Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A long day in the Andes

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

In the PunaPuna

Saturday morning Claudio showed up as planned about 8 AM, and we set out for the mountains. Calama is at an elevation of about 7500 feet, and our birding expedition would take us up a good bit higher. As we climbed, we followed the course of the Rio Loa, which brings snowmelt water down from the high peaks to Calama. Our first stop was at Laguna Inca-Coya, a little sinkhole lake near the village of Chiu-Chiu, at an elevation of about 8000 feet.

At Laguna Inca-CollaClaudio points out a bird at Laguna Inca-Coya

Our first new bird of the day was an Andean (=Slate-colored) Coot. Shortly after we saw that, an Andean Gull flew over. Two lifers at the first stop, not too bad.

Church at Chiu-Chiu
Church at Chiu-Chiu

Next we headed for the geyser field, which entailed driving on some really bad roads. Hamner was up to the task, though, as he continued to be throughout a very long day. As we climbed, the terrain began to change. Clumps of grass abound at the higher elevations, an ecological zone known as Puna. The grass supports a lot of wildlife, including wild vicuña and guanaco.

In the Puna

While you can go to the main geysers and pay an entrance fee, Claudio had another idea. He guided us to a place with a lot of very forbidding signs saying that we weren’t allowed in; it seemed that there weren’t a lot of cops around, though, so we ignored them. We parked, and just down a slope was a geyser of mud, belching sulfur-scented steam.

Mud Geysers
Me at the mud geyser

Just beyond the mud geyser was a marshy seep, where Claudio and I saw two species of Cinclodes and an Andean Negrito. This spot was the highest we went all day, at about 15,000 feet. I had to take two breaths per step most of the time. Next we continued in the Puna to the Rio Putana, to a wide bend that forms a shallow wetland area. It was full of waterfowl such as Puna Teal, Giant Coot, Crested Duck, and Andean Goose, and we also saw a Plumbeous Sierra-finch and a couple of Gray-breasted Seedsnipe.

Puna Teal
Puna Teal

From there, we stopped at a place called Machuca, which had some shops that were all closed. There were, however, several more bird species to be seen, including Greenish Yellow-Finch, Cordilleran Castanero, Gray-bellied Shrike-tyrant, and Black-hooded Sierra-finch. An Aplomado Falcon flew over in a surprise appearance as well. The landscape of the Puna is amazing. The elevation and lack of rain make it an exceedingly difficult place for anything to survive, yet it’s full of beautiful plants and animals. And of course, wherever there is water such as the Rio Loa or the Rio Putana, which carry snowmelt from yet higher peaks, animals congregate. And many of these animals are unique to the region, including of course a lot of the birds – as you might guess from all the ones that have names starting with “Andean” or “Puna”.

Lupine in the Andes
A lupine of some sort


We continued on, later seeing a beautiful adult Mountain Caracara, and finally made our way to San Pedro de Atacama, where we had dinner with Claudio and saw some of the festival of San Pedro — the streets were full of people in costumes dancing and parading. We drove back to Calama in the dark, and Hamner had put in a good 10 hours of driving, much of it on dirt roads in the Andes. He deserves a medal. Meanwhile, I had 20 lifers in one day.


To the driest place on Earth

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

On Friday (June 28) we packed up our stuff, Hamner maneuvered the SUV out of the exceedingly cramped underground parking, and we set off eastward into the brown mountains.


Train between Calama and Antofagasta

Train in the Atacama desert

 Robin always tells how she and her siblings had a game they played in the car when driving from Calama to the coast for a vacation.  The first one to see any kind of green plant in the distance would yell “I see the river!”   She wasn’t kidding.  For long stretches there is nothing but brown, gray, and reddish dirt to be seen.  The shapes of the mountains are like giant elephant’s feet, contours unspoiled by growth of anything alive.  It gave us all  a bit of perspective into Robin’s mother, Betsy, who grew up on Staten Island.  Anaconda Copper transferred Robin’s father to Chuquicamata in 1942, and the shock never really wore off. Nevertheless, our apartment in Calama is in a very nice building with a lovely view of the sunset.  

Sunset in Calama
View from our balcony in Calama


We called our guide, Claudio Seguel Huidobro, whom I’d been corresponding with for a few weeks, and he showed up soon after.  We had some bread, cheese, ham, olives, and wine, and discussed our plans for the couple of days we’d be there.

A day in Antofagasta

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Turkey VulturesTurkey Vultures on masts in the Antofagasta harbor  

Thursday after breakfast Hamner, Peggy, and I set out to walk to the jetty with the lighthouse, where we’d seen some promising birds from afar the day before.  Robin’s hip and knee weren’t up to it, and furthermore the all-in-one washer/dryer had failed to dry our clothes, so she opted to stay and dry stuff with the hair dryer a while. We walked out on the historic pier (Muelle Historico), which was the original site of the nitrate exports that made Antofagasta.  It, like pretty much everything in Antofagasta, was covered with Turkey Vultures.  Never saw so many. We continued on to the mall, which is right on the waterfront, and has an outdoor walkway with a nice view of a rocky cove.  There we saw a lot more vultures, gulls, a Whimbrel, and an American Oystercatcher.   The walkway continued around to the south, giving us a good enough view of the lighthouse jetty to determine that it’s a working port, and not accessible to us.  So I set up the scope to see what we could find on it.

Lighthouse at Antofagasta

Lighthouse jetty


It was covered with Peruvian Pelicans, and also quite a few cormorants of all three local species – Neotropic, Red-legged, and Guanay.  Hamner asked if there were nests on the far end of the pier, and I looked with the scope; they were actually ends of rebar sticking out.  Gray gulls were sitting on them, along with three Inca Terns – very cool birds, and sadly I don’t have a photo that does them justice.  But a lifer anyway.

Neotropic CormorantNeotropic Cormorant  

When we turned around to head back, it was after 10 AM, so the mall was open, specifically the Juan Valdez patio coffee shop.  Hamner and Peggy got some real coffee.  We’ve been drinking instant most of the trip, which seems to be the norm here (yecch).   An Oasis Hummingbird buzzed around some ornamental plantings nearby. On the way back, I took another look at the rocky cove, and was rewarded with a Blackish Oystercatcher.  The light wasn’t too good, but apparently it was a juvenile, with an orange/yellow bill instead of the adult’s bright red.  But then Hamner spotted a second, and it was grown up.  A second lifer for the morning, and a decent photo of it. By the time we got back, it was time for lunch, and then we all set out for the Antofagasta Museum.  It’s free, and not large, but we did learn a bit about the history of the place.  It’s been inhabited for about 10,000 years by fishing people; the Spanish didn’t pay much attention to it until they decided to mine guano and mineral nitrate deposits starting in the mid 1800s.  Now it’s primarily a copper port.

Old train engine in Antofagasta

 Old train engine


 Robin poses in front of a mural for the Chuquicamata apartments

From there we headed to Avendida Arturo Prat, which is a pedestrian street for several blocks.  I think in the summer it’s a bit more interesting, as we missed the one street musician, a sax player who was leaving as we arrived.  We did stop for coffee, and this time I had a very good cup of espresso, though.

Back to the apartment for bread, cheese, and olives and a fair amount of wine.  Friday we pack up and drive to Calama, closest extant town to Robin’s birthplace, Chuquicamata.

Visiting Pearl River

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Visiting Pearl River

I just got back from visiting my sister Gerry and brother-in-law Ralph, in Pearl River, Louisiana. As always, we ate loads of great food and drank slightly too much wine.

Visiting Pearl River

We also had treasure hunts all Saturday morning — first we made one for their grandkids Carnes and Libby, then they made one for us. Here Carnes and Libby decipher a clue.

Visiting Pearl River

Sunday night Ralph deep-fried some shrimp and we made poor boys. Good stuff.

Sophie’s car

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Sophie’s car

Originally uploaded by Allen Gathman.

Sophie hit an ice patch on Highway C on Tuesday and went down a hill and into this tree. While I wouldn’t invoke divine intervention, I am very glad that she was lucky enough not to get hurt. The car, on the other hand, is toast. Sadly, certain idiots (me) didn’t make sure that she had comprehensive auto insurance, so it’s a total loss. Aargh.

It was so far off the road that the tow truck couldn’t get it out. I just went down this morning with Larry Leimbach, who owns the land, and he pulled it up close to the road with his tractor. A very nice guy. On Monday I’m going to get it towed to the junkyard. Sigh.

Nevertheless, she’s fine, we’re fine, Cabell just got home for Christmas, and Hannah is supposed to get in tomorrow.

Florida in the 30′s and my parents

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

My grandmother, Lillian (Craig) Lamson, moved to south Florida sometime in the late 1930s.  My father moved down about 1938, met my mother, and married her there in 1940.   South Florida wasn’t quite  a howling wilderness by then, but it was a lot less developed than it is now.  I just scanned some of my father’s old photos, including a couple that are sort of historic.

Here are my parents in maybe 1940 — photo was undated:

Dad and Mom

And no, my mom was not 12 at the time, despite appearances.  She was 29, I think, and divorced.

And here are my mother, my grandmother, and some blonde babe sitting on a palm tree over the Loxahatchee River.

On a palm tree in the Loxahatchee River

It was taken on September 10, 1939 (Yes, mom and dad were just dating at the time).  So were two more pictures on the Loxahatchee — labeled in pencil on the back “Trapper Nelson’s”.

My parents and grandmother at Trapper Nelson's

Picnic at Trapper Nelson's, 1939

Trapper Nelson was a Russian-American from New Jersey who settled on the Loxahatchee River in the 1930s, where he eventually had a zoo and fishing camp, popular among socialites who wanted to rough it in the wilds of the Florida interior.  Apparently my folks were among his early fans.  I don’t see him in these photos; I think that the guy in front of the table in the lower picture is someone named “Willie” on other pics, and the guy behind it is my dad.  But who took the pictures?

Over the top recap

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

So, we had a great time all in all.  BTW, Cabell made a successful pitch to call the trip WiMiUp, (UP for the Upper Peninsula), and that’s how it’s tagged in my flickr account.  We’ve pooled our photos — 498 of them altogether — at

It was an adventure.  Somehow we managed to have north winds while we were headed north on the west side of the lake, south winds while we headed south on the east side of the lake, and to end the trip, a 15-20 mph NW wind while we rode NW from Manitowoc to Green Bay on the last day.  It was generally colder than I expected.  I knew that mornings were going to be in the low 50s, and highs mostly in the 70s, but these cool temps in combination with the wind (and frequently a mist off the lake) made for chilly riding often.   Several days we kept tights on the entire time.

The Upper Peninsula is beautiful, but often rather sad.  The motels were mostly empty, and every other beach cottage was for sale.  As Bob, the owner of Rosie’s Family Restaurant (see below)

Cabell at Rosie's Family Restaurant

said, high gas prices this year are just the icing on the cake.  The problems really started with the Reagan administration’s union-busting in the air traffic controllers’ strike.  As union strength and American dominance of the car industry have declined, high-paying jobs in Detroit have quite literally gone south, and there are just not that many blue-collar workers vacationing in the UP any more.

Still, I suppose the lack of vacationers worked to our advantage, since roads were quiet
Deer Crossing the road

And the scenery was exquisite.


WiMiUp 036

In the Lower Peninsula’s northwest area, the tourist towns were doing better — not so far to drive from Chicago, etc. — and there were surprisingly many bicyclists.   Several nice bike paths, as well.

WiMiUp 174

Now I’m home icing my left knee, which didn’t really deal with the trip very well.  The doc gave me prescription-strength Naproxen, and I’m starting physical therapy on Monday.   Apparently it’s just irritation of the patellar tendon, but I’m not taking any chances.  I don’t want to be off the bike any longer than I have to.   In any case, we made it.

WiMiUp 308

We’re Baaaack!

Monday, June 30th, 2008

548.66 miles later, we made it back to the car yesterday afternoon about 5:30, after fighting a 15-20 mph headwind the entire way from Manitowoc to Green Bay.  Cabell has started uploading pics, and we’ll be setting up a pool on Flickr with both of our pics in it.

I’ve lacked web access most of the trip, so I’ll be doing a day-by-day recap with photos after I get home.  Right now I’m at Cabell’s apartment in Madison, trying to blog while Izzy jumps on me, and waiting for it to be late enough to reasonably wake Cabell so we can go to breakfast.

Just a quick plug here — we’d never have made it without Patrick’s early morning rescue mission to swap my wheels and get me some new tires at the last possible minute.  Once again, Cape Bicycle comes through in a pinch.

Now officially over the top

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

So we got up Monday morning and went to a bike shop — Cycle Path in Menominee, where I had one burning desire: to get a new magnet for my bike computer.  When I switched the wheels, I forgot to move the magnet from the spokes of the front wheel, and without it the bike computer doesn’t know how fast or far you’re going.  So we got there right at opening time* and I walked in and asked if they had a replacement magnet for a Cateye computer.  The shop owner went back to look, saying “I’ve never thought about that, but it makes sense to stock them.”  He didn’t find one, so he took one out of a new computer box and charged me $3.  A deal, considering my computer is worthless without it.  Cabell also got some gloves — she forgot her new pink ones at home, sadly. 

We had an uneventful day riding from Menominee to Gladstone, except that there was a constant 10-15 mph headwind.  We were beat when we got to Gladstone.  And we weren’t sure where the hotel was.  I called them and asked, and they said we were on the right road, but when we got to 1226, there was no hotel.  I realized finally that we were on SOUTH Lakeside Drive, and the hotel was on NORTH… so we’re riding along, more or less sure we’re going the right way, and this red pickup truck pulls up next to us, the guy rolls down his window, and yells “It’s just about 3/4 of a mile up the road! We’re on the left!”

I did a double or triple take, and finally said “Thanks!” as he sped off.  We got to our hotel, and sure enough, there was the guy behind the desk.  He said “Well, after I got off the phone, I said ‘Crap! Those are the people coming in on bikes!’ And my wife said ‘Yeah, I just passed them down by the gas station.’ So I went out to check on you.”  Full service at the Shorewood Motel in Gladstone.  And btw, only a half-mile walk to a bar with burgers. 

The next day, Tuesday, was much easier riding, and we had lunch at Rosie’s Family Restaurant**, which has great food.  Homemade whole wheat toast, hashbrowns, and a huge omelet.  Yum.

Today we thought we’d get rained on, but the weather was actually very good.  We were well ahead of schedule as we passed the very top of Lake Michigan, and then Cabell had a flat.  I put a new tube in — she’d run over a big piece of wood, at least 1/8 inch thick, that went right through the tire.  I lined the tire with a piece of PowerBar wrapper.  But when she got back on, the brakes rubbed, as the wheel was now out of true.  Fortunately, it was only 6 miles to St. Ignace, our stop for the day, so I adjusted her brakes really loose so they wouldn’t rub, and away we went. ***

In St. Ignace we went to Marlee’s Cruisers, the only bike shop in town — with some trepidation, as the name doesn’t suggest our bikes — but the guys were very helpful, and stocked tires and tubes the right size, trued the wheel, and adjusted the brakes perfectly. 

Now we need to eat and do laundry.  And drink. Tomorrow we head across the Mackinac Bridge onto the Lower Peninsula. 

* I made and printed out a list of all bike shops on the route in advance — you know you’ll need them.

** I’ve forgotten where it is. Somewhere between Gladstone and Manistique.

*** BTW, Cabell has the dirtiest bike in the universe.  Yuck.

Made it to Michigan

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

As planned, we got on the road at 8 AM and drove to Green Bay, where we parked the car in long term parking at the airport.  We then proceeded to ride the wrong way down the wrong road for about a mile, before I discovered the problem, and wound up climbing a totally unnecessary hill in the process.  After a lot of asking directions and puzzling over maps, we finally got out of the Green Bay metro area, and away from all the traffic, and suddenly, as we pedaled down a quiet road, I looked over to the right, and there was Lake Michigan!

It’s pretty up this way — little houses out in the country right on the lakefront, no doubt obscenely overpriced.  A lot of them are for sale, too.  I think I’ll have to pass.  Still, we were enjoying the quiet and the view.  About 2 in the afternoon we found ourselves heading into a very ominous black storm front, and by 3 it was thundering and pouring rain.  We turned off into a driveway, and took refuge in an open garage.  I knocked on the door of the house, but no one was home.  So we just huddled in the garage about half an hour until the rain slacked off a bit. 

Eventually we put on our rain pants and jackets and braved the road again.  All in all, we rode in the rain for about an hour and a half.  I was regretting having left my waterproof shoe covers.  Eventually the sun came out, and we crossed a little bridge into Menominee, Michigan. 

 Our hotel is located right on a bay of the lake, but all we did was walk in, take showers, order pizza, and collapse.  That was a 70 mile day, starting after 11 AM; today is only about 60 miles, and I’m hoping we can get on the road a bit earlier. 

Checking into the hotel, there’s this moment filling out the little card:

“Just put your license number or at least the make an color of your car there.”

“Ummm… We didn’t actually bring one…”