Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Home and Backyard As Seen from the Orbit

This is how my home and backyard look from up above.

Photo twitted from orbit by Chris Hadfield

Isn't the Bay Area stunningly beautiful? And it only gets better the closer you look.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Scenic Drive through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

I've been to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park twice: once in summer and once in winter. Contrary to all the other places in the South-West–which I find prettier and more interesting during winter–I found Monument Valley more scenic during summer.

Monument Valley in Summer

I think there are two reasons for that. First, Monument Valley doesn't get enough snow during winter and, therefore, it isn't uniformly covered by it. To me, the patches of snow make the Valley appear more "messy" and less "monumental." Second, contrary to the summer skies, during winter skies are usually clear and cloudless, which translates to less dramatic views and less original photos.

Monument Valley in Winter

Still, we found the 17-mile Scenic Drive through the Valley very enjoyable and we would recommend it to anybody passing through that part of the world, no matter what time of the year you're there.

Scenic Drive through Monument Valley

The drive took us close to many interesting rock structures, like the two "mittens"–East and West Mitten Buttes–pictured on the photo below.

Yours truly with East and West Mitten Buttes

To some, the rock on the photo below resembles a camel and, therefore, it got named Camel Butte.

Camel Butte

Here are the Yei Bi Chei-­Navajo spiritual gods–and Totem Pole.

The Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole

Look how small our car is compared to the nearby rocks.

My Love and his red toy in the Monument Valley

Looking back at some of the photos I took during my recent visit to the Monument Valley, makes me see how the Valley got its name. It does look quite Monumental in places.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Escape from Civiliazation: Valley of the Gods

If you want to escape from civilization, look no further. Valley of the Gods, mere 40 miles north-east of the world-famous, tourist-infested Monument Valley, has no crowds, no cell-phone or radio reception, no paved roads, no restrooms and/or any other facilities, yet by many it's considered to be more spectacular than its aforementioned famous cousin.

We spent two hours there and saw only one other car somewhere in distance. What a stark contrast to Monument Valley, where you see at least five cars at each single viewpoint or turn of the road. Additionally, there is no fee to enter Valley of Gods, and you're welcome to do there whatever pleases you: you can camp there (again for free), go hiking anywhere you want, or even do some bouldering/rope climbing. Valley of the Gods is yours to play with.

Similar to Monument Valley, the most prominent rocks in the Valley of the Gods have names. These names are typically meant to describe what the rock formation resembles, so for example in the Valley of the Gods you can Setting Hen Butte, Lady in the Tub, Battleship and Seven Sailors. It's actually lots of fun to try to look for those shapes in the rocks.

On the left: Lady in a Tub

There's only one road leading through the park: a bumpy 17-mile-long dirt and gravel road with many steep sections and sharp turns. As I'm a road, not destination, kind of person, I had lots of fun driving there and I loved that each bend in the road hold a surprise: a new rock formation or a new scenery.

The best time to visit the Valley of the Gods is in late afternoon, when the sun is low and the rocks glow in beautiful warm red color.

On the left: Setting Hen Butte

Sunset is a great time too, as it emphasizes the ruggedness of the landscape.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park offers a one-of-a-kind scenic view of the meandering San Juan River and the deep canyon painstakingly cut by the river over thousands of years.

Near the viewpoint, the river makes a series of tight turns–goosenecks–which give the park its name.

The viewpoint is located about 1'000 feet above the river and offers a simultaneous view of three of the San Juan River goosenecks. However, even my wide-angle lens wasn't able to fit all of them in one photo. So I'm leaving this to your imagination, or encourage you to visit Goosenecks State Park yourself.

There are no hiking trails in the park and its sole purpose of existence seem to be to provide the views of the river, yet it's worth seeing at least once in your life.

However, if you go there, learn from my mistake and visit the park in the morning or during the midday, as in the late afternoon the sun shines directly above the goosenecks, making photography almost impossible.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fascinating Nature: American South-West in a Winter Robe

I have traveled many times through the American South-West, but this last trip was my first winter trip to the region.

To my great surprise, winter appears to be a great time to visit the South-West, possibly better than any other season. The key reason behind that is that tourists seem not to like cold weather and, subsequently, there were hardly any of them in most places we visited (with a small but notable exception of Grand Canyon, which is popular year-round).

The lack of tourists translates to a better overall experience, as witnessing the beauty and splendor of the South-West in solitude is bound to enhance your appreciation of the forces that stand behind the creation of this world's most amazing natural wonder.

Solitude encourages contemplation, introspection, as well as it enhances senses and brings closer the examiner and the subject of examination. In my case, it also led to a realization that American South-West is a Playground of Nature, a place where Nature experimented with all possible rock shapes and forms, before deciding how the rest of Earth should look like.

My second big realization was that this Nature's Playground is My Playground too. I've been very fortunate to be able to travel multiple times through South-West, with time getting to know it as well as my own backyard. This growing intimate knowledge of the region allows me to probe it further and deeper with each subsequent visit, leading to even deeper fascination and admiration for the Nature and its ways.

During the next few weeks I'm going to blog about my favorite places in the South-West, and the way they look during winter.

Here's a list of places I'll rave about:
  1. Valley of Fire State Park
  2. Monument Valley Tribal Park
  3. Gooseneck State Park
  4. Valley of Gods
  5. Canyonlands National Park, The Needless Area
  6. Newspaper Rock State Park
  7. Arches National Park
  8. Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky Area
  9. Dead Horse Point State Park
  10. Goblin Valley State Park
  11. Colorado National Monument
  12. Hovenweep National Monument
  13. Valley of the Ancients National Monument
  14. Mesa Verde National Park
  15. Aztec National Monument
  16. Chaco Culture National Historic Park
  17. Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim
  18. Rainbow Bridge National Monument
  19. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
  20. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
  21. Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
  22. Bryce National Park
  23. Kodachrome State Park
  24. Pink Sand Dunes State Park
  25. Zion National Park

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SMARTER New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! Hope you all had a blast celebrating the transition from the Old to the New Year, and that 2013 has been kind to you so far.

2013 has been definitely to a good start for me - I woke up to a delicious breakfast prepared by my husband and two friends! Yes, I know how lucky I am and I'm deeply grateful for my husband and all my friends, and their active presence in my life.

2012 had also been extremely good and lucky to me and my husband. We actually manged to surpass all major goals that we had had set for that year.

Encouraged by the last year's success, I decided to set up new goals for the New Year. 

So far I have only one: by the 15th of January I want to make a list of SMART  (SMART : Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound) resolutions and come up with a plan of making them even SMARTER by periodic evaluation and reevaluation (smartER: Evaluate and Reevaluate). I haven't decided yet if I'm going to share my resolutions here (apparently, sharing your resolutions makes you more likely to stick with them), but I'll keep you posted. And in case you made any resolutions for this year, or still plan to make them, I encourage you to check if they are as SMART as you are :)

May we all have a fantastic year!