Saturday, August 17, 2019

Meadow View Trail - Etched in My Mind

Meadow View Trail

Meadow View Trail in the middle of summer is the perfect place for peaceful meditation. A small pond situated at the start is the undisputed domain of the double-crested cormorant.

The beaten track traces the forest edge, traversing the broad flank of Bergen Peak. A number of natural overlooks offers the visitor spectacular views of the expansive valley.

The pretty pathway continues to follow the woodland contour while shafts of yellow sunlight penetrate through the scattering of ponderosa pine.

The luminous atmosphere is defined by a cascade of dark shadows that create pockets of sharp contrast throughout the brilliant countryside.

Fragile wildflowers and small stands of aspen flourish in the deep ravines that flow down from the summit. Elk Ridge is the excursion’s highest point where the unobstructed vista unveils the full splendor of the Front Range Foothills.

A careful descent empties the explorer into a vast grassland enclosed by a ring of volcanic peaks. From this lower perspective, the sky becomes a dominant force dwarfing all other elements of the landscape.

As I gaze into the wilderness, I hope the next time I touch pencil to paper this picture etched in my mind will remain as sharp as when I was actually there.

A small pond at the start

Double-crested Cormorants

A pretty pathway

Flowers flourish in a ravine

Shafts of sunlight and shade

Broad flank of Bergen Peak

A luminous atmosphere

Fragile wildflowers

An expansive valley

Elk Ridge is the high point

A vast grassland

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The National Mall - Museums, Monuments and Memorials

The National Mall

A few weeks ago I taught a colored pencil drawing class in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My family tagged along so after the weekend-long workshop, we decided to extend our stay and visit the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Early Monday morning, during a severe thunderstorm that produced heavy rain and terrible flooding, we headed to Alexandria, Virginia. Upon arriving at our hotel, we hopped on the shuttle bound for Ronald Reagan Airport.

From there we boarded a subway train that carried us into the metropolis. We emerged from the darkness of the Smithsonian Stop and stumbled on a concrete jungle that was choked with chaos and confusion.

Still soaking wet from the persistent downpour, we went into the Natural History Museum first and were impressed by the lavish displays that filled the enormous halls. We examined hundreds of animal species, ancient fossils and impressive meteorites but the highlight of the collection was the astonishing Hope Diamond.

Our second stop was next door at the American History Museum where some of our country’s most compelling memorabilia is stored. The most sobering artifact we saw was the black, top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated.

After the weather cleared, we walked over to and mingled with the crowd located just across from the White House Lawn. Things got wild when a disgruntled citizen jumped over a concrete barrier and attempted to scale the big fence before a force of armed guards, police cars, motorcycle cops and horse-mounted officers appeared on the scene to take him down.

The next morning was more peaceful since we began the day at the National Gallery of Art. Once there, it didn’t take long to realize how special the collection really is as many of the world’s most famous artists are represented inside the spectacular salon.

Some unforgettable highlights from the incredible institution of art was the American Pre-Raphaelites Show, the Rembrandt Room, enormous paintings by Albert Bierstadt and an extraordinary portrait by Leonardo da Vinci.

The different galleries were arranged chronologically so by the time you walked into the Impressionism Room, that movement’s revolutionary way of painting was a radical departure from the earlier works shown in the West Building.

A short stroll across the park took us to the Air and Space Museum where the magnitude of impressive exhibits was overwhelming. The massive building housed rockets, spaceships, airplanes and scientific discoveries that inspired contemplation of the mysteries of our universe.

A strenuous trek was required to reach the base of the Washington Monument which was an imposing structure that rose straight up into the sky. Over the hill and the World War II Memorial was a wonderful, fountain-filled tribute to all veterans who fought in that war.

We continued our hike through sweltering heat and ascended the steep steps to the summit of the Lincoln Memorial where we were rewarded with breathtaking views that extended the entire length of the Mall. The reflecting pool mirrored the beautiful park of patriotism laid out below.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was especially heartrending because my father-in-law fought in that war and after he made it home, he refused to speak about his experiences over there. The statues depicting a platoon of American soldiers wearing raincoats while marching through dense vegetation was a powerful expression of courage under fire.

Although we covered lots of ground during our vacation, two days just wasn’t enough time as we didn’t see the Jefferson Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial or the Martin Luther King Memorial. We also missed Arlington National Cemetery and the East Building of the Art Gallery so I’m hoping that someday we’ll be able to return for another visit.

West Building of the National Art Gallery

The White House

Reflecting Pool

The Washington Monument

U.S. Grant Memorial in front of the U.S. Capitol

Inside the Natural History Museum

The World War II Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial

Inside the Lincoln Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was heartrending

Statues of American Soldiers at Korean War Memorial

A beautiful park of patriotism

Monday, July 29, 2019

Harpers Ferry - The Epicenter of American History

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Established in 1763, the town was a vital hub situated at the epicenter of American History concerning transportation, industry, slavery and the Civil War.

Thomas Jefferson visited the area in 1783 and upon seeing the dramatic gap in the mountains, he declared “the passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.” George Washington traveled there in 1794 and was impressed by the rugged beauty of the isolated outpost.

Washington eventually chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a new national armory and by 1796 the U.S. military arsenal was established. Merchants, mechanics and immigrants flocked to the western Virginia township because of the commerce generated by the machine shops and rifle works factories.

Probably the most famous event in the town’s rich history was abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the armory in 1859. Brown was vehemently opposed to slavery and armed with weapons taken from the federal arsenal, he intended to lead a slave revolt against the southern states.

Brown and his band of sympathizers took the fort by force but they weren’t able to hold it for long because a team of U.S. Marines, led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the compound and recaptured the facility. Brown was subsequently found guilty of treason and executed by hanging just up the road in Charles Town.

The raid and its tragic results captivated the nation while sparking a heated debate over the issue of slavery, catapulting the United States into a bloody Civil War. Once Virginia seceded from the Union, Confederate militia attacked the vulnerable armory.

Union troops stationed there were overwhelmed so they fled for Washington while burning the arsenal to the ground on the way out. Harpers Ferry sits on a low flood plain surrounded by towering heights so its position was impossible to defend and being on the line between North and South, the town was horribly ravaged by the conflict.

Possession of this strategic hotspot was difficult to maintain as opposing forces always bombarded it from the nearby mountaintops. Control of the town changed hands fourteen times and most of its homes and buildings were destroyed during the sieges.

The lone exception was Saint Peters Church which flew a British flag from its spire. Both sides respected this sign of neutrality so it survived the four years of war unscathed while serving as a field hospital and conducting Roman Catholic mass.

Today, echoes from the sleepy village’s violent past are barely audible but visual reminders are scattered everywhere down in the lower historic district. It’s fascinating to explore a place that’s shaped by such compelling stories and spectacular wilderness scenery.

The stoic landscape is brimming with lush greenery as lazy waterways meander through the melancholy mountains. While I enjoyed my visit to the East very much with its grand history, temperate climate and lush ecosystem, I still prefer to wander in the wide open West.

At the epicenter of American History

The confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah

Pedestrian bridge over the Potomac

From the Appalachian Trail

A fascinating place to explore

Railroad bridge over the Potomac

Saint Peters Roman Catholic Church

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A sleepy village

Most of the town was destroyed during the Civil War

Saint Peters survived unscathed

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Wild Animal Sanctuary - A Haven of Hope

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Out on Colorado’s eastern plains, lions, tigers, bears and wolves roam majestically across the rolling prairie. Viewing the wonderful setting from high ground is like discovering a peaceable kingdom located in the North American Serengeti.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is an astonishing preserve that exists to rescue and provide a permanent home for wild animals that have been abused, abandoned, displaced or neglected. Most of the inhabitants were born in captivity and confiscated by law from people who tried to keep a large carnivore as a pet.

Because the refugees were confined to backyards, basements or garages, often in deplorable conditions, they can never be released into the wild again but this animal asylum is the next best thing. While visiting TWAS it becomes obvious that the animals’ welfare is the number one priority.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado is the largest carnivore shelter in the world. The magnificent menagerie houses over 500 creatures in 80 separate enclosures built across 789 acres of open grassland.

This remarkable refuge currently includes 70 African lions, 85 tigers, 156 black bears, 43 grizzly bears, 20 wolves, 12 mountain lions, 5 leopards and 2 jaguars. The complex also cares for coyotes, bobcats, lynx, fox, porcupines, raccoons, ostriches, emus and a camel.

What makes TWAS different from traditional zoological facilities is its unique viewing platforms. An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures and all visitors are confined to the special bridge, leaving the animals undisturbed.

Animals are naturally territorial so when a stranger encroaches on their land, they react instinctively by either attacking the intruder or running away. This instinctive reaction is known as “Fight or Flight”.

Animals at a regular zoo have neither option as they can’t engage aggressively or get away. The captives are stressed from being sandwiched between crowds of onlookers and the backs of their enclosures.

That anxiety causes the animals to behave in agitated and unnatural ways but TWAS was designed to alleviate that pressure. Carnivores don’t consider the sky to be territory therefore people on the elevated walkways are not considered a threat.

The animals certainly seem at ease despite the visitor's presence looming above. They’re so content that it’s fascinating to observe them while they eat, sleep and play.

All of the habitats have manmade, underground dens that provide shelter from inclement weather. Most of the tunnels go back 30 to 50 feet and maintain a stable temperature of 60 degrees year-round so the animals love them.

If you make the trek out to this remote preserve hoping to see multitudes of exotic animals up close, you’ll be disappointed. Many of the enclosures appear vacant because the creatures are so reclusive, preferring to disappear into the tall grass or deep caves.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary wasn’t created to cater to the curious public. The Wild Animal Sanctuary was conceived as a haven of hope for mistreated animals where they can recover and rehabilitate in peace and comfort for the rest of their lives.

Marble fox

Arctic fox

A North American Serengeti

African lion

Grizzly bear

A Peaceable Kingdom

The animals seem at ease

One of the Grizzly bear enclosures


The largest carnivore shelter in the world

Timber wolf

Black bear

A place to recover and rehabilitate

An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures

The Eurasian collared-dove is a symbol of peace and hope