Friday, March 25, 2016

The Galapagos Islands - One More Time!

Our final stop on this trip to South America was to the Galapagos Islands. I have visited these islands many times in the past but this was the first visit I have made where the group was based on land in a hotel. It worked out pretty good, even if we couldn't venture far away from home base. We still saw a lot in our four days there.

This is Seymour Island just north of Baltra Island. As you can see the islands are quite arid in some locations.

On the Galapagos, hiking is extremely limited and can be done only between the white posts. The naturalist guides are pretty intolerant of any steps taken outside these posts. Even on islands that are ecologically damaged by feral goats.

This a male frigate bird with its gular pouch inflated. They is done in order to attract females to the nest.

Another male had his pouch deflated. It might be hard to keep it inflated, if you know what I mean.

The famous Blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is one of the most anticipated sightings in the islands, although they are not endemic here.

The blue color is derived from the fish diet they have and can be an indication of the health of their immune system (blue is good!).

There was heavy surf this day on Seymour's west coast.

The breakers were about 15 feet tall and came in sets - note the next wave behind this breaker.

This is a three part sequence on an especially large wave. That's Daphne Island in the background, a tuff cone erupted with the interaction of magma and seawater.

No swimming allowed except in designated areas.

It was beautiful!

This is a view from Seymour Island of the shield volcano that is Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the third largest of the Galapagos Islands. This is an El NiƱo year in the Galapagos but much like Arizona, the islands have been surprisingly devoid of rain.

Note the sea turtle trackway in the sand leading to a nesting hole behind the beach. This is at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island.

The turtles were swimming everywhere off the beach but only come ashore to lay eggs at night.

Beautiful coral sand beach,

A Blue-footed booby flying by, just above the water.

A marine iguana blends in with the black lava at Bachas Beach. I nearly stepped on this guy while photographing crabs - he blended perfectly with the rocks.

The next day we visited South Plaza Island.

Here we saw numerous land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) searching for shade in the near 100 degree weather.

These lizards are quite large and have virtually no fear of six-foot tall humans.

They are not doing what you might think they are here - the place was crowded with lizards and they literally must cross one other to move anywhere.

They are fascinating creatures, even if Charles Darwin described them as, "ugly animals...from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance." I could not disagree more with the distinguished Brit.

View of the Santa Fe III (left), our ship for two days sailing here.

Finally, on our last full day in Galapagos, it was time to visit the giant land tortoises (Chelonoidis nigrita) in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. What a treat.

Each individual can weigh as much as 600 to 700 pounds!

Chart showing the various subspecies of land tortoise in the Galapagos. Note that the Santa Cruz nigrita has the broadest dome of all the subspecies.

 They are strictly vegetarians and eat grass and leaves.

The forest around this group of tortoise is known as El Manzanillo and is on private land adjacent to the national park.

They love to waddle in the muddy swamps to keep the insects off of their skin.

It is also a way to keep cool on a hot summer day.

Enjoying the view in this special place.

Our trip with Smithsonian Journey's was fantastic, and this itinerary has proven so popular that they will offer 22 departures next year. Thanks as always for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Urubamba River, Machu Picchu and Cusco Peru

The rainy season is in full swing in the Peruvian Highlands but our visit to Machu Picchu only saw scattered precipitation. Take a look at the rails, the river and the ruins.

Peru Rail is one of the most efficient rail systems in the world and the trains depart the stations with Swiss precision. It is only a 26 mile trip in 90 minutes from Ollantaytambo to the foot of Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes. But it is an exciting ride.

A resistant granite pluton forces the previously tranquil Urubamba River into a narrow gorge some 2,500 feet deep. The once peaceful river is then turned into a frothy, runoff-swollen maelstrom. Note the high river terrace at the top of the photo - a testament to how fast this river is cutting downward.

High desert cactus gives way within about two miles to much tropical vegetation as the river races downstream toward the great Amazon River.

A view of a swollen side stream in the village of Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for the ride uphill to the ruins.

Junction of the side stream with the Urubamba.

Telephoto show from the same vantage. The river is about 300 feet wide and is dropping at an incredible gradient in the village.

The river rose an incredible amount during our stay at the ruins and the three pictures here and below were taken one day after the ones above.

I've never heard of anyone running the river here - the drop is just too steep, the rocks too big and the hydraulics too strong. It is very impressive!

This is what rivers do when they encounter very hard rocks - they take a bit longer to remove their obstacles.

With the river madness far below and after 13 grueling switchbacks up a mountain slope, we arrive at the site of Machu Picchu. Numerous clouds danced among the incredible peaks. If you would like to see pictures of Machu Picchu in brilliant sunshine, look at my posting from November, 2014 here and especially here.

The restored buildings near the entrance to the site with a backdrop of dense tropical clouds.

I love seeing this place in all of its many moods. I would hate to be camping however, on a day such as this and was glad that our Smithsonian trip allowed us to stay at the Sanctuary Lodge right on the site.

The Spanish never found Machu Picchu and thus it was never looted nor destroyed. The site is much how the Inca left it during the 16th century.

Terraces are a big part of Inca sites and were a way to "tame" the mountain slopes for agriculture. The terraces were first filled with large rocks, then gravel and then topsoil. This was done to control flooding and to hold water in the terraces.

Somewhere, 2,500 feet done there, is the twisting canyon of the Urubamba River.

Highland girl and baby llama interacts with one of our guests on the way to Cusco.

Coming into the city of Cusco.

This is the heart of the colonial city. Note the small cloud cover over the central Plaza de Armas on the left of the valley floor.

This is a photo on the Plaza de Armas of the St. Joseph Church.

Street scene in Cusco.

The Saphi River has been placed underground in Cusco due to the many floods that have run through here.

The impressive ruins of Sacsayhuaman are located on a hill overlooking Cusco.


These huge blocks were quarried locally and are composed of marine limestone. They represent deposition before the Andes were uplifted.

The rounded corners are especially impressive!

The famous rock slide here was formed when the limestone was being uplifted and was "scraped" to create grooves. It is so smooth it reflects light. It's off to the Galapagos now!