After years of working 70 hours a week at jobs I detested, I felt like the proverbial "hole in the donut" - solid on the outside, but empty on the inside. Searching for meaning in my life, I abandoned my successful but unsatisfying career and set out on a six-month solo backpacking trip around the world to pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography. My blog features stories about the destinations I visit, people I meet, the crazy things...Read more here....
Jagged chunks of crumbling slate threatened to turn my ankles as I made my way to a pillar marking the easternmost tip of Spain. Just a few miles away lay the artsy village of Cadaqués, but the vista that spread before me felt like the end of the world. Rocky fingers of land dipped into a cobalt Mediterranean rippled by blustery winds. Gusts climbed the high ridge upon which I stood and whipped my hair, stinging, into my eyes. Renegade clumps of coarse grass had managed to pierce the scree but offered precious little relief from the relentless gray of Cap de Creus Natural Park.
Natural coves formed by rocky peninsulas on the easternmost tip of Spain, in Cap de Creus Natural Park
I scanned the desolate landscape, thinking that this must be why the region was named Costa Brava. In Spanish, the word costa means coast. The word brava has several meanings, but in this case it is most often translated as wild or rugged. It is an apt description for this 400-million year old mountain chain comprised of mineral-rich metamorphic rocks that have been deformed, enfolded and sheared by geologic forces and plate tectonics, making for a spectacular landscape of exposed gneiss, schist, and slate. Continue reading →
My first glimpse of the monumental sculpture carved into the massive granite dome known as Stone Mountain was slightly disappointing. From the viewing platform the three sculpted figures of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the naked rock that thrusts 1,683 feet above sea level from an otherwise flat plain. I had expected the carving, often compared to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, to be bigger, more impressive. Then I stepped inside the museum at Stone Mountain Park and quickly discovered that first impressions can indeed be deceiving. The image of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground and is larger than a football field. Measuring 90 by 190 feet, the carving is a full thirty feet higher than Mount Rushmore and a six foot man can stand inside the mouth of General Lee’s horse! Even more surprising, for nearly half a century the attempt to create this memorial to the Confederacy was little more than a pipe dream.
Though from a distance it seems small, the Confederate Memorial Carving on the face of Stone Mountain is largest high-relief sculpture in the world
The project was first envisioned by Caroline Helen Jemison Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who in 1915 approached sculptor Gutzon Borglum to sculpt a 20-foot high bust of General Lee on the face of the mountain. Borglum, who would later become famous as the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, accepted the commission and immediately lobbied to expand the project, insisting that “…a twenty foot head of Lee on that mountainside would look like a postage stamp on a barn door.” Given my initial reaction, there is little doubt that Borglum was correct but his grandiose counter-proposal was for a project the size of which had never before been attempted: he envisioned a sculpture of seven central figures followed by “an army of thousands.” World War One delayed the onset of carving, but finally in 1923 Borglund was given $250,000 and allowed to start. Less than seven months later he unveiled the completed head of Lee on the General’s birthday, but the sculptor’s dictatorial attitudes were winning him no favor and by 1925 his contract had been cancelled over irreconcilable differences.
Enter sculptor number two, Augustus Lukeman, whose first action was to dynamite any evidence of Borglum’s work off the face of the mountain and begin anew. Three years later funds ran out during the Great Depression and once again the project was shelved – this time for 30 years, until the the State of Georgia purchased the mountain in 1958 and made it a state park. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA) was established and tasked with the responsibility for completing the sculpture and constructing a plaza at the base of Stone Mountain. Following an extensive selection process, SMMA selected Walter Hancock to finish the project and work began again in earnest in 1964.
Hancock, a renowned sculptor in his own right, referred to himself as the consultant on the carving and not the sculptor, explaining in a 1977 interview with Robert Brown, for the Archives of American Art: “Because the carving after all had been begun from a model by Augustus Ludeman, and it was clear that the only way that it could be carried out was to continue with Ludeman’s model. So I felt that I was simply a consultant and not the sculptor…”
Though Hancock used Lukeman’s models and sketches as a basis for his design, he felt that Lukeman’s partially finished sculpture had some enormous mistakes in proportion.
“It had a kind of fine monumental quality, but the heads of the figures were large enough to be those of six-year old boys, and they couldn’t have been made to look like dignified leaders of the Confederacy… Unfortunately, it had been carried so far that there was no going back. Davis’ head had been finished by Ludeman’s carvers and it had been finished very well. It is a very handsome piece of portraiture and carving. The Lee head was almost finished, the Jackson head not at all. I had to saw up the cast of Ludeman’s model, fill in the missing pieces, lengthen the arms, lengthen the torsos, lower the bodies of the horses in order to give the men enough room, enough presence to live up to their heads. This brought the horses down to below the line which had been cut by the original carvers. There were deep channels cutting right through what we would have liked to have as the material for the large horse and their legs. So, it was clear that the legs of the horses could never be carved.” (sic)
The modifications were accomplished via “patching,” which became one of the greatest challenges of the entire project. The host of professional quarrymen who had been hired to do the day-to-day carving cut giant blocks of granite from the side of the mountain, built train tracks from the quarry site to the carving site, loaded the giant blocks and transported them by rail. The blocks were then lifted into place and secured with five-foot long steel pins and mortar, following which the “plug” was carved to match the rest of the figure. A large block used to augment Lee’s chest weighed four and a half tons, while two smaller blocks were used to beef up his elbow and forearm. Additional patches were also added to one of the horse’s heads, Jackson’s beard and collar, and to Davis’ hat. Continue reading →
After a week in 9,350-foot high Quito I was no longer huffing and puffing as I trekked up and down the city’s ubiquitous hills, so I was totally unconcerned about altitude as I headed for the central highlands of Ecuador, home to spectacular volcanoes and some of the best hiking in the country. The dust-caked brakes of my rickety bus squealed to a halt in the center of Chugchilan, where indigenous Quichua had gathered in droves to celebrate Dia de Difuntos (Day of the Deceased). Anxious to photograph the event, I double-timed up the hill to Hostal Cloud Forest, dumped my luggage and headed back out, surprised that I was breathing heavily after such a short distance.
Iliniza Bus delivered me to Chugchilan
Though I had observed Quichua women in their distinctive bowler hats in Quito, this was my first opportunity to mingle with the indigenous population. My initial excitement quickly faded when my repeated requests to take photos were rebuffed with shakes of the head and turned backs. Crowds parted like the Red Sea as I walked down the main street and my smile was met with suspicious looks. Stone-faced vendors sold me snacks without so much as a thank you.
Locals in Chugchilan eye me with suspicion
Young Quichua girls in traditional dress in Chugchilan's central plaza
As the late afternoon light faded to twilight and temperatures dropped to bone-chilling levels, I finally convinced two beautiful young Quichua girls in the main plaza to pose for a photo before fleeing back to the warmth of the hostel’s wood-burning stove. When my shivering subsided I nosed around the facilities. The dining room was furnished with rough wooden tables and benches and a cavernous below-ground common area room held only a lone computer and three plastic lawn chairs. With no comfortable place to relax I retreated to my unheated room after a tasteless dinner, hoping to catch upon email, only to discover that the Internet was not working. I tried to write but my frigid fingers fumbled on the keyboard and when my throat grew raw from the cold I stood under a scalding hot shower and jumped under a mound of woolen blankets, hoping to ward off the sinus infection that threatened.
Early the next morning I threw open the curtains to brilliant sunshine that rapidly warmed up my room. Anxious to investigate the area, I teamed up with two backpackers from France and Australia for a trek to a cheese factory located in a tiny village, high in the surrounding mountains. The hostel owner drew a crude map on a scrap of paper and assured us the round-trip hike would take about four hours, so we headed out early in order to avoid the fog that rolls in every afternoon.
Church and Plaza Principal in Chugchilan, Ecuador
Just past the church we turned right on a dirt road that climbed steeply and within minutes I was gasping. On the pretense of oohing and aahing over a baby sheep staked to a patch of grassy hillside, I stopped to regain my breath. “How high do you thing we are?” I asked Jerome. He whipped out his altimeter. “We are almost at ze 11,000 feetz,” he declared in his delightful French accent. My brow wrinkled; this was the highest I had been so far in Ecuador. Still, I hadn’t felt any major effects in Quito so I pressed on, grateful that my two young companions were happy to let me rest every so often. Continue reading →