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.
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.
We got an early start on our road trip from Siem Reap, headed for a temple 40 km away. Driving east, we saw the orange ball of the sun through the windshield — another beautiful sunrise in Cambodia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 60-foot-high windows of the Jackson Lake Lodge frame the sky and the mountains.
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.
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.
Continue past the beaver lodge to a wide pond with tall trees that frame the mountains.
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.
At 400 mm, we get a closer view of the mountain peaks with the pink sidelight showing the texture of the granite peaks.
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.
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.
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.
On the drive to the airstrip, we saw this lion pride and their kill. More on the lions in a separate post.
From our plane, the Okavango Delta stretches into the distance, a flat area with islands, channels, and pools, stretching to the horizon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rhythm of daily game drives is set so we see the most wildlife, and they’re active at dawn and dusk. For our April safari in Botswana, sunrise was around 6:15 am, and sunset was around 6:15 pm. To start a game drive at sunrise, the wake-up call was at 5:30 am, and we started the morning game drive around 6:15. Not what you’d imagine for your ideal vacation, but a safari is costly in terms of time and money, so you want to get what you came for.
At dawn we were on game drive, and we paused in this copse of trees where the authors of Cry of the Kalahari lived. The trees have short-grass plains on three sides, providing views and food for grazing animals, with some protection from predators.
Below a lesser gray shrike is lit by the pink dawn light. The shrike sits on an acacia tree, which has sharp white thorns to fend off animals.
The kori bustard walks through the grasslands eating insects and reptiles.
A pale chanting goshawk looking for prey. See the long white thorns of the acacia. African birds learn to land and take off carefully.
Nests of weaver birds.
Springboks are an antelope found in southern Africa. This herd of males is grazing and hanging out.
Springboks are extremely fast, reaching speeds up to 100 km/hr and leaping up to 4 m through the air. Male springboks sometimes race and leap to show off their strength. Called pronking, here’s a shaky video, but you’ll get the picture.
A stoic gemsbok with vultures gathering, probably at a recent kill.
Before dusk these cheetahs waited for a springbok to come close enough for them to run it down, but the springbok wisely kept its distance.