Tag Archives: Fun

Wilson’s Promitory

imageTo the east of Melbourne lies “the Prom”, one of the first National Parks in Victoria, reserved in 1898. Kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, emus and rosellas freely wander through an incredible array of habitats from coastal heathlands to fern-strewn rainforests. Melbournianites have only to travel two hours out of the CBD to visit the best of the continent’s south. Nearly half of all the birds in Victoria are found here, including the most rare. It’s Victoria’s Garden of Eden and people revere it as such. The guide book cautions: “The Gunnai and the Boonerwrung people have always held the Prom in great awe, and treated it with uncommon respect. We should tread lightly here.”

In just seven hours we covered the “first tier” of tourism at the Park, and enjoyed a 12 km hike.

Stop 1: Tidal River, Normandy Bay

Traveling through the park, you are driving on the 1942 road; first built to access the Prom’s southern beaches and train commandos in secret. You arrive to the base buildings now used as a visitor centre and continue on to the beach at Norman Bay. This beach is known as one of Victoria’s most beautiful, and a good source of shell fish and fishing grounds. In one of the last Ice Ages, the sea level was nearly 150m below today’s levels, and Wilson’s Prom and Tasmania were linked by a land bridge. Over time, wind swept sand from the exposed ocean bottom built up and formed the plateau through which Tidal River now flows. Today, some of the plants on the Prom are only also found in Tassie.


Granite rocks at Squeaky Beach

Stop 2: Squeaky Beach

Here on Squeaky Beach, 380 million year old granite formations break down and form the beach. If you get the friction just right you can hear the squeak of pure quartz crystals rubbing against each other. Tidal River and Squeaky beach actually represent a divide between white sandy (quartz) beaches to the east and yellow shelly (calcareous) beaches to the west. You can also notice a brown tinge to the water, a tannin leached from the nearby swamp paperbarks. Fish use the calm waters to lay eggs and wombats, possums, gliders and bats live like kings among the coastal scrub and messmate forests (a type of stringy bark).

Stop 3: Hike from Darby Saddle to Tongue Point

imageI will now call this “the hike with views that get better and better”. This walk starts at Darby Saddle, a previous watering hole for early 1900 visitors, meanders up to Spark’s lookout. A park ranger for many years, I imagine this was one of his favourite spots, lending an amazing view of the rocky islands and Tongue Point. One more “up” to Lookout Rocks and then you descend to a coastal heathland. Wombat lairs line the seldom used trail (for Prom standards) and looking back on the Prom gives  a rare view of the coastline. After dead-ending at a tiny rock protrusion, I continued back to the main trail, but went a little further to visit Fairy Cove. This tiny beach had a late afternoon visitor, which made the return climb back up to Darby Saddle (300m straight up) worth the trip.


It’s rare treat to see a wombat so out in the open.

Stop 4: Sunset over Bonsai Mangroves


Emu tracks in the damp mud of low tide.

An easy 2km walk bring you in close counter with wallabies in messmate forests, opening out on to Miller’s landing. Here, lies the southernmost mangroves in the world. Tracks are easy to spot in the soft sand and mud and it’s supposedly a good place for bird watching. When we arrived the beach seemed deserted, but the sunset was a pleasant end to the day.


Sunset over the southernmost mangroves in the world.


The Hitch’s Book Club

BernadetteTo: Simon, Katie, Mom, Sarah, Barb, and Patricia
From: Jessica
Subject: Hi from the desert

I have just finished reading a book for Book Club and, there being no one else around, I thought I’d write and tell you my thoughts. (You have just joined Book Club.) There are only two standing members of Book Club: me and Lucas Hitch, my boss’ middle son. Here’s how it goes:
1) Lucas reads an interesting book from an obscure publisher.
2) I hound him about what book I should read next until he finally relents and gives me a title. Usually one where the main character is a 25 – 40 something opinionated feminist searching for the meaning of life. He thinks I’ll relate. He’s usually disappointingly right, but those are not my favorite stories, I’ll have you know.

Sometimes Book Club has a guest reader. Usually it’s Lucas’ dad, Neal, who gets tired of not knowing what we are talking about in the car. Lucas works at the Museum over the summer and we ride back and forth from town to Ocotillo and back, a captive audience for Neal’s terribly interesting and knowledgable lectures. That is only a little bit sarcastic. I tell people I’ve been in a PhD program for 5 years now, by virtue of listening to Neal, and I think my latest work, of which I’m very proud, shows the profit.

I digress. Once in a while, in the car, I manage to bring up my analysis of the book I just finished reading and tell Neal now he’s three books behind for Book Club. Even though Neal doesn’t have time to read because he’s too busy try to keep both a Museum and his family afloat on this non-profit crazy train, he enjoys the pay-off to Book Club, which is intellectual discussions. Other guest readers could be a Museum intern, someone we hike with all the time and again gets tired of not knowing what we are talking about, or sometimes my mom, if I think she’ll like the last book we read. This is one of them. The book I just finished reading is written almost entirely in emails, texts, and documents relating to a slightly off-kilter genius artist, her daughter, husband and what happens to an artist when they stop creating (mayhem). I highly recommend it. It’s called Where’d you go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (Back Bay Books, reprint 2013). I spent the morning polishing off the last 50% of the book (it’s a percentage only because I can’t figure out how to get the Kindle to show page numbers. When did technology get away from me? I’ve given up on TV remotes entirely. I just ask someone else to change the channel, skip the commercials, change to the AV source, whatever. If I try myself it usually ends in me disconnecting the satellite, which means a twenty minute re-boot that was all my fault while everyone waits to see that show we all sat down specifically to watch. Embarrassing.)

Last night was my first night back in Ocotillo alone after spending three weeks almost entirely with the Hitches, and, no reflection on the Hitches, I had a leisurely morning in bed, enjoying the quiet, and finishing Where’d you go Bernadette? When the book ended, it was time for coffee.

The first thing I did, which is what you do in a trailer in a desert that has been unoccupied for a while, was check to see if the ants that I had battled last night (first with lemon juice and dish soap, and then finally, heartlessly – not in my BED! – with flying insect spray I found in a closet at the Museum) had moved on to taking over the kitchen while I slept. Getting up and checking for bug outbreaks as the first thing on your morning “to do” list made me think, not for the first time, that I could write a book about this. It would probably be a lot like Bernadette’s story: privately languishing in self pity, looking for redemption in the wrong places, and finally, just living off the adventure. I bet we have all done that – all of us involved in the Hitch’s 10 year adventure – we all think we could write a book about this. Where’d you go Bernadette? made me want to tell my story about the crazy little places you can go in the world. They all have their own quirks, but they are essentially all the same. More than write it, I just wish I could share that experience with you. Today I miss you all very much. This adventure is so much more fun when there is company.

On the other hand, there are hazards to having company on a non-profit adventure – you own nothing and share everything. Today, I woke up relaxed in my trailer, finally alone in my desert oasis, and walked over to the other trailer to make coffee because that’s where the Hitches left the only coffee pot. The bottom of my feet burned on the way. Oh right. It’s summer. In the desert. Duh. I put the coffee on and nimbly ran back to my trailer for milk and flip flops, and picked up my computer so I could write and tell you about this crazy place I am living. Did you know that you cannot wear jewelry here in summer? It will burn you. The ambient temperature is so hot it heats up earring hooks, necklace chains, and watch backs to a very, very uncomfortable temperature, causing you to rip them off as quickly as possible in shock, alarm, and finally, with the realization that you should have known better. When I first arrived here someone described the summer heat as pointing a hair blow-drier in your mouth while you hold a hot iron up to your face. Imperial County is the hottest place to live in the US, second only to Death Valley. We should make “I survived” t-shirts for the Museum.

Anyway, so I went to get milk and flip flops. I looked for the sugar, but in its place is a giant container of salt. In my absence, Anne has made the trailer her own. This is the problem with sharing an adventure. Every thinks they own something here, and really we all own nothing. The Hitches, I think, are disappointed that I’m going to stay in their trailer (giving up the place I think of as home here: my imitation NYC loft that makes the whole trailer mine by virtue of I sleep in the common area), but neither Anne nor I, I’m sure, wish to live together again. Not because there is animosity, but because you own nothing and share everything and can’t I just get a second to myself once in a while! It eats you up slowly. Trust me, it’ll be better for our work productivity if we don’t live together.

This trip to a crazy place is different from all the rest – it’s a return. We are all experienced desert adventurers now. There is no new intern to show around town. No one that needs entertaining. We all know where everything is (bank, casino, hot springs, hiking) and where to get it. Now we just have to orchestrate getting what we want with one vehicle and seven different ideas of how to do it. Thank heavens there is a hierarchy or we’d never make it. Rule #1: Deneen (matriarch) gets what she wants. Neal (Museum Director) provides us with jobs, direction, and housing so he’s #2 on the list. It gets fuzzy after that. Your place in line can change based on the project we are working on, whether it’s your birthday, are Deneen’s child, or have just returned from vacation. And, if you have gone somewhere nice for vacation you are lower on the list than everyone because you did something fun without us. And worse, experienced luxuries that just don’t exist here. Like shop at an H&M (where the boys are getting suits for the Hitch’s oldest son’s wedding and, which has resulted in no less than 3 trips to San Diego to accomplish that feat). Imperial County is actually a step up from the Turks and Caicos where eating beef off island without bringing some back with you could get you cold-shouldered for days. Until we all went swimming. When you come out of those waters everything is a crystal clear clean slate. (I don’t think slate can actually be clear, but that doesn’t make a very good story, now does it?)

In these crazy little places we adventurers come and go so frequently that we hardly matter, but we don’t realize it. We become so involved in our projects and our lives that we share with just a few people that we think we become a part of the place. We don’t. You don’t. You do not make a mark on the place. The place makes it’s mark on you. Your job is to carry the lessons forward.

All of my latest adventures are to the Hitches credit. Their family is born out of a communal lifestyle I never quite understand, but enjoy living in. You own nothing, but share everything. It’s a lifestyle that reaches through the people it touches to touch other people. It’s part of a 100-year plan. And it’s working. Now I tell the Hitches that my life is a giant inside-joke-with-no-one about their lives. The life they share with me. No one knows the jokes outside of our museum-living circle, but I tell them anyway. I travel around so much it’s a way of bringing the familiar with me. The stories make me laugh and make me feel closer to my friends, even if I get funny looks: “I’m just trying to give directions, why are you talking about a telephone booth?” On Grand Turk a telephone booth was damaged and removed, but locals still give directions by where the telephone booth used to be. If you don’t know where it was, you are sh*t out of luck.

What’s funny is that the stories are spreading. Just before I left New England somebody else told one of Neal’s jokes. I was taken aback – how did she know? – but I guess that’s how often I talk about my past lives: they are becoming other people’s stories. I think that people think I’m trying to live in the past, but really I’m trying to bring the past into my present. The lesson I carry forward is that life can be fun if you manufacture opportunities to make it so. Telling stories of a time when all we did everyday was turn massive amounts of hard work into massive amounts of really fun work reminds me that I can make life what I want it to be; all the power rests in my hands. Powerful stuff, no? Worth remembering.

As always in Book Club, that’s not very much information about the book, but lots about what the book brings to mind. Want more? You can read a review here: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/no-place-like-home/Content?oid=14396533 or an interview with the author here: http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Discover-Great-New-Writers/quot-Comedy-is-Born-Out-of-Strong-Characters-quot-A-Conversation/ba-p/8643


P.S. Some of you may see this duplicated in a blog post.

Darwin Croc Adventures

Croc 2In the 1970’s, Australia’s saltwater crocodiles were culled to a population of approximately 60,000. Today they are estimated at 200,000. There used to be “safe” watering holes in Darwin. Now, Northern Territory state-issued CrocWISE pamphlets warn that EVERY body of water should be approached with caution.

Darwin is in its wet season at this time of year. The Adelaide River is flooded. There is water everywhere. I had been on high alert for days; warily peering into every muddy puddle, under every mangrove tree, and scanning the beaches for log-shaped living dinosaurs. Even after we returned to the safety of Victoria, the unexpected sound of wind-stirred leaves by my toes set my heart racing. 

I found it hard to imagine how people live with these lurking neighbors, so I did some pretty thorough investigating.

The evolutionary branch that spawned crocodiles began over 200 million years ago. They survived through the species-ending destruction of 65 million years ago and stopped evolving right there. Mother Nature deemed them perfect survivalists. During a bad dry season crocodiles can dig into the mud and easily hibernate for 12 months without a meal. The ability to slow their heart rate to 1-2 beats per minute and run on the heat of the sun makes them virtually indestructible in hot environments.

A croc’s only enemies are man and each other. Mostly each other since they became a protected species in 1974. Almost every large croc in the wild has lived long enough to loose a limb, usually from territory-expanding younger croc. 

Croc1When this guy came out of his hiding spot on the bank, the tour guide pointed out that this wasn’t his territory and he must be lying in wait to attack. He came over for a feed off our tour boat. We all moved back a bit when he started to loose interest in the meat on the stick and started eyeing up the much-bigger pieces of meat in the boat.

At Crocosaurus Cove, in the heart of Darwin, you can dive with a croc in the Cage of Death. We did it. There was a lot of liability paperwork.

photo 4




Murray River Inspired Art

Darter bird on the Murray River
Mildura, New South Wales


You Yangs mini hike

20131230-173743.jpgBetween Geelong and Melbourne rise a group of granite peaks called the You Yangs, called after the traditional name Wurdi Youang or Ude Youang meaning “big mountain in the middle of a plain.”

In 1802, Flinders climbed this mountain to survey the Bay – which I did not know until I saw the sign below, posted at the top of a path with many, many stairs that went a long way up – 1.7k up a 147m grade or 1mi up a 482ft grade – just a lovely stroll.


In between heaving breaths, I managed to notice a few interesting things along the trails. There are many different types of gum leaves, ants work hard, this tree has spines:


There was plenty to observe because every single plant was foreign to me. The scenery was lovely, and the bay and Melbourne were visible along the horizon with yellow grass running all the way to the beaches.


Oh, AND, I got really excited because there was a huge sign that said “Geoglyph” and I thought I was going to get a travel “win” by seeing all three geoglyph locations in the world. Turned out it was a 2006 art project honoring the traditional land owners byAustralian artist Andrew Rogers. I watched several passer-byers start a conversation with their kids about why it was there. Heh, what do you know? Celebrating landscape through art.


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You Yangs Pre-Hike





Watering hole





Life changing books

achotaLeaving the Achota Station. A delightfully written, completely believable, fiction about a poet growing into a man in Spain. (The male author did a Fulbright on poetry in Spain) I know a college-bound student who changed his outlook on life after reading this book. Note: we both hated Catcher in the Rye and loved this book.





Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. Reached a time in your life when you can’t answer the question “why do you care?” I suggest this detective tale that is actually about a fictional detective manual that teaches its students to see the world they live in. It will remind you that life isn’t about having answers, it’s about enjoying the ride.


Last night I attended a discussion on the yonis that dot our desert. Yonis are naturally occurring rock formations recognized as fertility symbols – gives new meaning to the term “mother earth”. When you see one, you’ll know. What I didn’t know is that there is some controversy over whether or not they are traditionally significant, despite their current celebrity.

“How can archaeologist imbue cultural significance on a symbol when there is no oral history to back it up?” asked the archaeologist. A fantastic point. No matter how long you stare at the crevices and chips and flakes of a rock, it is not going to share its secrets – or lack their of. We are dealing with 10,000 years of history and just as many years of erosion. And anyway, it’s women’s business. You don’t need to know.

Women’s business. I’ve thought a lot about women’s business and men’s business over the last few years. The sanctity of women’s business. The difference between a girl and a woman, the high regard for a mother.  Do you discuss these things with your sons? Would you ever tell a stranger? Do you explain these things, or are they just present?

The lecturer told this story: A local tribe charged the last heir with carrying on the family knowledge. They taught him everything and he in turn taught it to his children. His daughter is attributed to have said that if yonis were culturally significant, he would have told her. But, the group wondered, would the aunties have shared women’s business with the young man during his teaching? No one in the room was qualified to answer. The lecturer also told of a woman in the southern tribes in Mexico who described a fertility ceremony involving yonis, but she had never seen it done. No one else would talk to the lecturer regarding these matters. Research stalled. It would take longer than the lecturer had to give to even have a prayer of opening up the conversation.

Pilot Program: Sunset Photography 101

The series of members-only events we’ve been holding at the museum have been very effective in developing programs. And I can’t help but adding – really, really fun. The intimate nature of the events attracts those truly interested experiencing something new, and for those people we will pilot any program they wish.

This week we are interested in celebrating the desert through photography. I’ve always wanted to test out that mysterious P setting on my own little point-and-click. The volunteer who led our elite group through the camera basics implied something I’d never thought of: once you know how the “cloudy” setting manupulates the camera, you can use it anyway you want.

The last couple of days have been an extended trial-and-error session since Saturday’s photography event. I have two goals: capturing colors and telling a story in one shot.