Great Blue Heron at Watts Mill Waterfall

   A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

I’ve driven by the Watts Mill Historic Site a thousand times. Although it’s somewhat hidden,  it’s across from where I bought groceries for many years and down the street from my stylist’s former salon. I’d picked up my husband many times at the nearby car dealer when he was getting his car serviced. Favorite restaurants were nearby. How could I have missed this idyllic spot? I even knew about it. I just didn’t realize how peaceful and lovely it would be, nestled as it is among shopping centers and car dealerships.

My friend Lynn and I were on a photography expedition, and she pulled into the parking lot to check out the falls for a photography opportunity. We’ve had a lot of rain, so the water was really flowing.

The park, at 103rd and State Line, was a campsite for people heading out on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. The area that is now a park was the site of gristmill, built in 1832, known as Watts Mill (first known as Fitzhugh’s Mill), and then Watts Mill. The park is situated on the banks of Indian Creek where the creek flows across flat rocks and tumbles over a waterfall. This location was dedicated June 10, 1974, as a historic site.

Also enjoying the creek were plenty of Canada geese and mallard ducks, as well as songbirds.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America as well as the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Environment, History, Kansas City

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise has retreated into his shell as a group of tourists gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands  to learn more about this magnificent creature. It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots.  Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

 

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

 

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 

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It’s Tea Time at Charleston Tea Plantation

A sign shows the distance to other parts of the world where tea plants are grown.

A sign shows the distance to other parts of the world where tea plants are grown.

What sounds perfect on a rainy chilly day?  Hot tea!  We’d set out from Kiawah Island in late February (2015) to visit some notable outdoor sites in Charleston, South Carolina, but the morning rain persisted so we saw little more than gift shops (where we could stay dry).  As we returned to Kiawah, we turned off at the Charleston Tea Plantation, which is about twenty miles south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island. We could stay dry in a trolley as we rode around the plantation.  And there was plenty of free hot tea in the gift shop!

Guests tour the Charleston Tea Plantation on one of two trolleys. This one was purchased from the Kentucky Derby city of Louisville, Kentucky, and still retains its name of "Man of War," a famous race horse.

Guests tour the Charleston Tea Plantation on one of two trolleys. This one was purchased from the Kentucky Derby city of Louisville, Kentucky, and still retains its name of “Man of War,” a famous race horse.

It was overcast and a little misty when we arrived, but no umbrellas were required.   My hair was already frizzed out by now anyway.  According to the plantation’s website, “Wadmalaw Island is in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry…Wadmalaw provides the perfect environment for propagating tea. With its sandy soils, sub-tropical climate and average rainfall of 52 inches per year, Wadmalaw possess idyllic conditions for the Camellia Sinensis plant. This plant is currently used to produce both black and green teas and exists in over 320 varieties on the 127 acre grounds of the Charleston Tea Plantation.”

Here are two kinds of American Classic Tea -- Charleston Breakfast Tea and Governor Gray, flavored with bergamot, one of my favorites.

Here are two kinds of American Classic Tea — Charleston Breakfast Tea and Governor Gray, flavored with bergamot, one of my favorites.

Owned by the Bigelow Tea Company, the plantation grows the tea sold under the brand name American Classic Tea. The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only working tea plantation in North America and is open to the public for tours of the grounds and factory and for hosting private events. Every year the plantation also hosts the First Flush Festival celebrating the beginning of the harvest season.  The name, First Flush, means the new leaves that are beginning to grow on the tea plant bushes that are ready to be harvested for production.

The tea Plant, Camellia sinensis, needs a lot of moisture, but doesn't like wet roots, so good sources of water, as well as good drainage are required to keep the plants healthy.

The tea Plant, Camellia sinensis, needs a lot of moisture, but doesn’t like wet roots, so good sources of water, as well as good drainage are required to keep the plants healthy.

Since 1987, the American Classic Tea brand of the Charleston Tea Plantation has been the official tea of the White House.

Plenty of rain is what Camellia sinensis likes, so at least the tea plants were happy!  There were several types of hot tea waiting for us to try, which we happily drank while waiting for our $10 trolley ride. Our trolley was called “Man of War,” named after the famous horse. Our driver told us that the plantation bought the trolley on ebay from the city of Louisville, the Kentucky Derby town.  We stopped along the way at the state-of-the-art greenhouse, where tea plant propagation takes place. The tour is narrated in a recording by William Barclay Hall, founder of American Classic Tea and world renowned Tea Taster, as well as by the very knowledgeable driver.  The plantation was only started in 1960, although other southern plantations had tried to grow tea plants previously.

The leaves are processed at the plantation factory, but the final product is packaged in Connecticut. We were there during the off-season, so we didn’t see any harvesting or processing.

Experimental tea plants at Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina.

Experimental tea plants at Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina.

From Wikipedia:  “In 1799, French botanist, Francois Andre Michaux brought the Camellia Sinensis  plant to the United States and gave it to Henry Middleton. They planted the tea at Middleton’s plantation. The tea seemed to thrive in areas like Charleston and Georgetown.  It took many attempts by multiple companies and individuals to successfully establish a tea company without an early failure. These failures included plantations in Georgetown, Greenville and Summerville, the longest of which lasted less than twenty years. The Thomas J Lipton Company decided to give it a try.  In 1960, they bought the failing tea plantation in Summerville and in 1963 they moved out to Wadmalaw Island  and operated a research station for about twenty-five years. 

You can't visit the Charleston Tea Plantation without taking home some tea! The plantation website also links to shops where the tea is sold.

You can’t visit the Charleston Tea Plantation without taking home some tea! The plantation website also links to shops where the tea is sold.

The Charleston Tea Plantation, as it is known today, was established in 1987 when Mack Fleming and William (Bill) Barclay Hall bought the land and the research station from the Lipton Company. Mack Fleming, a horticultural professor, had been running the plantation for the Lipton Company and Bill Hall was a third generation tea tester from England.  Along with establishing the plantation, they created the American Classic Tea brand. ”  The R.C. Bigelow Company in Connecticut bought the plantation about a decade ago.

Charles Tea Plantation Website.

Wikipedia: Charleston Tea Plantation

Bigelow Tea Company.

Health and Beauty Tips Using Tea!

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The Mystery of The Amber Room

One of the sights I most wanted to see on a visit in July 2014 to St. Petersburg, Russia,  was the reconstructed Amber Room in Catherine Palace.

The original Amber Room was stolen by the Nazis in 1941, but the room was painstakingly reconstructed from black and white photographs and re-installed in 2003, with funds from German patrons.

It’s a magnificent room, and I wish I could have lingered longer.  My husband and I were on a tour, and we moved quickly through the beautiful rooms of the splendid Catherine Palace.  I had just enough time to take the above photo of a corner of The Amber Room, which shows how the pieces of amber are fitted together.

The Amber Room was on a long list of artworks that Adolph Hitler wanted looted from throughout Europe for a Third Reich Art Museum.  In 1941, the Nazis dismantled and removed  The Amber Room from Catherine Palace in the town of Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. They trashed most of what was left of the Catherine Palace, which has also been restored with some work left to be done.

Although one mosaic from the Amber Room turned up at auction and was used to help in the reconstruction, the rest of the room hasn’t been seen since. Art experts fear that the delicate pieces of the room didn’t survive. Below is a story about a man who is hot on its trail. I hope he finds the magnificent Amber Room.

Guard at Catherine Palace, Russia Post Cards
Guard at the Catherine Palace.
Welcome to Catherine Palace, Russia Poster
Military Band Greets Visitors to Catherine Palace.

 

Watch this National Geographic Video about the History of The Amber Room.

Wikipedia: About the Amber Room.

German pensioner needs drill to dig for Nazi-looted Amber Room

German Pensioner Needs Drill to Dig for Nazi-looted Amber Room

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) – A pensioner has started digging in Germany’s western Ruhr region for the Amber Room, a priceless work of art looted by Nazis from the Soviet Union during World War Two and missing for 70 years, but says he needs a new drill to help him.

Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Amber Room was an ornate chamber made of amber panels given to Czar Peter the Great by Prussia’s Friedrich Wilhelm I in 1716.

German troops stole the treasure chamber from a palace near St Petersburg in 1941 and took it to Koenigsberg, now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, before it disappeared.

Conspiracy theories abound about the whereabouts of what some say is the world’s most valuable piece of lost art. Some historians think it was destroyed in the war, others say Germans smuggled it to safety.

Now 68-year-old pensioner Karl-Heinz Kleine says he thinks the chamber is hidden under the town of Wuppertal, deep in western Germany’s industrial Ruhr area.

After analyzing the evidence, Kleine has concluded that Erich Koch, who was the Nazis’ chief administrator in East Prussia, may have secretly dispatched it to his home town.

“Wuppertal has a large number of tunnels and bunkers which have not yet been searched for the Amber Room. We have started looking in possible hiding places here,” Kleine said.

“But the search is very costly. We need helpers, special equipment and money,” Kleine told Reuters, adding that a building firm which had lent him a drill had asked for it back.

“I only have a small pension, a new machine is too expensive for me. But whoever helps will get his share of the Amber Room when we find it,” he told Reuters.

“I am optimistic. I just need the tools, then it could go quickly,” he said.

Even Communist East Germany’s loathed Stasi secret police tried and failed to find the Amber Room. Hobby treasure hunters have launched expensive searches for it across Germany, from lake bottoms to mines in the eastern Ore Mountains. But in vain.

Historians say Erich Koch, convicted of war crimes by a Polish court, amassed a hoard of looted art and had it transported west from Koenigsberg in the final months of the war as the Soviet forces drew closer.

Russian craftsmen, helped by German funds, have recreated a replica of the Amber Room at the Catherine Palace from where the original was stolen.

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The Rainmaker in San Diego

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  Mark Twain made famous this quote by his writer friend Charles Dudley Warner.

According to an account in Wikipedia, the citizens of San Diego so appreciated Warner’s flattering description of their city in his book, Our Italy, that they named three consecutive streets in the Point Loma neighborhood after him: Charles Street, Dudley Street, and Warner Street.

Interestingly, San Diego leaders later proved Dudley’s quote wrong by actually hiring someone to change their weather.  In 1915, the San Diego area was suffering a drought.  They asked Charles Mallory Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam Reservoir. Hatfield, who was from the San Diego area, had already achieved some acclaim for bringing rain to other areas, including Los Angeles. Hatfield was a “pluviculturist,” a fancy term for rainmaker.  By 1902, he had created a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that, he claimed, attracted rain. (He took this recipe to the grave.) Hatfield called himself a “moisture accelerator.”

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California's drought.

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California’s drought.

A Kansas native, but raised in California, Hatfield traveled western North America promising to bring rain to areas suffering a drought.  One of his biggest “successes” was San Diego, although he didn’t get paid because he “created” too much rain and was lucky he didn’t have to pay for damages.  Hatfield was hired by the city to fill the reservoir, which was only a third full.  Not long after he set up his apparatus filled with his secret chemical connection, it began to rain, and eventually the reservoir was filled  to overflowing and other areas flooded.  At least 20 people were drowned.

It’s likely the rain wasn’t the result of Hatfield’s efforts, but it was certainly a coincidence that more rain fell than usual.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rain is most likely in November through March, with January, on average, measuring 2.28 inches.  NOAA didn’t mention January 1916 as being particularly rainy, though. When I visited my daughter in Huntington Beach, California, in January 2010, we had several days of perfect weather during which we watched a surfing competition and then a couple of days of really hard rain and high winds, something I’m no stranger to in Kansas, but golly, I came to California for the sun!  There was even a small tornado on the beach, which flipped over a car. (Click the link to my “Outgunned” post at the bottom of this post to see surfing competition photos.)

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in january 2010.

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in January 2010.

From the text associated with the YouTube video above about Charles Mallory Hatfield: “In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, approached Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam reservoir. Hatfield offered to produce rain for free, then charge $1,000 per inch ($393.7 per centimetre) for between forty to fifty inches (1.02 to 1.27 m) and free again over fifty inches (1.27 m). The council voted four to one for a $10,000 fee, payable when the reservoir was filled. Hatfield, with his brother, built a 20-foot (6 m) tower beside Lake Morena and was ready early in the New Year.

On January 5, 1916 heavy rain began – and grew gradually heavier day by day. Dry riverbeds filled to the point of flooding. Worsening floods destroyed bridges, marooned trains and cut phone cables – not to mention flooding homes and farms. Two dams, Sweetwater Dam and one at Lower Otay Lake, overflowed. Rain stopped January 20 but resumed two days later. On January 27 Lower Otay Dam broke, increasing the devastation and reportedly causing about 20 deaths (accounts vary on the exact number).”

Despite Hatfield’s flood, San Diego is said to have one of the most ideal climates in the world.  When I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in the San Diego area in the 1920s, I took an interest in the area’s history.  My grandfather Jack Sherman was a civil engineer surveying projects there, including orchards. My grandparents left California when my father and his two sisters were still young, returning to the Sturgis, South Dakota, where my grandmother’s parents owned a hotel. My grandmother missed home and her mother was sick, but when I first heard about that, I thought, leave sunny southern California, hmmm?  They had good reasons to leave. In addition to my maternal great-grandmother’s poor health, my grandparents’ Escondido house had burned down after a worker knocked over a lantern, but the Black Hills of South Dakota are cold! Of course, had they stayed, my parents wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be telling this story.
My blog post on the Surfing Competition called “Outgunned.” My lens envy.
Wikipedia History of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
San Diego History Journal Biography of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
Charles Hatfield is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Southern California Tornado in January 2010.

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Filed under Environment, History, Journalism, Life

2014 in review

Thank you all for stopping by.  Happy New Year!  Hope to see you in 2015! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Have a Meowy Christmas and a Tail Wagging New Year!

This Gingerbread House, by pastry chef Greg Connolly, resembles the Wayside Waifs building with its characteristic silo.  It greets visitors, staff and volunteers who come to Wayside Waifs.

This Gingerbread House, by pastry chef Greg Connolly, resembles the Wayside Waifs building with its characteristic silo. It greets visitors, staff and volunteers who come to Wayside Waifs.

Greg Connolly, a pastry chef, created and donated this cute gingerbread house to Wayside Waifs, where it is displayed in the entry hall for the Christmas season. Wayside Waifs is a no-kill animal shelter in Kansas City, Missouri.

The house shows a cookie squirrel on Wayside Waifs’ signature silo rooftop. Along the dogbone fence, written in the snow in yellow, is “Fleas Navidad.”  Don’t miss the fire hydrant, and look for the dogs wearing Christmas sweaters and the grinning snowmen in the frosty yard.  Inside, I’m sure there are kitties tucked in bed, waiting for Santa to bring a jingle ball.

From the Wayside Waifs website: “Wayside Waifs is committed to finding homes for all adoptable pets. Wayside is the largest pet adoption center in Kansas City, placing over 5,400 animals each year in loving forever homes. Wayside does not euthanize adoptable animals, and there are no time limits for animals in our care. Only animals suffering from significant medical issues or those that pose a danger are humanely euthanized. Wayside Waifs is proud to be a part of Kansas City’s no kill community.”

UPDATE:  Here’s a video of puppies enjoying this gingerbread house.

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