Valley of Fire Photography Tour: Bighorn Sheep

On Friday May 13th I took at photography tour of the Valley of Fire, which is just outside of Las Vegas. I knew the Valley of Fire was known for colorful rock formations and ancient petroglyphs, but I did know know there were so many Bighorn Sheep. We actually spotted some right near the entrance to the park.

Our second stop on the trip is a place named Atlatl Rock.

Soon after arriving we were near the base of Atlatl Rock getting ready to look at the ancient petroglyphs. I was taking to the tour guide when we spotted a Bighorn Sheep moving near the base of the rock but moving towards the Valley of Fire Highway. I put the 300mm lens on my camera and headed towards the sheep on an intercept course.

I was amazed and impressed to see petroglyphs depicting Big Horn Sheep, especially after just having an encounter with one.

In addition to Big Horn Sheep, there are petroglyphs of people hunting the sheep using an Atlatl, which is an ancient spear thrower.

Colorado River Kayak Trip May 11, 2022

On Wednesday May 11th I went on a kayak tour on the Colorado River in the section below Hoover Dam. I booked at tour with Blazin Paddles Kayak Tours. They picked me up from my hotel on the strip, so I did not not have to worry about driving. We started at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river. It had been windy in the Vegas area at time during the week. Wednesday was no exception. The wind was supposed to pick up during the afternoon and hopefully we would be off of the water by then.

It turns out that Willow Beach has a rich history and had been visited by people for thousands of years.

I brought my GoPro Hero 9 to record some video footage of the trip. It turned out that Emerald Cave was a lot smaller than I imagined. But it was still a great trip. It was a treat to kayak in a totally different landscape than I am used to in New England.

On the way back we stopped at an historical site called the River Gauge House Site. We pulled up on the landing area and some mallard ducks swam over for a visit.

The house site was part of the Willow Beach Gauging Station. The house site was just down river from the Gauging Station, which was used to measure the flow and level of the river below Hoover Dam.

This is the view down river from the house site.

This is the view upriver from the house looking towards Emerald Cave.

When we returned to Willow Beach a Mallard duck followed us in and swam real close to us. They don’t fear humans like the ducks that I usually encounter in New England.

Next we headed over to the Willow Beach Marina to wait for the shuttle bus and visit the store. I was able to take a few photos of the marina.

Inside of the store their were stuffed & mounted stripped bass had had been caught in the Colorado River around Willow Beach in the past.

Since I enjoy fishing I just had to check out the fishing info poster at the marina. The big shock was that marshmallows and cheese are the recommended bait for Rainbow Trout.

The recent news stories about the low water levels in Lake Mead make me nervous. What will be the impact for this part of the Colorado River if the water in Lake Mead gets so low that they reduce the amount of water they let through Hoover Dam.

The Ferguson Rifle

The Ferguson Rifle is one of my favorite books by Louis L’Amour. The Ferguson Rifle was a breech loading rifle, which was extraordinary technology for 1780. The main character is named Ronan Chantry. When Ronan was a boy living in South Carolina in 1780, Captain Patrick Ferguson gave him this rifle before leaving for what would be known as the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Amazon.com describes the plot,

It began with gold that had once belonged to Montezuma. Stolen and cached in a church in Mexico, it was recovered by two army officers who fled north for the French settlements. Along the way one stabbed the other to death. The remaining officer was eventually killed by Plains Indians, but he buried the treasure just before he died.

Now Ronan Chantry, a handful of trappers, and an Irish girl whose father was killed after telling her a few vague landmarks are searching for the lost treasure. But they are not alone. The girl’s uncle, Rafen Falvey, wants it, too. Like Chantry, he is well educated, bold, and determined. Under different circumstances the two men might have been friends. But in all likelihood it wouldn’t have made any difference. When it comes to gold, even friendship doesn’t keep men from killing each other.

I was excited to find an article on the War History Online website named Revolutionary War Tech: The Ferguson Rifle. It meant that Louis L’Amour had done his research and the rifle was based on real technology of the time. The article included a diagram that showed how the breech loading mechanism worked.

British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle
A sketch of one of the world’s first breechloaders, the Ferguson. Image: Antique Military Rifles / CC-BY-SA 2.0

The article goes on to explain,

As the story goes, Ferguson managed to produce several prototype rifles that he placed in the hands of ten trained marksmen who, along with Ferguson, demonstrated their use in front of the British War Office and Board of Ordnance. Despite being forced to perform in driving rain and gusty winds, Ferguson’s cadre of sharpshooters won the immediate admiration of the Board.

Among other accomplishments, the test demonstrated that the rifle could “put 15 balls on a target at 200 yards in 5 minutes,” and, “after pouring a bottle of water into the barrel… fired as well as ever.” Ferguson’s design was a vast improvement over the Brown Bess, which was only reliably accurate up to about 50 yards.

Revolutionary War Tech: The Ferguson Rifle

The article goes on to say,

Claims that the Ferguson Rifle later saw action during the Southern Campaign of the war are unsubstantiated, although Ferguson himself was killed in action at the Battle of Kings Mountain (South Carolina) on October 7, 1780. Contrary to some popular reports, Ferguson was not armed with his breech-loading rifle at his final battle.

Revolutionary War Tech: The Ferguson Rifle

Mr. L’Amour was very clever to use this historical fact to explain how Ronan Chantry ended up with this marvelous piece of Revolutionary War technology.

Luoyang Bridge, Quanzhou, China

During my last day in Quanzhou I took a bike ride on Fenghai Road with the goal to visit Luoyang Bridge. The bridge is one of the four ancient bridges in China and is a major attraction in Quanzhou.

Luoyang Bridge
Luoyang Bridge from the Qiaonon Community side of the river.

The Travel China Guide Website says, “Construction of the Luoyang Bridge started in 1053 and was completed in 1059. The project of building the bridge was led by Cai Xiang, the governor of Quanzhou who was also one of the four famous calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Built with granite, the bridge features ship-like piers and a unique method of reinforcing the foundation.” Essentially they raised oysters near the piers so the liquid they “secreted would help to bind the piers and the footstones together.”

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-2

Each end of the bridge has two statues on either side of the bridge. I had to stop for a minute to admire the impressive workmanship that went into them.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-3

Partway across the bridge there is a small building surrounded by trees, statues and stone tables inscribed with Chinese characters. The ChinaCulture.org Website says, “Many stone tablets from past dynasties were erected near the middle pavilion on the Luoyang Bridge, including stone statues of pagodas and warriors.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-4

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-6

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-12

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-5

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-7

After a pleasant stop at the middle pavilion I continued my journey across the bridge. I wanted to get a closer look at the stature on the far side. I suspected it is a statue of Cai Xiang, who led the project to build the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-9
Statue of Cai Xiang

I enjoyed some wonderful views (a bit hazy but still nice) of the Quanzhou skyline during my walk back across the bridge.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-10

Like so many things in Quanzhou, this photo showing the modern skyline with the bridge and fishing boats is an interesting combination of the old and the new.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-11

I would like to visit the bridge again when the sun is out and the sky is blue so I can take more photographs. It would also be nice to see the bridge at low tide so I can see the “ship like piers” mentioned in the Travel China Guide website.

 

Qingyuan Mountain Hike in Quanzhou, China

One of the best adventures during my trip to Quanzhou was an early morning hike up Qingyuan Mountain. The mountain is favorite destination of locals and tourists alike. We arrived early so we would be there before the crowds. It was still dark as we started up the path. Eventually the “trail” became more of a staircase than a path. Climbing the stairs was a good workout. After an hour or so of hiking we arrived at Sky Lake. It was a beautiful little lake with an impressive visitors center on one side and function hall on the other. Much to my disappointment (I was hoping for a hot drink), the visitors center was not open yet. I was also looking forward to seeing the black swans and white swans that lived at the lake. Apparently it was even too early for the swans.

 

Sky Lake and the visitors center.
Sky Lake and the visitors center.

We continued past the lake where we noticed a sign for the Qingyuan Cave. We followed the trail to the cave, which took us higher towards the summit. Instead of an actual cave we found a small temple complex. A sign explained that the temple was built over or on the site of the cave, which made me happy since the temple site was very nice.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-4

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-1

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-2

Not only was the temple beautiful, the view from the temple was fantastic.

Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River
Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River.

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Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-8

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-5

Upon going back down the mountain we discovered the red roofed buildings in the photo above served hot tea and food.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-14

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-15

We were hungry and thirsty so this place was a welcome site. We got a package of tea, a tea pot, a thermos of hot water and a small heater to keep the tea pot warm for 15 yuan. Much of the food looked strange (like chicken feet) or was not what I would consider breakfast food (like yams) and stuff I could not even identify. We did find some red grapes, orange slices and french fries to eat which tasted pretty damn good to us at that point. It was just cool enough outside so the hot tea really hit the spot.

On they way down the mountain we got some fantastic views of Quanzhou near West Lake Park.

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-18

Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-17
The large modern looking building near the lake is the China Museum of Fujian-Taiwan Kinship. We stopped there for a short time on our way back to World City.

We took a different trail down the mountain so that we would end up at the Laojun Rock. Along the trail we observed numerous inscriptions carved into the rocks. The characters where painted red to make them easier for visitors to read. I think they were part of the Qi Feng Inscriptions mentioned on the Travel China Guide website.

Stone Statue of Laozi

Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi
Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi

The Laojun Rock is a beautiful statue in a very peaceful garden setting with a nice view of the mountain in the background. There is an incense burner in the viewing area which adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the exhibit.

The Qingyuan Mountain Website tells us, “The Song-Dynasty statue represents a man with a long beard-believed to be the philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder and Saint of Taoism.” China Culture.org mentions, “He is credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Dao De Jing” also known as Tao Te Ching.

Qingyuan Mountain would definitely on the list of places to visit again during another visit to Quanzhou.

Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, China

The first major sightseeing stop during my trip to China was the Kaiyan Temple in Quanzhou. It is an ancient Buddhist temple that was built in the year 685 during the Tang Dynasty. We took a cab which dropped us off at the West Street gate. There were a bunch of street vendors set up near the gate selling incense and other items. Once we went through the gate we were surrounded by bushes, hedges and ancient mulberry trees.

The temple grounds also has two ancient stone pagodas. The west pagoda is close enough to the gate to capture our interest right away. An article on the Website, China Through A Lens says,

The Twin Pagodas in Quanzhou rank the highest pair among Chinas stone pagodas. The west pagoda is called Renshou and the east one, Zhenguo. They stand on each side of the main hall of Kaiyuan Temple, some two hundred meters from each other.

Renshou Pagoda was originally a wooden structure constructed in 916 during the Five Dynasties. After it burnt down twice during the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt, first of brick, then of stone. Its appearance and structure are basically the same as those of Zhenguo Pagoda, but it is only 44.6 meters high, or 4.18 meters lower, and was built ten years earlier.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-1
Jennifer with the Renshou Pagoda in the background.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-2

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-3
Close up of the carvings on the first level

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-4

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-6
Looking to the Zhenguo Pagoda at the east end of the temple grounds.

The sign at the gate explains why there are so many mulberry trees on the grounds. Legend says, “the land upon which the Quanzhou Kaiyuan monastery was built was originally an orchard of mulberry trees owned by Huang Shougong. Tradition holds that Mr. Shougong dreamed that a monk begged him to have his land as a temple. He replied, ‘If my mulberry trees bloomed lotus blossoms I’ll grant you the land.’ A few days later the mulberry trees really bloomed lotus blossoms.”

The smell of incense filled the air and  as we entered the temple courtyard.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-7

We just stood still for a minute and took in the scene. People were lighting incense sticks and placing them in a ornate iron incense burner in the middle of the courtyard. Unfortunately it started to rain which put a damper on my photography.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-8

Jennifer and I wandered over to the main hall of the temple.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-9

The Wikipedia article tells us the main hall is known as the Mahavira Hall. Inside is the statue of the Vairocana Buddha. We were standing in the doorway admiring the statue of the Buddha when a monk walked by. I was surprised when he stopped and spoke enough English to invite us inside. After going inside I pointed to my camera and the statue in an attempt to ask him if I could take some photos. Much to my disappointment, he shook his head no.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-10

The architecture on the backside of the temple was just as impressive. The back courtyard had a small incense burner plus covered boxes filled with dozens of burning candles. By that time it was raining harder, forcing us to keep under cover as much as possible.

In addition to people selling incense there were lots of people with disabilities asking visitors for donations. We approached a side gate that was crowded with beggars and vendors. One of the lady vendors gave me gave me a sample of the berries she was selling. It looked like a large blackberry and tasted great. It was not until I got home that I discovered that it was a Mulberry that she gave me. I wish I had taken the time to buy some from her.

I plan to go back during another trip on a day when the weather is better so I can take more photographs and learn more about the place.

 

2015 Reading List

AmazoniaIt was another good year for reading during which I finished 46 books. I enjoyed stories from several new authors like James Rollins, Brad Meltzer and John Heldt. I read more from some of my favorite authors like Dan Brown, Bernard Cornwell, William Dietrich, Stephen King and Tom Clancy.

Inferno by Dan Brown was a great book to start the year with. It is another Robert Langdon story and takes place in Italy. I learned a lot about many of the famous art works, buildings and architecture of Florence and Venice. If you enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, you will love this novel.

I discovered author James Rollins this year. His writing reminds me of Michael Crichton, which is high praise. The teaser on his Website for the book Amazonia says, “The Rand scientific expedition entered the lush wilderness of the Amazon and never returned. Years later, one of its members has stumbled out of the world’s most inhospitable rainforest: a former Special Forces soldier – scarred, mutilated, terrified, and mere hours from death – who went in with one arm missing…and came out with both intact.” The story was just as fantastic as it sounds. I went on to read five other James Rollins novels during the year.

StormchildThe Fort by Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 during the American Revolutionary War. It is the story of an attack by the militia of the Province of Massachusetts Bay to take a British fort in Castine, Maine. The expedition and attack was a major screw-up. The American fleet was destroyed and the assault force ended up making a long journey over land to Massachusetts. Be sure to read my Blog article about the book.

I also discovered Cornwell’s “sailing thrillers” which takes place in the present day, unlike many of his novels. Of the three I read I enjoyed Stormchild the best. The Amazon Website description reads, “A British yachtsman sails to Cape Horn to reclaim his daughter from eco-terrorists.” But of course the plot and story has more depth than that one sentence description.

I’m ashamed to say that I got behind in reading Tom Clancy novels. I sure made up for it this year when a good friend recommended The Bear and the Dragon, featuring John Clark and Jack Ryan. It was so good that later in the year I went on to read Debt of Honor and Executive Order. Executive Order picks up right where Debt of Honor ended so it read like one long novel rather than two. Both are fantastic stories!

112263 Book CoverOne of my favorite stories of the year was 11/22/63 by Stephen King. King is another author that I had not read anything from in years. Instead of a horror story this is a time travel story. Jake Epping find a way to go back in time to 1958 and finds he can change the lives of people in the present by changing events in past. He ends up undertaking the difficult task to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, hoping that it would change the world for the better. It’s a great story and has become my new favorite Stephen King novel.

In December a friend lent me the book, The Journey by John A. Heldt. It’s the second book in his Northwest Passage series. After the unexpected death of her husband after a tough marriage, a 49 year old women returns to her hometown for a high school reunion. After visiting an room in a mysterious old house in town, she finds herself back in 1979. She encounters her younger self and has the opportunity influence the path she takes in life. It turned out to be a great story. Since I find the concept of time travel interesting I was hooked on his time travel stories and ended up reading three other books in the series.

  1. Inferno – Dan Brown
  2. The Temple of the Winds – Terry Goodkind
  3. Firefight – Brandon Sanderson
  4. Amazonia – James Rollins
  5. Sandstorm – James Rollins
  6. Altar of Eden – James Rollins
  7. Soul of the Fire – Terry Goodkind (Did not finish)
  8. Ice Hunt – James Rollins
  9. Deep Black – Stephen Coonts
  10. Subterranean – James Rollins
  11. The Fort – Bernard Cornwell
  12. The Roman Hat Mystery – Ellery Queen
  13. The Inner Circle – Brad Meltzer
  14. The Recollections of Rifleman Harris – Benjamin Randell Harris
  15. Piranha (Oregon Files) – Clive Cussler
  16. Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
  17. The Fifth Assassin – Brad Meltzer
  18. Scoundrel – Bernard Cornwell
  19. On Writing – Stephen King
  20. Stormchild – Bernard Cornwell
  21. A Bone in the Throat – Anthony Bourdain
  22. Dourado (Dane Maddock Adventure) – David Wood
  23. Crackdown – Bernard Cornwell
  24. The Lightening Stones – Jack Du Brul
  25. The Bear and the Dragon – Tom Clancy
  26. Grey Lady – Paul Kemprecos
  27. Dragon Seed – Pearl S. Buck
  28. The Martin – Andy Weir
  29. The Einstein Papers – Craig Dirgo
  30. The Tesla Documents – Craig Dirgo
  31. The Christos Parchment – Craig Dirgo
  32. Hadrian’s Wall – William Dietrich
  33. Adventure – Jack London
  34. The Sea Wolf – Jack London
  35. Scourge of God – William Dietrich
  36. 11/22/63 – Stephen King
  37. Getting Back – William Dietrich
  38. The Pharaoh’s Secret – Clive Cussler
  39. Debt of Honor – Tom Clancy
  40. Executive Order – Tom Clancy
  41. The Door Into Summer – Robert Heinlein ( re-read)
  42. Without Remorse – Tom Clancy
  43. The Journey – John A. Heldt
  44. The Mine – John A. Heldt
  45. The Fire – John A. Heldt
  46. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th)

Rifleman Harris book coverBack in the summer I read an interesting historical non-fiction book titled, Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th). It’s the memoir of  Benjamin Randell Harris during his service the British Army during the Peninsular War Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars.

I downloaded this book from Google Books (for free) because I read that author, Bernard Cornwell, used this memoir as inspiration for the Richard Sharpe series. Since I have enjoyed many of the books in the series, I was curious to read the “source” material.

Rifleman Harris shares his experiences while participating in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen, the Peninsula War in 1808 and the Walcheren Campaign (Netherlands) in 1809. After reading this story I was able to see where Cornwell used Harris’ experiences for his research and story inspiration.

Rifleman Harris first saw action during the Bombardment of Copenhagen. In the book, Sharpe’s Prey, Richard also participates in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen.

In 1808 Harris was sent to Portugal during the Peninsular War Campaign and saw action fighting the French at Rolica and Vimeiro. In the book Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe also fights against the French at Roliça and Vimeiro.

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you are fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

Resources

Wikipedia Article: The Recollections of Rifleman Harris

Wikipedia Article: Sharpe (novel series)

Full Text eBook: https://archive.org/details/recollectionsofr00harr

Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell

Reading Sharpe’s Trafalgar and the historical notes at the end of the book allowed me to learn details of the Battle of Trafalgar that I had not known. Although I had heard about the battle, I only knew the basic facts. I knew that Lord Horatio Nelson had used unorthodox navel tactics to win the battle and that he also died from a musket wound received during the fight.

Since Lord Nelson is famous for using the strategy that won the battle I had assumed it was his idea. Not so I discovered. Cromwell writes in the historical notes,

“It is often said that his tactics were revolutionary, and so they were in the context of eighteenth-century naval warfare where the accepted mode of fighting one fleet against another was to form parallel lines of battle and fight it out broadside to broadside. Yet, in 1797, off Camperdown, Admiral Duncan had formed his fleet of sixteen British battleships into two squadrons that he sailed straight into the broadsides of eighteen Dutch ships of the line, and by battle’s end he had captured eleven of those ships and lost none of his own.”

Even though Nelson was not the first to use the tactic, I think he should be given credit for recognizing a good (yet risky) idea and having the nerve to try it himself. English ships would have to endure cannon fire while approaching the French and Spanish without being able to fire back until they sailed through their line. Had the French and Spanish gunners been better, Nelson’s fleet could have been shot to pieces while approaching the French and Spanish ship’s broadside.

Battle of Trafalgar Map

Cornwell explains that the ship Purcell from the novel was fictional.  He tells us, “The Pucelle, when it raked the ship alongside the Victory, was stealing the Temeraire’s thunder.” The Temeraire is the name of the real ship that assisted Lord Nelson’s ship, Victory, during the battle. However, the substitute was a clever way to get Sharpe (and the reader) close to the action near Lord Nelson.

Cornwell did a wonderful job letting the reader experience the Battle of Trafalgar through the eyes of Richard Sharpe. As usual Bernard Cornwell’s historical research is excellent.

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt Book CoverI had mentioned the novel Agincourt when writing about the Grail Quest series. Like the Grail Quest series, Agincourt illustrates the military advantage that the longbow gave the English during the 100 Year War.
The story exceeded my expectations and I learned quite a bit about the battle. While the longbow did give the English at tactical advantage, which enabled them to win the battle, there are other factors that made a difference. I think the muddy battlefield was the decisive factor that allowed the English to gain the upper hand. Cornwell writes in the Historical Notes,

“The fields of Agincourt had recently been plowed for winter wheat and it is true, as Nicholas Hook says, that you plow deeper for winter wheat than for spring wheat. It had also rained torrentially the previous night, and so the French were trudging through sticky clay soil. It must have been a nightmare. No one could hurry, and all the while the arrows were striking and, the closer the French came to the English line, the more lethal those arrow strikes were” Cornwell later observes, “The French men-at-arms were weary, half blinded, disordered, and mud-crippled.”

It’s astounding that the leaders of the French forces did not see the disadvantage for armored men to fight in muddy terrain. Without the mud I suspect the French would have taken heavy losses but might have been able to defeat the smaller English army.

Another advantage for the English in addition to the mud was the use of wooden stakes as a defensive barrier. The English archers drove sharp wooden stakes into the ground in front of each man to deter and defend against cavalry attacks. The defense worked to break a french cavalry attack intended to destroy the archers before the main French attack by the knights and men-at-arms.

It was the combination of multiple factors and a bit of luck which enabled the English to win the battle.