Feb 242012

Leaving Lago Maggiore by train from Stresa, we headed to Verona via a change of trains in Milan’s sprawling central station. Located about midway between Milan and Venice, the history and architecture of Verona provided an intriguing reason to explore its ancient streets. Its city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have yet to be disappointed by spending time in UNESCO sites and will seek them out whenever possible.

Verona’s origins are as obscure as the origin of its name. It became a Roman colony in 89 BCE and later a full Roman city. From what I read, the foundations of the current city stand upon the virtually intact Roman city with the cellars of many houses and palazzos accessing Roman ruins.

Verona’s history through medieval and early renaissance times is the usual convolution of wars, ambition, plague and shifting alliances. Cangrande I gained power in 1308 and brought under his control Padua, Treviso and Vicenza. Being a patron of the arts, he gave protection to the great Italian poets Dante and Petrarch and the painter and architect Giotto.

Shakespeare used it as a setting in two of his plays, Two Gentlemen From Verona and of course, Romeo and Juliette.

The city came under Austrian power in 1508, was decimated by plague in the early 1600’s when 2/3’s of its population died. Verona was occupied by Napoleon in 1797 and bounced back and forth between Napoleon, Austria and other kingdoms, finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

Fascism brought a dark chapter to Verona’s history during World War II when many of its Jews were shipped off to Nazi concentration camps. Allied troops and anti-fascist elements were tortured and incarcerated within the city.

Today, Verona is a vibrant, colorful city, with beautifully preserved streets and architecture. It is nestled along the wide banks of the Adige river and lies close to lovely Lago Garda and the foothills of the Alps to the north.

The ancient Roman Arena built in 30 CE dominates the main piazza. We just missed the summer season of operas held when the arena becomes the beautiful settings for Verona’s major operatic festival. Still, there is much to see, do and experience. Because it is such and interesting and beautiful city, our two days in Verona were totally insufficient.

Wandering the streets of the old city, I found many interesting images. These photographs are some of the best I did on our trip.

Riding to work in the Piazza Bra at dawn.

A mix of architectural periods illustrates Verona’s over 2,000 year history.

Along the Adige.

The narrow, ancient streets of Verona old city are very pedestrian friendly. The shopping rivals Milan for luxurious and very expensive fashion.

Don’t you think this armoir would make a lovely addition to any bedroom room?

I’ve been playing with a technique that could convey some of the ancient feel within Verona. This one and the one below capture something more iconic.

Climbing the hill to Castell San Pietro.

Overlooking a part of Verona from the Castell San Pietro. A night-time, dusk or dawn view on a clear day would be beautiful.

Juliette’s balcony. Okay, it’s not the one they call her balcony. Then again, neither is the fraudulent balcony they perpetrate on the tourists. Not only was she a figment of Shakespeare’s brilliant imagination, but the eponymous balcony was added to the house in 1936, hundreds of years after she would have lived had she been real. You can also visit “Juliette’s Tomb”.

And finally, a Black and White HDR image of the Torre Lomberti just off the Piazza della Erbe, another of Verona’s icons.

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Jul 032011

Descending the medieval lanes of Saint-Emilion, France.

The brilliant sunshine of a southern France spring plays across vast, rolling fields of venerable grape vines. Row upon row march up and over the undulating landscape of the Dordogne Valley with military precision. Where the land is flat, their perfectly straight files disappear into distant trees or perhaps one of the many, age-old Châteaus dotting the horizon and hilltops. In the distance, an ancient steeple among a cluster of stone buildings rises out of the vineyards denoting a village.

A typical village in the Dordogne Valley near Saint-Emilion.

Driving the two lane, back roads of northeastern Bordeaux is a journey into 18th century France. The landscape has changed little over the centuries-a few, widely dispersed towns, tiny villages set among vast battalions of bright, green vines, here and there islands of trees, and of course, the ubiquitous, elegant Châteaus.Market day in the town of Libourne on the way to Saint-Emilion.

A baker in his mobile boulangerie selling scrumptious breads on market day in Libourne.

Blossoming rose bushes adorn the ends of many rows. Besides providing a contrasting touch of color, they act as sentinels for disease and fungus, an early warning system telling the farmer of possible problems in his vineyard.

Occasional signs along the road announce various Châteaus, inviting the traveler to taste their wines, have dinner or spend the night. It is impressive to see signs for some of the most famous wines in the world. Narrow lanes between the vines lead to the elegant facades of Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac, Château Magdelaine, and Clos Fourtet, all members of the elite classification, Premiers Grands Crus Classés.

The ruins of an ancient church greets visitors as they approach Saint-Emilion.

The town of Saint-Émilion, the center of the world famous Appellation Saint-Émilion Controlee and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies now only a few kilometers away. The Bell Tower of its ancient, monolithic church and the buildings surrounding it give no indication as to the scope and beauty of the town. For that, you must stop and explore it on foot.

Entering a church through its age-worn portal unknowingly gives entry to the town. The cool, dark interior is lit by tall, stained-glass windows in the rear apse surrounding the chancel. Gregorian chant plays softly through hidden speakers. The effect is so beautiful and appropriate that it is a wonder more historic churches don’t take advantage of this simple method for dramatically enhancing their atmosphere.

A delicately columned cloister is accessed through a side door. From there, another door leads to the Saint-Émilion tourism office and through it to a small plaza surrounding the bell tower. Umbrellas shade the tables of two cafes and beyond them is a low wall. Spread beneath the wall is a panorama of tile-roofed, stone houses and cobbled lanes, a wonderful surprise.

Saint-Émilion is set within an enormous, natural amphitheater. Rows of grape vines mark the edge of town, disappearing into the distant horizon. At the foot of the sheer cliff lies a small, cafe-lined plaza. From this limestone cliff, the underground, Monolithic Church, the largest of its kind in France, was carved by generations of devoted Benedictine monks. Over 15,000 cubic yards of rock were quarried to create the huge interior spaces.

Narrow lanes, one so steep and slick a handrail is necessary, wind around and down, past stylish wine shops, to the plaza below. It seems as if the only businesses are wine shops, restaurants or macaroon stores, crunchy, multi-colored macaroons being another Saint-Émilion specialty.Establishment Martin is one of Saint-Emilion’s premier wine shops. It sells over 90 different wines and will happily provide tastings.

The portal to the Monolithic Church with its iconic bell tower.

The massive doors to the Monolithic Church lie at the bottom of the cliff just off the plaza. Frequent tours explore the vast interior. Past the church, more wine stores provide tastings of the local vintages. Cocktail tables with bottles and glasses sit just outside the doors of the shops, allowing casual tastings of the regions full-bodied reds as you stroll.

A leisurely 10-15 minute walk brings you to the vines of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes abutting the town. From here, you can wander in all directions to your heart’s delight, toward wineries, châteaus and beyond.

The hills around Saint-Emilion.

A typical grave in the cemetery of village 1 km from Saint-Emilion.

Saint-Émilion is an architectural gem. Its timeless, medieval atmosphere transports you to a previous era. Here, you will find not only marvelous, southern French cuisine and exceptional wines, but also, a sense of quiet elegance and understated self-confidence that comes from centuries of culture and a world class reputation for excellence.

Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Mar 082011

Hummingbird Knob

This year, Yolanda and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary purchasing our cabin and land in Western Colorado, Hummingbird Knob. We constantly remark that this is the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives. Of all the many properties Yolanda has owned over the years, none, has effected her life so dramatically and none is more valuable in non-monetary terms.

During these ten years, we’ve taken the land from being a remote piece of never used wilderness with a shell of a cabin visited solely by mice, flies and the flickers who poked holes in the walls chasing them, to a lovely, remote, cozy little cabin in the woods.

We have lived there for as much as seven months continuously; spring through fall. In winter, we visit for about 4-5 days each month. It’s a bit too difficult, though not impossible, to live there full time during the winter months. It would require lots of firewood especially on those nights like last week when it got down to 17 below zero Fahrenheit.

Every season has its unique beauty. I have never known it to be anything but beautiful. One friend, who visited in early spring, experienced a storm complete with dramatic, daytime displays of thunder and lightning. He said that no matter the weather, it’s always beautiful. And that’s the truth.

It is beautiful, whether it be the profusion of wildflowers and intense greens of spring with the creek raging in flood; the warm, occasionally hot, languid days of summer that bring the ripening of the choke cherries and, our favorite, the-much better than blueberries-serviceberries; the brilliant color of fall with its shortening, indian summer days and golden Aspen, scarlet Gambel Oaks, orange Hawthorne and bright yellow Cottonwoods; or the intensely quiet, pristine landscape of snow-covered trees and frozen creek following a winter storm.

In a phrase: We are blessed.

The Knob, being visited by one of the many elk wintering on our land. Five elk initially were on the knob before I took this. As I approached on snowshoes, this single sentry remained, barking her warning. They sound exactly like dogs.

Our neighbor runs cattle in the fall on the hayfields above our land and drives them down to lower pastures when the snow gets to deep.

We have the privilege of accessing our neighbors 600 acres. The 360 degree view, isolation and utter serenity in winter is, to say the least, marvelousl.

Ermina and her family are year-round residents, turning tan in summer. She’s an Ermine.

I’ve been building a portfolio of snow and ice formations I find on our creek:

Porky hangs out in the oaks, napping safely in the branches to conserve energy during the winter. When I took this, after noisily bushwacking on snowshoes through the thicket, his attitude was one of, “Aw come on. Can’t you just let me nap in peace?”

On the middle bench: Gambel Oaks, Serviceberry bushes and a Blue Spruce, typical of much of our land.

Well over one hundred aspens populate our small aspen grove.

A view from our deck: Blue Spruce during a gentle, winter storm.

Three young spruce on the creek bench.

Wild turkeys are frequent visitors in the spring, summer and fall, but rare in winter.

I found Rocky trying to get at my bird feeders one gorgeous, January day.

Looking down from the deck to the creek bench.

My Playhouse, uh, I mean, my office.

My Playhouse, uh, I mean my office.

Nana’s Cabin, our guest cabin on the upper bench. We built it as a memorial to Yolanda’s mother and contains some furniture, books, knic-knacks and pictures that belonged to her.

The interior of Nana’s Cabin. With it’s small loft, containing a queen mattress and futon, it sleeps four.

Our solar shower gets little use in the winter for obvious reasons.

A view from the deck after a fresh snowfall.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


May 232010

We were fortunate to be invited to hike Ed Wagner’s Rincon Ranch along with the Arizona Trailblazers, a Phoenix based hiking club, www.azhikers.org. Kay Lyons, Ed’s significant other, is a friend and knew we’d enjoy the outing. We had heard about Ed’s ranch for a while now. This was the opportunity we had been waiting for.Rincon Ranch evolved over many years when Bert Cox, the original rancher, began acquiring land in the early 1900s. He accumulated and consolidated a number of ranches in eastern New Mexico. Ed bought it in 2000 primarily as a retreat; thirty-two square miles of retreat. Ed spent his career in factory management, principally for Intel. Upon retirement, he began looking for land in the west and through a friend, happened upon this vast stretch of canyons and mesas just east of the Arizona border.The view from the lodge.

The land is dry; no year round or seasonal creeks, but it contains abundant flora and fauna. Piñons, Junipers, Ponderosas and Cypress grow profusely in the canyons and on the mesas. Fox, Badger, Bobcat, Bear, Coyote, Deer, and Mountain Lions, even Mexican Wolves, call it home. Herds of Elk roam freely, allowing Ed to bag a huge, six point bull last fall.

Ed is working to return the flatlands of the ranch from over-grazed ranch land into a wildlife preserve. He’s adding dirt tanks, wells, and access roads. Ed’s dream is to develop the ranch as a destination for hiking, mountain biking and trail riding as well as a hunting destination during the fall hunting seasons.

Rincon Ranch Lodge

At night, not a single light can be seen from the spacious lodge Ed built to host groups. The night sky at 7,000 feet is as black and star-filled as anywhere in the west. As well, silence is profound. Not a sound can be heard save that of the occasional breeze moving among the trees or the distant calls of a pack of coyotes.

Matate, Mano and Pottery Shards atop Porter’s Knob

For centuries, Indians from the Membres and Zuni tribes lived on and migrated across this land of abundant wildlife, berries and roots. Their footpaths enabled trading between villages.

Rincon Ranch lies on the Colorado Plateau, once sea floor millennia ago. It is now uplifted over a mile above sea level. Hikers have come across pieces of petrified wood from the ancient forests that covered the area when it was not covered by oceans.

Erosion has created vertical cliffs of red and golden sandstone and exposed deposits of coal and pure white limestone. Relatively recent volcanic activity can be found in volcanic pipes that spewed lava and pyroclastic flows across the landscape millennia ago.

Zuni Canyon

Looking into Zuni Canyon with Porter’s Knob in the distance

A six-hour drive finishing with eight miles of good gravel road brought us to the lodge. Having car pooled, a group already was ensconced in the kitchen preparing dinner or going over topo maps, planning tomorrow’s hike. From the first, everybody was convivial. Kay showed Yolanda and I our room whose windows took in a dramatic panorama looking down into a canyon and far out to distant mountains toward the southeast.

Everyone shared food as well as the cooking and cleaning. Kay had come up with a bit of a schedule as people offered to bring their favorite dishes. With dinner over and we turned in early in anticipation of tomorrows hike.

Breakfast was at seven but not realizing the time change, Yolanda and I made it down at eight. No worries. No one was upset and we quickly ate and prepared for our first day of scouting trails. The goal today was to hike Perry Canyon to where a wash came off the mesa; find a good way back up onto the mesa and then back to the lodge.

The beginning of the hike into Perry Canyon

Wendy checking her GPS and setting a waypoint.

Several of the group had GPS’s. They set waypoints as we hiked allowing our track to be saved and a map of the trail made. As we gradually descended, the richness and diversity of the land was evident. Large Ponderosa Pines towered over the wash, dense stands of Piñon Pines grew in wild profusion; a Bobcat’s delicate step left imprints in the sand.

Gary and Ed checking the map, trying to figure out where we turn to go up the correct wash.

Michael helping Carlton place a flag as Bill ties another at the entrance to the wash.

Turning up a small wash, not the one we were looking for as it turns out, we eventually climbed our way up to the expansive views provided by one of the mesas. It being lunchtime, we stopped, ate, and christened the spot Trailblazer Point.

Trailblazer Point

We made rock cairns and flagged the path along the mesa top through the maze of widely spaced trees. Tiring of the flats, we found a way down into another wash where we spotted a four-foot snake, not a rattler thank goodness. As the wash narrowed and got choked with fallen trees, we found our way out and onto one of the access roads Ed had built. This being the Windmill Road, leading to a site planned for a wind energy farm.

Michael, Wendy, Carlton Yolanda, Kay, Wendy, Bill and Linda at a dramatic overlook to the southeast as we connected to the Windmill Road.

A short mile walk took us back to the lodge. After our slow five miles and about five hours of hiking, many took naps or simply relaxed and read until dinner.

Soup is the planned meal. One woman brought a wonderful lentil and bean soup and I brought split pea soup. Along with salad, cornbread, wine and the wonderful company, we had a great meal. Especially when it was followed by Yolanda’s deliciously tart lemon chess pie. With the table cleared and dishes done, it was time for games before bed.

The next morning saw another beautiful, blue-sky day. Today’s hike was to be along the cliffs of the penisula above Zuni Canyon to a knob with panoramic views and Native American artifacts. From there we were to then find a way down into the canyon and end up in the small box canyon Kay calls the Swimming Pool.

Kay and Michael along the edge of Zuni Canyon at the beginning of the hike.

The weather was lovely, perfect temperature for hiking. We quickly found our way to the cliff edge, following its zigs and zags while watching the other side of the wide canyon for wildlife. Making cairns and tying trail markers on trees as we hiked led us to an interesting wave formation where the rocks had eroded in sweeping curves.Kay and Ed entering The Wave.

Gary, Carlton, Kay, Linda and Bill taking a snack break atop The Wave.

Looking to the northeast and The Hermitage (lower left), a cabin built for retreats, from the knob.

Lunchtime again brought us to Porter’s Knob, a spot with sweeping views. The Indians had obviously used this knob in the past. Several matates, grinding stones, lay about as did numerous pottery shards, some with intricate black and white designs and obvious very old. It is easy to imagine hunting parties coming to this spot over the centuries. With its panoramic views to the south, west and north, it would’ve been easy to spot game, while an abundance of nuts and berries provided sustenance.

Following lunch, we had to find a way off the knob and into the canyon. Again, marking trail as we went, I found a slight depression that led to a part of the cliff from which rock falls had filled in a way down. After only the smallest drop of 3-4 feet, we were able to pick our way among the rockfall eventually leading us to a nose of soft dirt and shale, allowing a relatively easy access to the canyon bottom.

Kay making the drop on the route down into Zuni Canyon.

Gary, with Wendy and Bill behing, negotiating the rockfall after the drop.

The nose of soft shales and the route into the canyon above.

From here, it was an easy, flat hike as the canyon gradually narrowed into a winding, sandy wash that took us to the swimming pool in no time. This is a true box canyon and the steep canyon end, though not very high, stopped our progress. Water from the previous week’s snowfall filled a small tank carved into the cliffs and forlorn pools beneath overhangs provided water for the animals.

Kay, as the canyon narrows, leading the way toward the Swimming Pool.

Bill, at the deep end of the Swimming Pool, trying to figure a way out.

Backtracking a hundred yards or so, led us to an easy route out of the Swimming Pool and onto the road above, where our vehicles waited, returning us to the lodge.

Michael and Bill looking into The Deep End. Rocks that Bill and Carlton carried and set up as a possible step are below the small tank of water.

Dinner that night was from Ed’s 6-point bull. Elk meat is so very lean. Not one bit of fat. Having been prepared properly immediately after it had been killed, there was not a hint of gaminess; just rich, flavorful protein.

The final morning, everyone gathered his or her things. Some were leaving later in the day staying to do another hike. We left after breakfast, making the long drive back to Scottsdale.

From left to right bottom to top: Debbie, me, Kay, Linda Gary, Ed, Bill, Wendy, Michael, Wendy, Yolanda and Carlton.

It was a truly rewarding few days. Not only did we experience a part of the west few people, other than the ancients, ever get to see, but we made good friends as well. Yolanda and I are looking forward to our next sojourn in Scottsdale and hooking up again with the Arizona Trailblazers. There are many new places to explore and new areas, reachable only by foot, to experience.

Ed and Kay along the rim of Zuni Canyon.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging