Hawkeye Blog January 2024 January 06, 2024

You can tell a lot about a town or a city by paying attention to their signs: some obvious and others more subtle. First, I confess my prejudice. I've lived in Memphis, Tennessee all my married life and love it dearly. It is home to some of the kindest, quirkiest and most welcoming people of any place I've been. It is a city of many facets. It stubbornly refuses to be pigeon-holed only as the city where Dr. Martin Luther King was brutally slain. Ours is the largest predominantly black city in the country with 63% of its population. It is truly a soul-filled place where most genres of American music were birthed. The city abounds with powerful, colorful murals that add richness to the passers-by.

The Memphis World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is deemed to be the Most Prestigious Barbecue Contest in the country by USATODAY. It's a four-day competition in May with the air pungent with the aroma of smoking pork, and punctuated with the sounds of laughter throughout the park on the Mississippi River where it is located. It is a celebration that brings the city together with enthralled tourists.

Another unifying place in our city is the Fed Ex Forum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies. This is characterized as where the grit and grind happen. I'm confident no other NBA home court is as exciting and unpredictable as this one. We love our Grizzlies and show up with a sea of blue to urge them on.

The Arcade Restaurant on Front Street is the oldest cafe in Memphis. It was founded in 1919 by Greek immigrant, Speros Zepatos. In 1925 he tore down the original building and replaced it with the existing building. Because of the nostalgic feel it has had cameo roles in movies like The Firm, Great Balls of Fire and Walk the Line, to name a few. Elvis was a regular in his day.

You can't really claim to have seen Memphis if you haven't strolled down our famous Beale Street, one of the most iconic streets in America. You can find Delta blues, jazz, rock n' roll, R&B & gospel. Something for every music lover's taste.

Another local luminary who represented Southern scenes in a changing world through his paintings was Carroll Cloar. Born in Earle, Arkansas he became nationally known after traveling in Europe, Mexico, Central and South America and settling in Memphis is 1955. He created over 800 paintings many of which reside in dozens of famous museums all over the United States. Brooks Art Museum in Memphis wanted to make their art more accessible to the public and had reproductions of a variety of styles created and displayed on buildings around the city. A vignette of The Wedding by Carroll Cloar was one outstanding piece of Brooks Outdoors.


Hawkeye Blog November 2023 November 12, 2023

This fall I made my third trip to Yosemite National Park, which possesses one of the most splendid landscapes in our country. It is almost 1200 square miles of mountainous terrain and upheavals of granite, punctuated by shimmering waterfalls and huge trees: simply a wonderland of nature's best. Mariposa Grove greets you near the south entrance. It contains the largest of the parks three groves of sequoias. In this section alone there are over 500 of these trees. The largest is the Grizzly Giant, 209 feet high and estimated to be at least 1800 years old.

Tunnel View is usually your first aha! moment to see part of Yosemite Valley. Bridalveil Fall is on the right and off in the distance is the face of Half Dome. El Capitan dominates  the left and is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world. It's the equivalent of a 350 story-building.

The rock face of El Capitan was first conquered in the 1950's and since then one site approximated that perhaps 5000 people have summitted since 1958. Typically the traditional approach takes 3 to 5 days. Alex Honnold in 2017 became the first climber to ascend without ropes. He did it in 3 hours and 56 minutes from base to summit. In June of 2018 Alex with Tommy Caldwell set the speed record for El Cap with a time of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 7 seconds.

Half Dome is the other iconic monument overlooking Yosemite Valley. It consists of quartz monzonite which solidified thousands of feet within the earth. Day climbers attempt this easier climb but you have to enter a lottery to get a permit. There's a 14-mile round trip trail and a 16-mile rountrip trail. Both of those take you to the last 400 foot trail to the summit.

Valley View is really my favorite view in the park. The Merced River flows between the view point and the outstanding features of Yosemite Valley.

If you have an extra day you might drive the Tioga Road in the central, less visited part of the park. There are a number of very scenic sights but if you leave the east exit and go to Mono Lake you will experience an ecosystem rather rare and seldom seen. It was formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake. High levels of salt accumulated and formed towers of tufa which are similar looking to underseas coral. It serves as an important habitat for two million migratory birds to feed on the brine shrimp and alkali flies found there.


Hawkeye Blog October 2023 October 01, 2023

For many years I had to satisfy myself with being content to have traveled to 6 of the 7 continents. I was not going to risk getting seasick for 10 days on a Russian icebreaker to add the 7th. However, when Viking designed and built ships specificially for Antarctica I signed on. We had a lot of experience with that cruise line, all of it favorable. We were not disappointed (and I never approached being ill!). It's hard to adequately put in to words what this experience is like. Even photos can't convey the vastness of this land of ice, snow and quiet. Even our ship was dwarfed by the massive mountains we passed.

It's not akin to an African safari but it was very exciting, searching in Zodiacs for what we could see. This fur seal was majestically surveying his rock haven.

Bright blue skies laced with white clouds served as a gorgeous backdrop for the glaciers and snow-covered mountains we passed. 

We lucked out and saw 3 leopard seals which, despite their friendly appearance, are vicious predators of penguins in the water.

The penguin colonies we visited gave us some insight to their life. Here a parent was not eating their young, but was feeding it.

Hawkeye Blog September 2023 September 03, 2023

If asked by someone which country in Africa would I recomend I am quick to say, "Several"; but if you think you are only going once and you want to see wildlife, then I have to say Tanzania. In my experience it has the greatest number of the greatest variety anywhere I've traveled. We made our first family trip with our four children to the Serengeti in 1993. It was exhilirating to be able to follow the animals off road if that's where they led. Today, there are restrictions and off roading isn't permitted, however, the animals are still plentiful. Early this year I made my eighth and probably best ever trip to Tanzania with 20 of the 22 in our immediate family, including 10 of our grandchildren. They were very excited to see this majestic male lion at the end of one of the early days of our trip.

A few days later we watched a male leopard jump a stream and make his way to this tree where he leaped up to rest on the big limb, much to everyone's delight.

It's a bit unusual to see a lioness in a tree. Lions are heavier than leopards and aren't as likely to risk trying to climb. This was a great sighting.

We were very fortunate to see a number of cheetahs in the course of our safari. That, too, can be problematic. Watching this mother with her two cubs on two different days was a real highlight. 

We specifically chose January for our trip because of the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras, and the predators that follow them. There are approximately two million wildebeest that travel from the south end of the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. They birth half a million calves between January and March. Almost everywhere you looked, from your immediate view to the far horizon, the plains were thick with these comical looking creatures. As huge as these numbers are, they pale in comparison to the over 30 million bison that roamed the North American great plains up until 1830 when the mass destruction of them began.




Hawkeye Blog August 2023 July 27, 2023

Costa Rica is an an anomaly among Latin Countries often plagued with dictators and autocrats. It has been a democracy since 1899. The east side is flanked by the Caribbean and the west by the Pacific Ocean. In the rainforest near Poas Volcano hummingbirds flit from blossom to blossom like hungry, magical fairies. This Purple-Throated Mountan Gem pauses for just a moment.

A much larger bird is often spotted in trees in many parts of the country. Toucans are fascinating, colorful birds, looking like something from a Disney movie. This Keel-Billed toucan looks like the bill would hinder it from flying but it's very light, made of keratin.

Arenal is an active volcano about 60 miles northwest of the capital, San Jose. From 1968 up until its last eruption in 2010, lava, gas and ash were frequently seen by visitors. 

Three-toed sloths live in trees and move very slowly. They come down from the canopy once a week to void on the floor of the forest. They can live 25 to 30 years.

There are hundreds of waterfalls in Costa Rica. One lovely one is only a 30-minute drive from the International Airport in Liberia. Llanos del Cortez is beautiful with its pool below that invites swimmers. 

Hawkeye Blog July 2023 July 01, 2023

Iceland started forming 20 million years ago after several volcanic eruptions. The Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago and during that period the fjords, icefalls and valleys were formed. It was settled in the late ninth century by Viking explorers. The language used today is based on Old Norse. By current estmates there are 10,000 waterfalls in this country that is about the size of the state of Kentucky. Skogafoss is one of the prettiest waterfalls. It's on the Skoga River in the south of Iceland and falls off cliffs that eons ago marked the coastline which has now receded about three miles away. 

The Great Geysir is a geyser in southwest Iceland. It was the first one ever seen by Europeans and the name was derived from an Icelandic word "geysa" meaning "to gush". 

Icelandic horses look more like ponies and are descendants of ponies brought from Norway in the 9th and 10th centuries. They are sturdy five-gaited horses and protected, as no other breed of horses may be introduced into Iceland. 

Glaciers make up 11% of Iceland and there are 269 that are specifically named. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is a fascinating place to explore by boat. Huge icebergs float around after they've broken off from Breidamerkurjokull Glacier.

Gullfoss or Golden Falls is located in the canyon of the Hvita River in southwest Iceland. It averages 5000 cubic feet per second plunging down the fall in the summer. 


Hawkeye Blog June 2023 June 18, 2023

Alaska is one of the last frontiers of the Americas. Because it's tucked into the top of North America most of us in the United States have no concept of its tremendous size. If you put California, Texas, and Montana together you still wouldn't have filled up Alaska. One of its most famous features is Denali, the highest mountain in North America at 20,310 ft. and the third highest in the world. Ithe world. It was called Denali by indigenous people for centuries. It was renamed Mount McKinley from 1917 until 2015 at which time the Department of Interior changed the official name back to Denali. Flying up to the snow-covered summit with a bush pilot was exhilarating!

The Alaska Range where Denali is situated is breathtakingly beautiful. It's a 600-mile-long mountain range in the south central region of Alaska and is the third highest range in the world after the Himalayas and the Andes.

This Mama Common Merganser appeared to have her chicks under control, for the moment. They eat fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and worms. Surprisingly, they fare as well in salt water as in fresh.

Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park is a haven for bear watchers, especially during the summer months. That is when the sockeye salmon swim up the Brooks River to jump over the 6-foot falls to get to their spawning area.

Alaska is home to approximately 30,000 bald eagles. They food they like is abundant and they have few predators. Brooks Falls is a natural landing place for them. They can even let the bears do some of the work and swoop down for the remains.

-Rebecca Webb Wilson


Hawkeye Blog February 2020 February 18, 2020

Zambia is a land-locked country in Southern Africa sharing contiguous borders with 8 other countries. After 1911 and British colonization it was part of Northern Rhodesia. In 1964 Zambia gained its independence. However, the people indigenous to the area have their roots in tribes who were there thousands of years ago. The marvelous "upside down tree" was there with those early inhabitants. The baobab tree potentially can live two thousand years. Some can grow to 98 ft. with a trunk diameter of 36 ft.

One of the most unusual sightings I've seen was the interchange between a young hippo and a young hyena in South Luangwa Park. They were too young to know they were enemies and were very curiously checking each other out. There's a lesson in that.

This female leopard was hiding down in a ravine where a herd of puku were peacefully grazing on either side. We watched her crawl on her belly to get from one end to the other; then she carefully pulled herself up to check out her prey.

A baby giraffe can walk minutes after its birth. This Thornicroft giraffe is about 6 weeks old but there is a vestige of the umbilical cord still present. This species is only found in Zambia's South Luangwa Valley and none are in captivity.

One of the attractions for going to Zambia is the ability to go on night drives which are prohibited in several other countries known for big game. This gives you a rare opportunity to observe predators stalking prey, as well as nocturnal animals such as the Cape Porcupine. When threatened, they run backwards to ram their attacker with quills that are aimed in that direction.

The Zambezi River is famous for the danger of its crocodiles and huge hippos but it has a peaceful side as well.



Hawkeye Blog October 2019 October 01, 2019

Leopards are considered to be elusive, shy animals that every African safari wants to provide for their guests to view. Botswana seems to possess the more outgoing type as even in the daytime you are likely to cross paths with one. Their agility in trees gives them an additional opportunity to spot game.

Elephants abound in the Okavango Delta. The babies nurse for about two years so they don't stray far from Mama. The females stay with the herd but the males leave when they're 10 or 11.

Lions are also easily found in the Delta. They stay with their mother for about two years before they are mature enough to hunt with the pride.

South African or Cape Giraffes make their stately journey from oasis to oasis in the dry season of the Delta. When a female gives birth the calf needs to be able to walk within 30 minutes to an hour or it will be unable to nurse.

Zebra is the national animal of Botswana. The Plain's or Burchell's Zebra is the only species that occurs there. The second longest zebra migration after the Serengeti is in Botswana. Up to 25,000 zebras travel the 150 miles between two areas.

Hawkeye Blog August 2019 August 28, 2019

Rome, the Eternal City, resonates with many citizens of the Western world as many of our traditions, laws, architecture and culture originated in that civilization. Although most photos you see of the Colosseum are of the exterior, the interior is far more interesting. It is amazing how complex it is. There were elevators worked on pulleys to bring up the gladiators and animals that were used in big spectacles. There were awnings that were pulled out to shade the wealthy citizens and those were operated by naval officers as they were considered sails. The inaugural games were held in AD 80 and the arena held 55,000 people.

The Forum dates back two to three hundred years before Christ. It was in the 2nd century BC that the food courts were replaced by law courts and business centers. The Temple of Saturn was where the annual December Saturnalia celebrations were held. During that week people exchanged gifts, schools were closed and even slaves had time off. This is the predecessor to the Christian Christmas.

Villa Borghese and the park around it was designed in 1605. Now it houses some lovely art, one of the most impressive examples of which is "The Rape of Proserpina" by Bernini. The detail of Pluto's hand dimpling Proserpina's thigh demonstrates one of the unique qualities of Carrara marble: the ability to be worked so that it can appear soft.

Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and ultimately released a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world and last erupted in 1944. In 79 AD over 1000 people died but exact numbers aren't known. Nor are there precise numbers for the population at that time, but the range is between 20,000 and 35,000. The ash that buried the city is from 13-20 ft. which is why preservation is prevalent.

In a busy city, then as now, there were fast food operations. The holes in the counter are where pots of food would have rested.

The Amalfi Coast is famous, or infamous, for its narrow, winding road that hugs the sides of mountains. Positano is a lovely montage of colorful homes clinging to the mountain with spectacular views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Capri, just by its name, conjures up images of famous celebrities and their yachts cavorting in gorgeous blue water. The island is in the Bay of Naples and has a lot of natural beauty to offer in addition to delicious food and world-class shopping.