Bourton-On-The-Water Tourist Trap!

It’s a tourist trap. Hang on to your wallet! I’m sure you’ve received similar advice when you announce to your friends and co-workers that you’re headed on vacation. Bordon-On-The-Water is one of those places and despite the good advice we received from friends and colleagues we went anyway.

To be fair it was a scheduled stop on our walking tour of the Cotswolds, right after Stow-On-The Wold. Fortunately for us it we descended the hill all day and we didn’t add on extra miles due to a misunderstanding of the directions. Our tour coordinator, Macs Adventures had made the sleeping arrangements for the night weeks before we even arrived at Heathrow airport. Because we walked downhill from Stow on the Wold into the valley we arrived in plenty of time to explore the town with its creek flowing down the middle. We arrived so early the first thing on the “to do” list was lunch.

The little bakery we choose was situated next to the creek. After we watched them make our lunch, we watched the line grow and proceed through the store. I guess we arrived just in time. Across the creek was a little private motor museum. The guys decided to return later and visit.

Our country trail ended at a street that took us the last half mile into town, but I would say the street detracted from the quaintness of this little town with the stream gently flowing along the commercial avenue at the center. With the tree lined creek and shops the whole place invited us to slow down and take it easy. While we did cross the creek and the street to see the shops on the other side, the creek, shade trees, foot bridges, and cool breeze were all the stars of the show at Bourton-On-The-Water. 

I’ve included some photos to give you an idea of the mix between the old village with tiny streets and the modern mix of buildings for cars, tourists and the 21st century. The water was crystal clear, and the multiple foot bridges called out to our fellow tourists to stop and take a picture, lovers to take a stroll, and everyone to either bring a picnic lunch or stop at one of the many eateries. If New Orleans is the Big Easy, Bourton-On-The-Water is the Little Easy.

One highlight of the day was a small perfume shop that made the fragrance for the Queen. Set off the water on a small street that looked like it had been in existence since the days when this was the market town for the surrounding area, all the fragrances were unique and made from local materials. In addition to helping with the “right” perfume choice, the clerk behind the counter saved us VAT money with some timely advice about sizes and border declarations. 

A small wildlife attraction used part of the creek within its fences and some clever signage called to families to spend some time and money looking at the offerings within. While we enjoyed the atmosphere we didn’t visit. On the other end of town was the motor museum and the guys had to beat the clock to see what jewels awaited us inside.

After the ladies left the guys to their ogling agenda, Ken and I sauntered, well nearly ran over. I’m sure the Triumph 650 twin outside the door had nothing to do with my interest! (You might notice the photos below are mostly of motorcycles.) We paid our fee and were greeted by this door. If you’re a fan of Dr. Who you already know what this door is about. Even though the street footprint of this little museum was small there were five buildings to hold the collection of motorcycles and cars. If you’re not a fan of Dr. Who, a running gag on the show is that the Tardis, a blue phone booth/space ship, is bigger on the inside, a line that is often repeated by visitors. As you can imagine with five total buildings this too was bigger on the inside.

What treats awaited us on the inside! Jaguars, MGs, various motor related toys from the 30’s-70’s were interspersed among gas cans, motorcycles, repair machines, old oiling cans and other assorted historical references to the glory days of British auto and motorcycle manufacturers. Rarities such as a Superior Brough, a Vincent Black Shadow, Norton, Triumph, BSA, Royal Enfield, and various Sunbeam motorcycles were on display. A variety of MG sports cars stood next to Jaguars and made for the war marques. Truly eye candy for car guys and gals. Most of the cars and motorcycles in the museum wouldn’t touch any modern transportation in terms of speed, comfort, and safety. Built by hand with mechanical tolerances that were more in the neighborhood of the specifications instead of the computer controlled spot-on machining of our day, many of these old machines were either designed to be total loss (using all the oil and in need of frequent additions) systems or lost oil as part of the operation. To own one of these old beauties today requires a person whose ownership is part driving and part maintenance/repair. For example, the owner of a motorcycle in the 1930’s-1950’s was expected to go around the bike and retighten nuts and bolts, check the valve clearances, adjust the chain between the gearbox and rear wheel, and add oil to his/her machine before taking the Sunday ride. Every time! Long after cranks were gone from automobiles and replaced by electric starters, British motorcycles still had a foot crank into the 1970’s. 

Two last little notes about motorcycles before I sign off. We met a couple of young guys chewing the fat behind a bar (imagine that motorcycles and bars). One of them had a bike I didn’t recognize, and I asked him about it. It turned out the frame was designed to take several different sized motors. The idea was to change the configuration of the drivetrain as you became a more proficient rider. Lastly, while walking around looking for breakfast the following morning I saw an Ariel Square Four two pipe go by on the way to work. What’s the big deal? The bike was built in the early 1950s and this guy was using it as his daily rider. Amazing!

I’d love to hear any unique experiences you have had in a tourist trap town or village in the comments. If you’d like to get reminders of future posts why not subscribe?

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It’s the People

It’s fun to see things, especially old things. It makes me think of the old saying, “if these walls could talk.” Often they talk to me. Walking in the steps of famous or infamous people from the past presents an opportunity to learn with OPE (other people’s experience) instead of at the school of hard knocks. It also affords a chance to look at things from a different and larger perspective. 

At Stow-in-the-Wold we met a retired man while we were eating our full English breakfast at The Bell. Having rubbed shoulders with Californians who get dressed up and participate in Renaissance Faire and Dickens Christmas in South San Francisco, I recognized a gentleman whom I suspected might be involved in some historical reenactment society or group. It only took a question about his costume (I think I ussd some other word) and he was off. He was headed to a high school to talk about the English Civil War. (How appropriate since it was at Stow-in-the-Wold that the Parliamentary forces defeated Charles causing his flight through the woods on the pathway now called Monarch’s Way.) Acting as a soldier for Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces, he was armed with details about his weaponry, life on the road fighting the King and his forces, and whatnot about the 17th century. The more he talked the more animated he became. It didn’t seem to bother him too much that fourteen and fifteen year olds in 2022 would be more interested in everything on their phone than his yarns. He was on a mission.

Speaking of yarns, onboard the Cutty Sark we met a docent who had served on a merchant ship. As he and I traded tales about tall ships he shared this tidbit. On a sailing ship cordage or rope is always in short supply. Big winds and big seas pull on the rigging and sails leading to the inevitable need to splice and replace part of the line so necessary to the propulsion of the ship. Rope is made of small strands of plant material, often the stem of a plant. These need to be twisted into small string which is then braided or twisted into larger diameters of rope.

While spinning the raw material for the replacement rope, the sailors would tell each other stories. (I like to call these modern sessions “can you top this” or “mine is bigger than yours.” In the kayaking world it often begins or ends with “You shoulda been here yesterday.”) While based in some small kernel of truth these stories are often embellished. Like the work they were engaged in, their stories became known as “spinning a yarn.” 

One day we ended our walk at Winchcombe. Due to some COVID caused changes, we were to be picked up by taxi at an old tavern. The tavern was over six hundred years old. The doorway was low and there wasn’t a straight wall or square corner in the place. No one cared and I’m sure that on certain days and certain times it became a topic of conversation. This afternoon a couple was discussing a house they had just sold that had a thatched roof. The composition of the roof came up because I had mentioned what passed for “old” in California was much different than in Winchcombe, a seemingly appropriate comment in a place as old as the pub.

They refused to have their 18th century house designated as an historical place so he could keep his freedom in repairing and designing a livable abode in the 21st century. Apparently, his neighbors were of the same opinion. It would seem the designation of an historic place results in higher building costs and additional regulations on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m not sure what he did to earn a living. He and his wife having a glass of wine at four in the afternoon seemed to be a regular routine. He thought I had a funny accent.

While the buildings and history are interesting and usually garner most of the digital sensor space on my camera, it’s the people that interest me. Incorporating the past into the present is something we all do to one degree or the other. How and when it comes out is, perhaps, the best part of travel.

Chalk Art-Postcards from London

A couple of summers ago I posted a recollection about some chalk art from Palo Alto, CA. (https://davewaltersphotography.wordpress.com/2019/08/27/postcards-from-the-palo-alto-art-show/) I had fun talking to the artists and viewing their creations. One thing that caught my interest was the temporary nature of the art. The artists didn’t work quickly because their creation would be gone in a week. They took the time each drawing required. I stumbled into another two artists in Trafalgar Square this past summer. 

Art at Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is in London. Commemorating the famous naval battle at Trafalgar and the Admiral Horatio Nelson who made the victory possible (with his ship HMS Victory), the public square is in front of the Royal Navy’s headquarters (also known as the Admiralty.) On a very warm and sunny day we observed two artists drawing flags from various nations around the world. Everything was in a neat grid. I didn’t take the chance to speak with them but rather enjoyed their work and how they set about to accomplish their self-appointed task. Every now and again someone would put some coins in a nearby hat (I assume they were pounds.)

Art, it seems, is a universal activity regardless if it is chalk on the sidewalk or music that fills the air. The music part of the day which came from Saint Martins in the Field, just across the street from Trafalgar Square, is a story for another day.

Trafalgar Square, London

1066

The Norman style of architecture is all around England

There are a few dates that come up over and over again when visiting England. It’s not the dates so much as the events from the dates. One of those important dates is 1066. William the Duke of Normandy came across the channel and with his French forces, beat Harold Godwinson and his Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings. More histrivia? Why is this important?  Let me highlight a few reasons.

In the United States we are used to borrowing things from other cultures. Our capitol building’s style is borrowed from the Romans and Greeks. In the Southwest we borrowed and kept a building style from the Spanish. Even our food comes from everywhere. It all becomes American because we mold the original idea into something we like. But the English are just English. Aren’t they?

As a language English borrows words from other cultures when it seems appropriate. The English are a combination of three main people groups in Europe. Isolated by the sea and ocean, the original inhabitants of the main island were English, Scot, and Welch. After the Romans invaded the island, the Anglos or English, were overrun by the Vikings, known as the Saxons, beginning in the 5th century. The new culture they created is known as Anglo-Saxon. During this time Christianity was accepted and the idea and foundation of what we know as England was established.

This was King Arthur’s time and his task was to stop the Saxons. The Norman invasion changed the structure of England’s Medieval government. William the Conqueror brought with him the Norman architectural style that is common throughout the island. The Norman style is most obvious in the country churches we saw walking through the Cotswolds. 

Perhaps you carry an idea from the movies of an English castle. Hollywood perhaps etched a typical castle from one of the many tales of King Arthur. The Lego-like battlements at the top of the walls (called crenels and merlons) and stairs within the Keep were great props for Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner or even Sean Connery to fight the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham and his corrupt King John with swords and who knows what. Even though the legend of King Arthur is set in the Saxon invasion of England in the 5th and 6th centuries, his Hollywood castle is always Norman. 

Perhaps you carry an idea from the movies of an English castle. Hollywood perhaps etched a typical castle from one of the many tales of King Arthur. The Lego-like battlements at the top of the walls (called crenels and merlons) and stairs within the Keep were great props for Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner or even Sean Connery to fight the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham and his corrupt King John with swords and who knows what. Even though the legend of King Arthur is set in the Saxon invasion of England in the 5th and 6th centuries, his Hollywood castle is always Norman. 

The Tower of London (William the Conqueror’s Keep and symbol of power.)

I don’t want to sound too much like your high school history teacher and so I’ll leave it to you to dig a little deeper into how William the Conqueror incorporated his French way of life into England. The architecture he brought with him served both a practical and political purpose. Politically, the presence of these blocky structures were symbols of the new boss and a reminder to do things his way. He set the tone with his new castle known to us as the Tower of London. Bringing with him the bailey, keep, moat, curtain wall, battlements and arrow slits in the design of his house, The Tower of London served as his house and a great impregnable jail to hold and torture those who were disloyal. 

We visited the Tower, really a small village by itself, and were treated to a look at medieval ideas and actions up close. Of course there were little updates for us 21st century dwellers. The first of those adjustments was a change to the moat. Instead of William’s first obstacle an army had to overcome in breaching his fortress, it is a man made super bloom. 

We saw the Crown Jewels kept here at the Tower of London. No pictures were allowed but a web search will reveal a couple of crowns. We saw jewels from around the Empire, perhaps the most stunning were stones from India and the Cullinan Diamond, the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found from South Africa.

I’m sure the modern security is much more thorough than this lone sentry

That takes us back to those Norman churches that were built in the style of the Tower. Here we saw the culture William brought with him and adopted by the commoners. These churches have a common square stepped top (replacing the steeple of the Anglo-Saxon times) and some even have gargoyles. (Perhaps the most famous gargoyles are those at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The origins of these “protectors” and why they were needed on a Christian church is a bit confusing.) For us the gargoyles help us see the French influence on everyday life of the English. 

Enough of the history lesson. Here are some photos of various Norman style churches we came upon in our Cotswolds walk. While the churches were open, we never saw a church official at any of the buildings. 

Walking the Cotswolds

We were kissed by the dew. Each morning as we walked through fields of green grass we were greeted with damp but never wet ground cover. Never overly wet and barely enough to stay on the hem, by the time we had an honest start to the day it was gone. I guess we didn’t give the dew a chance since our starting time was 9am or later. It was an easy way to start the day. 

Armed with our Full English Breakfast, we began each day with directions in hand and anticipation in our hearts. Our intention was to walk every day over ancient pathways, so you could say we signed up for a challenge .

Here is an example of the directions:

1.20 km – BEAR RIGHT at the end of the field, ignoring the sharp right, and following the hedgerow on your right-hand side

1.40 km – Continue STRAIGHT ON through the wooden gate, follow hedgerow to your right

1.70 km – STRAIGHT ON ignoring left turn

2.0 km – At end of the field, BEAR LEFT then TURN RIGHT through a metal gate, follow hedgerow to your left

2.20 km – STRAIGHT ON through a wooden gate, diagonally through a field passing a wooden stump with a way marker on it

2.50 km – Pass through the wooden gate and BEAR RIGHT staying on the path, following the hedgerow

2.60 km – BEAR LEFT across the field, once the field has been crossed, BEAR RIGHT keeping hedge to your left

2.90 km – Cross the bridge out of the field, TURN LEFT into next field then BEAR LEFT following the low fence to your left

It is unlikely that the in-the-field confusion is apparent in the directions. Here are a few things that are not obvious from your computer screen. At 1.40km our directions instructed us to go through a wooden gate. It turned out there are many types of gates. This was part of the fun and some frustration. Here are a few photos of the items that qualified as a gate: a foot gate with a hasp, a climb-over-the-rail gate, and a cattle or vehicle gate. Over the course of the week the types of gates became more obvious as we learned what to look for. At a couple of intersections, however, there was more than one type of gate or there was a gate in the middle of the hedgerow that seemed to fit the directions, maybe.

You may have had this issue following directions to a friends house where the directions read “bear left.” What is the difference between turn left and bear left? Does it look the same each time? Look at this section at 2.20km, “through a field passing a wooden stump with a marker on it.” I thought I had learned this lesson years ago. Reading this I was transported back to my days delivering furniture for Mayflower Van Lines in the central and remote parts of California. Us city slickers like addresses and intersections, even road numbers are familiar to us, but these aren’t the rules in the country. Two distinctive “rules” come into play in the country. First are landmarks, as in “turn left at John’s BBQ.” Second are old landmarks that no longer exist. They are a type of code for the locals. The code is sometimes used to confuse the city slickers and other times the code has no malice intended. Sometime in the past a neighbor or perhaps a farmer took down a diseased or majestic tree. Everyone had an opinion about it but for some reason it had to go. Farmer Smith’s tree is long gone but everyone in the community knows what and where it was. It is an obvious place to make a turn or continue straight for those in the know. These directions might look like, “when you see Farmer Smith’s old tree stump continue for another 500 feet and make a left onto the road.” The events or buildings still exist to the residents. I’m sure you have a similar situation around your neighborhood. These directions more closely resemble the “wooden stump” description above. Perhaps I hadn’t learned it as well as I thought.

In an area that has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years these directions probably look fine to both the writer and reviewer. Everyone knows about that tree stump like everyone knows what a gate looks like. But beware to the traveler! One stump looks like another and the difference between a dirt road and a paved one is obvious. Why the writers couldn’t be more specific escapes us and our city minded brain. 

So every morning we set off with our directions in hand confident that this set would be more specific than the last set.  Take a look at this peaceful walk in a path through the woods. With temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s walking along rolling hills, at casual pace, and in anticipation of a small village ahead of us just waiting to prepare a coffee or lunch, every day was poised to be a new adventure.  Our daily learning curve helped us and we only walked off the route a couple of times.

Step over gate
Taken from Shelia’s iPhone 13
I guess this is a “V” gate
Taken from Shelia’s iPhone 13

Back on the main path again and more than a little confused, we were passed by a couple we had seen before. Trading pleasantries we asked for some clarification as to our location and the directions that may as well have been in French. Assured we were back on the right path, we continued on our way. By this time it was approaching lunch and we eagerly anticipated walking through the next village and finding a local pub. Who would think the directions would lead us along the side of the village instead of through it so we could stop for lunch? When we greeted the same couple a couple of hours later we found out that we had completely missed the village. They were happy to tell us about their experience. It turned out they were doing a pub crawl on their day off and had stopped for another pint.

The bull wasn’t me. Fortunately we didn’t see him, nor him us.
Taken from Shelia’s iPhone 13

We added an extra mile on the walk that day, and an early dinner.

There were wonderful things to see on our walks. Most of the old growth forest was long gone in the area, in part to build those marvelous wooden ships during the golden age of sail. There were still plenty of large, old trees to provide shade and pleasant scenery along the way. 

The scenery didn’t look anything like the dry golden hills of California.

I’m sold on the compact Olympus OMD system.

A few years ago, I purchased an Olympus OMD E-M10 Mark II. I was looking for a good street camera that would do additional duty as an easily packable and light weight kayak and motorcycle camera. As a mirrorless system camera it is small, light weight and has a good variety of available lenses. The two bodies in the lineup above them EM-5 MII and EM-1 are wate.r proof when paired with the right lenses but work well with the consumer line offered by Olympus. I rented an OMD EM-10 MII from my local camera shop and was impressed so I bought

Recently I took a trip to the Cotswolds in England and made the decision to leave my Nikon equipment at home in favor of the OMD system. The decision was difficult, but I planned to walk about 50 miles in seven days. The weight and size difference was pretty big which worked better with the amount of luggage space I had. I was able to pack two bodies, an EM-5 MII and EM-10 MII along three lenses, a pancake 14-42mm, the kit 14-42mm and an 75-300mm lens. Together in the bottom of my backpack they took the same room as my Nikon D7100 and a 70-200mm lens but were much lighter.

The OMD E-M5 has a few features I have fallen in love with over the course of the week. The first is a nifty pancake zoom lens that makes the camera nearly flat when turned off. It extends when the camera is turned on and zooms by a slight twist of the zoom ring. Second is a function button for HDR. In the early days of HDR most of the pictures were oversaturated and unrealistic, in my opinion. I not only wasn’t drawn to them, I was repulsed. I chose to keep my split neutral density filters in the bag and keep shooting like in the old Kodachrome days. But the Olympus guys got this one right! One button and the camera takes a series of five photos with an over/under exposure of two stops and blends them together in camera. Oh boy, a little piece of heaven! (The OMD E-M10 takes the five photos but needs a program like Photoshop to manually put them together.) I don’t have to carry the filter, step up ring or take the extra time to set everything up. Third, the camera takes good quality video with a flip out screen that allows me to see how I lined things up when in selfie mode.

Split neutral density filter with the accompanying holder and step up ring. The new HDR replaces these tools in some circumstances.

There’s one more thing, I like the color palette of the sensor. In the early days of digital cameras this option didn’t exist. If you are a follower of this blog over the past couple of years you know I’m a big film shooter. One of the things I like about film is the different color pallets for each film and even each manufacturer. In the early digital days, it seemed to me that all digital photos looked the same. It didn’t matter if the end product was color or black and white, all the same. With the ubiquity of digital cameras and phone/cameras, it seems the manufacturers have tried harder in the past few years to delineate their specific colors and rendering of black and white. The portrait and natural modes look real and the vivid setting adds just enough saturation to make some photos pop. 

I like the Olympus color palette. In the early days of digital photography, all sensors make the same image.

So that’s it. I’m sold! I’ll be carrying my OMD cameras a lot more. The Nikons still have their place and I’m not getting rid of them, but the size and benefits of the OMD system have a permanent space in my daypack, for now.

Fog Bows and Sea Dogs

The sun was still low from the east, but its low altitude didn’t mitigate the sparkle bouncing off the water. Sun screen on, boat off the roof and to the dock. Out with the camera and water bottle, on with the spray skirt and two-piece custom-made Greenland paddle. My initial target is usually the mile buoy, paddle out to the moaning of the horn and a look at the seals hanging on as it bobs up and down in the water and then make a turn west toward Natural Bridges or east to Capitola.

The sound of George Benson’s Breezin’ blaring from the end of the pier drew me like a moth to the flame. Not exactly the direction of the buoy. As I approached, an unseen drummer accompanied George. I guess he was tuning up for Saturday playing for visitors and collecting thank-yous in the form of currency. Its nice work if you can get it. Maybe he had his hat out in front of his drum set to throw in coins and bills, “anything appreciated” or “Thank You” on a small piece of cardboard anchored inside the brim. I lingered for a few moments. He wasn’t too bad. Only temporarily distracted, I pointed the bow toward Steamer Lane and Seal Rock, a popular surf point in Santa Cruz. By this time the heat from the interior had drawn in the off shore could bank. The sun was still low in the sky and because it was…magic happened.

Unlike Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble, I don’t have the world on a string and can’t make a rainbow with my finger. Instead, I must wait for the conditions to be right for one to appear. Under certain conditions I can put myself in the right position to see the rainbow that is already there. Rainbows are always magic, even when they are white. As I turned toward the coast the sun lit up and the bow appeared. I found the arch moved as I paddled and could “make it” highlight things in front of me.

As I moved around the shoreline, the fogbow moved with me and gave me a chance to use is as a frame for the shore, a boat and seal rock. In my minds jukebox I heard Louis Armstrong singing, “What a wonderful world.”

Have you seen a Fogbow? Let me know.

A fogbow is a white arch that resembles a rainbow’s arch but lacks the multiplicity of colors. Perhaps coming into the language in the early 19th century, sailors gave it the name Sea Dog. The exact origin of the sailor’s term is difficult to nail down, much like the endless search for the end of the rainbow. Like a rainbow, fogbows are seen when the sun is behind your back. The water that makes the white arch is provided by fog bank, and sometimes if you look closely you can almost see some color trailing off on the edges.

Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride

The Wild One, Easy Rider, The Wild Angels were movies from the 50’s and 60’s that pointed to rebellious youth and their motorcycle. The bad boy stereotype also played well for the Fonz in Happy Days in the 70’s. Just seeing the motorcycle or that certain black jacket was enough to judge the character of the rider. Hollywood softened the image a bit with The World’s Fastest Indian and Mission Impossible put Tom Cruise on a BMW motorcycle in a chase scene that paints motorcycle riders as a very different light. The television show Law and Order had Jack, a lawyer no less, riding a BMW boxer. No matter what vision comes to mind, the sight or sound of hordes of motorcycles rumbling down the street doesn’t usually bring up warm fuzzy feelings.

Every year in May a group of men and women get together for a short motorcycle ride through communities around the world. The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride isn’t just a chance to set off car alarms and intimidate children throughout the land. It is a ride for a cause.

Distinguished: 1) successful, authoritative, and commanding great respect 2) showing dignity or authority in one’s appearance or manner.

Gentleman: 1) a chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man. 2) a polite or formal way of referring to a man.

I’m not so sure about the first definition of distinguished but the second surely applies as men and women got dressed up, added a helmet and gloves and paraded through San Jose on May 22, 2022. Sponsored by Spirit Motorcycles (Indian, Moto Guzzi, Royal Enfield and Triumph dealer), almost 200 bikers came together to raise money and awareness for Men’s health. You don’t need to be a classic or ride a classic motorcycle to participate in the event.

Of course, Spirit Motorcycles sell the very types of motors that we think of for a classic bike. Jay Leno says on his show Jay Leno’s Garage (NBC and YouTube) that a motorcycle should first and foremost show off the motor. Every marque at Spirit shares that characteristic. The rebirth of Triumph and Indian are all about the look, sound, and style of a motor with a frame and wheels. Royal Enfield, made in India from original English plans in the 50’s has recently been reintroduced to the US and Moto Guzzi, where motors haven’t gone out of style since 1921 round out the MOTORcycle retro style that seems to fit the Distinguished Gentleman’s ride.

As you will see in the photos, there were plenty of other marques also, Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. (https://youtu.be/uM96NtmaCM0) There is no restriction on the brand or style of the bike and anyone who wanted to come on a new race-inspired bike would certainly be welcome because this ride is all about getting dressed up to bring awareness to men and their physical and mental health.

To this end riders pay a small fee and fundraise to support awareness for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health. The organization was founded in Australia in 2012 and has raised $31.6 million US dollars in 115 countries around the world, according to the website www.gentlemensride.com.

Take a few moments and peruse the start of this year’s ride. Maybe you will see your favorite bike or event decide to buy one. I promise you don’t have to hide your kids or worry that the neighborhood is going downhill. (https://youtu.be/KlOdsIAyTos)

Old Routes Never Die The Pony Express

It was the gold. In the west it was often the gold. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was the California gold and after that the Comstock gold. It was also the fertile fields of Oregon, gold of the nonmineral type. Correspondence in the days before electronics was either by word of mouth or mail. The need for mail came in two areas, letters home to people east of St. Louis, and commerce. Money and credit that connected the raw material of the west to the factories and commerce in the east. Six months for mail was too long.

It took Six months for mail arrive on a packet or ship that took the route around the horn of South America. Delivery time could be shorted by sailing to the eastern side of Panama and transloading freight and passengers across the isthmus to the Pacific side and then to San Francisco, but the mosquitos that caused yellow fever and malaria along with the heat took lives. What was really needed was a fast land route across the prairie and the Rockies.

Avoiding the Rockies with their snow and high peaks, the stagecoach took a southern route to California

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company was the first government contractor to deliver mail twice a week beginning in 1857. The six-year contract followed a southern route that started in St. Louis, proceeded to Little Rock, Arkansas through Texas and Yuma, Arizona and eventually to Los Angeles where it then proceeded north to San Francisco. The $600,000 contract resulted in new and improved roads along with 139 new bridges along the way, according to Life on the Pony Express by Diane Yancey. The route was anything but easy as Shoshone, Apache, and Comanche tribes attacked the stage line along the way and the weather varied from cold and snowy in the winter to summer heat which according to one passenger was “as close to hell as (I) ever wished to be”.

A central route through the middle of the country using Salt Lake City as a pass-through point was highly desired. It would use the route followed by so many emigrants who ended up on the west coast. The call for mail service must have been loud and constant because in 1860, William H. Russell decided to establish an express service for mail independent of the US Postal service or Congressional financial backing. The Pony Express was almost immediately famous and has remained significant in the annals of the West.

The Pony Express was a short-lived affair lasting only 18 months from April 1860-October 1861. One reason for its brief time period was because the Pony never did receive a government contract to deliver the mail. An example of gumption, bravery, and success, the Pony Express lives in the memory of America as an example of Yankee ingenuity and a can-do spirit. The young riders driving through all kinds of weather to deliver the mail could be the ideal poster for the US Postal Services motto “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” even if they were closer to UPS than the postal service.

It was young riders who made it happen as evidenced by a poster advertising the position:

 Wanted-young skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.

With a little imagination, the route can still be seen near Dayton, Nevada. Driving today on U.S. 50 from Carson City to the Utah border, a road that is parallel to the old route, in an air conditioned or heated car or truck it is easy to forget that in an era limited to dirt roads or trails, horses, and the raw environment, the most natural route followed water. The Carson River, flowing east from the Sierra Nevada passes through Carson City and Dayton, Nevada. The path made by the river was a thoroughfare for the Paiute people before the westward emigrants came to settle in the area. The crisis created by the intersection of the two cultures and creation of Fort Churchill will be the subject of another post. The Pony Express, Butterfield Overland stages, and eventually the railroad all used the same route along the river. In the twentieth century, U.S. 50 would be build along the same route, only a couple of miles to the north.

“Bucklands Ranch Station, homesteaded in 1839 was a stop for the Overland states and emigrant trains. In 1860 it became a home station for the Pony Express. Pony Bob Haslam rode from here to Friday’s station (stateline, Nev.). Forth Churchill was built in 1860 on part of the ranch to protect the emigrants, stages, and the Pony Express.”

I went in search of the Stage and Pony Express route in the late summer. Much to my surprise, a section is still in use and has a few historical artifacts to mark the importance of the route to westward expansion.

A good route never goes out of fashion and today this section of the old Pony Express is mostly a dirt road. Along the sides of this very well-maintained road are signs of the reason the Pony Express didn’t last. First and foremost, are the telephone wires and poles. In the Pony’s day it was the telegraph not the yet-to-be-invented telephone that shortened communication times. The ability to communicate by wire in seconds made the ten day promise of the Express outdated. In the parlance of today, the mail service was disrupted.

The telegraph was largely laid by the railroad as part of the federal contract awarding the routes to the west. It is no surprise that the railroad is still a strong presence along the route. Another major presence is agriculture in the form of grass crops and range land. Both the telephone and train remain a strong presence along the route.

Sagebrush, desert, and the promise of California kept the emigrants moving

A rusted sign looking west over the desert stands as a reminder of the pressure exerted by the emigrants who followed the route to California. They came by the thousands, at first for the gold fields and then later for the rich agricultural fields in California’s Central Valley where the first major crops to be grown and sent east to feed the growing cities of immigrants fueling the industrial engine of the late 19th century were grain products like wheat, rice and other grassland staples. As an example of ambition, heroism, and expansion in the American west the Pony Express captures our attention today as it did in its own day

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Here in the city, it’s raining. Limited breaks between storms are counted only in hours. The rain has fallen for over a week. Unable to go outside for any length of time, I’m left with dreaming about where I’d rather be. Today I’m focused on Arches National Park in Utah. I visited Arches in the fall of 2021, after families were imprisoned by the school schedule. Not far from the visitor’s center is Balancing Rock, a formation that looks a little like a bowling ball set on top of a pillar.

Balancing Rock isn’t really balancing, the column is being weathered away in a familiar pattern. I wonder at what point, or perhaps when the area being worn away to a point, will result in the top of the column really balancing. I wonder how long it will take. Looking at it from different angles it takes on different forms. From one side it looks like a balancing basketball or bowling ball. I guess this is how it got its name.

From another angle the oblong “head” reminds me of the back side of the statues on Easter Island. Those statues are not only unique for their size They are unique because to their location, poised on top of a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A popular tale is when the Easter Island people were asked how the gods ended up on the cliffs their response was “they walked.” Westerners didn’t believe them and chalked up the answer to a lack of understanding on the part of the native people. But the Europeans didn’t have an answer. The explanation seemed impossible, and they rejected the idea it was aliens from the distant past. (Sorry to burst the bubble of all you Stargate fans.) Nova did a great show called “The Secrets of Easter Island” (2012) that sought the answer to the question. The show documents how the statues were moved from a quarry miles away to their final location. I’ll cut to the chase, they walked.  It’s funny how decaying rocks thousands of miles away in Arches can trigger memories from something unrelated. These rocks weren’t moved by man.

As a speck of a person in the landscape and in history, these natural wonders make me humble.

There is something magical about the red sands of the Southwest. While not barren, the area is bleak with limited vegetation and few trees. The compressed sand that makes up the hills and eventually the arches is being weathered away by rain and wind making a carpet of red sand that isn’t at all like a beach, making the sandy landscape both familiar and foreign at the same time. Compression of the sands from an ancient sea made mineral bands which create beauty in both colors and wrinkles. Those wrinkles, like an old man’s face, have stories to tell, and like the old man, most of those stories from the past remain unspoken.

And so, we get to wonder and make it up, like the kid’s game of finding something familiar in the clouds, or the Greeks finding their gods and heroes in the heavens.

The same wind that cuts away at the sandstone leaves us with this natural sculpture garden. The wind also brings in clouds and the rain that results in the only major river in the region, the Colorado. The clouds give texture to my photos and remind me of the thunderstorms that threaten flashfloods as they approach Arches National Park from hundreds of miles away.

The scale of everything near Moab, Utah is large. Reducing the forms and features to anything printed on paper or electronic pages seems like limiting the power of gravity. Like Yosemite, Arches puts me in my place. As a speck of a person in the landscape and in history, these natural wonders make me humble. I’m content to observe and wonder.

The vast scale of Arches is humbling. People have lived here for centuries.

What about you? What do you see in Balancing Rock? Something supernatural? Something comical? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.