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September 5, 2011

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

Having reached Jacksonville Beach I have accomplished my mission to travel across the States coast-to-coast from the Pacific to the Atlantic! :-)

I still have a couple of weeks left on my trip, though, before I must depart from New York, and I intend to make the most of the remaining time.

If you have followed the blog, you will know that I spent my birthday August 31st by myself in Destin, Florida. I loved the pearly white beaches and the emerald green waters there, but the nightlife was really not much to speak of. The season was ending, and there were not many people in town.

I could have stayed throughout the Labor Day holidays and hoped for more activity, but as a front approached, I headed east, which turned out to be a good choice.

The beaches of Jacksonville Beach (Jax Beach) are not pearly white. They are more grayish. But there is a nice fishing pier, volleyball nets, lots of restaurants, cafes and bars in a good layout as well as a very nice atmosphere. There were also more (local) people around. In addition quite a few came into town for Labor Day.

So, I enjoyed the gray beach, playing in the smashing waves and tried to make up for my mediocre birthday celebrations in Destin by exploring Jax Beach at night.

Rush Bar was the place to go, and it turned out to be quite amusing.

On the first night a girl came over and introduced herself. She informed me that she was celebrating her 21st birthday with a bunch of girlfriends. Yes, I could see that… She went on to explain that it was on her the to-do list to have a shot with a redhead – and I while I explained that my hair is “golden blond” – it was close enough.

I did not get a shot, but the other girls shot a bunch of documentation photos of us together for Facebook or whatever. Made me feel like my 15 seconds of fame as all the flashes went off. And hey, girls if you are reading this – where are the photos you promised to send me?

Next, one of the girls was kind to compliment my attire consisting of a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and sneakers. She knew what she was talking about, because she had just graduated as a fashion major. I, on the other hand, did not know what I was doing, because I was stupid enough to reveal that the shirt was a 10-year-old rag. Then she asked about my age – since she probably figured that I did not buy the shirt at the age of 10 or 11. So, I admitted that I just had my 33rd birthday, which turned out to be another mistake. She thought I was around 25. Doh!

When will I learn to be more dishonest, and play my cards better?

OK – I am just kidding here – about playing my cards. But in any case, somebody knew how to play his cards, because a while later the fashion major had retreated to the shadows of the corner with a dude – and her girlfriends fired away again to get a documentation shot for Facebook.

On my second night in Jax Beach while I was having a drink by myself – as usual – I could not help noticing three girls tearing up the dance floor doing a dance or something together. And I was not the only one watching their antics. A whole bunch of guys were lined up with their jaws dropped to the floor.

When the three girls finally took a break from the dance floor, one of them walked past me and complimented my glasses. She thought they were hot. Well, so was she.

We had a short chat about the glasses, this and that. Then before moving on she suddenly turned her back on me, bent slightly forwards and started grooving like an earthquaking, hipshaking, soulbreaking machine – to quote a song I heard on the radio the other day. What could I do but step up to the challenge and join the dance?!

Hey, that girl knew how to get down on a dance floor – as if I did not know already. It was great harmless fun. God bless America! ;-)

Before leaving Jax Beach the following day I went for a walk on the beach, while I attempted to catch a bit of the atmosphere with my camera.

As I did not have a big tele lens with me, I could not photograph the dolphins that was jumping off the coast but I hope that the photos below gives you a good idea of what Jax Beach is like on a cloudy day!

There is a lot of acivity around Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, but I managed to snap this shot of it in a quiet moment.

 

I headed out on the pier to see if the sport fishermen had luck.

 

I did not catch a fish this big. I was just happy to have completed my journey coast-to-coast.

 

It was also close but no cigar for Grandpa, if he had not brought the tobacco himself.

 

But this guy got lucky.

 

And this guy was even more lucky catching a nice trout.

 

A couple of younger fishermen agreed to pose for a picture.

 

In fact, this little dude could not get enough of being photographed - and he wanted to be just by himself in the picture!

 

Someone hooked a sea turtle. Crocodile Dundee to the right (with the knife between his teeth) was there immediately to handle the situation. He took the knife and - a break for drama here - set the turtle free (after unhooking it of course).

 

As the fish is also a Christian symbol it was not totally off that this group of friends studied their bible on the pier.

 

There was a need for prayers that day on the beach. Behind this rescue vehicle a mother was weeping, as she had lost track of her 4-year-old son. Fortunately, he was found sound and safe. If the tears were not already flowing, they poured as they were reunited.

 

So there was something to celebrate and nobody did it better than my new friends from Puerto Rico. What a beat!

 

As I walked back for a pizza and a sweet tea before hitting the road, I came across this classic and beautifully restored Volkswagen.

 

A girl was taking a nap inside. Probably she had also had a night on the town. Notice the reflection...

 

July 31, 2011

Hiking in Yellowstone

Hiking in Yellowstone

I had signed up for a hiking trip along the Bechler River in Yellowstone. I had chosen exactly this particular trail for the opportunity to swim in hot springs, to photograph wildlife and really nothing else.

Unfortunately, the park authority had closed down the trail due to flooding. Instead another less exciting back-and-forth trail along Yellowstone Lake had been assigned.

Thus the trip started out on a bit of a sour note for most of us. No hot springs, but lots of mosquitoes – our guides warned us – and wildlife photography would be better from the roadside. Doh!

Nevertheless, as soon as we got out on the trail it quickly turned into a fantastic social experience that none of us had expected.

It was like someone had type cast us for a play, and everyone played the roles as themselves perfectly. Rarely, if ever, have I been in a random group of such great characters and shared such a great social experience with people I just met.

The first couple of characters I noticed were Bob and his son Joe from Spokane, Washington. Bob reminded my of the lyrics to a song penned by Kris Kristofferson (who I, by the way, had the pleasure of meeting some years ago): “If I look like your uncle Bob, that’s who I am…”

Yes, Bob was the kind of uncle who with a soft spoken voice, a twinkle in his eye and a shy smile would tell you stories of the “terrible” pranks he played as a high school kid. Yet he was quick to warn his son not to get into the same kind of trouble; “don’t do it Joey,” he instantly warned, when I for instance dared Joe to do a fire walk…

Bob had a degree in horticulture and had worked most of his life bringing new plants to life in nurseries. But recently he had set up his own business at other end of the spectrum: as a logger and supplier of firewood. Thus it came natural for him to forage for firewood and lit some nice campfires for the rest of us. He would showcase how a piece of wood almost looked like art. And the next thing you know, he threw it on the fire and his eyes sparkled even more as it would buuuurrrrn…

I really appreciated Bob as a very thoughtful person with a lot of knowledge and balanced opinions on a range of subjects.

Bob’s son, Joe, was the youngest person in the group, only 18. But that certainly did not hold him back. The apple had indeed not fallen far from the tree. Joe was full of stories and jokes that he would crack – not least around his father’s campfire.

Then there was this petite girl with a big smile and sparkling eyes, who introduced herself as Tania from Texas. She had deliberately chosen not to have a southern accent. But whatever the accent was, the intonation and the tone of her voice sounded almost like music to my ears.

If you based on the term petite get the impression that Tania is cute, you are right. But if you for some reason think that petite equals a pushover, you are terribly wrong. This girl is tougher than the rest.

First of all, Tania displayed a great deal of mental strength and stamina, which I guess is useful, as she is a triathlon athlete. She does not complain about anything. Secondly, she is obviously very fit and carried as big a backpack as the rest of us. In fact, I think she carried more stuff than most of us, because she brought an abundance of snacks and other handy items that she generously shared – including her 98,1 percent Deet to keep the skeeters off.

Like Bob and Joe, Tom and his son, Cameron, were on a father-son-bonding-trip. Tom mentioned at one point that he was the least young in the group at the age of 48. It turned out later that he was not. But in any case he was probably the most handsome man in the group and in great shape. I wish I will look that fit when I get there. Well, I am wrecked already…

Anyway, Tom is the president of a big chemical company in the automotive industry. I got a pretty good idea about how he had accomplished the climb up the ladder, because he had a very likeable personality and obviously great people skills. He is the sort of person who does not have to raise his voice to accomplish something, in fact when he lowers it and asks for something, you just feel compelled to oblige.

This was the first hiking trip for Tom and Cameron. Tom told me that Cameron was used to family vacations on 4 or 5 star hotels. So this was something else for Cam only in his last teenage year. But he quickly got into it, found a great wandering stick and often remarked in an understated way that this or that was “not too shabby”.

If Vivian and Stan had been a comic duo, Vivian would be the comic and Stan the straight man, who would only chuckle at her antics. And so he did. But I had to laugh pretty hard, when Vivian (involuntarily) got into her thing.

The first time was right after we crossed a stream and the pool of mud around it. If the mosquito attacks had not already been bad enough, we were swarmed when we changed from boots to water shoes and back again with our naked legs exposed to the vicious bugs.

Vivian was not happy at this stage to say the least and clearly expressed, whether this was supposed to be a vacation? She would rather be in a budget meeting having her numbers audited! Take that Stan, it is your fault; don’t you understand?

Vivian really hated those mosquitoes – and she was ready to fight them – not just for herself but also looking out for Stan. So, when one of these flying bloodsuckers landed on Stan’s face – BAM – Vivian whacked it good and got it. OK, Stan got it too, but hey you have to expect some collateral damage, don’t you?

All kidding aside, Vivian is a very smart lady working in finance. She got into the merits of the trip like the rest of us and offered some great career advice around the campfire to the youngsters. Did you listen, guys? This lady knows what she is talking about!

By the way, even if Stan was the straight man, he definitely had a sense of humor as well. With a straight face he quipped that I should take my talents to Hollywood. Stan, you are the man!

Erin and Jon from New Hampshire played the parts of the fairly newlywed young couple. Erin was initially quite disgruntled about the cancellation of the Bechler trail and let it be known. But she quickly came into the phase not only of acceptance but involvement of the whole experience and would time and again let out a great “woohoo” in excitement. I appreciated her sense of irony and old-fashioned expressions like, “thank you, kind Sir”.

Jon relieved me of the role I thought I would play as the photographer. As I realized how talented he was, I took a (needed) break from my photography to rely on Jon’s artistic photos that I hope will be coming up on this post shortly. So far you will have to do with my photos.

Last but not least, I have to mention our guides, Chris and Stewart. Chris was the totally calm and professional leader of the pack on the trail. In fact he seemed to be able to keep calm as a rock in any situation. His laid back Tennessee accent only underlined that impression. Stewart was just as calm but more of a walking encyclopedia with a very intellectual atmosphere around him. He would time and again amaze us with his vast knowledge.

Chris and Stewart were not only great guides. They also played the parts of outdoor master chefs, who would cater for us with food one could not have imagined on a hiking trip. They even whipped up a delicious chocolate dessert with berries and nuts in it for Tania’s 28th birthday on the trail. Yummie!

I guess that this whole experience was a classic example of how people from different walks of life can come together and bond when faced with a common challenge. Yes, a hiking vacation is sort of a challenge. But the common challenge is not the only explanation.

As mentioned above the casting was perfect. The personalities just blew me away and besides all the fun and antics there were a lot of serious exchanges of views on a wide range of topics and a stunning display of intellect across the board.

I do not miss the sweet smell of Deet that much or the taste of bleached water for that matter. But I miss you guys already. Thanks to everyone for enduring this weird foreigner and for your excellent company that made this hike memorable indeed.

Special thanks to Tom for his generosity and not least to Chris and Stewart for an outstanding job.

If you are going on a REI Travel hiking trip, ask for Chris and Stewart and mind the trail less. It is all about the people!

Sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns. Photo courtesy of Jon Fay. I look forward to updating this post with more of Jon's great photos when I get the time. In the meantime you will have to do with my own shots below.

Jon, Erin, Tania and Joe in high spirits before an outstanding outdoor dinner cooked by our "outdoor chefs": Chris and Stewart.

 

Tom is joining the party from the right. Joe's father, Bob, is taking a rest after the moderately strenuously hike.

 

This was one of several bison carcasses we passed on the hiking trail in Yellowstone.

 

If I look like a carcass myself, it is because I am a bit worn out at this point - but also quite satisfied. Jon, Erin and I went on a extra evening hike with Chris to see the sunset over Yellowstone Lake from a beautiful spot on a steep hillside. We practically ran the couple of miles to get there in time. Notice the bear mace on my hip. Just three weeks prior to our hike a person was unfortunately mauled to death by a grizzly sow protecting its cubs. So one better be prepared!

 

Bob suffered a few blister as did most of us. He was pretty sure that his boots were adequately broken in, though. I think so too. But duct tape held feet and boots together and my friend Bob made it with flying colors.

 

Our master photographer Jon still ready for battle at the end of the trip.

 

Tom points out the muddy prints of bear paws. Obviously a bear had come looking for food in our trailer, while we were gone hiking. It had also torn the (paper) license plate off, hence the duct tape. A good thing that it did not come looking for the food we carried.

 

After the hike was over we drove back to Bozeman, Montana, where we started out. On the way we stopped at a couple of thermal features in the park. One of them was Grand Prismatic Pool. A couple of days later I went back and took this photo from a hillside.

 

Of course I went by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as well. Here it is seen from Lower Falls. I think there is a faint rainbow to the left in the picture...

 

The roaring Lower Falls.

 

Old Faithful erupted just as I arrived and I did not have time to get ready or change to the proper lens. This photo was taken with the Canon 100-400mm, which is too long for the purpose. I could not wait for another eruption or to go back later. This will have to do.

 

A molehill on the front lawn is a pain in the, well, eh, "backyard". But how about a geyser cone like this one?

 

They look very gentle but bison are wild animals that can injure or kill you.

 

It was mating season, and the bulls let out huge roars to tell who is king of the plain. You better keep your distance!

 

The same goes for this fellow, even though I am told that it is just a non-poisonous gopher snake.

 

Is this food?

 

A mule deer buck. Unfortunately I would hit a doe with my Jeep after leaving the park. Read about it elsewhere on the blog.

 

July 22, 2011

Arches (video) UPDATED

Arches (video) UPDATED

After posting my virtual birthday greeting to my friend, Michael, I have received requests to do more videos. Trying to oblige, I have shot another short video in Arches National Park that you will find below and on my youtube channel.

I will probably do more but not many, as videos for a number of reasons are very hard and time consuming to do as a one-man-band.

First, it is technically difficult to film yourself: getting the framing and focus right.  Second, it is a challenge to act to a camera without anybody behind it. Third, people continuously get in your picture and audio spoiling the footage.

Thus it is necessary to shoot multiple takes – in this case under the burning sun…

Naturally, it can be hard to capture ordinary still images as well for one of the same reasons; people get in your way.

The Moab Information Center had warned me that this would be the situation exactly, if I wanted to photograph Delicate Arch, the most famous landmark in the park. But I took my  chances…

As many others, I headed up the 2.4 (1,6 mi) moderately strenuous trail in the heat of the late afternoon. I carried 25 pounds of equipment on my back, the tripod in one hand and a water bottle in the other.

The water had been stored in the car for the whole day, and it was nearly boiling at this point. So was I. Fortunately, I met a charming young Italian couple on their honeymoon. Besides keeping me with excellent company, they graciously gave me one of their cool water bottles and saved me from a heatstroke.

Thank you so much guys! :-)

Nevertheless, I nearly had a different kind of stroke, when I arrived at the viewpoint from where I was going to photograph the arch. The Moab Information Center had not downplayed the scene, and I started to get pretty frustrated about it along with a bunch of other photographers.

I realize that neither I nor the other amateur photographers have a special entitlement to photograph the arch over the rest of the crowd. But could we just get a break and do our thing for a minute?

Furthermore, if you want your picture taken in front of it, you need to move away from it – closer towards the camera. Otherwise you will be so small in the picture that no one can identify you.

Thus it was indeed frustrating that the fruitless attempts of some spoiled it for the rest of us.

As the sun started to set the frustrations continued to grow among the photographers, including yours truly.

You could really feel the tension in the air.

Finally, a desperate lady cried out from the top of her lungs what so many of us were thinking: “Stooooooooop – moooooove awaaaaaaay!”

This emotional eruption was met with an instant applause from the crowd of photographers and bystanders, and a cool local dude with a rasta hairdo went down and explained to the crowd to please get out of the view/shot.

In a split second cameras went off like machine guns and there was a sense of great relief.

Not before long the situation was back to square one and repeated itself. But I did manage to capture a few decent shots without any people it. So I started to cool off.

By the way, while I was sitting there, I was suddenly approached by an eloquent 13 year old kid, who introduced himself as Randy from Lexington, Kentucky.

Randy was quite talkative (just like me) and he did not beat around the bush but started to enlighten me about his hometown of Lexington and a whole range of subjects.

Randy, I enjoyed meeting you and talking to you. You have a lot on the ball. You are certainly the most knowledgeable 13 year-old I have met for quite a while. Keep on piling on the knowledge and use it well, and you will have a great future in front of you my friend.

And, Randy, if you meet anyone who wants their picture taken in front of a large object, do not hesitate to tell them to moooooooove awaaaaaay from it. ;-)

It can be frustrating to photograph a landmark when people are in the way all the time. By the way, this photo illustrates how you have to mooooove awaaaaay from the large object and closer to the camera, if you want anybody to recognize you. Notice how small the people appear in the background close to one of the "windows" in Arches National Park.

 

Nobody in the way for a second - oh yes - I just managed to snap the sun setting on Delicate Arch, while the shadows creep up on it.

 

I met this charming Italian couple on their honeymoon on the trail to Delicate Arch. Unlike me, they knew how to keep cool.

 

July 21, 2011

The Shafer Trail, Canyonlands

The Shafer Trail, Canyonlands

There is a badge on my Jeep Liberty that says: “Trail Proven”. So I decided to take it for off the beaten track for an off-road beating.

The testing grounds would be the ole Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park.

The trail was originally established by John Sog Shafer around 1917 as a cattle trail. In 1952 it became a route for trucks hauling mined uranium ore out of the area. Nowadays it is a trail into the park primarily for four wheel drive vehicles.

Off course, I am exaggerating the part about “beating”. First of all, I take very good care of my rental car! Secondly, the trail is not off-road. It is just an unpaved road on the side of the canyon walls…

The trail had been suggested to me by “Woudy”. He was a Hummer driver, who I met in the tavern of the local Moab Brewery. Woudy could tell some great stories and enhanced the punch line by throwing in a great “pirate” laughter. Hrahrahraaaah….

He told me how he would make people (women) cry every day, when they went with him on a Hummer safari on the trail named “Hells Revenge”, where you literally go straight up and down on certain stretches. You don’t stop in the middle!

Woudy explained to me that the Shafer trail would be a good trail for the Liberty and I. He could drive it with his minivan. Hrahrahraaaah….

I am sure that he could. But I certainly would not want to do that.

It is not so much the four wheel drive that you need on the trail. It certainly helps. But you really need the high clearance. There would be some huge holes in the road and some big rocks sticking out that you do not want to hit the undercarriage of your vehicle.

You also want to pay attention not going off the cliff! Much of the trail was just on the edge, and streams of water had eroded the trail in many places. So be careful, if you go there!

The reward of the drive include that you are pretty much off the beaten track. That part is true. I only met around four or five other jeeps and two bikers that day on the trail. You also get to see some incredibly scenery with the opportunity to take it all in without a whole bunch of other tourists running around shouting and and standing in the way of your photos.

In the end I drove all the way up into the park, onto the paved road and back to Moab after watching the sun set over Canyonlands.

Thanks to Woudy for suggesting the Shafer Trail. It was great. Hrahrahraaaah….

PS: I have many photos of the spectacular scenery in Canyonlands – more to come, if I get the time!

Before leaving the paved road I came by this great petroglyph of a bear. Unfortunaltely, som "clever" people decided to add their tags to it. The petroglyph is still great though!

 

Not far from the petroglyph, I came by these dinosaur tracks. Some thoughtless person (to say the least) has tried to cast them. One should not do that, nor touch them, as it breaks down the fragile sandstone. As you can see, there is even some plaster left in the top right of the picture. It is a good thing that not all petroglyphs and fossils (or fossilized tracks) are pointed out to visitors.

 

Uranium is not the only mineral mined in the area. I came by some giant sediment pools that belong to the Potash mining operation. Potash is the common name for various salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form. Water obviously trickled away from the operation. I hope it is not a problem to the environment.

 

And so I entered the Shafer Trail. Here is a nice stretch.

 

Here is a "step" on the road of approximately half a meter (1.5 ft) in height. Obviously many went straight ahead. I went around as I did not have clearance for that!

 

No, the Jeep is not parked under the rock. It is behind it...

 

Here is another huge rock in balance at the Gooseneck Overlook.

 

I shot the Happy Birthday Michael video at the Gooseneck Overlook.

 

These dead branches seemed to come alive in the dying rays of the sun as it set over Canyonlands National Park.

 

July 19, 2011

Ahé héé to the Navajo Nation

Ahé héé to the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation is the homeland of approximately 165,000 Native Americans. The reservation covers a huge area of no less than 71,000 km2 (27,425 square miles) across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Thus it is the largest area under Native American jurisdiction in the USA.

I have visited the Antelope Canyon on Navajo lands on a previous trip, but this time I went deeper into Navajo lands to explore Monument Valley, which is not a US national park but a tribal park.

So even with an annual pass to all Federal lands you still have to pay a modest $5 to enter, which is very well worth it.

Inside the park you have the opportunity to stay at the View Hotel. And yes, from there you have the spectacular view of the monumental buttes in the valley from many terraces as well as from most rooms – except mine. :-(

Well, I did not mind it at all. The quality of the accommodation was probably the highest on my trip so far. There was even a down comforter, which we Danes almost cannot sleep without.  And the price of $100 for a single room seemed fair when you consider the unique location and the quality of service.

Just before sunset I managed to get some decent shots of the valley before heading for a much needed rest in my room. As I came back for dinner, a distant thunderstorm was underway and gave a unique display of lightning bolts that I have never seen before on this scale!

It was still in the hour of dusk and there was some light on the buttes. Oh dear, every photographers dream!

But before I had gathered my equipment from the room and set it, it had become almost totally dark. Nevertheless, I managed to capture a decent shot of the thunderstorm as published below.

Besides exploring and photographing the valley, I should have been pleased to learn more about the Navajo culture.

Obviously the Navajos have endured a lot ever since the first Europeans arrived with deceases, alcohol and conflict. It appears to me that the Navajos have not complete recovered from the exploitation, the cultural clash and the whole ordeal that have continued up to modern times.

In the 30’s oil was drilled on their lands. In the 60’ uranium was mined, which left hazardous waste behind to this day. I wonder how much of the profits benefitted the Navajos?

I also noticed that an outside investor owns the fairly new View Hotel. I hope that it is not the same story over again…

Poverty is widespread in the Navajo Nation. According to a US census (2000) there the average family size is 4,36 persons, and the family median income is only $22,392.

Obviously a lot of social issues goes hand in hand with poverty – anywhere.  It is sad to see people living in dwellings, which basically look like junkyards around a trailer, in the middle of their sacred and beautiful lands. You wonder: how is life under such conditions? How do you break the vicious circle of social issues?

But the Navajos are proud of their culture, try to protect it and find relief in traditional ways of life, I believe. Various compassionate people/organizations try to help, and the struggle goes on…

By the way, the Navajo Nation is dry land and no alcohol is available on the reservation. I hope the prohibition has effect.

I would like to learn more about the Navajos and their way of life beyond visiting their lands, meeting Navajos as staff in the hotel, reading statistics on a or seeing their dwellings from the road.

But it is not easy to establish trust/contact. I understand that Navajos have not exactly been rewarded for trusting the white man in the past…

Nevertheless, I had the idea to capture another photo on the reservation for the assignment put to me to capture the American soul through photos depicting: diversity, devotion, dignity and disillusion.

So, which one should it be?

Well, I could maybe find disillusion – but I had my goal set on dignity. I could just imagine the lined face of an elderly tribal member showing hardship, wisdom and dignity!

I tried setting it up by talking to one of the staff members at the hotel. She agreed to help. But I would have to call her grandmother, then she would call the elderly person, next we needed to make an appointment and somebody should take me there.

Unfortunately, my time frame did not allow it, so I gave up. But it would be nice to get better acquainted with the Navajos if/when I pass by again.

Until then: ahé héé (thank you) to the Navajo Nation for their hospitality and letting me into their sacred lands.

I wish all the best for the Navajo people in their continued struggle to preserve their culture while meeting the challenges and opportunities of the modern world.

Tourism definitely seems to yield both; opportunities and challenges…

 

I arrived in Monument valley in the late afternoon. The light was pretty good.

 

At dusk a spectacular show of lightning began.

 

It was almost dark before I had my camera set up right, but I managed to capture numerous lightning bolts splitting the sky.

 

Next morning I went for a drive with my Jeep on the onpaved road in the Valley. I came by this traditional dwelling; a Hogan. I believe some elderly people still use them. I saw Hogans here and there in the landscape.

 

The Hogan inside.

 

Poverty and social issues continue to be a challenge in modern times.

 

I had to take another shot at Monument Valley in the afternoon before I left. Well, actually I took a lot...

 

I drove off from Monument Valley on what seemed to be an infinite road.

 

July 18, 2011

Page, Arizona

Page, Arizona

I have been to Page, Arizona on a previous trip, but the place simply drew me back.

There is so much to see and experience in the nature around the town, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell.

Not least, I wanted to practice my photography at the picturesque Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River.

The bend is too big to get it all in even with a 24mm lens on a full frame camera. I was prepared for that. Thus I had decided to rent a Canon 14mm lens just for this single motive. I would be able to get a perfect shot! I just forgot that lensrental.com does not ship on Saturdays. ☹

As I could not push my schedule, I had to do the best I could with my T-SE 24mm f/3.5 II. When you use it for shifted panoramas it is equivalent to app. 17mm, which is quite wide, but really not wide enough for this job. It was a tough job trying to take the shift panoramas under the burning Arizona sun. I was right at the edge of the cliffs staring down the 330 meters (1,000 feet) and could not concentrate only on photography. I had to be careful not to plunge into my death…

I took a LOT of shots at two separate occasions on the same day. But then shifting cloud made it practically impossible to capture three frames in the same light, which is needed for the perfect stitching job. I am not that thrilled with my results. I should have had that 14mm. Not only would I have been able to get considerably more into the picture. I could have concentrated on (a better) composition. Nevertheless, it is always great to visit such a scenic site. Later I took a swim in Lake Powell to cool off.

This time I also got to see Glen Canyon from the riverside, as I went on a great rafting trip down the river from below Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry. You arrive there with your group in a buss. To get there you go through a 2 miles long service tunnel through the rocks to get down in front of the dam. That is in itself an interesting experience. Our captain and guide for the day, Laura, then took us down river on the last remaining section of Glen Canyon, which has not been flooded behind the dam (Lake Powell).

Not only did we have a great captain, it was certainly a great group of folks from various places in the States, Switzerland and even a Danish family including the little cutie, Katrine.

It is a beautiful trip that I will recommend to anyone visiting Page, Arizona. It is so much different than seeing the canyon from up above. You are so much closer to nature and wildlife. We also got off the raft to see petroglyphs of which the oldest may have been carved as long ago as 8,000 BC. Unfortunately a moron (excuse me) named Trent decided to add his name to the carvings not too long ago. He was spotted by a ranger, caught and apparently fined §10,000. He also had to do 500 hours of community service, as far as I understood, for his outright stupid desecration of the petroglyphs.

The money was used for restoration work, which has turned out really well.

Among all the other interesting things Laura pointed out during the trip, I especially took notice of two hiking paths going down the canyon to the banks of the river. Apparently one can hike right down and camp there overnight without a permit. That is what I will do on my next visit – because Page and Horseshoe Bend will surely draw me back – with that 14mm!

 

A shift panorama of the Glen Canyon Dam with Lake Powell behind it. On the other side is the Navajo Bridge. The three photos for this panorama were taken using - you guessed it - the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 II. As with every photo, click to enlarge!

 

Lake Powell has some very nice beaches with red sand and clear green-blueish water. You can rent huge houseboats and other smaller watercrafts at the marina in the distant background.

 

Another dam photo (pun intended). The service tunnel is at the foot of the dam to the right. To the left there is a hiking trail down to the bank of the Colorado River.

 

Laura was a great guide and explained vividly about the river, the canyon and the ecosystem. Not least, she had a great laughter!

 

We could not complain about the view from the raft. The water was very clear and we saw a number of nice trout.

 

Here is the section of the petroglyps that was desecrated recently. The name "Trent" was carved just above the small petroglyph in the middle. Excellent restoration work, though!

 

Steady as she goes - we pass through Horseshoe Bend. The family to the right having their lunch, are Barry, Emily and Kristi from Pennsylvania. They are great people and I have had the good luck of running into them twice later on, on the street in Moab, Utah.

 

Horseshoe Bend as seen from the plateau 330 meters (1000 ft) above the river. The photo was taken right at the edge. Be careful if you go there - you do not want to fall! Again the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 II was used for a shift panorama, as I had neglected to rent the 14mm in due time. I have to come back again to get it all in the frame...

 

After knocking myself out trying to photograph Horseshoe Bend, I went for a swim at Lone Rock Beach, on the Utah side, to cool off.

 

At Lone Rock Beach the sand is not really red but more yellowish. The heather was fine, as you can see...

 

...but not before long a storm started to brew, and it was time to get out of there. I appreciated the four wheel drive of the Jeep as I pulled out of the loose sand. An RV next to me was stuck. A tremendous thunderstorm followed as I drove back to Page.

 

July 16, 2011

Petrified and painted

Petrified and painted

The name says it all about Petrified Forest National Park. It is simply a place where giant logs have become petrified over a couple of hundred million years and lie scattered on the ground everywhere.

Already before I reached the park I had seen more petrified wood than in my whole lifetime – and perhaps more that I saw in the park. It is everywhere. There are huge “lumberyards” with petrified wood for sale. I even saw a garage built from it.

The park has a couple of different sections. Unfortunately there are not any crystals left in the “Crystal Forest” section.

There used to be crystals exposed in the broken petrified logs. But as mentioned on a sign by the park service, thoughtless visitors have plundered the crystals over the years. In the old days before the park was established, people would even dynamite logs in search of crystals…

Even in a private store in the park one can buy a specimen (apparently collected on private lands). I noticed a tourist purchase a slice for §350. I guess the garage I saw earlier must have been worth millions. I do not think so…

In my opinion the sale of fossils should not be allowed in the park itself, as I believe it encourages collection.

Why can people not leave the wonder of nature there where it has formed and rested for hundreds of million of years – for future generations to enjoy. Why steal it, chop it up, sell it, build a garage from it or bring it home as a souvenir? It well end up in the scrap yard anyway in time.

In the park there was a telling chart that related the 4.6 billion years since formation of earth with one calendar year. That means that the recorded history of man started 30 seconds to midnight in that year.

I think we will have it all destroyed for ourselves in a few seconds more…

Go see Petrified Forest before it is too late. And leave everything behind – except your footprints (on the designated paths).

 

One of the "lumberyards" outside the park with plenty of petrified wood for sale.

 

The entrance to the park. Notice the small sign in the background: Collection of Petrified Wood Prohibited.

 

Here I am with a giant petrified log.

 

Critters like this once roamed the forest before their remains became petrified with it.

 

Another giant petrified log in the Rainbow Forest section.

 

The name of the Rainbow Forest section makes sense.

 

Unfortunately the name of the Crystal Forest section no longer makes sense, because all the crystals have been plundered by thoughtless (to say the least) visitors. Notice the obvious pits in the specimen above.

 

It looks like wood chips - and it is - only petrified. And no, you are not allowed to take just a small souvenir. Leave it there for future generations to see!

 

Around the ruins of an ancient pueblo, native Americans have left a number of petroglyphs. Do not touch them, as the moist and oil from your fingers will break them down.

 

"And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting...", Edgar Allan Poe (1845).

 

When the Agate Bridge was discovered the petrified log supported itself. Apparently cowboys used to ride over it on horseback. It was later supported with masonry and even later with concrete. Toady it would have been left as it was found without added support.

 

I was lucky on my visit. Painted Dessert lived up to its name and the dark sky of a thunderstorm added a beautiful background.

 

July 15, 2011

Flagstaff Meteor Crater

Flagstaff Meteor Crater

Can you imagine Earth being hit by a metal “projectile” measuring approximately 50 meters (150 ft) across travelling with a speed of 46,000 km/h (28,600 m/h) and an impact of 10 megatons?

You do not want to be there, when it happens!

Well, that is exactly what happened just 69 km (43 miles) outside present day Flagstaff some 50,000 years ago, when a meteor cratered the area.

Interestingly the crater is not in federal ownership and thus not a National Monument. It is privately owned and designated as a National Natural Landmark.

The crater, which is advertised as the most well preserved meteor crater in the world, is open to visitors for an admittance fee of $15 (for adults).

The crater seems to attract quite a number of visitors, so the ownership should be able to fill the crater with earnings before long. J

Nevertheless, it is impressive and worth a visit.

For me, it was a perfect opportunity to use my beloved Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 II lens.

The lens has the feature to enable taking panoramas by shifting the lens to the sides and taking three photos that later can be merged perfectly without optical distortion. Besides, the tilt feature can be utilized to create the miniature effect, making big objects look very small.

In other words, the TS-E lens can enable you to depict how big some objects really are or make them look miniature-like.

I took the opportunity to use both functions, as you can see from the photos below, even though the crater is so huge that I could not squeeze all of it in the panorama.

Click on the photos in order to enlarge, and you will see what I mean. You get the picture, don’t you?

 

The crater may seem small...

 

...but it is really big!

 

Even the road to the crater is scenic.

 

July 15, 2011

Oak Creek paradise

Oak Creek paradise

As mentioned in my previous post, I had to come back today for a swim in the pool on Oak Creek, where I had met Gabby yesterday afternoon.

After hiking down the dusty path I reached the pool again and went for a swim.

There was already a couple soothing in the pool. It turned out that the gentleman did psychic readings as a living. His spouse was a teacher. We started to chat about this and that.

The gentleman did not stay in the water for long, but I continued the chat with the lady, who also must have had some psychic powers, because she could tell me straightaway that I was probably a Virgo and the type of person who needed to have things a certain way.

I must say that I am not a great believer in astrology or any other alternative belief for that matter. I cling to facts! In fact I basically regard the whole alternative scene as mumbu-jumbo.  But I was quite baffled by her statement, because she was right on both counts.

Amazing – how could she tell?

I had not said anything to indicate my birth date or way of life…

Anyway, we had a rewarding chat about life as we soothed in the cool pool, and we agreed that this was a small piece of paradise to be enjoyed. By the way,  she informed me that Sedona attracted a lot of people with alternative beliefs. She also mentioned the vortexes and energy fields of the place, which Gabby actually had mentioned the day before.

As I left the pool and walked back to the car I felt more relaxed in body and mind than in a very long time – in total harmony.

No matter what you believe, you better believe that this pool was “magical”.

The magic pool on Oak Creek beneath the red rocks. A rope is dangling from the tree in the middle of the picture, if one would want to swing out over the pool and jump right in.

 

The "magical" pool is just below this little dam on Oak Creek.

 

I passed this rather unique chapel in Sedona on my way from Oak Creek heading north.

 

July 14, 2011

The coolest girl in Arizona

The coolest girl in Arizona

Today I went for a drive around scenic Arizona.

First I went to see the Montezuma Castle National Monument built by Native Americans about 700 AD. Very interesting and impressive!

Then I drove up to Sedona to take a look at the famous red rocks.

At the end of a red dirt road and a long path, I came to a picturesque little creek, Oak Creek. In it was what appeared to me as a little mermaid and her dog swimming around and having fun in the water.

It turned out to be 13 year old Gabby who – after checking out that I was trustworthy – was very kind to lead me up a winding path to the hilltop from where I could take some nice pictures of  “Cathedral Rock”.

Gabby is not only a cute teenager, she is the smartest and coolest girl, I have met in Arizona. It was like having a professional tour guide frying my brain – as she put it – about all the rock formations. On top of that she has the coolest California accent.

Gabby, you are a star!

I nearly lost my way back to the car and was worried for a moment as the sun had already set. But I found it. As I drove away on the red dusty road after sunset a couple of rabbits and a coyote crossed the road in front of the Jeep and slipped into the night. So did I…

But I am definitely going back for a swim of my own in Oak Creek tomorrow morning, before I head out for Painted Dessert, The Petrified Forest and more in the scenic state of Arizona.

Gabby, the coolest girl in Arizona with Cathedral Rock in the background.

 

The dead branches seem to reach for Cathedral Rock in an almost spooky way.

 

Yes - the rocks around Sedona are red alright - especially at sunset.

 

Montezuma Castle - built by native Americans several hundred years ago.