2012-07-10 12.56.28
"Where ever you go... just there, you are. Going day by day. So let's see where it takes me! Namaste. _/|\_"

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review : The Official Guide to America's National Parks, & Road Trip USA By Jamie Jensen


I was in Utah recently, for a 5 days road trip to explore the national parks of the states of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. A 7th or perhaps 8th in the series of back-country travel through the states of north america, and perhaps the longest so far in term of miles, and toughest, though learnings from the Alaskan highway drive came in very handy and made it somewhat easy to traverse through storms, icy roads and bad weather. it was quite exhausting to say the least. I will be writing about the places I covered, along with those from the previous trip  in weeks to come, First I thought I'll do a quick review of these two books I have in my hands, since these two pretty much are with in the subject matter of what I blog these days. The first book titled "The Official Guide to America's National Parks" by national park foundation, I purchased from the visitor center of Golden Spikes NHS Utah where I was last month, for 20 something dollars. The second book titled "Road Trip USA" was sent to me for review last year, almost around this time. That means I had it w/ me for a year almost, clearly not a very good reviewer send books to, I am. But the delay I will justify right here in this short review.

The Official Guide to America's National Parks

Its not really a book, its a guide, the avid book reader in you may argue. well, I know. For Someone like me, who's obsessed with National Parks, or very honestly, in Nature Exploration, I can use all the help I need to both plan and organize my travel plans to these sites. One of the days When I was wishing to visit all the national parks in the world, I sat and made this long list of 'em, and with the stats I can say it is sought by many. Only in the united states there are about 405 sites, not all are national parks though, that number is about 60, and my travels here in this part of the world currently not limited but revolves around this number and the journey that takes me to each of them.

The 14th edition of this guide book that I have in my hands, has a few colorful images, 11 regional maps, and pretty much somewhat consolidated information that the nps.gov website has published on its front page of each park plus a little extra. for example on the bryce canyon lodging page, the website only lists the one lodge inside, but if you visit the park you know, there is a mini town settled outside the park in Dixie national forest. The book has Ruby's Inn ( A Best Western's Lodge) listed with number and current rates, and few more as well. apparently thats the only one opened in the winter. We stayed here for a night, w/ out reservation, the rates I can tell, matches to whats in the book.

Would it've been a problem to add the park map ( for the major ones at least) ? It must have added a lot more value to the guide, that means, you still have to go to visitor center and get the usually free parkmap provided there, for special points and hiking trails and scenic drives.

There are 11 regional 2-page maps ( B&W ), good reference to what park falls in what region and its approximate location. you can then follow the individual "how to get there" part, like we had to do for Golden Spikes NHS in Utah, because GPS wasn't really helping.

Now I have two points to make here. the first is about using internet for directions :
After so many trips in this country, I know very well, that I am not going to get internet connection throughout on the road, and its not just true for insides of the park, but while you're driving to and fro it. So if you're using your Phone for Google maps, navigation may drop and specially on the highway if you need to take a certain exit it can be a good couple of miles long problem, the U-turn. Lots of state highways don't have direction guidelines. so if you have some significant pointers, it can be helpful.

The Vehicle GPS of course uses exact address, so good to carry a guidebook nonetheless, if you're not very accustomed to quickly finding out the nearby street and filling up the address, or you don't love maps and wasn't a trooper in high school geography. As for me, By the time I get on the road, I have the entire map flashing in my brain, but still, I think Its a good weight to carry because, I do get mad on the road, and in those times, the brain stops working. Exactly the reason why I paid 20 bucks plus to contribute a bit more to NPS, of course if you are the cancellation stamp and passport kinda person, this does list all the places with contact details etc so you can keep ticking off where all you've been to.

Bottomline, a good source for the national park explorer like me, and I would definitely buy one for each country if those exist, and I wouldn't mind or rather be pleased if they could, if not detail, at least list all the state parks, and wildlife refuge, state wise, would be very helpful, because, no matter the size, the little state bodies are no less worthy exploring when you pass through the area.

Road Trip USA By Jamie Jensen

Now coming to the second book and, the second of the two phrases, ( first is national park, and second the road trip) I firmly believe that journey is as important as destination. and that is precisely why, even though my trips circle major park paces, I prefer to take the remote routes, State highways, and not the shortest but the more scenic or historical routes that has interesting old towns and trails.

When I am reading a map, online, ( visually that is ) I am mostly looking at the topography, so I do miss out on the towns and historical significance of the the routes, thats where its a good to have carried some a highlighted text to quickly refer, just incase, no one has time to read the book on the way right? I remember I din't know anything about Julian until my trip last december.

Now this book here with me is no one referral point for all road tripping america. no it is not. But it has 11 interesting cross country route-maps and details of the routes like lodging and eating and places and point of interest. There is no personal experience like memorabilia here, I read the author has done 400,000 miles, these routes must be about 20,000 something in full. A little bit of log, and reading would have been interesting, in my honest opinion, But thats not the case here, and its someone another guide, only more specific to these handpicked routes.

If you're not following any of these routes, then its not a book for you. Same has been the case w/ me so far, and hence the reason I couldn't get to review it. Last year I also didn't have enough trips in my kitty to crisscross 'em w/ these routes but now I do, and hence I can telly and match my experience to see the usefulness that way.

The Book is very elaborate in terms of what you may come across on the route, you may however need to refer and in my language google those places to get more details, up to you if you want to do it in advance or on the way as and when you get the internet. Detour details are missing, i mean if there is a parallel route few miles away, the book doesn't say so, nor would it list something few miles off the road. Pretty american I would say in the way its written, in the straight line, My approach is less eucalyptus or redwood like and more like the structure of xmas tree may be, because I don't mind going off the road if i read/hear there is something interesting.

But again, as I said before, if you're following the route religiously, and in a way this book does introduce some good routes, includes few classic & popular ones like route-66 and US-1, this is useful. most of the business are listed, not exhaustive though, and good thing, all the state parks on the way are also listed so one extra point I'd give for that. 

P S. Do check out few images from the recent trips I have posted in the gallery and also on flickr. Also few videos on youtube. those are all uncut as usual, I will have some gopro videos to share. soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Road to Mecca : California Nevada Dec'14 Series #2

Anza Borrego Desert State Park | California

Read Previous Post Here.

The Beauty of the Road, You never know what you'd encounter next. The uncertainty that keeps the adrenalin pumping, mind on alert, eyes on a constant look-out. No matter how many images you see, motion pictures you watch, stories you read, there is always something unseen there, no matter if you've been there before, there'd always be something new waiting for you next time you visit, and as for the plans, well, how about keeping all the planning aside and just being there at the moment, because, well, ultimately they're all gonna fail anyway.

If I could pick one memorable sight of all, then this has to be it. The hue of this wild grass, that left me awestruck. I kept looking at for minutes. What are those little things? wild flowers, seasonal vegetation, does it changes color during seasons? how it'll look in the bright sunlight? I kept asking me. Then took some images in iPhone, then in the Samsung or HTC phone my friend carried, in my DSLR later, the color was different everywhere. I thought of running in to valley and probably just sit there and write poetry on it. But I held my horses, It was already late, may be an hour or left of day light, and there was no point going to Salton Sea in the dark, unless I wanted to say hello to the ghosts.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How To Photograph The Northern Lights & For The First Time

I still have few images to post-process before I could publish the half-cooked 2nd installment from the Nevada-California trip, and If I begin now, It'll sure eat away my weekend. But I can not just allow that, Sun is shining bright and I really want to head out, besides I have something brand new waiting for me downstairs at the concierge, that I have not picked up yet, only because I am not ready, and Yes its a new gear. :) yay. So I thought I'll write a short one today, that's been in my mind for about a year now.

There are zillions of tutorials from every subject-matter expert, floating around on the internet currently then why would I really waste my time in writing this? The answer is, I am not writing it for who has already photographed the aurora and I am also not giving you an equipment lists and website details to find out if the sky is dark enough or there are clouds, or how do you prepare and later process the images. I am only giving you a short and simple list of things that I did not do and I think you should. This in a way is a checklist for me as well,  since I may be heading north, where Aurora has been seen before, and who knows I might get lucky and I definitely do not want to make the same mistakes that I did when I saw them for the first time. So you see it can be used the second time as well.

Alaska | Aurora | Northern Lights - http://blog.poonamparihar.com/2013/10/my-first-alaskan-adventure-y13octalaska.html

In past 5-6 years of my photography life, and choosing between 'using and letting the dslr sit home' and only use iPhone etc, there is one thing  I can tell, I haven't done yet and that is carrying a list of instruction, a checklist of settings or what  & where to do etc.  The other thing is I have GND , Haze and Polarizer filters etc and I haven't even used them once. The initiation of this write-up kinda got me thinking why I didn't ever and I think the answer was pretty simple, Its all too cumbersome, I managed few good images without them, and 3rd the foremost actually I was simply tired and I never had enough time at a place to set it all up and shoot. So technically I have not been photographing at all for all these years, in other words adventure took over, and when you are driving 2000 miles nonstop, braving the weather,  and processing all the new information your brain receives while on the road, photography does take a back seat. i.e. you are not prepared.

Having said all that, You do not need a 4 Page instruction list to carry with you when you are out photographing, and specifically when you go see northern lights. This is all you need and not need to know and do.

The Kp-Index Forecast

Seeing Aurora is not in your hands. "Let see if I may get lucky" is said for the right reasons. But having known the probability helps. looking up at the sky is also an exercise, and a thing you need to remember you have to do. besides who knows you may be sleeping in the backseat of your car, and your friends may be busy driving while Aurora may come, dance, have fun and go.. and You are still dozed off, because hey its post midnight, who can blame you.

If you know the kp-index you can stay alert of the aurora activities, in the region you are. You may take some rest in the day, That way you'd be more active at night and not yawn.
anything above 4, you should keep your hopes and eyes up, hands folded in a prayer. who knows it may rain, the clouds may disappear and auroras may flickr.

27 Days Aurora Forecast 
3 Days Aurora Forecast

When dim, Auroras are colorless

Now, did anyone tell you that, ever?  They may be unmoving and barely visible, the ripple, the sway and pulsation, may be missing, and you may think these are just clouds. If you're seeing 'em for the first time, great is such possibility. so unless you shoot, and see your DSLR screen green, you can not really be sure. bottomline, you think its aurora? take a shot immediately and confirm.

Stop Shooting. Just Watch.

Sorry, but someone had to say it. right!
I have written about Northern lights in details in this blogpost and also covered a bit in my Alaska feature. So I wouldn't repeat the superlatives and technical stuff. But everyone knows. Its one thing thats part of every bucket list ever made. A traveler's dream, and for s/he travelers thousand of miles north just to witness the spectacle, and when mother nature being super kind puts up a magic show in front of you, would you get busy setting your tripod and look for camera settings? really? seriously?

At one time I was driving and couldn't stop, the second time I was on the back-seat, and pretty much dozed off due to nyquil and couldn't really see, Third time I tried to set up the tripod but we were in the middle of the road and there were monster trucks behind,  at last we stop on a narrow road, took few test shots, and 2 fine and then just enjoyed the show for about 80 minutes, until they almost fade. and when I say enjoyed, meaning standing tall looking up, in all directions, sitting quietly in the corner of the road, and lying on the ground in  shavasana ( yoga pose).

My point, when something you see in dream comes right in front of you, see it, embrace it, and not worry about recording it for other to see and you to announce the world, that hey look my dream came alive.perhaps one image is more than enough.

I can not possibly describe my feelings, even after 15 months, but I can assure you, The moments like these are those most intimate experience, the time when you are one with yourself and all the facade of the world disappear. nature does that, and its in our best interest not to interfere.

convinced? no? Okay. Alright.

Widest Aperture, High ISO, Manual Mode - Focus on Infinity ∞ 

Do one of these things - Keep your camera settings ready in advance ( best practice) or keep a little sticky note, with these settings written somewhere easy to find. As I mentioned somewhere above, I don't do it. Perhaps few folks do, and I think its a good practice, specially after all these trips I realized, I am so high on adrenalin when I am the road, I pretty much forget everything, like if I have the remote in some pocket, or why I dint use Grad ND filters when I had the light issue. There is so much information inflow in the brain, overload actually, everything except "living fully in that moment" goes on the back seat. to tell you the truth, I forgot I had a manual mode in my DSLR when I saw the northern lights. Silly me. yeah of course.

It can be fun sometimes, like for example, my friend called me in the dawn hours. he was in alaska, I was in new york. He was lip-shivering, he's seeing the lights but he can't get anything on camera, and I was yelling out loud - push that bloody ISO to whatsoever max limit it has- now do you see anything?

That was good. fun. hmm.

On serious photography note :
  • Put that camera in Manual Mode,
  • Lens in Manual focus.
  • Slide the focus to infinity.
  • Set the aperture to f/2.8 or max you have on your camera. and
  • Shutter speed to 30sec.
  • ISO to 1600/3200 whichever max you have.
  • Beginning with these settings, when you start shooting, check how exposed is your image.
  • Too bright - stop down ISO to lower values 1600, 800, then 400..
  • and in that sequence go about aperture and then shutter speed.
  • Too less of light, you can use the bulb mode and remote to keep the shutter open for as long as you can.
  • A lot of folks suggest the bottom up approach, but I think it waste less time, and its less erroneous, if you start w/ a max out.  Those who regularly use SLR may understand this. its easy to read & understand light from top up. simple tip but useful in such circumstance.
  • Shoot in RAW. you know it already. read a zillion times, that tip. 
  • Don't care about white balance, you can change it later. if you shoot in RAW that is.
I assume you know you need good full batteries? these are those times when your camera gets a crazy appetite. you wouldn't want to keep it hungry and cold. the many other preparation tips you can see in most of the websites. Just google away.

No DSLR ? Shooting with the Digital Camera or iPhone

I never tried digital camera, however I remember my friend telling me he tried iPhone and din't get anything. from what I know, you are in Hard luck if you try anything but DSLR, BUT, it also depends on How bright the Auroras are. a very high KPindex and you can see and also get entire spectrum in your image.

Thats one, and for 2nd, Try some slow shutter or long exposure apps on your iPhone. Yup. The other day I tried a few free ones on the dark night and they can get you a decent night shot, now what you do need to see is, how many shutter seconds it give you. Most of the free apps have 10 second limits, anything that give you about 25-30 seconds, thats the one for you. try that and let me know.

You can thank me later.

P.S. I'll try one of these free apps in my next trip and let you know which one is for keeps. Someone, do remind me of that..

Scouting Location & Compositions

If you're at a certain location already and just waiting for Auroras to show up, You can use your day/evening time to look for nice compositions to go with the sky images easily. seen the place already, go there and set up the tripod and wait. But if your encounter is as wild as mine, use the minima rule and shoot. check your surroundings if you can find something interesting to have as your foreground.

Its pretty tricky, for as I recall, unless you shoot in the dark and look at your screen, you ain't really seeing or realizing how it is 10-20 ft ahead on the ground, because the dark nights. Road looks pretty good in the foreground with leading lines on the sky, but make sure you're on the road that has no traffic, or its a goodbye. I had nothing interesting so I used my car for couple of shots, kinda unusual, I know, but gave me a totally unique image.

Not to repeat, you are mostly away from the citylights, and also the signals, so pretty hard to just google/gps out a nice water body or some perfect location at the last minute.

Well, That is about all I can remember as of now, I' shall update if something comes to my mind that I missed. Its January, and still plenty of days to go Aurora Hunting this season. All the best.
to you and me both. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To make an end is to make a beginning

...For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. - T S Eliot

Bookmaking, an art, and Self-publishing also an art, I discovered around this time 3 years back. I began my bookmaking journey with a short coffee table book dedicated to jewels of the Cold deserts, in this case, from Nubra Valley of one of my favorite place on earth, Ladakh. I did not know how to even write a forward then, and so I very smartly skipped it all and let the images do the talking. My  unwillingness to take part in over the top publicity and flooding the social media, may have not given me much monetary benefits but that wasn't the result I was wanting to achieve in this tedious ( i figured) process. But it taught me a lot about how I should look at art, a creation. I realized why mother nature, didn't just leave us looking like manikins, still as statue and with no skills to express.

A travel is not complete until you tell its story. all those emotions that you feel are to be expressed if not those weren't deep enough, or important really. Photography, sketching, painting, pottery or any art for that matter, is also telling a story, and that story should be complete. it should have an end, a thread that breathe us in to a new beginning. that's how affectionate bookmaking has been to me since, It is that fondness with which I am fastened to each and every article, every image of mine. A million thoughts and an indefinite amount of time, that I spent in its conception, and not seeing the end is like never seeing a baby after carrying it in your womb for nine long months.

One of the most viewed article on this blog is Dhanushkodi, a small island block in southern india, more than just another place, actually, and from what I experienced, standing in the shallow waters at the merging point of Indian ocean and Bay of Bengal, the time stood still. When I wrote the article, I don't think I felt so deeply connected to it. Something seemed to be missing there, that disconnection, mixed with my disappointment over seeing such living conditions made me vary from whatever i captured in imagse and words, I looked through images many a times, sit for hours try to feel what story they're telling me but all I found in my head was a zero.

Like most of my work is, out in an impulse, i.e these thoughts that would run away in seconds if I don't sketch 'em, 2 nights back, I decided I did need to end few things, and one of 'em looked like this.

Dhanuskodi : 

preview only shows first 15 pages of the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Letter to Santa : My 2015 Travel Wishlist

Anza-Borrego & Salton Sea i.e. the second post from California-Nevada trip has to wait. 1 day to X-mas, I need to finish my Letter to Santa. I have already written one on "macy's : a million reasons to believe" ( check the link for more details macy's make-a-wish donation campaign) though, 3 very basic, little things ;), I missed the travel part there, so tradition you know. Its a wishlist of course, but there is nothing much unrealistic about it, like for example,  I want to go there, but I don't think I can, still I wish to, kind, so here you go Santa, and Don't you worry, it'll be pretty short & sweet and totally easy for you to fulfill, my patron Saint.

1. India : 
First thing, I can't believe in less than a month, its gonna be been two years for me to not go out of United States, in other words, being away from India. Never before I stayed away that long, Not that I am complaining, I actually wonder, how I used to, widen and roll my eyes, when I hear my friends telling me, they've not been to India for 3 years etc. I think Its high time, I make a visit. I even have a road-map planned specially in the hope to attend Kumbh Mela in Nasik. So come July -Sep 2015, and if not April 2016 for Ujjain Kumbh, for one of these I just gotta go and get a dip in holy ganges.

image : ah.fm

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Finding Cuyamaca : California Nevada Dec'14 Series #1

view near the Cuyamaca lake, Canon 450D, Tokina 11-16

About 40 miles away from South San Diego, when I took a left turn from National Hwy 8, I never had the slightest of the idea, that I'd be in for a 'surprise of the trip' here. The Charming winding roads, cattles grazing, rustic old victorian architecture, beautiful ranches in midst of the oak forests, red and orange hues of fall colors ( still there in december) and the grass in color pallete I can not possibly describe. From the sea level I was suddenly standing on a lake shore, at an elevation of about 5000 ft, trying to get a glimpse of a vast valley and the mountains, hidden in the mist.

Out in the wilderness here in USA multiple times now, I do not carry any plan any more. We just land at a certain city, hire a car and get on the road. Though the limited time, doesn't allow a satisfactory level of discovering the landscape, I feel its a good recce for the future trips. Because once the terrain is somewhat familiar, its easy to venture out for a deeper exploration, i.e. a couple of days of hiking, or even photography trips for that matter, because, while on the road, I hardly do justice to the place, just stopping the car in the corner and taking a quick shot, that my friend, is no way photography.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What I learned from my 5 Back-road Trips to America's National Parks in Last 1 Year...

I am out in 2 days and I thought It'd be a good idea to summarize the experience and leave you with little read, so here you go...

Since 2006 when I first came to United States ( for a -3 months business trip ) on my maiden international trip, I have traveled to many popular as well as remote places in this country. Most of these trips were group road trips to nearby cities and wilderness-state parks, and I was mostly on the back seat, i.e. all I am doing is going where others would take me, see what others wanted to me to see, seek what others were seeking, and even sometime eat what others were craving for. I still do that though, don't really prefer to interfere in hungry people's palatal desires. These trips in all except a few weren't as fulfilling as I feel now these could've been, But they paved the path for me to discover what sort of experience I was looking for, and thats apart from taking in to account the kind of travel I was doing.

"On the way to Lower Antelope Canyon"

When I moved base to united states again, earlier last year, I had this desire to explore national parks on my own. So I began my adventure with the 49th State, Alaska, and then explored the South west, Pacific west, Southern and bits of Mid-atlantic and North-east and in different seasons.  12 months later, I feel I am wiser, more confident and actually do understand this country and its landscape, much better than I ever did. And this I say about both, one, planning the adventure part and two, cultural part. In this article, I would jot down a few points focussing mainly on the planning part because as easy as it may sound, that all you need is a credit card to travel in this country, there is way lot more to it and knowing those tit-bits can save you a lot of time and make your experience in back country area much better. ( City travel plan I may cover somewhere else and later )