New Zealand's beauty was a wonderful beginning to this year. In late January and February, I finally was able to go this trip that was in the works since 2019, but was postponed twice during COVID. In 2022, international tourism resumed and I was finally able to go!
After flying into Christchurch on the South Island, I met up with one of my favorite photographers...James Kay. He and his wife Susie have been visiting New Zealand for many years and know it well. Mount Cook National Park was the first destination. Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki to the native Māori population, is the highest point in New Zealand.
The top of the 12,218 foot tall mountain was shrouded in clouds for much of our stay there. However, one evening it made a brief and dramatic appearance as the sun shined through a small gap in the clouds over the Tasman Sea. This scene of the last sunlight of the day hitting the peak with pink clouds behind only lasted a couple of minutes.
This was a trip of several "firsts". It was the first time for me to cross the Equator, cross the International Date Line, drive on the left side of the road and the first time to fly in a helicopter.
For each of these helicopter rides, the destination was to either land on a glacier or on top of a mountain. Here is a short video clip of us going over Tasman Glacier:
As you take off the glacier and head back down the valley, you can see the geological journey that has been created. It starts from ice fields up high that evolve into glacial moraines and new lakes with ice chunks.
Out of those newer lakes are braided streams that eventually leads to bigger and more mature lakes downstream.
Back on the ground, you can also get a good look at the difference between the newer and older lakes. The older glacier lake (in black and white) has recently formed with nothing but moraine and rocks still surrounding the lake with floating ice chunks still in the water.
The older glacier lake below is a little lower in elevation and now has vegetation growing up around them.
Next, it was on to the area around the popular resort town of Queenstown. It is in this valley that some of the scenes from "Lord of the Rings" was filmed. It was here, along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, where we were greeted with a cinematic looking rainbow.
In this valley, next to Glenorchy and the aptly named village of Paradise, you will find many lush meadows.
Sheep are also plentiful in this picturesque valley.
It was then on to a different environment on west coast. Here, the climate is wetter. The landscape has even more trees that has a temperate rainforest atmosphere. The scenery is similar to what you find on the southeast Alaska coast or the fjords of Norway. The most well known place on the west coast of the South Island is Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, averaging 268 inches of rain a year. Of course, we would see it rain here. Not only that...but also a prolonged heavy rain with a lot of wind. It probably rained somewhere over 5 inches of rain in about 24 hours. So is Milford Sound worth it in the rain? Absolutely! Otherwise, you wouldn't see scenes like these:
Waterfalls were just pouring off the cliffs! Here is a short video of our group of photographers braving the elements:
A photography trip to New Zealand would not be complete without visiting "The Wanaka Tree" in the town of Wanaka. The Wanaka Tree, a lone willow tree in Lake Wanaka, is one of the most photographed individual trees on the planet.
We were fortunate to have a view of the distant mountains and great clouds behind the famous tree...and even another rainbow!
Up the valley from Wanaka is Mount Aspiring National Park. Here, we had another helicopter ride with a clear view of the namesake mountain.
We landed on top of Dragonfly Peak. From here, you can see miles of mountains as far as the eye can see. In the picture below, you can see Mount Cook in the distance...over 80 miles away!
New Zealand has a variety of landscapes over short distances. Many of the above pictures makes you feel as if you could be in Alaska or Switzerland. However, there are other places that are similar to the Pacific Northwest of Oregon or Washington. The temperate rain forests scenes were reminiscent of what I have seen in Olympic National Park.
There were other places where it felt like you were in Sonoma or Napa County in California, such as this vineyard on the outskirts of Wanaka.
Further north on the west coast, there was more of a subtropical flavor to the landscape. This felt more like Hawaii than Alaska.
New Zealand might have become my new favorite country to visit. I hope to make it back there in a future year. Here are few more assorted favorite pictures of mine from the South Island:
Back in July, I wrote about the varied landscapes of Colorado. In that blog entry, I featured one picture of the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument. Here, I will feature my favorite pictures from the Utah side of the park. Most people come to Dinosaur to see the visitor center exhibits of dinosaur bones. However, there is also some pleasing landscapes. One scenic hike is the trail at Harpers Corner with views down onto the Green River.
There are not really any iconic scenes in Dinosaur. However, with some good light and some scouting, you can come up with some nice scenes with colorful sandstone hills, grasses and cottonwood trees.
Besides seeking out landscapes and viewing dinosaur bone exhibits, there are also several nice petroglyph panels in the area.
In May, I will be returning to Utah. Next time, I will be seeing Capitol Reef National Park. Come back for that!
Last week, I made a brief trip to Lajitas, Texas. Lajitas is a border town in far southwest Texas and next to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is one of my favorite parks, especially in the winter. Because it is far away from any major population centers, it is lightly visited compared to many national parks. It has an unrefined, spacious and often quiet nature. There aren't a lot of iconic shots here, but you can come across some nice surprise scenes, such as the prickly pear cactus clinging to the side of rock wall pictured above.
I took a hike in the Texas sun from the Lajitas Golf Resort into Big Bend on the Mesa de Anguila Trail. It was a hazy late afternoon with temperatures in the 70s. Once you climb the mesa, you can look down on the Rio Grande River.
In this picture, Mexico is left of the Rio Grande with Texas off to the right. I was looking into the sun with some backlit golden grass in the lower right. I believe the plant off to the left is an ocotillo. I love the atmospherics in the picture with the hazy ridges in the distance.
I also had an encounter with a couple of horses.
These horses were on national park land, so I wondered if they were wild or they escaped from a nearby ranch. This was about 3 miles from any kind of civilization. I have heard of wild horses roaming in some western states, such as Nevada, but didn't know if they were here. After doing a quick Google search, it turns out that they are domesticated and likely came from Mexico. You can read more here about the not so wild horses of Big Bend.
It has been awhile since I last wrote in this blog. In my last post, my daughter was undergoing the first round of chemotherapy. After 4 rounds of chemo between July and September, I am pleased to announce that her tumor has shrunk to the point that it is now hard to measure and Helicity's chemo treatments have been discontinued. After losing her hair, it is starting to grow back again.
Her immune system is still not fully recovered so she is still not back in daycare yet. However, we hope to get her back in daycare early next year and I can get back to producing more blog entries again soon.
Back in June, I drove out to Colorado. From chasing storms in the eastern plains to hiking above the treeline in the Rockies and the sandstone canyons of western Colorado, here is a short sample of some of my favorite pictures from that trip.
On June 7th, I targeted southeast Colorado in anticipation of seeing some storms. Here I was able to view severe thunderstorms that prompted a few Tornado Warnings in the vicinity of Lamar. I was a little late to this particular storm that produced a few brief tornado touchdowns, but I was still able to see the rotation in this storm near Two Buttes, Colorado.
You can see the rotation in this 3 minute 45 second time-lapse sped up 8x into 28 seconds here:
Next, it was time drive across the Rockies to the western side of the state. My destination was to Dinosaur National Monument along the Utah/Colorado border. For now, I will just show my favorite location on the Colorado side of park.
This is Steamboat Rock in far western Colorado. It is located in an area called Echo Park, where the Green and Yampa Rivers meet. I will highlight the pictures for the Utah side of the park for a future blog post.
After seeing the landscapes of Dinosaur National Monument, is was time to head a little east to the high country toward Central Colorado. The Flat Tops Wilderness has become one of my favorite places to visit in the last few summers. I have now been there 3 of the last 4 years. You can see a previous blog post of my previous visit to Flat Tops here. Here I climbed to this viewpoint of the late afternoon light hitting the rock formation known as The Chinese Wall.
The picture above was from 11,200 feet. I would soon climb even higher on my next hike at Rocky Mountain National Park. It is one thing to hike above the treeline with a daypack. It is another to haul a backpack with some camera and camping gear. This was the highest I have climbed while backpacking.
The Boulderfield is a camping area at 12,700 feet inside Rocky Mountain National Park. I have never camped that high before. Hauling your gear to that elevation is quite a challenge in itself. Then you have to have to hope for good weather. I had to wait about 2 hours for a thunderstorm to pass before I decided to proceed to climbing above the treeline. Being above treeline with lightning popping nearby can be a jarring experience that I now prefer to avoid. Above is the rock formation called The Keyhole, just below 14,259 foot Longs Peak, which gives you an idea of what it looks like at about 13,000 feet. After all that effort, the perk is to experience sunset and sunrise at such high elevations.
This picture above is looking down on the appropriately named Chasm Lake, still partially frozen in June. The picture below is looking up at the summit of Longs Peak.
Over the week of the 4th of July, my wife and I went to Colorado for some leisure time in the Colorado Springs and Buena Vista area. We took the cogway up to the top of Pikes Peak and stayed at a fishing resort called Rainbow Lake, seen at sunset on the picture below.
We also drove up to the Continental Divide at Cottonwood Pass, just over 12,000 feet. Here we were able to catch some beautiful clouds reflections at this tarn in the late afternoon light.
We took my 10-month daughter, Helicity, on this trip as well. It was her first time to Colorado.
Unfortunately, we recently learned that her tumor that was removed back in February has returned. She is currently in the first round of chemotherapy with a second round on the way in August. This will probably be last blog post for the rest of the summer and I will be devoting a lot of my time the next couple of months taking care of her. If you are the praying type, please say a prayer for her in hopes that she will finally beat cancer the second time around!
I have been going back into the photo archives the last couple of weeks and I thought I would put together a project from a photo tour in 2019. This project focuses on the adobe structures from Santa Fe to Taos in New Mexico. The picture above with a cumulonimbus cloud is from downtown Santa Fe.
The "High Road to Taos" is a scenic highway that goes through old Spanish influenced villages in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountains between Santa Fe to Taos. Below are pictures along that highway from the villages of Nambe and Picuris.
For the color image above in Picuris, I was fortunate to be there at the right time when the shadow from the ladder creates a triangle around the window. To me, this picture is like having two great images in one. One could also crop the image down as a vertical centered around the ladder, the window and the shadow.
The High Road to Taos ends near the town of Rancho de Taos, a few blocks from the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church.
This is probably one of the most painted and photographed churches in the nation, especially from the buttresses in the back. It has been famously painted by Georgia O'Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams. I have been here several times myself, and you can see a blog entry from my previous trip to this mission church.
Completion of its construction took from 1772 to 1815 and it looks much the same to this day.
The final picture below is from Taos Pueblo. It is an ancient pueblo belonging to the Taos speaking tribe of the Native American tribe of Puebloan people. The Pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States and is now designated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On my last blog entry, I mentioned that my daughter was about to undergo major surgery to remove a tumor in her chest. I am pleased to report that the tumor has been removed. We will still get checkups every 3 months to make sure that the neuroblastoma doesn't reappear. However, for now, we are optimistic that we will be able to avoid any chemotherapy. Now at 8 months of age, she appears to be healthy. Thanks to those of you who reached out to me with your support and prayers!
Recent PostsThe wonders around Page, Arizona A different perspective of The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta The landscapes of Utah's Capitol Reef National Park From the photo archives: Oregon Coast Fireworks at Lake Leatherwood The varied landscapes of New Zealand Dinosaur National Monument A brief trip to Big Bend National Park The varied landscapes of Colorado An architectural journey from Santa Fe to Taos