A Travellerspoint blog

The Best Day in Glacier Bay National Park

The John Hopkins Glacier, Sea Scapes, South Marble Island, and Sunset

sunny 72 °F

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The day began innocently enough. When I stepped into the daylight, my first sight was that of the Margerie glacier. It was a good first look at the world, its jagged ice face holding fast in the early morning light. It was beautiful, but not in a picturesque way. It was beautiful to stand in the cold open air looking at the glacier still deep in shadow holding absolutely still, in muted pale blues of early mountain light. It was like standing alone in a beautiful ice temple, or standing knee deep in a forest watching the snowfall; it left me feeling good about everything.
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The day only improved from there. We motored across to look at the John Hopkins Glacier, which is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually expanding. This was the first time I saw the John Hopkins, as thick sea ice blocked our passage earlier in the summer. The John Hopkins is connected to the eastern edge of the Gilman Glacier. The faces of the glaciers were lit up in bright morning sun, while the hanging glaciers high above them were still in cloud.
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The combination of sun, swirling mountain clouds, glaciers, mountains, and sea were a dynamic force to reckon with this day, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a reoccurring vision that made me very happy to be alive. This is my last trip into Glacier Bay for the year. The landscape and seascapes combined with the variety of wildlife made this among the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska. It was a splendid farewell, a final reminder to come back and explore again sometime, that Alaska is still wild and will forever be.
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Now, before I get lost into trying to weave poetic justice to the indescribable beauty I hold in my memory, I’m going to let my images speak for me. The point is, it was a beautiful day, and I’m glad I was there to live it. If I never see Alaska again, I’ll still have this trip to Glacier Bay National Park to hold dear.
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I saw four different glaciers. The Marjorie, the John Hopkins, the Gilman and the Hoonah. The Hoonah was probably my favorite, as it was high up nestled under the shoulder of a high mountain. The swirling clouds were sunlit white behind the piles of jagged ice. It was an easy composition and one of my favorites.
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As we cruised along, we saw a brown bear and a wolf sharing the same beach. They were both poking along the waterfront looking for food, or looking for fun, who knows? I focused my lens on the wolf, as this was the only wolf I’ve seen all year, anywhere. It was though it wanted to pose for me, and he walked out to the end of a small spit of rocks and held still, looking off into the distance, before poking around some more and disappearing into the woods.
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The sky was putting on a fantastic show of its own with playful variations on cloud, color and light. The sky would change its dynamic every twenty minutes, bending light through the heavy clouds, creating a masterpiece of living art. In every direction I looked, another seascape demanded my attention. I was in my element, in the elements, and loving every second.
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In the late afternoon, we sailed up to South Marble Island, and I don’t think it’s ever looked better. I’ve talked about the Marble islands in past entries (June 10th to August 6th), but my last views were my favorite. I loved seeing the crowded, noisy and stinky sea lion covered rocks and pastel skies one last time. The birds were still living there, the puffins, cormorants, gulls, jaegers, among many others flying in groups through many of the photos I captured. As we left, the sun came out, backlighting the most southerly outcrops in glinting sunlight, offsetting the heavy cloud cover off to the west. Intense sunrays burned through the gaps in the clouds giving the scenes even more layering than I though one scene could handle. In a word, gorgeous.
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Then as we traveled further south in the setting sun, the Orca showed themselves and we were able to match their pace as we cruised south. A male and female were traveling as a pair through the placid light blue water and with evening sun behind me, the whale and spruce covered island made for good memories.
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We docked into Bartlett cove for a couple of hours, and I took the time to finish my day with a little exercise. My buddy Luke had his slack line, so I borrowed it and set it up on the dock. We took turns practicing our craft, focusing on balance in the cold night air. Balance is the correct term, for as we walked the line, the sky turned golden orange in the west, the strong afterglow of the sunset. In the east, just peaking above the tops of the dark spruce trees was the pale yellow moon rising through the dark indigo sky.
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It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska, a cornucopia of landscapes, wildlife, oceans, visions, photography, and life. It had it all, and I hope there are more days like these in my future.
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Posted by Rhombus 20:30 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales ice alaska clouds glaciers photography portland wolves Comments (0)

The Dusty Vagabond's 100th Entry Extravaganza

Some Thoughts My Blog, Thirty Pictures of Adventures Past

all seasons in one day 60 °F

This entry is somewhat special to me, as it marks one hundred small chapters I have had the pleasure of presenting to you. My blog has surprised me. I never expected it to be as fun as it is to write, or how many people I’ve been able to reach with my twisted, yet well-timed views of this universe.

When I started writing about my travels way back in November of 2009, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know if my writing would be like so many of my other “projects” that I’ve been intensely interested in, only to let them fall by the wayside. I’ve had a variety of doomed projects such as: learning Hawaiian, Spanish, and German (I‘ve a short attention span). I‘ve also given up ice skating (for good) bottle collecting, volunteering, golf, ventriloquism, and geology among many others. However, at the time I really wanted to start writing again. I had been to some cool places, and I had plans of going to many more. I knew I was leading an interesting life and I wanted to share it with others. At the time, I didn’t quite know where I fit into the whole scheme, but in time, I knew I wanted to inspire people to go play outside and see the world for themselves. I also wanted to show off my photos, a gift that I’m quite happy in sharing with you.

I’ve always been a better photographer than a writer, so to those of you who simply enjoy or review the photos I thank you for your time. For those of you who waste perfectly good minutes of your day and actually delve into the text and struggle through my invincible wall of typographical and grammatical errors, you have my respect, both of you. I can only imagine the fun you have trying to understand my awkward metaphors. At times, I have to try hard to get what I want to say written correctly and sometimes words fail the imagery I’m trying to relate.

Here's what I find interesting. People from the US, Canada, Great Britain have visited my site the most often. People from Afghanistan, Estonia and Zimbabwe have spent the most time reading the entries. I’m quite surprised and delighted at who has read about my travels. It has truly stretched across the globe, and I’m excited that strangers from around the world can read what a rambler like me is doing with my life. The planet is smaller than ever thanks to electronics.

I’m going to look back at some of my old photos and entries to reminisce and think of my past excursions. This is a good self-analysis of my craft more than anything else. I will repost thirty of my favorite photographs from the last one hundred entries, and tell you a bit more about each one.

Above all, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to listen to what I have to say. I have had a good run, and an author is useless without an audience. In particular, I’d like to thank the good people at Travellerspoint (www.travellerspoint.com) who’ve put together a fantastic travel website free of charge. They also have taken notice and featured my blog (five times), photos, and have answered my questions. They’ve opened some doors for my craft that otherwise probably would’ve remained closed, lost in large pile of other traveler’s stories.

For those of you who want to know more about Travellerspoint, it is a website designed by travelers for travelers. It has well over a quarter of a million members, and offers free blogging, mapping, and photography. They have a featured blogs, travel photos, a travel forum to discuss anything travel related, a travel guide written by members, and an accommodations page to help you plan your travels. It is a fantastic site, and one I’m damn glad to be a part of.

Thirty of my Favorite Places

Rain and Sun
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I was leaving the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic Nat‘l Park. It was February. The campground was freezing cold, deserted and lonesome. I grew restless. I was hopped up on the high-powered coffee that I had been drinking all afternoon. As I drove out, the heavy clouds broke apart briefly in front of the setting sun lighting up the road and the intense rain shower I was driving through. I stopped the van, and took this photo out of my driver side window. Sometimes you only have a split second to decide if you are going to go for the picture or not. My advice? Shoot first. Drive later.

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I love the City of Rocks. It was late afternoon, and I had just finished bouldering for the day. I was setting up some climbing shots when I experimented with my shadow on the rock. I stretched my lanky frame and tripped the shutter.

Diving into beautiful Lake Superior
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This photo had perfect timing. I took it on the first attempt, looking at my watch and guessing when I should be airborne. At the time, I was shooting film and didn’t know if I had the shot or not, so I took half a dozen takes. Luckily, my guess was right on.

Sunrise and Ice
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Excerpt from my journal:
“I started my day with a debate. ‘Should I go out and take in the sunrise, or not.’ It's not an easy discussion to have with yourself. I decided to set up a system of rewards; a.k.a hot coffee and a muffin upon my return. Outside: cold, snow crunching, slicing wind. Protected by 1970's big green jacket, I find the atmosphere awash with an intense orange quality that sparkles magnificently on the ice. Like a 10 minute wink, the eye of the sun opens briefly, then is gone. Satisfaction. I find my rewards, listen to Yo Yo Ma play some Bach (appropriate), and happily plunk myself in front of my cheery fire. Good morning.”

Bull Elk at Dawn
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I’ve always wanted a good elk shot. Up until this point, I had many pictures of the ass end of an elk, which was somewhat awkward to both the elk and myself. Finally, one magical winter dawn in Yellowstone Nat’l Park I was driving east from Mammoth to go Nordic skiing when I saw two elk on side of the road. I used my van as a blind and took this photo just as the sun crept over the side of the distant mountain.

Madison Valley and Rocky Mountains
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Montana is awesome. This is taken just off the highway near and is a fine example of Montana’s alluring wide-open spaces.

A Rainbow and Passing Storm
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I was staying at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho when a very powerful storm rolled through. The intense storm packed a punch and the rain pounded the van. It was a fast moving squall however, and sunlight soon lit up the clouds that had passed by. I jumped out to take advantage of the beautiful lighting. I was busy taking pictures of the trunk of this tree and its shadow when a rainbow appeared. I took this photo, set up for another, and my battery died.

Crab in Death
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I was biking on the hard packed sand of Cape Lookout State Park in Oregon when I came upon this crab sprawled out in a good dramatic death pose. I put my lens very close to it, crouching down in the wet sand. I wanted to convey the crab as my subject, yet show the expansive beach and surf at low tide. I still like this photo.

Moss Coverage
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I worked hard to get the angle just right for this photo. There were a lot of distracting sticks poking out of the water that I wanted to eliminate. After ten minutes of fussing, I finally found it.

Sitka Landscapes
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I went for a bike ride out to Jablonski Island one evening in early May. I was heading out to John Brown’s Beach when the sun cracked with intensity through a small window in the cloud highlighting the fishing boats, town and Spruce in very warm color but leaving the mountains in heavy gloom.

Devil’s Club and Waterfall
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I really love the intensity of the green of the Devil Club, and surrounding brush compared to the whiteness of the waterfall. If you like green, go hike through the temperate rain forests of Southeast Alaska to see the wide varieties of Earth’s most common color.

Embracing Alaska
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This is still one of my favorite photos and the best example of what I am all about. I had hiked up to Beaver Lake near Sitka, Alaska with a friend of mine. We found the rowboat, bailed it out, plugged the holes as best we could and rowed out onto the lake. I spied this log sticking out of the water and inspiration struck. I had her row me over to it, so I could climb up on it and pose while I shouted to her how to compose the photo. What you don’t know is that my finger on my right hand is painfully numb and bleeding profusely as I had sandwiched it between the bow of our rowboat and the log before I climbed up.

Free Spirit in North Dakota
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I found this field of rapeseed (horrible name) near my campground at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. It made a beautiful backdrop, and it was easy to set up this self-portrait. I was thinking of how damn good it was to see the Great Plains in color for once, and how free I felt.

The Caboose
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This caboose sits silently near the small town of Poplar, Wisconsin. I passed it one afternoon as I was driving by and stopped and turned around. Too often in the past, I had blown by scenes that intrigued me. I often regretted it. Not this time, I stopped, left the van running, ran over into the clover and buttercups, got low and took the photo. Everything was perfect, and I haven’t seen this caboose in such conditions since.

Playing with shadow on an untouched beach
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It had been raining all day, and I had sat inside through all of it. Bored, I decided to go watch the sunset down on the beach. I was surprised when the low angled sun broke through the dark clouds and lit up the sand and forest. I set up a self-portrait and posed as to give myself a long, funky shadow.

Cloud clearing in Sitka
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I was trying to sneak up on some blue herons that were feeding in the estuary, near Sitka. I was bumbling around on the boardwalk as loud as I could, and the herons had all flown away by the time I “snuck” up on them. Disgusted with myself for not being quiet, I walked around to the front of the river when this scene unfurled in front of me. The clouds briefly cleared in front of the mountain peaks and the sun showed bright through the high clouds lighting up the meadow and river beautifully. No herons this time, but I captured one of my favorite Alaskan memories instead.

A Vibrant End to Autumn
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This was the only photo I took on this day. I was walking in my mom’s yard and these maple leaves struck me as being particularly vibrant. I started thinking about the last leaf of autumn, and a short story formed in my head about it.

Oak Leaf and Wave
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A quiet Zen moment of early winter.

Moonset
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I had been watching this full moon all night. I had just gotten off work, and I had a few minutes to grab my camera and compose this shot before the sun came up. It was a magical morning with moon on one side of us, and the sunrise on the other. I preferred this moon.

Cactus, Kayakers and the SeaBird
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I often compose the desert landscapes of Baja with the surrounding sea. I had just descended a high mountain peak on Isla Danzante when I noticed two kayakers about to cross the small cove. I saw my composition, setting up a leading line of cactus, kayakers, and the Seabird in the distance. I waited for them to separate a little and snapped the shutter.

An Arc of Dolphins
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I took hundreds of dolphin shots down in Baja, but none of them were as well timed as this one. For every hundred shots of the spray of where a dolphin had just been airborne, you might get one nice one. Luck was with me this day.

The Coyote
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This coyote passed within 4 feet of where I was standing on the ski trail in Yellowstone Nat’l park. I will never forget it.

Standing man statue
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I went for a bike ride in La Paz, Baja California Sur. As I headed back into the sun, this shadow and statue caught my eye. Luckily, I had the sidewalk to myself. I was in the right place at the right time, and took my opportunity.

White fences of Idaho
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While biking along “The Trail of the Coeur d’alene” I biked by these brilliant white fences and barns of a horse ranch. Since it was winter, and the world was drab, I turned to black and white to help contrast the scene, and let the fences be my leading line.

Water colors at dawn
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I love this kind of water. This is as brilliant and colorful as I’ve ever seen it. It was just before dawn in the Sea of Cortez, and the sky was fiery orange and pink with a wonderful sunrise.

The end of the earth
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Cabo San Lucas is home to a tip of land made of majestically carved rock called the end of the earth. Because the entire city of Cabo is a blown up little America, and the cape is beleaguered by tour boats and chaos, I was lucky to compose this shot without anything manmade appearing in it. I like this shot, because I was able enough to eliminate all the hubbub of the place and capture a quiet and compelling moment when the cape was quiet just before dark.

Strong-armed cactus landscape
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This Cardon Cactus was unique. It looked like to me, that a man was buried to his waste holding his hands straight up. I was wandering among the unique boojum trees found only in this part of Mexico when I stumbled upon this cactus.

Ame and Thom’s album cover
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We had gone for a stroll down by the Santa Cruz lighthouse and there were huge concrete forms used to protect the light called riprap. I had been playing around on them while Ame made a phone call. When she was done, I had her come and join me for a photo. She perched up high, and I sat low and the shot was perfect. Part of what makes travelling special is the people you meet along the way. I've met a lot of good people, I would never had met if I had stayed home.

Ice detail
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I’ll never forget this iceberg. It was the most uniquely colored berg I’ve ever seen, and I was mesmerized by blue. This berg wouldn’t look nearly so vibrant under a sunny sky, and fortunately we had a foggy drizzle to witness this masterpiece.

Islands in the mist
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The mists of southeast Alaska are amazing. When they begin to break up and dissipate, it creates beautiful land and seascapes where the mists mingle with mountain, islands, sea and sky.

Brown bear fishing
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I had been hoping to see a brown bear up close all year. In August, the salmon begin to run up the small streams of the islands and the bears come in for the feast. This bear was one of three who were fishing in Pavlov cove on the day we visited. I had just woken up, and the chief mate asked me if I wanted to go and look at the bears. I grabbed my camera hopped in a zodiac wearing shorts, light fleece and flip-flops. We rode up the small stream where we could see the bears. I hopped out of the zodiac and walked up the shore to the join the mob that watched these bears fish beneath the falls. I took this picture, caught my ride back to the boat and ate breakfast.

The Ohio and Erie Canal
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I love how grown in and swampy this picture looks. This was once a viable shipping canal running between Cleveland and Akron. It’s good to see nature reclaim its territory after man abandons their work.

The next one hundred entries begin once again in Alaska. I’ll be back aboard the NGS Seabird sailing south on a two week photo trip through Alaska and British Columbia. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while, and so I here I go again.

“We were curious. Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizon less as that of Darwin, Agassiz or Linneaus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality.” The Log From the Seas of Cortez, by Steinbeck.

Posted by Rhombus 16:08 Archived in USA Tagged travel mexico usa canada photography philosophy blogging Comments (5)

An Evening at Niagara Falls

The Canadian Side, Tourist Traps, The Falls, and Burlington, Vermont

sunny 79 °F

Niagara Falls
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I could tell we were entering the land of tourists long before we ever crossed the border into Canada. Giant signs touting “FALLS INFORMATION” were festooned all over the American side, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. After all, a natural feature as fantastic as a giant waterfall must be exploited, and cash carrying tourists are the quarry.

I knew I was heading into Disneyland, but I still wanted to see the falls. I’ve always liked falling water, and the immensity of these falls attracted me.

We crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada with ease on a balmy summer evening in mid August. The fine mist from the spray of the falls was on my left, and the gorge was on my right. I had to concentrate on driving however, and didn’t get to gawk at the falls. My girlfriend has a small white subcompact, that I dubbed “Little Tooth” which is great on gas, but doesn’t offer much elevation to see much over the sides of bridges.

After passing customs, we followed the signs to the edge of the gorge and past the two sets of falls towards the parking lots, which are some distance away from the falls. The lots were charging twenty dollars a pop to park, but since my companion knew the area well, we continued past the lots and pulled into a small park with free parking. She’s got beauty and brains, hot damn, I’m lucky. We parked and walked back toward the main overlook of the falls past small streams, the old power station (which is an impressive architectural site as well). While walking along, I looked out over the rushing water, and wondered what it was like to see these falls for the first time if you didn’t know that they were there. Imagine taking a raft down the river, and suddenly you start to hear a dull roar that only kept getting louder as the water became much swifter.
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Then I started wondering what it was like to go over in a barrel. Daredevils have been trying this stunt for as long as there have been people coming to view the falls. These days, these kinds of stunts are highly illegal and frowned upon. The Niagara Falls operators have been trying to discourage this kind of stunts for decades. I suppose they feel it makes their falls kind of a sideshow act or something.
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Just recently, one of the “Flying Wallendas” (of tight rope walking fame) was trying to set up a high wire act to walk across the gorge in front of the falls. The City of Niagara Falls, New York sponsored the idea as a way to bring in more people to their struggling city. However, the casino/hotel rich Canadians of Niagara Falls, Ontario aren’t facing financial difficulties at the moment, and won’t consent to the attempt.
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Some Facts:
Niagara Falls consist of two sets of falls, Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. They are formed by the awesome power of water that drains from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Horseshoe falls are around 2600 feet and drop around 170 feet into the gorge. The American falls are just over 1000 feet wide and fall somewhere between 70 and 100 feet. That’s a lot of water.

Both sides of the gorge offer views of the falls, but the Canadian side offers a head on look at them, compared to the side view the Americans see. The overlook sidewalk was full of tourists, all of them were milling about, taking pictures of their companions (big smiles), then handing off the camera to another so they can get in on the act (more big smiles). A woman saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her and “Bob” with their camera. I was happy to do so, and I wished them a good evening.
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Finally, I neared the edge of Horseshoe falls. I had to wait until an opening appeared at the rail. The aforementioned cliques of tourists swarmed to the rail and away from it like flocks of migrating black birds, each taking turns with their backs to the falls, then moving on for another perspective.
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I was impressed. The falls are powerful, robust, and awe inspiring. They were cool to see, and I enjoyed my time at the rail. I had my camera out, and tried to focus more on the natural side of things (of course). It was hard, but not impossible to get good portraits of the falls without including smiling tourists.

I won’t lie (much). I took the obligatory couples shot of my lady and myself in front of the falls. I think it’s a requirement to seeing the falls. I happily paid my dues. What I don’t understand is the allure of getting married or engaged at the falls. What’s romantic about a tourist trap? I mean the falls are beautiful, and would make a nice backdrop for such things, but the fact is, you aren’t going to get the falls all to yourself, ever. But I guess I’m a loony and don’t know much about true love. Ah well, maybe in time I’ll understand.
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We ended our evening on a high note with a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately we were back in Little Tooth and couldn’t get out to take advantage of the scene (aka take a photo), so we just enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed my visit to Niagara Falls.

On Burlington.
If you were in the business of designing a city, you might want to consider Burlington, Vermont as your footprint. Burlington has many good things going for it, and people from around the country are starting to take notice.

Burlington is located up in the northwest part of the state, on the east side of Samuel De Champlain’s Lake. Champlain was credited with being the first hombre to come stomping by, probably in search of beaver pelts.

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Vermont takes great pride in promoting local food first, and Burlington leads the way. In every restaurant we visited the menu was full of ingredients from farms surrounding the Burlington area. It was also really cool to see were all the small farms that were in business on the way into town. We drove in on highway seven past the lush farms in the peak of their growing season. There were rich cornfields with corn straight and tall. Beans, berries apples and peaches, fresh eggs and grass fed beef among other farm fresh products were for sale, and it was hard not to get excited. This is how food ought to be. Buy it local, support your neighbors, and get it fresh.

Burlington is an old city (established in 1785). Burlington is mixing pot of college kids, working professionals, crunchy green culture, and progressive thinkers. It was a refreshing place to look around and say, “Uh Huhn. Looks like these folks are doing it right.”

The city has a reliable and very good public transit system. On busy weekend evenings, it’s better to leave your car at home if you are heading downtown. Take the bus, or expect to walk a ways, the city is trying to encourage public transit use and therefore doesn’t make downtown parking very accessible. The five o’clock rush hour is a good time to avoid the downtown area, and that’s probably the most negative thing I can say about the city.

It’s a bike friendly town. There are ample bike lanes and routes along the streets. There are many bikers. , and biking is a good option for anyone interested in seeing the city.

Beyond that, it’s an active town, there were many people out running, walking, biking, rollerblading, long board skateboarding, among others. During the weekend, Burlington was hosting the national championships of triathlon, and the town was full of fit athletes preparing for the race.

While I only had a brief visit in Burlington, I enjoyed it immensely. Here are my recommendations for places to eat, and places to see while in the city. For breakfast, try Sneakers, The Skinny Pancake (serving crepes) and their sister shop The Chubby Muffin.

My favorite restaurant was by far The Farm House. I spent all day hiking up to the top of Mount Mansfield and I had a monstrous appetite. The fresh food was served hot was delicious, and I ate my meal like a boa constrictor. I recommend the house macaroni and cheese, and a side of homemade summer sausage. Beyond that, their beer selection was amazing with a featured local brew, and dozens of choices of regional micro brews. I am a chocolate nut so I visited the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. Their chocolate is divine. Ben and Jerry’s are still serving ice cream from their first ice cream shop downtown. Finally, if you are into the outdoors, you’d do well to visit the Outdoor Gear Exchange. This is a dangerous shop, full of new and used outdoor gear of all varieties. You can buy and sell equipment there, so make sure to check out the consignment area to find good deals on good gear.

Most of these places are downtown along Church Street. Church street is closed to motorized traffic and allows foot traffic only. It’s a cool little street full of people milling about shopping, eating or simply people watching.
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My only regret was not bringing my camera out more. I’ve no pictures to back up my claims, but please take my word for it. Burlington is a class act.

Posted by Rhombus 09:45 Archived in Canada Tagged waterfalls_vermont_photography_ Comments (0)

The Assault of Mt. Mansfield

Hiking to the Highest Point in Vermont, The Trails, The Chin, The Enjoyment of Hiking

semi-overcast 75 °F

I began my assault of Mt. Mansfield on a Friday at 8:37 a.m. The apex of Mt. Mansfield coincidently is the highest elevation one can reach in the state of Vermont. It was a worthy venture and a worthy mountain to summit and conquer.
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You might be wondering why I’m in Vermont. I had boasted of grand adventures in Denali and Yosemite in past entries, but my path had a few unforeseen twists that changed my travels far to the east of where I had originally planned. Life is great that way; you never know what’s going to happen next.

I digress. I was in the Burlington area for five days, having convinced my injured travel friend that the green summer views of the north would do her some good, and speed up her convalescence. She agreed, and off we went east by north to Vermont. More on that later.

I parked my car in the parking lot of Underhill State Park, some thirty miles east or so of Burlington. I ran off to the loo, paid my daily fees ($3), and loaded up my trusty red backpack with the usual essentials: Clif bars, water, camera, binoculars, and peanuts. I briefly had a look at the map, decided route opting for what looked like the hardest path (the Sunset Trail up to the Chin) and started hiking.

Damn, it felt good to be hiking uphill again! I was designed to walk uphill, I don’t know what it is about it, but I thrive on pumping my leg muscles until I’m gasping for breath refusing to stop until I absolutely have to take a breather.

Since I was traveling light, I didn’t have my usual trusty Danner hiking boots, and had decided to make do with my hiking sandals. I didn’t know if they would hamper my hike, or if they could stand the rigors of the mountains, but they were the best footwear I had for the excursion. Besides, I figured they were probably better than the boots Mallory used to climb up Chomolungma or Humboldt’s footwear as he trekked around South America for five years. I also used a pair of these sandals all winter long hiking the rugged desert peaks of Baja California Sur. They are a good sandal, and I knew they could probably handle the terrain just fine.
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To avoid blisters, I put on a pair of socks. I also felt they gave me a good German look.

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My first distraction was a short spur trail to the “cantilevered rock” a thirty-foot phallus of rock that sticks out of the mountain like a monstrous triumphant wang in all its glory (I bet I could write harlequin romance novels). It was mildly interesting, but I didn’t stay long. I turned back to the Sunset Trail and continued my intensive uphill climb.
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As I hiked higher, I kept wondering if this trail was going to be challenging enough. I was making great time, and hadn’t taken any breaks yet. Having not hiked anywhere in Vermont, I didn’t know if I was getting close to the top yet or not. Then I topped out on the bottom of the long rock ledge that marked the change in elevation and vegetation. I left the hardwood forests of the lower and entered the scrubby pines of higher elevations. I saw before me a broad ridge of gray rock that reached far above me disappearing into the clouds. I had my answer. The mountains of Vermont are for real.
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I continued on scrambling up the endless rock covered in green lichens higher and higher passing the stacked stone cairns that marked the trail. The weather forecast for the day had called for scattered thunderstorms, and there were some dark heavy clouds rolling right over the tip of the chin. I wondered if I was going to get rain or worse, having to try to find protection from a thunderstorm on the exposed rock. I gave one heavy cloud some time to pass, and to see if it held any presents.
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I remained dry, and the unelectrified, so I continued my jaunt up into the clouds.

On top of the ridge, I found I still had a nice view of the surrounding valleys. They stretched out in long forests broken by farmer’s fields in all directions. The cloud remained around me, and it diffused the light nicely as I studied the arctic plants that make this high peak their home. I climbed up to the top of the chin, the second highest point on the mountain and sat down to catch up on my journal, eat some energy, and drink some cool water. It was a good place to rest, and I found a nice rock to rest my weary bones against.
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I decided to hike the ridge south to the halfway house trail, which would lead back down to the trailhead. It wasn’t a far walk, and the going was easy now that I was on top. There were no more steep uphill pitches to climb, but instead manageable rocks to scramble over.
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I passed many families along the way. It was good to see people out and about, but part of me still would have welcomed the peace of a single hiker far above the hubbub of the lower elevations. Mt. Mansfield isn’t a wild mountain. You can practically drive up most of it, or you can also take the Gondola from the base at the Stowe Ski Area. On top of the high point of the mountain, a small farm of cell towers were nesting and that kind of took away from the hike for me. In fact, I decided not to reach the very high point, because of the towers. They were too much human interference for my tastes.
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Climbing “the chin” was mountain enough for me, and I considered the mountain conquered. I started back down the halfway house trail, which I found to be quite peaceful. I was the only hiker to take that route and it wound down back into the valley through a lush forest of hardwood and pine. It was quiet and still. When I stopped for a break, I didn’t hear a sound.
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I had to pick my way carefully down the slippery rock. I knew my sandals would betray me if I gave them a chance, and I didn’t want to try some self-chiropractology on my back using rocks, roots and boulders. I took my time and made it down to the old trail in one piece, and in one peace. It was a good hike. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve retraced my route back down the long open ridge of the Sunset Trail.
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I sat at the trailhead and signed the visitor’s log. I had neglected to do so on my way up, and I figured I ought to at least give them an autograph. I really enjoy signing logs and summit notebooks. They always ask for the same things. Name, where are you from, and Time. I happily penned in my info: “Thom Miller, Homeless (with a smiley face), and No thanks. Time is not necessary for this hike.” I used to sign famous people’s names, or some of my made up aliases. “Peter Pimple” is one of my favorite. I might also quote a piece of poetry for my audience.

Some Thurbur perhaps: “Behold the happy moron, he doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron, By God! Perhaps I am!”

Smiling to myself, I wandered back down to the parking lot and back to the car. I had traveled seven miles, (give or take) and thoroughly enjoyed my hike up Mt. Mansfield. Sitting in the car, enjoying a cold beverage, and munching some chips and salsa, I called my travel buddy, and inspiration struck. I gave her a “believable” long message explaining to her of how I ended up in New York City instead of climbing Mansfield. My fiction included having the car break down, abandoning it, hitchhiking, a train ride, dumb luck and the statue of liberty. She freaked out a bit, and it had the desired effect.
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It was all in a day’s enjoyment for this vagabond.

What’s next? More on Burlington, the Adirondacks, and that fantastic tourist trap called Niagara Falls.

So Long!

Posted by Rhombus 18:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking rocks plants vermont photography forests lichens Comments (4)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

On the Cuyahoga River, Ohio and Erie Canal, Great Blue Herons, Fischer's Cafe and Pub

sunny 85 °F

I was looking at a map of northeast Ohio, and saw to my surprise that there was a national park not too far away from where I am hanging out this week. Who knew Ohio had a national park? I didn’t, but when in roam, make like the roamers, and so we headed on down to check out Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Cuyahoga (pronounced Cay-uh-ho-guh) means “Crooked River” in Mohawk. It seems to me that every river I’ve ever encountered suffers from this same affliction. Are there straight rivers? Never make a deal with a river, it’ll probably gyp you out of something.

The Cuyahoga Valley has been the stomping grounds for man for eons,perhaps 12,000 years or so (but who’s counting?). In more recent history (the 1800‘s), the Ohio and Erie canal ran through here, partially watered by and parallel to the Cuyahoga. The canal also had an impressive system of locks, which allowed barges to make navigate the elevations between Akron and Cleveland. The canal was a huge success, and allowed settlers and trade goods to be passed along between Akron and Cleveland. In short, this canal helped open up Middle America for settlement.
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There isn’t much left of the canal today. It was abandoned in 1913, and nature has been slowly reclaiming its territory ever since. Today it’s a lush swampland full of plants wetland flowers and animals that love the water and thrive here.
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My adventure partner is a bit limited in her mobility just now, so we took it easy and went for a stroll on the Towpath trail, near Ira. We followed the white gravel trail until we crossed over a series of wooden walkways over a beaver pond marsh. Given our limited mobility, this seemed like a good place to see some wildlife, and I wasn’t disappointed.
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The beavers have done a terrific job of creating a beautiful wetland full of wildflowers, swamp grasses and reeds. This habitat provides a good home to a wide diversity of animals and insects including turtles, fish, frogs, herons, butterflies, bees and other birds.
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It took me 29 years to capture a good photograph of a great blue heron, and I had to go to Mexico to take it. I guess the first one is the hard one to get, because since that one, I’ve had no problems getting the herons to pose for me. Out on the boardwalk, one of these beautiful birds was sitting silently on a log not more than forty feet away from me. Knowing how long I had to wait for the first picture of one, I took the opportunity to take a few more.
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This particular heron sat motionless for some time, but then, slowly, moving its long sticklike legs very carefully and deliberately it began positioning its lanky body to snatch a fish out of the water. Herons like other water birds use slow movements and infinite patience to catch their prey off guard. The fish get used to seeing an unmoving heron standing in one place and grow complacent. Then when they aren’t suspecting, SNAP! They are in the long beak of the heron and down the gullet.
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I watched this heron do just that. It slowly uncoiled its body, and positioned its long neck closer and closer to the water. With surprising speed, it shot its beak into the water and snatched the fish. It happily ate it, and I watched the small lump travel all the way down the long heron neck.

Besides the heron, I was struck by the white water lilies that were in bloom on the surface of the water. They seemed to have a subtle grace and beauty to them that I found very alluring. I made several portraits of these flowers and couldn’t decide which I liked best, so I’ll let you decide.
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The trail was busy. It was full of families riding bikes, runners, joggers, lurchers (people who jog with weird strides), and walkers like us. It was a summer weekend, and it was good to see everyone out and about.

We finished off our visit with a stop in the small, picturesque little village of Peninsula. We ate lunch at Fischer’s Café and Pub, and it was very tasty. I’d eat there again, and recommend you stop in if you are in the area. I went for classic man food, a BBQ cheeseburger with fries, and it was delicious.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t a wild park. It’s pretty tame in comparison to some of the other national parks I’ve visited recently (Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska), but it does have its charms. The history of the place, combined with the natural beauty found there make for a pleasant place to spend a day or two poking around. I would definitely go back, and would like to bike the length of the Towpath Trail.
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I didn’t see the entire park either, I’d like to check out Brandywine falls in autumn, and Tinkers Creek Gorge. I’d also like to see more of the canal, and see some of the rebuilt canal boats that used to navigate the canal. As I was just thinking about it, a possible interesting canoe trip would be to canoe the entire length of the Erie Canal, some 380 miles of it, but I’m not sure that’s even possible anymore.

I guess it’s safe to say, I’ll be back to the Cuyahoga Valley someday.

“The profit system follows the path of least resistance. Never follow the course of least resistance, because following the course of least resistance is what makes a river crooked. Hmph!” Utah Phillips

Posted by Rhombus 09:52 Archived in USA Tagged birds turtles food parks flowers insects photography ohio butterflies wetlands herons Comments (1)

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