until non-pandemic time

After leaving the diner in Hurricane UT (and what a name for a town!), referenced in the last entry, and a brief stop for coffee at the edge of nearby St. George UT, I headed into Nevada again, this time for two last stops. The first: The Whole Foods on the Strip in Las Vegas. The second: A dude ranch in the Mojave, about 45 minutes south of the city on I-15.

I would be bypassing Vegas altogether, really, except for needed foodstuffs. I only needed some place to get things to cook, and the Whole Foods location near the Strip casinos and the airport was perfect. It also wasn’t at all crowded, so I managed to pick up a New York Strip steak, asparagus, butter, and one tall beer for the night in short order. The objective was to get down to the dude ranch and cook at a place I was staying there, while having enough time to see a sunset. I made it.

That place was a tipi, a glamping setup, on the property of Sandy Valley Ranch, located about three miles south of the Nevada border in San Bernadino County CA, about 30 miles from the Mojave National Preserve. It was located on a piece of land behind the ranch house, along with a (then-taken) tiny house and such.

I wouldn’t say that the place was wildly glamorous if you expect that with the “glamping” name. But the tipi and deck had all the cooking utensils I needed properly cook and cut a steak, along with a propane stove and a fridge for butter and the beer and such. It also featured an outdoor shower, a fire pit, and a couch and chairs on the deck, then a heated mattress and plenty of thick Navajo blankets and such inside the tipi.

I won’t say that any one part of the night stood out as The Highlight. The sunset, however, clearly made for the most dramatic shot. And I did not notice the big red line for a bit, being busy with moving things around and starting the fire and all. Once I did notice, I went immediately for the camera. Otherwise, I cooked a steak while a ranch dog longingly looked on, read on a big red couch next to a fire, looked at the stars in the remarkably clear desert sky, and so forth. Then I went to sleep, with the assistance of a propane heater (safe to use with a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm inside) and a heated mattress, along with a Navajo blanket. I still struggled to keep warm, but loved every second of the experience.

The next morning, just after sunrise, I thought maybe my lucky streak on this strip had finally come to an end, given that the shower wouldn’t turn on. Oh well, I thought, I can at least get a shower at the Concourse F lounge in Atlanta, since I planned to go there again Wednesday (December 9, specifically). Even so, I called the owner, who figured the pipes must have frozen, and he sent me over the then-empty ranch house for a shower. So all worked out fine.

I used an extra K-cup from a hotel to make coffee in an old pot. Worked out beautifully. The cup I had felt like the best in a long, long time, given the bitterly cold morning. Then I finished packing and headed out.

I was a tad worried when my smartphone, after sitting on deck while I had a shower, wouldn’t fully turn on afterward. But within a couple of minutes inside the car, it was going again. Then came the Joshua trees with Christmas decorations on them, one after the other on the way back to I-15, and I started cackling, while making sure to pull over and get at least one photo.

If U2 ever gives up and releases a holiday album, one of these trees could be on the front cover– say, “The Christmas Joshua Tree,” featuring the hit single, “I Still Haven’t Found the Gift That I’m Looking For.” (A friend sad another single could be, “Where the Malls Have No Name.”)

And that was it for the trip. I watched “Singin’ in the Rain” on the plane back to Atlanta, and had a nice margarita and such at the Delta Sky Deck. Really, though, that was it.

Maybe I’ll have some thoughts on COVID and travel later, and on funding for and treatment of national and state parks and such, or climate change. You never know. I did write in a journal entry that I wondered a couple of years ago if I’d gotten back into travel via a middle-class salary just as all the fun would be ending, thanks to political and possibly economic instability and climate change (even a budding backlash against air travel pre-COVID thanks to the latter).

Maybe I could extend that idea into an entry down the line? Hmm. Otherwise, this is it for now.

bryce canyon

One more exclusively natural wonders-related post, covering the last full day of my trip out west on Tuesday, Dec. 8. This post also covers the crème de la crème of the natural wonders I saw; namely, Bryce Canyon. It’s the smallest of the national parks I visited, but I took more photos in two hours in this park at sunrise than anywhere else. If I get to see anything of the park’s ilk again in this life I’ll be lucky.

For background purposes: I had walked to Bryce Canyon’s rim on the previous Monday, after driving over in the afternoon after morning inside Zion Canyon and a beautiful drive over, albeit one where I had to struggle to stay fully alert a couple of times. (I solved this issue by listening to a Frank Sinatra-themed channel, first, and then a classical channel via satellite radio from the rental care. Have no idea why that worked.) I snapped a couple of shots off the road at Red Canyon of an agglomeration of the same sort of rock formations found at Bryce, ones known as hoodoos.

Hoodoos at Red Canyon Visitors Center, about 20 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park

I was walking stiffly when I got out of the car, however. And the front desk clerk at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon‘s Sunset Lodge, where I stayed, told me that I would definitely get better photos at sunrise, that it was the big thing there. He wrote down sunset and sunrise times as a matter of routine. He also gave me directions and phone numbers for food–important, since all park restaurants were closed. I opted to go look for food (settling on barbecue in nearby Tropic UT and getting breakfast foods at a grocery next door) before sunset instead of waiting for photos then, but I took a few shots at the rim all the same before doing so.

I got it at dusk, and enjoyed a quiet night in the TV-less lodge, but thankfully with good Internet, and furniture re-created from 1920s lodge patterns (as shown at right, above).

The next morning brought the drama. But I thought at first that it would be over quickly, given that it was so ridiculously cold at dawn–around 15, according to weather archives online–and windy. I was thinking, Maybe just take photos at sunrise, and call it a day? And I did take dozens of photos well before that, including the shot in the title shot above. Below are a couple of others.

When I made it to a designated sunrise point, there were only six other people around, no press conference-style environment with all the tripods this time. This made sense since most lodging and all park restaurants are closed for the year in November. The highest elevation at Bryce is 9,100 feet, and Sunrise Point is just under 8,000. It can get brutally cold at the park in winter. The front desk clerk told me that the only reason park lodging is available past mid-November and just past New Year’s Day is high Christmas demand.

There were so few people around, then, that it felt safe to talk with others from a distance for a bit. Then four in a group began walking around, and one guy started coughing. So I thought, Um, why not walk down this adjacent trail? It was the Queen’s Garden Trail, which headed down into the canyon.

Next thing you know, I was seeing more light out, and I was just too floored to think about anything else otherwise (besides reminding myself that I was walking straight down and would have to walk back up eventually).

Around 7:30, we had sunrise. A big, dramatic sunrise, in hindsight. I put together this panoramic shot from sequential ones later, a week or so after getting home.

I took at least 150 more shots just around or after that point, many of them through attempts to produce wide-angle shots without having to take off my backpack, open it, and get out my wide-angle lens. It was warming up, but still frigid enough that I didn’t want to bother. I realized later that I could have produced what I wanted to be composite shots in-camera. But I’m not sure how well that feature works. I will experiment with it later. The shots I took through Queen’s Garden and on through the open section of the connecting Navajo Loop Trail (the popular, towering Wall Street section was closed for winter) were still thrilling to check out.

The climb back was not that bad, about six or seven long switchbacks. Not long after making it up, I got a shower, checked out, and headed into Nevada again. I opted to take the scenic route on to and through Zion again, which took me again through places with plenty of evergreen trees and a curious array of rural fancy coffee joints. After getting through Zion and environs, I ate at an outdoor “diner” food truck in Hurricane UT, one that would surely be consistently mobbed in any city, small to large. Along the way, in one of the small towns I passed through, I bought firewood for a stay I had planned south of Las Vegas that night in the Mojave, at the far edge of San Bernadino County CA.

third day: scenic drive, zion

Featured here are photos I took on the morning and early afternoon of Monday, May 7 in the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive section of Zion National Park. For those not in the know: I was in the park at the only time of year you can take the scenic route in a personal vehicle, given that it is the off-season and park shuttles do not operate then. Even so, parking spaces within the drive area are first-come, first-serve, and the route is shut off when parking is full. As such, I had to get up early again Monday to make it into this zone.

This was not a challenge, however, as I had regularly been getting up before dawn on this trip. I even managed to get a full breakfast and get checked out and still get into the scenic area around 7:45. Then I walked, hiked, took photos, and took things in. I ate a large, yummy chicken cordon bleu sandwich from the park lodge restaurant while out on the lodge lawn. Then I headed for another short trail. And I took off around 1:30 or so to head for Bryce Canyon, an hour-and-a-half down the road.

The only big hike I did was a popular one called the Emerald Pools Trail that is easy-peasy on the first third, only to get maddeningly strenuous by the last third. I loved it, except for the oh-great-slippery-rocks-and-more-rocks-again bit in the last third. But it wasn’t as interesting photographically as an earlier, somewhat lazy walk along the Virgin River.

I thought the same was true of the easy path I took after lunch, the Riverside Walk trail, which starts at the Temple of Sinawava (the quasi-official beginning of Zion Canyon) and heads toward the Narrows section, where it’s only water and a towering, narrow canyon–and you need special water-resistant gear to make the hike, neoprene socks and waders and such to keep going.

Speaking of the Narrows, I didn’t do any of the Internet-suggested “must do” hikes, because a) There was an NPS danger alert about toxic algae in the Virgin River, and this was December besides, and b) There’s already this virus thing going on, and the Narrows and the (risky) Angels Landing trails are said to be nearly always crowded. This year, two major trails elsewhere were also closed due to rockslides. That made hiking the most publicized trails a big nope for me. I had a good time anyway!

In any case, I read much before heading into this trip about how Zion has become a victim of overtourism and crowding in peak season. My impression, however, was that the scenic area is popular because it should be. This is not to say that other parks, and even other parts of Zion, are curiously overlooked. It’s just to say that sometimes crowds are right, as much as they may need to be shepherded around to other places.

Best not to follow people too closely right before a vaccine comes along, though. Gotta get up before most of the crowd, slip past people, all that. Maybe that will be a good rule of thumb for the post-COVID era, though, as much as we humans need and rely upon other people? I’m thinking yes. In all things, balance.

hiking in zion, days 1 & 2

Two Saturdays ago was meant to be more of what I call a “down day,” a rest and regrouping day. And it sort-of was, if you don’t count the unexpected two-and-a-half more hours of hiking over one rock after another after another in the late afternoon.

The hours before mostly involved getting reoriented and eating carb-heavy foods, including a St. George UT Hilton Tru hotel’s offering of healthy options including Belgian waffles with whipped cream (someone did ask if I wanted it added, uh yes, thanks) and toppings including chocolate chips and Oreo crumbles. I went to wash and get rocks out of my rental car after that, seeing a balloon race or exhibition or something on the way (Ooh purty, now where’s the car wash?), and asked for a chocolate-covered doughnut with chocolate chips on top afterward.

I headed to Springdale UT, bordering Zion National Park and about an hour east around noon. The plan was just to drive through the park, take some photos, and check into my hotel there. On the east end of the park, however, I stopped to go the restroom at a turnabout area. After talking with a couple from Idaho, with the two doing some outdoor bratwurst grilling there, I noticed what looked like a dirt trail leading down a hill. So I got my hiking stick, camera, and hat (Idaho man went, “Yeah, the hat!”) and headed to see what was there.

I remembered reading in a guide that the trails next to some of these turnabouts led to many slot canyons, and tended to be uncrowded. This proved to be accurate advice, even with two major trails closed due to rockslides earlier in the year. Later, I would find that these are in an area known as Clear Creek.

Two women I passed, a mother and daughter I think, told me after I’d been out for a bit that if I kept going I’d come across several pools and big horn sheep. But I kept coming across more and more piles of dry creek bed rocks, and thought, Well, that’s it for today. I mean, really.

I had other shots from the drive, shots which did not include cars, but liked the one here for whatever reason. Another non-trail shot is of the Virgin River, taken from my hotel’s grounds. It’s just the way the river is, no immaculate Hilton landscaping going on. A park campground is on the other side.

What I planned instead, at least for the morning, was a hike through was I saw referred to as the infrequently visited “desert” (in quotes because, I thought, it’s technically all desert) southwestern quadrant of the park. It’s less frequently visited because it’s lower-lying, has almost no shade on trails, and is too hot for hiking in most parts of the year. That’s not true in December.

I found varying reports about the trail’s merits. One elaborately detailed Zion hiking site called it mostly unimpressive compared to other parts of the park, but worth visiting if you like solitude. By contrast, a guide from a resort just outside of the eastern section of the park called it “epic” for winter. I liked the idea of a longer, uncrowded hike, in any case, so I thought I’d try it.

Verdict: I thought I’d made the wrong call on this trail until I walked up a “wash” (dry creek bed), into a petrified forest area, and came upon what looked to be a rockslide’s aftermath. I suppose I could have attempted to scramble over the rocks, but a) I’m from Mississippi, b) I was out here alone, and c) I didn’t want to risk burdening the already burdened health care system. So I turned around, and then … Then! Then things got interesting.

I took a break after four hours around here, barely getting out of the designated parking area’s steep, beaten up, and gutted driveway out (I had a 4WD, which did its thing, thankfully). Then I took the much more popular Watchman Trail at the edge of the main section of the park that afternoon. I walked to it from my hotel. I saw many more people here, but almost all wore masks, and one could do The COVID Shuffle to get out of anyone’s path.

I finally ate healthy that night, fancy salmon, veggies, taters, and greens dish. And ice cream with some blackberry/raspberry tart thing later.

mojave road trip

Around 10 on the morning of Friday, Dec. 4, I knew I needed to head out soon. The plan, after all, was to get to St. George UT, at the northeastern end of the larger Mojave Desert. And I wanted to make a couple of stops. I did not have much time to waste, however, because I wanted to get into St. George at a reasonable hour, and I would already be crossing a time zone (Pacific to Mountain).

It ended up being a pretty interesting drive, at least in part, although with some seemingly interminable stretches of dirt and grey mountains in the distance. A few scenes, including ones taken in Death Valley near Beatty NV, lying just outside of the park, about an hour northeast of Furnace Creek CA, at the park’s heart. Next door to Beatty is, meanwhile, another NPS property, Rhyolite Ghost Town. I briefly toured the ghost town, then had a tasty pork al pastor burrito from a Mexican food truck in Beatty, as well as French press coffee from a drive-through place (really, a trailer).

After this, I had high hopes of being able to at least briefly stop at Valley of Fire State Park, located between Las Vegas and St. George, and about 15 minutes east off Interstate 15. I had I read about this gem of a state park a few months before in researching places to visit in the region. By the time I got there, it was only going to be open for another hour. So I couldn’t tarry long, but I made it!

I’d read great things about this park, and even my brief drive through showed me that it lived up to its billing. Next time I make it around these parts, I need to go back and spend a bit more time at Valley of Fire. For the record, the property was almost a national park. Today, it’s a state park bordered by federally-owned lands, including the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which I drove through the tail end of after leaving.

One unexpected thing: Making my only siting on my trip of big-horned sheep, the undisputed showstoppers among wildlife in the region. (Read upon my return to Mississippi that a recent visitor complained about losing a shoe to one of the sheep. Park staff later found a shoe matching the visitor’s description within the park.)

After leaving, I took a lovely drive through small towns near here after that (many palm trees around houses, ranches and such, old downtowns) at dusk, before hooking onto I-15 again. I ordered and ate pizza, caught up on emails and such, and soon crashed.

Next stop for the next day: Springdale UT, gateway to Zion.

death valley, day 2

I recorded audio for this last night. But I was up to writing again this morning. Go figure. In any case, here I focus on what is probably the most popular photo attraction at Death Valley, Zabriskie Point. It’s so popular, really, that I found more enjoyment (and amazement at the landscape) in editing the photos later than I did when at the site. The reason: Too many people around with tripods and fancy equipment.

Some folks were likely doing time-lapse photography and video at this, the park’s most famous site, what I called a “screen saver shot” locale. And I could keep my distance. Still, all those folks (maybe 30-40 around at the top of a hill) were making me nervous, so I scrammed after too long. I told some women nearby when I was taking the shot at right, below, that I had more shots than one would have of a newborn, so I was probably good to go. Everyone laughed, and I took off.

The location: Sidewinder Canyon, a not-so-heavily-trafficked site (only me out there around 8-10 on a Friday morning) about 15-20 minutes south of Badwater Basin and an hour from the main visitors center and resort area at Furnace Creek. Some “Star Wars” productions were filmed at Death Valley, and some of my shots from here looked especially Star Wars-ey to me.

What I will always associate with the canyon is, however, its absolute silence that a.m. When I stopped hiking, I heard nothing—no ambient hum, no birds, insect noises, nothing. I’ve never experienced anything like that, and I grew up in a rural area. I mean, out here, the info or influencer age means nothing. I could have screamed “CAN I READ SOME OF THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS TO YOU? DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT LAWSUITS INVOLVING THE ELECTION?” and no one would have been around to hear it, not even non-human critters, apparently (although I saw what appeared to be rabbit poop around, which likely meant that coyotes were hiding away nearby). I briefly heard the sounds of military aircraft, which I know use the western end of the park for training. Sounds may have bounced off canyon or eastern mountains. Otherwise, I heard only silence.

I spent about two hours climbing uphill and exploring slot canyons here, then took off. And took a selfie beforehand, as shown here. Very mostly-doomed-crew-of-“Alien” kind of thing to do, I know.

death valley, day 1

For your listening pleasure–or something like that–I put together some audio descriptions of these. For those who are aurally challenged, please note the following: I took these on Thursday, Dec. 4, no long after getting into Death Valley National Park. (I stopped by Zabriskie Point first, but the mid-morning light looked too strong for photos. Photos of that natural landmark are featured in the next post.) I walked up the trail to the Red Cathedral, a mountain that looks like its name. But most of these were taken on side trails on the return trip, ones where I started to think, Oh, Death Valley is the unconventional supermodel of national parks, I think. Later on, I started to think of it as similar to Lady Gaga. You think it’s this one thing, but then it’s doing the national park equivalent of a duet album with Tony Bennet, or being talked about as Oscar material. That will be clear in the next two galleries, for which I also included audio.

Devil’s Golf Course Description
Badwater Basin
Continued Below!

travel, COVID, and keeping plans

Around Independence Day, I decided to make long-range travel plans, just as I watched half of everyone, it seemed like, traveling across the country by car to various natural wonders. I didn’t have the time to make such a trip over the summer, being involved in a freelance question-writing gig for a textbook publisher. Moreover, I had no desire to drive thousands of miles by car. I’m less a Great American Road Trip person than a Fly or Take a Train to Get Close Then Take a Car Person.

I knew of a place I wanted to go before too long, though: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, which I had planned to visit before the pandemic began and COVID lockdowns (or quasi-lockdowns) ensued nationwide, and the parks temporarily closed. I also knew by then that a semester of college teaching would be finished for me right after Thanksgiving. A bit of research, meanwhile, showed that flying into Las Vegas would also put me within close range of Death Valley National Park, which I had looked into before my trip to the Sierras and Los Angeles in July 2018. Visiting the park in December would work out well, weather wise.

I went to Delta’s website, then, and used points to reserve a round-trip ticket from Jackson to Las Vegas. By mid-month I had reserved in-park rooms at Death Valley and Bryce Canyon, both on sale. And on a Wednesday after turning in grades, I found myself in the outdoor Sky Deck of the Delta Sky Club at Atlanta’s Concourse F for a few hours, waiting on a flight to Las Vegas, with plans to head out for Death Valley in the morning.

Delta Sky Deck, Concourse F at 12:04 a.m. (Four or So Other People Around by 2:30)

Notable: It was 53 degrees out, hardly the typical weather you would choose for a long layover’s stay at the outdoor deck of an airport lounge. But given events of two or three weeks that preceded my planned trip, COVID was more of a concern than ever before. I hadn’t expected a new “wave” (I choose to think we’re still on a first wave in the U.S.) or a dramatic increase in cases to hit so soon after Thanksgiving. Even a week before the trip, I was wondering if I would have to cancel. Ultimately, however, I had done my research on flying, and what sort of precautions to take while on the road, and cautiously decided to move ahead.

I made a few significant adjustments, however, ones that built upon an earlier plan to make my trip as safe as possible, via means including the following:

  • “Contactless” care rental via Silvercar, an Audi company. Now, while Audi has chosen to close its Silvercar locations and airports and keep them open at dealerships instead, due to decreased travel in the U.S., you can still have the car delivered and picked up at certain airports for a $50 extra fee each time. I chose this option, and it was worth every penny. The only contact I had with Silvercar was via my phone and an iPhone app. No matter how Silvercar is doing now, I think you will see more of this sort of thing in the future, at least for everything but super-budget rentals.
  • Avoidance of The Strip or Downtown Las Vegas entirely, and even outdoor attractions I had hoped to visit, including the Neon Museum.
  • Steering clear of even outdoor dining at any place that looked crowded or appeared to have the opportunity to become crowded. Instead, I relied on pickup or to-go orders, room service (thankfully available for all meals of the day at my hotel in Springdale UT near Zion, the Cliffrose Lodge), and food trucks. Along the way, I even stopped at a fancy coffee trailer in a town of 1,000 or so residents!
  • Opting to stay at only Hilton properties, including the Cliffrose, not only because I could rack up some points, but because I could use its app for check-in, as well as use it as for a key. I also knew that Hilton had company-wide cleaning policies.
  • Otherwise, staying only at park lodges and, in an 11th hour arrangement, a glamping place about 45 minutes south of the Las Vegas airport, in the Mojave Desert (a location where, again, I did not need to talk to anyone in person–arrangements were made online).
  • Remembering some basic rules, including: Avoid crowds, keep my distance, wash my hands, the usual. (The only place that wasn’t as easy to do, but wasn’t impossible: The airport. This wasn’t Thanksgiving week, thankfully. The airport was dead in the morning, but ’90s type crowds developed in the mid-afternoon.
  • And finally: Deciding to spend a much longer layover than I initially expected at the outdoor lounge! Do your research, if you must travel over the next few months, and you might find out about such things. (I just can’t see the sky deck being uncrowded during a holiday travel week, even if the international concourse isn’t that busy nowadays. ) Helps to travel alone, though! A disclaimer there.

For my first night, I reserved and stayed at a nondescript Hilton Garden Inn south of The Strip. After getting there around 8:30, I ordered a big pizza from its restaurant. Then I ate most of it, but kept a few slices for a 5 a.m. “breakfast.” And I headed out for Death Valley at dawn. I went through the drive-through in the next city with services, dusty Parhump (where someone did the “pay it forward” thing for my coffee, as well as a panini that I thought I could use for lunch later on–I was previously unaware of this sort of thing, and baffled by it. I mean, I didn’t think I looked THAT shaggy.).

Within ten minutes, I was seeing this sort of road ahead of me. More exciting things were ahead, and are ahead here as well.

pool season, over

Well, I wasn’t able to do any more blog posts for a bit due to a) A maddening series of computer issues, ones which required me to purchase a new hard drive and reinstall Windows, and b) work, in a semester that’s starting earlier than before.

I do not miss the summer, however, or at least not the temperatures of summer. I’m just starting to get out with the “real” camera again (read, a dedicated camera, not a smart phone), and will post some shots from it. Thanks to the pandemic, however, I haven’t had many events to attend or taken trips for photo purposes. I have one of those planned for December, but I’ve been avoiding crowds.

One thing the pandemic has clearly taught me is that the camera is a way of getting in with a crowd, and studying places and people. I’m not making any sort of introverted images, or ones that involve self-reflection or reflect inner moods, necessarily. If my images do that, and I’m sure they do, they only do so indirectly.

What could seem like a possible exception are photos I took from inside the pool downstairs at my place this summer. I don’t have a thesis or anything for them, though. I just liked the way the shots looked, really, and love the way the pool looks at night.

But I do think they reflect something personal in that I’m a longtime swimmer. I started 20 minutes or more at least three or four times a week starting 2001, after saying sayonara to Big Tobacco. I’ve had periods where I’ve also been into jogging and cycling, and then just cycling and swimming for a bit. I’ve worked with a personal trainer as well. But swimming is my first adult exercise love.

During the summer, meanwhile, I was in the pool downstairs for more casual dips, but still doing flip turns and kicking from below to stir the water up, doing dolphin kicks under water for practice, and the like. Water is so heavy, so powerful, and mysterious, and I enjoyed watching it do its thing in a way I hadn’t in a lap pool.

There is, again, no deeper thing to say here, except maybe that the pool is my Great Escape. And now it’s over for a summer, except for the lap pool (for which I’m ready for more pandemic months, with water shoes, wet socks, and a parka ready so I can get in and out of the gym ASAP).

Oh, also I took a series of photos with a toy shark! Lest we forget. Farewell for the year, downstairs pool.

hiroshima, 2019

About year and two-and-a-half months ago today, I made a one-night’s stop in Hiroshima, Japan. It was all too brief, but memorable in a way that will likely be etched in my brain until I leave this earth. And I was just one of thousands of pilgrims to its Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park passing through daily, this on a quiet, cloudy Friday afternoon and evening.

Tomorrow will be a bigger day there, with the marking of the 75th anniversary of the city’s destruction by an American atomic bombing.

A bit of background, since I had not previously discussed anything about my trip on this site: I visited Hiroshima during a two-week tour of Japan in May 2019, on a personal visit. More specifically, I had scheduled a trip to the city to come after three days in Kyoto, about an hour-and-a-half away by a Shinkansen bullet train, and before a trip to a major art festival in the Seto Inland Sea, about four hours away trains and a ferry. I had to leave Kyoto later than I expected, however, and thus everything had to go right on my trip over to be able to see much of museum. But it did go right.

I will keep my feeling about things relatively brief here, in comparison to my journal, where I went on and on and on about the visit. One big of the entry stands out, however: A part where I mention finding myself frozen after reading about a girl’s being stuck in concrete and steel rubble after the bombing, unable to get out while suffering from a compound leg fracture, maggots around the wounds. I could relate, having suffered two compound leg fractures when I was younger. I could feel that pain, imagine the horror of being unable to get immediate aid, out in the humid August air. So I just stood there for a second, with hundreds of other visitors swarming around me, before telling myself to snap out of it and move on.

In my journal, I continued, “Now, upon thinking about this later, I wondered whether this (part of the) exhibit had anything to say about the horrors of nuclear war, specifically. Would such a story stemming from the Tokyo firebombing be any easier to take? What about a more recent drone bombing?”

My answer was partly that the overwhelming nature of the event, and the lack of any warning, maybe made this worse. (Not sure I agree with that now.) Otherwise, I thought the museum’s stressing, toward the end, of the need for world nuclear disarmament and consistent pushing for peace made telling the story here important by or through association.

Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph

Today, I read that today’s local officialdom has continued the tradition of speaking out in favor of peace and anything that leads to aggressive militarization and war, anywhere on Earth, this time with its mayor speaking out against “self-centered nationalism.” In so doing, the mayor was partly speaking to a domestic audience, given a rise in Japanese nationalism over the past few years, but also an international audience, given a rise in nationalism throughout Eastern Europe, and in China, Russia, and the United States, among so many other countries.

Hiroshima was not the only place where I saw the horrors of war, or anti-war messages during my visit. To the contrary, a week earlier, I visited a huge exhibit of war photography, with prints of shots taken over several decades, from all the major populated continents in Tokyo. The pro-peace message was much the same there as well.

Learning about the seemingly unending horror of what happened in just a short time in Hiroshima, however, had a cumulative effect. This came from going through parts of the exhibit about aftereffects including radioactive “black rain” and the early deaths of people who survived the bombing as children and such. (I had a hard time with evening beginning to watch some episodes of the HBO Chernobyl series, after getting home.)

Outside, however, in the gorgeous Peace Memorial Park people were cycling, jogging, hanging out. Adults led groups of uniformed school children around.

I stopped by my hotel after a bit, then went back out and had oysters (big local thing–these, shown below, were”grilled cheese oysters”) at a lovely little sidewalk cafe about half-a-block from the hypocenter of the bombing.

I had a couple of drinks back at the hotel, then sat up in my tiny room, trying to figure out Japanese broadcasts of game shows and noh theater. I woke up the next day, walked around and gawked at all the usual array of English signs around, even in a supermarket, a “Joe’s American Deep Dish Cafe” on a main drag, and so forth, and the ever-impressive (don’t think I’m joking) array of consumer offerings in the 7-11 where I picked up fancy doughnuts and coffee. By 9:30 a.m, I was gone. But I will always remember.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum at night