Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weeping Rock and Emerals Pools

Today we started our short visit in Zion National Park. Until now I underrated this park. Probably because the most popular part of it is located across the road 9 that is commonly used for transportation from Kanab to Springdale or Hurricane. Of course views from the road are amazing, but you can find many more valuable gems in different areas of the park.
Our goal was to see Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools and Angels Landing in main part of the park and later go to the Subway. Life verified plans and we saw only Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools and what's even worse, have proper pictures only from Emerald Pools. Photographing Weeping Rock appeared to be a really big challenge and we didn't manage to take a single good picture of this place.
The problem with photographing Weeping Rock lies in the nature of the place. It's a kind of a small arcade in the big rock and you can enter there. From the rock above you water is still oozing and you see a droplets of them falling down. Good pictures I imagined should have a slightly blurred droplets in the foreground and mountains in the background. I could see such picture with my own eyes, but wasn't able to register it with camera. After playing about an hour with this place we gave up and went to Emerald Pools.
Emerald Pools trail leads from the Zion Lodge through Lower and Middle to the Upper Emerald Pool. You can easily get wet on this trail, because water falls directly onto the path. We somehow managed to get to the Upper Pool staying dry and took few pictures. In the Upper Pool I was playing a bit with squirrel and have some nice pictures. Moreover it was a very funny story - one guy asked us if we work for National Geographic (probably because of our impressive gear). We answered that not yet, but would be happy to sell him some pictures. Unfortunately he refused. I hope he was a seer.
Trail to the Emerald Pools took us a lot of time and we had to cancel our plans of visiting Angel's Landing. Instead we returned to Weeping Rock - unfortunately this time we also didn't take even one good picture. We finished the day with some shopping and finding hotel in Hurricane, then preparing for Subway trail.
Both pictures had been taken on the Emerald Pools trail.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is small State Park located between roads 89 and 389 near Kanab.
Because I've seen a lot of nice pictures from this place, we decided that it could be a good opportunity for photographing. Unfortunately life is different than belief. Until now it's the most disappointing place on our trip. Dunes itself are really very interesting and their color in the evening sun reminds different shades of pink. But in the category of photographic opportunity I would give 0 points to this place. That's because here is America and dunes are for everyone (except photographers!) - it means you can ride over them with quads and damage everything what wind created. So finally you have nice dunes with even nicer traces of quad's tires. What's worse walking on the dunes can be dangerous - quads are everywhere and sometimes can collide with people - it's crazy idea. It should be designated area for quads and rest of dunes should be left for people and photographers, but american people think different. What a pity...


It's dawn. We've just clambered out of our tent and came here - to the edge of the Canyon. This place is known as Toroweap and if you want to see a real Grand Canyon you should definitely come here. Currently Toroweap is a part of Grand Canyon National Park, but as opposed to South or North Rim, it's only for privileged people. Why it's like that? Because access to this wonderful area is very difficult. You have to cover about a 56 miles of unpaved road and last 5 miles of very bumpy and rocky road. It's recommended to have a high clearance SUV for this (although I heard of people coming here with classic cars - I don't believe this after seeing the road with my own eyes) and of course spare tire and tire repair kit is a must.
We came here from Fredonia and it took us about 2.5 hours to get to the camping that is very primitive and has only few designated places for cars and tents - it's according to the rule first come, first served, so if you come late, you could have an option to get back to Fredonia or Kanab. We were lucky and found probably the last place to camp. Just after that we've prepared a kind of dinner for both of us and later went to the edge to take some pictures of sunset at Toroweap. What we've seen there was like a dream. Water about 1 km directly below us standing on the edge of fragile rock - very captivating and unusual view! I don't think there's another place like this in the whole Grand Canyon. Actually that's why we spent about 2 hours taking pictures and what's worse we filled almost all of memory cards. Of course another 3 hours of taking pictures we spent in the morning, but dawn light is much more difficult to photograph and I don't count on having even one good shot. But we'll see - there's always hope.
I'd like to mention another interesting story about Toroweap - we've just read that since Toroweap became part of Grand Canyon National Park, 5 people fell down off the rock. It's strange because rocks seem to be quite stable and secure, but who knows?
Now it's time to leave this little paradise and head to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, then prepare for a visit in Zion National Park. See u soon...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Antelope Canyon

Yesterday we visited amazing Antelope Canyons near Page, AZ. First thing in the morning we went to Lower Antelope Canyon - it's hole in the middle of the desert that you have to get in. Bottom of this rock formation is narrow and up is a bit wider, so there's a lot of light, but walking through the canyon is difficult. Sometimes we had to use ladders and took down backpacks to fit into the holes. Although it was hard to find place to set up the tripod, we somehow managed to do it. Unfortunately it seemed to be very crowded and even when we set up tripods it took ages to wait for the moment when nobody was in the field. Later it appeared that Lower Antelope was virtually not crowded at all - comparing to Upper Antelope. Somehow we took few pictures and left the canyon for Upper Antelope Phototour reserved with Antelope Canyon Tours . This was special photographic tour lasting 2 hours and dedicated to people focusing only on taking pictures.
Open truck took us from the parking near the office and transported directly to the Upper Antelope entrance. What I saw there was frustrating - about 15 other trucks - about 12 people in every of them - it means over 200 people in the canyon at once! Unbelievable!
I figured out our mistake - it was Saturday and all the people came here at the same time! The only thing that was good for us was the time of the tour - 2 hours instead of 30 minutes that regular tours last. Ok, we entered the canyon with indian guide and started photographing this petrified sand dune created by water and wind. And suddenly we realized that it's impossible to take even single good picture! It was so crowded that you couldn't find a place for tripod, not mentioning to plan any good shot. We had two hours and didn't take too many pictures in this time, because of people and nature of light. After all see it yourself...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Wave - 8th Wonder of the World!

I still can't believe that, but we were there - in The Wave or Coyote Buttes North. This pristine and beautiful place is located in Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area - about 45 miles NW from Page. To get there you need to obtain some permit in advance (10 person a day limit!) or try your luck and get walk-in permit (another 10 person a day). Permits are available from BLM.
After getting to the WirePass parking we left our car and started short hike. Trail is not very well marked or even it's not marked at all, so we had to rely on our GPS device and maps we received from BLM. Maps are interesting, because they consists of 8 or 9 pictures of the trail and it really helps. Traditional maps would be useless here. After few hours of walking this short distance we finally arrived to famous Wave formation. It took us so long not because it's hard trail - its difficulty is average, sometimes you have to cross deep sandy paths, other times you go up on slippery rocks - we were just stopping very often to take another picture. The whole trail from the parking to The Wave has about 5 km one way.
What we've seen was breathtaking! Mix of twisted, colorful rocks - it looks like unsuccessful try of preparing dough for a cake by some giant! Unimaginable experience. I don't know how to describe it better, so would like to show you some pictures...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Welcome back home!

Finally we caught flight at 5:30 as last two passengers getting on board. Even lady with confirmed reservation that came literally seconds after us, was not lucky enough to get onboard, because it was after the final call. Sometimes we've luck!
It was another 4 hours in tight cabin of Boeing aircraft, but I somehow survived and finally arrived to Phoenix half past six local time (that is Warsaw-9). And we had even more luck - Weather here turned out to be great and we got nice car, but this is another story...
I've to say again that Alamo is really a good car rental company. They just didn't have Standard SUV as we reserved (that's bad), so guy at the desk, after short negotiations, gave us nice, orange Hummer H3 (that's good)! Wow, what a car! I've never though, even in my dreams, that'll have a chance to drive such a car. During my last visit in Las Vegas got Ford Mustang and now Hummer - still can't belive that.

But our happiness and luck was short. After reaching hotel it appeared that wireless Internet is just broken and I can't publish my posts today :( What's even worse, in the neighbouring hotel Super8, WiFi had such a weak signal strength that I couldn't connect. My practice in US is to catch the signal around any hotel, but this time it failed. Now I've to wait and find some good working Internet around here - just America - technologically developed but not everywhere...On the other hand I feel here like home, so can't still grumble...

Flying is not as simple as it seems

I'm just sitting in Atlanta Airport and watching CNN - they're talking only about upcoming voting. Boring guys. I hope not to watch them for next 5 or so hours... and that's why it might end like this:
We had some problems with our AirFrance reservation in Warsaw. I didn't get my boarding pass from Atlanta to Phoenix, because they couldn't print it and were explaining that this is correct and I'll get it later. Somehow my friend got all his three boarding passes right away. But ok - I belived them. After landing in Atlanta we headed to Delta Information desk where lady told us that our original flight was rescheduled from 19:31 do 20:05 and Air France representative should inform us - they of course didn't. She asked us to wait for a flight at 5:30 and put our names on standby list. She also told that we have confirmed reservation for original flight rescheduled to 20:05. If we knew about problems, We could catch flight at 4:11! What's worse we found out that our luggage will go with the first available flight to Phoenix! Hope we will get it.
What else can we do? - we're sitting and waiting. I was trying to catch WiFi signal at the airport, but there's no free net available and I'm not stupid and won't pay 10 USD for internet access. No way! Even if we count cheap dollar it's price at what I've internet at home for at least 5 days!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Last days in Poland

After about half year of preparations, plenty of webpages browsed, books read, magazines flicked through, mails exchanged, we finally hope to catch the plane that will take us to Phoenix this week. Now it's the last phase - packing everything up. This is one of the most difficult part of the trip preparation so I'll try to summarize what is essential for phototrip to Southwestern part of US.

First things first, so we can't forget to take:
1. Passport and valid US visa (polish citizens are second category citizens of EU and need visas)
2. Photocopy of passport and visa
3. Money (US dollars)
4. Tickets
5. Printouts of all reservations and important data
6. Credit Cards
7. Driver's License
8. Airline loyalty card (to count miles)
9. Insurance

Now let's enlist toiletries and medicines:
1. Toothbrush
2. Toothpaste
3. Toilet paper
4. Deodorant
5. Shaving accessories (optional)
6. Biodegradable Soap
7. Something for food poisoning
8. Some antihistamine for scorpion/snakes/spider bikes (for example Benadryl)
9. Painkiller
10. Something for insect bites
11. Sun protector
12. Bandages/bandaids/etc.

Next, camping equipment:
1. Light tent
2. Sleeping pad
3. Sleeping bag
4. Backpack
5. Headlamp
6. Matches
7. MSR stove + fuel bottle
8. Pot
9. Light cutlery
10. Bowl
11. Dishcloth and towel
12. Kitchen board

Other stuff:
1. Photo equipment (body, lenses, filters, photobags, tripod, batteries, memory cards, card reader, backup drive, battery charger)
2. GPS with spare batteries and loaded topo maps
3. Paper maps (in case GPS will break)
4. Binoculars
5. Mobile phone+charger
6. Electrical converters (110V<->220V)
7. Sunglasses
8. Clothes (including water shoes and classic hiking shoes)

As you can see this is a lots of stuff and you've to pack almost all of it into checked luggage, so weight is limited. Hope I'll be able to pack all into my red Samsonite suitcase. Of course, there's an option to have two pieces of luggage, but we've to remember that later, in the US, we've to put all of this staff in car trunk - another space limiting factor... Wish us some luck please!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Headlamp for the trip

On Saturday I went to Sherpa store and bought a headlamp for the trip. I hoped to buy some more stuff, but they hadn't good choice of backpacks or shoes and finally I left the shop with only headlamp. I decided to take Petzl Tikka XP. This small and flexible headtorch is able to work in 5 modes: economic, optimum, maximum, boost beam and flashing mode. In economode you can use it for up to 120h as Petzl informs on their webpage. But what was the most important in decision taking was its weight - this lamp is very light and weights only 95g.
Yesterday I had a practical chance to make a baptism of fire. It was rare situation when blackout happened in my part of the city and for about an hour I hadn't power in my flat. First thing I did was to unpack the new headlamp, put batteries and start using it! It was great - I could walk through my home with lamp on my head and have to say it's great solution not only for trips to deserted regions of the world, but also for everyday situations. It definitely passed the test and is ready for the trip!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Only few days left!!! Help!

Only few days left for the long awaited PhotoTrip 2008. This is good and not so good. Good because it's soon, and bad because I still don't have some pieces of required equipment. But ok - it's not a very big problem - will visit some stores today and buy what I need. Fortunately photo backpack appeared to be a very good choice and proofed its advantages in Spain.
Yesterday I received few photo books ordered at Amazon. When we have such good exchange rate for PLN/USD I can't resist buying stuff in US - books and CDs are so cheap - it would be a sin not to buy them! So I ordered some at the end of March and they've just arrived. Three of them (National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape Photography, Working the Light: A Photography Masterclass, The Photographer's Guide to Filters) are really good, and one (John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide) is a little misunderstanding. No, it's not completely bad - it's just not what I've expected. I recommend this book for complete beginners, although actually I should also learn something from it.
I must definitely praise Guide to Landscape Photography book - it focuses on southwest pictures and is very detailed on technique and compositions. I hope to learn a lot from this book and I dream of taking similar pictures one day. If you would like to become a landscape photographer, you must have this book - it's like a bible.
Along with books I received two CD discs not available in Poland. One is Bela Fleck & The Flecktones containing very good song Sinister Minister and the other is Randy Waldman's UnReel. Both discs are nice if you like this jazz genre. I hope one day we'll be able to buy such titles in Poland and prices will be as low as they're in the US now. CD for less than 30 PLN is something that can help avoid piracy. If you really like the title, you can afford buying it for 30 PLN - I'm sure.
Now I focus on what should I buy in States while USD/PLN exchange ratio is so favorable. Maybe house in Florida? You can have big, good, new house in Cape Coral from 100.000 USD - it's only about 220.000 PLN, so it's like 1/10 of a similarly sized flat in Warsaw! Unfortunately I can't just buy house and move to Florida, but I can have it there and go for a vacation every year or even twice a year, then share it with my friends throughout the rest of the year. Isn't it a nice idea? And when prices rise some day, I'll sell the house and get my money back. Ok - it's just a theoretical considerations, but there's something in it...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sevilla es maravilla!

Sevilla es maravilla as Spaniards says. Probably it is when day is sunny and hot - not as rainy as it was about noon on 7th of April when we arrived to the city.
Don Paco hotel was not so easy to find, but after circulating the city for about 15 minutes I've found it! I've chosen this hotel, because they offered a parking space. Of course it was true. They've underground garage for... 5, maybe 6 cars! And hotel is really big! About 30-40 rooms on each of 3 or 4 floors. Can't imagine where people park their cars considering crowded and narrow streets around the hotel.
Another advantage of the hotel is its location in walking distance from the city center. Actually it's about 30 minutes to the Cathedral (and Giralda), but you've to get through the most beautiful old part of the city or a more modern commercial district passing stores like El Cortes Ingles and others.

First we headed to Parque de María Luisa located next to Plaza de Espana, Hotel Alfonso XIII and Universidad. I insisted on stopping by Hotel Alfonso XIII and it was a good idea. Hotel is really nice and encouraging to stay. Next time I'll think it over, because it's even not so expensive off season (considering its 5 stars rating). Then we get through Universidad and headed to the park. Again had no luck - park was closed - I still don't know why?!?! In this circumstances we had to spend time on visiting Plaza de Espana that is really great and has a lot of interesting details to look closer.

Next destination was the area close to river Guadalquivir. It was not as interesting as it seemed to be, so we quickly went for some late lunch in Starbucks Coffee. After short break we had a closer look at Cathedral, Real Alcazar (closed on Mondays!) and Giralda. Unfortunately it was too late to enter the Cathedral and see it from inside.

The only thing we had time for was a flamenco show. This time we prepared better and called the Casa Carmen Arte Flamenco to make some reservation. It was a good choice. Casa Carmen is located in the small venue that usually has a role of nightclub, but early in the evening it transforms to flamenco show that lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Besides the flamenco itself, they had a good choice of tapas for people coming an hour before the show (20:00). And what's even better, they allowed to take some pictures at the end. If you want to see a good, traditional flamenco in Sevilla, I can definitely recommend Casa Carmen Arte Flamenco. It's really worth 16 euro you've to pay for ticket (picture on the right).
After the day full of attractions we came back to the hotel and early morning left it for Malaga Airport. This was a really nice weekend in Spain and I definitely would like to get back there soon for some longer stay!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Jerez de la Frontera

Hotel El Horcajo was a bit surprise - situated in the green valley among high mountains and fields reminded some kind of ranch. Rooms looked like horse corrals adapted from the old stable. You could feel very nice atmosphere of the old village. And chirping sparrows didn't stop even for a small moment. Luckily that was only the atmosphere - room was quite comfortable and adequate to 3-star rating of the hotel. Had classic bathroom, big bed and tv.
Hotel is located literally in the middle of nowhere, but it's what makes that atmosphere! And what seemed to be worse, we had to eat dinner in the hotel's restaurant. They had not so rich menu - only two positions to choose from, so decisions were quick. Happily food was fresh and very good. They even had their own wine! Really good!
In the morning we had a chance to try some andalusian specialties like cheese and cured meat. It was also very good. Only taste of coffee damaged rather positive image of our breakfast.
Next day we had to get to Jerez de la Frontera to visit some Bodegas and Flamenco Show. Although while driving to Jerez, we changed our plans and went to Cadiz. Sunday morning in Cadiz was a very interesting experience. You could see a lot of people selling different things on the streets and walking around the city. We visited very funny park (picture on the left) and passed Gran Teatro Falla (picture on the right).
Cadiz has some kind of Arabian influence you can feel in the air. I can't perfectly name it, but it reminds me what I've seen in the movies shot in the north Africa.
After spending few hours and walking few kilometers around Cadiz, we finally headed to Jerez.
It's not far away and roads are really good, so it took us about 40 minutes. This time my Garmin helped me to find Hotel Guadalete really fast. After arriving to destination, we quickly unpacked our luggage and headed to the nearest Bodega - Tio Pepe. On the way we started to feel some hunger so stopped by for small tapas. Finally we reached Tio Pepe front door about 16:00 and read that on Sundays they work only till 15:00! Damn it! All other bodegas had similar opening hours, so we gave up and started to admire the city itself. It's quite interesting city, but you can see it in maximum 2 hours or so - later you can only drink sherry or watch flamenco. Although not always...

Before leaving the hotel I asked lady at the desk where we can go to Flamenco show and if we should make any reservations? Response was simple - you can just go and it's 15 minutes away from the hotel. Great. We had no problems to find the recommended flamenco place - at the door it was a message that they open at 22:30 for the show. Ok. We get back to hotel for a glass of sherry and some rest. In the evening we headed to flamenco place, but it was closed even at 22:45. So we decided to get back to the hotel - streets were empty and Jerez was like dead city.
Summarizing I don't recommend going there for more than few hours and not planning ahead your visits to flamenco or bodegas.

Marbella & Ronda

Night was quiet, but short. I woke up at 7:40 and decided to walk around and take some pictures:
Then went back for breakfast. It was great. A good choice of cured meats, cheese, jams and all that classic stuff you can usually have for breakfast in hotels. And coffee. It was really tasty.
Finally we left the hotel and headed to Marbella. It was first time I used my Garmin 60CSX for serious road navigation. I have to say that Magellan Meridian was muuuuuuch better - Garmin user interface is crappy and you have to spend a plenty of time to do simple thing. If you take a wrong turn, it takes ages to correct your road to destination. Besides I can't find in Garmin the feature that searches a place by name nearest to selected location (not your current, but some other). It means that if you don't know the address of the hotel near Ronda, you can't find it on Garmin - at least I'm too stupid to do this. Using Magellan you can do it in 5 seconds and it's very intuitive. But ok - let's stop complaining about Garmin. After figuring out our way to destination Marbella, we arrived there about 10:30. It's not easy task to find a free parking space in Marbella even off season. Fortunately we found a temporary parking few hundred meters away from beaches and the lantern.

Short walk along the beach was a real pleasure for both of us and it was very hot, so we decided to go farther - Ronda. On the way to next location, we came across many nice villas and lands for sale. It became my dream to buy some piece of land here in the future.
At last we arrived to Ronda being very hungry. Just after parking our car in underground facility, we raised above the surface directly to the restaurant. They had Tapas Mixtas and some other staff that we immediately ordered. After literally 5 seconds everything was on the table! Service was really quick and food quality very good. Then we started roaming through the city. It's great city with plenty of old buildings and relics of the past. They've a lot of interesting souvenir shops . We've found interesting plates and castanets, but failed to buy them. Just lack of ability to take quick decisions.

After seeing everything you can see in the city, I insisted on taking picture of the famous bridge from the bottom. It wasn't easy to get there, but finally we found the way and I've taken few pictures. Hopelessly the weather changed for the worse and most of the pics are crappy:

From Ronda we headed to the hotel El Horcajo. Garmin showed it's weakness again - I couldn't find a hotel address. Probably because the address had a form of some KM on some road. Of course Garmin was not able to find hotel by name! Luckily my memory based on is reliable and after few minutes we arrived to the destination - El Horcajo...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Villa Guadalupe

So today we arrived to Malaga. Flight was a bit wearisome, but we bore it somehow - plane from Warsaw to Munich took off at 12:55. We landed in Munich about 15:00 and had flight to Malaga at 16:05. First plane was a bit tight and loaded with people - standard of Lufthansa is confirmed to be one of the worst in the world. The plane from Munich to Malaga was much better - Condor airlines appeared to have much higher standard than Lufthansa. Besides it landed at the destination airport ahead of schedule! Great!
Then we headed to car rental stands. I had a reservation in Avis. We got Nissan Note. Small, but quite nice car. Unfortunately it was a diesel and driving such a car is a strange experience. I'm not a fan of diesel engine. I can't understand why people are so delighted about diesels? Happily we arrived to the hotel in next 20 minutes or so.
It turned out that hotel is in really great place and the web page is completely right about location and views. From our room you can see the whole Malaga and Mediterranean Sea - it's very captivating view! I spent next 20 minutes on the balcony watching the landscapes:

Then we went up to the restaurant for "la cena" (dinner/supper in spanish). I was trying to speak spanish all the time, so got spanish menu. My wife got english menu. Of course I can't understand most of the meal names in spanish, so had to choose something unknown and ordered some soup and one starter. Choice was good and food was perfect. And wine - it's just wonderful. I had 3 or more glasses of it and would like to drink more, but they had to close the restaurant.
Later we had cheesecake for dessert and left the restaurant in good moods. I can definitely recommend hotel Villa Guadalupe and I would like to stay here again. It's really beautiful and people are nice - they even survived my spanish.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tamrac Adventure 9

Finally I've it. As mentioned before, Adventure 10 is not available in Poland and it seems it's also not available in Europe, so I decided to buy version 9 for testing during my nearest trip to Spain. Originally I wanted to take my LowePro MiniTrekker, but it lacks space for additional stuff - it's typical photo backpack and has only one compartment. I also own LowePro CompuDayPack, but photo compartment in this rucksack is definitely too small, so having my Adventure 9 I'll for sure sell CompuDayPack. Don't need it anymore (Maybe you wanna buy it? It's as good as new!).
Look how much stuff I can put in Adventure 9:

It's EOS40D with attached 17-55/2.8 lens+hood, 70-200/4L+hood, Speedlite 580EX flash (under 70-200), spare battery, charger, 2 filters, 4 cf cards, card reader, remote switch and I still have a lot of space. Of course upper compartment is empty and you can put even 400/5.6L into it. Besides we have a pocket for 17" laptop! Mine is only 11" so I'll have additional space for books or something. Below you can see a little zoomed image:

What's worse I was in the shop, bought Tamrac, but still had the problem with Off Trail 2 - can't decide if I should buy it and if it's good when you already have big backpack on your back!