A Visual Tour of Iceland’s Westfjords

Is a four day solo road trip through Iceland enough to properly explore the country?

Absolutely not.

Is it, however, enough time to run up into the largely deserted Westernfjords, roam brilliant empty fjords, see puffins, and then hop a ferry down to Snaefellsnes for a taste of more waterfalls, extinct volcanos and gorgeous Icelandic horses?

Absolutely.

I’ll talk a bit in a future post about just how powerful, liberating, and wonderful a solo road trip like this is. But, for now, I want to take you through a visual tour (in color) of my road trip through Iceland’s Westfjords. According to one statistic I read before the trip, fewer than 11% of visitors to Iceland visit the region in the far Northwest and in this instance, that lack of tourism is great news for people eager to explore a vibrant but more natural and less touristic Iceland.

Scottish Waters – A Photo Essay in Black and White

The Hermitage Waterfall, Scotland

From its music to its history and folklore Scotland has always been one of the world’s epicenters for the mystical and magical.  It is an ethereal place which seems both a part of modern times and lost in the mists of  romanticized visions of bygone eras.  Cleared of trees thousands of years ago, the Scottish landscape has adapted, evolved, and transformed into a land of wonderful valleys, waterfalls, breathtaking lochs, and mountains. Mountains that are sometimes brutal, harsh and primitive with a naked majesty and elegant beauty unlike their cousins in the ranges of Norway, the American and Canadian Rockies, the South American Andes or Europe’s Alps.  This post seeks to showcase and share a sampling of Scotland’s incredible waterfalls.  Some are small – you’ll notice that one is more a rapid than waterfall – while others are related to waterfalls such as the flowing water inside Smoo Cave.  All were taken during a 6-day solo driving trip I made in August 2013.  Enjoy!

Skye's Fairy Pools

This location was made famous a year ago by Reddit when several photos of the “Fae Pools” on the Isle of Skye were posted.  It is a wonderful spot situated in the southwestern part of Skye and sits at the base of imposing cliffs with sheer walls that look straight out of the Lord of the Rings.  This waterfall is part of a series of falls that make up the fairy pools.

Corrieshalloch Gorge - Scottish Highlands

Located about 10 minutes outside of Ullapool, Corrieshalloch Gorge is a mouthful and a bit difficult to find on the map but an incredible location. This imposing waterfall crashes down into a narrow gorge with near-smooth walls heavily laden with rich green ferns and gorgeous moss.  The suspension bridge that crosses the gorge just above the falls is free floating, allowing both an incredible view of the falls and a hair-raising experience.

Scotland in Black and White

While far less famous than its big sister in south-central Africa, Scotland’s Victoria Falls is also well worth a brief stop.  A beautiful waterfall located along Loch Maree about an hour’s drive outside of Ullapool, this lovely waterfall was ringed by blooming flowers, heather, and thick ferns.  An added perk were the fresh raspberries which could be found along the path to and from the falls.

Skye's Fairy Pools

While the primary fairy pools are located along the main stream which is fed by runoff from the area’s craggy cliffs, there is a second smaller stream that feeds a series of petite falls and cozy pools which are located just beside the start of the hiking path.

Skye's Fairy Pools

This is the third photo from the fairy pools in this series.  This shot captures the incredible power of water as a cutting tool.  Note the smooth but abandoned channel immediately to the right of the jet of water currently cutting its way into the ancient bedrock.  A simple feat of natural engineering or an illustration of fae magic?  It’s hard to say!

Scotland in Black and White

A random waterfall situated near the road on the Isle of Skye.  The water from this stream flowed down across the grasslands before winding its way through orange, gold, and yellow- hued kelp and sea moss to the nearby sea loch.

The Hermitage Waterfall, Scotland

Located just outside of Perth, there is a wonderful nature reserve and brief hike. Commonly called “The Hermitage” it is home to this gorgeous waterfall. Perched overlooking the falls is a Georgian Folly – which is to say a semi-modern building built during the Georgian period for decoration with the goal of appearing much older than it actually is. If you’re lucky you can find massive Scottish Salmon running the waterfalls during their spawning season.

Smoo Cave - Durness, Scotland

One of my favorite places in Scotland, this photo is of Smoo Waterfall situated deep inside Smoo Cave.  The cave sits at the end of a small inlet carved over centuries of wear and tear.  It is easy to imagine that Smoo Cave, situated right outside of Durness, is the source for numerous myths and stories. Of these, Beowulf comes to mind. Over the years the tides, harsh coastal winds, and the constant onslaught of nature have carved out a large cavern which opens onto the ocean.  At the same time a nearby stream has gradually cut and tunneled its way towards the sea creating a series of caves.  As the flow of water changed, the stream periodically would carve holes in the roof of the chamber which at times caused it to collapse. At other times it created stunning portals such as this one where a small waterfall crashes down into a large pool.

Inside Smoo Cave - Durness, Scotland

If the weather cooperates and the falls are not raging, it’s possible to take a small inflatable raft across to the main chamber where the waterfall is, under a low hanging stone arch, and to a human-sized tunnel that winds into the hillside 100 feet or so before dead ending at a second small pool and series of small stalagmites.  While the path stops, the water’s source does not.  Testing done on charred ash which has been found in the water dates back thousands of years and indicates that humans have likely been exploring the cave system since before the rise of the Roman Empire.

Scottish Stream

One of the wonderful things about Scotland is the wealth of picturesque streams which line the bottoms of the area’s countless glens. This photo captures one such spot along the road just outside of the tiny village of Ratagan near the famous Eilean Donan Castle. A photo cannot convey the tranquility and rich scent that permeates the air, but I hope as you look at these photos you take a moment to close your eyes and imagine.

Skye's Fairy Pools

The final photo in this series is from the fairy pools. This pinned boulder easily weighed as much as I do.  It was a not-so-subtle reminder about the potential for harsh floods and thunderous water flows that no doubt happen several times a year during the heavy rains that keep the Isle of Skye and Highlands so alive and covered in a thick blanket of rich green foliage.

Corrieshalloch Gorge - Scottish Highlands

I’ll leave you with this final photo of the Corrieshalloch Gorge situated just outside of Ullapool. There’s something wonderfully dramatic about these falls which adds a sense of grandeur to them.  Perhaps it’s the confined space they exist within and the way the gorge frames them.  If you’re a waterfall fanatic like me, they’re a must-add to any Scottish itinerary.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the black and white photos I shot during my visit.

These photos were taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 18-135mm, and Canon 55-250mm lens. A special thank you to www.carrentals.co.uk who partially sponsored my car rental and helped make this trip possible.

Awe Inspiring Argentina – A Video Blog

Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

When I set out to explore Argentina over the course of a 21 day trip in December 2010 I was drawn by the stories I had heard of Buenos Aires. Stories of passion, romance, great food and tango dancing so sensual it would leave you with goose bumps. I expected Buenos Aires to be the highlight of my trip, and the place I’d fall in love with during my visit. The embarrassing truth is that the time I set aside for exploring the rest of the country was done almost as an after thought – an added bonus if you will.

Wow was I wrong. While Buenos Aires is an incredible city, the Argentina I fell in love with is the Argentina I experienced in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, and Misiones. These regions feature some of the most incredible scenery I’ve seen anywhere on the globe, but don’t take my word for it – here’s footage I shot featuring four of my favorite destinations:

1. Iguazu Falls (Misiones)

This somewhat difficult to reach series of falls is often ranked as the 2nd most impressive waterfall in the world just behind Victoria Falls in Africa. The falls are one of the few “must visit in your lifetime” destinations I suggest to everyone. As an added bonus, if you get lucky it’s sometimes possible to swim on a small beach along San Martin island. Cool right?

2. El Chalten & Mt. Fitz Roy (Patagonia)

The area around El Chalten is stunning. The colors of the rocks in the mountains give off rich colors while seeming to glow. The rock formations are mind boggling and the combination of exotically colored river water, glaciers, and rugged peaks will leave you awed.

3. Perito Moreno Glacier (Patagonia)

This massive glacier is located just a few miles outside of El Calafate. The clean whites and deep rich blues of this glacier are captivating. The towering mountains on either side humbling. The flowers in bloom and waterfalls flowing down and into the glacier amazing. When you visit, make sure to do a hike out onto the glacier. You won’t be disappointed!

4. The Beagle Channel (Tierra del Fuego)

Accessed through Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city and gateway to Antarctica, this video features a day trip out to a small island that serves as home to more than 4,000 penguins from two species. It also highlights spring in one of the world’s most southern locales.

Martian Landscapes, Barren Desert and Old Bridges

Northern Arizona Desert - B&W

When I left you last I’d just wrapped up a delightful evening exploring Flagstaff and begun my first American Hostel experience.  The following morning I woke up early, washed up and made a quick call to connect with Noelle who was the friend of a friend I’d met the evening before and was eager to join me on my day-long road trip through Northern Arizona.  We connected around 10:30 and by 11 had piled into the car and were trailblazing northward.

Desert Cactus - Northern Arizona

The first 30 minutes of the drive were pleasant and cool along old route 89A.  It took us through rural Flagstaff, pine forest and open meadows before cresting a small hill which opened up onto Arizona’s barren flatland’s.   The view before us stretched out and away for miles with the straight black line of the road cutting a ruler-perfect line down the sloping hill and out toward the horizon.  From our vantage point it was easy to identify where the pine transitioned into juniper, the juniper forest into grass lands with an occasional tree and then the naked rocky terrain that springs to mind when one imagines Arizona.

Northern Arizona - View Towards Flagstaff

As we said goodbye to most things green we found a small paved road which forked out from a tiny town (Gray Mountain) with a restaurant, gas station and 4 buildings nestled along along the highway. Eager to get out into the countryside we followed the road as far as we could – it eventually turned to dirt before dead ending at a power relay station.  As we backtracked we parked (essentially in the middle of the road) and got out to take in the natural beauty and sheer contrast of the location.   The desert that surrounded us was brown and lacked any consistent form of ground vegetation, though it was periodically dotted by beautiful blooming cactus blossoms or small wildflowers with muted orange and yellow flowers.  The barren desert landscape stretched out, largely flat, but was broken by the snow covered peaks of the San Francisco Mountains which surround Flagstaff.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

Cameron

The small town of Cameron is located just under 60 miles north of Flagstaff and tends to stand out on maps for two main reasons.  The first and best known of which, is that it sits at the junction of Highway 89 and Highway 64, which splits off from 89 and strikes west towards the Grand Canyon.  The town’s second claim to fame is the Cameron Trading post: a sprawling trinket, food and hotel complex that sits overlooking the Little Colorado’s dusty riverbed.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

While the trading post itself has never had much draw for me – it mostly consists of the usual over-priced south western toy tomahawks, sand paintings and weird leather cowboy memorabilia – the old bridge built in 1911 has always captured my imagination.  There’s something about the basic design, when combined with the classic suspension architecture that oozes personality.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

The old one lane bridge, which has been closed to public traffic for years, turns 100 next year.  Though old and no longer used by automotive/foot traffic the bridge is in good condition and still supports a large north/south pipeline.  It offers an interesting contrast between new and old, as it stands immediately parallel to a more modern bridge which supports 89A and serves as one of Arizona’s main North/South arteries.

Northern Arizona Desert

Painted Desert/Tuba City

Some 30 miles North of Cameron is Tuba City.  Though a relatively short geographic distance, the geological variation is spectacular.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those 30 minutes, took us close to two hours as we regularly paused along the side of the road to explore.

Northern Arizona Desert

Our first stop was at a series of incredible bald hills.  The hills, if they can be called that, varied in size and looked more on par with giant anthills than the usual small hill.  Roughly the size of a house, they were completely devoid of any vegetation.  What limited vegetation could be found was usually in the form of small plants clustered along small ditches carved out by rain and erosion.

Northern Arizona Desert

Unfortunately, the area we stopped at had been used somewhat recently by ATVers for off road fun which left the hills heavily scarred. The ground itself had an odd consistency.  The dirt was cracked and obviously dry, but also extremely fine and soft.  It left me feeling like I was walking across the surface of the moon, though its appearance had far more in common with mars.  The dirt itself was a wide mixture of colors, from reds and browns to deep grays.  It’s truly an incredible site and well worth exploring.  Especially if you’re the type who has always dreamed of visiting Mars or the Moon.

Northern Arizona Desert

Our next stop wasn’t technically in the painted desert, which is further to the North East, but it did offer an incredible view of gorgeous desert landscapes that looked as though they’d been painted in watercolor.

Northern Arizona Desert

Located just outside Tuba City – these hills were absolutely stunning.  With each layer a different color they offer a desert rainbow for those who pause long enough to take them in.   In many places the sandstone rocks have been partially eroded creating small sand dunes, which only serve as a further reminder of just how arid and difficult the natural environment is.

Northern Arizona Desert

As we paused for a few photos, we were greeted by one of those a-typical sights that you only stumble across while traveling. As we stood sweating, roasting in the desert heat a heavily laden Asian man in what appeared to be his 30’s passed us.  In and of itself not all that noteworthy right?  Wrong, this guy was apparently rollerblading his way across the state, loaded with a heavy backpack, wearing two roller-blades, and with a modified hockey stick for balance (and perhaps snakes).  Needless to say, the guy oozed a mixture of badass and Buddhist monk.

From there it was up a hill, across jagged, rocky terrain and into Tuba City.  A small-ish town with a few gas stations, fast food joints and a dive restaurant or two.  We ended up at a small sandwich shop which looked busy and had mediocre food.   The service was slow and ambling, though that may have been as much perception as reality given our famished state.

Northern Arizona Desert

Time was slipping by, and we elected to stop our northward push and begin making our way back towards Cameron, where we’d split off and make a B-Line for the Grand Canyon in the hope of reaching it in time for sunset.  First, however, it was time for another quick break.  This time we found a small pull off atop a decent sized shelf, which offered a Lion King esque view of the desert valley below us.

Northern Arizona Desert

The view was incredible and the lack of vegetation served as a stark contrast against the pine trees and lush greenery that we’d started the morning out with.

Northern Arizona Desert

We took a few minutes to enjoy the view, paused to snap a few silly snapshots jumping off the cliff or taking in the scenery and then jumped back in the car.  We were drenched in sweat and eager to escape the sun scorched desert.

Where next? Cameron, a quick pause along the Little Colorado and then the Grand Canyon to take in a spectacular sunset. The photos from that leg of the trip are spectacular, so stay tuned for my next post!