This scenery is stunning!

Iceland continues to amaze.  The vistas are panoramic and huge, the mountains spring up out of absolutely flat lava fields or grasslands, there are steep sea cliffs with nesting sea birds for the bird lover to enjoy, and there seems to be a waterfall around every corner.  We haven’t had many sunny days (maybe one), but the weather is constantly changing, so if you wait a while at one spot, you can get a decent photo.

Iceland, south coast

Mountains spring up from flat grassland valleys…

Sea cliffs near Krysuvikurberg, Iceland

Sea cliffs on the south coast jam-packed with nesting Fulmars and Kittiwakes…

Fulmars

A pair of Fulmars grab a prime and sheltered nesting spot.

Waterfall, Snaefellsness peninsula, Iceland

Waterfalls around every corner…

And it doesn’t get much more scenic than our rental house in Borgarnes where we can seee steep mountain peaks on one side of the house,

Borgarnes harbor, Iceland

The harbor in Borgarnes, where we are staying for a few days, on the west central coast of Iceland.

and a fjord on the other.  The backyard here is perfect for photographing the sunset.

Yours truly photographing a sunset.

Icelandic sunset

A new vista

Farewell, Scotland.  Hello, Iceland — a new vista for us.  And what a unique and interesting place it is.  Here are a few of the vistas we’ve seen in the last two days.

River Hotel, Hella, Iceland

The view from our lodgings at the River Hotel in Hella, about 50 miles east of Reykjavík on the Ring road.

With 18 hours of daylight, who can sleep at 5 a.m.? The birds are up and active on the river at this hour, so I am too.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Iceland’s volcanic origin is evident wherever you go, especially at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland’s equivalent of Yellowstone.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

River runoff from the glaciers that cap the central portion of the island are numerous. Excellent fishing here, judging from the 3-foot mounted specimens on the walls of our lodge at the River Hotel.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Neat houses are tucked into hillsides and along waterways, usually far from each other. It’s a mostly deserted landscape, free of human influence…

Icelandic ponies

With lots of Icelandic ponies in open fields.

And of course, the birds — it’s nesting time in the arctic, and the birds are unusually active in these long daylight hours.  There are limited numbers of species breeding on this small island, but lots of individuals of those species present.

Whooper swans, Iceland

Not just one, but a whole herd of Whooper Swans, in the middle of a grassy field, lined up, pairing off? We’ve found big flocks of these huge birds in several areas on our drive around the south coast.

Favorite scenes from Peru

Everywhere we went in Peru, there was another beautiful landscape.  It’s a rich country for archaeologists as well as outdoor enthusiasts, and certainly for photographers.  Here are my favorite scenes: (best viewed by clicking on an image to view full screen in your browser)

Indiana village, Amazon

Market day at Indiana village, on the Amazon, at sunrise

Crossing the Amazon river

Crossing the Amazon river

Waiting for the boat taxi on the Amazon river

Waiting for the boat taxi on the Amazon river

Machu Picchu

Exploring the ruins of the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, right before the rainstorm descended.

Terraces of Pisac, Peru

Terraces of Pisac overlooking the Urubamba river in the Sacred Valley

Cusco

View of Cusco from Sacsayhuamán ruins

La Raya pass, road to Puno, Peru

View from La Raya pass, on the road to Puno, Peru, at 14,300 feet

Llamas grazing in the Altiplano, Andean plateau

Llamas grazing in the Altiplano, Andean plateau

Along the shore of Lake Titicaca

Along the shore of Lake Titicaca

Island in Umayo lake, near Puno, Peru

Island in the clouds: an island vicuña reserve in Umayo lake, near Puno, Peru

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

 

the road to Puno

We set out from Cusco to the city of Puno in the southern part of Peru, where the Andean plateau widens and rises to about 12,500 feet and continues as a wide expanse into Bolivia and Chile.  This is the second largest and highest plateau in the world, after that in Tibet.

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

Along the road to the La Raya pass at 14,200 feet, wide expanses of green are broken up by small agricultural plots of beans, corn, quinoa, and other vegetables.  Large herds of llamas and alpacas, a few cattle, and some sheep are more prominent here than they were in the lower valleys near Cusco.

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

Llama herd on the road to Puno, Peru

Alpaca herd, Andean plateau, Peru

This herd of alpacas was tended by a single herdsman, without the help of fences or dogs to control the herd.

Train to Puno at La Raya pass, Peru

A train runs between Cusco and Puno over the 14,300 foot pass. Talk about taking your breath away…

The scenery on either side of the pass is as dramatic as any mountain scenery anywhere, especially realizing that the base of the mountains here is 12-14,000 feet.  Only the most hearty and well acclimated can survive and prosper in this thin air, where the oxygen content is just 60% of what it is at sea level.

La Raya pass, Andean plateau, Peru

I’m guessing these peaks might be as much as 19-20,000 feet.  It’s a stunning landscape.

Getting to know you…

“getting to know all about you” — that’s what we often see in the synchronized displays of paired birds that mate for life.  It’s more commonly seen in the spring resurgence of pre-breeding behaviors, but often, mated pairs renew their bond in the fall before migrating to warmer climates with open water.

Trumpeter Swans pairs exhibited their neck bowing and chest-to-chest-wing flap and trumpet greetings with each other on Lake Vadnais yesterday with gusto.

Trumpeter Swan courtship behavior

Neck bowing behavior, up and down, from fully extended to completely bowed, repeated several times, both while swimming in parallel and while facing each other.

trumpeter swan courtship behavior trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Because these birds often don’t breed until they are 4-6 years old, cementing their partnership early is integral to their eventual breeding success, in defending their nest territory as well as protecting their offspring, which single individuals cannot do alone.  Their synchronized neck bowing behaviors occasionally escalated to more vigorous displays of wing flapping and chest bumping (kind of remniscent of football players in the end zone after a touchdown).

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Muted trumeting accompanied the wing flap face-off between these partners.

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

But then, one swan seemed to be trying out a couple of different partners as it first performed the neck bowing sequence with one individual and then took-off flying and pursued another individual, bowing and wing-flapping with it, and then eventually settling down to feed side by side.  I wonder if this is the equivalent of swan dating?

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Swan in the lead with partner #1, performing the head bowing behavior as they swim

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Suddenly the lead swan takes off, trumpeting, chasing another swan into flight. Huge webbed feet paddling against the surface of the water help these large-bodied birds get aloft.

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Once landed in the same area, vigorous wing-flapping and trumpeting occurs for several seconds, following by neck bows, and finally feeding side by side.

I might have thought this was one male chasing another, except for the behavior that followed.

trumpeter swan courtship behavior trumpeter swan courtship behavior trumpeter swan courtship behavior

Just another day in the lives of the Trumpeter Swans, even if confusing to us human observers.

Tired is a state of mind

Hiking at high altitude is hard work. Carrying a pack more than 1/4 of your body weight at high altitude is seriously hard work. Hiking uphill with said pack on your back at high altitude is not recommended unless you have a deep desire for hurt. So, when engaging in this unthinkable activity, I have to believe that feeling tired is just a state of mind…

Tired hikers

which can be relieved in a number of ways when that tired feeling hits during a long, hard uphill climb.

Camping at high altitude

Each day there is a new and beautiful place to sleep and rejuvenate.

High Sierras, Hoover Wilderness

We are alone in this vast wilderness…at least it feels like it. I love that feeling of smallness in this vast expanse.

High Sierras, Hoover Wilderness

There is a new vista to explore around every corner.

Family hike, High Sierras

Below 9000 feet, we can have campfires. What a difference in your mood a campfire makes! (That’s me on the far right)

Family hike, High Sierras

The pains of a hard hike are shared, and we keep each other going.

Family hike, High Sierras

Remembering these antics around the fire keeps me going all the next day.

Family hike, High Sierras

We made it! Shoes got wet, but we crossed another rushing river.

photos by Becky Chaplin-Kramer

Natural Wonders

Backpacking in the wilderness yields a score of new sights and marvels, some of which make you stop and wonder — how they came to exist, or how they persist.

View from Summit Pass, Hoover Wilderness

Landscapes like this view from 11,000+ foot Summit Pass, in the Hoover Wilderness in the eastern Sierras are a natural wonder to me.

Life exists and persists in the harshest of conditions at these high altitudes, making me appreciate what I see even more.

Wild flowers in the Hoover wilderness, eastern Sierras

Wild flowers were especially vibrant this year after the mammoth snowfall in the mountains last winter.  This year they will leave a lot of seed behind, which may take years to germinate depending on conditions in the next years.

Fireweed

Fireweed is a colorful pioneer in disturbed areas until other bushes and trees eventually outcompete them for light and water.

Lichen on red fir

life growing on life — fruticose lichen on red fir

Lichen on red fir

The lichen combination of Cyanobacteria and Fungi is also lush this year, after a banner year of snowfall.

Pinedrops

You wonder how life can spring up in the middle of rocky dirt. But Pinedrops plants are parasitic and derive their energy and carbon from the mycorrhizae fungi that surround the roots of other plants.

Our hikes took us through lush meadows, over or through rushing creeks, dark pine forests, and occasionally along broad swaths of sheer granite, a place where it is easy to lose the trail.  The trees here seem to be growing right out of the rock.

Glacial polish on granite

Small rock cairns mark the trail on exposed granite surfaces. In some areas the granite has been polished smooth by glacial movement of sand and rocks.

Bodie days

It only happens once a year, the celebration of the life of the founder of the infamous ghost town, Bodie, California, a once, prosperous, if a bit unlawful, mining town in the eastern Sierras.  And what a celebration — complete with a funeral procession to honor the bones of the man who gave the town its name but didn’t live to see prosperity boom there, people dressed in period costume, acting out their various roles in the town, an historical museum full of artifacts of the period, and a big crowd ready to take it all in.

Bodie, California

Bodie boasted a population of 7-8,000 in the 1880s, when gold was finally discovered there after about 20 years of prospecting for it. The town had 65 saloons, two churches, and a jail.

Bodie, California

The industrial side of town contained the stamp mills that crushed the raw ore, and smelting furnaces to separate out the precious metals. Gold, silver, mercury, and other metals were mined here, but the boom lasted less than 10 years.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Bodie days celebrants lined Main Street waiting for the “funeral procession” and listened to speakers talk about the life of WS Bodey, the town founder.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

First came the musicians

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Then the hearse, pulled by a pair of beautiful black horses.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Followed by an assortment of wagons and riders in a long parade of original equipment.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Ladies in costume posed in front of the dress shop. This building must have been built much later in the towns history, because it was composed almost entirely of men during boom mining days.

Bodie days, August 12, 2017

Riders in period costumes with cell phones!

Life in Bodie was fast and furious, but the town suffered a population decline in the late 1800s as mining booms in Montana, Utah, and Arizona drew the “strike it rich” young men away.

Now Bodie is a designated national historic landmark, and a popular tourist destination for those who want to see what life was like back in gold rush days.

Bodie hills

What the Bodie hills looked like before the mining boom here in the 1860s.

Blue lakes, purple flowers, and pink snow

Our scouting trip to find a pass over a ridge between two sets of lakes was unsuccessful, but we encountered some gorgeous scenery on the almost 8 mile hike around Saddlebag Lake on the Tioga pass road over the Sierras of California.

Saddlebag Lake

The water is quite chilly, but the fishing seems to be good on Saddlebag Lake

Saddlebag Lake

Wild flowers are still in their full, blazing glory. It was a late summer this year because of all the snow. I think the purple flowers might be Monk’s Hood, a showy plant containing highly toxic alkaloids.

Saddlebag Lake

You couldn’t ask for a better trail. Unfortunately, it ended quite a ways before climbing into the pass over the ridge just below the pointed peak, and the way up looked much too rocky a traverse to take young hikers (or old grandparents, for that matter).

Ridge between McCabe lakes and Saddlebag Lake

End of our good trail…these lakes are above 10,000 feet and only recently free of ice and snow.

Pink snow

What?! Pink snow?

Yes, it really is pink snow, colored not by leaching minerals but by the growth of the green alga (yes, it really is green under the microscope), Chlamydomonas nivalus. If there is one thing we have learned about life on earth, it’s that microbes can thrive just about anywhere, and here’s proof of life on the ice.

The algae are actually in a metabolically quiescent state, awaiting appropriate conditions, like lake water, to begin growing.  But to protect themselves (and their chlorophyll) from the damage of intense radiation at high altitude, they synthesize a protective sunscreen of carotenoid pigments (yes, the same ones that make Cardinals a bright cheery red).

Pink snow

And so, these green, but appearing red due to carotenoids, algae slide down  the snow banks toward fresh water to begin a new cycle of growth.