Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hiking in the Pyrenees

We spent three luscious days in the upper Hecho Valley, based at Hotel Uson.

Alan and Wendi at the entrance to Hotel Uson, a rural guesthouse

Lovely view from Hotel Uson of the mountains surrounding the Hecho Valley

The first evening we walk the grounds of Hotel Uson

Our number one effort was a search for the near-mythical Wallcreeper. (Details are on my other blog!) This quest led us through exquisite scenery in the nearby Gabardito Reserve.

The second day, after a successful Wallcreeper foray, we ventured into a side valley and into this spectacular scene. New wildflowers and butterflies abounded.

Our final morning in the Hecho Valley, we drove as high as we could, and then hiked along an old road.

This region is famous for its dolmens, or megalithic tombs. Dolmens are shrouded in mystery. Most were constructed between 3000 and 4000 years ago, although some in western Europe are as old as 7000 years. Big questions remain: who built them and why? They are likely burial chambers, but not even that is certain.

Our very distant maternal ancestors (Mom's, Lisa's, Brandon's, Kelly's, Hollin's and mine) may well have roamed here––or might even be buried beneath one of those dolmens! When we took the mitochondrial DNA test to determine our maternal clan mother, we learned that our deep-time matriarch was Katrina (the K-haplotype, in scientific jargon), who lived in the vicinity of southern France and northern Italy––around the Alps––at the close of the last Ice Age. The frozen man found some years ago in the Pyrenees was also a descendent of Katrina. Katrina's clan flourished in northern Italy, and 6% of Europeans descend from her.

Wendi and Bert's clan mother is Helena, the H-haplotype, who lived in southeastern France, and whose descendants comprise a very high 47% of Europeans. Lots of breeding in that lineage!

Aunt Susie's clan mother (via our grandmother Glenys Snelson) is Xenia. One branch of that clan traveled east across the steppes of Asia and over the Bering Land Bridge. 1% of Native Americans descend from Xenia, and 6% of Europeans.

If you don't know your deep-time maternal lineage, it is easy to find out. We used a kit from Family Tree DNA. Cost is about $160, but can be more if you opt for more detailed testing. This test looks at mitochondrial DNA, the special cellular DNA that is only inherited through the mother.

But I digress!

Leona and Alan linger over tadpoles at a pool.

A tiny salamander is in with the tadpoles.

The big mammal of the day is Alpine Marmot. Several are nipping the forbs and grasses below us. This is Europe's native marmot, but the ones in the Pyrenees were reintroduced in 1948. They had disappeared from the Pyrenees at the end of the Pleistocene. (Now if only we could do the same thing in North America for Mammoths, Steppe Bison, and Giant Sloths!)

Alpine Marmot in the valley below

After the Hecho Valley, we head for Bielsa, another location in the Pyrenees to the east of here. More to come!

Keeping up with grandparents isn't easy!

Barcelona: Gaudí!

The day starts––how else?––with Starbucks all around, strategically located only a short block from our Hotel Lleo in Barcelona.

Alan, your cover is blown, big time! You're enjoying it, aren't you?

By subway, bus and foot we explore Barcelona, starting with a morning jaunt to Parc Guell, one of the masterpieces by architect Antonio Gaudí which so distinguishes Barcelona from all other cities.

Leona masters the Metro.

Wendi and Leona at Parc Guell

Gaudí must have planned his tile mosaic with Alan in mind.

A short bus ride later, and we're on the roof of Casa Mila, one of Gaudí's showcase homes.

We picked Spain as a destination because Leona is interested in architecture, and there is no architect quite like Gaudí.

After a break (let's see... did we have a break?) we jumped on the funicular for a run up Montjuic, which overlooks the port of Barcelona and houses the Joan Miró art museum, among other attractions.

Wendi and Leona on the funicular. Luckily the rain stopped!

We overshot our goal, the Miró museum, but that meant we were able to enjoy the spectacular sidewalks that lace through Montjuic's parks.

A side street near our hotel had little restaurants and panaderías––bakeries––where indulgence ruled.

Leona is entrusted with the job of toting dinner back to the hotel.

I have lots of photos of the sights themselves––the splendid Gaudí buildings and park––and will be putting some of that on my regular blog. This one is for family! 

Leona and Wendi, please contribute some of your masterpieces! And, everyone, you no doubt have noticed that our family blog has been languishing. I'd love to see some of your photos and read of your adventures, too. Please send stuff along! 

More is coming on our days in the Pyrenees and Madrid!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Kenzie's Graduation: Celebrations

After finding each other again in the huge crowd, we caravanned to a nice restaurant a couple of towns over.

Aimee, Lisa and Brandon are laden with gifts.

Kenzie's good friend joins the party!

Kenzie, Sage and Torin

Brandon and Aimee

The pre-lunch wait goes quickly and cheerily!

Together again! These times come too rarely.


Food was great!

Kenzie's Graduation: Ceremony

It has been a long road, 12 years long!

The procession starts

and the grads assemble.

A milestone indeed

Hats aloft!

Let the celebrations begin!

Kenzie's Graduation: Anticipation

As a lovely monsoon rain taps on the roof, I'm finally pulling together the photos from last June's trip to South Carolina for Kenzie's high school graduation.

The Star

With this many photos, I'll divide it into three different posts. First, getting ready!


Alan, Aimee and Lisa...

... are soon joined by Sage!

But oops, a few gown issues. Brandon solves the problem, with Torin absorbed in the tactical approach. But, wait, where is that yellow honors ribbon? At home?!

Almost dressed!

After a quick run home, Brandon joins Aimee, Alan and the rest of us in the eyrie.

Good show, huh, Torin?

Here in genteel South Carolina!