“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another” – Mahatma Gandi
This past June, we took a family trip up north to Ely, Minnesota one of the main launching off points to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW or BWCA). This expansive wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota covers 1,090,000-acres (4,400 km2) of the pristine Superior National Forest and is filled with lakes, streams, waterfalls, forests and wildlife. Its preservation as a primitive wilderness began over one hundred years ago, and its protection was solidified in the signing of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978. Today, the wilderness area is managed by the US Forest Service.
The BWCA is a magical place where you often feel as if you are stepping back in time to an easier, more peaceful way of life. You are awoken each morning to the melodic cry of the loon or lulled to sleep at night by the chirping of the crickets or croaking of the bull frogs. You can easily spot deer and sometimes fawn and if you are lucky you may even see a distant mouse, wolf or a bear. It is a truly remarkable place that has given us so many gifts and with the passing of the US National Parks 100th birthday I was reminded how blessed we are to have such an amazing network of protected parks (both national and state), forests and wilderness areas around the nation.
Life is abundant, and life is beautiful. And it’s a good place that we’re all in, you know, on this earth, if we take care of it. – Alice Walker
For those of you who are regular readers of my blog and know me, then you will not be the least bit surprised when I tell you that my happy place is being outside in nature. I prefer being in the mountains, hiking and breathing in the fresh, magical air but of course it isn’t possible that I’m always in this special place. Instead, I find beauty, peace and solitude in being anywhere outdoors and at home I generally find my happy place at my favorite neighborhood lake, Lake Harriet in Southwest Minneapolis. I walk and run around that lake year round, rain or shine, snow or sleet. I watch and marvel at the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life. I reflect on the migration of the birds who come and go with the changing of the wind. If I’m lucky, I see a pair of bald eagles or a distant loon. I’ve even see a wild turkey and a group of deer which seems crazy given the fact that I live in the heart of a city.
Fall is by far the most beautiful season in Minnesota and I take advantage of being in my happy place as much as possible. The air is so fragrant, the sun so bright and the sky is usually a deep, dark sapphire blue on most days. But best of all, is the magical tapestry of leaves in their deep scarlet reds to pumpkin and burnt orange and golden yellows. It is a time of year that I always feel incredibly vibrant and alive.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”. –Albert Camus
Lake Harriet Walking/Running Trail
I took this photo just yesterday on my walk around Lake Harriet, one of four urban lakes in Southwest Minneapolis that make up the “chain of lakes”. We are so fortunate to have over 10,000 lakes in this state and many in the city have walking, biking and running paths that are plowed year round.
“Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature”. – Gerard De Nerval
Every year, Macy’s Department Store rewards the public by putting on an incredible flower show at its five flagship stores in the United States. It is the highlight of my month because Macy’s Annual Flower Show falls at the end of March, right before spring break when everyone in Minneapolis is just plain sick and tired of our long, barren, colorless winter.
What makes this event even more wonderful is that it is free and the theme changes every year. This year, the theme is “Art in Bloom” and with the help of local florist Bachman’s, the show features thousands of eye-popping, gorgeous flowers juxtaposed with various movements of the arts resulting in a “horticultural art gallery” of color and fragrance.
Despite my head cold, I could smell the flowers as I rode the escalator up to the eighth floor of Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis. I could take the elevator but I find riding the escalator up way more fun as each floor the smell of flowers escalates. I brought only my iPhone 6 along as I wanted to see how much the technology has changed from my old iPhone 4 camera to the 6. It was remarkable and I still cannot believe that these photos are real.
Take a peak for yourself and walk with me through Macy’s “Art in Bloom” where we will pass through Classical Art, Impressionism, Modern Art and Pop Culture Art. I am certain these photos will brighten your day!
The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
In my opinion, there is nothing better than a good long hike to the top of the world. Getting there is half the fun and once on top, there is nothing more rewarding than a spectacular view. I have loved to hike my entire life and here are some of my favorite rewards through my journeys.
After ten days of hiking the world-famous Annapurna Trek, we arrived in gorgeous Pokhara, Nepal for a few days rest and enjoyment of the Diwali festival of lights. If only I had started my blog before this trip and understood the power of photography. Looking back my photos do not do Nepal justice as it is by far one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I still haven’t finished writing my posts on our four day visit to the sensational Condoriri Valley in the Bolivian Andes. I hope to work on that this month because the photos are tremendous and it is a very special place. The pain of sleeping in a tent at 15,000 feet in below freezing weather was worth the incredible, rewarding views.
There is nothing like driving through rural Africa. It was something I dreamed about ever since watching the 1980s film “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Call me a romantic but there is something utterly nostalgic and breathtaking about the countryside. Perhaps even more so in Africa where you take a step back in time to how things used to be.
In much of Africa, including Ethiopia where over 90% live outside of cities, rural life is life. Men, women and children tend to farms and herd livestock. Markets, business and life happens along the roadside. Modernity seems to have not yet reached this part of the world where water jerricans, mule carts, and manual labor are common. Electricity and running water is a luxury that few have. Bathing happens in the creeks. It is a world so unlike my own that everything I saw surprised me.
For this reason, I was always fascinating with our ventures into the rural parts of Ethiopia and sat glued to the window watching in awe and admiration. Instead of napping, I took photos from our moving Land Rover, trying to capture the heart and soul of rural Ethiopia. There was no way I could do its beauty justice especially since we did not have time to stop. Yet our drive from Addis Ababa, south through the Great Rift Valley to Hawassa had to be documented. The raw, aching beauty of Ethiopia spoke to me.
The Great Rift Valley splits the Ethiopian landscape apart leaving behind many circular crater lakes that are awash with hippos, crocodiles and lovely views like this hotel above.
“The mountains are calling and I must go”. – John Muir
The White Mountains of northeast Arizona are home to the largest freestanding Ponderosa Pines in the world, a dramatic difference to the lunar landscapes, canyons and cactus desert that covers much of the state. The White Mountains are breathtakingly beautiful with air so fresh that is makes your lungs sing. Peace, serenity and connecting with nature are the main pastimes here and there are many fabulous hiking trails to find it.
The most well-known and beloved hike in the area is the 14-mile roundtrip hike to the sacred Mount Baldy. At 11,4000 feet, Mount Baldy is home to some of the oldest, most beautiful Douglas Firs in the world. Some of them are over 350 years old. Three years ago, my dad, my son Max and I did a three generational hike along the Mount Baldy Trail. Yesterday, we decided to repeat history and do it again. There was no way we could do the entire hike with a nine-year old but we were able to hike to the first lookout with a magnificent view of the forest and horizon.
We rose early to the morning sun lighting up the pine tree tops lining the White Mountains. The morning sky was a magnificent blue with not a single cloud in the sky. That would surely come later. In late August, the White Mountains are at the tail end of monsoon season where the magical clouds slowly appear, form and become bigger, whiter, brighter and then darker before they release their angry water.
We took the White Mountain Scenic Byway for a little over an hour, driving through some of the other small towns along the way. We passed through meadows, fields of wildflowers and lots of Ponderosa Pines (some dating over 700 years old!). It was a beautiful ride that took us through some unbelievable scenery. I had to pinch myself to remember that we were in Arizona as we had left the desert and cactus long ago.
We arrived at the start of the trail around half past nine. The sky was brilliant and the gentle breeze smelled of pines. It was completely still and quiet save for a few birds chirping off in the distance. It was a beautiful day for a hike.
I’m back in Arizona again and spring is in full force. The desert has come alive with flowering trees, cacti and plants. Whenever the wind stirs the air is full of heavenly fragrance and it is magical. Birds are abundant as they make their way north.
I’ve taken a few shots of the desert in bloom, my favorite season to be in Arizona as everything comes to life.
If you have never been to Arizona, you may be surprised to know that the state is not only covered in cactus and canyons. Known as one of the sunniest places in United States with its fair share of desert landscape, Arizona is also home to over 193 mountain ranges with several over 10,000 feet and the highest point being Humphrey’s Peak ( elevation 12,633 feet) near Flagstaff.
Home to the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States, the flora and fauna of Arizona is quite diverse and offers a fantastic number of amazing hikes ranging from the immense Grand Canyon, to the cactus-coated desert and rugged, pine-scented mountain tops.
The Southwestern city of Tucson where my parents live, is a true hikers’ paradise as the city is almost completely surrounded by mountains. There are five major mountain ranges in Tucson, each with its own flavor and appeal. To the north of downtown Tucson lies the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains which slowly rise to almost nine thousand feet. To the east lies the Rincons which are less rugged than the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains which rise to the south. To the west lie the craggy Tucson Mountains and to the northwest lie the fifth mountain range, the Tortolita mountains.
Nestled high above the Catalina Foothills lies a spectacular place for a day trip: Mount Lemmon. At 9,157 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. It is a special place affording stunning views and a nature lover’s retreat.
A drive from balmy, sunny Tucson up to Mount Lemmon is the perfect way to find peace and also a little winter in Arizona. On top of Mount Lemmon is an actual ski resort which is hard to believe. Yet the Mount Lemmon Ski Area receives about 57 inches of snow annually and its short but steep runs offers “winter on demand” for those living in the desert town below.
The last look at the desert landscape before the cactus disappear and the pines arrive.
Around an hour and fifteen minute picturesque drive from Tucson brings you to another world. As you climb up the breathtaking Santa Cathalina Mountains following the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, slowly the desert landscape begins to disappear and suddenly majestic ponderosa pines line the road. The views along the way are arguably some of the best in Southwestern Arizona with sensational views of the city below and the shadowed mountains in the distance.
The drive from Tucson to Mount Lemmon is breathtaking and there are many lookout stops to pull over and take pictures.
The landscape is dramatic. I find the raw beauty to be serenely peaceful and divine. As you climb higher and leave behind the cactus, you enter instant winter or “winter on demand” as my parents like to call it.
Today is a glorious picture perfect day in Minneapolis. A day that makes me feel incredibly happy to be alive, breathing in the fresh crisp fall air and marveling at the gorgeous display of Mother Nature’s brilliant fall beauty.
I took a run around my lovely urban Lake Harriet, reflecting on what is on my agenda for the week. I couldn’t stop taking pictures along the way. It was so heartwarmingly beautiful that all my worries and concerns drifted away. That is what nature is supposed to do. To refresh, revitalize and invigorate you. My dad has passed on his love for nature and being outside to me. In honor of his birthday, here is a collection of photos taken today on my run. October 7th always marks the peak of our fall colors in Minneapolis. I can’t think of a better birthday gift than the beauty of nature.
“Happiness is largely an attitude of mind, of viewing life from the right angle” – Dale Carnegie
Yesterday as part of my new role as a National Geographic Kids Insider, I participated in a fabulous one-hour video call with National Geographic Kid’s photographer Kelley Miller.
National Geographic Photographer Kelley Miller
Kelley has one of my dream jobs: Traveling around the world and getting paid to take pictures! As someone who absolutely loves to take photos yet has never had any formal training whatsoever, I learned a ton from Kelley’s basic photography tips on how to capture nature, specifically animals in the wild. Normally, I prefer to take photos of landscapes or objects and haven’t really attempted to photograph animals in the wild. It looks like now I will have my chance!
Starting today through September 29th, National Geographic is hosting “The Great Nature Project” which is a worldwide photography project to share plants and animals from your world while celebrating the immense diversity of our planet. It is National Geographic’s goal to set a Guinness Book of World Records title for the largest online photo album in the world of animals.
So now you’re all ready to go right? Well, not without sharing the dozen tips I received from Kelley. In a nutshell, here are Kelley’s 10 top tips for photographing nature:
Be observant. Look around and really, truly look. There are dozens of amazing things in nature that are just awaiting to be captured on film. All it takes is a willingness to truly seek the photo opportunities out.
Make eye contact with the animals and smile. Seriously this sounds rather silly but it is not. Capturing an animal on film looking back at you into the camera is bound to give you a fabulous picture. Yet it takes patience and persistence!
Don’t always frame your subject in the center of the picture. Instead, make the photos more interesting by positioning the subject off to a side.
Show animals in their natural environment as often as possible. The landscape and sense of space can truly give the picture a sense of scale and dimension for the animal. Also pay attention to graphic details.
Photo credit: Kelley Miller/National Geographic
Go for motion. If an animal is running, be ready and catch it on film in all its glory. Get as close as you can to the action. Timing is everything!
Pursue the personality of the animal. For example, we all love hippos basking in the mud or animals being playful.
Look for details and capture it. If the animal is a peacock, do a close up on its wings. Zoom in on a specific body part such as the eyes, ears, nose or mouth. You’ll be amazed how much detail can change the entire feeling of a photo.
Try for different angles of a shot. For example, why not capture a bug on a leaf looking down on it?
Experiment with changing from color to black and white. Sometimes the details of the photo will be more striking without color.
Make the animal stand out. Use a simple background or a shallow depth of field. The subject will literally pop off the page!
Photo credit: Kelley Miller/National Geographic
If only I could take such incredible photos! There is so much to learn. But if you are like me you are willing to keep at it and keep trying. Well, here is your chance! You can participate in The Great Nature Project and be a contributor of the world’s largest ever online photo collection of nature and animals.
All information below is used with permission from National Geographic’s website: The Great Nature Project (www.greatnatureproject.org). To see more details, click here.
The Great Nature Project
The Great Nature Project is a worldwide celebration of the planet and its wonders. People of all ages are invited to appreciate nature by taking pictures of plants and animals in their worlds, and then sharing those pictures with the whole world. Together we’ll create a global snapshot of the Earth’s incredible biodiversity—and try for a Guinness World Records® title for the largest-ever online album of animal photos!
The Great Nature Project is one of the largest initiatives National Geographic has ever created, but we need your help to pull it off. So get outside, explore, and connect, and join us for a project as big as the world itself.
How to Participate
With the Great Nature Project, you can share the plants and animals in your world with the whole world. From the national park to the parking lot, you can grab your camera and document the wildlife you see. By participating, you’ll help National Geographic celebrate the amazing and diverse life on our planet. You can also help us win a Guinness World Records® title for the largest online animal photo album.
To join in, snap a picture of a plant or animal in your neighborhood, and upload it to a photo sharing site like Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, or National Geographic Your Shot,making sure to tag it #GreatNature. To participate in the record, add #animal to any animal photo.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something – unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default”. – J.K. Rowling
This week has been a bit hairy so I thought I’d post some of my favorite photos of mountains I’ve hiked as they always calm my soul. Photos above from France, Nepal and Guatemala. This fall, I will be adding Bolivia to my list of great hikes.
Author’s note: This is my last post on our recent family vacation to Big Sky, Montana. To see other posts on Montana, click here.
Mid-week during our ski trip to Montana we opted to try out neighboring Moonlight Basin ski resort. Known as Big Sky’s little sister, Moonlight Basin is smaller, cheaper and humbler yet in my opinion equally if not more beautiful and pristine. We spent a wonderful day skiing there with our dear friends who joined us on the trip. Two families, with two kids each, the same exact age. It was a wonderful day like all the rest.
The day started out iffy. Weather was moving in and it was expected to rain. But we couldn’t complain as the last five days of our trip in Montana had been absolutely spectacular with perhaps the bluest sky I’d ever seen. If all else fails, perhaps we’d have to get a day pass and hang out in Moonlight Basin’s magical, misty pool, slope – side.