Saturday, November 22, 2008

Road Trip 2008: Zion NP

Second stop during our road trip was Zion NP. I knew what to expect from it, as I already visited it during Thanksgiving in 2006.

This second visit was somehow much more enjoyable than the first one. I am not really sure why. I guess several small things contributed to it. First, weather was better this time: it was warm and sunny, but not too hot, for most of the time. Thanks to it, Agnieszka and I could camp, which I almost always find more enjoyable than staying at a hotel/motel/lodge. The previous time, Jochen and I had to sleep in the lodge outside the park as it was already pretty cold then. Moreover, somehow I did not mind all the tourists this time. I guess, by now, I got used to US parks being overcrowded...

However, it is also possible that a shuttle system put into place by Zion NP authorities contributed positively to my experience. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive leading inside the canyon, is not accessible to private vehicles (unless you have a special permit). That means that to see the canyon you either need to hike or take a free shuttle. Thanks to it, your experience of the pristine beauty of the canyon is not spoiled by thousands of cars moving around you in all possible directions.

During this trip, Agieszka and I spent two days inside the park. On the first day, we drove along stunning Zion-Mount Camel Highway stopping at several vista points. Later in the afternoon, we took the shuttle into the canyon and we went for several short hikes (Riverside Walk leading to The Narrows and a trail leading to Weeping Rock). Whereas on the second day, we went for a slightly longer hike to famous Angels Landing that offers spectacular views of Zion NP.

As I already hiked Angels Landing the previous time I visited Zion, I preferred to hike Hidden Canyon trail or part of The Narrows. We decide against hiking either of them, as Agnieszka felt that they might have been too difficult for us, and I did not want to push her into doing something she did not feel fully comfortable with. As much as regret not hiking those trails, I am also a bit happy about it, as it means that I still have at least two reasons to visit Zion NP in the future :)

Practical info:

1. There are two campgrounds and one lodge within the park. They fill up quickly, so book as soon as you know your travel dates. If you do not manage to get a place there, there are also many accommodation options in Springdale (from where you can even take a free shuttle to the park) and other nearby cities. If you stay at one of the campgrounds, be aware that there are no showers, though for a small fee you can take a shower at one of the hotels in Springdale.

2. There are so many things that you can do in Zion NP, that I would think you should plan to spend there at least 2-3 days. There are several half-day hiking trails there, but it is also possible to go for longer hike there, e.g. into The Narrows. This hike can take anything between 1 to 4 days.

3. The best time to visit is probably early spring or late autumn. During summer months it gets incredibly hot there, whereas during winter months nights get very cold and sleeping in a tent then is probably not the best idea.

The Great Arch is clearly visible from multiple vista points on Zion-Mount Camel Highway:

Typical scenery of Zion canyon:

Checkboard Mesa:

Beginning of The Narrows trail:

Me, on the trail to Angels Landing:

Scout's Outlook on the way to Angels' Landing:

View from Angels Landing trail into Zion canyon:

Beautiful Virgin river:

Court of The Patriarchs:

Monday, November 17, 2008

California Academy of Sciences

On Sunday, the weekend before last, Anil and I got a great idea to go to the new California Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park. Around the same time, several thousands of other people got the same idea as we did. And we all met in front of the museum.

People wanting to visit the museum formed four lines:

  1. general admission - for the people who already bought their tickets (either online or at the spot)
  2. members admission
  3. line for the ones who wanted to buy a membership
  4. line for the people who wanted to buy a single admission ticket

All in all, there must have been easily at least thousand people standing in those lanes. Most of them in line number 1, the least in line number 2. So Anil and I decided to skip the museum on that day and return on the next weekend, that time with a membership card in our hand, hoping that thanks to it we would not have to waste time standing in line. Another benefit of being a member of California Academy of Sciences is that the museum has members-only hours (Tuesdays: 8:30 am - 9:30 am, Sundays: 10:00 am - 11:00 am) during which it is less crowded.

Last Sunday we showed up at 10 am at the museum and after relatively short wait we were let in. The first thing that we did, was to go to the planetarium and get passes for a movie ("Fragile Planet") screened there. It seems you have to do that imediately after entering the museum if you want to have a shot at seeing it, as when we were leaving the museum around 12:30 there were no movie passes left for the rest of the day. Both Anil and I enjoyed the movie, though I have to say that the information content of it was very basic. Still, the high-quality visual effects were fully compensating for that. We also enjoyed visiting museum's aquarium - as you can see on the photos below it has a nice collection of interesting and colorful water animals. We did not manage to see Rainforest exhibition, as the line to get into it was insanely long. According to many people, this exhibit is the best in the whole museum, so I will try to visit it some time soon. I was very disappointed with African Hall, which, with the exception of African penguins, has only stuffed animals on display. The very idea of looking at stuffed animals is repelling to me. Especially, that you could go to a zoo and see them all alive...

Anyway, I think the new museum has a lot to offer and I plan to visit it again after all the hype around it ceases down. My experience of the museum was definitely negatively influenced by the excessive number of people visiting it. So, if you plan to visit the museum, I would recommend waiting a few more months and going there during the week, preferably during members-only hours .

The new home to California Academy of Sciences museum:

It's famous living roof:

View from the roof to the de Young Museum, located just few steps away from California Academy of Sciences building:

Inside California Academy of Sciences building:

An albino alligator, one of the museum's highlights:

Colorful fish (and other animals) at the aquarium:

Can you spot an animal on this photo?

How about here?

This frog redefines "living on the edge":

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nikon D40 sensor cleaning

After more than a year of heavy and careless usage, dust speckles found their way to the sensor of my beloved Nikon D40. I discovered that unfortunate fact during my recent road trip, while visiting Arches NP. I attempted to solve the problem at the spot, and that made the whole situation even worse. I started off with one small dust speckle in the upper right corner of my photos, and I finished with two pronounced speckles located more or less in the center of all the photos. Removing them from my pictures was a major effort, and in some cases (e.g. when they happened to show up on somebody's face or on the horizon lane) it was impossible to remove them without ruining the photo.

Do not repeat my mistake and do not attempt to clean your camera if you do not know how to do it and if you do not have appropriate equipment with you! I definitely learned from my mistake.

After coming back home, I googled "DSLR/Nikon D40 sensor cleaning", read hundreds articles and watched several videos on the subject, bought all necessary equipment to do the job, and finally, today, I cleaned the sensor on my camera. It went smoother than I had expected, and I am very happy to report that my camera is fully functional again. So you can expect thousand of new photos soon :)

How to deal with unwanted phone calls

Friday, November 14, 2008

cala prawda o mezczyznach

Pewien facet mial trzy przyjaciolki. W którymś momencie musiał się zdecydować, którą z nich poślubić. Dlatego postanowił zrobić test. Każdej dał po 4 tysiące złotych i czekał, co będzie.

Pierwsza przyjaciółka poszła do sklepu, kupiła sobie suknie, piękny kapelusz. Poszła do fryzjera, solarium i kosmetyczki. Wraca i mówi: - Chce być najpiękniejsza, ponieważ cię kocham!

Druga przyjaciółka poszła do sklepu. Kupiła strój piłkarski, telewizor, wideo i tysiąc puszek piwa. Wraca i mówi:
- To moje prezenty dla ciebie, ponieważ cię kocham!

Trzecia przyjaciółka wzięła pieniądze, zainwestowała. W krótkim czasie zarobiła 250 procent. Pieniądze znów zainwestowała i tak je pomnożyła, że dorobiła się wielkiego majątku. Wraca i mówi:
- Ja te pieniądze zainwestowałam i zarobiłam tyle, aby wystarczyło na naszą wspólną, szczęśliwą przyszłość, ponieważ cię kocham.

Facet był zachwycony wszystkimi przyjaciółkami. Przemyślał wszystkie za i przeciw i...
Ożenił się z tą, która miała największe cycki.

Morał: mężczyźni, w przeciwieństwie do kobiet, nie lecą na kasę...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Road Trip 2008: Valley of Fire

Agnieszka and I started our road trip in Las Vegas. After renting a car at the airport, we went to Trader Joe's and REI to buy food and some other items that we thought we would need to survive the coming two weeks on the road. Four hours later we were heading north-east on the highway 169 to Valley of Fire SP, where we planned to spend our first night.

As the name suggests, rocks forming the Valley of Fire have vivid red color and when reflecting the sun's rays they appear to be on fire. During the summer months, it is also very hot there, which makes you feel as you would be on fire too...

Both Agnieszka and I liked the Valley of Fire a lot, even though we were able to go there only for short hikes as heat was unbearable... Beware that trail markings are very poor there. We managed to wander off the Arrowhead Trail and after several unsuccessful attempts to find a shortcut leading to our car, we were forced to backtrack our way. That took us a lot of time and was not much fun with temperatures exceeding 110F (40C).

Practical info:

1. There are two campgrounds with total of 51 sites in the Valley of Fire. It is possible to reserve place there in advance, but it does not seem to be necessary. Aga and I arrived there on Saturday late afternoon and even though we had no reservation, we had no problem getting a nice site for our tent. In principle, campgrounds have showers, though they were not working when we were there. Drinking water can be obtained next to the visitor center.

2. It takes less than 2h to get to the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas, and from there it takes around 3-3.5h to get to Zion NP.

Small selection of the photos that I took in the Valley of Fire:

On the Hwy 169:

Unexpected oasis on the way to the Valley of Fire:

Rock formations next to the east entrance to the park:

Atlatl Rock with Anasazi rock art:

Resting in the shade:

Arch Rock:


Valley of Fire during the night:

Tourists' cabins from 1930's:

Elephant Rock:

Go and see Religulous

Last Saturday Anil and I went to see Religulous. I was very skeptical about this movie (or documentary, as some like to call it), mostly based on very critical reviews of it calling it "one-sided".

Religulous is definitely one-sided and it is not a documentary (*). The aim of this movie is not to try to understand religion, faith or what motivates people's - according to Maher, irrational - believes, but rather to simply ridicule everything that is connected with religion. And let's be honest, there are many ridiculous ideas, concepts and believes in most (if not all) world's religions and we should be able to laugh at those. I was definitely laughing a lot and aloud throughout the movie, even though you could call me a "Roman Catholic". I would call myself a "Liberated Roman Catholic" (**).

Religulous - trailer:

(*) Definition of documentary that I follow: "a work, such as a film or television program, presenting political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration"

(**) Liberated from the organization and some of the ideology, moral standards and believes of Roman Catholic Church.

Where the hell is Matt? Dancing 2008

Ania (from blue North Carolina) sent this very touching youtube video to me and I decided to share it with you, as it made me smile with my whole body :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

American Dream

Yesterday, on 4th of November 2008, Americans have chosen their next, 44th, president. To relief and happiness of many, a democratic candidate, Barack Obama, was elected for this important position. Election of Barack Obama has great symbolic (and historic) value as he happens to be an African-American, the first one ever to hold a such prominent function in the US.

The story of Barack Obama's election is like fulfillment of "American Dream". Obama realizes it well himself, as he started his victory speech with words: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

I listened to Obama's (and McCain's) speeches with thousands of other San Franciscans at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and it was definitely a very moving experience. Everybody had tears in their eyes and people were kissing and hugging each other. History was being made just in front of our eyes.

Obama's victory was great, but it felt bitter-sweet to me. I hoped that since Americans proved to be mature enough to elect a black president, they would be also mature enough not to take away rights from the same-sex couples to get married. Even in a such (supposedly) progressive state as California, 52% of people supported an addition to Californian constitution that would effectively delegalize marriages between gay couples (link). Why so many people are against it, is beyond my comprehension.

Photos taken yesterday during the election party at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

SF hidden gem

Miss Halloween

At home, posing to my laptop's camera:

At Shiva's Halloween party, with Shiva:

At the party, with Tadhg:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Visiting Alessio in Stanford

On one of the previous weekends Anne, Sebastian and I went to visit Mareike and Alessio at their new place in Menlo Park. It was very happy to see that they did not change at all and that they are doing well here, in California.

Alessio showed us around the campus and his work:

Typical, hacienda-style of Stanford University buildings:

Rodin's "Burghers of Calais":