Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bloomin’ Cactus at Saguaro National Park
As part of a mini-Arizona state park tour, we visited Saguaro National Park (west side).  This was our second visit, and I am just so taken with these cacti.  They don’t grow in New Mexico, so I have to get my “fix” when we’re in Arizona. We hadn’t planned it, but it turns out we were there when the cacti were blooming – I never knew these particular cacti bloomed!  We all learn something new every day, if we’re lucky, and this was a wonderful learning experience.
Thorny Brilliance
Before we get to the saguaro, there were a couple of other cacti also in bloom.  This one is called a cholla  - the thorns on this cactus almost seem magnetic.  If you get too close to the plant, the thorns sort of seem to leap off the plant and onto you!  Ouch!
Desert Spring Flowers
These blooms can be found on another type of cactus – the prickly pear cactus.  I like this image because it sort of starts out as a pinkish bloom and then changes to yellow.  The thorns on this cactus are a bit friendlier – it doesn’t jump off the plant at you!
Perched on a Blossom
And, now we move to the start of this blog post – the saguaro cactus!  I felt very lucky to have captured this image.  This bird (perhaps some sort of mourning dove) just perched on top of the blossoms – the thorns of the cactus would have been too painful.
Blooming on the Side
Here’s a close-up of a saguaro bloom.  I was so enchanted by this, as I had never seen one bloom before.  Notice how they bloom off the sort of spines on the plant.
Dead Saguaro Bark
I don’t know if the “skin” of the cactus is actually called bark, but that’s what I’m calling it.  All good things must come to an end, and when a saguaro cactus dies, this is what the bark looks like – and below, check out what the inside of a dead saguaro cactus looks like…
Standing Dead Saguaro
Three Branched Blooms
A saguaro cactus begins as a sort of tube plant, and doesn’t form “branches” until the cactus is around 50 – 60 years old (they can live to be over 150 years old!).  Here’s a cactus that has 3 branches starting and each one of them has blooms on it – how wonderful!

Desert Blooms
In May, we visited a state park in southwest New Mexico that had several beautiful blooms on display as a springtime show –
Orange Desert Bloom
This vibrant, warm color seems very appropriate for the desert.  The details in the bloom are really quite lovely.
Yellow and Red
This bloom had the longest stamens!  I love the way they sort of create the idea of bursting fireworks or something similar in this image.
Busy Bee
I’m not really sure if this is a bee or some other sort of bug, but he was so interested in this gaillardia bloom!
Skinny Red
This bloom is so interesting – the long stems do eventually get covered with some tiny green leaves/thorns, but they aren’t yet green in the image.
Field of Daisies
It does seem strange to think I’d come across a patch of daisies growing in a desert environment, but here you go!
Desert Daisy
Finally, here’s a great purple daisy!  I don’t know if it’s really a daisy, but it sure does look like one!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Drive Back to Today
We drove back from Machu Picchu taking a route that took us up thru the Andes on a country road.  I couldn’t think of a better way to end this memorable trip…
Life in the Mountains
As we drove along, we came across farms every so often.  Altho I’m sure it’s a hard life, farming in the Andes, one of the perks is living in this beautiful country.
Snow Caps
We reached elevations of over 12,000 feet, where the air was crisp and almost cool, altho it was still summer in South America.
High Mountain Meadow
The blues are strikingly blue and, as you can see, the greens are quite vivid as well.  What a peaceful scene.
Mountain Top
Mountains tend to create their own weather, and I really love the way the clouds tend to wrap around the peaks.
Sun is Setting
As we drove back to our hotel for our last night of this journey, we were treated to a lovely, gentle sunset.

Peruvian Weavers
On the way back from Machu Picchu, we stopped at a small village and visited some weavers.  It was interesting to see them shear, wash, dye and then weave the alpaca wool.  Needless to say, some purchases were made at the end of our visit here!
Ready for Close Up
The alpacas that supply the wool seemed to be quite the characters!
There are several steps in the process of going from alpacas to finished product.  Take a look…..
Shearing the Wool
Washing the Wool
Spinning Wool
After the first three steps of shearing, washing and spinning the wool, the wool is then dyed. 
Dying Sources
The wool is dyed using natural sources, nuts, grains, flowers, etc. 
Hand Dyed
Here are some of the natural items that one of the women crushed into her hand with an added a bit of water.
Christmas Colors
Here are a couple of the skeins of wool, dyed to the colors wanted.
Hand Weaving
And, finally the wool has dried and is now being weaved into a lovely finished item – this will be a table runner, but they offered scarves, hats and sweaters.

Machu Picchu – The Next Morning
The next morning, we decided to tackle Machu Picchu again, to see what we missed our first day.  Altho it felt like we saw it all the afternoon before, we soon discovered that there was a lot more – this morning we primarily focused on what I called the lower part of the ruins.  This is a long post, but hopefully, you’ll find it worthwhile.
Ancient Neighborhood
Just as a brief reminder, this is sort of where we left off yesterday.  This is a bigger, broader view of the ruins that haven’t been addressed in any way.  There’s a lot of texture going on that appeals to me.
Steps Up
This image shows you what were considered steps from one terrace level to the next.  I would say these were the more rustic variety, altho some might consider all aspects of these ruins rustic!
Interior Architecture
This piece of sculpted structure was found on an interior wall.  There is a hole that was somehow cut in the center (see image below) – amazing considering the lack of tools that the Incan people had.  No one really knows what this was used for – part of a door hinge, holder for a torch, or ?????
Down Looking Up
Llama Changing Address
These are a couple of llamas that we saw this morning.  The people now responsible for Machu Picchu did try to have both llamas and alpacas up at Machu Picchu, but the alpacas didn’t do well here due to the climate up here, so that now only the llamas are left.  We saw these two llamas (see above and below) on a terrace above a bit ago, but as we were exploring this lower area, they decided to change location and passed us by as they changed their address!
Out for a Stroll
Temple of 3 Windows thru the Window
One of the things that I loved about Machu Picchu from a photographer’s perspective were the cool shots that existed by shooting thru doors and windows.  This was no exception – looking thru a window at a portion of the Temple of 3 Windows.
Skinny Stairs
Another great photographic feature at Machu Picchu is the various stairways, and there are lots of them!  This one is really skinny.  I don’t think this one actually went anywhere, and was sort of closed to us exploring it.  But, it does make
a pretty cool photo!

Ancient Alter
We were told this was most likely some sort of alter.  It was in a sort of inside/outside area and felt like a sort of quiet reflective place…..as long as the alter wasn’t used for sacrifices!
Temple of 3 Windows
This is the temple that you saw a few images ago thru a window of another structure.  It’s not common at all to see that number of windows lined up next to each other in any building here.
Stairs out of Solid Rock
These stairs are one of the most amazing things here at Machu Picchu.  They look really smoothed out.  They are just sort of in the middle of a rock (the rock they were carved out of).  Again, how did the Inca’s do this without any of the tools you’d typically need for something like this.
Urubamba River below Ruins
As I wandered thru the ruins, I noticed that in this one place I could see the Urubamba River on both sides of the river as it flows thru the town of Agua Calientes.  You can see part of the ruins, the Andes, the river and a teensy bit of the town (look toward the lower right of the image).
The Road to Machu Picchu
These little strips of light color in the green are parts of the winding road that we took (in a bus) up to and down from Machu Picchu.  I included this to give you a better perspective about how remote it truly is.  Some folks hike up this way (it’s different from the 4-day hike).  There are rustic stairs/steps that lead up from one “strip” to the other.
Stairway to Floor 2
I mentioned before that some of the buildings did have 2 floors.  Here are the remains of one of those buildings, and you can see the remnants of an ancient stairway to the second floor.  I can’t really quite image how the second floor “worked” way back then – did it just surround the first floor (sort of like an ancient loft area around the perimeter of the walls) or did they put in a complete second floor?  It may be deemed to be a mystery for all time.
Better View of City Gate
On the way out of Machu Picchu, I looked up and could see the city gate much clearer this morning.  Somehow, it feels so appropriate that the very first entry to Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham back in 1911 is our last view of this magnificent piece of history.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Machu Picchu – A Rainy Afternoon – Part II
We continued our walk thru the ruins of Machu Picchu as the weather continued to try to clear…..
Multiple Doorways
At this point, we were walking down toward the factory house area of the ruin.  I happened to notice this great image waiting for me to snap it – looking thru a number of doorways until you are finally looking at a niche in the wall.  I also love our first look at a blue sky!
Mimic the Shape
I love this scene.  The Inca’s apparently built this wall at the far end of the city to mimic the shape of the mountain behind it.  How nice that the clouds were lifting enough to actually get to see that mountain!
Ruins in the Andes
There are a couple of interesting things going on in this image.  One is the view that was just outside the door to this building – I wonder if the Inca’s noticed that.  The other is the upper set of windows in the building ruin.  A number of the buildings in the city did have second floors, altho I don’t know if this was one of them.
City Gate
When Hiram Bingham first entered Machu Picchu he did so from what is called the Gate to the City.  You can see the highest guard house in the lower right corner of the image.  The gate (not a formal gate as we think of it today) is up above that guard house and to the left.  It is somewhat difficult to see – but know it is still there.  One other interesting note is that the people who chose to take the 4-day hike from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu will enter the city ruins from this gate.  The gate is on the mountain that is known as Machu Picchu (the city was named after the mountain).
Peeking Bunny
Just because this is an ancient ruin, that doesn’t mean nothing is living there now.  One of the residents is this bunny, lying low and peeking out from under a structure.
Sun in the Mist
Here’s an image that allows us to see the terracing that’s in place in the city.  You can start to better see more of the Andes peaks surrounding Machu Picchu.  It’s difficult to imagine how the ancient Inca’s managed to get all the stones used to build the city from the different mountains surrounding them.  The mountain in the foreground (the green one) is called Wynapicchu.  I think it means something like the “old” mountain.  This is the mountain that people hike up in the morning to see the sun come over the mountain peaks and light up the city.  They hike up the spine of the mountain, which you can see in the middle of that mountain.  One sad piece of news that we heard about while we were there was that a woman doing the sunrise hike up the spine a few weeks before our visit, fell off the mountain and unfortunately, was killed.  We did not do this hike.
The Ruins
We ended the day today with this look at some ruins that are not in as good shape as everything we had seen earlier.  I really like the absolute rustic look to this part of the city.  More to see tomorrow!

Machu Picchu – A Rainy Afternoon
In 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham published the finding of what came to be considered the “lost city” of the Incas, Machu Picchu.  Situated high up in the Andes Mountains, from a defensive perspective, it was in a perfect location.  What is amazing about these ruins was that the Inca’s conquerors, the Spanish, never made it to Machu Picchu, and may have never even known about it.  That means, they never destroyed what the Incas built, and what was found, and still exists.
Guard House with Roof
As we made the initial climb to see an overall view of Machu Picchu, we came across several of these types of structures.  They were the guard houses for the original entryway into Machu Picchu back during Inca times.
Ancient Maze
No, this really isn’t a maze, but it sort of looked like one to me.  This is only one part of the entire city, but look at the intricate layout of the buildings or rooms within a larger building.
Village with a View
This was one of the first views of Machu Picchu from higher up.  We weren’t as high up as one could possibly get, but it was as high as I could get!  You can see from this image how the city is set right in the Andes Mountains.  This was taken between raindrops, so the clouds are swirling around us and the city.
Look Down on the Guard Houses
From this vantage point, you can see more of the guard houses and some of the terraces throughout and around Machu Picchu.  Altho the stonework dates back to the Inca’s, I’m fairly certain the thatched roofs are replacements.
Sun Peeking Thru
As the afternoon wore on, the sun began to peek thru and replaced some of the rain.  In this image, we’re looking down on a stone patio that is next to the main square.  The main square is off to the right of this image.  Above the larger stone patio, you can see a smaller one higher up (about 33 stairs higher, by the way).  On that upper patio is a sun dial that was used by the Inca’s.
Sunshine and Rainbow
I stood on the lower, larger stone patio while the rest of the group climbed the 33 stairs to the sun dial.  As the sun peeked out while some showers, I thought perhaps conditions might be right to see a rainbow.  And, look what I found!  The rainbow nicely crowns the tree growing in the main square!  I sent this image to the nurse who gave us our immunizations we needed for this trip, and she said she’s seen Machu Picchu in person or via photos many, many times, but she had never seen a rainbow there!  I really felt doubly lucky when I heard that!
Clouds Lifting
I like this image for a few reasons.  First, I love how the Andes are now starting to be visible with the rain clouds being burned off by the sun.  It creates a more realistic image of what we saw.  I also like the way you can get a much better idea of how steep it is in Machu Picchu.  People asked me how steep it was there….well, take a look at this image and you’ll know the answer!
Mountain Setting
Again, I’m standing on that stone patio, this time looking across the main square at what were considered factory houses and the industrial zone of the city.  I love the clouds wisping around.  More to come in part 2 of this visit –