USA: Colorado

Colorado favorite images


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. See more-extensive galleries below.

The Rockies of Colorado

Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

In scenic Glenwood Canyon along I-70, one of America’s most scenic Interstate highways, beautiful Hanging Lake deserves its popularity for hikers (4 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain). 

Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

28 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Rifle Falls State Park offers a distinctive triple waterfall.

Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Yellow fall colors brightened the resort of Aspen, where nearby 1880s Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns evoked the state’s mining history. Because no campground options were available around 8000-foot Aspen in late September, I booked at AirBnB [your signup supports my work] a good-value condo with kitchen for 4 nights of necessary acclimatization, to prepare for hiking to high altitude. Snagging a parking spot midweek before sunrise at crowded Maroon Lake allowed us to capture the iconic Maroon Bells lit by magical morning light. From there, we grunted breathlessly upwards through fall colors via Crater Lake to desolate alpine Buckskin Pass (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain to 12,462 feet elevation) in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. 

Colorado: Leadville


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

We enjoyed strolling in historic Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (elevation of 10,152 feet).

Colorado: Vail


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

A relaxing condo stay near Vail allowed a pleasant walk through aspen fall colors to Booth Creek Falls (4.3 miles / 1400 ft gain) on Booth Lake Trail #1885.

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park


CClick “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

At Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake, we learned that Trail Ridge Road was sadly closed ahead due to ice, which would have required driving around several extra hours to reach Estes Park. Luckily, driving upwards anyway allowed time for the problem to melt along the 12,183-foot-high crossing of Rocky Mountain National Park eastwards to our base at Estes Park KOA. We enjoyed hiking a wonderful loop from Bear Lake Trailhead with spur trails to an impressive series of lakes, waterfalls and peaks (13 miles gaining 2600 feet via Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, The Loch, Lake of Glass, Sky Pond, Alberta Falls then back). Arrive early for parking or take the shuttle.

Colorado: Roxborough State Park


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Roxborough State Park features strikingly tilted red sandstone formations, appreciated via hiking up the pleasant Carpenter Peak Trail and back via Elk Valley loop and Fountain Overlook, 8.5 miles with 1600 feet gain. A shorter walk is to the Peak then directly back (6.2 miles and 1400 ft).

Colorado: Garden of the Gods


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Driving and strolling is a joy in Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, run by the City of Colorado Springs.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park


Click “i” to display informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Little-known Paint Mines Interpretive Park will delight any admirer of rock hoodoos and colorful abstract patterns.

Colorado: Great Sand Dunes National Park


Click “i” for informative Captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Dunes rise up to 750 feet tall in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, on the eastern edge of San Luis Valley, Sangre de Cristo Range, south-central Colorado.

Colorado: San Juan Mountains


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

We witnessed peak fall colors in late September and the first week in October 2019 in the San Juan Mountains. Silverton, Ridgway, and Telluride made great bases for hiking and touring in this spectacular southwest corner of Colorado.

Colorado: Canyon Country of the Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau (centered upon the Four Corners region of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado) has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. You could spend a lifetime exploring the astounding natural wonders of this remarkable desert region. In 2019, our first fall-season trip to the Southwest added Mesa Verde National Park. Our southwest USA spring trip of April 5-7, 2015 added galleries for Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park.

Mesa Verde National Park


Click “i” for informative Captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Now honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park was established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 in the Four Corners region near the town of Cortez. Starting around 7500 BCE, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by nomadic Paleo-Indians. Later, Archaic people established semi-permanent rockshelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BCE, the Basketmaker culture emerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 CE the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture. The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 1100s began building massive cliff dwellings. Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, was built 1190-1260 CE by Ancestral Puebloans. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south into what is today Arizona and New Mexico. Cliff Palace was rediscovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while looking for stray cattle.

Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

Gunnison River has cut a gorge 2300 feet deep at Painted Wall View, in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, Colorado, USA. Pressurized molten rock was forced into the 1.7 billion year old metamorphic rock of The Painted Wall, forming pink pegmatite stripes on Colorado’s highest cliff. The canyon exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

On the way from Monticello in Utah to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, look for fall colors on the pretty pass of Dallas Divide in the San Juan Mountains around the first week of October.

Colorado National Monument


Click “i” for informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Recommended activities:

  • Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument: start from Rim Drive and walk 6 miles round trip with 1650-foot gain.
  • Devils Kitchen Trail: 1.5 miles round trip with 200-foot gain to an intimate cluster of pinnacles.
  • Rim Drive offers great canyon vistas using car or bicycle in a loop via Fruita, Colorado.
  • The park is most enjoyable mid week; but weekends can be crowded with visitors from nearby Grand Junction. An advantage of the nearby city is a pilgrimage to REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated, 644 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501) if you need any outdoor clothing, shoes, or gear.

Related articles for Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah) and Texas.

Recommended Colorado guidebooks

Search for latest “Colorado travel books” at Amazon.com.

2015 spring hikes in Utah & Colorado

In Spring 2015, we returned to southwest USA to experience some remarkable yet uncrowded sights:


Click “i” to display informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. See a more extensive gallery in my Portfolio.

Spring/fall desert canyon hiking itinerary, round trip from Salt Lake City

The above photos dated March 27 to April 8, 2015 are from the following itinerary, which makes a good round trip in 2 weeks from Salt Lake City:

Key to ratings: *** Must do. ** Do. * Maybe if time allows.

  1. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
    • * Capitol Gorge (Golden Throne Trail, The Tanks, Pioneer Register)
    • ** Hickman Natural Bridge and ** Rim Overlook Trail
    • * Grand Wash
  2. Goblin Valley State Park
  3. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
    • ** Leprechaun Canyon (on BLM land 8 miles north of GCNRA on Highway 95)
  4. ** Natural Bridges National Monument
  5. Needles District of Canyonlands  NP
    • ** Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Arch
    • * Slickrock Trail
    • * Cave Spring & Historic Cowboy Camp
    • * Needles Outpost Campground has nice *** hot showers to wash off the desert dust. (The scenic ** Canyonlands National Park’s Squaw Flat Campground was full on Thursday and Friday during Easter week 2015.)
    • ** Shay Canyon’s petroglyph gallery (on BLM land outside of Canyonlands National Park, a few miles up the highway from Newspaper Rock)
  6. We skipped ** Moab this year because its campgrounds were overbooked due to the crowded Easter Jeep Safari (Saturday, March 28 – Sunday, April 5, 2015), and instead headed into less-crowded spring destinations in Colorado:
  7. * Dallas Divide, Colorado (a pretty pass in the San Juan Mountains which will look fantastic with *** fall foliage colors on some future trip)
  8. *** Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, Colorado
    • *** The Painted Wall viewpoints around sunrise and sunset
    • * Campground
  9. ** Colorado National Monument, Colorado
    • ** Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument
    • ** Devils Kitchen
    • ** Rim Drive views
  10. ** Dinosaur National Monument, near Jensen, Utah

Tom and Carol Dempsey drove this round trip from Seattle March 25-April 10, 2015.

See related articles: 

USA Northeast: peak fall colors camping tour: NY, VT, NH, ME, PA, ON, NB

View Tom Dempsey’s photos from an RV trip seeking peak fall colors across Northeast USA up to the dynamic Bay of Fundy in Canada, for three weeks in October 2014. At bottom is my recommended camping itinerary for chasing a month of bright autumn leaf colors through scenic Northeast parks in New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and New Brunswick, Canada.

Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy: 41 favorite images + map from October 2014 trip


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. Or click here to view a more extensive day-by-day gallery from this trip.

Our camping itinerary let us chase and hit the peak of fall colors at each destination from September 29 to October 20. This photo gallery includes: New York (Niagara Falls/Ontario, Adirondacks, Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP Gorges, and Corning Museum of Glass); Vermont (Mt. Philo SP, Smugglers Notch and Shelburne Museum); New Hampshire (White Mountains, Mount Washington); Maine (Acadia National Park, Pemaquid Lighthouse, DeLorme’s Eartha globe); Pennsylvania (Ohiopyle SP); New Brunswick, CANADA (Bay of Fundy, Hopewell Rocks sunrise, St Martins and Fundy Trail Parkway); and Indiana (Indianapolis Zoo).

Driving MAP for October peak fall colors: Northeast USA – Bay of Fundy –  Indianapolis

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Progression of peak fall color dates for Northeast USA & Bay of Fundy

In Northeast USA, fall colors generally peak first at high interior continental locations, and peak last at low elevation areas near the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting a trip from late September through October as follows (varying year to year):

  1. New York: Adirondack Mountains: September 26-Oct 1 peak colors
    • Colors reach peak first in the Lake Placid / High Peaks area in late September. Most of Adirondack Park is blazing with color by the first week of October.
    • The Lake Placid region has good mountain scenery with alpine lakes and brooks making perfect fall color reflection photos. Drive up ** Whiteface Mountain for easiest high viewpoint (or hike a fire lookout).
    • The latest Adirondacks color peaks along Lake Champlain & Lake George in mid to late October.
  2. Vermont’s central mountains: Mt Mansfield, Smugglers Notch, Green Mountains: October 1-7 peak colors
  3. New Hampshire: White Mountain National Forest and Mt Washington: October 1-8 peak colors (with various color stages from mid-Sept to mid-Oct)
  4. New Brunswick, CANADA: Bay of Fundy: October 5-13 peak colors
  5. Maine: coastal/Acadia National Park: October 8-14 peak colors
  6. Vermont: Lake Winnipesaukee & Squam Lake: October 10-21 peak colors
  7. New York: Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks: Oct 12-25 peak colors
    • Fall colors brighten the forests of New York’s Finger Lakes region in the last three weeks of October.
    • In Letchworth State Park, renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Genesee River roars northeast through a gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 550 feet, surrounded by diverse forests. See rainbows, mist, and picturesque waterfalls up to 107 feet high. Off Interstate 390, 45 minutes south of Rochester.
  8. Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle SP and Fallingwater: Oct. 13-28 peak colors

Recommended fall color itinerary with camping & hiking options

In a 25-foot RV rented from CruiseAmerica (in Noblesville; near my wife’s family in Indianapolis, Indiana), we drove 3847 miles in 22 days (Sept 29-Oct 20) visiting:

Niagara Falls (Ontario) > New York’s Adirondacks > New Hampshire’s White Mountains > New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy > Maine’s Acadia NP > New York’s Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP gorges > Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle SP and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house > then back to Indianapolis

TRAVEL TIPS:
In autumn, always call private campgrounds ahead to check for early season closure. Some Walmarts allow overnight RV parking if you call first. Beware that due to their size, RVs cannot drive through Acadia NP’s four low-clearance bridges, New England’s covered bridges, or Mt Washington’s self-drive Road Tour in the White Mountains – all which pose no problem in a car. To save money on a compact 19-foot RV (not available in Eastern USA but available in the West), rent from CruiseCanada.com in Montreal or Toronto. In price per day, a rental car + gas + motel can be cheaper than CruiseAmerica.com’s 25-foot RV + gas + campgrounds; but we enjoyed the RV’s handy kitchen, bathroom, shower, and comfort for sleeping close to nature in campgrounds. Check websites, look for relocation deals, and enter discount code in reservation form. In October 2014, we noticed various motels with vacancies in the popular White Mountains even on weekends, encouraging us next time to try touring by car. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

ITINERARY KEY:  ***Impressive/Must see.  **High priority.  *Do it if time allows.
Abbreviations:  CANADA: ON=Ontario; NB=New Brunswick. RT=round trip. SP=State Park.
USANY=New York; VT=Vermont; NH=New Hampshire; ME=Maine; PA=Pennsylvania.

  • DAY 1 of 22:  Sept 29:
    • Rent an RV or car. CruiseAmerica.com has afternoon pick-up 1-4pm in Noblesville, Indiana or various other locations in Northeast USA. Gas expenses for a 25-foot RV add up quickly to around $50/day on this 3847-mile itinerary in 2014.
    • OHIO: Toledo: * Maumee Bay SP Campground (5 hrs from Noblesville RV). Many sites available.
  • Sept 30: 
    • ONTARIO: ** Niagara Falls views are better from the CANADA side. (4.8 hrs from Toledo/Maumee Bay SP via Detroit to Niagara Falls, ONTARIO)
    • ONTARIO: ** KOA Campground, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
      • or NY: * Golden Hill SP Campground (60 min); or * NY: Lakeside Beach SP Campground (75 min)
  • Oct 1:  
    • NY: * Chimney Bluffs State Park, Syracuse. (1.6 hrs from Lakeside SP; 2.3 hrs Niagara Falls)
    • NY: ADK: *** Fish Creek Pond Campground, near Saranac Lake.
    • NY: Adirondacks: hike *** Mount Jo Trail (ADK Loj) 2.6 mi RT, 710 feet gain (55 min from Fish Creek Pond)
  • Oct 2: VT: Burlington: ** Mt Philo SP Campground (reserve ahead). ($20 Essex ferry, short ride; or drive around 90 mi in 2.3 hrs from Mt Jo via Crown Pt/Lake Champlain Bridge)
    • VT: Burlington / Lake Champlain: ** Shelburne Museum. (20 min from Philo SP; 1.8 hrs from Mt Jo.)
  • Oct 3 camp: VT: Stowe: ** Smugglers Notch SP Campground (1 hr from Shelburne).
    • VT: ** Stowe Pinnacle Trail, Green Mountains (hike 2.8 miles, allow 3 hrs).
  • Oct 4: NH: White Mountains: H302 ** Beechhill Campground & Cabins, east of Littleton. (No reservation needed Oct 2014.)
    • NH: Lincoln: H112 / *** Kancamagus Hwy. White MountainsVisitor Center.
    • NH: H112: *** Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Hwy.
    • NH: H112: ** hike UNH Loop Trail (4.8 miles circuit, 1600 feet gain) on Hedgehog Mountain, Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest.
    • * Scenic driving route: NH H302 to H112: Bear Notch /Albany Rd midway to Bartlett.
  • Oct 5-6: NH: White Mountains: H112 ** Covered Bridge Campground USFS. (Note: RVs must drive around Albany Covered Bridge’s height restriction via Conway and Passaconaway Road.)
    • NH: White Mountains: walk to ** Diana’s Baths with hiking extension to ** Moat Mountain hike, North Conway (hike 1-10 mi/2800 ft).
    • NH: White Mountains: * Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, H16
    • NH: White Mountains: * Mt Washington Road Tour, H16 (RESERVE AHEAD).
  • Oct 7: ME: Newport: * Christies Campground or Walmart. (3.7 hrs from Covered Bridge Campground via H16/Pinkham Notch)
    • or NH: White Mountains: Timberland Campground on US2 NW.
  • Oct 8: NB: * Fundy Trail Parkway is a pleasant side trip adding 1.4 hours. See * Fuller Falls.
    • NB: Fundy NP * Headquarters Camp + * Dickson Falls. (4.8 hrs from Christies Camp, ME; or 6.2 hours if adding Fundy Trail Parkway)
    • NB: * Cape Enrage Lighthouse & Barn Marsh Island Beach: see on the way to Hopewell. (30 min from Fundy NP Headquarters; 46 min to Hopewell)
    • NB: *** Hopewell Rocks Park, Bay of Fundy. (5.7 hrs from Acadia NP; 8 hrs from North Conway)
  • Oct 9 camp option: NB: ST Martins: Sea Side Tent & Trailer Park (CALL AHEAD: CLOSED early in fall 2014), adjacent to Fundy Trail Parkway.
  • Oct 9-10-11: ME: Acadia NP: *** Blackwoods Campground (MUST RESERVE AHEAD)
    • ME: Acadia NP: ** Cadillac Summit (but several low bridges restrict RV access)
    • ME: Acadia NP: *** Acadia Mountain Trail with loop option via Mt. Sauveur (2.5-4.5 mi RT/700-1300 ft gain)
    • ME: *** Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound serves delicious lobsters boiled in fresh seawater over a wood fire, plus other seafood. 1237 Bar Harbor Rd.
    • ME: *** Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. (8 hrs south of Acadia NP; 7 hrs from Hopewell Rocks)
    • ME: Brunswick: ** Hermit Island Campground option. (50 minutes side trip)
  • Oct 12: 
    • ME: Freeport: ** Recompence Shore Campground (at Wolfe’s Neck Farm nonprofit oceanfront)
      • or Bradbury Mountain SP Campground.
    • ME: Freeport: ** LL Bean Outlet Store, Freeport Village Station. (2 hrs from Pemaquid)
    • ME: Freeport (Yarmouth): * DeLorme map store: see Eartha, world’s largest globe. (10 min from LL Bean)
    • NH: Center Harbor: * Keepsake Quilting (for fabric lovers), Lake Winnipesaukee. (Drive 2 hours from Freeport)
    • NH: Holderness: *** West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to overlook Squam Lake (hike 2-5 miles RT)
      • or ** Mt Major SP hike, Lake Winnipesaukee, Alton Bay (hike 3.4 mi RT, 1159 feet gain). (Drive 36 min from Center Harbor; 1.8 hrs from Freeport.)
    • MA: Lowell: * New England Quilt Museum
  • Oct 13: VT: Bennington: * Greenwood Lodge Campsites
    • VT: Bennington: Silk Road Covered Bridge + Paper Mill CB + Burt Henry Covered Bridge.
    • NY: Ithaca: Buttermilk Falls * Upper hike (Camp option).
  • Oct 14-15:
    • NY: *** Watkins Glen State Park: walk the spellbinding Gorge Trail 2-4 miles RT. (Drive 36 min from Buttermilk SP; 4.4 hours from Greenwood Lodge; 7.2 hrs from Alton Bay)
    • NY: * KOA Campground Watkins Glen/Corning
    • NY: *** Corning Museum of Glass.
  • Oct 16NY: ** Letchworth State Park Campground: wander the ***Gorge Trail #1 including Inspiration Point, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls (1-4 miles or drive and park). The huge campground has lots of space in October.
  • Oct 17-18 camp: PA: * Ohiopyle SP, Kentuck Camp. Reserve ahead on weekends. (Drive 5.8 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 18 or 19 tour: PA: *** Fallingwater house tour, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – MUST RESERVE AHEAD, especially weekends. (5.5 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 19: OHIO: east of Columbus: KOA-Buckeye Lake Campground (on I-70, 3.5 hours from Ohiopyle).
  • DAY 22 of 22: Oct 20: Indianapolis, Indiana: return RV before 11:00am to Noblesville’s CruiseAmerica RV.

New England and Northeast USA guidebooks

Search the latest New England guidebooks on Amazon.com (then buying anything there supports my site).

Historical tip: As a Westerner traveling “back East” I learned that New York is NOT part of New England. New York and its Harbor were originally settled by the Dutch, who named it New Amsterdam in the colony of New Netherland. The British renamed the New Netherland colony to New York in 1664 (in honor of the then Duke of York, later James II of England) after English forces seized control of the Dutch colony.

USA: Eastern Oregon

View Tom Dempsey’s photos of Eastern Oregon, including:

  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains
  3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking
  4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF
  5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Much of this area is within the extensive Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

For more details, read my separate article about backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness.

4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Wenaha River Trail starts from the Wenaha River’s confluence with the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Oregon favorite statewide images (consolidated from many trips)


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Index of my Oregon articles:

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Index of my Oregon articles:

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
Apr 14-Jun 13, 2014

CANADA: Vancouver, BC

The City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes a pleasant winter getaway from Seattle (or vice versa). Allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. [Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.] A trip to Vancouver can be efficiently combined with a visit to Whistler Village for summer hiking or winter skiing. Below are my favorite Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour

Staying in a downtown condo or hotel makes for convenient walking exploration of Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver Harbour, Stanley Park, and Vancouver Aquarium. AirBnB [your signup supports my work] helped us locate private condo lodging along Coal Harbor.

Stanley Park and Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park is a great place for walking, skating, or bicycling. Vancouver Aquarium is excellent, including live shows of Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales.

Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory (4600 Cambie St.) is a domed lush paradise where you can experience the colors and scents of the tropics year-round, within Queen Elizabeth Park, atop the City of Vancouver’s highest point. From Little Mountain (501 feet), see panoramic views over the city crowned by the mountains of the North Shore. A former rock quarry has been converted into beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with flower gardens, public art, grassy knolls. In Bloedel Conservatory, more than 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within a temperature-controlled environment. A donation from Prentice Bloedel built the domed structure, which was dedicated in 1969 “to a better appreciation and understanding of the world of plants,” and is jointly operated by Vancouver Park Board and VanDusen Botanical Garden Association.

Vanier Park: MacMillan Space Centre

Fans of astronomy will enjoy H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver, BC. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See worthwhile science exhibits and shows in the GroundStation Canada Theatre, Cosmic Courtyard, and cool Planetarium Star Theatre. The building was designed in the 1960s by architect Gerald Hamilton to house what was then called The Centennial Museum. The Space Centre shares the building with the Museum of Vancouver. Outside, the Crab fountain sculpture was made in 1968 by George Norris. In First Nation legend, the crab is the guardian of the harbour and was also the zodiac sign at the time of the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

Admire waterfalls in Lynn Canyon from the Suspension Bridge continue on a pleasant walking loop of several kilometers through wild rainforest. Lynn Canyon is a municipal park established in 1912 at 3663 Park Road, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7J 3G3, Canada. Phone 604-990-3755.

Below is a more extensive set of Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California

From March 15 to April 9, 2014, my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas (6000-mile loop), gathering images in great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Favorites (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)


Click here for a more extensive gallery of All Photos from our March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip in my Portfolio (where you can Add images to your Cart for purchase).

The following related articles consolidate our multiple trips by state:

My photo galleries consolidate multiple trips into labeled geographic areas.

USA: Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a trip on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Photo favorites of 2014 spring trip from Seattle to Texas via Oregon

The above John Day Fossil Beds images are from our 6000-mile trip from March 15 to April 9, 2014, where my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas and back, visiting some great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. That trip produced these favorite photos:


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

USA: Texas

In spring 2014, Carol and I visited a variety of sights in Texas, USA, and captured the following photo galleries:

  1. USA: Texas favorites
  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  3. Caverns of Sonora
  4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
  5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
  6. San Antonio: the Alamo
  7. more photos

These Texas photos date from March 27-31 and April 2-3, 2014.

See also:

1. USA: Texas favorites


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

3. Caverns of Sonora


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

6. San Antonio: the Alamo


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

7. more photos of Texas


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Recommended Texas guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest Texas travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

USA: New Mexico

In March 2014, Carol and I visited photogenic sights in New Mexico to capture the following evocative image galleries:

  1. New Mexico favorite images
  2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  4. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, fascinating eroded badlands
  5. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  6. Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque
  7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope
  8. White Sands National Monument

…on our 2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California: March 15-April 9, 2014. My Southwest USA states articles include: Arizona, ColoradoNevada, Utah plus Texas.

1. New Mexico favorite images


Click “i” to display informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. More extensive images are shown below for each area we explored in New Mexico.

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wonderful Carlsbad Caverns National Park can be found in the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert of southeast New Mexico. Hike in on your own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. Geology: 4 to 6 million years ago, an acid bath in the water table slowly dissolved the underground rooms of Carlsbad Caverns, which then drained along with the uplift of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted part of the ancient Capitan Reef which thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time. Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects part of the Capitan Reef, one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian-age fossil reefs in the world. The park’s magnificent speleothems (cave formations) are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through soil and limestone rock, dripping into a cave, evaporating and depositing dissolved minerals. Drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself. The slowest drips tend to stay on the ceiling (as stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons or curtains). The faster drips are more likely to decorate the floor (with stalagmites, totem poles, flowstone, rim stone dams, lily pads, shelves, and cave pools). Today, due to the dry desert climate, few speleothems inside any Guadalupe Mountains caves are wet enough to actively grow. Most speleothems inside Carlsbad Cavern would have been much more active during the last ice age-up to around 10,000 years ago, but are now mostly inactive.

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Chaco Culture NHP hosts the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in remote northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, USA. From 850 AD to 1250 AD, Chaco Canyon advanced then declined as a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 1800s. Climate change may have led to its abandonment, beginning with a 50-year drought starting in 1130.

4. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

See fantastic hoodoos and a great slot canyon in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, in New Mexico, USA. Hike the easy Cave Loop Trail plus Slot Canyon Trail side trip (3 miles round trip), 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, on the Pajarito Plateau. Distinctive cone-shaped caprocks protect soft pumice and tuff beneath. Geologically, the Tent Rocks are made of Peralta Tuff, formed from volcanic ash, pumice, and pyroclastic debris deposited over 1000 feet thick from the Jemez Volcanic Field, 7 million years ago. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan.

5. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is south of Farmington, in San Juan County, New Mexico, USA. This fantasy world of strange rock formations is made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. These rock layers have weathered into eerie hoodoos (pinnacles, spires, and cap rocks). This was once a riverine delta west of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. Swamps built up organic material which became beds of lignite. Water disappeared and left behind a 1400-foot (430 m) layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Waters of the last ice age eroded the hoodoos now visible. The high desert widerness of Bisti is managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

6. Petroglyph National Monument


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

Ancestral Puebloan people chipped various figures into the desert varnish (oxidized surface) of 200,000-year-old volcanic basalt rock, here in Boca Negra Canyon, in Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Archeologists estimate the 23,000 petroglyphs in the monument were created between 1000 BC and AD 1700.

7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope



Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, active 24 hours per day. Visit the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, in New Mexico, USA. US Route 60 passes through the scientific complex, which welcomes visitors. The VLA is a set of 27 movable radio antennas on tracks in a Y-shape. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter. After being built 1973-1980, the VLA’s electronics and software were significantly upgraded from 2001-2012 by at least an order of magnitude in both sensitivity and radio-frequency coverage. The VLA is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about interstellar radio emission. The VLA was prominently featured in the 1997 film “Contact,” a classic science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel, with Jodie Foster portraying the film’s protagonist, Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life.

8. White Sands National Monument


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

White Sands National Monument preserves one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here in the northern Chihuahuan Desert rises the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Visit the park 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo, in New Mexico, USA. White Sands National Monument preserves 40% of the gpysum dune field, the remainder of which is on White Sands Missile Range and military land closed to the public. Geology: The park’s gypsum was originally deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin. The remaining sides of the original dome now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin. The common mineral gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because rain dissolves it in runoff which usually drains to the sea; but mountains enclose the Tularosa Basin and trap surface runoff. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) comes from ephemeral Lake Lucero (a playa), which is the remnant of ice-age Lake Otero (now mostly an alkali flat) in the western side of the park. Evaporating water (up to 80 inches per year) leaves behind selenite crystals which reach lengths of up to three feet (1 m)! Weathering breaks the selenite crystals into sand-size gypsum grains that are carried away by prevailing winds from the southwest, forming white dunes. Several types of small animals have evolved white coloration that camouflages them in the dazzling white desert; and various plants have specially adapted to shifting sands. Based on an application by two US Senators from New Mexico, UNESCO honored the monument on the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in 2008.

Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site, which displays a more extensive gallery, 250+.

Separate state articles cover travel tips & photos for southwest USA and Texas:

Recommended New Mexico guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest New Mexico travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

2004: 2012: 2012: 2010:

CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi, Joffre Lakes

Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is not only one of the most scenic ski areas in North America, but also hosts great summer hiking and mountain biking. Whistler has become a thriving center for year-round outdoor sports in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada. Hiking at Whistler is well worth the 10 hours round trip drive from Seattle, if you stay for a minimum of 3 nights — but allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. (Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.) Stay in a condominium or campground and hike the scenic trails featured below. The official visitors’ web site www.whistlerblackcomb.com helpfully books lodging and provides hiking, mountain biking, and skiing maps. Nearby Garibaldi Lake is one of my favorite wilderness trips (day hike or backpack).

Photo gallery of Whistler Resort, Garibaldi Provincial Park, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler Village Gondola with Solar Coaster Express on Blackcomb Mountain for sightseeing or skiing variety. Buy a season pass if using lifts more than 2 days. Built in 2008, Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometers or 1.88 miles) and highest point above the ground (436 meters or 1430 feet).

I recommend the following hikes near Whistler:

  • On Whistler Mountain, hike the High Note Trail to views of turquoise Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park and onward to Harmony Lake, back to Whistler Village Gondola at Roundhouse Lodge (6 miles or 10k, with 2200 feet descent and 1000 feet ascent). Start the walk with a ride to the top of Whistler Peak Express Chairlift, which is a short walk downhill from Roundhouse Lodge.
  • Hike the Overlord Trail on Blackcomb Mountain (2440 meters) for flowers and good views in the Spearhead Range across Fitzsimmons Valley. Starting from the top of Solar Coaster Express Chairlift on Blackcomb Mountain, walk round trip for 1 to 6 miles (2k to 10k), with up to 1700 feet of ascent, ending with a chairlift back down to Whistler Village.
  • Driving 25k south of Whistler, backpack 1 or 2 nights to turquoise Garibaldi Lake, hiking to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. Panorama Ridge is 6 miles (10k) RT with 2066 ft (630m) gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Campground (or 17 miles RT with 5100 ft gain from Rubble Creek parking lot).
  • Drive an hour on the main highway northeast from Whistler to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC. A rough, rocky, steep hike of 10 kilometers round trip ascends (400 meters up) by a rushing stream to three beautiful turquoise lakes. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes are colored by glacial silt which reflects green and blue sunlight. The road onwards to Lilloet is very scenic.
Global warming/climate change:

As of 2005, Overlord Glacier had retreated 880 meters from its terminus of year 1929. From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of 1900s glacial fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand, suggesting a common, global climatic cause. Read more about global warming/climate change.

See related articles

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com. Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

USA: LOUISIANA: Origins of Zydeco and Cajun Music

Origins of Zydeco and Cajun music

by Tom Dempsey, Seattle, Washington

Introduction.

My love for zydeco dancing inspired researching the history of zydeco music. I learned that over several generations, Acadians became “Cajuns” and the word “Creole” changed meaning several times. In rural isolation, the music of Creole and Cajun people evolved roughly in parallel until about the 1940s. After the end of World War II, rural Creole musicians of Southwest Louisiana adapted urban blues and jazz to their La La house party music and gave birth to what we now call zydeco. The roots of zydeco grow deep in the history of the various groups who have intermixed in Southwest Louisiana . . .

Acadian settlers were expelled.

Back in the early 1600s, French settlers immigrated to Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia, Canada), bringing with them old folk songs of medieval France. In 1755, they were expelled by the British. The Acadian settlers scattered across the world, and many regrouped in Southern Louisiana. Their brutal exile and frontier experience brought themes of death, loneliness, and ill-fated love to their music.

The Spanish governors of early Louisiana offered the Acadians choice land in the prairies of Southwest Louisiana, where most began raising cattle and subsistence crops. As the population of wealthier English-speakers grew, many Acadians retreated into the swamp and marsh areas of the Mississippi River Delta to eke out a living by fishing, logging cypress, and harvesting Spanish Moss (for use in bedding and insulation).

Spanish Moss

  • Spanish Moss is not really a moss, but a member of the pineapple family (bromeliads).
  • The Spanish called it “Frenchman’s wig,” while the French termed it “Spanish beard.”
  • Spanish moss is not a parasite, but lives off of air and water.

“Creole” changes definition.

In the early Louisiana settlements, the term “Creole” referred to people of French or Spanish parentage who were born in Louisiana. As the slave trade grew in the late 1700s, the word “Creole” referred to slaves born in the colonies (esclavos Criollos, in Spanish), versus those brought from Africa (esclavos Africanos). “Creole” also meant “homegrown, not imported.”

Many non-enslaved Creoles, light-skinned blacks, or mulattos formed an aristocratic society in New Orleans during the time of slavery. However, it was the isolated Creoles of the rural prairies of Southwest Louisiana who would later invent zydeco music in the 1940s.

Today, the nouns “Creole” and “Cajun” have the following common interpretations in Louisiana:

  • “Creole” usually refers to “a French-speaking black of Southwest Louisiana.” However, some whites also call themselves Creole. For example, some white Cajuns may call themselves “Creole” when speaking French, and may call themselves “a French person” when speaking English. Furthermore, “Creole” has different meanings outside of Louisiana.
  • “Cajun” commonly refers to “a usually French-speaking white who traces heritage back to Acadia and France.” However, some people having Afro-Caribbean heritage also call themselves Cajun.

Different people may have strong feelings around their chosen usage of the words “Creole” or “Cajun.” Intermixed heritage blurs any attempt at defining labels such as Creole, Cajun, black, or white. When you meet someone from South Louisiana, etiquette suggests that you find out what they call themselves before you call them Creole, Cajun, or any other label. For the sake of consistency, I use the most common meanings in the remainder of this article.

Gumbo, Gombo.

  • In West Africa, gombo refers to okra (the sticky green pod of the okra plant).
  • In Louisiana, gombo can refer to the okra-thickened soup or stew called gumbo, as well as to the name of the regional Creole spoken dialect, Gombo (or Gumbo).
  • French-speaking people of South Louisiana use the word gumbo to refer to okra when speaking French, but the soup called gumbo in English does not necessarily contain okra.

Acadian becomes “Cajun.”

Isolation, close family ties, and strong Catholic faith knit the Acadians into a tight cultural group whose style mixed with their close neighbors: Native Americans, Afro-Caribbean refugees from the West Indies, non-enslaved blacks, and various European immigrant groups. Isolated families had only themselves for entertainment, so most learned how to play musical instruments. Many Acadians made their own fiddles. The mostly-illiterate Acadians didn’t write down their French language, which necessitated passing on stories and legends through songs. The name “Acadian” slowly evolved into “Cajun.”

As the people of rural South Louisiana mixed, the “Cajun” musical style was shaped in important ways by Creoles, Native Americans, and others. In the late 1800s, German settlers introduced affordable accordions which were adopted by both Cajun and Creole musicians. Cajun and Creole musical styles at this time grew in parallel: mostly two-steps and waltzes meant for dancing, played by accordion and fiddle.

Internal and external influences on Creole and Cajun music.

Many black field workers prayed and gave thanks by singing, clapping their hands, and stomping their feet in a syncopated style called juré, which is an important root of zydeco music. By 1900, the juré songs merged with Creole and Cajun influences into a musical tradition called La La. Rural Creoles held musical house parties known as La La’s in prairie towns such as Opelousas, Eunice, and Mamou.

A Contemporary Anecdote

  • In 1995, I met a a Cajun craftsman, Johnny, at Acadian Village in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA.
  • As a child, Johnny was not allowed to speak French in school. He couldn’t even leave class for the bathroom unless he asked in English.
  • Over the course of his lifetime, public attitudes reversed towards speakers of Louisiana French. Ironically, his son could not graduate from high school without completing the four-year French requirement!

 

In 1928, phonograph companies began to record Cajun and Creole music to sell more record players. These early recordings melded French contredanses and Anglo-American jigs and reels with the syncopated rhythms and vocal improvisation of black Louisiana slaves and the wails of local Native Americans. “Ah-yeeeee! … Et toi!”

The inflow of oil workers and their love for country and western music began Americanizing Cajuns and Creoles. From about 1935 to 1950, Cajuns and Creoles replaced the accordion with fiddle and steel guitar, and added bass guitar and drums. After World War II, a yearning for “old time” music brought the accordion back to Southwest Louisiana, about the same time that rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll caught fire nationwide. Creole and Cajun musicians also influenced each other, for example Creole musicians Amade Ardoin and Canray Fontenot made essential contributions to Cajun music.

Cajun revival.

CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, was founded in 1968 by the Louisiana state legislature. CODOFIL is empowered to “do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.”

In 1974, Lafayette began a Cajun music festival which expanded into the present-day Festivals Acadiens held every September.

The beginning of Zydeco.

In the late 1940s, Louisiana’s Creole musicians became inspired by the rhythm and blues and jazz played on radio and juke boxes, so they eliminated the fiddle and brought out the rubboard. From then on, the music of Creoles diverged from Cajun music. Rural Creoles combined La La with the blues and jazz of urban blacks to create the rollicking and syncopated sounds of zydeco.

History of the Rubboard 

  • The vest frottoir, or rubboard, helps drive and define the music of traditional rural zydeco bands in Southwest Louisiana.
  • Precursors to the rubboard evolved in Africa and the Caribbean in the form of a scraped animal jaw, a notched stick, and later, a washboard.
  • In the pre-zydeco 1930s, sheet metal was introduced to Louisiana for roofing and barn siding.
  • The first rubboard was created for Clifton Chenier’s brother, Cleveland, in the 1940s.

 

In 1954, Boozoo Chavis recorded the first modern zydeco song, “Paper in My Shoe,” a regional hit. Unfortunately, a royalty dispute provoked Chavis to leave the music industry.

After Chavis left, Clifton Chenier popularized songs such as “Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés” (“The snap beans aren’t salty”). This title was a common expression describing times hard enough to provide no salted meat to spice the beans. The French words for “the snap beans,” les haricots (pronounced “lay zarico”), became “le zydeco,” which named this new musical genre. Clifton Chenier reigned as the “King of Zydeco” with a career lasting 30 years, featuring a Grammy earned in 1984. By the time of his death in 1987, Chenier had brought zydeco to international attention.

Boozoo Chavis returned in the mid-1980s with a series of hits which helped ignite a zydeco revival that continues today. After the mid-1980s, both zydeco and Cajun music and dance burst into worldwide popularity.

Comparing contemporary Zydeco and Cajun music and dance.

The rubboard player often drives the energy of zydeco music by emphasizing strong, syncopated rhythms. Zydeco usually has no fiddle, and the music resonates with sounds from jazz, rhythm and blues, and more recently, hip hop. Cajun music, which usually has no rubboard, sounds closer to country music, often melodic and sweet. Cajun musicians tend to play two-steps and waltzes in alternation, whereas zydeco musicians play mostly two-steps, and few waltzes.

The distinctions between zydeco and Cajun music affect the dancing styles. Cajun jitterbug, with its many turns and unique broken-leg step, is smoother and more precise; but zydeco dancing is more soulful, as expressed through greater hip action. Small, crowded dance halls have kept zydeco dancers in place on the dance floor, rather than circling the room like Cajun dancers. Dancing in a tight space to the pulsing and syncopated zydeco beat promotes a bouncy, vertical style with few turns. In contrast, dancing around the room to melodic Cajun music encourages smooth, horizontal movements with more turns.

Dancing into the future.

When I danced in Richard’s Club near Lawtell, Louisiana in 1995, I noticed that older dancers danced zydeco more subtly. Younger folks danced zydeco more conspicuously, sometimes adding moves such as hip hop in the apart position, sometimes dropping their single held hand. One young couple gyrated with a flamboyant African style in the apart position. The hip hop variations spun off from the “New Zydeco” style, where they stepped on every beat and embellished with small kicks.

From Creole family dance halls in Southwest Louisiana, a two-step and a waltz evolved into the many styles of zydeco dancing found today across America. Traditional zydeco dancing is done subtly, smoothly and upright by couples in a closed position. But the “Boozoo Evolution” of the 1980s (named for Boozoo Chavis), made the dance bouncier, often open, bent-kneed, and lower to the ground. In the 1990s, the “Beau Jocque Revolution” added the flamboyant flavor of hip-hop. Zydeco dancing appears to be evolving from a couples dance towards individual free-style.

Just as the dancing styles change over time, zydeco (and Cajun) music continues to evolve as musicians tour the world and absorb new influences. This vibrant music will assuredly thrive as we dance in the new millennium.

— by Tom Dempsey, May 1996 — with books and link references updated on April 2012, below:

Recommended Cajun and Zydeco books and music:

Search for the latest “Louisiana travel books” on Amazon.com.

2003: 1999: 1999:

Other research used to write this article:
  • Rounder Records (buy on Amazon.com) (info on flyer for the 1995 “Red Hot Louisiana Music Tour”).
  • Tabasco home page: www.TABASCO.com
  • Cajun Music and Zydeco, photographs by Philip Gould with an introduction by Barry Ancelet (Louisiana State University Press, 1992). Dance-hall sights. The sounds can be savored in a Rounder compact disc with the same title.
  • “What Is A Creole: One Creole’s Perspective” by Herman Fuselier, Creole journalist from Opelousas, LA, 1995.
  • What Is Zydeco?” by Herman Fuselier, 1995.
  • “What Is A Cajun: One Cajun’s Perspective” by Shane K. Bernard, a Cajun historian of Cajun culture and regional music, 1995.
  • The Times-Picayune newspaper, September 9, 1995: “Steppin’ Out” by Katheryn Krotzer-Laborde. The author quotes zydeco dance teacher Diana Polizo-Schlesinger comparing zydeco and Cajun music and dance.
  • Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, 250 W. Park Avenue, Eunice, LA 70535. Telephone (318) 457-8499.
  • Charles Cravins, from Zydeco Extravaganza.
  • “Music: Hot Off the Bayou”, by Michael Walsh with reporting by David E. Thigpen, Time Magazine, May 8, 1995.