Plummer/Strasser Newsletter for 2007 (long version)

Note: We did not send out a 2006 Newsletter. We almost finished it before 2007 began. An unpolished version is on the web at
Photos are at

Trip to Yucatan and Riviera Maya

Early in January we (Beth, Dusty and I) spent the night at the Sacramento airport hotel to avoid a very early drive to catch a flight. I hit my toe on a suitcase getting up in the dark. Felt a slight strain at ankle, but no big deal. Our departure for Phoenix was delayed 50 minutes. At Phoenix, we had to walk far and fast to make our flight to Cancun, getting to the plane 5 minutes before departure.
In our rental car, we drove south to the Mayan Resorts where we stayed at our time-share in the Grand Mayan.
That night my ankle began hurting. By 6 a.m. I had to get up to relieve the pain. I hobbled to delicious brunch accompanied by a hard sell by the company for time sharing. Went to the resort's doctor who determined that I had an inflamed ligament and muscles extending from my metacarpal up my leg (caused by the death march in the Phoenix airport). He wraps it and writes a prescription. I pay $60 in cash. (Kaiser, my HMO, later reimbursed me despite a dubious looking receipt.) During the next few days we mainly hung out on the beach or the adjoining swimming pool complex. One day we went to Xcaret–a kind of semi-natural, tropical Disneyland featuring a river flowing through caves and over waterfalls to a lagoon with dolphins. Beth and Dustin floated in the stream through a complex of caves and sinkholes in this karst terrain, but got out before reaching the lagoon because the water was too cold. In the evening we went to a dinner in an indoor arena followed by a spectacular, Mayan-based show. Another day we drove down to the seaside, Mayan ruins at Tolum. Afterwards, we drove to Akumal, where Beth and I had a great holiday in 2000 (preDustin). Here, we snorkeled among tropical fish in a lagoon that had flooded a maze of stream channels in limestone.Pools at Grand Mayan, ocean in background.

Lagoon at Xcaret. People swimming with dolphins

Tolum, Mayan ruins

Bellingham and Columbia Plateau, Washington
On May 3rd , I flew to Seattle and rented a car, which I drove to Bellingham. Didn't quite beat the rush hour traffic. Barely made the tail end of the welcoming party in time to quaff a couple free, locally brewed ales. This was the start of the Geological Society of America, Cordilleran Section meeting, hosted by Western Washington University. I stayed with Scott Babcock and family. Scott was a contemporary of mine in graduate school at UW; also a colleague in Antarctic research. During the next 3 days, I mainly attended technical sessions. Each day, late in the afternoon, kegs of ale from Boundary Bay Brewery were rolled out. No charge. A nice touch for meetings. On the 2nd night, several who were at UW together gathered for beer and reminiscing at Scott's. Carlo Giovanela drove from Canada and Ian Lange came over from the San Juan Islands. During the last day of the sessions on wine terroir for Washington and Oregon. The session culminated with wine tasting to compare wine grown under different geologic conditions.

Scott was a co-leader of the field trip to the Columbia Plateau where we would look at the flood basalts which built up the plateau and the effects of giant floods during the Ice Age, which carved up the plateau. East of Seattle we picked up Ross Fox, M.D., a 93 year old fat reducing surgeon, known throughout WA from his TV ads for his chain of fat removal clinics. Ross is a geology fanatic. Our first geologic stop on the plateau was at a Ginko Petrified Forest State Park. We were joined by Bruce Bjornstad, our co-leader, who wrote a book on the floods. We saw giant ripple marks and other feature created by the mega floods. We finished the day at a hotel in Richland, WA. Cindy Shaw, a free-lance artist who lives in Richland and does artwork for my textbook, generously had the entire group (around 20) at her house for dinner. The 2nd day, we visited more gian ripple marks and erosional features in th channeled scablands. Lunch at Palouse Falls State Park, overlooking the lovely falls.Palouse Falls
In the evening, the group went to an upscale restaurant for wine tasting, appetizers and a salmon dinner. In the morning of the 3rd day, we saw an interesting landslide caused by over-irrigation on the top of a short plateau. After lunch, we headed back to Bellingham. Our route took us over the Cascades through Stevens Pass. We went through an edge of my doctoral dissertation field area, the Chiwaukum Mountains, east of the pass and Mt. Index, my M.S. field area, on the western slope of the Cascades. Back to Sacramento the next day.

Mt. Index

Europe & the 200th anniversary of the Strasser family farm
On July 22, we drove to San Francisco airport (SFO) and boarded a Boeing 777 for a long flight to Frankfurt. We had the luxury of business class, thanks to our United frequent flier miles. Besides good food and ample drink we had near-horizontal reclining seats for sleeping. After a layover spent in Lufthansa's business class lounge we flew to Munich in some of the worst turbulence I have see. Only in the last minutes of the flight did it settle enough so that we could be served food and drink that had to be quickly devoured before landing. After getting our bags, we walked to the railroad tracks. Dustin discovered he had left his Teddy on the plane. Tears and anguish. He and Beth walked back to the air terminal but came back empty handed. Calls to the lost and found over the next few days were fruitless. Took the train into Munich and walked to our hotel near the Hauptbanhof. Jet lag and a hot room kept us awake late into the night. Great breakfast buffet with huge variety of dishes. We took a subway to the justly famous Deutches Museum. A highlight is the lengthy and realistic underground mine walk. For supper, we walked to Alt Stad and ate at the Ratskeller in the Neues Rathouse, a gothic building.


The next day, we took the train to Garmish-Partenkirchen in the Alps. From our hotel there, we wandered around and rented a car to be delivered the next day. Ate supper at a nice German restaurant. I had hirsch endelgoulasch (poacher's style venison stew).Garmisch, Bavarian Alps

We all had a good night's sleep. After another big breakfast buffet, our car was delivered. It was a smallish Mercedes diesel. We drove on a road that weaved in and out of Austria. Beautiful, soaring mountains and deep green, glacially-carved valleys. We eventually got to Hohenschwangau and joined the crowds visiting King Ludwig's castles. We made reservations for tours of the two castles. The first tour was of the smaller, but interesting, castle, where King Ludwig II was raised. The second was one of several castles that Ludwig had built when he became King. This is the one that was the inspiration for the Magic Castle at Disneyland. We retraced our route back to Garmisch and continued driving to Linderhof, another of Ludwig's castles. We were too late for a tour so we wandered through the gardens. Mad Ludwig's Castle & limestone in Alps

Almost overslept the next morning (July, 27), but managed to get the rental car key to the front desk by 8:00. After another big breakfast, we took the train back to Munich. There, we checked back in to our previous hotel. Dustin was treated to a Burger King lunch at the Hauptbanhof. We took a tram to Schloss Nymphenberg, a sprawling castle. Returned to hotel. Dustin, who had been complaining now had a fever. Beth stayed with him in hotel and I wandered into Alt Stadt looking for a restaurant that had been recommended. I didn't find it but found a place with benches filled with people and smoke. An entire section of the menu was devoted to chanterelle mushroom dishes. (I had noticed that the produce stands had large quantities of chanterelles for sale.) I order one with beef in a sauce. It was strips of meat in a gravy with a huge amount of chanterelles. Unfortunately, the gravy masked the mushroom's taste.
After breakfast the next day, we checked out of hotel. D's fever gone. We took a crowded train for a 40 minute trip to Landshut. We had prepaid for an Avis rental car, but we found out that the Avis office was 1.4 Km from the station. A man working for the rental company that was at the station volunteered to drive us to Avis. He did and he cheerfully refused to take any money from us. We got a small Mercedes gasoline-powered car with a GPS unit in it. A woman spent a long time getting the GPS to speak English and programed for our destination. It led us not to our hotel but to the Strasser farm, then the hotel. The hotel was a nice, country inn. Some of Beth's brothers were already there. In the afternoon, We and some of the brothers' families drove to the Strasser farm and met Georg Strasser and family. After awhile .wiesse beer, cakes, nuts, ice cream were brought out We had informal tours of the farm, gardens, cemetery, and deer enclosure. Around 6:00, Georg led our rental car fleet to Vilsbiburg, a nearby town having a street festival. The streets were packed with people, tables, benches, stands and bands. Several bands were playing at once. Rock bands playing American music. An oompa band playing German and South American music. Waiters and waiteresses each carried many liter beer steins. We squeezed into a table and had steins of beer along with "meter-long" wursts in buns. We returned to hotel following a brother's car but became lost on the way.
July 29. In the morning, we Americans went on a tour of the nearby farm museum. The 200th anniversary celebration of the Strasser farm began at 1 pm. Lunch of various sausages, etc. The first keg was tapped. A group of shoe-slapping Bavarian dancers performed throughout the afternoon.

Strasser farm. Georg Strasser (in knee length lederhosen) talking to Pete Strasser

German and American Strassers

Bavarian dancers gather in courtyard

Shoe slapping dancers (overesposed and partially restored with Photoshop.) Clicks on the photo to see a 12 second video.

Memorial in the small church adjacent to farm. Local soldiers killed in WW I and II.

Cakes, coffee (& beer). Gracious speeches in German and English. An afternoon thunderstorm tapered off around 6 pm. Supper was a huge spread of cold foods. A German blues band played well into the night–mostly American tunes. Neighbors, friends and the American Strassers danced and drank beer.

Steve Strasser at the supper buffet

July 30. Around 10:00, we Americans, in 4 rental cars went to the farm, took pictures and said our goodbyes. We convoyed into Landshup. The lead brother turned into a one-way street and the rest of us followed. Getting out of this mess was dicey. We parked and walked into the Altstadt. Then we took the steep hike to the castle overlooking the city. We took the tour in German as the only way to get inside the castle. Had a beer with the brothers and families then returned the car to Avis. We were picked up by Alois. We had been graciously invited to stay with him and wife Anne. They are part of the German Strasser clan. Their twin sons, Jakob and Paul played fussbol with Dustin. We had a delicious Bavarian lasagna for supper. After supper we all took a walk to see sculptures by Kuening (sp?) in a field.
To Budapest. We were up by 5 am. Alois made coffee and drove us to the train station. We got on the 0609 train, destination Salzburg. The train driver tried to tell us something but spoke no English. Fortunately, the only other passenger boarded and translated: This train would not be going to Salzburg today, we would have to transfer in Muhldorf. Who knows where we would have ended up without this vital information. We got off at Muhldorf and were on another train in half an hour. We crossed into Austria and got off in Salsburg. With 2 hours to kill, we wandered toward the Inn river. We walked through the Marial Castle's numerous flower gardens full of groups of tourists. Boarded our train sitting in prereserved 1st class seats. Train departed at 11:00. We arrived at Budapest East Station around 5 pm. Bought transit passes for 3 days. Took a combination of bus and subway to the Parliament district and walked to our hotel The escalators in the subway are very steep and very fast. Our 4 star hotel had a new and very modern interior–high in design but weak in function. The translucent bathroom door had a rectangular opening between it and the door frame--not conducive to privacy. The shower screen for half of the bathtub didn't quite reach the bathtub rim, so a shower was guaranteed to flood the floor. After breakfast the next morning (August 1), we took the bus tour of the city with on and off privileges. We got off on the edge of the hilly, Castle District overlooking the Danube.

Fountain in the Castle District

In the afternoon we went into the Labyrinth beneath Buda Castle. It was billed as "a 1200 meter cave system deep inside Castle Hill." Turns out to be a basement/dungeon system. Different alcoves in the labyrinth had different themes. In one, a spigot and fountain circulate stale red wine.

Inside the Labyrinth

We exited below the walls of the castle onto a side street. I miscalculated our position and we did a lot of walking before getting back to where we were around lunch time. We stopped for a drink before taking the steep walk down to where the tour bus left us off. (Beth ordered a martini that turned out to be mostly white vermouth with a wedge of lemon.) The bus arrived at 6:45, the last of the day. The bus tour continued by going up the other big hill on the Buda side of the river. The hill is capped by the Monument to Liberation, erected by the Soviets. We crossed the river to the Pest side of Budapest where the tour ended for the day. However, the driver drove us to Parliament in the empty bus. From our hotel, we walked and took streetcars to a bustling restaurant district where we dined at a place called "Mensa." Dusty fell asleep at the table. The next day, after our now routine big breakfast, we took trams and metro around the city. First to the big covered market.

Ice cream stand near the market

Then to Heroes' Square. We walked to the castle in the adjoining park. We had a picnic in the park using Beth's leftover chicken supper and bread from breakfast. There are 8 bath houses in the city, some dating back to the Roman Empire. Water comes from hot springs. We went to one with magnificent old buildings. Paid for admission, towel and changing room rental (we brought our bathing suits). A lot of people around the pools. We went into a hot pool, then a large, cool pool, then a fun pool in which water jets under people for a while. This stopped and a swift current developed which quickly circulated swimmers in a circle.

Poster showing water circle

For supper, Dusty had a Burger King before we went to a small Hungarian restaurant where I had a veal goulash stew. D slept through our meal.

To Prague. After our usual breakfast, I settled our prepaid bill. This amounted to paying for a candy bar that Dusty had snuck a bite into--we found it in the mini-bar. We took a taxi to the train station. While boarding the train, we were accosted by two men who insisted on finding our seats and carrying our bags the few meters into the train. I protested, but they did it anyway. I gave them my loose Hungarian currency (almost nothing).They wanted more, saying euros were acceptable. We shooed them away. Beth had a long conversation (in English) with a German businessman sharing our 1st class compartment. He was returning from Russia . We discovered from our tickets that the train leaving Vienna for Prague was not from the same station we would arrive in, another detail that our travel agent had failed to point out. We exited the station (Oestbanhof) and hauled our bags onto a streetcar which we took to the other station (Sudbanhof). We had tinges of regrets for not spending more time in Vienna. Both of us had spend time there and wanted to see new places. But Beth's mother was born and raised in Vienna, having a happy and privileged life as a Catholic Jew until the Nazis came along. She fled to the United States and ended up marrying the American whose German ancestors we had just visited. We were the only passengers in the 1st class on the train to Prague. We arrived around 7:45 pm and took the metro to where we could roll our bags to our hotel. We dined at a Czech place filled with people and smoke. We sat on benches at a table with strangers. Dark beer and glasses of a herbaceous liquor were bought without ordering. An accordianist got the crowd singing and cheering.

The Dancing Buildings, better known as "Fred and Ginger." Near our hotel.

The shower the next morning (August 4) was a challenge. The shower head slid vertically on a rod only about 4 feet high and there was no shower curtain. After breakfast, we walked to Wenceslaus Square and visited the National Museum. Most of the afternoon was spent on cell phones coordinating plans with Beth's brothers and families who drove rental cars from Germany and were staying at different hotels. In the evening, we walked downtown to the Charles Bridge then to the heart of old town. Huge crowds of locals and tourists. We watched the apostles go around at the Astronomical Clock Tower as it struck 7. We met the other Strasser families and had supper at a nice, open-air restaurant. August 5. Although we were up early for breakfast, we didn't get downtown until the noon show at the Clock Tower. Once again, many cell calls were made to coordinate a meeting of the clan at the Charles Bridge.

On the Charles Bridge, looking at the castle & cathedral

Dusty in the castle complex' toture chamber

We crossed the bridge and settled on a lunch spot that had cut-rate beer. We took a tram up the hill capped by a castle and church complex. After touring the St. Vitus Church, we searched for entrances to the castle. We descended a path through terraced gardens. A toll both was strategically place halfway down. We paid, rather than go back up. It was 6 pm now. Beth got a call from a brother saying they were going on a dinner cruise. They were 2 bridges away. I opted out while Beth and Dusty went to meet them. I walked to hotel and ate at a colorful looking restaurant which had excellent Czech food. On 6 August we went downtown to "New" Prague searching for Jubilee Synagogue. On way, we visited Powder Tower, a medieval stone tower, and the adjacent, art noveau Hotel Paris. We paid to go in the brightly colored Jubilee Synagogue. Lunch at the Hotel Paris, outdoors. We went to Old Town and paid for the self-tour of the synogogues. The 1st building was quite moving. The walls of each of its rooms listed the names of Czech Jews killed in the holocaust. Only 10% survived. The cemetary had gravestones piled on each grave. Because of lack of space, several people were buried in each grave. The Spanish Synagogue was impressive with its Moorish decor, reminiscent ot the Alhambra. Because it was approaching 6 o'clock, we didn't visit all of the synagogues. We took a tram and met Steve, the only brother still in Prague, and family at a park. We ate at a nice Czech restaurant where I had a wild boar steak with cranberry.

Sculpture in "New" Prague

Spanish Synogogue

Jewish Cemetary

Back to Munich. After breakfast, on August 7, we took a taxi to the train station. Paid for taxi and it departed. We discovered that the entrance to the station where we were at was locked. Other arriving people were similarly stymied. A barrier prevented access across street to main part of terminal. I ascended another staircase that put me on other side of track and signaled for Beth and others to follow. I Went downward and upward to help with luggage. Went through station and found that our train required yet another descent and ascent. We boarded and train and left at 9:16. Pork schnitzel for lunch in the dining car. We arrived in Munich at 3:40 then took the metro to the suburban town of Erding, near the airport. Our hotel was chosen because it provided shuttle service to the airport. Unfortunately, shuttle service did not start until 6 am. Brother Steve and family joined us for drinks, then supper in the charming town center.
Flight back to USA. Up at 4 am. Took taxi to airport. While waiting at the airport, we checked the lost and found for Teddy and there he was. Dustin had a joyous reunion with his stuffed creature. Waited for our flight to Zurich in the nice, business class lounge. The flight was short, but we were served a good breakfast. At Zurich, we waited in the business class lounge. Like all of Lufthansa's lounges in Europe, this was great. They served free food and beverages of all sorts. We found out from United that we would be stopping in Dulles, rather than flying directly to SFO and that for the 2nd leg, we had been reticketed to 1st class (which we thought was good). The trans-Atlantic flight was pleasant, with good food and drinks. I slept a couple hours in the reclining seat. At Dulles, after going through customs, we went to United's1st class lounge. This was something of a dump. I was charged $5 for a beer. The continuing flight was delayed more than an hour and turned out to be in a smaller airplane. It didn't have business class, which is why we were put in first class. "1st class" not nearly as good as business class in previous leg. Ordinary (but wide) seats that didn't recline very far. We had been assigned seats that were not adjoining. Beth changed seats with someone so she could sit next to Dustin. Just after pushoff she realized her purse was missing. She had left it at her previous seat and the guy sitting there gave it to the flight attendant who had handed it to the gate attendant. The bag had Beth's passport, car keys, credit cards and all important stuff. She was not happy. The plane was further delayed by questionable electric problem, but we didn't return to terminal. Perfunctory service of the "1st class" meal. Got some sleep, but seat not comfortable enough. We arrived at SFO at 9 pm. Beth filed a report with United's lost baggage department and we took shuttle to hotel where we left Beth's car. We were assured the purse fould be on the next flight from Dulles. The next morning (August 9) we had a continental breakfast at hotel and took shuttle to airport. Nothing on the purse. Even the agent found it impossible to talk to a real person at Dulles. We had AAA get a locksmith to get into the car. This was easy for him, but it took an hour to make another key–I'm not sure how he did it. We were back in Sacramento at 5:30 pm. The purse surfaced two weeks or so later after we had given up on it.

On September 7, Beth, Dustin and I drove to Yosemite. Our newly aquired GPS unit had its maiden voyage. Visibility in Yosemite Valley was poor due to a forest fire over a hundred miles away. We stayed in a tent cabin in Curry Village. The buffet at Curry Village was inexpensive and surprisingly good. Later, we got together with Kurt Wehbring and his wife Donna. They drove down from Portland, OR. Kurt was a Dartmouth classmate and fellow climber. He and I climbed Cathedral Peak in Yosemite in the early 1970s. After the breakfast buffet we took the shuttle and with Kurt and Donna hiked to Mirror lake. We returned and had lunch at Yosemite Lodge. After going through the Visitor Center we returned to Curry Village. Others in the group swam in the cold Merced River. After supper, we went to the ranger talk which featured a video presentation of the long-banned firefall that was shoved off of Glacier Point every night. The next morning after breakfast, we packed and checked out. We hiked up the fairly strenuous trail to the base of Vernal Falls. Kurt, Donna and Dustin continued to the top of the falls. Beth and I returned to the trail head and took photos of the 1996 rockfall(described in my textbook–the 12th edition of which came out in October). We headed back to Sacto around 2 pm.

D & John Muir Kurt Wehbring, Beth Strasser, Dustin Strasser, Carlos Plummer, Donna Dermond

Vernal Falls

My son Brian turned 30 in November, in a psychiatric hospital. He had to be involuntarily held several times in October and Novermber. He had gone over a year without serious episodes. He was diagnosed as being bipolar, complicated by substance abuse. It was very draining on all of us. He resisted treatment, but now that he seems to realize that he must remain medication compliant. He is back at Kathy's (his mother) house despite rightfully being banned from living there and seems on the road to recovery. Fingers crossed. He was (and perhaps still is) in the award winning latino band, Sol Peligro, for which he plays saxophone.

My son Charlie turned 32. His medications for schizophrenia have, over the years, stabilized him and he leads a reasonably happy, if dependent, life. He takes a class at Sac City College, reads paperbacks and listens to music a lot. In his way, he is a brilliant musician, but can't carry through enough to consolidate his accomplishments. He had been working with the organist at the downtown church which he and his mother attend. The organist was blown away by Charlie's innate ability to play by ear on a keyboard–be it the grand organ, harpsicord, duet of grand pianos, etc. Brad, the organist, would tailor the "lesson" to fit Charlie's attention span and interest. Brad could only play by reading a musical score. Charlie has always been the exact opposite--an incredible ear. I really enjoyed taking Charlie to the sessions. We would get a performance of Brad rehearsing for his Sunday special (most memorably a Vivaldi piece). Charlie would play Bach (tocata & fugue in D minor), Mozart, Scott Joplin. Brad was particularly impressed by a tune composed by Charlie and turned it into a postlude for a church service last spring. I took my video camera there arriving for what turned out to be a particularly long, boring talk by a visiting preacher from Korea (reinforcing my distaste for religion, but not its music). The postlude was played as clergy and congregants exited. At the end, Brad stood and pointed to Charlie in the balcony. A huge ovation from all still in the building. Not long afterward, Charlie decided he didn't want to continue this part of his music and enrolled in a Sac City improvisation music course, where he played his bass guitar.