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Dinosaur footprint

boardDinosaur Footprints Reservation

Remember as a child, when you probably loved dinosaurs and were fascinated by those ancient creatures? Well, in Massachusetts there’s a special place where you can see their footsteps and imagine herds of dinosaurs roaming along the swampy river.

The fertile Connecticut River Valley in USA was once the haunt of dinosaurs and is the best place to find dinosaur footprints. Scientists believe it was a sub-tropical swamp around 200-190 million years ago. Today the area is especially known for its concentration of educational facilities.

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Dinosaur print

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Short trail leading down to the “Dinosaur rock”

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The large rock where visitors can see many dinosaur tracks

Of great geological interest are the fine-grained sedimentary rocks containing the tracks of dinosaurs that roamed the Connecticut River Valley approximately 200 million years ago. These footprints, pressed into the mud on the valley floor and baked by the sun, were later covered and preserved by additional layers of mud. Eventually they became layers of sedimentary rocks, primarily shale and sandstone. Today, these rocks reveal the fascinating story of the region’s prehistoric past. The creatures that once roamed this area were two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs, of different sizes, up to 15 feet long. Dinosaur tracks can be seen in their original formation in various locations.

We found the Dinosaur Footprints Reservation, an 8-acre wilderness reservation purchased for the public in 1935 by the Trustees of Reservations. The Reservation is just off Route-5 near Holyoke, Mass, and is open sunrise to sunset April 1-November 30. A short wood chip trail leads down, to a very large sandstone rock, from the small parking area, more a pull-off actually. It’s a very special place as it has more than 130 tracks in sandstone, apparently made by 3 different types of 2-legged dinosaur.

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Another dinosaur print

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Fossilized ripples

There are information boards about the history of the area and of the fossils in both English and Spanish and one of the boards tells us, “In the early 1970s, Yale University professor John Ostrom identified these tracks as being from three distinct, though related, dinosaurs. The largest prints (11-13 inches long) were from Eubronte giganteus, which stood 15 feet tall and had a 6-foot stride. The intermediate prints (6-8 inches) are from Anchisauripus sillimani, and the smallest (3-5 inches) from Grallator cuneatus. He also determined that almost all of the footprints were part of 28 distinct trackways, leading in very nearly the same direction. The tracks thus documented for the first time that dinosaurs were not always solitary but tended to travel as a ‘herd, pack, or flock’.”

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Dinosaur prints, and ripples

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Vera G, Heather D and Viv  by the Connecticut River

We try to imagine small herds of dinosaurs on the shore of a shallow tropical lake as we get a close-up look at their fossilized prints. Some tracks are more distinguishable than others at the small site that visitors can walk to here—a huge slab of sandstone. These tracks were unearthed when Route 5 was being constructed in the 1920s.

In the area are also many other fossils, of stromatolites, fish and plants, and of ripples in the sand.

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The Connecticut River has many sandstone ledges at this point

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Rod M and Heather D on the edge of the Connecticut River

The wide Connecticut River flows by very close to the reservation. It has many sandstone ledges that jut out into the water, also full of fossils that tell the long-ago story of this area.

If you want information about dinosaurs in this area, this seems to be a reasonable site, http://www.nashdinosaurtracks.com/first-dinosaur-tracks.php

 

 

 

 

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mtview

The new mountain

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General information board

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The whole area is also called a GeoPark

One of Japan’s Youngest Mountains

Most people know that Japan is a country that has many earthquakes and volcanoes—after all, it’s on the Pacific Ring of fire—and is a geologically very active, and unstable, part of the world. The whole country is on the Pacific Rim, including the northern island of Hokkaido. So, on our last visit to Hokkaido it was fascinating to visit a new mountain, to see these forces of Nature at work. We had a chance to see how that activity has worked—a new mountain that pushed up, and for all we know is still growing.

Hokkaido has had a lot of volcanic activity, and you see many conical mountains that are supposedly dormant, and not extinct. One day, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a day trip south from Sapporo to visit the evidence of new volcanic activity.

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Special National Monument SHOWA SHIN-ZAN

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We can walk up fairly close to the base of the new mountain

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View from one of the shopping areas and where the ropeway begins

In the south part of Hokkaido is Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which includes Showa Shinzan Special National Monument and Mount Usu, among other sights.

We went to the Showa Shinzan Special National Monument, just off Lake Toya. Lake Toya is a caldera lake created by a major volcanic eruption tens of thousands of years ago. Around the lake today is a hot spring region, with many spa facilities, and fertile soul for agriculture. There is also Showa Shinzan, sometimes called the “natural volcanic museum”. It’s a volcanic lava dome, next to Mount Usu. The story of this mountain shows that volcanic activity around here continues and it’s a hot spot for volcanic activity. And it’s a pretty amazing story.

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The mountain is still smoking

The name Showa Shinzan means Showa new (shin) mountain (zan), as it formed during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, in the Showa period. The mountain was created between December 28, 1943 and September 1945. Initially a series of strong earthquakes shook the area from December 1943-June 1944 and wheat fields were uplifted. Next came the eruption phase, which lasted between the end of June 1944 and the end of October 1944, when lava broke through the surface. Lava reached the banks of Lake Toya, burning houses and forests in its path. Volcanic ash was deposited kilometers away, and the protuberance in the ground continued to grow. In the post-eruption phase (November 1944-September 1945) eruption activity stopped and the lava dome began to take shape and the current peak was created. It is now 1,306 ft (398m) tall and still actively smoking and gently steaming, so who knows what’s coming next!

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No doubt that this is still active!

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The board is rather damaged and not clear, but you can still see one of the postmaster’s diagrams

Showa-shinzan first appeared during WW2 so the Japanese authorities were worried that it might be interpreted as an unlucky wartime omen, and therefore its existence was kept secret. Much of the information about the peak’s formation during these years comes from local postmaster, Masao Mimatsu, who kept detailed measurements of its progress. Those records are very important, with lots of geological information.

It was really interesting to see the new peak, smoking, and giving off a faint sulphur smell. The top of the new mountain is still barren: vegetation only starts growing slowly from the base. It’s a very pretty park, as there are woods below the mountain with many silver birch trees and plenty of bright green bushes. The day we were there the new mountain, reddish-orange in color, was glowing in the sunshine, so the view was like a landscape painting. Interestingly, the colors of the mountain changed a bit, depending on the vantage point and on the light, so sometimes it seemed more reddish and at others more yellowish.

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Very pretty woods

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Max shows us an Ezo deer at the Visitors’ Center

There is a small Visitors Center to one side, with information on the development of this whole area. We were also fascinated to learn about certain animals that are unique to Hokkaido. Ezo is the old word for Hokkaido so these animals are known as Ezo higuma (bear), Ezo lisu (squirrel) and Ezo shika (deer), for example.

Lining the carpark are many small shops selling curios, souvenirs etc.

A ropeway takes you from near the foot of Showa Shinzan to the top of Mount Usu, with great views out over the area and the lake, but we didn’t do that.

Thanks again to Satoshi and Max for being such wonderful hosts!

 

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Tasty grass in Masai Mara, Kenya

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Tasty bush in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, South Africa

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Masai Mara grass plains

Fifth Annual World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016.

Bringing the World Together to Help Elephants

The first World Elephant Day was on August 12, 2012, and many organizations around the world are trying to help the plight of the elephants, such as WWF, Save the Elephants, and International Elephant Foundation.

In honor of this day and these animals, I found some of our pictures taken at different times. Enjoy!

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Water hole at Pilansberg National Park, South Africa

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Drinking at the water hole, Pilansberg

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At Pilansberg

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Follow the leader, Masai Mara

World Elephant Day is a celebration of these animals and a call for the protection of the giant creatures and a promotion of conservation. The African elephant weights roughly 22,000 pounds and is the largest land animal: the Asian elephant is smaller at 10,000 pounds. This great size has not prevented their decimation, however. Nor has the fact that elephants have been potent cultural symbols worldwide, especially in Buddhist and Hindu lore and religion.

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Sand bath about to begin at Hluhluwe=Umfolozi

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“Gotta get rid of this itch”, Pilansberg

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Babies, Pilansberg

Like so many of the wonderful animal and plant species on our earth, elephants are endangered. According to the official World Elephant Day website, only 40,000 Asian elephants remain worldwide, and only 400,000 African elephants.

We are from southern Africa and love all the wildlife there, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for elephants. These huge creatures have an amazing social system, they are very intelligent—it’s been shown that they have feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork, and an ability to use tools.

On our many trips to various National Parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya we’ve spent countless hours watching these giant creatures—and at times, many hours waiting for them to move off the road! It’s a lot of fun to watch elephants and their interactions in a group (from a safe place, of course). We’ve seen them on the grass plains, in wooded thickets, around water holes, and they are magnificent wherever they are.

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Hluhluwe-Umfolozi

One of the main reasons these (mostly) gentle giants are endangered is because of their ivory tusks, which are coveted in some parts of the world, leading to a huge illegal market in ivory. Other reasons are habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, usually over territory and crops. But I’ve also heard reports about elephants dying when hit by a speeding train in India.

What can we, as ordinary individuals, do to help?

—Support a ban on ivory trade

—Support any measures that will help stop poaching of elephants

–Support measures to conserve elephant habitats

–Ensure that captive elephants are treated properly

—Donate to one of the organizations if you are able

Following is a nice series of an elephant slowly sauntering along the road in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. You definitely wait until he/she decides to get off the road!

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“Perhaps I’ll cross now”…

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…”but maybe I’ll go on this side rather.”

Here is some information taken from the official website. It’s both sobering and encouraging reading.

http://worldelephantday.org/about

Ivory Trade

In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade.

2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.

The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.

The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.

Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.

An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.

May 2016, Kenya showed that it has zero-tolerance for the illegal ivory trade by torching 105 tons worth of ivory. The largest ivory burn in history.

June 2, 2016, US adopts a near-total ivory ban.

China has made several steps that indicate it might be heading towards a complete ban of commercial ivory.”

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I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

It’s Earth Day today (April 22)—the 45th anniversary of the start of Earth Day. Many groups and organizations are making a plea to the public to be aware of the environment and our earth and to think of ways to help it. Even Pope Francis gave an address today.

To honor the occasion, World Wildlife Fund is asking people to Hug A Tree, and send in pictures of the tree huggers, as a way to stand up for forests and to appreciate them more deeply. Taking care of our forests is certainly critical to taking care of the environment, so in that spirit I’m re-posting a previous article on the wonderful redwoods in northern California—where we hugged many trees!

One August a few years ago, my husband had a conference in Berkeley.

After the time in Berkeley, we had 8 free days and decided to explore parts of northern California. We visited little-known wineries, Lassen Volcanic National Park…and the amazing redwoods, which is what I’ll focus on here.

We rented a car from SFO International Airport (easy to get there on the BART) and set off north on Highway 1 over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and on highway 101 to the town of Willits, our night stop (at Old West Inn, and dinner at Al’s Redwood Room, with reasonably priced Thai-American food). It prides itself on being the Gateway to the Redwoods, which it is.

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The board says it all: "Giant Tree"

The board says it all: “Giant Tree”

Next day we continued north on 101 to Arcata, just north of Eureka, where we spent 2 nights as our base to the famous redwoods (in the Quality Inn, just off the highway). We hadn’t realized until we began this drive that one of the best places to see the magnificent redwoods is in Humboldt State Park, along the Avenue of the Giants, as it’s known. The number and size of redwoods here equals that in the Redwood National Park farther north.

We left the highway at Phillipsville, between Willits and Arcata, and slowly savored the next 31 miles of the Avenue of the Giants, the old redwood highway, which winds through the groves of trees, the road sometimes so narrow there’s only room for one car and you feel as though you could stretch your arm out the window and touch one of the giants. Luckily, there are numerous stopping points and a couple of short walks where you can get out and actually touch, or hug, a tree if you wish. These trees are amazing, so big and so beautiful that they inspire wonder and it’s hard to find the right words to adequately describe them and the effect they have on the awe-struck visitors.

Redwood trees are earth’s largest living things and as we gazed upwards it’s easy to believe. Sequoias, in the same family,

We saw many Roosevelt elk

We saw many Roosevelt elk

are also enormous—-they are often more massive, with bigger trunks, but are not as tall as the redwoods. It’s worthwhile doing the ½-mile Founders Grove walk, which has a booklet explaining the forest features along the way. They introduce the walk: “You are entering an ancient forest. This nature trail will provide a glimpse into the past and a look into one of the greatest forests on earth.”

The next day we drove a little north of Arcata to the Redwood National Park, another delightful spot, for redwoods and also for viewing Roosevelt Elk (which we saw in abundance). A must-do is the one-mile loop Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, which also has an illustrated explanatory booklet. It winds through old-growth redwood forest and is a reminder of the extensive redwood forests that once covered the Pacific coast from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

We learned how intensive logging has reduced the forests drastically, and became stimulated to support efforts to conserve and preserve these giants, many thousands of years old. The day we were there, the grove was wreathed in a thick coastal fog, creating a truly mysterious, almost magical, feel, as the great, grey shapes appeared and disappeared.

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

There are no places to buy food in the park itself, but the little hamlet of Orick has a couple of cafes serving good diner-type food.

Back in the park, it’s also well worthwhile to drive along the Newton Scenic Parkway (the old redwood highway) to gaze and wonder again at these timeless giants, with a stop at the Big Tree Wayside. A short walk took us to the Big Tree, supposedly one of the most massive redwoods, with a height of 300+ feet and a 21-foot diameter. (To be honest, we felt we’d already seen bigger trees).

The 2 days walking amongst redwoods passed very quickly, but gave us a good introduction to these beautiful giants.

Take a look at my earlier article on Earth Day and its origins (written 5 years ago to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th year).

https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/earth-day-is-40-years-old/

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