Thursday, July 27, 2023

Trek through Yellowstone celebrates summer, never fails to delight

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers are all smiles at the iconic Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone.


Tips on reserving a room to enjoy the park in a busy season

Bison graze peacefully in the park, awaiting thousands of views.


A TRIP THROUGH Yellowstone National Park, no matter how brief, yields pleasures and surprises with each visit.
Wintertime is a wondrous time in the park, although only
two of the hotels are open then. Still, worth considering.
In my decades on the planet, I've never missed an annual gambol through this eye-popping treasure, established in by President Theodore Roosevelt. Yellowstone was established 151 years ago by this conservationist president,  who is honored in a famous arch near Mammoth.
THE WONDERS OF "our" park unfold in glorious hues -- summer or winter -- and despite the crowds, it's a trip we never tire of taking.
Yellowstone is enormous -- 3,472 square miles. At first study, it seems a daunting undertaking to try to see it all. There are dozens of "main attractions" and hundreds of lesser known treasures. There is much to see and do, depending on your energy and interest.
The majesty of Grand Teton National Park is
 displayed in its dramatic jagged peaks.

Yellowstone turned 150 last year
 It's best to plan at least four days in Yellowstone. If you have less time, you can see highlights in two or three days. If you travel the park top to bottom, you'll be in three states. While the park is mostly in Wyoming, it spreads into Montana and Idaho.
You'll be keeping company with tourists from all over the world, and hundreds of animal species, including the famous bison and bears. Wolves in the northern Lamar Valley are making a comeback and elk and antelope roam, too, along with thousands of birds. You'll traverse lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers, including the famous Old Faithful, the park's most crowded spot.
It's possible to see wildlife from the road,
here bison grazing near the river.

Figure a full week if you want to include Grand Teton National Park to the south. Well worth a visit if you've time for two stunning parks. Their wonders are different in many ways.
YELLOWSTONE HAS nine lodges with more than 2,000 rooms. Bookings are made early and many people reserve rooms a year ahead. That's possible because on the fifth of each month, rooms go on sale for that same month in the following year, making it possible to book ahead nearly 13 months. The park's lodges are open from late spring through fall, but only two are open in the winter.
A cow elk meanders close to the Roosevelt Arch.

Yellowstone's wildflowers abound after heavy rains this year.

STAYING INSIDE Yellowstone is more convenient for sightseeing, but hotel rooms are more expensive and often unavailable. 
We have stayed outside the park the last few visits -- it means a bit more driving, but lodging is cheaper outside the park and nearby towns have better restaurant selections and other attractions.
A few ideas to try are West Yellowstone, right at the west entrance; Cody, Wyo., a pleasant drive to the east entrance; Gardiner, at the north entrance; Big Sky,  a beautiful 50-mile drive to West Yellowstone,  along the west fork of the Gallatin River; and several places in Idaho, including a lodge we discovered last year, Sawtelle Mountain Resort.  It's a family friendly place, considerably cheaper than the closer motels and rentals, and a beautiful drive into West Yellowstone.  
More information to help you plan a park visit, even on short notice:; 

A packed house in Fishtail enjoys "The Three Musketeers," a lively 
touring production by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. The troupe
tours two full, free shows from June into mid-September.
UP NEXT: Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is underway. This ambitious endeavor has been entertaining audiences in the Rocky Mountains for 51 years. This season's tour transits all of Montana and hits parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Washington states. On tap are two productions, "The Three Musketeers," adapted from the Dumas novel, and William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." The popular annual tradition is funded by grants and donations and is always met with a lively and grateful response.
For the schedule, go to:


Thursday, July 20, 2023

Popular Sea Life Park attracts animal loving visitors to Honolulu

In a picturesque setting near the Pacific, tourists enjoy a dolphin show at popular Sea Life Park.

The rare Humboldt penguin is happy at
Sea Life Park, here taking a cooling swim.



IT'S 25 MINUTES AWAY from Honolulu, a pleasant ride from the bustle and hustle of Waikiki. But it's another world, a world of wonder, peace and a chance to interact with nature and its beautiful creatures.

Daily shark feeding is one of the draws.

Honolulu's Sea Life Park celebrates Hawaii's love of the sea and the ocean's magnificent residents. Among its exotic and entertaining residents are dolphins and sea lions, and even some endangered species such as the tiny, rare Humboldt penguin.

Bird feeding delights these kids and children of all ages.

Waikiki Trolley stops at the park, making it
easy and relaxing to get from Honolulu and back.
THIS WONDROUS,  family friendly place also showcases a fascinating and busy aviary where tourists can feed dozens of hungry parakeets, literally at arm's length.

Animal encounters, including the park's award-winning dolphin show, are part of the enticement. 

If you're planning to dine there, you'll enjoy sampling the food of a Hawaiian legend, Pink's Hot Dogs. The well known eatery makes its home at the park and offers tasty island fare, including curries and fresh fruit.

 The popular park also offers one of the island's best ranked luaus, complete with authentic entertainment. 

 EDUCATION IS an important part of the park's mission. Families are invited to purchase annual, money-saving passes allowing for reasonable entry fees and multiple visits.

We like to take a break from driving, and enjoy the beautiful drive up the hill from Honolulu, so we book the famous Waikiki Trolley's hop-on and hop-off bus. You'll want the Blue Line for this adventure, and don't worry if the trolley is green.

The pleasant shuttle is open-air and allows spectacular views of Diamond Head, residential areas and the spectacular coast line on the drive up.  

Bringing the roasted pig from the umu, these two
handsome entertainers smile for the cameras.

 OUR FRIENDLY DRIVER stopped at several viewing points along the way, giving us an interesting preview of what we were about to behold at the park: a marine mammal preserve, bird sanctuary and aquarium.   

Start practicing your Hawaiian now if you'd like to pronounce the locale correctly:  the area is called Waimānalo.  It is located in a lush, mountainous area near Makapuʻu Point, north of Hanauma Bay.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
pause for a selfie on the road to Sea Life Park. 
Once there, prepare  to be delighted with the variety of exhibits, shows and user-friendly activities from bird  and shark feeding, to dolphin shows -- one of the best we've seen and we're dolphin show regulars.

 THE PARK's LUAU is another of the park's attractions. Some folks come for the afternoon activities then stay for the luau, ranked among the islands' best. Of the dozens on the islands,  it's the only one that offers games and participation activities.

While awaiting the traditional luau feast, people enjoy lei making, fish net throwing and ukulele lessons. The buffet is considered "tops" for its colorful variety of island delicacies and of course the traditional umu-roasted pig -- the word means earth oven and a luau wouldn't be a luau without this delicious main course offering.

Bird loving Cookie smiles
at a budgie, one of many
parakeets at Sea Life Park.


While you're digesting and listening to live Hawaiian music, you can watch nimble climbers scale coconut trees.

Sea Life Park guests are invited to a series of entertaining  
events and presentations, including feeding of the Humboldt penguins.

IF YOU want to partake of the luau, you'll need to drive your car or take a taxi or Uber, because the trolley doesn't operate at night.  But if you're making a day trip of it, the Waikiki Trolley is a perfect choice.  It's a delightful trip and operates on a convenient hourly schedule. You can time your visit to stay a couple hours or more, and be outside the entrance at the appropriate time.
Entrance fees go to supporting the endeavor, and are lower than most marine playgrounds offering similar activities and critter attractions. 
Adults 13 and older pay $39.99; junior admission, for those 3 to 12 years old, is $24.99. If you're feeling flush, you can also book a dolphin encounter -- we did this for our family party of six on the Big Island at Hilton Waikoloa Village and it was a thrill for all.
 To touch and observe them and swim with them, in a highly supervised encounter, is $179.99 per  person.
The park is 20 acres and boasts 2,000 animals. Well worth a day trip and terrific for families.

More information to enhance your visit:

Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone National Park, during a
spring shower with a rainbow (double, actually) off
to the right. Spring wildflowers bloom in foreground.

UP NEXT: Come along with us on a a trip through Yellowstone National Park. The season is officially underway and the park is more beautiful than ever.  If you haven't reserved a space yet, you may have trouble.  But we have a few ideas up our sleeve for reserving short-notice rooms, and perhaps staying outside the park.  The park welcomed 3.5 million visitors in 2022, and almost a half-million international nature lovers in May of 2023. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a lively spin on nature, travel, family, performance and more:


Thursday, July 13, 2023

Gannets galore at wondrous habitat in New Zealand's north island

A spectacular gannet sanctuary in New Zealand offers a rare opportunity to view these graceful,
enduring birds close-up, here with their young chicks near the end of their breeding season.



A sea of gannet parents and their young stretch out toward
the southern end of the Tasman Sea, awaiting migration.


COMING FACE TO face  with hundreds of gannets is a thrill of a lifetime.
We have the good fortune to know gannet-loving friends in Auckland, New Zealand. Their home is an hour's drive from the beautiful Muriwai gannet breeding site. So Barbie and Tom graciously organized an outing when they learned of our interest in this fleet, handsome and able-bodied bird.  

At Muriwai, Tom Wellington and Barbie Davidson,
right, hosted Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers to a splendid day of gannet viewing.
WE FOUR DROVE to Muriwai, a popular coastal community on Auckland's west coast, to watch the graceful birds, famous for their endurance capabilities and long flights.  These stalwart birds can fly 300 miles at 60 miles per hour. Their excellent vision allows them to spot fish from 100 feet or more.
So it's no surprise that paleontologists have unearthed the fossilized remains of an extinct gannet species that lived in what is now Portugal during the Miocene epoch, some 15 million years ago.

POETS CONSIDER the northern gannet to be symbolic of the perfect marriage between wind and sea.
They can live 15 years, and besides being graceful, strong and long lived, they are "somewhat monogamous," experts claim. That means the parents separate when their chicks leave the nest -- presumably amicably. They usually bond again the following year, perhaps just needing a change of venue. 

A young girl is one of the fascinated tourists
and locals who admire Muriwai's gannets.

NEARLY AS LARGE as an albatross, the northern gannet has a heavy, sharp bill, pointed tail and long, slender wings. We were thrilled to watch dozens of adults with their young.   Catching them in February before they leave in March, we were thrilled to watch dozens of adults with their young and "teen-agers." The mature gannet is snowy white with black wingtips and a downy crown washed with gold. The young ones have fuzz, froth and fluff, and the juveniles have speckles and greyish feathers.

A close-up of a mature gannet
with lovely blue and gold.

 ALTHOUGH gannets can be seen occasionally from most places along the coasts of New Zealand's main islands, most Kiwi gannetries are situated off the North Island, where our friends live. The Muriwai colony inhabits two vertical-sided islands, and the viewing spot is a pleasant stroll from the parking area. We were lucky to observe both adults and juveniles, and relieved that dogs aren't allowed because they would disturb the nests on the sandy banks. About 1,200 pairs of gannets nest in Muriwai from August to March each year, caring for their single young in nests just centimeters apart. Gannets normally lay only
one chalky-blue egg, using their webbed feet to warm the eggs.
Of three, New Zealand's largest mainland gannetry is at Cape Kidnappers with around 5,000 breeding pairs. Farewell Spit and Muriwai are the country's other two.

Several stages of gannets can be seen in this photo, from
the fuzzy young, to mid-sized juveniles to fully grown adults.

YOUNG GANNETS forsake their nests at about three-and-a-half months. Then, like many human Kiwis, these birds head across the Tasman Sea for Australia's east coast.
Their arduous maiden flight can take from six to 15 days from Muriwai.
There are other gannet colonies in the world. England, Scotland and Wales hosts several -- at Troup Head, St Kilda in Scotland, and on Grassholm in Wales. Bempton Cliffs is home to the only mainland breeding colony of gannets in England. Northern Hemisphere birds arrive at the colony from January and leave in August and September. They migrate from the coast of Africa, another remarkable gannet journey.

These tiny endangered Humboldt penguins are among the stars at
Sea Life Park in Honolulu, among the tropical delights there.

UP NEXT: While we're in a birding frame of mind, come with us to Sea Life Park in Honolulu, where the rare, endangered Humboldt penguin is making a comeback thanks to researchers and diligent care.  The tiny, tropical bird is among other attractive residents, including dolphins and sharks. We explore the well tended exhibits and take time to feed the budgies, too, at this popular wildlife park, animal sanctuary and aquarium. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance, family and more. Please share the link and consider a free subscription:

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Terrific trains: best bet to explore Europe, UK, Bay Area and beyond

Train day trippers: James B. Ganner and his uncle Bruce Keller take to the rails for a three-day
Bay Area adventure, north from Redwood City to San Francisco, south to San Jose, and more.
Our road warriors,  "Cookie and Keller" ride the rails in England, Asia and Europe, too.



TRAIN TRAVEL offers many advantages over  other modes of transportation.
If you make the time, a train trip offers opportunity to "smell the roses," enjoy the scenery, have a beer or cup of tea, stretch your legs, enjoy the company of your partner, friend or family.
James and "Auntie Cookie" speed toward San
Francisco on the commuter train from 
the Ganner home in Redwood City. 

In a recent scenario, trains offered time to spend with a beloved nephew, James Brian Ganner, who has a lifelong fascination with this time honored mode of transportation.
"Uncle KK," aka Bruce Keller, travel photographer and himself a train lover, spent three days on the road with James, who explained his fascination with trains.
"Trains fascinate me because they provide a reasonably priced service with convenient locations for hopping off and on," says James, who vividly remembers train journeys taken when he was only four and five years old.
Watching the landscape change
is a chief train trip plus.
HE CONTRIBUTED his savings to a fund to help save a vintage train service in Napa because, he says, "I love trains. I wish more people would use them because they help reduce traffic and pollution.'' 
A.B. Pittendrigh, my great-grandfather and third great grandfather of James, was a telegrapher on the Northern Pacific Railroad. His daughter, my gran Olive -- great, great-grandmother to James -- grew up on trains. She passed that affection down the generations and onto our nephew.
James, at right, leaves San Francisco behind
on a ferry with his auntie and uncle. They
reached the ferry terminal via train.

I WAS INVITED to day three of a northern California train adventure with "Uncle KK" and James.
Day one featured a train trip from Redwood City to the ferry building near Fisherman's Wharf and back.
Day two featured a trip south to San Jose and the stadium, a picnic and stroll, then back.
Day three featured a return to the ferry building, and a boat ride past Alcatraz to Sausalito for a picnic and sight seeing, then home.
Cookie has a train ticket in hand, here in Madrid,
awaiting a train to Barcelona, then Malaga.
At age 12, ames says, "I've studied California trains since I was very young.  Caltrain trains are getting older and being replaced. The people who study them are trying to make our state's train travel more 'green' and that's a good thing."
JAMES SHARED this bit of train trivia: railways existed as early as 1550, in Germany. "They were pathways of wooden rails called wagonways,” he says. That marks the beginning of modern rail transport, which made it easier for horse-drawn wagons and carts to move along dirt roads.
JAMES IS EAGER to hop a train or two in Europe, as we do every year. His paternal grandmother, Margaret, lives hear Edinburgh. James would love to take a direct, high-speed train from London's Kings Cross station 
All aboard in Paris, for the TGV train to Bordeaux.
to central Edinburgh and visit her and his many cousins in nearby villages.
"I'd be there in Scotland in 4.5 hours," says James, "and we'd reach a speed of 125 mph. That would be so great!"
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
enjoy trains both modern and vintage. They recently
enjoyed a pair of memorable, different train trips 
on their recent visit to New Zealand. Trains
 allow prime viewing of spectacular scenery.
James and his auntie and uncle believe that train travel is the most efficient way to explore Europe.
  "By the time you get to the airport a few hours before your flight, and wait for the plane, and experience delays, you could be on your way to another country if you'd chosen train," says James.
For "Uncle KK," a lifelong love of trains "combines my love of adventure and respect for ingenuity. What a wonderful way to explore the Earth." 
One of our chief reasons for our train infatuation is that we spend precious time together enjoying the changing landscape. We've traveled pleasantly and efficiently by BritRail, Eurail and rail in South America, Japan and China.  Best of all, we leave the driving to the engineer.
More information on train travel:;;; (Alaska/Skagway Yukon Pass trip)

The beautiful and graceful gannets of New Zealand are
our next feature as we explore nature's wonders worldwide.
UP NEXT: We continue our love affair with the world and its fascinating plants and creatures. Come with us to a magical gannet sanctuary in New Zealand, then on to ocean dwellers at Honolulu's Sea  Life Park, then the country's oldest national park, Yellowstone. More beauty awaits in Madeira and we explore the history of the lei. Remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, performance, nature & family: