Ricketts Glen State Park

We first visited Ricketts Glen State Park earlier this year in August. Although that visit was aimed at completing the Falls Trail – a 5mi loop that takes you along roughly 20 waterfalls – I still brought my camera along. The trail is easily among the most beautiful in the region. A little into the hike, I was convinced that I’d visit the park again in a few months for some fall photography, and the hike became a scouting trip of sorts.

That fall photography trip to Ricketts Glen materialized in mid-October. This time I was better prepared – a tripod, a sharper lens and a rough plan of the waterfalls to photograph.

Here are three waterfalls that I photographed both times. In each case, the first photograph is from August and the next from October. Despite the fall colors not being great this year, I like the way the photos came out.

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Assateague and Chincoteague

We didn’t have too much trouble spotting the famous wild horses and ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague. Immediately upon entering Assateague State Park, we came across a group grazing beside the road. Long unkempt manes add a dash of careless aloofness to their beauty.

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Although Assateague and Chincoteague are famous for these large (controlled) population of wild horses and ponies. I found both island to be a bird photographers dream, despite having visited in not the ideal season. Assateague’s and Chincoteague’s marshes support vast populations of cranes, herons and other wading birds; their proximity to the ocean brings gulls and terns to the refuge; the woods in the area house warblers, thrushes and other small birds; the abundant fish attract raptors like ospreys and eagles. Unsuprisingly we got a taste of them all.

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A Great Egret making a landing

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Another Great Egret on the hunt

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Common Terns abound

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An Eastern Kingbird

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A Pine Warbler

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A Yellow-throated Warbler

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A Great-blue Heron lifting off

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Common Tern at the Chincoteague Pier

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A Double-crested Cormorant basking in the sun

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The beach at Tom’s Cove is teeming with Sanderlings, scurrying about

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This Brown Thrasher was very well camouflaged, a hard bird to spot!

Both wildlife refuges support their avian inhabitants with an abundance of seafood. Everywhere we looked a bird was about to dine.

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For a Common Tern, a catch almost always ends with a chase

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A rare sight, a solitary Common Tern with its lunch

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This egret spent a few minutes violently shaking the fish before eating it…

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The fish wasn’t an easy swallow

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A Herring Gull

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Yet another gull (another Herring?) with a crab for its lunch

The best photographs however came in the wee morning hours at dawn on the last day of our vacation. We woke up well before sunrise and drove to Tom’s Cove, a south-east facing beach, in Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge.

I photographed the rising sun with the only lens I had, a 200-500mm telephoto. The sun’s shimmering outline, its flattened reflection on the sea below and the moment of capture – all make it work beautifully for me.

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Great Egrets are magnificent birds. The warm morning sunlight adds to their magnificence.

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This light morning mist over the swamps and marshes of Chincoteague made for some beautiful scenes. Soft wispy lighting like this is a photographers delight.

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Horses in the mist

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is one of the many such canyons in the Page, AZ area, but easily the most famous. These canyons were formed over time as fast-flowing rain water eroded the sandstone in the area, giving the inner walls of the canyon their characteristic ‘flow’.

Antelope canyons’ bright orange and red sandstone, reflecting overhead sunlight forms the beautiful shapes this place is so famous for. To the eye of a photographer an abstract composition awaits at every turn, but the darkness, broken only by bright shafts of sunlight and sometimes a sliver of blue, make capturing this beauty a challenging task. These canyons are simultaneously a photographers dream and nightmare.

The canyons are divided into two, the Upper and Lower canyons, of which the Upper are more easily accesible and hence more popular (and therefore more crowded). Either canyon is accessible only through guided tours which are conducted by a few authorized groups. We booked our visit of the Upper canyons through Navajo Tours for exactly noon to get the best overhead light. While ours was a regular Sightseer’s Tour, they offer a longer Photography Tour as well which presumably will take you to the less frequented sections of the canyon.

On the designated date, upon arriving at the pick-up point and ‘checking in’ (i.e. making the payment for the reservation, in cash!) we were assigned our guide. After a short drive through a dusty stretch of unpaved road, in an open buggy, we were at the canyon entrance. The tour is basically an hour long walk from the entrance to the far end of the canyon. During this stretch, your guide points out the more popular sections of the canyon, sections that would interest the average tourist – some protrusions from the canyon walls that look like faces, or some others that resemble Monument Valley buttes for instance. From the far end back to the entrance is literally a sprint, with your guide constantly hurrying you on. Since the tour guides want keep each tour within its time limit, they don’t take too kindly to people who stop to take photographs on this walk back.

For the amateur photographer such as myself, a few observations I made will probably help. The canyons are a very dusty place – it’s basically fine sand which gets everywhere, so if you have a weather sealed body take it. In fact, it’s so dusty that you are better off taking a wide angle prime lens, instead of one that zooms just to avoid having it suck some dust inside. Don’t even think of changing your lens in or around the canyons. Coming to the photography itself, it’s a multi-pronged challenge:

  1. It is fairly dark within the canyon, your ISO will be quite high which makes it hard to get clean images. If you shoot on Auto, I suspect the ISO will be around the 6400 mark
  2. When sunlight does break through, it does so forming shafts due to the dust within. In such places the dynamic range of the scene is very high. On high ISOs, you lose dynamic range.
  3. Since the canyon walls are so close, in most compositions you will need more depth of field than you think. On a crop body something around f/5.6 works well. This doesn’t help with (1) and hence (2).
  4. Slowing the shutter speed seems like the obvious choice, but if you take the Sightseer’s Tour you can’t have a tripod with you and the crowd will not make it easy to shoot at slow shutter speeds hand-held.

For the photos in the gallery below, the baseline exposure that I used was 1/30, f/5.6 @ ISO 1250. Depending upon the situation, I moved one or more of these numbers around.

Death Valley National Park

Our itinerary for this year’s Memorial Day vacation took us through Death Valley National Park. Due to the intense heat and the summer season, there very few visitors which made the park’s stark beauty all the more enjoyable.

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We started off from Las Vegas, so entered the park from its north-eastern entrance. Our drive through it took us first to Dante’s View Point. The drive up to this point is steep and has several sharp hairpin bends. It is deceptive too, in the sense that the road leading to it doesn’t give any clues to the vista in store from the view point. To call the view from here awesome would be an understatement.

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Next, we drove over to Zabriskie Point. The view from here is typically a photographers dream around sunset when the setting sun lights it up in orange and pinkish hues. When we got here it was noon, nevertheless it is a beautiful view.

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After a long drive along the base of Black Mountains (atop which Dante’s viewpoint is) and a shorter offroad drive, we got to the Devil’s Golfcourse – a lumpy salt pan. Jagged sharp edges outline each lump of ‘rock’ here – these rocks are actually crystallized salt.

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We then drove through the curvy roads of Artist’s Drive. This is a scenic byroad that drives into the foothills of the Black Mountains – again, the beauty here lies in the starkness of the environs and the colorful palette with which these mountains are painted.

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After taking short break at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we drove on to the Mesquite Sand-dunes. From afar these dunes appear quite small, but as you near them the scale becomes apparent.

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During this vacation, Death Valley was almost a side-trip, an excursion during a long drive. But it’s scale (it is the largest national park outside of Alaska in the U.S) and beauty definitely warrant a longer visit. The bare minimum I saw was enough to catapult this national park into my list of favorites. Another time, Death Valley National Park…hopefully sooner than later.

Ridley Creek Revisited

Fall is doing its thing and laying bare trees, the temperature is dropping which means my visits to the local state parks will be less frequent. Ridley Creek State Park was the one that I visited most often this year, sometimes several times a week on my way back home from work. Reviewing photos I took through the year, it was interesting to see the change in the trails I took – they look dry, brown and uninviting at the start of spring; plush, green and warm through the months of summer and now back to becoming bare. The seasons march on…

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Yosemite

Earlier this year, I visited Yosemite National Park during a long weekend. Clearly, this is a long overdue post…

We wanted to camp in one of the campsites in the park and had zeroed-in on the Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds. Since we hadn’t been able to reserve any online, we got there in the wee hours, and occupied one of the campsites that are handed out on a first-come-first-serve basis. We spent the morning in the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park – around Tenaya Lake and taking in the views from Olmsted Point.

Driving through Tuolumne Meadows

Driving through Tuolumne Meadows

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Reflections on Tenaya Lake

Reflections on Tenaya Lake

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More Tenaya Lake

In the early morning light, the lake surface shimmered in the shallows

In the early morning light, the lake surface shimmered in the shallows

The view from Olmsted Point

The view from Olmsted Point

Next up, a quick stop at the Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls near the park village.

Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

A view of the valley from Vista Point

A view of the valley from Vista Point

El Capitan dwarves everything!

El Capitan dwarves everything!

Here, Yosemite National Park made clear to us the number of visitors it attracts – the line of cars & vans queued at the park entrance was 6 miles long! At noon!. Note to self – don’t plan a holiday in Yosemite during a long weekend.

After lunch and a quick nap(the day had started very early for us) we headed back to the valley late afternoon. With the sun getting ever closer to the horizon, we rushed to Glacier Point to get an overview of the park in the reds, oranges and pinks of dusk. From Glacier Point, one gets a clear view of Half Dome, the Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and the entire valley. The sight is breathtaking!

View from Glacier Point - Half Dome to the left, Vernal Falls in the center and Nevada Falls to the right

View from Glacier Point – Half Dome to the left, Vernal Falls in the center and Nevada Falls to the right

A view of the Upper Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point

A view of the Upper Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point

After a good nights rest, we headed back to the valley in the morning with a plan to hike up to Taft Point and from there to Glacier Point(again). On the way to the start of the Taft Point trail, we got some spectacular views of the valley. The sheer size of the granite monoliths in Yosemite is awesome – it is one of the few places which makes you feel minuscule, in a good way.

Tunnel View - El Capitan to the left and Half Dome in the background

Tunnel View – El Capitan to the left and Half Dome in the background

Sheer granite cliffs, bigger than you'll ever see. Look at the vehicles at the bottom for scale

Sheer granite cliffs, bigger than you’ll ever see. Look at the vehicles for scale

A closer view of Half Dome from Glacier Point

A closer view of Half Dome from Glacier Point

Taft Point gives a full on view of El Capitan, looming over the valley, and of the Upper Yosemite Falls. The scenic vista from here is worth small trek from the shuttle drop-off point.

El Capitan

El Capitan

El Capitan watches over the valley

El Capitan watches over the valley

Upper Yosemite Falls from Taft Point

Upper Yosemite Falls from Taft Point

After half a day of hiking and taking in the views, it was time for us to head back to SFO to rest for the night.

This was the closest we got to seeing a bear

This was the closest we got to seeing a bear

The final day of the trip, our flight back home from SFO was late-night; so we visited Muir Woods and hiked a bit. The Giant Redwoods of Muir are massive – it is hard to convey their size with photos. Unlike the monoliths of Yosemite which you view from afar, the Redwoods are right next to you, so any photo you take almost never fits the trees. The phrase ‘To walk among giants’ is most apt here.

By the end of the small tour, you'd likely have sprained your neck trying to see the top of these giants

By the end of the small tour, you’d likely have sprained your neck trying to see the top of these giants

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A Redwood close-up - their tough bark helps them survive forest fires which consumes the lesser trees around them. A competitive advantage which has stood these ancient giants well

A Redwood close-up – their tough bark helps them survive forest fires which consumes the lesser trees around them. A competitive advantage which has stood these ancient giants well

Ridley Creek State Park

Ridley Creek State Park is the closest state park to my house. So it is likely going to be the park I’ll visit most often, for hiking or for simply having a quiet time.

These are a few photos I took over the last couple of weekends. Most were taken while ambling along the Yellow Trail. With spring yet to come, the state park is still bare – skeletal trees envelope you. So most photos have a desolate look to them – no foliage, lots of dead trees, trees with flaky barks. Thankfully this last Saturday we had a bit of freak snow followed by warm sunshine on Sunday – so the melting snow & ice against a bright sun and blue skies made for an interesting contrast and added a dash of colour to an otherwise bleak collection of photos.

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Oregon & Washington

I took a vacation from work to visit a few places in Oregon and Washington. Despite this year not being the best in terms of local rainfall, almost everywhere we visited was a carpet of green which along with the hilly and mountainous landscape of the American northwest gave us some breathtaking views. These photos are from some of the highlights.

The first item on the itinerary was Mt. Rainier National Park – majestic, spectacular and awe-inspiring:

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Paradise indeed! I can’t imagine how much greener it will be after the rains

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Nisqually riverbed – follow this on and you’ll get to a glacier climbing up Mt. Rainier

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More great views

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Mt. Rainier surrounded by a sea of conifers

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Nisqually River again, from viewpoint much higher up

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Views of the hills and mountains surrounding Mt. Rainier, from Paradise

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Mt. Rainier, its head in the clouds

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Sigh, if only the clouds had cleared a little

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More Mt. Rainier

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The national park is a natural wonder; every turn gives way to a scenic view

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A final look at Mt. Rainier as we drove through the park

We got time to visit Olympia, WA too. Olympia was as quaint as Mt. Rainier was grand.

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Olympia’s waterfront

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The pier is full of abstract sculptures; here is a seemingly pregnant woman

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A happy orca

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Capitol House in Olympia

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Olympia has several charming houses like this

Oregon’s coastline is great too – peppered with small beach towns in places and in others with rocky jagged cliff faces. We drove from Lincoln City to Cape Meares all along the coast, before turning inland into Hillsboro.

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Lincoln City beach, very sedate

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Lincoln City is like most beach towns, a lot of interesting things catch the eye

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Taft beach in Lincoln City

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The Siletz River meets the ocean here and is seemingly a favorite spot for salmon fishing

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More of Taft Beach; bare logs strewn about give it a stark beauty

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Views along the coast while heading north from Lincoln City

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Approaching Cape Kiwanda; the giant rock afar is Chief Kiawanda Rock

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At Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, OR

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View of the bay to the south from a lookout in the Cape

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A panoramic view of the ocean to the north of the lookout in Cape Kiwanda

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At Cape Lookout point – the ocean to the left and Netarts Bay to the right

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Amazing views of the Pacific Ocean from Cape Meares

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The ‘Octopus Tree’

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More views

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This is a great lookout for birds, we waited unsuccessfully for a swooping Peregrine Falcon

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Neither gulls, nor seals… our wildlife watch was rather uneventful

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At Cape Meares, conifers line the way to the lighthouse

Mt. Hood is to Portland, what Mt. Rainier is to Seattle – unlike the latter though, Mt. Hood isn’t inside a National Park. We drove to Trillium Lake and were lucky this time (unlike earlier) with clear weather. Mt. Hood looks truly regal across the lake.

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As serene as it gets

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Sunset gave it a different hue

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A closer look at Mt. Hood, from Timberline Lodge

We visited Chihuly Garden & Glass, a museum in the heart of Seattle right next to Space Needle. It was easily among the most beautiful ‘art’ museums I’ve visited. Each exhibit is a riot of colors and the way light interacts with abstract shapes to create interesting reflections & shadows is a treat for the eyes.

Chihuly Museum is inside the Seattle Center, which has several eye-catching structures – Space Needle, the EMP Museum, Pacific Science Center. After spending an evening roaming about, we managed to take the elevators up the Space Needle to its observation deck for some nice nighttime views of Seattle.

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The EMP Museum, its skin is a rainbow of colours

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The reflection looks reptilian

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Space Needle

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A view from the Pacific Science Center nearby

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More Space Needle

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Sunset from the observation deck

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Seattle waterfront from the Space Needle observation deck

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Another view

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Lit after sundown

I’ve always enjoyed colours at dusk, and the american northwest didn’t disappoint. Each evening was spectacular.

Diveagar & Harihareshwar

Diveagar is another one of the many beaches in Maharashtra, located just 20km to the south of Murud, about 200km from Mumbai. Just like in Murud, the sand in Diveagar beach is very fine and tightly packed which tends to form beautiful curves and patterns with the waves. For some reason, Diveagar doesn’t attract as many tourists as Murud – which is a good thing – so the beach is clean, empty and instead of being packed with hotels, you have old rustic houses for staying overnight.

Perfect for an early morning stroll…

With the sun yet to rise too high, a haze fills the air

Waves in the sand that mirror the sea

Rippling like sinews

Like the dentacles of a shark

Like the denticles of a shark

Just like Murud, the beach is peppered with starfish

A lot of ospreys flock in the trees lining the beach

A low tide exposes an entire population of snails, easy pickings for the gulls

 

Harihareshwar is a small town about 40km south of Diveagar. Despite being famous for a temple, which attracts pilgrims in droves, I was arrested by some interesting rock formations along the beach. Its almost as though bubbling lava coooled too quickly leaving the rock spongelike. Unfortunately like most such places in India, information about the formations is hard to come by – one can sit and only wonder how they came about.

Harihareshwar Beach, next to a temple it is quite unclean

Behind the temple, the way down to some interesting rock formations

So sponge like

This rocky platform you see people on, goes on for a considerable distance around the grassy hill

Koh Samui

These are some pics from a recent trip to Koh Samui, an island in south Thailand. Samui is a beautiful place, with clear blue-green waters all around. We spent a week there in a wonderful resort – Six Senses Samui. Located on the northern tip of the island, amid hills and a lot of greens, it is quiet, calm and is the ideal place to to take a lazy break. The views of the oceans from the resort are picturesque.

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One of the many beautiful views from the resort

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As serene as it can get

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The resorts signature Dining on the Rocks, under covers during day

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The view from our villa

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A small private beach that’s accessible from the resort

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View from the private beach; those huts in the background are the Six Senses’ villas

Besides the views, the resort itself is very rustic and charming, with an old world feel – all wooden villas and matching decor.

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One of the many ‘buggy’ stops within the resort; if you tire of walking call a buggy here

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Night lamps among trees

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Sitting under a thatched roof in the rain has its own charm

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The nearby, an hour and a half from Bo Phut beach, Angthong National Marine Park is a beautiful place too. You shouldn’t miss this place if you are in Samui. Snorkelling and open ocean kayaking are part of the regular tours here.

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One of the popular snorkelling spots

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All reefs and corals below the blue seas

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Off we go on a speedboat to another island

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Beautiful!

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A freshwater lake amidst hills in the ocean

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Angthong is a picturesque place

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More Angthong

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Beautiful clear waters

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A rock in the middle of nowhere

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Kayaking seemed easy till I tried it. Seems calm enough but further away from shore, the swells get scary

It was a lazy break so we stayed away from most of the hustle bustle and hit only a few of the many must-see tourist spots – no Chaweng beach, Lamai beach, the multitude of waterfalls, street shopping or beach hopping for us. We did visit a few nice places though – Samui is a small island, so a couple of days with the car and we were able to get a closer look at the island.

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The famous Hin Ta rock

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and the Hin Yai rock

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Another view of Hin Yai

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Namuang Waterfall 2

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One of the many quiet and empty beaches peppered around the island

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Great sun to laze about under

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Local temples abound in Samui – this one has a mummified monk

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The famous Big Buddha

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Aliens vs Predator

Samui is perfect to laze around at beach in the evening, watching the sun set. Some beaches on the south-western side of the island are tailor made for it – sandy beaches and  very calm waters.

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Murud

Murud was our destination of choice to relax and unwind this last long-weekend. A short drive to the south of Mumbai, Murud is a small beach town which still has a few pristine, idyllic beaches.

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The water is very calm, with gentle shallow waves

The beaches here are very wide and plain, great for strolls

The beaches here are very wide and plain, great for strolls

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At nearby Kashid Beach, you can lounge on hammocks in the shade

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While some parts of Kashid Beach are teeming with people…

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…there are several secluded spots to relax in

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Sunsets on a calm sea are very picturesque

The sand in Murud beach is very fine and clayey, due to which it is rather tightly packed. The waves create some very beautiful patterns along the beach.

 

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Criss-cross lines up close…

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…reveal stripes when you step back

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More stripes, darker in some areas

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Here the stripes are tighter, giving the beach a ribbed appearance

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A closer look

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The patterns go for as long as the eye can see

With few people visiting, there are a lot of seashells, starfish and clams that end up on the beach after a high tide.

 

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Here you can see a starfish in the pool of water and a clam on the rock

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A turritella shell

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A whole mass of shells and beautiful rocks at Kashid beach

During our vacation, the town of Murud celebrated Dussehra. I don’t know why religious celebration is used as a license to spoil and dirty nature. It marred an otherwise fine weekend. I hope people get more sense.

Sacred cows loitering on the beach the morning after Dussehra

Holy cows lazing on the beach the morning after Dussehra, look at the filth around them

All the garlands found their way to the beach

Garlands and other puja material found their way to the beach

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Sigh…

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Dussehra being done, who needs a Goddess?

Zion National Park

I visited Zion National Park, Utah during the Memorial Day weekend earlier this year – clearly this post had been stuck in gestation for a while. It was a fun holiday with friends – three treks over three days in a spectacular locale.

Most of the first day at Zion was spent on finding a campsite and setting up our tent. By late afternoon, we were set and headed for Bryce Canyon National Park which is only a short drive from Zion. We approached Zion from Vegas, and so the drive to Bryce was through the park; it helped whet our appetite for the sights that were to follow over the next couple of days. These photos are from Bryce.

In Zion, headed to Bryce

In Zion, headed to Bryce

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Dixie National Forest, between Zion & Bryce

Dixie National Forest, between Zion & Bryce

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A lookout at Bryce National Park

A lookout at Bryce National Park

Navajo Trail in Bryce National Park

Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

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Thors Hammer

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Day Two had been set aside for Angels Landing which is among the signature trails of Zion National Park. It starts deceptively easy along Virginia River, slowly increasing in difficulty along a paved section and finally culminating in a strenuous stretch with sheer cliffs.

That is our destination

That is our destination

The trail you see below is where we started...

The trail you see below is where we started…

...to get here

…to get here

The final stretch

The final stretch

Breathtaking trek, still some way to go

Breathtaking trek, still some way to go

Taking in the view...

Taking in the view…

...cant get enough of it

…cant get enough of it

After Angels Falls and a short rest, as there was some day left, we drove over to Horseshoe Bend. This is a scenic spot close to the Grand Canyon which seems to be made for photographing sunsets – the red sandstone with its signature stripes makes for some interesting subjects in the warm evening light.

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Horse-shoe Bend

Horse-shoe Bend

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The final day of our holiday was set aside for The Narrows. It is 7 mile trail, of which the first 3 miles are only the approach. It is basically a trek against the flow of Virginia River, which depending upon the season can get quite deep in some places. The deepest we encountered was about waist-high, not too bad but deep enough to have me worry about the safety of my camera. Sandwiched on either side by sheer cliff walls, this trail is quite a unique experience.

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Cherry Blossoms

On the sunniest of days yet this season, we visited the National Mall area in Washington, DC to walk among cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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The Jefferson Memorial

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A canopy of cherry blossoms

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Jefferson Memorial in the background

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Cherry blossoms in droves

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Washington Monument

Make sure that you take some time out of your schedule visit the area, its a spectacle.

Luray Caverns

This weekend last we had great weather – great sun, blue skies with a smattering of clouds. All in all, a day made for a long drive – which we made to Luray Caverns. Located in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, amidst rolling hills and winding roads its a must visit place.

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Care for a better view?

Care for a better view?

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The caverns are a natural formation – slow erosion of limestone rocks over thousands of years has created them. Give nature a few thousand years and she creates wonders!

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Reflections

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A waterfall of limestone

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These stalagnates look like candlesticks

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A ‘wishing well’! Thankfully, the maintainers of Luray Caverns donate all of this to charity

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Daggers in the sky

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Served sunny side up!

It was such a perfect day that even the sunset didn’t disappoint.

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