Photos Galápagos—Isla San Cristóbal San Cristóbal is known for its huge colony of sea lions. Our most memorable encounter happened on our first day, while snorkeling in a lagoon known as Tijeretas. We floated a few feet away and shared the joy and love of this playful pair as they twisted and rolled and encircled each other.Even in town, sea lions are everywhere—every step of this stairway up from the harbor has an occupant. At night, hundreds of sea lions crowd the beaches in town, barking and braying, nursing pups, snuggling and battling as they cover every inch of sand in a living blanket of mammals.Kicker Rock, aka León Dormido (sleeping lion), rises 500 feet up and many hundreds of feet down. We snorkeled through the small channel, where shadowy hammerhead sharks patrolled the depths below us, and around the cliff, where fish darted away from a hunting sea lion.Near the end of a “360 Tour” around the island by boat, Rachel spotted a pod of dolphins, calling out “delfines!” to the passengers and crew. The captain quickly spun the boat around, creating a wake that a dozen or so dolphins began to leap out of, surf on, and play in. Blue-footed boobies are iconic in Galapagos. They can be found elsewhere in South America, but rarely as up-close as here. This one was on a cliff we hiked to from town, where red- and blue-footed boobies were nesting, fishing, and fighting off other birds when they came too close.There are many species of tropical fish, but these parrotfish seem to be having the best time. Or are they laughing at the clumsy giant that needs to float near the surface and breathe through a tube?There are so many unusual creatures in Galapagos that it’s possible to overlook the littlest ones, yet they can be equally amazing. Barnacles like this are small animals that come in seemingly infinite varieties. Darwin himself tried to categorize and classify them for seven years! Galápagos—Isla Isabela The beach is the focus in the ultra-relaxed, nature-appreciating town of Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela. We were feet-in-the-sand nearly all the time, with small bamboo-roof bars and restaurants like this one lining the beach near town, and a mile-long stretch of white sand, teal water, waves gentle enough for beginning surfers, and gorgeous sunsets.You’ll see more marine iguanas than people on this beach, though they blend in nicely with the rocks. They often hang out in tight groups, even lying on top of each other, but not playfully like sea lions. “Resting iguana face” would not be a compliment. One of our favorite outings on Isabela was to Los Tuneles, a marine landscape where multiple tunnels have been carved out of the sharp volcanic rocks. It’s shallow and protected, so it’s filled with marine life and interesting rock formations, perfect for snorkeling. It can get crowded with people, unfortunately, but still well worth the boat ride there.Swimming sea turtles like this sun-dappled Hawkbill are among the most peaceful sights you can experience, as they glide effortlessly, slowly, and without malice or fear. We saw dozens of various shapes, sizes, and species at Los Tuneles. Two of the more exotic sights at Los Tuneles: a spiny lobster battling a moray eel and a nest of sleeping white-tipped sharks. We saw white-tips swimming as well — they can be 4-5 feet long but did not seem especially interested in us!The famed Galapagos penguins, which have adapted to the non-polar climate, are harder to find near land at this time of year when the water is warmest. But we did see one on the rocks while kayaking at Las Tintoreras and one fleeting underwater glimpse at Bartolome Island (technically part of the Santa Cruz portion of our trip but these are the only two sightings we had!).Isabela was formed by six volcanoes. This one, called Sierra Negra, is closest to town and last erupted in 2018. This photo shows the black rocks from the 2005 eruption bordering the red rocks of an earlier one. Sierra Negra has one of the largest calderas in the world, at 6×10 miles wide, as well as a vast expanse of moonscape-like rocks and multiple conical fissures and vents that also spew lava. Galápagos—Isla Santa Cruz We first saw giant tortoises at the Darwin Center in Puerto Ayora, but our best sightings were in the highlands at El Chato Ranch, a tortoise sanctuary, where this one gave us a wary eye and we saw another 550-pound male try to mount a smaller and less-than-enthusiastic female (who escaped).The water here is Caribbean teal and warm for swimming. The beaches have the finest, softest sand, sharp volcanic rock, and legions of red Sally Lightfoot crabs. The power of the sun is like a weight, but breezes are near-constant at the shore, and the highlands often attract clouds and rain.Sea lions are everywhere, from the ferry dock near the airport to the crystal blue waters. They play, they fish, and they sleep on piers, anchored boats, and park benches. We even saw one that appeared to be aqua-dancing to the music of a pier-side Carnaval fiesta.Did I say sea lions are everywhere? Look closely by the table of this harbor fish market in Puerto Ayora, where the daily catch of small-boat fisherman attracts local people (and hopeful animals) as well as tourists.Marine iguanas are also everywhere, from beaches to coastal hiking paths to restaurant decks. They swim like snakes, tucking their limbs next to their bodies, sleep flat on their bellies with legs splayed, and walk on clawed feet, swaggering side-to-side and dragging their tails through the sand.A short boat ride away from Santa Cruz is North Seymour Island, home to the famous blue-footed boobies (left and center) and frigate birds that inflate their red throat pouches to attract mates (right), as well as big yellow land iguanas. Notice the boobie on its nest is sitting on two eggs (center).This iconic view of Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island, a two-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz, shows the volcanic rock that built the islands. Galapagos were never attached to any mainland, but sprung up from undersea volcanoes and fissures.As unforgettable as seeing sea turtles swim under your kayak was snorkeling with huge schools of tropical fish like these blue surgeonfish at North Seymour and Bartolomé, where we also encountered a spotted eagle ray, a sea turtle, and, for one fleeting second, a small Galapagos penguin. Feliz Navidad from Cuenca The iconic, blue New Cathedral domes are always lit at night, but in December the adjacent Spanish colonial courtyard includes this angel and a créche.Some parks have Christmas fairs for families where the leafy trees are decorated for daytime festivities, but not lit at night.The little tiendas (shops) sell anything red and green this time of year—in addition to Santa hats, there’s Spiderman, Little Mermaid, and Mickey Mouse.In a place where the temperatures almost never leave the 50-80 degree comfort zone, it can be surprising to see a snowman!Cuencans do not go overboard with Christmas lights and decorations, but those they have, like these in a courtyard in Old Cuenca, are beautiful at night.Of course, not all Christmas decorations are sacred, just like in the U.S. Apparently red negligees and PJs are also part of the festivities!In Spanish, the “h” is silent, so there’s a different spelling for Santa’s laugh on this display in our language school.Firecrackers are common at Christmas here, and on New Year’s Eve, these monigotes (effigies) will be burned, exploded, or cracked open like piñatas to destroy the bad things from last year and make room for the good.Unfortunately, we did not take this picture. Covid precautions canceled this year’s Pase del Niño parade, or Passing of the Child, which is one of the biggest events of the year in Cuenca. We’ve read that it starts at 10am on Christmas Eve and continues for hours, mixing a traditional celebration of baby Jesus’ journey with modern twists like the Three Wise Men on Harleys! New Mexico Gallery Prickly pear cacti (see the reddish-brown buds?) were everywhere in NM, including this hike in the Sandia Mountains!The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has a better representation of native history and culture, but Old Town Albuquerque features a classic Spanish colonial plaza, adobe architecture, and shops for tourists and locals.And then there’s the off-beat side of Western culture….As usual, we went for some great hikes and saw some amazing views, this one in the Sandia Mountains to the east of Albuquerque.Al’s mom, making her first trip to Albuquerque at age 90, got to see the Rio Grande along the Bosque (a tree-lined walking and biking path). Old Route 66, with its retro-style motels and diners, famously passes through Albuquerque on its way across the U.S. West.Proof that aliens visited the Petroglyph National Monument? See the spaceship on the right and creatures with antennae on the left? Hmm…On Albuquerque’s outskirts lie three “volcanoes,” which we learned are the result of fissure eruptions along a 5-mile crack in the Earth’s crust 150,000 years ago. We were chased by aggressive tumbleweeds here, so watch out!The local food and craft brewery scene is hopping in Albuquerque, and we sampled everything from blue corn waffles to lengua (tongue) tacos to these paletas, like popsicles made with fresh fruit, berries, caramel, and cream.Finally we want to thank ALL of our amazing hosts over the past 5-6 weeks as we traveled New England and the West. You have shown us your worlds and shared your lives, your homes, your food… We are so grateful for your friendship and hope we can host you sometime in Maine or wherever we are! Colorado Gallery Dinosaur National Monument straddles Utah and Colorado. Across the border in CO, new snow prevented further exploration, but it sure was beautiful!And once we got to Steamboat Springs, the snow began to pile up! This is hiking on Hahn’s Peak—after rounding this bend, we were turned back by winter winds whipping across the summit.But we sure got a great view of Steamboat Lake and Sand Mountain!Despite the snow, it was still fall in Steamboat, which was named for its sulphuric hot springs—French trappers thought they sounded like the chugging of a steam engine.Bare aspens also lined the trails on nearby Emerald Mountain, with the Sleeping Giant resting in the distance.Atop the 70m ski jump on Howelsen Hill, where future Olympians train. Not for the faint of heart or those with fear of heights!The great plains end at the Rockies in Denver, and so did our visit to Colorado.But first, we enjoyed playtime at a family reunion for kids from 2 to 90!Rocky Mountain sunset in Denver. Next: New Mexico! Utah Gallery Who knew there were bison in Salt Lake City? (Actually on Antelope Island, a huge reserve in the Salt Lake.)Unfortunately, climate change and drought have reduced the Great Salt Lake dramatically, as this former marina attests. It would be tough to launch a boat from here!We saw some incredible vistas in the Moab region—this one is at Dead Horse Point State Park.Here’s what Rachel was looking at, where the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon-like carving was on brilliant display.“Why do they call the park Arches?” (Actual quote heard while hiking among some of the 2,000 rock arches in the park.) We saw a fair number of them over 8 hours of hiking! It seemed like every day we had another incredible view for lunchtime, this one overlooking Canyons and Park City ski areas topped by early season snow with late fall foliage all around.Dinosaur National Monument has preserved a hillside where thousands of dinosaur bones were unearthed, now partially or fully exposed, like this sauropod femur (Rachel is pointing to her thigh bone for size comparison).Dinosaur park also has preserved petroglyphs made by the Fremont people around a thousand years ago. And other parts of this huge park feature landscapes more than 150 million years old!In Arches and Dinosaur, we scaled several smooth, steep rock faces like this one — some were a bit scary but sure got the adrenaline pumping! Oregon Gallery Never expected to find so much red foliage in Oregon. Of course, it’s not all across the hillsides as it is in New England, but these red bushes contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and first snow of the season on Mount Hood.The Oregon coast has sandy beaches, jagged rocks, and pounding surf. This is Spouting Horn, where waves shoot up through a hole in the volcanic rocks.The coast also features hikes through massive old-growth pines that can be six feet in diameter and are far enough apart to let sunlight through.On the McKenzie River, waterfalls are plentiful, thunderous, and idyllic, like this one on the Koosah Falls-Sahalie Falls loop trail.We ended our Oregon stay in Bend, which has an endless number of amazing hikes near the mountains seen here known as Broken Top and the Three Sisters. Jagged mountains and hardscrabble volcanic landscape reached through ponderosa pine forests.All that hiking made us dog-tired—but only Koozie and Pekoe got to sleep on the ride home.And hiking made us thirsty too! Fortunately Oregon has a thriving brewery scene. Even Olive was happy! #wheresoliveduck Summer Gallery The lake isn’t always this calm, but when it is, paddling a kayak is smooth and silky. And paddlers get double the view with what’s above reflected below.We were privileged to meet this fluffy furball less than a day after its birth on the farm where we buy duck eggs. Miniature donkeys are able to walk as soon as they’re born — after more than a year of gestation.When the cold north wind blows steady and hard across the lake, we seek refuge in places like this, a calm swimming hole sheltered from the wind.This photo just makes us laugh. At nearby Turning Page Farm and Brewery, you can get delicious beer ‘n’ brats and hang out with goats. What a combination! This curious fella, known as #4, was our favorite.We haven’t had much rain this summer, unlike the rest of the East Coast. Somehow it has just passed us by, even when it’s raining 15 miles away. The result is the lowest water level in the lake I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that these ramps were built to extend out over the water and we used to pull a boat into this dock!And then we did get rain! A day after the previous photo, it rained for 36 hours. This photo was taken two days after the previous one, once the rain had stopped. The fish and loons are happy I’m sure!Retirement isn’t all lounging around! We had plenty of physical labor to get the cabin in shape. It’s very satisfying when the job is done. And Rachel did plenty too! She was just better at taking pictures of our progress.