Nikon D60 upgrades D40X

In August 2008, I upgraded to the Nikon D60 from Nikon D40X digital SLR camera (DSLR). The D60 thankfully introduces a good sensor dust-removal system, plus Vibration Reduction (VR) kit lenses (good for resale). The previous model Nikon D40X (used since May 2007) required tediously correction of dust spots in a photo editor. To be fair in retrospect, correcting dust and scratches was much worse with scanned slide film!

By the way, the Nikon D90 (new in October 2008) offers superior resolution with 12 megapixel sensor, a 920,000-pixel 3-inch LCD with live view, and 1280 x 720 (720p) movie support 24fps with mono sound, but its 26 ounce body is heavier than the 18 ounce D60 or D40X. One appreciates lighter weight cameras when trekking all day with a camera bag. When combined with the all-in-one Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens (20 ounces), the Nikon D60 (or D40X) offers the best 2008 quality for the weight for active travelers — camera and lens together weigh only 38 ounces.

[ I have upgraded cameras since this article was posted. Click here for Tom’s latest camera recommendations. Click here for my personal photo gear history. ]

Dynamic range

Nikon’s new Active D-Lighting feature in the Nikon D60 (and D300) only improves dynamic range of JPEG shots, and has no effect on raw files. Better dynamic range captures more detail simultaneously in both bright and dark parts of images. If you shoot any JPEG files, be sure to use Active D-Lighting (although it delays preview of your latest shot by 2 seconds; and delays the next shot after a quick burst of four).

However, if you only shoot raw files like I do, Nikon’s Active D-Lighting is useless and slows performance, so leave it disabled.

Canon offers a superior dynamic range feature helping both raw and JPEG, called “Highlight Tone Priority” mode, new in the Canon EOS 40D and Rebel XSi. The Canon Rebel XSi is one of the best lightweight cameras for travel, similar to the Nikon D60 or D40X.

Raw is better than JPEG

Raw gives you several extra stops of dynamic range versus normal JPEG files on the latest DSLR cameras. Raw also extends the dynamic range of advanced non-SLR compact cameras such as the Canon G9, though by half as much versus a DSLR, due to a smaller sensor. If you need to edit shots after shooting as I do, shooting raw gives much better quality than JPEG, especially to preserve details in bright highlights, and to change white balance. To get the most out of every image, I recommend using a good raw editor such as “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom version 2.0”:

Adobe Lightroom expedites photographic work flow

I love Adobe Lightroom (currently selling for $299, or $99 upgrade; or save about 50% with academic discount), which elegantly organizes images, and drastically reduces my time spent in Adobe Photoshop. My photo editing is now quicker than ever from download to edit to output. The excellent upgrade from Lightroom version 1.4 to 2.0 thankfully adds graduated filters, localized editing brushes, and a quicker interface to Photoshop such as for Photomerge, stitching panoramas. It easily and automatically exports image files to handsome web pages, or to files of any size, such as for e-mail or for Microsoft Powerpoint presentations.

More details: Adobe Lightroom automatically outputs to standard sRGB color space (or Adobe RGB if desired), while working internally with the broader color space of Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. Adobe Lightroom smartly stores its non-destructive editing commands and labels in a powerful database (and in .XMP sidecar files for raw), and is compatible with JPG, TIF, most raw and .XMP files. If you buy a new camera with raw, check if the latest Lightroom update has added support for its raw files — for example, Adobe Lightroom version 1.4 added support for the Nikon D60 camera, and version 1.1 added Nikon D40X.

USA: MONTANA: Glacier + Waterton NP

Recommended hikes and campgrounds in Waterton-Glacier National Parks.

Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise, one of our favorite world natural areas. Since 1932, Canada and USA have shared Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which UNESCO honored as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).


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Waterton-Glacier campground tips (as of 2007)

  • Hot Showers are available at:   Rising Sun Campground Store;  Apgar West Entrance KOA;  St. Mary Lake KOA;  adjacent to Many Glacier Campground at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn; Rising Sun Inn (6 miles west of St. Mary Visitor’s Center, and 5 miles west of St Mary Campground); Waterton Park townsite campground; and others outside the park.
  • Per site limits are 2 vehicles, 8 people, & 2 tents (where space is available) in Glacier NP.
  • After Labor Day, all Glacier NP campgrounds are “first come first served” (non-reservable) campgrounds — arriving between 10am-1:30pm very likely gets a site. Check out time is 12:00 noon (re-register by 11:30 am).
  • Camping along Going-to-the-Sun Road:
    • Rising Sun Campground on Lake McDonald is open thru Sept 17, 2007. Adjacent to the campground is a camp store, a casual restaurant, and token operated showers (1 shower stall for men, 1 for women). Flush toilets; dump station. $20. In August 2007, it usually filled up after 6:00pm.
    • Saint Mary campground, $23. Flush toilets; dump station, open 5/25 – 9/23/07; first come first served after Sept 3 (sites are reservable June 1 through September 3).
    • Campgrounds near Lake McDonald / West Glacier:
      • Apgar Campground (rarely fills up)
      • Fish Creek campground is closed after Sept 4, 2007. Reservable in summer, but usually doesn’t fill up.
      • Sprague Creek Campground) is open thru Sept 17. $20. Flush toilets.
      • Avalanche Campground is closed after Sept 4.
  • Many Glacier Campground open thru Sept 23, then primitive (waterless) thru Sept 29. $20. Flush toilets; dump station.  Filled up most days from 2 to 7:00pm in August 2007. Public showers & laundry are located behind Swiftcurrent Motor Inn’s Registration building. 3 shower stalls for men, 4 for women.
  • Two Medicine Lake Campground:  generally shaded by trees, some privacy. Open thru Sept 23. $20. No showers.
  • Glacier NP campgrounds, current filling status & details:  home.nps.gov/applications/glac/cgstatus/cgstatus.cfm
  • Plus numerous RV parks outside the National Park, with full facilities, such as the towns of West Glacier, East Glacier, & St Mary:
    • Polson / Flathead Lake KOA (800) 562-2130
    • West Glacier KOA (800) 562-3313
    • St. Mary / East Glacier KOA  (800) 562-1504

Glacier NP animals and insects: photo gallery


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Waterton-Glacier weather

If Logan Pass is closed, driving around the south end of Glacier NP on Highway 2 takes only an extra 30 minutes, by way of East Glacier, to West Glacier.

Global warming melts Glacier National Park

Glaciers carved spectacular U-shaped valleys and pyramidal peaks here as recently as the Last Glacial Maximum (the last “Ice Age” 25,000 to 13,000 years ago). Of the 150 glaciers existing in the mid 1800s, only 25 active glaciers remain in Glacier National Park as of 2010, and all may disappear as soon as 2020, say climate scientists. See for yourself, such as the nearly-gone Siyeh Glacier at Cracker Lake.  Read more about global warming and climate change.

Glacier NP stone patterns and natural abstracts: photo gallery


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Glacier NP backpacking

Check weather and reserve backcountry campsites at 8:00am, one day in advance, at the following offices: St. Mary Visitor Center, Two Medicine Ranger Station, Many Glacier RS, Polebridge RS, or Apgar Visiter Center. Be flexible and come prepared for alternative plans, as popular campsites may be hard to get. Backpacking permit fees are $5 per person per night (as of 2007). Advance reservation fee ($30) is waived if reserved less than 24 hours in advance.

Glacier NP flowers and plants: photo gallery


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Waterton-Glacier hikes

Check trail status at: www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/trailstatusreports.htm
Rainy day activities include waterfall hikes, games, or a good book.
Tom’s PRIORITY KEY below rates hikes with asterisks:   ***Best.   **Excellent.   *Good if you have extra time.

West Glacier area hikes

  • ** Avalanche Lake hike: park early before the lot fills.
  • ** Bowman Lake, Numa Ridge Lookout (11.4 mi round trip, 2935 ft). See jade colored Bowman Lake and Valley from above.  Drive 21 miles from Apgar to Polebridge, via Camas Road, to the “Outside North Fork Road” of which 11 miles are bumpy gravel. (Don’t take the “Inside Road”, which is very slow & bumpy, almost 4wd). From Polebridge, drive 6 miles gravel road to the trailhead at Bowman Lake Campground.
Glacier NP: Lake McDonald, Avalanche Lake and Gorge: photo gallery


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Glacier NP: Bowman Lake and Flathead River North Fork: photo gallery


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Two Medicine Lake area hikes

  • ** Upper Two Medicine Lake (9.4 miles round trip, 370 feet gain)
  • * Cobalt Lake (11.4 miles round trip, 1400 feet gain) good viewpoints, attractive Rockwell Falls, colorful rocks, beautiful lake, beaver ponds, meadows. With extra energy, hike Two Medicine Pass (4.4 miles round trip, 830 feet, from Cobalt Lake) for “commanding view” of neighboring Paradise Park and Park Creek drainage.
  • Short hikes:
    • Running Eagle Falls (0.6 miles round trip)
    • Paradise Point (1.2 miles round trip) scenic peninsula that juts into Two Medicine Lake
    • Aster Falls (2.4 miles round trip)
Glacier NP: Two Medicine hikes: photo gallery


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Going-to-the-Sun Road area hikes

  • *** Siyeh Pass (10.3 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 2390 up, 3300 down) (or 9.4 mi round trip without shuttle, 2390 feet gain). High alpine scenery.  Open 8/9/07.   Or even better to hike the following:
  • ***  Piegan Pass (13 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 1720 feet up) via Grinnell Lake & Josephine Lake to Swiftcurrent Lake trailhead. Same trailhead as Siyeh Pass, at Siyeh Bend.
  • * Otokomi Lake (10 mi round trip, 1900 ft) Deep red rocks, green forest, colorful scenery. Start at Rising Sun Campground.  Open 8/9/07.
  • ** Gunsight Lake (12.6 miles round trip; 1700 feet gain): popular day hike. Start at Jackson Glacier turnout, 4.9 miles east of Logan Pass. “Views of glaciers and mountains fill the horizon.”
  • *** Hidden Lake (6 mi round trip, or shorter if you don’t descend to lake, 1200 ft). We hiked this in 2002 — one of our favorite hikes in the world — well worth hiking again, this time in blue sky weather. “The parking lot at Logan Pass usually fills between the hours of 10:00am to 2:00pm, though this can vary during peak weekends.” Logan Pass (6,646 feet) is 32 miles from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance.
  • *** Swiftcurrent Pass (15.2 miles one way, backpacked in two days, 1400 feet gain, car shuttle) via Garden Wall (which can also be hiked 11.8 mi, 800 ft, one way with shuttle; plus 1200-ft, 2-mile side trip to spectacular Grinnel Lake overlook) “If you just have one day in the park, hike this”. Swiftcurrent Pass can also be day hiked 1 to 15 miles round trip, from zero or 3500 feet gain. Hiking up 2300 feet gains you a sufficiently good view.
Glacier NP: Logan Pass hikes: Hidden Lake and Garden Wall: photo gallery


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Glacier NP: Saint Mary hikes: Baring Creek, Piegan Pass, Siyeh Pass: photo gallery


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Many Glacier Campground area

  • *** Iceberg Lake (9.4 miles RT, 1220 ft) (see also Ptarmigan Tunnel) Ice bergs in milky blue lake below 3000-foot cliffs. TRAIL OPEN – 8/8/07.  4.8 miles roun trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 4.6 miles RT to Iceberg Lake.
  • ** Ptarmigan Tunnel (11.2 miles RT, 2315 ft) (see also Iceberg Lake) Fun tunnel, spectacular scenery. 4.8 miles round trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 5.2 miles round trip to Tunnel.
  • *** Cracker Lake (11.2 mi RT, 1140 ft) Most eye-catching turquoise lake in park; 3000-foot cliffs; nice waterfalls. TRAIL OPEN from Cracker Flats to Cracker Lake 8/2/07.
  • *** Grinnel Glacier (7.6 miles with boat rt, 11 miles without, 1700 ft) Gets close to the glacier, plus outstanding scenery. Open 7/13/07. Or hike Grinnel Lake, best via Piegan Pass traverse (above).
Glacier NP: Many Glacier hikes: photo gallery


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Waterton Lakes NP, CANADA (bring USA passport)

  • ** Carthew Traverse (12 miles one way, 2300 ft, car shuttle) We loved this so much in 2002, we may hike it again. High alpine lakes, meadows, waterfalls. (Stays within Canada; no boat required.)
  • * Bertha Lake (8.6 mi rt, 1542 ft) “Beautiful subalpine lake”. Falls.
  • * Goat Lake (8 mi, 984 ft rt) “Pretty area”. This trail starts at the exceptionally colorful Red Rock Canyon (which has a nice short nature trail, seen in 2002).
  • Goat Haunt(2-12 miles round trip, 1000 ft gain). Requires boat ride on Waterton Lakefrom Canada into USA (& back). Bring USA passports. In 2002, this boat ride was not very scenic in the opinion of Carol and I — * you probably need to hike or backpack into the mountains for better views. (Must get backcountry permit in Glacier NP, not Waterton.) The commercial boat (403) 859-2362 down Waterton Lake (Canada) to Goat Haunt, USA, may be cancelled, but other boats may run. Must leave Waterton dock by 4pm sailing to enable check in to US customs at Goat Haunt between 9am-5:30pm. At Goat Haunt you can do any or all of the following:
    • Day hikes from Goat Haunt: several “excellent hikes” 2-12 miles, and/or
    • camp overnight at open-sided shelters at the Goat Haunt boat dock, without having to carry a pack, or
    • backpack from Goat Haunt: Lake Francis 12.4 miles round trip, 1000 ft, plus optional 8 mile rt day extension to Brown Pass where “views are tremendous”
Canadian Rockies: Waterton Lakes: photo gallery


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Recommended guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.


Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.

USA: MONTANA & CANADA: Abstract Nature Patterns, Waterton-Glacier Parks

Spectacular peaks may distract from the wonders at your feet — ancient rock layers form fantastic, colorful patterns in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, and Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada. These two parks comprise Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

View stone patterns and natural abstracts of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park


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See related travel tips article: USA: MONTANA: Glacier National Park and Waterton, CANADA

Recommended guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.


Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.

TURKEY in 1999

Neither earthquakes nor reckless taxi drivers stopped us from enjoying the amazing Republic of Turkey, where my wife and I encountered the friendliest people whom we have ever met. To our Western eyes, Turkey is more exotic than its well-touristed neighbor Greece. We hiked the Kaçkar Mountains, danced with Hemşin and Laz people, drank lots of tea, sailed the Aegean Sea, and witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, all in 6.5 weeks from July 24 to September 9, 1999. A two-week tour package warmed us up for the ensuing month traveling on our own.


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Ephesus, Turkey: the Library of Celsus, built 114 AD

Turkey offers a rich variety for travelers:

  • Turkey is a democratic, secular, western-looking, rapidly modernizing, capitalistic, NATO ally of the USA.
  • Turkey has the lowest travel costs in Europe.
    • Easy, cheap, and comfortable travel on the extensive bus system.
    • Travel without a tour package to meet more people, accept generous local hospitality, and experience serendipity.
    • High quality gold jewelry costs half of US prices.
  • Turkey is safe and has low crime.
    • The crime rate in Turkey is lower than in the United States.
    • The risk of terrorism for tourists is very low — no more risky than being struck by lightening. (See section on the Kurds.)
    • Tourism in Turkey has been hurt by negative press and misperceptions, and resulting empty hotel rooms and uncrowded sights make Turkey very attractive for spontaneous visitors.
    • The tragic August 17, 1999 earthquake in İstanbul’s poorly-built suburbs did not damage the airport or any tourist areas. Your chances of experiencing an earthquake are no different than for visiting California.
  • Turkey has fresh and tasty food.
    • Enjoy fresh peaches, watermelons, böreks, baklava, meatballs, breads, a hundred eggplant dishes, and more.
    • Turkey is the world’s biggest producer of hazelnuts, figs, and apricots.
    • Turkey is one of only 7 countries in the world that can feed itself without imports.
    • Eat döner kebap in the family room of a “self-servis” cafeteria, where the welcome is warm. Döner kebab is a Turkish dish made of meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. The meat may be lamb, mutton, beef, or chicken. Alternative names include kebap, donair, döner, doner or donner. Döner Kebab is the origin of other similar Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma and gyros.
  • Turkey offers fascinating historic cities where East meets West. İstanbul makes a fabulous destination for a week or more.
  • Turkey offers majestic architecture and ruins from an amazing 9,000 years of Anatolian history.
    • The Turks came to Anatolia from Central Asia after 1000 AD (and are not culturally related to Arabs or Persians).
    • The sweeping story of Anatolia includes the Hittites, Romans, Saint Paul the Apostle, Süleyman the Magnificent.
  • Turkey was the the cradle of Christianity and now hosts popular Christian tours, such as to the birthplaces of Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Nicholas (“Santa Claus” himself).
  • Turkey’s geography varies from the warm and beautiful Turquoise Coast, to icy Mount Ararat 16,854 feet (5137 meters).
  • Turkey’s people are the friendliest we have ever met:Meeting a friendly Turkish family in Amasya, Central Turkey.
    • Turks actively practice the Muslim value of hospitality towards visitors, and serve you tea in little tulip-shaped glasses at every opportunity.
    • When travelling on our own away from the big cosmopolitan cities, local folks often showered us with curious attention, making us feel like rock stars in the spotlight. On six different occasions, locals had us take a group photo to mail to them later.
    • The people of Turkey hunger for connection with the world. Most Turks yearn to join the European Union (EU) to trade a remarkable variety of food and industry.
    • Advice for women:
      • Dress conservatively.
      • When entering a mosque, etiquette requires everyone to take off shoes and women to put on a head scarf (bring your own scarf for convenience).
      • As a married couple traveling together, we had no problems with unwanted attention, aside from feeling like rock stars pursued by curious fans.
      • In smaller towns and rural areas, Carol felt uncomfortable culture shock by noticing mostly men and very few women on the streets. A common Muslim tradition in rural Turkey is for women to stay at home or only go out in groups, conservately dressed, usually with a head scarf. This sex role difference is most pronounced in Turkey away from the cosmopolitan cities. We were relieved to experience an exception in the Kaçkar Mountains, where men and women mixed in a more relaxed fashion and we line-danced with the local Hemşin and Laz people.
      • Solo female travelers need to be extra confident in the face of assertive male attention in Turkey, and may enjoy the trip better by traveling with a companion of either sex (or with a group). American movies and TV shows shown worldwide have unfortunately portrayed American and Western World women as having loose morals, which can encourage amorous men.
Mountain weather forecasts for Turkey (Anatolia)

As mountain weather differs from nearby cities, check forecasts for specific peaks or ranges:
www.mountain-forecast.com/mountain_ranges/anatolia/subranges

İstanbul

Built in 1973, the First Bosporus Bridge connects Europe with Asia and is one of the longest bridges in the world. İstanbul is the world’s only city which spans two continents. 3% of the Republic of Turkey is in Turkish Thrace, in Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, and 97% of Turkey is Anatolia (Asia Minor or Anadolu).

The Bosporus Strait (in Greek Βόσπορος; or “Istanbul Strait” in Turkish: İstanbul Boğazı) separates Europe from Asia and has determined the history of İstanbul and its empires. As the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation, the Bosporus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which is connected by the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea).

History of İstanbul

Culturally speaking, 2700-year old İstanbul (Istanbul) peaked twice: once as the capital of the East Roman Empire, and again as capital of the Ottoman Empire, when it became the biggest and most splendid city in Europe by the 1700s and 1800s. Today, İstanbul’s population is 12 million and growing rapidly. The next largest cities in Turkey are Ankara, the capital (with 3 million people) and İzmir (2.5 million). In 1985, UNESCO listed the “Historic Areas of İstanbul” as a World Heritage Area.

1000 BC to 657 BC

İstanbul started as a fishing village on the Bosphorus Strait.

657 BC to 330:  Byzantium

İstanbul was first called Byzantium, a Greek city-state which was later subject to Rome and renamed Augusta Antonina.

330 to 1453 CE
Constantinople

Emperor Constantine renamed the city to Constantinople, which served as capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern or Later Roman Empire). Constantine the Great encouraged Christianity for the Empire and became baptized near his death. In the 400s, Emperor Thoeodosius II built the city’s walls, the strongest in Europe, so strong that they blocked the Islamic Arab army assaults of 669-718. Constantinople peaked in the 1100s.

1453 to 1922 CE
İstanbul

Islamic conquest: With the help of the world’s largest cannon battering the city’s huge walls, Mehmet the Conqueror captured Constantinople, which then became known as İstanbul, capital of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which achieved its greatest dominance in the 1500s.

1922 to present

İstanbul lost some of its luster when the capital of the new Turkish Republic was moved to Ankara, an inland location safer from invasion. But by the mid 1980s, İstanbul regained its international renown as “Capital of the East.”
Ethnic harmony and conflict

Sultanahmet (or Blue) Mosque built 1609-1616 in Istanbul, Turkey. In the İstanbul suburb of Ortaköy, a Jewish synagogue, Islamic mosque, and Christian church have been peaceful neighbors for centuries. After Ottoman Turks conquered the city of Byzantium in 1453 and renamed it İstanbul, the Ottomans’ millet system of distinct religious communities allowed Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Kurds to continue to live in relative harmony for centuries, as they had in Byzantine times. In the 1400s and 1500s, many Jews who fled from the Spanish Inquisition took shelter in Ottoman İstanbul, which welcomed their advanced knowledge of science and economics. In modern times, many of these Jews were attracted to Israel, leaving only 24,000 in Turkey as of 1999. As the Ottoman Empire weakened and ethnic nationalism rose at the turn of the 20th century, Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds yearned to assert their own control over claimed homelands, and they separately fought bitter but unsuccessful battles against the staunch Turks.

Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya Museum)

Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sofia from 532 to 537 AD in Constantinople on the site of a former Hagia Sofia on the acropolis of the former Byzantium. The Greek name Hagia Sofia is Sancta Sophia in Latin, which means “Divine Wisdom.” The 102-foot diameter dome perches an amazing 180 feet above the floor (rivalling the scale of the 144-foot high and wide concrete dome of Rome’s Pantheon, built earlier from 118-125 AD). An earthquake collapsed the dome after only 22 years, and it was rebuilt several times by later Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans. 30 million gold mosaic tiles covered the dome’s interior in Byzantine times. Hagia Sofia reigned as the greatest church in Christendom for nearly 1000 years, until the Islamic conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, after which minarets towers were added. A church with a larger dome, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was not built until 1506. Hagia Sofia served as a mosque from 1453 to 1935, after which Atatürk, the father of the modern Republic of Turkey, declared it a museum. İstanbul’s Hagia Sofia still stands as one of the architectural marvels of the world.

Impressive sights
  • Visit impressive Sultanahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque), built 1609-1616.
  • Architect Sinan built Süleymaniye Imperial Mosque on Golden Horn harbor in İstanbul from 1550-1557. Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife are buried here. In the West, he is known as Suleiman the Magnificent. In the Islamic world, he is known as the Lawgiver (in Turkish “Kanuni”; making his formal Turkish name of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman), because he completely reconstructed the Ottoman legal system.
  • Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı in Turkish) is on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait. Dolmabahce served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1853 to 1922 (except for a twenty-year period 1889-1909 when the Yıldız Palace was used). In style, the palace is baroque, rococo and very French. Dolmabahçe means “filled garden”, referring to the palace being built from 1843-1856 on land reclaimed from the sea.

Turquoise Coast or Turkish Riviera: Ancient Lycia

Visitors walk beneath Corinthian order columns at the Great Theatre of Ephesus, in the Republic of Turkey. Ephesus or Efes

A nearby goddess sanctuary helped the town of Ephesus (or Efes in Turkish) become a prosperous port and cultural center by 600 BC. At various times, Ephesus was controlled by Lydia (King Croesus), Persians, Hellenists (Ancient Greeks from Athens), and Alexander the Great (334 BC). Eventually Ephesus became capital (population 250,000) of the Roman Province of Asia Minor (ancient Greek Anatolia, or modern Turkish Anadolu). As its port silted and restricted commerce, Ephesus declined from greatness and the city center moved to nearby Selçuk.

The Great Theatre of Ephesus, the largest outdoor theatre in the ancient world, was begun during Hellenistic times (probably during the reign of Lysimachos in the third century BC), and was altered and enlarged from 41-117 AD, by Roman emperors Claudius, Nero, and Trajan. The Greek builders dug out a space from Mount Pion (present-day Panayir Dagi) to fit the 30-meter (100-foot) high theater, which accommodated 25,000 people, or 10 percent of the population of Roman Ephesus at its peak. The theater exhibited the fights of wild beasts and of men with beasts.

Biblical note: Paul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle) stayed 27 months as a missionary in Ephesus. A few years after 51 AD, he delivered a Christian sermon condemning pagan worship in the theater in Ephesus, where local silversmiths feared loss of income from the sale of silver statues (idols) of the goddess Artemis. The resulting mob almost killed Paul (Acts 19:21–41, in the New Testament) and his companions. After that, Paul avoided Ephesus. Paul died about 64-67 AD in Rome during Nero’s Persecution. However, centuries later, the tide turned in favor of Christianity. During the fourth century, Ephesians probably converted to Christianity, as all temples were declared closed by Theodosius I in 391 AD.

Over several centuries, the Cayster River filled the harbor of Ephesus with silt, creating a malaria-infested swamp, pushing the sea 4 kilometers away and cutting off the city’s commerce and wealth. By the 6th century, Emperor Justinian decided to build the Saint John Basilica 3 kilometers away, which effectively moved the city center to Selçuk.

Selçuk: the Temple of Artemis

Just a column in a swamp remains from the Temple of Artemis (Greek: Artemision; Latin: Artemisium; aka the Sanctuary of the “Lady of Ephesus”), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally described by Antipater of Sidon about 140 BC. The large Temple of Artemis (measuring 300 by 150 feet) was finished about 560 BC, after 120 years of construction, started by the notoriously rich Croesus of Lydia on the ruins of a smaller temple designed by Chersiphron. A fame seeker named Herostratus burnt down the Temple in 356 BC. The Ephesians eventually rebuilt a larger structure measuring 425 by 225 feet, four times larger in area than the existing Parthenon of Athens (228 x 101 feet, completed 431 BC). In 262, the Temple of Artemis was razed again, this time by Goths. Ephesians rebuilt again. The third Artemision ended with Christian destruction in 401 by John Chrysostom and a mob. The stones were reused in other buildings — some of the columns in Hagia Sophia originally belonged to the Temple of Artemis.

In Selçuk is the Basilica of St. John (St. Jean Aniti), constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It stands over the believed burial site of St. John, the apostle, evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel) and prophet (author of Revelation). Atop the hill is Selçuk Castle, a Byzantine construction from the 6th century. A nearby domed building is the Isabey Mosque, or Jesus Mosque, built in 1375 at the direction of the Emir of Aydin and using columns and stones recycled from the ruins of Ephesus and the Artemision.

Santa Claus is from Anatolia, not the North Pole.

Castle of Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey, carved in volcanic tuff in 15th and 16th centuries by Byzantine army. Saint Nicholas was born in Patara on the Aegean Sea coast of Anatolia. As a Byzantine Christian bishop, Nicholas of Myra anonymously dropped gifts of coins down the chimneys of village girls who lacked dowries, thereby allowing them to marry and probably avoid a life of prostitution. After his death he was declared Saint Nicholas, patron saint of virgins, sailors, children, pawnbrokers, Holy Russia, and others. Saint Nicholas’ town of Myra is now called Demre in Turkey.

The fame of Saint Nicholas grew in different cultures, such as in the Dutch figure of “Sancte Claus”, and in the German legend of Christkindl (the Christ child) who was helped by the elf Belsnickle, imitated by adults in furs who brought gifts. These traditions evolved into Kris Kringle, as defined by Reverend Clement Moore in the famous 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” which starts: ” ‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse… .”

In the Civil War era of the USA, Thomas Nast further solidified the image of Kris Kringle in Harper’s Magazine illustrations of a familiar white-bearded, gleaming-eyed man. Today in Turkey, Saint Nicholas is known as “Noel Baba”, or Father Christmas.

Built before his death in 343 AD, the original Saint Nicholas Church held his remains and was restored as a Byzantine basilica in 1043, and was restored again in 1862 by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and again by Turkish archaeologists. An ancient Greek marble sarcophagus had been reused to bury the Saint; but his bones were stolen in 1087 by merchants from Bari, Italy, where today his remains rest in Basilica of San Nicola. The present day Church of Saint Nicholas is located in modern Demre (ancient Myra), Turkey.

Olimpos (or Olympos)

We anchored our gulets at Phaselis, offshore of Mt. Olympos (2375 meters or 7792 feet elevation, Turkish name Tahtalı Dağı). The area around Phaselis and Olympos Valley was one of the most beautiful on our coastal cruise of southwest Turkey.

A gulet is a two-masted wooden sailing vessel traditionally from the Turkish Riviera (or the Turquoise Coast), and today commonly serves as a tourist charter. This motor sailboat design, varying in size from 14 to 35 metres, is also found throughout the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Most gulets are powered by diesel, and many are not properly rigged for sailing.

Near Phaselis is the ancient city of Olympos (or Olimpos), one of the six leading cities of the Lycian federation (168-178 BCE), located in Olympos Valley, 80 km southwest of Antalya city near the town of Kemer. This coastal peak is the tallest of the several different mountains named Olympos (or Olimpos) in Turkey, but not as tall as the more famous Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in Greece (9,568 feet, or 2918 meters), known to the ancient Greeks as the home of god Zeus. (The highest peak in Turkey is Mount Ararat, an extinct volcano on the eastern border, with a height of 16,854 feet or 5,137 meters, also called Buyuk Agri, meaning “Great Pain” in Turkish.)

Visit the ancient natural gas fires of the Chimaera, a remarkable wonder of the natural world. The Chimaera will spontaneously reignite even after you smother the flames! In ancient times these natural fires burned more vigorously, so bright as to be visible by sailors along the nearby coast. In Greek mythology, the Chimaera was the monstrous son of Typhon, and grandson of Gaia.

Ancient Lycia

Lycian tombs (or necropoli) from about 400 BCE can be seen by boat on the Dalyan Çayı River, above the ancient harbor city of Caunos, on the Turquoise Coast, near the town of Koycegiz, in the Republic of Turkey. Dalyan means “fishing weir” in Turkish. The Dalyan Delta, with a long, golden sandy beach at its mouth, is a nature conservation area and a refuge for sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and blue crabs.

Visit the Greek theatre at the ancient Roman city of Caunos, founded in the 800s BC, becoming a Carian city in 400 BC.

Gemile Island

Visit a 6th century Byzantine monastery on Gemile Island.

Simena

See a Byzantine castle at Kaleköy, or ancient Simena. Kaleköy can only be reached by sea. Its Byzantine castle was built in the Middle Ages to fight the pirates which nested in nearby Kekova Island. Kaleköy (literally “Castle’s village” in Turkish, called Simena in ancient Lycian) is a popular yachting destination in the Kaş district in the Antalya Province, located between Kaş and Kale on the Mediterranean coast. The village lies amidst a Lycian necropolis, which is partially sunken underwater.

Kayaköy

The Taxiarhis Greek Orthodox Christian Church, which dates from the Ottoman era, was abandoned in 1923 in Kayaköy. Kayaköy (Greek: Levissi) is a ghost town near Ölüdeniz, 8 kilometers south of Fethiye in southwestern Turkey, abandoned by Greek Christians in 1923, and today visited by tourists. In the 1700s, Kayaköy was built on the site of the ancient city of Carmylessus (or Karmylassos). In 1900, its population was about 2000, mostly Greek Christians. After the Greco-Turkish War, Kayaköy was mostly abandoned after a population exchange agreement was signed by the Turkish and Greek governments in 1923. Kayaköy may be the inspiration behind “Eskişehir”, the imaginary village chosen by Louis de Bernières as the setting of his 2004 novel “Birds Without Wings”.

Arycanda

Arykanda (Arycanda) is an ancient Lycian city built on five large terraces ascending a mountain slope, near the small village of Aykiriçay, on the Elmalı-Finike road in Antalya province in south western Turkey. While the oldest confirmed artifacts date from the 6th/5th century BC, the settlement of Arykanda may go back as far as the second millennium BC. Arykanda survived through Byzantine times, until the 6th century when the village moved to a new site, called “Arif Settlement” by archeologists, south of the modern road. The Greek style amphitheater at Arycanda was built in Anatolia during the 1st century BC. Twenty rows of seats were divided into seven sections, and holes supported protective awnings at the edge of every row.

Perga or Perge

Walk through a Roman gate to Hellenistic gates, and see Ionic order columns made by Romans at ancient Perge, Turkey. Perga, now commonly spelled “Perge” and pronounced “per-geh”, was the capital of the then Pamphylia region, which is in modern day Antalya province on the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. An acropolis here dates back to the Bronze Age. In the twelfth century BC, Greek tribes migrated from northern Anatola to settle what would become four great cities: Perga, Sillyon, Aspendos and Side. Perga was founded about 1000 BC at a defensive location 20 kilometers inland from the pirate-infested Aegean Sea. In 546 BC, the Achaemenid Persians gained control, followed by Alexander the Great in 333 BC. Then came the diadoch empire of the Seleucids, under whom Perga’s famous mathematician Apollonius lived and worked (about 262 BC to 190 BC). Apollonius was a pupil of Archimedes and wrote eight books describing conic sections (the circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola). Beginning in 188 BC, the Romans ruled and created most of the buildings that survive as ruins today. St. Paul the Apostle briefly “preached the word” here, as mentioned in the Bible (Acts 14:24). Perga lasted until Seljuk times before being abandoned. Perge is in the modern Turkish village of Murtana on the Suridjik sou, a tributary of the Cestrus river, formerly in the Ottoman vilayet of Koniah.

Central Anatolia: Cappadocia

The Persian name “Cappadocia” does not exist on official road maps, but describes one of Turkey’s major tourist destinations, the 100-mile-wide square east of Kayseri, in Central Anatolia. As much as 10 million years ago, three volcanoes covered this area in ash, which hardened into a soft rock called tuff. This volcanic tuff has eroded into fantastic shapes which the Turks call “fairy chimneys.” Cappadocia once included most of central Anatolia (between Ankara and Malatya, between the Black sea and the Taurus Mountains, and centered at Kayseri), and was the center of the Hittite Empire and later a Roman province mentioned in the Bible. For thousands of years, people have carved caves and entire underground cities into the tuff formations. Early Christians thrived here, hid from 7th-century Arab armies, and made unique rock churches carved from tuff, with frescoes added in the 1000s to 1100s. In 1985, UNESCO listed Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia as a World Heritage Area.

Nemrut Dağı (Mount Nimrod)

A six-foot tall head of Zeus commemorates the lofty aspirations of pre-Roman King Antiochus (64-38 BC) at Mount Nimrod (Nemrut Dagi), near Malatya, Turkey.

Pre-Roman, megalomaniac King Antiochus (64-38 BC) cut two ledges on top of 7237-foot high Mount Nemrut in central Anatolia and filled them with impressive statues of gods and himself. Between the ledges, his workers piled crushed rocks into a cone-shaped tumulus 160 feet high and 500 across, burying the tomb of Antiochus and his father Mithridates Callinicus. The small Commagene Kingdom’s greatest days only lasted for the 26-year rule of Antiochus, who was deposed by the Romans. For many years, modern scholars tried in vain to probe the mysterious tumulus, and one scientist died trying to dynamite a tunnel; but finally in 2003, Turkish archaeologist Mahmud Arslan discovered the burial chamber hidden for more than 2000 years. Earthquakes toppled the 6-foot-high stone heads long ago, but the Turkish government may make restorations. UNESCO listed Nemrut Dağı National Park as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Anatolia: Historical claims to fame

Greek Anatolia (meaning “The East”) is what the Romans called Asia Minor, and the Turks now call Anadolu.  The Asian peninsula of Anatolia encompasses twice the land area of California, and has hosted the following astounding drama of human history (listed sequentially in time):

  • the world’s first city, Çatal Höyük, 7000 BC (Palaeolithic times, the Old Stone Age).
  • the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, possible homeland of the Indo-European languageand people.
  • the Hittite Empire (mentioned in the Bible), which rivalled ancient Egypt.
  • İzmir (ancient Smyrna): Home of Homer (born around 700 BC), founder of western literature.
  • Troy: In Homer’s Iliad, Troy was called Ilium, where Paris killed Achilles by a shot in the heel in the Trojan War, about 1250 BC, giving us the expression “Achille’s Heel.” Homer described a Trojan Horse filled with soldiers to crack Troy’s defenses, but the earthquake of 1250 probably did the damage. The Trojan Horse may actually have been built as a “thank you” to Poseidonthe Earth-Shaker.
  • two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
    • The Mausoleum was the striking tomb of ruler Mausolus of Halicarnassus (or modern Bodrum) who died in 353 BC, giving us the modern term, “mausoleum.” The original Mausoleum was lost to earthquakes and crusaders.
    • Temple of Artemis (Anatolian mother goddess) was four times bigger than the Parthenon in Greece, but all that remains today is a stone column in a marsh.
  • important Roman sites and some of the most famous Greek (Hellenistic) ruins: Ephesus, Troy, Pergamum, Miletus, Halicarnassus, and others.
  • Turkish baths, which evolved from Greek and Roman baths.
  • Diogenes, who founded the Cynics (412?-323 BC).
  • the first cultivation of cherry trees.
  • the inventions of parchment (at Bergamon) and the envelope.
  • where Julius Caesar spoke the famous Latin phrase “veni, vidi, vici” or “I came, I saw, I conquered”  in 47 BC near Zile & Amasya, after a battle against King Pharnaces II (who was trying to reestablish the Pontic Kingdom of his ancestors by attacking the Roman provinces of Galatia, Armenia, and Cappadocia).
  • Anatolia is the cradle of Christianity:
    • Urfa (or Şanlıurfa): Possible birthplace of Patriarch Abraham, who first heard God in Harran and ultimately fathered three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
    • Tarses: Birthplace of the foremost champion of Christianity, Saint Paul the Apostle, who used Roman roads to spread Christianity in Anatolia from the years 45-58 CE.
    • Ephesus: where Saint Paul the Apostle preached Christianity for 27 months, and later Saint John took care of Mary, Mother of Jesus, for the last 5 years of her life.
    • Antioch (now Antakya, or Hatay): where the term “Christian” was invented, St. Peter preached, and Christian thought thrived from 100 CE until the Arab conquestin the year 642.
    • The 7 Churches of the Revelation (of Asia), early centers of Christianity: Ephesus (now Efes), Smyrna (İzmir), Pergamum (Bergama), Sardis (Sart), Philadelphia (Alaşehir), and 2 others.
    • Mount Ararat (Arı Dağı): 16,800-foot volcano, highest point in Turkey. Biblical landing place of Noah’s Ark.
    • Patara: Birthplace of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus), who was Christian Archbishop of Myra(modern Demre).
    • Constantinople (now İstanbul), where
      • Constantine the Greatdeclared equal rights for all religions, then elevated Christianity and accepted baptism on his deathbed. Within 20 years, Christianity went from persecuted faith to state religion.
      • Emperor Justinian built Hagia Sofia, the greatest church in Christendom for nearly 1000 years and one of the architectural marvels of all time.
  • Seljuk Turkish Empire: In the year 1097, Seljuk Turks beat the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert (near Erzurum), founding the Kingdom of Rum. Turkish tribes then settled Anatolia. The Pope called for the First Crusadeto drive out the Muslims, but too late. Famous Seljuks include:
    • Omar Kyayyam, poet.
    • Aladdin Keykubad, ruler.
    • Whirling Dervishes founder Celaleddin Rumi, or Mevlana, the mystic “Shakespeare of Islam,” a Turk writing in Persian and teaching universal love.
  • the first known coffeehouses (in 1554 İstanbul).
  • the world’s first successful human glider flight, by Hazerfan Ahmet Celebi, launched from İstanbul’s Galata Tower.

Atatürk, “Father of the Turks”

Mustafa Kamal almost single-handedly turned the backward Ottoman Empire into the secular modern Turkish Republic. In thanks, he was proclaimed Atatürk, “Father of the Turks.” Almost every town in Turkey mounts a statue to this national hero. He was born Mustafa, and later nicknamed Kemal (“excellence”) by his math teacher. He earned hero status in his brilliant defense of Gallipoli (in 1915-1916), saving Constantinople from the British.

  • Ever since Greek independence in 1831, Greece wanted to reestablish the Byzantine Empire’s boundaries, so they invaded the Ottoman city of İzmir in 1919 with British encouragement. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in defeat, General Mustafa Kamal organized a democratic revolutionary government in Ankara (formerly Angora), and with very limited resources, brilliantly held off invading French, Italian, and Greek armies.
  • Detractors:Many Hellenic (Greek), Armenian, and other Christian people revile Atatürk, holding him responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the removal of more than a million Christian people from their ancestral homes in Anatolia. However, responsibility for the huge exchange of Christian and Muslim populations between Turkey and Greece is also shared by the Allies and Greece, who also signed the Second Treaty of Versailles in 1922.
    • Sadly, human history repeats an endless round of ethnic conflict (essentially fratricide), where one era’s victims become the next era’s oppressors. For example, in a little-remembered holocaust from 1821 to 1913, more than half a million Muslims were murdered or driven from their homes in the Balkan peninsula and Greece by various Christian groups including Greeks, Bosnian Serbs, Bulgarians, and Russian Cossacks.
    • Ironically, a classical hero of Christian and Greek people is Alexander the Great, a Macedonian responsible for pillaging vast areas, and spreading Greek culture along the way. The winners rewrite history. Coincidentally, Mustafa Kamal was also born in Macedonia (in the city of Salonika, which later became Thessaloniki, Greece).
    • References: 1) The Washington Post.  2) The Associated Press.
  • After the complex task of virtually single-handedly establishing the secular Turkish Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kamal Atatürk lived another 15 years. During this time, as a benevolent dictator, he directed sweeping humanistic reforms on a foundation of Turkish nationalism, including the following:
  1. adopted a constitution with western-style legal codes, granting women the right to vote and serve parliament (1934).
  2. abolished polygamy, and required marriage to be a civil ceremony (non-religious).
  3. abolished the fez hat (symbol of the Ottomans), replacing it with the kasket, a brimmed cap that prevents bowing to the ground, which Atatürk thought demeaning.
  4. influenced the next leader of Turkey to be neutral in World War II.
  5. overhauled the Turkish language (which had evolved in the 11th century from the Seljuk Turks who wrote with Arabic script):
  • Non-Turkish words (Arab, Persian, etc.) were removed and replaced by Turkish words (originating in central Asia).
  • City names were converted to Turkish (Angora toAnkara,Smyrnato İzmir,Constantinopleto İstanbul officially)
  • Turks were required to adopt a surname (family name). Up until then, Muslims had only one given name; family names were optional. Parliament proclaimed Mustafa Kamal’s family name to be Atatürk, which means “Father of the Turks.”
  • The Arabic alphabet was replaced with a Latin-based alphabet. Several Turkish letters are not found in English, such as: ç ğ ı İ ö ş and ü. (To correctly view the Turkish letters ğ, ı, and İ in your Internet browser, choose View…Character Set or Encoding…Turkish.)Fortunately, Turkish letters are pronounced the same in every word, making words easier to recite aloud from reading (unlike the many inconsistencies of English, where a letter such as “c” can be pronounced “s” or “k” and vowel pronunciations vary with many exceptions).

Turkish grammar is so logical that it forms the basis of Esperanto, an artificial international language. However, word order, verb usage, vowel harmony, and multiple suffixes make Turkish challenging for English speakers. For example, Turkish generally uses the following word order:

  • SUBJECT, TIME, PLACE, OBJECT(s), VERB
  • for example: “John this evening at his home to me a book gave he.” = “John bu akşam evinde bana bir kitap verdi”

Silhouettes of four photographers at sunrise on Mount Nemrut, in the Republic of Turkey.

The Kurds

Turkey has about 60 million people, mostly Sunni Muslim Turks. Kurds are the biggest minority in Turkey, numbering 10 million (including 6 million in Eastern Turkey).  Like Turks, Kurds in Turkey are virtually all Muslims. However, Kurds maintain their own Kurdish language, culture, and traditions. In search of better wages, 2.3 million people from Turkey live and work in Germany, including one-half million Kurds. On the streets of Erzurum, the biggest city in Eastern Turkey, I met Kurds and Turks who mixed freely as friends, which I take as a positive sign for Turkey’s aspirations towards a pluralistic society more acceptable in the eyes of the European Union and the world.

Kurds, who speak an Indo-European language (Kurdish), are closely related to the Persians, and migrated to Southeast Turkey from northern Europe centuries before Christ. Kurds and Ottoman era Turks coexisted in relative peace for hundreds of years. But since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, in an era of ethnic nationalism, many Kurds in disparate tribes hoped to create a new nation of “Greater Kurdistan,” which would consolidate the Kurdish territories across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. (Note that many of the atrocities that Armenians blame on “Turks” in this era were actually done by Kurds, who historically feuded with Armenians over the same territory around Mount Ararat.)

In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was founded on a policy of ethnic Turk nationalism, which wrongly classified Kurds as “mountain Turks,” who were supposedly “equal citizens” except that the Kurdish language and culture were outlawed.

During the 1980s, a small number of Kurds, mostly from down-trodden under classes, joined the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) out of hunger, desperation, and nothing to lose. PKK was based in neighboring Syria, Iraq, and Iran and secretly supported by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). PKK guerrillas killed thousands of people in Southeast Turkey. The Turkish army responded severely, and 30,000 people from both sides (but mostly Kurds) were killed in the 15-year guerrilla war. In 1988, Iraq killed 5,000 of its native Kurds with poison gas, pushed survivors towards Turkey and brought their plight to the attention of Europe and the USA, who pressured Turkey to become more lenient towards their Kurds.

As of 1999, Turkey officially legalized Kurdish language conversations, songs, and a radio station, but attitudes are still slow to change. Kurdish feudal lords currently have de facto control over Southeast Turkey: 80% of land is owned by 5% of the population, and 50% of the Kurds own no land. The majority of Kurds live in harmony with Turks, but tensions will remain for generations to come as Turkey slowly evolves into a more integrated multicultural nation.

Turkey’s huge Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) helps bring prosperity to Kurds and reduce discontent. GAP projects, such as Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates River, inject money into Kurdish territory and employ 1.8 million people. GAP comprises 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric power plants, and irrigation facilities on the Firat (Euphrates) and Dicle (Tigris) rivers, to be finished by 2005. However, neighboring Syria and Iraq are not happy about GAP because it reduces their water flow.

Recommended books about Turkey

Search for latest “Turkey travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).


  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 28, 2009
  • Birds Without Wings (2005) by Louis de Bernières. A humanistic historical fiction novel of the political and personal costs of love and war amongst Christians and Muslims of Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent, during the rise of Atatürk. The ghost town of Kayaköy which we visited on the Turquoise Coast may be the inspiration behind “Eskişehir”, the imaginary village in this novel.
  • Ironfire: An Epic Novel of Love and War (2005) by David Ball: Knights of Malta versus the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

USA: ALASKA 2006

In Anchorage, Alaska, we rented a recreational vehicle (RV) in late August for 24 days to experience unique Alaskan culture, glaciers, fjords, fall colors, hiking, and the northern lights. This photo-filled article gives trip itineraries, map, and book recommendations for South-Central Alaska. Also read about our longer RV trip in 2019 to Southeast Alaska via the Alaska-Canadian Highway.

Favorite images from Alaska 2006 & 2019


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Suggested Alaska itinerary

We flew Northwest Airlines from Seattle to Anchorage and rented an RV for 24 days August 15 to September 8, 2006. I also shared a rental car and backpacked inexpensively July 5-23, 2002 near Anchorage, Girdwood, Chugach Mountains, and Kenai Peninsula.

Keep your schedule flexible and listen to the latest 2-day weather forecasts. Good forecasts let us book sunny days for the spectacular ***Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise from Whittier and ***Denali flightseeing with Talkeetnaair.com from Talkeetna. In 2006, a steady downpour washed out the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Denali for 2.5 days. By flexibly reversing our planned route and first visiting Valdez and Fairbanks, the Parks Highway was reopened by the time we looped through back to Anchorage.

Key to activity ratings:   *** Must do.   ** Do.   * Maybe if time allows

TIP: If you have 1 week in Alaska

Fly to Anchorage, rent a camper or RV, and drive for a week or more (about 600+ miles) to see everything on the Kenai Peninsula, which is a great microcosm of Alaska. Or instead of RV rental, many people enjoy the Alaska Railroad train, which connects Anchorage to Kenai Peninsula (Whittier), Denali National Park, and Fairbanks. If weather is clear, *** flightsee over the amazing glacial wilderness over Denali from Talkeetna (Talkeetnaair.com) or Anchorage Airport.

Seward Highway to Kenai Peninsula


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  • Girdwood: Visit the fun town of Girdwood (40 minute drive from Anchorage), which has a good ski resort, nice hiking and historic mining ruins. ** “The Bake Shop” has great pizza, fresh bread, cinnamon rolls, healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner near Alyeska Resort. Sunday Craft Market.
  • Whittier:
    • Whittier is a major cruise ship and train gateway to Anchorage. Pay a toll and drive through Whittier Tunnel (Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel), the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America (2.5 miles, one lane wide, shared with train).
    • The excellent *** Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise departs from Whittier and traverses 145 miles through the pristine passageways of Alaska’s Prince William Sound (College & Harriman Fjords). Cruise from 1:00-5:30pm to see whales, sea lions, sea otters, Kittiwake Rookery, plus spectacular tidewater glaciers. “Catamaran with no seasickness, money back guarantee.” Price includes a good hot meal. September discount. (For comparison, from Valdez, the separate Columbia Glacier tour with Stan Stephens features a glacier that is receding and declining in scenic impact.)
    • Easily hike ** Portage Pass and Glacier, 2 to 4 miles with 700 feet gain, to see a spectacular glacier tumbling ice bergs into a lake. Turn right on a national forest road just a few hundred yards east of the Whittier Tunnel for free parking at trailhead. (If you drive the couple of miles further into Whittier, parking costs at least $5 per day.)
  • Seward:
    • ** Alaska Sealife Center gives a good introduction to coastal ecosystems.
    • *** Hike Exit Glacier, 1 to 8 miles round trip, up to 3000 feet gain. Don’t miss my favorite hike in Alaska — a well graded trail with ever-improving glacier views as you ascend. Make noise and watch for bears. Example of climate change in Alaska: From 1815-1999, Exit Glacier retreated 6549 feet, melting an average of 35 feet per year (according to www.nps.gov/kefj/).
    • ** Kenai Fjords National Park has an attractive cruise to Northwestern Fjord & Glacier. Tom cruised to the impressive Aialik Glacier in 2002, seeing whales, Steller sea lions, and bird life.
    • Camp on Seward’s waterfront for a fee, or park your RV in a free pullout overnight on the road to Exit Glacier.
  • Ninilchik & Kenai: * Russian Orthodox Churches
  • Homer, 5 hours one-way drive from Anchorage:
    • ** Wander through this artsy town at the “end of the road.” Walk beaches and tide pools from Homer or Homer Spit. Try your luck at the “Alaska Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” Pratt Museum of Sealife covers art, natural history, native cultures, homesteading, fishing, marine ecology, and Exxon Valdez oil spill.
    • *** Kachemak Bay State Park requires a water taxi ride across Kachemak Bay to Glacier Spit.
      • ** Hike Grewinkgk Glacier & Lake: Walk 5 miles (500 feet gain), from Glacier Spit to Saddle for pick-up, or 6.5 miles (150 feet gain) round trip from Glacier Spit.
      • *** Hike Alpine Ridge Trail for views into deep glacial valleys. Day hike 5-14 miles (2000-4000 feet gain). Optionally tent near start.
      • Overnight lodging options for Kachemak Bay State Park:
        • Camp overnight at Rusty’s Lagoon.
        • Hike a short way with a backpack to camp on the beach at Glacier Lake.
        • Reserve rental cabins on Halibut Cove Lagoon and Tutka Bay. $65 peak and $50 non-peak as of 2011. Bring your own pads, sleeping bags, stove, toilet paper, lights. No electricity. Wood stove for heat.

TIP: If you have 2 to 3 weeks in Alaska

Do the above week, and add a 1200+ mile RV driving loop seeing Valdez, Fairbanks, and Denali National Park (map at bottom).


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Along the Parks Highway: ***Denali State Park
  • is closer to Anchorage than Denali National Park and gives dramatic front-lit views of Mt. McKinley/Denali from the highway or trails. Weather for best photography is often better at sunrise than at sunset.
  • Hike ***Kesugi Ridge: At Parks Highway milepost 147, camp at Byers Lake Campground, where trail starts. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain from Byers Lake to Tarn Point. Or loop Byers Lake. Get USGS 1:63,000 map.
  • Hike ***Little Coal Creek Trail at north end of park. Hike any distance 2 to 10+ miles for great views and pretty terrain.
Talkeetna
  • The town of Talkeetna inspired the quirky television series “Northern Exposure” (set in fictional Cicely, Alaska and filmed in Roslyn, Washington) and has a good distant view of Denali and the Alaska Range.
  • If weather is clear, don’t miss ***flightseeing over Denali from Talkeetna. Expect $195 to $300+ per person for 1 to 3 hours (2011). Try Grand Circle Denali with an exciting glacier landing (which adds ~$75). Talkeetnaair.com gave us clear bubble windows and expert feather-smooth landings. Flightseeing from Anchorage Airport adds $100.
*** Denali National Park
  • Trains and buses arrive from Anchorage, but a rental vehicle is more flexible and a camper/RV is delightful. Driving distances:
    • From Denali, driving to Valdez via Fairbanks is the same distance (489 miles) as to Valdez via Palmer.
    • Denali Park to Fairbanks (121 miles) to Valdez (368 miles)
    • Denali Park to Wasila (195 miles) to Palmer (12 miles) to Valdez (262 miles).
  • Seasonal timetable for wildlife, mountain views, and Alaskan fall colors:
    • Best fall colors and moose watching are in late August***. Watch for the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the middle of the night.
    • Weather: Mt. McKinley/Denali (20,320 feet) is only visible 1 out of 3 days. Rain falls as light showers or drizzle for half the time in summer. Least cloudy time is early morning, which requires overnight tenting at Wonder Lake.
    • Photography is best on Denali National Park road in early or late daylight hours because Denali is backlit much of the afternoon. (From Denali State Park (see below), the mountain is fully front lit.)
    • In early September, moose bash antlers amongst the spruce & willow shrubs, hoping to win breeding rights, along the first 15 miles of Denali Park Road and on Horseshoe Lake Trail. At this time, temperatures are in mid-30’s to 60’s, averaging 58° F.
    • August 20 to early September display peak fall colors at Denali NP. Color varies greatly around the park and changes fast:
      • Peak #1: August 28 is the usual peak date for tundra colors/reds at >2500′ elevations. **Hike through red colored landscapes around Highway Pass/Stoney Hill and Polychrome Pass. The tundra peak color usually lasts until September 3-5, depending on elevation, wind, rain. Some color persists longer in Wonder Lake and lower Savage.
      • Peak #2: September 10 (plus or minus 3 days) is the usual color peak of golden aspen along Nenana Canyon.
    • In early September, a week after Denali park’s peak color, **Chena River State Recreation Area (east of Fairbanks) reportedly has great red tundra colors in the fall.
    • Yellow tree leaf fall colors on Kenai Peninsula change a few days after Denali, with aspen golds usually peaking Sept 15-18th. Glenn Highway has great gold aspens against rugged mountain background. Just a few days after Kenai comes the Anchorage area’s color peak, the last in south-central Alaska.
    • Third week of September: snow closes Denali Park Road.
  • *** Denali National Park Green Shuttle Bus:
    • To travel past Mile 20 on the Denali Park Road, you must ride one of the several types of shuttle bus (Green, Camper, or Tour). The Green and Camper buses are cheapest and most flexible, plus you get more of a tour.
    • Denali National Park’s Green Shuttle Bus takes 11 hours round trip from the Wilderness Access Center (WAC, near park entrance) to Wonder Lake, 86 miles one way.
    • From the bus you are likely to see lots of wildlife, including Dall sheep, moose, brown bears (“grizzlies”), foxes, wolves, and so forth. A “Grand Slam” means seeing moose, caribou, wolf, and bear on one bus ride (rare). We saw 15 brown bears on each of two days riding the Green Shuttle bus. Spot Dall Sheep around Polychrome Pass (hiking) and Igloo Creek Campground (mile 34).
    • The earliest bus has the best wildlife viewing. For Denali views, sit on left side outbound and right side inbound. There is no time on the shuttle for hikes at Wonder Lake unless you go early, get off for a few hours, then take the last shuttle out, a 14-hour day, or reserve tent camping overnight.
    • Riding the shuttle all day is very tiring unless you get off and walk for a few hours along the road or in the wilderness, or camp overnight.
    • The bus starts at the Wilderness Access Center and picks people up at campgrounds. 2 people per seat, overhead racks for soft & lightweight items & jackets. Beginning at mile 20, a visitor can exit a bus to do some day hiking or exploring, then return to the road when ready and re-board the next shuttle (green) bus that has space available. During peak hours/peak season this can be a wait up to an hour or more. The bus stops every 1.5 hours for restroom break.
    • Tip: Shave 3 hours on the round trip bus to Wonder Lake by staying at Teklanika Campground in a hard-sided RV/camper:
  • *** Teklanika Campground, Denali National Park 
    • Camping at Teklanika makes the shuttle bus round trip to Wonder Lake 3 hours shorter (making a more tolerable 8 hours round trip). Enjoy remote wilderness in the comfort of your hard-sided RV.
    • Drive to Denali Road Milepost 29 at Teklanika River, the furthest allowed for private campers (except for end-of-season lottery winners).
    • Rules: 3 nights minimum stay. RV or hard sided vehicles only. Once arrived, RV cannot move until exiting (back to Milepost 20 and further towards the park entrance). 8 people per site max. Open May 20 – Sept. 17. Use dump station at Riley Creek Campground before driving to Teklanika.
    • Prior to driving in, Teklanika Pass (“Tek Pass” $31.50 as of 2011) is required for shuttle bus transportation during your 3-day stay. Tek Pass admits you onto the park shuttle on unlimited standby basis (with first day guaranteed).
    • When booking a Teklanika Pass, schedule a Shuttle Bus for your first full day in Denali (the first day you actually “wake up” at Teklanika Campground) – preferably choose a Wonder Lake or Kantishna Shuttle Bus for your Tek Pass. (If you reserve Polychrome, Toklat, Eielson or Fish Creek for your Tek Pass, you will have to switch buses on a space available basis to Wonder Lake/ Kantishna.)
** Richardson Highway, Valdez to Fairbanks


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  • ** Valdez has a very spectacular fjord and mountain setting, despite the bustling oil industry.
    • ** The last thirty miles of Richardson Highway south to Valdez has beautiful sweeping vistas, canyons, and waterfalls.
    • ** Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site: Step out of the car and/or hike at Thompson Pass just outside Valdez in Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest.
    • Reserve Valdez RV campgrounds in advance, due to summer popularity.
    • * Columbia & Meares Glacier cruise with “Stan Stephens” Columbia Glacier is declining in beauty. Instead try ***Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise from Whittier (see above).
  • **Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark and quirky McCarthy make a worthwhile side trip off Richardson Highway.
    • Kennecott is one of America’s wildest & most photogenic ghost towns, a copper mining town dating from 1889-1938.
    • Use the Kennecott Shuttle to avoid 120 miles round trip on a rough potholed road (although the road has improved over the years).
    • Chitina is a native American village, located 325 miles from Anchorage, with views of the Wrangell Mountains. My wife stayed with the RV at the public Copper River Campground across the long bridge near Chitina, while I took the Kennecott Shuttle for 60 miles one way to McCarthy for an overnight stay.
  • **Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was proclaimed a national monument in 1978 and a world heritage site in 1979. In 1980, it was established as a national park and preserve, the largest in the USA.
    • The **Park Visitor Center is well worth visiting at Richardson Highway Milepost 106.8, between Glennallen and Copper Center. See the spectacular movie presentation.
    • **Nabesna Road offers spectacular scenery and access to a seldom seen, wild corner of Alaska, in the headwaters of the Copper River.
      • 42 miles long, paved for the first 4 miles, then 2wd gravel, but stream crossings may require high clearance or 4wd: Trail Creek (Mile 29), Lost Creek (Mile 30.8), Boyden Creek (Mile 34.3) — all are usually dry or have only a shallow flow over the road surface, some with soft bottoms.
      • ** Primitive free campgrounds: Mile 6.1 Rufus Creek. Mile 12.2 Copper Lake Trailhead. ** Mile 16.6 great view of peaks. Mile 17.8 Dead Dog Hill Rest Area. Mile 21.8 Rock Lake Rest Area.
      • ** Mile 15-18: notice the prominent Wrangell Mountains, built from the Wrangell Lavas 10 million years ago to present. The conspicuous high glaciated conical summit to the southwest is Mount Sanford, the fifth highest mountain in the United States (16,237 feet), a strato-volcano (or composite cone). Mount Wrangell is the more distant, rounded and glacial covered dome southeast of Mount Sanford, with its summit of 14,163 ft, the largest andesite shield volcano in North America, the park’s only active volcano, releasing occasional steam plumes. Shield volcanoes have more frequent, but less violent eruptions. North of Mount Sanford and nearer to the road is the jagged prominence of Capital Mountain 7,731 ft, an eroded shield volcano, like Tanada Peak 9,240 ft (the jagged dark colored ridge north and east of Mt. Wrangell), formed between one and two million years ago and eroded only during the last million years. On a clear day, Mount Jarvis can be seen over the right shoulder of Tanada Peak. Flowing northward from the great ice fields of Mount Wrangell is the Copper Glacier, melting into the Copper River which flows northward, then westward along the end of the Wrangell Range, then southward to the Gulf of Alaska near Cordova, cutting through the coastal barrier of the Chugach Mountains, and marking most of the Park’s western boundary.
      • Mile 24.7 Watershed Divide (3,320 ft). Leaving the Copper River watershed which drains into the Gulf of Alaska and entering the Yukon River watershed which drains into the Bering Sea.
  • Follow the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (an amazing engineering feat) northwards and cross the impressive **Alaska Range.
  • Fairbanks: **Museum of the North, at the University of Alaska.


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Glenn Highway (Anchorage to Glennallen)


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  • Drive 304 miles from Anchorage to Palmer to Glennallen to Valdez.
  • Anchorage
    • camp at *Eagle River Campground (Glenn Highway Milepost 11.6) for a beautiful natural setting close to the city. Moose are common.
    • * Alaska Zoo.
  • Palmer
    • The * Musk Ox Farm makes a fun visit (near Palmer at Glenn Highway Milepost 50, open in the summer from 10-6pm). A “musk ox” (ovibos moschatus) is not an ox and has no musk glands! Instead, it is a relative of sheep and goats. 3000 musk ox live in Alaska and 100,000 more live worldwide in the far north. Due to their habit of huddling together in a circle (with calves in the center) when threatened, the species nearly went extinct after the invention of guns.
    • * Knik Glacier & Pioneer Ridge Trail: Hike 2200 feet up to the first picnic table on Pioneer Ridge trail, a fairly steep 4 miles round trip, for a good view of the Knik Glacier and River.


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Southeast Alaska: the Alaska Panhandle

Read about our RV trip in 2019 to Southeast Alaska via the Alaska-Canadian Highway. In 2019, instead of driving to the Prince Rupert ferry (which had fully booked several months in advance), we ferried our RV from Haines to Juneau for 5 nights in Mendenhall Campground, then ferried from Juneau to Skagway.

Southeast Alaskans say April/May has best weather and fewer tourists than summer. In Southeast Alaska, you could save money by driving to Prince Rupert, Canada, then ride ferries (without a vehicle) round trip to Juneau. Board ferries spontaneously as passengers without a car. Bus or rent a car at various ferry stops. Ferrying a vehicle costs hundreds of dollars and requires reservations 4-6 months in advance.

Alaska: Haines Highway


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Alaska: Juneau & Tracy Arm


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Alaska: flightseeing over Glacier Bay National Park


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Alaska: Skagway


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Key to above activity ratings:   *** Must do.   ** Do.   * Maybe if time allows.

Alaskan animal and wildlife photos


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Recreational vehicle rental in Alaska

To experience the great Alaskan outdoors, driving an RV (recreational vehicle or motorhome) or camper has big advantages over tenting or lodging.

  • Campground slots are much easier found spontaneously than hotel lodging. The only campgrounds we needed to reserve (from August 15 to September 8, 2006) were Teklanika (RV) and Wonder Lake (tent) in Denali NP.
  • Camping puts you in closer contact with nature than a hotel room. An RV is just as comfortable and more convenient than a hotel.
  • Unpack luggage just once into an RV, instead of repacking every day to and from hotels.
A. RV versus pickup camper

ClippershipMotorhomes.com gave us excellent value RV rental in 2006:

  • Clippership Motorhomes gives free airport pick up (907) 562-7051 or 800-421-3456. 8-5 pm every day.
  • 20 or 22-foot Economy Class $2200 for 24 days August 15 – September 8, 2006 = $90/day plus gas (includes 8% MOA tax & 3% state tax), 2400 free miles then $.15/mile. Housekeeping package $15 each. Reserve with deposit $250, then upon arrival pay $250 more deposit. Aside from gravelled campgrounds or short access roads, all gravel roads are prohibited. Highway fuel inefficiency is 9 miles per gallon of gasoline.
  • Includes: Sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, pots and pans, knife, fork and spoon for each traveler, pancake turner, measuring cup, baking pan, scrubber, cooking spoons, can opener, grater, colander, paring knife, butcher knife, coffee pot, mixing bowls, pot holders, cutting board, potato peeler, broom, dust pan, water hose, level, trash can and instruction manual. Add the convenient housekeeping package: $15.00 per person: dishes, glasses, pitcher, kitchen towel, dish cloth, first aid kit, dish soap, paper towels, toilet paper, bath soap, toilet chemical, matches and hangers.

Small RV and pickup camper rentals may cost equally, even off season.

  • A pickup camper gets better gas mileage than an RV, but its daily rental rate can be higher than a small RV.
  • Save 20 to 30% on your motorhome RV rental by renting before or after high season, which runs from about July 1 to August 15.
  • A pickup mounted with a camper shell will take you over rougher roads to more places than a motorhome or RV.
  • As priced in 2006, pickup campers offered no off-season price savings.
B. Flying versus driving to Alaska

Renting a vehicle in Anchorage saves 4000+ miles of driving from the Lower 48 States. Much of the famous Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway is through monotonous forest. Driving from Seattle to Anchorage (5300 miles round trip) would have added two weeks of driving expense. Driving your own vehicle from the Lower 48 may be worthwhile for trips of 4 weeks or more. For trips of 1-3 weeks, fly and rent a vehicle.

C. Car + tenting

Sleeping in your own tent is the cheapest accomodation in Alaska, but wind, rain and bugs (which bite mid June to mid July) make tenting uncomfortable for all but the young and hardy.

D. Car + lodging

Car plus lodging costs about as much as renting an RV. Lodging often must be reserved well in advance in popular areas of Alaska. Lodging can be scarce in the beautiful areas where you may most want to experience nature, whereas RV camping or overnight parking areas are much more plentiful.

South Central Alaska map, USA, 24 days by RV (Recreational Vehicle) including Anchorage, Denali National Park and Preserve Park Road, Mount McKinley flightseeing from Talkeetna, Parks Highway, Kenai Peninsula, Sterling Highway, College & Harriman Fjords cruise from Whittier, Seward, Homer, Glenn Highway, Richardson Highway, Valdez, McCarthy, Wrangell Mountains, Fairbanks, North Pole. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: A map of South Central Alaska shows our 24-day itinerary in a rented RV (recreational vehicle): starting at Anchorage, see Kenai Peninsula, College and Harriman Fjord day cruise, Valdez, McCarthy, Fairbanks, Denali, and Alaska Range flightseeing from Talkeetna.

Weather and when to visit

  • May 10 to September 15 is generally a good time to visit most parts of Alaska.
  • Alaska Time Zone = Seattle (or Pacific Time Zone) minus one hour.
  • Long daylight: June 21 is the longest day of the year, with 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage, 22 in Fairbanks, and 18 hours in Southeast Alaska. Any time between Spring and Fall equinoxes, the days are significantly longer in Alaska than at lower latitudes.
  • Peak tourist season is mid-June to mid-August. Before and after that are “shoulder season” discounts 10 – 25% at some hotels and tours.
  • Hiking season: Snow in high country or Arctic regions does not melt until about late June. June is “post-hole” season, so named for each step falling through melting snow.
  • Fall colors: Peak fall colors of the red tundra in Denali are late August to early September. On the Kenai Peninsula, aspen tree yellow & gold leaf fall colors usually peak September 15-18th, a few days after Denali National Park. The Glenn Highway (from Anchorage to Glennallen) has great gold aspens against rugged mountain background. Just a few days after Kenai comes the Anchorage area’s yellow color peak, which is the last turning of leaf colors in south-central Alaska.
  • May is generally drier in Alaska, with about a 25% chance of measurable rain on the average day. Alaska gets rainier as the summer progresses. By August, the chance of rain increases to about 50% on a given day.
  • Climate zones:
    • Rainiest areas are on the ocean side of mountain ranges.
    • In south-central Alaska‘s summer (Anchorage & Homer), expect rain one third of the time, cloudy one third, and sunny one third. Peak mosquito season is the end of June and the first part of July in marshy lowlands, but no problem on breezy alpine ridges. Bugs are no problem after late July. South-central Alaska has 70% of the state’s population and the most roads and hiking trails. The varied climate transitions from the mild and wet southern coast, to the colder and drier interior to the north.
    • Fairbanks and the interior north of the Alaska Range have significantly sunnier weather than further south. The snow melts faster in the interior in Spring than in south-central Alaska. Early summer season has thunderstorms and forest fires. The interior of Alaska has more mosquitoes than south-central Alaska, starting in mid-June, but the bugs die away after the first frosts in late July. The best interior hiking is in the Alaska Range and the Yukon-Tanana uplands near Fairbanks.
    • Southeast Alaska (Juneau to Ketchikan) is the rainiest area in Alaska (with local variability). Locals say April/May has the best weather with the least rain and fewer tourists.
    • Southwest Alaska (including Katmai National Park) is wet and windy, and stretches 1400 miles down Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.
Global warming: climate change in Alaska

Over the past 50 years, Alaska’s winters have warmed by 6.3°F (3.5°C) and its annual average temperature has increased 3.4°F (2.0°C) (Karl et al. 2009). Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the continental United States. As stated by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007): Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level. This warming is very likely (more than 90% certain) related to anthropogenic (human caused) greenhouse gas emissions.  Read more about global warming and climate change.

Bring to Alaska

  • NOAA weather radio. Or get weather forecasts via cell phone/internet. Many walkie-talkies can receive NOAA weather radio (updated every 6 hours) within about 10-15 miles of main cities. Hikers and backpackers should check two-day weather forecasts frequently.
  • compass
  • binoculars for wildlife viewing
  • Sleep mask – even on September 1, skies are surprisingly light for 16 hours in Anchorage!
  • DEET insect repellant wards off the mosquito “unofficial state bird”: If mosquitoes worry you, complete your trip before they hatch in mid-June, or visit the last week in July or later when the first night frosts eliminate most insect problems. If visiting during mosquito season (mid-June to mid-July), DEET is the only proven repellent.
  • Motion sickness remedy (a prescription patch works best) for sea & air (though we didn’t need it).
  • If camping overnight at Wonder Lake or elsewhere, bring camping gear: tent, stove, pots, sleeping bag, pad, backpack, safety matches, etc.

Recommended Alaska guidebooks

Search for the latest Alaska travel guidebooks at Amazon.com.

Recommended Canada guidebooks

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.


USA: ARIZONA: Havasu Canyon, Falls, Supai

Beautiful Havasu Canyon flows into the Colorado River, and is part of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. River rafters can hike a long rough trail up to visit Supai, but the normal access is via an 8-mile dusty horse trail from a car park at Hualapai Hilltop (or via helicopter).

Havasupai (or Havasu ‘Baaja) means “people of the blue-green water,” and their people have tended fields in the Grand Canyon for at least 700 years. The Havasupai also lived at what is now called Indian Garden on the Bright Angel Trail in the main Grand Canyon, but they were evicted by the National Park Service in the 1920’s. Their brush shelters (wickiups) and gardens were destroyed at Indian Garden, leaving the Havasupai Tribe just 518 acres in Havasu Canyon. In 1975, a more the enlightened time, 187,500 acres of canyon and rimland were returned to the tribe. As of 2005, about 450 of the tribe’s 650 members live in the village of Supai. As of 1999, Supai is the only town in the United States which still receives its mail by mule train.

See also my separate Southwest USA articles: ArizonaUtah, and Nevada.

Tom and Carol Dempsey in Havasu Canyon, April 1999

Having registered for camping permission from the Havasupai Tribe (external link) a few weeks in advance (as recommended), Carol and I parked our car in the dirt lot at Hualapai Hilltop and backpacked the 8-mile dusty trail downhill into Supai Village. About 25,000 tourists visit each year, so advance reservations are recommended. We checked in at the tribal office, then hiked 2 more miles to the campground, passing the wonderful Havasu Falls, one of the most surprising desert oasis experiences in the world. Impressive Mooney Falls was a short walk further downstream. Thank you very much, Havasupai people, for sharing your very special canyon with visitors.

To more fully experience the isolation of this desert oasis, I strongly recommend walking to Supai, instead of riding a horse or helicopter. But next time we’ll consider having the mule train carry our packs, to make the desert walk more comfortable. Helicopters also carry in people and supplies, but the loud chop-chopping roar disturbed my appreciation of this beautiful natural setting. Out of nowhere, a porta-potty suddenly flew over our heads. Helicopters repeatedly flew full porta-potties, one at a time on a very long cable, out of the heavily-used campground, for disposal elsewhere. A composting toilet would seem to be a more cost effective solution. The densely-packed and worn campground in this narrow canyon would have benefited by further restricting the number of visitors per day.


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Recommended Arizona guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest Arizona travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years):

2011: 2004: 2012:
2012: 2010:

Canon PowerShot G9 versus Canon 40D DSLR with f/2.8L IS lens

For family travel, Tom compares a big f/2.8L IS lens on heavy Canon 40D DSLR to a compact Canon PowerShot G9 camera on tripod:

Asia Contemporary: A demon guards at the bottom of a gilded chedi (or stupa), at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is a shining complex of buildings within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. The Grand Palace (or Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang, in Thai) in Bangkok, Thailand, was built on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River starting in 1782, during the reign of Rama I. It served as the official residence of the king of Thailand from the 18th century to the mid-20th century. Photo by Carol Dempsey. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Carol Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Asia Contemporary: A demon guards at the bottom of a gilded chedi (or stupa), at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is a shining complex of buildings within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph by Carol Dempsey, using a Canon Powershot SD700 IS ELPH, which is a camera about the size of a deck of playing cards.

Photographer Tom Dempsey replies to Raul Panelo’s message (shown at bottom) March 03, 2008:

Dear Raul, You probably already know that your skills as a photographer are much more important than the camera you choose. That being said, your high quality Canon 40D (and 20D) DSLR outfit has some important differences versus the 13-ounce Canon Powershot G9:

Here are the main advantages of your excellent DSLR camera outfit:
  • Prints larger than about 16 inches will be noticeably sharper and less distorted from the DSLR, versus from the Canon G9.
  • The shutter response is instantaneous on a DSLR, whereas the G9 has a slight delay of 0.4 to 0.6 seconds. (Workaround: half-press the shutter to pre-focus, then click at the right moment).
  • On the DSLR, for a given image noise/quality level, you can hand hold shots in 2 to 4 stops dimmer light using ISO 800-3200 (versus the G9 set at ISO 100-200; assuming you turn on IS image stabilization in both cameras for sharpest hand held performance). Using these settings, images may be indistinguishable in quality from DSLR versus G9, when viewed on any High Definition HD monitor or projector, or when printed less than about 12 inches in size. Your f/2.8L lenses for your Canon 40D are so good and sharp, that your personal judgement is required to determine the G9 breakeven point for print size, which I estimate at between 16 and 8 inches. Larger prints will look sharper from the Canon 40D.
  • DSLR cameras perform much better in dimmer light, because their larger lens glass diameter focuses much more light onto a sensor 6 times larger in area than in the G9.
  • Your proposed 1.4x lens extender loses a stop, but costs less than buying a new lens, and reduces bulk versus carrying an extra lens. Offhand I don’t know the actual quality difference when you extend your 70-200mm 2.8L IS by 1.4x. The tele extender might duplicate the effect (and quality?) of your Canon 75-300mm 4-5.6 IS, thus saving you extra bulk of carrying the 75-300mm when traveling.

…versus the Canon Powershot G9:

  • The G9 can work around many of its low light limitations by shooting always at ISO 100-200 (even 400 looks surprisingly good), and by mounting on a tripod, in the case of low light shots that exceed its excellent 2-4 stop hand-held “IS” capability. You may not see much difference between G9 images and DSLR images when you compare shots at ISO 100-200 and prints smaller than about 12 inches.
  • The G9 has big advantages of portability, fun factor, movie & sound recording, and good built in macro focusing down to 1 cm (very useful small macro image area 17 x 22 mm, better magnification than your DSLR lenses, unless you have a dedicated DSLR macro lens).
  • Underwater camera: The $170 Waterproof Case WP-DC11 converts the Canon G9 into a high quality underwater camera for snorkeling Maui, Hawaii, Galapagos Islands, Belize, Mexico, the Caribbean Sea or other great destinations. However, our camera’ s waterproof housing fogged up in the cold Galapagos waters. Instead, get a dedicated underwater camera listed on my BUY page.
  • Compact cameras are great for traveling with family, because they are more portable and faster to whip out, as you juggle family gear and interact socially. (However, to capture better quality in dim light, the G9 needs a tripod about 2 to 4 f/stops sooner than DSLR cameras with APS-C size sensors, such as the Canon D40.)
  • With the G9 shooting RAW, you can capture publication quality images up to about 12 inches (maybe larger).

  • To put this discussion in perspective: using a JPEG image from the Canon SD700IS ELPH (which has image quality lower than the Canon G9), I printed one of my wife’s Bangkok Grand Palace shots 16×12 inches for display in our living room, and the quality looks the same as my own prints using better cameras! In my mind, that infers the G9 quality on par with your DSLR up to 16 inches, in good daylight shooting.

Recommended travel tripod for compact or DSLR cameras:

  • I love my travel tripod, which I have tested 2005-2008 with both small and DSLR cameras:
  • Slik “Sprint Pro GM” Tripod ($90), which weighs only 2 pounds and is great for travel, superior to other travel tripods that I’m aware of (including Velbon MAXi343E, Manfrotto, or even Gitzo tripods costing three times more).
  • For quickest on/off camera mounting, add the Manfrotto 3299 Quick Change Plate Adapter ($35, quick release).
  • The stiff aluminum legs are sufficiently stable for cameras up to 3 or 4 pounds (especially if you don’t extend the bottom leg section; or if you hang on extra weight) and have very fast locking levers (of sturdy plastic). At this good price, simply buy a new tripod if it breaks.
  • The Slik “Sprint Pro GM” tripod rises to eye level (64 inches), collapses to 19 inches (or 16 inches if you remove the quick-release ball head). The metal ball head swings 90 degrees each way, to two vertical positions, and turns freely around, all tightened with one effective lever. Legs can optionally splay out independently in 3 locking positions down to 6.4 inches off the ground. For macro, the center column can be reversed underneath for great shooting flexibility at ground level, and unscrews into a short section (saving 3.5 ounces). Leg tips convert from spike (outdoor) to rubber (indoor use) with a simple lockable twist.

Tom’s 2008 equipment:

  • My own travel preference is to carry the lightweight Nikon D40X (with image quality equal to the more expensive Nikon D200) mounted with just one do-everything lens, the Nikkor AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED (2-4 stops hand held vibration reduction), which makes a good quality 38-ounce camera+lens system carried in a chest bag.
  • Compared to using a Canon G9, this Nikon D40X system eliminates most tripod use, shoots faster in dimmer light, shoots a wider angle and longer telephoto (27mm-300 equivalent Nikkor lens; versus 35mm-210 for Canon G9) and captures better quality, sufficient for me to sell 24 inch or larger prints (when viewed at 24 inches or further).
  • The 13-ounce G9 is still very attractive as a camera for family travel and 16-inch prints. I would not mind having a G9!

Have a great trip in Maui!
— Tom Dempsey, photographer, Seattle, Washington

——————————————————————————————-

Above, Tom answers the following questions … From Raul Panelo, March 03, 2008 To: tom @ photoseek.com
Subject: Travel Advice Needed

Hi Tom! First of all, thank you for sharing your expertise in travel photography. I have learned a lot from your site www.photoseek.com I need advice on what equipment to bring on my upcoming vacation to Maui. I currently have the following: Canon 20D, Canon 40D cameras; lenses: Canon 16-35mm 2.8L, Canon 24-70mm 2.8L, Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS, Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 75-300mm 4-5.6 IS. I want to shoot landscapes, people and macro shots. After reading your website, I’m now thinking of buying the Canon G9 for a take it anywhere camera. Do you think this is a good choice for me? I’m also thinking of buying the 1.4x extender for the 70-200mm to extend my range. Lastly, I am looking for the best tripod to use with either my SLRs or the G9 if I end up buying it. I’m traveling with my wife and 2 daughters ages 6 & 11. I’d like to travel as light as possible but at the same time have the ability to capture wonderful images. Thanks in advance for your help. — Raul Panelo

———– Reply from Raul March 03, 2008: —————————————
Tom, Thank you so much for your quick and detailed response. Based on your answer, I’ll definitely take my SLR in case I capture something I’d like to print and hang on the wall later. I’ll also check your tripod recommendation. The price on the Sprint Pro GM is definitely reasonable given your description. You may post my question and your answer on your blog. Your blog is a great resource for many and if your answer helped me, I’m sure many more will benefit. Thanks again for being so generous with your expertise. — Raul