The Solar Eclipse

A couple weeks ago was so cool watching the eclipse! I shot this from Philadelphia where the path of the sun and moon were about 80-85%
Although my location wasn't in it's total eclipse path in the United States, it was one of the coolest things to see, and take pictures of. I did not have a solar filter on hand, but instead I used a Polarizer, and I was holding a neutral density filter in front of it. I also wore two sunglasses to protect my eyes. It was even more special that National Geographic liked my shot on Twitter - I did not expect that and that was a great honor.
Hope all y'all have a great day

Partial Eclipse - Philadelphia August 21, 2017

Partial Eclipse - Philadelphia August 21, 2017

West Coast Road Trip Day 5 - Death Valley National Park

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Let me start by saying that Death Valley is one of my favorite parks in the country. Something about its desolation and away from people drew me here. With many years of turning pages in National Geographic magazine, it was that moment of driving into the park that finally came true. The trip was an easy two and a half hours from Las Vegas. With no traffic, the Sun was trying to heat the land below, but it was a comfortable 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit here for most of the park.

First stop: Zabriskie point

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Here in this photo at Zabriskie Point it is geologically crazy. This was created by violent water, and volcanic activity. Three to five million years ago before the deepest part of Death Valley was formed, this used to be filled by shimmering lakes with a long mountain-rimmed valley here. Driving past Furnace Creek seemed that there were lakes, but it was just a mirage from the heat. So weird how distance, and heat waves can make you believe that there is water.

Wildflower at Zabriskie Point

Wildflower at Zabriskie Point

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Driving to the Visitor Center is always a must to stamp our passport book, and learn more information and long history about the park. We now entered an area where we were once 4000 feet up a few miles behind, we are now 190 feet below sea level and the temperature went all the way up to 96 degrees. Not hot in this dry climate, but you still have to have plenty of water in this park.

I learned so much. This park has so much life. From coyotes to an endangered species of fish that still live here. Since the park has been going through a drought for centuries, this species once had vast numbers. We also learned about the Timbisha Shoshone Indians who have lived here for centuries and the artifacts collected here.

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The Furnace Creek Visitor Center had a huge theater, and played a film about the park but with time ticking by, we decided to leave and explore more of the park. With Charlotte not feeling so well from the night before in Las Vegas from two very strong vodka cranberries, she stayed low and tried to keep cool in the air-conditioned rental car, while I ventured out to the sand dunes.

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The Sand Dunes here in Death Valley National Park are so massive, compared to the people in the distance. Even though the temperature was an up and down ride given with the dramatic elevation changes, the car said it was around 90F (32C) here and 70 degrees back a few miles prior, It was a perfect day to walk around and explore the Dunes without being torched to death.

Here in the shot below, you might think that Death Valley National Park is full of nothing, and lifelessness, but it's actually full of life. Wildflowers were blooming all over here during the spring. These two shots below are by Rainbow Mountain, and it exceeds its name as the sun was ready to set in the next hour.

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Mother Coyote in Death Valley National Park

Mother Coyote in Death Valley National Park

Soon after leaving Towne Pass , there was something prancing in the distance. A car in the distance was braking according to their red lights, so I then decided to drive much slower at 20 M.P.H. Trying to figure out what this thing was, and as it got closer, it clearly was a mother coyote. The temperature was dropping, and being that this is the time when they come out of their dens to go hunt, and scavenge for food. This was normal. Not exiting the car, I was able to shoot this shot from my window. Such a cool experience, but I had to quickly close the windows, because you never know with wild animals. Remember to never feed the animals. Keep them wild. After the encounter, I kept driving out of the park with so many views, cool rock formations, and overlooks to check out. With time alluding, and rest room breaks needed, we stopped at this ghost town rest stop. I was trying to find a Joshua tree to photograph around the park, but luckily there was one right here. Woohoo!

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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Information:

Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres. Nearly 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads provide access to locations both popular and remote. Even so, 91% of the park is protected as officially designated Wilderness. That wild country includes low valley floors crusted with barren salt flats, rugged mountains rising as much as 11,000 feet, deep and winding canyons, rolling sand dunes, and spring-fed oases. Whether you have an afternoon or a week, careful planning will help make your visit safe and enjoyable.

What to expect:

Death Valley is generally sunny, dry, and clear throughout the year. Winter and spring (October through April) are mild with occasional winter storms and a chance of spring wildflowers. Winter requires warm clothing and light to medium jackets. As the temperatures rise in spring, shorts and light clothing are enough, but higher elevations can still be chilly. Summers are extremely hot and dry. Daytime temperatures may exceed 120°F and nights remain hot with overnight lows in the 90s. Outside activity is not recommended at that time of year, except in the mountains. Plan to keep to the main roads and use your vehicle's air conditioning. It is very important to drink water year round. Always carry water with you and keep an abundant supply in your vehicle in case of emergency. 

Las Vegas (A.K.A. Death Vegas)

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With the three-hour trip from Zion behind us, we were pretty tired and stopping in the city was much needed to recharge our batteries. We stayed at the Stratosphere - The tallest building in Las Vegas. We later learned after booking this spot we were far away from the strip, but as we got closer to the hotel, we were like, “Ew” and after looking at so much beauty these past few days, it was an eyesore and Charlotte coined the term Death Vegas.  We saw normal city stuff along the way, and had to go back to our old city ways of ignoring, and not saying hello. Typical Philly attitude. Checking into the stratosphere, the concierge hooked us up with an upgraded room. Not sure why, but we took it. The room was really nice and modern. Super clean, and plenty of room to relax.

After laying down for a few we did not want to get up and explore city, but after a couple hours of procrastination, we finally got up and got dressed. We went up to the top of the hotel to see the city from above with a 360-degree view, which was cool.

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The atmosphere was quiet with a couple small young girls being drunk and stumbling taking selfies with each other. We immediately gave each other dirty looks with a drink in hand, and decided to leave. In the elevator making our way down, this crowd of young millennial’s asked me to hit their floor button. I hesitated, and in my head I was like “whatever, here ya go jerk.” Patiently waiting, the door opened and then Charlotte said in a weird creepy voice, “Have a good evening….” Some said thank you, and others were chucking down the hall. We were dying because that was spontaneous, and I didn’t expect that at all.

 

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After some laughs, her friend gave us a recommendation to hit up Fremont Street to see a light show. Catching a cab ride, the taxi driver Jim asked us the normal small talk questions, and we asked for some info. After getting comfortable, he was quite funny playing along with our sarcasm. Gotta love cab rides! He also said the light show was something to see. Exiting the cab, making way to Fremont, little did we know that this light show was the same kind of screens found at baseball stadiums, and was so cheesy. That was a total bummer, and found no interest in looking up, the loud pop/dance music covered up the lame show. The one cool thing you can do is take a zip line ride above which looked fun, but we had more fun people-watching, looking at the dancers on top of tables doing their thing, and a listening to a good cover band rocking out to lots of classics. These dominatrix looking girls were getting their asses slapped for their rent money and Charlotte went up to them and was a little concerned about being slapped and if it really hurt or not. Of course, they were like, “No, nothing bad has happened, and some do hurt, but they’re paying for it so it’s all good.” Soon after, we ordered drinks, and the bartender really, I mean really poured the liquor in our cups doing some cool dance moves while pouring. I said, “Work it man, get those tips!” He laughed and almost messed up. I swear it was four shots in a small vodka cranberry drink. We did not mind that! One drink got me drunk. Wobbly, and giggly while Charlotte screams, whooo death vegas, I hate you!!” She cracked me up. Since I’m a lightweight with drinking, not being my forte anymore, the one vodka cranberry hit me pretty hard. Charlotte got another and then the party began!

We went down to another rock performance on Fremont and this dancing goat man was doing his thing being dirty dancing with girls

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After that, we noticed the time and it was around two in the morning. Making the effort to find a cab, the man we originally asked said he was off, but then noticed us unsuccessful a few moments later, so he called us to the car, and we got in. We were thankful, and he was nice. Good conservationist, although I can’t remember his name, or what we talked about, but I do remember when I had to pay the man, I had the cash-in-hand, Charlotte took my cash, and not noticing how much there was, grabbed it out of my hand and paid him with it! Laying the dirty looks, that’s was a 5 dollar cab ride! I was like there was 25 bucks in my hand. Oh well, he helped us out so a Twenty dollar tip well spent. Back to the Stratosphere, Stumbling into the casino to the elevators, Charlotte decided to sit down and say “Death Vegas…Wooo hoo and very curious roaming around wobbly and talking to strangers about how they shouldn’t play these slots. So funny, I was getting a little embarrassed. So we made it to the elevator, the door opened we get in and she decided to lay down. I had to sit her up as she giggled. The door opened and she didn’t want to leave. She ended up crawling out. I said, okay train wreck let’s go. A guy comes by the elevator and we looked at each other while noticing Charlotte on all fours, he then says, “Having a good time?” I replied with a sarcastic, “oh yeah!” He snickered waking into the elevator, and then says, Have a good night guys!” Stumbling into the room, the night was over and passed the hell out right after.

That concludes our time at Vegas. We didn’t like it very much, but to be fair we didn’t have the chance to really walk around and experience it the way most people do. A part of me was like, I already lived that glitz and glamour super fancy eating great food and exploring the town, kinda thing, so I didn’t really miss anything. This trip was about exploring beautiful places. City life is something we do every day, and having Atlantic City so close, it wasn’t a big deal. Did that, done that. Next time, I’ll try to explore more of it.

Up next: Day 5 Death Valley National Park

West Coast Road Trip Day 4 - Zion National Park

With a full day at Zion ahead of us to explore was exciting, because this was the first real hike that we were going to take on our trip. Driving from Hurricane, Utah with views you cannot witness anywhere on earth. The first two shots here were from the car, but an these views are wildly awesome!

With the rain starting to pour down on this day, it didn’t dampen our spirits, because that reminded us of the time we hiked at the Great Smoky Mountains. Similar weather of fog and rain with lush greens and big mountains to look up and admire.

We parked our car close by, gathering only the necessities for the hike. Camera gear in hand, ponchos, whistles, water, protein bars, and determination we got some cover from the rain and entered the very busy visitor center. Stamped our passport books, making this now official. We then asked a park ranger at the information booth which trails to try out. I really wanted to do The Narrows Trail to get those epic shots and experience it first hand, but with the amount of rain, the trail was closed off this day from being flooded. We then decided to do the Angels Landing Trail. The starting point was at the number 6 shuttle stop called The Grotto. We hopped on the bus and made our way up the mountain with a packed bus. 


Once arriving, you can find the markers right across the street, and over the small bridge accessing the Angel Landing Trail

Once arriving, you can find the markers right across the street, and over the small bridge accessing the Angel Landing Trail

Prior to heading up on the Angels landing Trail in Zion National Park, the weather was perfect for hiking this steep trail with the average temperature around 65-70F. Along with the high humidity, sweating was a slight problem. Too much sweating and going up in elevation is no good. You can go through water much more quickly. Also, the higher elevation makes your lungs work harder. all in all we were able to manage this by dressing accordingly. Before heading up the mountain I took this shot. (shown below). I enjoyed the sounds of the river, the birds chirping, a mist floating in the air, and watching the fog slowly pass the mountains above.

Procrastinating on the beach, we finally headed on the trail. I noticed this poor cactus flower sitting on the ground. It must have been freshly picked by someone, and left there, so I picked it up. I couldn't find a picture of the flower I found, but here (right) is the same cactus flower. I tried my best to keep it alive, and protected it in my pocket for days that followed.

This shot (above) was taken on the top of the mountain. With it being a little sketchy and narrow on some parts I was a little scared, but luckily my nerves calmed down. After making it to the top, there was a lot of chipmunks! I couldn't believe it! 😍 They were so cute but they were begging for food. Their cuteness did not win the battle with me. Please do not feed the animals, because it ruins their ability to hunt and makes them more aggressive towards humans. Before reading this sign and making the decision to not go the extra step, or fall I stayed here and took some more photos.

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Since 2004, six people have died from falling off this cliff and with the sleek conditions, we were not taking the chance.

Since 2004, six people have died from falling off this cliff and with the sleek conditions, we were not taking the chance.

Charlotte, my partner-in-crime.

Charlotte, my partner-in-crime.

Going down the mountain was fairly easy and nerves completely gone, we didn’t have enough time to spend. Las Vegas being the next stop on this trip, and having to check-in later that day, we had to get going. After we left the park, the weather moved out and the blue skies appeared. 

We decided after a long morning and exercise, we got something to eat at this awesome southwestern restaurant. Even with ponchos we needed some time to get situated with clean dry clothes. Trying to warm up, the food we ordered was So good! Never ending tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa, burgers with sautéed mushrooms with a side of sweet potato fries were off the chain. (sorry no photo) We then made our way with the three hour drive to the Las Vegas. The drive wasn’t so memorable because the land flattened out, but we saw a tumble weed pass by on the highway. That was so exciting! Not something seen here on the east coast so that was cool!

To conclude, we instantly fell in love with Zion National Park ❤️  The mountains are so epic, and hiking here was an experience I will never forget. The emerald color of the North Fork Virgin River graciously passing by as the fog above slid passed the mountain tops were a sight to see. Some might not love the conditions of stormy weather, but as a photographer, it was perfect. Next up, Las Vegas. Stay tuned.