Note: This contest has long expired but you are free to explore on your own!
Buckle up McLean and surrounding DMV residents, I’ve got the perfect rainy day, pandemic boredom activity you can complete from the safety of your car.
For years someone has been mounting animal (birds, mostly) shapes to road signs and trees in Mclean. Years ago I wrote about it. (See past post.) As time has passed I’ve watched as some signs were lost due to weather, road improvements, removal, or perhaps theft—if something left in public and illegally mounted which is then taken can be construed as theft??
Of recent, the number of signs has increased, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention for a while. Whatever the case there are a lot more of them, and the artisan has added a few designs to the mix, and improved the construction of these little works of art. He or she has switched to using painted, machine metal rather than wood, which was the material of choice in years past. Many of the wooden signs deteriorated and have been lost. In particular, there was an owl that I loved seeing. (Not going to tell you where it was.) I might also add, this person has some climbing ability because some of these mounts are not easily reached. There are also signs related to breast cancer awareness and snowflake shapes that may or may not be from the same person, but I haven’t included them.
Fast forward to now, we’re all stuck at home watching way too much Netflix, Tiger King and various other forms of sociopathy. I”ve counted 24 signs in the McLean/Great Falls, VA area. I’ve listed them with photos below.
So, here is my challenge . . . hop in your car and start driving around McLean, and start chasing the winged and other mounted creatures. The first three people who successfully complete all directions in their entirety will win a landscape canvas from my collection. Here are the rules to participate:
NOTE: There are more butterflies not included on the list. The objective is to find the figures on my list. There are visual clues to make sure you are identifying the right one. I’m certain there may be some that I’ve missed out there. Feel free to point those out, but the objective is find the ones on the list below.
This exercise is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Instagram.
Some birds of a feather like to cluster together and some do not
But all the birds and creatures of metal are located in McLean or Great Falls
Some hit close to home, to whose I cannot say
As a poet once stated many will take a path well travelled but some will take a path less worn
Sometimes they are so obvious they are invisible, which makes the hunt irresistible.
Be safe and be well if you partake in this adventure. Two make better the hunt, one to drive and one, two, three to spy.
Red Headed Woodpecker—
Dragon Fly—There’s more than one of these.
Butterfly—I’m fairly confident this figure isn’t made by the same person, but I included it because I’ve enjoyed it over the years.
Be sure to see the latest post where a new bird has been spotted.
During this stay-at-home period of the pandemic I’ve had a lot of songs running through my head, but the ’80’s classic, Should I Stay or Should I Go has dominated, of late. I’m not really even a big fan of The Clash, or am I? Hard to know, at this point.
As the world sits at home collectively trying to avoid the COVID-19 virus, millions undoubtedly need to evaluate upcoming travel plans. Looking forward thirty, sixty, ninety days what is the best plan of action and when should you cancel reservations? I’m wondering the same. I have plans to travel out West to photograph Glacier National Park in late June with multiple reservations still on the books. I thought as I evaluate whether to cancel or maintain my plans it might be a useful subject to write about for others.
Of course, if we, in the U.S., aren’t collectively successful at lowering the curve of the outbreaks this discussion will be for naught, and nobody will be going anywhere. I certainly maintain hope that that won’t be the case. I have no desire to put myself or any destination’s local population at greater risk. Everything hinges on achieving a declining trend by April 30. It’s hard to predict or know, since we’ve never experienced anything like this, whether there will be a definitive ruling on resuming full activity, or whether there will be some sort of roll out based on a particular areas status and rate of infection of the traveler’s home. It’s impossible to know how a roll out will look. Yesterday, I watched news coverage of a protest in Lansing, Michigan against the continuation of stay-at-home orders, while in stark contrast the Outer Banks of North Carolina will not allow non-permanent resident homeowners access to their homes as of March 20. A few of those Outer Banks’ residents are suing Dare County where these homes are located. No doubt different regions of the country are experiencing this pandemic from different points of view.
At the same time, I’m trying to support local businesses and business in general. The outdoor industry, as an example, provides 5 million jobs in the U.S. and generates around $778 billion in economic output, according to information from The Land Water Conservation Fund. Not to mention, during a time of political conflict and clashes, National Parks and public lands are overwhelmingly popular and unifying environments for Americans and foreign visitors, alike.
Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has explained virus predictions, as they relate to the various models designed to anticipate the spread and toll of the virus’ U.S. outbreak, are only as good as the assumptions used to build them. The same can be said for trying to predict the status of the pandemic in any given country or area in the next few months—all based on assumptions that may or may not come true. And, without being too pessimistic, it’s easy to imagine that there’s a clean start and stop to this threat, but Dr. Fauci put that idea to rest, as well. He said it’s not likely we will get a national all clear. It’s more likely that a return to normal will happen in stages.
My trip to Glacier National is scheduled for the last two weeks of June. I have reservations up and down the eastern side of the park and as far north as Waterton Lakes Park in Alberta, Canada. I was looking forward to that segment in particular. We are suppose to stay at The Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking the lake. At the time of this writing, the normal cancelation policy applies which is a full refund up till three days prior to my arrival. The bigger question is whether we would be able to cross the border by then.
I haven’t purchased airline tickets, thankfully, so I’m holding off on that purchase until I have a better sense of the general travel advisories. I do wonder whether it makes some sense to go ahead and purchase a ticket at the lower rates I see for routes, while demand is down, with the assumption that if travel is still restricted I’ll be able to adjust my flight to a later date or get a refund. If they’re doing that now, I would hope the same would apply down the road, but that’s a gamble.
As of Friday April 3 following many complaints from consumers about airlines not offering returns for canceled or significantly changed flights, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will require foreign and domestic airlines to provide speedy refunds to passengers holding tickets for canceled or significantly altered schedules. Those holding tickets who choose not to fly are not eligible for these refunds. Baggage fees and other extra fees should also be refunded under the same conditions.
Most hotels are allowing cancelations with varying limitations. For instance as of April 3, 2020 Hyatt is waiving change and cancelation fees for reservations existing or made April 1, 2020 or before for arrivals through June 30, 2020. Hyatt does have some restrictions for reservations made April 2, 2020 through June 30, 2020 for any future date related to “select Destination properties” and special event rates. As of this writing, Marriott International says there’s no fee for cancelations or changes to existing reservations or new reservations for travel at any future date, including prepaid rates, as long as the cancelation is made before June 30, 2020. Airbnb is allowing cancelations for check-ins between March 14 and April 30, and owners are being partially compensated by the hosting site for these COVID-19 related losses. My Airbnb reservation doesn’t fall within these dates, but I still have time to cancel based on the normal cancelation policy of the property owner. Each property has unique cancelation policies outside of the current COVID-19 cancelation allowances timeframe. Be sure to read the cancellation policy for any property you have booked.
I cannot fathom why anyone would want to go on a cruise of any kind for the foreseeable future given the nightmares we’ve watch unfold on ships all over the world. Nevertheless, Disney Cruise Lines is offering passengers refunds for trips booked for March thru April, or the option to rebook within a 15 month window for it’s various routes.
In an informal poll of the folks who I know are traveling in June, most are holding off on a final decision until the end of April. One or two are largely resolved to cancel their trips in an abundance of caution, but most want to wait and see a little while longer before abandoning a much anticipated trip.
So, for now, I am holding on to my hotel reservations because there’s no harm in doing so, right now. I plan to reassess at the end of April and again mid or late May, keeping an eye on the specific area and service providers I will rely on during this trip. What are the guidelines for visitors, as well as the mood of the area where I might want to visit? I’ve been in touch with the hotels where I plan to stay and I’m paying close attention to what and how they answer my questions. Are the borders I’m crossing passable?. As a last resort, I have considered driving, rather than flying, and camping along the way, but I have to see if that’s feasible, too. Many camp grounds are closed to overnight visitors, as well. No way of knowing how those locales may adapt as the course of this pandemic plays out in the U.S.
Any leisure travel that’s scheduled for April or early May is likely refundable, and I would proceed with getting that process started now. If you have travel in May I think the statement from Dr. Fauci about a national all clear is particularly useful. Many stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders are through the end of April or slightly beyond. In Virginia, where I live, ours goes through June 10 (unless rescinded sooner), while in Montana the restrictions are open ended, so it’s important to know the rules of the state where you’re headed, not just your home state.
Stay well and plan carefully as you proceed with your travel plans. The link below from Travel Weekly contains links to many hotels, cruise and airlines for your reference.
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I visited a spot last year in the U.S. Southwest that filled my imagination as a child. This was a place I’d seen only in drawings and animated in cartoons by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble, until I realized at some point, I’m not sure exactly when, that the red rock buttes and mesas really existed. Unfortunately, there was no Road Runner speeding across the landscape thwarting elaborate traps designed by Wile E. Coyote in hopes of capturing that fast, fast fowl using products and supplies mail ordered from the fictitious, but vastly stocked, Acme, Co. Of course, I am describing Monument Valley situated along the Utah and Arizona borders, one of the most recognizable spots in the Southwest.
Years ago I passed through the area while part of a team of 10 supporting a cyclist competing in Race Across America, but it was dusk as our caravan of three vehicles arrived and there was no time for touring. As I recall, I spent the night awake editing video segments in an RV, largely unaware of the beauty surrounding me. I promised myself I would return.
The photographic epicenter of this area, if it’s possible to pick one, is the East and West Mittens located in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, as well as the now equally iconic landmark 15 minutes away on the way to Mexican Hat commonly referred to as Forrest Gump Point, where the Tom Hanks’ character stopped his coast-to-coast-to-coast run along US Highway 163 in front of a line of iconic buttes and spires.
To be as close as possible to the formations, I chose to stay at The View Hotel, perched perfectly atop a plateau overlooking the famous buttes that resemble a left and right mitten jutting out from the ground. From this vantage the two buttes are flanked on the right by Merrick Butte, each seemingly perfectly spaced from the other, but at different depths. I couldn’t help but attempt a nighttime shot from the balcony (each room has good view) because we arrived late and the sky is so dark the buttes are lost in the blackness. I knew they were out there.
We visited in early March so the air was still cold. The overall area has been experiencing greater precipitation and flooding in the last few years. There is a 28 mile gravel road looping the buttes for cars to explore the area, but many venture out on foot, as well. Group and private tours are also offered by Navajo approved groups and some will take you beyond the standard loop to see deeper into the Navajo countryside. I’ve never visited in the summer months, so I can’t speak to how hot it must get here during that time.
I scheduled a guide with Phillips Photography Tours for sunrise. Tule (pronounced like the Swedish car box brand) met me in the lobby of the hotel and within minutes we were headed down the dirt and gravel road beyond where tourist are allowed to venture on their own. The mittens were starting to emerge from the darkness. The tour owner had been thorough enough to send me an email the night before to let me know the weather was likely to be very cloudy at our original meeting time, so we pushed the start time to a little later. Tule took me out to the Totem Pole, a red rock spire once, and probably last, climbed by Clint Eastwood as he filmed the movie Eiger Sanction in 1974. The film industry has had a long love affair with Monument Valley ever since John Ford started featuring the area in John Wayne Westerns back in the 1930’s. It was indeed a cloudy morning, so sunrise wasn’t much to brag about, but it didn’t matter. I spent several hours moving from spot to spot taking photos of the landscape and other details I found interesting.
After lunch, Tule took me out for a second tour of a different area within Monument Valley. Slowly and carefully we made our way up to a higher vantage point. Somehow he maneuvered the vehicle to the top of a mound that I wouldn’t have thought possible. What had started as a cloudy day had evolved into a John Ford Western worthy sky—sunny with patches of puffy clouds drifting between the vastness and the buttes providing a greater sense of drama and depth to my photos.
Driving around we passed several homesteads where Navajo families live within the shadows of these red rock buttes and mesas familiar to the world. Often these homes have no electricity or plumbing but they’ve lived in these locations for years and years with no desire to leave even though conditions can be severe, especially as the residents advance in age and the roads become impassable at times during the winter. Tule spoke of these elder residents with great respect. There is a strong effort within the Navajo community to preserve their culture for younger generations to witness and practice. Tourism and patronage of places such as The View Hotel and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park are ways to support the greater Navajo community.
My next post will address whether to keep or cancel future travel plans amid the national quarantine related to COVID-19. I’ve got some decisions to make, too. Look for it soon. Goodness knows I have plenty of time to write it!
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