have wintered in the canyon.  They liked building houses in alcoves or caves in the cliffs, typically on the north side of the canyons.  These cliff dwellings were easier to defend and also helped with warmth in the winter and keeping cooler in the summers.  In the winters, the low angle of the sun would hit the buildings and warm them up,  In the summer when the sun was higher, the overhang of the alcoves would keep the buildings in shade.  The lifespan of a typical Anasazi was thought to be about 50 or 60 years and they were only around 4’ tall.  As they were not too tall they didn’t need very high alcoves to build in. 

No one is quite sure what happened to the Anasazi, not withstanding that almost everyone who has studied this has their pet theory.  The current majority theory is that a 26 year drought with extremely high temperatures dried up their sources of water and made summer unbearable.  But there are also theories of a plague or pandemic and just plain old political strife. 

An equal mystery is where they went.  Of course if they died off due to disease, we know where they went but most scientists believe that they just dispersed in all directions looking for viable living conditions.  Depending on where various groups went, some assimilated into other groups in surrounding areas, some were probably killed off by those other groups and even others found themselves in even less hospitable environments and just plain couldn’t survive.

First Ruin

The image below is called “First Ruin” which doesn’t refer to it being the oldest but rather because it was the first one excavated.  It is thought there were 18 to 20 buildings here with several being 2 stories with walls going all the way to the top of the cave.  The round structure in the middle is a Kiva.  Inside some of the storage rooms they found pinyon nuts, wild sunflower seeds, maize and beans.  They also found sea shells in the area so they must have either traded with coastal tribes or traveled to coastal areas.  These buildings did not have roof openings or a chimney as the later tribes used.  The smoke from the fire inside just had to escape through doors and windows which must have made it pretty rough inside when a fire was going. 

“First Ruin”.  Typical Anasazi Cliff Dwelling
First RuinFirst Ruin

During the time of the Anasazi, the valley floor was much higher.  For example in the photo above it is thought to have been where that line of grass is less than 100 feet below the dwellings. 

Getting up to these cave sites is pretty rough as they are several hundred feet above the valley floor.  In order to get up there they carved toe hold depressions in the cliff face, used ladders and sometimes a rope.  Even though there’s been erosion since that time, it’s hard to imagine a young woman with a baby on her back and a container of water balanced on her head or in one hand scaling a vertical wall just using those little toe holds.

As many of the cliff dwellings were built on the edge of the drop off, they placed the bottom of their doors high in the wall to keep kids from falling out of the room and down the cliff.

Rock Art

The Anasazi are responsible for most of the rock art one finds in this part of the country even though later inhabitants added their own art to rock faces and canyon walls.

Pictographs are painted on while petroglyphs or carved in.  The “ink” they used in pictographs was made from sand, water and tree sap to make it sticky.

Anasazi Pictographs
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From time to time they used “brushes” made from grass bundled together.  For example the negative hand prints above were made by placing their hand on the wall and dabbing it with a grass brush that had been dipped in the ink.

Antelope House

Antelope House is named for pictographs nearby of running antelope.  Some buildings were 4 stories high and there were at least 6 kiva’s underground.

Antelope House (from North Rim Drive)
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Antelope house from canyon floor
Antelope houseAntelope house

On the canyon wall above Antelope House is a backwards swastika.  It’s not certain what it means but is thought to represent either 4 clans or 4 seasons.

White House ruin

Another popular Anasazi ruin is White House.  The scenic overlook from on the South Rim Drive, which had been the most popular of all the scenic overlooks has been indefinitely closed and barricaded since March of 2020.  The official reason is “safety and law enforcement”.  The assumption was that this had to do with COVID-19 but many people in the area have other ideas – especially now since the Pandemic is largely a thing of the past and yet it remains closed.

Our guide told us that in 2020 a ranger shot a Navajo teenager in or near the parking lot as the teenager was suspected of breaking into and stealing things from vehicles.  And, theoretically the investigation is still going on – 3 years later.

The buildings here were built by the Anasazi in two sections.  The lower section on the valley floor was built first and the upper section was added later.  There had been two ladders extending from the roof of the 4 story lower section to the upper section. 

Two buildings coated with white plaster in the upper section give this ruin its name
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There is some evidence that the upper section was built as a residence for the chief and expanded to include ceremonial facilities as well.  The ruin gets its name from a pair of buildings in the upper section that are coated with a white plaster, making them stand out.  This special, and unusual, treatment reinforces the idea that these were very important buildings; probably the chief’s residence and perhaps the main medicine man lived there as well.

White House sit near the bottom of a 600 ft. cliff. 
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The Hopi

After the Anasazi came the Hopi (who are still around but no longer in this particular area).  The Hopi used Canyon de Chelly for farming in the summers but went up on the mesa tops (to 1st, 2nd and 3rd mesa) in the winter when the sun hardly hits the canyon floor at all.  The Hopi as well as the Navajo consider the Anasazi ruins as having sacred and mystical powers, or as just being bad medicine, and have for the most part just let them be.  For these reasons, it is rare that the Hopi or Navajo occupied or made use of the Anasazi ruins at all and (except for some adventurous teenagers) rarely even visited them.

Although not as prolific with their rock art as the Anasazi, the Hopi added their symbols and stories to the canyon walls.  Sometimes in the same areas as Anasazi rock art.

Hopi Petroplyphs
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In the image above, the “lollipop” at the far left is a symbol for “hand”.  The Circle with 3 spikes on top is the Badger and Bear Clan symbol and below that is the symbol for diamond back rattle snake.  The Hopi are the only tribe that danced with Diamond Back Rattlesnakes.  Eight to ten men would do the dancing holding and waving the snakes around (which I’m sure the snakes did not enjoy).  On the right side of the photo is a Hopi Rain or Snake dancer holding a snake.  The wavy legs show that the figure was dancing.

Navajo History

The third group to occupy the canyon were the Navajo who pushed out the Hopi.  The Hopi now occupy a section of Arizona just to the west in a separate reservation inside the Navajo Nation Reservation.

The Navajo are not related to the Anasazi or Hopi.  The history of the Navajo people - who call themselves “Diné” (Din-eeh) which means “people that move around”  - dates back thousands of years. 

The word "Navajo" is a Spanish adaptation of the Tewa Pueblo word navahu’u, meaning "farm fields in the valley."  Early Spanish chroniclers referred to the Navajo as Apaches de Nabajó ("Apaches who farm in the valley"), which was eventually shortened to "Navajo." What is clear from the history of this word is that the early Spanish settlers recognized the close historical and cultural connections between the Apache and Navajo peoples.

But before that they seem to have migrated across the Bearing Land Bridge from northeastern Asia during the last ice age 15 to 20 thousand years ago and settled in northwestern Canada.  They then migrated to what is now the four corners area of southwestern US around 1400 AD.  They had typically been nomadic in nature following food supplies from season to season.  However at some camps along the way they farmed some crops such as corn, beans and squash.  Why they left the northwest is not really known but it is pretty certain that they did.  Maybe this was just a continuation of the migration across the Aleutian land bridge from Asia to the Americas.

When they first got to the 4 Corners area they settled on the mesa tops but it was too hot there in the summers.  So, some split off and found their way into the Canyon where it was cooler.  But they also found that there were Hopi living there.  Now, based on our western programming we’d assume that a big battle between the Navajo and Hopi ensued with one side driving the other out.  But that did not happen.  The Hopi and Navajo lived side by side for 300 years and got along just fine.  Well, that is, until the 1700’s.  By that time the Navajo greatly outnumbered the Hopi and decided that things in the canyon were getting too crowded and after a number of battles the Navajo drove the Hopi out and things settled down for another hundred years until the Spanish showed up.

After watching many “wild west” movies and TV shows over the years, it is hard to imagine SW American Indians not riding horses, but horses did not exist in this part of the world until the Spanish came along with their horse mounted soldiers.  The Navajo had never seen such a thing before and once they figured out that horse and rider were two separate things, they became quite intrigued by the idea of easier transportation over longer distances so, of course, they stole a lot of the horses as well as other things the Spanish brought along like sheep.

Navajo Petroglyph hunting deer or antelope from horseback
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In the rock art above, you may notice that the riders have no weapons.  Here’s the story behind that.  When someone needed the medicine man, he would come and perform the necessary ceremony, but as the Navajo did not use money the medicine man was paid with jewelry, livestock, or hides.  But, a medicine man was a pretty important figure in the society (2nd only to the chief) so the buckskins used to pay the medicine man had to be the best quality – and this meant no arrow or bullet holes.  To get such a thing, they’d chase a buck from horseback along the sandy river bottom where the narrow hooves of the deer made it hard to run.  When it finally fell down due to exhaustion they’d jump off their horses, and one of them would hold the antlers down while the other would put a bag full of pollen over the nose and mouth of the heavily breathing deer.  This pollen would get into the lungs of the deer and it would suffocate.  The skin would be used for barter or for paying the medicine man but the meat and bone would be shared

In addition to introducing horses to the native people the Spanish also brought sheep and more advanced technology – including new weapons.  The Navajo readily adopted these new things into their culture and day to day life.  The Navajo also incorporated Spanish clothing into their wardrobe and inserted some Spanish words into their language but never really assimilated into the Spanish society. 

During this time, most of the Navajo became less and less nomadic and moved from a hunter-gatherer life style to more of a farmer-rancher life style.  Once they started staying in one place for longer and longer periods of time to farm or raise livestock they started building more permanent homes.  Many settled into having a winter house in one place and a summer house in another place (no not the Hamptons). 

During this time the Spanish were after gold, not territory, and once they figured out there was no gold in the area they pretty much left the SW Indians alone.

And of course, we also can’t forget another important thing the Spanish, and later Americans, brought to the native populations of North America.  And, that would be European disease which killed large numbers of the native people who had no built in resistance or immunity to these imported plagues.

Like many cultures at that time (Aztec, Inca, etc.) the Navajo also found it useful to have some sort of written calendar even though they had no written language.  Although nowhere near as elaborate as the Aztec calendar, the figure 8 dots in the Navajo petroglyph below represents the annual cycles of the moon

Navajo: Skinny horse and annual cycles of the moon
Skinny horse from Navajo
Figure 8 on end has 24 dots.  Representing the moon over the course of a yearSkinny horse from Navajo Figure 8 on end has 24 dots. Representing the moon over the course of a year

Throughout the 16th and much of the 17th centuries, Spain claimed the territories in what is now the SW US.  During that time, the Spanish were fixated on finding lost cities of gold throughout the area and in pursuit of that gold sent a parade of military expeditions into the area looking for the gold.  Many times though these expeditions left settlements behind and then of course forts followed to protect the settlements.  What ensued were decades of minor skirmishes between the Native Americans and the Spanish army. 

One such event happened in 1848 when a contingent of Spanish Cavalry chased some Navajo men up to the end of the North Canyon where they killed a bunch of them and took others as slaves for the Catholic Church.  During this the Navajo women and children hid out in some old Anasazi ruins (which archeologists later named “Mummy Cave”) high up on the cliffs where they were out of sight.  As the Spanish came back down the canyon with their prisoners, an old woman hiding in the cave got so angry that she shouted an insult at the Spanish, thus revealing their hiding place.  This caused the Spanish army to attack the hiding place where they killed over 100 women and children.

Mummy Cave (from North Rim Drive)
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Then in the mid to late 1800’s settlers started invading from the east.  Some were just passing through on their way to the west coast but some decided to stay and start farms and ranches.  Of course small conflicts erupted here and there and as time went on, and more and more Anglos showed up these conflicts escalated into larger and larger events.  All of this prompted the U.S. government to build forts along the wagon trails and to deploy the military to the area to protect the settlers and travelers. 

The Long Walk

But the situation continued to deteriorate until 1863 or 1864 when these tensions got so bad that the U.S. government under General Kit Carson initiated a brutal campaign to subdue the Navajo people and evict them from their land. They rounded up thousands of men, women, and children, forcing them to leave their homes and embark on a grueling walk of approximately 300 miles to Bosque Redondo, a barren reservation in eastern New Mexico.  This event is known as the “Long Walk”. 

The Long Walk took place in the freezing temperatures and blizzards of winter.  The military didn’t really supply food or water and being the dead of winter and being confined to a single trail it was nearly impossible to find food or water.  Add in outbreaks of smallpox brought in by the soldiers and it is no wonder 300 to 500 (and possibly as many as 2,000) Navajo men, women and children died in this forced march. 

Once they arrived at Bosque Redondo, they were treated as prisoners.  But despite all of this they demonstrated remarkable resilience. They maintained their cultural identity and traditions through storytelling, singing, and ceremonies. Their strong spirit and determination helped them survive this ordeal.

But not all the Navajo took the long walk.  Some escaped into the wilderness and others went northwest and were taken in and hidden by the Hopi tribe which was quite nice of them considering the Navajo had thrown them out of Canyon de Chelly. 

Those that went on the Long Walk were imprisoned in New Mexico for 4 years.  In 1865 a treaty between the Navajo and the US was signed.  This treaty created a reservation in what is now the 4 Corners area where they were before being forced to leave.  After the signing of the treaty, the Navajo were allowed to leave the area where they had been confined.  Most came back to the 4 corners area and reoccupied their prior homesteads.  Of course this meant that they had to walk the same 300 miles back to their historic area and rejoin those that had been in hiding.  

During their confinement, not being able to rely on the US for food, they started growing crops in the small area they were allowed to be in.  So, when they returned to the 4 Corners area they just continued with farming and pretty much abandoned the nomadic hunter gatherer life style.

The Navajo Today

Recent climate change has not spared this area.  The hot summers are getting hotter and the area is in a prolonged drought.  As a result there has been a significant increase in the number of mountain lion attacks on livestock and people.  In fact the problem has gotten so bad that local rangers advise the Navajo to just shoot any mountain lion they see.  But this has also prompted residents of areas like Canyon de Chelley to improve their alarm systems.  By this, they mean getting more dogs to sound the alarm if a mountain lion comes near the farm.

While some Navajo live in towns, many live in small communities of a dozen modern government built houses and others consist of more make shift hand built homes loosely clustered together, and still others live in single family compounds in the backcountry – such as in the upper reaches of the Canyon de Chelly complex.

Cluster of more recently constructed houses
02 Navajo Living 302 Navajo Living 3

An older community consisting of a mix of individually built homes, mobile homes, and a few more recent style homes
13 A7R5-#0592413 A7R5-#05924

Individual family cluster of houses, including a modern style Hogan (back right)…
11 A7R5-#0578011 A7R5-#05780

… along with traditionally constructed buildings used for various purposes
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Demonstrating native weaving in traditional Hogan
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Hubble Trading Post

Navajo trading posts were quite popular in the area from around 1866 until 1970.  During the roughly 200 years prior to their defeat by Kit Carson in 1864 the Navajo were both raiding and trading with the settlers who had been moving in throughout that time.  But then came the Long Walk which decimated the Navajo economy and made them almost totally reliant on army provided rations and manufactured products.  So, in 1868 when they were allowed to return, the US government pledged to provide them with the means to make a living by farming and ranching in return for the Navajo pledging to halt the raiding.  To facilitate the new agreement, a couple of dozen or so trading posts sprang up throughout the reservation.  After WWII there were over 100 of them.  These were almost exclusively owned and operated by non-Navajos and soon became the center of commerce, as well as cultural and social life for the Navajo.

As the name implies, much of the commerce was conducted through trading (or barter) with the Navajo trading wool, sheep, goat skins, and woven textiles.  In exchange the trading post provided flour, sugar, coffee, tobacco, cloth, and canned goods.  This isn’t to say that cash wasn’t also used.  However, in the 19th century cash itself was in short supply so cash substitutes were used.  Many trading posts issued their own metal tokens to use instead of cash.  Mexican silver dollars were also quite popular with the Navajo, but they didn’t use them for buying and selling.  Rather they melted them down in order to use the silver to make jewelry.

By the 1960’s with more motor vehicles and paved roads along with increasing wages, the trading posts went into decline.  They were more and more replaced with Navajo owned businesses, shopping centers and convenience stores. 

The Hubble trading post is one of the last trading posts remaining in operation today.  However, now most of the sales are of Indian made art work (blankets, jewelry and the like) to tourists..  John Hubble purchased the trading post 10 years after the Navajo were allowed to return after the Long Walk.  In 1960 it was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 1967 the Hubble family sold it to the Western National Parks Association who run it today.

Hubble Trading Post
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Hubble Trading Post
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Hubble Trading Post
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In addition to the actual trading post store, there is a modern Hogan set up as a rental for overnight guests (yes it has a bathroom and little kitchen as well as a heater).  The site also has a garden where they grow vegetables and they do some ranching.  In one of the buildings, the Tribal Park Service has a ranger station with a small museum and a place for the demonstration of native craft making.

Some more Pictographs

The “wipti-line”, according to our guide, represents either water or a snake.  Below the wipti-line are depictions of bear, antelope, mountain lion and coyote.  On the right are several figures that are probably a medicine man
Below Wiptiline are animlas:  Bear, Antelope, Mountain Lions, CoyoteBelow Wiptiline are animlas: Bear, Antelope, Mountain Lions, Coyote

Wild turkey’s and Kokopali (medicine man)
wild turkey’s and Kokopaliwild turkey’s and Kokopali



This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole 2023 Four Corners series I posted here (as they are created)


Check my travel blogs for other trips here:



Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Anasazi blog Canyon de Chelly Canyon de Chelly Tribal Park Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center Canyon del Muerto Chinle Chinle Wash Cliff Dwellings dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogfourcorners2023 Hubble Trading Post Indian Trading Posts Navajo History Navajo Nation Petroglyphs Pictographs The Hopi The Long Walk WWII Code Talkers WWII Navajo Code Talkers https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2024/1/four-corners-02 Wed, 17 Jan 2024 20:17:28 GMT
Four Corners #01 - Bakersfield, Barstow, Route66, Chinle https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/12/four-corners-01 October 2023

Four corners October 2023 - #01 Barstow to Chinle

This travel-blog is for a one week driving trip we took to the four corners area of the USA.  The main destinations on this trip are Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley with some other stops along the way.  Unlike my previous travel articles which mostly talk about the destinations and cultures, I’m going to include more observations, anecdotes and remembrances than one typically finds in travel articles including some text on old Route-66 and how I remember family trips on that storied road as a kid. 

Entire Trip map
16 Map 1 - Full Trip16 Map 1 - Full Trip

This edition takes us from our home base in Palo Alto CA to Chinle AZ which is the gateway city for Canyon de Chelly.  The drive from Palo Alto to Chinle is about 14 hours (not including stops) which we spread over 2 days stopping overnight in Barstow.

In this episode I’ll talk about finding food on I-5, Barstow, trains, Route-66 now and then and Chinle

Palo Alto to Chinle map
17 Map 2 - Palo Alto to Chinle17 Map 2 - Palo Alto to Chinle


Planning for the trip

Although this trip was in mid October which is near the end of the travel season for these areas and certainly well after the peak tourist season, we did the planning and started making reservations in May.  Even so, we were too late to secure lodgings at our desired accommodations at Monument Valley (The View Hotel inside the park).  I’m not sure how early one must make reservations these days to get desired hotels in popular areas but it’s looking like 9 to 12 months is the new normal or even longer for peak travel season .

We knew we wanted to do a driving trip after the prime tourist season but before the Halloween to New Years Eve holiday chaos so this put us in October.  But we were not quite sure where we wanted to go.  Of course due to potential cold and snow at that time we figured heading into the southwest was more likely to yield good driving and sightseeing weather than heading north or northeast. 

One concern we had was that due to the make up of the dysfunctional Congress it looked quite likely that there would be a lengthy government shutdown starting on October first.And as this would close all the National Parks for an unknown period of time we decided it was best to avoid such parks which ruled out the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and several other National Parks in the southwest (most of which we’d been to one or more times anyway).  But, Tribal Parks (even those jointly administered by the US government) would not be affected by a government shutdown.  So, we targeted Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley as our prime destinations.  And we made our reservations.

All through the summer Congress edged closer and closer to an October shutdown and the weather where we were going kept getting hotter and hotter breaking all time records along the way.  In the area we were heading it was well into the 100’s and over 110 pretty much every day through August and September and even into October.  We don’t do well with 100+ degree temperatures when touring outdoor landscapes.  So, when it was still over 100 a week before our trip it was more than a bit concerning.  But, the weather gods were looking kindly on us and a few days before our departure the SW heat wave broke and daytime highs came down to the upper 60;s and low 70’s just like they were supposed to – perfect.  The evenings were chilly (40’s) but that’s grand as we are usually not out and about at that time.  I would have liked more big white puffy clouds for my photography rather than cloudless skies but cloudless skies are certainly a better option for us these days than rain or 100+ degree days.


On to Barstow

The first leg of our trip was getting from the San Francisco area to the Four Corners area.  As all of our south and southwest bound driving trips do, this started by driving south on US-101 from Palo Alto, then over the beautiful rolling hills of Pacheco Pass and dropping down into the agricultural Central Valley. 

Pacheco Pass (image courtesy of Google Maps)
01 Pacheco Pass (Google Maps Street View)01 Pacheco Pass (Google Maps Street View)

From there we headed south on the interminably boring I-5 toward LA while watching the fields of nut and fruit trees roll by interspersed with massive fields of other crops.  As we drove, we tried to guess what they were growing in these fields with no way of verifying our guesses unless a sign showed up.

Leaving the Bay Area around 9:00 am always puts us near Bakersfield at lunch time and this is always a dilemma.  The restaurant options along I-5 are either fast food from the big chains (Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Etc.) or big chain restaurants (Denny’s, Applebees, Etc.).  And trying to find a decent restaurant in Bakersfield itself that is not too far off our course and not in a sketchy part of town has always been a challenging proposition and never quite successful – even with all our smart phone capabilities.

As we drove down I-5 I vaguely recalled a decent non chain family style restaurant right by an I-5 exit that was not bad.  We had stumbled upon this place during a previous trip to LA a number of years ago but of course could not recall its name or what exit it was.  We had looked for it a couple of times on subsequent trips but without luck, so maybe this time we could find it.  I just recalled that it was near Bakersfield and a bit beyond where we normally got off for lunch.  So, determined to find it again I went past our normal exit (and the exit the GPS suggested for this trip).  We thought we’d found it on our mapping app at the following exit so we exited the freeway.  But, wrong again. We’d been to this place before when looking for the one we were really after and although not a chain and maybe a step up from the hamburger/chicken joints Wild Jack’s Tex Mex BBQ was still in the fast food category.  But, here we were so we ate there anyway.   Maybe we’ll find the place we’d been looking for the next time through the area – assuming it survived Covid and was still there (wherever “there” is).

We then left I-5 and turned east toward Bakersfield, wrestled our way through town and started up the Tehachapi Pass.  Once out of Bakersfield, this is a good 4 lane road that climbs up a lovely grassy valley as the road plays tag with a railroad line off to the right.  Along the way we pass massive wind farms with giant blades turning slowly in the breeze.  Freight trains of 50+ cars are spotted from time to time laboring up the hill with 5 to 7 locomotives or riding the air brakes going the other way down into Bakersfield. 

Sometimes along this route you can spot the “Tehachapi Loop”.  This is a spiral-shaped section of track completed in 1876 to lessen the steepness of the grade.  The loop is approximately ¾ miles long, and trains traveling on it pass over themselves as they complete the loop.  It’s a bit hard to spot from the road, but if you know it’s there and keep your eye out for it you can sometimes spot it and even better if there happens to be a train there at the time.

Although we’ve never done it, if you exit CA-58 at Keen (exit 139), then head east on Woodford-Tehachapi Rd for about 3.2 miles you can find the Tehachapi Loop Scenic Overlook.  It looks like the photo below was taken from there.

Tehachapi Loop (image from www.asce.org website)
19 Tehachapi Loop19 Tehachapi Loop


Arial view (Image by Keavon Chambers, public domain)
20 Tehachapi Loop Aerial20 Tehachapi Loop Aerial

After ascending out of the central valley you are in the Mojave (high) desert with even more wind farms.  Along the way we pass the Mojave Air and Spaceport at Rutan Field in Mojave, California.  This is the first facility to be licensed in the United States (certified as a spaceport by the Federal Aviation Administration) for horizontal launches of reusable spacecraft.  The spaceport has become a significant center for the commercial spaceflight industry with several private aerospace companies such as Virgin Galactic, Stratolaunch, and Masten Space Systems having used the facility for testing and launching their spacecraft.

Rutan Field is also used as an offsite parking lot for commercial airlines as well as an airline junk yard.  Many dozen commercial airline planes are parked there wingtip to wingtip waiting peak travel season or waiting to be disassembled for parts.  This spot is ideal for such a parking lot as it is close to LA and SF which feed the Asia Pacific air routes as well as most of the western US.  It rarely rains and the air is very dry so the planes tend to stay in relatively good condition over long periods of time.

Rutan Field Airline Storage (Images courtesy of Flickr and Google)
21 Mojave Airline Storage21 Mojave Airline Storage

Rutan Field Airline Storage (Images courtesy of Flickr and Google)
22 Mojave Airline Storage 222 Mojave Airline Storage 2

Continuing along CA-58 toward Barstow, we pass not far from Edwards Air Force base where several Space Shuttle missions landed when the weather in Florida was not suitable. 

We also passed by the little town of Hinkley which you may have heard of.  Hinkley was made famous by the fact based 2000 movie “Erin Brokovich” staring Julia Roberts.  The movie chronicles the investigation of ground water contamination caused by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) involving the highly toxic chemical hexavalent chromiumby.  The investigation was conducted by a legal aid working for a small law firm in Los Angeles.  This contamination resulted from the operation of a natural gas compressor station owned by PG&E and the toxin permeated the water supply throughout the whole town.   The case eventually led to a settlement in which PG&E agreed to pay $333 million in damages to affected residents. The company also committed to cleaning up the contaminated groundwater in the area.  As of 2015 (20 years after the lawsuit was won) the clean up of the ground water is still underway.  However, most of the residents have moved away and Hinkley is now just a few scattered homes and acres of alfalfa and other grasses planted to help clean the contamination.


Our first overnight on this trip was in Barstow CA, about an hour west of the Arizona and Nevada border.  It seems we always wind up with a night in Barstow whenever we go into the desert southwest and we always seem to wind up at a Best Western by the intersection of I-15 that goes up to Las Vegas and I-40 which heads East through northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Although not incorporated until 1947, Barstow really got its start much earlier when the tracks for a transcontinental railroad made it to the area in 1883.  This was the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which later became part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) and is now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) which is the largest railroad company in the country. 

But why did they choose this place in the middle of a god forsaken desert for the location of a major rail yard and maintenance facility?  Well, there are several reasons.  First of all there is access to water required by steam locomotives.  But topography played the most important factor.  This location turned out to be where the rail line from the east split with one leg heading southwest to Los Angeles and Southern California and the other leg heading northwest into the Central valley and points north.  When the northern transcontinental rail lines are snowed in this line is also used to access Oregon and Washington.  So, they needed a large switch yard to separate the westbound rail cars into those going SW from those going NW.   Another topographical factor is that to the east it is mostly flat desert where they can run very long trains (100+ cars), but to the southwest and northwest the rail lines have to navigate steep grades between the high desert where Barstow is to the near sea level elevation of Los Angeles and the agricultural Central Valley.  Navigating these grades require much shorter trains as well as extra locomotives on each train to deal with the steep grades – both going up and going down.

With all these trains being reconfigured, locomotives being added or removed, and the wear and tear on the equipment pulling and pushing these trains up steep grades or keeping them in check going down those same steep grades the other way, there was the need for a major maintenance facility.  And so, Barstow developed.

Barstow Train Switching Yard (Image by Jim Thompson, licensed through Pixels.com)
Barstow Rail Yard 9Barstow Rail Yard 9

Route 66 revisited

But trains are not the only story of the area.  It wasn’t long in American History till highways started being built.  In most cases in the wide open spaces west of the Mississippi, inter-city roads followed major rail lines.  As most towns were on these rail lines, the roads tended to be town to town sections that just naturally developed from people following the same path with their wagons and horses over periods of time.  These were mostly just dirt ruts but sometimes a county or state would provide some improvements such as some gravel or pavement, but for the most part these were just rural dirt roads.  Before the 1920’s, these ‘roads’ were generally not numbered and were only known by the town names at either end of a section of dirt road.  With such a naming system, a road would change its name each time it passed through a town.  But, that didn’t really matter as there were no signs or markers showing the name anyway. 

Sometimes a traveler could find a booklet explaining how to get from one place to another.  Many times these booklets were written through hearsay by people who had never been anywhere near the area they were describing.  Getting totally lost was as prevalent for those with these books as for those without them.  Whether you used a booklet or just asked locals for directions, the instructions used landmarks to direct the traveler since there were no signs or road numbers.  You’d find things like “bear left at the fork in the road by a big Oak tree a bit past a dry creek where there is a broken wagon by the side of the road.”  This was quite a bit more challenging to follow than a giant green sign over your lane saying “Las Vegas, I-15 exit left 1 mi.”

But then in the mid 1920’s the US government decided that having a national road system would be good for commerce and tourism as it would allow people to follow marked and numbered roads long distances on paved highways. And so they created the US Highway system.  One of the first routes under this new program was the famous Route 66, also known as the "Main Street of America" or the "Mother Road."  It ran from Chicago, through the Midwest farmlands of Illinois, the rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks, through the mining towns of Kansas, across Oklahoma where the woodlands of the East meet the open plains of the West, through the open ranch lands of Texas, then the colored mesa lands of New Mexico and Arizona, through the Mojave Desert, and finally to the “milk and honey” land of metropolis Los Angeles winding up at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.

Photographing RT-66
25 A7R5-#0497725 A7R5-#04977

Route-66 played a significant role in the development of the American Southwest and became an iconic route for travelers, connecting many communities and serving as a major transportation corridor for decades.  The “US Highway System” was generally 2 lane roads which went through the center of every town along its route.  These highways were clearly, and frequently, marked with distinctive shield shaped signs containing the road number.  You could get on Route-66 in Chicago and follow the same route number signs all the way to Santa Monica many days later without once having to look for an old Oak tree just past a bit past a dry creek, or finding a left turn at the red barn.  And, as most all of these were paved, you could whoop it up to 35 or 45 miles per hour and not be shaken to death by the ruts and washboard surfaces of dirt roads or choked to death by dirt road dust of passing cars and trucks.

Route-66 was officially decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985 due to the development of the Interstate Highway system which are all multi lane limited access (no cross streets) highways.  In the desert SW it was I-40 which replaced US-66, but the Route-66 legacy lives on as a symbol of American road travel in the 1940’s 50’s and 60’s.

Even though US-66 was decommissioned and replaced by Interstate highways, there are still many drivable sections of old US-66 through parts of Arizona and California (among others) which were not buried under the new interstate.  Many of these sections have remnants of abandoned and decaying gas stations, restaurants, motels and even towns.  Some towns like Oatman and Seligman have cashed in on the Route 66 mystique and nostalgia where they have resurrected these old buildings (or built new ones to look like the old ones) to cater to the tourist trade. 

In NW Arizona there are several good size sections of old Route 66 where I-40 didn’t follow the old US-66 right of way.  Here are two of them between the CA border and the Flagstaff.  I’m sure there are many more in other regions.

AZ-10 from Topock (where I-40 crosses the CA/AZ border) to Kingman, AZ.  This 60 mile stretch today takes about 1hr 40min without stops.  It is mostly flat desert till you get near Oatman but then it climbs into the Black Mountains.  Oatman is still an operating town catering to the Route-66 tourists with old buildings still in use including restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels. Oatman was also the reason that US-66 went over the Black Mountains rather around them as I-40 does today.  When the US-66 route was being laid out, Oatman was a prosperous gold mining town.  Through heavy lobbying (and most likely some of that gold finding its way into politicians pockets), an alignment that passed right though Oatman was selected – even though it was anything but practical.  And, if you think about it, had RT-66 followed the path now used by I-40, this entire stretch of old RT-66 would not exist.

Oatman, AZ (taken on a 2013 trip)
Antique Shop, Old Rt-66, Oatman AZAntique Shop, Old Rt-66, Oatman AZ

Oatman, AZ (taken on a 2013 trip)
Harleys and Hotel, Old Rt-66, Oatman AZHarleys and Hotel, Old Rt-66, Oatman AZ

This section of Route-66 includes the Sitgreaves Pass over the Black Mountains.  Although not the highest point on Route-66 - which after 1942 was just west of Flagstaff at 7,335 feet - it was the most challenging to drive.  This is a very winding road including hairpin curves with several long very steep grades of up to 12% between descents into small valleys.  Even though Sitgreaves pass is only 3,100 feet higher than Topock, once you add in all the ups and downs, long steep grades, summer temps over 100 degrees, and the lousy cooling systems in cars of the era it was given great respect by drivers and approached with caution.  In today’s cars though you hardly notice such steep driving conditions – even with the AC on.  We’ll talk more about this a bit later in this article.

AZ-66 from Kingman to Seligman AZ.  This is a 73 mile stretch that today takes about 1hr 15min.  The road passes through many small towns and passes many ruins of abandoned buildings.  One of these places is Hackberry which is an old gas station and café turned tourist attraction and museum.

Promotional signs just before getting to Hackberry
Hackberry PromoHackberry Promo

Hackberry, AZ
route 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZroute 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZ

Museum/gift shop in Hackberry
Route 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZRoute 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZ

Hackberry, AZ
Route 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZRoute 66, Desert Rest stop, Hackberry, AZ

This section of old US-66 meets up with I-40 at Seligman but you can continue on old US -66 (Now AZ-66) another 15 miles to where it meets up with I-40 again and ends.  Seligman, being right next to I-40, is a flat-out, no holds barred out and out tourist trap.  It is over the top ticky-tacky-cutesy taken to the extreme.  In other words the poster child of a tourist trap perfectly made for the i-Phone selfie crowd.  If you are trying to make time on I-40 and want a taste of Route-66 taken to the extreme, pop off here for 30 minutes and look around.

Elvis and ??? in Seligman (2011 trip)
Complete with chair to sit in for your selfie
08 7d001-#596908 7d001-#5969

Props in Seligman, AZ (2011 trip)
1950's camping, Seligman, AZ1950's camping, Seligman, AZ

Possibly and old Indian brand motorcycle?  Seligman, AZ (2011 trip)
Classic motorcycle, Seligman, AZClassic motorcycle, Seligman, AZ

No comment.  Seligman, AZ (2011 trip)
Kind of hard to tell the tourists from the mannequins
07 7d001-#596307 7d001-#5963

But even if you don’t have time to drive one of those long old US-66 sections there are loads of short sections of old Route-66 just off of I-40 with ruins and remnants which have not been commercialized.  Just keep your eyes peeled as you approach interchanges in the middle of the desert which have no apparent reason for being there and have nothing there except perhaps a gas station.  Many times these exits let you access Old Route-66 paralleling the freeway a few hundred yards away.  One example is Ludlow (52 miles east of Barstow on I-40) where there is just an exit with a gas station.  Here is a Route-66 section paralleling I-40 and within a mile east on old 66 is the old abandoned remnants of Ludlow.

Ludlow (from 2011 trip)
Old Cafe
Ludlow CafeLudlow Cafe

Abandoned homestead.  Probably for the owner of the café and gas station
Ludlow Ghost HouseLudlow Ghost House

Abandoned gas station
Ludlow Gas StationLudlow Gas Station

Remembering the 1950’s

As our Motel in Barstow on this trip was on the main railroad line as well as on old RT-66 at the east end of Barstow and we had a few hours of daylight left, I asked the clerk if there were any old sections of the classic road nearby that might feature abandoned relics of the old highway.  He said “I think there’s a section that might have some ruins a few miles East on I-40, just past the Marine base.  Exit at Nebo Rd. and cross under the freeway”.  So off we went in search remembrances of my youth from the mid to late 1950’s.

And, indeed there was a section of old RT-66 at Nebo Rd.  We drove about 20 or 30 miles east on it but really didn’t find any ruins to photograph.  We did find some old slabs of concrete where a gas station might have been and the odd foundation where a house or store might have been, and an old structure that might have been an inspection station, but time and progress hadn’t left much.

In the 1950’s our family lived in Los Angeles and as we were mostly at the lower end of middle class at the time, our vacations were always of the driving/car-camping variety with perhaps a motel along the way.  We would go to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Death Valley, Joshua Tree or any number of other destinations in the Southwest that were no more than a few days drive away.  Every now and again when there was some money we’d venture farther to places like Yellowstone, Glacier, or Crater Lake.  But even though the destinations varied, the trips were all quite similar.

They were always in mid summer and we’d sweat through long hot driving days up the Central Valley in California on US-99 (no AC in those days and barely any radio) or we’d head east on US-66 across the Mojave desert and into Arizona, Nevada, and then up into Utah or head south into the desert areas south of Los Angeles
.  In the beginning, I recall a green Chevy sedan and according to this archive photo, we pulled a little flatbed trailer with a canvas tent nailed to it.  I assume we collapsed the tent for driving and piled the camping gear on top.  I don’t remember much about this car except that was very prone to overheating.

Family Image from unknown location in very early1950’s

But mostly I remember using station wagons.  Mostly Ford’s as I recall.

1954 image at Mount Lassen.
I don’t recall this particular car but I do recognize the roof rack
02 V550-1954-#51302 V550-1954-#513

My memories of those trips are spotty as I was mostly under 10) but I do recall many things like mom and pop motels, nineteen (or even seventeen) cent hamburger joints, road side attractions like reptile zoos, and A&W root beer stands where you could get a large frosty glass mug of root beer for a nickel and on special occasions with a scoop of ice cream. 

And there were those famous Burma Shave signs that we all looked forward to stumbling upon as we cruised down a desert highway.  These were little 4 line poems where each line of the poem was on a separate sign with a 5th sign just saving “Burma Shave”.  Whenever a set of these signs came into view, we’d all sit up and read them aloud as we zoomed by.  They started out as promoting the product.  For example





But later they ventured into driving topics such as





I understand that there are still a few places that have these signs (probably not originals) as in the photo below.

Photo by: John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
26 Burma Shave26 Burma Shave

Here’s a link that lists 90 of these Burma Shave poems https://thewhynot100.blogspot.com/2015/06/90-brilliant-burma-shave-signs.html

Cars in those days always seemed to have an overheating problem and driving through the Southwest deserts in the summer really stressed those old cooling systems.  After years of experience, much of it pre-dating the arrival of my brother and I, dad was pretty savvy about desert driving.  Of course this didn’t prevent the car from over heating, it is just that he tended to know how to deal with it.

There were two problems you needed to watch out for with hot or mountainous driving.  One was just plain overheating (or boiling over) which could blow a radiator hose or burst a radiator if you let it get too bad.  A second issue was something called “Vapor Lock”.  This is when things got so hot in the engine compartment that the fuel in the fuel line would vaporizes before reaching the carburetor thereby stopping the flow of gas.  If you had water, with you, boiling over could be dealt with in an hour or so, but vapor lock many times required waiting till late at night for the fuel system to start working again as pouring cold water on a hot engine was not a smart thing to do unless you desired buying a new engine.

When driving in the desert, my dad had a couple of burlap water bags that he’d hang on the front bumper where the wind would keep them cool.  When the car overheated we’d use them to refill the radiator.  In order to avoid an explosion of water and steam, we’d usually have to wait awhile by the side of the road for the engine to cool down enough to take the radiator cap off – and with any luck there’d be a shade tree nearby to block the desert sun on those 100+ degree days.  While waiting dad would hunt for a rag to keep from burning his hand when the time came to pop the radiator cap.  What you’d do is wrap the rag around your hand several times then turn the cap ¼ turn (or later lift a lever on top).  This would allow steam to escape in a controlled manner till all the pent up pressure was relieved and you could take the cap all the way off.  If you were silly enough to just unscrew the cap, the pressure would blast the cap skyward on top of a geyser of water and steam and hopefully neither the cap or scalding steam and water would hit you in the process.  But, then you’re entire family could bond while searching several hundred feet in all directions for where that airborne radiator cap had landed.

Knowing about the steep climb up to Sitgreaves Pass, on US-66 between Topock and Kingman, my dad would rent a device to keep the car from boiling over.  This was a metal tank which was a cylinder about 4 feet long and as I recall about 8 or 9 inches in diameter that he’d hang crosswise on the front bumper.  It had a little pump which he’d hook up to the battery and run a wire to a switch mounted on the triangular “vent pane” window that cars had at that time.  When turned on, water was pumped through a couple of sprayers aimed at the front of the radiator.  Cars also had a water temperature gauge on the dashboard and whenever the engine temp would get near the red line he would flip the switch to turn on the pump and spray water on the radiator and the engine temp would come back down.  As we ascended those long grades I remember the “swosh, swosh, swosh” sound of that pump which would pulse like a Rainbird sprinkler as we passed car after car on the side of the road with the hood up and steam coming out of the radiator.  Remember:  “Everybody yearns for the good old days but grandpa”.

Road to Sitgreaves Pass – current
(Photo by Georgia D. Griffiths., Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons)
Sitgreaves Pass (Georgia D. Griffiths., Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons)Sitgreaves Pass (Georgia D. Griffiths., Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s an interesting factoid.  Even in the 1920’s, this pass was known to be a very steep and treacherous drive.  As such a lucrative business for locals became pulling cars over the pass with mule teams so that the car owners didn’t have to risk driving the road.  One factor that played into this was that the Ford Model “T” was a quite popular touring car in the 1920’s and was instrumental in putting everyday people on the road all across the country.   The model “T” was a bare bones vehicle priced such that a burgeoning middle class could afford them.  One of the cost saving design features was a gravity feed fuel system.  The gas tank was mounted a bit higher than the engine under the front seat and gravity would allow the gas to flow down to the engine without the need of a fuel pump.  But, on the 12% grade going up Sitgreaves Pass the engine was higher than the gas tank and you didn’t go.  Many adventurous drivers solved this problem by going up the pass backwards.  Many weren’t that good at driving around hairpin curves backward and backed right off the road.

Sitgreaves Pass,  c. 1920’s to 1940’s
I got from Barbaragregorrich.com blog.  She got from interent from an unknown sourceI got from Barbaragregorrich.com blog. She got from interent from an unknown source

Our family drove this road many times in the 1950’s without having to go up the hill backwards

In the 1950’s I remember our summer trips as being almost exclusively on 2 lane roads packed with vacationers and big trucks.  Up a hill, down a hill, round a curve, pass a truck, creep up the next grade behind a sad car laboring to pull a much too heavy trailer as we crept along at 10 mph waiting for an opportunity to pass.  No passing lanes in those days, you just had to wait for a straight-a-way with the dotted line on your side and hope for a gap in oncoming traffic big enough for you to get by the slow poke. 

As my brother and I tried to fall asleep on a bed made of foma rubber in the back of the station wagon (seat belts were still more than a decade away), I remember that with my eyes closed, the sounds of driving were magnified.  The “click-click-click” of the turn signal when passing a slower car, the “click-clack” of the foot operated high beam switch at night and the “thunk” sound as my dad flicked a switch to engage the over drive.  And, almost always the sound of the wind through open windows.

In those days every road went right through the middle of every town, usually on Main or First Street.  Sometimes it would widen out to 4 lanes in the bigger towns but it was still slow going from red light to red light.  I remember hearing my mom and dad mention town names like Baker, Kingman, Winslow, and Needles among others while staring at a paper gas station or AAA map discussing where to turn onto a different highway, or where to gas up or have dinner or find a motel. 

Between the slow slog through towns and getting stuck behind slow moving vehicles between towns, I think I heard my dad say one time that for planning purposes you could figure on averaging 30 or at most 35 mph on such a trip.  Pretty different than these days when you can average closer to 60 mph on such a trip including rest stops.

The road surfaces were usually pretty good but they did not make much of an effort during construction to widen out curves or to level out small ups and downs as they built the roads.  We called these little roller coaster sections “whop-de-doos” and sitting on a mat way back by the tail gate as kids, we got quite a bounce out of them.

Route-66 “whoop-de-doo’s”  just east of Barstow
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For a while we pulled a small tear-drop trailer where mom and dad slept with my brother and I in a tent or more often just in a sleeping bag in the back of the station wagon or on a tarp or moving mat on the ground – it hardly ever rains in the SW in the summer so just sleeping on the ground was quite viable.  We had a square wire rack on the top of the car which sat on four suction cups with tie down straps hooked to the rain gutters over the car doors.  You can see this in the prior photo of the car in 1954.  We would load up that rack with our suitcases and camping gear.  From time to time something would not be tied down well or a rope would break and something would fly off.  Sometimes we wouldn’t even know till we got to the campground and wondered where some item had gone to.  One time I recall one or two of our suitcases flying off the roof and scattering clothes along the highway in some long forgotten stretch of desert. 

But memories aside, about the only thing we found on this 2023 trip in the section of Old Route-66 just east of Barstow was a set of “Whop-de-doo’s”.  I’m 100% sure that in the 1950’s we drove this section of US-66 on our way to the Grand Canyon as well as other places so it is quite possible that this is the place where I recalled the roller coaster road.

Arizona High Desert

The next day we headed out to Chinle.  Chinle is 522 miles from Barstow and ¾ of the distance is on I-40, and even though the speed limit along I-40 in Arizona is 75 mph it’s still over an 8 hour drive to Chinle (9+ hours if you include the time zone change), 

This drive is pretty flat through the high desert of Arizona.  There are some ridges you have to go over but it is not curvy at all.  My wife finds driving through desert landscapes quite boring, but I find it engaging.  First of all, unlike driving through a forest, you can see for miles and miles to far flung mountain ranges or dried up salt flats where seasonal rains form lakes.  As you go down the highway you can watch the railroad trains go by in each direction and marvel at the plants that have figured out a way to cling to life in these harsh conditions.  If you’re lucky you may witness a bloom of wild flowers along with all sorts of cacti and other drought and heat tolerant species.  Even though you rarely see native wildlife while driving at 80mph in the daytime, you know there is an abundant number of critters staying cool and asleep in their burrows waiting for the cool of the evening. 

I like watching all the varied geology in the hills and ridges.  It seems that each ridge we go over has different rock formations, strata, and different colors than the one before.  Some are green from copper.  Others are more reddish from iron or other colors like blue or violet from other mineral deposits.  Between the ridges the road bridges over hundreds of dry washes that flood during the monsoon season.  Many of these are marked with names like “Trans Ditch”, “Bristol Mountain Wash” (no idea where Bristol Mt. is), “Orange Blossom Wash” (odd as there are no orange trees within 500 miles of here), “Bandit Gulch”, and “Marble Creek.”

Eventually I-40 climbs up out of the desert into higher ground as you approach Williams.  The earth tones of the desert give way to the greens of growing grass and proper trees including oak, and pines.  If you are heading to the Grand Canyon, this is one of the places where you can turn north for the 60 mile drive to the South Rim.  But we continued east on I-40 through Flagstaff which has another turnoff for the Grand Canyon.  Our GPS devices had us go another 12 miles on I-40 to Winona and then turn NE into Navajo reservation land.  However, as the availability of gas on the reservation was unknown, we decided to stay on I-40 a bit longer and turn north in Winslow where we were sure we could tank up before entering the reservation.  This was taking the two legs of a right triangle rather than hypotenuse at the detriment of adding one whole minute to our trip (according to Google Maps). 

So we tanked up in Winslow and headed north for the 2 hour drive up to Chinle.  Most of this drive was through Hopi and Navajo land.  The land itself didn’t look all that different but the living conditions certainly were.  The homesteads looked better than in 2011 but still pretty poor.  Unlike our earlier trips through reservation land it seemed that in this area most little clusters of houses had electricity and most of the housing looked like they were prefab construction from the government.  Just plain and simple houses.  But we passed a fairly modern regional high school, little towns with small strip malls anchored by a good sized super market-hardware store and one or two other shops of one sort or another. 

Navajo housing (Google Street view)
31 Navajo Living 331 Navajo Living 3

The Road surfaces on the non main roads were very much in need of attention.  The ones with AZ state highway numbers were pretty good but the tribal ones were pretty rough with lots of pot holes, wavy asphalt, and many times non existent center or shoulder markings.  Many sections had lumps where they tried to seal cracks with tar making it like driving over endless railroad tacks.

Navajo roads not in great shape
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Even so, the not so good Hopi/Navajo roads were a far sight better than many of our CA roads – especially in urban and suburban areas.  For example, compared to the pot hole ridden CA-82 (El Camino Real) through the heart of our town makes these Hopi/Navajo roads seem smooth as glass


If you do much research about places to visit in the 4 corners area (we were now in NE AZ) you find in addition to the natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley, and Capital Reef (among others) there are also a large number of archeological Native American sites such as Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Montezuma’s Castle, and our next destination, Canyon de Chelly.

As we had visited all of these places other than Canyon de Chelly in the past we had a decent idea of some things.  For example, once you get near of any of these parks you start seeing signs for them along the Interstate telling you what exit to use, and then once you exit onto the smaller 2 lane roads you see signs telling you which way to go.  So, here we were 50 or 60 miles up a 2 lane road in the middle of nowhere and had still not seen anything resembling a sign.  There was no mention of either Chinle or Canyon de Chelly on I-40 either at Winona or Winslow.  Our GPS had us make a few turns after exiting the freeway and no signs for our destination were there either.  Were we on the right road?  Maybe there were two Chinle’s in different nearby states and we were headed to the wrong one?   It got so concerning that I pulled into a small strip mall to confirm with both GPS devices that we were indeed on the route to Chinle next to Canyon de Chelley as well as the correct Best Western motel – and we were.  So we pressed on, still dismayed at not seeing either of these places mentioned on any of the road signs or billboards for restaurants or motels.

It wasn’t until we were around 5 miles from Chinle that we saw our first sign that Chinle was coming up.  And, the one and only sign mentioning Canyon de Chelly was in the middle of Chinle at the turn for the park entrance.

The one and only sign mentioning the park itself
Google Street ViewGoogle Street View

It is not apparent why the park is so “un-promoted”.  This is a poor area which could certainly use tourist dollars and the park has a lot to offer (see next installment of this blog series).

The town itself is, how to say this, quite un-impressive.  There is one strip mall with a grocery store, a few gas stations, some widely spaced warehouse looking metal buildings with various sorts of industrial enterprises in them, a church or two, and a school.

There are two motels.  One is a large Best Western that has seen better days and the other is the Thunderbird Lodge by the canyon entrance that sounds good when you look at the website but which has pretty universally dismal reviews.  And the food options are even worse.  On the fast food end there is a Texas based fried chicken drive through and a Burger King.  That’s it.  In the sit down category there is a family restaurant at the Best Western, a Denny’s that somehow has achieved a new low point for the chain, a pizza place, and a cafeteria attached to the Thunderbird lodge.   All in all not much for a gateway city by a well known national/tribal park.  We’ll talk more about the food in the next article.  But, for now, after 8+ hours on the road we made it to our motel and checked in.




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Or, the whole 2023 Four Corners series here (as they are created)


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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) CA Airline Long Term Parking Bakersfield Barstow Train Yard blog Burma Shave Signs Chinle Creation of Barstow dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogfourcorners2023 Desert driving in the 50's Driving desert US-66 Hackberry I-40 I-40 in AZ I-5 Lunch near Bakersfield Kingman to Seligman Ludlow Mojave Air and Spaceport Mojave CA Mojave High Desert on I-40 Mojave Spaceport Navajo Reservation Oatman Pacheco Pass Route-66 Route-66 ruins Rutan Field Seligman Sitgreaves Pass Tehachapi Loop Tehachapi Pass Topock to Kingman US Highway System US-66 US-66 through Arizona in the 1950's https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/12/four-corners-01 Tue, 05 Dec 2023 01:35:51 GMT
Japan #07 - Naoshima, Hiroshima, Miyjima https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/8/japan-07 Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #07 Naoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
01 # Map 1 Entire Trip01 # Map 1 Entire Trip

This installment continues our stay on the Naoshima Art Island, then takes us on the bullet train down to Hiroshima where we visited the A-Bomb peace park and the next day went over to Miyajima Island with its picturesque temple literally in the bay.

Naoshima, Hiroshima and Miyajama route map
03 # Map 12 Naoshima-Hiroshima-Miyajima03 # Map 12 Naoshima-Hiroshima-Miyajima

Naoshima Art Island

In the last posting in this travel series I provided a bit of the history of the Naoshima Art Island including some information on the Benesse Art Site and the Naoshima Art House Project in the Honmura District. So there is no need to repeat that here.

Naoshima Island Route Map
02 # Map 11 Naoshima Island02 # Map 11 Naoshima Island

Benesse Art Site

The Benesse Art Site is a rather large land area with several museums, a couple of hotels and all sorts of art work scattered around the landscape. 

On one of our days on Naoshima Island we visited the Benesse House Museum (where our “laundry” experience was from the last chapter).  This building houses both a museum and also a rather exclusive hotel.  Tadao Ando (the Architect) designed this building on the concept of “coexistence of nature, art, and architecture”.  Unlike most museums which block light from the outside for various reasons, this one embraces outdoor light as well as the interaction of this natural light along with the landscape visible through the many large glass walls.  Through these windows we can see the tranquil Seto Inland Sea, the blue or grey of the sky, and the green of forested hills which are all used to interplay with the displayed artwork.  Much of the art is “site specific” and uses the surrounding landscape as part of the art.

We started our visit here with yet another traditional Japanese lunch delivered in lacquer boxes.  But lunch aside, this is an ultra modern unfinished concrete building where each section of the building is done in a different geometric concept.  For example there is a circular section about 3 stories tall, all open inside with open light coming in from above. Another area is a large square enclosure, two stories tall with no roof.  And then there are rooms that are more like hallways, and others just big enough to contain a single piece of art.  And in some cases the building itself displays what could be considered as contemporary art.  It is all done in an industrial, unfinished concrete style with minimalist lines and fixtures.

Sometimes the building itself appears as contemporary art
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One interesting art installation called “Three Chattering Men” by Jonathan Borofsky consisted of 3 life size men whose jaws were motorized to move up and down.  This was accompanied with a sound track of multiple people all talking at the same time such that none could actually be understood.  I neglected to get my own photo of this, but here is one from the internet.

Three Chattering Men by Jonathan Borofsky
Three Chattering MenThree Chattering Men
(Above image from Facebook page “Benesse Art Site Naoshima” posted by “The Art Trotter”)


I found the piece “Yellow and Black Boat” by Jennifer Bartlett quite interesting.  This starts out with a couple of small physical boats on the floor.  Behind these two boats is a painting which seems to be a reflection of the two boats in a mirror except that instead of the background being the museum room it is a beach scene.  But then if you turn around and look out the large glass windows, way down the hill you can see a small cove with a beach and there again are the two boats actually on the beach in the same positions.

Yellow and Black Boats – Jennifer Bartlet
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Another art work is a tall square concrete room open to the sky.  Inside are two large marble pillows for lounging.  Depending on the time of day, and where the sun and shade is, one is warm, and the other is cool.  Once positioned on one of these two pillows, your gaze is limited to just a small square of the sky causing a sense of almost being connected to the sky.

The secret of the sky by Kan Yasuda
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The piece “Counter Circle #18” consisting of plastic toy soldiers lined up in a circular pattern with mirrors on the walls next to the piece on two sides has a room all to itself.

Counter Circle #18 by Tatsuo Mayijima
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After visiting the museum we took a bit of a walk-around outside.  Throughout the grounds of this large parcel of land are various outdoor art pieces from just as many different artists.  In some areas, like near the hotel, the art is placed in a meadow in plain sight.  But in other areas of the property, as you wander around things just appear in the forest or on a beach as the only art piece in sight.  Below are some examples from around the site:

Frog & Cat (Karel Appel, 1990)
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Pumpkin (Yayoi 2022) 2nd version. 1st one was washed out to sea in a storm)
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The 3 squares below oscillate back and forth imperceptibly slowly.  You can’t really see them move but if you come back an hour or two later they are in different orientations.

Three Squares Vertrical Diagonal (George Rickey, 1972-82)
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Mondrian’ Glass Teahouse (Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2022)
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Naoshima Art House Project

The Art House Project is in the Honmura district (town) on the island.  It too was initiated by the Benesse Corporation in collaboration with the same architect, Tadao Ando.  The idea here is to take abandoned traditional homes and buildings, revitalize them and then let artists transform them into unconventional art spaces that blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment. 

Quite a concept that solved a couple of problems.  First it brings in tourists (and their money) and second, it keeps the community from having to deal with dilapidated abandoned houses.  Each artist is given creative freedom to design and construct their unique installations within the existing structures.  So not only do you get to wander around a picturesque little town, you can grab some artistic culture along the way.

Steps leading up to a shrine
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Looking over the wall into the Hachiman Shrine
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The Art House Project blurs the line between art and architecture, as the artists often utilize the existing structures and spaces within the houses to create their installations. The artworks can range from sculptures and installations to light and sound-based artworks, each providing a thought-provoking and engaging experience.

As an example, Kadoya House was the first building in the Art House Project to be completed. The house was constructed roughly 200 years ago, and it was restored to its original appearance with a stucco finish, smoked cedar boards, and traditional roof tiles. The townspeople of Naoshima participated in the creation of the work Sea of Time '98 by Tatsuo Miyajima.  Inside are a couple of rooms with “time” based artwork.  In the photo below, the colored lights are at the bottom of a shallow pool of water and each one is a digital clock. 

Sea of Time '98 by Tatsuo Miyajima
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The art in each of these rescued houses is quite different from the art found in other houses.  One of these was the Dark House.  In this one you move around inside the building in complete darkness making your way by touch only and bumping into walls as well as bumping into other people as you go.  Along the way you find all sorts of different textures and forms, which your brain tries to figure out.  Guess what?  No photos for obvious reasons, such as no light.

We visited several of these houses and wandered around the boat filled harbor and through some very nice little streets before heading back to the hotel.

The Art House Project has played a significant role in transforming Naoshima into an international art destination that attracts visitors from around the world who come to explore the island's unique blend of contemporary art, traditional architecture, and breathtaking landscapes. The project continues to evolve, with new installations and artworks being added periodically to enhance the artistic landscape of Naoshima.

The following day we headed down to the port to catch a ferry back to the mainland where we were provided one last piece of art to send us on our way.

Red Pumpkin (Yayoi Kusama, 2006)
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We then took a short ferry ride with our bus back over to the main Japanese island of Honshu, where we drove up to Okayama to catch a bullet train to Hiroshima.  You’ll remember we talked about the bullet trains (“Shinkansen”) before, so I won’t repeat that here.

The train station in Hiroshima is attached to two luxury hotels, one of which was our accommodation.  This was good planning as we left the bus in Okayama when we hopped on the bullet train, so having our hotel in the train station was excellent.  Our luggage was coming down from Okayama by truck and as trucks don’t go as fast as bullet trains, it wouldn’t arrive till later in the day. 

So, instead of going to our hotel (Sheraton Grand) we walked on over to the other hotel (Hotel Granvia) for a nice buffet lunch.  This was one of the better lunches on our trip.  In addition to some traditional Japanese dishes they also had a variety of more western dishes and a wide selection of desserts.  There was also a very friendly robot roaming around.  Its face resembled a cat with the body painted to resemble a tuxedo.  This robot wandered around and on a display panel asked (in several languages) for customers to place their trays and dishes on one of the empty shelves which adorned both sides of the machine.  Once the shelves were full the sign told us that the robot was “Going Home” and it made its way back to the kitchen to be relieved of the used trays and dishes.

Busboy (buscat?) robot
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After lunch a bus picked us up and off we went to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park a short drive away.  This park and its monuments serve as a memorial to the victims of the atomic bomb blast that occurred on August 6, 1945.  The park's main objective is to promote peace and advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons as well as to provide a place for reflection and remembrance of the devastating impact of war.  There are several monuments in the park which either stem from the bombing itself or have been added over the years. 

A-bomb Dome

The A-bomb Dome is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Hiroshima, if not the entire world.  This iconic building is the skeletal remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall built in 1914.  It was one of the few structures left standing near the epicenter of the explosion.  Just for reference, the bomb detonated in midair, 1,970 feet above the ground.  Stealing language from earthquakes, this spot in the air is called the hypocenter.  The spot on the ground directly below the hypocenter is the epicenter.  The midair detonation was designed so that the blast wave would spread out before reaching the ground making the impact zone much larger compared to a bomb that detonated upon impact with the ground. 

This particular building remained mostly standing for several reasons.  First of all it is located 525 feet from the epicenter of the blast which allowed the blast force to dissipate a bit before reaching the building and the angle of the blast from the hypocenter was largely downward rather then sideways, preventing the building from just being swept away sideways.  Then we have the design and construction of the building itself.  As it turns out this was a very well designed building constructed using reinforced concrete and brick rather than the more traditional wood found in Japan at that time.  Another factor was the dome itself which deflected the force of the blast around the building, where a flat sided structure with a flat roof surface, like most of the other buildings in the area, would have had to withstand the full impact of the blast. 

After the bomb blast, the A-Bomb-Dome remained mostly standing as a haunting reminder of the effects of such weapons. For many years, public opinions about the dome remained divided.  Some felt it should be reserved as a memorial to the victims of the bombing, while others thought it should be destroyed as a dangerously dilapidated structure evoking painful memories.  As the city was rebuilt and other bombed buildings vanished, the voices calling for preservation gathered strength.  In 1966, the Hiroshima city council passed a resolution to preserve the A-bomb dome which led to a public fundraising campaign to finance the construction work.  Donations poured in with wishes for peace from around Japan and overseas making the first preservation project possible in 1967.  Several preservation projects have since been carried out to ensure that the dome will always look as it did immediately after the bombing.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. 

As one gazes at the remains of the building different people have different thoughts and emotions.  For some it is remembering the lives lost.  For others it is thoughts of how alliances come and go and how enemies become friends and vice-versa over short periods of time.  And for some it is thoughts about why this building is still here when all those around it were blasted away.  But, I doubt anyone comes away without some emotion.

A-Bomb Dome Building
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But the A-Bomb Building is not the only thing in the Peace Park.  On the other side of the river is the larger portion of the Peace Park.

Children’s Peace Monument

This monument is dedicated to a young girl named Sadako Sasaki.  She was 2 years old in 1945 and was one of many who survived the actual bombing with no apparent injuries.  But she could not survive the long term damage caused by being exposed to the radiation.  Ten years later, after growing to the age of 12 as a healthy young girl, she developed leukemia.  She believed that if she folded 1,000 origami paper cranes, she would be granted a wish for a cure and for world peace.  Even though she and her friends and classmates folded well over 1,000 of these cranes her condition worsened and she died in October of 1955.

Sadako's story was widely reported around the world.  Several books were published (e.g., “Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr) and songs were written (e.g., “Sudako and the Paper Cranes, by Tommy Sands).  Being encouraged by the worldwide publicity about their friend, her classmates initiated a fundraising campaign to build a monument in her honor. They wanted to create a symbol of peace and hope to remember Sadako and all the innocent children who lost their lives due to the atomic bombing.  With contributions from across Japan and around the world, the Children's Peace Monument was completed and unveiled in 1958.

Since that time people from all over the world have made and donated paper cranes to the monument with well over 10 million being donated every year.  Most come from Japan, and each year countless school groups visit the monument and bring cranes folded by the class.  The ones donated by visiting school groups are placed in booths set up around one side of the monument for a short time till they run out of room.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic the city had to collect cranes from these booths 12 to 15 times a year to keep them from overflowing.  The city estimates that they typically collect an average of 10 tons of paper cranes each year.  Even though the numbers were cut to over half during COVID, the numbers are starting to come back up again as tourists and school groups return to the monument.   

Many of these cranes are strung together in long chains or put together in collages to make other designs by volunteer groups who make all sorts of artwork which they donate.  The ones not made into art work were incinerated until 2001, but in 2002 the city started storing them in warehouses.  In 2012, the mayor altered his predecessor’s policy and allowed the cranes to be distributed free of charge to individuals and groups hoping to use them. In addition to being displayed at peace events, given out as gifts and thank you tokens, more and more of these paper cranes are being reprocessed into recycled paper to make commercial products such as business cards, origami paper, and postcards.

Children’s Peace Monument
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One of the booths where school groups leave cranes they have made
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Sample artwork made from paper cranes
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Peace Flame and Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims

A short walk from the Children’s Peace Monument is a reflecting pool called the Pond of Peace, which contains the peace flame and the Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims.  Although these are 2 separate monuments, built and installed at different times, they are lined up with each other as well as the A-bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. 

The Peace Flame at the north end of the pond was first lit in 1964 and has remained continuously lit since that time.  The intention is that it will remain lit until the world is free of nuclear weapons and all nuclear weapons are banned.  I suspect this will be a long time from now, but we can only hope.  The flame itself is on a rectangular concrete platform that resembles the outstretched palms of two hands holding the flame.  When viewed from the north end of the pond these two hands seem to be holding the museum building in the background with the Peace Flame in the middle nestled under the Cenotaph Arch.

Peace flame monument with Cenotaph and Museum behind
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Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims

At the south end of the Pond of Peace is the Cenotaph.  The word “Cenotaph means “a monument to someone buried elsewhere, especially one commemorating people who died in a war.”  Under the arch of the Cenotaph memorial is a granite chest inscribed with “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil."  The chest contains books listing the names of people who died as a result of the nuclear explosion. As of 2021 there were over 300,000 names listed.  These books are taken out once a year to dry out any moisture and add more names. Due to space limitations some of these books are in storage facilities underneath the granite chest.

If you stand at the south end of the Pond of Peace, by the Cenotaph, you can view the Cenotaph, the Peace Flame and the A-bomb Dome all neatly lined up.  Needless to say this vantage point is quite popular for photography and there is almost always a queue of people waiting to take the exact same shot – including me.

Cenotaph with Peace Flame and A-bomb Dome building behind
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Peace Memorial Museum

The last place in the Peace Park we visited was the peace memorial Museum.  This museum exhibits artifacts, photographs, and personal stories related to the atomic bombing and its aftermath. The museum provides visitors with a somber and educational experience about the events that took place here in 1945.

How long has it been?
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One tours this museum on a fixed route through rooms with various exhibits that walk you through a time line from before the explosion to the aftermath.  Even though the museum exhibit rooms are somewhat dark, very warm, and extremely crowded it was very quiet. 

In one area was a circular platform onto which was projected an aerial view of the city just before the bombing.  Then, using video, it showed what happened as the bomb exploded and the blast wave swept across the cityscape, flattening almost everything in its path. 

Some of the exhibits had wall size photos taken in the city both before and after the bombing along with images and stories of individual people. 

Part of panorama of city after the bomb blast
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The whole experience was quite well done and documented the events as they took place.  However, there was a very strong theme of how terrible war is in general and specifically the use of nuclear weapons, which by their very nature cannot help but affect large masses of civilians for decades into the future, long after the war itself has become ancient history.

Near the end of the route through the museum, one walks down a second floor corridor alongside picture windows that look out over the Cenotaph, the Pond of Peace, the Peace Flame, and the Children’s Memorial all the way to the A-bomb Dome in the background.

View from inside Museum with Cenotaph, Peace Pond, Peace Flame and A-bomb Dome
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One unfortunate aspect of the museum was that the entire exhibit only made one brief mention of the attack on Pearl Harbor or the broader war in general.  Rather, the propaganda message as to why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed with atomic weapons was said to be “so that the United States Government could justify the cost of developing the bomb to the US taxpayers.”  Left out was any mention of the estimated number of deaths and casualties on both sides that would have occurred with a conventional attack on the main islands of Japan using conventional weapons of the time.


The next day, after a lecture about Mt. Fuji being a living goddess and seeing a wonderful National Geographic documentary produced by our host, Karen Kasmauski, we headed off to Miyajima Island.  Miyajima is a 10 minute ferry ride after an hour bus ride from our hotel in Hiroshima. 

Miyajima Island (aka Itsukushima Island) is roughly 11 square miles which is pretty small as islands go, but it packs quite a few interesting places to look at – mostly temples and shrines.  Like many other places in the world Miyajima is considered so sacred that being born or dying on the island is prohibited.  It seems that soon to be mothers must leave the island before their due date and can then only return after giving birth.  And, at the other end of the line, if you are near the end of your life you too must leave the island to die someplace else.  I wonder what happens if you have a fatal accident on the island?  Do they declare you un-dead, ship you to the mainland and then declare you dead?  I didn’t run a test with myself to see how they handled that sort of thing.

As we approached the island on the ferry on a cool, rainy and foggy day, we got a glimpse of one of the most famous features on the island which is the “Floating Tori Gate”.  This tori gate is part of the Itsukushima Shrine and sits out on tidal mud flat in the bay.  So, depending on the tide sometimes you can walk out to it and at other times it is in the bay itself.  As we approached the island it was mid tide so the gate was “floating” in the bay near the shore.  But we’ll talk more about this later.

Floating Tori Gate, Itsukushima Shrine on a foggy/rainy day
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After departing the ferry we were in the city of Hatsukaichi, which except for a few far flung temples and shrines scattered around the island is the only developed area on the island.   The main portion of Hatsukaichi is on the mainland so I suppose the portion on Miyajima is more of an extension of that city.  But nonetheless it was a thriving tourist area with loads of shops, food venders, restaurants and, of course, temples, monuments and shrines. 

Our first stop was in a plaza just outside the ferry terminal where we were informed about the significance of the island (Island of the Gods).  As is the case in many areas, this island is a UNESCO world heritage site and to commemorate its attainment of this designation a monument was placed in the plaza.  This monument has a hole carved through its middle which frames the Famous Floating Tori gate.  Unfortunately, the view through the hole also included a delivery truck that was parked there the whole day.

UNESCO Monument
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(Above image from Google Maps)


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From the plaza one can walk along a road by the beach or slide over one block and go down the main commercial street full of tourist oriented businesses.  The two routes meet again several blocks further down. 

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

The most visited attraction here, and one of the top 3 in Japan, is the world famous and unique Itsukushima Shinto Shrine.  This shrine is a single level structure raised up on stilts over a tidal mudflat.  The floor boards are placed with gaps between them so that when there is an extra high tide, the water can come up between the boards without lifting the building.

It is built in the architectural style known as Shinden-zukuri, which is characterized by a main hall with a raised floor (typically covered with tatami mats), surrounded by verandas on all sides. The main hall serves as the central sacred space where rituals are performed.  The buildings themselves have no walls, just columns that hold up the roof and separate interior “rooms” from outer “walkways”.

One of the most distinctive features of Itsukushima Shrine is that it is built over the water, giving it the appearance of floating during high tide. This design is called "shin-za" (divine seat) and was intended to create a strong visual impact, emphasizing the shrine's connection to the sea and the sacredness of the island.  When the tide is in, the entire temple is floating over the water but when the tide is out, it is on dry land.  And as we’ve seen before, it is painted in a vibrant vermilion color which is a common characteristic of many Shinto shrines in Japan. The vivid color symbolizes protection against evil spirits and is considered sacred in Shinto tradition. 

The shrine complex is intentionally designed to create a division between the sacred and the profane. Visitors enter through a tori gate and then pass through corridor before reaching the main hall. This progression is symbolic of transitioning from the secular world to the sacred realm of the shrine.

Itsukushima Shrine at low tide
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Arched bridge in background is a relatively new addition to the shrine
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Great Hall
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The large vermilion torii gate, officially called Otorii, is the symbol of Miyajima and is often considered one of Japan's three most scenic views. During high tide, the gate stands in the sea seeming to float on the water, while during low tide, you can walk up close to it on the beach as was the case when we were there.  This is a large structure that measures about 54 feet high and 78 feet across.  The gate is made of camphor wood and is painted the same vibrant vermilion color as the temple. 

Floating Tori Gate (mid-low tide)
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Floating Tori Gate (mid-hightide)
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Gojunoto Five Story Pagoda

Like many temples and shrines in Japan, the Itsukushima Shrine also has a pagoda, this one called Gojunoto, and like the one we saw at Zentsuji Temple (article 6 of this series), this one too is a 5 story pagoda.  In this instance the 5 stories represent a different aspect of Buddhist teachings and cosmology.  Starting at the bottom they are:

  1. Earth, which is the realm of human beings. It symbolizes the earthly realm where humans live and interact.
  2. Water, the realm of asuras or jealous gods. Asuras are mythical beings associated with constant struggle and envy.
  3. Fire, which symbolizes the realm of animals. It is associated with animal instincts and desires.
  4. Wind or air, which symbolizes the realm of hungry ghosts (pretas). Hungry ghosts are beings who suffer from constant hunger and thirst.
  5. Space or void, which symbolizes the realm of heavenly beings or celestial beings. It is associated with the highest and purest state of existence, free from suffering.

At the top of the pagoda is a finial or spire called "sorin", which represents the pinnacle of enlightenment and the attainment of Buddhahood.

Five Story Pagoda at Itsukushima Shrine
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Shrines, Monuments and Temples

In addition to the major attractions I’ve already mentioned, as you walk around this town you can’t turn around without bumping into another temple, shrine or monument.  Some are not much more than a tiny plot of land with a small monument inside and others are more elaborate.  Some had signs, but many did not and you just had to know what it was. 

No sign so no idea what this one is (couldn’t translate stone plaque over entrance)
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Itsukushima Ryujin Shrine in front of Daiganji Temple
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Behind Itsukushima Shinto Shrine
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Traditional Tea Ceremony

One of the planned events for our group was a formal tea ceremony.  The facility turned out to be a training school for “traditional tea serving”.   The rooms inside were not large enough for our entire group to go in all at once so we were divided up into two groups with each group being given a time to come back.  We’d been to tea ceremonies in the past so pretty much knew what to expect. 

We were brought into the facility and led to a small, but very Japanese, room where we sat around the perimeter of the room on the floor.  A few chairs were brought in for those of us who would not do well on the floor.  As usual, a couple of kimono clad young girls brought in the items needed for the ceremony and carefully arranged them in precise locations for the ceremony.  We were quite surprised when the person who would perform the ceremony came in as it was a man, not a woman.  At first I thought he was just another helper but it turns out he was the main guy.  He was also not Japanese, he was German.  Turns out he has been training with tea service masters around the world for the past eight years.  In order to get his certification he needed to up his count of tea services performed correctly.  So, he came here to continue his apprenticeship for another 2 or 3 years until he could be certified as a tea service master. 

At the start, a Japanese woman from the school was narrating in Japanese, which was then translated by our guide. As they say, something was lost in translation, and we really couldn’t get the drift of what was being said.  But, it turned out person performing the ceremony was fluent in English and soon took over his own narration and was quite forthcoming in answering questions.  This was a traditional Tea Ceremony which is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the famous Green Tea Ceremony which has additional elements and is a bit more elaborate.  The ceremony had him make a pot of Macha Tea and each of us got a small cup of it along with a small sweet cake.  I must say that the Macha Tea was vastly better than the Green Tea we had gotten 10 years earlier at a Japanese Green Tea Ceremony.

Japanese Tea Ceremony
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Before landing on the island, we were informed (warned?) about the over abundant wild deer that roam the island including the streets of the town.  Wild?  Well as opposed to captive or domestic maybe that term makes sense but they are quite friendly, tame and used to being around people.  I’d say too used to being around people.  And, even though “tame” they are quite bold in their quest to obtain your lunch. 

For lunch I headed back to the tourist/commercial street, which was wall to all food stalls, restaurants, and packaged food shops.

Streetside Food Stall (oysters I believe)
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I purchased some take away food for lunch from a shop and found a bench by the visitor’s center to sit and eat. When I was about done a family came along with their lunch to share the bench.  Not too long later a deer showed up. 

At first the deer just sort of begged for a hand out like a dog at the dinner table.  But, the dad made the grave mistake of giving it a little something to impress and delight his daughter before pushing it away.  Well, that was all it took.  The buffet had been declared open.  Undaunted, the deer came right back and tried eating one end of the dad’s food while he was eating the other end, but he pushed it away again.  Then while he was helping his daughter to be a bit more discrete with her lunch the deer went head first into a canvas shopping bag they had.  The mom quickly pulled the canvas bag away from the bench (and the deer), but this exposed a plastic bag from the food stall that had been hidden between the dad and the canvas shopping bag.  Instantly the deer was helping itself to the contents of the plastic lunch bag. 

By this time the opinion of the little girl had shifted from delight by being so close to a cute deer to distress at seeing her lunch being stolen before her eyes by this crazed wild beast, and the tears flowed.  About this time some city workers came by and shooed the deer away.  Apparently they were the “deer patrol” for as soon as they showed up the deer was out of there without a second glance. 

The Deer takes lunch
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Random things about Japan

Now that we’re nearing the end of our tour, I find that I still have a list of weird or interesting factoids about Japan that didn’t make it into these articles.  So, rather than just trashing the list, why not just insert it here in list form.

  • The Japanese alphabet consists of three writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic alphabets with between 40 and 50 characters each.  The Kanji is a system of Chinese characters where each character represents words or ideas.  There are well over 50,000 Kanji characters of which about half are still in common use.  Starting in the 2nd grade students are taught to write about 5 new ones a day, every day, all the way through the end of high school at which point they still haven’t gotten to them all.  The rest they’ll just have to figure out on their own.
  • Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan, and professional sumo wrestlers often live together in communal training stables called heya.  Although these athletes seem to have an unhealthy amount of fat but that is not the case.  Despite consuming around 7,000 calories per day, they train for almost 5 hours a day. This intense training keeps their body fat away from their vital organs where it causes problems. However, if they stop training, they're likely to become obese
  • The Japanese are known for their love of sushi, but raw fish wasn't always a popular food in Japan. It was actually introduced to the country from China in the 8th century.
  • The Japanese have a unique way of counting, using different words for different objects. For example, the number 2 when used to describe pencils is different from the number two when used to describe cars.
  • Japan has the second-highest life expectancy in the world, with an average life expectancy of 84 years.
  • Capsule Hotels - Capsule hotels are a type of hotel unique to Japan where guests sleep in small, capsule-like pods instead of traditional hotel rooms. The pods are just big enough to fit a person lying down, and typically come equipped with a TV, radio, and other amenities.
  • Maid Cafes - Maid cafes are a popular type of cafe in Japan where the wait staff dress up in French maid costumes and serve customers. The cafes are known for their cutesy atmosphere and the attention to detail that goes into the maid outfits and decor.
  • Love Hotels - Love hotels are another unique type of hotel found in Japan. They are designed for couples who want to have private, romantic encounters and are typically rented out by the hour. Love hotels often have themed rooms and elaborate decor. I wonder if married couples ever use them?

The End

After returning from Miyajima and a brief stop back at our hotel, we were off again for our “end of trip farewell dinner”.  Although the restaurant was not that far from our hotel, the traffic was heavy and it took quite some time to arrive at the restaurant.  For our farewell dinner they took us to the posh Hambei (Hanbe) Garden Restaurant for one last authentic Japanese meal. 

According to our guide this is the number one restaurant in Hiroshima.  Their website describes it as a sukiya-style building surrounded by a Japanese garden and offers authentic kaiseki (traditional Japanese) cuisine that can be served only at traditional Japanese restaurants, using an abundance of seasonal ingredients.  The dinner was a multi course bonanza of fresh items, well prepared and immaculately presented. 

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Outside the dining rooms was a spectacular courtyard Japanese garden with a pond.

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The next day, we all went our separate ways.  Most of the group had flights and took the bullet train to their departing airports.  We headed back to Tokyo on the bullet train to spend some more time with family before heading back home to the San Francisco area.

And that concludes this travel series on our trip to Japan in April, 2023.  I hope you enjoyed following along with our adventures and please leave a comment on this web page.




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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) A-Bomb Dome blog Childrens Peace Memorial dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Floating Tori Gate Hiroshima Hiroshima Peace Park Japan Miyajima Island Naoshima Art Island https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/8/japan-07 Sat, 05 Aug 2023 19:27:28 GMT
Japan #06 - Iya Valley, Zentsuji Temple, Udon Noodle Experience, Ritsurin Park, Naoshima Intro https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/7/japan-06 Posted July 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #06 Takamatsu to Naoshima

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
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This installment takes us from the Iya Valley to the north side of Tokushima Island and then to Naoshuima (Art) Island.  Along the way we made stops at the Zentsuji Temple, an udon noodle factory, and Ritsurin Park before boarding the ferry for Naoshima (Art) Island where we spent 2 nights.

Iya Valley to Naoshima Island Map
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Down the Iya Valley

After breakfast we made our way down the picturesque Iya river canyon and headed north toward Takamatsu.  Once again we had our full size bus that would accommodate our whole group rather then two smaller ones we had to use in the narrow roads in the upper reaches of the Iya Valley.  Along the way we covered much of the same road we used on the way in.  This day though was a bit rainy and overcast with intrusions of fog appearing here and there along the valley. 

Overcast day on the Iya River
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Lovely bridge over the Iya River
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Zentsuji Temple

Our first stop after leaving the Iya Valley was at the Zentsuji temple in the town of the same name.  Like the temples we saw at Mt. Koya, the Zentsuji temple is also a popular stop for the religious pilgrims which we talked about in a prior article.  This one too is on a pilgrimage route associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai (i.e. Kobo-Daishi).  But, unlike the 1 to 2 day 15 mile pilgrimage route around Mt. Koya, this one is 745 miles long, consists of 88 temples, and takes 30 to 60 days.  In the old days the pilgrims walked from temple to temple but these days most take buses. 

According to legend, the Zentsuji temple is the birthplace of Kukai (i.e. Kobo-Daishi), who founded the Shingon sect and is one of the most revered figures in Japanese Buddhism.  The temple complex is said to have been established by Emperor Sujin in the 7th century on the site where Kukai was born.  It has since been rebuilt several times with the current main hall dating back to the Edo period (1603-1867).

The sprawling temple grounds feature a traditional Japanese garden with a pond, stone lanterns, and seasonal flowers. The main hall, known as the Kondo, houses statues and relics associated with Kukai, including a wooden statue of him as a child. Visitors can also see the Bodhi tree, a descendant of the original tree under which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Like many temples across Japan, this is more of a complex of buildings and monuments than a single temple building.  It’s hard for me to say which buildings are used for what purposes, either now or in the past, but they are still interesting to look at. 

Looking into the temple complex from a bridge over a river
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One of the many buildings in the Zentsuji Temple Complex
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This temple complex consists of several large buildings any one of which could be a main temple building in its own right.  I have no idea which one is considered the main one or perhaps there is no such thing as a main worship building.  The interior of some of these look quite ancient and subdued while others were more colorful and vibrant.  I’m sure there is history behind these differences but I don’t know what it is. 

More vibrant and colorful building for services with a large area for the attendees to sit
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One of the buildings though is unmistakable, and that is the 5 story pagoda.  The original was built by Kobo Daishi but in 1558, during the Eiroku Period, it burned down.  Then in 1804 Emperor Momozono had it rebuilt but that one burned down as well.  They certainly had a fire problem in those days.  The current pagoda was started by emperor Ninko but the Meiju Restoration got in the way and it was not completed until 1902.  And, there it stands, waiting for the next fire.

Most temples seem to have some sort of multi level pagoda and the number of stories is always used when talking about it.  So, for example, this one is not just the “Zentsuji Temple Pagoda” it is the “5 story Zentsuji Temple Pagoda”.  And, of course, there is some history behind this custom. 

First of all, the whole idea of multi level pagodas originated in India and gradually spread to other Buddhist regions across Asia.  As one could probably deduce, the taller the pagoda is, the more levels it tends to have, which in turn represents the importance of the pagoda as well as the wealth and power of whoever had it built, not to mention the skill of the architect who designed it (assuming it didn’t fall down).  But, it goes beyond that.  There is almost always some symbolic meaning attached to the number of stories giving it a spiritual significance.

The number of stories is often associated with cosmological and mystical symbolism. The belief is that each level represents a different realm or stage of spiritual attainment.  For example, a seven story pagoda might symbolize the seven stages of enlightenment in Buddhism, known as the Seven Factors of Awakening. Each level represents one of those stages.

But the number can also represent other things.  For example, among others, a five story Pagoda can represent:

  • Five elements in Buddhist cosmology (earth, water, fire, air, and space)
  • Five wisdoms of Buddha (Dharmadhatu or mirror-like wisdom, Vajra or wisdom of equality, Ratna or wisdom of richness, Padma or discriminating wisdom, Karma or all-accomplishing wisdom)
  • Five components of human existence (form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness)

In the case of the Five Story Pagoda in Zentsuji, the 5 levels represent realms.

  • Kāmadhātu (Realm of Desires)
  • Rūpadhātu (Realm of Form)
  • Arūpadhātu (Realm of Formlessness)
  • Nirvāna: (the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice)
  • Tenborin (Heavenly Canopy)

5 story Pagoda at Zentsuji
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Unlike other Temples we’ve seen, these temple grounds are not immaculately tended formal gardens. Rather, much of the open space between buildings looks like it was once grass that has died – like around the 5 story pagoda in the photo above.  Other parts of the complex are just dirt or gravel – not the white gravel that is raked into designs, but just crushed rock for walking on.  I suspect that this was not always the case, but the sheer number of people who visit each has necessitated a more accessible plan.

Scattered among the various buildings are several features for various purposes.  There is a cleansing water trough with ladles, an incense burning urn, a glass enclosed rack for memorial candle burning, stone lanterns, and a large array of stone statuary.

Insense burning urn
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Cleansing Trough
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Rememberance candle burning
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Along one wall of the temple grounds there are three rows of stone statues where each figure is a unique person.  It turns out that each of the statues is a representation of a priest, from a different temple on the 88 temple pilgrimage route, who is said to have reached nirvana.  Buried underneath each of these statues is some dirt from that statue's home temple, so if you are of a mind to do so you can make the 88 temple pilgrimage route by visiting each statue and save yourself a lot of travel time.  Is that cheating?

Each figure is the likeness of a priest who reached nirvana
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Many of these statues have been adorned with hats and bibs.  This custom is observed in some Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea.  Each country has its own unique traditions for this custom, but in general the act of adorning Buddhist statues with hats and bibs is often associated with the idea of providing protection and showing respect.  By offering them clothing, devotees demonstrate their reverence and gratitude towards the enlightened ones.  The hats and bibs are typically made from cloth and are carefully placed on the statues.

Hats and bibs show respect
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As we exited the walled area of the grounds to cross a small street on our way to the next section of the temple grounds, I turned around to take a look at the gate we had just passed through and saw a row of just the heads of these monk statues rising above the wall like they were in the top row of stadium seats waiting for a ball game to start.  I found that concept quite amusing and just had to take a photo of the scene.

Top row of monks
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Pretty bridge that connects the Zentsuji Temple complex to a parking lot
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Udon Noodle Factory

Our next stop was at the Nakano Udon School in the town of Takamatsu.  If you recall, or even if you don’t, in article 5 of this series I talked about various kinds of noodles found in Japan.  In that article I talked about a famous (and out of the way) Soba Noodle restaurant in the Iya valley where we had lunch.  If you recall, Soba are the buckwheat noodles.  And here we are again today having lunch in a noodle restaurant.  But this time it is Udon noodles. 

Unlike our Soba Noodle experience which was basically in someone’s living room, sitting on the floor this is a modern, large and very commercial tourist experience.  This enterprise has three main functions.  First of all it is a modern mechanized, mass production, udon noodle factory supplying restaurants and grocery stores throughout the area.  Secondly, it is a tourist store for selling their goods.  And thirdly it is a tourist “experience” where you make your own noodles which they then prepare and become part of your lunch in their dining hall.

Nakano Udon Noodle School
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Entry into the gift shop and noodle making experience
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After parking our bus alongside 8 to 10 other big tour buses with placards in the front windows in several different languages, we went inside.  Once inside you are confronted with a large retail area selling all sorts of tourist things but mainly packaged Udon noodles.  This was quite chaotic with several dozen people looking through the goods and all speaking different languages.   Around the perimeter of this showroom are a half dozen or so doors that lead into classrooms.  As I wandered around I looked onto some of these classrooms and each one was in full swing with the instructor in each one speaking a different language.  One room was French, one was Italian, and another Chinese. 

In short order, our group was ushered into one of these classrooms. The room had loud American music blasting over loudspeakers and was set up with around 6 long wide tables with a few chairs on either side of each table.  At each “workstation” was noodle making supplies.  Around the room were all sorts of signs and information about udon noodle making – all of them in Japanese.  It wasn’t long before an instructor arrived and went up to the front of the room to teach us how to make udon noodles. 

Waiting for the class to start
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And then the wheels came off.  Not withstanding that the French tour group had a French speaking instructor, the Italian group had an Italian speaking instructor, our instructor could only speak Japanese.  But, all was not lost.  Out guide from the bus said he’d translate.  The teacher started talking and our translator (doing the best he could) could barely keep up.  But rather than starting at the beginning with a “Step 1, step 2” sort of thing, the teacher started with something around the end of the process.  This confused absolutely everyone as we had no idea what she was talking about.  But our translator said not to worry as it would all become clear with a visual aid.  OK, that makes sense.  A good set of written instructions is always a good thing.  At this point the teacher held up a sign with step numbers 1 through 3 and text by each number – All in Japanese. 

Written instructions in Japanese was not real useful to our group
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Okay, this was not going well.  We have no idea why the local Japanese company that NGS hired to operate our tour didn’t let these people know that we were an English speaking tour or perhaps the English speaking teacher was sick that day.  Maybe as they were a Japanese tour operator the noodle people just assumed the tourists would be Japanese too.  I wonder if the room next door was full of Japanese tourists listening to an English speaking teacher.

But, we eventually we got the drift of things and realized we were starting with step 2 having no idea what happened to step 1.  One of the bowls at each workstation had dough of unknown origin in it.  This step in the process was to roll out the dough into a thin sheet.  Exactly how thin was never really articulated so our group had a wide variety of thicknesses.  You then folded the sheet of dough into a zig-zag pattern which you then cut into slices with each slice being the width of a noodle.  The zig-zag fold was just to make the slicing easier.  We then unfolded the now sliced noodles and put them into bowls (one bowl for each table of 4). 

Sliced Udon Noodles
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Okay, now what?  Well, as that was apparently step 2 of the process as we now went back to step 1.  On our table was some flour still in powder form to which we added a pre-measured amount of water and with our gloved hands kneaded it till it was uniform.  I thought it was too dry as it was hard to get some moisture into all the powdery flour.  But eventually we each wound up with a wad of dough which was put into a zip lock bag.  Keep up with me here. 

This bag of dough was then thrown onto the floor and with the aid of loud music we were instructed to dance on the bag (we were already in our socks).  This dancing was the last phase of the Kneading process.  As I was mashing the dough with my feet I pondered whether this is what goes on inside the commercial factory in the next building?  Are noodle factory workers hired based in their dough dancing expertise?  Oh well, apparently this new dough we danced on is for the next group to cut into noodles.  I wonder what group danced on our noodles.  I hope it was an Italian group as Italians are good with pasta.

After a little wash up we were escorted out of the classroom and up to the second floor where there was a very large dinning hall consisting of long rows of “family style” seating with each place pre loaded with yet another “traditional Japanese lunch”.  Each group of four brought along their bowl of freshly made noodles and upon being seated at one of these long tables dumped the noodles into a pot of boiling water.  This was step 3 of the process – cooking the noodles.  While your noodles are boiling you get to eat the appetizers and once your noodles are done, you take them out and add them to a pot of soup to which you can add other things.  The tour group at the next table (they seemed to be Korean) had various strips of meat that they added to their noodle soup, but for us it was vegetables only. 

Even though it seemed totally chaotic and disorganized, everyone had a good time and checked off “make my own udon noodles“from their bucket list.

Ritsurin Park

Moving on from our udon noodle experience we headed over to Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu.  This park takes Japanese precision and attention to detail to a whole new level.  It is regarded as perhaps the most beautiful traditional Japanese garden in the whole country.

It was first created by a local feudal lord, Ikoma Takatoshi, in the early 17th century but has been greatly expanded and refined by later generations of the Matsudaira clan who ruled during the Edo period.  Today it is around 185 acres with tea houses, streams, lakes, ponds, stone and wooden bridges, an Asian art museum and traditionally designed Japanese landscaping.  With less than 2 hours available there was no way to see the entire park but we did see some very nice portions of it.  Our bus guide led an audio tour by several of the well know features and then we were left on our own to wander about. 

One of the things this park is best known for are its manicured pine trees, each one meticulously placed and trimmed.  These are mainly the distinctive tsurukame-matsu pine tree along with hakomatsu box pine trees.  The hakomatsu box pine trees got that nickname as they are supposed to look like boxes.  While they are very rare, they've been continuously maintained for more than three hundred years here. 

One very famous tree here is the black tsurukame-matsu tree which stands on a mound of around 110 stones arranged into the shape of a turtle. The tree is said to appear like a crane fluttering its wings while standing on the back of a turtle. 

Crane (tree) with out stretched wings standing on the back of a turtle (stone mound)
The turtle head is sort of facing the camera a bit to the right of center

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As we walked through the park, in addition to the lovely scenery in general, we came across several traditional style bridges over streams and ponds, some in the traditional red, some in more natural wood.  We also passed teahouses and ponds with massive numbers of koi looking to be feed by tourists who purchased a small bag of koi food.

Red footbridge reflecting in a small stream
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One of the many tea houses
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Not one leaf is out of place in the Ritsurin Park garden.
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Punting on a pond by a stone bridge
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Engetsu Bridge with koi
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Naoshima Art Island

After a short ferry ride from Takamatsu we arrived in Naoshima Island, also known as the “Art Island”.

Naoshima is a pretty small island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan.  Up until the early 1990’s Naoshima was just another remote island with a few small fishing villages and provided little interest to the rest of the world.  But now it is on many published “must see” lists of world attractions as a unique destination for art lovers and travelers looking for a one of a kind experience.  It is internationally recognized as a unique destination for both contemporary art and architecture. Often referred to as the "Art Island", Naoshima is known for its numerous art installations, museums, and galleries scattered throughout the island's picturesque landscapes in a variety of settings.  The art can be seen in several formal art museums, many outdoor locations scattered throughout the island as well as clustered in specific areas, and single artist exhibits in previously abandoned traditional houses in some villages.

This whole affair can be traced back to two men, Tetsuhiko Fukutake and Chikatsugu Miyake.  Fukutake-san, the founding president of Fukutake Publishing, wanted to create a place in the Seto Inland Sea where children from all over the world could gather.  Chikatsugu Miyake, then incumbent mayor of Naoshima, dreamt of developing a cultural and educational area on the island.  These two gentlemen got together in 1985 and formed an agreement to start a series of projects to fulfill their ideas. 

The first project in their grand scheme was in 1989 with the development of the Naoshima International camp designed by Tadao Ando, a famous Japanese architect, who would go on to design many other buildings as the projects expanded.  The camp was designed as an area where people can experience the natural surroundings of the region by staying in yurts dismantled and brought over from Mongolia.  Karel Appel's outdoor sculpture “Frog and Cat” which was displayed in the campsite at the time was the first contemporary artwork to become a permanent installation.

The next venture was the creation of the Benesse Art Site with the opening of the Benesse House Museum in 1992.  The Benesse Corporation is a Japanese company which focuses on correspondence education and publishing who teamed up with Tetsuhiko and Chikatsugu.  This project is on a large parcel of land stretching across most of the southern end of the island.  Eventually the museum would be joined by several other museums, a couple of hotels, a restaurant and a sprawling exhibit of both indoor and outdoor artwork.

Concurrent with this in 1998 they started something called “Art House”.  This is a project that takes abandoned houses in Naoshima's Honmura District (town), restores them, and then lets artists convert these spaces into works of art.  This became a great opportunity for expanding the area dedicated to art projects, reaching out from the Benesse House Museum toward the local town and its inhabitants, and engaging with their daily routines.

As it was late in the afternoon when we arrived on the island by ferry after leaving Takamatsu we headed straight to our hotel.  This was the Benesse House Hotel, one of the two hotels on the Benesse Art Site. 

This hotel, also designed by Tadao Ando, is an artwork in itself as well as having all sorts of art work in, on, and around the building itself.  The architecture blends contemporary art, architecture, and nature into a harmonious experience.  It is composed of several interconnected buildings, each with its own distinctive character and purpose all done in a style using clean lines, geometric forms, and a minimalist aesthetic done in unfinished concrete.  The hotel sits on a hill overlooking a good size open field filled with contemporary art pieces beyond which is the Seto Inland Sea.  And, it seems that all the rooms overlook a reflecting pool with a view of the field filled with artwork and the sea beyond.  Quite lovely. 

Benesse House Hotel
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Reflecting pool
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We’ll have more about the Art Island in our next chapter of this travelogue series but first I’ll leave you with our “laundry” experience.

After arriving our first order of business was laundry as we were out of pretty much everything.  By checking at the front desk I found that the hotel does have a place where guests can do a load of wash.  But, you have to make a reservation.  As luck would have it, there was an open slot in just 20 minutes.  Some days the gods are with you and some days they are not.  So, we took the reservation.   As it turns out the laundry facility is not actually in the hotel.  It is in one of the museums down the road, far enough that it is too far to walk with a load of laundry.  But, the every 15 minute shuttle bus goes there so we grabbed our laundry bag and shuttled our way to the museum.  Indeed, the front desk confirmed our reservation, handed us a pod of laundry detergent and instructed us how to get to the laundry room, which was down a corridor and around a corner. 

The laundry room was about the size of a small closet with 1 washer and 1 dryer, and was about 100 degrees inside.  Both machines were tiny by US standards.  The dryer was busy with someone else’s load but the washer was ready for our use.  So, with the help of “Google Translate” on my phone we figured out the Japanese instructions and got our load going.  Going back to the museum front desk, we asked how long before the load would be done?  Well, not only was the supplied washer small it was also slow as the load would not complete till around 5:30 which would give us just enough time to move the clothes to the dryer and not be too late for our 6:00 pm dinner back at the hotel. 

After a wander around the museum we returned at 5:30 and moved our stuff to the dryer after which we went back to the museum front desk to see when the dryer might be done.  Well, the electric dryer (running at Japan’s lower 100 volt electrical power system voltage) was even slower than the washer and was not expected to complete until 10 or 11 that night.  So, the next logical question was “is the museum open that late and how late do the shuttle busses run?”  Turns out the museum closes at 11:00 but the shuttle busses stop as I recall at 8:00.  But, they said if we asked ahead of time, someone from the hotel could drive us over to the museum to pick our stuff up at no charge.  Really?  I was quite impressed, but it got better. 

My next question was, "who do I speak to at the hotel to make those arrangements"?  Now here’s where Japanese hospitality really kicked in (way more than I’d ever expect in the US).  The response to my question about who to talk to was this.  “Don’t worry, we’ll have someone take your clothes out of the dryer when it’s done and we’ll drive it over to the hotel and leave it at the front desk for you.  We can’t be sure of the exact time, but it will be there by morning.”  I was quite impressed.  And, not only that, the next morning, I went to the front desk and indeed was presented with some shopping bags (apparently liberated from the museum gift shop) full of our clean and dry laundry.  Incredibly wrinkled from the cramped dryer but who can quibble about that.


Our next installment of this series will talk more about the Art Island, The bullet train to Hiroshima, the Hiroshima peace park, Miyajima Island with the famous Itsukushima Shrine and Tori Gate in the bay and our return to Tokyo.


This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Japan 2023 series here (as they are created)



Photographs from this trip to Japan 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, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) blog dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Into to Naoshima Art Island Iya valley Japan Nakano Udon School Naoshima Island Ritsurin Park Takamatsu Zentsuji Temple https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/7/japan-06 Wed, 05 Jul 2023 21:53:33 GMT
LR019 - Convert LR/Cloud images to Smart Previews https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/6/lr019-convert-lr/cloud-images-to-smart-previews Convert LR/Cloud Images to Smart Previews

Reduce amount of “paid for” storage used by LR/Cloud
(V01, 6/2023)


This article is intended for people using Lightroom Classic along with Lightroom (cloud).  It does not apply to people just using Lightroom (cloud).  It is something to consider before buying more cloud storage from Adobe.  In almost all cases (unless you’re filling the Adobe Cloud with things other than images synced with LR/Classic) you don’t need more than the 20gb minimum no matter how many synced photos you have stored in the Adobe Cloud.

When images originate in one of the Adobe Lightroom Cloud (LR/Cloud) based applications (LR/desktop, LR/Android, LR/iOS, Lightroom.adobe.com) the full size original images are stored in the Adobe Cloud and those images consume a portion of your paid for cloud storage space (initially 20gb or 1tb depending on plan).  This includes images taken with the Lightroom app or the Lightroom Camera app on portable devices and also includes images imported into any of LR/Cloud based apps.

However, images that originate in Lightroom Classic and are synced to the Adobe Cloud do not count against your paid storage allocation.  These are surrogate or proxy images which are actually a special kind of DNG file called “Smart Previews”.  See this article for more information about syncing images between LR/Classic and LR/Cloud apps, including a section on what syncs and what doesn’t.  But, for image editing, Smart Previews can be used just like the original file it is standing in for.  In other words they are quite usable in Lightroom Cloud based apps – and they are free.

In my case, I have 2,300 images in 73 albums in the Adobe Cloud which are all Smart Previews of (mostly RAW) files in LR/Classic.  These take up 145mb of my 20gb storage which is less than 1% of my paid for storage.


In order to replace the Originals in LR/Cloud with Smart Previews, you first have to delete the originals from the Adobe Cloud which frees up the storage space.  Then you use LR/Classic to re-populate those same images with Smart Previews. 

CAUTION:  If you have “shared” a Collection/Album (e.g. “Make Public” in LR/Classic), when in this process images are removed from the synced collection/album they are removed from the shared link but when re-added to the same Collection/Album as a Smart Preview they will re-appear in the shared link.  However if in this process you un-sync the collection, the previous URL becomes invalid and when you re-sync the collection you will have to “Make Public” again which will generate a different URL

CAUTION:  Images in Adobe Portfolio web pages will not be affected by this process.  But if you un sync a Collection (which deletes the Album in LR/Cloud) and if that Album was used as the source for a page in Portfolio, you will no longer be able to refresh that page in Portfolio from Lightroom”.  If this happens you will need to delete the page in Portfolio and re-add it.

There are basically two approaches to replace “for fee” originals in the Adobe Cloud with “free” Smart Previews.  Which one you choose is personal preference which should be influenced by your current mix of Originals and Smart Previews already in the Adobe Cloud, how many LR/Classic collections you have set to sync with LR/Cloud, and the impact of the cautions above.

One approach is to replace your entire LR/Cloud library of images all at once regardless of the mix of Originals vs. Smart Previews already in LR/Cloud.  This approach is far less tedious than the next approach, but will consume more network traffic as it will also replace images that are already Smart Previews and therefore do not need to be replaced.  As this method involves removing all images from the Adobe Cloud as well as un-syncing all collections, the two cautions above are both in play.  But unlike the second approach it will not require you to re-populte images in your synced collections.  It is the preferred approach if the number of originals in LR/Cloud is large compared to the number of Smart Previews or if you have lots of collections synced with the LR/Cloud.  But if you've shared lots of collections or have lots of Portfolio pages based on synced collections you may want to consider the other approach.

The second approach is more surgical, with more manual steps and is more tedious than the first approach.  It will only replace the Originals in the LR/Cloud and it will leave those that are already Smart Previews alone.  This approach is better if you only have a small percentage of images in the cloud that are originals.  It may also be preferred if you’ve distributed links to your shared (make public) collections/albums and don’t want to have to give everyone new URL’s.

Replacing the paid storage original files in the Adobe cloud with Smart Previews can be divided into two phases.  The first is to find those original images that are using up paid for storage.  This is needed for approach 2 but is optional for approach 1.  The second phase is replacing original cloud images with Smart Previews that do not count against your storage allocation.  The steps in phase 2 are different for approach 1 vs. approach 2.

It should be noted that you will not lose your full size original files in LR/Classic no matter which approach you choose to use.

Phase 1 - Finding Original images in Adobe Cloud

This phase is required for approach 2 (surgical) but not for approach 1 (do them all).  It is used to identify which images in the Adobe Cloud are “originals” (e.g. you pay for their storage space) and have that information available in LR/Classic.


  1. In the Lightroom Desktop App (cloud app, not Lightroom Classic), if the left panel is not open, open it by clicking the icon in the upper left corner
    01 Cldy Open Left Panel01 Cldy Open Left Panel
  2. In LR/Classic create a synced regular collection called “Originals in Cloud” and let this empty collection sync to the cloud which will create an empty album there. 
    05 LrC Create Originals in Cloud05 LrC Create Originals in Cloud

    Alternatively in Lightroom Desktop App (cloud based desktop app, not LR/Classic) click the “+” on the albums line to add a new album and create one called “Originals in Cloud” and let it sync with LR/Classic where it will become a Collection.

    04 Cldy New Album04 Cldy New Album
  3. Then in the left Panel of the LR/Desktop app, select “All Photos”.
    09 Cldy All Photos09 Cldy All Photos
  4. If the filter bar is not open across the top of the middle section, click the funnel to open it
    10 Cldy Open Filter Bar10 Cldy Open Filter Bar
  5. Select filter “sync status” and select “Synced and backed up”   These are the ones taking up paid storage.
    06 Cldy Synced and Backed up06 Cldy Synced and Backed up
  1. Still in the Lightroom Desktop app, with the filter active, drag all the images from the grid to the “Originals in Cloud” album.
    01 Cldy Load Originals in Cloud Album01 Cldy Load Originals in Cloud Album
  2. Let the sync process reflect this change in LR/Classic.  Check the “Originals in Cloud” Collection and wait for the images to show up there.  You’ll know it is done when the image count in the LrC collection matches the image count in the LR/Desktop album.

After the sync process finishes, the “Originals in Cloud” collection in LrC will contain the images that are taking up paid storage in the Adobe Cloud.

Now, turn off Cloud Sync on the “Original in Cloud” collection in LR/Classic.

12 LrC un-sync Originals in Cloud12 LrC un-sync Originals in Cloud

Phase 2 Convert Images to Smart Previews

Please note, that this process may involve the removal of images from all of your synced collections as well as the “All Synced Photographs” special collection in LrC and at the same time will also remove them from all Albums (including All Photos) in LR/Cloud.  The steps will then add them back as Smart Previews which do not count against your paid storage.

As discussed earlier, there are two approaches you can follow here.  The first approach will remove all synced images from the Adobe Cloud regardless of their type and then add them back as Smart Previews.  The second approach will only process images which are originals in LR/Cloud.



Approach 1 – Replace ALL LR images in cloud with Smart Previews

In this approach, you don’t need the  “Originals in Cloud” collection  in Lightroom/Classic, and all these steps are done in LR/Classic.

See “cautions” near the top of this blog if you have shared collections or albums or have loaded Portfolio with images from LR/Cloud as this approach affects both situations.

  1. If you want to re-add all the cloud images that this process deletes from the cloud, you will need to be able to identify them after they are removed from the “All Synced Photographs” special collection.  So, create a new regular collection called “To Re-Sync” and copy all the images in the “All Synced Photographs” special collection (in the Catalog panel) to the new “To Re-sync” collection.  Do not sync this collection with LR/Cloud.

    03 rC To Re-Sync collection_03 rC To Re-Sync collection_
  2. Un-Sync all your synced collections.  You may want to make a list of them as you go or perhaps put a color label that you don’t use for something else on each one so you’ll know later which collections to re-sync with LR/Cloud. 
    02 LrC Mark synced collections02 LrC Mark synced collections
    This will remove the images from the corresponding albums in the Adobe Cloud but will leave the images in the All Synced Photos special collection in LrC and in the All photos album in the Cloud apps.  This method will affect images that were already using Smart Previews in the cloud as well as those using Original images in the cloud.
  3. Now go back to the “All Synced Photographs” special collection and remove all the images from it.  This will remove all those images from the Adobe Cloud.  Wait for the sync process to complete.
    07 LrC All synced Photographs07 LrC All synced Photographs
  4. Once the Sync process is complete, take all the images in the “To Re-Sync” collection created in step 1 and drag them back to the “All Synced Photographs” special collection.  This will upload a Smart Preview for each one to the Adobe Cloud.  This could take a while depending on how many images we’re talking about.
    13 LrC To Re-Syn back to all synced13 LrC To Re-Syn back to all synced
  5. Take each of your previously synced collections and turn “Sync with Lightroom” back on.
  6. If desired, you can now delete the “To Re-Sync” Collection.



Approach 2 – Replace only ORIGINAL images in cloud with Smart Previews

As described above, get the images stored as originals in the Adobe Cloud into an “Originals in Cloud” collection in Lightroom/Classic.  Do not sync this collection

Then do the following:

  1. If some or all of the images in the “Originals in Cloud” collection are also in other synced collections you need a way to know which synced collection(s) they are in before you proceed so that you can put them back into those collections when you are done.  If you don’t care about getting these images back into those other collections and their corresponding albums then skip this step. 

    Use any method you like to identify which synced collections images are in so you can put them back later.  To see what collections any one or more images are in, select the image(s) and right click on one of them and select “Go to collection” and it will show you a list of the collections that those images are in.  This list includes both synced and un-synced collections.

    01 LrC Collections List01 LrC Collections List

    There are several methods to keep track of which collections which images belong to.  I’m sure there are other methods and there may also be plugins that will automate some of these methods or provide other methods but here are a few that don’t require a plugin.  The key is that you have a way to know which images need to be re-added to which synced collections without relying on those collections themselves.
    1. Select each synced collection which contain images you’re going to convert, select all the images in that collection, create a keyword with the collection name and add that keyword to those images.  It doesn’t matter if all those images are or are not also in the “Originals in Cloud” collection.
    2. Create a non synced collection matching each synced collection containing the same images.
    3. Take screen shots of the grid of images for each synced collection.  Make sure the file name is showing (and is legible) in the screen shot
    4. Make a manual list as you go
  2. Follow step 1 in approach 1 to create a collection called “To Re-sync“ which is a copy of the “All Synced Photographs” special collection.  This will be needed in case there are any Originals in LR/Cloud that are not also in some other synced collection. 
    Do not sync this collection.

    03 rC To Re-Sync collection_03 rC To Re-Sync collection_
  3. Select some or all of images from the “Originals in Cloud” collection.  With them still selected switch to All Synced Photographs special collection in the Catalog Panel
  4. Those images will still be selected.  Click the Backspace (delete) key to remove them which will remove them from all of your synced collections and will completely delete them from all LR/Cloud apps freeing up paid for storage space in the Adobe Cloud.  Wait for the “removal” to fully sync to the cloud.

    At this point your individual synced collections and the All Synced Photographs special collection will still contain images that already had Smart Previews in the Adobe Cloud but will no longer have images where the Cloud contained Originals.  (see cautions at top of this blog)

    If you go back to the “Originals in Cloud” collection, select all the images, right click on one and move the mouse to “Go To Collecton”, you should not see any of your synced collections listed.
  5. To get the removed images back into the Adobe Cloud as Smart Previews.  Take all the images in the “To Re-sync” collection created in step 2 and drag them up to the “All Synced Photographs” special collection.  This will upload Smart Previews of those images that were previously deleted in step 4 back up to the Adobe Cloud.  It may take awhile.
    13 LrC To Re-Syn back to all synced13 LrC To Re-Syn back to all synced
  6. Now we re-populate the synced collections with the images that were removed in step 4.  Depending on which method you used in step 1 you should be able to isolate the images which should go into each synced collection so just drag them there.  Repeat this step for each such collection.

Keeping it clean

Now that none of you LR/Classic images which are synced to the LR/Cloud are using up your paid storage, you may want to adjust your workflow to keep it that way.  I know everyone’s workflow is different, but here’s how I handle images that originate in the LR/Cloud ecosystem such as my phone.

  1. Image enters LR/Cloud ecosystem (e.g. I took it with the LR Camera App)
  2. Next time I’m using LR/Classic, those new images automatically sync and show up in a designated folder on my LR/Classic machine (you specify this folder in the Lightroom Sync tab of the Preferences menu)
  3. I select all the images in this “From LR Cloud” folder and then switch to the All Synced Photographs special collection and remove them.  As I don’t add them to albums using LR/Cloud apps I don’t have to worry about them also being in synced collections in LR/Classic.
  4. I then move them to the same folder(s) I would have put them in had they been imported from one of my DSLR cameras.
  5. From then on they are no different than any other image I’ve imported and if my regular workflow winds up adding them to a synced collection, they will be sent up to the Adobe Cloud as Smart Previews.




[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) adobe cloud storage convert lightroom cloud images to smart previews danlrblog lightroom lightroom classic lightroom cloud lrc save lightroom storage space smart previews https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/6/lr019-convert-lr/cloud-images-to-smart-previews Mon, 12 Jun 2023 22:50:22 GMT
Japan #05 - Tokushima & Iya Valley https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-05 "Awa Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #05 Tokushima & Iya Valley

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
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This installment takes us from Koya (Aka Koyasan or Mt. Koya if you prefer) to the picturesque Iya Valley.  In route we stopped at the Awa Odori Museum, saw a dance performance and after taking a ferry across the inland sea drove up into the Iya valley where we spent two nights.

Mt Koya to Iya Valley route Map
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Layout of Japan

Japan is a 2,500 mile long archipelago made of 4 main islands, along with thousands of smaller islands. 

4 main Japanese Islands
17 4 Islands of Japan17 4 Islands of Japan

The northern most island is Hokkaido which is the 3rd largest of the four.  South from Hokkaido the next island is Honshu.  Honshu is the largest and is considered the “main” island of Japan.  It is where most of cities you’ve heard of are such as Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto.  This is the island we’ve been on so far.  Tucked in below the south west end of Honshu Island is Shikoku Island which is the smallest of the 4 in terms of size.  This is where we’re heading in this episode.  And, the last major island which is SW of Hokkaido is Kyushu.

Some resources add Okinawa as a 5th major island which is odd as it is less than 7% the size of Shikoku Island (the 4th largest) and only about ½ percent the size of Honshu.  But it has a pretty good size population given its size.  With over 1 million people it is 80% larger than the next smaller island even though it is only about a third the population of Shikoku.

On to Shikoku Island

After leaving our lodging at the Henjoko-in Temple we headed west through the Japanese countryside.  Even though there is a road route from Hokkaido Island to Shikoku Island over a few bridges, access to that route was far enough out of our way to make taking the ferry from Wakayama to Tokushima a more practical option.  The countryside in Japan is quite lovely.  We passed farming areas, little villages, as well as proper cities.

Typical Japanese house in a more rural area
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Passing by a town near Nishinoyama
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Farm by flowing river
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We arrived in Wakayama after about a 15minute drive and boarded the ferry for the 2 hour ride over to Tokushimo.  We were given a box lunch to eat on the ferry and of course there were all sorts of vending machines in case you want to top it off with an ice cream or something to drink other than water. 

The ferry itself was what one might expect form a ship serving that purpose.  There were, of course, areas with theater style padded seats, there was another area with tables and chairs for eating and there was a kids playroom with climbing structure. There was also a room with bunk beds for truck drivers to catch a few winks before they hit the road again.  And, there was a women’s room for moms. 

But there were some very Japanese adaptations as well.  One area that was particularly Japanese was a large area with tatami mats on the floor for those who preferred to sit Japanese style or lie on the floor,.  With my western mindset and old joints I was impressed with how many people choose to sit on the floor in the tatami room rather than take advantage of the cushy seats or tables and chairs.  But, that’s why we visit other cultures – to see their customs, traditions, lifestyle, and the differences in how they conduct their daily lives.  Quite enlightening.

It also speaks to the adaptability of the human body.  If you’ve spent your entire life getting up and down from sitting or lying on the floor, it is no big deal and, apparently, preferred over western style seating – even for people who are getting on in years.  For us though, it is not part of our daily routine so such maneuvers are way more challenging and once down on the floor quite uncomfortable.

But the day was calm and the ride was smooth as glass.

Awa Odori (Tokushima)

After departing the ferry on the bus once we arrived in Tokushima, our first stop was at the Awa Odori Kaikan (Awa Odori Organization).  Awa Odori is a traditional Japanese dance that originated in the Tokushima Prefecture and is one of Japan's most famous and lively folk dance styles.  The dance itself is characterized by unique rhythm and movements with the dancers forming lines and move in a coordinated manner, typically alternating between slow and deliberate paces.  But they only use a small set of simple dance steps that are repeated in different combinations.  This dance style can be traced back to the 16th century when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa held a celebration for the completion of Tokushima Castle.  The local townspeople, inspired by the festive atmosphere, started dancing in the streets.  Over time, this dance evolved into what is now known as Awa Odori.

The Awa Odori Kaikan is housed in a building at the base of Mount Bizan and the building is also the lower end of a rope tram which goes up the mountain.  Of course there is a large gift shop but on the 3rd floor is a small Awa Orori museum and on the 2nd floor is a theater where dance shows are performed. 

Awa Odori Dance recital
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Awa Odori Dance recital
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Awa Odori Dance recital
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One of the more interesting aspects of the dance recital was that in certain dances, the choreography required an equal number of males and females.  But they seemed to be short of males so a female, dressed in the men’s costume, took one of the male roles.

Outside the building are some stairs going up to the small Himemiya Shrine as well as being the start of a trail (mostly stairs) that go up the mountain.

Stairs up to Hinnwnut shrine
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Himemiya Shrine
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Stairs leading up the mountain
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Low Birth Rate Crisis

Unlike most industrialized countries in the world, for several decades Japan has been experiencing a major decline in its population.  This is mostly due to low birth rates and as a result the population as a whole is declining and aging leaving fewer and fewer workers to sustain the economy, support the healthcare system and maintain the overall societal structure.  As it turns out Japan’s birth rate is the lowest in the world.  Of course everyone has an opinion on why this is, but there are some common threads which seem to be at the heart of the matter.  These include hard to change social attitudes, delayed marriage, increased attention to careers by women and the cost of raising children.  But, one must dig a little deeper to figure out how this affects the birth rate. 

Let’s start with the work ethic.  Japan is well known for its corporate philosophy of workers staying with a single company their entire career where the company looks out for the employee and the employee is devoted to the company.  In other words it’s more than just a job.  While this is good in many ways such as there rarely being layoffs, some of the customs and behaviors accompanying this may be influencing the birth rate (among other things).  For example, I’ve been told that as an employee, you are expected to be at your desk before your boss arrives and you don’t leave at the end of the day before your boss.  Another is that it is expected that on a regular basis (perhaps several times a week) you are expected to go out to dinner or to a bar with your co workers or boss after work.  If you don’t do these things you are considered as being disloyal to the company, antisocial to your co-workers and you will not be considered for advancement in the company.

Photo of workers in Tokyo by Cory Schadt on Unsplash
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The net affect, it seems, is that many office workers are in the office before 7:00 am and don’t get home till after 11:00 pm at night.  This in turn means that if a couple wishes to have kids, only one of the parents will be able to hold down a full time job and the stay at home parent (almost universally the mom) winds up with 100% of the domestic duties.  But, in this day and age, many young women want a career and don’t want to be the “stay at home mom” who never sees her husband.  So, they decide to not have a family so they both can have careers. 

The government is well aware of this problem and they are doing everything they can to fix the low birth rate problem, except what it would take to fix the low birth rate problem.  They are offering to pay a significant (but one time) cash payment for each kid a couple has – but they are not making day dare any more affordable or available.  They do give priority for day care slots to dual working parents but don’t encourage day care centers to stay open past around 5:00 or 6:00 pm.  And so, the birth rate goes down.

Another population issue is that life expectancy in Japan is one of the highest in the world.  In most regards this is a good thing, but coupled with a low birth rate the average age of the population is high and getting higher every year.  This means that fewer and fewer working age people are supporting more and more retired people.  As you get more and more elderly people needing care givers, those care givers are removed from being able to take other jobs which contribute to the GDP of the country. 

So, one might ask, why not do what most other countries do and use foreign workers for elder care freeing up citizens for other jobs?  The problem here is that Japan has traditionally had strict immigration policies and tightly controlled immigration.  Also, as a society, the Japanese have traditionally not welcomed foreign immigrants into their communities.  It is said that this is gradually changing but nowhere near as fast as the requirement for workers.

Iya Valley

Iya Valley sites visited
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After leaving Tokushima we headed out for two nights in the Iya valley which is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful unspoiled scenic areas.  However, the Iya Valley has been a difficult place to visit.  The valley itself is quite narrow with steep walls and therefore what roads they have are quite narrow, very winding, and at places quite steep and there is little public transportation to and within the valley.  Although improvements are being made to the roads with the addition of many tunnels and widening projects, even today it is a challenge for visitors.  In our case, we had to abandon our big tour bus at our hotel and instead divide into two smaller buses (not much bigger than those car rental shuttle busses you see in many airports) to navigate the roads in the valley. 

Modern Highway bridge to improve access
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But in the past it was even more difficult to make your way up the valley or come into it over the mountains.  The river itself is not navigable, and on foot there were many places that required you to cross the river or scale steep walls.  So, it became a refuge for groups who were either being routed from their prior places or just wanted to be left alone.  For example, it was used as a refuge for members of the defeated Taira Clan (also known as Heike) who escaped to the region toward the end of the 12th century after losing the Gempei War (1180-1185).

From our bus it was hard to tell exactly where this valley starts but not too long after leaving the 4 lane highway in Miyoshi we started up into the mountains and things started getting mighty scenic.  So, I’ll just include it all as part of the Iya Valley discussion even though some of it may not be and actual part of the valley.  Once we exited the highway we were on two lane roads winding our way up some valley alongside the Yoshino River passing through small villages along the way.

Winding our way up the valley
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Passing through a small village
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Villages scattered along the Yoshino River
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No the big bus did not go up that road
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Every now and again one can find a bridge to get to the other side
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Although the valley is well known for its untouched landscapes, lush green mountains, clear rivers, and traditional thatched-roof houses called "kayabuki", it also contains several other points of interest.  These include some vine bridges, a scarecrow village, hot springs, and historic houses which are open to the public.  Add in hiking, trekking and other outdoor adventure opportunities and one can see why it is becoming a tourist destination.

But the increase in tourism may also be influenced by factors beyond the scenery and better roads.  One such factor is rural flight.  As described above, the overall population of the country is declining but also the country is experiencing massive rural flight.  Small towns and rural areas are becoming deserted as young people flock to the cities to find work.  And as the population ages and residents die off towns are left with fewer and fewer residents.  And the Iya valley has not been exempt from this.

What had been vibrant villages just a few decades ago are now mostly abandoned ghost towns with few, if any, residents.  One way to visualize this is to look that the schools in the valley.  A few decades ago there were 4 primary schools seeing to the education of a couple thousand children.  Now, all but one has been closed and abandoned and the one that remains partially open has expanded to support grades K through 12 and even at that only has 35 students.  This is not surprising if you consider that each year about 500 Japanese schools are closed due to lack of children.

Many abandoned houses in this hillside village of Ochiai
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In an attempt to remain viable, some areas, like the Iya Valley, have started promoting the area for tourism as a way to bring much needed revenue into the decimated towns, and create some demand for hotels, restaurants and stores which in turn will need employees who will move into the area.  As part of this effort they have put a good deal of effort into fixing up and promoting attractions that would bring tourists and we visited several of them.  They are also engaging with tour companies around the world to include the Iya valley in tour itineraries and making local tour guides available to lead those tours while they are in the valley.

Along these same lines, many such areas are also starting to offer incentives to lure young people back from the cities.  For example they may give families a free house or pay their rent, they may provide a monthly cash payment and pay moving expenses. Not to mention significant one time bonus payments. 

A famous example is that in 2017 an office worker, Yohei Aoki, left his job in the city and took over an abandoned school in the Iya Valley which he then converted into his home (a really big home with many dozens of rooms).  He converted one classroom into a café for tourists, and has fitted up other rooms as a hostel for travelers.  The old principles office is now his living room, and other former classrooms have been repurposed for uses like a music studio (he’s a drummer).  As word has gotten out about Yohei and his school to dwelling effort, many tourists and journalists go out of their way (literally) to check it out.

Abandoned School turned into a private home
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But, it’s too early to tell if these extraordinary measures will stem the tide.

But it’s time to tell you what we saw in the valley


Vine Bridges

One of the things that the Iya Valley is famous for is its vine bridges called “kazurabashi” which span the Iya River.  These are suspension bridges made using a technique called "kazura-nawa," which involves weaving thick vines together to form ropes to span the river.  Each bridge is made from several tons of these vines such as the Wisteria floribunda vine or the ki-iro rattan vine both of which grow abundantly in the Valley.  Between two of these parallel vine ropes they place wood planks or woven branches to form a walking surface. 

At one point there were said to be 13 of these bridges in the valley, but now only 3 remain.  Of the bridges that are left, their vines are replaced every 3 years, and for safety, steel cables are laced inside the vines.  As for those other 9 bridges, some have been replaced with sturdier versions made of steel cables, or abandoned altogether once a road was constructed on the far side of the valley.  The 3 vine versions are being maintained for cultural, historical and tourism purposes.

Vine bridge replaced by modern steel suspension bridge
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Wide enough for a small car, but not sure I’d attempt it
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The exact origins of the first vine bridges are not really known but they are believed to have been constructed around 800 years ago during the Heian period (794-1185).  What is better known is that due to the sheer remoteness of the Iya Valley it was a popular hideout for samurai warriors and refugees over many centuries.  The most infamous inhabitants during this period were members of the Taira clan who fled into the Valley after being defeated by the Minamoto clan in the Genpei War (1180-1185).  The Minamoto clan went on to found the Kamakura Shogunate in the late 12th century. 

The story goes that the bridges were constructed in such a manner that if an attacking force was approaching, with a few swift axe blows the vines supporting the bridge could be severed causing the bridge to drop into the deep canyon below which would stop the attacking force on the wrong side of the river. 

Today, crossing these traditional vine bridges is an exciting experience.  As you walk across, the bridge sways left and right and bounces up and down and the walking surface has large gaps between the planks or branches you walk on.  The bridges have vine sides for safety these days but I suspect they originally did not.  But even with a sort of vine side that can be used as a hand rail, many tourists choose to just admire the bridges from an overlook rather than to experience a crossing first hand.

Kazurabashi Vine Bridge
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Kazurabashi Vine Bridge
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Further up the valley are a pair of bridges commonly known as the “Double Vine Bridges” but are officially the “oku-iya (double) vine bridges”.  The one called the “husband” or “male” bridge sits higher above the water. is wider and is twice as long as the other one.  The other one is called the “wife” or “female” bridge bridge.  Even though this pair of bridges have gender specific names, this has only to do with size and location and does not pertain who was allowed to use which bridge. 

Contrary to intuition, the “double” part of the name does not refer to there being two of these bridges very near each other but rather refers to their double layered construction.  Legend goes that during times of war, the local villagers would cut down the lower layer of the bridge (the part you walk on) to prevent enemy forces from crossing, leaving only the upper layer intact.  After the conflict, the bridge would be reconstructed by replacing the lower layer using fresh vines.  It is also convenient that the double-layered design provides stability and strength to withstand the flow of the river during floods and the weight of pedestrians.

Men's Double Vine Bridge
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Men's Double Vine Bridge
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Woman’s Double Vine Bridge
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Woman’s Double Vine Bridge
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We spent 2 nights in the Iya valley so that we’d have a full day of touring along those narrow twisty roads.  As you recall from the last installment, the night before we stayed in a monastery where we slept on the floor and had traditional Japanese vegetarian dinner.  Well, the two nights here in the Iya Valley were not in a monastery but were in a traditional Japanese hotel with traditional Japanese dinners.  In other words, once again we were on futon mats sleeping on the floor.  Pretty much the same as before for another 2 nights.  And, like the monastery, the dinners were lots of small portions of many different kinds of vegetables. 

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but even though grocery stores were full of fruits like apples, oranges, pineapple, grapes, cherries, strawberries and even tomatoes, these items never seemed to find their way to our plates in the various restaurants we visited.  I wonder why that is?

But the breakfast included coffee and there was a shower in the room and so all things considered it was a step up from the monastery.  Speaking of showers, there is a very common custom in Japan in how they build showers.  Rather than surrounding the shower (either one in a tub or standalone) with an enclosure to keep the water confined to the shower area, the entire room is water proofed with tile or other material and just put a drain in the floor.  Many times the toilet and/or sink are in a different room, but sometimes not.  In this particular hotel there was a tub but the shower head was just over the floor area next to the tub and not over the tub.  This of course makes it much easier for people who have trouble stepping over the sides of a tub as they just have to walk into the room.  But, one has to break our US habit of bringing your towel into the shower room as if you do, you’ll have a very wet towel to dry yourself with.

Chiiori House

The Chiiori House is a well preserved historic farmhouse and is considered to be one of the finest examples of traditional Japanese architecture in the country.  It dates back to around 1720 making it the 2nd oldest house in the Iya Valley.  It is built in the minka style which is characterized by a thatched roof, wooden beams, and earthen walls.

The name "Chiiori" means "house of the flute" reflecting the tranquil and peaceful atmosphere of the place.  It is situated in a rural setting well above the valley floor but surrounded by mountains and forests, offering a glimpse into the traditional way of life in rural Japan.

The house was purchased in 1973 by Alex Kerr, an American author and Japanologist dedicated to the conservation of traditional Japanese architecture.  Mr. Kerr restored the house to its original configuration and materials to use for cultural and educational purposes.  Originally there was no road to the house and the only access was to walk an hour from the Iya River road below.  And, as those on our bus can attest, today there is a winding one-lane road up to the house.

In 2012, the Chiiori House underwent a major restoration. Over the course of a year, the roof was re-thatched, the walls and under floor structure was redone with damage repair, earthquake protection was incorporated, and amenities built in, such as plumbing, bath, toilets, lighting, and heating systems. However, most of these changes are invisible, and the thatched roof and old pine floors are as they've always been.

The house features wood burning floor hearths (called irori) and pine floors blackened by hundreds of years of smoke from those irori.. This particular house is unusual for farm houses in Japan because there are no ceilings (except over the small sleeping rooms) – just open rafters exposing the underside of the thatched roof.  It was designed this way because for much of the Edo period tobacco was a leading crop of Iya and villagers used to hang the tobacco in the rafters to dry and absorb smoke from the irori.  Due to the lack of ceilings, Chiiori has a dramatic wide-open feel to its interior.

Today, Chiiori House is used as an educational cultural heritage site and has been made available to the public for overnight accommodations.

Open floor hearth called a irori
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Traditional artifacts (not withstanding plastic beach balls) displayed by front window
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Open rafters where they dried tobacco
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A tea kettle is almost a required permanent fixture in traditional Japanese houses
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On our way up the Iya valley on our full day we stopped at a tiny restaurant in Higashiiyaniia, by the Iya Valley River simply called the Soba Noodle Shop for lunch.  There are two houses side by side with a common walkway down some stairs between them.  One contains the restaurant and the other is where they live and make the Soba Noodles.  If you didn’t know it was there, you’d never see it as there are no signs of any kind either by the road or for that matter at the front door either.  It just looks like another couple of houses in a row of such houses.

In Japan, noodle shops proliferate like junk food restaurants do in the US.  Many are of the fast food variety but some are more sit down formal affairs.  In Japan there are a dozen or so types of noodles you can find, but by far the most popular for noodle shops in the areas we visited are Ramen, Soba and Udon noodle shops.  Ramen are made from wheat flour, eggs, salt, and water and are long and curly. The noodles are dried in the form of a brick.  The ease of preparing ramen noodles within minutes by just boiling makes it an ideal on-the-go meal. Soba noodles are straight and brown-in color and mostly made from buckwheat. While sometimes these are stir-fried, mostly you find them in a soup. The noodles have a nutty flavor.  In contrast Udon noodles are white and like ramen are made of wheat flour. Udon come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses and are cooked in boiling water like any other pasta and are typically served in soup.

But, the Iya valley is known for its Soba noodles and so our stop for lunch this day was at the Soba Noodle Shop restaurant.  In typical Japanese style, you sit on little cushions on the floor around a large square table that is bout a foot tall.  Most of the food was, again, traditional Japanese vegetables but the main thing here was the Soba Noodle Soup.  The noodles and the soup are made by Mr. and Ms. Tsuzuki who are quite famous for their Soba Buckwheat noodles.  They have won many competitions and have been featured in documentary films for these noodles.  They make the noodles in the house next door (where they live upstairs) and each day Mr. Tsuzuki drives freshly made Soba noodles to restaurants all over the area.

Scarecrow Village

Scarecrow Village, also known as Nagoro Scarecrow Village or Doll Village, is a unique and some say creepy village in the mostly abandoned village of Nagoro.  It gained international attention due to its large population of handmade scarecrows that outnumber the actual human residents.  At one time this village had over 300 residents and was the location of a regional school.  But by 2020 the population had fallen to a mere 27 (live) people and may have gone down since then. 

One of the many “Scarecrow” dolls around town
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Sometime In the early 2000s, Tsukimi Ayano, whose family left the area when she was a child, moved back to  to look after her father.  In her spare time she decided to make a doll in his likeness that she placed in a field as if he was tending a crop.  She has since made more than 400 of these life size dolls, which she calls scarecrows, of which over 300 have been placed around the mostly deserted town.  Many of the dolls represent actual people who had lived there but others are famous people including one of Donald Trump waiting in bus shelter by the side of the road being ignored by a flock of other people.

Trump is the one second from the left
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Tsukimi teaches workshops on how to construct scarecrows and some have followed in her footsteps in making scarecrows for their own villages.  The old school, which closed in 2012, houses a large number of these dolls in the gym as if there was some sort of social event taking place there and others are placed in classrooms.  In one classroom, two of the doll children are self-portraits by the last two (live) students to attend the school and they dressed them in their own clothes. 

“Event” at the school Gym
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As you wander around the town you come across hundreds of these scarecrows in various poses and settings.  They can be found in fields, gardens, schools, bus stops, and even lining the streets. There are three men sitting at the base of a telephone pole on the outskirts of the village, a man fishing at the river, a group in a bus shelter, utility workers performing roadwork, school crossing guard helping a kid across the street, people in shops, or just sitting out front of a local store on a bench.

Road Construction worker on a break
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Tending the field
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Waiting for the school bus with mom
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Fishing for dinner
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Every scarecrow, whether based on a real person or not, has an entry in a registry in town which lists the scarecrows name, gender, age, personality and life story.  The idea was to bring life back to the village by re-populating it with these dolls going about what would have been normal daily activities around town.  Some of the remaining live residents even say hi to or talk to these new residents as they go about their business. 

The figures start with a pair of wooden sticks to form that basic structure.  Then rolled newspaper, old cotton clothing or rags are used as stuffing to form the body shape and these are wrapped with cloth.  If the scarecrow will be placed outside a waterproof “raincoat” is placed on the figure which is then dressed in appropriate clothing for the role in the village of the person.  Buttons and yarn are used for details such as hair and eyes.  The figures are wired in place to prevent wind or just plain gravity from moving them around.  People from all over the world who have visited or heard about this village now donate most of the clothing used to dress the scarecrows.

A visit with “The Mayor”

As a farewell to the Iya valley, our last stop was at a private house which is the home of Mr. Minami, self proclaimed “Mayor” of the area.  He farms and gardens on the slope next to his house which is in the village of Ochiai.  When our bus pulled up there were a dozen or so folks from the village standing out front with a welcome sign and waving American flags. 

Although not elected, Mr. Minami has been the leader of a group of people still living in the village who are trying to revitalize the area through tourism and incentives to bring back residents.  For one thing, he invites tour groups (like ours) to his home for a demonstration of traditional tea roasting which he then brews for his guests.  This accompanied by home made donuts and tea cake made by his wife.  Many of his neighbors come over for these events to welcome the tourists.

Mr. Minami (blue shirt) and neighbors welcome bus of American tourists to his home
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View from Mr. Minami’s back patio
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Our next installment of this series will bring us to another temple in Zentsuji, Udon noodle making and Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu, and a ferry over to the island of Naoshima.


This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Japan 2023 series here (as they are created)



Photographs from this trip to Japan 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, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) 4 main Japanese Islands Awa Odori blog Chiiori House dan hartford photo Danjo-Garan temple dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Doll Village Double Vine Bridge Himemiya Shrine Iya Valley Japan Japan low birth rate Kazurabashi Vine Bridge Nagoro Village Noodles in Japan Ochiai Village oku-iya vine bridges Population Crisis in Japan Scarecrow Village Shikoku Island Tokushima Vine Bridges https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-05 Tue, 30 May 2023 22:31:12 GMT
Japan #04 - Mt. Koya https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-04 Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #04 Kyoto to Mt. Koya

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
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This installment takes us from Kyoto to Koya (Aka Koyasan or Mt. Koya if you prefer).  In route we had a sports car encounter and at Koya visited the Okunion Cemetery, the Kongobuji Temple and our lodging at the Henjoko-in Temple. We also touch on how they keep Japan so clean.

Kyoto to Mt Koya Map
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The bus ride from Kyoto to Koya is just over 2 hours so other than a pit stop along the way we didn’t make any other stops leaving most of our time to see sights in Koya.

One thing of interest though is that tonight we’d be staying in an ancient Japanese monastery.  One of the rules in this monastery is that they don’t allow you to role any luggage along the floors.  So, our big suitcases would remain on the bus overnight and we’d need to pack an overnight bag that can be carried to the room.   Of course, we didn’t have an overnight bag as we left our carry on luggage at our son’s house in Tokyo.  So after being deposited back in our hotel in Kyoto the day before and poking around some of the shops in the hotel complex, I asked the concierge where I might buy such a thing.  After some miscommunications and finding pictures on the internet he directed me to a large department store about 4 blocks away.  So, off I trotted, credit card in hand, to acquire some sort of bag we could use that later would fold flat to be put in our big suitcase. 

The store was right where he said it would be, which is always nice, and I was able to select the correct floor in the elevator, found a suitable bag and came back to the hotel for repacking.

Cars in Japan

Except in the cities, owning a car in Japan is quite normal even though it is a more expensive proposition than in many other countries.  Among other things taxes are very high and include an annual automobile tax, a weight tax, and a consumption tax.  There are also lots of regulations involved in owning a car and the cost of gas and maintenance is also high.  For example, if one owns a car, it must be inspected every two years.  Unlike in the US, this is not a cursory 20 minute once over plus emissions test, but rather is quite comprehensive and depending on the age of the vehicle can take several hours, and it may cost several thousand dollars.  And that doesn’t include the cost of fixing anything they find to be amiss. 

If you’re in a metropolitan area, before you are even allowed to buy a car you must contact the police who will come to your house to verify that you have an off street parking spot large enough to accommodate the vehicle being purchased.  If they don’t sign off, the dealer won’t sell you the car.  With all the costs and bureaucracy, personal vehicles are cherished possessions and are taken well care of.  For example, as you are walking through a parking lot, you have to be carful to not even brush against a parked car as if the owner sees you do this, you may be in for a talking to.

In urban areas where they have excellent and far reaching public transportation systems, car ownership is not as high with most families not owning a car.  This has resulted in a vibrant car rental market where you can rent cars not only by the day but also by the hour.  It is not uncommon to rent a car for a few hours just to go to Costco for example or their equivalent of Home Depot. 

So, it is not surprising that there is also a strong sports car affinity in Japan.  As a general rule, the Japanese love speed and technology.  Couple this with a long history of automotive engineering innovation, high performance engines, many companies making well respected consumer sports cars and a vibrant motorsports racing presence and it is no wonder that sports car ownership in Japan flourishes.  Owning a high performance sports car is a symbol of success and prestige and many enthusiasts invest considerable time and money in their vehicles.  And, they like to show them off.

Now, I didn’t really know much about this until our bus stopped at a service (rest stop) area on the E26 not too far from the Osaka International Airport.  As we were visiting the restroom and buying snacks, all these high end sports cars started arriving in the parking lot.  At first there were only a few that parked in an empty row at the far end of the lot.  But then more and more kept pulling in off the highway.  Eventually there were 40 or so of them encompassing a wide variety of makes and models, all parked side by side.  They were gorgeous.  We had Porsche, McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Corvette among others.  And, every one was immaculate.

First 3 to arrive
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Around 40 showed up altogether
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Koya (Mt. Koya) and Religious Pilgrims

Koya is a small town of around 3,000 residents in the mountains located on the slopes of Mount Koya which is a sacred mountain.  The town is the site of the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism (one of Japan’s major Buddhist sects) and monks make up over 1/3 of the residents of the town.  And, to no ones great surprise, Koya is home to many shrines and temples.  With Koya being the center of a major Buddhist sect and with the many shrines and temples, it is no wonder that it is a major destination for religious pilgrims. 

Like many other countries, religious pilgrims in Japan are individuals who go on a spiritual journey to visit various sacred sites, temples, and shrines - like the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain, except Buddhist instead of Catholic.  There are numerous defined pilgrimage routes which visit different sections of the country.  Many pilgrims in Japan undertake these journeys on foot, although some use public transportation or personal vehicles.  Some routes can be completed in a day or so, even on foot, while others take a month or more.

Even though these are religious pilgrimages, embarking on one is not just for religious people as walking one of the routes is good way to experience the country's cultural heritage and natural beauty while getting out in nature on hiking trails and meeting local people.  Many visitors from around the world come to Japan to undertake these pilgrimages and to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese history, culture, and spirituality.

The pilgrim route that includes Koya is a 14 mile route which circles Mt. Koya and includes 24 stops along the way.  Although it can be completed in a single day, many people stretch it out to 2 or 3 days in order to not be rushed. 

As you tour various temples, monuments and shrines in Japan you will often see these pilgrims.  In many cases they are somewhat easy to identify due to their distinctive appearance.  Many wear special pilgrimage attire which is all white symbolizing purity and humility.  Pilgrims may also wear a conical hat, called a "sugegasa," which is made of woven straw and provides protection from the sun and rain and many carry a staff, known as a "kongōzue," which represents their spiritual journey and helps to provide support during long walks.

Part of the pilgrimage culture is to collect stamps from each stop on the route.  These stamps are many times placed on a special sash or band, called a "nokyocho".  The stamps, known as "shuin," are a significant part of the culture and are collected as a way to document their journey. Each temple or shrine has its own unique stamp which includes the site name and date of the visit.  Many pilgrims also have a notebook called a "shuincho" where they collect these stamps. Collecting stamps dates all the way back to the Edo period (1603-1868)

Religious Pilgrim in Koya
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Okunion Cemetery

One first major attraction in Koya was the Okunion Cemetery.  At over 50 acres in size it is the largest cemetery in Japan.  It was created in the late 8th century, shortly after the death of Kokai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.  The site of the cemetery is in an old growth Cedar forest (tress are typically 200-600 years old) so is very serene and peaceful which is very fitting for a cemetery.  The cemetery has over 200,000 monuments, gravestones and tombs, many of which are adorned with lanterns, incense burners, and offerings from pilgrims.

In Japan, it is not uncommon to see corporate monuments in cemeteries. These monuments are erected by companies to honor their employees who have passed away. The monuments typically bear the names of the employees, along with the company's name and logo and serve several purposes. They provide a way for companies to show respect and gratitude to their employees, strengthen their relationships with the families of their employees, and demonstrate their commitment to their employees' well-being.  Or, they may be no more than public relations.  In recent years, some companies have started adding artwork or design elements that reflect the company's culture or values.

When you first enter at the main gate, you are presented with a wide walkway lined on either side by Japanese lanterns, each one sponsored by a company.

Corporate sponsored lanterns.  The 2nd one in is from a construction company
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But as you proceed this row of modest lanterns give way to more elaborate corporate monuments.  Some are quite new with modern designs and some are older with more traditional features. 

Corporate monument from some sort of Aerospace company
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Modern Corporate Monument (I don’t know what sort of company)
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Older Style Corporate Monument
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We were told that one of the corporate monuments further inside the cemetery which looked to be quite old was either for a Camera Club or some sort of photography company.  This particular monument had several large panels with each panel displaying nearly 200 images of company or club members who had passed.  Most of the images were in black and white but there were a handful in color, obviously from more recent deaths.

Photography company or camera club monument.
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The cemetery itself is said to house the remains of over 200,000 people.  But as most of these remains are just ashes from cremation, individual headstones can be placed much closer together than in cases where an entire body is laid out.  This makes for a much more crowded landscape.  However, even so, some plots are larger and more elaborate than others and many plots have multiple generations with multiple markers

A crowded cemetery
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Asano Family plot
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Not sure if these represent individual people or are just decor
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Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi

In Buddhism, there is a custom where when you die you are given a new name to help you along your way in the afterlife.  I found this out while visiting our in-laws in Tokyo (who are Japanese).  We were shown a cabinet size shrine in their house dedicated to their ancestors.  Our daughter-in-law explained that there was something in the small shrine for each ancestor but she wasn’t quite sure who was who since the labels used their new names and she only knew them by their old names.

As we continued through the cedar forested cemetery we came to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.  The mausoleum itself is over a bridge on the other side of a small river.  Kobo Daishi (known as Kukai before he died), was a Japanese Buddhist monk and scholar who lived from 774 to 835.  As mentioned, he is the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and is considered one of the most important figures in Japanese religious history.

The mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is known by several other names such as the Gobyo, which means "grave of the honorable teacher" or Torodo Hall.  It is a large, ornate structure nestled in a forest of cedar trees.  The mausoleum is considered to be one of the most sacred sites in Japan.  The story goes that Kobo Daishi did not actually die.  Rather he entered a state of eternal meditation known as sokushin jobutsu.  It is believed that he is still alive and meditating in his mausoleum, and that his presence can be felt by those who visit the site.

In order to not disturb Kobo Daishi, once you cross the bridge to the mausoleum side you are to remain respectful and no photography is permitted.  But even before crossing the bridge you need to be cleansed and purified.  To facilitate this, by the bridge there is a row of statues of various kinds.  Perhaps some are depictions of Buddha, Kobo Daishi himself, or other religious figures.  In front of these statues is a water trough with and a collection long handled cups or ladle’s.  The idea is for worshipers to wash the statues by flinging water over them.  Even though the water goes on the statues rather than yourself, this purifies the thrower. 

Purification ritual before crossing the bridge to the temple
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When you cross the bridge leading from the cemetery to the Kobo Diashi mausoleum, in the river to your left is a curious collection of wooden posts with writing on them stretching across the river.  These are known as Gobyo Okiishi, or Sutra Stones.  Each wooden plaque is an ema and is inscribed with a Buddhist sutra or prayer.  Remember our talk about “ema” in the Sanzen-in temple section in the 3rd Japan article?  Well here they are again.   Visitors to the mausoleum write their wishes or prayers on little slips of paper which are then hung on the wooden ema’s in the river.  It is believed that as the water flows over the inscriptions, it carries the prayers and wishes to Kobo Daishi, who can then grant blessings and help fulfill those requests.

Ema plaques in the river beside the Kobo Diashi mausoleum
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The mausoleum itself is lantern-lit and is said to house over 10,000 lanterns donated by worshippers over the centuries.  But, as photography beyond the bridge is not permitted, you’ll have to just imagine what it looks like.

Keeping it clean

Japan is arguably one of the cleanest countries in the world.  There just isn’t any liter and compared to other countries very little graffiti as well.  This is very nice, much appreciated, and offers a much better impression of the country to foreign visitors than countries that are littered and covered with gang graffiti.  But it is also a bit surprising as Japan also has almost no trash cans in public places where you can deposit your gum wrapper or take out food container or empty disposable water bottle.  So, why is this?

Obviously this would not be the case if cleanliness was not a cultural norm ingrained in the society.  In fact it is a social responsibility to keep the country clean.  But how is this maintained so well where litter dirt and grime are major problems for most industrialized countries? 

The value of cleanliness starts at a young age in the home.  But, then continues through the educational system.  As early as the first grade, students are taught in school the value and importance of cleanliness and tidiness.    For example, starting in the first grade students are required to clean their own classrooms at the end of each day.  And, in later years, the students also clean hallways and other common areas.  This instills a strong sense of community and collective responsibility which then extends to workplaces and neighborhoods.  Many neighborhoods have volunteer groups that organize periodic clean up activities, including public parks, streets and other public facilities.  These activities not only spruce up the environment, but also bring neighbors together.

To augment and codify these social conventions, there are also laws and regulations that have an emphasis on public cleanliness with significant penalties for littering or improper waste disposal.  There are also public awareness campaigns and signs to remind people to keep things clean and to dispose of trash properly.

But what about the lack of public trash bins?  While it may seem counterintuitive, Japan has relatively fewer public trash bins compared to other countries. This is intentional and is designed to encourage individuals to carry their trash until they find an appropriate place to dispose of it. This approach helps reduce littering and maintains the cleanliness of public spaces.  For example, most everyone in Japan carries a small towel (about the size of a wash rag) in their pocket all the time as public restrooms do not have paper towels, or trash cans and except for places like airports also don’t have hand blow dryers.  Many people also carry a small plastic bag in their pocket for trash they might come by – like the left over stick after eating a popsicle or a gum wrapper. 

But, however they do it, it is a good thing and I’d be very happy if those practices found their way into other countries, including (or even especially) the USA.

Kongobuji Temple

Just a bit up the road from the cemetery is the Kongobuji temple.  This temple marks the Headquarters of Shingon Buddhism.  Many of the rooms inside are adorned with paper screens with drawings and paintings telling the story of the temple and some of the more prominent founding monks.  No photos were allowed to be taken of this artwork, so once again you’ll have to use your imagination.  But there were no photo restrictions outside in the gardens.

Entry gate to the Kongobuji Temple
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Like many such temples, this one too has a Zen rock garden.  This one happens to be the largest in Japan and is known as Banryutei.  It is over 25,000 square feet in area using an array of rocks and gravel representing mountains, rivers and even a couple of dragons.  It was originally created in the 17th century by the monk Kobori Enshu, who was renowned for his skills in garden design.  He was invited by the powerful Hosokawa clan to create this garden in Kongobuji Temple.  His design has since been meticulously maintained and preserved since that time.

The name of the garden, Banryutei, means "Garden of Ten Thousand Dragons" but sometimes dragons are harder to see than at other times.  In this culture, dragons are believed to have control over water and rain and the garden design uses the arrangement of rocks and gravel to symbolize the coiling bodies of dragons and the movement of water flowing through their forms.

This Zen garden uses rake tines spaced farther apart then ones we’ve seen before
(No dragon here)
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Where do they stand when raking these patterns or picking up leaves?
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Main garden section, lots of boulders but any dragons?
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Different view of main garden section.  Now we can see the back of a dragon as it swims away from us
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Layered Cherry tree at bus stop in front of Kongabuji temple
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Danjo-Garan temple

A short walk away was the path to the Danjo-Garan Temple.  Along the way we passed by a cute little Pagoda that on Google Maps is referred to as the Kongobuji East Temple but searching for that name doesn’t come up with anything other than the main temple.  However, it is actually much closer to the Danjo-Garan temple so I’m thinking that it may be part of that complex.  All these temples and shrines are so close together in places like this that sometimes it is hard to know when you move from one to the other.

Not sure what Pagoda this is but it was picturesque
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We then came to the Kompon Daito Pagoda (Great Pagoda) which seems to be part of the Danjo-Garan temple cluster but it is hard to say.  Construction was started in 816 but apparently this is the 6th version of this building as the previous 5 versions were all struck by lighting and burned down. 

This reconstruction is from 1937 after the previous one was destroyed in 1843.  By the time number six was to be rebuilt, they were pretty weary of this process so this time, instead of the standard wood construction, they built it out of reinforced concrete and just put a wood overlay over the concrete to retain an historic exterior.

At over 54 feet, it turns out that this is the tallest building in Koya.  Architecturally it is an earlier form of the two-storied pagoda. It looks exactly as it was when it was first constructed, according to the dimensions designed by Kobo Daishi, based on his Shingon teachings.  Ever try to put a round peg in a square hole?  Well, leave it to Kobo Daishi to figure it out.  The body of the pagoda is circular, with a square lower storey.  

Kompon Daito Pagoda
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Most Buddhist structures in Japan are dark weathered wood or painted in an orange color called “vermillion” or “cinnabar red”.  This color is derived from a traditional pigment called “shu” or “shui” in Japanese which, in turn, is made from a mineral known as “Cinnabar” which is a natural mineral form of mercury sulfide.  Of course mercury, including mercury sulfide, is highly toxic so these days they have substituted synthetic pigments.  This color has become a symbol of Buddhism and is often considered a sacred color representing purity, spirituality and enlightenment (of course it seems everything in Buddhism represents these values).  This color is also said to protect buildings by warding off evil spirits.  But the color also has some practical aspects to its use.  It is visually striking drawing attention to its bright color and making buildings painted in that color stand out from their surroundings. 

But across the courtyard from the Kompon Daito Pagoda is an open sided pagoda housing a large bell and this pagoda is uncharacteristically painted in white.  While maybe not as traditional as orange, it certainly is a striking change after seeing all these vermillion buildings and seeing a temple related building in white immediately draws your attention right to it. 

The bell was commissioned by Kobo Daishi himself but was not completed till after his death (or if you prefer his entry into eternal meditation).  The current copper version was cast in 1547 and with a diameter of a bit over 7 feet is the fourth largest bell in Japan.  They still ring the bell five times per day to mark specific times.

Daito bell Koyashiro (aka Great Bell of the Daito)
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Behind the bell pagoda, the land drops away down to a small artificial lake with a footbridge across it.  This body of water is called the Hasuike Lotus Pond.  One of the legends stems from a 15 year long major drought in the area near the end of the 18th century which has been historically verified.  The legend says that the drought would not end until they built a shrine to Zennyo Ryuo (who was a rain god dragon in Japanese mythology),  So one was built on an island in this pond.  This particular deity was chosen due to its connection to Kobo Daishi.  It seems that Kobo Daishi once called upon Zennyo Ryuo to rain as part of a contest held at the Kyoto Imperial Palace – which it did.  So, as Zennyo Ryuo brought rain once, maybe he could be encouraged to do so again.  Apparently it worked as shortly after the shrine was built, the drought ended.  I guess this is similar to the old saying that “the effectiveness of a rain dance is highly dependent on timing”.

Bridge over Hasuike Lotus Pond
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Henjoko-in Temple (Pilgrim's Lodging)

Traditional Japanese hotels are known as “ryokan” and are available throughout the country with many in Koya.  As Koya is major stop for Religious Pilgrims, dozens these ryokan are set up specifically for the pilgrims.  Many of these are ancient Buddhist temples which rent rooms to the traveling pilgrims.  These temple lodgings are known as “shukubo” (sleeping with the monks) and allow visitors to experience the lifestyle of Buddhist monks and to engage in spiritual activities.  Most offer their guests a peaceful environment conducive to meditation and reflection.  The facilities are modest or one might say sparse, with tatami mat flooring, futon mats on the floor for sleeping and shared bathrooms and/or showers.  Most also offer traditional vegetarian meals using seasonal ingredients and prepared according to Buddhist tradition. 

And so it was that our lodging for the night would be in the Henjoko-in Temple, one of these temple lodgings.  Our itinerary described it this way,

 “Settle into our simple lodgings and enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner”. 

In the accommodations section of the trip description it said:

 “We spend 1 night in a typical temple inn with shared bathrooms and 2 nights in a traditional ryokan. Both have simple rooms with futons set atop tatami mats on the floor and rice-paper sliding doors; the temple inn has shared bathrooms”.

Apparently, our tour usually stays at a similar place called the “Eko-in Monastery” a bit down the street which, according to their website, looks like a much better place.  This other place has some rooms with western beds (i.e. beds rather than mats on the floor), is more modern and has better facilities such as in floor radiant heat, AC (not that we needed it) and a more modern bathroom.  But, for some reason that lodging was not available so we got the Henjoko-in Temple.

I don’t know when this temple was built but by the looks of it, I would guess in the 16th century or perhaps even earlier.  The exterior is the typical weathered wood one sees in temples throughout the area and the design is that of an ancient temple. 

(Photo from Google Search Page)
26 Henjoko-in Temple Front Entry26 Henjoko-in Temple Front Entry

Upon arrival, of course we had to remove our shoes.  They had a stock of one size fits none ruby red slippers which, for the most part were quite difficult to walk in.  But, since the bare wood floors were quite cold (no heat and pretty much open to the outside air), it was down to clumsy slippers or freezing feet.

After being shown to our room and looking around we found there was indeed a private toilet/sink area but no shower or bath.  There was a very low table in the middle of the room with two cushions to sit on.  The room also had free WiFi & TV (not that there was much in English to watch) and that’s about it.  I suppose this is what a typical Japanese hotel room consists of.  I must admit it was very Japanese with sliding rice paper doors, Tatami mats flooring, and beautiful wood paneling and trim.  But with certain modern touches.  For example the rice paper doors did not open directly to the garden outside, but rather opened to a small space where there were dark curtains to block the morning light and sliding glass doors to the outside to keep the heat in.

Room at Henjoko-in Temple (photo from Google search)
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But, being the astute and observant travelers that we are – it didn’t take us too long to realize that there was no place to sleep.  We also became quite aware that the room was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  But after poking around a bit, I found that underneath a counter, hidden behind some slatted woodwork there was indeed a heater which I managed to turn on.  I went over to the other two guest rooms in our hallway and showed our fellow travelers where the heater was.  They were equally excited at the prospect of not having to wear every piece of clothing we had with us to bed – where ever the bed was.

If one wanted a shower though, you had to go to the “Onsen” (or “baths”) facility at the other end of the building.  This is where the hot water soaking pools are as well as the communal showers.  Of course these baths are segregated by gender and clothing not allowed once inside the area. 

But there was a nice garden out the window and the facility was sparse, but quite clean.

Dinner was in a large room with a row of single person tables, each with a chair lined up on either side of the room facing each other about 15 feet apart.  Although the seating arrangement was odd, we were delighted that we had chairs and were not sitting on the floor.  The food (billed as traditional Japanese cuisine) was all vegetarian and was already set out in individual portions on each persons table in neat little bowls and containers.  But, I’m not a big vegetable eater so didn’t find much on the table that suited me.

Henjoko-in Temple dinner (Photo from Google Search)
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Even though the dining room was comfortably warm, the hallways were freezing so it was very nice to get back to our room which was by now quite warm.  This was a good thing as the forecast for the evening was 36°.  When we returned to the room, the table in the middle had been moved to the side and in its place, in the middle of the room, where our sleeping mats along with pajamas.  Once you got into “bed” it was reasonably comfortable but getting in and out was challenging.  The pillow was quite different than what we were used to.  It was pretty small (compared to US pillows) and quite hard.  I’m not sure what it was filled with but sand or fine gravel come to mind – maybe even rice.  I eventually just folded up a bunch of towels and used that as a pillow instead.  We asked them to provide something to use in order to help us get up from the floor and they found a small foot stool that could be used which helped immensely. 

Room set up for sleeping
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As it was still somewhat light out when we returned from dinner, I took a little walk through the building to where the hallway went by a lovely Japanese garden to take some shots of the lovely garden.

Henjoko-in Temple garden
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Each morning, the monks hold a ceremony or service at 6:00 AM which we were all invited to attend however my wife and I declined.  Some of our group did attend and found it a bit interesting but without any explanation of what was going on or a translation of what was being said, it seemed to leave those I talked to about it wishing they’d just stayed in bed for another hour or so of sleep. 

Breakfast was pretty much the same as the dinner with essentially the same sort of food.  However at the dinner one could buy beer or sake but not so at the breakfast.  What surprised many in our group of all Americans was that there was no coffee.  But upon reflection I guess this is not surprising for a monestary.  I’m not a ‘breakfast’ sort of person, but I sure could have gone for some scrambled eggs, a bagel with cream cheese some strawberries and a glass of fresh orange juice – but I digress.

Being described as an active Buddhist monastery, I expected there to be several dozen monks milling about along with monks in training and the sounds of ritual chanting wafting down the halls.  The building and gardens were more or less as expected, although I didn’t think the public areas would be so cold but that should have been expected.  What surprised me though is that only 3 monks live there.  Perhaps a few more come in each day for specific duties like cooking for the guests, or for maintenance, but that was not clear. 

I never saw any apprentice monks scurrying about, or processions of monks going down the halls to prayers or ceremonies and never heard any singing or chanting which is quite common in TV shows and movies which are set in these sorts of places.  In fact my sense was that this was just a hotel in temple trappings, run by 3 monks.  But, maybe I’m cynical.


Our next installment of this series will bring us into the Iya river valley.


This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Japan 2023 series here (as they are created)



Photographs from this trip to Japan 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, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) blog Car ownership in Japan cinnabar red Cleanliness in Japan corporate monuments in Japan Cemeteries dan hartford photo Danjo-Garan temple dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Gobyo Great Pagoda Hasuike Lotus Pond Henjoko-in Temple Japan Japan Religious Pilgrims Japan Sports Cars Kobo Daishi Kobo Diashi mausoleum Kokai Kompon Daito Pagoda Kongobuji Temple Koya Koyasan Mt. Koya Okunion Cemetery Shingon Buddhism Vermillion Zennyo Ryuo https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-04 Sat, 20 May 2023 22:51:29 GMT
Japan #03 - Kyoto-Day-2 https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-03 Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #03 Kyoto day 2

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
02 # Map 1 Entire Trip02 # Map 1 Entire Trip

This installment is the second part for the Kyoto area and includes; Ryoanji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple (aka Golden Pavilion), and Sanzen-in temple (Moss Garden) as well as vending machines and pachinko parlors.

Kyoto Day 2 Map
03 # Map 6 Kyoto day 203 # Map 6 Kyoto day 2

Ryoanji Temple

Whereas on the day before we visited locations more in the urban core of Kyoto, on this day our itinerary took us to temples that are a bit out of the metropolitan area.  The first two are to the west of Kyoto and the last was farther away to the northeast.

Our first port of call was the Ryoanji Temple.  This temple complex is roughly 30 acres and consists of a large formal garden, a lake, wide paths for strolling the grounds and several buildings, but the main attraction here is the rock garden, named the Ryoan-ji Garden.  It is the best surviving example of what is called kare-sansui – or dry landscape garden - and these types of gardens are also called Zen gardens. 

This temple is quite high on the list of the must see places in Kyoto so large crowds are not uncommon.  Of course it is pretty hard to get a Zen feeling of contentment, tranquility, and peace when you are shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other tourists all waving their phone cameras about in search of the perfect selfie with which to impress their followers and get likes.  So, our tour leader wisely decided to have us arrive at the Zen garden right when it opened at 9:00 AM so that our group would be the first group there and would have the Zen Garden all to ourselves – at least for 15-20 minutes or so till the waves of other tour groups came in.  But, as it turns out from March to November it opens at 8:00 AM.  One would think they would check such things the day before just to be sure nothing had changed.

But, for some reason, even though it was a Saturday with no rain after a rain soaked Friday, the crowds did not materialize as predicted and the Zen garden was not too crowded.  In fact, even being an hour late, there was room for our group to sit on the steps of the building facing the garden.  And, as advertised, it was quite peaceful. 

The overall temple complex was originally built in 1450 as a country estate for a wealthy aristocrat.  But, only 8 years later, in 1458, it was converted to a Zen temple. 

Ryoanji Temple grounds
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The Ryoan-ji rock garden itself is 32 ft (10 meters) x 82 ft (25 meters) or 2,670 square feet.  I’m sure you’ve seen these garden types before.  They are usually rectangular in shape with a tall solid wall on 2 or 3 sides and some sort of temple or tea house along the other sides.  These temples or tea houses usually are completely open facing the rock garden to make the garden seem to be part of the rooms in the building. 

Even though they are called “gardens” they don’t have any living plants or water.  The rectangular garden itself is highly manicured flat ground covered with small white pebbles or sand that is raked into patterns.  Interspersed in this field of white pebbles are large rocks or boulders (some several feet across), like islands in a white sea.  These rocks or boulders are carefully arranged according to some theme in the mind of the designer.  But pretty much the purpose is to bestow a feeling of peace and tranquility on the observer and foster meditation and contemplation.  In fact the Ryoanji temple is nicknamed “The Peaceful (or contented) Dragon Temple”.  And in the Zen philosophy you don’t need much to be content and you should focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.

But, they have never quite figured out when the Zen garden was actually built, or by whom, or what it represents, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t theories.  It is thought to have been built in the late 15th century, somewhat after the main temple buildings.  But who built it and what it symbolizes is even less clear.  As the temple nickname is “The Peaceful Dragon Temple” one would think that the placement of the larger rocks in the sea of white pebbles would depict a dragon, but no one seems able to see that.  So, with no accepted theories to go on, they looked at another design feature as the way add interest or intrigue for visitors and to promote the garden.

This rock garden features 15 large rocks or boulders, many grouped together on little grassy islands.  But some are almost completely buried in the white gravel and some are hidden behind other boulders.  So the literature and signs challenge visitors to actually find all 15 and if you do you gain enlightenment.  But what is more intriguing than just counting to 15 is that there is no angle of view where you can see all 15 at the same time.  No matter where you stand you can’t see, and count, all 15 boulders (I suspect though that a drone could solve that problem).  This design feature is said to encourage visitors to engage in contemplation and to seek enlightenment by looking beyond the physical realm (or at least looking behind other rocks).

Ryoan-ji rock garden with 15 boulders
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Several of the 15 boulders
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Wall separates Zen Rock Garden from the botanical garden
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The Zen rock garden itself is next to a building labeled “Hojo”.  The Hojo was originally built in 1606 as the residence of the head priest.  It consists of several rooms opening out to the Zen rock garden.  There are also hallways, a reception hall, study, and a private chamber for the head priest as well as a small private tea house. The interior of the rooms facing the rock garden are decorated with intricate wood carvings and traditional Japanese sliding doors with painted screens.

On our visit the 16 sliding screens showed a portion of the 40 panel artwork called “Dragon in Cloud” by Mr. Morihiro Hosokawa.  The artwork depicts the lifetime of a dragon from birth to old age.

Sliding screens with “Dragon in Cloud” artwork by Morihiro Hosokawa
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One of the “Dragon in Cloud” scenes
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Another “Dragon in Cloud” scene
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But this is only one part of this temple site.  Outside the Zen rock garden there are pathways through a landscaped forest, many buildings (including a teahouse), and a nice lake with a foot bridge going over to an island.

Wide pathways lead through forested areas
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Keeping the gardens perfectly manicured
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Trellis area on the grounds
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Peaceful water feature
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Still a few cherry blossoms around
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Tea house by the lake
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5 on a bridge
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Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)

Less than a mile from the Ryoanji Temple is probably the most photographed temple in the world which is the Kinkakuji Temple better known as the Golden Pavilion.  The temple was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but was later converted into a temple after he died.  

Each level of the Golden Pavilion is designed in a different architectural style. The first floor is traditional Japanese style, the second floor is in the samurai style, and the third floor is in the Chinese Zen style.  Although I was skeptical, all the documentation says that the top two floors are covered with real gold leaf.  The gold is meant to symbolize the purity of Buddha's teachings.  It also seems that to keep the gold exterior nice, bright, and shiny they reapply the gold leaf every few years.  Tourists are not allowed inside, but the story goes that the main hall, called Kinkaku or the Golden Pavilion, is also covered in gold leaf and has doors that open out to the lake. 

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
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Remember I mentioned that Ryoanji temple was not as crowded as we were told it probably would be?  Well now we know where all those people went – it was here.  This place was like Grand Central Station at rush hour.  But apparently this is more the norm than the exception.  When we were here in 2010, once you paid your fee and went into the grounds you could just wander anywhere you wished on the many pathways that meandered through the site.  But now you must stick to a single, one-way pathway the leads you by all the main attractions.  All the little side paths and shortcuts and alternate routes are blocked off. 

As you go, especially where you have a view of the Golden Pavilion with its reflection in the lake, there are only 2 or 3 spots where you can photograph the pavilion itself unobstructed by trees either with or without including the lake and reflection in the shot.  These few spots were 5 to 10 people deep and wide with photographers trying to get the perfect shot – including myself.  After all, why not take the same shot as a billion previous visitors?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Because it is there.  Well, that and if I take the photo myself, there are no worries about copyrights and royalties if I want to market the image.  So there I was, adding myself to the crowd.  Unfortunately it was overcast and the light on the Golden Pavilion was not all that great.  What I really wanted was a single shaft of light to break through an opening in the clouds and light up the temple.  Wishful thinking.

One of the few spots you can get an unobstructed shot with lake and trees in foreground
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And, would you believe, while we were there (in April) a sudden freak snow storm came along?  OK, no there wasn’t but I did take a shot of a photo they had hanging on a wall near the restroom of the pavilion in the winter which is quite lovely.

Photo of photo displayed on a wall near the pavilion
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Old School treatment of a photo I took in 2010
Golden Temple, Kinkakuji, JapanGolden Temple, Kinkakuji, Japan

The Golden Pavilion we see today is at least the 2nd or perhaps the 3rd one to be built on this site.  During the Ōnin war (1467–1477) it escaped being burned down when all of the other buildings on the site were destroyed by fire.  But it was not so fortunate in the summer of 1950 when a 22 year old novice monk named Jayashi Yoken set it ablaze.  He then tried to kill himself but failed and was arrested.  He eventually got a 7 year sentence but was released early because of mental illness.  The present building was constructed in 1955, the year Jayahi was released from prison, to replace the one he burned down.

Golden Pavilion after 1950's fire.  Looks like it was only 2 stories then.  (Photo from Wikipedia)
21 Burned out Golden Pavilion21 Burned out Golden Pavilion

The one-way path circles around the side of the lake and goes behind the pavilion and then up a hill behind it.  Over half of the lake shore is inaccessible even though it looked like there were some great photo spots over there, but so it goes.  As we circled around and up the hill we went by some cute little waterfalls, and some statuary

Along the way we passed a granite “sorin” (obelisk in English) on an island in a little pond.  It is a bit over 8ft tall and was a roof finial (spire) of a pagoda from the site that was destroyed in the 15th century during the Onin war.  It is said that the sorin connects heaven and earth

Sorin or obelisk in English
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Small shrine
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Old stairs leading to upper level of garden
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Cute little waterfall
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After we had climbed the steps to the upper sections of the garden, it was noticed that the Golden Pavilion was indeed illuminated by sunlight.  So, our NGS guide and I reversed course and high-tailed it the wrong way on the one-way path, back down the hill, around the back of the pavilion and on to the far side of the lake where we had started.  This was like swimming upstream with throngs of people all going the other way and as such the going was somewhat slow.  And, wouldn’t you know it, by the time we got to one of those few photo spots with an unobstructed view and managed to get to the front of the crowd, the sunlight had vanished behind the clouds once more.  But it was worth the attempt.  But now, we needed to traverse that entire route again at an accelerated pace in order to not be late for getting back on the bus.  But, we made it.

Vending Machines

As one wanders around Japan one thing that jumps out at you is the proliferation of vending machines.  We’re all used to seeing vending machines in tourist areas, transportation centers, and other areas with high foot traffic but in Japan you can’t get away from them.  Japan has more vending machines per capita than any other country in the world.  With over 5 million vending machines (1 for every 23 people) they are everywhere.  You find them in stores, parking lots, temples and shrines, rest stops, public parks, on residential area street corners, and just plunked down by the sidewalk in front of someone’s house. 

The variety of things you can get in a vending machine in Japan is astounding.  To start with, over half the machines dispense drinks, both hot and cold, ranging from bottled water to sodas, coffee, tea, and even alcohol (an ID card is required).  But it goes on from there.  Of course there are machines for candy and snacks but also hot food, whole fruit and vegetables, eggs, popcorn, freshly made hamburgers, pizza, ice, newspapers and magazines, umbrellas, fresh flowers, condoms, pantyhose, toys and neck ties.  But probably the weirdest are machines that just surprise you with a random item that it chooses.  You put in your money with no idea of what is going to pop out. 

So why are vending machines so popular?  Well, there are several reasons.  First is that even while the rest of the modern world has embraced cashless commerce, Japan has stuck with a mostly cash  economy.  So, people always tend to have cash in their pockets even though most machines now accept credit/debit cards and Japanese phone payment systems.  A second factor is that Japan has a very low crime rate and placing machines out in public where they are not monitored or secured behind locked doors is not a problem.  Rarely are they vandalized or broken into. 

The 3rd and possibly most important reason vending machines are so popular is that Japan as a society has lots of paperwork.  Getting permits for things like opening a store or adding a room to your house is quite complicated, expensive and difficult.  The one exception is vending machines.  As long as a machine meets basic criteria such as not getting in the way of road or foot traffic and being installed in an earthquake-resistant manner you can put one anywhere you want as long as you own the land it sits on.  And you can sell whatever you want from the machine as long as you can figure out how to dispense it to the customer.  There are no zoning restrictions on where these machines can go, no permits are required, and no government paperwork is involved.  Well, except for a few things. 

You do need a permit to sell milk, beverages in open cups, cooked food (like hamburgers, pizza or ramen), items that need refrigeration (like sandwiches) and of course alcohol, tobacco and other nicotine products.  But most everything else is permit and fee free.

If you install a more traditional, mass market type, machine selling snacks or drinks, you can either buy or rent a machine or contract with a vending machine company to supply the machine.  Some companies offer a package deal where they install and maintain the machine as well as keep it stocked and you (as the land owner) pay for the electricity to operate the machine and you get a cut of the profit.

So, all in all, putting a vending machine out front is a cheap and easy way to add a bit to your family income.

(Photo by Mylène Larnaud on Unsplash)
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Sanzen-in Temple

This temple (also known as the Moss Garden) is 10 miles from the Golden Temple and is on the other side of town in a rural hilly area.  The temple, and most of the town, is up a one lane road that winds up a narrow canyon by the side of a small river.  The road is barely wide enough for a small car so getting a bus up there was out of the question.  So, the bus parked below the entrance to the valley and we walked up the 1/3 mile to the temple area.  As you go up you pass various small mom and pop stores and when tired, stop to take a few photos of the river. 

Small food market on road up the main part of town
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Small river next to road up to the town
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Eventually you come to where the temple grounds are and in front of the temple compound is a more or less level area with many, and larger, stores and shops including a 4 star hotel with a restaurant where we had lunch.  Lunch was billed as a traditional Japanese ‘box lunch’.  But this was not a cardboard box with a sandwich, cookies, juice box and an apple inside.  It was a sit down restaurant which, fortunately, had chairs instead of sitting on the floor.  The “Box” part of the lunch was a good size lacquered box with painted artwork on the outside.  Inside there were several drawers and each drawer contained several different food items.  Again, in the “traditional” style, very small portions of very many different items – most of which were not compatible with my Western Palate.

(Photo from restaurant website)
29 Seryo Restaurant Lunch29 Seryo Restaurant Lunch

After lunch we entered the temple.  The Sanzen-in temple is a monzeki temple which in turn is one of only a few temples whose head priests used to be members of the imperial family. So, I guess it could be said that it is a royal temple. 

As with most temples, one is required to remove ones shoes upon entering.  In most cases there is some sort of rack or cubby holes where you can put your street shoes while you are visiting the building.  However at this temple you don’t exit at the same place you enter but rather you exit out the back into the outdoor gardens and then exit the site through a garden gate.  So, they give you a plastic bag to put your shoes in which you then carry as you tour the building. 

The temple itself is not all that unique as temples in Japan go.  But, apparently it is known for its extensive collection of Buddhist art and artifacts, including ancient sutras, paintings, and calligraphy.  It was founded in the late 8th century as a villa of the Emperor Saga.  Later it was converted into a temple by the Tendai sect of Buddhism.  

But, the main attraction here is the Shuhekien Garden.  In one area of the building are some rooms that open up to gardens.  People bring a picnic lunch and sit on little red mats on the deck just outside these rooms to have a bit to eat and enjoy the view.

Having lunch by the gardens
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The gardens in Sanzen-in Temple are collectively known as "Sekka-tei" or "Garden of the Snowy Flower."  They feature a variety of traditional Japanese garden styles, including a pond garden, rock garden, moss garden, and others.  The gardens are carefully tended and designed to reflect the changing seasons, with blooming flowers and foliage in spring and summer, and brilliant autumn colors in the fall.

Small pond in the Sekka-tei garden
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Sekka-tei garden
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Many Japanese temples and shrines have a place for visitors to put “ema” (which translates to “horse picture”).  The term refers to small wooden plaques or tablets decorated with designs and which also have wishes or prayers written on them.  Originally the decorations were of horses which are considered to be a sacred animal in ancient Japan which bring good fortune and success.  Visitors to these temples and shrines can purchase a paper “ema” on which to write their own wish or prayer and then hang them on a designated board or rack. 

Ema (wishes and prayers) in the garden
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Cute little statue in the garden
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Well manicured Sekka-tei garden
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Pachinko parlors can be found throughout Japan.  It is sort of like our pinball but played on a vertical playing field rather than a sloping horizontal one. 

The game originated in Japan in the 1920’s as a children’s game called “Corinth Game” or “Korinto Gemu” but was inspired by the American game of bagatelle.  The original Japanese game used small wooden balls and a wooden board and kids would play it in candy stores and arcades. 

As time went on they moved to metal balls and ever more elaborate playing fields.  It wasn’t until the end of World War II when it became a national obsession due to the addition of gambling elements that it was rebranded as Pachinko.  Pachinko parlors sprang up all over the country with some having several hundred machines.  These were all mechanical machines with a few lights added to signal a “win” or “out of balls”, but all in all everything involved in playing the game was done with levers, weights and springs.  Even though Pachinko started out as a children’s game, it is now considered a form of legalized gambling - most gambling is not legal in Japan – and as such you must be over 20 years old to enter a Pachinko Parlor.

Pachinko parlors are large rooms with rows and rows of machines lined up side by side with rows and rows of people on stools playing the machines.  When you enter, the first thing that hits you is the noise level which is in the painful range due to the metal balls bouncing around and clanging through a maze of pins, loud “ker-chung” sounds when someone wins coupled with bells, and blaring loud music over loudspeakers.  The decibel level is similar to an airport runway and due to this many guests come with ear plugs.  The other thing that hits you when you enter is the smoke.  Pachinko parlors are one of the few indoor places in Japan where there are no restrictions on smoking and the smoke is at times so thick that you can’t see more than a couple of yards away.  Recently though, some establishments have created small separate “smoke free” rooms but these are usually very cramped and not all that smoke free.

So, here’s how it works.  When you go to pachinko parlor, you buy a bag of balls.  Then you go and find an unused machine and take a seat, many times having to wait till one comes free.  A machine consists of a feeder tray or bin where you place the metal balls you purchased (each ball is a bit smaller than a standard marble).  Then there is a spring loaded lever that you pull down and let it spring back.  This action propels one of the balls up a curving ramp to the top of the playing field.   The playing field consists of a forest of nails that the ball bounces around and through as it descends toward the bottom.  If it reaches the bottom, you lose that ball.  Depending on the machine the playing field has several “catchers” scattered around.  When a ball finds its way into one of these catchers there is a loud noise, a light flashes and you “win” a handful of balls that clatter into your feeder tray.  In addition when a ball enters certain catchers it opens flaps on the same or on other catchers that enlarge the catching area for subsequent balls making it easier for balls to be caught.  You do have some control on the trajectory of the ball by controlling how far down you depress the lever before releasing it.  This changes the speed of the ball and with practice you can get the ball to drop down into the middle of playing field where the best catchers are.

Here’s a photo of my pachinko machine
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When you’ve had enough you may or may not have any balls left over.  As gambling is illegal in Japan, they can’t give you cash for these left over (or won) balls as that would be gambling.  What they can do is let you trade these balls for trinkets like those you’d win at a county fair, or for souvenir tokens.  Now, here’s where it gets interesting.  Like I said they can’t give you cash for the balls or tokens.  But, if you go out of the facility, and go next door or around to the other side of the block, guess what?  There is a store there that buys pachinko parlor tokens for cash.  And, this store then passes the sold tokens they’ve purchased through a little door back into the pachinko parlor.  Sure am glad gambling is illegal.  But, now you know why it’s so popular.

In the 1960's and 1970's, pachinko machines underwent a technological revolution.  The old mechanical machines (like mine) were swapped out for new, flashy electronic versions that offered more features and higher payouts.  Many of the older machines were re-furbished and shipped to the US where they were sold in stores like Pier 1 Imports.  I got mine as a birthday present.


Our next installment of this series will take us out of Kyoto to Mt. Koya.


This blog is posted at:


Or, the whole Japan 2023 series here (as they are created)



Photographs from this trip to Japan 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, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) blog dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Golden Pavilion Japan Kinkakuji Temple Pachinko Ryoanji Temple Sanzen-in Temple Vending Machines Zen garden https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-03 Sun, 14 May 2023 16:53:37 GMT
Japan #02 - Kyoto-Day-1 https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-02 Mar-Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #02 Kyoto (Day 1)

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

This installment is the first part for the Kyoto area and incluides discussions of the bullet train, the Sanurai, Tenryuji Temple Gradens, Arashiyama
Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama front precincts, Kiyomizu Temple, Nishi Market and the Geiko (Geisha).

Entire Trip map
02 # Map 1 Entire Trip02 # Map 1 Entire Trip

Bullet Train to Kyoto

Most of our tour group flew into Osaka from the US and then took a train from there to Kyoto to meet up with the group.  In our case we were starting in Hachioji next to Tokyo so needed to make our own way to Kyoto.  So, with the help of our son we got train tickets from Hachioji to the Shin-Yokohama station where we picked up the bullet train from there to Kyoto. 

Navigating transportation systems in foreign countries can be challenging and even more so in non English speaking places and where the alphabet doesn’t use familiar letters.  And Japan is no different.  On our 2010 trip to Japan it was rare to see English anywhere in the public transit system but I must say they have done a marvelous job adding English to their signage in such places.  In fact in the train system almost every sign was in both English and Japanese as were all audio announcements.

But, even so, when traveling by train in Japan, a few words should be committed to memory.  One is the word “shin” used as a prefix to the name of a place.  Shin has many meanings, but in this context it means “new” and refers to the new trains which are the bullet trains.  So, for example, Shin-Yokohama refers to the bullet train station in Yokohama.  In most cases the “Shin” stations are merged into the older non bullet train stations so they don’t add the “Shin” prefix to the name of the station.  But even if the station does have the “Shin” prefix it does not necessarily mean that it isn’t also the station for the older trains. 

The bullet trains themselves are called “Shinkansen” (there’s that “shin” prefix again) and link most major cities in Japan with Tokyo being more or less the central hub.  So if you need to buy a ticket, say at a kiosk in the station or online, or need to find the part of the station servicing the bullet trains, look for the word “Shinkansen”.

The Shinkansen train system was first put in place to service the 1964 Olympics and has been expanding ever since.  The trains run on dedicated tracks, separate from all the other trains in Japan and these tracks have no grade crossing (places where cars have to stop to let the train go by).  They run very frequently – every 10 to 15 minutes on the more popular routes, are quite sleek and aerodynamic and even though they run at up to 200 MPH they are remarkably quiet. 

But even within the Shinkansen system there are express trains (called “Nozomi”) which only stop at the largest cities.  And, they are incredibly punctual.  Their punctuality is measured in seconds.  A train that is a minute late is considered a major failure and someone will have to answer for it.  On our prior trip to Japan we were on a train that arrived about a minute late and we must have received a dozen apologies from staff and crew.

The Shinkansen trains are quite comfortable with enough leg room to put a full size suitcase in front of your knees.  Of course if you do so you can’t stretch out your legs or lower your tray table but it’s better than nothing.  Carry on size luggage and backpacks can go on the overhead shelf.  The so called “green cars” (first class) have luggage storage areas at the end of the cars but you’re paying for first class.  In the regular cars, the last row of seats in each car have room behind the seats in which you can stand up a full size suitcase and put a carry on size  suitcase on top of it.  If you have some serious luggage, this option is quite a lot better than having your luggage at your knees or paying for first class.  You do pay a little extra for these seats and they go fast so reserve early.

Route from Hachioji (Tokyo) to Kyoto
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Shinkansen train pulling into Shin-Yokohama station
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For more than 1,000 years (794-1868), Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan, the home town of the emperor and the seat of government.  As it was the center of Japanese culture during this time many temples and shrines were constructed (today numbering over 2,000 if you include other monuments).  And, many of them were commissioned by the imperial court itself. 

Kyoto can also claim a number of firsts.  It was where the whole notion of Geisha was invented and got its start, it was where the Samurai Class came into being and it is where tofu was invented.  We’ll talk about the Geisha (or Geiko as they are called in Kyoto) later in this article and we won’t talk much about tofu at all, but the Samurai is worth a few paragraphs.

It was during the heyday of Kyoto, in the late 12th century, that the Samurai class gained power and influence.  The Samurai class was held in very high regard.  They were the only caste in Japan that was allowed to carry two swords and unlike the rest of society; Samurai had both first and last names.  The shoguns and daimyo lords were members of the samurai caste.  They were sort of like the “Jedi” of period – spiritual leaders, thought to have almost supernatural powers, and fierce, almost unbeatable, in battle.

Speaking of the Jedi, the term itself comes from the Japanese word “jidai-geki” meaning period drama about the Samurai, and Darth Vader's costume and helmet may have been inspired by Japanese warlords' uniform and headwear.

Darth Vadar vs. Samurai Warrior (Japantoday.com)
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Another theory is that the term “Jedi” was inspired by the words Jed (Leader) and Jeddak (King) as used in the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  This was a series set mostly on Mars that Lucas considered adapting to film.

The centuries following the rise of the Samurai, were quite chaotic with civil wars and power struggles between different feudal lords as well as other factions.  These wars and battles cemented the prowess of the Samurai warriors in history.  The turmoil persisted into the 16th century when Kyoto became the center of power for the Oda and Yoyotomi clans.  Their idea was to unify Japan under a single rule – theirs.  It was during this time that many of Kyoto’s most famous landmarks were built, including the Golden and the Silver Pavilions.

Then in the early 17th century Kyoto came under the control of the Tokugawa clan and they moved the capital from Kyoto to Edo which is now known as Tokyo.  But, Kyoto remained an important cultural center and a Mecca (not to conjoin religions) for the cultural elite including artists, writers, and scholars which it still is today.

Our journey in and around Kyoto
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Tenryuji Temple and Gardens

Tenryuji Temple
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The day after we arrived from Hachioji we started our formal tour with National Geographic Expeditions (now a Disney company).  Unfortunately, this day would feature pretty much non stop hard rain which greatly altered the experience.  It did keep the crowds thinned out a bit but even so we’d have preferred that it not be pouring raining.  But, we did make an important discovery.  The brand new “waterproof” rain coat my wife bought on the internet for this trip was not “waterproof”.  It wasn’t even “water repellant”.  More like a sponge than a protective garment.  They joys of internet shopping.

After a short bus ride across town we arrived at our first temple of the trip.  This was the Tenryuji Temple.  We didn’t go inside the building but it is a 14th century Buddhist temple which has been renovated several times and (like almost everything we’d be seeing on this trip) is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  In fact as almost every place we visited is a UNESCO World Heritage site, I’m going to stop mentioning it every time.

We were here to see the gardens, not the building.  The gardens were designed in the 14th century by a famous Zen Buddhist monk and garden designer, Muso Soseki.  It was designed to represent the natural beauty of the local Arashiyama mountains and the gardens are considered to be one of the best examples of Japanese landscape garden design. 

The pouring rain certainly did not help our appreciation of these gardens and we did not have time to fully explore the entire extent of the grounds but what we did see was lovely.  Actually, I think I saw more of the gardens than the rest of our group.  We had been given listening devices commonly called “whisperers” so we could hear the commentary from our guide as we went along.  Our tour started by the temple building and the small lake called the Sogen Pond.  As I was photographing the pond, trying to keep my camera dry and to frame shots with few or no tourists, I noticed that our group had moved on up a small hill.  No matter, I’d catch up in a minute.  But then our guide went out of audio range so I figured I’d better catch up.  So, up the hill I went but there were all sorts of pathways leading off to the left and to the right with no clear indication of which one was a main path.  I then saw a group of people off to the left so I took that path and after a bit got back into audio range.  But, the group I saw was not our group which became obvious as they were speaking French.  So, as the audio was pretty strong I figured I was getting closer and continued going the same way,  But soon I lost the audio again and not only that I was just about to wind up where I had started after essentially circumnavigating the lake.  Oops, must have taken a wrong path.  So, I back tracked, got back in audio range and tried another path till the audio faded out.  I must have tried 3 or 4 different paths that went off into different sections of the gardens till I finally hit on the right one and caught up with our group. 

Buddha by the entrance of Tenryuji Temple
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Sogen Pond, Tenryuji Temple Garden
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Sogen Pond, Tenryuji Temple Garden
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Rhododendrons, Tenryuji Temple Garden
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Finally caught up with our group
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The Tenryuji Temple is in the portion of Kyoto called Arashiyama and is right next to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.  This patch of dense bamboo is roughly 6.2 square miles – and that’s a lot of Bamboo.  Again the rain didn’t help the experience but it certainly did create an aura about the place that was quite unique.  Sort of a cross between a “peaceful easy feeling” (not to quote song lyrics) and a sense of insignificance standing under bamboo stalks over 60 feet high.  Very reminiscent of standing in an old growth Redwood forest in Northern California.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
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Sorry, felt Zen like the day I was writing this article
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From the bamboo forest we walked down a hill and into the town itself where we were given well over an hour to shop and buy snacks.  Why they decided to provide this much shopping time on the first day of a 10 day tour is a mystery as you’d then have to carry what you bought around Japan for 10 days. As we were not interested in either souvenir’s or gifts this early in the trip, we wandered back to where the bus was parked in front of the temple. 

What we found was interesting.  The area directly in front of the Tenryuji Temple is a parking lot which looks to be about 1 block wide and extends from the temple down to the main street of town.  But on either side of this parking area are a whole series of gated entrances to small walled compounds.  I counted nine of them but there may have been more hidden behind those I counted.  At first we thought they were just opulent houses for upper class officials of the town as each one had its own entrance gate, with a garden out front and then a house like structure behind.  Some had a bamboo pole across the entrance signifying that it was private but some didn’t.  Even those that were not blocked off looked very much like private residences. 

But that is not what they were at all.  It seems that each one is a small temple in its own right.  Collectively they are known as the temple's "front garden" or "front precincts."  And, thanks to Google, each one seems to have its own history and story.  Some have famous statues, others have intricate wood carvings but all seem to have their own cemetery out back, a building for services and some dwelling buildings for the monks.  Here are photos of a few of them.

Juni-in temple – doesn’this look like someon’s house?
Juni-in templeJuni-in temple

Tokan-in Temple
Tokan-in TempleTokan-in Temple

Hiun Kann Temple
Hiun Kann TempleHiun Kann Temple

Kiyomizu Temple

Our next stop after a lunch that I simple have no recollection of was the Kiyomizu Temple back across town.  It is one of the most visited temples in Japan and for good reason.  It is actually more like a complex of unique buildings built on a hillside overlooking a valley more so than a single temple building.  It is also one of the oldest temples in Kyoto dating from 778 AD (early Ehian period). 

There are many buildings one can see in this complex but to get to them one must ascend a fairly large number of stairs.  Near the bottom is a kind of entrance building called the West Gate which is guarded by two stone lion dogs. 

We were here in 2010 when it wasn’t raining and also wasn’t the middle of the Cherry Blossom Tourist season.  But today it was pouring rain with a large number of stairs to climb.  What with the rain these stairs were somewhat slippery so some folks (including my wife Ellen) thought better of the whole idea and decided to remain at the bottom. 

What we didn’t know, and what our trip leader either also didn’t know or neglected to tell us, was that there was a paved service road with no stairs that one could use to walk up to the top.  A pretty significant omission for a class A tour leader.  It was also observed that earlier in the day we drove right past the 22 acre Imperial Palace and she made no mention of it.  This did not bode well for the rest of the trip.

But, I went ahead and climbed the stairs.  The first building is the West Gate.  You don’t actually use the stairs leading to the West Gate as shown in the photo but use a wider set of steps off to the side.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple - West Gate
Kiyomizu Temple - West GateKiyomizu Temple - West Gate

As you go up the stairs you pass the West Gate, the bell tower, a three story pagoda and various other buildings before you get to one of the main attractions which is “The Stage”.

Three story Pagoda in the pouring rain
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The Stage is the main temple building in the complex.  This building was constructed without the use of nails or screws.  Rather, the entire structure is held together by a complex system of interlocking joints and wooden dowels.  As it turns out, this sort of construction actually works better in earthquakes than much of our modern construction methods, but you’re not going to build a 20 story building this way. 

The reason for the nickname is that one whole side of this temple is open to a large patio or platform hanging over the edge of a cliff with a view of the city (if it’s not rainy).  It is said that if you fling yourself off the platform and survive your landing several stories below, that your wish will be granted.  I suspect that the “wish” for people who have tried this is, “I wish I hadn’t done that”.  We didn’t try it.

In the photo below, even though it was pouring rain, you can see how popular this site is by the number of tourists present.

 “The Stage”, in the pouring rain
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Another well known, and popular place, just behind this main temple building, is the Jishu Shrine (or “Love Fortune Stone”) which is dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking. Visitors can take part in a traditional ritual called "love fortune-telling," where they walk between two stones with their eyes closed.  If they successfully reach the other stone, it is said that their wish for love will come true.  I wonder if this related to the old “love is blind” saying?

The name of the temple complex, “Kiyomizu”, means “clear water”.  This refers to a waterfall called the Otowa Waterfall that never runs dry and is said to have very pure water.  So, the name translates to “Temple of Pure Water”.  This sacred water is said to have healing properties and good fortune.  At the bottom of the waterfall some of the water is divided into three thin streams that fall into a pool of water and (for a small fee) visitors may take a drink from those streams using a long handled metal ladle. Due to COVID, the ladles are now sterilized by UV light between each use.  Each of the three streams has a different virtue. One brings academic success, another brings longevity and the third is for success in love. 

Prior to COVID drinking from these streams was immensely popular with long lines waiting to go onto the platform where the ladles are kept.  However during the pandemic its popularity waned (it may even have been put off limits).  But now that the pandemic is winding down (or at least concern about is lessening), the lines are starting to form again.  Even on the very rainy day when we visited there were 10 to 15 people in line.

Three sacred streams
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I can’t find the name of this monument, but I lijke it
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Entrance Streets

As one visits the numerous temples and shrines in Japan, it seems that the street leading up to the main entrance is always lined with loads of stores.  One would think it was to tap into the tourist traffic but this tradition goes back a thousand years, well before affluent tourists descended on these religious compounds.

Well, as it turns out the original basis of the profusion of stores was really a practical matter.  With walking being the predominant mode of transportation, worshipers would have to take a full day or at least a full morning to go to the temples.  To minimize the need for extra trips they would combine the temple trip with their shopping for food and supplies.  So, stores started lining the road in front of temples and shrines offering mostly food items, many times prepackaged in “to go” containers, intermingled with a few establishments providing take away prepared food.  Only later when tourists started flocking to these temples did the grocery and food stores give way to souvenir and gift shops. 

Entrance street leading up to Kiyomizu Temple
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Same street from 2010 trip (when it was not raining)
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Nishi Market

The Nishi market is in downtown Kyoto as it has been for over 400 years.  It was originally just a street in town with a variety of shops, mostly selling freshly caught seafood.  But now they have put a roof over the street and most of the fish stalls have given way to other “tourist friendly” types of fare but still mostly food stalls of various types.  The market itself runs about 5 city blocks and over time, other markets have sort of attached themselves to the Nishi on perpendicular side streets to take advantage of the foot traffic attracted to the Nishi.  After touring the Kiyomizu Temple, the bus let off most of the group at our hotel but for those with energy left, they took us on the bus over to the far end of the market.

The narrow street which is the market was packed shoulder to shoulder with people going in both directions.  As advertised, it featured all sorts of traditional foods, snacks, and souvenir stands.  Some were walk in stores or sit down restaurants and others were just street side counters where you could pick up freshly cooked take-a-way food.  Many of the shops and stalls are family-owned and have been operating for generations. 

Nishi Market, Kyoto
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Since I’m not really into shopping (or fish for that matter), I find that the venders tending their stall or store are quite interesting to watch, and quite interesting to photograph.

Not sure what she’s making but she’s searing it with a blow torch
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Deep Fried shrimp (Ebi Fry)
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Pork perhaps?
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Looks like rice or shredded cheese in some sort of pastry – but I could be totally wrong
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I know this one – it’s a book seller
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Nestled in the Nishi Market we came across the Nishiki-Tenmangu-Shrine.  The juxtaposition of a modest shrine plunked down in the middle of the Nishi Market chaos was quite striking.  I’m pretty sure the shrine was there first and the market grew up around it, but even so it was quite a different and unexpected thing to come by.

Nishiki Tenmangu ShrineNishiki Tenmangu Shrine

Nishiki Tenmangu ShrineNishiki Tenmangu Shrine

Nishiki Tenmangu ShrineNishiki Tenmangu Shrine

Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko

In Kyoto, where the whole concept originated, a geisha is called a "geiko."  The word "geiko" is an older term than "geisha" but is exclusively used in Kyoto area.  In fact, geiko from Kyoto are considered to be among the most skilled and prestigious in Japan.  Geiko (and geisha for that matter) are trained in many Japanese arts such as dance, music, tea ceremonies and social etiquette among others.  It usually takes 3 to 5 years of training to become a geiko.  During that time the trainees, or apprentices, are called maiko.  These women and girls are highly respected in Japanese culture.  There is a common misconception, especially in western countries, that geiko/geisha provide sexual services as part of their profession.  This actually isn’t the case.  The role of geiko/geisha is centered on elegance, grace, and hospitality, and their training and education emphasize traditional values such as respect, discipline, and refinement.

Young girls who wish to pursue this profession typically start training when they are between 15 and 16 years old.  Historically, young girls who showed promise were recruited by those already in the trade but in more recent years young women now apply for the opportunity to train.  The training is done in a geiko house where the girls live with a house mother who looks after their training.  On the flip side, the girls in the house have to work to earn their keep.  They are expected to not only do their training but also tend to domestic shores such as cooking and cleaning associated with running of what is in many respects a boarding house, not the least of which is tending to the needs and desires of the geiko.  In return, the house mother takes a cut of the income generated by the geiko and maiko when they are commissioned to perform or entertain. 

When performing or entertaining, the girls wear elaborate kimonos and a very distinctive form of makeup that starts with a very white base layer and is finished with ruby red lipstick.  The idea behind the white base layer is that in the olden days, most of the places they worked were dimly lit by kerosene lanterns or candles and the white makeup made it easier to see the performers. 

It is interesting to note that the apprentice maiko tend to wear more elaborate and colorful kimonos and more makeup than the senior geiko.  There are several reasons for this.  First is that the maiko are still in training and the more ornate presentation showcases their youth, appearance and potential.  A second reason is that more elaborate, and expensive, kimonos signify the prestige and success of the maiko.  In contrast the geiko have already made it to the big time, so to speak, so rely more on their honed skills than flash and bling to express their status and reputation.

Our tour brought us to a restaurant for an authentic Japanese dinner and geiko/maiko performance including dancing and singing followed by a Q&A session and meet and greet.

Geiko (left) and Meiko (right)
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Our next installment of this series will continue our visit in Kyoto.



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Or, the whole Japan 2023 series here (as they are created)



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Thanks for reading – Dan


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





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Arashiyama Arashiyama Bamboo Forest blog Bullet Train dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Geiko (Geisha) Japan Kiyomizu Temple Kyoto Nishi Market Sanurai Tenryuji Temple https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-02 Mon, 08 May 2023 23:29:33 GMT
LR018 - Keeping track of derivative images in Lightroom Classic https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/lr018-keeping-track-of-derivative-images-in-lightroom-classic Derivative Image Lineage

When using LrC (Lightroom Classic), many times we create VC’s (Virtual Copies) and also wind up with edited copies if we send images to an external editor or use one of the LrC Enhance features.  As the number of these “derivatives” multiple if is sometimes quite difficult to know which ones came from which other ones, in what order and for what purpose.  This article provides a methodology to keep track of these images.

Image Types

There are 3 types of non video images in LrC (Lightroom Classic).

Master Image – Master images are physical image files (Jpg, RAW, Tiff, PSD, etc.) which reside on one of your disk drives.  When you import an image into LrC, it creates an entry for such an image in the LrC catalog.  This is a Master Image.  Master images may be edited in LrC but even so are still considered the master image, even though they may no longer be the original state of the image.  As LrC is a non destructive editor, those edits are not copied to pixels in the original image file, so you can always revert back to the original at any time.

03 LR018 01 Original Master type03 LR018 01 Original Master type

Physical Derivative – These too are physical files on your disk drive.  In one sense they are also master files but as they were derived from some other original photo, we think of them a bit differently.  Physical Derivatives are usually created when we use an external editor such as PS (Photoshop) or any of several 3rd party image editing tools.  In most cases, when you “edit in” from LrC to pass an image to an external editor, when the modified image comes back from the external editor, the word “-edit” gets appended to the end of the file name of the file sent to the editor.  If you then send the edited image to be externally edited again, you get another “-edited” added to the end of the name.  So, for example “IMG-1234.CR2” may spawn “IMG-1234-edited.tiff” which in turn spawns “IMG-1234-edited-edited.PSD”, and so on. 

02 LR018 02 Derived Master type02 LR018 02 Derived Master type

Physical derivatives can also be created by using some LrC tools such as any of the “Enhance” tools like DeNoise, Raw Details or Super Resolution.  In these cases LrC uses suffixes other than “-edited” on the derivative files.

Virtual Copy – A VC (Virtual Copy) is also derivative file but unlike the first two are not new physical files on disk.  Rather they are just another entry in the LrC catalog that points to the same physical file on disk as the image it was created from.  But, other than that, except for a few things within LrC they act and behave as if they are new physical files.  In the grid and filmstrip, VC’s have a dog ear a the bottom left corner of the image preview.

01 LR018 03 VC type01 LR018 03 VC type


As we work through processing an image many times we wind up with several of these derivative files all stemming from one original image.  For example, we may send the image to PS to do some content aware cloning, then we may create a VC from the returned image to see if we like it better in monochrome.  This could be followed by going back to the original and creating another VC for a tight crop,  Etc. 

All of this is fine and good but it is not easy to remember which images were derived from which other images, when and why.  In other words the family tree for these images can get quite confusing.

Below are 3 steps to solve this problem.  Each “step” solves a different aspect of the problem so use as many of these step as you desire as they are somewhat independent of each other

Step 1 - Put Version Numbers in the “Copy Name” field

There are various strategies to deal with keeping track of what order the derivatives were created, but here’s the one I like.  Every image (all 3 types) has a metadata field called “Copy Name”.  I use this field to keep track of the image lineage using a concept of version numbers. 

I consider the original master image as V1, but rarely put anything in the Copy Name field for these V1 images.  But, each time I make a new derivative image of any sort I mark the Copy Name field with the next version number.  This in itself informs me of the order I created them but does not help understand which version each other version was derived from.  For example, if I created V4 from V2 the fact that V4 came from V2 (rather than V3) is lost.  To remedy this I also put the version number that it came from in the copy field.  In this example it would be “V4=V2” meaning that V4 came from V2.

But, what was the purpose of making V4 in the first place?  I probably had a reason for creating V4 and I append that reason to the text in the copy name field.  So, let’s say I created V4 from V2 for the purpose of trying a tight crop.   The copy name would be “V4=V2+tight crop”.  So, now, not only do I know the order the derivatives were created, which version each came from but also why I created it.  This has proved to be quite useful later on when I try to figure out a whole raft full of VC’s and Derivative Masters in LrC.

The Copy Name field is found in the Metadata Panel and is present in most views of the Metadata Panel.  To change it, just type in the field in the Metadata Panel and hit enter.

01 LR018 05 Copy Name01 LR018 05 Copy Name

One can certainly stop with the copy name text as described and be way better off than trusting to memory but one can go on to a couple of more steps.

Step 2 - File Names for Physical Derivatives

In the case of physical derivatives such as those that come back from external editors or from using the enhance tools within LrC.  The file name of the new derived file will be the file name of its immediate predecessor with a suffix added such as “-Edited” or “Enhance-NR”.

So, if I perform a Denoise operation on “IMG-1234.cr2” it will create derivative image “IMG-1234-Enhance-NR.DNG” file.  After updating the copy name field (V2=V1+DeNoise), I usually rename the file to include the Version number.  In this case the file might become “IMG-1234 V2 enhance-NR.dng” or just “IMG-1234 V2.dng” as the copy name contains the other pertinent information.  You can change the file name by typing in the File Name field at the top of the Metadata Panel.

Step 3 - File History Marking

So far so good.  Now the only part of the problem that is missing is being able to know the state an image was in when one of the derivative images was created.  Let’s say I have a master image (V1) that has had a bunch of edits applied and I create a derivative from it (V2).  Then later on I do more edits on the V1 master image and subsequently create another derivative (V3).  How do I know what the state of the V1 master was when I created each of the two derivatives?  In other words, where in the list of history steps were the two derivatives created?

To solve this problem I use Snapshots.

Just before I make the derivative, I click the “+” sign on the Snapshots panel in the Develop Module and name the snapshot with the date and next version number.  For example  “5/22/2023 Created V3”. 

This establishes a point in the history that we can go back to.  But, it does not put a visible entry in the history panel showing where that point is.  But if you make any edit to the image then click the snapshot name, an entry gets added to the history panel showing the snapshot name.  So, just make a trivial change such as bump up contrast by 1 then click the snapshot name.

Here’s an example of the Snapshots and History Panels for a V1 image where I made two derivatives at different points in time.

04 LR018 04 Sanps and History04 LR018 04 Sanps and History



[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) Copy Name DanLRBlog Derivative image Lightroom Classic LrC Manage Derivative images Manage edited copies Manage VC's Snapshot Snapshots in LrC VC Virtual Copy https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/lr018-keeping-track-of-derivative-images-in-lightroom-classic Sun, 07 May 2023 22:36:21 GMT
Japan #01 - Hachioji, Cherry Blossoms and Karuizawa https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-01 Mar-Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #01 Hachioji, Cherry Blossoms and Karuizawa

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

This installment covers our trip from San Franciso to Tokyo, Cherry Blossom Festival in Fujimori and Show Memorial Parks, Karuizawa and Shiraito Falls, and Strawberry Picking.


Entire Trip map
01 # Map 1 Entire Trip01 # Map 1 Entire Trip

San Francisco to Japan

We left from San Francisco on the evening of March 29th with the expectation that after an 11+ hour flight, a crossing of the international date line and 7 time zones later would arrive in Japan a bit after 2 pm on March 30th.  But our airplane seemed to be in dire need of some sort of filter which had to be replaced before we could leave.  Ok, you call up the maintenance hanger, tell them what you need and they drive one over to the airplane and stick it in.  One would think.  But, no – this filter exchange required the airplane to be towed to the maintenance hanger on the other side of the airport. 

But wait, they aren’t allowed to do that since all the luggage had already been put on the plane.  I guess they were worried that the possibility of some luggage falling out of the cargo hold was much greater than the possibility of it falling off of one of those luggage train carts you see roaming the tarmac.  So, off came all the luggage.   But now there seemed to be a lack of pusher trucks available to tow the plane to the hanger as they were all assigned to other jobs.  But eventually one showed up and the plane left the boarding gate.  But, United was quite apologetic about the whole thing and gave us each a $20 gift card that could be used at any restaurant (or bar) in the airport so that we could get something to eat while we waited. 

An hour and a half later, the plane came back with a brand new filter and of course all that luggage had to be loaded back on.  But, at least we had a usable aircraft and didn’t have to re-book on other flights or wait till they flew a plane up from Los Angeles or some such place.  So we wound up taking off over 2 hours late for an uneventful flight.  Of course this meant that we also landed two hours late which put is right in the middle of the Tokyo rush hours. 

OK, let’s talk about Tokyo’s rush “hour”.  The land area occupied by greater Tokyo is roughly the same as Los Angeles County.  However, the population is larger than Los Angeles, San Diego, the entire San Francisco bay area, and Sacramento all combined – but only if you also throw  in the entire rest of the state of California.  And. as we all know, California has the highest population of all the states.  So it is not hard to imagine why Tokyo’s rush hour is actually about 4 hours long. 

My son and his family live in Hachioji on the western edge to Tokyo and Narita Airport is a bit out of town on the eastern side of Tokyo and he agreed to pick us up at the airport (with 3 of our grandkids along for the ride).  With no traffic this is a 1:45 drive but at our new landing time this would be closer to 3 or 4 hours.  After clearing customs it was nudging 6:00 PM so we decided to have dinner at the airport before heading out to give the traffic time to clear out a bit.  Now, Narita Airport is the main international airport for all of Japan so it was a mystery why 90% of the restaurants in our terminal had already closed for the day.  But we found an open Udon noodle place that also had some chicken dishes for take out and thus we entered the realm of Japanese cuisine. 


Hachioji, with a population of around 561,000 has a downtown with some 8-10 story buildings but most of the are is residential with 2 story private homes and 3-5 story multi unit buildings.  The buildings, including private homes pretty much take up the entire lot with, the front being right at the street and no space between houses.  In other words no yards.  Having a population density of 7,800 per square mile (compared to Tokyo proper with a population density of 16,480.  it is certainly not metropolitan/urban like Tokyo proper but also is denser than what we’d call the suburbs.  Our son’s house is somewhat of an exception.  It is a two story house where my son, his wife and their 3 children occupy the 2nd floor (4 bedroom, 1 bath, combo living/dining/kitchen room).  My son’s in-laws have the entire 1st floor.  This house has been in their family for generations where the grandparents traditionally live downstairs and the work age parents live upstairs so they are following along in that tradition.  But, unlike other homes we saw in the area, they have a modest yard with grass, a patio and a little Japanese garden not to mention a carport for 2 cars.

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Addressing in Tokyo and surrounding cities

Finding an address in the Japan is quite a challenge unless you have an internet mapping tool like Google maps.  In most countries, an address in a town or city starts with the street name and the buildings are numbered in order from one end of the street to the other end usually with odd numbers being on one side and even numbers on the other.  Of course sometimes modifiers are used such as NE or SW to indicate which quadrant of the city the address is in.  However, all in all it is usually quite logical and ordered. 

But, in Japan throw all that out the window as they use a completely different scheme.  First of all, and most surprising, is that street names are not part of an address at all.  As best as I can determine, here is how it works. Each city or town is divided into named wards (Tokyo has 23 of them) which are each divided into named districts or neighborhoods called chome’s.  These chome’s are then sub divided into numbered blocks called “ban” and each building within a ban has a number.  So, an address is the name of a city, a ward name, a neighborhood (chome) name, a block (ban) number and a building number. 

OK, not quite like our system but sort of understandable once you remember the Ward and neighborhood name, except for one thing.  The block numbers and building numbers were assigned in the order they were created and entered into a ledger at city hall.  So, block 7 might sit between blocks, 12, 3, 15, and 4.  The same thing with houses.  If your house was the first one built on your block, it is number 1, the next house built is number 2 even though it may be on the total opposite side of the block and so on.  Okay, but the plot thickens.  If your house burns down, gets blown up by a bomb during a war or had to be rebuilt for some other reason, you get a new number.  So let’s say you live in house number 12 on a block and your house burns down.  You then build a new house on the same plot of land with a new building permit.  The new house is added to the end of the ledger and gets whatever number they are up to by then and you now have a new address for your new house.  

So, before Google Maps and the like, how did people find places?  It seems that every few blocks there is a mini police station with 3 or 4 officers which are called Koban’s.  Sometimes these are not much more than a kiosk on street corner.  You would go to one of these Koban’s and give the name of the person you’re looking for and they would draw you a little map to where that person lives and off you’d go.  But, this required the officers in the Koban to know where everyone lives.  To deal with that, twice a year the police would go around to every building in their jurisdiction, knock on the door and ask who lives there.  In this way, the officers in each Koban would be reasonably up to date on who lives where.  All in all, a very peculiar system, but they seem to make it work, so more power to them.

Cherry Blossom Festival Season

Cherry Blossom festival vender row under flowering Cherry Trees in Fujimori Park in Hachioji
Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park 2Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park 2

Cherry blossoms (known as Sakura in Japan), are one of the most beloved symbols of Japanese culture you can find.  Every year, people from all over the world descend on Japan (and other areas where they grow like Washington DC) to see the dazzling show.  Cherry Blossom season is typically said to be around 2-3 weeks long (end of March through Mid April).  But due to local weather in any year, and global climate change, the specific dates for any particular area are not much more than a wild ass guess.  Now add to this that the blossoms in any particular area rarely last longer than around 5 days and many times less if a wind or rain storm comes through and knocks the blossoms off the trees. 

So, when we started planning this trip last October, it was sort of a crap shoot if we’d be able to hit the right days.  But, as it turns out due to some planning but mostly a fair amount of luck, we arrived in Tokyo at the right time.  So, after a day recuperating from jet lag we ventured out to see the blossoms.

Cherry blossoms in Japan have been an important cultural symbol for centuries. The native cherry blossom tree (sakura tree) has been idolized in art, literature, and poetry throughout the centuries and over that time have come to represent the transience of life, and are often associated with the samurai, who saw the beauty of the cherry blossoms as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life.  Due to the cultural reverence, the viewing of the blossoms has become a national event, much like our 4th of July weekend.  In fact the viewing of the flowers with family and friends has its own name (hanami) and has been traditional in Japanese culture since the Nara period (710-794). Hanami involves gathering with friends and family under cherry blossom trees to admire their beauty and enjoy food and drinks.  

This tradition is still in full swing not only for the Japanese themselves but for people from all over the world.  In 2019 (before COVID-19) 63 million people traveled to and within Japan to partake in hanami.  Now, I’m sure this is going to shock you, but there is no lack of commercial exploitation of this annual event.   Hotels and restaurants are full, there are sold out trains, organized tours fill the streets with tour busses, popular viewing areas are shoulder to shoulder  with people and prices go up.  But, even so, it is a wonderful thing to behold. 

Hachioji Area
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Fujimori Park

After a day recovering from jet lag, we packed up the grandkids and went out to a local park in Hachioji called Fujimori Park.  This is a mid sized city park, with tennis courts, kids playground, athletic field, inside gym, a little forest, and a semi-pro baseball stadium.  And in honor of Cherry Blossom season, one whole walkway was lined with vender stalls selling take-away food, or offering carnival games for fabulous prizes.  The vender stands lined up under an arch of Cherry trees were quite colorful.  I couldn’t read of the signs saying what they were selling but as is typical of commercial signs in Japan (as well as china and Korea among others) compared to our signage in the US, it is very bright, colorful and to some extent overpowering – which all in all makes it quite impressive and photogenic.  They were selling all sorts of fried things on sticks (most of which I could not identify) as well as other walk away food, and intermingled with these food stalls were a smattering of carnival games.  You know the sort.  Things like toss a coin on a plate, or pop a balloon with a dart. 

Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park, Hachioji, Japan
Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori ParkCherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park

Something similar to our Candied Apples?
Candy Apples(?) standCandy Apples(?) stand

Candied apples?
Candy Apples?  JapanCandy Apples? Japan

Some sort of fried dough
Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park 3Cherry Blossom Festival, Fujimori Park 3

In full flower
Cherry Blossoms, Fujimori Park - 1Cherry Blossoms, Fujimori Park - 1

Showa Memorial Park

The next day, was a clear, beautiful, warm and sunny spring Saturday at the height of the Cherry Blossom season so we took off to Showa Memorial Park in the nearby town of Tachikawa.  At over 400 acres, this is one of the largest parks in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.  It was created as recently as 1983 to mark the 50th anniversar4y of the reign of Emperor Hirohito which is also known as the Showa period.  The park is a mix of formal gardens, more natural wooded areas, lakes, streams, large expanses of lawn, along with paved bicycle paths (with a median divider) which take different routes through the park than do the walking paths, and there is a lake where you can rent pedal boats.

To no one’s great surprise we were not alone.  As mentioned hanami is a national phenomenon in Japan with literally millions of people trekking out to enjoy the magnificent show put on by the Cherry trees.  And Showa Memorial Park is one of the best places in or near Tokyo to do so.  Armed with this knowledge we planned to arrive at the park somewhat prior to 9:00 am when they open the gates to the parking lot.  When we arrived around 8:45, the line of cars to get in was already miles long.  But we persevered and got in before the lot was full.

Everyone enjoys hanami in their own way and I think we saw it all.  There were photographers with wagons full of gear roaming around looking for that perfect tree in full flower.  Several bridal couples in full wedding attire with their hired photography team.  Families on bikes they brought from home or rented at the park tooled along the ‘bike freeways” in the park complete with overpasses where they cross the pedestrian pathways.  One very popular plan is to not only bring a full picnic lunch and blanket to sit on but also to bring a camping tent to set up under the cherry trees in order to have a place to rest during the day or to change outfits as the mood dictates.   But mostly people just strolled the grounds with phone camera in hand taking selfies and looking at the show of flowers and blossoms with frequent stops at the various food venders scattered throughout the park.

Bridge over creek among Cherry Trees
Showa Memorial ParkShowa Memorial Park

One popular area, especially for picnic and tent folks was to set up under a large grove of Cherry trees at the edge of a massive green lawn area.  Here are some photos from this park.

Immense grass field leads to grove of Cherry trees
Field and Cherry tree grove in bloomField and Cherry tree grove in bloom

Spending the day under the Cherry Blossoms
Picnic Under the Cherry blossomsPicnic Under the Cherry blossoms

Even though we spent most of the day in the park we were only able to see a small part of it and it was wonderful – even with masses of people.  Of course some spots which were especially photogenic (even in that horrible mid day light) were quite crowded with both phone photographers as well as those with dedicated camera’s. 

One such popular area was a planting of tulips in colored rows following a curved descent down to the shore of a lake and then re-appearing on the other side of the lake.  The photographers (including myself) were stacked 5 deep from the edge of the path all vying to get that perfect perspective.

Tulips descending to a pond and continuing on the other side
Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -1Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -1

Yello/Orange Tulips
Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -3Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -3

Wedding party under the Cherry trees and among the tulips
Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -4Tulips, Showa Memorial Park -4

Strolling the grounds
Tulip & Cherry, Showa Memorial ParkTulip & Cherry, Showa Memorial Park

Boating on the lake
Boating, Showa Memorial ParkBoating, Showa Memorial Park


Hachioji to Karuizawa
17 # Map 2 Hachioji & Karuizawa_17 # Map 2 Hachioji & Karuizawa_

Karuizawa is a mountain area in the Nagano Prefecture northwest of Tokyo.  As you may recall the 1988 winter Olympics were held in the Nagano area but this was not the area we visited.  We went to the town of Karuizawa.  This summer resort area which is about a 2:30 drive from Tokyo by Mt Asama is a very popular destination for folks seeking refuge from the oppressive humidity and heat in Tokyo.  It’s only about 3200 feet in elevation making for a somewhat extended summer season. 

As far back as the lat 19th century westerners would come up to this area to escape Tokyo’s heat and humidity that they just weren’t used to.  Over time upscale hotels and resorts sprang up all around the region and that coupled with the serene mountain scenery, hot springs, and hiking trails it’s no wonder that it remains popular today. 

Our drive up to Karuizawa was quite pleasant on a modern highway.  In our time in Japan I was constantly impressed by how many highway and train tunnels they bored through mountains to facilitate vehicle flow.  On some legs of our journey, especially those on the Shinkansen (bullet train) it seemed like we were in tunnels more than outside of tunnels. 

Karuizawa Shiraito Falls

One of the most popular attractions nearby is Karuizawa Shiraito Falls and as it was only a short distance from our hotel we decided to go have a look.  Our visit was not during the mid summer peak so the parking lot was not very full when we arrived other than for two big tour buses.  Of course two busses full of people at one modest waterfall can cause havoc when trying to make photographs – or use the restroom for that matter.  So, after everyone in our little group of 7 used the facilities we headed up the short trail up to the waterfall.  It’s only about 1/10 mile to the falls and the path is well groomed and wide enough for 4 or 5 people to walk side by side which I suppose is a testament to the crowds that flock here in the searing heat of mid summer. 

A small stream gurgles down toward the parking lot next to the trail and a wooden bridge crosses the trail over to the other side.  But even though there were those busses it was not all that crowded.  Certainly people milling about and going up and down the trail but not what I would call crowded by any means. 

Trail leading up to the falls – not crowded at all
Trail to Karuizawa Shiraito Falls, JapanTrail to Karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan

As we leisurely strolled up the trail we passed some smaller cascades and falls along the trails as the water tumbled down from the pool below the main waterfall

Lower falls and cascades
Lower Karuizawa Shiraito Falls, JapanLower Karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan

With such a short trail, it wasn’t all that long before we arrived at the main waterfall.  While quite lovely in its own right, at 10 ft tall it is not all that high but at 330 feet across it is quite wide as it forms a semicircle around a pool.  Unlike most waterfalls, the water does not come from a stream falling over the edge of a cliff but rather the water just emerges from a horizontal slit on the side of steep hill and falls into the pool ten feet below.  So, seeing as how there is no stream or river feeding the falls, the falls itself are the headwaters of the Yukawa River. 

Rain and snow on nearby Mt. Asama (about 4 moles away) soaks into the ground and descends until it hits an impermeable layer that it can’t get through.  Then, still underground, it flows along the top of this layer until it reaches the edge of the hill and flows out as this waterfall.  They say it takes about 6 years to make that journey.  This waterfall never dries up, even in the dead of winter it keeps flowing.  This is partly due to geothermal heat along its underground route that heats the water to around 53 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water just flows out of a slit on the side of a steep hill forming Shiraito Falls
karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 3karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 3

Even though there were people about I can’t say it was all that crowded.  But even with people there by standing right at the edge of the pool I was able to get some pristine shots of the falls with Cherry blossoms above.

The lettering on the pole says “Shiraito Falls”
karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 5karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 5

Small section of Shiraito Falls
karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 4karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 4

But then I noticed something unexpected.  I was all alone.  The others in my party had gone on up the trail to the top of the falls and all the other tourists were just all of a sudden gone.  I could hear some talking from people on the trail above me coming down who would be here in a few moments but for now not a soul was in sight.  So, I grabbed a some shots, and then ran up the trail steps toward the folks coming down and just before we met, I turned around and got a wide shot of the entire falls area without anyone there. 

Entire falls area with no peple
karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 6karuizawa Shiraito Falls, Japan - 6

A few moments later the area was again inhabited with people.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Strawberry Picking and more Cherry Blossoms

On our way back to Tokyo from Karuizawa we stopped at the Komoro Nunobiki Strawberry Garden which is a U-Pick strawberry farm (among other things). 

Japan is a major strawberry producer, going for quality over quantity.  Different varieties are grown in different regions of Japan but for the most part, due to Japan’s climate, they are grown in greenhouses rather than open fields.  This allows precise control of temperature and humidity resulting in very high quality fruit that can be grown year round.  And, I must say the strawberries I had in Japan were excellent.  Expensive, but quite good.

In Japan, the U-Pick experience is a bit different than it is in the US.  In the US, you usually pay an entrance fee and they give some sort of bucket to wander around with.  As you go along you eat as much as you can along with filling the bucket.  Then at checkout, you pay for what you have in your bucket and take them home.   But, here in Japan it is done a bit differently.  First you pay your (much larger) entrance fee but rather than getting a large container to fill, you get a small tray.  You can of course eat as you go but you are not permitted to take any of your pickings away with you.  You must eat it all before you leave.  What people usually do is spend their time finding a few perfect selections and then adjourn to some picnic tables and savor the selections. 

In the case of establishment we went to, for your $20 entrance fee and cardboard tray they also give you a cup full of sweet dipping cream.  But, it was a lovely experience.  The family had a wonderful time.  I choose not to go in but rather roamed the grounds with my camera. 

Komoro Nunobiki Strawberry Garden
Strawberry green houses - 5Strawberry green houses - 5

Two tiered strawberry growing racks
Strawberry green houses - 4Strawberry green houses - 4

Komoro Nunobiki Strawberry Garden - 1Komoro Nunobiki Strawberry Garden - 1

Mt Asama from ftrawberry farm
Mt. Asmama and Cherry BlossomsMt. Asmama and Cherry Blossoms

Cherry tree in picnic area near strawberry farm
Cherry Tree, Komoro, JapanCherry Tree, Komoro, Japan

Cluster of Cherry blossoms
Cherry Blossums, Japan - 2Cherry Blossums, Japan - 2

A couple of days later we headed over to the train station with our luggage to catch a bullet train down to Kyoto where we’d meet our NGS tour group for the start of the formal tour portion of our Japan visit.  Stay tuned for the next edition of this series for that portion of our trip.




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Thanks for reading – Dan


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





[email protected] (Dan Hartford Photo) blog Cherry Blossom Cherry Blossom Festival Cherry Tree dan hartford photo dantravelblog dantravelblogjapan2023 Fujimori Park Hachioji Japan Japan Postal addressing scheme Karuizawa Area Showa Memorial Park Straberry Picking in Japan Tokyo area https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2023/5/japan-01 Thu, 04 May 2023 23:40:03 GMT
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)


[email protected] (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
04 IMG_630104 IMG_6301

One of several small falls collectively known as Dog Falls
05 5d3R04-#866905 5d3R04-#8669

Another one of the Dog Falls
07 5d3R04-#868007 5d3R04-#8680

Photographing Dog Falls
06 IMG_631806 IMG_6318

Neat little set of rapids
08 5d3R04-#868308 5d3R04-#8683

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)
09 5d3R04-#870509 5d3R04-#8705

Tomich Village house (taken through bus window)
10 5d3R04-#871110 5d3R04-#8711

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)


[email protected] (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.


[email protected] (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.



[email protected] (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
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One of the lock gates
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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
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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
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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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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)


[email protected] (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 exhibiti