Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Royal Livingstone

Friday, May 20th, 2011
The Royal Livingstone

During the Zambia portion of the Anthony Robbins Platinum Partners Africa event, we stayed at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, just outside of Livingstone on the banks of the Zambezi River.  Identified as a five-star hotel, the Royal Livingstone resides on secluded property owned by Sun International (which also operates the Zambezi Sun hotel on the same property).  Due to the historical influences of the area, it possess an old-world, British colonial charm.  From the uniforms and service of the staff to the furnishings and decor, the Royal Livingstone Hotel exudes colonial luxury.  The true shocker of the experience came when I learned that the hotel is only ten years old.

From having my own personal butler to frequently encountering wildlife (zebras, monkeys and giraffe) on the property grounds, I enjoyed every aspect of the charm and service the hotel had to offer.  The food was phenomenal and every staff person I encountered was friendly and helpful.

The only drawback was the spotty Internet connection offered in the hotel’s “Internet Room.”  In this modern day and age, normal people really do not need to have access to the Internet when the travel.  But Facebook and Twitter have become such a regular aspect of people’s lives – just for personal use – that they become irritated if they don’t have access to those social fora while traveling.  My story is different from theirs, though; I need regular, reliable access to the Internet as part of my business.  And my preference would be to access the Internet from my laptop so I can upload images directly, rather than transferring them to a flash drive and plugging it into a guest computer.  I could have done that if I wanted to pay the equivalent of ten dollars for thirty minutes; but I wasn’t interested in that.

At Arlington, a place for serious reflection

Sunday, May 1st, 2011
At Arlington, a place for serious reflection

Michelle and I made our way on the blue line of the Metro today over to Arlington National Cemetery, just on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.  Visiting Arlington is quite unlike visiting any other location in Washington, D.C.; at least it should be.  Visually, Arlington was everything I expected it to be, with endless possibilities for composition, the beautifully laid-out lines of rows of headstones, giving testament to those who have served our country in the Armed Forces and in various federal offices, from President to Supreme Court Justice.  Psychically, for me, it was also everything I expected; a somber, humbling location, recalling the history of our nation through names, words and phrases describing the contribution of our countrymen throughout history.  I was appalled, however, at how many people visited Arlington and treated it as simply another stop during the visit to D.C.

A prime example of this phenomenon can be illustrated in recounting a conversation between a young boy and his mother, shortly after watching the changing of the guard and laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  Boy: “Mom, why do they snap their shoes like that?”  (During the regular patrolling of the grounds in front of the Tomb, the U.S. Army guard on duty will snap his shoes together after completing an about-face or when making any turns.)  Mom: “It’s just pomp-and-circumstances.  They just need a reason for a ceremony.”  I had to keep myself in check, as I am not sure I could have been diplomatic with my response.  “The snap,” I should have told her, “is meant to emphasize the precision of the movement.”  As for needing a “reason” for a ceremony, I could have said, “These guards are honoring a person who, although we don’t know his name, died serving his country.”

I am not one to get jingoistic or nationalistic.  But, I am a veteran and have tremendous respect for all who have served, whether in the Armed Forces or in some higher office.  They have all done something that so few Americans have; they have sacrificed a term of years, or even their lives, to ensure that the greater good that is our United States continues to move forward, continues to fulfill the ideals set forth by a group of men in Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century.

When visiting the grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to pay respects and see the eternal flame, I had to wait for a while to get a view, as a dozen or so teenagers were crowding the front, taking snapshots with their iPhones and turning to each other to chat about all matter of things … other than JFK and his legacy.  I wondered to myself, then shared with Michelle, whether these kids had any appreciation for whose grave they visited given the current state of public education in the U.S.  What did they learn about JFK?  Was it just that he was assassinated, and that his brother, interned about a hundred feet away and marked by a lone cross on the hillside, was assassinated a couple of years later?  Did they have any understanding about the change that these men represented and how forces gathered to make sure that their change never occurred?  Did these kids have the capacity to consider what our country could have been had John and Robert Kennedy lived to die of old age?  Unfortunately, I am sure they did not.

As I stood at the Tomb of the Unknowns, simply watching the member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or “Old Guard,” stand guard over the tomb, I pondered and reflected on who was interned inside, what sort of life he lived, who he was, how he died.  Unfortunately, many of the other dozens of people standing nearby watching and waiting for the change of the guard were not so reflective.  Despite the many signs requesting quiet and respect, these visitors were being neither.  I gave a little “hoorah” inside when the soldier came out of his guard shack, did a sharp right face, snapped his boots, and rather forcefully but diplomatically reminded people to be quiet and have respect.  With message delivered, he returned sharply to his station.  That soldier gets it; of course he does, there is a reason he is serving in the most revered post available to any member of the U.S. Army.  And I think it is fair to say that anyone who has ever served in uniform gets it.  Perhaps that is another reason why the United States should have compulsory service like so many of its allies; at least its citizens would then understand better the meaning of sacrifice.

Moment after moment, so many people who were at Arlington today were simply there to catch the highlights.  Crowds flocked at the Kennedy family plot and the Tomb of the Unknowns, but no one stopped to visit the grave of Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who authored so many of the decisions that make up the foundation of criminal procedure rooted in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.  Or how about the many chaplains who ministered to the fighting, the dying, the serving; men and women far from their home churches who needed to be comforted by a man of God in some rather trying times.  From presidents to senators to associate justices or even private first classes, so many men and women in so many ways had so many stories, represented so much history, and yet remained so lost and unheard of to the many crowds who flocked to Arlington today.

I suppose I should not be surprised.  When visiting national parks in general, tourists tend to stay to the road system and only stop at the pullouts because anything else just takes too much time and effort.  National parks are merely destinations, places to see with things to do.  Most people do not take advantage of the chances for reflection and exploration that await them.  Arlington is no different.  For most people today, it was a place to see a military ceremony – like the 3rd Infantry changing of the guard of laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns – or visiting the burial sites of famous historical figures.  But, what it really offers is a chance to reflect on the meaning of sacrifice, on the meaning of service, of the lasting impact that every person can have on the lives of others and on the shape and direction of a nation.

Memorials and monuments

Friday, April 29th, 2011
Memorials and monuments

It seems like everywhere you turn or face in Washington, D.C., there is a monument or memorial.  Of course, it is no accident; the city was designed that way.  The original part of the city now known as the National Mall was based on a 1791 plan for a “grand avenue” designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  His plan was supplemented by landscape architect Andrew Francis Downing in the early 1850s.  Then, in 1901, the McMillan Commission, inspired by L’Enfant’s plan, finalized the vision of what is the National Mall today.  Standing on the western side of the mall, where the Lincoln Memorial stands, you can look east, lining up the reflection pool, the Washington Monument and the Capitol building.

Several monuments and memorials have risen to join the main features of the mall in the last thirty years.  In 1982, the Vietnam Memorial was installed on the northwest side of the mall near the Lincoln Memorial.   Standing south of the reflecting pool, the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in 1995.  Both the Vietnam and Korean War memorials are easy to miss, nestled in the grand trees that surround the reflection pool area.  In contrast, the World War II memorial stands out in the open on the far east side of the reflecting pool, with lit columns and brightly-lit fountains making it stand out as a new, dominant feature on the Mall.  It was dedicated in 2004.

I had a grand vision for a morning photo, looking east from the Lincoln Memorial, with the colors of dawn and the Washington Monument reflecting in the reflecting pool.  When I arrived at 5:30 in the morning, about a half hour before sunrise, I realized instantly that my vision would not come to pass.  There was no reflection pool.  That vision of Jenny running into the water during a Vietnam War protest, yelling “Forrest! Forrest!” would not have happened if they were shooting “Forrest Gump” now.  They would have had to rewrite the scene.  The pool has been emptied in order to conduct repairs and renovations to the foundation.

So, I turned my attention toward Abraham Lincoln. I managed to capture a few images before people started to arrive; about eight or so photographers, working their way around the memorial, doing various hand-held captures at the memorial.  I thought perhaps they were all part of a local camera club.  It turned out they were all taking part in a National Geographic photography workshop.  What?  A National Geographic workshop and nobody – not a single one of the participants – is using a tripod.  I cannot think I have ever attended a photography workshop where there was anyone in the group not using a tripod.  Tripod use is a cardinal rule in photography, especially shooting in low-light conditions.  Sure, you can crank up the ISO and open up the aperture to do hand-held photography, but you dramatically increase the noise in the image and lose the depth of field that is crucial for architectural photography.  But, hey, it was not my workshop.

Slot Canyon Country

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Slot Canyon Country

One of the reasons you go to Page, Arizona as a landscape photographer is that it is centrally located to access several very accessible slot canyons in the region.  Slot canyons are formed primarily through flash flooding and severe winds, whipping through and carving deep into sandstone bedrock.  Given that water is the primary force shaping slot canyons, it is no wonder that the many forms within these slot canyons are rather fluid in appearance.

Most people who come to Page looking for slot canyons visit Upper Antelope Canyon, located on the south side of State Highway 98 near the Navajo Generating Station, a massive, three-stack coal-fired power plant.  Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are located on Navajo land, requiring a minor entry fee of $6 plus a guiding or usage fee.  With Upper Antelope Canyon, called Tse’ bighanilini (“the place where water runs through rocks”) by the Navajo, our guiding fee of $40 went to a family-owned Navajo guiding operation.  Our guide was Jamie, who did a great job at pointing out photo-worthy features, keeping other tourists at bay while our shutters were open, and assisting in moving our camera bags along with us.  Upper Antelope may be the more expensive of the two Antelope Canyons, but it is the most visited because it is flat and wide.  I found it to be my least favorite of the three slot canyons I visited during my trip.

Lower Antelope Canyon, called Hazdistazi (“spiral rock arches”) by the Navajo, in contrast, is entirely self-guided.  Unlike the two hour limitation for Upper Antelope Canyon, the fee for Lower Antelope Canyon (just on the other side of the highway from Upper) included four hours of time in the canyon.  (This four-hour coverage was being reduced to two hours shortly after our visit, but you could still stay longer so long as you paid an extra five dollars – well worth it.)  Lower Antelope can be challenging to maneuver in when you are carrying a tripod and camera and toting around a backpack-style camera bag on your back.  You enter the canyon through a narrow slot in the ground (as opposed to a wide, walk-in entrance at Upper Antelope) and then make your way down into the canyon through a series of metal ladders and steps, all of which are rather steep.  Almost immediately, though, I was struck by how different and more diverse the compositions were in Lower Antelope.  I ended up spending over three hours in the canyon, limited only by how the light had become rather unfavorable, as it was approximately 12:30 when I left the canyon.  Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit the canyon.

My third visit, and second favorite canyon while in Page, was to Waterholes Canyon, accessible from a trail starting at mile marker 538 on Highway 89.  I had visited there the last time I was in Page in October 2001 with my friend Andrew VonBank.  My memories from that first visit were that while it was a cool hike into the canyon, there was not much to photograph.  My ability to find so many more compositions during this visit is a testament to how much I have grown as a photographer in the intervening 9 1/2 years.  Like Lower Antelope Canyon, the best time to visit Waterholes is early in the morning.  I started my hike into the canyon at 7:00 a.m.

The reason for the early morning or late afternoon visit to these canyons is the time of year and the angle of the sun.  What makes slot canyon photography successful is when you have direct sunlight that is shining against one wall, and reflecting light onto another.  You do not want to photograph any compositions that include the sky, as the exposures are long in the canyon, sometimes as long as thirty seconds.  Instead, you want to compose and crop in-camera in such a way that you are seeing both shaded and reflected light areas, thus providing the contrast of cool and warm tones.  Sunny skies mean clear skies and the deep shade of blue that comes with them.  That blue reflects in the shaded areas of the canyon, providing blue and purple hues.  The reflected light is always a warm gold or reddish-orange.

To get the long exposures necessary to be successful, select an ISO no greater than 100, set your aperture to f/22 or greater, and adjust exposure compensation in such a way to avoid clipping at the highlights or shadows.  If you are not getting long enough exposures, add a polarizing filter or neutral density filter to slow down your shutter even more.

All of these images are available in my Newest Images gallery.

“Stay Out!” … On the Howlie-Go-Home Highway

Monday, January 10th, 2011

When I tell people that I live in Alaska, or when I post photos on my Facebook fan site from Alaska, people often comment on how lucky I am to live in such a place.  But when people think of how lucky I am, they are likely envisioning the gorgeous scenery, the wildlife, the frontier lifestyle.  What people likely do not consider is how wonderful it is to live in a wide open state.  Most of the land adjacent to any road or trail is public land, whether state or federal.  When exploring across the state, you will likely not see fences anywhere, except for in some of the agricultural parts of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.  But just about anywhere in the state, you can get off the road and go for a hike in any direction without trespassing on private property.  You will likely not even need a permit, because with all of the public lands and the smaller number of visitors, there is no need to regulate access.  And if there is a public resource, particularly water (waterfall, stream, or glacier), there will be no restriction to access.

Hawai’i apparently is just about the opposite.  Additionally, the locals have a penchant for despising outsiders.  These two elements combined for a rather wasteful two-day trip down the Hana Highway, or what we came to call, the Howlie-Go-Home Highway.

Michelle and I had experienced the “howlie-go-home” syndrome during our last visit to the Hawaiian Islands, when we stayed in Hilo on the Big Island.  On the Kona side of the island, which is frequented by tourists, we found friendly, receptive and welcoming locals and businesses.  Not so much on the Hilo side, where we were warned by locals about how outsiders are treated and we had a bizarre experience at the local landfill.  The general sense was that outsiders were not welcome, that the locals would rather they just stay away.

On the Hana Highway, we experienced this disdain for outsiders at almost every corner.  Relying on Maui Revealed by Andrew Doughty & Harriet Friedman, we had identified several features we wanted to visit along the way.  The scenery along the Hana Highway is well-known for its waterfalls and pools.  But with several of the descriptions in the book came the warning that access to the particular waterfall may be through private land, particularly, private roads owned by the East Maui Irrigation Company, which diverts much of the fresh water from the east side of the island over to the central part for use in the sugar cane fields.  The authors also warn that on the many narrow, winding, blind curves you may possibly find a local driving across the centerline to spook the tourists for pleasure.

Our first roadblock that we encountered was along the Nahiku Road.  He had driven along this side road to check out an “idyllic” pond and a “jaw-dropping” view of the coastline, according to the book.  But as we progressed through a small community, we came upon a line of construction pylons stretched across the road with a make-shift sign saying that access further through this public road was for local residents only.  Disgusted, we were forced to turn around and return two miles back up the road back to the Hana Highway.

The next destination we wanted to check was a famous destination known as the “Blue Pool.”  The Blue Pool is almost straight out of a movie: a large pool with a waterfall spilling straight down into it, perfect for standing underneath and feeling the warm tropic waters wash over you.  To access the Blue Pool, you must again leave the Hana Highway and drive down the Ulaino Road.  Along the way, however, we encountered a sign stating that the Blue Pool had been closed off from any public access, and that anyone trying to access it would be prosecuted as trespassers.  Continuing down the same road, we thought we would try to visit the Kahanu Gardens, a large botanical gardens with some archaeological ruins.  Unfortunately, we arrived at about 3:00 in the afternoon to find a gate closed: the gardens are only open from 10-2.  Another detour and another complete waste of time.

The best access we had for any resources that were not directly adjacent to the road was in Haleakala National Park, where we were able to explore an area known as the Seven Sacred Pools and a well-known and oft-photographed bamboo forest.

The unwelcome feeling that permeates the Hana Highway is not restricted to blocked access.  The repeated warnings on signs and in literature to not leave anything valuable behind in your car because of rampant theft by locals added to the feeling.  Additionally, any trail or location off the road system was replete with signs warning you of every conceivable danger, as it either they considered tourists to be complete idiots or enough of them actually are to warrant the warnings.

But the Hana Highway was not the only part of the island where we found restricted access.  In Wailea, which is a resort area south of Kihei, there are long stretches of beach where access is completely blocked by private hotels and all of the land they occupy.  While the beach itself is open to the public, access to it is limited to one point with limited parking at the far end of the beach.  And consistent with our experiences in other states, most of the roadside property is private and blocked by fences.

I find the entire idea of blocking off whole tracts of public land and resources to be rather repugnant.  Many Alaskans complain about how much of Alaska is “locked up” and restricted from private development, but I think their attitude would change if access to their favorite salmon stream was blocked from public access, or if they were prohibited from hiking up a mountain to pick blueberries because of a barbed-wire fence.  I guess that I am spoiled and have become a devout believer in the concept of trust lands, with the state being responsible for allowing access to and use of public resources by its citizens.

The openness of Alaska is only matched by the warmth of its residents.  Yes, we are quirky and sometimes feel superior about our outdoor skills and knowledge compared to that of outsiders (the famous cases of Timothy Treadwell and Chris McCandless are resoundingly referred to as suicides, kind of like suicide-by-cop), but we will never make outsiders feel unwelcome.  Pretty much everywhere you go, Alaskans are friendly and helpful to visitors and willing to assist anyone who is in need, whether in need of directions or a lift to the nearest gas station.  The simple reason is that even the best of us sometimes find ourselves in compromising situations, with the unpredictability of the weather, landscape and wildlife constantly making life challenging.  You certainly would never find a local playing chicken with you on a narrow, winding road for entertainment.

Underwater photography

Sunday, January 9th, 2011
Underwater photography

As I planned my photo options for the Maui trip, I definitely considered underwater photography.  While we would only be snorkeling for this trip, I knew I would get some good chances for images.  As a new member of Nikon Professional Services, I contacted them to get a loaner underwater casing for my Nikon D700.  Unfortunately, Nikon does not make underwater housings and they do not provide third-party accessories.  I certainly did not want to invest the $2,000 for underwater housing for a two-week trip.  So, I resolved to see what my options for renting would be once I got to the island.  Certainly the many dive shops would have some good options.

As it turns out, I was wrong.  There are no dive shops on the island that rent professional-grade underwater camera packages, or even underwater housings for DSLRs.  It is simply too much of an investment for them and not enough return; that is, not enough people like me looking for that quality of gear.  So, I checked several point-and-shoot rental options, but did not settle on a rental.  I decided I would try to purchase an underwater digital point-and-shot for the price that it would cost me to rent one over three days.  I went to the Wal Mart (god forbid) and purchased a Fuji XP1o, which is 12 megapixel and rated to be waterproof down to ten feet.  I took it out on one snorkel at a spot we had been to before and was able to come away with some acceptable images.  But one of the things that irritated me about the camera is that I could not change the ISO.  It had only one ISO setting, and that was “Auto.”  I wanted a higher ISO option for the darkness of the water.  But when I took the camera out a second time, it filled with water and I returned it.

I went back to Ed Robinson’s Diving Adventures, which was the first place I had checked out my options, and made arrangements to rent their Sea & Sea camera setup.  It included a basic point-and-shoot digital camera, but had its own housing and an underwater strobe.  After some tests underwater, I was able to find the best setting that provided for a higher ISO setting as well as use of the strobe.   But the major drawback to the setup, as is a problem with any of this class of camera, is that there is a delay between triggering the shutter and the actual taking of the image.  Additionally, as is typical for point-and-shoot digital cameras, the only file option is JPEG, with no opportunity for RAW capture.  As such, there is limited opportunity to correct the white balance in processing, leaving you completely at the mercy of whatever the camera selects. 

In addition to our own snorkeling destinations, Michelle and I took three snorkeling tours from Maui Dive Shop.  The first was their coral gardens trip, the second was a trip out to Molokini Island and “Turtle Town,” and the third was a ride on the Ali’i Nui out to “Turtle Point.”  The highlight was the Ali’i Nui, a 65-foot sailing catamaran, that took us out to a large coral outcrop that also hosted a large Hawksbill sea turtle population.  The waters were calm and clear, out to at least 60 feet.  After snorkeling for about an hour, we came back onboard to a great spread of food and exceptional drink selection.  I drank a POGmosa, which is a pomegranite-orange-guava juice with champagne.  On the trip to Molokini, the best part was not Molokini itself.  Molokini is a small half-exposed volcanic crater of an island, so situated that its sheltered crater provides for exceptionally clear conditions, with up to 100 feet of visibility.  But, quite frankly, I found it to be a bad snorkeling destination.  The rough seas – with at least ten foot swells – made for tough snorkeling and it was too deep in the areas where it was safe to snorkel.  I am sure it would be a great scuba destnation, however, because of the clarity.  After leaving Molokini, we headed toward Makena, seeing  bottlenose dolphins and a breaching calf humpback whale along the way.  The “Turtle Town” spot was much better, with shallower waters, great coral, abundant fish, and several turtles.  We even saw a spotted eagle ray, which was a nice touch.  Even then, it was still not as good as it could be because of the high swells that day.

All in all, I am now determined to do two things before my next tropical destination.  First, purchase an underwater housing and strobe for my D70o.  Second, wipe the dust of my PADI certification, so to speak, and familiarize myself again with the gear and techniques to make sure I can SCUBA next time.

Sunrise photos from western Maui

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
Sunrise photos from western Maui

One of the advantages of being on Maui in the winter from a photographic standpoint is that it is still possible to capture the sunrise, even if staying on the west side of the island.  While not as pronounced as it is in Anchorage, the sun rises and sets in a more southerly direction.  In addition, the morning sun lights up the nearby islands of Lanai and Molokini, offering good, lighted background subjects while the crashing surf is still in the shade. 

Since we have rented snorkeling gear from Maui Dive Company, half of our mornings have been spent snorkeling.  Because of the trade winds, the surf can get pretty choppy by late morning, creating hazardous conditions and silty waters.  By being in the water by 7:00 a.m., we have the best conditions and generally no competition for a good snorkeling spot.  In the other mornings, I have been in search of good first light locations.  In our first morning, we caught a good sunrise at La Perouse Bay.  Then, we stopped to catch the surf breaking on rocks at the Ahihi-Kina’u Natural Preserve.  Yesterday, we went to Big Beach, which is south of Makena, to photograph the sunrise and enjoy watching the incoming surf.  The angle of the light was a challenge, forcing me to photograph the landscape with my own shadow in order to get the compositions I wanted.  I will have to spend some time in Photoshop afterward to remove the shadow.  That is work for later.  Right now, I am on vacation.


Hits, Wins and Misses

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Hits, Wins and Misses

We started with a visit to Iao Valley, or what we have come to call “All-Vowel Valley,” which lies on the east side of the ancient West Maui volcano.  It is a lush valley nestled among steep cliffs, but the drive and the ending parking lot and trails offers little chance to actually enjoy much of the valley.  The highlight, however, was getting the chance to see a bonifide god penis.  There is a needle formation, likely the result of volcanic karst geology, rising sharply out of the valley and presenting as a dominant feature at the end of the road.  The information at the park indicated that it was the phallic stone for the god Kanaloa, who is the god of the underworld.  Even though the lighting wasn’t the best, I had to take a picture; I was certain I did not have any god penises in my stock library. 


On our way back out the valley, we stopped at a fruit stand offering smoothies.  I had a passion fruit and banana smoothie, Michelle had a coconut-pineapple smoothie.  On our way out of Wailuku, we stopped at a taco stand, called Amigo’s Express.  We took advantage of the $1 taco special, and sat down for a real culinary treat.  My chicken had clearly been marinated in its subtle but savory spices for quite a while, not merely seasoned as cooked.  The homemade hot salsa was absolutely fantastic, adding some nice hot without overpowering the food.  Our fruit smoothies were the perfect compliment to the spices. 

After our tacos, we chatted with the owner, Ricardo.  He told us he was from Oaxaca, Mexico, and that he used to work in more upscale restaurants on the island before opening his own business.  He told us a great authentic salsa recipe.  Take dried whole chili peppers and put them in a gallon Ziploc, then shake to get out the seeds.  Heat up olive oil in a pan, then add the whole seedless peppers and sauté.  Take out the peppers, keeping the oil in the pan, then add whole garlic cloves to the peppered oil.  After a while, add the whole peppers back in and sauté.  Add salt, pepper and cumin (very little) to taste.  Then, take the whole mixture and blend it to a puree.  I cannot wait to make that when we get home.  Thanks, Ricardo for the great tacos and the recipe.


We then headed out on Highway 340 toward the north side of the island in hopes of catching a sunset from the northwest corner.  It took us about two hours to go twenty miles.  I have driven on many roads in the United States and overseas, and this was without question the narrowest, windiest road I have ever driven.  It is not really sketchy, just narrow and windy with lots of blind curves.  So long as you approach the blind curves cautiously and peek around the corner as you are rounding it, the curves are quite manageable.  However, it only works if the other drivers approach blind curves the way you do.  There was one harrowing moment when we came around the curve at around 15-20 mph and came face-to-face with a large white truck not taking the curve cautiously.  Fortunately, we both came to a complete stop at six feet apart.  Along the way, we stopped at a couple of art galleries (Michelle is always looking for new art or jewelry), and I stopped to photograph a nice pastoral scene with coastline, cliffs and rolling green fields with … cows being chased by egrets.  Yes, the cows were grazing and one of the cows and her calf was being shepherded along by a taunting egret. 


Unfortunately, the sunset was a bust, but before we rounded the top of the island, there was some beautiful light falling on the far side of Honokohau Bay.


The next day, we went up to the Tedeschi Winery.  We were told by our concierge that it was the only winery on the islands.  Then we had to correct him when we informed him we had visited the Volcano Winery near Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.  Michelle and I always make it a point to visit wineries when we travel.  Together or separately we have visited wineries and vineyards in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley in California, the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg, and South Dakota.  And, of course, both of us have visited breweries, two meaderies and one winery in Alaska.  I provide this back story because I wanted to give some context, to indicate that we have some experience in the tasting room atmosphere at a winery. 


If you want a great tasting room experience, don’t go to the Tedeschi Winery.  First of all, they only had four wines they were sampling.  Then, they sampled them in the wrong order.  They started with a strong-flavored wine and followed it with a milder one.  They also did not rinse glasses in between samples and provided nothing to clear the pallet between tastes.  But that was only part of the problem.  The other part was the speed with which they wanted to move you through, in between the busloads of tours being dropped off and rushed through the tasting room.  There was no personal attention, no explanation of the wines, no suggestions for pairings.  There were written pairing suggestions, but they were all wrong.  The “Maui Splash,” which was the only wine we were inspired to purchase, is a sweet, pineapple-passion fruit wine.  Their suggested pairing was with cheese or fruit.  But a sweet white wine should not be paired with sweet, but with spicy, like Thai food, or even savory.  The highlight of the visit was the winery Russian blue cat (named “Blue”), stretched out and lying in the grass on the grounds in the open sun, accepting pets from anyone who came by as it purred and kneaded the open air.  Needless to say, it was dissimilar to any wine tasting room experience we had ever had.  If you want a good experience in Hawai’i, then visit the winery on the Big Island. 


On our way back down the mountainside, we stopped at a pullout and sat in the beach chairs for a snack.  The view included Kihei as well as the western side of the island, then Molokai, Molokini, and Lanai.  Definitely a great view for a snack picnic.  On our way back into Kihei, we stopped at a beach with a row of outrigger canoes to enjoy the sunset.  I photographed the Hawaiian ocean canoes, the sunset, a paddle boarder, and the rich colors of dusk.  It was definitely a great way to end the day. 




Up on Haleakala

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
Up on Haleakala

We had decided that we would spend our second morning up at the summit of Mt. Haleakala.  For many people, they go to the top of Haleakala because they have read, learned or been told that it is the place to watch sunrise on Maui.  My reason was a bit more personal.  The first ship I served on in the Navy was a Siribachi Class ammunition supply ship called U.S.S. Haleakala (AE-25).  Within the design of the ship’s seal was a silversword cactus, a rare succulent unique to the Haleakala crater.  I was determined that I ever made it to Maui, I would summit the mountain and see the silversword cacti for myself.


As a nature photographer, I am quite accustomed to getting up when it is still quite dark to go to some location to photograph first light.  I am also used to being the only person, or one of a small group at most if it is a well-known location, photographing at that location.  It is highly unusual to be one of a large crowd.  It started with a parade of vehicles going up the long, winding road to the 10,000-foot summit.  When we arrived at the end of the road at around 5:45 a.m., well over an hour before sunrise and still in the pitch darkness, the parking lot was nearly full and there was already a sizeable crowd waiting in the shelter at the summit. 


Michelle and I stayed outside, having brought a blanket for Michelle to keep warm.  I was dressed in full thermal layers, hat, gloves – everything I would need to keep warm as I waited for the light.  As the sky grew brighter, the colors began to develop and grow more vivid as sunrise approached.  The moon was also rising, showing just a sliver of light on its lower left side.  The colors peaked and then quickly faded about fifteen minutes before the sun actually peeked up over the clouds on the horizon.  A park ranger directed us to the view behind, where Haleakala was casting its own shadow in a point reaching out to the west side of the island.


After sunrise, I spent a little time searching for a silversword that was out in the sunlight, finding one that offered me the opportunity to photograph it in its moon-like landscape.  While the light was starting to already get harsh, even at only 7:30, we stopped so I could photograph down into the crater.  The light was prohibitive for photographing the cinder cones, so I instead focused on some craggy rock formations on the north side.


After Haleakala, we had breakfast at the Kula Sandlewood Café.  Not spectacular food, but good at a good price and a fantastic location, just at the bottom of the long, winding road up the mountain.  After breakfast, we chatted with a family visiting from the San Francisco area, and they suggested we visit a nearby lavender farm.  Located on the Waipoli Road, the Alii Kula Lavender Farm lies on a steep slope with expansive views of the western side of the island.  With a gazebo, exquisitely-manicured grounds, benches, and tables, it is a great destination for a picnic or a wedding.  And, of course, while you are there, don’t forget to visit the gift shop for a plethora of lavender products. 



We finished out the evening with a muted but colorful sunset from Kamaole II Beach near our condo.  An anchored sailboat off the shore added a nice element.




New Year’s Eve on Wailea Beach

Saturday, January 1st, 2011
New Year's Eve on Wailea Beach

When Michelle and I decided to get up at 5:30 so we could drive down to La Perouse Bay to catch the sunrise, we did not know we would be staying up until well after midnight. 

After our morning in La Perouse Bay, we learned that there would be a fireworks display at midnight off shore from the Grand Wailea Hotel on Wailea Beach.  Michelle was not thrilled with the idea of being up for sunrise and staying up past midnight, I was insistent on the rare opportunity of photographing and enjoying fireworks in warm weather.  While we have fireworks on the Fourth of July in Anchorage, it is still light because the midnight display occurs only about a half an hour after sunset.  Fireworks displays are just not the same unless it is dark.


We were warned that parking would be a challenge, so we went to Wailea at about 8:30 to catch dinner at the Shops in Wailea.  Upon entering the parking lot, we were greeted by private security guards who asked us if we were coming there for dinner.  “Yes, we are,” I responded.  After dinner, we tried to find our way to the beach.  Unlike Kihei, Wailea was designed from the beginning to be a destination resort.  Most of the shoreline is occupied by high-end resort hotels: the Grand Wailea, the Four Seasons, etc.  As a result, all of the shoreline from where we were parked is blocked by fences protecting these resorts, and their guests, from outsiders.  We started one way along these fences, but could not find a way through to the beach.  We turned around, heading toward the Grand Wailea.  Each time there was some sort of access, it went through the resort areas and was guarded by private security.  We eventually found our way to the public access, about a mile down the road, to the beach. 


We found a nice spot on the beach, laid down a blanket, and waited for the fireworks.  While we waited, other users of the beach could not, almost constantly setting off fireworks and sending massive plumes of smoke out into the harbor.  I became concerned that the smoke would obscure the official fireworks show.  But, I spent time photographing the beach scene and the multicolored lights on the palm trees at the Grand Wailea.  When the fireworks came, I worked furiously for the five minutes of the display, working hard to get both the fireworks and the surf together in the same frame.