Category Archives: Panoramas

Red Mesa, Arizona, USA. 2005

The south western states of the U.S. is one of my favourite areas in the world. There’s something about the wide open spaces and big skies there, that I can’t put words to, that resonates so deeply within me. It’s not a landscape that provides an easy living to people born there, let alone someone like me who is genetically more suited to cooler and wetter places and for that reason it puzzles me that I’m so attracted to it.

My attraction to such landscapes reminds me of some dialogue from the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia”. Feisal says to Lawrence;

“I think you are another of these desert-loving English.
No Arab loves the desert.
We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert.
No man needs nothing.”

Wentworth Falls. NSW, Australia

On the weekend, my wife and I went to visit some friends of ours in Wentworth Falls, which is about an hour’s drive west of Sydney in the blue Mountains. Our friends have a house which is only about five minutes easy walking to Wentworth Falls (a total drop of 187 m or 614 ft) in the photograph the below. 

wentworth Falls

With their local knowledge, our friends took us walking for several hours along the cliff line so we could get much better views than are usually available to people who just follow the groomed national park tracks.  The falls are on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park, which is joins up with two other national parks, the Kanangra, and the Wollemi (where the prehistoric Wollemi Pine was discovered), which when you join them all up together cover a larger area than the country of Belgium.  The whole area is listed as a World Heritage Wilderness area.  It is a truly vast and ancient place. In years past, I’ve climbed many of the cliffs and I’ve been on many overnight hiking trips in the valleys below. 

The Blue Mountains National Park is vast.

On the top of the ridges, strong winds blow constantly, and the soil is very poor making it very difficult for many plants to thrive.  The vegetation that can survive such torturous conditions, tend to be shrubs no higher than a metre or two, which have either very thin water conserving leaves or prickles. 

Casuarina

In the more protected and wetter valleys below, very tall eucalypts such as the blue gum thrive.

Casuarina

Hiking in the blue Mountains is a bit different to walking in many other parts of the world, because most people tend to start in the low lands and walk uphill into the mountains, but in the blue Mountains you start at the top and you walk down into the valleys.  The reason for this is because the road follows the ridges. It’s very rugged and steep terrain, therefore quite of few people have been lost, because they have underestimated how rough the country is and overestimated their fitness and abilities. 

Looking outwestward to Mt Solitary

In most parts of the world, the common wisdom is that if you get lost you follow the rivers out to the sea.  If you were to do that in the Blue Mountains National Park, you would probably starve as it would take a fit person about two weeks to follow the rivers through very dense bush out to the coast.  If you are ever lost in the blue Mountains, the best strategy to get yourself out of trouble is to head east and walk uphill to the ridges so you can meet up with the highway.

Geeking out over the Sea Cliff Bridge. Between Coalcliff and Clifton, NSW, Australia.

Since my wife (Engogirl) is an engineer, specializing in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), we often visit bridges and dams just to geek over them. We go to so many dams and bridges that I even have categories for them in the menu on the left.   

Do not be fooled by the cute counternance because Engogirl has a brain the size of a planet

When my wife was at university I used to help her with her assignments (mainly taking photos of dams and drains) and over time I have learnt to enjoy and appreciate such seemingly unlovely concrete things.  As a matter of fact, even the drainage by the side of the road have become interesting because I know more about the reasoning behind their design and what goes into making them. I now notice things like the size of the slots in the drainage grates or the distance between the drains and the camber of the roads and how it affects the placement of the drains.

Last Sunday we decided to go and have a look at the new Sea Cliff Bridge between Coalcliff and Clifton just south of Stanwell Park where Lawrence Hargrave conducted his famous experiments in aeronautics with box kites.  Bald Hill in Stanwell Park, which overlooks the bridge is still a very popular place for people wanting to enjoy the reliable up-drafts.  On any weekend, there will be plenty of people who are either hang gliding, flying model gliders, or just plain gawking all along the sea cliffs in that area.

The Sea Cliff Bridge in the centre of the shot, just below the hang glider

For years there has not been a reliable way to follow the coast by road from Sydney to Wollongong, due to the steep terrain which caused frequent rock slides. After a very big rock fall in 2003, the original road was permanently closed and the Sea Cliff Bridge was commissioned.  Two years and $45 million later, the bridge was completed in December 2005.

The coastal road between Sydney and Wollongong has now become somewhat of a tourist attraction thanks to this beautiful bridge. It’s quite a nice walk across, as the bridge as it affords spectacular views of the pounding ocean below.

The Sea Cliff Bridge is such a sexy piece of engineering, that it has been featured in various ads and shows about engineering. Here’s two videos. The first video is a Shell and Ferrari commercial which shows an F1 driving over the Sea Cliff Bridge in the rain about halfway through the ad.

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The second video is a jingoistic and sexed up Australian engineering association promo about various engineering projects here in Australia it has some nice footage of the bridge, about halfway through.

[youtube 3lcorL9TCcU]

Zion National Monument. Utah, USA. 2005

Both my wife and I love the South Western States of American. The scenery is fantastic and the food is incredible. Back in the early autmun months of 2005 we went to the USA and drove from Las Vegas to Santa Fe.  On the way we stopped of at some of the most beautiful places on earth. My wife’s favourite place was Zion National Monument and the Grand Canyon was mine.

As you enter the Zion park you first see the Patriarchs.

The Patriarchs

The whole park is a rock climber’s wet dream with the most beautiful sheer walls of perfect Navajo sandstone.

In the middle of the park there is a really nice little restaurant that is staffed by people who are totally blissed out by what beautiful surroundings they work in. It was like the environment was giving a contact high to everybody who moved through the landscape. Both my wife and I were really impressed by how genuinely pleasant everyone we met at Zion was.  I guess it’s pretty hard to be unhappy in such a place at such a nice time of the year. It was a totally different vibe to the one given off by the staff at Yosemite.

On the road out of the park you pass a natural arch.

A natural arch

Along the way to Santa Fe we also visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Monument valley, Hovenweep and Bandelier National Monuments. All amazing places.

Stormy trip to Canberra and Tallong.

All last week, my wife (a senior analyst specialising in computational fluid dynamics) had to work late to get ready a tender that was due in Canberra on Friday at 2 p.m. Due to various hiccups involving upper management not being available to sign off on various documents and contracts due to vacations and various other commitments, the last courier down to Canberra was missed.

After a discussion between my wife and her boss at about 8:30 on Thursday night, it was decided that the tender was to be delivered by hand.  Both my wife and I didn’t mind being asked to take the tender down to Canberra because we are always happy for an all expenses paid, drive in the country.  The other pluses were that we could stay at my wife’s parents holiday home in Tallong on the way back and I would get to take some more photographs with my new camera.

Since it is the middle of winter here in Australia we had fairly stormy weather nearly all the way down. I kept wanting to stop and take pictures of the dramatic skies but we didn’t because we wanted to make sure the documents were delivered in time. We reached our destination, with one and a quarter hours to spare.

Just outside of Canberra is a fantastic little restaurant known as the Poacher’s Pantry, which specialises in smoked meats. To reward ourselves for our dash to Canberra we had a very delicious lunch that consisted of a smoked duck ragout as an entree and a red curry of smoked chicken for a main all cooked and presented in the style of “mod Oz” (modern Australian, which is a blend of European and Asian cooking).

After lunch, the weather, alternated between pouring rain and brief moments of light drizzle.

Since our car is continuous four-wheel-drive, I don’t really mind that much driving in the rain, but I was being constantly distracted by how dramatic the skies looked and since we’d already dropped off the tender I was able to use a bit of time to take a few photographs.

Every now and again the rain would ease off enough for me to get out of the car and take a photo

Every now and again the heavy cloud would open up to reveal little patches of an almost electric blue sky.

I only adjusted the levels in this photograph and I have not increased the saturation of the colour

About 30 Minutes Drive northeast from Canberra, the highway to Sydney passes by Lake George. Due to the weather conditions here in Australia, Lake George is quite often dry and usually just looks like a grass covered plain.

The rainy conditions turned this usually bland vista into something a little more interesting

After about another hour and a half,  just as the light was beginning to fade, we arrived at the small village of Tallong. My in-laws holiday home is 10 km down a narrow and winding dirt road, which really isn’t that big a deal in the day time, but at night, there is a very real hazard of hitting a wombat. Wombats are sometimes described as being the “bulldozers of the bush”.  Although they are not very big (about the size of a very fat corgi), they are solid muscle and gristle that will badly damage a car if you hit one.  Driving down the dirt road is always stressful at night due to the chance hitting one of those brownish-grey, gristly speed bumps, as it darts and out in front of your car.  In the past we’ve had to dodge about 6 in one night and there are always dead ones on the side of the road.

Another little known hazard here in Australia is that eucalypt trees are made up of extremely hard (much, much harder than oak) but very brittle wood and the branches are known to break off during high winds. Every year, there are a few people who are killed by falling tree limbs. It is common knowledge here, that you never camp under a tree.

By the time I got to my in-laws holiday home I was absolutely shattered. The pouring rain had made visibility especially bad and my nerves had been racked by the noise of falling branches, hitting our car. Only last year some unfortunate guy had been crushed while driving his car by a falling tree.

I cooked a dinner of rolled chicken (chicken breast and prosciutto with basil wrapped around weisswurst) and wine sauce on a bed of wilted English spinach. My mother-in-law made a delicious crumble for desert which we had with some of my homemade calvodos sorbet.

The rain poured and the wind shook the house all night but by the time morning came around, the weather had eased off and the skies were once again clear and blue.

My in-laws holiday home

The view from the guest bedroom window is spectacular.

The property backs onto a large national park

I got up early and drove the 20 km round trip to Tallong to get the weekend paper, so we could have a nice relaxing Saturday morning.

This is one of the more open parts of the dirt road

On Sunday, my wife and I helped her parents remove noxious weed (fireweed, poisonous to livestock and fast spreading) and retrieve logs for firewood from the bottom of their property.  As we would move the logs with the aid of a tractor, little Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria Australis) would appear to take advantage of the uncovered insects.

I couldn't get any closer than about 10 m

As we walked back up the hill towards the house we came across this poor old battered Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia Bicolor).

I was able to get about 20 m away from the wallaby

It had chunks of fur missing from the base of its tail and from its shoulder plus its ear was torn up. My guess is that it had been mauled by feral dogs.

Yosemite from glacier point. California, USA. 2006

As I have mentioned in several posts previously I have spent quite a bit of time in the USA.  Lived there for two years during the early 1980s, and I have been back there four times since on various holidays. 

One of the things that really gets my backup is when people automatically dismiss America as a travel destination because of its foreign policy or the fool who is currently in power over there.  Although it could be argued that American foreign policy and politics are a manifestation of the national will, most Americans I’ve met don’t support Bush’s deranged and rapacious ways.  Sure, Bush stole the election fair and square, but the majority of Americans did not vote for him. 

As a matter of fact, a majority of Americans don’t vote at all because they have no interest in the candidates. The two party political system has left a great deal of the population feeling they aren’t being represented by either the Republicans or the Democrats, so they just don’t participate in the election process. 

Americans that my wife and I met were very concerned about foreigner’s opinions of America.  So often, the people that we spoke to (without us instigating any conversation about politics) actually apologised for Bush and made a point of telling us that they did not vote for him. 

The average American that I’ve ever encountered is a very polite and friendly person who is happy to meet people from overseas.  I was treated with nothing but courtesy and decency (with a few notable exceptions), in all the times that I have visited the States.

Some other people seem to think that because America has the largest economy in the world that it must be some big industrial wasteland and there are a quite few places like New Jersey (the “Garden State”, what a joke!), that do fit the bill, but on the whole it is an incredibly beautiful country.  I particularly like the south-western states, but there is beauty to be found across the whole country.  I have been to about 45 of the states and I feel that I can say this with some authority.

My favourite place in the US is the Grand Canyon (I’ve been there three times), but my second favourite place is Yosemite.  

Yosemite valley from Glacier Point

Because of its beauty, Yosemite is usually very crowded for most warmer months of the year.  My wife and I visited Yosemite in the late summer, early autumn of 2006 and the park was almost empty. 

Apparently, most people go to Yosemite in the late spring or early summer, because the melting snow creates numerous waterfalls, off the steep rock faces of the valley.  There were no waterfalls when we visited Yosemite but it was still amazingly spectacular.  When I was younger and I used to rock climb, I used to fantasize about climbing at Yosemite and after visiting there, I found it easy to understand why the place was such a rock climbing mecca. The whole place is just stunning.

Easter long weekend at Tallong. NSW, Australia

Over the Easter long weekend my wife and I with our friend Peter went down to my in-law’s holiday home at Tallong (it’s about a two and a half hour drive south of Sydney).

view from the dinning room

It’s a beautiful house on a hundred acres of mostly wild bushland over looking the cliffs that run along the Shoalhaven river. It’s quite the view in the morning. My in-laws even have a spotting scope set up at the window for watching the kangaroos and wallabies that often come by to graze.

breakfast

On Saturday we went to Canberra to the folk festival and had a good time checking out the various acts and the people that they attract. 

even hippies are facinated with mobile phones

Although the folk festival has many traditional activities such as morris dancing and fiddling workshops there quite a few acts that are taking folk music into new territory.  

A young sacrifice for the maypole

The best acts I saw were the very entertaining Wheeze and Suck Band (check out the amazing song “The Flash Lad” on their website), Skirl and the very talented Spooky Men’s Chorale (good crazy fun). 

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On Sunday we intended to fly our kite but there wasn’t enough wind so we tried out our new water propelled rocket.

Engogirl with rocket

The pump that came with the rocket was a little too small and fragile to give what we thought was enough pressure so we hooked it up to an air compressor. 

Peter gives the rocket a bit more gas

Much faster. Much better!

Teotihuacán, Mexico. September 2006

About 50kms northeast of Mexico City are the amazing pyramids of Teotihuacán.

The Pyramid of the Moon

I didn’t visit Teotihuacán back in 1983 when I first went to Mexico because in my mind I thought they’d just be some kind of lame tourist trap. I used to have an elitist head space back then about travelling. I used to make a distinction between “tourism’ and “travelling”. In short I thought that tourism was for weak-minded lightweights and that travelling was somehow purer. Ah… the arrogance of youth. Now that I’m older, I see all travelling that’s not done for business, visiting family or to get to safety, as essentially tourism. Just going to places to have a look see.

I now wince when I hear someone declare with emphasis that are travellers.

Au contraire!

I “travelled” for 11 years straight which included probably over a 100, 000 kilometres hitch hiking and sleeping rough and when I look back I don’t feel that it could be described as anything more than tourism. I just didn’t have enough money most of the time to make it comfortable and that fact doesn’t turn it into “travelling”.

As a matter of fact, I’ve stopped staying at backpackers hostels when I do go abroad because I know it’s socially unacceptable to maim people bragging about what legends they are because have been “travelling” for a whole six months. I also feel it’s better for everyone that I remove myself from the temptation of perpetrating a little ultra violence when I hear some wanker ask a fellow backpacker, “how long have you been travelling for?”, so they can establish some kind of “I’ve been travelling longer than you” hierarchy. It’s a good thing that I didn’t meet myself when I was younger or I might not be writing this post.

Now with my little rant over, I will tell you a little about Teotihuacán. My wife and I took one of the cheap local buses from the Terminal Norte in Mexico City which turned out to be a good thing because it stopped at various little towns along the way and musicians would get on a play for tips. It was very atmospheric and muy sympatico.

If you ever go to Teotihuacán make sure you take a hat, some sun screen and water. There is very little shade and it can get very hot.

As you walk along the main avenue of the ruins, the charmingly named Calzada de los Muertos (road of the dead) you will see one small pyramid type platform after the other on either side in a row leading to the big pyramids at the end.

Calzada de los Muertos

It wasn’t until I had visited Teotihuacán that I found out that the largest pyramid in the world (Cheops) might be in Egypt but the next two largest ones were in Mexico. Even though I’ve been to Mexico twice now, it still amazes me how many big pyramids there are in that country. I almost think that fact is being kept from the world, but then I realize it’s just my own ignorance.

 At the end of the Calzada de los Muertos the second largest pyramid at Teotihuacán known as the “Pyramid of the Moon”

The Pyramid of the Moon seen from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun

and to it’s left is the larger (third largest in the world) pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun. My wife and walked up the stairs to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

Stairway up the Pyramid of the Sun

 It was pretty steep (not as steep as Tikal but much longer) and long but the view at the top is wonderful.

180 degree panorama from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun

On the Pyramid of the Moon’s right is the Placio de los Jaguares which is quite different to the rest of the complex. It’s a nice place to sit a while in the shade and get some respite from the hawkers.

The Placio de los Jaguares

The Placio de los Jaguares is one of the few places in the whole complex where you can still see some of the old painted decoration.

 It must’ve been an amazingly colourful place. Almost psychedelic.

Not much is known about the people who built Teotihuacán as it is thought that it was started in the first century AD and abandoned by the eigth century.

Remember if you go there, that the hawkers are probably the descendents of the people who built the place and they have a right to be there and to eek out a living somehow. Don’t get annoyed at their constant attentions, just say no, thanking them politely (no gracias) and walk away if you don’t want to buy anything from them.