Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Las Vegas

When we returned from Maui, we had a four day layover in Las Vegas. We spent one day walking the strip and viewing some of the outdoor attractions, meandering through the casinos to check out the decor, and attending a Cirque De Soleil performance.

We decided that New York New York had the best exterior, reproducing the NY skyline and waterfront with recognizable features. Inside, they also have realistically reproduced a walk through neighborhood streets filled with a tempting array of restaurants, ranging from hot dog stands, stand up bars, Irish pubs, to posh reservations required affairs. Fun to just wander along the faux streets and smell all the goodies.

The dancing fountains outside the Bellagio Casino were an amazing technological accomplishment, where every half hour, rows of metal spouts rise out of the water and move plumes of liquid back and fourth, up and down, in tandem with music broadcast outside.

Treasure Island has a Pirate extravaganza with lots of fireworks, a sinking ship, along with what we decided was a tacky girlie show, that packs in a sidewalk crowd which takes 30 minutes to disperse.

The Mirage volcano is a better take, even if it is over in less than five minutes. The production is all done with recorded sounds of the jungle and thunderous eruption noise, along with cleaver lighting that turns the fountain into real looking lava flowing down the mountain and into the lagoon. Guess you really have to see them all, just for the experience.

Downtown is another unique attraction. Since the action is contained in a much smaller space than the strip, it seems to generate more energy. The Freemont Experience is a trip in itself. The three block overhead, computer generated, light and sound show was different each time we caught it. I think it runs every 30 minutes and who knows how many variations there are. I should have asked someone. The entire street is similar to a carnival, with performances, street artists, and casinos all vying for your attention. We watched an artist produce life like paintings using only spray cans of paint and torn newspaper to create works ranging from forest waterfalls, to complete solar systems.

There are currently five Cirque Du Soleil productions on the Strip; Mystere, The Beatles, O, Zumanity, and KA. After reading the various descriptions of each show, we decided to see KA, which has a story line that is supposed to illustrate (and I quote their brochure), "the duality of KA-the fire that has the power to unite or separate and the energy to destroy or illuminate". To me it was an extravaganza for the eyes and the mind. As in all the Cirque Du Soleil performances, the costumes, music and athletic performances are beyond description. It is definitely a "have to see it to believe it" kind of event.

This production included a mobile stage, that not only went up and down, but rotated into a vertical position to represent a cliff on which the performers "climbed", flew is a better description, up, down, and off the edge. This was my first live Cirque Du Soleil. I have seen some on TV but now I can't wait to see another live performance.

On the last day in this make believe world we rented a car and drove back up to the Valley of Fire State Park. On the way we spotted a Native American Pow Wow so we stopped to have a look. This gathering was the Southern Paiute tribe. Dancing competitions were just beginning when we arrived so we ended up staying for several hours, taking pictures and admiring each of the hand made costumes that were unique in style and decoration.

There were four drumming circles, each having 8 to 10 members, that alternately provided the rhythm for each dance. We finally had to pull ourselves away because the day was waining and we were not yet to our intended destination. We really enjoy these unexpected experiences, they usually turn out to be the most interesting.

The backs of the members of one of the drumming circles

The shawl dance.
A woman told me they call it Indian aerobics

More Valley of Fire, 40 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada


Black sand in Hawaii, now red sand in Nevada

Uplifting. Look at the defined lines of color - amazing

Canyon hiking trail

Our return flight to Maine on November 6 was uneventful but we were surprised when we got off the plane to feel the fresh chilled air. It felt wonderful to take a deep deep breath and to see our family there. James and Shellie picked us up at the airport and we stayed overnight with them in Gray.

The next day we went down to Jed's house, in Limerick, to celebrate Jacob's 7th Birthday. He and Lola are quite the hams when you get out the camera. More reasons for being glad to be home in Maine.

We also spent Thanksgiving at Jed's house but the camera was accidentally left at home. Sorry, no pictures of turkey carving or pie eating. We did have a warm and fuzzy day and we were all thankful to be together.

With that holiday and three of the four family birthdays behind us, Marlin has begun the floor tile in the kitchen and I have begun putting up Christmas decorations. Life moves on. I'll keep posting holiday and family events through December. We leave and return to the traveling life on January 15. We will pick up our camper in Las Vegas and head for sunny California for a couple of months. Stay tuned.

Jacob - 7, Lola - almost 4. She wears Jacob's birthday cake well!

The Birthday Pirate

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hawaii, the Big Island

Wow, big lag in adding to this blog. While we were on Hawaii, then in Las Vegas, there did not seem to be any down time to write or upload pictures. Then, when we got home it was easy to get caught up in family gatherings, daily routines and volunteer activities. With the passing of time, I hope I can do this part of our trip justice, at least some pictures will help convey some of the dramatic landscapes we witnessed in Volcano National Park.

The Big Island - Hawaii

The Ohi'a Bush, with it beautiful red Lehua blossoms is a native Hawaii plant with a local legend that tells of a handsome chief named Ohi'a who Madam Pele wanted to marry. The chief, however was in love with Lehua and turned the goddess down.

In her fury, Pele turned him into a tree with grey green leaves. Unable to undo Pele's magic, the other gods turned Lehua into a blossom and placed it on the tree so they would be together forever.

On Monday October 28 we flew from Maui to the big island of Hawaii. Local people just call it “The Big Island” because of the confusion when talking about the State of Hawaii, which is all eight islands combined. Hawaii itself is bigger than all seven other Hawaiian Islands put together.

We had found information in “The Big Island Revealed” book about Kilauea Military Camp that accepted reservations from military personal. John, being a disabled vet, was able to make reservations here. One of the best things about this lodging was that it was inside Volcano National Park and we had a two bedroom cabin with two full baths and a complete kitchen.

We arrived shortly after noon, got settled, then went back into the town of Hilo to find a visitors center and check out the attractions in and around the city. Hilo is on the “wet” side of the island, where vegetation reminds you of Jurassic Park. They get, on average, 140 inches of rain each year. A man in the park said it had rained for last 100 days in a row. Hilo is also the least visited side of Hawaii. Most of the resorts, and sunshine, are on the Kona (eastern) side. So, the saying goes that Kona creates the tax base from its tourists, and Hilo, where the government center resides, spends it.

Banyan Drive runs along the edge of the ocean and is named after the enormous banyan trees planted in Hilo Bayfront Park. Our trusty book tells us that each tree is named after the celebrity who planted it, like Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, FDR. However, all the wording on the signs was worn away and unreadable. Probably that constant precipitation is to blame. Bayfront Park was, in the past, the main Japanese district. After suffering two major tsunamis, one in 1946 and another in 1960, each claiming many lives, the ocean property was turned into a park, instead of housing, to forestall more loss of life if, and when, another tsunami occurs.

Our afternoon included a visit to the Lyman Museum and the Lyman Missionary house. The museum held a large rock and mineral collection and displays with artifacts from each distinctive ethnic group, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, that immigrated to Hawaii. The missionary house told the story of David and Sarah Lyman, who came to Hawaii in 1832 and eventually started a boarding school for young Hawaiian men. The house is the oldest wooden building on the Island.

Tuesday morning we headed for the Thurston Lava Tube, hoping to beat the tour busses and crowds. Our planning allowed us to have a private viewing of a lava plumbing system. This 400 foot long tunnel, formed about 350 to 500 years ago, is the result of a lava flow that hardened quickly on the outside, then when the molten lava stopped flowing and the remaining fluid lava drained away, leaving a long black rubble strewn tube. This lava tube has been cleaned up, lighting installed, and access permitted through a small pit crater. It is tall enough and wide enough for two people to walk upright side by side. The best part is at the end of the lighted section, if you have a flashlight, you are allowed to continue another 200 feet through an unlighted portion that eventually dead ends in a solid wall of lava. We naturally had to turn off our lights to experience the total darkness. When you emerge you follow a short walk through the rain forest where giant fern trees make a thick canopy covering the trail. Feels like Tyrannosaurus Rex will show up any minute.

Volcano National Park is located on the rim of the Kilauea Caldera, which is a 3 mile long crater originally formed about 1500 years ago. The 11 mile Crater Rim Drive circles this, as well as the smaller Kilauea Iki Crater slightly to the east. Following the drive in a counter clockwise direction, we first visited the Sulphur Banks, (smelly) and the steam vents where you can see white plumes of vapor, created by rain that seeps into the ground, is heated by underground magma, then rises out of the crater walls in clouds of steam. This adds to the prehistoric feeling of the place.

Next in line is the Jagger Museum and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, with its displays and exhibits explaining how all this internal agitation creates earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. There are seismographs twirling away, recording every blip the plumbing makes on a minute by minute basis. I wonder what it would be like if you were standing there when a substantial quake showed up on the graph! Each stop on this road provides a walkway at the very edge of the crater, where you can look down into the Caldera and see steam still spouting from various sulphur vents along its bottom.

Within the large Kilauea Caldera is the smaller Halema’uma’u Crater. This white and sulphur colored hole is said to be the home of Madam Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess. Madam Pele’s home is currently only 300 feet deep and 3000 feet across, but in the past it has varied between 1300 feet deep to overflowing its banks. Volcano house has a picture taken in 1952 from its crater-facing windows that shows Halema’uma’u shooting lava high into the air.

Further along Crater Rim Drive is the over look into Kilauea Iki, (little Kilauea). This is a crater and cinder cone just outside of the main Kilauea Caldera. This crater had been idle for more than a century, when in 1959, fountains of lava, some as high as 1900 feet, surprised scientists who thought the predicted eruption was about to occur in the main Kilauea crater. The cinder cone, called Pu’u Pua’i, was created by the spouts of lava that were blown into the southwest corner by the winds. This eruption continued for 36 days, spewing enough lava to bury a football field 15 feet deep, every minute.

Chain of Craters road is a 19 mile road veering off from Kilauea Crater Road toward the ocean. All along this road are countless craters, some small and some large, where eruptions have occurred in the near and distant past. We stopped at most of them and took lots of pictures that all look the same but each new sighting got an equally vocal response from us because they were so unbelievable.

Devils Throat was the most impressive, not because of its size, but because it was shaped like a giant worm hole with verticale sides that looked like an enormous ice auger had bored straight down 100 feet. You could see where the edges were continuing to collapse inward making the warning signs believable. We got almost, but no quite, close enough to see the very bottom.
From 1967 thru 1974 twelve miles of this Chain of Craters road had to be rerouted after Madam Pele did her own paving with lava flows. One of the posted pictures shows where the lava poured over a hillside and remains on both sides of the road. We wondered how they got the hardened lava out of the roadway. Maybe they used a snowplow.

The 1 ½ mile trail to the Pu’u Loa petroglyphs departs shortly before the abrupt end of the Chain of Craters road. The walk takes you over old lava fields where mother nature is trying her best to put some green among the black. At the spot with the greatest concentration of drawings, the park has erected a boardwalk loop in order to minimize wear and tear on the petroglyphs. There were many identifiable shapes and we had a good time make up stories to go along with any unusual pieces or recognizable series of sketches. Small holes bored in the rock are said to be cut by parents who placed newborns umbilical cords there to bring good luck. Perhaps an offering to Madam Pele.

At the end of Chain of Craters road, there is a temporary visitors center, established after a lava flow buried the old one along with a subdivision, Kalapana Gardens. We walked quite a distance on the old lava that continued over the land and into the ocean. Signs warn that the new land built by lava flows is unstable and a shelf can break off unexpectedly, so we were somewhat careful but still walked to the edge. You could see where the lava had flowed as far as it could then broke off, leaving a jagged edge, and fell into the sea.

Until September of this year, molten lava could be viewed from this area. Just our luck that the Pu’u O’o crater, that had been pouring out lava in this direction since 1983, collapsed. A new vent has since opened, however, this lava is flowing into the rain forest in an area that can only be viewed from the air. We were disappointed, but even without the hot lava flow, we were incredibly impressed the what we were able to see in two days. Guess we will just have to come back for a longer stay and take some of the narrated hikes described in the book and at the visitors center.

Wednesday morning we checked out and returned to the city of Hilo, where we had enough time befor our flight took off to visit Rainbow Falls. These beautiful Y shaped falls produce a rainbow when the morning sun hits the water mist. We arrived in the afternoon but when we walked up the stairway that goes to the top of the falls, we were treated to see the rainbow from above. Unfortunately, it did not come out very well in our photos, so you'll have to take my word for it.

We returned to Maui Wednesday evening with enough time to clean out the frig., pack our belongings and pick up a few more gifts before catching our plane Thursday to fly into the Disneyland of the West, Las Vegas. More about that next.

Banyon trees in Bayfront Park, Hilo

Hilo's Bayfront Park

Thurston Lava Tube

Madam Pele's home, Halema'uma'u crater, in the background

John and Marlin at the edge of Devils Throat

The floor of Kilauea Iki crater. See the hikers on the trail?

Kilauea Iki cinder dome on the left. You can see the trail that crosses the floor of the crater
This dome was created in 1959 after it spued cinders and lava for 36 days filling the crater with a lava

Steam vents on Kilauea's banks

Map of Kileuea Crater. The darker circle at the top right is Halema'uma'u crater

Halema'uma'u Crater inside Kilauea Caldera
Lava boiled here for 100 years from 1823 to 1924.

The southwest rift is an area where greats rents in the earth appeared and shot up huge curtains of fire and lava.

The rough and chunky lava on the right is called A'a and the smooth ropy mass on the left is called pahoehoe.

There are miles and miles of these lava fields along Crater Rim Road and Chain of Craters Road

Past lava flows that poured over the hill, covering the Chain of Craters Road.

New land that has been formed by lava flowing into the ocean from the Pu'u O'o vent on Kilauea Volcano

The current "end" of the Chain of Craters road

A Lava Arch, formed at the oceans edge

Just a few of the thousands of petroglyphs we saw etched in the old lava fields adjacent to Chain of Craters Road. The sign posted at boardwalk that surrounds one of the major concentrations of petroglyphs said that the round holes dug into the lava were recepticals for the imbilical cords, which were placed here asking for good luck and long life to the new born.

Rainbow Falls, near Hilo

Monday, October 29, 2007

More Hawaii

The predominant phrase I hear over and over since we got here is “another day in paradise”. The beauty never ceases to diminish by familiarity. Our first three days here we mostly lounged around between the ocean, pool, patio (lanai), or walking on the beach. On Saturday, when family and wedding guests began to arrive it forced us to stir out of the lounge chairs a bit more often, but not too much.

A tough day in Maui

Linda and John Miles asked us to vacation with them here on Maui during the week one of their nephews planned to get married, the same week his brother was participating in an Xterra event here on Maui. Tough invitation to turn down. The wedding, on Tuesday the 23, boasted 38 friends and family members who came to Maui from New England, for the occasion. The ceremony was performed by a local Hawaiian woman, who included traditional Hawaiian elements, making this an exceptionally moving event.

All the guests received lei's, a gift from the happy couple

Becky Miles and Karen Kelly receive their Lei's

Steve and Jackie Hughes with the Hawaiian Kahuna

One highlight, aside from the wedding, was a trip to Hana, involving a 44 mile one way drive, over a narrow winding mountain road that over hangs the ocean on its way through the rain forest. Waterfalls and black sand beaches are seen at almost every turn. Frequent banana bread stands also tempt additional rest stops, so the trip is an all day affair.

Keanae Point has the most spectacular shore line, piled with raw lava boulders, where the blue-green waters crash on the black rocks and send spray high into the air soaking anyone standing near the shore trying to get the perfect picture. Our favorite travel book “Maui Revealed” tells us that this is the younger part of the island and the lava has not yet been beaten into beach sand.

The Keanae Arboretum had an extensive collection of trees and plants that grow in tropical rain forests around the world. The best part was that they were all labeled so we knew what we were looking at and where they grew naturally. Of course that information stayed with me for at least 20 minutes.

Surf was up when we started our trip to Hana so we stopped and watched for a while

Keanae Arboretum - Painted Gum trees. We like to call them rainbow trees.

Torch Ginger

I think this was called Lobster Claw

Keanae Point

Three Bears Falls

After several more waterfall stops we arrived at Wai‘anapanapa (pronounced why-a-nah-pah nah-pah) Park, which is one of the fun Hawaiian words to let roll off your tongue. We brought a picnic lunch and watched the mongoose looking for handouts from lunch leftovers, while we ate. These critters look similar to ferrets. This park has two fresh water caves contained in old lava tubes. The pools come with a legend about a Princess who left her abusive husband and hid in one of these caves. Finding her, he killed her there and once a year, hundreds of shrimp appear and color the water red in her memory.

Past the caves, the trail drops down to U shaped Pa’iloa Beach with pure black sand and pebble sized ebony rocks. “Maui Revealed” tells us that these black beaches are truly formed in a day (or two). When the hot lava flows into the sea, it shatters on contact with the ocean, forming this distinctive black sand. The down side is that these beaches do not last long (500 years) because when the lava stops flowing into the sea, the source of the black rock is gone and cannot regenerate like white sand beaches that are made of shell and coral that continue to break down.

Black Pebbles

Wild Impatients

Black Sand

Black Beach