Small Town America: Dunbar, PA

We’re often looking for the “alternate route” to where ever it is we’re going. Sometime the journey is more interesting than the destination. So, on October 12 we found ourselves in the town of Dunbar, Pennsylvania. Dunbar is about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, a small town that is part of what in it’s heyday was producing coal and coke. Now it’s a sleepy little town trying to reinvent itself. But like many small towns, it’s people have a story to tell.
We heard one of those stories when we parked the car and started walking around town. It took about three minutes for one of the locals, Mike Bell, to recognize us as tourists. Mike, being a member of the Dunbar Historical Society was happy to tell us about his town.
Mike, our tour guide in Dunbar, PA.
Mike Bell telling us about his experiences growing up in Dunbar
Mike gave us a walking tour of Dunbar and he opened up Dunbar Historical Society facility to share some of the local history. The facility is housed in the what used to be the Post Office, put in service in 1907. As with most of the folks in Dunbar, Mike grew up here. He can recall delivering meat to the meat market, setting pins and the bowling alley and riding the trolley. The trolley is long gone as are many of the business that Mike knew growing up. Mikes stories captivated us until it was time for us to go. Part of the intrigue of traveling off the beaten track is the opportunity to hear stories. It’s the stories that tie us together.
There was also a glass works here, Pennsylvania Wire Glass Company, which produced wire reinforced glass up until the mid-1950s. Some of the glass from that plant has brought some local fame to Dunbar.
Seated Torso by  Pascal
Seated Torso by Pascal
The Historical Society now has on display a glass sculpture produced by the artist Suzanne Pascal. In 1961 Pascal learned about the the shuttered glass works and purchased enough glass for a lifetime’s work. One of those pieces was a 4000 pound chunk of glass which she fashioned into “Seated Torso.” Pascal gained some notoriety worldwide and her work became quite valuable. This piece was purchased in 1994 for $3 million by billionaire John Kluge, who at the time was considered one of the richest men in America.
The piece is currently valued at $3.5 million, and was donated to the town of Dunbar by Donald Trump in 2015. Trump obtained the piece when he purchased the Kluge estate after Kluge died. Trump had plans to turn the estate into a winery and he decided to find a new home for the piece. Trump discovered that the glass had it’s origins in Dunbar and decided to donate the piece o the town. Needless to say, the town had to raise $11,000 to ship the piece and raise additional money to build an annex on the historical society building to display it.
The town is also trying to bring back interest in the local history with a reconstructed coke oven that now sits in the park across from the Post Office. The hills around the town and this part of Pennsylvania are dotted with the ruins of old coke ovens. Mike told us about some of the challenges of building the oven, since that skill has been long forgotten. We could easily have spent more time in this small town, but having listened to Mike’s stories it was time to head for our next destination.

Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: October 4

After a day of touring some of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright I decided to take a short walk back to Unity Temple to see what it looked light at dusk. This is just a 10 minute walk from our Airbnb in Oak Park. I was curious to see what the the building would look like lit up at dusk.


Earlier in the day we had toured the Temple with a tour tour group led by docents of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The tour started at the Rookery Building in downtown Chicago where we boarded a bus to take us to several sites around the city. The tour included the Rookery Building, a walking tour of Oak Park, including Unity Temple and the Robie House. By the end of the day we had a strong sense for some of the design features for which Frank Lloyd Wright is know. A delightful and informative tour.

We arrived in Chicago on Tuesday, October 2, and we’ve been busy exploring some of the architectural highlights of the city. I’ll have more to share in the days ahead. I just have to figure out how to sit still long enough to write.

Antelope Canyon Photo Tour

Sunbeams. Antelope Canyon

On July 3 I found myself touring Antelope Canyon with camera and tripod in hand.

The slot canyons of the Southwest provide some remarkable photo opportunities. These canyons are often deep and narrow with red sandstone walls eroded into fantastic shapes by wind and water. Antelope Canyon is one of the more famous canyons and you need to book a tour with one of the tour operators that provide Navajo guides. We booked our tour several months ago through Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tour. The cost for the tour was $195 for a tour of two canyons; well worth the money. You can book a regular tour in which case you are limited to a hand-held camera or you can book a photo tour which requires a camera and tripod. Joann booked a regular tour for herself and a photo tour for me.

My photo tour started at 9:00 AM, and we were instructed to be at the tour headquarters 45 minutes early. For the regular tour no bags or backpacks are allowed, likewise for the photo tour you can take a camera and tripod, again no bags or backpacks. Some of the canyons are quite narrow and having a backpack would hinder movement. There is also a concern of scratching the canyon walls and leaving marks if you are carrying a backpack with a tripod. I arrived at the headquarters with my backpack, Nikon D800, and two lenses, a 14-24 and a 28-300, and a water bottle. I opted to shoot with the 14-24 on the advice that wider is better. I also had my little Sony RX100 in a holster on my belt. At 8:45 we climbed into an Hummer for a 15 minute ride up a sandy wash. A rather bumpy ride. Our first stop was Rattlesnake Canyon. I left my pack and water bottle in the car and grabbed my camera and tripod. Even if I had taken my second lens, changing lenses in the canyon is not advisable. There is a tremendous amount of dust, and the risk of getting dust on the sensor is quite high.

In the canyon the guides were very efficient at helping us get into position, a challenge with multiple photographers in the tight confines of the canyon. They broke us into groups and placed us in different rooms, while making sure we had time to capture a few images while they controlled the visitors on other tours.

It wasn’t far into the first canyon when I dropped my remote cable in the sand, and at that point it stopped working properly. I was able to get it to work off and on, but it was a bit frustrating. With the tour operating as it does, you have a limited time to capture images. Be advised to make sure you know your camera well and that your equipment is in good order with fully charged batteries. You will have little time to fiddle with camera once you are in the canyon.

Once we had traversed Rattlesnake Canyon we hiked over the canyon rim back to the Hummer and headed for Upper Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a very busy place with many tourists traversing the canyon with their guides. Even so, the tour operators all seem to cooperate to give the photo tour access to some of the more interesting rooms. They will put the photographers in position, halt traffic through a room and give you a couple of minutes to shoot. As noon approached the shafts of light beaming down into the canyon became the focus of the tour. The guides would throw sand in the air to help accentuate the shafts of light. A very dusty experience. Several of the photographers had wrapped their cameras in plastic bags to protect them from dusk. Probably a good idea. Next time I might take my camera raincoat for that purpose. This tour is best done close to the summer solstice when the sun is high in the sky, creating vertical shafts of light deep in the canyon.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s House


On June 28 we decided to make the drive from our casita at Rancho Jacona to Abiquiu to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s house. The drive was about 45 minutes (from Santa Fe it’s about 50 miles). We were able to get tickets with two days notice. Be aware that tours fill up quickly, so plan ahead if you wish to visit. The tour starts at the the O’Keeffe Welcome Center next to Abiquiú Inn.  Here you board a shuttle bus for the short ride up the hill to the house. Photography is permitted on the grounds, but not in house. When we arrived at the house, thunder clouds were gathering and we were greeted by wind and light rain.  Welcome relief from the hot sun and harsh light. I often prefer the soft light of overcast clouds for photography.

O’Keeffe purchased this property from Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1945. She had been interested in the property for some time, but it wasn’t for sale. Eventually she convinced the church to sell the property. Over the next few years she remodeled the house to suit her needs and took up residence in 1945.  She spent winters in Abiquiu and summers at Ghost Ranch.

The tour provides some interesting insight into O’Keeffe’s art work and her way of life.

Meow Wolf

Where else can you open the refrigerator and step into a whole new world. Or bang on the ribs of a mastodon to make music. The Meow Wolf Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico is a bit like going down a rabbit hole.

We made a visit to the museum on June 27. We were staying near Santa Fe for a few days, and with the hot weather and the closure of hiking trails due to a high fire hazard we opted to visit the Meow Wolf museum.

The website bills the museum as  an immersive, interactive experiences to transport audiences into fantastic realms; the product of a cooperative of over 200 artists encompassing disciplines of architecture, sculpture, painting, photography and video production, virtual and augmented reality, music and audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming and performance.

Like no other museum experience. We got in for the senior price of $23. Regular admission is $25.

Global Cooling Event 2018

The Global Cooling Event took place at 2:50 this afternoon in Western Sky Studio in Berkeley California. The event was part of Dance-A-Rama 2018, a National Dance Week event. Dance-A-Rama included performances by 10 dance companies with some amazingly talented dancers. My piece, A Global Cooking Event involve inviting members of the audience to perform and included a narrator reading from of Chief Seattle’s Brother Eagle Sister Sky. I had four cameras capturing video as well still images. The camera operators were all volunteers from the audience. I’ll be posting a video clip at a future date

A big thanks to all the people that turned out for Dance-A-Rama, the dancers, and the people from the audience that were brave enough to step forward and help cool the planet.

Quick Tour of Arusha

We arrived at the African Tulip Hotel late last night after an eight-hour flight from Amsterdam. Our tour company sent a representative to meet us at the airport, escort us through immigration and drive us to the hotel.  This morning he gave us a quick tour of Arusha, with a drive through the market district, which seemed to go on for miles… stall after stall of everything from used shoes, to watches to potatoes. Then we made an interesting stop at Shanga, an enterprise that employs people with disabilities to create unique crafts and art work using recycled materials. We spent some time watching the glass blowers and the weavers.

In the morning we board a small plane to take us to our safari camp in the bush. I doubt if we’ll have internet access in the bush, so it may be awhile before we get a chance to connect again. Stay tuned.

Holiday Road Trip: Last Leg

Our return trip from the Eastern Sierra took us South down the Owens Valley and then west over Walker Pass on Highway 178. We opted for this route rather than retrace the route we had taken earlier on our trip, coming over Echo Summit on Highway 50. At 5,246 feet, Walker Pass is lower than the northern passes and less likely to have snow, although for this trip snow was not an issue on either route. One of our favorite stops on this route is the Onyx Store, in the little town of Onyx. It was closed when we passed by, not surprising since it was Christmas day. Some years ago I set my panoramic camera up in the store and captured a panorama. A framed print was hanging in the store the last time I looked.

We were tempted to camp at the BLM campsite near the pass, which is in the Joshua Trees. Fascinating subjects for photography.  We pressed on though, hoping to find a spot at the Keyesville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). As we set up camp we were surprised to find some fall color remaining on the willow trees along the Kern River. From this point home in the San Francisco Bay area there is not much available for camping, at least not the kind of camping we like.  We found plenty of campsites available with a few campers scattered here and there. In the summertime this is a popular place for mountain bikers and off road recreational vehicles. Fortunately we had a quiet camp.

Walking around camp the next morning I found a reminder that it is good to be “Alive,” a stone somebody had painted and left in camp. I had to stop and smile. Not that I needed a reminder, being in the outdoors and admiring God’s creation is reminder enough.



Bishop Tableland Petroglyphs

With family together in Big Pine for a few days we decided to take a hike yesterday, December 22 to explore some of the petroglyphs on the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California. Much of the tablelands are managed by BLM and and this suited us as a dog-friendly hike since we had three dogs among the six of us. This area is sprinkled with petroglyphs. Some are readily accessible by car, others require some rock scrambling and local knowledge. We visited two sites. I hesitate to say much about the locations since some of these rock art features have been vandalized or ripped off in recent years. A sorry state on the lack of respect we seem to have for the environment, our cultural treasures and our public lands. There is little known about when these artworks were created.  If you wish to find information on the tablelands and the petroglyphs, please contact the Bishop Visitor’s Center.