Death Valley

A couple of months ago Zachary and I had a road trip south on I-5 through California and through the southern Sierras to Death Valley, where we camped and hiked for a few days before returning via smaller highways on the scenic eastern side of the Sierras. We happened to be in the park at an unusual time–there had been a lot of recent rain, so that we saw a rare saline lake in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, with the Panamint Mountains on the basin’s western side reflected in the shallow water.

Zachary had been to Death Valley once or twice before, long ago, but I never had, and I’d been curious about it for a long time. Our visit was brief, but we were able to see and do almost everything that it was possible to see and do. (A number of roads within the park were closed due to washouts and mud, and in any event my 2WD Taurus station wagon would have been unequal to backcountry roads.)

Weather was sunny and mild by day, and not too hot. It was, though, so windy that for the first two nights, which we spent in tiny Emigrant campground up off the valley floor, we could not put up our tent. Fortunately it is possible, though scarcely luxurious, for the two of us to sleep in the back of the Taurus, so we survived. Wildlife sightings were few: a roadrunner at our second campsite, and some endemic pupfish on a glorious gloaming walk along Salt Creek. We saw lots of fascinating geology, including a wilderness of rock formations at Zabriskie Point, where we recalled the Antonioni film but did not blow anything up.

Would I go back to Death Valley? I’d love to do so someday, but only with a vehicle capable of getting me into some of the amazing sites in the park’s vast backcountry, such as the Racetrack and the Eureka Dunes. In the meantime, my curiosity about the place and my road-trip yearnings were satisfied.


Buenos Aires and Uruguay

Last weekend Z and I returned from two weeks in South America: three and a half days in Buenos Aires, and the rest of the time in Uruguay.

Barra de Valizas, Uruguay

Barra de Valizas, Uruguay

Buenos Aires is a great city–cosmopolitan, exciting, EuroLatin–and it was a magical season there. The city is full of jacaranda trees, and they were in bloom, so that everything was wrapped in a pale purple haze of blossoms. I was glad to experience one of the world’s great cities . . . but I loved Uruguay.

Uruguay is a green, rolling country, gentle of topography and temperament, and we had a terrific time driving around it clockwise. We took the ferry from BA to Colonia del Sacramento and proceeded up the Rio Uruguay, to Artigas in the northern mining district and then to Rivera (where we crossed into Brazil briefly, as the city straddles the border without an official border crossing), and then through the northeastern interior on tiny dirt roads to the beautiful South Atlantic coast. We spent our last night back in Colonia, where we had a Thanksgiving dinner of grilled meat and delicious local wine, then took the ferry back across the Rio de la Plata to BA, wandered around the charming neighborhood of San Telmo for a few hours, then headed to the airport for the long trip home.

Highlights include:

–the wonderful birds of Uruguay, including rheas, which made me squeal with excitement every time we saw them (we saw them pretty often)

–a visit to a native-animal breeding center in Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, where we saw a lot of well-cared-for creatures, including wild mountain cats, coatimundis, caimans, and capybaras with their babies (we also saw a capy in the wild)

–the people we met along the way, who were without fail charming, helpful, and happy to see travelers enjoying Uruguay (a number of them asked if we were moving there to get away from Trump, which, if only)

–seeing the big old Southern Cross hanging in front of us in the sky above the Costanera in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Lighthouse, Jose Ignacio

Lighthouse, Jose Ignacio

–the Naval Museum in Montevideo, which we finally managed to find just as it closed for a two-hour lunch break, but which we were able to explore at will while the staff took their break, thanks to their courtesy; it has a great exhibit on the Graf Spee and the Battle of the Plata

–the view of the South Atlantic from atop the lighthouse in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

–watching the Supermoon rise above Puerto Madera on our last night in BA

–“the world’s second most beautiful bookshop,” Ateneo Grand Splendid in BA, which occupies a stunning former theater

Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Lowlights include:

–being unable to escape the increasingly awful news about Trump’s coming reich, and the clouds of dread and anxiety about it that descended upon us from time to time

–my 29-hour homebound itinerary with several very long layovers; but, as I’ve said more than once, that’s what Kindles, disposable toothbrushes, and drugs are for

Will we go back? Maybe, but not right away. This was Z’s second trip in two years to BA and Uruguay, and he’s ready for a change. I hear Chile is a good place to visit . . . .

Iceland, again

North of Dalvik

We spent a week in Iceland last month. It was our second visit to the magical isle, and we are already plotting our third. That sculpture stands on the shore of Eyjafjordur, north of Dalvik as we headed for the Trollskagi coast.

Here we are at the Arctic Circle, where it was refreshingly cool:

At the Arctic Circle

We saw lots and lots of the beautiful, sturdy Icelandic horses. These were on Grimsey Island:


A view of Lake Myvatn. (We hope to return to this area during winter, to soak in hot pools under the Northern Lights.)


The first of three mighty waterfalls we saw on this trip was Selfoss:

Zachary photographs Dettifoss, Europe’s highest-volume waterfall:


Rainbow over Dettifoss:


Finally, a fixer-upper we fell for on Snaefellsnes:




Launch party in New York

This weekend I’ll be traveling to New York–barring a hurricane-caused disruption–for the launch of Triangle Square Books, a new children’s and YA nonfiction imprint from Seven Stories Press.

Seven Stories is the publisher of my YA adaptation of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, as well as my new YA adaptation of Ronald Takaki’s history of multicultural America, A Different Mirror. Seven Stories has long been committed to publishing progressive books on politics, history, and social and environmental justice. I believe Triangle Square will fill an important need, and I can’t wait to see what books they will be offering to young readers.

No Giant Sequoias were harmed

. . . in the making of this campsite. The big stump was there when we arrived. There was one twice as big just across the road.

Zachary and I recently returned from a California road trip. We spent most of it  camping, hiking, swimming, and canyoneering (including a crawl along a lovely cold cave stream) in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Awesome places, and much less visited than Yosemite.

We saw a lot of big trees. Really big. We almost saw bears–while we were pitching the campsite in the photo, two bears strolled through the campground, a small and almost unoccupied one near the end of the long and bumpy road to Mineral King, a high alpine area that ended up being my favorite part of Sequoia. We heard about the bears later from the other camper there; we had apparently been too busy untangling our tent poles to notice.

One of the best parts of the trip was the evening we climbed Divide, across a dusky gulf of air filled with swallows. (I thought with a chill of the Eyrie in the Vale of Arryn.)

After leaving the parks we headed to Marin and Sonoma counties for Z’s high-school reunion (oh, the stories I heard!) and a stroll down memory lane as Z showed me various places he’d lived. Then we drove up the coast through the redwood forests–more big trees!–and eventually home.

The worst part of the trip was when the car’s AC crapped out on the first day. Most of the time we were okay without it, but our itinerary required us to make two long traverses of “the valley”–and now I fully understand, and share, the contempt with which that phrase is usually uttered. It was 106 in Fresno when we passed through, and the whole region is as bleak, dusty, and cheerless as the Plains of Mordor. But the mountains and the coast more than made up for it.

Actually, that may not have been the worst part of the trip. My publisher went out of business while we were on vacation–but that’s another story.