Monday, October 31, 2011


Welcome to Philadelphia! The City of Brotherly Love! I had just a few hours free to explore, so I only got a sampling of the birthplace of American democracy. The short visit was still lots of fun!

Philadelphia is the fifth most populous city in the U.S., but back in the days when there were thirteen British colonies on the soil of North America, Philadelphia was the busiest port in all of the colonies. With the prominence of Philadelphia among all of the colonies, it is no surprise that the city played a key role in establishing the collective unity of the original thirteen colonies, promoting the cause for independence from British rule, and developing the fledgeling nation which would become the United States of America as we know it today. For about a decade, Philadelphia served as the temporary capitol of the new nation, as the permanent capitol of Washington D.C. was being constructed.

Before I went exploring, I just had to try the authentic sandwich of Philadelphia, the Philly Cheesesteak. The problem is that there is great debate over which restaurant created the original, and best, cheesesteak. It comes down to a duel between Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks, and they happen to be close enough to one another that you could probably throw a sandwich from Pat's and hit the front door of Gino's. :-) I wanted to try them both, but I could fit more than one sandwich in my tummy, so I went with Pat's. And in my tummy Pat's was yummy, with thin sliced sirloin, sautéed onions, and cheese, glorious cheese, on a toasty roll!

With a happy tummy, I headed to Independence National Historic Park. What was the main feature of that park? Independence Hall. In May of 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened in this building. Representatives from the thirteen British colonies met to discuss, among other matters, the policy direction the British Parliament had taken regarding the colonies. Chief among the concerns was taxation without representation. They had hoped to petition the king of England to hear their case and bend the will of Parliament to a more favorable disposition, hoping to ease the growing tensions between the colonies and their motherland. However, by the beginning of 1776, it was clear that the king was not inclined toward reconciliation, and in February of 1776, the Parliament established the Prohibitory Act, which blockaded American ports and labeled American ships as enemy vessels. The Congress members, largely spearheaded by John Adams, scrambled to get the individual colonial governments to come to a consensus for the cause of independence. After much debate and political posturing, the decision was made to vie for a united state government, independent of British rule. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were given the task to draft a declaration of independence. The draft was finished on June 28, but still there was much debate to be had, over matters including still whether or not to make the declaration at all, the timing of the declaration, and its content. But by July 4, 1776, these issues had been resolved to the point where the official Declaration of Independence was proclaimed to the people.

After the Declaration of Independence, Independence Hall still had a role to play in the birth of our nation. Within a year after our declared independence, the Articles of Confederation were drafted and became the basis for the government of the now-called United States of America. Although the Articles of Confederation were completed in 1777, it would take until 1781 for them to became fully ratified by all of the states. But as time progressed, the Articles of Confederation proved to be too weak to provide a fully functioning central government. In early 1787, the Congress set forth a plan to revise the Articles of Confederation. Each state except Rhode Island sent a delegate to work on the revision that summer, and they met here at Independence Hall. As they convened, they soon realized that mere revision would not be enough. A new design for the federal government emerged in the document they drafted, which today we know of as the Constitution. Almost two years later, on March 4, 1789, the new government officially took effect.

Here's the building that once housed the Second Bank of the United States.

No visit to Philadelphia would be complete without a nod to Benjamin Franklin. Seen here in statue form, Franklin was a man of character and ingenuity. As mentioned above, he helped in the creation of the Declaration of Independence, but legacy extends far beyond that. He was a polymath, a colonial equivalent of a Renaissance Man, with diverse interests and skills. Author, printer, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, satirist, musician, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat are all appropriate, if incomplete, labels for his accomplished life. He invented the lightning rod and bifocals, and many other things, but refused to patent them. Instead, he wanted to share them fro the benefit of mankind. He was instrumental in creating what would become the first public lending library. He promoted religious tolerance, finding strength in religious pluralism. He tirelessly promoted colonial unity, and served as our ambassador to France, one of our most important allies in our nation's early history. And much, much, much more. I highly recommend reading about his fascinating life! Well, it's on to the next stop for me. See you next time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Indian Ruins of Northern Arizona

Welcome to some of the various Indian ruins of northern Arizona!  With me, as a very special guest, is a beautiful lady known as Gram.  Together, we rode many miles over martian terrain, visiting several locations in northern Arizona which had the remains of peoples long since gone.

If you look just over Gram's arm, you can see a cliff in the rock face behind us.  And under that cliff there are a few remaining houses nestled into the eroded gap between rock layers.  These were just one of the many types of dwellings of a group of Native Americans we refer to today as the Sinagua, and this particular location is Walnut Canyon National Monument.

When Spanish explorers had first traversed the lands of Northern Arizona, they found a tall mountain range, which is located to the west of the present city of Flagstaff.  The explorers were amazed that there were no perennial rivers flowing from such tall peaks, and so they called the mountain range the "Sierra Sin Agua."  In Spanish, "sin" means without, and "agua" is water.  An archaeologist by the name of Harold Colton would much later grasp that label as a namesake for the pre-Columbian peoples who had inhabited Northern Arizona, calling them the Sinagua.  For sure, getting water was at times a struggle for these people!

Below you can see the remains of walls which once someone called home.  The rock formation is all limestone in the area of these cliff dwellings.  However, the middle layer where the homes actually are is a slightly different composition, one which is easier to carve out by both man and the elements.

Here you can see what the outside wall of a dwelling would look like fully intact.  The entrance was rather small, and above the entrance an even smaller hole is in the wall.  This small hole was, in effect, the chimney for their cooking and heating fires.  Natural convection would create an updraft, bringing fresh air into the dwelling, while pushing the smoke up and out of the home.

There is evidence that the Sinagua planted their crops on the mesa above their homes.  However, for water, they had to climb all the way down to the bottom of the canyon.  Needless to say, they must have been excellent climbers!  Their only break from the labor of getting water down below would come during winter, where snow deposits could be used instead.

After Walnut Canyon, Gram and I headed to a place called Sunset Crater, and on to Wupatki National Monument.  But we did stop on the way to admire this beautiful field of flowers!

This is one huge lava flow we passed by.  It was great, because I was able to smooth off the rough spots on my feet just by walking on the pumice!

Now, into Wupatki National Monument, where we found multiple Native American dwellings, including this impressive house you could see for miles!  It is called Wukoki.

Here is a closer view.  Pretty reddish orange rocks really stood out against the advancing storm clouds.

It looks like a castle from this angle!

Remember the small window in the photo above?   Well, this is the view from inside that window!  This is one of the few places you can step inside and get a feel for the space where these people lived.  Do you see any water around?  Me neither!  In this settlement, it was several miles to the nearest reliable water source.

It must have taken a long time to collect all of those rocks.  You can do a lot when you don't have TV!

Here is another set of ruins known as Lomaki.  It is suspected that the people abandoned living here sometime around 1100 AD.

These ruins were situated near a relatively small canyon.  They would grow crops in the canyon, relying on the infrequent rain water to collect in the canyons, and carry with it nutrients to help their crops grow.  However, too much water too quickly could put their crops, and their lives at risk.

It's hard to imagine that someone would just decide to plant themselves here, in the middle of unforgiving country.

But they sure built what appeared to be pretty nice houses!

And on to our final set of ruins, known as Tuzigoot.  Have you noticed that these ruins tend to have fun names?  Tuzigoot.  Wapatki.  Wukoki.  :-)  Anyway, you can see that this settlement behind me was built on a hill.  A hill would offer strategic advantages during battles, safety from flooding of the creek which was near this settlement, and, of course, a nice view.  Some things don't change.  :-)

Here I am with my beautiful travel partner.  Notice the difference in the wall structure?  Sure, it's basically the same, but the rocks here are different color from the other settlements, and different shapes.  Tuzigoot is south of Flagstaff near Sedona, so it was entirely different, and probably a lot easier living there.

That easy living probably helps to explain how big Tuzigoot was, having around 77 rooms.  Tuzigoot was also occupied longer, up until around the 1400's.

While the walls were rock, often covered with a plaster originally, the roof structure was made primarily of wood, like what you see here.  Opposite the roof is, of course, the floor, which was mainly unremarkable except for the fact that if these people had a child die young, such as an infant, they would bury the child in the floor of their home with the hopes that the spirit of that child would merge into the next child born there.  I was very careful where I stepped!

And what trip to Native American ruins would be complete without talking about maize?  ;-)  Below you can see the stone tools which the Sinagua people would have employed in grinding the maize into meal.  I know it may sound corny, but that was a mainstay of their diet!  They planted maize and other crops like squash and beans in the lands surrounding the settlement.  That's it for me, so I'll see you on my next adventure!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Welcome to Sacramento, California!  Sacramento is the capitol city of California, harboring almost half a million people in the city limits, and over two and a half million people when the total metropolitan area is counted.  Yup, it's big!  But that doesn't mean that it is a huge, concrete jungle like some large cities.  As you can see in the above photo, there are big, beautiful trees in this city.  In fact, a nickname of the town is the "City of Trees."

The love affair with the natural beauty of this place was born from the beginning.  When the Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga with his expedition team entered into this river valley back around the year 1800, he found a land with towering oak trees and cottonwoods, with wild grape vines, with clear river waters teeming with fish, with the cheerful chirping of birds, and with a floral aroma wafting through the air which was reminiscent of champagne.  The blissful experience prompted him to say “Es como el sagrado sacramento!"  This is like the Holy Sacrament!  With that sentiment, he bestowed the name Sacramento to the principle river running through the valley.

As impressive as this land was, it was not settled until around around 30-40 years later.  It wasn't a Spaniard, but rather a Swiss immigrant by the name of John Sutter who initiated the settlement of the area.  Sutter built a trading post and stockade which became known as Sutter's fort.  With business partner John Marshall, Sutter set up a saw mill, Sutter's Mill, to begin harvesting some of the great timber available.  One day at the mill in 1848, John Marshall found some loose flakes of a shiny yellow metal which changed everything.  Gold!

John Sutter and John Marshall were two of the men who sparked off the great California Gold Rush.  Despite trying to keep their find a secret, word leaked out.  Soon people were migrating to the region to make their fortune.  Recognizing the large influx of people, Sutter's son, John Sutter Jr., got together with a man named Sam Brennan and together laid out the plan for the city of Sacramento.  In February 27, 1850, the city was incorporated.

Sacramento has an impressive capitol building.  I think it looks better than the White House!

Downtown at the courthouse, lady Justice is flanked by oaks.

In 2002, Time magazine rated Sacramento as America's most ethnically and racially integrated city.  They have a large Asian population, including the decedents of many Chinese immigrants who had fled  their country back in the 1840's and 1850's due to the Opium Wars.  Below you can see the seafood section in an oriental supermarket there.  Wow!  It is quite large compared to most U.S. markets.

Let's get back to nature for a while, which is very easy to do in Sacramento.  They have an great walking path along the American River, a large tributary of the Sacramento River.

Along the walking path, wild flowers greet your eyes, and your nose.

Wild grasses, with their own type of beauty, also share the landscape with the flowers.

And speaking of flowers, Sacramento has a delightful rose garden near the heart of downtown.  I took the time to smell a few.  ;-)

Besides natural adornments, several of the houses in town were a feast for the eyes as well.  Gingerbread decor and bold paint colors make these houses inviting homes.

Even houses with more simple architecture often had eye-catching palettes.

And sometimes, far less often, it was the content of the yard, not the color of the house, which caught the eyes.  Check out this crazy, larger-that-life lawn art.  Funky!  I like the big yellow kitty.  OK, well I am off to my next adventure.  Travel on!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Welcome to Chicago!  Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. by population, and the fifth most economically powerful city in the world!  Often called "Chi-town" and "The Windy City," there are almost 2.7 million people living here.  Fortunately for me, it was not too windy on the day of my brief visit.  :-)

Besides being home to all of those people, it is also home to the oh-so-delicious Chicago-style deep dish pizza!  Buttery biscuit-like crust, thick ooey-gooey  mozzarella, with a topping of a rich tomato-ey goodness.  Yum!  Of course I had some while I was there.  Maybe it's a good thing that I don't live in Chicago, or else I might have to start calling myself Round Stanley.

Chicago got so big, not because of its delectable pizza, but because of its strategic location.  In its early history, it was a transportation hub for people and goods, thanks to a port on Lake Michigan, connection with the Mississippi River watershed, and some of the first railways.  Add in some natural resources, especially surrounding farmlands, and you've got a recipe for growth.

Chicago's got a lot of attractive architecture, making for a pleasant stroll downtown.

Pleasant indeed!  At least on a sunny, spring or summer day.  I'm not so sure I would be prepared for a Chicago windy winter of sub-zero temperatures!

Towering flowers and buildings in harmony.

I had a destination in mind for downtown, and that was the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC).  The AIC is repository to some of the world's greatest and well known art, such as American Gothic below.

Picasso's Blue Room

Besides the big-name stuff, there were just some really cool pieces, like this chimera.

Beautiful Tiffany dragonfly lampshade.  That would go so well in my house, but they refused to let me have it.

What a freaky frog/man sculpture!

This was quite the African mask.

This charming Mexican farming couple spoke to me, but not literally.  ;-)

With the sun barely peaking through the morning mist, this looks like it could be a scene from the early settlement of the United States.

These strange figurines were pretty odd.  Perhaps they were decorations, or idols, or trophies?

And if the figurines made you wonder, well, AIC had some rather funky modern art to really make your mind wonder, and wander.

Of course, not all of the art was so abstract.  Some was just pure beauty, like these ladies picking lotus blossoms.

After the art museum, I stepped out into Millennium Park, a truly beautiful public space in the heart of downtown.

The Jay Pritztker Pavilion is an outdoor amphitheater with a comfy green lawn, perfect for sprawling out a blanket for a picnic dinner while listening to Bach and Beethoven , for free, like these folks were setting up to do.  :-)

In the park, they have a number of "gates," with probably one of the most popular being the Cloud Gate, a giant stainless steel structure polished to a mirror finish.  Locals call it "the bean."  It is really cool to walk around and see the warped landscape reflected to you, and to see your own body flexed and scrunched too.  On to my next journey!