Category Archives: United States of America

Milkway in the SouthWest

And so it seems the Andromeda galaxy always been my home. Whenever I took up in the skies out in the dry aria SouthWest of USA, it always calls me.

Here’s some images from my trip out to the Southwest and beyond, no its not the Andromeda, but our very own milkway.

 

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Here in Sante Fe and around New Mexico

I have to return to Sante Fe and the other New Mexico towns. While I was spending quite sometime around the area, didn’t really take the time to visit this quaint town of Sante Fe or even the other nearby ones.

Here’s some random images while I was out on a day visit to this desert town and around the other areas.

 

When in Colorado, go meet The Nighteagles

“You have to meet one of the most interesting people in the world, when you head out to Colorado” said a friend of mine.

And so I did.

The Nighteagles built their own house out of recycled materials, much like the famous Earthship houses in Taos New Mexico. Always into wonderful and unusual construction, I couldn’t resist the temptation to drive a whole day just to meet them.

Nighteagle is part Native American and part Middle Eastern, totally unusual combination of cultures. Skilled in construction, he took a few years building his own house and while I was there, was building an extension on top of his pre-existing level. Its a never ending process, one of the best things about building your own home.

We went over to his neighbour’s where I was introduced to the best thing about being in America. Guns, and more guns, in a personal shooting range on top of a hill. This was my first experience with bigger machines and larger bullets, not something readily available anywhere else, unless you are in a war zone. It was great fun, and a great session. Shooting from a huge weapon gave me a huge adrenalin high, an opportunity that would be great to repeat one day.

Give hope

Portland, Oregon, USA

At a homeless shelter in downtown Portland, Oregon

It is fascinating to be in Portland, its a very interesting city filled with various characters of life. Downtown Portland is a little grungy, some parts are pretty old and there are streets where there are homeless people roaming around near homeless shelters.  For a wealthy country like the United States, it is heart wrenching to see how many are marginalised and the wealth gap just keeps widening.

For someone who comes from Asia, where we do struggle and receive no government help at all, I am puzzled by the amount of people choosing to be homeless. They have their own stories to tell and clearly some are mentally ill and have become drug dependent. But why would there be such unusual amount of young people choosing to be homeless is perplexing to me.

I don’t want to photograph nor interview them because I was only there for a few hours, it would take a whole project to discover this whole situation that America is facing and I am not the one who do it.

Maybe in Singapore we are too comfortable, to realise how tough it can get in the Land of Dreams. But we are Asians and we have grown up to believe that no one would help us. Being homeless is not an option in our society where it is deemed illegal by our Singapore government. Since there is no one out there to help us, we must help ourselves and not rely on anyone especially our government. Even if it is dark and bleak, we discover tiny pieces of Hope, hope that is instilled in us since we were young. That’s the Asian culture, we grow up thinking that there is hope somewhere out there and we have to find a will to work towards that even if there is no outside support at all.

That;s the difference between the Land of Dreams and where I live. Hope is sometimes taken from people and darkness fills in the gap.

At least we have Hope, and sometimes we need to spread that to others who need them.

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Sunrise Promise Sunset

Photographing the other Antelope Slot Canyon in Arizona

The Slot Canyons in Page, Arizona are one of the most visited places around and have been my dream to visit for the longest time.  The famous Antelope Canyons are the most photographed in the SouthWest, of course I want to be there!

You can’t visit it on your own being on Navajo Reservation land. It is expensive to visit, crowded and restricted, with little time and having non-photographic friends along, I skipped the Upper Antelope Canyons and headed straight for the lower Antelope Canyons.

Visiting the Upper Antelope Canyons does set you back a couple of dollars. The entry into the Canyons cost $9 plus paying for a guided tour of $35. The whole trip would last about 1 1/2 hours,  another $80  if you want to be in the photographic tour that is really more of you wandering along the canyons on your own for 2 hours.

The lower Antelope canyons is the less famous but not necessary less crowded, it does cost a little less, a total of $38 incuding the permit.  It last about 2 hours if you decide to be on your own on a ‘photographic permit’. Basically if you choose that option, instead of the hour long guided trip,  you are left on your own to photograph the various sights.

For some reason, most of the Americans on the internet were avoiding the Lower Antelope canyon, apparently only recommending it for fitter hikers. But it is quite an easy stroll with a few ladders. My friend who had a slightly sprained ankle managed quite well with her walking stick. Unless you are super large and hardly exercise at all, it is quite a comfortable walk through.

It gets super crowded, we got in at 8am and the carpark was already packed with photographers and their huge tripods waiting to get in. You don’t really need to book one of those tours from Page. Just get to the carparks early, wait for the tour office to open before you join in.  The preferred timing is in the summers of June, July and August when the sun is at the highest. I was there between 830am to 11am and the colors of the walls does get washed out by 1130am when I visited in June.

The lower Antelope Canyon was quite magical, I got carried away and spend longer than my time slot just walking around and discovering the light. By the time I got out around 11.30am, the crowd was packed waiting their turns to get in.

The guides would play their flutes, guitars or sing as they bring streams of tourists into the narrow slots. Quite a great acoustic experience listening to these young Native kids telling stories of their ancestors as they lead the tourists.

The Slot Canyons look totally different from the outside and the colors were washed out to even realise how magical it would be when you walk through the canyons.

The canyons are narrow but some parts do allow space for you and your tripod.

That classic light beam in the slot canyon. Photographers play with the light by throwing sand into the air, creating light beams when the sun is glowing through.  Time is essential here as in the Lower Antelope Canyons, light quickly changes by 11am and you won’t get the classic beam shot.

The Raven’s Nest

Large Raven Nests scattered around the Canyons, not quite a santuary for them with streams of tourists disturbing their peace.

The lion’s spot

Hard to tell from here, but look at 4 dark spots slightly off the center. The discoloration is basically the lack of iron in the stones.

Serious Fires in the SouthWest

Fires in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

There are been some serious fires happening around the SouthWest of USA. The ones in Colorado has been so bad that ten thousands of homes been affected.  With so many bush fires happening around, my travel plans got diverted a few times.  This particularly fire was started by a huge thunderstorm a night before. I witnessed the whole spectacular show while spending a night in Mesa Verde national park. The fires were so bad that whole mountains and hills were burnt off.

My first camping experience

Canyonlands Utah, Needles campsite

In the years I have been travelling around the world, I have never camped nor stayed in tents. Sure there is the occasional weekend thing but to stay weeks travelling with a full set of camping equipment. Never!

Sure you might say whats the big deal for those who have camped before, but my family and my friends were in horrors when I told them I was renting a car and camping around national parks. These are people who do not camp. The closest they remotely been in were safari camps operated by some big hotel or in the army some distance century away.

Visiting the various national parks in New Mexico and Utah, you need to camp, thats the only option.  The parks are situated in the deserts away from everything. The nearest motels and hotels are at least 20 -30 miles away from the parks and I had my fair share of horrid worry and torturing search for hotels in the busy Arizona national parks. That was enough and too stressful to deal with.

Borrowed a few camping equipment from my amazing friends P and J, bought a pretty comfortable tent and got all the necessary sleeping material, food and camping stove. The US national parks are pretty organised and the campsites are the closest to all the sites you would want to stay for sunset and be the first to get to the sites before sunrise. Many sites I had camped in are what you call dry camps. There are no showers, sometimes no water and only non-flushable pit toilets. The closest you go for drinking water is that 10mile drive to the visitor center. A little tough for those who prefer their beds and hair dryers and not having to shower for a few days. Living in the tropics, I need my daily showers and  somehow managed getting my washing done in these sites despite.

Still this is luxury camping to me. This is better than staying in the well known roach motels in the US that are not necessary cheap either. I prefer paying the us$30 per camp versus that average us$150 a night in crappy motels that surrounded the parks.

You drive to the camp sites, set up, pay for your site in a envelope and dropping it into a box at the entrance. Sometimes I had the whole camp site to my own in less visited national parks and sometimes there is a huge rush to scoring the best site during the public holiday week. I enjoyed cooking under the stars and waking up surrounded by nature.  Sometimes deers and an accidental bear would appear around me. Sometimes I had to deal with the hot summer heat in Utah and New Mexico at 100F temperatures.

Next experience to look forward to : real camping in the wilderness during mid winter.

Little Casita and the Milkyway

Took this night image while I was in Cuyamunge Institute of New Mexico. The dark skies were incredible although the stars were not as bright with a few days to full moon. One of the perks in living in the desert despite the dry heat are the clear dark skies and the incredible display of stars.

The milkway was not as visible as it should be to the naked eye due to the bright moon and the light pollution coming from the other adobe buildings and from Buffalo Thunder, a pueblo across from the institute.

How sensitive the stars are even with little light pollution from the surroundings!
This is my favorite adobe building in Cuyamunge, it’s not on the electrical grid and is only lit up with candlelight. It was mentioned to me that Felicitas Goodman, an anthropologist and founder of the Institute used this building as her little retreat while she was living in the land.

Interestingly Earth is part of the milky way galaxy and what we see is the accumulation of millions and billions of stars; the center of the galaxy where the nebulas and star clusters are all crammed up into this dense cloud.

The month of July is the best time to view the milky way, so if you are still out in the open dark skies, grab a chair or a sleeping bag and watch the milkyway rise around 11pm in New Mexico. Also in July, get up early around 4am(GMT -8) and witness the conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and the brightest visible star, Aldebaran as they rise from the horizon. They will seem so big that you might think they are colliding towards Earth!

I was too in awed in my groggy state to photograph the conjunction, when I saw those rare planetary and star lined up as they rise up just before dawn.

Grand Canyon from Above

The Grand Canyon from above.

Taken from the plane, gives it a wider perspective of the place.  Being there in the South rim of the Grand Canyon and seeing how immense it was, showed me how magnificant the work of water made to the whole environment.

Spent a night viewing the night skies after all the tourists had left. The dark moonless night made the stars brighter and I could make out the milky way from the night skies. The campers down in the canyon lit up their tents showed me how far down the canyon was and how tiny they were down there.

Many hikers would start their descent down the Grand Canyon after sun down just because it was too hot to do it in the day when temperatures could go up to 40 degrees celsius.