Travel theme: Shine

It is hot, hot, hot and with the summer solstice just around the corner in the northern hemisphere, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are truly here. The sun is shining and so is this week’s theme. To start off, here are some giant shiny Christmas ornaments in midtown Manhattan.

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Railroad tracks shining in the sunset during a quick break on the Empire Builder.

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Check out the gleam of that paint finish. A rare sighting of a rare beauty; there are only 150 ‘Kissel Kars’ known to exist today. I spotted this one getting ready to hit the road in a vintage car rally in Wisconsin.

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Hidden in a Seattle neighbourhood, there’s a rather special tree called the Holiday Tree which changes not just with the season but with the holiday. Here it is shining out in all its Valentine’s Day glory.

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High noon over one of my favourite places on the planet, the awe-inspiring Zion National Park.

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I hope you take a shine to this week’s theme. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Shine
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Shine on!

xxx Ailsa

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within. – Elizabeth Kubler Ross

An age is called ‘dark’ not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it. – James Michener

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 129 Comments

Travel theme: Fresh

I can still smell the air on that trail at Washington Pass, a perfect mix of cold and freshness, so I’ve been looking through my photos for some shots that fit with the fresh theme. Snow for me epitomizes freshness so I’m starting off with a snowy photo from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

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Everything feels fresher after a rain shower, with the added bonus of sparkling raindrops scattering light all around. This was taken at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island shortly after a cloudburst.

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An inventive way of keeping roses fresh; a rose man in Rome douses his bouquet in a fountain.

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Fresh berries at a farmer’s market in California, mmmm.

street market raspberries blueberries berries

Are you ready to get fresh with me? ;)  If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme, here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Fresh
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. – J.B. Priestly

I am so fresh in soul and spirit that life gushes and bubbles around me in a thousand springs. – Robert Schumann

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 115 Comments

North Cascades Road Trip Pt 2 – Liberty Bell and Lone Fir

After our brief respite at Cascadian Farm, we were back on the road heading towards the North Cascades. We stopped in Marblemount to fuel up, because it is home to the last gas station before entering the park. There wouldn’t be another full service community until we got out the other side of the park and reached Winthrop, almost 88 miles away. While we were there, we stocked up on water and a few supplies for the night, grabbing a hot sandwich at a takeaway place situated in the cabin of a parked train.

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We also took the time to check out Wildwood Chapel, a diminutive church that seats a maximum of 9 churchgoers and smacks of pure Americana at its adorable best. You could almost pick it up and put it in your pocket, if you were in need of a mobile place of worship.

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The road wound through Newhalem which is the gateway to the North Cascades National Park. It was late in the day so we didn’t bother to stop, as the ranger station would be closed by now. Instead, we kept on driving along State Route 20 which twisted through the mountains beside the Skagit River.

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I was confused; we were now officially in the park but massive power lines skirted the roadway and cut ugly gashes across the otherwise stunning landscape. If I had looked at maps of the surrounding area before we set out, it might not have come as such a surprise; near Marblemount there’s a road that runs parallel to the North Cascades Highway called Power Line Road. Riverbeds dotted with ghostly tree stumps bore traces of what lay up ahead.

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There are a total of three dams along the river, which have given rise to three major lakes – Ross, Diablo and Gorge reservoirs. They supply Seattle with hydro-electricity and were constructed by Seattle City Light before the area was established as a national park in 1968. The lakes themselves were beautiful, sparkling an iridescent, glacial green against a glorious backdrop of smoky mountains…

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…but the power lines really got to me. It is hard to revel in the unspoilt beauty of the wilderness when you’re surrounded by pylons and the hum of electricity. In the 1920s it was all the rage for tourists to come up here to see the mountains but also to visit the hydro-electric works – there are interpretive trails in the Newhalem area that explore the history of the power stations. Nowadays, the lakes serve as a major recreation area with boating and jet ski facilities for water lovers. If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, however, the North Cascades will make you work for it. The park is wedge-shaped, running from the Canadian border in the north all the way down to Lake Chelan in the south, and there’s really only one major road that passes through it, the one we were on. Unlike other parks which have roads that wind you through large portions of the park, the North Cascades taunts you with what might lay beyond the asphalt, if you leave your car behind and go off backpacking into the wilderness. At 684,000 acres, there’s plenty of exploring to be done with hundreds of glaciers, vast subalpine meadows and miles of virgin forest. It also crosses the east-west divide of the Cascades which means you get totally different terrains within the same park; in the west the rain-drenched climes allow hemlock, fir and cedar to flourish; the high desert of the east favours ponderosa pine and sagebrush.

We pushed on further and somewhere along the way the power lines disappeared and it felt like we were finally in the park. Our little car climbed higher and higher towards Washington Pass and then suddenly, dramatically, we got our first sight of Liberty Bell, a cluster of craggy, 7,500 foot high giant peaks that feature prominently in most guides to Washington State.

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We gasped in unison. It really is an imposing sight; Mother Nature pulled out all the stops on this hulking massif. Jo glanced over at me as we approached the entrance to a trail head. “Fancy another hike?” she asked tentatively, wondering if I’d recovered from my traumatic struggle up Sauk Mountain earlier in the day. “Oh yeah” I was almost out of the car before it stopped. Jo needn’t have worried; this trail was a doddle compared to the earlier one. Paved and gently inclined, we rambled through rocky outcrops dotted with dwarf pines and marvelled aloud at the dramatic views spreading out before us. The North Cascades are sometimes referred to as the American Alps and looking around, I could see why.

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Liberty Bell towered above us as the light began to fade and a thick mist settled, dusting our faces with beads of moisture. The air smelled so fresh it was intoxicating.

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On our way out we ran into a ranger and learned to our surprise we were no longer in the national park. Somewhere around where the power lines had disappeared, we had entered the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “So this trail is maintained by the national forest?” Jo asked. “Yhup” grinned the forest ranger. “Hats off to you guys” we both agreed it was a gorgeous trail, immaculately maintained. “Come back soon” he waved goodbye as we pulled out of the parking lot and dipped down into a misty valley on the other side of the pass.

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In the rear view mirror Liberty Bell watched over our departure. We decided we should come back the following day to take in the views during daylight. Our little campground, Lone Fir, was just a few miles along the road, a picture perfect forested site with a babbling brook in the background. We drove around the loops twice before settling upon our site for the night. Jo announced she wanted to try setting up the tent single-handed – she’s been dreaming of doing the John Muir Trail on her own for a while so solo tent pitching would be a must. She got almost all the way to the end, but got stuck at the last hurdle so I gave her a hand with the final step. For my part, I managed single-handed to unfurl my sleeping bag and lay it out on the back seat of the car, which, as we had established on our Great Volcano Road Trip, was the most sensible place for me sleep. Jo congratulated me on my achievement, then retired to her tent as I snuggled up in the back seat of the car and gazed up at the stars as I drifted blissfully off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that an entire car lay between me and the bears and cougars I imagined lurking behind every clump of trees.

(Continued here.)

Here’s some footage of our trip today

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, United States, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Travel theme: Unexpected

After my unexpected encounter with killer black flies on Sauk Mountain, I’m looking at other places that turned out to be something other than expected. First up, Arches National Park. Every photo I’ve seen of this amazing park is filled with glowing red rocks and bright blue skies, so it was with confusion that my pal Sylvia and I encountered flash floods and unholy thunderstorms on our trip to Utah. Unbeknownst to us, Utah has a monsoon season and we had landed bang smack in the middle of it. Arches was shrouded in fog and filled with pools of rainwater the entire time we were there – but it looked all the lovelier for it. arches national park, windows, utah, road trip, us, usa, america, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The most unexpected place to find something secret is the epicenter of one of the world’s busiest cities. In the heart of Times Square lies a secret sound installation, lurking under the grates in the sidewalk. The work of Max Neuhaus; it is an amplification of resonances already present in the subway tunnels that run under the city, and it is appropriately titled ‘Times Square‘. If you’re in the area, listen out for the sound of bells or gongs resonating; at points the wall of sound is so thick it drowns out the sound of the surrounding traffic.

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One of my favourite unexpected encounters took place high up in Ireland’s Featherbeds a couple of Christmas Eves ago. Driving along a winding road through expanses of bog and forest and heathers, I turned a corner and found, miles from anywhere, a fully decorated Christmas tree. The random act of some stranger or strangers unknown filled me with holiday cheer.

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What are your favourite unexected memories? If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme and share something unexpected, here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Unexpected
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. – Paul Coelho

Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience. – Masaru Ibuka

If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail. – Heraclitus

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 159 Comments

North Cascades Road Trip Pt 1 – Climbing Sauk Mountain

My friend Jo and I had already done one amazing road trip to Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier but that felt like a lifetime ago. It had been too long since either of us had been to the mountains so together we planned another trip. This time we were heading north to do the North Cascades Loop. North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48 states; startling considering its proximity to Seattle. A short two hour drive will get you from the centre of Seattle to the heart of the North Cascades which makes it a perfectly doable day trip. Jo and I, however, decided we would take our time, planning to do some hiking and camp overnight in the park somewhere around Washington Pass. The next day we would drive south through Western Washington’s Methow Valley, crossing back over the mountains via Stevens Pass.

Jo got the camping gear sorted while I looked online for a site to overnight. There were several options but the one that looked most promising was called Lone Fir. Apart from the fact that I loved the name, it was perfectly located just off Highway 20 close to the summit and just outside the National Park, in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. I made note of some other sites in the area just in case that one was full by the time we got there, and then set about finding a hike for us to do on our first day. I happened across a review of a trail up Sauk Mountain which was on our way to the North Cascades. It read: “Easy, gentle hike through wildflower-strewn meadows with a panoramic view of the Cascades at the end.” It sounded like an idyllic little jaunt on our way to the park so we put it on our itinerary. This is the route we decided upon.

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We set off bright and early in Jo’s little car which was packed to the brim with camping gear and provisions. I-5 was blissfully traffic-free and in no time at all we had left Seattle far behind and were in the heart of the Skagit Valley, home to the famous tulip festival I visited last year.

At Burlington we left the freeway and turned eastbound onto the North Cascades Highway, passing through the delightfully named city of Sedro-Woolley. The city was formed from two neighbouring rival towns – Woolley was named after railroad developer Philip A. Woolley who built up his business in the area. Sedro was very nearly named something entirely different. Mortimer Cook, ex-mayor of Santa Barbara, moved up to this as yet unnamed town in the mid 1880s and decided he wanted to name the town Bug due to the overwhelming number of mosquitoes. His wife and other women of the town objected vociferously to the name so he had to change his mind. Instead, he chose the Spanish for cedar, cedro, spelling it with an ‘s’ to add his own flourish. In 1898, the two towns and several other smaller homesteads merged and Sedro-Woolley was born. The town made national headlines in 1922 when an elephant named Tusko escaped from a travelling circus and stomped through the logging town, taking out telephone poles, chicken coops and a Model T. Poor old Tusko was passed from one bad owner to another over the following years but was eventually rescued from a life of misery when in 1932 he was brought in chains on a flatbed truck to Seattle to be displayed as a sideshow freak. The mayor of Seattle was horrified at his condition and confiscated him from his unscrupulous owner. Tusko lived out his last 8 months on the planet under the loving care of staff at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

The next town we travelled through had the rather grittier name of Concrete. This town started life as a settlement by the name of Minnehaha which later changed to Baker after the nearby Baker river. In 1905 a cement factory set up shop across the river and gave its settlement the imaginative name Concrete City. Three years later, a cement company built a plant in Baker and the two towns decided to merge. It was put to the people to name the new town and they came up with Concrete, which is proudly displayed on the unmissable giant silos along Highway 20.

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The nearby Concrete High School is also rather eye-catching; the school building is built as a bridge spanning a roadway.

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We didn’t dally long for the mountains were calling for us. The North Cascades Highway twisted and turned and the Skagit River slipped quietly along beside the road in a strip of sparkling turquoise. This was turning into a glorious day.

north cascades, mount sauk, north cascades loop, north cascades national park, washington, travel, travelogue, road trip, ailsa prideaux-mooney, skagit riverAbout 7 miles outside of Concrete we turned off Highway 20 and started driving up a dirt road that zigged and zagged ever upward towards the start of the hike up Sauk Mountain.

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6 dusty, gravelly, pothole-filled miles later our little car chugged into the parking lot and we got ready to hike. The sun was blazing down and the view from the parking lot was spectacular; I couldn’t wait to get started. I grabbed a water bottle, my hat and shades and hopped out of the car filled with enthusiasm, ready to take in a great lungful of mountain air, but before I could inhale, the air seemed to swirl in front of my eyes and I was engulfed by a swarm of black flies. I squeaked and waved them away but they just laughed at me and resumed their attack. Jo was already at the trail head so I decided to make a run for it, catching up with her and settling into a comfortable walking pace beside her. But it didn’t take more than a minute for the flies to catch up with me. The smaller flies darted around but the bigger flies came in for the kill and I realized to my horror they were biting me. Zap, one got my elbow, zap another one got my ankle. I squealed like a stuck pig and started flailing around trying to get them off me. Jo watched my antics with concerned amusement. She seemed quite unperturbed by the flying menaces; in fact they were positively ignoring her. Occasionally one would circle around her and then circle right back around and launch itself at me. I continued on gamely through waving grasses filled with wildflowers, trying to stay upright in the face of the fly onslaught. It really was beautiful, at least the bit I could see through the veil of biting flies looked lovely.

north cascades, mount sauk, north cascades loop, north cascades national park, washington, travel, travelogue, road trip, ailsa prideaux-mooneyThe trail led us through the meadow to a forested area where the flies thankfully dissipated and we stopped for a quick sip of water before continuing on. The respite was only a brief one for the trail did a switchback and once we were out from under tree cover the flies returned with gusto, descending like a cloak of doom. I gazed up at the summit and the trail that made 22 switchbacks in total. It seemed like a very, very long way away. Thwack, I smashed another fly that had bitten me through my clothes. I looked down and to my dismay saw a coat of flies covering the legs of my jeans and had to do a rather ungainly version of Riverdance to get them to shift. The sun was getting hotter, or maybe it was my frenetic dancing and flailing that was heating me up, but now I was bathed in sweat and could tell by the heat emanating from my face that I was probably bright red from exertion. We were only on the third switchback, there were still 19 more to go.

5 switchbacks later we passed a group of butterfly enthusiasts who told us there were butterflies galore along the trail. One earnest young man watched my flailing arms with amusement and said ‘I see you’ve got the bug dance down’. I grinned mirthlessly at him as sweat dripped from my eyebrows and stung my eyes. It felt like 4,000 degrees under my hat. ‘I suppose the flies go away after a certain elevation’ I pleaded with my eyes for him to answer in the affirmative. He hesitated, possibly considering lying, but in the end the truth won out. ‘Not really, no. Good luck.’ I was crushed. I took another swig of water and poured some of it over my head and face to try to cool down a little. How much longer could I keep going? Every time the trail did a switchback I was convinced we had reached the top, but every time I looked up ahead at the trail more switchbacks appeared.

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My face was on fire now and my whole body was aching but still the flies swarmed and chewed on me and still my arms swung in circles swatting and swiping and still my legs hopped and kicked like I was stricken with St Vitus Dance. Hikers passing us on the way down glanced fearfully at me. I couldn’t tell whether they were worried for me or for themselves. My face felt more purple than red at this point so I assume I looked as if I were about to have a heart attack but I was also deeply aware I looked more than a little like a raging axe murderer.

It was really slow-going now. I started to silently curse whoever had written the review I had read of the hike; nowhere did they mention the evil flies and the terms ‘gentle’ and ‘easy’ were not the ones that sprang to mind as I staggered and spun like a whirling dervish around yet another dastardly switchback. Jo was doing her best to fight the flies off me as she stifled laughter at my plight. She’d point out a particularly lovely butterfly or wildflower but every time I stopped to take a photo…

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…a big black fly would fly down my shirt…

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…or up my sleeve…

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…and I’d whimper and swat at it and sprint a little further up the trail. My legs were like jelly and my heart was pounding with the nonstop jerking; I felt like I’d run a marathon even though the trail itself was only ranked as moderate. Expletives that should never be heard on the slopes of a noble mountain escaped my mouth with every fresh bite.

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Jo was well ahead of me at this point, but she stopped and waved me on. “There are no flies here at all” she said encouragingly, but when I arrived the flies showed up. “They weren’t here a minute ago” Jo said, puzzled. “There were no flies there,” I gasped, “because I wasn’t there. I think every fly in a five mile radius has decided to have me for lunch”.

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Finally, mercifully, the switchbacks ended and we pushed through some evergreen forest and out the other side onto snow-covered slopes.

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The air was cooler and the flies were gone, nowhere to be seen. I almost cried with joy as I scurried towards the snow, picked up a big pile and rubbed it over the inferno that used to be my face, trying to stop the burning. I turned around, refreshed and smiling, camera in hand to take a photo and was instantly enveloped by a swarm of mosquitoes. ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ I yelled in dismay, and staggered back over the snow, swatting as I went.

The last haul was a clamber up some craggy, jagged rocks to the summit, which was tricky when half your hands are being used to fend off dive-bombing mosquitoes but after what seemed like three or four weeks, there we were, standing at the top, gazing out across miles of mountains to Mount Baker off in the distance.

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We sat at the summit for a few minutes taking in the stunning surroundings. I took off my hat and used it to ward off aerial attacks and it turned out to be a lot more effective and a lot less strenuous than turning myself into a human windmill. I wished I had thought of it earlier. After drinking our fill of water we set off back down the trail. My face had returned to its normal colour after the rest and my hat was proving to be a very effective weapon so the way down was immeasurably better than the way up. We even developed a way for me to stop and take photos without getting bitten – when I went to take a photo Jo would take my hat and swat the flies away. What a team!

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The journey back down was so much better I didn’t even count the switchbacks and before we knew it we were back in the meadow and on our way to the parking lot.

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We briefly toyed with the idea of using the public conveniences at the bottom of the trail which were housed in an adorable little A-frame …

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…but the flies were hanging around en masse so we decided to wait. We shot back into the car as quickly as we could but about 30 flies made it in with us, so we spent a good 15 minutes swatting the blighters until the car was once again fly-free. We took one last look up at the mountain that had nearly broken my will to live…

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…and then spun our wheels and left a trail of dust behind as we scuttled back down the mountain and back onto the highway. Jo drove as I soaked tissues with water from my water bottle and wiped layers of sweat off my face and neck. “Jo”, I said, filled with sadness, “if the campsite has bugs like that, I may die.” She giggled. “It won’t” she said reassuringly, “but if it does, we can change our plans.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

Just a few minutes down the road I spotted a familiar name. Cascadian Farms is a range of organic produce that adorns the shelves of many Seattle supermarkets but until now, I had not made the association with the Cascade Mountains. Their farm is along the North Cascade Highway just past Sauk Mountain, so we pulled in to check it out. A little wooden cabin at the entryway was selling organic ice cream so we ordered up two cones of blueberry chocolate chip and went for a wander through their flower gardens.

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north cascades, mount sauk, north cascades loop, north cascades national park, washington, travel, travelogue, road trip, ailsa prideaux-mooney, cascadian farm

Good ice cream has amazing restorative powers and it wasn’t too long before I was back to my old self, looking forward to whatever adventures were up ahead. As I opened the door to the car, a solitary black biting fly shot out, a hitchhiker from Sauk Mountain. We watched it fly away and then turned our car back out onto the highway and headed east into the mountains.

(Continued here.)

Here’s a little footage of our Sauk Mountain hike.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, United States, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Travel theme: Cities

After last week’s slice of rural life at the Sheep Olympics, I thought I’d change things up a little with a very urban travel theme.

Graffiti on London‘s South Bank.

london, south bank, graffiti, travel, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

A rainy day on the Via Condotti in Rome.

via condotti, rome, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Seattle by night from the top of the Space Needle.

seattle, washington, space needle. travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Manhattan, in all her quirky loveliness…

new york, us, america, united states, travel, ailsa prideaux-mooney

…and again – I adore the Big Apple, there’s always something quite magical to photograph.

summer solstice new york times square

So join in this week’s travel theme and take me on a tour of your favourite concrete jungle. Here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Cities
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman. – John Berger

The cities of the world are concentric, isomorphic, synchronic. Only one exists and you are always in the same one. It’s the effect of their permanent revolution, their intense circulation, their instantaneous magnetism. – Jean Baudrillard

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , | 132 Comments

Sheep Olympics

The little town of Gorey in Ireland has been jumping this weekend as sheep lovers flocked from all corners of the world to attend the 2014 Golden Shears aka the Sheep Olympics. It made local news headlines back in October of last year…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney…so yesterday I popped over for a bleating fleeting visit. Before visiting the main event I took some time out for a little window-sheeping – all the shop fronts in town were decked out with sheep crammed into the most unexpected of places.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

There were high fashion sheep in clothes store windows…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

…joking sheep in pub windows…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

…designer sheep in home interior shop windows…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

… and a disturbingly flattened sheep peeping out of the local Boots window. Seriously, is it just me or does that sheep look like roadkill?

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The most inventive sheep was fashioned out of doilies…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

…and the scariest sheep appeared in the window of a local bank. He looked like a V for Vendetta sheep wearing an expressionless mask and threatening revolution.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Finished with my walkabout, I followed the signs towards the main event.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The venue was a huge muddy field just outside of town. Miles of thick, sticky mud spread out between gaily decorated tents and stalls.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

There were display stands and food stalls galore…

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

…and even a pop up bar or two for good measure.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

I realized rather early on that I should have worn boots. As my flimsy porous sneakers sank into the quagmire and silt found its way into my socks and squelched between my toes, I eyed other fair-goers’ footwear with envy.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooneyWiser folks frolicked around carefree in brightly coloured wellingtons; pink was the colour of the day. I only noticed a few other visitors with poorly chosen footwear – they were easy to spot, teetering around trying not to slip, leaping hopefully towards the occasional patch of mud-free grass only to fall a few inches short and sink ankle deep into the mud. I decided there was no point in trying to avoid the mud and it seems I was not alone. Nearby a group of hearty fellows took advantage of the ooze to liven up a tug of war.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooneyBoth sides were caked in mud by the end of the game. But now the main event was getting ready to kick off, so everyone traipsed towards a giant blue and yellow striped big top, labelled Sheep Shearing Dome. Inside, a lone singer got the crowd going with rousing renditions of Viva Las Vegas and Folsom Prison Blues. Then the stage filled with judges and adjudicators and a big cheer rose from the crowd as the junior contenders took the stage. A line of girls crouched down by the stage ready to grab the wool as it was sheared and then they were off. Five sheep each, with points given for speed and technique. Each sheep had to be fully shorn, with the wool coming off as a complete coat. The sheep for the most part looked relaxed if perhaps slightly embarrassed as the boys shifted them around removing their curly coats. There was a moment of excitement when one of the sheep decided it wasn’t going to give up its coat quietly, kicking one of the Welsh shearers and making a run for freedom, but with a little gentle coaxing he re-assumed his position and left his coat behind.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, sheep shearing

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, sheep shearing

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, sheep shearing

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, sheep shearing

In a whirl of flying wool it was all over in a few minutes; the points tallied and the winner crowned. Another row of shearers took the stage with five more sheep each lined up for shearing. As the crowds cheered the shearers on, I wandered outside where the glorious Irish weather decided to add to the muddiness by pouring liquid sunshine down (for the uninitiated, liquid sunshine is an Irish ewe-phemism for torrential rain). Between you and me, I must admit I secretly wanted more from the Sheep Olympics – I had visions of sheeplechases and synchronized sheep dips, or at the very least a long jump and high jump.

By the side entrance to the main tent, a group of women sat around spinning wheels, spinning wool ‘hot off the sheep’ into yarn and knitting it up in situ.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, spinning wool

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, spinning wheel

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, spinning wool

I wonder if the end product was given back to the sheep to wear – it was a pretty cold day to be wandering around without a coat. All in all, it was an unexpectedly fun day out, but, like all true Olympics, it was not without a few disturbances. On my way home, I spotted a field of soggy cows who had controversially chosen to boycott the Sheep Olympics, on the grounds it was too sheep-centric.

sheep olympics, golden shears, gorey, wexford, ireland, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Maybe a more inclusive Farmyard Animal Olympics should be considered for next year.

 

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Travel theme: Metal

Today started off rather suddenly thanks to a radio DJ’s bizarre early morning decision to play Black Sabbath’s Paranoid at the exact moment my clock radio sprang into action.  I’m still recovering. It did, however, give me inspiration for this week’s theme. Here are a few metal memories I’ve photographed on my travels.

A rather strange metal palm tree on the beach at Coney Island.

metal palm tree, coney island, new york, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The shiny Spire in the centre of Dublin.

dublin, ireland, spire, spike, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Two of my favourite sculptures in New York’s Union Station.

bronze statues union square 14th street subway new york manhattan usa

A glorious sight; railroad tracks unfurling through the high desert of western Washington as the Empire Builder clatters towards Snoqualmie Pass.

empire builder, eastern washington, train tracks, amtrak, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

If you’re in the mood to put the pedal to the metal and join in this week’s travel theme, here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Metal
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards. – John Locke

But the hardest metal yields to sufficient heat. Even so must the hardest heart melt before sufficiency of the heat of non-violence. And there is no limit to the capacity of non-violence to generate heat. – Gandhi

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , | 178 Comments

Travel theme: Blossom

One of my favourite subjects to photograph is flowers and as the northern hemisphere gets set to burst into bloom I’m celebrating with a floral bouquet of blossomy photos.

Sitting in a friend’s garden in Seattle, I noticed a solitary rosebud gazing skywards as dappled sunlight cast leafy shadows on the walls.

rose, pink rose, flower, floral, nature, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

There’s nothing quite like a burst of bright yellow daisies to chase the blues away.

yellow daisy, flower, nature, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

I found these ones hiding out in Mesa Verde National Park.

mesa verde national park, landscape, photography, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

I couldn’t resist taking a snap of this flashy, frilly streptocarpus on a tabletop in California.

streptocarpus, pink, purple, frilly, frilled, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Guatemala is awash with the most fabulous blooms, but the one that really caught my eye was this Clock Vine Flower, originally from India but growing in profusion in Antigua.

clock vine flower, Thunbergia mysorensis, clock vine, guatemala, antigua, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Are you ready to create a bouquet of your own?  If you would like to join in this week’s travel theme (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Blossom
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes

I’m still working my way through all those great River posts from last week, but I can’t wait to see what sweetly perfumed treats you have in store for me this week.

xxx

Ailsa

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. – Marcel Proust

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , | 165 Comments

Dirty Biter

La Conner is a quaint little town on the banks of the Swinomish Channel in the heart of Skagit Valley, Washington. It has a distinctly bohemian feel to it and has been home to several prominent artists, sculptors and writers through the years. On the way back from last year’s Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, my friend Sylvia and I stopped to wander along the main street, filled with restaurants, art galleries and boutiques that meander along the waterfront. We were looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat when we happened across a rather unusual statue of a dog with a crooked jaw, wonky teeth and his tongue lolling out to one side.

dirty biter, la conner, skagit valley, washington state, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooneyHe was clearly loved, for he wore a hand-crocheted collar of bright yellow daffodils that someone had made for him. Intrigued, we drew closer to view a nearby sign which read:

Dirty Biter was one of LaConner’s great characters who reminded us of simpler times. He was kind of a funny looking dog because of a broken jaw suffered when he was a puppy, but he was a great town dog who loved everyone. He never thought a thing about going home with anyone who thought they might need a dog for the night. He had his own bar stool and place on the dance floor at his favorite hangout, the 1890’s tavern. He was a real good beggar and his favorite was the tavern’s “Broasted Chicken”, but he never passed up a good steak or a burger.

Biter left us one night doing something else he loved, a good old fashion dog fight. But now Dirty Biter will live on, with this memorial in the newly named Dirty Biter Park, how fitting that it just happens to be right next to the tavern. 

As I read the placard I imagined Jack Palance doing his best City Slicker Curly the Cowboy’s slow, deep drawl, saying the words with a slight tremble in his voice. I had already been enchanted by La Conner’s charming ambiance, but now I was falling a little in love with the town that loved a dog so much they gave him a statue and named a park after him. When we’d finished reading, Sylvia and I exchanged glances, then went into the tavern and ordered lunch in memory of a funny-looking little dog with a crooked jaw.

dirty biter, la conner, skagit valley, washington state, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

 

Posted in Travel, United States, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments