Category Archives: Nature Photographs

Vegas 2021

We went to Vegas in March but I forgot to write about it. It was great but there were still a lot of pandemic restrictions so it sorta felt normal.

The hiking was phenomenal. We had a fabulous time hiking in quiet solitude since no one goes to Vegas for hiking. There was just us and Search and Rescue at one trailhead in the Valley of Fire State Park; they were busy doing search and rescue stuff so we didn’t see them. The weather wasn’t great, it snowed a bit, but it did create beauty – we drove back from the Valley of Fire State Park by Lake Mead and watched the sun break through the clouds / snow and create a spectacular scene. 

The food was great too – Vegas is two hours behind us so getting breakfast or donuts at 5AM in Vegas is no big deal. We did something new, we went on a self directed food tour, and it was a lot of fun. It was in old Vegas and it was super neat to go to three different restaurants with wildly different food.

About a month after we visited Vegas it became crazy – everyone is done with COVID. We heard the mayor say, “for all intents and purposes, Vegas is sold out of hotel room and rental cars for the indefinite future”. That’s wild!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Colorado 2020

Hiking in Colorado was amazing. Just a spectacular hike with great company. The weather was perfect, the scenery was amazing, and we went at a time where the mountain flowers were out; 100% perfection.

Since I go hiking in Colorado nearly every year I could tell there were some differences due to the Rona life.

The noticeable difference started at the airport when I flew out on a Friday:

  • Fridays and Mondays the TSA pre-check line is usually quite long with business travelers. Not this time, I was the only person in the TSA pre-check line.
  • Everyone’s wearing masks and the airport is nearly empty.
  • Fellow passengers in the airport are overwhelmingly young people and families. The average age of travelers appeared to be a few years younger than my age.
  • Iceland Air’s plane was missing. Every Friday around 7PM there is a direct MSP to Iceland flight; the plane arrives to MSP the night before and is always at the same gate waiting for Friday evening. It was the same flight we took to kick off our world travels so every time I’ve been in the airport on a Friday I always get a happy reminder of our wonderful travels. The plane was missing. Probably because international travel is nearly non-existent.
  • Loading of the plane was done in smaller groups and went a hell of a lot faster than normal for some reason.
  • Middle aisle free seating on Southwest was really strange. Normally, people don’t want to sit in the middle aisle anyway but this was really, really strange since the plane was full.

A lack of business travelers was very strange. It’s only happened a few times in the past and it was always at touristy but not businessy locations, like Hawaii. The whole experience in the airport just felt surreal.

Hiking was different too. As I mentioned, the weather was absolutely perfect, the scenery was stunning, and I had, as usual, a great hiking companion. However, due to the Rona, Rocky Mountain National Park was limiting the number of visitors and slotting visitors into specific times between the hours of 6AM and 8PM. Since we weren’t able to get a slot we opted to show up before 6AM. Not a huge deal since we usually try to get to the trail head around 5:30AM to watch the sunrise on the trail.

We went to the same trailhead we’ve been to four-ish times in the past, usually no one is around or just a handful of people are around. This time there was a huge conga-line of vehicles driving into the park before 6AM and the trailhead parking lot was 2/3rds or more full with tons of people around. It was wild. People want to hike regardless of a pandemic and I guess they’ll show up at the ass-crack of dawn to go hiking.

Once we were on the trail it wasn’t different. Stunning beauty, serenity, blissful nature. Normally on the return part of the trip we start running into seas of people. Since the time slots exist we didn’t see many people at all on the return and the parking lot was full by roughly the same amount – another rather strange situation since the parking lots are usually jam packed and there are people swarming all over the trailheads.

Otherwise, everything in Colorado was great. We also went down to the Royal Gorge and enjoyed some beautiful mountain scenery along the way.

100% recommend. Would do again. A+.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Las Vegas and San Diego 2020

Well, I’m a bit late writing this. Like six months late. Better late than never, right?

This last winter we decided to leave the frozen tundra and spend some time with friends in Las Vegas and family in San Diego. Back in 2019 we did the same, except we went to Spain, and we missed the worst of winter. It was fabulous and we were trying to repeat our luck this year.

We weren’t so lucky missing the worst of winter BUT we still had a great time. This is easily a trip I could see us making every year. We were able to see a few amazing national parks during the flight and it really was a treat.

First we went to Vegas and the weather was perfect – no higher than the 80s and absolutely wonderful in the morning and evenings. We had a chance to hit up some new restaurants and eat some amazing donuts. Las Vegas has a LOT to offer on the food front. We went hiking in some of the local parks and it was awesome – no one was around in the early mornings and we truly had the parks to ourselves. I get the feeling people come to Vegas for activities other than eating and hiking so we really enjoyed watching the alpenglow at sunrise and sunset completely alone.

Most amazing part of wandering around was when we stumbled across Mt. Charleston, the local ski resort. First, we had no idea it snowed enough to create a ski resort, and second but most important, people were having picnics in the snow. Now, when I saw they were having picnics in the snow I’m not saying all the people were wearing snow gear and sitting near snow. No, these individuals literally were in street clothes and shoes and were sitting in the snow or hanging out in snow piles enjoying picnics. It’s not like one or two people were doing it either, there were hundreds. There must be some novelty to snow.

After a brief few days in Vegas we left to visit family in San Diego. The second half of the trip was equally amazing. Just like before we enjoyed great company and wonderful food. We wandered around San Diego at sunset and sunrise, much like Vegas, and really enjoyed seeing the world come awake and go to bed. Sunsets at Ocean Beach are flat out amazing and seeing the sunrise over downtown San Diego was wonderful too.

We walked quite a bit more and went to different parts of San Diego, like Pacific Beach, just to explore. Of course, we still went to Bronx Pizza, quite a few times, simply because it’s the best NYC style pizza outside of NYC.

Overall, we had a wonderful time and were very fortunate to have had great weather, great travels, and most importantly, great company.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

 

 

General 2019

So I’ve been really bad at updating this website this year. Life has been busy. That said, I figured I should add a few photos of our adventures over the last six months. I have changed jobs and my new work has brought me to rural Ohio and Phoenix. I was treated with the most amazing sunrise over the Rockies on my way to Phoenix and an illuminating life experience when visiting the Amish in Ohio.

We celebrated four years home this year. It’s weird to think that we’ve been back in the US for four years since it feels like yesterday we were coming back from our travels. Now, the memories we have are no longer current and the world has changed quite a bit. We talk quite a bit about World Trip #2. Maybe it’ll happen sooner than later 🙂

Enjoy the photos!

North Shore 2019

We visited the North Short this fall and it was a bit different than usual. First, it was kind of an odd fall in Minnesota so we didn’t really catch the fall colors. Second, we actually stayed in Canal Park of Duluth, MN, pretty far away from the nice, rural, North Shore that we’re used to. That said, it was still super enjoyable.

We visited Gooseberry Falls and hiked around the park, a first for us, and we finally hike Oberg Mountain! Oberg Mountain is a higher point in the Sawtooths and has a wonderful view of Lake Superior and the mountains to the west. We’ve attempted to hike Oberg Mountain in the past but it the parking area was constantly full. This year we showed up super early and had an absolutely beautiful hike. The hike itself was rather easy even though I was carrying about 30lbs of stuff and the trail had quite a few lookouts of the surrounding area. The hike was well worth the wait and I look forward to doing it again!

Otherwise, we visited our typical parks and lookouts and enjoyed the scenery of the North Shore.

We had a some pretty good food. We found the best BBQ restaurant we’ve ever visited in Minnesota not too far from our hotel and we finally had a chance to eat some donuts at the World Best Donuts in Grand Marais. For whatever reason we have had poor timing and never have had the opportunity to try their donuts – either they were closed for the season or we arrived too late. It’s not like we didn’t try, we’ve visited the North Shore consistently for the last 10 years or so. The donuts were certainly delicious and I can see why they have their reputation!

Enjoy the photos 🙂

Badlands NP 2019

I had never been to Badlands National Park as an adult. I’ve driven past the park many, many, many times so I decided to make a pit stop. There weren’t many people around since it was still winter so it was a great time to enjoy the park in peaceful quietness.

It was mostly cloudy during the drive to the park but the clouds opened up for a brief moment during my visit allowing me to get some decent photos of a beautiful scenery.

It’s not often a person gets to visit a park in peace. My time in the park reminded me a lot of when Jac and I had Zion NP completely to ourselves on our bicycles.

Enjoy the photos :).

 

Spain 2019

We decided to go visit Spain in February to avoid some of the dreary Minnesota winter. We were incredibly lucky – we missed -30F weather with 30MPH winds!

I think I could make a habit avoiding winter in Minnesota.

Terrible Minnesota weather aside, Andalusia in Spain was pretty incredible. The sights were pretty fantastic, the food was amazing, everything was super laid back, we chatted with some incredible people, and we had a couple of wonderful cooking classes! We had a brief stop in Gibraltar, a British colony, and it turned out to be a super strange experience. All-in-all, we had a fantastic visit and we were happy with our visit.

It was neat to tour around Spain and see an area where Muslim Moors conquered and set up shop for 700 years. The architecture and artwork of this period is similar to what we saw in India, Singapore, the Middle East, and the Balkan areas conquered by the Ottomans. It was strange to think the Iberian Peninsula is so far away from India yet shared a similar architectural language because of a shared religion! Besides Muslim architecture, we saw some oppulent churches and cathedrals. Spain hit it’s stride right after it drove all the Muslims out (1492) and soon found itself as a major world power and owner / ruler of the new world. All the gold taken from the Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous peoples ended up lining the walls of huge churches and cathedrals in Spain. Of our all travels, the cathedrals were unlike anything we’ve seen. The blend between Christian and Muslim architecture was a bit schizophrenic – a lot of the buildings looked like the car Homer Simpson designed with all sorts of different styles and features just mashed together.

We probably ate our weight in tapas. It seemed like everywhere we visited we found extremely delicious food. I’m not huge in eating meat and it was surprisingly easy to find delicious vegetarian / vegan food wherever we went. We learned some new favorites, like paella and pisto, while engorging ourselves in olives and bread. If nothing else, Spain is 100% delicious.

No one really seemed to be in a hurry in Spain. In fact, we had to modify our typical eating times slightly to accommodate the issue of a lot of restaurants closing between 2PM and 7PM. We are not really night people so it was a bit strange to eat a large meal early and then try to find a snack in the evenings. In many ways, it was helpful the culture was so laid back. We were able to get around easily and see a lot of sites without being surrounded by people since folks were busy eating at times slightly different than what we were used to!

We had great conversations with folks but there is one experience which stands out – our English paella cooking instructor located in rural Spain. We had an incredible cooking class with her, paella is amazing, but most of all we had a great conversation about traveling, immigrating, Spanish culture, the Brexit, and all sorts of other topics. It was an incredible experience because she and her family went a step further than Jac and I when we were traveling: instead of returning to their home country they decided to lay down roots somewhere a bit more laid back. Anglosphere culture is pretty similar so it was extremely educational to get her perspective on Spain. She informed us of a side of Spain we couldn’t possibly know unless we lived in Spain.

Gibraltar was an extremely strange place. We’ve been to a handful of places that used to be British colonies where driving on the left is the rule and the areas still have a lot of ‘Britishness’. For whatever reason, Gibraltar is right-side driving yet feels very British. This is different than Hong Kong where there is left-side driving there is a giant ‘unweave’ interchange between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to accommodate right-side driving on the mainland. Gibraltar is super tiny and has their own currency to boot so it was weird to pay cash for things and get Gibraltar pounds back. I guess regular UK pounds are valid currency in Gibraltar on a 1:1 basis but Gibraltar pounds are not really valid anywhere outside Gibraltar.

The cities were pretty neat and the Seville Cathedral Roof tour is one of the amazing things we’ve done but I think our favorite area of Spain we visited was the rural areas with the tiny white villages. We had a fantastic night in Zahara de la Sierra and enjoyed visiting the tiny white villages strewn across the countryside. The small towns were a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city centers of Madrid, Seville, Granada, etc. The mountains were absolutely stellar and the countryside just smelled good! The streets were super narrow in the small villages. I ran into a building in Arcos de la Fronteria while trying to back out of a bad situation – the directions I received from a local would have required me to drive down some stairs so I decided maybe that I shouldn’t do that in a rental and ended up driving into a building. We had a new, black, VW Polo with 500KM and ran into a white building. Not great.

Aside from driving into buildings it was very easy to drive around Spain. Drivers were very courteous and pretty much everyone was driving below the speed limit. We were surprised with the narrow ‘highways’ in the mountains. It was incredible to see buses traversing the mountains knowing the road was barely wide enough for two small vehicles let alone a huge coach bus.

Spain was surprisingly cheap. Meals weren’t that expensive and lodging was a bit on the pricier side only because we picked some great views / great locations for lodging. Our rental car was super cheap and it was, in general, just crazy to see how far our dollars went. We were a bit surprised to learn Spain is kinda poor by American standards, especially the rural areas. Average wages are quite low to match the cost of living. There’s a lot of agriculture work and tourism seems to be the big industry in Andalusia so I guess it’s pretty logical wages are lower.

We were lucky to visit Spain when we did. It was neat to see ripe olives on the trees, see almond trees blooming, and enjoy local festivals like Christians & Moors in Madrid. Traveling in shoulder season is truly the best – all sorts of festivals and the earth is active with changes for the upcoming seasons. We also caught a Flamenco show in Seville and were completely floored with what we saw – the music, dancing, and singing was incredible.

We’d happily go back to Spain to eat tapas and hang out in the many white villages in the mountains :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

North Shore 2018

We finally made it to the north shore when there nice fall colors! After years and years of trying we discovered the north shore does in fact have beautiful fall colors. Who knew?

Minnesota does not have gentle fall weather. It’s usually quite windy, often rainy, and sometimes snowy. More often than not, the leaves are ripped from the trees well before the beautiful fall colors can be displayed. For some reason, this year was different and we were able to see it. The colors seemed to stretch for miles and were quite lovely; our touring around reminded us of our time last year in the Smoky Mountains NP area.

Fall on the north shore starts a bit sooner so we still have a couple more weeks in the twin cities area before we get our peak fall colors. It’s nice getting two falls :).

Enjoy the photos!

Colorado Hiking 2018

This year’s hiking in Colorado was amazing.

My brother and I hiked to Black Lake in Rocky Mountain NP and even spent a bit of time hiking up past the lake. We had perfect weather and it was wonderful. This year, unlike all other years, I brought Jac along and we hiked to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain NP and Lake Isabella in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Both lakes had perfectly still weather and we had mirror reflections in the lake, we even caught some mountain flowers. It was incredible.

Like all other years, we woke up super early in Denver and reached the trailhead just before 6AM. Unlike other years, we were a bit surprised to see a handful of other people at the trailhead. Normally, we wake up so early and reach the trailhead so early we don’t really see anyone until we start our return. For whatever reason, there were a bunch of people on the trail this year. It wasn’t a problem though, once we started on our way we pretty much had the mountains to ourselves.

It was a wonderful time with my brother’s family and it was super fun to show Jac the mountains. 100% good time trip :).

 

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

American Southwest 2018

We had a wonderful two week trip through the American Southwest and saw some incredible scenery. The American Southwest is one of the last areas we’ve wanted to visit in the US since we’re not big into red rocks or desert so we’ve held off visiting the area until now. After our visit, I’ve changed my opinion a lot and look forward to visiting again, hopefully soon!

We drove a giant circle across Arizona and Utah visiting a ton of parks along the way (Petrified Forest NP, Canyon de Chelly NM, Monument Valley, Goosenecks SP, Arches NP, Deadhorse SP, Capitol Reef NP, Grand Staircase Escalante NM, Kodachrome SP, Bryce Canyon NP, Cedar Breaks NM, Zion NP, Grand Canyon NP) seeing incredible sights, eating incredible food, and enjoying spectacular weather.

It’s hard to describe the enormity of the sights. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the perfect example – it’s a national monument / natural feature that has grand mesas and incredible 1,500ft monoclines climbing stepwise nearly 7,000ft over many miles. The Grand Canyon is just that – grand, and the other national / state parks we visited were equally enormous. The slot canyons, hodooos, mesas, buttes, monuments, ruins, petroglyphs, arches, mountain peaks, desert valleys, goosenecks, orchards, and crystal clear night skies were all incredible. No photo is capable of capturing the sheer size and beauty of the area. I tried, I really did, but I know the photos I took are not representative of the area and fail to portray the area accurately. The area is one of those places a person has to see in person.

The national parks were busy. Very busy. To cope, we did one of two things: we either altered our schedule to minimize the number of people we’d be around or we’d figure out alternate paths / alternate activities. As an example of altering our schedule: we chose to do a lot of early morning hiking. Seeing sunrise on Peek-a-boo trail in Bryce Canyon was an experience I can’t describe and is easily one of the best moments in hiking I’ve ever had. We started hiking when it was still rather dark and had hiked in solitude for about 45min in the dark / shade of the hoodoos before we rounded a corner to see a very large valley filled with vibrantly lit hoodoos from the early morning sun. The colors were amazing and the full body experience was exacerbated by the early morning stillness, early morning animals, and early morning smells. It was stunning. As we finished up our hike we saw humanity pouring into the canyon and it was loud. Screaming, yelling, music playing, and selfie taking made it a bit harder to enjoy the trail. I’m confident we would have greatly disliked hiking in Bryce if we would have hiked at a normal human time simply because the crush of humanity would also be enjoying the trails. Renting bicycles and riding around the canyon floor in Zion NP is the other example of finding alternate activities. Humanity is overrunning Zion – people, people, people everywhere so the national park service runs shuttles to minimize traffic in the canyon. I know there is about a 0% chance I’d cram myself into a tourist shuttle so I looked for alternate activities and found we could rent bicycles and bike wherever we wanted; sounded like a great alternative! Not only was it a great alternative, it’s one of the coolest things we’ve ever done! It felt like we had the canyon to ourselves! Since there was very little traffic we could bike wherever we wanted, it was super quiet, and it was stunningly beautiful. It was surreal knowing that there were a ton of people in Zion NP but that they were relegated to shuttles and wherever they decided to get off the shuttle. Had we not rented bikes I’m pretty sure we would have hated Zion since there were so many people.

Outside the national parks, the solitude was incredible. There were vast expanses where we didn’t see other vehicles or other people, didn’t see planes overhead, had zero cellphone signal, and didn’t hear or smell anything other than nature. For example: Red Canyon right next to Bryce Canyon NP. It’s not even a park but part of national forest surrounding Bryce NP. There are quite a few trails in the area so we decided to hike the area. We hiked in the middle of the day and chose a more popular trail, the Golden Wall trail. We didn’t see a single person, we didn’t hear any sounds of humanity, and only enjoyed nature. The sights were really similar to Bryce Canyon but no-one was around. The hike is one of the better hikes we’ve ever done in our entire lives.

We were chatting with the National Forest Service volunteer at the Red Canyon visitor center and she mentioned Highway 12 is “the second most beautiful drive in the world”. Highway 12 runs between Moab and Bryce Canyon NP and goes through Grand Staircase NM, Capitol Reef NP, and a lo of beautiful areas. We had driven on Highway 12 and thought it was quite pretty so we were a bit surprised to hear it’s the second most beautiful drive in the world. I asked her what the first most beautiful drive was and she said “Milford Sound in New Zealand”. Fortunately for us, we had driven that road when we could compare. I think Highway 12 in Utah was more beautiful only because we didn’t really like New Zealand :/. It’s interesting to think that Milford Sound is internationally known yet I had never heard of Highway 12 in Utah.

Speaking of national parks and national forests – I continually re-learn that there is a major difference in crowds visiting national parks and national forests. We’ve hiked, a lot, all over the country and I noticed a while back that the folks visiting national parks seemed to be more like city dwellers who wanted to see nature and have access to amenities like shops, rangers, informational walks, etc., and people who visited national forests for hiking seemed to be the type of people who, in general, want to enjoy hiking far away from others. It’s awesome people want to visit national parks; there’s literally nothing else like the US national park system we’ve seen in all of our travels. It’s truly a unique gem all Americans should take advantage of when possible.

This is the first year I’ve noticed something different about the crowds in the parks and other areas we were visiting. While extremely anecdotal, it seems as though the improving economy has brought a different part of society to the parks. Jac and I started visiting national parks in 2008 and witnessed firsthand the utter destruction the Great Recession had on the tourist areas around the parks starting in 2009. Seeing boarded up hotels, closed restaurants, and shut down tourist attractions was common place. This year I noticed far fewer shuttered businesses and noticed the parks were attracting families / individuals who looked different than the typical national park tourist and may have been a lower socio-economic class. It was exciting to see the folks – the recession was awful and disproportionately awful to the lower socio-economic classes so it’s my hope my observations mean the recovery has worked its way to all classes of society. If my observation is true then the recovery sure took its sweet time. 

We were surprised to find out the area has a lot of homemade pie options. It seemed as though every local restaurant we visited offered some sort of homemade pie ranging from the classic apple, peach, etc., to the more adventurous mountain berry and summer fruits mix. This all started at Capitol Reef National Park. I had read that one of the gift shops sold homemade pie inside the park – which I thought was very strange. I had read that tourists needed to show up a bit early to make sure they were able to get pie, even in March / April, since they tended to sell out. First, I don’t recall homemade items ever really being sold inside a national park. Second, Capitol Reef NP is in the middle of nowhere, seriously, look at a map of the US to find a big city in the area and then look at a population density map, there’s nearly nothing in the area. So, we set off early from Moab and arrived in Capitol Reef NP a bit after 10ish or so. We found they were selling small personal pies in the park so bought one pie as a test quickly discovering we needed seven more. From there on out, I think we had pie with every meal and pie at night before we went to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much pie!

Without planning, it seems our timing was right for a lot of things:

  • we weren’t snowed on, at all, unlike what happened to individuals we know who traveled the area a couple weeks before us,
  • the Milky Way was out in the early morning and we ended getting some great Milky Way photos,
  • our driver for the Monument Valley sunrise tour happened to know an incredible amount about photography and taught me a massive amount about night photography in about half of an hour,
  • the fruit trees in Capitol Reef NP were in bloom and it was beautiful,
  • the road to Cedar Breaks NM just opened for the year while we were in the area and the sunset we watched in solitude was incredible,
  • our gravel / dirt road driving went without a hitch since it hadn’t rained in some time and everything is solid,
  • we were able to get a tour of the Glen Canyon dam,

Despite having grown up in an arid climate I had forgotten how bad static electricity can get. I live in Minnesota now, rarely do I ever build up enough static electricity to shock myself or anyone else. Being high in the mountains and in the arid climate reminded me so much where I grew up; it only took a couple of days to get the metal touching habit back to top of mind so I could dissipate smaller amounts of static electricity frequently instead of getting a few doozies J.

Lastly, the food was great; not just the desserts, real food too. We had some extremely delicious Mexican food and it was awesome to get Indian tacos again. I had Indian tacos a lot in school growing up and I’ve come to find most folks in Minnesota have no idea what an Indian taco is or where to get one. One of the best meals we had was an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet in Moab after a long day hiking around Arches NP; we made out like bandits on that deal.

Overall, this trip went well above our expectations. I can’t wait to go back!

Enjoy the photos –

Chris W.

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