Monthly Archives: February 2015

Kununurra, Purnululu, and Mirima



Ruth & I were back in Kununurra by 9 am and the diamond tour wasn’t until the next day.  We had time to go to Mirima National Park, which was only about a mile east of town.  The United States has 58 National Parks. Australia has more than 500.  There are almost 60 in Western Australia alone including Mirima, which was created in 1982 to both conserve the area and honor local Aboriginals, the Miriuwung.

The most unusual mountains in The Kimberley are called The Bungle Bungles.  They’re in Purnululu National Park 123 miles south of Kununurra.  Ruth & I thoroughly explored the Bungle Bungles when we visited The Kimberley the first time.  Probably the main reason why tourists go to Kununurra is to fly over the Bungle Bungles.  There are a number of packages available through companies like Slingair that can also include Lake Argyle, the Argyle Diamond Mine, etc, and use transportation combos including Cessna Caravans, Robinson R44 helicopters with the doors removed, etc.  These excursions vary in price and duration.

The formations in Mirima National Park, also called Hidden Valley, give it a nickname, the mini Bungle Bungles.  Lonely Planet mentions Mirima deep gorges and great views and recommends half a day to explore it.  We lasted less than 2 hours because, even though it was still morning, it was unbelievably hot.

There were 4 trails to follow.  Derbde-Gerring Banan, or Lookout Walk, took us up to the top of the Park for a spectacular view of the cultivated Ord Valley–chia, Borlotti Beans, Indian Sandalwood.  The trail was designated moderate to difficult, but it was definitely difficult that day due to the heat. A 2nd hike was a fairly level, lower altitude loop called “Looking at Plants”. It was fairly interesting to see what the Miriuwung consider food, medicine, etc.  The gap trail walk provided an overview of Kununurra through a big gap in the natural sandstone formations.  The 4th crossed woodland.  Some of the facilities in the Park had not been kept up and looked a bit derelict. There were places where people had partied and littered, etc.  I’d give Mirima 3 compasses.  The Bungle Bungles are unquestionably a 5.

The other tourist magnets in Kununura are a sandalwood factory, the Hoochery Distillery, and the Zebra Rock Gallery.  It’s pronounced zeb ra, rhyming with Debra, not zee bra, like the animal.  The locals favorite restaurant is The Pump House, where you can have a drink, watch crocs, and then dine among industrial-size irrigation pumps.    Kununurra, Western Australia, is definitely nothing like Kokomo, Indiana.


Berlin Blossoms


The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and came down in 1989.  The city was reunited.  Ruth & I visited Berlin in 2005.  It has been on my mind this week for 2 reasons.

Reason #1.  I happened to read about an early Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot) film called Foreign Affair that sounded intriguing.  We were lucky enough to find it at Portlandia’s Movie Madness.  Foreign Affair was fascinating.  As it begins, a team from Washington, DC in flying into post World War II Berlin to check on conditions.  On the team is Congresswoman Jean Arthur, who comes into hilarious conflict with Berliner Marlene Dietrich.  It was so funny and authentic that I watched it twice.  Wilder’s career began in Berlin in the 1920’s when he became a screenwriter.  He made many movies in Germany before emigrating to Hollywood in 1933.  As the credits of Foreign Affair roll, viewers learn that this movie was mostly shot in Berlin not too long after World War II ended.  There are many fascinating shots of the destroyed city below as the plane arrives in the opening scene.

Reason #2.  The March, 2015 issue of Travel & Leisure contains an article by Alexandra Marshall about Berlin.  It’s actually impossible to avoid articles about Berlin lately.  It’s a hot destination.  Called “Berlin Grows Up”, Alexandra’s article begins with a description of Berlin as a city of “rakish charms” that is now “Europe’s Bohemian Utopia”.

Ah, memories!  My most vivid one about our visit is pushing Ruth around the Jewish Museum in a wheelchair.  She had fallen in a museum in Vienna and seriously injured her wrist.  Despite the pain, Ruth was unstoppable. She insisted on going with me to see this outstanding museum, one of Europe’s best. We spent most of a day in this Daniel Libeskind masterpiece of a building that has 2 new additions since we were there.  It’s now an angular, zig-zag metallic snake with a glass courtyard and academy.  My most vivid memory of it is  its compellingly presented complete history of Jews in Europe.

Ruth also insisted on going with me on a bus to the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the Russian War Memorial, etc.  On my own I went to East Berlin and was startled to find, 16 years after reunification,   exploding affluence–luxury car dealers, specialized museums, upscale shopping centers, etc.; and I went to West Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie that exhibited the Berlin State Museum’s vast collection including Caravaggio, Raphael, Dürer, etc.

In 2005 I could clearly see Berlin’s potential to become a 21st century travel star.


Movies Made in Texas


As I predicted on January 26, Rosanne Cash won 3 Grammys for The River and The Thread. Emboldened, I’m now going to name the film that should win the Academy Award for Best Picture on February 22 and comment on where it was filmed, which is as important to me as how it was filmed.

Ruth & I saw 5 of the 8 nominated films and I hoped that Boyhood would win. Filmed over 12 years as Ellar Coltrane aged from 7 to 19, Boyhood was like no other movie ever made in addition to being great.  Boyhood was shot entirely in Texas, one of my favorite destinations, where movies have been made since The Immortal Alamo was released in 1911.

I believe that Texas has more interesting movie-set, small towns than any other state, and I’m planning a series on them.  I’ll write about my favorites-Bandera, Bastrop, Nacogdoches, etc.  I’ve already blogged about Alpine and Bryan.

This year Ruth & I visited Fredericksburg, which has been added to the list. Boyhood was filmed in Bastrop, Alpine, and San Marcos.  Some scenes were done in the Big Bend area where Ruth celebrated her birthday in 2012.  It was also shot on location in 2 big cities, Austin and Houston, and in Terlingua, which I mentioned in “Farm to Market Texas 170” written on January 2, 2013.

There are 2 main reasons why Ruth & I usually go to Texas in winter or spring.  One is better weather than we experience in the rainy Northwest. The 2nd is opportunity.   Texas is an inexhaustible source for travel writers.   Every year we leave things out or unfinished because we run out of time. This year we explored Dick’s Classic Garage, the Devil’s Rope Museum, and several attractions in San Antonio that have nothing to do with missions.

Boyhood was made in Texas because its director, Richard Linklater, makes a lot of his films there.  He was born in Houston and lives in Austin.   I’ve been a fan since I saw Slacker and Dazed and Confused, both filmed in Texas. One of his recent films, Bernie, is one of my all-time favorites; and I just learned that the subject of this weird story, Bernie Tiede, is living in Richard Linklater’s garage!



Germanic Minnesota


Writing about our 50 states, ADWEEK noted, “Pennsylvania has the largest population of German-Americans and is home to one of the group’s original settlements, Germantown in 1683.  The state has 3.5 million people claiming German ancestry — more than in Berlin.”  In a February 7, 2015, article, The Economist reported on the lesser known fact that German-Americans (49.8 million), not Irish-Americans (35.8 million), is the largest single ethnic group in the U.S.  I became aware of this when I visited Minnesota last summer.

The Economist focused on the many impressive businesses–Kohler, Boeing, Heinz, Steinway, etc.–created by German-Americans, who introduced hot dogs, sauerkraut, pretzels, etc. to American culture.  The Economist indirectly complimented their impressive work ethic by pointing out that the average yearly household income for German-Americans is $61,500, 18% above the national norm.  The article also mentioned New Ulm, the self-described “most German city in America” that I consider the Germanic U.S. capital.  66% of New Ulm’s residents claim German roots, the highest percentage of any American city of 5,000 or more.  New Ulm is very prosperous thanks to the presence of Kraft Foods, 3M, Parker Hannifin, etc.

Founded in 1854, New Ulm grew steadily until local men went off to fight in 1862 in the Civil War.  Left vulnerable, the settlement was besieged by native Americans provoked by broken promises and other issues.  The town was nearly destroyed and the U.S.-Dakota War erupted. During World War I New Ulm authorities refused to let young men join the draft and the National Guard was brought in.  Some 10,000 German-Americans were interned as enemy aliens during World War II.


The places that clearly show New Ulm’s German roots include Schonlau Park that contains a Glockenspiel/carillon clock with moving mechanical figures, the 1910 German Renaissance Post Office that is now a 3-floor museum full of local pride, and the August Schell Brewery (since 1860).  New Ulm’s social calendar is full of German-centered festivals like Bavarian Blast and Fasching, the German version of Mardi Gras.

I wanted to see New Ulm after visiting the State Capitol in St. Paul where I learned that Minnesota was the 1st state to send volunteers to fight for the North during the Civil War.  On a tour I visited the Capitol’s authentic German Rathskeller.  Its walls are decorated with more than 2 dozen German quotes like Evst schaff dein Sach’, Dann trink und lach, or First do your duty, then drink and laugh.

The next time I go and explore Germany in Minnesota, I’ll take Ruth with me.  She’ll love the German Christmas ornaments and Bavarian hats being sold in New Ulm’s Domeiers store, which, fortunate for me, doesn’t sell Argyle diamonds.



Pink Diamonds


Ruth will not be getting a pink diamond for Valentine’s Day.   However, she got to tour their source in The Kimberley because we just happened to be in Kununurra at the time of the year when a few tours happen.

The past.  The Ord River Dam was completed in 1972 and Lake Argyle began to fill behind it.  In 1979 a woman named Maureen Muggeridge discovered diamond samples in the floodplain of a small creek flowing into Lake Argyle.  She traced the source of the diamonds to the headwaters of Smoke Creek.  The Argyle pipe was discovered.  The mine that resulted, the most productive and probably remotest in the world, cost $465 million to build.

The present.  Reportedly, only 5% of diamonds mined at Argyle are of gem quality.  Diamonds come in all colors–blue, green, rosé.  Argyle is the world’s largest producer of colored diamonds.  Pink diamonds are exceedingly rare and far more valuable than the common clear white.  You can figure, roughly, $1 million per carat for top quality pinks.  A year’s Argyle production over 1/2 carat would fit into the palm of an average-sized hand.  The entire year’s pink production might fill a champagne class.  The Argyle Diamond Mine in East Kimberley that resulted from Maureen’s discovery supplies about 90% of the world’s pinks.  About 80% of its current output is champagne colored diamonds.  Pinks account for less than 1/10th of Argyle’s total production.

The future.  In 2020 the mostly played-out Argyle Diamond Mine will return to Aboriginal control.  What they will do with it is yet to be determined.  More on this later.

Experts don’t know why diamonds turn pink instead of brown, but I know that Ruth & I can’t afford to buy them.  Two stores in Kununurra sell Argyle diamonds.  While I was asking to see a blue one, Ruth was pricing pinks. Australian blues, the result of nickel or hydrogen level, were no longer available at the store we were in.  “We no longer carry them because people like you ask to see them but never buy,” the salesperson told me frankly but with a smile.   I went to see what Ruth was finding out.  She was lustfully looking at a pair of really tiny, perfectly matched pink diamonds that was available for the price of a loaded, new Honda CRV.   We walked out of the store without a diamond souvenir.