Kauai

This summer we visited the island of Kauai in Hawaii, where we enjoyed Kauai‘s high cliffs, deep valleys, and water. For six million years, “high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountains, carving out canyons with many scenic waterfalls.”

Above is a sunrise from our condo, where the rising sun paints the beach and trees with a red glow.

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Sunrise at North Window

Napping at Balanced Rock after trying for a Milky Way shot, the alarm woke us, and we drove to the Windows, arriving before dawn. The sun would rise on the far side of the Windows, so I had to choose between photographing the rising sun or the far side of the Windows. Photographing several Santorini sunsets last fall, I noticed that photos of the town illuminated by the setting sun were much more interesting than those of the sun sinking into the sea.

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Death Valley: Zabriskie Point

On our Mojave Desert road trip, we drove from Red Rock Canyon and Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park in California. We visited Zabriskie Point our first evening and then again at sunrise since the sunset was too cloudy to bring out the colors of the rock.

Shown above, there are over two miles of badlands hills from Zabriskie Point to the bottom of Death Valley. Badlands are “characterized by steep slopes, minimal vegetation, lack of a substantial regolith, and high drainage density. Note the four bands of colored hills. Starting from the foreground, there are 1) a sand-colored hill I’m standing on, shown in the lower-left corner, 2) hills with red streaks, 3) sand-colored hills with brown and black, and 4) a second set of hills with red streaks. Beyond these hills is the flat valley floor with a mountain range on the other side. With the colored rock and no vegetation, this looks otherworldly.

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Sunrise Photo Shoot at Angkor Wat

To photograph the sun rise behind Angkor Wat, we woke up early to set up our cameras and tripods by 5:00 am at the reflecting pool in front of the temple. Getting up at 4:00 am isn’t what we had in mind for our vacation, but we were glad for the early start when we arrived at Angkor Wat and discovered people already there.

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Grand Teton Mountains

The mountains of Grand Teton National Park, called the Teton Range, soar majestically from the valley floor on the east side of the mountains. The mountains rise 5,000 to 7,000 feet above the valley floor, without intervening foothills. In June we were treated to the yellow blossoms of the arrowleaf balsamroot.

In contrast, here are the same mountains from the west. The snow-capped peaks stretch across the horizon, but they don’t rise dramatically from Idaho’s Snake River Valley. Instead, this valley west of the mountains is higher, and there are intervening foothills.

Grand Tetons from Idaho
Grand Tetons from the west

The landscape has been shaped by plate tectonics and water, and that’s the critical difference between the two valleys. There’s a fault line at the eastern edge of the mountains, where the valley east of the mountains has sunk relative to the mountains. The national park includes the mountains and the lowered, eastern valley with the best views.

Glaciers have carved valleys in the granite mountains. Jenny Lake lies at the foot of the Teton Range. A glacier carved the valley and deposited the rock at the foot of the mountain, forming the rim of the lake.

Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake

We visited several spots to take pictures of the mountains. Ansel Adams took a famous picture of the Snake River Bend from this spot. However, in the 70+ years since then, trees have grown and blocked the view of the river in the foreground.

rand Tetons from Snake River Overlook
Grand Tetons from the Snake River Overlook

In the photo from the Snake River Overlook, see the horizontal green line just below the mountains. Perfectly flat, those are moraines, the rocks left by retreating glaciers that once flowed from the mountains.

A second photo spot is this Mormon barn, perhaps because the silhouette of the barn echoes the shape of the mountain peaks.

Mormon barn
Mormon barn

The 60-foot-high windows of the Jackson Lake Lodge frame the sky and the mountains.

Jackson Lake Lodge
Jackson Lake Lodge

Schwabacher Landing proved to be the real deal for photos. We lucked out because the access road had been closed for a year and a half, and road opened during our visit. Schwabacher Landing offers several beaver ponds off the Snake River. We first saw the ponds in the afternoon, and we returned the next morning to take the photos below, when the morning air is still, providing nice reflections of the mountains. And we had blue sky. 🙂

From near the parking lot, here’s the first beaver pond and its view. On our first visit, a local couple saw a beaver here, but we missed it.

near the parking lot
near the parking lot (click to enlarge)

Continue walking along the right bank to the next beaver dam and pond, shown below. We saw a beaver swimming from the left to the beaver lodge in the center of the photo. The beaver lodge is the rounded clump of sticks sticking out of the water; beaver lodges have an underwater entrance. The beaver had some green grass in its mouth as it swam to the lodge, and we saw the grass clump gliding on the surface of the water. Our first beaver sighting ever. We watch for a while, catching only occasional glimpses of a beaver, but we didn’t get a picture.

beaver pond and lodge
beaver pond and lodge (click to enlarge)

Continue past the beaver lodge to a wide pond with tall trees that frame the mountains.

pond with tall trees
pond with tall trees (click to enlarge)

Reluctantly, we had to tear ourselves away, because we still had to drive through both parks that day, moving from Wilson to Gardiner.

We took some mountain photos at sunset and sunrise from Wilson, south of the park. I took these photos off the road to the park, pointing north. The sun is setting in the west, so the setting sun sheds a pink sidelight on the left side of the range. This photo, taken at 160 mm, shows the flat valley floor at the foot of the mountains.

Teton Range at sunset
Teton Range at sunset (click to enlarge)

At 400 mm, we get a closer view of the mountain peaks with the pink sidelight showing the texture of the granite peaks.

Grand Teton peaks at sunset
Grand Teton peaks at sunset (click to enlarge)

I returned to the same spot the next morning at dawn, when the rising sun lit the right side of the peaks from the east. That morning was cloudy, especially in the east. The sun didn’t pop out of the clouds until a half hour past sunrise, and there was no pink glow off the snowy peaks.

Grand Tetons at sunrise
Grand Tetons at sunrise

The Teton Range is spectacular, and Grand Teton National Park has many places to view the mountains. We spent several days enjoying the mountains, driving around to see different perspectives, waiting for clouds to clear around the peaks, and finding a still morning for reflections off beaver ponds.

Flight to the Okavango Delta

On our last morning in the Kalahari we would fly to the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sunrise painted clouds stretching out to the horizon.

last Kalahari sunrise
last Kalahari sunrise

On the drive to the airstrip, we saw this lion pride and their kill. More on the lions in a separate post.

lion pride and their kill
lion pride and their kill

From our plane, the Okavango Delta stretches into the distance, a flat area with islands, channels, and pools, stretching to the horizon.

Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta from the air

Having seen the BBC video with animals running through the waters of the Okavango Delta, I had hoped to see more animals from the air. This elephant below was the only animal I saw from the air. The lines are the various trails made by animals.

Okavango elephant from the air
Okavango elephant from the air

After the plane landed, we took a boat to our lodge, where this crocodile was sunning himself next to the boat dock. We had read about hippos and crocodiles in the Okavango Delta.

basking crocodile at the lodge boat dock
basking crocodile at the lodge boat dock

In the afternoon we took a ride in a mokoro, traditionally dug out from a log, but now fiberglass. Too many trees were being chopped down to make mekoro (the plural form). The water is shallow; the person standing in back is poling our mokoro, like a Venetian gondolier.

mokoro ride
mokoro ride

The mokoro ride is quiet, calm, and relaxing — movement without sound, like skiing or sailing, When researching our lodge on TripAdvisor, reviewers wrote about their mokoro ride, saying they were told there are no hippos or crocodiles here. But all the waterways are connected, and we saw a crocodile earlier. But on our relaxing mokoro ride, we forgot to ask about crocodiles and hippos, and we didn’t see any.

The setting sun colored the grass golden.

mokoro rides low
mokoro rides low in the water