2018 April: SW USA. UT: Druid & Delicate Arches. AZ: Monument Valley; Hermit Trail. CA: Death Valley.

On a campervan trip to southwest USA from 7-26 April 2018, we enjoyed photographing some great sights shown in galleries below. Carol was delighted by her first visit to Death Valley National Park (further below), including sunrise at colorful Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Photo highlights from this trip


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Trip summary

Our 17-hour drive from Seattle to the desert playground of Moab in Utah was split with an overnight rest in pleasant Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho.

Important tip: By scheduling the trip to avoid the full week before and after Easter Sunday (both hectic school vacation weeks), our stay in tourist hotspots like Moab was markedly quieter and more enjoyable! Avoid crowded Jeep Safari week. We prudently booked our campgrounds several weeks in advance. Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley was first-come first served after mid April, with no problem getting a site, though shade is in short supply. Despite checking 4 months in advance, we couldn’t get into scenic Devils Garden Campground in Arches NP, which allows reservations up to 6 months in advance.

Our favorite Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground hosted our pop-top VW Eurovan Camper for four nights conveniently in downtown Moab. On nearby BLM land, red rock Hunter Canyon was a delightful hike of 4.5 miles round trip, blooming with fragrant yellow barberry flowers along a gentle potholed stream. A massive cottonwood tree nicely framed photos of Hunter Arch. Check out the roadside petroglyphs on Moonflower Panel and walk its half-mile canyon. In fantastic Arches National Park, we hiked from Klondike Bluffs parking lot to impressive Tower Arch via the Marching Men rock formations (2.8 miles with 1280 feet gain). The freshly snow-dusted La Sal Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop, such as seen southwest of Balanced Rock. Just before clouds rolled in, golden late afternoon sun illuminated iconic Delicate Arch (3.8 miles with 900 feet gain). Its parking lot was thankfully only half full during mid week. Don’t miss seeing the Ute Rock Art (1650-1850) on Wolfe Ranch side trail. A pullout southeast of Garden of Eden allowed off-trail access to Cove of Caves area on the back side of Double Arch. Walk on rocks and don’t disturb the black biologic soil crust. Also in the Windows Section, we visited Turret Arch and looped a mile around North and South Windows.

In the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome (beware of limited parking) made short but rewarding walks of 1.0 and 0.8 miles. We moved camp to spend 2 nights at dusty Needles Outpost Campground, picked for its hot shower (though Canyonlands’ nearby Squaw Flat Campground is more aesthetically attractive, at trailheads). Best of all was a long-anticipated 12-mile lollipop loop with 1980 feet gain from Elephant Hill Trailhead via Chesler Park to charismatic Druid Arch in the Needles District.

Driving south, I liked exploring little-known Recapture Pocket near Bluff. Fascinating Goosenecks State Park overlooks deep, curly meanders of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. A side trip on Mexican Hat spur road gives a closer look at the red wavy patterns of Raplee Anticline (Lime Ridge) along San Juan River.

Just across the state line, don’t miss the spectacular sunset or sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. At sunset, I rephotographed a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

We booked three nights in Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park, served by a handy free shuttle along on the South Rim. On the way into the park from the east, don’t miss the impressive Hopi artwork inside Desert View Watchtower, which was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932, integrating work by other southwest artists. Starting west of Yavapai Geology Museum, we enjoyed walking the 1.3-mile Trail of Time interpretive exhibit, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 billion years old. Our main hike was the scenic Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest to Lookout Point (7.6 miles with 2200 feet gain, plus walking between shuttle stop and campsite).

Death Valley National Park


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Late fall, winter, through early spring are good times to visit Death Valley National Park, which is otherwise beastly hot. During our visit 19-21 April 2018, some refreshing sprinkles formed a rainbow over the colorful geology. Parting clouds revealed fresh snow whitening Telescope Peak (11,043 ft), impressively high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Cresting the Panamint Range, Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. At our feet, evaporation from Badwater Basin concentrated crystalline mounds of sodium chloride (table salt), plus calcite, gypsum, and borax (famously mined 1883-1889 with Twenty Mule Teams). Artist’s Drive was worth the short side trip to explore the colorful geologic formation of Artists Palette. More than 5 million years ago, multiple volcanic eruptions deposited ash and minerals which chemically altered into a colorful paint pot of elements (iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium).

We were delighted to photograph sunrise illuminating a tapestry of golden yellow striated landscape patterns at Zabriskie Point. Next, driving around to Golden Canyon Trailhead begins a great hiking loop uphill to Red Cathedral then back downhill via Gower Gulch (6 miles with 800 ft gain), our favorite walk in the park. Around lunchtime, I enjoyed photographing pioneer-era mining and transportation machines outdoors at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch. In rising 90+ degree temperatures, we retreated into the nearby national park Visitor Center to absorb the excellent orientation film.

To escape increasing heat, we drove up Emigrant Canyon Road to 4100-foot Wildrose Campground, where faucets provided tasty drinking water. Helpful tip: dry air cools by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for about every 1000 feet ascended (or 3 degrees for wet air). Along the winding road, we luckily spotted some Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) with two lambs. Campground quiet was suddenly shattered with the loud hee-haw braying of an alpha donkey keeping his herd in line. Invasive burros (Equua asinus, often called donkeys) can be found throughout the backcountry in Death Valley. Originally descended from the African wild ass, burros were introduced to North America. These invasive, nonnative burro populations can grow quickly, damaging native vegetation and spring ecosystems, thereby hurting native wildlife such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Along the hike to Fall Canyon’s dry waterfall (6.7 miles with 1250 feet gain) were some feisty Zebra-tailed lizards (allisaurus draconoides), some creamy yellow flowers of the desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) clinging to shaded canyon walls, plus some intriguing rock patterns. But this experience paled in comparison to our previous day in glorious Golden Canyon; so for dramatic build-up one should hike Fall Canyon or other hikes first.

Near Stovepipe Wells, the first light of sunrise high-lit Mesquite Flat Dunes so dramatically as to impress my wife Carol, who previously hadn’t been attracted by dunes. Optionally take your shoes off and enjoy this inland wilderness beach. I love being the first in the morning to form footprints across a tall virgin dune. Most nights, the slate of footprints is wiped clean and wavy. Discover why Lawrence of Arabia was personally attracted to the desert, saying: “It’s clean.”

Just outside Death Valley (on the way to or from Tecopah and Las Vegas), you can camp overnight at Shoshone RV Park and swim in a developed hot springs pool. Thought extinct in the 1960s, Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis shoshone) were rediscovered in 1986 and protected by the land owner in nearby restored ponds. Found nowhere else on earth, Shoshone pupfish are unique to Shoshone Springs.

See also articles on each state: Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah), California, and Texas.

2017 Sept USA road trip: hiking central Colorado, St Louis, South Dakota, Wyoming

Driving from the Northwest to Midwest USA round trip in fall 2017, Carol and I enjoyed 11 days of hiking and photographing the Rockies of central Colorado. St. Louis impressed us with glorious Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere. I took a break from photography while visiting Carol’s family in Indiana. South Dakota surprised us with starkly beautiful Badlands National Park, magnificent Mt. Rushmore, poignant Crazy Horse Memorial, and exceptional Custer State Park. Plentiful wildlife cooperated with our cameras: bison (aka buffalo), bighorn sheep, a mountain goat, a bluebird, a black-billed magpie, and prairie dogs. Capping off a wonderful month, we revisited Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.

See this trip’s sequential images in my Portfolio: 2017 Sep 21-Oct 17: CO, MO, SD, WY USA. We drove for 27 days across the USA from Seattle to Indianapolis round trip from Sept 21 – Oct 17, 2017.

New galleries from this trip are as follows:

The Rockies of Central Colorado

In galleries below, click “i” to display informative captions.

Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon

In scenic Glenwood Canyon along I-70, one of America’s most scenic Interstate highways, beguiling Hanging Lake deserves its popularity for hikers (4 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain).


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Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park

28 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Rifle Falls State Park offers a distinctive triple waterfall.


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Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence

Yellow fall colors brightened the resort of Aspen, where nearby 1880s Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns evoked the state’s mining history. Because no campground options were available around 8000-foot Aspen in late September, I booked at AirBNB.com a good-value condo with kitchen for 4 nights of necessary acclimatization, to prepare for hiking to high altitude. Snagging a parking spot midweek before sunrise at crowded Maroon Lake allowed us to capture the iconic Maroon Bells lit by magical morning light. From there, we grunted breathlessly upwards through fall colors via Crater Lake to desolate alpine Buckskin Pass (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain to 12,462 feet elevation) in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. 


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Colorado: Leadville

We enjoyed strolling in historic Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (elevation of 10,152 feet).


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Colorado: Vail

A relaxing condo stay near Vail allowed a pleasant walk through aspen fall colors to Booth Creek Falls (4.3 miles / 1400 ft gain) on Booth Lake Trail #1885.


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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

At Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake, we learned that Trail Ridge Road was sadly closed ahead due to ice, which would have required driving around several extra hours to reach Estes Park. Luckily, driving upwards anyway allowed time for the problem to melt along the 12,183-foot-high crossing of Rocky Mountain National Park eastwards to our base at Estes Park KOA. We enjoyed hiking a wonderful loop from Bear Lake Trailhead with spur trails to an impressive series of lakes, waterfalls and peaks (13 miles gaining 2600 feet via Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, The Loch, Lake of Glass, Sky Pond, Alberta Falls then back; arrive early for parking or take the shuttle).


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Colorado: Roxborough State Park

Roxborough State Park features strikingly tilted red sandstone formations, appreciated via hiking up the pleasant Carpenter Peak Trail and back via Elk Valley loop and Fountain Overlook, 8.5 miles with 1600 feet gain. A shorter walk is to the Peak then directly back (6.2 miles and 1400 ft).


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Colorado: Garden of the Gods

Driving and strolling is a joy in Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, run by the City of Colorado Springs.


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Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Little-known Paint Mines Interpretive Park will delight any admirer of rock hoodoos and colorful abstract patterns.


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St. Louis, Missouri

Clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted catenary arch, Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest arch (630 feet high), the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, and officially dedicated to the American people, it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947. It was built 1963-1965 at the site of St. Louis’ founding on the west bank of the Mississippi River and opened to the public in 1967. (Although built to last for ages, it is eventually susceptible to a tornado impact which could rip off the upper two-thirds.)


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South Dakota

SD: Badlands National Park

In this peacefully remote park, bighorn sheep grazed fearlessly along the roadside and dramatic sunset/sunrise colors lit the colorful cliffs sculpted from ancient sediments.


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SD: Black Hills: Custer State Park and wildlife reserve

South Dakota’s largest and first state park was named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Completed in 1922, the Needles Highway includes sharp turns, low tunnels and impressive granite spires along the northern 14 miles of South Dakota Highway 87 (SD 87). The road lies within Custer State Park, 30 miles south of Rapid City, in South Dakota. Needles Highway is part of the figure-eight route of Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. A magical sunrise warmed the freezing air over idyllic Sylvan Lake. Cathedral Spires Area is most impressive. A famous herd of 1500 bison freely roam Custer State Park, as seen along Wildlife Loop Road.


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SD: Black Hills: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum designed and oversaw the Mount Rushmore project 1927–1941, with help from his son, Lincoln Borglum. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).


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South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills in order to promote tourism. Robinson’s initial idea of sculpting the Needles was rejected by Gutzon Borglum due to poor granite quality and strong opposition from Native American groups. They settled on Mount Rushmore, and Borglum decided on the four presidents. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding ended construction in late October 1941. Mount Rushmore is a batholith (massive intrusive igneous rock) rising to 5725 feet elevation in the Black Hills.

SD: Black Hills: Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is being carved into Thunderhead Mountain on private land in the Black Hills, between Custer and Hill City, 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, in Custer County, South Dakota. In progress since 1948, the sculpture is far from completion. It depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. The sculpture is planned to be of record-setting size: 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high (whereas the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high).


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Crazy Horse (1840–1877) was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachment by white American settlers on Indian territory. He earned great respect from both his enemies and his own people in several battles of the American Indian Wars on the northern Great Plains, including: the Fetterman massacre in 1866, in which he acted as a decoy, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, in which he led a war party to victory. Four months after surrendering in 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a bayonet-wielding military guard, while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska. In 1982 he was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 13¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

Wyoming

Wyoming: Black Hills: Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge Butte) rises dramatically 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit, at 5112 feet above sea level. Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This charismatic butte is comprised of intrusive igneous rock exposed by erosion in the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, Wyoming. The 1893 wood stake ladder for the first ascent of Devils Tower (by Willard Ripley) was restored 1972. The last known use of the ladder was in 1927 by daredevil Babe “The Fly” White. In 1972, the Park Service removed what was left of the bottom section, and restored the top 140 feet of the ladder (see photo). In mid October, bright yellow cottonwood tree leaves framed Devils Tower in quiet Belle Fourche River Campground.


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Grand Teton NP images are now split off from Yellowstone into their own gallery; and new 2017 photos are added to both parks:

Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park


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Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park


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See the following master articles which consolidate galleries geographically for multiple trips:

Dream Alps Photo Workshop with Tom: July 26 – Aug 03, 2019

Master your digital camera surrounded by breathtaking Swiss peaks! Short walks to areas of concentrated beauty make this 8-night Alps tour especially attractive for those with limited vacation time. With a professional Alpenwild guide leading our trip, my time is freed for teaching photographic skills within our cozy group of 6 to 10 participants.

Sign up at Alpenwild for our Alps Photo Workshop with Tom Dempsey 2019 July 26 – August 03. Develop your photographic genius with a pro in Switzerland.

The following photos by Tom Dempsey are from our Workshop locations:


  • Welcome photographers of all skill levels! Your spouse, partner, or friend will also love our tour while you advance your photography. My wife Carol will be joining us.
  • We’ve thought of everything: all accommodations, meals, ground transportation, and instruction are included.
  • The Swiss Alps are a photographer’s dream trip, with inspiring landscapes, breathtaking mountain panoramas and vibrant cultural settings. Now imagine having a professional landscape photographer at your side to provide personalized instruction in these idyllic alpine locations. Capture the greatest shots you’ve ever taken, while learning and developing your photographic skills like never before. Learn important tips on exposing, focusing, composing, editing, and post-processing. Think of all the questions you’ve had in the past, but never had a pro landscape photographer to ask.
  • We’ve selected the world’s most stunningly beautiful mountains, meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers for your backdrop. The Alps are the most accessible mountains in the world, where cogwheel railways, mountain trams, and funiculars put you in the heart of the action.
  • We will have plenty of time for photography as you’ll rarely be walking more than three miles per day. After fieldwork will be time for critiques and post-processing help. Our small group provides optimal one-one-one instruction and group discussion.

Capture the spirit of Swiss icons including:

  • the Matterhorn, Zermatt
  • traditional chalets at Kandersteg
  • waterfalls of Lauterbrunnen
  • famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau above Grindelwald

See our complete itinerary and sign up at: www.alpenwild.com

Alps Photo Workshop with Alpenwild & Tom Dempsey

Swiss Alps Photo Workshop – Tom Dempsey & Alpenwild


Our professional guide is:
Greg Witt
1-800-532-9488 AlpenWild.com
Email: info@alpenwild.com

$4395 from Zurich or Geneva, per person, double occupancy.
$399 single supplement.
Sign up deadline by early February 2019.

Join me for summer in Switzerland!

Tom Dempsey, photography instructor
tom@photoseek.com
(206) 372-7673 mobile

See also Venice and Dolomites images from Tom’s Italy Photo Workshop.

SCOTLAND: hike Skye, castles, Callanish, Edinburgh, Stirling, Falkirk, history

12 days driving the length of Scotland enriched us with compelling history, striking art, and green landscapes such as Glen Coe. Favorites included hiking the Isle of Skye; admiring the 4600-year-old Standing Stones of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides; and seeing the dramatic Kelpies sculptures, triangular Caerlaverock Castle and iconic Eilean Donan Castle. Our 20th wedding anniversary in a romantic Scottish castle disappointed on comfort, but enchanted us with 1400s-1800s atmosphere, in restored Comlongon Castle. While Edinburgh’s festival crowds overwhelmed the many worthwhile sights, the impressive 1400s-1500s Stirling Castle furnished more elbow room to contemplate medieval history. Our self-guided tour of Scotland capped 34 days in the United Kingdom (2017 July 20-August 22), which started with hiking England Coast to Coast (click here). See trip map at bottom.

SCOTLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


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More extensive galleries of Scotland:

Click here to see all my Scotland images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery in my Portfolio (where you can Add to Cart). Or conveniently below, see them grouped in galleries by area, with helpful travel tips and history:

Callanish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)


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Erected 4600 years ago, the wondrous Callanish Standing Stones are one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland. The main site known as “Callanish I” forms a cross with a central stone circle erected circa 2900-2600 BC. More lines of stones were added by 2000 BC (the close of the Neolithic era), and it become a focus for rituals during the Bronze Age. From 1500-1000 BC, farmers emptied the burials and ploughed the area. After from 800 BC, peat accumulated 1.5 meters deep and buried the stones until removed in 1857. Visit this spectacular ancient site near the village of Callanish (Gaelic: Calanais), on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles) in Scotland.

The Highlands: Isle of Skye


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Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides.

Isle of Skye photo and travel tips:

Lodging is very limited on Skye, so make summer reservations weeks or months ahead. The 1995 Skye Bridge has been toll-free now since 2004, and in 2017 it overflowed the island’s services with international tourists. Arriving early is required each morning to squeeze into popular parking areas. 7 miles west of Skye Bridge, pick up several days worth of food supplies at Broadford Co-Operative Food grocery. Stop by the scenic Sligachan Old Bridge, backed by the Black Cuillin mountains. For several hours, enjoy walking to viewpoints at the 1909 Neist Point Lighthouse, which pokes dramatically into The Minch strait. Many of the best sights are on Trotternish peninsula:

  • As our strategic base for 5 nights on Skye, we loved this quiet, comfortable loft atop a croft in Digg village near Staffin: Quiraing View Self Catering Apartment through AirBnb.com.
  • In Skye’s largest town, see colorful houses reflected in Portree Harbor, and shop at the Co-op on Woodpark Road for groceries.
  • Ascend to the striking pinnacles of the Old Man of Storr (4 miles, 1400 feet gain round trip). Arrive early for limited parking. A massive ancient landside created this distinctive landscape of eroded towers. For the best outlook, continue up the trail over the fence stile past where most people stop, surmounting the next higher ledge, to see the needles silhouetted against Loch Leathan, the Sound of Raasay, Raasay Island, and the Cuillin range.
  • At scenic Kilt Rock viewpoint, carpeted with purple heather flowers, Mealt Falls plunges 60 meters into the Sound of Raasay. Between 61 and 55 million years ago, volcanic activity on the west coast of Scotland covered the northern half of Skye in layers of molten rock over 1200 meters thick. The pleats of Kilt Rock formed as molten rock squeezed between layers of Jurassic sandstone rocks then cooled slowly and shrank into striking polygonal columns. Location: A855 road, 15 km north of Portree, 2 km south of Staffin.
  • Starting from Lealt Falls Car Park, ponder the coastal ruins of Lealt diatomite works (a furnace, grinding machine and storage). The diatomite was mined inland at Loch Cuithir from 1899-1960, gratefully providing local jobs. Diatomaceous earth, or diatomite, is fossilized remains of diatoms (chrysophytes, or golden algae, a type of hard-shelled protist) creating a soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white powder. Its uses are many: filtration aid, insecticide, absorbent for liquids, mild abrasive in metal polishes & toothpaste, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, a thermal insulator, and even cat litter!
  • Amble up Bioda Buidhe mountain along Trotternish Ridge, with views south to eroded landslips and north to the Quiraing, an active landslip. Walk 2.2 miles round trip with 700 feet gain, starting southwards from the summit of the minor road between Staffin and Uig. Arrive early for limited parking. From the same trailhead, we also hiked the Quiraing:
  • For more adventure, try the popular, muddy loop (4.5 miles with 1200 feet gain) around the Quiraing landslip (Cuith-Raing in Gaelic, from Norse words meaning “round fold”), best avoided in rain or fog. The Trotternish Ridge escarpment is a spectacular series of landslips, still sliding in the Quiraing, requiring yearly repairs in the road below (near Flodigarry).
  • Near Uig: The Skye Museum of Island Life preserves a township of thatched cottages as they would have been in the late 1800s on the Isle of Skye, in Kilmuir village.
  • Near Uig: Walk the pastoral Fairy Glen (Faerie Glen) to Castle Ewen hill, looping 1.2 miles via grassy, cone-shaped mounds.
  • From Uig, catch the ferry to Tarbert, the main town of Harris in the Outer Hebrides (Western Isles), to drive to the Standing Stones of Callanish and blackhouse museums on the attached Isle of Lewis. Be sure to reserve a spot for your car weeks ahead at Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).

The Highlands: Eilean Donan Castle, AD 1200s-1932


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Eilean Donan Castle looks spectacular when spotlit at twilight, in Kintail National Scenic Area. Since restoration in the early 1900s, a footbridge connects the island to the mainland. This picturesque island stronghold was first built in the 1200s in the western Highlands where three sea lochs meet (Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh) at the village of Dornie. The island is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. The castle became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies Clan Macrae. In the early 1700s, the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle’s destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap’s 1920-32 reconstruction of the ruins made the present buildings.

The Highlands: Glen Coe and Glen Nevis (Steall Falls hike)


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Found along road A82, Glen Coe is perhaps the most scenic and historic valley in Scotland. Glen Coe is the remains of an extinct supervolcano (erupted 420 million years ago during the Silurian period), one of the best examples of subsidence calderas. Heavy glaciation ending 10,000 years ago carved the U-shaped valley, reminding me of Norwegian scenery. The infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe happened near Glencoe village at the foot of the valley.

One of the best short hikes in Scotland ascends 220 meters to Steall Falls (3.5 km / 2.25 miles round trip) via scenic Nevis Gorge, an area owned by the John Muir Trust, which is attempting to restore wilderness here after centuries of burning and grazing. Steall Falls is Scotland’s second highest waterfall, with a single drop of 120 meters or 393 feet. Often hidden in the clouds above is Ben Nevis (1345 meters or 4411 ft, the highest mountain in the British Isles), here at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of the Scottish Highlands.

The Highlands: Inverness and Culloden


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We enjoyed seeing the lights of Inverness reflect in River Ness at twilight, in the administrative capital of the Highlands. The prominent red sandstone Inverness Castle (housing the Inverness Sheriff Court) was built in 1836 by architect William Burn on the site of an 11th-century fort. A settlement was established here by the 500s AD with the first royal charter being granted by King David I in the 1100s. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth), whose 11th-century killing of King Duncan was immortalised in Shakespeare’s largely fictionalized play Macbeth, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross. Surveys rank Inverness as one of the happiest places in the UK.

Jacobites and the Battle of Culloden explained

Near Inverness is Culloden Battlefield visitor center, a Scottish mecca run by the National Trust for Scotland. As the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746 was part of a religious civil war in Britain. In the last pitched battle on British soil, in less than an hour about 1500 men were slain, more than 1000 of them Jacobites. Today, strong feelings are still aroused by the battle and the brutal aftermath of weakening Gaelic culture and undermining the Scottish clan system. The site of the battle is three miles south of Culloden village on Drumossie Moor, often called Culloden Moor.

Jacobites rebelled against the British government several times between 1688 and 1746. Jacobites were a political faction in Great Britain and Ireland aimed to restore the Roman Catholic King James II (House of Stuart) of England and Ireland (as James VII in Scotland) and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The name comes from Jacobus, the Renaissance Latin form of Iacomus, from the original Latin form of James, “Iacobus.”

Stirling, the gateway to the Highlands


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Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling is visually dominated by Stirling Castle, sitting atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag formed some 300 million years ago. Until the 1890s, Stirling controlled a strategic position as the lowest bridging point of the River Forth before it broadens towards the Firth of Forth, making it “the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.” As a principal royal stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a royal burgh by King David I in 1130. Most of the fort’s main buildings date from the 1400s and 1500s, when it peaked in importance. The outer defenses fronting the town date from the early 1700s. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542. Stirling Castle has suffered at least eight sieges, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.

Edinburgh, capitol city of Scotland


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Perched atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world, with 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history. Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 1500s except for St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 1100s, the Royal Palace, and the early-1500s Great Hall. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, in Lothian on the Firth of Forth, in the United Kingdom.

The spectacular St Giles’ Cathedral (High Kirk of Edinburgh) is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Its distinctive crown steeple is a prominent feature of the city skyline, at about a third of the way down the Royal Mile. The church has been one of Edinburgh’s religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 1300s, though it was extensively restored in the 1800s. Today it is sometimes regarded as the “Mother Church of Presbyterianism.”

Don’t miss seeing the abstract modernist Scottish Parliament Building, opened 2004 in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. Scottish Parliament had previously dropped out of existence from 1707 through 1999. The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, existing from the early 1200s until merging with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following a Scottish referendum in 1997, the current Parliament was convened by the Scotland Act 1998, which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature, which first met in 1999. The Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate in all areas that are not explicitly reserved to Westminster.

If time allows, wander along the Water of Leith river through Dean Village, the site of old watermills in a deep gorge.

Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies


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The Kelpies, built of structural steel in 2013, are the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures. Towering 30 meters above the Forth & Clyde Canal, these two proud heads are a monumental tribute to the horse power heritage (pulling wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships) vital to early industrial Scotland. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott designed these twin 300-tonne feats of engineering. Visit the Kelpies artworks in the Helix parkland project, in Falkirk, central Scotland.

Five miles west of the Kelpies is the Falkirk Wheel. Built in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s. The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft) in just 15 minutes, then a pair of locks raises them 11 metres (36 ft) higher to reach the Union Canal.

1295 Caerlaverock Castle


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The formidable red sandstone walls of Caerlaverock Castle have a triangular shape, unique in Britain. First built in 1295 to to control trade, its wide moat, twin-towered gatehouse and lofty battlements give Caerlaverock a fairtale appearance, the epitome of a medieval stronghold. In the castle courtyard, walk through Nithsdale Lodging, a remarkable residence built in 1635, “the most ambitious early classical domestic architecture in Scotland.” Caerlaverock is near Dumfries, on the edge of Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, in southwest Scotland. This stronghold defended the Maxwell family from the 1200s-1640, then was abandoned. It was besieged by the English during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and underwent several partial demolitions and reconstructions from the 1300s-1400s.

Comlongon Castle


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Our 20th wedding anniversary attracted us to lodging in a romantic Scottish castle, but Carol’s night in the 1902 Edwardian wing at Comlongon was haunted by steam radiator sounds and saggy bed. Luckily, the next morning compensated with good breakfast, beautifully landscaped grounds, and the swords-and-armor atmosphere of restored 1400s Comlongon Castle.

Oban and Castle Stalker


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Oban is an important tourism hub and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry port, protected by the island of Kerrera and Isle of Mull, in the Firth of Lorn, Argyll county. The 200-meter-diameter McCaig’s Tower rises prominently on Battery Hill overlooking Oban, built in Roman style 1897-1902 by philanthropic banker John Stuart McCaig, but left unfinished upon his death.

1440s Castle Stalker is a 4-story tower house or keep picturesquely set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet of Loch Linnhe, near Port Appin, Argyll. Castle Stalker is visible from the A828 road midway between Oban and Glen Coe. The fort was occupied from the 1440s-1840, lost its roof, then was fully restored 1965-1974. It appeared in the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in the final scene as “The Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh.” The name Stalker comes from the Gaelic Stalcaire, meaning hunter or falconer.

SCOTLAND and Northern ENGLAND: map

The following map of Scotland and northern England shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

ENGLAND: Coast to Coast hike; Hadrian’s Wall; medieval architecture

My first visit to England filled us with surprisingly delicious pub food and admiration for spectacular medieval architecture. 13 days of mostly rainy weather didn’t slow our hike of 112 miles across “England Coast to Coast” which I photographed on commission for Wilderness Travel, 2017 July 23–August 5. Starting by dipping our boots in the Irish Sea, we cut a swath across England’s historic and literary landscape, over the fells of the Lake District to the pastoral beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Afterwards, we enjoyed guiding ourselves through York, castles and abbeys in northern England (further below), plus Scotland (in separate article).

ENGLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


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The following more extensive galleries and trip map describe England in more detail:

Northern England Coast to Coast trek

Our group of 12 hikers plus 2 trip leaders rambled across a variant of the unofficial 192-mile “Coast to Coast Walk,” which is mostly unsignposted across Northern England. A luggage van with friendly driver Peter allowed us to walk with lightweight day packs and skip boring sections, ending each day in comfortable hotels. Professional guides Richard and Karen Bell cheerfully guided us across rolling hills averaging 8.6 miles per day with 1350 feet gain, which added up to a moderately strenuous effort surmounting sometimes rocky, often mucky terrain. Below are my images from the trek, in three parts (click “i” to display informative captions):

ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 1/3: Lake District National Park:


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 2/3: Yorkshire Dales National Park


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 3/3: North York Moors National Park


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Northern ENGLAND and SCOTLAND trip map, 34 days

Click here to see all my England images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery. The following map shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

York, North Yorkshire

At the end of our athletic hiking tour, Wilderness Travel left Carol and I in fascinating York:


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The historic walled city of York lies at the confluence of rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. York is renowned for its exquisite architecture, tangle of quaint cobbled streets (called the Shambles), iconic York Minster, the longest medieval town walls in England, and a wealth of visitor attractions. Founded by the Romans as Eboracum in AD 71, it became capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik (mostly controlled by Vikings 875 to 954). In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading center. In the 1800s, York became a hub of the railway network and center for confectionery manufacturing. The University of York, health services, and tourism have become major employers.

York Minster, built over 250 years 1220-1472 AD, is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. Also known as St Peter’s, its full name is “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York.” York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. “Minster” refers to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and now serves as an honorific. As the center of the Church in the North, York Minster has played an important role in great national affairs, such as during the Reformation and Civil War.

Car rental tips

Renting a car one way from York to Manchester (our entry & exit airport) for 2 weeks allowed us to easily see the following sights in Northern England on our way to and from 12 days in Scotland. We rented a peppy Vauxhall Astra hatchback car with automatic transmission from AutoEurope.com for just US$33 per day (plus gas $6 per gallon, at 50+ mpg) and quickly learned to drive on the left through hundreds of efficient roundabouts. The United Kingdom still indicates miles and MPH on road signs, but metric for most everything else.

Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park


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Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. Visit it near Ripon and Aldfield, in North Yorkshire. The adjacent Studley Royal Park features striking 1700s landscaping, gardens and canal. Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for 407 years becoming one of the wealthiest monasteries in England until its dissolution in 1539 under the order of Henry VIII. Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland


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Walk 3 miles round trip from Craster village to the impressive ruins of 1300s Dunstanburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland. The castle was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313-1322 on existing earthworks of an Iron Age fort. Thomas was a short-lived leader of a baronial faction opposed to King Edward II. This strategic northern stronghold never recovered from seiges during the Wars of the Roses 1455-1487 after it changed hands several times between rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. King James I sold the fort into private owndership in 1604. Dunstanburgh Castle is now owned by the National Trust and run by English Heritage.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland


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The site of Bamburgh Castle was originally a Celtic Brittonic fort known as Din Guarie, possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia from its foundation circa AD 420-547. After passing between Britons and Anglo-Saxons three times, Anglo-Saxons gained control in 590, but it was destroyed by Vikings in 993. The Normans later built a new castle here, forming the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095 (supported by the castle’s owner), it became the property of the English monarch. 1600s financial difficulties led to its deterioration. Various owners restored it from the 1700s-1800s, ending with complete restoration by Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong. Today, the Armstrong family owners keep Bamburgh Castle open to the public. It was a film location for “Robin Hood” (2010) directed by Ridley Scott.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland


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Holy Island history dates from the 500s AD as an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on Holy Island in 1550.

Hadrian’s Wall


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Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium) at Steel Rigg, England, United Kingdom, Europe. As the Roman Empire’s largest artifact, Hadrian’s Wall runs 117.5 kilometers (73.0 miles) across northern England, from the banks of River Tyne near the North Sea to Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. Much of the wall still stands and can be walked along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. Within the Roman province of Britannia, it defended the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian in the 6 years following his visit to Britain in AD 122. From north side to south, the wall comprised a ditch, stone wall, military way and vallum (another ditch with adjoining mounds). The wall featured milecastles with two turrets in between and a fort about every five Roman miles. Hadrian’s Wall is honored as a World Heritage Site. The wall lies entirely within England, and is unrelated to the Scottish border, which lies north of the wall at distances varying from 1-109 kilometers (0.6–68 miles) away.

2016 Sept: Oregon: Wallowa: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpack

From September 11-13, 2016, we enjoyed walking 22 miles in 3 days backpacking to Mirror Lake and idyllic Glacier Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, within Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, in the Wallowa Mountains, on the Columbia Plateau of northeastern Oregon. Scenery of “the Wallowas” resembles that of California’s Sierras but is much closer to Seattle!


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Our 3-day, 22-mile route was as follows:

  1. Hike 7.3 miles gaining 2000 feet from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). This excellent base camp has lots of sites (but adjacent Sunshine Lake may be more photogenic and less crowded), with three good day hikes for extended stays:
  2. Day hike from Mirror Lake to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain), highly recommended! Other options from Mirror Lake include (not done by us):
    • Ascend Eagle Cap, a short and steep 3.5 miles round trip gaining 2000 feet.
    • Loop via Moccasin Lake to Douglas Lake and Horseshoe Lake, 8.6 miles gaining 500 feet (or omitting Horseshoe makes 5-mile loop).
  3. Backpack out 8.7 miles via scenic Carper Pass (800 feet gain) to remote Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. Walking out this different route adds variety to the trip but creates a more-punishing 3000-foot cumulative descent back to Two Pan Trailhead. Minam Lake suffered from low water levels this September, but the outlet West Fork Lostine River was pleasant to explore.

If you have 4+ days, considering reversing the loop and camping the first night at less-crowded Minam Lake, then the second/third nights at one of the following: Upper Lake (good base for ascent of Eagle Cap), or popular Mirror Lake, or nicer Sunshine Lake, nearby Moccasin Lake, or most-beautiful Glacier Lake (which is more effort over a ridge 1000 ft up, 200 down).

Directions: In the northeast corner of Oregon, from Pendleton, take Interstate 84 east to La Grande. Turn north on State Highway 82 through Elgin to Lostine (10 miles west of Enterprise). In Lostine, go 7 miles south on Lostine River Road to the National Forest boundary where it turns into Forest Road 8210, up Lostine Canyon for 11 more miles to the end of the narrow gravel road with some washboard roughness. At the trailhead, backpackers self-issue their own Wilderness Visitor Permit, one per group. Horse-packers can be booked to assist your trip.

Other good hikes in the Wallowa Mountains:

From Wallowa Lake Trailhead, attractive Ice Lake is 15.4 miles round trip (not yet done by Tom). From Ice Lake, the scenic white granite Matterhorn is 1977 feet gain in 3.4 miles round trip to an impressive view. A good inexpensive base with hot showers is Wallowa Lake State Park (just south of Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon). Optional extension:

  • From the Ice Lake Trail junction (2.6 miles one way from Wallowa Lake Trailhead), the following scenic extension adds 21.3 miles round trip: a lollipop-shaped loop to Horseshoe Lake, Douglas Lake, Moccasin Lake, Mirror Lake and Glacier Lake.

See also our nearby hikes in Hells Canyon and Eastern Oregon.

2016 August: Switzerland via Alpenwild tours

In one of our best trips ever, Carol and I hiked in Switzerland 25 days out of 35 from July 27 to August 30, 2016. We walked about 200 miles via trailheads connected by the world’s handiest public transportation. Included was my professional photography of two wonderful tours by Alpenwild.com, the world’s largest provider of English-language Alps tours.

See my trip images: 2016 Switzerland galleries.

To plan your next trip, see my illustrated online guide to the Alps.

In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

Switzerland itinerary map 2016

Switzerland travel map: Zurich, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais, Engadine. (Tom Dempsey)

A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe.

Alpenwild.com

As an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com in summer 2016, I captured 4000 images in Switzerland (see my galleries) for company promotion. Alpenwild is the world’s largest provider of English-speaking tours in Switzerland. In response to my photos, Alpenwild founder Greg Witt said:

These are absolutely stunning—I couldn’t be happier. Some of us in the office today going through your 342 favorites and each one brought back a lot of memories and also generated a lot of excitement as we discussed where and how we can best use these for maximum impact.

While I had already designed a detailed self-guided trip covering 5 weeks, Alpenwild’s expert guidance further refined the trip, adding much to our comfort and enjoyment, including the following two wonderful week-long packages:

2015 Sept: Garibaldi backpack + Canadian Rockies tour

See Tom Dempsey’s photos from hiking in Canada September 9-21, 2015 in day-by-day order:


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Trip description:

  1. Three gloriously sunny days with no wind made for perfect backpacking to Garibaldi Lake! Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range, British Columbia, Canada. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. The top of Panorama Ridge is 17 miles round trip with 5100 feet gain from Rubble Creek parking lot (or 6 miles/10k RT with 2066 ft/630m gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Backcountry Campground). The vibrant turquoise color of Garibaldi Lake comes from glacial flour suspended in melt water from Sphinx and Sentinel Glaciers. The volcanic pinnacle of Black Tusk (2319 m or 7608 ft) rises above Mimulus Lake, Black Tusk Lake, and Helm Lake, best seen from Panorama Ridge Trail. The Black Tusk is a remnant of an extinct andesitic stratovolcano which formed 1.3-1.1 million years ago: after long glacial erosion, renewed volcanism 170,000 years ago made the lava flow and dome forming the tooth-shaped summit.
    • Global warming/climate change: The Helm Glacier had an area of 4.3 square kilometers in 1928, but declined by 78% to 0.92 square kilometers as of 2009. The Helm Glacier’s melting trend mirrors that of all glaciers in the Pacific Northwest and fits into the pattern of glacier retreat across Canada (measured in the Canadian Glacier Retreat Index). From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (reference: Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of glacier fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand throughout the last century (the 1900s), suggesting a common, global climatic cause.
  2. Clouds and rain stopped us from a 20th anniversary hike to Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park, so we continued on to Jasper NP.
  3. Snow-dusted peaks rose above fall colors at Medicine Lake in beautiful Maligne Valley, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta. Medicine Lake is not really a lake but is a natural back up in the Maligne River that suddenly disappears underground. Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984.
  4. Viewpoints at Upper and Lower Sunwapta Falls are worth seeing in Jasper National Park – a good rainy-day activity. The falling water originates from the Athabasca Glacier.
  5. Snow magically dusted Mt. Chephren (3307 m or 10,850 ft) which soared majestically above orange and yellow fall colors in Mistaya River Valley along the Icefields Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta.
  6. Snow covered the Waputik Range above beautiful turquoise Peyto Lake (1860 m or 6100 ft), in Banff National Park. Bill Peyto was an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area. Suspended particles of glacial rock flour create its bright turquoise color. Bow Pass (2068 m or 6787 ft) is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, and a side road leads to a crowded nature trail to Peyto Viewpoint (and higher bus road to wheelchair access, a much safer way to walk in icy conditions like we found). The lake is fed by Peyto Creek, which drains water from Caldron Lake and Peyto Glacier (part of the Wapta Icefield). Peyto Lake is the origin of the Mistaya River, which heads northwest. (Early snowfall cancelled our backup plan to backpack the Rockwall in Kootenay NP, which had more than a foot of snow at Floe Lake.)
  7. In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Chester Lake is a delightful hike of 5.2 miles round trip with 1000 ft gain through larch forest. Larches are deciduous conifers (with needles turning yellow-orange and dropping in autumn) in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Extending the hike to Three Lakes Valley is up to 7.8 miles RT with 1800 ft gain to a lake-dotted limestone barrens. Kananaskis Country is a park system in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, in Alberta. I grabbed quick photos of a grizzly bear, a cute pica, and a ptarmigan.
  8. Sunrise nicely highlighted Mount Kidd which reflected in Kananaskis River near Mount Kidd Interpretive Trail (at convenient Mount Kidd RV Park). Kananaskis Country equals the majesty of neighboring Banff National Park with less crowding.
  9. Hike along beautiful Galatea Creek to Lillian Lake (7.5 miles round trip with 1614 gain) or on to Galatea Lakes (10 miles RT with 2214 ft gain as we did) in Spray Valley Provincial Park, from H40 south of Kananaskis Village.
  10. Wind whipped water waves created rainbows at Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park joined Glacier National Park in Montana with Waterton. UNESCO honored Waterton-Glacier as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).

See also my related articles (with multiple trips consolidated):

2015 July hikes, history: Eastern Sierras + Castle Crags SP, California

On a hiking trip via our VW Eurovan camper July 5-23, 2015, we rediscovered the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, and for the first time hiked spectacular Castle Crags State Park in Northern California. Below, I share our itinerary and my favorite images in day-by-day trip order.

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: all: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”


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More details

Tips and notes for our July 5-23, 2015 California itinerary, in order of visit:

  1. Off Highway 88 near Carson Pass (near South Lake Tahoe), hike a varied loop through lush wildflower fields from Woods Lake Campground to Winnnemucca Lake then Round Top Lake, in Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest. The excellent loop trail is 5.3 miles with 1250 feet gain (or 6.4 miles with 2170 feet gain if adding the scramble up Round Top).
  2. McGee Creek Canyon makes an excellent moderate day hike through fields of summer wildflowers in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, near Mammoth Lakes. Swirling patterns of fractured red and gray metamorphic rocks rise impressively above this hike of 6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain to the beaver pond on McGee Creek.
  3. View Indian baskets and history, plus outdoor machinery used in the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct 1908-1913, at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant Street, Independence, California, 93526. The Museum was founded in 1928 and has been operated by the County of Inyo since 1968. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret objects, photos and information related to the cultural and natural history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, from Death Valley to Mono Lake.
  4. See Mobius Arch and other curious rock formations in BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area, in the Owens Valley, west of Lone Pine in Inyo County. The Sierras tower 10,000+ feet above you to the west, and Inyo Mountains rise to the east. At a certain angle, Mobius Arch frames Mount Whitney (14,505 feet or 4421 m elevation), the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. The Alabama Hills are a popular filming location for television and movie productions (such as Gunga Din, Gladiator, Iron Man, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), especially Westerns (Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, How the West Was Won, and Joe Kidd). Two main types of rock are exposed at Alabama Hills: 1) orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock 150-200 million years old; and 2) 82- to 85-million-year-old biotite monzogranite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders.
  5. We were enthralled at the Museum of Western Film History, at 701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine. Fans of movies and television shouldn’t miss this trove of memories, including their good video presentation. Scenes of actor Russell Crow riding through “Spain” in Gladiator (2000) were filmed in nearby Alabama Hills Recreation Area with looming Sierra Nevada peaks as backdrop. See the actual car from the film High Sierra (1941) – in the climactic movie sequence, “Mad Dog” Earle, played by Humphrey Bogart, flees from police by accelerating this 1937 Plymouth Coupe automobile up the old Whitney Portal Road. See the exploding head graboid puppet from the film Tremors (1990), starring Kevin Bacon.
  6. Along the Cabin Trail, see an historic mining cabin built of old-growth bristlecone and limber pine logs, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Schulman Grove, Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, near Big Pine. In terms of its ancient logs, you can think of this as one of the world’s oldest cabins. The Mexican Mine for extracting lead and zinc ore was first established in 1863 as the Reed Mine, but it suffered various weather and supply problems at 10,000 feet elevation and was abandoned in the early 1950s. The world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism was found near here in 2013 — a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) 5064 years old, germinated in 3051 BC. It beat the previous record set by the famous nearby 4847-year-old Methuselah Tree sampled around 1957. Starting from the visitor center at 9846 feet, we hiked the Cabin Trail loop, returning along Methuselah Grove Trail (highly recommended, to visit the world’s oldest living trees), with views eastward over Nevada’s basin-and-range region. An important dendrochronology, based on these trees and dead bristlecone pine samples, extends back to about 9000 BC (with a single gap of about 500 years).
  7. My favorite hike in the Bishop Creek watershed goes from South Lake to Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake, looping back via a steeper, poorly marked route to Ruwau Lake, Chocolate Lakes, and Bull Lake, in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. The rewarding semi-loop is 9 miles with 2220 feet cumulative gain. (An easier walk is 7.2 miles round trip with 1500 feet gain to Saddlerock Lake, out and back via beautiful Long Lake.) One of my favorite shots of the trip is cirrus clouds streaking over Mount Goode (13,085 feet) and Hurd Peak (12,237 ft, center) in a panorama stitched from 12 overlapping photos.
  8. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from Lake Sabrina to beautiful Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes, and Dingleberry Lake. The good trail is 8.5 miles round trip with 1850 feet cumulative gain. (Beyond Dingleberry Lake, the trail splits to Midnight Lake and Hungry Packer Lake.) A memorable image is Mt Thompson (13,494 feet) and Thompson Ridge rising above beautiful Blue Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
  9. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from North Lake to Lamarck Lakes. The moderate trail to Upper Lamarck Lake is 5.5 miles round trip with 1550 feet cumulative gain, which we day hiked along with other family members who were backpacking onwards.
  10. Enjoy an easy, very rewarding hike from Mosquito Flat through Little Lakes Valley to Chickenfoot Lake and Gem Lakes. An impressive array of pyramidal peaks reflect in the creeks and lakes in spectacular Little Lakes Valley. To reach the trailhead, turn off Highway 395 at Toms Place (15 miles south of Mammoth Junction) onto paved Rock Creek Road, and drive 10.5 miles to the end. We hiked the moderate trail to Morgan Pass, 7.5 miles round trip with 1250 feet cumulative gain; but you should skip the left turn to redundant Morgan Pass and instead turn right to visit the pretty Gem Lakes.
  11. At Mono Lake, intriguing towers of calcium-carbonate decorate the South Tufa Area and reflect photogenically in the lake, in Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Don’t miss the Visitor Center in Lee Vining along Highway 395. The Reserve protects wetlands that support millions of birds, and preserves Mono Lake’s distinctive tufa towers — calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono Lake has no outlet and is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Over the past million years, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams and evaporation has made the water 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies. Since 1941, diversion of lake water tributary streams by the city of Los Angeles lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. In response, the Mono Lake Committee won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level.
  12. Bodie is California’s official state gold rush ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park lies in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, near Bridgeport. Bodie fascinated me for 4 hours photographing reflections in glass, dilapidated historic buildings, mining equipment, doors, interiors, and more. Afternoon thunderstorm clouds loomed over my panoramas of historic Bodie and the Standard Stamp Mill. After W. S. Bodey’s original gold discovery in 1859, profitable gold ore discoveries in 1876 and 1878 transformed “Bodie” from an isolated mining camp to a Wild West boomtown. By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000-7000 people with 2000 buildings. At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Bodie declined rapidly 1912-1917 and the last mine closed in 1942. Bodie became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. .
  13. Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise above a popular lake in Wrights Lake Recreation Area, in Eldorado National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. In summer, reservations are required to get one of the crowded campsites. Arrive early before 9am or mid week to get a parking spot for great hikes; or park as we did in the day use area for a nice walk around the lake (which connects to excellent Twin Lakes Trail and Grouse Lake Trail). Directions to Wrights Lake Campground: 23 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, 11 miles north on Ice House Road (Forest Road 3), 9 miles east on Forest Road 32 (Wrights Lake Tie Road), and 2 miles north on Forest Road 4 (Wrights Lake Rd).
  14. On our way back to Seattle, in Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, granite pinnacles soared majestically above krumholtz-formation trees atop Castle Dome Trail, just west of Interstate 5, between the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir. One of my favorite hikes in the state is to Castle Dome, an excellent trail 5.8 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain. Geology: although the mountains of Northern California consist largely of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, granite plutons intruded in many areas during the Jurassic period. Heavy Pleistocene glaciation eroded much of the softer surrounding rock leaving soaring crags and spires exposed. Exfoliation of huge, convex slabs of granite made some impressive, rounded towers (California’s look-alike for Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains, in China).

See the above photo gallery for the following Sierra flower photos:

  • Giant blazingstar or smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis)
  • Opuntia fragilis (brittle pricklypear)
  • white Datura flower flower blossoms
  • Coville’s columbine or Sierra columbine (Aquilegia pubescens)
  • Alpine Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)
  • Iris missouriensis (or Iris montana)
  • tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum)
  • prickly poppy (Argemone Genus)
  • Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-fire).

Previous California trips:

In 2015, we were overdue to return to the Eastern Sierras, having last visited 15 years earlier, when we saw Mono Lake & Bodie and backpacked the scenic Virginia Lakes – Summit Lake – Green Lake loop. More recently in 2011, we enjoyed camping in Yosemite Valley (see gallery) in November, a time highly recommended to avoid the overwhelming crowds of summer. A separate article covers all my images from California (and integrates all photos seen above).

USA: Colorado

Colorado favorite images


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The Rockies of Central Colorado

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Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon


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In scenic Glenwood Canyon along I-70, one of America’s most scenic Interstate highways, beautiful Hanging Lake deserves its popularity for hikers (4 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain). 

Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park


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28 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Rifle Falls State Park offers a distinctive triple waterfall.

Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence


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Yellow fall colors brightened the resort of Aspen, where nearby 1880s Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns evoked the state’s mining history. Because no campground options were available around 8000-foot Aspen in late September, I booked at AirBNB.com a good-value condo with kitchen for 4 nights of necessary acclimatization, to prepare for hiking to high altitude. Snagging a parking spot midweek before sunrise at crowded Maroon Lake allowed us to capture the iconic Maroon Bells lit by magical morning light. From there, we grunted breathlessly upwards through fall colors via Crater Lake to desolate alpine Buckskin Pass (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain to 12,462 feet elevation) in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. 

Colorado: Leadville


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We enjoyed strolling in historic Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (elevation of 10,152 feet).

Colorado: Vail


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A relaxing condo stay near Vail allowed a pleasant walk through aspen fall colors to Booth Creek Falls (4.3 miles / 1400 ft gain) on Booth Lake Trail #1885.

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park


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At Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake, we learned that Trail Ridge Road was sadly closed ahead due to ice, which would have required driving around several extra hours to reach Estes Park. Luckily, driving upwards anyway allowed time for the problem to melt along the 12,183-foot-high crossing of Rocky Mountain National Park eastwards to our base at Estes Park KOA. We enjoyed hiking a wonderful loop from Bear Lake Trailhead with spur trails to an impressive series of lakes, waterfalls and peaks (13 miles gaining 2600 feet via Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, The Loch, Lake of Glass, Sky Pond, Alberta Falls then back). Arrive early for parking or take the shuttle.

Colorado: Roxborough State Park


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Roxborough State Park features strikingly tilted red sandstone formations, appreciated via hiking up the pleasant Carpenter Peak Trail and back via Elk Valley loop and Fountain Overlook, 8.5 miles with 1600 feet gain. A shorter walk is to the Peak then directly back (6.2 miles and 1400 ft).

Colorado: Garden of the Gods


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Driving and strolling is a joy in Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, run by the City of Colorado Springs.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park


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Little-known Paint Mines Interpretive Park will delight any admirer of rock hoodoos and colorful abstract patterns.

Canyon Country of the Colorado Plateau:

The Colorado Plateau (centered upon the Four Corners region of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado) has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. You could spend a lifetime exploring the astounding natural wonders of this remarkable desert region. On April 5-7, 2015, we extended our southwest USA spring trip to Colorado National Monument and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park shown below:

Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

Gunnison River has cut a gorge 2300 feet deep at Painted Wall View, in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, Colorado, USA. Pressurized molten rock was forced into the 1.7 billion year old metamorphic rock of The Painted Wall, forming pink pegmatite stripes on Colorado’s highest cliff. The canyon exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.


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On the way from Monticello in Utah to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, check out the pretty pass of Dallas Divide in the San Juan Mountains (which will look fantastic with fall foliage colors on a future trip).

Colorado National Monument


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Recommended activities:

  • Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument: start from Rim Drive and walk 6 miles round trip with 1650-foot gain.
  • Devils Kitchen Trail: 1.5 miles round trip with 200-foot gain to an intimate cluster of pinnacles.
  • Rim Drive offers great canyon vistas using car or bicycle in a loop via Fruita, Colorado.
  • The park is most enjoyable mid week; but weekends can be crowded with visitors from nearby Grand Junction. An advantage of the nearby city is a pilgrimage to REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated, 644 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501) if you need any outdoor clothing, shoes, or gear.

Related articles for Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah) and Texas.

Recommended Colorado guidebooks

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

2015 spring hikes in Utah & Colorado

In Spring 2015, we returned to southwest USA to experience some remarkable yet uncrowded sights:


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Spring/fall desert canyon hiking itinerary, round trip from Salt Lake City

The above photos dated March 27 to April 8, 2015 are from the following itinerary, which makes a good round trip in 2 weeks from Salt Lake City:

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

  1. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
    • * Capitol Gorge (Golden Throne Trail, The Tanks, Pioneer Register)
    • ** Hickman Natural Bridge and ** Rim Overlook Trail
    • * Grand Wash
  2. Goblin Valley State Park
  3. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
    • ** Leprechaun Canyon (on BLM land 8 miles north of GCNRA on Highway 95)
  4. ** Natural Bridges National Monument
  5. Needles District of Canyonlands  NP
    • ** Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Arch
    • * Slickrock Trail
    • * Cave Spring & Historic Cowboy Camp
    • * Needles Outpost Campground has nice *** hot showers to wash off the desert dust. (The scenic ** Canyonlands National Park’s Squaw Flat Campground was full on Thursday and Friday during Easter week 2015.)
    • ** Shay Canyon’s petroglyph gallery (on BLM land outside of Canyonlands National Park, a few miles up the highway from Newspaper Rock)
  6. We skipped ** Moab this year because its campgrounds were overbooked due to the crowded Easter Jeep Safari (Saturday, March 28 – Sunday, April 5, 2015), and instead headed into less-crowded spring destinations in Colorado:
  7. * Dallas Divide, Colorado (a pretty pass in the San Juan Mountains which will look fantastic with *** fall foliage colors on some future trip)
  8. *** Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, Colorado
    • *** The Painted Wall viewpoints around sunrise and sunset
    • * Campground
  9. ** Colorado National Monument, Colorado
    • ** Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument
    • ** Devils Kitchen
    • ** Rim Drive views
  10. ** Dinosaur National Monument, near Jensen, Utah

Tom and Carol Dempsey drove this round trip from Seattle March 25-April 10, 2015.

See related articles: 

What is PhotoSeek’s favorite country to visit?

New Zealand (read Tom’s complete guide) is my favorite international destination (visited in 2007, 1998, 1992 and 1981). Runner-up favorites are discussed further below.

New Zealand

Scenery in the South Pacific paradise of New Zealand varies dramatically in short distances, perfect for touring by car, bicycle, feet, and even jetboat. New Zealand is bigger than the UK, smaller than Japan, and about the size of Colorado − a perfect escape for 2 to 8 weeks. Fully 30% of New Zealand is preserved in parkland, very attractive for wilderness lovers. Exotic, yes! Three-fourths of the country’s plant species are endemic (found nowhere else). Experience exceptional diversity within short travel hops:

  • On New Zealand’s North Island:A Maori woman blows a conch horn to signal villagers at Tamaki Maori Village, an evocative cultural re-creation near Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. Published in Mountain Travel Sobek 2010 trip catalog. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
    • Experience active Maori culture (Tamaki Maori Village) amid a colorful landscape of hot springs and geothermal features (Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland) around Rotorua.
    • Explore spectacular volcanoes (such as Tongariro, Taranaki, and White Island). We loved the Tongariro Crossing, a spectacular and very popular volcanic traverse.
    • The more-populous North Island is big enough for wilderness escapes: a day hike along Panekiri Bluff samples the best of the 4-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
    • Appreciate unique birds, animals, and wildlife on these ecological islands: Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park lets you see nocturnal kiwis during the day. A fun boat tour of Waitomo Glowworm Caves reveals a fascinating insect which shines like a star.
    • See the world’s second largest tree species (Kauri) in Northland Forest Park, Waipoua.
  • On New Zealand’s South Island, our favorite wilderness escape abroad:
    • Hike well-maintained trails through lush native beech rain forest to an abrupt, surprisingly-low-elevation timberline around 1250 meters in the Southern Alps, with permanent snowline above 2000 meters, capped with scenic glaciers. The delightful alpine zone is patrolled by the clownish kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. Admire hanging glaciers and waterfalls in a day hike along the amazing Rob Roy Valley Track.
    • Preventable sandfly bites are the only negative about tramping on the wet side of the Southern Alps.
    • Admire glacier-covered Mount Cook which rises abruptly like a knife to 3724 meters or 12,218 feet (updated in 2013). Although it poses a daunting challenge for climbers, you can easily see Mount Cook from roads and good hiking trails (Sealy Tarns, Hooker Valley Track, and Lake Matheson boardwalk). Mount Cook is the world’s 39th most prominent peak relative to its surrounding topography.
    • Walk to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, which extend tongues of ice uniquely into lush temperate rainforest, down to 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level.
    • Admire the wild and scenic seacoast (Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Nydia Track, Queen Charlotte Track, and Nugget Point) and spectacular fiords / fjords (drive to Milford Sound then cruise or sea kayak).
  • Throughout the country, hike (tramp) along excellent trails (Tracks) and Walkways, optionally staying overnight in convenient refuges (Huts).South Island, NEW ZEALAND: A day hiker crosses Matukituki River swing bridge beneath rocky peaks of the Southern Alps. Published in Sierra Magazine, Sierra Club Outings November/December 2002. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
    • Our favorite multi-day wilderness tracks with overnight huts include: Routeburn Track, Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake (The Siberia Experience), Kepler Track, Milford Track, and Pouakai Track (Mount Egmont/Taranaki).
    • Planes, buses, tour boats, jet boats, and water taxis efficiently assist one-way hikes or round-trip tours.
    • Relax or hike on a variety wonderful beaches on South Island (such as Abel Tasman National Park and Moeraki Boulders) and North Island (Coromandel Peninsula, Ninety Mile Beach, and many more).
  • Urban highlights include:
  • Rent a campervan or car and stay in comfortable motor camps with cabins as we do. Economical motor camps offer great variety & value, with kitchens & bathrooms available as private or shared.
  • With seasons reversed Down Under, we visitors from the Northern Hemisphere can escape winter blahs to enjoy summer funJet lag is only 3 hours from western America (Pacific Standard Time, PST) to New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT).
Sunrise brightens Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki / Mount Cook (right) in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Panorama stitched from 3 overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise brightens Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki / Mount Cook (right) in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Panorama stitched from 3 overlapping photos.

A world of  natural wonders
Sharp spires of the Geisler/Odle Group soar above a hiker on green Alpe di Seceda, above St. Christina and Ortisei, in South Tyrol, the Dolomites, Italy, Europe. The beautiful ski resort of Selva di Val Gardena (German: Wolkenstein in Gröden; Ladin: Sëlva Gherdëine) makes a great hiking base in the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol) region of Italy. For our favorite hike in the Dolomiti, start from Selva with the first morning bus to Ortisei, take the Seceda lift, admire great views up at the cross on the edge of Val di Funes (Villnöss), then walk 12 miles (2000 feet up, 5000 feet down) via the steep pass Furcela Forces De Sieles (Forcella Forces de Sielles) to beautiful Vallunga (trail #2 to 16), finishing where you started in Selva. The hike traverses the Geisler/Odle and Puez Groups from verdant pastures to alpine wonders, all preserved in a vast Nature Park: Parco Naturale Puez-Odle (German: Naturpark Puez-Geisler; Ladin: Parch Natural Pöz-Odles). UNESCO honored the Dolomites as a natural World Heritage Site in 2009. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

My wife Carol and I enjoy escaping urban areas to athletically explore natural wonders. We especially love the mystery and beauty mountains. Below are some highlights from each continent we’ve visited:

Europe:

  • Trains and lifts make the majestic Alps the world’s easiest mountains to visit with public transportation.
    • Visit spectacular Switzerland for an ideal mountain vacation in one of the world’s safest and most democratic countries. Admirably, the Swiss love nature, preserve diverse cultural traditions in four official languages, and exemplify progressive values.
    • The stunning Dolomites of Italy make a perfect hiking trip combined with romantic Venice, via its convenient airport. The Dolomiti range may be the world’s most impressive concentration of knife-shaped peaks served with ski resort lifts convenient for summer hikers. You can easily day hike (staying in comfortable three-star hotels reached by rental car or bus), or trek long distances from hut to hut (sleeping in rifugio dormitories), or climb exciting via ferrata routes.
  • The beautiful fjords, mountains, and people of Norway touched my heart when hiking in 2011 and 1981. Experience natural wonders, charm, culture, and history within the world’s most democratic country.
  • While Greece is well worth visiting (especially romantic Santorini Island and the rugged northern mountains of Zagori), the exotic Republic of Turkey offers more variety, the friendliest people, and spans 9000 years of history.

Asia:

  • The magnificent Himalaya in Nepal impresses you with diverse human cultures living on the flanks of soaring summits. Due to the country’s relatively poor health conditions, wash hands frequently and be careful what you eat.

North America:A hiker chimneys up the narrow walls of Zebra Slot Canyon, in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. Directions to unmarked trailhead for Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons: From Escalante town, drive 6 miles east on Highway 12, turn right on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, drive 7.8 miles to the third cattle guard and park on west side of road. Hike east on well-trodden but unmarked path, 5 miles round trip to Zebra Slot, plus an optional 3 miles round trip to Tunnel Slot (750 feet gain over 8 miles), using map from GSENM Visitor Center or canyoneeringusa.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • Canada:
    • The Canadian Rockies rival any mountains in the world for breathtaking natural beauty, easily reached on paved highways, great for bicycling.
  • United States of America:
    • Big and brawny, the USA has an abundance of world-class natural wonders. The West is best:
    • Utah has the world’s best concentration of slot canyons, natural arches, and colorful desert canyon country favored with mostly sunny weather, great in Spring and Fall. As of 2018, Utah has attracted me to visit 17 times, more than any other area in the world! Extend your visit to nearby wonders in Arizona (such as Grand Canyon of the Colorado River) in Southwest USA.
    • Washington (my home base) is one of the most ecologically and scenically diverse states in the USA.
    • Yellowstone (Wyoming) has the world’s best concentration of geysers and geothermal features.
    • Montana‘s Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise on the wildly spectacular Rocky spine of North America.
    • Hawaii offers some of the best hiking in the world, with striking natural beauty attracting me six times (as of 2017).
    • Alaska hosts the rugged margins of American culture in a superlative, wild landscape.

South America:Golden sunrise light hits lenticular (lens-shaped, UFO-like) clouds capping Nevado Yerupaja Grande (6635 m or 21,770 ft), Peru's second highest peak. Seen from Incahuain / Jahuacocha campground on Day 9 of 9 days trekking around the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Andes Mountains, one day's walk from LLamac village, Peru, South America. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • The Andes (PeruEcuador, Chile, Argentina) rival the size of the Himalaya, and their slopes thrive with colorful traditional cultures such as the Quechua people, the direct descendants of the Inca.
  • Ecuador offers incredible variety, from the Andes Highlands to the Galapagos Islands, a wondrous adventure for children and adults. Families and wildlife lovers should put the wonderful Galapagos Islands at the top of their dream travel list. This fabulous eco-adventure attracted me thrice as a warm escape from Seattle’s wet winter and early spring (April 8-27, 2009; February 21-March 3, 1994; and January 12-26, 1986).
  • Argentina and Chile are beautiful and varied, making a great reverse-season escape to summer (January-March) away from the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Buenos Aires, “the Paris of the South,” attracts we lovers of Tango music and dancing. The wild beauty of Patagonia will likely draw us to hike Torres del Paine and Cerro Fitz Roy a second time. Argentina is much bigger than New Zealand, requiring more travel time between sights, such as Mendoza wine region and Iguassu Falls (both not yet seen) and Patagonia.

Antarctica:

  • Pristine Antarctica is remote, very cold, yet alluring − best seen in combination with a trip to Patagonia (southern Chile or Argentina), where you catch the boat from the port of Ushuaia, on the Island of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. 10 days is the shortest cruise to the scenic Antarctic Peninsula; we cruised for 12 days. Find a ship with the fewest passengers (90-130) to increase your land excursion time. Don’t forget a prescription medicine patch to prevent motion sickness across the rough Drake Passage (5 days round trip on treacherous seas). If affordable, extend your voyage (22 days) to spectacular South Georgia Island to see vast colonies of Emperor Penguins.

Australia/New Zealand:A Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) is shown at Bonorong Wildlife Park, Briggs Road, Brighton, Tasmania, Australia. Wombats are burrowing grass eaters, and can be thought of as the marsupial ecological equivalent of a bear. Wombats are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of southeast Australia including Tasmania, plus an isolated group in Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland. The three living species of wombats are marsupial mammals in the Vombatidae family. They dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. Their unusual backwards-facing pouch avoids gathering dirt onto its young. Although mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. Wombats are herbivores, mostly eating grasses, sedges, herbs, bark and roots. Published on Australian geocaching coin 2010, displayed in support of Wilder Foundation 2009, 2010, and exhibited at Oceanario de Lisboa, Portugal 2007. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

  • Big countries such as Australia require many extra transit days via ground transportation to reach the highlights. Save time by coordinating multiple internal flights with rental cars and practical campervan rentals. Carol and I escaped Seattle’s winter for 7.5 weeks exploring some great forest parks in southern Australian summer, January 26-March 18, 2004. We most enjoyed Australia’s exotic animals and plants. Best weather for a separate trip to northern and interior Australia (the “Red Centre”) would be September or October.
  • In a nutshell, New Zealand is our favorite foreign country to visit, as described at the top of this article.

We hope to visit Africa at some point.

The above favorite links are a subset of my complete SITE MAP: INDEX of PhotoSeek contents.

International travel opens our outlook on a diverse world of wonders and human commonalities. Most people worldwide enjoy hosting guests and employing the Golden Rule − the ethic of reciprocity − to treat others how you want to be treated.

Tom Dempsey, creator of PhotoSeek.com
Seattle, Washington, USA
February 28, 2016

More New Zealand images

South Pacific Ocean waves released the spherical Moeraki Boulders onto Koekohe Beach, between Moeraki and Hampden on the Otago coast, South Island, New Zealand. These ancient concretions grew 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter over 4 to 5.5 million years from marine mud (Moeraki Formation mudstone) near the surface of the Paleocene sea floor. After the concretions formed, large cracks (septaria) formed and filled with brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the enclosing mudstone. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

South Pacific Ocean waves released the spherical Moeraki Boulders onto Koekohe Beach, between Moeraki and Hampden on the Otago coast, South Island, New Zealand. These ancient concretions grew 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter over 4 to 5.5 million years from marine mud (Moeraki Formation mudstone) near the surface of the Paleocene sea floor. After the concretions formed, large cracks (septaria) formed and filled with brown calcite, yellow calcite, and small amounts of dolomite and quartz when a drop in sea level allowed fresh groundwater to flow through the enclosing mudstone. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trees frame Lake Waikaremoana along the Panekiri Bluff trail in Te Urewera National Park, North Island, New Zealand. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trees frame Lake Waikaremoana along the Panekiri Bluff trail in Te Urewera National Park, North Island, New Zealand. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010.

Trampers hike the Tongariro Crossing beneath Mount Ngauruhoe (2291 metres or 7516 feet elevation), which last erupted in 1975 in Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand. In 1990 and 1993, UNESCO honored Tongariro National Park as a World Heritage Area and Cultural Landscape. Tongariro National Park served as a location for fictional Mordor and Mount Doom in the "Lord of the rings" Motion Pictures. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Trampers hike the Tongariro Crossing beneath Mount Ngauruhoe (2291 metres or 7516 feet elevation), which last erupted in 1975 in Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand. In 1990 and 1993, UNESCO honored Tongariro National Park as a World Heritage Area and Cultural Landscape. Tongariro National Park served as a location for fictional Mordor and Mount Doom in the “Lord of the Rings” Motion Pictures. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010.

A tramper hikes on sandy Mutton Cove Beach, along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Book huts using the Great Walk reservation system. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Tramper Carol hikes on sandy Mutton Cove Beach, along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Book huts using the Great Walk reservation system. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Sunrise illuminates the curious tors and tarns (crags and ponds) on Hump Ridge, a track (trail) for trampers (hikers and trekkers) in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Panorama stitched from 5 overlapping images. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise illuminates the curious tors and tarns (crags and ponds) on Hump Ridge, a track (trail) for trampers (hikers and trekkers) in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. In 1990, UNESCO honored Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand as a World Heritage Area. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Panorama stitched from 5 overlapping images.

I’m enthralled with what Bill Gates calls his new “favorite book of all time”: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), by Steven Pinker.