Photography, Travel

Road Trip Travelogue Day 5: Last Day in Yellowstone

Once Philip and I found the best campsite in Yellowstone (see Day 4), it was hard to face that we would have to leave the park.

Here are some photos from our last full day, which we spent hiking and fishing. We had no luck with the fish, but we did spot a buck and wrangled a small snake!

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Read my other Road Trip Travelogues here:

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

 

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Photography, Travel

Road Trip Travelogue Day 3: Reunion at Lost Lake

After saying an abrupt goodbye to my college friend Kate in our second year at Franklin College Switzerland (now University), I wish someone could have told me that I would be reunited with her in Yellowstone 5 years later! It wouldn’t have softened the blow of her absence, but it would have given me something to look forward to, aside from her amazing blog post updates.

Kate’s stories about her home in Montana had always captured my imagination, and I knew I wanted to visit her there long before I made the trip a reality this summer. But before Montana, there was this little pit stop Philip and I wanted to make at a place called Yellowstone. So Kate and Logan, her gentleman caller, obliged us by meeting us for night of camping and a day of hiking in Wyoming!

After a night of catching up over s’mores and Montana brews, we ventured into the Northern reaches of the park. We stopped by Tower Roosevelt for a peek at the falls and some incredible basalt formations. Then we went on to hike the Lost Lake trail. Our first inclination was to hike towards a waterfall. When the trail petered out, we doubled back to find the Lost Lake, but not before catching sight of the fall we sought.

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Kate took photographs on this hike as well, which you can find on her blog Zephotographist under “Foxes, Frogs, and Hiking: A Day in Yellowstone.” I think it’s really interesting to compare the different subjects we chose to photograph on the same hike! She’s much better at taking photographs of people!

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After Kate and Logan left, Philip and I continued on to Mammoth to see the hot springs. We stopped to eat ice cream on a patch of grass not occupied by lounging elk.

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We also ate some pretty disappointing food in a cafeteria. Luckily, these old pictures of tourists in Yellowstone hanging on the walls more than made up for the bland meal.

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After a long day of driving around the park and spotting wildlife (a mamma black bear and her two cubs!) along the roadside, we settled into yet another new campsite. I found this little face on a log and it made me smile.

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It was a great day.

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Photography, Travel

Road Trip Travelogue Day 2: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

After driving into Yellowstone park in the middle of the night and cuddling my bear spray all night long, I had no idea what to expect upon waking up. I know it definitely wasn’t Philip telling me we had to move our tent because the campsite we had snuck onto was reserved for the day.

Luckily, the nice folk who worked at the Madison campground were able to find us another reservation at the Bridge Bay campground. After setting up our tent and making breakfast, Philip and I set out to take in the park. Driving past Yellowstone Lake, it was hard to believe that what we were seeing was real.

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And it didn’t become any more real after we saw our first bison. They may look like lumbering creatures, but the alacrity with which they crossed this river, proved just how swift they really can be.

 

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There is nowhere else I have experienced such wide open expanses. What struck me most about Yellowstone was the grand scale of this wide open nature. You really did feel closer to the clouds at this elevation.

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Our first hike was a loop through the back country starting by Artist Point at the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where there are beautiful views of the falls.

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In the back country they tell you to hike in groups of 3 or more, make noise and carry bear spray. Thinking about all of this while walking a trail close to the edge of canyon made me a little nervous, but the views were worth it.

Luckily, there was a loud prepubescent boy walking on the same trail with his family, so all that made me nervous was watching him walk too far out onto the cliff’s edge.

After noticing trees with scratched and worn away bark, I began to realize that Yellowstone may be the first place I have ever been to that has been shaped just as much by wildlife as it has been by humans.

If you look closely, you may seem some hairs sticking to these claw marks. Philip and I assumed at the time that it must have been grizzly bear hair, but it could have been brown bear or even another animal altogether. I like to think it was grizzly though.

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Later, we would learn from my friend Kate that the larger markings were most likely created by a horned animal like a bison or male elk.

We also saw some tracks! A Google search leads me to believe that these are Bison tracks, feel free to correct me in the comments!

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As we followed our trail loop away from the canyon we entered a wooded area towards Clear Lake. And of course I had to stop to take some pictures of the wild flowers.

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It was pretty marshy where we were headed.

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We could see the natural gases bubbling underwater. And when we arrived at Clear Lake, the water was a vivid turquoise blue caused by chromatophore bacteria.

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I really liked the driftwood on the beach of this small lake. Philip and I sat for a minute on one of these logs but were driven away by the pungent sulphur smell.

Shortly after, the landscape changed completely and we walked along an ashy white plane with very little growing. We walked past this hole in the ground and listened to what sounded like boiling mud. We tried recording the sound but it was too hard to capture the fullness of each plop.

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Overall, it was an amazing first day in Yellowstone National Park!

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Arts & Culture, Travel

From the Archives: “Snæfellsjökull Healing” for the Reykjavík Grapevine

The following is an article I wrote in 2013 about Iceland’s Extreme Chill electronic music festival while interning for the Reykjavík Grapevine. Thanks to the Panama Papers, things are not “extremely chill” in Iceland at the moment. The beats you’ll hear in Iceland today are the beating of pots and pans outside government buildings protesting the deceit and corruption of the prime minister.

Make sure to follow the Reykjavík Grapevine for up to date coverage of the protests in Iceland. If you need some “Snæfellsjökull Healing” (like Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”) read on and harken back to chiller times.

Covered Kirkjufell close to Olafsvik.

Armed only with rumours that I would most likely encounter cold weather and people doing A LOT of drugs, I headed for the fourth annual Extreme Chill Festival bundled up in my warmest gear, haunted by visions of neon booty shorts and glowsticks. What I didn’t expect to find was a warm and welcoming group of electronic musicians and fans communing with nature under Hellissandur’s mystical glacier, Snæfellsjökull.

It all began with a stop in Grundafjörður to plant a tree. The Sterna bus we took to Snæfellsnes doubled as a guided tour of the Snæfellnes peninsula, and when it stopped I woke up in confusion. A guide invited passengers off the bus to plant a birch sapling in a community garden that we christened “Little Chill Fest” in honor of our final destination.


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Thanks to the tour guide, I soon realized Hellissandur was near Ólafsvík, the birthplace of my great great grandmother, Ólína, whom I share a name with. She emigrated to Canada near the turn of the 20th century during a famine, and tragically lost contact with her sister. As the first Ólína to return to Iceland from our family tree, I have reconnected with her sister’s offspring but had yet to make the pilgrimage to her hometown.

 

This is when I first began to sense the pull of Snæfellnes’ glacier, Snæfellsjökull. It is this same glacier Jules Verne made famous as a portal in ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth,’ and the same glacier my great great grandmother undoubtedly saw many times in her early life, and while, the distinctive twin peaks of the 700,000-year-old ‘jökli’ were hidden by low clouds, there more than enough scenic views to go around.

Calm before the storm

We set up camp in a grassy field near a corral of friendly Icelandic horses that came right up to the fence to watch the first tents pop up. A group had already established itself at the far end of the site, with eight smaller tents surrounding a covered communal area complete with a voodoo skull planted on a stake. Despite the skull, the group was incredibly welcoming and explained they had come together to honour the memory of a recently passed friend who had brought them all together. As the campsite began to fill up, car stereos pumped muffled beats and a small colony of nomads formed and spread out along the banks of a small stream.

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Up the street from the campsite, a few Extreme Chill posters pasted to covered windows identified Röst, a modest venue with all the necessary amenities including a sizable stage, a projection booth and acoustic wood panelling. Inside, electronic music pulsed along to visualizations from the surrounding environment: snowy roads, rushing waves, craggy rocks and grassy fields. Tea candles and incense burned on tabletops surrounded by chairs. The overall effect was more calming than raving. Throughout the festival it was common for the crowd to sit or lay-down, some even practiced yoga near the front of the stage.

According to Árni Grétar, a.k.a. Futuregrapher, Extreme Chill is unlike any other electronic music festival because of this spiritual element. While violent fights are common at many Icelandic festivals, Árni maintained Extreme Chill attendees “don’t want to destroy themselves or others.” Which is an atmosphere the controlled number of attendees, purposefully capped at 400, helps maintain.
However, this is not to say the festival was lacking in moments of intensity. The second day in particular featured the eerie stylings of father-son duo, Stefán Finnboga Péturs; the heavy beats of the Swiss artist Mimetic, and the hardcore dance rhythms of 101 Reykjavík’s Future-grapher and Maggi Lego.

Beyond the MacBook

I talked with one of Extreme Chill’s organisers, Andri Már Arnlaugsson, at Kaffi Sif, where performers and attendees congregated over beers and hamburgers. As we sat on the outdoor deck, he explained the festival’s rigorous selection process: “We seek out performers with a stage presence. Nobody wants to see a guy standing behind a MacBook. Enough of that already.”

Acts like Úlfur, Modesart and Samaris featured live instrumentals, most unconventionally with Tumi Árnason on saxophone. My only criticism would be that with the exception of Jófrí›ur Ákadóttir and Áslaug Rún Magnús-dóttir of Samaris, the festival’s line-up was overwhelmingly male. Overall, the festival successfully highlighted some of the best experimental electronic music in Iceland while attracting big foreign names. Unfortunately, Le Sherifs from Egypt were unable to make it due to political unrest in Cairo.

In the past outdoor sets were extremely popular in the sunny weather, however, I chilled myself to the bone listening to Mixmaster Morris in the cold. The master lived up to his name as he mixed CDs live like a psychedelic gorilla, pacing behind the table in tie-dye pants and a sweater with large black sequins that swayed to the beat. The misty gray setting was a nice juxtaposition to a masterful sampling of Rhye’s lyrics, “It’s one of those pretty summer, summer days. Just a tiny one,” before I headed back to Kaffi Sif for a warm cup of tea.


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After the official sets ended at around 3:00, the party continued at the campsite. Local kids took matters into their own hands, appearing over a ridge shuffling under the weight of large speakers. On Friday night the biggest tarp I’d ever seen was turned into a pop-up techno teepee with the help of a few pieces of wood. The party continued well into the wee hours until the wind ripped the tarp off the ground and the structure collapsed.

Strangely enough, sleeping through this 24-hour dance party was easier than you would expect. It was only when the music stopped around 8:00 in the morning that I would wake up with a start. At Extreme Chill your body becomes accustomed to a constant, persistent beat and without it, you become suddenly lost. Luckily it usually wasn’t long before someone else’s stereo would take over the metronomic duties.


Clouded in mystery

On Sunday a blue sky peeked through the clouds and I hoped to get a better look at Snæfellsjökull, but the winds were not in my favour. Until my next journey, this glacier will remain clouded in mystery. But as Futuregrapher said, “It is beyond man to understand, but for man to feel,” which sums up most of my experiences at Extreme Chill this year.

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Travel

Death Valley Lizard Friends

If you know Philip, then you know that he wants to be friends with all the animals — especially those that are difficult to catch, like lizards. His ability to wrangle lizards has earned the praise of naturalists and frightened indoor dwellers alike.

Death Valley presented Philip with a unique opportunity to encounter new lizard species. While walking through Titus Canyon, one of Death Valley’s largest canyons, Philip befriended three lizards — and by befriended, I mean mercilessly stalked.

While a walk through Death Valley’s largest canyon is worth the trip in and of itself, Philip and I needed a little more convincing that our midday hike through Titus Canyon would yield a return on our sweat investment.

I had read on the National Park Service website that there were petroglyphs in this canyon. Meanwhile, an illustrated Chuckwalla lizard on the Death Valley map had caught Philip’s attention.

It wasn’t until we admitted that we were searching for these things aloud to each other that they manifested around the next bend. My eye caught a white etching on a nearby rock face, while Philip saw the slightest movement out of the corner of his eye.

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I have not verified the authenticity of this petroglyph, but from what I could tell, it was clearly etched into the stone. It appears to depict a bighorn sheep, which are endemic to the area, and a crescent moon.

When I turned around to show Philip, the photo below illustrates what I saw: Philip carefully crouching at the mouth of this rock, engaged in a staring contest with a lizard hiding in the furthermost corner of this boulder. It was a Chuckwalla!

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I like how Philip’s hat balances on the boulder here. For a closer look at the lizard from Philip’s point of view, here is a picture Philip posted to Instagram:

 

Later we would encounter what Philip believed to be a Desert Spiny Lizard. Here you can see Philip trying to act natural, while only succeeding in completely freaking this lizard out. This was as close as he got. I have edited the photo to make the location of this well camouflaged animal more clear.

Lizard Spotting

While Philip was engaged in lizard standoffs, I was keeping an eye out for new wildflowers:

I don’t have a positive ID for the tiny white flowers I found, but they may have been Scented Cryptantha (Cryptantha utahensis). We also saw more purple Notch-Leaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) and white Desert-Star (Monoptilon bellioides). And when there weren’t flowers, there were rocks. Luckily, even rocks without petroglyphs are still interesting to me.

Thanks to me keeping an eye out for wildflowers, I was able to see a flash of bright turquoise that turned out to be a kind of Skink lizard. Philip tried over and over again to catch this little guy in his hands, but he was just too quick.

Just as I was ready to give up hope, Philip was able to secure it against a rock that he picked up. With his own little piece of the desert to cling to, this lizard let us have a closer look. You can see some yellow Golden Evening-Primrose (Camissonia brevipes) in this first shot of the lizard.

 

We deemed our short jaunt into the canyon a success. Our next adventure that day would not allow us to so passively achieve our goals.

To read more about our Death Valley adventures, stay tuned for more blog posts and read:

Dorky Hats in Death Valley

No Sleep ‘Till Death Valley

Death Valley Birthday

 

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