More posts soon. . .

So things have been complicated by serious illness and death in the family, so I will be back next month with a new post. On the positive side, I bought a new camera to replace my failing 11-year old Canon DSLR, so be on the lookout for new photos and new travels. See you soon!

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Summer of 14ers, 2017

Well, I burned out on them this year. It was inevitable, as I had hiked more than 35 of them solo, and I got increasingly tired of the driving. So I did still manage to add a few new ones to my list, and repeated several of them on new routes. Overall, it was a good, although not as enjoyable, summer. I still got in plenty of eye candy, exercise, and experience.

My season started with a hike of a still snowy Quandary Peak in mid-June. I wasn’t intending on summiting, and hiked this one up barefoot to around the 13400′ line, and turned around there since it was snowy from there on up.

The following week I hiked the Bierstadt / Sawtooth / Evans combo. I had been up Bierstadt before, and had driven up Evans previously. This one reminded me of how out of shape I was, and my energy level went to near zero after passing the Sawtooth section. Now this was a pretty spectacular hike, a bit exposed and loose in places, but the route was fairly clear, and I was luckily with a small group. I don’t recommend it on your own, though. I also ended up hitching back to Georgetown from the summit of Evans, as I was completely spent and cold from the wind. Good thing, too, as I could avoid the swampy mess in the lower part of Bierstadt. This hike was also notable in that I hiked up Bierstadt barefoot, and it’s an excellent trail. The muddy and wet section at the beginning was manageable, and the remainder of the trail was pretty smooth going. It’s fairly gentle on the feet, even though I still crossed a few small patches of snow. Not bad, check one off my list!

I also repeated Yale, this time on the far less traveled East Ridge route. It’s a fairly straightforward trail up to the saddle, then a sharp left turn and up along a poorly marked trail the rest of the way. It’s really no problem routefinding, but there were a few longer snowfields around some of the subpeaks that slowed me down. We descended via the standard route. My previous hike of Yale was on a rather foggy day, so this time around I managed to actually see my surroundings and the view was pretty good.

Up next was Mount of the Holy Cross, which was honestly one of the better peaks in this rather dull range. It’s way out there, just a few miles south of I-70, and hidden from view. Access on the road is limited, it doesn’t open until late June, and it’s a rough but passable road that goes by the Tigiwon structures, then dead ends at a crowded parking lot. This one saw plenty of traffic, and it’s a pretty hike from beginning to end, just don’t miss the sharp right turn that you need to make on the way back down. Also, save your energy for the 900 feet of ascent required to get out of the canyon on the way back. I took my time and it’s pretty manageable. I caught it on a warm, perfect day.

Mt. Harvard was my Sawatch finisher. I was denied this peak last October due to snow, cold temperatures, and exhaustion, missing the summit by a few hundred feet and a quarter mile via the Columbia traverse. This time I just hiked the standard trail, which is clear up to the last 200 feet or so. It’s a bit of boulder hopping from that point on, but there’s plenty of traffic and help in that short section. This was my debut hike in Chacos, which didn’t quite agree with my feet. It’s also 14 miles long, so no wonder it wasn’t so enjoyable.

The last “easy” peak on my list was San Luis, and I have to admit that I rather enjoyed this one, hiking the southern approach via the Creede side. It turned out to be somewhat longer than I thought, since I couldn’t make it all the way to the official trailhead, and made a few detours en route to joining the Colorado Trail. Most of the hike is on the Colorado Trail as it approaches the peak in slow motion, winding around one basin after another before hitting the ridgeline. It was scenic, very quiet, with plenty of green, lots of wildflowers, and real serenity. This one clocked out at 18 miles round-trip, another punishing outing in Chacos. They didn’t really break in much!

I spent a couple weeks on business trips in July and August, and returned to hike Wilson Peak. It’s relatively short, but has a rather exposed, challenging end. This was real scrambling, with real consequences. I felt this was harder than its neighbor, El Diente, that I hiked the previous summer, although El Diente had more routefinding. The trail to Wilson Peak from Rock of Ages trailhead is essentially two old mining roads that were joined together, and that quickly brings you to the 13200′ mark. After that, it’s much slower going, with a faint trail to another saddle, and then the real stuff starts. It’s mostly okay up until the false summit, and then it’s a thrilling 200′ to the real peak. Have you heard of this peak? Probably not, but it’s on every can of Coors Light and stands proudly apart from the other peaks in that region. Incidentally, the view featured on that beer can is what you see from Telluride ski area.

I also had one failed summit, which was this awful slog up Ellingwood Point. The clouds turned me back around 13500′, which was a real bummer especially after hiking from my parking spot at 7700′. I probably could have made it up if I had parked a bit higher at 8000′, and that would have saved me two miles of walking. I think that really left a sour taste in my mouth, as I spent nearly 11 hours on Lake Como Road, which isn’t the most scenic or calm way to get up there.

Notably, I made a few changes to my footwear choice this season. Yes, I hiked a 14er barefoot, and have been conditioning my feet to deal with more and more difficult terrain, so it’s a part of my hiking repertoire. Of course it’s not practical for a lot of hikes. My old trail running shoes have more or less crumbled after 30+ 14ers, and I’ve switched to a pair of approach shoes that have been irritating to my Achilles for some reason. So with that in mind, I also did a few of these hikes in Chacos, those rather distinct, heavy, indestructible sandals that seem to work in every kind of condition. I ended up hiking Harvard, San Luis, and part of Wilson Peak in those sandals, and yes, they work pretty well. My feet aren’t yet used to them, even though I’ve done probably at least 50 miles to try to break them in.

Hopefully next summer my energy and desire will return, as my remaining 14ers are the difficult ones, in the Elks, San Juans, and Sangres.

Across LA: Beverly Boulevard

So for the third year in a row, I participated in the Great Los Angeles Walk, an annual event that’s been doing on for more than a decade, usually involving a crosstown walk on one of the many major boulevards. This year it was Beverly Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard.

It’s most interesting in the first eight miles, as Beverly goes through the remnants of the old Filipinotown, parallels the Hollywood Freeway, then gets progressively upscale as it curves gently through Hancock Park’s mansions, Fairfax, and ends in Beverly Hills. It merges with the wide Santa Monica Blvd., and then adopts a more suburban, freeway-like character as it drops elevation towards Santa Monica. Happily, it ends in pedestrian-friendly territory, passing the busy Third Street Promenade. There are interesting murals scattered throughout, and overall it’s a pretty colorful, and not traffic-choked route through town. As usual, I walked it barefoot, pushing my limits as I covered a rather punishing 19 miles over 7.5 hours.

Bob Baker Marionette Theater, mural

Historic Filipinotown mural

The original Tommy’s, with the legendary chiliburger and the bathroom trip.

Googie, dingbat, whatever you want to call it. Classic LA!

The endangered CBS studios, classic midcentury architecture

And the end of the road, with a pretty sunset in Santa Monica

 

Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro

With a local guide, I took a tour of the neighborhood Santa Marta, a densely populated, narrow strip of houses that crawl up a hillside in Rio de Janeiro, rising above the upper middle class neighborhood of Botafogo. This is one of Rio’s many favelas, in a city where class differences and economic inequality are in plain sight, and make for a tense atmosphere throughout the city. Santa Marta has been slowly integrated into the city’s infrastructure, facilitated by the construction of a funicular line that made getting to the upper levels of the neighborhood much easier.  I recommend this for any visitor to Rio interested in learning about the city beyond the beaches and tourist sites, go with a local guide, and preferably in a small group. The tours typically start near the bottom of the funicular and start with the ride up to the top, slowly winding back down to the base.

The neighborhood was brought to the world’s attention during the filming of Michael Jackson’s video for his song ” They Don’t Care About Us”. Residents still speak fondly about Jackson, and I met one shop owner who proudly remembered her role as an extra in the video. While the attention to the neighborhood faded, it was one of the first favelas to be ‘pacified’, and it looks like some areas are showing marked improvement, with shops, restaurants, and community centers setting up near the base. A recent paint job carried out by residents has turned this into a pretty photogenic site, but again it’s cosmetic. Still, parts are still in bad repair, life can be especially miserable after a heavy rain, and many obstacles remain for residents of the neighborhood.

Tribute to Michael Jackson

Sewer repair by city workers

What’s Brazil without a nice splash of colors?

The colorful and the chaotic

Murphy Ranch, Los Angeles

Murphy Ranch was one of LA’s strangest places, a compound located in the Santa Monica Mountain foothills above Brentwood. It’s accessed by a two mile hike on a fire road, followed by a bunch of stairs leading down to the bottom of the canyon, leading to a colorful group of ruins. Details of the property, owners, and motives are pretty fuzzy and have been embellished over the years. It’s a reputed self-sufficient compound for a small group of Nazi sympathizers who purchased the land in the early 1930s and recruited a couple of wealthy donors to their cause, who then built some of the structures. This all came to a halt as a result of the war and finances. But that’s besides the point of this post. It now lays in ruins and the City has demolished some of the unstable structures since my visit. The graffiti is colorful, the grounds liberally covered in broken glass and all sorts of leftover spray cans left by the “artists”, and a lot of the structures are rusted and crumbling. I guess you could consider this to be urban exploring lite.

Still life with spray cans

Abandoned water tank

Overhanging ladder, I couldn’t quite deal with climbing this one

Need to step carefully, and keep your tetanus shots up to date!

Sao Paulo, September 2016

A flashback to a year ago, when I took advantage of Brazil’s visa waiver during the summer months of 2016, and made a trip to South America. . .

I had the chance to explore the major cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Sao Paulo, each of them with their own distinctive personality. Rio has its famous beaches with big city flair and tension, Brasilia is world-famous for the Niemeyer design and its successes and failures as an urban environment, and then there’s Sao Paulo. It’s exactly what you would expect of a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, in a country defined by people coming from all corners of the world. It’s drab, and you can’t really tell which direction you’re looking, since there are skyscrapers extending forever everywhere you look. That’s probably the defining feature of Sao Paulo, lots of concrete. The city is not pretty, but it works and works and works. The center is a frenetic place much like New York or Tokyo, unflinchingly commercial, with horrendous traffic, too busy to be unsafe, with a population proud of the chaos. Rio this isn’t.

The endless Sao Paulo cityscape

About a mile from the center is the financial and commercial heart of Brazil, Avenida Paulista. It’s the city’s showcase, a clean, wide boulevard lined with innovative skyscrapers and high end shops. On Sundays it’s closed off to traffic, and turns into an informal stage and catwalk, with bands playing concerts, rollerbladers, families out for a walk, Mormon missionaries, political protests, and an endless circus of personalities. The city does take a day off on occasion.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan (1952-1966), now draped in this ugly blue covering after pieces of the building started falling off

Pickup football game, downtown Sao Paulo

Sunday on Avenida Paulista, with its distinctive skyscrapers

Protest against President Michel Temer. I visited shortly after the impeachment and removal of Dilma Rousseff from office.

To really explore would take a lifetime, just like the other megacities I’ve visited. But I really liked what I saw, and hope to see the city more in depth next time I get to visit.

 

 

Des Moines Art Center

A distinguished group of architects contributed to this medium-sized art museum in the Midwest, which includes additions by I.M. Pei (1968) and Richard Meier (1985). But I’ll concentrate on the original structure, one of Eliel Saarinen’s later designs, completed in 1948. This building has the signatures of Eliel Saarinen’s buildings, warm stone, and an undefinable style. It’s not Art Moderne, or Art Deco, or Art Nouveau, or International Style, but is uniquely Saarinen Sr. For those of you who have visited Cranbrook or his churches, this one stands out as an Eliel Saarinen building. The exterior is Lannon limestone, quarried next door in Wisconsin, alternately rough-cut and smooth, with careful attention to detail. His sweeping lines and calculated asymmetry are evident here, as are the protruding bricks interrupting the horizontality, lending a subtle three-dimensionality to the exterior walls. So he manages to achieve an understated, yet individual result.  The use of decoration is minimized, instead the textures of the stone become the basis of decoration. The entryway is a masterly series of gentle curves that draws the visitor inside, emphasized by the sparse use of horizontal lines around the vestibule. Like all of Saarinen’s structures, the refinement and quality is really appreciated with a closer, rather than cursory, look.

Front entrance, a mix of glass, smooth stone, and brickwork

Another view of the main entryway

Courtyard entrance detail

Courtyard, with Pei (left) and Meier (right) additions

 

White Sands National Monument

A bit of natural scenery for a change. In a rather desolate corner of New Mexico lies one of the most photogenic spots in North America, White Sands National Monument. It’s a unique sand composition, being water soluble gypsum which is a brilliant, eye-burning white color. The other big sand-based national monument / park lies several hundred miles north on the west side of the Sangres, Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

Both depend on water. Since White Sands lies in a basin with no outlet, any moisture interacting with the gypsum pretty much goes straight into the ground, or is dried out by the hot weather. Great Sand Dunes is a bit different, with the sand being carried by the nearby river downstream away from the Sangres, and winds blowing the sand back towards the mountains and depositing the sands in the dunes.

White Sands is open in the daytime with extended hours during the full moon. I caught one of these full moon evenings and it’s really spectacular. I also hiked out to the flats in a 5 mile loop. Photographing here is a bit tricky, actually, as really small grains of sand muck up the camera sensors and deposit all sorts of tiny particles on the lenses.

Textures

More textures

Still more textures!

Sunset over White Sands

 

Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis

So everyone is familiar in some way with Eero Saarinen, as his structures are ingrained into the American built environment. His Gateway Arch became the instant symbol of St. Louis upon its completion in the 1960s, and chances are that you have changed planes at Dulles Airport or JFK Airport.

His father, Eliel Saarinen, is less well-known, and has a style all his own which is difficult to pinpoint. Eliel is best known for his “losing” design for the Chicago Tribune skyscraper, which became an oft-imitated model for the tall building and is now seen in 1920s skyscrapers such as the Gulf Building in Houston and the David Stott Building in Detroit. He created a number of seminal structures that manage to fly under the radar, they’re all carefully designed and executed buildings, but understated. They are however recognizable as Saarinen buildings, especially in his use of tan brick. He

designed two religious structures during his US-based career, two similar, radical designs for modern churches. One is in Columbus, Indiana, completed in 1942, and the other is Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Christ Church Lutheran was Eliel Saarinen’s last structure, completed in 1949, he died in 1950.

The exterior is of a simple geometry, with little in the way of decoration. A few sparse sculptural elements adorn the main facade, with some relief elements such as a cross on the side. The interior is a real treasure, with a narrow vertical window providing the illumination for the altar. Composed of white brick, the altar glows. While the exterior is a simple box, the interior adds a few elements of subtle, but noticeable asymmetry. The roof line is slightly slanted, the wall of the altar curves, and there is extra seating under a low ceiling. The brick walls wave in and out upon close inspection. Light comes in from side windows. In short, there is plenty of visual interest inside, but it requires close inspection to really appreciate the design elements. The overall effect is one of calmness.

Christ Church Lutheran, tower and detail of relief

Saarinen Sr. on the left, with the Saarinen Jr. extension on the right

Eero Saarinen, in one of his last works before his untimely death in 1961, designed the extension, which defers to his father’s design elements, and created a low-key, functional structure. The two buildings are linked through interior hallways and underground passages, creating a courtyard with a fountain in the center. This fountain led to leakage into the basement, necessitating an ongoing restoration effort. Right now, the courtyard is a mess with plenty of construction (as of May 2017), but the finished product ought to be similar to how the structure looked before.

Interior, from second floor balcony

Interior from first floor

More coming soon!

I’m running around the country at the moment, so stay tuned for more posts shortly. Glad you’re reading, I’ll try to update in the next week or so.

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