Juneau Old-Timey Music Jam

The first night in Juneau, Chris invited us to the old-timey jam at a loft in the Alaska Bar and Grille.  A group of musicians who have been playing together for a long time show up.  What they play, one of the players told me, pre-dates bluegrass and developed in Appalachia before the age of recorded music.   Its roots are in fiddle music from Scotland.  They let me follow along on a couple of numbers.  It’s really, I mean really fast.

Juneau – Rainforest Walk in the Herbert River valley


Our friend and longtime Juneau resident Chris took us up north of Juneau to look at a rainforest.  It was about as far as you can drive before the road ends at Echo Cove, just past Point Bridget State Park. It was becoming a wet afternoon, the rain was starting to pick up.  Chris was well prepared for our leisurely stroll, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops.  (It actually wasn’t that wet on the forest floor)

rainforest understory view.jpg

Moss covers the lower branches of hemlock, devils club showing below in the understory

The most common trees are Sitka spruce, western hemlock, western red cedar (also common in the Pacific Northwest (there’s one here at home in the backyard).

understory with devils club

A closer look at devils club, and moss at right on tree trunk

Devils club, above was growing as high as 6 feet in some places.  It has spines so long and sharp they are apparently really difficult to remove.

Club closeup

Close up

understory sword fern and devils

Thick understory

Above, devils club is interspersed with what looks a little like a sword fern although it could also be wood fern, a beech fern, or a number of others among the dozens of ferns that grow in the rain forests of southeast Alaska (see below link),.  You have to know what you are doing to properly identify it; looking at a photo usually isn’t reliable.

Click to access stelprdb5391721.pdf

Below, someone’s car got left here a really long time ago, and it’s still here, right on the trail, slowly being buried.


Here is a short video:



Juneau’s tram

Juneau isn’t on nearby Lynn Canal, the deepest fjord in North America, 2600′ in depth in some places.  It’s on a tributary, Gastineau channel.  But downtown Juneau is perched on a little spot of flat land between the channel and the mountains right behind.  When you take this tram straight up the mountain and look back down, with more mountains right across the way on Douglas Island, it almost as though Juneau sits in a natural trench.

Juneau trench

Top of Mount Roberts tram, at 1800′, looking back at downtown Juneau

Douglas Island

Looking slightly to the south at Douglas Island across the channel

bald eagle and airport

View slightly to the north, where Gastineau channel becomes an estuarine wetland near the airport.  A bald eagle is perched in a treetop in the foreground

The top of the tram is right at tree line, where conditions become too harsh and cold for trees to survive.


Looking upslope past tree line


Tree line is easier to see on the opposite slope.  

trailside understory

Understory plants along the side of the trail

totem ip

Native Alaska Totems being worked on at the tram visitor’s center.  


Glaciers at Juneau’s Doorstep

That’s the difference …. there are a lot of glaciers in the State of Washington, where I live, but most are in very inaccessible alpine areas.  In Juneau, things are different.  The Mendenhall Glacier is just minutes from downtown Juneau and the toe of the glacier is just 20 feet above sea level.

Mendenall distance

Mendenhall Glacier from near the Visitor’s Center

It’s a one-mile walk from about where the above photo was taken to the waterfall.

Mendenhall closer

In 1929, the glacier covered what is now Mendenhall Lake, foreground.  It has retreated 1 3/4 miles since then.

My wife Urania’s had long had a dream to actually set foot on a glacier.  So naturally we wanted to get a closer look.  Helicopters work really well to get you there and there are some in town for hire.  It was about an 8-minute hop from Juneau Airport uphill to Herbert Glacier.

Helicopter on Herbert

Walking on Herbert Glacier.  The glacial blue shows well from this angle

First thing we noticed was glacial blue appears just as I’d heard it described, but it only looks blue.  Glacial ice is very old and very compacted.  It’s crystalline structure is extremely dense and very efficient at absorbing most light very well, except blue light, which scatters.  So that’s what we see.

Helicopter looking down to water

Up at least several hundred feet here, looking back down toward the Herbert River and Lynn Canal.   Glaciers are in constant motion, but way too slow for the naked eye to see.  You can sort of imagine that here.

glacier wide cropped

Living the dream

glacier portrait something


Young Miles frolics while the rest of us step more carefully.


Flying over a Muskeg Peat bog on the way up the mountain. Casey told me the saturated soil is so soft, people can quickly sink in up to their waist or deeper.

up mountain

Looking uphill toward distant Juneau ice field.

Later we took a whale watching tour and got a different view of Herbert glacier.

Herbert glacier from water

Herbert Glacier from marine waters off Juneau

And while we’re at it, here’s a great view off the back of the boat –

off rear of boat

More distant view of mountains off rear of boat

and, the only fauna I managed to get a photo of, through a window

eagle and sea lions

bald eagle and sea lions lounge on buoy




Another Botanical Stroll: The Pacific Connections Garden at Seattle Arboretum

The Seattle Arboretum was founded in 1934, but the Pacific Connections garden is a brand new piece of it – five eco-geographic forests planted in the last 10 years.  As the below metal sculpture sign displays, they represent the Pacific Northwest (Cascadia), Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and China, all areas with temperate climates.  Many of the species planted at the garden are threatened in their natural habitat.

sculpture sign 1a

Below is another metal-sculpture sign comparing rainfall in the five regions.  All of them are similar in total annual precipitation, but China has more summer rainfall than the other four regions.

sculpture and sign

Features of the existing arboretum are all around: below are a walkway and a drainage hardscaped with large and small rock.

Sunday in park



The first area I came to was the Australia forest.

australia sign



leaning eucalypt

This young Eucalyptus is leaning west, looking for more sun.  The area behind the camera has been cleared to give it more morning light

In the New Zealand section, the unusual shrub known as the wire netting cotoneaster, a distant relative of our Pacific Northwest dogwood.  You can see how it got its name.nickname.

Corokia cotoneaster

New Zealand has so many plants that are found nowhere else.  Below is another odd looking native tree / large shrub, the narrow leafed lacebark.

narrow leafed lacebark

Narrow leafed lacebark’s weepy habit

Here is a Pacific Northwest native western red cedar, Thuja plicata, common to moist forests in this area.  But this one looks completely different because it is a cultivar (a plant found in the wild and selectively bred to attenuate its form or growth habit).  It is known as the whipcord, a shrub or even grass-like dwarf,

Whipcord cedar

Whipcord, the Western red cedar cultivar

wild western red cedar

The bottom of the original wild form – a tall western red cedar tree

western red cedar sign

Western red cedar is revered by Native Americans, who have used almost every part of it for something

The idea behind the Pacific Connections garden fascinates me.  When in grad school studying the semi-arid chaparral vegetation along the U.S. – Mexico border, I learned that similar looking, but completely unrelated plants grew in central Chile, where climate and rainfall were like California.  Chile’s flora is almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, yet its coast is a mirror image of our west coast.  As one heads south, desert grades into semi-desert, then dry coniferous forest, humid coniferous forest like the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and southeast Alaska,  and finally into sub-polar Patagonia at the southern tip of America.  

Below are shots of the Chilean conifer, Araucaria arcancana. Chilean pine or Pehuén, it’s common name in Chile.  The taxonomic name is from the indigenous Pahuénche Araucanian peoples of southern Chile. 

Aracaria branches

Striking Araucaria branches. The tree is described as almost “reptilian” in botanical literature, and as fossil-like, because individual trees can live 1,000 years, and because they have grown in Chile for 200 million years, since the dinosaur era.


An Araucaria catches some winter sun.  The Cahuénche Araucarians collected its edible nuts which are said to taste something like pine nuts.

Oddly enough, the Araucaria is known here and elsewhere in the world as the “monkey puzzle”.  The Missouri Botanical Garden website attributes the name to a comment made by an 19th century English botanist who mused that a monkey would be confused trying to climb its branches.  Well there are no monkeys in Chile, just sayin’.  A pretty misleading name.

Chinese paperbush

Chinese Paperbush shrub also known as “Nanging gold”. In the past its bark was used to produce high quality ornamental paper


falling flowers

Well, there’s lots more, but that’s enough for now.  if you have the chance, go there.  It’s a place of beauty, and also very relaxing …. see below

nap in park



Botanical Oahu, Part 2

I saw two more botanical gardens on Oahu, Ho’omaluhia Garden, a giant 400-acre garden on the wet windward side of Oahu, upslope from Kailua, and Wiahiawā Botanical garden, a garden in the center of the island at much higher elevation.that despite its small size (27-acres) feels equally “wild” in places.

scarp, cropped

Steep scarp looking west from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden on Oahu

king taro plantings

Taro plantings

Taro or Kalo, unlike so many plants that were brought in by accident in modern times, was probably a “canoe” plant, carried in by the original Polynesians who settled the islands, according to the Hawaii Horticulture blog. The Hawaii Ocean project says it was “once a staple of the Hawaiian diet, and still an integral part of the culture,”  Polynesians who brought taro planted it near rivers and streams.

It has a place in Hawaiian mythology, Wakea (the sky father), and the beautiful goddess, Hoʻohokukalani (the heavenly one who made the stars), wished to have a child. Their first attempt, however, resulted in a still birth. The body of the stillborn child was buried near their home. From this buried child grew a taro plant.


Turmeric grows really well in Hawaii,

Tumeric, or ‘Ōlena is also believed to be a “canoe” plant, carried in by the original Polynesians.  It does not spread readily by seed, but it can be found growing wild at very old planting sites on the big island, Molokai, and Maui.

brownea ecualyptus

Smooth, striking trunk of the Brownea Macrophylla, also known as Panama Flame or Rose of Venezuela, at Waihaiwā Garden 

brownea flower

Brownea Macrophylla flower

What is this cropped

Another striking tree at Wiahiawā Garden.  If anyone recognizes it, let me know what it is.





Beauty and Trouble at Chinaman’s Hat

Arriving at the beach looking out at Mokoli’i rock, known to residents as Chinaman’s Hat, it was a fine view on a fine afternoon.  We could see the tide was in, and small but persistent waves were thrashing at a very steep and narrow beach.  Just a short distance off the beach, a berm had been placed, apparently to slow beach erosion.  It was a fine view.  People can paddle out to the rock at low tide, when much of the distance from the beach can be walked.

Chinman's Hat.jpg

View of Chinaman’s Hat from the beach.  Berm is just offshore

The fine beach sands had been removed, sorted out by waves.  Only the large, coarse grains remained.  Taking a closer look, there were scattered objects of unnatural color all over.

Welcome friends, to ocean plastics.

I knelt down where the debris stopped and began picking bits of plastic out of the sand.  I set down small pieces of driftwood to bound a sampling area.  I only picked off what was on the sand surface, I did not dig down.

plastic debris sampling area

Sample area, with plastic debris at bottom center.  Area is roughly 16″ on a side

plastic debris close up

Closer view: some pieces looked like packaging material from personal care items.  Walking stick at upper left for scale.

This is a travel blog, no preaching allowed, but ocean plastics used to be part of my work.  Every bit of plastic that’s ever gotten into the ocean is still there, just becoming smaller and easier for fish to eat.  It’s refined petroleum, so if we eat fish, well ….

Turning west from the beach, there is a beautiful and imposing ridge, site of Kualoa Ranch.  Jurassic Park was filmed over the top of the ridge in the valley beyond.

jurassic closeup



Pedaling Chocolate at Manoa

A long time ago I walked through a cacao plantation in a coastal rainforest near Chuao, Venezuela.  More recently I visited the Ahonui botanical garden on Kauai where the owner showed us his cacao plants, and I took a tour at Theo’s, a local chocolate producer in Seattle.  But on a tour of the Manoa chocolate factory (Kailua, Oahu), I learned way more about how you actually make chocolate than ever before.

manoa chocolate entry

Bags of cacao from around the world await conversion into chocolate.

Owner Dylan Butterbaugh showed us the equipment he uses to grind the cacao. He told us when he started, after viewing a YouTube videos on the making of chocolate, he gerry-rigged a winnowing machine to break up and crush the beans after drying and figured out how to power it with a bicycle.  He pointed to the wall behind us where that original bike, named Dora resides.  See below –

bike on wall

Bike named Dora, used to power original winnowing machine.

To see the original bike-powered machine in action go to about 1:48 of the video below.  You can also see how the beans are roasted on a barbecue machine with a motor attached.  I didn’t see this on the tour as it is done offsite.



Interestingly, Dylan noted that some countries like Colombia, noted for its coffee, were not famous for great cacao.  Somehow they just didn’t have that right combination of soil, temperature, slope and aspect, sun, terroir, all those things that give each crop its unique flavor.

dylan explains

Owner Dylan talks chocolate on the factory floor

Cacao pod

Cacao pods

One interesting thing about cacao plants is that the pods, shown above, often sprout right on the tree trunk.  Above you can see the pods and pulp, which contain the beans.

at the bar 2

At the tasting bar

Soon, it was time to taste.  As our bar hostess described each chocolate we were about to try, she showed us a wheel with flavors, by category.  The flavor of each chocolate we tried would fit somewhere on this wheel. They were all fabulous.  I was partial to the Bahia dark chocolate from Brazil, and a lighter chocolate made from Hawaiian cacao.

flavor wheel

The flavor wheel

Below is a link to a very interesting article (in Spanish) sent by my sister-in-law in Venezuela.  It is about the efforts of a few visionary chocolate lovers to rebuild Venezuela’s once thriving cacao industry, struggling with the current political and economic turmoil plaguing the country.  This happens far too often in cacao producing countries.



Adrift in Cartagena de Indias

Interesting about the name Cartagena de Indias –  the European settlement was established in 1533 when the belief that the Spanish explorers would arrive on the shores of India was still within historical memory.   The Spanish first sited the sheltered bay of Cartagena de Indias around 1510 (see below map), noting it’s potential as a port.  When crews from three Spanish ships finally settled the site in 1533, it reminded them of the Bay at Cartagena, Spain, where many of them were from.  So, the name Cartagena de Indias was used to distinguish this Cartagena from the much older Carthaginian port city of Cartagena, Spain (established in 229 BC).

Cartagena's Bay

Original colonial settlement shown by red dots on Calamari peninsula, with Port facing Interior Bay (Bahia Interior)

So anyway, there I was, adrift in Cartagena.  No agenda, no plans, just there to take it all in with family.

Murralla and modern city

Old and New: 16th century fortification wall (La Muralla) at left, high rise residential towers in background

The old colonial city with it’s original 16th century fortification wall (muralla) gets plenty of visitors and it is fascinating.  But the neighborhood of Getsemaní, close by the old city is just as interesting and a lot less visited.  It is said to be where African slaves first settled, and where the independence movement was born.  Today with its more modest, simpler architecture, it has a more open and airy feel than the old city and it has become a favored destination for backpacking travelers.  Here, visitors can mix more easily with residents.  There are a number of reasonably priced pensiones (we asked about prices at one or two).

backpackers walk

Backpackers stroll by a pensión in Getsemaní

soccer and chat

Casual soccer in the street during late afternoon

It has also become a magnet for urban wall mural art (formerly graffiti).  In 2013, for the first time, the neighborhood actually hosted the International Festival of Urban Art.  Anyway, murals are everywhere.  They are spectacular and they really catch the eye.  There are also street sculptures.  See below:

woman with eyes closed


sculpted flautist

My sister in law put together a spectacular 2-minute labeled video montage of photos with a soundtrack featuring a song named for the neighborhood.  And here it is:

Blues in Paradise: Feelin’ the Beat on Oahu


OK, maybe Hawaii is not paradise. But it’s not the most likely place I would have thought to look for a thriving blues scene. The thing was, I didn’t have to look for it. Our hosts on Oahu, Paul and Lorna Gomes brought it right to me. Paul has been playing drums for blues bands on Oahu for decades, and he had two gigs the week we were there, one with Bluzilla at Kona Brewing Company’s Koko Marina Pub, and one with the Flat Five at the OnStage in Honolulu.  I love Paul’s playing; he has a big, full sound that propels the music along.

Bluzilla is a quartet (guitar-bass-drums-vocals/harmonica).  As a guitar player, I was amazed by Mark Pearlman’s improvising. He plays with complete abandon, taking chances and pushing himself to his limit. Listen to his solo on “Freddie King’s “Look Over Yonder wall”, below.  I also really enjoyed Corey Funai’s harp and vocals.  Below that are portions of Taj Mahal’s Diving Duck Blues and “Dump That Chump” by Little Charlie and the Nightcats.


The Flat Five is a larger band headlined by Kevin Coleman (harp/vocals).  He’s a great player and frontman.  On the below video, he shows his stuff on “Nobody But You”.


Below, JP Smoketrain sits in with Kevin and the boys, singing and playing lead on Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would”,  adding some touches from the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out”.  The dance floor was full on this one.