The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

New Mexico: Alien Egg Hatchery

New Mexico’s Bisti/De-Na-Zin is a confusing trackless wilderness, but in these days of GPS and downloadable maps, that’s not a big issue.

I saw lots of hoodoos, some petrified wood, many weird rocks.  But the main thing I was looking for was the “Cracked Eggs” aka the “Alien Egg Hatchery“.  This is an area with dozens of odd oval rocks, looking like weird alien eggs, some of which have hatched.  It’s quite cool.

I would like to have brought back an egg and tried to hatch it, but I think the park service would disapprove.

This was my first visit to the Hagia Sophia since it was converted from a  Museum back back into a Mosque in July 2020. It turns out the conversion wasn’t merely some kind of symbolic gesture, but a full conversion to a normal working mosque. (But tourists, both Muslim and others, are still very welcome.)

Like any other mosque, you take your shoes off before entering the now carpeted interior. Both men and women are allowed on the main floor, but the side areas are reserved for women.

One piece of good news is that the restoration scaffolding which had cluttered up the interior for decades is finally gone.  So it’s possible to fully appreciate the vast, uncluttered, interior space under the great dome.  It must have been truly awe inspiring to walk into this immense space in the 6th century, when it was both the greatest Church in Christendom and the largest enclosed space in the world.

The main church axis is slightly misaligned with the direction to Mecca, by roughly 15 degrees. As a result, in the Ottoman era the mihrab was placed off-center in the apse and as part of the new conversion the carpet design contains discreet alignment lines to help the faithful point themselves correctly. (At the moment there are also temporary stickers to mark out social distancing during prayer.)

Fortunately, the Omphalion, the coronation spot of the Emperors, has been left uncarpeted and is protected by guard ropes. So innocent tourists don’t have to worry about accidentally standing on it and committing High Treason. (Although it’s a while since anyone has actually been executed for this. Not even richly deserving small children.)
The Mary and Child mosaic over the apse seems to have been problematic. So, perhaps to avoid any impression that the faithful are praying “to” it, it has been carefully obscured with drapes. You can still see all of it if you move from side to side, but apparently it is sufficiently masked to satisfy religious sensibilities.  (Other religious mosaics on the ground floor have been left undisturbed.)

Right now the upper galleries, which contain some fine mosaics, are closed off for restoration. I hope they reopen soon.

A Botanical Road Trip

I’m on an all-electric road trip through California into Arizona and back. The trip has ended up having a distinctly botanical flavor, including visits to:

Joshua Tree Forest

Scotsman at Joshua Tree NP

Palm Canyon: Green palm trees in the desert

Tahquitz Canyon: 6 ft red barrel cactus

“The Worlds Largest Tree”

Desert Botanical Garden

Saguaro Forest, North of Phoenix

I’m doing an all-electric road trip across California into Arizona.

I’ve got delayed a little in Yuma, Arizona, at the Yuma Territorial Prison – apparently there was a problem with my paperwork when I bought my admission ticket. I’m sure it will all be fixed soon, but if someone could bake me a cake in the meantime that would be great.

The Yuma Territorial Prison operated from 1876-1909. It was relatively progressive for its day, with a library and even a prison band. But it had a fearsome reputation because of its two rows of granite high-security cells that became miserably hot in the Arizona summer.

High-Security Cell Block

Fellow Inmates

Yuma High School Wrestling Team


A few years after the prison was closed, the Yuma High School burned down and school classes were temporarily moved into the former prison while a new school was built.   This earned the school sports teams the sarcastic nickname “the Criminals”.  A name which they then seized as their own and still use today.



Iceland: Puffins!

I’m up near Borgarfjorour Eystri in North-East Iceland visiting puffins.

At Hafnarhólmi, visitors are allowed to walk right up to a puffin nesting area. There is a wooden walkway and a “hide” right in among the puffins.  There are many, many puffins!  They are slightly nervous of humans but only slightly.  Some nests are right beside the walkway.  You can easily get to within 2 meters of the puffins.

It was great fun to see the puffins close up.  But this is Iceland and today was a rainy day, so both I and the puffins got thoroughly soaked!

Update August 7th.  Back in Reykjavik I was enjoying the fine local cuisine, including the excellent Nói Síríus Icelandic Milk Chocolate.  But then Mike emailed me and asked if I had tried a cheese-and-puffin sandwich.  Well, no, but it did sound like a really great idea.  And all the ingredients were readily available…

Disclaimer: No puffins were harmed in the making of this post. All sandwich scenes were performed by daring stunt-puffin, Lundi Lundison, who was fishily rewarded.  And it was all Mike’s idea anyway.  🙂

Iceland: Geysir

The sleeping geyser Geysir

I’m in Iceland, travelling the Ring Road around the island.  I arrived this afternoon at the Hotel Geysir, which is in Geysir, a short walk from the geyser Geysir.

Geysir (from whom all other geysers are named) is taking a rest this decade, but his nearby buddy the geyser Strokkur is spouting regularly, every 5-8 minutes, up to about 15-20 meters. It’s good fun to watch!

I’m enjoying Iceland.  Right now the COVID-19 rate is extremely low, so everything is operating almost normally, with only minimal reminders of the need for social distancing.  It’s very pleasant to be able to do quaint old-fashioned things like sit down in a coffee shop and sip a mocha.  🙂

The very active geyser Strokkur