Colorado National Monument

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Colorado National Monument (locally referred to as The Monument) is a National Park Service unit near the city of Grand Junction, Colorado. Spectacular canyons cut deep into sandstone, and even granite–gneiss–schist, rock formations.

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When John Otto first saw the rugged red rock canyons south of Grand Junction in 1906, it was love at first sight. The following year he wrote . . .

“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

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The area was established as Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911. Otto was hired as the first park ranger, drawing a salary of $1 per month. For the next 16 years, he continued building and maintaining trails while living in a tent in the park.

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Otto spearheaded fundraising campaigns, collected signatures for petitions, and penned newspaper editorials and endless letters to Washington politicians in support of national recognition for the ancient canyons and towering monoliths of his adopted home.

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This is an area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau, with pinion and juniper forests on the plateau.

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There are magnificent views from trails and the Rim Rock Drive, which winds along the plateau.

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Nearby are the Book Cliffs and the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa.

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The park became more well known in the 1980s partly due to its inclusion as a stage of the major international bicycle race, the Coors Classic. The race through the park became known as “The Tour of the Moon”, due to the spectacular landscapes the race passed through on Rim Rock Drive.

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Just another day at the office!

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California – The Pacific Coast Highway

Stretching 650 curve-hugging, jaw-dropping miles along the ruggedly beautiful central coast of California, Highway 1 is one of the most scenic roads in the country.

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This is the road driving was invented for-the road where car commercials are filmed. On the Pacific Coast Highway, you don’t crack your window for a bit of air, you roll it down all the way to feel the wind blast through your hair like a lighthearted tornado.

You can get a taste of what makes the road so famous on a short trip from San Francisco.

From the City by the Bay, it’s a 30-mile drive through redwood groves and past sandy beaches to your first stop, Half Moon Bay. The small town is home to some of the best surfing in the world and the international Mavericks competition, held when winter waves get big enough.

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An exhilarating driving experience, this twisting, cliff-hugging route along the central California coast takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace. Designated an All-American Road—among the nation’s most scenic—the drive encompasses both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway.

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Also known as California State Route 1, the PCH was built in 1934 and took 15 years to complete. 

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For the most dramatic scenery packed into less than half the mileage, set your sights on the Central Coast and a journey of about 240 miles from Monterey south to Santa Barbara.

Driving the route from north to south is ideal, as you’ll be on the ocean side of the road the entire way, allowing unobstructed views of the jagged coastline below.

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The road winds high on the cliffs, with the crashing surf below. Many of the beaches you’ll see are inaccessible or require serious hikes in, making them all the more enchanting.

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South of Carmel is where the route really reels you into its splendor. And while you never know when that ubiquitous coastal fog is going to lower a curtain over the views, when it lifts it’s as if Oz is being revealed.

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One of the most famous photo-ops along the way is the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest and longest single-span concrete bridges in the world.

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If I’m in Malibu driving up and down Pacific Coast Highway, my ‘2000 Heritage Softail Harley Davidson is what I usually like to ride.

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Pacific Coast Sunset

“Sixty three sunsets I saw revolve on that perpendicular hill – mad raging sunsets pouring in sea foams of cloud through unimaginable crags like the crags you grayly drew in pencil as a child, with every rose-tint of hope beyond, making you feel just like them, brilliant and bleak beyond words.”
― Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler

California – Death Valley

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The very name evokes all that is harsh, hot and hellish – a punishing, barren and lifeless place of Old Testament severity. Yet closer inspection reveals that in Death Valley nature is putting on a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases and plenty of endemic wildlife. This is a land of superlatives, holding the US records for hottest temperature (134°F/57°C), lowest point (Badwater, 282ft below sea level) and largest national park outside Alaska (over 5000 sq miles).

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Death Valley is a contradiction of the natural world. Its deadly heat is contrasted by snow capped mountains. It’s dry and below sea level, yet the occasional rain causes wildflowers to bloom. Even its name is a contradiction as plenty of life and beauty exist here.

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Death Valley National Park comprises more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery, rare desert wildlife, complex geology, undisturbed wilderness and sites of historical interest. Death Valley is unique because it contains the lowest, hottest, driest location in North America. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level. Ecologically, its plants and animals are representative of the Mojave Desert.

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The moniker belies the beauty in this vast graben, the geological term for a sunken fragment of the Earth’s crust. Here are rocks sculptured by erosion, richly tinted mudstone hills and canyons, luminous sand dunes, lush oases, and a 200-square-mile salt pan surrounded by mountains, one of America’s greatest vertical rises. In some years spring rains trigger wildflower blooms amid more than a thousand varieties of plants.

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The park protects part of the Mojave Desert and many other formations such as mountains, canyons, valleys, sand dunes, and salt flats. There is roughly three-million acres to explore in the park and due to its desolate nature, it’s important for travellers to plan and pack thoughtfully.

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At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States. Humans made their mark in Death Valley at least 9,000 years ago, with rock art and other artifacts left behind as evidence.

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Dozens of scenes from Star Wars have been filmed in Death Valley, including Artist’s Palette (the Sandcrawler scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Golden Canyon (Jawa scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (Droid scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

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“Death Valley is really wide-open – it’s bigger than Rhode Island – and it’s less a part of California than an ungoverned territory, so there’s lots of weird cops-and-robbers stuff going on.”

– Gus Van Sant

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Despite it’s foreboding name, Death Valley is home to bighorn sheep, reptiles, lizards, snakes, amphibians plus more than 300 species of birds, not to mention the explosion of fauna that erupt after a rainfall.

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“Probably the one Bible passage that is read by Jews and Roman Catholics, Protestants, Islam, more than any other chapter is Psalm 23. And in Psalm 23 there is a verse that says, ‘Surely, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ “

-Robert Schuller

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Only 15 miles separate the highest elevation in Death Valley National Park (Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet) and Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level).

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In 1849 emigrants bound for California’s gold fields strayed into the 120-mile long basin, enduring a two-month ordeal of “hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” One of the last to leave looked down from a mountain at the narrow valley and said, “Good-bye, Death Valley.”

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Almost like being on another planet, a trip to Death Valley should be on your bucket list because it’s truly like no other place on Earth.

On The Undeniable Beauty of Sunset Photography

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As photography blogger and instructor David Peterson has expressed: “It seems like every photography forum you join has this inherent bias against sunset photos”. It’s always the same charge too. Sunsets are overdone. They’re “cliché.”

So what is that supposed to mean? Now we can’t enjoy photographing this particular subject because a few people are tired of it? It doesn’t make any sense to me. After all, there’s a reason so many people take pictures of sunsets and sunrises. They’re one of the most colorful and beautiful things you can photograph. Can you honestly tell me what else has such elegant orange and purple hues? What else is as subtle and warm as the sun fading into the distance? Nothing. Literally nothing on this Earth compares, and yet there are those of us who want to condemn people for finding something beautiful and having fun capturing it and presenting it to others.

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Sunsets are everywhere. Nightly they appear, vast and humbling, orange, pink and purple. Like snowflakes, it is said that every single one is different. Natural, ephemeral and beautiful, they constitute exactly the kind of subject that causes people to reach for a camera: the fleeting spectacle that photography seems made to capture; the momentary vision that deserves immortalizing.

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Susan Sontag, in her famous book, On Photography, complained: ‘Photographs create the beautiful and – over generations of picture-taking – use it up. Certain glories of nature… have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.’

Sontag here, in part, blames photographic mass-production for the loss of wonder, but she also positions sunset photographs as the products of the aesthetically naive.

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Sunset photographs are widely considered to symbolize the most predictable, culturally devalued and banal of image-making practices. Critics dismiss them as ‘chocolate box’ or ‘picture postcard’; they are seen as clichés. The beauty of a sunset can be transformed, in a photograph, into something cloying. Their very ubiquity is what seems to repel; photography has tainted what it sought to cherish through overuse. It miniaturizes natural grandeur and renders it kitsch. 

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Sunset photographs have somehow come to represent a low cultural status: they are characterized as sentimental visual confectionary indicative of limited aesthetic vision and an undeveloped practice.

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“The less cultured you are, the more you require from nature before you can be roused for reciprocity. Uncultured people require blazing sunsets, awe-inspiring mountains, astonishing waterfalls, masses of gorgeous flowers, portentious signs in the heavens, exceptional weather on earth, before their sensibility is stirred to a response. Cultured people are thrilled through and through by the shadow of a few waving grass-blades upon a little flat stone.”

-John Cooper Powys – Meaning of Culture 1930

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As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has so persuasively argued, categories of taste are grounded in ingrained and stratified social and cultural experience and may be utilized to reinforce distinctions between different social groups. For Bourdieu, this is nowhere more clearly visible than in practices such as photography, which, because they are “accessible to everyone” and also “not fully consecrated” like other more legitimated cultural forms, lack a fixed and explicit coding system for judgement. This consequent flexibility of interpretation, he believes, means that the subjective meanings that different groups attribute to photography betrays their social dispositions.

In Bourdieu’s research in the 1960s, in which he examined taste as means of social distinction, he initiated discussions about aesthetic value with a range of people from different educational and occupational backgrounds, in relation to particular cultural objects including, tellingly, a photograph of a sunset. For, despite sunset photographs’ apparent mass-produced sameness, not all photographs of sunsets are equally received; they divide opinion.

Bourdieu found that the higher the level of education, the greater is the proportion who, when asked whether a series of objects would make beautiful photographs, refuse the ordinary objects of popular admiration, i.e., a first communion, a sunset or a landscape,  as ‘vulgar’ or ‘ugly’, or reject them as ‘trivial’.

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Yet, his conclusion is not simply that sunsets appeal most to the uneducated. Bourdieu extends the stratification and explains that the proportion who declare that a sunset can make a beautiful photo is greatest at the lowest educational level, declines at intermediate levels, and grows strongly again among those who have completed several years of higher education and who tend to consider that anything is suitable for beautiful photography.

Neatly encapsulating photographic hierarchies, then, sunsets are the kind of subject that can be variously adored, despised or tolerated depending on aesthetic outlook and social background.

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in photography’s earliest decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset. In commodified camera culture, everyone takes photos of similar things; in sunset photographs, then, it seems, every single one is the same.

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Sunset photographs may all look the same, but the meaning changes with each one. As Richard Dyer has argued about stereotypes: they “are a very simple, striking, easily-grasped form of representation but are none the less capable of condensing a great deal of complex information and a host of connotations”. Even stereotypes and clichés carry complexities and nuances. Just like sunsets, then, every sunset photograph is different.

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I say photograph what you want, and never allow the critical opinions of others to interfere with the way of enjoying your passion. Life is too short to listen to art critics who can’t appreciate simple beauty. There is no such thing as too many sunset photographs.

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Much of the credit for the expressions of thought with respect to the idea of “sunsets as cliché”, is attributable to Dr. Annebella Pollen, Lecturer in Art History and Design (University of Brighton), from her essay:

When Is a Cliché Not a Cliché? Reconsidering Mass-Produced Sunsets

Alaska – America’s Final Frontier

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“Historically, Alaska is a place that has attracted those fed up with conventionality.”

-Bill O’Reilly

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“This was one of the places people told me to go, it was one the big trips that you should see: Alaska.”

-Jeff Goldblum

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“For sheer majestic geography and sublime scale, nothing beats Alaska and the Yukon”

-Sam Abell

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“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”

-John Muir

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“Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.”

-Alfred Bernhard Nobel

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“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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“Motorcycling in the lower 48 states seems relatively easy in comparison to riding to Alaska. I always knew that there would be gas somewhere up the road, that there would some place to stop for the night. I rested easy knowing that if I had a problem with the motorcycle, I was never too far away from a service shop. But when traveling to Alaska, a feeling of uncertainty abounds as one ventures into miles of uninhabited territory. And that’s exactly what makes the idea of this journey so exciting; the unpredictable nature of travel and the feeling of adventure that lay further up the road.”

– Daniel Cohen – The Reports: 2 Wheels to Alaska

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There are lots of grizzlies in Alaska, but this actually is a hard place to live for someone who loves them.  Everywhere you look you can see the bears struggling to coexist with humans.  Some of the greatest threats include gun toting fishermen, bears shot because they were attracted to garbage at homes, trophy hunting, poaching,  mines that threaten to destroy some of Alaska’s most precious bear habitat,bears being provoked to attack by ignorant humans, predator control and poor management initiated by our selfish, corrupt and misguided State Government Regime…. the list goes on and on and on.Bear 2A

I believe that putting a value on these animals living in their natural habitat is one of the best ways to support their conservation, and the best way to do this is through carefully controlled,responsible ecotourism.  I pray that Alaska will eventually follow the models of Botswana, Costa Rica, and other nations who treat their wildlife resources as if they were gold or oil deposits.  Unfortunately, I fear that we are too tied to our 19th century roots of manifest destiny which drive us to conquer the land, rid the forest of evil creatures, and to kill what scares us rather than to embrace it. The grizzly bear is always destined to lose in the end.Bear 4A

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The best time to watch for bears is in spring and summer during the dawn and dusk hours when they are actively searching for food. The shoreline is a common place to see bears beachcombing for dead animals, foraging on shellfish or grazing on sedges. In late July through early September, look for them at streams feeding on spawning salmon.

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“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

-John Muir

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The 48-inch diameter trans-Alaska oil pipeline is truly the man-made wonder of the Last Frontier, traversing 800 miles (or 1300 km) of frozen tundra, boreal forest, 800 rivers and streams, three major earthquake faults and three rugged mountain ranges. The corridor includes more than 550 wildlife crossings for moose, caribou and other wildlife. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company completed the pipeline in 1977 at a cost of $8 billion.

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“I have traveled all over the world by motorcycle and still find riding to Alaska an unparalleled experience.”

– Dr. Gregory Frazier: Alaska by Motorcycle

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“The climate of Barrow is Arctic. Temperatures range from cold as shit to fucking freezing.”

― Steve Niles, 30 Days of Night

 

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“If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young — wait! The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of the kind in the world. And it is not well to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeking the finest first.”

-Henry Gannett of the US Geological Survey in 1899