Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lake Powell @ Page, Arizona

Lake Powell, Page, Arizona
Page, Arizona is one of the popular adventure destinations in the Southwest. Aside from Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, Page is a popular boating destination because it is bordered by Lake Powell. Page is also the hub of the Grand Circle, being close to many spectacular National Parks of the Southwest. 
Lake Powell @ Wahweap, Page, AZ
Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River, the second largest man made lake in the US. Though most of Lake Powell is in Utah, but the Wahweap Marina, which is 6 miles West of Page is a very strategic location for most tourists exploring the Grand Circle. 
Sparkling Blue Water @ Lake Powell, Wahweap, Page, AZ
Fall Colors @ Page, AZ
Here are some distances from Page of some spectacular and mind boggling destinations in the colored desert of the Southwest:

1. Antelope Canyon - 6 miles East of downtown Page
 @ Lower Antelope Canyon
2. Horseshoe Bend- 4 miles South of downtown Page
 @ Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ
3. Wahweap Marina - 6 miles West of downtown Page
 @ Wahweap Marina, Page, AZ
4. Grand Canyon National Park North Rim - 123 miles from Page
5. Zion National Park - 110 miles
7. Monument Valley - 126 miles
....and a lot more. For more information about the Grand Circle, you can check my "Your Grand Circle Itinerary" post at the Salitype Society

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Devil's Garden Trail, Arches National Park, Utah

The Upper O of Double O Arch, Devil's Garden Trail, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Trailhead: Devil's Garden Trail
Location: Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Features: Arches, Rock Fins, Hoodoos and Other Rock Formations

This is a very fun hike, with amazing desert scenery starting from Devil's Garden trailhead. The Devil's Garden Trail, a 7.2 mile trail, contains the largest concentration of significant natural arches in the world. The first mile is on well maintained and easy to find trail, that leads to the popular stop in Devil's Garden trail, the Landscape Arch.
Landscape Arch ( can be seen after 0.9 mile from Devil's Garden trailhead)
Landscape Arch is the longest natural arch in the world, having a span length of 290 ft, yet having only 6 ft of thickness in its thinnest section.  After the Landscape Arch, the trail is no longer well defined, but that's when more fun began! :) It became more fun for us guessing where the trail is :) since most sections of the trail are on rock fins. 
Devil's Garden Trail, Arches National Park

Some sections of the trail requires some scrambling over rocks, but is rewarded by some of the best views I have seen in my many hikes.
Fun Rock Scrambling
The View from the Rock Fin Trail

There are some exposure to heights while walking on the rock fin, but it is pretty safe hike because the fin is wide and more level. However, because the fins are basically vertical slabs or rocks, the exposure to heights on both sides could still cause uneasiness to those who have fear of heights. When we were here, there was a couple where the lady was trembling, her partner had to guide her all the way to the end of the rock fin trail.
Me, on top of Rock Fin ( could you see the black arch in the far front? )

There was a point in our hike that it became too windy, that walking on the fin felt unsafe. I grabbed the moment to sit down and simply enjoy the scenery.
No, He is not Daredevil, he was on the same Rock Fin trail we were on. I wanted to have picture there, but he was enjoying the views around him there for a very long time ( I could not blame him). I decided instead to take picture of him, then, moved on to complete the hike.
Un-named Rock Hoodoo( what do you see?)
Most of the hike is on rocky footing over sandstone slabs and slick rock with narrow ledges. There is stunning vista everywhere you look from the trail that not even seeing the arches is so worth it, but of course, the arches are added bonus. 
Double O Arch from the Trail

The sight of Double O Arch from the trail was not that very impressive, after having seen the other arches in the park which are easier to hike such as Delicate Arch and the Windows. However, hubby tried to go at the other side of the O, and these are what he got.
Double O Arch At the Other Side
( that's me at the lower O, trying my hardest to scramble past the lower O to join hubby who was photographing the sceneries around)
Me, still stranded at the Lower O
I gave up and decided to pose instead there at the Lower O, had I known this is what I will see, I would have probably tried harder to scramble past that lower O to get to hubby's location. Sometimes, my fear of skidding on rocks stops me from exploring :(

Arches National Park is a landscape of change, what is here now, may no longer be here tomorrow. The arches, hoodoos, vertical slabs, rock fins were all part of massive sandstone but overtime, the solid sandstone cracked due to stress. Then, water entered the cracks making them bigger. The fins and arches remained which are continually polished and shaped by wind and water.

The best time to hike this trail is late fall to early spring, since the trail is mostly exposed. The temperature when we hiked here Thanksgiving 2010 was 30 - 40F ( 0- 5 C). Hiking at an almost freezing temperature  for us is perfect compared to hiking in exposed summer heat. Truth is, we were here summer of 2007, the temperature was 90s F ( 32 C), but we hardly explored because we could not take hiking in the heat. We decided to go back when it was cold and freezing, but for desert hiking, a colder temperature is a lot more tolerable for us, with an added bonus: very few people in the trail.

Simple Joys in Simple Life

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Pier 1 Imports. All opinions are 100% mine.
Cliche it may be, but the title of this post is very close to my blog's title as well :) . But then, how else can I describe our home sweet home?
Sunrise from Home
Simple Joys in Simple Life, Gazing out of our Bedroom Window to Greet the Birth of a New Day
How else can I describe my preference and decorating style? Having to balance both studies and teaching in a high school setting which is totally new for me, I struggle with time. Despite my busyness however, there is one thing I cannot give up every weekend, and that is taking time out to enjoy the great outdoors. Hiking, or even as simple as walking at the beach is my way of taking away stress from my weekday's challenges. This love for outdoors, and my crazy weekday schedule hardly allows me to stay home. Not that I don't love being home, but my time just don't allow me to be inside home longer than others would. Thus, when it comes to decorating home, I count on simplicity.
Our Living Room
See? It is easier for me to clean the house when there is not a lot of decorative clutter around, I believe in simplicity. Home for me does not have to be overly adorned, but a simple place to inspire peaceful and happy thoughts. For our simple decors, thankfully, we live very close to Pier 1, a place where I often frequent whenever I wanted something for the house. In less than 2 weeks, some of my fellow friends at The Salitype Society are coming over for a mini-reunion. Now, I am looking for some accents in our dining. However, today the rain is heavily pouring and the howling wind is so strong that threatens to trample me outside. The good news however is that I still continued my shopping for some accents to our dining room at Pier 1 online. And how easy it is to shop, for example, I am looking at the table liner below, which is at 50% discount! 
What a joy it is to find out that this is available in the store very close to us! So, it is very easy, I do not even have to worry about when it will be shipped to me since I can just walk to the store and pick up the item when the rain stops tomorrow.  I can also continue shopping online for holiday gifts for some of my family. One of the simple joys in simple life that brings priceless happiness is when I find some items that I need that are in huge discounts!
Also, during this Holidays season, for the months of November and December, you can support Toys for Tots by dropping off an unwrapped toy and/or making a cash donation at the register. You can also support Toys for Tots by liking Pier 1 Imports on Facebook, for every new fan they get, they will donate $1 to Toys for Tots. A very simple way to spread the Holiday Cheer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Capturing Forever on Film

Picture of Teyla thanking God for a beautiful fall day by MJ
"Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever ... it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything." - the late American abstract expressionist photographer Aaron Siskind

- - -

October 14, Thursday. Rog has just left for work. I have just done the dishes. Teyla is throwing a fit. She is bored with her toys and wants to play outdoors. She stands by the glass door in the kitchen, beating on the glass with her little fists and yelling, "Aw! Aw! Aw!" Baby speak for "out." I sigh, lay the dishrag down, grab my blue hoodie, pull a purple long sleeve shirt over Teyla's head, slip my cell phone into my pocket, pick Teyla up, head for the door. As I pass the kitchen table, I instinctively reach for my old, trusty camera, which I had set there earlier by the fruit bowl. I constantly lug my camera all over the place. I never know when Teyla might do something funny or memorable. If and when she does, I want to have that camera ready.
picture of Teyla reading, by MJ

We step outside. I let go of Teyla's hand and she takes off running down the hill, laughing as she goes. It is another sunny fall day. Perfect blue skies. A dog barks in the distance. One of the neighbors revs up his lawnmower. A little breeze scatters leaves that lay on the ground in colorful little heaps. Many of the trees around our property still wear their red and gold and purple robes. Breathtakingly beautiful, to say the least. But it has been like this all week. I have taken dozens of photos of Teyla running down the hill with her little arms up in the air, a big smile on her face, colorful trees in the background. Nothing new today, really.

We make it to the bottom of the hill. A big, grassy field. Our front yard. Teyla runs around some more. I stand to one side, watching her frolic in the October sunshine. I smile as she babbles to herself. A while later, I yawn. Nothing new to shoot, really, I think to myself. Same old colorful trees. Just a different day.

Then Teyla plunks down under a tree. An oak tree, I believe, with leaves the color of burnt gold. She grabs at some leaves laying on the ground and crunches them in her hands. She giggles. She likes the crackly sound the dry leaves make. She picks up some more. I'm standing there watching her laughing, playing with dry leaves, when I realize I haven't yet shot a photo of her sitting the way she's sitting, under that tree, with the sky so blue above her. 
In a flash, I get down on my knees and start snapping pictures. I can't seem to get enough blue sky from the kneeling position, so I drop to my belly and continue snapping away. Teyla is busy playing with her leaves, lost in a world of her own, and a lot of times, I like taking pictures of her when she is in this state. I don't have to plead with her to smile or pose. She just looks naturally happy. I love pictures like this.

All at once, the wind blows in Teyla's direction. She instinctively closes her eyes, but only for a split second. Just long enough for me to shoot that picture. But I don't realize how it looks yet, not until I download the photos from that shoot hours later.

When I do, I'm very happy with the way that particular photo turns out! Teyla looks just like she's praying in it. And the fall colors in the background are gorgeous! I'm so thrilled that I post it immediately on Facebook. I get many heartwarming compliments. Even an offer from an artist friend in Virginia to make an oil painting out of it! I might just let him do that.

Thank God for the magic of photography! Through it, we can capture special moments on film and rest assured that many years from now, we can view those old pictures and relive those unforgettable times in our lives. I know that someday I will enjoy showing Teyla all the pictures I took of her growing up, specially her "praying picture!" I will tell her of the sunny fall day she sat down in the grass, under a tree, and I crouched on my belly nearby, snapping pictures of her.

Not everyone owns a camera or is comfortable taking photos. And even those who do need someone else to take their pictures, too, sometimes. Thankfully, Richmond wedding photographer is always there, ready to meet our photography needs. Award-winning photographer Ron Stiers has helped many families across the country preserve special memories for more than 25 years. Not only does Stiers take photos in the United States, but he has conducted photo sessions in other countries as well, including Italy, Spain and Mexico.

I read about Stiers today and I believe what impressed me the most about this photographer is the community service he is known for. Stiers provides portraits to poor children and families. He also hosts fundraisers for various organizations such as animal shelters.

It has been many years since I paid a photographer to take my picture. Rog, Teyla and I turn to the self-timer and tripod when we want to take our family portrait and, so far, that has worked for us. But if I had to hire a professional photographer to take our portrait this Christmas, I would pick someone who actually has the heart to help the less fortunate.

Ron Stiers is that guy.

- By MJ

Friday, November 26, 2010

Escaping the Arctic Blast @ Monument Valley

Sunrise at Monument Valley, taken from our hotel room's balcony
When we left San Diego last Saturday for a much needed week of R and R, Monument Valley was not in our itinerary at all. It was supposed to be San Diego- Zion National Park @ Kolob Canyon- Moab (Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park)-Zion-Las Vegas( for Cirque du Solei and Black Canyon of the Colorado River in Lake Mead)-San Diego. Tes, of The Craftista and also one of the authors of The Salitype Society, was supposed to join us in Moab for Monday and Tuesday, then, we separate when we go back to Zion, while they go to Bryce Canyon National Park. However, it seemed Mother Nature has another plan. 
Two days before we left for the trip, there was a forecast of snowstorm in North Zion. Instead of going to Kolob Canyon, we decided to take East Zion @ Mt. Carmel Junction to escape the wrath of the snowstorm while on the road. It turned out to be a good decision for us when we saw in the local news later that night the many cars which skidded on the road and therefore had been stranded in the middle of snow storm. That kind of stress was the last thing we wanted on a vacation. Thankfully, I was able to see from the weather map at a route that would escape the snow storm while on the road. That meant driving South East first before going North to Moab. This route brought us to Monument Valley. Also, because of snow storm  on Monday, Tes and Doods did not make it to Moab for safety. Instead, we decided to meet at Monument Valley on Tuesday, a place which is closer to the place of Tes' sister. It was such a joyful meeting.  
I (left) and Tes (right) at The View Hotel's Guest's Lobby
This was how the sky looked like when we started exploring Monument Valley.
The clouds promise a beautiful sunset, and I was hoping the sky will not frustrate us since I wanted to show off to Tes one of the spectacular desert sceneries of the Southwest at sunset. Thankfully, the sky cooperated and put on a show for us to have a blast taking photos at sunset at Monument Valley.
looking East at sunset, Monument Valley (notice it is the same landscape, only the colors of the sky changed)
still looking East, sunset
looking West @ sunset, Monument Valley
still looking West @ sunset, Monument Valley
The rooms at The View Hotel all had beautiful views. Here are some more pictures at sunrise from our room's balcony (in addition to the very first photo above).

Sunrise @ Monument Valley- view from hotel's room
sunrise, Monument Valley
Until of course, it was time for us to leave Monument Valley to escape again the path of snow storm which started to roll in when we left.
storm rolling in at Monument Valley
After a while, on our way to Page, Arizona to meet Ted and Doods again, the snow which we had been trying to escape for days caught on us.
snow poured in as we left  Monument Valley
snow covered road, thankfully, no thick accumulation yet when we passed this
Thankfully, when we reached Page, though overcast, but there was no snow. We felt successful again in escaping another snow storm. But have we escaped the Arctic blast because we escaped snow? Truth is, we woke up the next day at -5 Fahrenheit temperature, and we finished the two bottled water we brought inside our room, when we took bottled water to drink from our car, they were all FROZEN! The warm pictures of the desert at Monument Valley does not really tell the whole story behind the subfreezing temperatures.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

The pictures below were from our hike to Hidden Canyon in Zion National Park, UT thanksgiving 2009 which I failed to share in this site. I can't believe almost a year had passed since we were in this place. The pictures may look very similar to Angel's Landing which we did the hike spring of 2009.
near the trailhead
The parking lot for the Hidden Canyon trailhead shares the same parking for Weeping Rock and Observation Point trailhead. The parking area is so small for the three popular trails that it can easily get packed. In the summer, there is no problem in parking because there is a free shuttle inside the park. However, during thanksgiving, everyone has to drive inside the canyon because the free shuttle is during weekends only. Thus, it took us a while to get parking and start the hike. But no complains, since the scenery closer to the Virgin River is just as awesome.
taking pictures here and there while waiting for parking space
This is a short hike, but very steep. Only about 2.5 miles round trip hike, but the climb is over 1000 ft. Like Angels landing, it has several exposed sections on slickrock, some parts of the trail have chains attached to the wall to help navigate through the dangerous parts. However, unlike Angels Landing, the vertical drop-off is only in one side of the trail, unlike the last half mile to Angels Landing where you look at the vertical drop-off both sides (left and right).
trail to Hidden Canyon
the cars below from the trail looks very tiny, like pecks of dusts
Looking Down at Angels Landing ( somehow, Angels Landing looks smaller and not as scary
from Hidden Canyon Trail )
However, at the mouth of Hidden Canyon, the trail becomes wider and gentler, and the vertical drop-off disappears.
Hidden Canyon Wall
However, as one goes deeper and deeper into the canyon, the trail becomes narrower with a some rock scrambling. Since the view does not really change much anymore, we decided not to climb the pile of rocks that blocks the canyon, turned around and went to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for another sight seeing adventure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lake Cuyamaca, Julian, San Diego County

Lake Cuyamaca, Julian, San Diego County
One of the popular mountain retreats in San Diego is the historic gold mining town in Julian. Less than 40 miles from San Diego Bay, is the Cuyamaca Mountains which has the second highest peak in San Diego County, next to Warner Springs. The town of Julian, which is an official California Historical Landmark, is set in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian experienced a gold rush in the 1860s
Stonewall Mine- California's most productive Gold mine
( in 1893, $2,000,000 of gold mined in this site only with a 30 ft shaft - and that $2M was 117 years ago)
and while people were trying to wrestle gold deep beneath the Earth, another man in the name of James Madison brought a wagon loaded with young apple trees, and they flourished in the mountains. Today, the gold mines have been closed and is now part of protected archaelogical sites of CA State Parks, but the apple industry flourished.
Fallen Apples on the trail @ Lake Cuyamaca
Julian is now more famous for its apple cider and apple pie industry. Though the gold industry is now but a part of California's history, but every autumn, the oak leaves turn a crisp gold surrounding the closed gold mines.
The Gold are now in the Leaves
Historic Stonewall Mine Trail
I have never witnessed the Cuyamaca Mountains at its best, when its slopes were richly adorned with lush oak and pine forests. In October of 2003, someone got lost in the trails of Cuyamaca Mountains, he started a fire for rescuers to see him. Driven by Santa Ana winds, that fire burned out of control, burning more than 280,000 acres of land and claiming several lives. All of Cuyamaca, but the area around the lake got burned from the cedar fire. Sadly, the thick forest disappeared, except for those which surrounds Lake Cuyamaca and the forest closer to Julian.
Thankfully, the forest around the lake and Julian were spared from the 2003 cedar wildfire
Though I have failed to see the lushness of the forest in the Cuyamaca Mountains prior to the 2003 wildfire, but the serenity of this place continues to inspire me to go here maybe twice or thrice a year. Lots of wildlife can be seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon. It is fun to see wild turkeys strutting their stuff.
Wild Turkeys
Lake Cuyamaca is also popular for bird watchers. Ospreys, hawks, turkey vulture, and other migratory birds are often seen hovering above the oak and pine forests or silently looking for trouts on the lake. Deers are often marching in the meadows early in the morning or late afternoon as they move from the desert to the mountains. Lake Cuyamaca is popular for fishing, especially in autumn as the water starts to cool down. There is also 3.5 miles trail around the lake, and more than hundreds of miles of trails at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Fall Curtain @ Lake Cuyamaca
What actually inspires me most each time I go to Lake Cuyamaca is being able to witness the sprouting of a new life after a scorching fire.

Leaves Growing Back on almost Charred, Burned Trees
Though it feels sad to look at the charred trees, yet it is also uplifting to see how life goes back in them. It is inspiring to see how nature takes care of our beautiful yet very delicate Earth.
Orchard Farm Near Lake Cuyamaca
A visit to Cuyamaca, reminds me of how we, just like nature, can pick up the pieces and move on with life.