Monday, October 29, 2007

Up, Up and Away

One way to see the Rockies is from a hot-air balloon. We caught the journey of one, leaving from the Aspen area one morning just before sunrise. After launch, a van follows the balloon to meet up with it at its landing point some miles away. Then everyone has a toast with cheese and fake champagne.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Aspen Jeep Tour

One of the most rewarding things we did in Aspen was to book a Jeep tour of the surrounding mountains. Because it was spring, the two of us had the Jeep to ourselves (plus the guide), as well as whole blooming fields of wildflowers to walk through. Afterwards, we had a nice dinner in town with our knowledgeable guide. One of the nicer aspects to our trip.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Captive Wildlife

At an al fresco conference dinner in Aspen, we were treated to the presence of a couple of wildlife welfare organizations. Hawk Quest ( is a Colorado non-profit that seeks to educate the public about eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. It was a unique opportunity to get right up close to uncaged raptors, tethered by their keepers. The birds didn't seem, um, ruffled by the attention of the public. This beauty (below), was rehabilitated by the organization after losing an eye.

On the other side of the outdoor event were a couple of wolves brought by The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (, which also operates a public wildlife sanctuary in Divide. Yes, they look like dogs, at least until you see how rangy they really are, and how long and powerful their back legs are. This one was happy to get a drink in the polished fountain of the five-star resort. The wolves were also non-plussed at the sounds and distractions of the public, even pausing to give a friendly face wash to those who leaned down close and forgot they were putting their face near the teeth of a wild animal.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Aspen: Our First View

Sure, Aspen is famous for its skiing, annoying celebrities, and its hyper-priced property, but to see the area in spring is to see it at its most beautiful. Deep, refreshing shades of green, clear, crisp, cerulean skies, and wildflowers made Aspen one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen.

The town is small, just a grid of a couple of streets, full of restaurants and designer outposts. Need a new pair of Tod's? You're in luck!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Carrizo Plain

The Carrizo Plain is a national monument on the southwest edge of the San Joaquin Valley, set aside for valley flora and fauna conservation. It has an enormous grassland area that has been likened to the African savanna because of its enormous importance as a wildlife habitat. The grassland’s featureless, even treeless, appearance doesn’t seem like much, but it is the largest contiguous habitat for endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox and the giant kangaroo rat, and provides crucial nesting, wintering and roosting space for many species of raptors, plovers and cranes.

We had the place to ourselves on the day we visited, not even seeing much wildlife. It’s an unfortunate habit of ours to show up at a lot of places at midday, when the wildlife has the good sense to sleep or otherwise lie low. We were unable to visit the Painted Rock, a sacred spot for native Chumash, because birds had started to nest in the area just a day or so before.

From a distance, we could see Soda Lake (above), which is a large salt bed whose stark white appearance makes it look like a mirage.

Believe it or not, this is what the mighty San Andreas Fault looks like (below). It runs some 800 miles north and south through California, caused the great San Francisco quake of 1906, and keeps Los Angeles waiting for its own apocalypse.

Here on the Carrizo Plain, it's visible as this rift; it's actually the scar of the massive Fort Tejon earthquake in 1857 that split the ground here so violently it changed the course of the nearby Wallace Creek and moved the fault some 30 feet. On a warm and peaceful day, it’s hard to imagine water, let alone a groundshifting quake.

Someday, we will arrive in time to see the wildlife, and we’ll time our visit to see Painted Rock.