Category Archives: Nature

Desert Museum in Tucson


The number one attraction in the Tucson area is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a private zoo and museum which tries to interprets the desert.

Since it’s located only a few miles east of Saguaro National Park (Western unit), it has the same environment as the park. But where in a national park, you have to find your flora and especially fauna, here the cacti and animals are all labeled and caged for us. The Museum has native plants and animals but the area that it draws from is very wide. That explains the stingrays.

When we paid our admission fee (not cheap – almost $40 for Hannah and me), we were encouraged to pay another three dollars each to see the stingrays. We put our hand in the water to allow the stingrays to touch you or even take food out of your hand (another three dollars).

So what is the attraction?

Coyotes, javelinas (native pigs), deer, raptors,bears… all in their own areas. Toward the top, they had a half-mile of “desert experience” where they warned you that “the trail is hot, dry, dusty, and bumpy – a half-mile long and uphill on the way back”. Still I was gratified to see people walking the “desert experience” trail. See the top photo taken at the desert experience trail.

I loved the hummingbird aviary. The birds flew around with gay abandonment . They didn’t stop long enough so I could take a picture but they were a happy bunch. Some were sitting on their nest too far away for photos.

The Desert Museum is well-funded, with admission fees and donor contributions.

At the museum, contributors are recognized everywhere – benches, buildings, signs on plants… This is one of the many ways that private zoos and museums are different from national parks. See the plaque on the side of this picture.

They also had silly, amusement park-like features.

Hannah as a vulture

Hannah turned herself into a vulture. Children could buy a book and then stop at stamping stations for various attractions. There were several restaurants, snack bars and gift stores.

But “How are you going to get them back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

I no longer worry about that. My grandchildren know the difference between a zoo/museum and a national park.

Today, we went back to Saguaro National Park (eastern site) for another hike. The animals weren’t labeled and the snacks were limited to what we had in our packs but we saw a roadrunner and he wasn’t labeled.

Exploring Molokai with Doreen

In the early 1990s, Paul Theroux wrote The Happy Isles of Oceania about paddling the Pacific islands. I found it a seminal book. I had just come back from working in New Zealand and had kept a good diary. For the first time, I understood modern travel memoirs. Maybe I too could attempt to write in that genre. Hah, Hah!

Everywhere that Theroux went, the locals asked
“Where is your wife?” She had recently left him.

In this regard, things haven’t changed much. Polynesians have large extended families. I was also asked,

“Are you traveling alone? How brave!” This is the United States, I felt like replying, but I accepted their compliments.

I came to Molokai, a small Hawaiian island between Oahu and Maui, to see Kalaupapa National Historical Park which I did on the first day. Details later.

Now I’m seeing the rest of the island with Doreen, my local guide, driver, and soon, friend. Doreen, who was born and bred in Molokai, can talk. Her life is like a soap opera. I learned about her children in detail, her cousins, and her friends.

We visited two churches built by Father Damien, a Catholic priest from Belgium, who came to Molokai to work at the remote Kalaupapa leper colony.

On the way, we spotted several nenes in a field. Nenes, the Hawaiian goose is said to be endangered. In Volcanoes National Park, we saw many signs for nenes but no bird. My granddaughters kept giggling that nene means “breast” in Chinese.

Then the tour really began.

I had casually mentioned that I was curious about the taro fields mentioned on the Molokai map.

“You want to learn about taro?” Doreen asked. “I can take you to someone who really knows taro.” And we were off to the extreme east end of the small island in the Halawa valley. By now, the road was down to one lane and the driver has to honk her horn to come around a curve. We saw few cars in the Halawa valley.

We parked and walked a path, clearly marked “private.”

“Doreen,” I said. “I’ll follow you anywhere on this island until I see dogs.” Sure enough, we did but they were tied up.

“Pilipo,” she kept yelling. “I really want you to meet Pilipo.”

Pilipo Solatorio in Halewa

She found his house and Pilipo Solatorio, a handsome 78-year old man, dressed in a colorful sarong over surfing shorts.

Pilipo grew up in the Halawa Valley, had a conventional career with various island resorts. Now he and his family run a cultural hike and tour of the valley.

“I was chosen to keep the family culture,” Pilipo said. He shows us newspaper clippings of various happenings on the island, including the life-changing 1946 tsunami that moved houses and cleared the valley of trees.

Pilipo tends several taro fields. He explains that the taro leaf is called luau.

“Taro is like a woman. What does the leaf look like?” He asks.

“A vagina?” That was the wrong answer.

Halawa Valley

“A heart.” Pilipo said. “It’s connected to a long stem like an umbilical cord to the young root, the baby.”

We walked down to his taro patch. He takes off his sandals to wade in the mud and pulls out a taro. He cuts off a chunk with a sharp knife.

“My youngest son came back from Honolulu to learn and keep the family culture.” He now leads visitors through the valley to the waterfall.

“Is he married?” I asked.

“Yes. His wife is still in Honolulu. She has an important job. I don’t know if she’d want to live here.”

It’s tricky. Women don’t follow their husbands anymore. How can his son balance his duty to his ancestors with his duty to his spouse and nuclear family?

Doreen and I took off to the western end of the island, the more “touristy” end. Nothing is touristy in Molokai; it only has 7,000 people. No chain restaurants, motels, not even a McDonald.

How do you find Doreen?

Doreen works for Molokai Day Tours. If the website doesn’t specifically mention Halawa, ask for it and for Doreen. Be flexible, be adventurous, and enjoy.

NC Waterfalls – Book Review

North Carolina Waterfalls
North Carolina Waterfalls

There are birders, peak baggers and there are waterfallers – people who collect waterfalls. Carolina Mountain Club has a waterfall challenge, the WC100.

But a hundred waterfalls barely scratches the surface.

In the third edition of North Carolina Waterfalls, photographer Kevin Adams describes 1,000 waterfalls in the state. Adams is a nature photographer who exhibits, sells his photographs, and holds photo workshops.

He is considered the waterfall expert in North Carolina.

What makes his waterfall books exceptional is Adams’ attention to details. For each waterfall, he cites the accessibility (trail, bushwhack or even driving, I guess), elevation, landowner (park, forest, or private), hike distance and difficulty, and more facts.

Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park

But my favorite is the beauty rating. Of course it’s his book and his ratings.

So I looked at Window Falls, a beautiful  waterfall in Hanging Rock State Park in the Piedmont on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Adams gives Window Falls a Beauty Rating of 4. I’m surprised that the waterfall is even here. It’s probably the last waterfall on the MST, going east.

Triple Falls
Triple Falls

Then I looked at the waterfalls in Dupont State Recreational Forest, in Transylvania County, the Land of Waterfalls. His highest rating for the waterfalls in the forest is Triple Falls, Beauty Rating – 9.

So I reread his criteria.

These are subjective beauty ratings (1 to 10), independent of where they’re located. So waterfalls in the Western North Carolina mountains are bound to get higher ratings than those in less mountainous regions. But like I said, the ratings are his. I’m sure that he’s always asked what his favorite waterfall is, like I’m asked what my favorite national park unit is. As if you could have one favorite with a thousand waterfalls.

Adams was out to document every single waterfall that he could in the whole state. So he lists waterfalls on private land. He also has “secret falls” even on public land. That’s a different approach from my outdoor writings. In all my writing, I make sure that readers can do everything I write about – given enough time and energy, of course.

Waterfall safety

Adams says correctly, that “waterfalls don’t reach out and grab people and fling them over the top.” People get too careless, climb up when they should stay below, and sometimes slip and fall. As I write this, the headlines in the Asheville Citizen-Times reads:
                     Woman falls 160 feet at Rainbow, dies.
The victim was on top of the waterfall, a waterfall that ironically is rated a 10.

Kevin Adams
Kevin Adams

Here are the details:
Published by John F. Blair Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-89587-653-9
Paperback, $29.95

8” x 10”, 560 pages, 310 color photos

PS Kevin Adams will be the featured speaker at the Carolina Mountain Club annual dinner on November 5. I can’t wait to meet him.

Join CMC and save the date.