Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Johnston Canyon in Winter

During the summer season Johnston Canyon is one of the most sought after destinations in the Banff National Park. Hundreds of tourists visit the falls daily. And for a good reason as the falls and the canyon are spectacular

During the winter the trails and catwalks are still open and offer a hike of a totally different kind.

Instead of gushing rapids of turbulent turquoise glacier water, beautiful and intricate ice sculptures shine in the soft low winter light.

Still not a place for those seeking solitude, but one can easily find a parking spot and doesn't have to squeeze in between other hikers along the catwalks.

The trails are semi-maintained and easy to hike. It is recommended to have some kind of traction device with you though, for these icy winter days. We use the Yaktrax which are available in the Banff  Visitor Center.

After only 1.1 km the Lower Falls come into view..

... here an even closer view.

Light and shadow, canyon and ice are providing hundreds of shades of white, from the almost pure white, to tan to all sort of blue hues.

A smaller waterfall along the trail....frozen for the time being...

After 2.7 km and a few more of these catwalks

the basin of the Upper Falls opens up.
During the summer months standing on the overlook of the Upper Falls leaves you wet and dripping, this time of the year the falls are still trickling but otherwise rather approachable.

Please feel free to click on the images to enlarge them. The frozen water resembles dripping stalactites and are an rather amazing sight close up.

On the weekend we hiked the Canyon, the perfect combination of weather and temperature seemed to appeal to ice climbers, too. It's breath taking to watch them if not a bit scary. But all the ones we saw that day seemed to know what they were doing.

Ice climbing in a T-shirt....only in Canada, eh?

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Early this summer, after I had just planned my Germany trip, I happened to skype with my dear friend Andrea.  At that time she was in the process of booking her yearly horseback riding adventure, looking for a warm European destination in fall. Excitedly she told me about a tour she found that reminded her of me. The hosts are naturalists and photographers who study the Iberian Wolf, are vegetarian and their stable was located in a national park. "Too bad you are not in Europe at that time", Andrea said. Just having booked my flights I asked her about the timing and as luck would have it, it exactly matched the time I indeed was in Europe, I just had to reschedule my flight back! After a short family conference it was decided, I would join her. Woohoo!!!!

The ranch of Ecotura Ecoturismo is located in the heart of the Peneda-Geres National Park. 
About 174000 acres in size, this Park is Portugals only national park and among many other protected animals home to two of the most endangered species on the Iberian Pensinsula, the Iberian Wolf and the Garrano horse.

Upon arrival we were greeted by Pedro's and Anabela's many friendly dogs and of course lot's of horses. Pedro and Anabela specialize in two different breeds of horses, the Lusitanos and the Garranos, both are pure Portugese breeds.

We stayed at a beautiful guesthouse a few kilometers away. Every morning Pedro would pick us up at the very humanly time of 10 am. At the ranch he would assign the horses and off we were brushing and tacking up. In a perfect world the plan would have been to go daily on long trail rides with healthy lunches, homemade by Anabela, in the saddlebags. But since there is no such thing as a perfect world we got a bit of rain, well actually a lot of rain and plans got adjusted accordingly.
We just played with the weather and found almost everyday a 3 - 4 hour gap where it was not quite pouring and we could enjoy our mounts and the stunning landscape.

Here Andrea, getting Ferrari ready, a, as you can guess by the name, quite hot Garrano stallion.

The rides would lead us over wide open landscapes

Photo by Andrea Machacek
to smaller paths, 

and even through small villages.

The first day I rode Roussinante, an absolute stunning Lusitano stallion who was by far the best trained horse I ever had the pleasure of riding, sorry Fin...;-) Pedro and Anabela call him their fairy tale horse, that says it all, right?

Photo by Andrea Machacek

Every once in a while the sun would peek through, the wind quiet down and we thought we are in horseback riding heaven.

One day though, it was raining so hard, there was just no chance to ride. Instead we decided to walk a bit and Pedro led us through idyllic small villages, fabulous forests. and along remaining parts of the old Roman Geira, a road built by the Romans, as for example this bridge.

An old aqueduct, built by monks in an attempt to make the land more suitable for agriculture.

Ruins telling the story of a once more populated area.

And of course lots and lots of oaks. As we were leisuley walking along I noticed these strange "acorns". Not sure what I was seing, I asked Pedro.
What I was looking at was of course not an acorn. It was a leaf deformity, called a gall, due to a gall wasp infestation. The gall wasps lay their eggs inside the growing leaves in spring. During the egg-laying process the wasps secrets chemicals into the leaf that interfere with normal plant cell growth and these "horned" galls are formed. They are basically a wasp induced leaf tumor.

Once the gall has reached the size of about an inch it stops growing and the wasps develop inside. Once the wasp matures it escapes through a tiny hole, if it doesn't get "picked" up by a hungry bird before, what must have happened to the wasp in the gall below...nature at it's best...

Fencing in this area of Portugal constists mostly of stone walls. One can only imagine how much work must have gone into these fences.

The next day  though, saw us in the saddle again!

Usually a few of Pedros dogs would accompany us on our trail rides.

One day, we stumbled over a rather unusual companion. Click on the photo below to enlarge it...

Pedro knew who's calf it was and we brought it to an safe enclosure, but then rode to the farmers house in a nearby village. We had to let the farmer know that mother and calf had been seperated, since the calf would be very hungry after that adventure.

Roussinante was my mount for the whole week which made me very happy. At one point I had asked Pedro if I could ride one of his Gerrano horses as I was just curious how they would be under the saddle. He looked at me and with a smile on his lips he told me that I was just to tall....
Fine with me as I totally enjoyed riding my fairy tale horse!

Photo by Andrea Machacek

Finally, towards the end of the week, the weather gods took a pity with us and sent some sun.  We took full advantage of it and took a long day ride. Here Roussinante during our lunch picnic.

During our outings we never encountered either the wolfs nor one of the wild Gerrano herds that still roam the hills of the Peneda-Geres National Park.
But we saw at least a wolf paw print.

All to soon the week was over. On the way back to the airport in Porto we stopped quickly to have a look at the Espigueiros of Soaja. At first sight I thought these were fancy grave sites. 

But far from it, these buildings were used for grain and other food storage and protection. They were built all together so they could be more easily guarded.

An amazing trip with not enough time to explore everything...I guess I have to go back!!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Kulturlandschaft Deutschland

I searched long to find a title in english that would be the equivalent to the German word "Kulturlandschaft" but it seems there is non....
Kulturlandschaft means so much as cultivated or man-made landscape, but that does not really describes the issue. Kulturlandschaft stands for culture, yes, but also for nature as you will see in the below images, but you won't find any real won't get lost in the wild as Hansel and Gretel did way back when. What once felt too crowded and busy for me now felt rather homey and positively familiar.
This blog is a little bit a homage to the "home country". The images are not in order of importance but rather in chronological order.

The first day we went to the town of Freiburg for it's renowned farmers market, but not without passing through some scenic Black Forest landscape.

 Todtnauer Wasserfälle - waterfalls of Todtnau

 Schauinsland - Lookintotheland, no joke, this is the real name of this place. Here you usually can look far "into the land", not so that day, low hanging clouds made for a special image though.

Once in Freiburg we headed straight for the market, and I was not disappointed....with all the colors and the variety of fruit and vegetables I haven't seen and tasted in a while,

the familiar aromas drifting trough my nose, the atmosphere, I was in heaven!

The market is arranged around the Freiburger cathedral, which is unfortunately under renovation at the moment. But as I glimpsed at this cow in a window I saw a nice reflection of one of the bell towers.

On our way back into the heart of the Black Forest where I spent a good portion of my stay at a friends house, I stopped quite a few times to take photographs....this being my favorite.

The next day we visited Tomi in Trier where he attends University at the moment. Trier is the oldest city in Germany and I was overwhelmed by so much history in one spot...

The main landmark of Trier is the Porta Nigra, the black gate. It was built in  180 -200 A.D.
As comparison, the oldest similar building in North America was built about 1500 years later.

The Porta Nigra was used as one of the entries to town. The sandstone it is built of is prone to weathering, hence the black color, which gave the Porta it's name.

As mentioned before the history in this town is overwhelming and one can hardly take a step without stumbling over palaces and cathedrals. Here the Kurfürstliche Palais, the electora palace.

This "script" I photographed in a nearby cathedral. It describes when the cathedral was built:" The building of this church was started in 1227 AD and finished in 1243 AD"
Can you imagine...1227 AD?

These were the former gaslights, now converted to electrical lights.

As I finally found some "new" art, I jumped to the occasion ;-)

After that marathon road and culture trip we stayed close the next day and explored the landscape and little towns in the vicinity.

Rolling hills and canola fields...

...and a viewpoint with bench to look at a nuclear power plant. I found that rather odd...who wants to look at that, but there is is.

The town of Waldshut, small but cute.

And the resort town St. Blasien,

built around the St. Blaise Abbey, an impressive building.

The ceiling of the cupola.

The angles make sure the organ does not take over.

Apart from the Abbey, St. Blasien is not quite as ecclesiastical but rather your normal Black Forest tourist town,

with some interesting windows!

Did I mention that the Germans really like their signs, there are signs for EVERYTHING!

Watch out, hikers, sign above, or cows, sign below, may cross your way...

...which actually can happen!

Cathedrals, old cities and towns, window shopping and all the culture made me long for some "real" nature. Perfect, because an old friend of mine was joining us for a hike through the 3 Schluchtental, the three canyon valley.

So three old friends, we know each other for more than 30 years, went  for a hike!
It was great to catch up and do this in such a nice environment.

After my stay in the Black Forest, I went to my hometown, Konstanz. Here I was so busy, that I did not take a lot of pictures. I was "soaking up" my town and and all the memories that come with it.
Walking through familiar streets and alleys but seeing everything with the eyes of a tourist was a interesting experience...

as we have Halloween here, in Germany we have Fasching or Fasnacht in early spring for originally the same reason, to drive away the evil spirits. Over the centuries each town with it's respective guilds developed typical costumes. In Konstanz the most common is the Blätzlebub, a costume made out of hundereds of colorful small felt "shingles", which is shown here.

Historic murals depicting the towns history are very common in Konstanz. Here the "Haus zum hohen Hafen", the house of the high port, illustrating a medieval scene that took place at the square this house is located.

 Many of the downtown houses have names and a long history, no idea why I picked that one...;-)

 The Zeppelin house, named in honor of Earl Zeppelin, who was born in Konstanz.

It was a wonderful time and I hope to be back soon, as in: sooner than the ten years it took me last time to return to Germany for more than a few days!