Hidden Gems: Cape Charles, Virginia

 

Note:  Special thanks to my photographer friend Kim, who introduced me to, and guided me through, this special place.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a 70-mile tract of land on the Delmarva Peninsula enclosed by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west.  Its northern border with Maryland and Delaware separates it completely from the rest of Virginia.  On the Atlantic side, a series of barrier islands forms the longest remaining natural coastline along the entire eastern seaboard.

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Sunset overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles, Virginia

Although this region is one of the earliest colonized areas of North America, Native American tribes flourished here long before European settlers first arrived at the beginning of the 17th Century.  Characterized by fertile, easily tilled land and surrounded by the bay and ocean  waters, the area remained a seafood and agricultural region with scattered small towns for almost 300 years.

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Pear Valley 18th Century home, National Historic Landmark

(This tiny, frame house outside Eastville, VA has one room downstairs and two partial rooms in a sort of attic. It is an example of a middle class home in 1740)

In 1883, a group of railroad investors hatched the idea of a rail-sea link that would extend the terminus of the existing rail line in Maryland 65 miles down the peninsula to a massive pier where the rail cars would be loaded onto special barges that would carry them across the 36-mile stretch of water to a terminus in Norfolk.

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Sunset Old Ferry Pier, Cape Charles, Virginia

The creation of the new rail-sea line was the reason for the creation of Cape Charles which, from its very conception, was a planned community and its original layout is still visible today.  Many of the original  homes still stand, a diverse range of styles including Victorian, Colonial Revival, and even some of the Sears and Roebucks houses that were delivered as a “kit” of 30,000 pieces and a 75- page manual.

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Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking left)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that has been renovated and is now a popular Irish pub.

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Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking right)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that became a branch of the Bank of America and is now the town library.

With daily trains arriving from New York, the town quickly became the economic center of the  lower peninsula.  Benefitting from a planned system of paved streets, electricity, telephones, and central water and sewage systems, it was more cosmopolitan than the other shore towns.  But the glory years began a downturn with the Great Depression in the 1930s, the decline of the railroads after World War II, and the opening of the Bay-Bridge tunnel in 1964.

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The At Altitude Gallery, opened in 2015 by photographer Gordon Campbell in the renovated Wilson’s Department store and exhibiting his dramatic aerial photography of the Cape Charles area. 

But, after several decades of continued economic and population decline, the trend has reversed.  As indicated in the above image, new businesses have opened and its potential for tourism has been recognized.  As indicated in my images below, photographers are particularly smitten with its natural beauty and diversity of subject matter.

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Sunrise at Oyster

(Oyster is small unincorporated community, named for its fishing industry, located about 5 miles from Cape Charles on the opposite side of the peninsula.)

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Osprey Nest at Sunrise, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Sand Dunes off Bay Avenue, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Kite Surfers, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Eyre Hall Gardens, Cape Charles, Virginia

(Eyre descendents have owned land in the lower portion of Northampton County continuously since 1622 for 12 generations. The gardens, while privately owned are open to the public and are among the oldest gardens in the United States)

Galapagos Islands (Part 3)

The Galapagos Islands and Charles Darwin have been inextricably linked since the publication of his “Origin of the Species” 25 years after he visited the islands as a 22-year old geologist aboard HMS Beagle.  While Darwin is generally credited with conceiving the idea of evolution, the theory actually had its beginnings with a French naturalist, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, who died in poverty and obscurity six years before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s contribution, however, was equally important.  He explained how and why evolution occurs.

So when you travel to the Galapagos Islands, an eerie feeling comes over you as you realize that the individual birds, mammals, and reptiles you are viewing and photographing most likely are direct descendants of the very creatures that inspired one of the most revolutionary scientific conclusions in history.

At the same time, this wildlife sparks a sense of wonder regardless of its ancestry.  And that is what the rest of this post will focus on.

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Blue-footed Boobies Conferring

Although I rated the Sally Lightfoot Crab as having the coolest name, my overall favorite should be no surprise;  it is the blue-footed booby.

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Their ridiculously colored blue feet, serving as their namesake, ironically are contradicted by the steely gaze of their arresting eyes and the impeccable sleekness of their plumage.  When their stare fixes you, you become grateful that you are not a small fish.

But while humans may smirk at their garishly colored feet, the color blue is a very big deal to both the male and female booby.  The  males take great pride in their fabulous feet. During mating rituals, male birds show off their feet to prospective mates with a high-stepping strut. The bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate.  The short video clip below was filmed by our trip leader.

(Video by James Zimbelman, Smithsonian Institution)

Yet, when you watch the birds in their role as a predator, you realize why that piercing glare gave you pause.  Circling high above the ocean in search of anchovies and other small fish,   they will suddenly fold their long wings back around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water at speeds up to 60 mph.  It happens so quickly that I failed in every attempt to capture that critical moment of hitting the water.  The best I could do was the shot below, when a successful plunge was followed by the bird as he/she was taking off.

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Blue-footed Booby on Take-off Run

There are many ways to see the Galapagos Islands including larger ships (about 90 passengers), small charter vessels that may take as few as 12-16 passengers, or on-island lodging (ranging from regal to rustic).  Choosing the latter may restrict your ability to visit more than 1-2 islands unless you are willing to change lodging a few times.  The variety of wildlife you will see depends on which islands you choose to visit.  Not all itineraries are the same.  But however long you stay, you will be glad you made the journey.

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  Frigatebird at Sunrise, Galapagos Islands

(Technical: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm; exposed @ 1/800th sec. @ f/16, ISD 400; No Photoshop trickery used in positioning the bird over the sun)

 

Journey to the Middle of the World

Ecuador 01 Overlook of QuitoQuito, Ecuador from the Overlook at Panecillio

The first time one visits a country, especially on a very short trip, the experience can be frustrating because you only get a glimpse of some of the possibilities.  This is particularly true for Ecuador because, despite its small size, it is an incredibly diverse land.  About the size of Nevada, Ecuador boasts volcanic peaks as high as 20,000 feet, vast tropical forests, and palm-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.  There are more bird species per square mile than any other South American country and more orchids than anywhere else on earth.  But the biggest draw is the famed Galapagos Islands which sit on the Equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast and that was the reason we were there.

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Some “Wildlife” in Quito

Our schedule included only two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Surrounded by volcanic peaks, some still active, Quito is the highest capital city in the world (9,300 feet) and the closest of any capital to the equator.

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Standing (and Jumping) on the Equator in Ecuador

A tourist attraction known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) is considered a must for anyone who wants a photograph of themselves straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.  The actual line is about 240 meters to the north, according to the guide, but no one seemed to care.

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Long View of “TooFly” Mural at the Central University of Ecuador

It is less well known that Quito is a hotbed for street artists and we headed for the Central University of Ecuador on a quest to find what was billed as the tallest street art mural in the country created by graffiti legend Maria “TooFly” Castillio in 2015.

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The Mural, as Seen from Directly Across the Street

Castillio, a native of Ecuador, is now based in New York City and has installations in a number of countries.

The next day we visited some of the more common sights in the city such as the Virgin of Quito, a 134-foot tall statue towering over the city on a hill known as the Panecillio, and the Casa del Alabado Museum of pre-Columbian art.  Despite some skepticism on my part concerning the wisdom of the latter choice, it turned out to be a fascinating way to learn about the history, culture, and arts of ancient Ecuadoran cultures that populated this area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

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The Virgin of Quito, a Gift from Spain

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Pre-Columbian Scuplture of a Shaman (5,000 to 1,500 B.C.)

 

Next Post:  Random Street Scenes in Quito

The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

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Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

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Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

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Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

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Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

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Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

Northwest Passage (10)

First, many apologies for the long absence since the last post.  But now it’s time to resume the story of this journey.

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Edinburgh Island, Overlooking Coronation Gulf

Following our experience standing fog-bound on a piece of sea ice about the size of a handball court, we departed Victoria Strait and sailed west.  The next morning we arrived in the Coronation Gulf, near the location where Samuel Hearne, a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur trader arrived in July 1771. By reaching this point he became the first European to reach the North American shores of the Arctic Ocean. He took a 1,000-mile (one-way) overland route from the west side of Hudson Bay, following the course of the Coppermine River which empties into the Gulf.  As Hearne looked out over the ice filled water, he concluded—incorrectly—that this was not a viable route for a Northwest Passage.

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The Route Through Coronation Gulf

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Ridgeline View of Coronation Gulf

Samuel Hearne was yet another colorful figure of North American exploration.  After joining the British Navy at age 11 and seeing considerable action in the Seven Years War, he sailed to Canada and signed up with Hudson’s Bay Company for whom he explored much of the unknown territory north and west of Hudson Bay.  His 458-page book, “A Journey from Prince of Wale’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean” was highly praised when published for its meticulous detail of the areas he explored and for his lucid descriptions of life among the Native Americans.  It has since become a remarkable collectible.  A first edition copy sold for $11,000 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.  A detailed history of Hearne’s life can be found in Kenneth McGoogan’s book, in which he asserts that Hearne was the inspiration for Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

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Fall Colors, Edinburgh Island

On this day, however, we would land on tiny Edinburgh Island, across the Gulf from where Hearne stood almost 250 years ago. Here we would undertake a 3-mile roundtrip hike up a valley featuring the colorful hues of tundra at the height of autumn.  The valley was flanked by steep cliffs on both sides and we spotted several peregrine falcon nests on the ledges.  Their occupants could be seen spiraling above, looking for prey.

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Entering Jesse Harbor

The following day we continued west to Jesse Harbor on Banks Island where we encountered an environment quite different from the vibrant tundra on Edinburgh Island.  Here was yet another variant of the polar desert, one with very little vegetation. We hiked past meltwater ponds up a barren ridge and later descended to a sandy beach like none we had seen on this trip.  Other than some distant muskox, there were no sightings of wildlife but we did see numerous signs (tracks, scat, bones, and hair tufts) of animals and birds.  They apparently chose not to stay around to greet us.

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The tracks of dozens of birds and small animals surrounded the muddy edges of this pond. 

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Tracks of Large Bird on the Beach

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Single Vertebra Bone of Unidentified Animal

Next Post–Smoke and Fire!

Northwest Passage (9)

We were heading into the area where one of Franklin’s two ships was found in 2014 and where an active search was underway in the hopes of finding the second ship.  So far, no results had been reported and the summer window for underwater surveys would soon be ending.  Finding the HMS Erebus two years ago was a huge news story in Canada, with the initial announcement coming from the Prime Minister’s office.

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Sunrise, James Ross Strait

As the rising sun painted the morning clouds with gold and pink, we moved through James Ross Strait with King William Island on our starboard side. We then entered Rae Strait (see map below) which is named after Dr. John Rae, one of the great Arctic explorers of the 19th Century.  During a trek in 1854 searching for Franklin, Rae traveled north along the coast of Boothia Peninsula and discovered that King William Land was actually an island with a strait separating it from the North American mainland.  That fact made it a key piece of the Northwest Passage.   Fifty years later, Roald Amundsen would use Rae’s discovery by taking a route through the strait—now known as Rae Strait—and becoming the first to navigate the entire passage.

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Lord Franklin’s Fatal Expedition

King William Island also was the key to the mystery of Lord Franklin’s fate.  During that 1854 search, Rae turned up a number of artifacts from the ships and stories from the Inuit told of white men trekking south, starving, and dying.  His reports back to Britain included this rather delicate phrasing:

“…from the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.” 

The report horrified England’s Victorian society and especially Lady Franklin who refused to believe the reports of cannibalism.  The full story of Rae and his exploits can be found in Kevin McGoogan’s book, “Fatal Passage.”

We stopped for an afternoon at Gjoa Haven, a small settlement on the southern tip of King William Island.  It is also a historic location in the saga of the Northwest Passage.  Roald Amundsen overwintered here during his successful first-ever transit of the Northwest Passage.  He was hemmed in by ice for 22 months but finally completed the voyage 3 years after his start in 1903.

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The Bell of HMS Erebus, Submerged to Prevent Oxidation (photo from Parks Canada)

The village has an excellent museum that now hosts the ship’s bell from the Erebus which was found in September 2014, 30 feet below the surface.    And that evening, in fact, we would pass even closer to the Erebus (red arrow on map above) after departing Gjoa Haven.  We wondered how the search for Franklin’s other ship, the Terror, was going at its undisclosed location nearby.

The next day the ship’s captain altered our route to find a pack of sea ice that reportedly had pieces large enough to hold small groups of people who might want to walk on it.  The irony was escapable: Just over one hundred years ago, Amundsen was stuck here for 22 consecutive months because the sea ice was so thick.  On the same route today,  it was necessary to go out of your way to find some.

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Coming Upon a Field of Sea Ice

As we first approached the icee zone, an impressive cloud formation was building overhead.  But two hours later we were enveloped by a heavy fog.  Nevertheless, the landing was still on and we eagerly boarded the zodiac.  Surprisingly, the ice was not at all slippery.  The rough surface provided sufficient traction to walk about without any difficulty.  The thick fog added a mystical quality to the surroundings.

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View of the Ship from Platform of Sea Ice

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Zodiac Maneuvers through the Fog

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Sea Ice Sculpture

Just five days later, the research team looking for the HMS Terror anounced that it had been found in a King William Island bay which, amazingly, is already named Terror Bay!  We had been no more than 10-15 miles away from that spot as we headed west from Gjoa Haven.  (An interesting historical footnote.  Among its various exploits, the HMS Terror had been with the British fleet in 1814 that bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore, an event that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner.”)

Northwest Passage (8)

 

Departing Fort Ross, we entered Bellot Strait, a narrow channel that would take us into Peel Sound where we would resume tracking the route of John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition and learn more about his extraordinary wife, Lady Jane Franklin, and her unceasing efforts to galvanize the British public, the British Government, and many others on behalf of her missing husband.

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Bellot Strait with the northernmost tip of the North American continent on the left

Bellot Strait, separating Somerset Island from the Boothia Peninsula (see map below), is named after Joseph Rene Bellot, a young French naval officer who offered his services to Lady Jane Franklin to serve on a rescue mission that she was personally organizing. (For a detailed English account of Bellot’s Arctic experiences, consult this article.  For French speakers wishing a more complete exposition, obtain a copy of the book by Nadine and Jean-Claude Forestier-Blazart.)

 

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Sunset, Peel Sound, after exiting Bellot Strait

On Bellot’s first trip, as second in command, he discovered what others had missed, the strait that now bears his name and the key to one variant in the routes through the Northwest Passage.    But the expedition failed to find any trace of Franklin, largely because the ship’s captain ignored Bellot’s advice to head south.  Had they done so, they likely would have found the evidence discovered by others 7 years later.  Bellot’s habit of volunteering for the most dangerous tasks led to his death on his second voyage in 1853.  He offered to lead a small group on a dangerous trip through a treacherous stretch of sea ice to deliver dispatches to another ship.  On the third night, he fell into the freezing water and disappeared.

On our own voyage, we were beginning to learn that it was impossible to predict what would happen on any given day.  The next morning started early with  a 7:00 AM encounter with several pods of beluga whales close to the shore of a narrow inlet.

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Pod of Beluga Whales

A little later we would have our own encounter with an abandoned vessel, albeit one of little historical consequence .  A 21-foot runabout with forward console and twin outboards was spotted upside down on the shore of a small bay.  Several storage containers were scattered along the shore as well.  Two Zodiacs were sent out to investigate while a pod of Beluga whales cavorted in the shallow waters about 700 yards away.

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Recovery Team Assessing Abandoned Boat

The recovery team prepared the mystery boat for loading it aboard and transporting it to the next village while the ship’s naturalists and photographer hiked down to get a close look at the Belugas.

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Nathalie Michel, ship photographer (in red), gets close to the belugas

My photograph (above) using Nikon D810 with 70-200mm with 1.7 extender eqiuvalent to 340mm.

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Beluga Whale with Calf

Nathalie’s photograph above, using Nikon D4s with 80-400mm telephoto at 80mm (there’s a lesson here–get close when you can).

Later, we rode zodiacs into a different bay to observe a number of polar bears picking over the skeletal remains of Beluga whales on the shore.  Live Belugas moved contentedly through the shallow waters seemingly oblivious to the fate of their relatives on the shore.

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Polar Bear with Cub

At day’s end, with the recovered boat securely lashed down on the foredeck, we headed south in the direction that Lady Franklin repeatedly implored the leaders of search expeditions to explore.  She, like Bellot, was ignored by almost all of them, who seemed to think other routes held more promise.  (Canadian author Ken McGoogan has written the best book about her, “Lady Franklin’s Revenge.”)  She, more than any other person, was responsible for sparking the massive search effort as well as Franklin’s legacy.

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(From James P. Delgado, Across the Top of the World, 1999, p.113)

We were heading toward the area where one of Franklin’s two ships was found in 2014, (red arrow in map above) although the specific underwater location has not been revealed, apparently to preserve its integrity.  We did know, however, that an active search was currently underway to find the second ship.  So far, no results had been reported although the summer window for underwater surveys would soon be ending.

Next:  The Mystery of Franklin’s Disappearance Solved (mostly)….