Driving the Skyline: Shenandoah Valley

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Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are both really beautiful roads to drive down. Well, I’m not really sure how the experience is when you’re actually the one in the driver’s seat, but I can tell you that the view from the passenger side is great. I’d venture a guess and say that it’s probably a pretty great road to drive down too, and this I can actually say based on experience: when I was practicing for my road test, I drove down the Taconic State Parkway almost every weekend for a little over a month, and that was also one hella pretty parkway. I definitely preferred that road over most others. Anyways, case in point… sort of.

We ended up driving out as the sun was going down (road closed at 5:30 apparently, although I doubt we would’ve been in any trouble if we’d lingered a bit longer – there were still plenty of people left at the place where we were waiting for sunset). It looked like the sun was going to dip into the clouds and get blocked anyway, though, so not much protest here. Still, the moments before that were gold.

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I know a lot of nature photographers try to get rid of the human element in their photos, but for me, that human element sometimes really adds to the picture. For some reason, whenever I look at this photo, the silhouettes emphasize the serenity that I felt standing there looking out over the mountains as the sun sank slowly towards the horizon, giving it that extra emotional dimension that might have been absent otherwise.

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Omake: There was this rock that looked kind of like Pride Rock, and so naturally, we just had to reenact the opening scene from the Lion King. After all, IT’S THE CIIIIIRCLE OF LIIIIIFE…!

…yes I carry a penguin pillow pet around with me, thank you for asking. His name is Percy and he loves Christmas.

Exploring the Everglades

I’ve been wanting to go to the Everglades for a long time. It just looked like such an amazing wilderness and a pretty big departure from the woodlands and mountainous outdoors that I’m used to. I loved exploring the Everglades, whether it was by boat, car, bike, or just on foot. Each offered its own unique experiences.

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One of the first views you’ll see along the short but worthwhile Anhinga Trail.

If you’ve just got a car and your own two pair of feet, the Anhinga Trail’s a good place to start. This was my first real glimpse of the Glades, and I saw my first alligator there too! It was super exciting the first time (although for most Florida locals, I doubt it would’ve been much of an occasion. I imagine it’d be like me when I see deer, although I’m an oddball and still get pretty excited when I see a deer). I saw plenty more gators before I left the Everglades behind (more on that later), so the excitement died down a little as time wore on. It was kind of the same with bison when I went to Yellowstone. The first time I saw one, a little after I passed the front entrance, it was like ‘OMG BISON’. Then they kept showing up, and a few days later I saw fields with bison herds a hundred strong, and the novelty of it was kind of wearing off. Still hella cool though, and I still got excited each time. Just not the kind of major freak out event that the first few times were.

For boat tours, I went on three over the two days I was there. One was an air boat, which took us through the wide, shallow waters pictured above (the two on the right). It was a fun time and a new experience, and it allowed us to travel over water that would be too shallow for a motor boat to go through.

As for motor boat tours, I took two different ones. The first was out of the Flamingo visitor center and went into the backcountry swamps. It was a nice tour, and there were some great bird and crocodile sightings along the tour. Plus, the captain was super nice and friendly.

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You’ll pass by this tree – called the Bonsai – on the Ten Thousand Island Tour. Be on the lookout (though your captain will most likely call attention to it once you’re close enough)!

My favorite one though was the Ten Thousand Islands Tour, which left from the Gulf Coast visitor center and went out into open waters and around the islands dotting the Gulf Coast. It was AWESOME, and I got to see a manatee, dolphins, and a lot of different birds (like the cormorant! – I got this word in the Salad Bowl game (it’s kind of like taboo) and I had no idea what it was).

Seeing the dolphins on this tour really renewed my love for them. Dolphins used to be my favorite animal back in third grade or so, around the time when I wanted to be a marine biologist. Part of me still does, and that multipronged conflict is back in full force now. Regardless, though, seeing the playfulness of the dolphins as they played in the froth from the motors made me fall for them all over again.

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Another highlight of that trip was Pelican Island. It’s this island with a stretch of beach that reaches straight out into the ocean where hundreds of pelicans and other smaller birds gather for some rest and relaxation. According to the captain, that little stretch of land is also the stinkiest piece of land in the Glades because of all the poop that’s accumulated on it from its avian visitors. He was quite bemused that they would all choose to gather there in some giant stinkfest.

If you look at the top right photo above, you’ll notice a single little black colored bird – I call him the ugly duckling (not because I think he’s ugly at all, I’m not that mean T_T nah, he’s more like a cute baby brother hanging out with his protective older pelican brothers).

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On windy days, birds tend to act like weathervanes – they stand facing into the wind.

The boat’s captain was again really great. He really made an effort to make sure we got to see the manatee instead of half-assing it and moving on before it came out, and he took the time to stop to let us watch the dolphins and take pictures of the pelicans. I attribute a lot of the great experience I had to him and his first mate, who also did an amazing job pointing things out to us along the way and making sure we all had a good time. Moral of the story: tip yo’ captains, guys, especially if they’re well deserved.

Shark Valley was just freaking awesome. If you’ve got a craving for gators, Shark Valley is probably the place to be. There were a bunch of them just napping in the sun on the side of the trail.

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Because of that, I’m actually really glad that the trolley tours were all sold out. Talk about serendipity – it was only that ‘misfortune’ that led to the discovery of the bike rentals, and biking allowed me the freedom to go at my own pace and stop for sightseeing whenever I wanted. It was also just fun and nice to be back on a bike, and watching the open landscape pass by as you ride is a really great feeling. According to my brother, the fields reminded him of the Pride Lands. I’m inclined to agree. Hakuna Matata, guys.

And with that, I’ll just leave you with this:

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Gonna Soak Up the Sun

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So I realize that the name ‘Keys’ doesn’t actually refer to keys that unlock locks and all. From what I understand, ‘key’ is an alternate spelling of ‘cay’, which in turn came from the Spanish word ‘cayo’ meaning small island, and ‘cayo’ itself was derived from the Taino word for island, ‘cairi’.

However, I like to imagine that ‘Keys‘ implies something else as well. What with all the shipwrecks that have occurred throughout history in the area, maybe the Keys are the key to finding some buried treasure, a ship full of gold that has long since been lost to the depths of the ocean.

Also, iguana.

Between MM 75 and 80, Florida Keys

Destination Miami: Sun, Sea, and Sweet Serendipity

I was thrilled to go to Miami. For all the times I’ve been to Florida (which, granted, I can count on one hand), I’ve never been to Miami. Florida has always meant DISNEY, and I was happy with that because, dude, I’m an animation buff and anyway it’s Disney – ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ and all that? But Miami… Man I was so excited to go because even though I’ve never really shown it much, I love the beach – beach culture, beach style, beach environment – it’s like something in me just longs to be by the ocean under the sun (or moon).

SO now I’m here, back after a long absence, to give you a rundown on my Miami experience and the memories and experiences that I took away from it. Well, to be totally upfront about it, I only really spent 3/4 of a day in Miami itself. It was just one stop on a road trip, but it was definitely on of the highlights. So without further ado, I present to you… Miami.

What better way to start a vacation than with an amazing sunrise? …Okay, yeah, I’m sure plenty of you are sitting there saying, “Uh, oh I dunno, maybe a good three hours more of sleep?” Well, to each their own. I can’t really say you’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean I can’t argue that. And look, I’m lazy af. I love sleep. I can beat most people in a contest of ‘who woke up the latest on Saturday’ (there are a couple people who’ve really given me a run for my money, however). Even so, I love the sunrise even more than I love sleep, even if it doesn’t feel that way when I first wake up at that ungodly hour. But the feeling of sitting there as the sky slowly lights up, waiting on the sun to rise and greet the world… it’s one of the most peaceful feelings in the world. And if that’s not true for you, then that’s fine. Like I said, to each their own. I guess that just means I’ve found my zen.

But the sunrise isn’t really what most people come to Miami to do, is it. It’s time to part- eh no. Ha. No. My parents were there. It so wasn’t happening. (But I’m pretty obsessed with LIV. One day. One day soon).img_0195

Ahem. What I meant to say is, it’s time to SWIM.

Is it crowded? Yes. Not gonna lie because I know how to pick my fights. Usually. But is it still great? Hell yeah. Maybe it’s just because I’m me, and I’m from Connecticut with its subpar beaches (at least when it comes to sand quality and temperature and all that jazz), but I thought Miami Beach was amazing. Soft fluffy sand? Check. Sunny tropical weather? Check. Warm clear water? Check, check, and check.

I really loved walking down Ocean Drive at night, too. First of all, it was super nice to be able to walk around in the night air with just shorts and a T-shirt on. And second, I am so happy I got to see those giant margarita glasses. Two words: So. Awesome. As for why I was walking down Ocean Drive, well looking for food, of course. Had to get a taste of Joe’s Stone Crab after all the hype about it, but then finished off the night with a sampler of Cuban cuisine. All in all, it was a pretty great day.

And then at the end of the night, far across the bay, I saw it: Gatsby’s green light. Or, well, a green light. So with that, I leave you with these parting words from Nick Carraway on the past, the future, our dreams, our downfalls, and the great and terrible things that make up the human condition:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And then one fine morning- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

– The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Full Disclosure: The above 6 photos were taken at Daytona Beach, not Miami.)

People and Places: Morocco

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For a long time, traveling for me was all about the landscapes and wildlife or the buildings and landmarks. People were just… never really on my radar. Obviously there were always people around, but they were never the focus of my photography, aside from the obligatory tourist snapshots to prove that ‘hey, I’ve been here’. Morocco changed that. Morocco changed a lot of things.

The photo lessons themselves – the ones about composition and camera settings and all that jazz – those weren’t the most important lessons I took away from Morocco. What I learned in those photo lessons I could learn anywhere else. But what I learned from the people around me – whether it was my photography instructor, my guides, my peers, or just the people I met along the way – was different. I learned to challenge myself and try new things, to interact with and immerse myself in local culture and seek out experiences and opportunities, to seize the moment and not be afraid. I learned so much more than photography at that photo workshop – I learned about life.

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I encountered plenty of conflicting philosophies about photography, to be sure. Some believed in creating a perfect moment, others believed in simply capturing it. Some saw photography as art, others saw it as truth. I thought I knew where I stood, but to be honest, I’m not sure I ever really did. What I do know is that I believe in capturing how I see the world. Whether that is the “truth” or not, that’s up for debate. But whatever it is, it’s my truth. I never set out to be a photojournalist, and I didn’t set out to be an artist either. All I wanted was to remember the moment. And that’s still what I want, and it will continue to be what I want. That much I know for sure.

Sands of Silver — Silver Sands State Park

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This was a pretty unique beach, at least in my experiences. The elevation change along the whole stretch was incredibly shallow, so when the tide rises, the whole place starts flooding, making these really cool islands of sand just sitting out in the water. Meanwhile, low tide leaves some nice tide pools, home sweet home for the mini crabs and hermits. There was even a horseshoe crab! Or as I like to call it, a dinosaur of the sea (even though they predate dinosaurs; oh well :))

The geography of the beach also is what allows for this awesome little sand bar:

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…which only shows its face during low tide and disappears once more when the water rises. On the other side, you can reach Charles Island, which I keep wanting to call Turtle Island (flashback to my Ragnarok Online days, where Turtle Island was awesome and I actually had to fight my way through the Porings of Alberta to get onto the ship ^_^). This is the view of the island from the mainland shore:

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Happy last 4 days of summer!

Tides of Summer

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Long Island part 2. There were some really nice waves in the morning, and since it was so early there weren’t very many people there yet.

There’s really not much to say. Sure, I could go on and on about the ocean and the sand and the waves, but what I experience by the ocean can’t be put into words. It’s a combination of the feeling of the sand between my toes, of the water flowing past my legs, of the waves crashing up my body and the drops of salt water splashing my face. It’s the smell of the salt and sea in the wind with the soaring of seagulls overhead and the sight of the endless boundaries of the ocean. It’s feeling that, just for a moment, I can leave the world with all its burdens behind.

“At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.” ~ Sandy Gingras

Until next time!