Eastern Morocco is mostly desert. That is a broad term, though, and most desert is not what you might think. The picturesque, sandy desert with dunes (like Erg Chebbi) is fairly rare. Your average Moroccan desert is a bleak expanse of blackish-brown gravel, like a half-finished road paving project.

Trees, when you see them, are mostly acacias. Driving around Morocco I would sometimes forget that we were technically in Africa, but seeing those acacias with their splayed branches and flat crowns made me want to bust out that song from The Lion King. You know the one.

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Back in July, we went to Kentucky for a long weekend. On the way down, we stopped into a zoo we hadn’t visited in almost ten years. We had last been to Cincinnati Zoo in 2010, when we went to visit my friend Andrew who lived there at the time. I remembered it being a beautiful place, very hilly and well-landscaped, with lots of old brick buildings. I’m happy to say that it was as lovely as I remembered, and even though it poured rain a good portion of our visit, we had a great time and took some good pictures.

Sleeping Red Panda, Cincinnati Zoo

Sleeping Red Panda, Cincinnati Zoo

The red panda exhibit was a lot like Detroit zoo’s, with the pandas on a little island surrounded by a ditch and a low fence. The pandas were up in the trees and very visible, especially this lazy fellow who just wanted to sleep.

Lemur Huddle

Lemur Huddle

Apparently, a group of lemurs is called a conspiracy. 😂 These guys looked like they were up to something. I really like these kinds of exhibits, where the animals are at eye level, high up on a rocky island surrounded by a moat.

Sunbittern

Sunbittern

The name “Sunbittern” is appealing on many levels. Just saying it makes me think of morning in some dappled jungle, sunlight streaming through the leaves and the scent of fruit and rain in the air. Also, “bittern” makes me think of “bitters”, so I picture a veranda and a pitcher of gin and tonics. None of this says anything about the bird or the zoo, so let me tell you that Cincinnati has a lovely walk-through jungle aviary and this guy lives there.

Fiona Smiles

Fiona Smiles

Fiona is, of course, the reason we came. She captivated the world (or maybe just the Midwest?) a few years ago, as the first prematurely-born hippo baby to ever survive in captivity. The zoo has really marketed the hell out of her, which is appropriate because she is adorable. You’ll be happy to know that you can buy a #TeamFiona t-shirt in the gift shop. It was raining like crazy when we came through Fiona’s exhibit and there was a crowd of people hiding under the roofed area in front of her. There was no roof over Fiona’s quarters and she seemed to alternate between stoic and annoyed. Resting her head on her mama’s back, she gave the crowd a wistful hippo smile.

Here are a few more pictures from Kasbah Leila, our desert hotel in the Erg Chebbi dunes of eastern Morocco.

Kasbah Leila Morning

Kasbah Leila Morning

We got up very early in the morning to take photos of the sunrise over the temporary lake at Kasbah Leila. Watching the sun set over the dunes is one of my best memories of Morocco, and standing here on a little rise between two lakes, with Kasbah Leila in the distance and Michelle by my side, is another.

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Back in February we flew to Newburgh, NY for a long weekend in the Hudson Valley. The weather was cold but the river and mountains were beautiful, and the small towns were charming.

Here are a few pictures from Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, a former railway bridge converted into a park and walking trail.

Poughkeepsie in the Morning
Downtown Poughkeepsie is full of sturdy, timeless brick buildings that glow beautifully in the morning sun.
Walkway Over the Hudson
High above the icy river at Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
Hudson River at Poughkeepsie
A mile or so downriver, the elegant Mid-Hudson bridge carries US Highway 44 and NY Highway 55 across to the town of Highland and the Shawangunk foothills beyond.

Four months later, the part of my Moroccan trip that I remember most vividly is the day and night we spent in the Sahara. We drove east from Tinghir, changed to a four-wheel drive at Rissani, and went south and east into the desert until we left the road behind. There was nothing all around us but horizon and sand.

Erg Chebbi
Erg Chebbi

And then, suddenly: dunes! They were enormous, literal mountains of sand. All around the base stood a ring of camp-hotels, hugging the dirt track. One of these, Kasbah Leila, would be our home for the night. The heat was stifling; it was a hundred degrees in the shade, and there was hardly any of that.

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