Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Archive for the ‘Travel Journal’ Category

Photo Challenge, Magical: Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye

The Island of Skye, off the Western coast of Scotland, had an otherworldly spirit, became even more so upon discovering the Faerie Glen, just east of the town of Uig. We passed through the gate, hidden from the main road, and followed a single-track car path through conical-shaped hillocks. Sheep dotted the landscape, their soft baaing breaking the silence of the hillsides. Further down the way, a narrow stream flowed into a pond where dancing sounds of water trickled through the deep green. Ferns and foxglove covered the lower elevations, and higher up deep ridges encircled the mounds. We peeked behind rocks and into crevices created by gnarled tree roots.

If faeries ever existed, this would be the place.

Bovine observer: we were not alone.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Magical

Piedmont Prospector: A Geological Journey along Red Clay Creek

Returning to Red Clay Creek, Delaware


Wilmington RR2

Photo credit: J. R. Blackwell

The first day of October brought me back to ride the rails again of the Wilmington and Western Railroad. On several occasions, I have boarded the train, pulled by the magnificent steam locomotive, the American 98, black, formidable and puffing grey steam out from its chimney. The train followed the Red Clay Creek, a mostly shallow winding stream through woodlands and fields.  I photographed several Civil War reenactments along the creek. Now I looked forward to returning for another journey through the Delaware countryside, this time on a geological expedition.

img_4807This would be my first outing with the Delaware Mineralogical Society, joining folks who know a great deal of information about rocks, of which I have almost no knowledge, although I have always picked up a souvenir rock during my travels.

I have an affinity with rocks. Now I was about to get some education on the subject.

Building a Railroad through the Rocks

In 1872 the Wilmington & Western Railroad began service to bring goods and passengers among the mills along the creek. Building the line had many challenges including cutting through significant rock outcroppings.  According to an article in the Delaware Public Media,

They didn’t really understand geology back then, and Delaware’s got a lot of rock and it’s the foothills of the Appalachians. So their construction costs skyrocketed.   Robert Elwood

Not knowing about rocks can cost money!

Robert authored Special 50th Anniversary Historic Timeline: the Wilmington & Western’s Half-Century of Operation and reported that “two massive rock outcrops would require extensive black powder blasting to cut through.” p. 3. One outcropping at Cuba Hill consisted of blue granite; at Wooddale, the rock was more massive but softer.  A powder keg exploded at Wooddale, and three workers died as a result. Even opening a powder keg with a sharp tool could cause a barrel to explode. The names of these workers seem to be lost to history, but their involuntary sacrifice noted in Robert’s timeline.

Subduction Leads to Orogeny . . . Really?

Delaware Geologic Survey scientist William “Sandy” Schenck, presented an introductory lesson to the geologic history of the land beneath our feet. The process is best described in this quote from the Geological History of the Delaware Piedmont,

It is surprising to find that although the Delaware Piedmont has passed through the whole series of tectonic events that formed the Appalachians, the mineralogy and structures preserved in Delaware were formed by the early event that occurred between 470 and 440 million years ago, called the Taconic orogeny. This event was triggered by the formation of a subduction zone off the coast of the ancient North American continent that slid oceanic crust on the ancient North American plate beneath oceanic crust on the overriding plate, produced magma, and fueled an arc-shaped chain of volcanoes.

The expression does make a quirky bumper sticker, if you’re into geological humor.I Love Subduction Leads To Orogeny! Bumper Sticker

We boarded the 1929 railcar, “The Paul Revere,” to view and understand the rock landscape as it exists now.


If you like the sound of the train, here’s a video as we left the station.

Southeast of Greenbank Station

At our first stop, Sandy pointed out the metamorphosed igneous rocks jutting out along the track. We could see the fractures cause by expansion that crisscrossed along the formation. The third photograph in this series is a close up of the “bright eyes” feldspar surrounding black grains of magnetite, formed by the two tectonic plates colliding.

Studying the Cliffs

The Paul Revere headed back through the Greenback Station, letting us off at several different locations, allowing us to walk through the cliffs on either side of the tracks. It was amazing to imagine the labor necessary in 1870 to carve out a narrow space for the train to pass through what looked like impenetrable rocks.  These metamorphosed rocks were originally sedimentary, now layered and jagged.

* * * *

Piedmont Prospectors Pan for Garnets

Part of the fun of rock collecting is panning for something, in this case garnets. Garnets are commonly a reddish-brown colored silicate mineral, which can be polished into a red gemstone.  Prospectors can find garnets in stream-worn pebbles, as they are often found at the earth’s surface. Garnet often forms at convergent plate boundaries, a gift from the collision of the Appalachian Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The prospector uses a pan to wash away the sand, leaving magnetite, which can be pulled out with a magnet, and the garnet crystals. Prospectors enjoyed the hunt for these little treasures. A woodland creek is a wonder in itself, creating the soothing sounds of rippling water over the rocks.

Garnet in the rough. Photo credit, Jeff Chalfant 

A Stepping Stone into the Past

Rocks hold the historical record of the earth. The lowly stones we step over have a history and tell us about earlier environments on our planet. Reading the rocks could uncover how humans used the rocks or dealt with destroying them. The next time I ride the Paul Revere, I’ll recall the history of two plates colliding and the story that the rocks tell us on the hillside landscapes of the Red Creek Valley.

Many thanks to the Delaware Mineralogical Society for arranging the trip and Sandy Schenck for sharing his expertise.  
“To change in appearance or form, especially strangely or grotesquely; transform.”
Changes in land formations certainly would seem to qualify.

Photo Challenge, Rare: 18th Century Carousel

I’m expanding the “photo” challenge by posting a video. While visiting Zaragoza, Spain, a Renaissance Fair was well underway with colorful tents filling the square and the smells of cheese, incense, burning wood, and olives intertwined on whiffs of air. Crowds poured over the Roman bridge, as it seemed the entire population of Zaragoza showed up to visit the varied venders who came to sell their wares. Musicians played drums and a bagpipe troop snaked their way through the crowd. I wandered past the booths displaying pottery, jewelry and clothing as people cued up to get a photograph with a raptor or a snake charmer.

A vintage merry-go-round, cranked by hand by the operator, caught my attention. I watched the children enjoy the quintessential steampunk ride, with airships, balloons and other flying contraptions. A rare sight, indeed.

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

Scootering through Covered Bridges of Lancaster County

On my Bucket List: Ride a motorcycle! Well, how about a scooter instead?

Riding a motorcycle has always been on my “gotta do list,” but I always asked myself how would I secure a motorcycle, find an instructor, and meet insurance requirements without spending lots of money? So when I saw an advertisement for an opportunity to scooter through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I said to myself, “Here’s my chance!” Several years ago, I visited the area to see the Strasburg Railroad and Museum and to take a ride on a steam-powered train through the cornfields. I remembered that the views were spectacular.

Strasburg Scooters advertises several tours, and I opted for the covered bridge tour and signed up for the scoot coupé, a two-seater in the moped category. One of my friends kindly offered to drive so that I could take photos and videos.

scooterWe found Strasburg Scooters right next door to the railroad museum. We introduced ourselves to Marc, our guide, who fitted us with helmets, followed by a quick tutorial on operating the scooter. He then sent us off on a trial run around the block. The coupé handled well and chugged nicely along between 20 and 30 mph. After the other tour participants took turns practicing on the their scooters, we started down one of the narrow roads.

Marc stopped along the Amish farmland to explain some of their cultural traditions and practices. Horse and buggies passed by, and folks acknowledged us with a peace sign or a wave. Children peeked out from the back window of their coaches, smiling at us. At one house, little children, girls wearing bonnets and boys donning straw hats, ran over to the side of the road to watch us ride by.

Horse and Carriage through the Bridge

The farms stood like jewels on the landscape, silver silos gleaming in the afternoon sun. Rolling hills supported squares of various shades of green. The Amish keep all their buildings and houses in pristine condition. Black and white cows and tan horses grazed on grasslands while fields of corn, tobacco and alfalfa swayed with the light breezes.

Countryside by Scooter

Window in BridgeWe stopped at three of the 29 covered bridges, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Huge beams which supported the structure, arched on each side, called the Burr arch truss design. The bridges were painted red, with white portals standing at the entrances. A central window allowed travelers to look out to the stream and countryside beyond.

Our final stretch included a spin through the historic village of Strasburg. We saw several log homes from the 1700s along the main highway through the town. Inns and restaurants were tucked between 19th century houses, each one a study in different architectural styles.

Strasburg Downtown

Riding along the quiet country roads offered us views of expansive scenery of fields, forests, farms, flowing streams–every turn a different postcard scene. The scoot coupé delivered us in the landscape and in the moment, the scent of the land filling the air. I was thoroughly thrilled with my first scooter ride.

I hope to return in the Fall, and repeat the ride all over again.



Photo Challenge: Narrow . . . Streets of Lisbon by Tram

Lisbon Tram

The Lisbon trams, once drawn by horses, have a steampunk quality, with their 20th century fittings and polished wood. The vintage cars, built over seventy years ago, sport bright yellow paint. Trams jounce (made up word that best describes the motion) through cobbled streets and narrow alleys, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from Disneyland–with sudden turns, avoiding what would seem to result in an inevitable crash. The tram wheels, positioned at the center of the car and not at the ends, make the trolley seem to float over the tracks.

What’s the ride like?  . . . .

Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow

Photo Challenge: Earth

“To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves a riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”

— Archibald MacLeish, American Poet

It never ceases to amaze me to watch the earth pass below as I sit comfortably in an airplane gazing at the landscape before me.

“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. 

— Aleksei Leonov, Russian Cosmonaut

Photo locations (approximate):

  1. Greek Islands
  2. Pyrenees Mountains, Spain
  3. Mediterranean Sea
  4. Delta along Chesapeake Bay
  5. Alps
  6. North Wildwood, New Jersey
  7. Cape Henlopen, Delaware


Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

As a photographer, this is one of my favorite ways to capture a moment in art. I’ll take a selfie by reflecting in a minor in a museum and voilà, I’m part of a famous exhibit.  Or I’ll put myself or a friend in a painting or sculpture. Sure, this is just bit of whimsy, but when I try these experiments, they always make me laugh.

Recently, I visited Rockefeller Center and, having some extra time, looked around the stores in the Rockefeller building. Murals hung on the wall, including this one of NBC television celebrities. I posed in front of the mural. I then put a sepia overlay onto the photograph.


I take the initiative to add a third-party to Charles Wilson Peale’s Staircase Group painting.

Staircase Group2j

In this train station mural in Philadelphia, one might wonder who are the real people.

IMG_5848 - Version 2

Life imitating art or art imitating life? The fellow at the crate dolly is wearing a red shirt and blue pants like the fellow in the mural.  What are the chances?

Life Imitating Art

Finding an excuse to take a selfie in the reflection of a Christmas ball.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art


Late Show with Stephen Colbert and other New York City Adventures

Get the Tickets!

Two weekends before Christmas I took the Bolt Bus to New York City to visit with my sister, Jean. Her husband was diligently signed up to attend a three-day cardiology conference, doing good for the world by keeping updated on latest in advances in heart care, whereas I was on a holiday spree and lucky to have a place to stay.

My New York City wish list included attending the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The Colbert Report, Stephen’s satirical take on political pundits, was one of my favorite late-night shows on Comedy Central, so when Stephen migrated over to David Letterman’s slot on the weekday slot for late night entertainment, I followed him. I was not disappointed. Stephen has a cleaver wit, producing humorous skits with his guests, and he can also sing and dance. I hadn’t attended a taping of a television show since grade school, so this would be an opportunity to update my experience.

I began looking for tickets in October, but the December calendar for ticket release was not yet up. Every morning I went to the Late Show site, checking to see if the tickets had been released. As soon as the tickets became available, I signed up online. Those tickets did not guarantee entrance, however, as the show over books to guarantee that all seats are filled. We would have to build in time to stand in line to secure a seat.


Jean and I waited in line for a couple of hours, taking turns stepping into the nearby shops.

So happens that we were standing right next to a restaurant where a poster of holiday shakes, Sweets for the Season, occupied a space on their window. The sign stated, “Back for a limited time!” Oh, no, if we didn’t buy one now, we’d never get one! The question was: which one to pick? After some debate, we decided on the Peppermint Chocolate Chip, oh yeah!

Finally, at 3pm, the Late Show staff distributed entrance tickets to folks lined up on the sidewalk.

Soup Kitchen

IMG_2713We had some time before we had to return to the theater, so we headed out to the restaurant made famous by the “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld when Jerry and George placed their order at the soup stand, which supposedly offered the most delicious soup in the city. Well, George makes an issue of not getting bread, whereby the cook shouts, “No soup for you!”

Luckily, we got our soup without incident. For $10, the cook handed us a little bag with a cup of one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had, a piece of bread (unlike George), a chocolate candy and an orange. We walked over to Central Park, a few blocks away, and ate in the vendor tent area. I wished we had more time to wander among the little shops, but we had to get back to our room and then over to the Sullivan Theater to wait in line again to get into the show.

Live Taping

IMG_2720By 4:30, the Late Show staff had us lined up inside the lobby of the theater.  A sign at the entrance proclaimed that the Late Show had all rights to our image “for all perpetuity and throughout the universe.”  Was that warning written by a lawyer or their comedy writers? In any case, they had themselves covered, for sure!

The ushers showed us to our seats, in the second row from the stage! . . . one of the advantages to standing longer and earlier in line. We watched the hubbub of activity on stage, five cameras moving about and stagehands assisting with setup. Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, played several numbers, musicians coming into the audience to perform. Paul, the warmup comedian, came out to get the audience psyched; we even rehearsed the shout-out, “Steph-En, Steph-En . . . ” The show does not use audience laugh/applause signs, which I remembered from my last encounter with a tv production. Instead, the stage manage waved a cone of paper to rev up the crowd and that worked well. In a sense, we became part of the show as the directors depend heavily on audience reactions rather than laugh tracts.

Stephen’s History Lesson: Meeting Button Gwinnett

Stephen’s first guest was Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, rapper and actor, best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musical, Hamilton. Lin-Manuel and Stephen performed a short skit using rap to spoof Hamilton but referencing another founding father, but almost unknown, Button Gwinnett from Georgia. Lin-Manuel played John Adams in the sketch.  What really surprised me was that someone, let alone a founding father, was named Button!  The audience was primed to reply to Cobert’s question, “What’s my name?” The crowd shouts back, “Button Gwinnett”! The camera pans the audience, and there we are! Jean and I (turquoise scarf shows up very well) at 2:41 into the tape for our 10 seconds of tv fame!

Isaac “Ike” Barinholtz, actor, comedian, best known as a cast member on MADtv, from 2002–2007, and for his roles on The Mindy Project, The League and Eastbound & Down, was the second guest. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, a funk/soul band performed several numbers at the end of the program.

The show was energetic, fast-paced and entertaining. Doesn’t hurt, of course, that Stephen and I would agree on many political issues. I enjoy his constant skewering of Donald Trump.  I would return to watch the Late Show again or perhaps the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

Another Taping: with James at Times Square

That evening we were off to Times Square to find my nephew, James, who was working camera equipment, during a taping of “King of Thrones,” a mock book signing. We found James, and he was able to take off a few minutes to visit and show us around. Throngs of people gathered around the set, some wearing costumes from the television show, Game of Thrones. How exciting to have a connection to all the action taking place on the Square.


On the walk back to our hotel we shouldered our way through the crowds at Rockefeller Center. The tree in center stage displayed thousands of colored lights, and golden flags sparkled as they waved in the night breeze.

Skating at Rockefeller Center and Other Adventures

The next morning we were up early to get, yet again, in another line, this time to go ice skating at the Rink at Rockefeller Center. Part of what I love about ice skating is twirling around in a beautiful location. The Rockefeller Rink was decked out in beautiful holiday decorations and lights.

IMG_2746IMG_2761Luckily the lines to get into the rink moved fast; seems that most folks just want to do a couple loops around the rink and that’s enough.

We had some extra time to look around the stores in the Rockefeller building. Murals hung on the wall, including this one of NBC television celebrities  . . . except the talented lady who never made it into tv, except on the Late Night Show. Photoshopping is so much fun.

Just this past October, our high school class held their reunion, and I was able to connect with my friends from Springfield. My best friend, Dorothy and her husband, Aron, live in Manhattan, so this was another to chance to catch up with them. We stopped for lunch at the Great American Health Bar at 35 W 57th Street. The food was excellent, especially the  split pea soup served with fresh bread. I would stop in again.


IMG_2774On our way to get tickets at the Red Box for the Illusionists, we did some window shopping. Saks Fifth Avenue decorated their elegant storefront windows in blue and white this year, and garlands and lights surrounded each display. St. Patrick’s reflects in the background in the photograph.

Shoppers swarmed along the sidewalks as the unseasonably warm weather, reaching 70 degrees, encouraged people to be out and about.

Views from Williamsburg

Our last destination for the weekend was Williamsburg, a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn, as James had recently moved to an apartment near the East River. The rooftop of James’ apartment building offered expansive views of the Williamsburg Bridge and city. We walked to East River State Park, another great place to view the New York skyline.


So ended our fantastic three days in New York. I boarded the Bolt Bus for the trip to back to Philly with many wonderful memories of our weekend trip.

Nighttime Inferno at the Phoenixville Firebird Festival

Discovering Phoenixville, Pennsylvania


Phoenixville, a borough of 17,000, located about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia, sits along the Schuylkill River, between the French and Pickering Creeks. In the early twentieth century, the city supported a bustling manufacturing complex, including steel and iron works. The town assumed the name of their major employer, the Phoenix Iron Works. According to the Firebird Festival Website:

In 1813, Lewis Wernwag, the owner of the first iron company, was looking at his furnaces one evening from a nearby hillside and saw a Phoenix in the flames. This vision inspired him to rename his company Phoenix Works. When the community that grew up around the iron works became incorporated in 1849 the name Phoenixville was a natural choice for the new borough.

From this story, arises the Firebird Festival, which has become an annual tradition. The original firebird myth dates back to the Egyptian and Greek cultures. Greek legend recounts the story of the Phoenix: a magnificent bird, which lived for a thousand years, built a pyre, only to be consumed by its flames but then reborn from the ashes. That’s a dramatic story, for sure, and I have to give the citizens of Phoenixville credit for reenacting the myth. The effort brings community members together to build the structure, plan the parades and manage the logistics of such an endeavor.

Not unlike the myth, Phoenixville had to resurrect and remake itself when all the mills closed. Economic stagnation pulled the town down into a decline. In recent years, however, the city has undergone a rebirth with new shops, restaurants and clubs lining the main street. The Old Foundry Building, 120 years old, now houses the Schuylkill River Heritage Center, and the Phoenix Village Art Center occupies a storefront on Bridge Street.

Phoenixville embraces their mythological heritage. Colorful murals of the Phoenix greet visitors driving through Bridge Street.

Behind the interpretive center, the Schuylkill River Trail winds along the bank of the river. The trail begins in Philadelphia and ends in Pottsville. The path leads under Bridge Street, the arching curves framing the surrounding landscape.



I walked back into town and stopped in several of the shops. Along the way, the Kingsessing Morris Men performed a unique stick dance under the marquee of the Colonial Theatre, once a vaudeville house built back in 1903. The K-Mens’ costumes included a top hat with spiky feathers and shaggy bits of colored cloth draped down the front of their coats. The energetic dance, with accordion accompaniment, looked like so much fun to perform with their skip, hop and hit!

Firebird Festival

From the parking lot, I boarded a toasty warm school bus for transportation to Friendship Field. White tents surrounded the giant bird and offered gourmet food, local crafts and music. Fire eaters amazed the crowd with their breath acting as torches, shooting flames six feet into the air. Performers looped hoops, staffs and fans around their bodies, flames spinning out from all directions. The parade entered into the center ring led by torch bearers, drummers and dancers as giant bird puppets waved their wings over the crowd.

Finally came the moment went the torch lighted the inside of the Firebird, making “a fire in the belly” transform from metaphor to reality. The crowd cheered as the bird ignited and flames spread, while cascading orange sparks flew into the night sky–truly a spectacular recreation of the legendary Phoenix consumed by fire. Next year the community will resurrect the wooden bird once again, completing the myth cycle.

For another very dramatic effect: mute the sound on the video, then slide the audio clip below to 111 to start, begin video and audio together. Stravinky’s Finale to the Firebird Suite will play to the end as you watch the video!

Special thanks and appreciation–to friends, Joe and Dan, for their participation, and to all those on the Firebird committees–for making this event possible!


Photo Challenge: Trio in Tangier

I wandered through the winding lanes of the old city, Medina, a labyrinth of alleyways to the Grand Socco and then to the market with stand after stand of vegetables, fruits, spices and meats. Vendors stepped out from their stores, enticing me with merchandise–leather handbags, bracelets, scarves, and bongo drums–and “reasonable” prices.  Tangier is also a modern city with gleaming white modern buildings reflecting the sun.

A trio of photographs with subjects in threesome in locations throughout the city:

Moroccan Musicians

Stopping at a colorful tea room, I caught reflections on the ceiling of green and red light from a lantern, the host pouring tea from a silver pot and a stained glass window reflecting color on the back wall. The mint tea tasted refreshingly sweet, and the cookies had an unusual flavoring, very tasty. At a popular tea room, musicians played music and sang as we sat at round tables eating round cookies.

Tie Up at ATM, like every other place in the world.

Tie Up at ATM, like every other place in the world.

Morocco Military

Armed guards stand outside a government building. Why military men patrolling the streets carried machine guns, I’m not sure. I thought about the ISIS threat and their attempts to disrupt peaceful coexistence, or were the soldiers keeping a watchful eye on their own countrymen?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Trio

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: