A Road Like No Other

A Short Story
The Hogsback on Route 12 in Utah

Last summer we spent a couple of weeks checking off items on our bucket list in the National Parks of Utah. We rented a car in Salt Lake City, toured the parks and dropped off the car in Los Vegas.

After leaving Capital Reef National Park one afternoon we were headed for our next hotel in the town of Panguitch near Bryce Canyon National Park to the southwest. We came out of Capital Reef on Route 24 and soon hit an intersection with Route 12. At the intersection Rt. 24 headed to the north, which is the way we had been told to go but Rt. 12 went south. Just looking at the map it seemed like 12 was a much shorter route to take.

At this point I need to confess that the older I get the more nervous I am about heights. Already on this trip I had driven a couple of roads that had given me reason to pause. I’m not sure where this fear of heights has come from but when I was much younger I was fearless. lately I find it hard to believe that decades ago that young man that hung one handed off high catwalks and jumped out of helicopters was actually me. At this point I am much more nervous than my wife.

Anyway at that junction we made a snap decision and headed south on Utah Route 12. Some distance along this two lane road, near Boulder Mountain we came across the Anasazi State Park and archaeological site. This was a lucky find and well worth the stop. It was built around the excavation of an ancient Anasazi village and included a nice museum.

Back on the road we headed southwest again and soon came up on one of the scariest bit of road I can remember. Its called the Hogsback (or Hog Back) and it’s a narrow two lane road with, at times, barley any shoulder on either side. It rides along a ridge for about four miles with often sheer drops of over a hundred feet on one side or the other and sometimes both sides at once. Few guard rails and almost no room to pull off. The speed limit was between 25 and 35 mph and with my fear kicking in that seemed way too fast.

The good news was there was almost no traffic and the one car ahead of us seemed really terrified. He crept along at 15 to 20 mph and that was just fine with me. Not only did I feel safer but he gave me an excuse when eventually another car caught up to us.

Watch this YouTube video of a drive along the Hogsback.



Florida’s Fossil Reef Park

A Short Story

Discovering Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Over the past few decades when visiting the Florida Keys we would drive past a dirt road with a locked chain link fence on Windley Key in the upper Keys. A number of years ago the gate, while still locked, displayed a new sign that read “Windley Key Fossil Reef”. Today it is open to the public as a state park. On our recent Keys drive we stopped in and spent a couple of hours visiting the Visitors Center and hiking the park.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park  is between mile markers 84 and 85.5, between Plantation Key and Upper Matecumbe Key.

If you’re planning a trip to the Florida Keys this often overlooked park is really worthy of a visit. Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park provides an interesting exposure of a geological formation known as the Key Largo Limestone. This is a limestone rock fossil quarry; and the material is known locally as “keystone”. The entire quarry is comprised of a Pleistocene fossil reef, estimated between 100-125,000 years old. A majority of the keys are formed on this fossil reef system. The ocean levels rose and fell multiple times after the last Ice Age, and stabilized over the last 5,000 years. The top 25 feet of the old coral reef became exposed, died and laid the foundation to form Windley Key Fossil Reef .

Want to go exploring for fossils? Oddly one place to look is your nearest mall or new hotel or office building. On the floor of many of these places is polished limestone made mostly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the minerals calcite or aragonite, that contain an abundance of fossils or fossil traces. The fossils under your feet may be macroscopic or microscopic. The macroscopic fossils often include crinoid stems, brachiopods, gastropods, and the remains of other hard shelled mollusk. In Florida the main form are the remains of these ancient coral reefs.

So next time you’re in Florida, visit a coral reef without even getting wet.

Short Stories

Table of Content to Short Stories

Bitten By The Travel Bug

First Night In Rome

A Short Story

Back in the summer of 1965 for high school graduation I went to Italy with a relative. It was the first time I had left the United States and it was to be a great adventure. The way things worked out as we traveled around I had evenings mostly to myself. One of our first days was in Rome and we had checked into the hotel early in the evening and shortly after that I headed out walking on my own.

The hotel was the Pensione Texas only a few blocks from the termini, the Piazza della Repubblica and two blocks off of Via Nazionale. The small hotel is still there today and gets reasonably good reviews.

Without a map, not having any idea where anything was and a whole evening to myself I started walking. To keep from getting lost I decided to stick to a main street and to make as few turns as possible. I walked out the two blocks to the Via Nazionale, turned right and headed down hill (here’s a tip; when in a new city just walking around always head down hill. The good stuff is always around the river and to get there it is always down hill). Via Nazionale was a major shopping street with a lot of shops still open and heavy traffic.

Imagine, two days out of America and I was walking the streets of Rome by myself. As I continued down Via Nazionale after less than a mile I came across a wide alley to my left going down a flight of stairs. It was just too tempting to not explore and besides at the bottom was an illuminated column. Once at the bottom I found a park spread out before me rimmed in by historic ruins. Noting the name of the street I had walked down to get here I set off exploring.

Soon I found myself standing in the Roman Forum and I was so overwhelmed I almost cried. At that time Hollywood was in its Roman Empire period with hit movies like Ben Hur and Cleopatra and I was a big fan. Ancient Rome fascinated me and I read everything I could on the subject. This was such an emotional experience that it has stuck with to today. The forum was all lit up and there were crowds of people all headed in one direction so I followed along. In the middle of the Forum was a roped off area with seats arranged for a concert. While I was figuring out what to do a group of about a dozen people were passing by and a man in the group turned and said “Hey kid, it’s a symphony concert, come and join us” (To this very day I have no idea why people look at me and just decide I’m an American?). Well why not join them? Soon we were seated and an orchestra came out.

I think it was the Rome Symphony Orchestra and the one thing I still remember was them playing Ravel’s Boléro – after all even young Americans who know nothing about classical music know this piece, it was the theme song for The Lone Ranger. As we were leaving after the concert we were making small talk like how long I had been in Rome and I realized that there was something very familiar about this man. Back in the early sixties he was a big star. Over the preceding few years Victor Mature had starred in big hits like The Robe and The Big Circus.

The group was headed to a restaurant up the hill with a patio overlooking the Forum and I went with them for coffee. The weather was beautiful, and the the view unforgettable. Later I said my goodbyes and within a few minutes I found myself looking at a huge circle with a non-stop rush of Roman traffic racing around it (I don’t recall any traffic signals). In the middle of this circle stood a colossus of an illuminated structure that was the iconic image for Rome, The Coliseum. I eventually made it across and in those days it was not fenced in and there wasn’t anything to keep you from just walking in – but that’s a story for another time…

From that evening on I have been in love with Italy and addicted to travel. I have returned to Rome numerous times and aside from sharing this city with family, the overwhelming experience of that first Roman night will always be with me.

Flash Mob In Vienna

A Short Story

A Surprise on a Wednesday Afternoon

Last month on a trip across Northern Europe we spent a day in Vienna. While walking thru the center of town near St. Stevens we notice groups of young people coming into the square from numerous directions. It seemed odd but it was obvious something was going on.

After only a few minutes it was over and the group drifted away in all directions just like they came.

Walking away ourselves it seemed the day had gotten a little brighter.

Tales of the Lionheart

Ruins of Durnstein Castle sit above the Danube

Sailing Up The Danube

In Europe I am like a kid in a candy store. I do love history and here it comes at you from every direction. Two days ago we were on a boat west of Vienna on the Danube and glided past the ruins of Durnstein Castle.

In western legends there are a number of romantic tales that reference historic events and are notable because of spinoff stories that remain in literature and legend to this day. Few are as significant to English history as the tales of Richard the Lion Heart in the twelfth century.

Already a popular ruler, Richard answered the call of the Pope to free the Holy Land and make it available to Christian pilgrams. Richard marched off to the third crusade with a number of his trusted knights and soldiers.

Leaving England in the hands of his younger brother John, things didn’t go well at home. John set his sights on becoming the new sovereign of England and systematically replaced lords and knights with men loyal to him. As legend indicates he greatly increased taxes claiming they were needed to support the crusades while putting them to his own use. There are also historical indications that he attempted to later block the use of ransom to free his older brother.

One particular legend, that actually does not appear in literature for over two hundred years after the time of Richard the Lionheart, is that of Robin Hood. This legend grew out of a number of popular ballads regarding a highborn group of men that became outlaws in resistance to the rule of Prince John and in support of King Richard.

While many of these legends have little historical basis there was a historical crusader king known as Richard the Lionheart with a younger brother Prince John, who was imprisoned for a ransom in Austria.

At the end of the third crusade Richard the Lionheart left the Holy Land in October 1192. The Third Crusade had been only a partial success and, after three years of fighting the Saracens, the Christian warriors were depleted by disease, desertion and death in battle. Richard was one of the leaders of the Christian forces and negotiated a three-year truce with the great Muslim general Saladin, where the Christians were to keep a thin strip of land on the Mediterranean coast and several fortified strongholds, and Christian pilgrims were to be given safe passage to visit Holy sights in Jerusalem unmolested.

This agreement allowed King Richard to make plans to return to England, something that he badly needed to do. King Philip Augustus of France had been taking his holdings in Normandy, and his younger brother, Prince John had been steadily increasing his power in England, illegally taking and garrisoning castles with his own men and constantly undermining the authority of the officials put in place by King Richard to govern the country in his absence. King Richard stated he intended to return to the Holy Land, once he had settled matters in Europe and removed the threat to his throne from his brother, but events were to conspire against him.

King Richard I, the Lionheart had made many enemies during the Crusade. A French King Philip, once a close friend, now had designs on advancing his power by diminishing Richard’s authority and Duke Leopold of Austria, the leader of the German contingent of the crusaders had become a serious rival if not a sworn enemy. He had alienated Henry VI, the Austrian Holy Roman Emperor, by supporting King Tancred of Sicily against him. The Austrian Holy Roman Emperor controlled most of Germany, Hungary, Austria and much of the Italian peninsula, much of Portugal and Spain not in Muslim hands. Richard knew that he would have a problem getting home via land.

The whole story of Richard’s return is not entirely clear; the facts are fragmentary, and sometimes seem contradictory, but most scholars agree that Richard decided to attempt a clandestine eastern land route homeward. After sending his wife Berengaria by ship to Rome where she would be protected by the Pope, he took to the Adriatic and sailed north. The weather was bad, and after a couple of attempts Richard landed on the northern Adriatic coast at Aquileia, near Trieste in north-eastern Italy although some scholars suggest that this landing wasn’t planned and that he was shipwrecked there after bad weather. Either way that’s where the King found himself, on or about the 10th December 1192, ashore, with only a small contingent, and hundreds of miles to cross thru hostile territory.

Legend says Richard traveled as a Templar knight, and headed north into the heart of Europe, making for safe territory controlled by his brother-in-law Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. However, after an icy, grueling journey on poor roads, the King was apprehended by men loyal to Duke Leopold of Austria. He is said to have given himself away by his demeanor at an inn in rural Austria. It was only a few days before Christmas, the weather was awful and the King was apparently sheltering in a road house a number of miles west of Vienna. Some stories suggest it was his companions’ practice of calling him ‘Sire’ that somehow gave away his royal identity.

Duke Leopold must have been delighted to have his great enemy the King of England in his clutches, and he promptly locked up Richard in Durnstein Castle, a stronghold on the Danube fifty miles to the west of Vienna. He also informed Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, of his windfall, and a letter still exists from Henry VI to Philip Augustus of France, which has the Holy Roman Emperor gloating about the capture of this royal pilgrim. Seizing King Richard was technically an illegal act, as Pope Celestine III had decreed that knights who took part in the Crusade were not to be molested as they travelled to and from the Holy Land. Both Emperor Henry and Duke Leopold were later excommunicated by the Pope himself for Richard’s detention.

Negotiations for Richard’s release took the best part of a year, and after strenuous diplomatic efforts by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, a ransom that included 23 tons of silver, twice the domestic product of England at the time was agreed to. 12 tons went to Louis VI of France for facilitating the transfer and 11 tons to Leopold with the Richard being released in early February 1194.

Another legend that came out of this historical event is the story of Blondel. This legend relates to King Richard’s imprisonment in Europe, and his loyal friend Blondel, which was a nickname for anyone with blond hair at that time. The legend says that Blondel searched across Europe for his king and friend, playing his lute outside the walls of castles all over Germany in an attempt to find his lord. While singing a song under the walls of Durnstein Castle, a song he had written with King Richard during the Crusade, Blondel was rewarded by a familiar voice singing the second verse from a small cell in a tower high above him. The loyal trouvère had found his King.

Although this legend has many highly improbable elements, there really was a Blondel, a famous trouvère from Nestle in France who lived at the time of the Lionheart and, if he didn’t actually seek his King by playing music under castle walls in Austria, at least he has been immortalized with some twenty-five songs preserved in French museums and libraries.

Partly based on notes by Angus Donald, July 2011

Budapest 23 October 1956

The Passage of Sixty Plus Years

A Time That Hungary Remembers

We are in Budapest sitting in a restaurant and a young couple come in and sit at the table next to us. The young lady is rather attractive and from what I gather is speaking Hungarian to the waitress when she approaches. What strikes me as really odd is the young lady is wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of Vladimir Putin on the front.

A number of questions come to mind. Have the Hungarians forgiven the Russians for Communism and the conquest of their country following World War Two? Are they over the violent crack down when revolutionaries tried to win their freedom back ten years later? Do young people have no sense of history anymore?

I was pretty young and in elementary school at that time, but to this day it is my oldest remembrance of a real historical event. I remember vividly sitting in front of our small family black & white television watching tanks roll down city streets, machine gun fire raking buildings and Molotov cocktails bursting against the tanks. Commentators railed about recognizing a new government and claims by the Eisenhower administration that we were not in a position to engage the U.S.S.R. In that place at that time.

Years later I had a woman work for me named Tunde and she and her husband fled across the boarder into Austria in early November and eventually made their way to the United States. She had a number of stories about their neighborhood in Budapest and the street fighting and how terrified they were about the coming Soviet reprisals.

After dinner that night I was reading a magazine article about the coming anniversary of the Revolution, which is now a National holiday and how the heaviest street fighting had occurred in the Corvin area in a section called the “passage”. Less than three hours before, that is exactly where we sat as I thought about the young woman sitting next to us and that Putin T-shirt.

Corvin Passage 14 Oct 2018

I am not so sure how the Hungarians feel about the Russians today but if I had to describe “micro-aggressions” and “trigger-warnings” to someone, that might be an example. I am not sure why she wore that shirt there yesterday, maybe she is a radical socialist making a statement or perhaps she was being a young cultural revolutionary and maybe it is just fashionable to wear these new icons. Whatever the reason there is no way I can understand and it makes me very sad.

Since we have been posting things on the internet I am very conscious as to what I say. It has never been my intent to be political. I once made a mistake and posted something I thought was simply ironic but a number of people thought was overly neo-conservative and they told me so in no uncertain terms. At this point I am becoming concerned that there are a number of people on the web searching for any unintended slight or social misstep that gives them a reason to attack, while at the same time being very ignorant of the broader culturally careless opinions they hold.

Thank you for humoring me…


An old building on a street in the Corvin neighborhood shows a number of scars and the effects of old age…