Category Archives: Photography

Have a Nice Trip

View From Bartolome Peak in The Galapagos Islands Poster

With a newly broken toe, I  walked a long trail and climbed 374 steps to the summit of Bartolome Island, which is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering obelisk that rises from the shore and is the best known landmark in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. I’d broken my toe when I slipped on a wet boat deck, exhausted from snorkeling in deep water, but I wasn’t going to miss this view even though a storm was rolling in. It started to rainhard as our group made its way down.  Amazingly my cameras weren’t damaged. My son took pity on me and carried my heavier camera, and we both protected them as best we could under our shirts. We’d left the camera bags in the boat.

 

Photographs are powerful souvenirs from trips. When we look at a photo that we’ve taken, we remember so much more than what the photograph seems to reveal.  We can relieve the whole experience.

We remember the people we traveled with, even meals we ate that day, the weather, and in my case, the mishaps that occurred while I was taking the photos.  Sometimes, it’s easier to remember the injuries than the many more times I escaped unscathed.   Anyway, I’m not complaining, because every bug bite, black eye, bruise, scraped knee and broken bone was worth it.  I’m lucky I didn’t fall from a cliff or attacked by a wild animal, as has happened to some photographers when they were engrossed in taking a photograph. I’ve had some close calls, such as encountering a tiger snake in Tasmania, Australia, while my friends and I were on a walk. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see and photograph so many wonderful places, animals and people.

 

Surfer at Sunset on Kauai Beach, Niihau on Horizon Poster

As we were driving along a highway in Kauai, Hawaii, my husband pointed out the surfers on this beach, so we stopped, where I took a lot of photographs, including this fabulous sunset over Niihau Island. Afterward, as I was climbing up the rocks to the parking lot, holding a camera in each hand with the straps wrapped around my wrists, I lost my balance and fell on my face. I got a black eye. But I saved my cameras! And look at this photo!

Apricot Hybrid Tea Rose With Honeybee Photo Print

I was so intent on photographing roses at the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden during the Texas Rose Festival that I didn’t notice tiny ants crawling over my bare toes in sandals. The ants looked harmless, but they were fire ants. I brushed them off, but it was too late. Wow, their tiny stings hurt for days! Now I know why Texans favor cowboy boots. Cowboy boots are not just for riding horses.

Galapagos Islands Tourists at Tortoise Sanctuary Postcard

Look how smart these tourists are wearing their rubber boots as they listen to their guide talk about giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. You can see a giant tortoise in the background on the right. We had just arrived on the Galapagos Islands. It was hot, and I decided against wearing any boots. I thought I’d just wash my flip-flop-clad feet if I stepped into mud. But mud wasn’t the only hazard. As I stood on a trail, I saw tiny ants crawling over my toes. Yes, fire ants again! They’ve invaded the Galapagos Islands! They stung me, and I had to deal with that pain plus sun-burned feet. (And later sun-burned shoulders, too.)

Machu Picchu Overlook, Peru Poster

This is the most iconic view of Machu Picchu in Peru. Even though I took a bus up a steep hill to the entrance, there were a lot of steps to reach this point. Normally, I could have easily walked it, but I was still weak from acute altitude sickness in Cusco, which is at an elevation of 11,152 feet. It was a relief to come down to 7,970 feet at Machu Picchu. I happy to make the journey to this magnificent place, even though I felt so weak. Somehow I managed to take a lot of photos!

Snow Geese Taking off at Squaw Creek Refuge Poster

I have a scar on my knee from scraping my knee when I stepped into a hole at Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge in Mound City, Missouri. I was hurrying to a viewing stand, not paying attention, and found myself on the ground. “Are you ok,” my friend asked as she helped me up. “More importantly, are your cameras ok?” she joked. My knee was scuffed up, but my cameras were fine! We were there to see the more than a million snow geese that visit the refuge as they migrate, shown in my photograph here. Seeing and hearing the rush of those birds as they lifted en masse into the air was a magnificent experience, worth the pain, although next time I’ll be more careful when I walk!

Bison Cow in Flint Hills, Kansas Postcard

I got scratched by some dried weeds when I took this photograph of a bison cow at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. (There was a tall fence between us, so no danger from the bison.) I thought the scratches were all that happened to me until a week later I felt what I thought was a scab on the back of my shoulder. I scratched at it. The scab started walking. It was a tick! I’m sure it crawled on me in that tall grass. For months after that, every time I felt tired or had a headache, I thought I had some kind of tick fever. I even got tested for it, rare for me. Results were negative. Phew!

 

 

Cape Buffalo Enjoying Mud Bath, South Africa Postcard

Sometimes, we venture into dangerous areas, where lions and leopards roam freely, and miraculously leave unscathed. We watched as this Cape Buffalo Bull enjoyed a mud bath in Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa. Guess he didn’t like us spying on us, because after his bath he started our way. His buddy, who had taken the first bath, was watching us from the bushes. Fortunately, it was a stand-off .  Our guide backed up the jeep, and we were out of there!  Cape Buffalo are dangerous. They can gore you.

Petting a Tasmanian Devil

My friend Anita recorded this encounter in Tasmania, Australia. I had a crazy notion that I wanted to pet a Tasmanian Devil. The keeper at NatureWorld held this young devil so I could have my wish. “Nice devil, devil,” I said as I stroked him. A young man also wanted to join in. The once calm devil jerked his head around, and growled. You can see the man’s hand pulling back in the bottom photo. I didn’t lose any fingers!

Tiger snake heading our way!

Four of us were on a hike in Tasmania, when Anita saw this very poisonous tiger snake heading our way. For some crazy reason, my husband threw a stick near it, thinking he could scare it away, but that just provoked the snake, which reared up. You never saw four people run so fast in the other direction. We jumped in the car and hurried away.

The captain warned us that the trip could be rough and said we could reschedule, but we only had two days left on the island. I'd never been seasick before. How bad could it be? Even though my husband and I took the recommended seasick pills, we both got sick. How sick? I used three buckets! TMI, I know. The swells were seventeen-feet high. We couldn't even think of eating the sunset dinner buffet. The sun refused to come out from behind the clouds.

Because of the weather, the captain of our boat warned us that the trip along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai could be rough and said we could reschedule, but we only had two days left on the island. I’d never been seasick before. How bad could it be? Even though my husband and I took the recommended seasick pills, we both got sick. How sick? I used three buckets! TMI, I know. The swells were seventeen-feet high. We couldn’t even think of eating the sunset dinner buffet. The sun refused to come out from behind the clouds, and we had to put away our cameras, so we didn’t get any close photos of the humpback whales we saw.  But it definitely was a memorable trip, even without beautiful photos.

Here’s one of the videos I shot before the seas got really rough. You can see how gloomy it was.  You can also see a humpback whale breaching in the distance.

 

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Photography, Travel

A Love Story

Turkish Angora Cat with Odd Eyes Poster

Paddington, the cat with the BIG personality! Here he is giving me one of his “I don’t care what you’re doing, stop everything and brush me now!” stares.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

It’s been six years since I updated the tale of the Brothers Angora — Paddington and Bones. Where has the time gone? I’ll pick up where I left off in 2009. You can read their earlier history in the links at the bottom of this post, including newborn photos.  Cute photos!

Paddington was a very brave kitty at the vet in September 2015. On the left he waits on my lap, in the upper right he patiently endures shots and prodding. In the lower right, he explored the room. So many wonderful toys!

Paddington was a very brave kitty at the vet in September 2015. On the left he waits on my lap, in the upper right he patiently endures shots and prodding. In the lower right, he explored the room. So many wonderful toys!

In September of 2010 after a year in San Francisco with Cynthia, Paddington returned to live with us when Cynthia moved to South Korea to teach English for a couple of years.  This time, I wasn’t letting him go!

Paddington and his brother are Turkish Angora cats. Paddington was renowned for his one blue eye and one amber eye, and Bones is deaf, both are traits sometimes found in white cats.  According to descriptions about Turkish Angora cats, these cats often choose a particular member of the family to be their constant companion and are very protective of their person. This was true with Paddington.

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” ― Colette

After Paddington returned to my house to live in 2010, he was a bit standoffish, since Cynthia was his person. And he’d been a wide traveler, too, with many frequent flier miles. But he grew attached to me and soon was demanding his daily brushing.  He would follow me around and stare at me until I got the hint. Whenever I sat on the sofa, he would jump on my lap. When he wanted to be brushed, which was often, he would stretch out, placing his paws on the sofa arm.  He turned so that I brushed every section of his beautiful white fur. He especially loved to have his cheeks and neck brushed.  There was no better job than being his masseuse and groomer.

Paddington supervises my artwork as I prepare to paint an Airedale Terrier for friends.

Paddington supervises my artwork as I prepare to paint an Airedale Terrier for friends.

Paddington’s bed was next to my desk upstairs, where we had many conversations.  At night he’d always appear at my bedside as I was getting into bed.   Even when I thought Paddington was sound asleep in his bed, he’d often wake up as I passed by and dash down to my bedroom before I even got there, ready for his nightly chest rub. When I was settled in, he jumped on the bed for a nightly petting, which included a chest rub. As I rubbed his chest, he would paw the air “making biscuits.” It was so adorable!

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ― A.A. Milne

When Paddington and Bones lived with my daughter and Cynthia in college, the brothers would hang out together, but not so much after their most recent separation.  In November 2015, Paddington started hanging out with his brother more.  One night, my daughter heard a strange yowling cough and thought the two brothers might be fighting (yes, they did get into some tussles with Paddington usually the one starting the spat), but when she went into the room, she found Paddington limp on the bed. We rushed him to an veterinary  emergency room, but he couldn’t be revived. He must have had a heart attack. He crossed the Rainbow Bridge on November 18, 2015. We were in shock.  He was only eleven years old. We thought we had many more years with him. I miss that little guy so much.  So far I haven’t been able to remove his bed, which is still matted with his white fur.  There will always be a cat-shaped hole in my heart and life. Take no one for granted, not your family, nor your friends and not your little furry companions.

Paddington, left, and Bones snuggle on a bed. Though they were littermates, they couldn't be more different in personality. Paddington was the BOLD one.

Paddington, left, and Bones snuggle on a bed. Though they were littermates, they couldn’t be more different in personality. Paddington was the BOLD one.

“Animals are such agreeable friends ― they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” ― George Eliot

The Brothers Angora, Chapter One

Gone to California.

Malcolm was my first love.

Malcolm is a Norwegian Forest Cat, Cat of the Vikings!

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Day of the Dead Festival at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art

Paper Mache Mermaid Skeleton

A Paper Mache Mermaid Skeleton hangs in Kirkwood Hall at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The skeleton is one of four hanging in the hall for the Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) festival planned for November 1, 2015. Sand paintings in an altar are also featured.

 

There are always activities at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.  The museum’s exterior lights were bright blue in honor of the Kansas City Royals basbeall team being in the World Series.  Guards were wearing Kansas City Royals t-shirts.

Day of the Dead at the Nelson Atkins

Day of the Dead at the Nelson Atkins

Inside, in Kirkwood Hall, four paper mache skeletons hung from the ceiling for the museum’s Day of the Dead Festival.   In the center is an altar featuring sand paintings honoring ancestors, highlighting the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water.  Visitors are encouraged to write their own special remembrance.  The festival art is done in collaboration with local artists through Mattie Rhodes Center.  Music and dancing is scheduled for the festival on November 1, 2015.  The museum is at 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Day of the Dead Festival.

Dead of the Dead Poetry and Photographs.

Day of the Dead Altar.

Day of the Dead Altar.

Day of the Dead Altar.

Day of the Dead Altar.

Paper Mache Skeleton with Heart.

Paper Mache Skeleton with Heart.

Paper Mache Skeleton with Monarch Butterfly Wings

Paper Mache Skeleton with Monarch Butterfly Wings. Monarch butterflies winter in Mexico.

Butterfly Sand Painting

Butterfly Sand Painting

 

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Filed under Art, Kansas City, Photography

I’ve Gotta Crow!

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

I started entering art shows this year.  Got in some, shut out of others. My latest entries were for the Visions of the Flint Hills show at the Buttonwood Art Space, 3013 Main St.,  Kansas City, Missouri, which runs through November 27, 2015. This time, two of my photographs were accepted, and one earned a third-place ribbon in photography. Hurrah! The opening event was part of Kansas City’s First Fridays art walk.

But the real story isn’t about me, but the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, which is the true star of the art and photography show.

For seven years Buttonwood Art Space has supported the Flint Hills area of Kansas and its unique place in our greater regional ecosystem through this annual art benefit. Visions of the Flint Hills Art Benefit and Sale is a juried exhibit featuring art of the Flint Hills. Sweeping paintings of sky and native prairie grass dominate the show, but sculpture pieces, fiber works and photos are also featured. The art is on exhibit October and November, in Buttonwood Art Space.
Proceeds from the event will benefit a non-profit organization, Friends of the Konza Prairie, a 501(c)3 organization which is involved in supporting the Konza Prairie, an 8,600 acre research and educational preserve south of Manhattan, Kansas. The Flint Hills are the continent’s largest remaining tract of Tallgrass native prairie which is also one of America’s unique places.  This unique geographic area once swept over 170 million acres of North America and was home to huge herds of buffalo and elk.  It is now a vanishing area. It harbors a wealth of adventure, beauty, and history. The region’s sweeping horizons and carpets of wildflowers captivate artists and enchant visitors.

I took these photographs at a photography workshop at the Cowboy Way Ranch near Westmoreland, Kansas, organized by Craig McCord and Jason Soden. My photographer friend Lynn told me about it and drove us there, so without these photographers, I wouldn’t have experienced this prairie burn. I am in their debt.

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

“At sunset, three riders hurry to an area to be burned in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Smoke already fills the skies and plumes rise in the valley beyond. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie, which preserves the grassland.” I was sitting on a flatbed trailer, bumping up a hill as the truck made its way to the next burn area, when I saw these three riders.  It was smoky, it was getting dark dark, it was hard to focus and steady my hand, but I did get this one shot.  The rider in back holds onto her hat as they race across the prairie.  The hat had flown off her head on another day, so she was taking no chances.

Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here:  Three Riders in the Kansas Flint Hills

“A rancher on horseback starts a controlled burn by dragging a fiery tire across the prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie every few years, which preserves the prairie as a grassland.”  This happened so fast that I almost missed it. Several others at the workshop captured it, too.
Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here: Kansas Rancher Stating a Controlled Burn

Buttonwood Art Space.

Crossroads Art District First Fridays

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Inn at 835 on Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois

Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois Poster

You’ll enjoy luxurious vintage surroundings at the Inn at 835, in Springfield, Illinois, in an historic neighborhood and on Route 66. There’s even rumored to be a ghost, but we didn’t see her.

In July, my husband and I decided to drive to Chicago for a wedding, rather than fly, so that we could see sights along the way. One town we’d never visited was Springfield, Illinois, of Abraham Lincoln fame.  A quick check online, and I found this wonderful small hotel, the Inn at 835, which is in the historic area of Springfield, close to the state  capitol, the Abraham Lincoln presidential library and the Abraham Lincoln home.

Built in the early 1900s, the Inn at 835 in Springfield, Illinois, first housed luxury apartments. The building was the dream of Bell Miller, a turn of the century businesswoman.  It was designed during the Arts and Crafts movement by architect, George Helmle.

We returned from dinner at Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery and Eatery to find this basket of chocolate chip cookies hanging on our doorknob. I quickly took a photo before the cookies disappeared.

We returned from dinner at Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery to find this basket of chocolate chip cookies hanging on our doorknob. I quickly took a photo before the cookies disappeared.

While still in her 20s, Miller began a floral business in the early 1890’s, catering to Springfield’s high society. Before long, she expanded her small business into a number of greenhouses, encompassing a city block.

In December 1909, her dream apartment building was completed, including airy verandahs, massive fireplaces and exquisite oak detailing in a neighborhood once termed “Aristocracy Hill.” It’s on an historic section of Route 66, a bonus!

In 1994, the building was completely renovated and the apartments were converted into seven luxurious guest rooms. In 1995, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the legend, Miller became so fond of her dream home, that she refuses to leave and haunts the place.

 

Inn at 835 Inn, Springfield, Illinois Postcard

Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois.

Rubber Ducky Poster

A rubber ducky greets guests on the edge of the tub at the Inn at 835.

Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery Poster

The owners of the Inn at 835 also own the nearby Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, in an historic home.

 

One of the original guest bedrooms in the Inn at 835, formerly the Bell Miller Apartments, in Springfield, Illinois.

One of the original guest bedrooms in the Inn at 835, formerly the Bell Miller Apartments, in Springfield, Illinois.

 

Flag Outside Window at Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois.

Flag Outside Window at Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois.

 

Breakfast at the Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois.

Breakfast at the Inn at 835, Springfield, Illinois.

 

Breakfast Room at the Inn at 835 in Springfield, Illinois.

Breakfast Room at the Inn at 835 in Springfield, Illinois.

 

 

The patio at Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery and Eatery, Springfield, Illinois.

The patio at Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, Springfield, Illinois.

 

I like dark beer! This was one of the dark hand-crafted beers at Obed & Isaac's.

I like dark beer! This was one of the dark hand-crafted beers at Obed & Isaac’s.

 

Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery, Springfield, Illinois.

Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, Springfield, Illinois.

 

One of the living rooms in the suites at the Inn at 835 in Springfield, Illinois.

One of the living rooms in the suites at the Inn at 835 in Springfield, Illinois.

 

Wine and cheese are offered every evening.

Wine and cheese are offered every evening.

 

Bell Miller Apartments, City of Springfield (Illinois) Historic Landmark.

Bell Miller Apartments, City of Springfield (Illinois) Historic Landmark.

 

Inn at 835 Entrance, Springfield, Illinois.

Inn at 835 Entrance, Springfield, Illinois.

 

The Inn at 835 is on the historic Route 66.

The Inn at 835 is on the historic Route 66.

 

The Inn at 835 is in the Old Aristocracy Hill Historic Area.

The Inn at 835 is in the Old Aristocracy Hill Historic Area.

Illinois State Capitol Building Poster

A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in front of the Illinois State Capitol.

Is the “Inn at 835” Haunted?

Official Website of the Inn at 835.

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“There’s Tourists in Them Thar Hills”

A stage coach in Silverton, Colorado, waits for riders.

A stage coach in Silverton, Colorado, waits for riders.

If you want to get high, the place to go is Silverton, Colorado, and I’m not talking about anything you smoke.  I visited this gorgeous very high-altitude Rocky Mountain town in June 2015. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” song would be an appropriate soundtrack to this post.

Silverton  is a former silver mining town that now mines tourists, who visit the charming historic town with its Wild West and Victorian ambiance in a spectacular mountain setting.

With a mean elevation of 11,240 feet (3426 meters), Silverton is in San Juan County, which is the highest county in the United States. It’s also the county with the smallest population in Colorado. Most or all of Silverton is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District. Silverton is linked to Durango by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a National Historic Landmark. Tourism provides the gold and silver in Silverton, not mining. Also supporting the population is maintenance of US 550 (which links Montrose with Durango via Silverton), mine pollution remediation, and retirees. In 2002 an extreme ski mountain, Silverton Mountain, opened near the town.

The Durango Silverton train arrives in Silverton, Colorado.

The Durango Silverton train arrives in Silverton, Colorado.

Tourists arrive by car, motorcycle, bus and train.  I drove, trying to keep my car on the road while peeking at the scenery as we climbed the steep narrow highway from Durango.  It also rained from time to time, adding to the thrill of mountain adventure.  This trip I skipped traveling the section of the highway north of Silverton, called the Million Dollar Highway, which I like to call the Million HOLLER highway, because it truly is scary.  I’m sure I screamed a lot on that trip, something I almost never do, not very helpful to the nerves of the driver, my husband. Even though it was years ago, when we traveled on the Million Holler Highway  in the dark, in the rain, my heart still hammers thinking about it.

I first heard the quote “There’s gold in them thar hills” years ago, and never knew where it came from.  Now, I’ve learned that the saying is associated with the  first major gold rush, which was in the United States was in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828.

Wikipedia entry about Silverton, Colorado.

San Juan County Courthouse, Silverton, Colorado Postcard

The San Juan County Courthouse is in Silverton, Colorado. San Juan County has the highest average elevation of any county in the United States and the smallest population in Colorado.

Shady Lady Restaurant

This house built in 1888 was the last brothel in Silverton, Colorado. Madam Jew Fanny closed shop in 1947. This restaurant is right by the railroad stop, so it’s periodically very crowded. People in period costumes urge tourists to come inside. We didn’t eat there. The reviews for the most part weren’t favorable, and it doesn’t take credit cards.

Animas River in Silverton, Colorado

In this photograph from June 2015, snowmelt and heavy rain combine to produce the rushing waters of the Animas River which flows through the Silverton area, shown here, to the city of Durango in Colorado. The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad travels 45.4 miles each way along the Animas River from Durango to Silverton during our summer season May through October.

Getting Around in Silverton, Colorado

Many tourists get around in Silverton, Colorado, after arriving on the train, but you can also take a stagecoach ride or rent a bike.

Silverton, Colorado, Train Depot Postcard

Silverton, Colorado, Train Depot.

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Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise retreats into his shell as tourists in another group gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands to learn more about this magnificent creature.

I visited the islands with my family in April 2015, and we toured the highlands was our first day.  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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