January 31, 2013

Book Review: Failure of a Mission

Neville Henderson shaking hands with Joseph Goebbels

Title: Failure Of A Mission: Berlin, 1937-1939
Author: Sir Neville Henderson
Genre: World War II History

From the final chapter of the book, Sir Neville Henderson states: "In the early hours of September 1st without any declaration of war the German Army crossed the frontier, and the German Air Force proceeded to bomb the Polish airdromes and lines of communication...The German Representative in London was informed in due course at that hour that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany."

Henderson was England's Ambassador to Germany for the two years leading up to the war.  Tirelessly he worked to divert the aggression that Germany showed towards its neighbors.  He met often with Herr Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and many other men of influence in the Third Reich.  Henderson respected the Germans, but hated their game. On most occasions, the Englishman was graciously treated, but the context of his meetings seemed to most often be smoke and mirrors. From the beginning, Hitler's intention was war.  There was nothing Neville Henderson could have done to stop the Nazi war machine.

The book on the whole is a bit dull.  The descriptions of the demeanor and personalities of the notorious German leaders is interesting.  It is a small look into Germany leading up to the war.  I would not recommend this book to anyone unless they are interested in Nazi, German, European, or World War II history.

January 26, 2013

Muir Woods National Monument: Planning Your Visit

Muir Woods National Monument Sign
 Muir Woods National Monument is nestled in the rolling hills just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.  Due to the proximity to the big city, this stunning park rightfully attracts more then a million visitors per year.  The draw is the giant and ancient coast redwood.  There are several trails in the park.

With more than a million visitors to the Muir Woods National Monument, the park can have congestion and parking problems.  The park has a shuttle service that transports visitors to the park from Marin City and the Pohono Park and Ride.  The shuttle is seasonal.  The park has long had problems with big crowds and small parking lots.  If trying to park on the weekends, it is not unusual to park on the side of a two lane road a mile or more from the entrance.

The large crowds are drawn by the beautiful coast redwoods.  These giants can grow upwards of 300 feet and are the largest trees in the world.  The largest coast redwood was recently measured at 380 feet tall.  This ancient giant can live up to 2,000 years.  It is not unlikely that some of the older trees were living at the time of Christ.  A great book to read during your visit to the coast redwoods and Muir Woods is: The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring.

The trails of Muir Woods are the best way to see and enjoy the beauty and mystery of the trees.  There are six miles of trails in the park and several through trails that lead to the surrounding parks.  Here is a list of the trails in the park:

  • Main Trail - (2 miles)
  • The Ben Johnson Loop Trail - (5.2 miles)
  • Dipsea and Steep Ravine Loop Trail - (3.9 miles)
The Main Trail - Muir Woods

If planning to visit Muir Woods National Monument, plan ahead.  Know the shuttle schedule.  Educate yourself about the trees. And arrange to enjoy the park from one of the trails. Muir Woods can greatly complement a visit to the San Francisco area.

January 18, 2013

Book Review: Pol Pot Anatomy of a Nightmare

Book: Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
Author: Philip Short
Genre: non-fiction, World History, Cambodian History

Pol Pot was responsible for the death of approximately two million people during the Kmher Rouge rule from 1975 to 1978. In these three years, the agrarian communists annihilated 25% of the Cambodian population. Pol Pot and the Kmher Rouge leadership eliminated cities, money, emotions, cooking, family, private property, smiling, and any type of individualism. Smiling? How can you eliminate smiling?  It can be eliminated by killing anybody who smiles.  Everyone was to be an extension of the state.  The state was a body.  The body worked to grow in power. When someone worked against this body, they were disposed of much like a weed in a garden is pulled up and tossed into the trash.

From his birth in 1925, to his death in 1998, the biography, Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare follows the unlikely and incompetent Pol Pot. His life is detailed as he ages from failing student to revolutionary uprising to Cambodian communist leader to dying jungle outlaw.  He is remembered in history primarily for the killing fields and the torture camps and the genocide-like massive destruction imposed on Cambodia.  This book digs much deeper into the politics of the times, the connections between the Kmher Rouge, the Chinese, and the Vietnamese, and the philosophy of the communists.

The book was long and dragged on with inscrutable detail. The number of players in the book was endless and the foreign names created an easy route into confusion.  The book contains an index of names with description, which helped, but slowed the reading down even more. Unless one is very interested in southeast Asian history, I would not recommend this book, but instead recommend this blog post which offers a shorter, but thorough glimpse into Pol Pot and the Kmher Rouge.  An excellent book that is more specific to the suffering under Pol Pot that I recommend is: To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family.



January 12, 2013

Yosemite Preparations: Reserving a Campsite in Yosemite National Park

The alarm clock emitted an ugly noise.  It was Saturday, December 15.  With anticipation I had waited for this day ever since my wife had agreed to camp in Yosemite.  December 15, is the first day for reserving a spot in Yosemite National Park for April 15 thru May 14.  January 15 opens up reservations for May 15 to June 14 and so on.  See the schedule here.  It may be misleading for me to refer to the 15th as an entire day.  The spots fill up very quickly for the summer months.

Despite my impatience in waiting for this day, I hit snooze several times until realization struck that I could be hitting snooze on my first visit to John Muirs playground.  I jerked out of bed, kissed my sleeping wife, and ran downstairs.  

Yosemite Valley camp in Upper Pines
Coffee brewing, laptop fired up, I logged onto reservations.gov.  It was 7:30 PCT.  Reservation bagging began at 7:00.  At the time, it meant little to me.  All the spots couldn't possibly fill up in 30 minutes.  Right?

My camp of choice: Upper Pines in Yosemite Valley has a whopping 240 campsites.  As I selected the dates that I wanted, what happened next knocked some sincerity into the task at hand.  All but four sites were already filled.  With a good combination of precision and speed I completed the remainder of my task without fault and reserved one of the last four sites at Upper Pines in Yosemite Valley.  I came very close to not getting a spot. Before ever even resting eyes on her glory, I had underestimated Yosemite, hopefully for last time.

January 5, 2013

Hike Review: Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Trail Sign at Indian Gardens

Location: Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Distance: 4.7 to Indian Gardens or 9.5 to Bright Angel Campground
Difficulty: Challenging
Elevation Change: Rim (6860'); Indian Gardens (3800'); River (2400') 
Time of Year Best: late September to May
Recommended Map: Grand Canyon National Park. Bright Angel Canyon and North/South Rim #261 (Trails Illustrated)
Group Picture at Bright Angel Trail-head

Bright Angel Trail 
In November, we hiked up the Bright Angel Trail from Indian Gardens Campground to complete the loop that started with the Hermit Trail and Tonto Trail.  We arrived at a very busy Indian Gardens in the late afternoon, camped, and departed early the next morning.  From India Garden Camp to the Bright Angel trail-head is a very tough 4.7 mile climb offering breathtaking views and breathless cardio.  In December of 2009, I hiked the entire Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail.

If you are climbing the entire 9.5 mile (19 miles round trip) route, rim to river, I highly recommend that you reserve a spot at the Bright Angel or Indian Gardens Camps.  Even with an early start, hiking the entire canyon, top to bottom, makes for a long day with little time to enjoy the canyon as it should be enjoyed.  Both Bright Angel and Indian Gardens Camps are very popular and reservations usually need to be made months in advance.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments.  Enjoy the pictures
Bright Angel Sunrise

Bright Angel Mule Warning