Bryce Canyon National Park

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Today’s shot comes from Bryce Canyon in beautiful Southwest Utah. I shot this one in early 2013 and really like the repeating pattern in the photo of fins and hoodoos, contrasting with the shadows of the canyon and glowing orange in the late afternoon sun. As I’ve mentioned before, Bryce Canyon is said to be as spectacular at sunrise as it is sunset. I’ve yet to visit here in the early morning, but I definitely want to. It also offers some really unique hiking, another venture I long to experience but in my limited visits have only had time to barely scratch the surface.

In short, I desperately want to get back to Bryce Canyon, and I hope on my next visit I can give it the time it deserves. It’s crazy how the more I travel not only does the list of new places I want to see grow, but the list of those I want to return to does as well!

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

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Mono Lake

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March 28-

I’ve long been fascinated by other worldly images captured on the shores of Mono Lake near Lee Vining, California. With vistas across the ancient lake basin to distant mountains and the odd mineral deposits known as tufas jutting from the water and lining the lakeshore, photographic opportunities abound. I finally got the chance to visit in the fall of 2014 while participating in Gary Hart’s Eastern Sierra Workshop, and as you can see on the evening this was shot we were blessed with placid waters and pastel colors at dusk. It was a very enjoyable shoot, one of my favorite evenings of the entire workshop (and though it hasn’t performed so great sales-wise, this is personally one of my favorite photos from that trip as well.) I look forward to one day revisiting Mono Lake as I believe it’s the kind of place that can drastically change in appearance based on conditions; and I would love to get a shot contrasting this one with a storm rolling off the nearby Sierra.

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As mentioned in yesterdays blog post, I’m doing a bit of an experiment this week. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

Chequamegon National Forest, WI

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March 18-

I went digging pretty deep back into the archives for this 2011 shot from Northern Wisconsin. This is one I’ve long overlooked and pretty much forgotten about because when I originally processed it, it turned out much darker. However, with a little renewed attention and four plus years of improved Lightroom developing skills, I was able to rework it and bring out some more color and detail in the shadows- and at least salvage a decent shot worth sharing.

I hate to admit it, but I didn’t even have a computer with digital editing software until 2012, and I still have files from trips that I took just prior to that which were shot in RAW and never processed. That might not mean anything to many of you, but it’s sort of the equivalent of having rolls of film from vacations you took 5 years ago that you never had developed. I vaguely know what’s there, but would probably be surprised if I could just find the time to run through some edits. The small success I found in reworking this shot kind of reminded me of that and made me eager to go through some of that older work before I start to get busy with shows again. That, and it REALLY made me want to get back to the Northwoods of Wisconsin… what a beautiful place!

Redwood National Park

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March 14-

For today’s “Photo of the Day” post we have a shot from about three years ago in the Jedediah Smith unit of California’s Redwood National Park. I’d waited my whole life to see the Redwoods, and though this initial visit was very abbreviated, I was predictably blown away. I haven’t had the opportunity to get back since, but when I do return I fully expect to to spend my time again in awe and wide-eyed wonder. When blessed enough to venture through this magnificent realm, there’s really no other way.

Edinburgh Christmas Market

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Wrapping up my weeklong feature on last November’s trip to Edinburgh today with a look at the Christmas Market. Edinburgh goes all out in this annual tradition, hosting a six week market full of food and craft vendors and carnival rides that runs from late November to early January. We were fortunate, having traveled over the American Thanksgiving holiday, to be here toward the start of this years celebration.

The lights and decorations filling Princes Street Gardens are a sight to behold, especially with a giant ferris wheel and the sixty meter tall “Star Flyer” towering with the gothic Scott Monument over the market below. Dozens of vendor booths line the concourse selling traditional foods and mulled wines along with a variety of handmade wares ranging from glass ornaments to woolen tapestries. It’s an appropriately festive scene, so if you’re considering a winter visit to Edinburgh you may want to schedule accordingly.

If you go, however, I would recommend to make sure that your appetite is in order. I’d say of our experience the only downside came of my own undoing; though not intentionally… I guess this could be considered something more biologic in nature (or sinister, as it felt at the time.)  Let me preface this by reminding that at this point we’d traveled through three countries in three days. In this stretch I went from my normal relatively healthy eating habits at home to airport fast food to airline food to pub meals in Ireland and Scotland. Throw in the stress and fatigue of travel, and by this, the third night of our trip when we visited the Christmas Market, my stomach was in absolute fits.

As noted, the market was full of culinary delicacies. Fried foods, candies, assorted meats, gooey cheeses- you name it, you could probably find it there. To be entirely honest I’ve always been more of a sustenance eater; I like what I like and I’m content with a simple meal. I don’t generally mind trying new things, but at the same time I don’t get particularly jazzed at the chance to do so. My wife and her family on the other hand do. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them “foodies” per se, but they certainly like to have fun and indulge in experiential grazing.

We made our way through the market, going from one food stop to the next. At seemingly every option, one of our group would stop and ask about the cuisine, purchase a sample and pass it around. Like I say, I felt sick going into the evening so the smells alone- while presumably delightful given normal circumstance, had my insides churning. Every time I turned around somebody was sticking a new food in my face, and I had to continually decline- an act of borderline treason when in company of the Wallace family. I fell to the back of the pack, partly as an evasive maneuver and part because my gait had slowed considerably in utter fear of the gastrointestinal event I thought might occur. The pain in my gut was horrendous, and I waddled along doubting that the night could possibly end in any way other than with me as the laughing stock of Scotland.

Finally I had to pull Cris aside and explain in no uncertain terms what could transpire. I had control of the situation for the moment, but just one single bite could disrupt that balance of power. While these intimate details did surprisingly little to dissuade her own appetite, my wife took mercy on me and found the compassion to try and act as a buffer.

“Here, pass this to Josh…”

“No, he doesn’t want any.”

“Well then give him some of this…”

“He says he’s not feeling well.”

“Oh come on, it’s so good…”

“He’s not hungry.”

“Will he try a gallon of haggis?”

Unfortunately Cris drawing attention to the situation brought the unintended consequence of strengthening their resolve. My in-laws, bless their hearts, always try so hard to make sure I fit in. In this case, however, their eagerness to accommodate only made things worse.

“Well he has to eat something. Here, how about one of these eight pound bratwursts.”

“No thanks,” I quietly declined.

“Oooooo. Check out this funky bread slathered in goat cheese. That might be interesting…”

My head shook violently in reply.

And so the night went, and so sometimes it goes, when traveling with your spouses family in a foreign land. Gratefully I can report that no actual tragedy would occur, just a lot of bloating and general awkwardness. In hindsight it was fun to see them enjoying themselves and I still feel guilty for being the “Debbie Downer” of the evening- but I’ll gladly take that over the alternate ending that I unlikely could have ever lived down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advocate’s Close

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One of the more unique of Edinburgh’s many historic features is its collection of “closes.” A Close is essentially a steep, narrow alleyway that drops abruptly from the Royal Mile. During medieval times the Royal Mile was the city’s main thoroughfare, built along a sloping ridge line that ran from it’s height at Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace. The Closes were originally simple passage ways between plots of land that provide access to the  open space down slope from the Mile. (One good way I’ve heard this described is as a herring bone layout. Imagine a fish skeleton. The spine would be the streets of the Royal Mile, and the ribs would be closes and wynds. Wynds were very similar to closes, only a bit wider and open to the public, while closes were private entrances.)

As the population of Edinburgh grew, frequent wars made it necessary for residents to live within the protection of the city walls; which in turn led to high population density. Multi-level tenements sprung up on the city’s lots, and while the closes remained open to the sky and bustling with commerce they took on a cavernous feel as tall buildings rose to either side. Keep in mind these were not modern apartments as we might imagine today. There was no indoor plumbing, little natural light and living conditions, especially on the lower levels, were quite poor. Sanitary deficiencies led to outbreaks of disease, most notably the bubonic plague, which ravaged the populace.

In time as Edinburgh grew upward the closes and their adjacent housing were just built over and became sealed off underground chambers. Many of the grand sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings that now line the Royal Mile stand above these dungeon-like remains of the city’s darker past. More recent decades have revealed efforts to embrace these features and their historical significance, with excavations and efforts to preserve and restore the closes ongoing.

Advocate’s Close, seen above, is one of the more photogenic as it allows a view of the Scott’s Monument across Princes Street Gardens. (The illuminated blue tower you see is a carnival ride that was part of the Christmas Market- I’ll have more on that tomorrow.) Closes were often named for one of their more prominent residents, and in this case it was named for James Stewart of Goodtree, Advocate of Scotland. An advocate, in this sense, is a highly esteemed lawyer. (The Devils Advocate sign refers to a trendy bar down the stairs.)

Probably the best known close and I believe the only one open for guided public tours is Mary King Close. My father-in-law Steve and I took one of these tours on our second afternoon in Edinburgh (the girls had all done this before, and chose instead to continue shopping.) Though the tour company might go a little over-the-top on the theatrics, it was really fascinating. Our group was led underground and through the various levels of the long-condemned housing complex. It was about as you’d imagine; dank, dark, small rooms with low ceilings and old wooden support beams. In a way it reminded me of going through the basement of an old barn, which may have been fitting because livestock took residence here as well.  This certainly contributed to the horrible sanitation, as did the practice of using a bucket when nature called, and when full tossing the excrement out onto the Close.  Our tour guide explained that this is how the term “loo” became part of the English vernacular. It actually originated from the French phrase “guardez l’eau” which translates to “watch out for the water.” This was adapted to “Gardyloo!” in English, and yelled when people went to empty their buckets as a warning to anyone below. Thus loo became British slang for toilet.

All told, the tour was great and what an amazing interactive opportunity to gain a better understanding of life in the closes and the history of Edinburgh. I would highly recommend it for anyone who visits this fair city, but as a primer check out these links that I think will provide you an even better visualization than I’ve been able to offer above.

Scottish television special with a virtual tour of Mary Kings Close

Mary Kings Close Website

The Real Mary Kings Close Promo Video

 

Old Town and The Royal Mile

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When not visiting Calton Hill or hiking in Holyrood Park, the majority of our time in Edinburgh was spent touring the Old Town district, and more specifically, the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a series of streets that comprise the heart of historic Edinburgh, sloping downward from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. The Mile is lined with gothic seventeenth century buildings, most of which are now occupied by pubs and tourist shops.

Below is a small sampling of some of the sights to be found along the way.

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Edinburgh Castle sits atop the Royal Mile on a prominent bluff of ancient volcanic bedrock. Human activity has been documented on this site dating back to Iron Age inhabitants, and it has been fortified in various renditions and served as a Royal palace since at least the 12th Century.

While we considered a castle tour, unfortunately due to time limitations we decided to save that for another time. I do think it would be very interesting to go back, perhaps this time with some research in advance, and take one of the tours and learn more about the history within these castle walls.

 

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Edinburgh has amazing gothic architecture on display- and even for someone like me who usually doesn’t take interest in that sort of thing, you can’t help but be impressed while walking the length of the Royal Mile. It was in doing so, basically just looking up (possibly with my mouth agape) that this sign caught my eye. I snapped a quick photo because I thought it was interesting, but after a little research it seems quite sinister.

The Witchery itself is a luxury restaurant and I’m not sure if there’s further backstory or what specifically this building served before. However, I later read that in the 15-1600’s, hundreds of alleged “witches” were burnt at the stake in the nearby Edinburgh Castle Courtyard. Notice the torch above the crown…

 

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“The Hub” seen above is one of the most striking features dominating the upper Royal Mile. As I understand it this is a cultural center of sorts, with visitor information and ticket sales, a small event hall, and home of the Edinburgh International Festival.

The building originated as a place of worship for the Church of Scotland and was noted for services performed in both English and Gaelic.

 

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Just down from the Hub is the Ensign Ewart, one of the many historic pubs to be found along the Royal Mile. This one was of special personal interest, however, as it is where my wife Cris worked when she lived in Edinburgh. What I always remember most is how she used to tell me of the apprehension she felt toward going into the buildings cellar. Like its neighboring buildings along the Royal Mile the Ensign Ewart was built atop tenements that once housed victims of the Plague. Ghostly encounters have been reported in many of these buildings, and the Ensign Ewart is widely considered to be among the haunted.

 

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This photo was actually taken just off the Royal Mile, but I found these bright red phone booths (or “phone boxes” as I believe they’re called locally) to be interesting. The color definitely lent itself well against the backdrop on this drizzly day. Red phone boxes were once iconic symbols found across the U.K. but are one of those things that have quickly become obsolete with advances and wide spread adaptation to cell phone technology. Many places, Edinburgh included, are finding new ways to repurpose these booths, such as turning them into shoe shine stations and even community defibrillator sites.

 

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St. Giles Cathedral is a beautifully adorned structure a bit father down the Royal Mile. The oldest part of the building is believed to have been built around 1124 A.D. It his the present home of the Church of Scotland and is sometimes referred to the “Mother Church of Presbyterianism.” Its namesake St. Giles was the Patron Saint of the physically disabled and spent much of his life as a hermit alone in the forest with the sole companionship of a red deer, who legend says he saved from a hunters arrow- being shot himself in the process.

 

That’s all I’ve got for today from the Royal Mile, but check back tomorrow as I share a look and (an attempted) explanation of Edinburgh’s Closes.