Circles in Stone – Rollright, Avebury & Stonehenge

Great Minds Think Alike, they say. Perhaps that explains why Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?) and Sue (of A Word In Your Ear) have both come up with Round as their photo theme this week. And the A to Z Challenge is ‘O’, too. It can’t be a coincidence, can it?

I love visiting prehistoric sites. Absolutely love it. And of all the differently types of prehistoric monuments, stone circles are my favourite.

During my recent trip to England, I was lucky enough to visit not just one, but three stone circles. In fact, one of my recent Friday photo challenge posts featured a sneak-peek of one these visits, to my all time favourite, Avebury.

Dawn at Avebury, Wiltshire

Dawn at Avebury, Wiltshire

Panoramic shot of the dawn at Avebury

Panoramic shot of the dawn at Avebury

Silbury Hill, another round monument near Avebury

Silbury Hill, another round monument near Avebury

Round barrows beside the Ridgeway above Avebury

Round barrows beside the Ridgeway above Avebury

A relatively 'modern' (450+ years old) dovecot within the stone circle at Avebury

A relatively ‘modern’ (450+ years old) dovecot within the stone circle at Avebury

I also got to the lesser-known Rollright Stones…

The Rollright Stones, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

The Rollright Stones, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

It was already spring in the UK

It was already spring in the UK

…And the most famous of stone circle of all, Stonehenge.

Stonehenge needs no introduction!

Stonehenge needs no introduction!

This was actually my second visit to this iconic landmark

This was actually my second visit to this iconic landmark

Another round barrow, this time beside Stonehenge (with some more on the horizon)

Another round barrow, this time beside Stonehenge (with some more on the horizon)

And I couldn’t resist getting in on the Daily Post’s On Top challenge, either…

A nice view of the surviving lintels On Top of the Stonehenge trilithons

A nice view of the surviving lintels On Top of the Stonehenge trilithons

PS. I promise the full posts on Stonehenge and Avebury are coming soon!

While you’re contemplating the purpose of all these circles in stone, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Sun Dog Days

IMG_0161In Southern Ontario, this time of year is characterised by wild weather swings. The day before yesterday it got up to 20ºC (68ºF) and everyone was out in their gardens in shorts. Then this morning we woke to heavy, wet, commute-disrupting snow.

Yet winter is most definitely nearly over, and the flowers are finally starting to appear.

 

But as we look forward to the warmth of spring, I want to share something from perhaps the coldest day I’ve ever experienced. On January 7th, 2014, temperatures in the Kitchener-Waterloo region plummeted to an almost record-breaking -25.8ºC (-14.4ºF). And the brisk wind chill made it officially feel like -41ºC (-42ºF). But at least it was nice and sunny!

This very special set of circumstances led to an extremely rare phenomenon, called a sun dog, being visible both early that morning and late in the afternoon.

January 7th is the only time I’ve ever seen a sun dog. In fact, I’d never even heard of one before that day. Hopefully, these photos will help you appreciate why I’m glad I now have, even if I did have to endure such excruciating cold in the process.

IMG_9170The photo above was taken not long after dawn. Strictly speaking, the rainbow-like features either side of the sun are the sun dogs, while the rest of the circle is a halo.

Rich took the photos below with his phone (hence the lower quality), just before sunset, on his way home that same day.

IMG_0676IMG_0677IMG_0678Both sun dogs and halos are the result of light refracting off ice crystals in the atmosphere. So they fit perfectly with Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge this week, which is Shiny. The halo effect is also spot on for Sue’s (A Word in Your Ear) theme of Round. And I hope Ailsa’s (Where’s My Backpack?) won’t mind me forwarding it as a second contribution to her Clean theme (even though I was at home on this occasion!).

While you’re marvelling at these sun dogs, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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A Private Viewing of Mount Rushmore

As Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?), correctly observes in her photo challenge this week, somehow snow makes everything look Clean. Even the smallest sprinkling can bring a brightness and freshness. And, to a certain extent, the same can be said of seeing a special landmark at night.

This week’s Daily Post theme of Monument got me thinking of the time I visited South Dakota in November, 2009. Our friends all thought we were crazy to visit  The Mount Rushmore State at that time of year, but we were actually very lucky with the weather. And because most people were of the same mind as our friends, we practically had the whole state to ourselves. Including Mount Rushmore itself.

From the extensive parking lots beside the visitor centre, I expect Mount Rushmore is a bit of zoo at the height of the season. But on both our trips up the mountain, we were more-or-less the only visitors there.

We arrived in Keystone after dark, and made a beeline for the monument. We saw only two other visitors that evening, and they were already heading back to their car when we arrived. The mountain was ours!

IMG_1491IMG_1496IMG_1495Bright and early the next morning, we headed back up to Mount Rushmore. This time it was much more crowded at the viewing area. At one point we had to share it with three other people! Didn’t they know we’d booked out South Dakota for the week?!

Doing our best to contain our outrage at this oversight, we nevertheless enjoyed the light dusting of snow had come to rest on the presidents’ faces overnight.

IMG_1522IMG_1517IMG_1503In the photos of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the Layering and Patterns formed during the removal of the mountain from around the faces, and also in the natural rock strata, are very clear. Thanks to Nancy (of Nancy Merrill Photography) and Cee (of Cee’s Photography) for providing these additional aspects to my photo challenge submission this week.

IMG_1508IMG_1505As an aside, did you know that even mountains need a clean sometimes? In 2005, the German company Kärcher and the United States National Park Service washed all the grime and lichen off the Mount Rushmore sculptures. So Ailsa, our view of the monument in 2009 was quite literally cleaner than it would have been if we’d been there just over four years earlier! (Click here to learn more.)

Before and after the cleaning (photo by Kärcher)

Before and after the cleaning (photo by Kärcher)

Cleaning George Washington's chin (photo by Kärcher)

Cleaning George Washington’s chin (photo by Kärcher)

While you’re enjoying the big heads in the snow, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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The World’s Biggest Flag!

Despite still suffering from a mild but lingering case of Jet Lag, having flown back from the UK on Monday, on Friday evening I headed down to the Rogers Centre (aka Skydome) in Toronto for the Blue Jays Home Opener against the Yankees. The game marked the much-anticipated Major League debut of Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and the first game as a starting pitcher since 2008 for the Blue Jays’ Dustin McGowan.

IMG_0133Sadly, in a drawn out game long on tedium and short on action, the biggest highlight of the night probably turned out to be the gigantic flag rolled out before the first pitch was even thrown!

IMG_0158Just prior to the American and Canadian national anthems, two lines of soldiers and Blue Jays personnel filed into the outfield carrying a snake of material. They just kept coming, until they stretched almost the entire width of the field.

What's this?

What’s this?

It's big, whatever it is.

It’s big, whatever it is.

Then, with the American anthem complete, the two lines began to separate…

What could it be?

What could it be?

Almost there...

Almost there…

…To reveal an enormous Canadian flag. Admittedly, we’d all realised what was coming, and perhaps it wasn’t actually the Biggest Flag in the World, but it was still bloomin’ impressive, I can tell you!

Who'd have guessed?!...

Who’d have guessed?!…

...It's an enormous Canadian flag!

…It’s an enormous Canadian flag!

Some of Canada's medal winners from the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics help hold the flag.

Some of Canada’s medal winners from the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics help hold the flag.

Oh, the Blue Jays lost, by the way. Boo!

There was a baseball game, too.

There was a baseball game, too.

The Jays were actually winning at this point!

The Jays were actually winning at this point!

Masahiro Tanaka's first Major League pitch.

Masahiro Tanaka’s first Major League pitch.

While you’re undoubtedly lamenting the Blue Jays’ defeat, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Misty Dawn in Avebury

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the UK, mainly in and around the beautiful county of Wiltshire. If you’re familiar with this part of southern England, you’ll know that it abounds with incredible prehistoric sights, including Stonehenge.

I’ve got several posts planned for the next couple of weeks about some of the beautiful places I visited, but this week’s travel theme and photo challenges from Ailsa, Nancy, Cee and Sue have given me an opportunity to preview one of my favourite prehistoric locations. One that I believe rivals Stonehenge itself. Avebury.

At Avebury you really do stand at the threshold of a mysterious and fascinating landscape. Especially on an early spring dawn, when the first rays of sunlight slant across the misty downs to gently kiss the enigmatic stone circle and surrounding monuments.

 

Dawn at the neolithic stone circle at Avebury

Dawn at the neolithic stone circle at Avebury

In the dawn shadow of one of Avebury's massive stones

In the dawn shadow of one of Avebury’s massive stones

The mysterious, smooth-sided prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill, less than a mile from the Avebury stone circle

The mysterious, smooth-sided prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill, less than a mile from the Avebury stone circle

This week’s photo themes are Misty from Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?), Backlit from Nancy (of Nancy Merrill Photography), Smooth Objects from Cee (of Cee’s Photography), Contrast from Sue (of A Word in Your Ear) and Threshold  from the Daily Post. And since we’re talking Misty and Mysterious it also fits with this week’s A to Z Challenge, which is the letter M.

While you’re waiting for the full Avebury post, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Before It’s Too Late

You know how it is…  You assume all the things on your bucket list will be there forever. To be picked off when you have the time and opportunity to get around to them.

But sadly, sometimes this isn’t the case. And when something you’ve always wanted to see or experience is suddenly inaccessible, or even destroyed, it can come as quite a shock.

In May 2011, Rich, Sue and I met up with some friends in Las Vegas for their wedding. After the festivities, we left the happy couple behind and travelled west towards California. Our original plan had been to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Tioga Pass and so visit Yosemite National Park, a place I’d wanted to see since I first heard of it. Yet during the planning of the trip, to our surprise we discovered that the passes over the mountains are usually still blocked by snow in May.

Snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mono Lake, California (May, 2011)

Snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mono Lake, California (May, 2011)

As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the first person to perceive California as being all about sun, surf and wineries.  But when you realise that Mount Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48 States, is in the Sierra Nevada, it’s not that surprising that the passes are often affected by snow until well into June.

While it was disappointing to miss out on visiting Yosemite on that occasion, we did get to see loads of other cool stuff (Sandstorms & Thundersnow). Plus we consoled ourselves with the fact we’d just catch Yosemite the next time around. After all, it wasn’t like it was going anywhere, was it?

Rim Fire (photo by LA County Fire Department)

Rim Fire (photo by LA County Fire Department)

So it’s hard to believe that last September, as I was writing the original version of this blog, Yosemite was battling California’s terrifying Rim Fire. At that point, the blaze had already consumed around 350 square miles of wilderness, over a quarter of it within the northwest corner of the National Park. And even the famous Yosemite Valley, at the park’s heart, was filled with smoke and potentially under threat.

Fortunately, the majority of Yosemite was saved from the ravages of the Rim Fire by the heroic efforts of almost 5000 fire fighters. What’s more, less than three months earlier we’d finally ticked Yosemite off our bucket list.

Forest in Yosemite National Park

Forest in Yosemite National Park

Our Take Two at Yosemite, in 2013, was also during the month of May (Where Was Jaspa?). But on this occasion we came from the west, from San Francisco, which meant we had no mountains to cross. That being said, the passes were actually open by the time we visited last year, and we spent one wonderful day driving east over the Tioga Pass to Mono Lake, and then back west via the Sonora Pass.

Siesta Lake on the Tioga Pass

Siesta Lake on the Tioga Pass

But even that didn’t compare to descending into the famous valley oasis, to stand ant-like beneath the towering rock walls of El Capitan and Half Dome, not forgetting Yosemite Falls, the fifth highest waterfall in the world. It was truly breathtaking.

Looking down on Yosemite Valley

Looking down on Yosemite Valley

Half Dome

Half Dome

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

Taking a ‘glass-is-half-full’ view, in the long run the Yosemite ecosystem will ultimately benefit enormously from a conflagration as cleansing as the Rim Fire. It will have cleared away clogging undergrowth and have recycled unfathomable amounts of nutrients back into the soil.

But for those visitors who just wish to go and marvel at the beauty of Yosemite, parts of the view will be spoilt for decades to come. I count myself extremely lucky to have seen the park before such a devastating blaze. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.

On occasion, the force preventing us achieving the goals on our bucket list isn’t a natural one. In November 2010, Rich, Sue and I spent a wonderful day wandering the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, on our own.  I doubt we’d have been able to do that just three months later, with the city in the grip of protests associated with the Egyptian Revolution.

Qaitbay Citadel (on the former site of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World) in Alexandria, Egypt

Qaitbay Citadel (on the former site of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World) in Alexandria, Egypt

Of course, there have been times when I’ve not managed to see something or visit somewhere before the unthinkable happened. I’ve been to New Orleans, but only after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans

Bourbon Street in New Orleans

I’ve also been to New York City, several times in fact, but I never got a chance to see the Twin Towers, although I have been the 9/11 Memorial.

The closest any of us ever got… Rich took this unimpressive photo of the Twin Towers from Newark Airport in late May 1999. Less than 28 months later they were gone.

Rich took this unimpressive photo of the Twin Towers from Newark Airport in late May 1999. Less than 28 months later they were gone.

For now, my point is this: You really never know when it might be too late, so get out there and start working on your own bucket list.

Right now!

Once you’ve got over the shock of thinking I really was sent to prison for a night, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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This blog is a revised version of  one called In the Nick of Time I originally wrote for Bucket List Publications. I hope Leslie won’t mind me re-hashing it!

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Dixieland Statues, New Orleans

I’m still away from home at the moment, visiting Rich’s family in England, so I’m again keeping my travel photo challenge contribution concise. This week’s photo themes are Statues from Where’s My Backpack?, Street Life and Singing the Blues from the Daily Post and Texture from Cee’s Photography.

These took me back to an all-too-brief (and very cold) visit I made to New Orleans in the first week of 2010, where the long musical tradition adds a rich texture to the historic French Quarter around Bourbon Street.

Fats Domino, Jumbo Hirt and Pete Fountain

Fats Domino, Jumbo Hirt and Pete Fountain

Ronnie Kole

Ronnie Kole

Me on Bourbon Street

Me on Bourbon Street

While that Dixieland beat has your toes tapping, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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