Alcázar of Segovia

Call it indoctrination of Disney, or just childhood fairy tales, but castles are yet another obsession of mine, that I just wasn't used to while growing up. Seeing castles up front is major treat and often it feels like when kids see their superheros in real-life for the first time. Supposedly the Cinderella Castle in Disneyland was inspired by the Alcázar Castle in Segovia and Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, but I think most castles would like to claim that credit. 

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The interior of this castle is just as gorgeous and luxurious. I can only imagine what it was like to live in one of these castles in its heyday.

Santander - Mercado de la Esperanza

The fish market in Santander (or as its called - Mercado de la Esperanza) is one of the most spectacular markets in northern Spain. Mercado de la Esperanza translates to Market of Hope - it was designed in 1897, and is a proof of iron architecture preservation in the 19th century in Spain. This market is in the center of Santander, and the most popular items on sale are fish and shellfish. 

The next question asked by anyone who knows me would be "What the hell were you doing there?". Good question - I kind of got dragged into it by other people I was with. But regardless of that, I have always thought food to be a very important cultural indicator of a place, and in this case, fish/seafood are a very big part of Santander/Cantabrian social infrastructure - so I thought a visit was warranted. It is chaotic, like any good market would be, and the smell is strong (if you don't like fish). In fact, when we visited, it was packed with people buying seafood for New Years Eve Dinner because a big family meal is tradition, and what better to fill the plates with than fresh fish right from the nearby ocean.

Off the Beaten Path - Bustidoño

Bustidoño is a small town (population: 11) in the Province of Cantabria in Spain. It is the home village of my significant other's father, and has since then become a getaway of sorts. There is one bar in town, and no other real establishments. This town, along with many other in this region provides a rich variety of dairy/meat products. It is a bit isolated, but that has its advantages. If you want to experience raw natural beauty, untouched landscapes and really live off the grid, this is where you go.

Princess Ewauna - The Bandon Face Rock

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Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway brought us to many magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, one of the characters Red (Morgan Freeman) after getting out from prison and going to visit his friend had said: "I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams." - After that they showed Tim Robbins' character Andy Dufresne driving along The Big Sur, in his convertible, and they showed the Pacific Ocean, in all its glory, and it was, indeed, blue and vast. Ever since then, I've been wanting to drive the Big Sur and the entire Pacific Coast Highway. I got my chance, and I can say that its everything I imagined it to be. I didn't have a convertible, but with the windows down and the music blasting, it was pretty damn good. Having been in the US east coast majority of my time, its a different feeling than looking into the Atlantic Ocean in the east coast - I really can't explain it - it was much more spiritual - or maybe because I was on vacation. Its probably that. One of the place along this route is the Face Rock, in Bandon, Oregon. This is a bizarre attraction along this otherwise spiritual drive - it is basically a face, looming out of the ocean. There is no obvious way to the beach, but there is a well-kept secret way. In support of local preservation, I am choosing to keep it secret. However, the view is much better from the top, near the actual viewpoint in the park. There is a legend behind this that the locals believe:

Many, many years ago, the legend begins, Chief Siskiyou from the far mountains traveled with his family and other clansmen to the coast to trade goods with the four tribes who lived by the sea they called Wecoma.

In his honor, the four chiefs planned the greatest feast in all memory. They roasted bear,salmon, elk, and deer. Huge quantities of clams and mussels were steamed. Cedar back trays were filled with honey and red and blue huckleberries.

It was feared that Seatka, the evil spirit who lived in the sea, might cause trouble for the people and their guests. Armed warriors stood guard on the high bluffs.

The sea enchanted Princess Ewauna, the beautiful daughter of Chief Siskiyou. After the feast, when the people were sleeping, she slipped away from camp, carrying a basket with her cat and kittens nestled inside, and followed by her faithful dog.

The moon was full and the Wecoma ran silver. Ewuana, who did not fear Seatka, swam in the sea, farther and farther from shore. The dog barked a warning but it was too late.

The evil Seatka had captured the beautiful princess. The dog carrying the basket of kittens swam to his mistress and buried his teeth in the hand of Seatka.

Howling, he shook off the dog and threw the cats into the sea. Seatka tried to make Ewauna look into his eyes, but she refused to look away from the great, round moon.

When her father awoke, he raised the alarm. Everyone rushed to the shore of Wecoma. There they saw the lovely face of Princess Ewauna gazing skyward. Her dog was on the beach howling for the princess, and the cat and kittens were in the sea. In time, they all turned to stone, frozen forever, as they were that long ago dawn.

Source: http://www.sunsetmotel.com/face/rock.html

Smooth - Mesquite Sand Dunes

Mesquite Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley is trapped inside the valley by a bunch of geographic features, and cannot blow over somewhere else. For someone as out of shape as me, walking on sand is tough, and as mentioned in another post about the dunes, I decided to go in the evening, when I could see the snakes creep up to me. The walking was not any easier in the evening, and after getting a little tired, the view starts getting a little deceptive. The Mesquite Sand Dunes don't really cover a large area, but when you are at the top of a dune, the next dune that seems so close is really not that close. So the movement necessary in order to get a good vantage point becomes increasingly harder. Anyhow, there weren't too many people around, so I was able to get most shots without any interference.

In the danger of creating yet another cliché, I decided to try a different form of editing for this shot. But according to the article, a cliché is relative to ones interpretation and exposure to the same line of representation. The Mesquite Sand Dunes have definitely been photographed every which way to sunday, and being original becomes harder as time goes by.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse - Patience Is a Virtue

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

This shot at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse took a while to get. Lighthouses, like benches, are a motif that shows up a lot in my pictures. The concept of a lone lighthouse and its keeper has always been fascinating to me. So given the chance to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, I marked off every lighthouse that I could get to. I think from Morro Bay to Portland, I left out only two. But alas, I wasn't fortunate enough to get to all of them. The first one, was under construction. The second and the third one was closed. I got one or two in between, and then headed to the last one, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. As soon as we got there, it started raining. Hard. Determined to get a good shot of at least one lighthouse, I refused to leave. A park ranger came around and asked us when we were going to leave, because everybody else was gone, but the park wasn't closed yet. I assume if we left they would close the park. Disappointing the ranger, we stuck around, and eventually we were rewarded with this beautiful sky.

Bucket List - Horseshoe Bend

Bucket List - Horseshoe Bend

Every photographer has a bucket list of locations they would like to get to - a frame they have seen time and time again, that they would like to capture themselves. This can be good and bad. Its good because those locations are usually iconic, and instantly recognizable - majority of the people looking at the picture will recognize it. Its bad because sometimes for me personally, I tend to get locked into the frame that I've seen over and over again, and can't seem to frame anything else. But for a first time visit, I think its important to get this out of the way, so you can move on and execute your own vision.

Such is the Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona. Horseshoe Bend is the name for a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River in that town. There is no official location establishment, or signs (although now there may be). The only way I found it was get the coordinates and punch it into the GPS. Once you are there, there is a dirt road which you can identify by following all the other drivers. The path from the parking area to the actual canyon is a good 20 mins walk, and its all on sand and inclines, so its not an easy walk. Although given that I when to the Arches previously, it was relatively easier. But there are zero lights, and if you are going near sunset, carry some flashlights on your walk back.

The canyon is about 1000 feet drop (scary). In order to get the whole canyon, you need a very wide lens, and have to stand pretty close to the edge. There is tremendous wind, and holding onto the tripod and the camera and leaning over the edge was pretty daunting, and I'm not sure how I ended up doing it. After I told a few friends about it, they mentioned that they both lied on the rocks, and just extended the tripod over the edge (now, why didn't I think of that?). Next to me was another photographer, who had a really expensive digital medium format camera, and he was leaning over the edge just as I was. Every time I looked at him with his $26,000 camera, leaning into the canyon, I had a heart attack. All it takes is one slip. Ouch.

Horseshoe Bend - crossed off my bucket list.

Orange Overload - Antelope Canyon

As promised in my last post about Antelope Canyon, here is the bombardment of orange. I purposely picked the pictures with the most curves and lines, to show how smooth and flowing this place is. The waters from flash floods over time has created magnificent lines, and really narrow walkways, through which I could not walk straight. I had to walk sideways most of the time, with my tripod and camera over my head.

Mars on Earth - Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is not like anything you've ever seen before. Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways are eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic 'flowing' shapes in the rock.

I found it very daunting to photograph Antelope Canyon. Before I went, these are shapes and textures that I've never seen before and other than pictures seen on the web, I didn't really have any pre-conceptions of what I wanted to get. This was good, it seems, and I am pleasantly surprised at the pictures I got, and is a rare set of pictures (of mine) that I actually like.

The thing that gets you here is the color - hence the title. There is very little vegetation, and tons of sand and rock. The orange is overwhelming, and it makes for amazing pictures. Its easy to get lost in the color, and you could lose the silky smooth flowing textures. This is why I chose to make this picture black and white, before I posted a few more of these with mind-blowing colors.

A Stormy Seattle Sunset

Stormy Seattle Sunset

When people say that 'everything has an element of luck', it always starts a debate. It's impossible to say whether something that occurs is destiny or coincidence. But sometimes, I do believe that luck plays a role in a lot of things, starting from the family you are born into. Anyhow - the reason I bring this up is because I do believe luck plays a role in things in like photography - sometimes. I can't say how big or how small of a role it plays, but sometimes it switches a good photo moment to a great photo moment. I'm not saying that a great photo is the result of luck, but a brief of moment of luck does help an amateur photo enthusiast like me.

I thought about this whole luck thing because while driving into Seattle during the last long leg of the road trip, I was a little ticked off that in certain awesome places I didn't get the conditions I wanted. Great photographers can get a great photo in any condition and I would love to work my way up to that, but for now, I need mother nature's help for my landscape photos. What I really missed was some clouds in some locations in California, and while driving into Seattle, I was hoping its famous rainy weather would kick in. And it did (only for the drive in, thank goodness). Not the best photograph I've taken, but is definitely better with the stormy clouds added in.

Mesquite Sand Dunes and the Fear of Snakes

Mesquite Sand Dunes and the Fear of Snakes

Death Valley is a prime venue for snakes. The heat and the terrain are perfect factors to make them feel very comfortable. There are many different types of snakes in Death Valley, and one of the most ideal places for this is Mesquite Sand Dunes. These dunes are near the Stovepipe Wells Village, and its a short drive from the hotel in the village. It covers a pretty big area, and a lot of people visit, so to get a nice dune with no foot prints, you have to go out pretty far. Unfortunately, walking on the dunes is pretty difficult, especially in the heat, and even more so if you're not completely in the best shape (as I am not). Given that, most people opt to go in the morning, because the sun is behind them, and makes better pictures. However, morning dawn is party time for sidewinder rattlesnakes.

I used to live in Malaysia, where they have a special 911 for snake problems. Snakes are pretty regularly found in houses and urban areas. When we lived there, we had to deal with a few of them in house. I've always had a trauma with snakes, and knowing that they could creep up on me at the Mesquite Sand Dunes did not really sit well with me. Even though many people keep saying that 'snakes are more afraid of you then you of them' - there was no way I was going to the dunes, by myself, in the morning, in the dark not being able to walk very fast in the sand. So - I convinced myself that it would be more crowded in the morning anyway, since most people would prefer the morning light and decided to go in the evening. It was hotter, but small price to pay for not encountering any of the slithering serpents.... and as you can see, the light isn't too bad at all.

A Zabriskie Point Morning in Death Valley

A Zabriskie Point Morning

Death Valley is something else. From the time you enter to the moment you leave, the scenery is nothing like you'll find anywhere else. As such, a million photographers go to Death Valley every year, and one of the most popular locations is Zabriskie Point. Zabriskie Point was also the location of a 1970 movie with the same name, and made infamous for being one of the worst movies of all time. However, the location got a lot of exposure, and became very popular thereafter. It's a favorite because its a very easy location to get to. Its very close to the Furnace Creek Resort, and the location is right off the main street. A few short steps, and you are here.

As with so many of the locations I visited during this road trip, this was daunting as ever to photograph. Part of photographing is trying to be better, and the other part is to be original and create something nobody else has created. Its the dilemma that I faced in this trip many times. At some point I had to abandon this thought process, because it wasn't any fun. I got to Zabriskie Point on the third morning after being in Death Valley, and I was tired and hot. I had left it for last since it was the easiest to get to, and realized that was the right decision. There is a ton of wind on the top of the viewpoint here at Zabriskie Point, and in the early morning, it actually felt cooler (relatively speaking, of course). So in the cooler wind, while everybody else was photographing the Panamint Mountain Ranges, I decided to turn to the Elephant Feet. There were much less people photographing this frame, and so I got to go down from the viewpoint a little bit and get this shot.

Death Valley Vanishing Point Over the Panamint Mountain Ranges

Death Valley

We had arrived to Death Valley National Park at a time when they were having record breaking temperatures. All of the routes that we wanted to take were closed off, or we were told not to go without at least few days worth of food. We decided to go on a few trips anyway - but thats a different story. This view is on our way out of Death Valley National Park, looking at the Panamint Mountain Ranges - which is the main mountain range that surrounds the Death Valley, and is the reason for the weird geo climatic nature of Death Valley. It was boiling hot, and we were a little relieved to leave, with our next destination being the cool and serene Mono Lake. As you start to drive away from Death Valley, the temperature winds down, and the altitude goes up, and the roads angle up, little by little. As you drive, the view in the rear view mirror starts to shape, and you almost want to turn around and drive back, because the view of the Panamint Ranges from the top is so much more majestic.

When we first started on this road trip, I already had an idea that I would get many frames like this. A wide angle picture of the road conjures up romantic ideas of what a road trip must/will be like, and is the idea I guess most people have in mind. This is a perspective that many movies, films and photographers use, because I think it gets you up close to the road. I later learned that this style of photography with this perspective is called the vanishing point, and it was pioneered in the 1960s by photographers like Winograd, and other travelling photographers, who discovered the open roads of America, and I guess this style appealed to them. Majority of the images I've seen of open roads that gloried road trips resembled images like this - so this, in fact, is an homage to all those photographers.

Outside

Outside

This was taken at around 5am At the Mono Lake in Mono County, in the Eastern Sierra region of California. This lake is instantly recognizable by its 'Tufa Towers'; Tufa is essentially common limestone. What is uncommon about this limestone is the way it forms. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium (the stuff in your bones) mix with lakewater rich in carbonates (the stuff in baking soda). As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate--limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941.

This lake is an extremely popular tourist attraction, and is highly photographed by photographers. Usually the pictures you will see of the Mono Lake is rich colors and a lot of dynamic contrasts, most times, an HDR. Not wanting to make a cliche photograph decided to give this a b&w treatment. This place is really surreal, and the colors of the lake and the tufa towers gives a feeling that you are not on earth anymore. Giving it a b&w I think seals the deal, and really makes it look like something else outside of our realm.

Harmony

Harmony

This was taken in The Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Córdoba, locally known as Mezquita-Catedral. Originally a temple, it was converted into a Mosque by the Ummayad Moors who occupied that area. They added to it, and eventually became - and still considered by some - to be one of the most impressive Islamic Architectures in the world. After conquering Cordoba in 1236, Ferdinand III king of Castile consecrated the Great Mosque as the city's cathedral. It was was used as a Church for a long time after that, until the 16th century when the Bishop and Canons of the cathedral proposed the construction of a new cathedral, and proposed to destroy the mosque to build it. Given the attachment the townspeople had to this building, they staged a huge protest, and eventually got the blessing of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to insert an entire Gothic "chapel" into the very heart of the former Great Mosque. This was an unprecedented decision at the time - some would say even now - and required a lot of planning. The result is nothing short of stunning, as the architects and engineers enacted a church that is so in sync with the mosque, that it is hard to tell where the mosque ends and where the church begins. The walls and floors of the church seamlessly flow into each other, and statues of Christ adorn the pillars that support the Islamic arches. It's a very peaceful place, and walking there made me forget about all the hate that you get to see these days. It was a perfect example of how two different groups can co-exist, and I wondered why it couldn't happen elsewhere...