This website has recently had the good fortune of receiving a new, comprehensive contribution of photographs from Tom Dickey. Tom has generously provided over 400 photographs taken by his parents during their years in Venezuela. Of this number, I've picked out 136 photos that I believe to be the most representative of the collection and placed them in slideshows, allowing them to be shared here, at Tom's behest, for all of us to review and enjoy.

Tom Dickey teaches economics and finance at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC. He attended 7th and 8th grade at Escuela Bella Vista between August of 1958 and February of 1960. He later served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and worked as a development economist in Central and South America and the Caribbean. He has been teaching since 1992.

Tom and his sisters, Margaret and Louise, are the children of Parke and Janet Dickey.

Parke Dickey began his career in petroleum geology with Creole in Maracaibo in the late 1920’s. After about a year, he was laid off as the U.S. was entering the Great Depression. He took some time on his return to do field research on the geological connections between the Paraguanį peninsula and the islands of Aruba and Curaçao that became his dissertation at Johns Hopkins. After completing his degree in 1932, he joined Tropical Oil Company (a part of Standard Oil Company that later became Ecopetrol) at Barrancabermeja, Colombia, as a field geologist. He married Janet Woods in 1935 and they lived at the “El Centro” compound until 1938 when his malaria forced their return to the United States.

Esso hired Parke Dickey in 1946 to develop its first geological research operation (at Carter Oil in Tulsa). He traveled frequently to Venezuela and other oil camps and was transferred to Creole in Maracaibo between late 1958 and early 1960. When the Carter operation was moved to Houston, he joined the faculty of Tulsa University. He wrote, among other books, the textbook  Petroleum Development Geology.

 
 
Parke Dickey, late 1950's
 
Parke Dickey, 1991 as the “Invitado de Honor” at the IV Simposio Bolivariano.

Please join me in thanking Tom for providing such a wonderful & fascinating photographic history and allowing all of us to share in his sizeable treasure of family images.

 
 
The following letter is an account of a trip up the Carrao and Churún rivers to a point near the base of Angel Falls, in southern Venezuela, by Parke A. Dickey, his wife Janet, and their son Tommy, in 1960. Mr. Dickey had completed an 18 month assignment with Creole Petroleum Company in Maracaibo and the family was returning home to Tulsa, where he headed geological research for Jersey Production Research Company.

(Note: Please see the last item on this page, which is a photographic record of the story that follows.)
 

RFD, Owasso, Oklahoma

March 25, I960

Dear Friends, When we left Maracaibo several friends asked us to write them about our trip to Angel Falls. By writing a multilith version, a more complete account can be sent than if I write each one individually.

Most of you know the story of Auyantepuí and Angel Falls. Jimmie Angel was an adventurer and bush pilot in South America. About 1921 he was approached, in a bar in Panama, by an old prospector who had hunted gold in Brazil. The prospector engaged Jimmie to fly him to a table mountain in Venezuela near the Brazilian border. They landed the plane on a grassy sabana on the mountain's flat top. In a short time they collected large amounts of gold and flew back to Panama. The old prospector disappeared and has never been heard from since – in fact, it is possible that Jimmie invented him.

The Gran Sabana was opened up as an area to prospect for gold and diamonds in the 1930’s, and Jimmie searched and searched for the table mountain. About 1936 or 1937 he thought he had located it. It was a huge flat-topped mountain, many miles in diameter, completely ringed around by vertical cliffs. Together with his wife and two companions, Cardona and Heny, he set up a well-equipped expedition whose base was at the Indian village of Uruyen at the south foot of the mountain. Leaving Cardona at Uruyen with a radio, they landed on the top of Auyantepuí. What Jimmie thought was a grassy sabana, however, turned out to be a swamp, and they could not take off again. They abandoned the plane and, apparently as a result of Heny's excellent woodsmanship, managed to find a crack in the cliff through which they could descend to Uruyen. During his flights Jimmie Angel found a waterfall which has since come to be known by his name and which seems to be considered the highest in the world. Jimmie later said he was sure that Auyantepuí is not the mountain the prospector had taken him to.

In 1937 G.H.H. Tate of the American Geographical Society and the Phelpses of Caracas explored Auyantepuí. They used Uruyen as a base and did not see Angel Falls. Since then the falls have been visited many times by airplane and a few times on the ground by various people who were conducted to it by gold and diamond prospectors. Among the latter is Lowell Thomas who was taken there by Rudy Truffino and who made a TV program on it. I have not yet found out who measured (or estimated) the height of the falls.

We left Maracaibo early on Saturday, February 20, and after a close connection in Maiquetia boarded the DC-3 to Canaima. The plane stopped in Anaco and Ciudad Bolivar and then headed south over the Caroní river. Cerro Bolivar, Venezuela's mountain of iron, could be seen in the distance to the west, and we flew over several new iron workings or prospects. The Caroní river is an extraordinary sight from the air, for it frequently spreads out and breaks up into dozens of parallel channels interconnected at right angles. Apparently it follows rectangular joint patterns in the bedrock. The country rose slowly with evidence of more rainfall, and the barren mesquite brush gave way to open grassland and trees along the rivers. After a while we could see the first of the table mountains, a great wall of rock fringed with a green jungle-covered talus, rising from the brown sabana. This was quite a sight but as we flew south there were greater and higher escarpments. There were several enormous blocks and tooth-shaped mountains, and finally, immensely greater than the table mountain of Auyantepuí. We entered a canyon, perhaps 5 miles wide and 20 miles long, flying at a level about halfway up the 3,000-foot vertical walls.

There are many waterfalls, thin ribbons of spray that hang from the great cliffs. Suddenly among them was Angel Falls--the water pouring down a little niche, taller than the others. It was too close to see well. The plane banked and turned, and we got a little better view, but on his second pass we were so close that we could see neither the top nor the bottom. He flew along close to the rock wall, just under the rim. The widely spaced joints caused the edge of the mesa to be deeply gashed and in places there are arrays of columns and needles. The size is hard to appreciate, and the cliffs went by too fast to really absorb. In a few minutes we landed at the Canaima airstrip and walked over to the rather primitive shelter used for a restaurant.

Canaima is a rustic resort place on the Rio Carrao, some distance above its mouth, and 15 or 20 km east of the Rio Caroní. There is a magnificent falls here, with the whole river plunging over an escarpment about 50 feet high, into a large pool rimmed with white sand beaches and palm trees. In the distance are two low ridges and a small table mountain. It is a beautiful spot, and typical of the Gran Sabana. The resort was founded about 8 or 10 years ago by Charlie Baughan, an American bush pilot, who took out a diamond claim here. He formed a syndicate to operate it as a resort, but he was killed flying a transport plane near Caracas. One of his associates, a Dutchman named Bunt, ran it for a while and then sold it to Avensa. Their manager and his helper are a couple of Russians, and all of these people seem to have been strange characters. The Russian was being replaced. However, it seems to be popular, and was full both week-ends. The quarters are rather primitive, although the surroundings are magnificant.

For many years a Latvian named Laime operated a diamond placer at Mayupa, about 10 km up the Carrao from Canaima. He had his own landing strip and took parties to Angel Falls by canoe, among them G. Zuloaga and F. Walker Johnson in 1951. He appears to be a strange and violent character, as indeed most of the inhabitants of this remote area seem to be. He now has a diamond placer operation west of Canaima on the Caroní.

The diamonds are found in the sands and gravels of all the rivers over an immense area. Week-end tourists picked up two nice ones at Canaima recently right off the beach. Apparently they are reworked from detrital diamonds in the Roraima quartzite and the mother lode has never been found. It is probably concealed under a quartzite mountain somewhere. Divers scrape gravel from pockets in the deep holes in the river bed and it is washed in bateas. Some gold is also found.

We were met by Rudy Truffino, a Dutchman who has lived in the vicinity 6 or 7 years. He was a friend of Charlie Baughan's and also Bunt's. Two years ago he started his own place called Ucaima, a few kilometers away, above the falls. He and his attractive wife Gertie have fixed up several thatched buildings into comfortable houses for themselves with room for a halfdozen tourists. His place is more attractive than Canaima. He has boats and outboard motors and will take tourists on trips up the Carrao various distances.

We slept at Rudy's and admired the location and the extensive collection of orchids he has made. Next morning he organized our equipment. He issued each of us a knapsack containing a jungle hammock; a light sleeping bag, and army mess kit and he filled another couple of knapsacks with food. An Indian from the vicinity named Juan showed up and helped load. Two engineers from the Caroní hydroelectric project arrived with a rain gauge which Rudy had agreed to install close to Angel Falls. One was a Bolivian named Hugo Vaca Reza who had worked in Bolivia for Larry Howe.

We got off about 9:00 a.m. Janet, Tom, Rudy and I rode in a wooden speedboat about 12 feet long, with an 18 hp outboard. Juan paddled a Grumman aluminum canoe (carrying the equipment), also about 12 feet. We towed him in the quiet water. After about a half-hour we came to a series of falls. We all jumped out and walked over the rocks, while Rudy and Juan pushed the boats through the white water, with help from Tom or me when we could give it. It is exhausting work because the rocks under water are huge and slippery and separated by deep holes. In the small trees along the edge of the sabana we found several Cattleya superba plants, as well as other orchids.

The Mayupa falls include a succession of rapids which took a couple of hours to get by. They were succeeded by a very long quiet reach, extending for many miles. The banks were covered with forest now, although the south side of the river appeared to have been burned a few years ago. Orchids were abundant--the bright orange Hexisea bidentata flashing among the trees.
Once we found a Cattleya lawrenciana with 7 blooms on it. About 3:00 p.m. we reached Orchid Island. It is at the foot of Auyantepuí and in the mouth of a tributary from the south. It seemed too early to camp, so at my urging we went on, through two more rapids to a camp site at the mouth of the Rio Churún. It was almost dark then, and it was not easy to figure out how to set up a jungle hammock in pitch darkness.

The next morning we left the Carrao and started up its small tributary from the south, the Churún. It is a stream with clear but dark tea-colored water, 100 to 200 feet wide, with frequent rapids. We had to push the speedboat up all of them. Juan, however, sat in the stern of the aluminum canoe and with a short pole pushed himself up almost every one. He showed extraordinary skill. If the white water caught the bow of the canoe and started to throw it sideways, as it often did, Juan would let the canoe drift back until it straightened out, after which he would start back up again. Twice we overtook a tapir, plodding slowly up the river, who took to the jungle when he noticed us. However, we saw little other wildlife. At the next camp site we saw tracks of a jaguar accompanied by her baby in the sand. We arrived here at 1:30 p.m. but Rudy refused to go any farther. Janet and I walked up a side stream which came down from a falls named by Rudy “Tapichemura” which means “ladder falls”. East of us was a huge double mesa saddle-shaped mountain called Wei-tepuí, which means “sunrise mountain”. There is a legend that at some place in this area the early Indians coated a man with gold and threw him in a lake just at sunrise. This story is the same as that told, with much better documentation, of the mountain lakes of Colombia a thousand miles to the west. It gave rise to the legend of El Dorado which led so many adventurers to their deaths in the jungle. I had never heard of it here, and seriously doubt it, although Sir Walter Raleigh searched for El Dorado in eastern Venezuela. Rudy believes it and plans to search for a lake with a Senora Mendez who dug up the story. It doesn't look like a likely place for lakes, unless they are oxbow lakes of the Carrao.

The grandeur and solitude of these mountains is overwhelming. The stream winds back and forth so sometimes we would face the majestic saddle of Wei-Tepuí, and sometimes the huge wall of Auyantepuí. Occasionally we would be so close to the foot of the cliffs that the stream would be blocked by boulders as big as houses. The rapids were often short, but sometimes required a half-hour walk through the forest while the men pushed the boats through. The walk was never tiresome, for we would get back in the boat and have a little rest during a short ride until we came to a new rapid. The vegetation changed rapidly. The rainfall increased markedly and the trees were often covered with epiphytes. Huge bromeliads grew on the trees, along with philodendrons and monsteras. The trees were small, however, and there were none of the forest giants like those south of Lake Maracaibo. All the vegetation was quite different from western Venezuela. Familiar, however, were the morning and evening flights of the guacamagas commuting in twos and threes with their flashes of color and hoarse cries.

Jungle hammocks are confining and less comfortable than cots. We would finish supper in the waning light and crawl quickly into them. I usually went to sleep at once, to be awakened not long after by the pattering of rain. It rained gently but steadily every night. In the morning we would fix coffee and bacon and pack up in an hour or two. For lunch we would eat excellent European bread flown out from Caracas with cheese, sardines, and chocolate, sitting on the rocks at some rapid.

At noon of the fourth day from Ucaima we arrived at Rudy's base camp. After lunch we asked Rudy how far it was to the foot of the falls, and he replied, we thought, “one half hour”, and gave us some brief directions as to the trail. He had explained that as the waterfall is on an east-facing cliff, one has to be at its foot before 11:00 a.m. in order to take pictures. However, we were impatient and Janet, Tommy and I set out along a “pica.” We lost it occasionally and after an hour had gone by I realized something was wrong. We climbed up a steep talus made of huge blocks covered with a carpet of vegetation. Finally we came out to a place where we had a marvelous view of the falls, although we couldn't see the foot. It was now 3:30 and we had been walking two hours, so we quickly returned to camp and found Rudy quite worried about us. It appeared he had said, with his Dutch accent, “one and a half hour”. We turned in quite exhausted and this was the only day any of us felt over-tired.

The next morning we went back over the same trail, which for a way paralleled Angel Falls creek, a rushing stream some 30 to 50 feet wide. Near our lookout of the day before we crossed to the south side. There was a pair of nutrias, or otters, playing in the water here, sliding down rocks and splashing in the pools. We continued higher up and finally came out on a great rock about one-half mile from the base of the falls where we had a complete view of them. It was obstructed, however, by clouds around the rim. Occasionally they broke and gave us unimpeded glimpses.

The falls are tremendously impressive, but more as an ornament to the vast scarp of the mountain than as a spectacle themselves. The water pours out a narrow gash in the rim. It picks up speed as it falls, but a third of the way down a large amount of the stream is broken into spray, and it is all broken by the time it has fallen half-way. From here on waves of spray drop down, incredibly slowly, and splash on the talus below. Here the water runs down as a stream for a while, and then falls over a series of steps in another fine waterfall. The lip seems almost over your head at this point, and we were level with the foot. Mr. Dunsterville told me in Caracas the free fall is 2800 feet, with another 200 feet in the lower fall. Rudy said it had never been accurately measured. I was sorry I had not brought a transit and rod along. The drop would not have been easy to measure, because the jungle is so dense that this is the only place where we could see the lip and base both.

Rather strangely, the stream runs over the rim at a promontory of the escarpment rather than a recess. The undercutting makes a sort of niche around the falls, so there is a double promontory below, at the foot of the cliff. The rock is thick-bedded fine quartzite, remarkably uniform, never pebbly, and occasionally cross-bedded but not on a large scale. About halfway up the cliff there is a bed marked by green vegetation and a little shelf, which is obviously softer.
The color of the cliff, which is affected by weathering, fungi and lichens, ranges from light buff to black, and it is framed by the vivid green of the vegetation.

The sandstone had been dipping gently southward all the way from Canaima, and most of the rapids were over ledges of it. It weathers into pretty white sand which often forms beaches on the river banks. It is generally prominently jointed, and sometimes also has a sort of hexagonal pattern of spalling cracks besides. Upstream and up-section there is common red banding and the river sand has a delicate pink color. The south dip appears to make the escarpments face north, and the mountains get higher southward. If this Roraina sand sequence once covered much of southern Venezuela, as it must have, it contained an enormous amount of sand. It seems likely that the Cretaceous and I suppose also the younger sands are derived from it. I imagine the great escarpments have been working their way southward ever since Cretaceous time.

There are many other falls in the area--in fact there is one every few miles along the great cliff. Rudy says there is one two days’ journey farther up the Churún which may possibly be higher. It would be fun to return with a transit, measure Angel Falls carefully, and then measure the other one also. There is a waterfall directly opposite Angel Falls four or five miles away on the east side of the Churún canyon which is not nearly so high but has a larger volume of water.

We chopped the top off a small tree and Rudy installed the rain gauge. It is supposed to hold several weeks of rainfall, although if it rains every night in the dry season the rainfall in the rainy season must be terrific. Juan went down to the stream and reported some interesting plants. Rudy and Tommy then went with him and collected several dozen spectacularly tiger-striped bromeliads, Vriesia hieroglyphica.

The next morning the Churún was up about a foot, which permitted us to run most of the rapids we had laboriously pushed through on the way up. We reached the mouth of the Churún early in the afternoon. As we were entering the Carrao the motor spun as if it had sheared a pin. However, it turned out that the shaft had parted. Rudy decided, rather ambitiously, to try to saw a slot in each end with a little piece of broken hack-saw blade, and spline the two pieces together, so we laboriously spent the evening sawing.

The next morning Janet and I looked for orchids while the rest continued to work on the motor. We found quite a lot of new ones plus nearly a dozen Cattleya lawrenciana right on Orchid Island. We helped assemble the motor and took off about 1:30 p.m. The motor ran less than 5 minutes, before the shaft came loose again. It was apparent that we might not make it down to Ucaima by dark. Rudy took off quickly in the canoe with the idea of getting his other boat with a 5 hp motor and coming back after us. I protested mildly that I didn't like being separated from my bedding, but he went off. The speedboat with only one paddle — we had lost the other — was very sluggish and he was soon out of sight. We rigged up a tiller with a long pole and ropes, and Tommy and Janet took turns steering while Juan and I took turns paddling.

In some respects this was the best afternoon of the trip. The river runs very slowly and the quiet enabled us to enjoy the magnificence of the jungle and the great cliffs. However, I began to tire and as evening approached I got more concerned. We had the great rapids of Mayupa ahead of us.

We reached the first one just at dusk. Juan unloaded the dead motor, and he and I dragged it through the shallow water over the rocks while Janet and Tommy retrieved the cache of orchids we had left here. The tremendous roar of the rapids, and the savage rocks, with the rapid advent of darkness scared me a good deal. We re-embarked and paddled through a long wide stretch in the darkness where I was quite lost. Finally Juan found a small stream which he said was the end of the trail around the rest of the rapids. We tied up the boat and started off across the sabana. Juan followed the trail rapidly in the starlight, which led across Laime's airstrip.

After about a half hour the trail came out on the river again. The wind was brisk and chilly and I was a good deal worried about spending an uncomfortable night on the sand. After a short wait there was a shout from Juan—“Viene Dudy – habra comida!” Shortly Rudy and Gertie appeared and took us back to Ucaima. He had run all the Mayupa rapids and had reached Ucaima about dark.

Next morning we assembled and packed the orchids and took the Avensa plane from Ucaima. Inasmuch as the incoming passengers the preceding two days had not seen the falls because of clouds, the plane took us over them again. It flew over the top of Auyantepuí which was quite flat and covered with a low brushy growth. Bare trunks stick out in places as though it had burned a few years ago, although this is hard to imagine if it rains almost every day, even in the dry season. Sprawled in a grassy swamp was Jimmie Angel's plane. He thought he was landing on a sabana. He and his wife were uninjured but had to walk down the south side of the mountain, which is less precipitous them the north side.

We then flew down the Caroní again to Puerto Ordaz, over the siderurgica which looked huge, elegant, and inoperative. We spent the night in Macuto and took off next morning for Jamaica.

We had hoped to see and learn about orchids in Jamaica but the Hope Gardens had very few. We did find a very hospitable and congenial amateur orchid grower named George Hart who, with his wife, made the visit pleasant.

We arrived in Miami Wednesday and took steps at once to clear our baggage from the customs and our orchids from the fumigation station. We didn't dare send them by express for fear they would freeze, so after a little shopping around we bought a Chevrolet pickup truck and loaded them on, buying an alcohol stove, a tarpoulin and some sleeping bags. We spent the first night at a state park and it got pretty cold. The next night was in another state park In northern Florida and this time the temperature went below freezing. I got up frequently and checked the stove and the thermometer under the tarp with the plants. Next night it also frosted. The following night we were at Pine Bluff, Arkansas and hauled the plants into a motel with us. The following day we got home. It was the first one in many that it was above freezing, and next day It was cold again, so we just barely squeaked by with the plants. We lost quite a few, apparently from the confinement of the trip rather than the fumigation or cold, but most are still alive. Janet is still working on the repotting.

We found our house and farm in good shape and are gradually getting settled into them.

We can look forward to no pleasure greater than that of seeing our friends from Venezuela, and talking over our happy experiences there.

 

 
 
 
 

This slideshow shows a voyage taken in 1958 aboard Grace Lines' Santa Rosa as she sailed from New York to La Guaira, a trip that that many readers who have taken the same journey remember with great fondness.

Tom relates that he believes his parents took this trip for reasons of 'pure nostalgia'. They had originally taken the Santa Rosa from New York to Colombia in January of 1936 - one week after their wedding.

The following two images from Tom's photo album show the Santa Rosa taken back in the 1930's. The first image was taken in 1936:

The second image was taken in April 1938. Tom suspects that it's the port of Cartagena that's visible in the background. His parents left Colombia in 1938 because his father had a serious case of malaria and assorted other tropical diseases. Tom relates that his work there was mostly exploring and mapping areas around and to the east of Barranca Bermeja with a team of men and mules. He and his team would go out for six weeks or so at a time before returning to the Tropical Oil Co. camp at “El Centro”:

Click on the image below to see the slideshow of the 1958 voyage:

 
 
 
 
 
This next slideshow shows scenes of Maracaibo taken by the Dickey family in 1959. Two shots were taken by the pool at the Creole Club, and four were taken in the Creole Camp. The rest of the photos were taken in various places in the city.
 
 
 
 

These images are a collection of photos taken by the Dickey family throughout Venezuela, including Lake Maracaibo, during 1958 and 1959. It's a mixed bag of interesting images, part of Tom's fascinating collection of over 400 images that he has from his parent's collection:

 
 
 
 

The following slideshow tells a story.

It's the fascinating story of a trip taken to Canaima and Angel Falls over 45 years ago by Tom and his family, as documented in photos taken by Tom's father. The photo descriptions were based in part on the titles Tom's father had given each photo, and the story-telling format originated with Tom.

About this journey, Tom writes, “As we were leaving Venezuela to return to Tulsa, my parents and I flew to Canaima for a trip up the rivers to the base of Angel Falls. Father had arranged the trip beforehand. Rudy Truffino was our guide. He became the first Park Ranger when Venezuela created the National Park. He is the subject of a 2005 book, _Jungle Rudy_ by Jan Brokken. I read the English translation (from the Dutch), but I was disappointed by the author's approach to the story of Rudy”.

The power of the images is what really gives this story life. After going through this presentation, one feels as if they themselves had been actual participants of this journey along with Tom and his family.

Be sure to use the slideshow controls to slow down the photo transitions on those photos with longer descriptions. Note that the middle button stops the image advancement completely, allowing for manual image advancement if you prefer.