A drive along the La Sal Loop Road during snow showers. Sped up 8X.
I always wanted to see this well-known photo destination. Given its popularity, I thought I would get there early to make sure I had a good vantage point for some photos. So I got up in time to be at the entrance when the Dead Horse Point State Park officially opened at 6 AM.
It was about a 40-minute drive from downtown Moab, in total darkness. There was nobody in the gatehouse when I arrived at the park entrance, so I put my ten dollar entrance fee in the provided envelope and dropped it in the designated slot, then drove to the parking lot at the end of the point.
I need not have worried about beating the crowd - the place was desolate. Fifteen degrees Fahrenheit and a bit windy, and still pitch black. So I grabbed the flashlight and walked across the dry layer of crunchy snow to the overlook. Couldn't see a damned thing - just a void between the line of rosy light along the southeastern horizon in the distance and wall marking the boundary of the overlook.
So I went back to the car and rewarmed until there was enough dawn light to try again. I still couldn't see the shape of the land below from the overlook, but the camera could. So I took a couple of long exposures to figure out where to point the camera for the composition I wanted.
Hope you like the photo - waiting until the sun rose high enough to kiss the top of the point, I froze my @ss off to get it!
Southeastern Utah and Castle Valley, near Moab.
Rock formation near Dewey, UT.
Fisher Towers, framed by mesas notched by the Colorado River, on the approach to Moab, UT from the Northeast. The La Sal Mountains stand in the distance.
Ghosts 1: The ghost of Parriott Mesa [6155'] rises behind a gnarled tree during a Castle Valley snow storm.
Ghosts 2: The ghost of Parriott Mesa [6155'] rises behind a gnarled tree during a Castle Valley snow storm.
Just a quick post to say thanks to everyone who asked if I was OK over the last few days.
I have been in the USA on a business trip since 7 Mar and therefore was not in Japan when the quakes and tsunamis struck. Most of the friends to whom I reached out via email have replied that they are OK. I expect to hear from the rest as they get to work - as I write this it is Monday morning in Japan.
As far as I can tell, there was no serious damage where I live southwest of Tokyo, and I still plan to return to Japan later this week, barring any travel delays or other problems.
My thoughts are with the Japanese people, who have always been kind and hospitable to me in my 10 years of living in their country. Working in their favor is their intelligence, their hard-working nature, their ability to organize and cooperate, and their strong sense of honor and respect towards others.
Please consider doing what you can to support the relief efforts and assistance being provided to Japan by various governmental and non-governmental organizations.
And thanks again for all who asked about me.
I've lived in Japan for ten years, and am sad to say that I have never been further south and west than Kobe - only about 360 km from Ito - maybe 2.5 hours on the bullet train. Friends from the States often ask me if, since I live in Japan, I have plans to travel around Asia. I always say that there are still so many places I want to see in Japan, and I fly so often for work, I would rather just get on a train or a bus and go somewhere in-country.
So last weekend's visit to Kochi Prefecture, in the Shikoku region was a new distance record to the south for me.
Kame Izumi Sake Brewery
Almost every year, a group from my favorite pub in Tokyo visits the brewery of one of Japan's best makers of "nihonshu" - what most people would just call "sake". We do a tour of the brewery, try some of the results of the brewmasters art, and have a great dinner together before heading back to the big city.
This year, we visited the Kame Izumi ["Turtle Spring"] brewery. After one-hour flight from Tokyo's Haneda airport and another hour on the bus, we arrived at an unassuming cluster of old buildings nestled up against the hills that lie between the town of Tosa and Tosa Bay.
The "toji" or brewmaster, Saibara-san, met us outside and ushered us into the brewery. It was dark and cool inside, and you couldn't tell where one building ended and another began; all a maze of tanks, filters, and hoses among the old wooden beams and trusses. Shafts of afternoon sunlight flowed in through the windows and cracks in the planked walls.
We have to take off our street shoes and put on slippers when stepping across the threshold to the "inside". Nothing big enough for my size 11-and-a-half feet, so the slippers end at the beginning of my heel.
Saibara-san shows us around, explaining all the way. I have been asked to take photos, so I linger a bit behind, and wait for my co-travelers to move ahead in the narrow spaces, so I don't get to hear a lot of the explanation, and some of it would be beyond my poor Japanese language comprehension skills anyway.
Near the end of the tour as we circle back from whence we started, Saibara-san leads us to a dual row of tanks, where the latest vintage is fermenting. Climbing on top of one, he gestures for us to use our hands to direct some of the air wafting out of the tanks and towards our noses. From a tray of small glasses, he taps off some samples and we get a taste of this work-in-progress. Its very fresh and lively, with a tang like new cider.
Then at the end of the tour, we gather round some makeshift tables and sample a dozen or so different sakes. Just a warm-up for the awesome dinner we had together later in the city of Kochi [photo at left].
A side benefit for me was a chance to check out Kochi Castle, which is one of the few castles in Japan that is not a post-war replica. The original castle, completed in 1611, burned to the ground in 1727. The current structures were completed in 1748.
I managed to NOT stay out all night drinking, and was able to get up and walk the half-mile or so to the castle grounds, with plenty of time to make a lap around the castle before the sun came up at 7 AM.
It was cold and I had not brought a tripod with me, so I had to do the best I could in the weak morning light, propping the camera against a rock, a tree, or a fence post. Maybe some day I can come back a really do it right, but I was glad I had the chance to see this magnificent castle.
Kochi Castle at sunrise.
The main keep, or donjon, rises in the distance behind Otemon gate.
A view of the massive walls on the west side of the castle,
with the main keep rising on the opposite corner.
Back from 10 days in Hong Kong for a photo shoot. The photos won't be on the market until late Summer, but between the fashion shots, while the models were getting their makeup done or their wardrobe changed, I had a moment here and there to "look around" with the camera.
Cyberport is a large modern complex of buildings "around the corner" on the western side of Hong Kong island [Victoria Harbor lies between the north shore of the island and Kowloon which lies on the southern side of the mainland]. It is a government technology inclubator initiative, described as a "creative digital community", with "intelligent" office buildings, a five-star hotel, and a complex of retail and amusement venues.
A rather large panorama from Cyberport, looking south over the waterfront park towards the deluxe residential complex of Blair House. The inset shows the size of the panorama, which would create a print almost 5 feet across at a resolution of 300 pixels/inch.
Over in the New Territories is a place called "Nam Sung Wai". If you work at it, you can take photos that have actual natural objects - grass, trees, water - in the background. But it is a dismal place - trash everywhere, scum on the water, and mostly trampled, crushed, or burned. I felt sorry for the waterbirds - the fish must taste awful.
Nam Sung Wai
Another place, like so many in Asia, that shows the effects of the fast-growing crush of humanity - too many of us, and too little left of anything else.
Long drive yesterday heading south from Cradle Mountain through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers area, across the the southern savannas of Tasmania to Hobart.
Another beautiful day.
Stopped for to stretch my legs on some brief bush walks; one at Nelson Falls, and another at Doneghy's Hill.
[At left: the view from Doneghy's Hill.]
Crossed a lot of country, from the rugged hills around cradle mountain into the rain forests full of giant ferns, across broad grassy plains bounded by stands of eucalyptus.
More photos will come later, over at my home page. For now, here are a few glimpses.
[Below right: a stand of eucalyptus trees.]
The road was narrow with no shoulder in most places, but in really good condition. And almost no traffic - every few minutes I would pass a vehicle going the other way, and once or twice I passed or allowed to pass another vehicle going my way.
Got into Hobart at about 7:30 PM - turned what would have been a 5-hour drive into a 9-hour trip, but the stops and detours were worth it.
Up early this morning to shoot some photos around the harbor at sunrise.
Above: "Spirit of Tasmania II" alongside Melbourne's Station Pier.
"Spirit of Tasmaina I and II" run between the port of Melbourne on the south coast of the Australian mainland, across the Bass Strait, to Devonport, on the north coast of the island of Tasmania. They run every evening all year round, but during the peak Summer months also do day runs several days a week.
Check-in starts at 6:30 AM, and I arrived at Melbourne's Station Pier just before 7:30 to see the ship already taking on cars and passengers. After an inspection for compressed gases, jerry cans of fuel, and other items that might represent a danger on board, the line of cars snake around the pier and climb a ramp towards the bow of the ship, then drop down into its gaping maw to parking belowdecks.
Lock the car, grab my camera bag, and then climb up to the passenger decks to watch the cast-off.
We depart Melbourne on time at 9 AM, and the Captain announces that we'll make Devonport at around 6:40 PM with an average cruising speed of 27 knots. It will be more than 2 hours before we even clear the mouth of Port Phillip, Melbourne's huge harbor. Once we do, 20-25 knot winds are expected for our crossing of Bass Strait, a famously treacherous 240 km-wide and 50-meter deep slot of water between the mainland and Tasmania. The number of ships wrecked along the Strait number in the hundreds and the Strait is said to be twice as rough as the English Channel.
11:40 AM: We sail beyond the headlands of Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale into Bass Strait. The seas are not rough, but there are some white caps, and the ship is shuddering and rolling a good bit more than in the protected waters of Port Phillip.
1:50 PM: We pass "Spirit of Tasmania I" heading in the opposite direction, back to Melbourne from Devonport, about a mile west of our track. The wind on deck is very stiff, but it is a clear sunny day with scattered clouds.
5:00 PM: We are advised over the ship's intercom that our arrival time in Devonport will be 7:00 PM. I am glad we will still have a couple hours of daylight after we arrive.
6:15 PM: Disembarkation procedures are announced.
7:00 PM: We tie up alongside the pier at Devonport, and after an hour waiting in line to drive off the ship and get through Tasmania's quarantine inspection, I make for the motel, drop my bags and rush "downtown".
At Sharky's restaurant, they were closing the kitchen, but the Mom/waitress out front gets an approving nod from the Dad/chef back in the kitchen - and I'm able to get a late dinner.
Melbourne is a really pretty city, with some great gardens, old buildings, bars and restaurants, and more - with the Yarra River flowing through the center. Great fireworks shows tonight. An "early-bird" family episode at 9:15 - about half an hour after sundown, and then the midnight shows for the adults.
Here are a couple of shots from the late show, with fireworks going off from the tops of many of the buildings around town.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!
above: the skyline of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Where I grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland, I was taught only to eat oysters in months whose name had the letter "r" in it. The reason being that the local oysters were growing in pretty warm water during the "non-r" months - May/June/July/August - and warm-water diseases and spoilage would be more likely to be a problem.
I was thinking that maybe the rule still works here in Australia because there is no "r" in "DEE-SEM-BAH". And that I shouldn't eat oysters because it is the middle of summer here - the highs today are supposed to reach almost 40° C!
However, I still think there is an audible "r" in January - even if it gets pronounced "JAN-YER-REE" around here. So - I gotta wait a couple more days?
But yesterday, as I was trying to decide whether to chow down on a half-dozen here in Melbourne, a little further consideration convinced me that "Chesapeake rules " shouldn't apply here. The temperature of the waters these oysters are coming from is a lot colder - at around 20° C - than the Chesapeake, which hits 30° C in Summer.
And the oysters were from Tasmania anyway - a bit cooler still - only 1600 miles from Antarctica.
So I enjoyed some mid-Summer December oysters along with a glass of "Moo Pale Ale", also from Tasmania, which the brewer calls an "American style Pale Ale" and "a quintessential microbrewery beer". Very nice - just no comparison to the dilute pee that the biggest breweries in America call beer: "We start with pure mountain water - then we take the purity out!"
Know why they spend millions on sponsorships and ad campaigns? Because nobody in their right mind would drink the stuff unless it was hammered into them that it would make them cool.
Thank God for microbreweries everywhere.
We departed Narita from Runway 34L - heading northwest, and made a right turn-out to the southwest and flew back towards Tokyo, passing to the south of the city.
On the right side where I was sitting there were some great views out the window over Tokyo. The image below - my iPhone doing its best in the dark [1/15th of a second, F/2.8, ISO 1000] - isn't very good, but you can get a sense of the view.
At the center of the photo is Tokyo Tower, and just to the left of the word "Tokyo" you can make out the massive and tall building that is Roppongi Hills. The dark areas just to the right of the word "Tower" are the grounds of the Imperial residence and Chiyoda-ku, the heart of Tokyo. And on the western and northern perimeter, the brightly-lit districts of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro, connected by the Yamanote line - the train loop that encircles the city.
Onward towards Hong Kong - flight time 4 hours 50 minutes. I have flown this route many times over the last 3 years, but never this late in the day. So, no chance to see Mt. Fuji, or anything much at all except city lights, until we reach the southern end of the Japanese islands and head out over the ocean towards Taiwan, and Hong Kong beyond.
This route takes us over the city of Hong Kong as we descend towards the new airport on Lantau Isand. The weather was nice enough this evening for a great view - but the cabin lights were amped up too far to even try to get a photo of that beautiful skyline tonight.
Next step - the long flight to Adelaide and then Melbourne.
Notwithstanding the reliable on-time performance of Japan's public transportation systems - especially Japan Railways - the Shinkansen between Atami and Shin-Yokohama was 5 minutes - FIVE MINUTES! - late arriving in Yokohama today.
Doesn't sound like much, but everybody gets so used to the accuracy that when you buy tickets, it's not at all unusual to have razor-thin connection times.
My trip to Narita Airport, for example, typically involves three separate trains- there are other options available, but this way is the fastest and most convenient: the local line up the coast from Ito to Atami, then the Shinkansen from Atami to Shinagawa, and finally the Narita Express from Shinagawa to Narita.
And today my train connection times were: 6 minutes at Atami, and 11 minutes at Shinagawa. But, there was some issue with the train ahead of us between Atami and Shinagawa, so we arrived at Shin-Yokohama, the last stop before my transfer at Shinagawa, 5 minutes late.
That cut my connection time down to 6 minutes - any closer than that and I would have had to hustle a bit.
But one of the reasons I change from the Shinkansen to the Narita Express at Shinagawa is the tracks are really close together - at Tokyo Station, it's a 10-minute cross-station, multilevel trip. Once I get off the Shinkansen, I only need to ride up one level on the escalator, pass through the ticket gate, and go another 30 meters before I reach the escalator that descends to the track for the Narita Express.
So - it wasn't a problem - but it did mean there was no chance for me to swing through Starbucks for a latté. I can find one at the airport.
It is a typical early Winter day in Japan - dry, sunny, and clear. The sun is shining, but days are short, and because we are on the eastern edge of our time zone, the sun goes down by 4:30 PM - so I will be flying in the dark to Hong Kong. And then flying through the night to Australia.
Narita Airport, from whence I am posting this, is moderately busy - I think I am a day or two ahead of the mad rush by many Japanese to get out of the country for a few days over the upcoming New Year holidays.
Next stop - Hong Kong.
Within a few days - back to mid-summer.
Two flights totalling over 10 thousand kilometers. South. First from Tokyo to just across the Tropic of Cancer to Hong Kong, then the long haul from Hong Kong to Melbourne, crossing the equator around Indonesia's Molucca Sea. Southward, southward, crossing the northern coast of Australia around Darwin. Down, down, and under with the last third of the eight-and-a-half-hour flight over the Australian outback.
Then, after a few days in Melbourne, a ferry ride to the end of the civilized world - the other end. The island of Tasmania.
It will be mid-summer there, but I expect some cool weather and maybe even some rain, especially on the western side of the island.
And, I'm hoping for some open roads, some long hikes, some clean air, and some good views.
If I can, I'll post some photos along the way.
It takes me almost as long to get to the airport, as it does to get from Japan to Hong Kong, but I think it's worth it, living where I do.
And Japan's travel infrastructure is just exceptional - clean and comfortable. And always on time except for the occasional delay for bad weather or a suicide. If your train is not on time, you have to double-check - your watch is probably wrong.
My only complaint is that things are a bit "over-announced" - there is a nearly constant stream of messages confirming the train you're on [even the escalator you are on - "you are now approaching the up-escalator to the platform" - seriously!], or the name and arrival time of the next station, or what they are selling from the cart that comes through the car with sandwiches and beer, snacks, and ice cream.
My whole door-to-door trip is in seven parts:
- a 5-minute taxi ride to the train station - I could take the bus, which costs ¥160, but there is really no place for luggage, so I call for a cab a couple hours ahead of time and pay ¥810 instead - about USD $9.00 at today's exchange rate.
- a 20-minute train ride up to Atami on the "Odoriko Super View" express train, which gets up to Atami a bit faster than the 30 minutes it takes the stops-at-every-station train. The line runs right along the eastern coast of the Izu Peninsula and alternates between really nice views of the rugged coastline and long tunnels that burrow into the folded fingers of rock that jut into the sea. But today, it is cloudy and gray - not so good for sight-seeing.
- at Atami, I switch trains to the Shinkansen - Japan's famous "bullet train". Leaving Atami, the train heads a bit inland and we lose sight of the coast, but on a good day glimpses of Mt. Fuji can be had between Odawara and Yokohama.
- arriving at Shinagawa at the southeast margin of Tokyo after 40 minutes on the Shinkansen, I have just enough time to hit Starbucks for a Soy Venti Latté before changing trains again to the Narita Express. After diving underground and stopping at Tokyo Station, the Narita Express comes up out of the hole on the eastern side of Tokyo and continues eastward for a little over an hour to the airport, so there is time to read or work without having to jump up and change modes of transportation again.
- out in Chiba Prefecture, approaching the airport there rice paddies and villages with traditional Japanese tiled-roof houses. The train pulls into Airport Terminal 2 right on time, as usual, and then its check-in, security check, passport control, and the airport lounge until departure time - then the approximately 4-hour flight to Hong Kong. Four hours and twenty minutes today - the Jet Stream must be pretty strong. The flight goes right over Mt. Fuji, but I am sitting on the left side of the aircraft today, so I don't see it.
- after landing at Hong Kong's new international airport, which is out on Lantau Island, getting through immigration, and grabbing my luggage, I catch the Airport Express train into Central Hong Kong - a comfortable 40-minute ride.
- and then race everybody else off the train to the taxi stand to catch a cab to the hotel. Tonight, there are plenty of cabs and the wait is short.
Door-to-door elapsed time: approximately 10 hours.
The worst part of the trip is flying economy class - being trapped for over four hours with a bunch of total strangers, each of us allotted a space so tiny that it would constitute a human rights violation in any other context. If I had my way, my commercial airline travel events would be fewer and farther between.