The Cristalino Towers

In Amazon Basin, most of the birding we did was with from trails in the forest or from boat and we we seeing birds that favored the riverside, ground, or understory. To see the birds that made a living in the forest canopy, we could spend a lot of time straining our necks and peering into the forest tangle to look at a far off bird butt, or we could climb the observation towers that put us up above the trees.

There are two 50 meter (165 feet) observation towers at Cristalino that allows you to see all the layers of the forest with many stopping points on the way up to the top.

IMG_3380Sunrise from the top of Tower One.

On the morning of July 5th we climbed the steep steps of Tower One, 165 feet to the very top platform which was high above the top of the forest canopy. We timed our climb to be in place before sunrise, not just for the stunning views but also to take advantage of optimal of bird activity in the canopy.


All eyes on deck as we pick through the large amount of birds working their way around  Tower One.

The idea was to be at the top of the tower to observe the avian activity while the sun was still low on the horizon and then move to the lower platform as the the morning heated up moving the bird activity below the canopy. This morning proved to be our most prolific in our short time in the Southern Amazon Basin. At times the bird activity was nonstop and we seemed to be surrounded by avian movement with lifers coming quick and fast!

Paradise Jackie

We got good looks at a paradise jacamar from Tower One.

B-G Barbet

A southern Amazon speciality, the black-girdled barbet. This sketch is of the male.

IMG_3504The paradise tanager is a truly stunning tanager amongst many stunning tropical tanagers to be found in the Amazon. At Tower One we finally got great looks at this canopy dweller.


The Transcontinental Railroad

Since visiting Promontory Summit, where the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met, thus completing the Transcontinental Railroad, I wanted to visit the location where the railroad started in California. So it was that I found myself on a Friday morning in “Old Town” Sacramento, on the banks of the Sacramento River.

A sign on the the side of the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot, notes, “You are standing where the First Transcontinental Railroad in America had its western origin, at Front and K Streets in Sacramento.” This location made sense because all of the materials used for the building was shipped up the Sacramento River from San Francisco and it was unloaded here. On January 8, 1863, then Governor and President of the Central Pacific, Leland Stanford, turned a shovelful of dirt, the official start of building the western leg of the Transcontinental Railway.

IMG_2777Just below this sign, is the birthplace of the Transcontinental Railway on the banks of the Sacramento River.

The other reason I found myself in Old Town was to visit the California State Railway Museum. The museum was opened in 1981 and I was there with my father to see SP’s No. 4449 and UP’s No. 8444 (now numbered 844) on the opening day. But today as these engines where back in Portland and Cheyenne and I was here to see a another very important steam engine: the Central Pacific’s No. 1 the Gov. Stanford.

This American type 4-4-0 was the first locomotive purchased by the Central Pacific at a cost of $13,688. The engine was built in Philadelphia in 1862 and then shipped on the Herald of there Morning around the horn of South America to California where it was reassembled in Sacramento. Stephan Ambrose notes of the 50,000 lb locomotive, in his book Nothing Like in the World, “the Governor Stanford [was] the biggest man-made thing in California”. This engine has many notable firsts for the Central Pacific: it hauled the first excursion train and the first passenger train on April 15, 1864 and the first freight train on March 25, 1864. It also took part in building the Transcontinental Railway with hauling supplies for the construction of the line over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The engine was slated to be scrapped in 1895 but it was saved and donated to Jane Lathrop Stanford, widow of Leland Stanford, in 1899 where it was put on display at Stanford University. It was later loaned to the California State Railway Museum where it is on display near where it first steamed to life on November 6, 1863, on the banks of the Sacramento.


Golden Spike

On my final morning I left my digs at West Yellowstone early in the morning, on my way to Salt Lake City for my flight home but I had one more stop before I headed west to the Golden State. This trip was bookended with our railroading history. One one end was the Union Pacific Steam stronghold and the largest steam engines that ever rode the rails and on the other end I was going to one of the most revered locations in United States railroading history.

I headed off the highway, north of the Great Salt Lake, to a destination that has been described as “45 minutes from nowhere”.  Here I was in high desert and the temperature was heading into the low 70’s, a heat I hadn’t felt all trip.

My destination was where the Transcontinental Railroad met and was completed in 1869, known today as the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This was where the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific finally united the country from coast to coast thus making overland travel by wagon a thing of the past.

I had only a limited time here because I had to return my Jeep and make my flight so I did not have time for any field sketches. I took plenty of photographs and my feature sketch is based on one of these photographs.

Golden Spike

A drawing based on the famous photograph by A. J. Russell “East and West Shaking Hands at Laying of Last Rail”, May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah.

Golden Spike Stanford

The Golden Spike at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Museum. The spike was a gift to Leland Stanford and lends its name to the National Historic Site. The sketch was drawn from life in Palo Alto, Ca.