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June 14, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Micronesia Airpass for a Pacific Islands trip

island at Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands

A small island of Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands

Some of my most memorable travels have been to the islands of Micronesia while on assignment for the award winning “Pacifica” magazine, the former inflight for Continental Micronesia Airlines. I made several extended trips around the Pacific Ocean, visiting the volcanic islands and atolls of Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, Palau, Guam, Saipan, and the Marshall Islands.

outrigger canoe on beach, Kosrae

Outrigger canoe on beach at Walung, Kosrae.

The Micronesian islands are fantastic places to visit, but except for avid scuba divers they’re largely unknown by most Americans. Some World War II vets may remember them as sites of some of the fiercest battles in the Pacific theater during that war. Most of the smaller islands have not changed much since then, and relics of those times are frequently found on beaches and in overgrown jungles.

Sokehs Rock, Pohnpei

Sokehs Rock, Pohnpei, from The Village hotel.

There is not a lot of infrastructure for tourism on many of these islands, but travel for Americans is relatively easy because of the long U.S. influence – English is spoken everywhere and the U.S. dollar is the standard currency. The problem has always been that airfare to travel to and around the islands is pricey. For many years, Continental Airlines has been the sole U.S. carrier to Micronesia, and since joining with United Airlines, it is now part of the Star Alliance. The good news is that the Star Alliance recently announced the Micronesia Airpass, which gets you extended and flexible flight arrangements to 20 destinations and up to 10 flights. Even better, the destinations include Fiji, Australia, Hong Kong, Manila and Japan, so travelers can include Micronesia on the way to or from Asia or the South Pacific.

If these wonderful islands pique your interest at all, click this link for more of my photos of Micronesia.

May 31, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Take a Hike! National Trails Day.

Drift Creek Falls Trail, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon

Father and son hiking on Drift Creek Falls Trail, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon.

Saturday, June 4, is National Trails Day, an annual event that celebrates trails of all types for non-motorized adventure and recreation in the U.S.A. The American Hiking Society has been organizing this event for 19 years, with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, National Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. This year’s sponsors and partners include Backpacker Magazine, Columbia, Eastern Mountain Sports, Fetzer, Merrell, The North Face, American Park Network and REI.

If you really want to get involved, hiking groups such as the Obsidians in Eugene and the Washington Trails Association are having trail maintenance parties on Saturday (and throughout the summer).

In Oregon, June 4 is also State Parks Day, which means free admission and free camping at all Oregon State Parks. There will be special events at several state parks, with a focus on programs to get kids involved in outdoors activities.

Not only that, the weather forecast for this weekend in the Pacific Northwest is looking pretty darn good. So no excuses – get outside, go for a picnic or campout, and take a hike!

March 14, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

National Wildlife Refuges Anniversary

Tundra swans at Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Tundra swans at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

The U.S. National Wildlife Refuges system celebrates the 108th anniversary of its founding on March 14.  President Teddy Roosevelt signed the law creating the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903. Today the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service maintains more than 550 refuges in the country, helping to preserve over 2,000 species of our native critters.

The 95 million acres of refuge land are spread throughout all 50 states. The refuges benefit people as well as the animals they were established to protect – most refuges allow at least some opportunity for recreation, and there is at least one refuge within a one hour drive from every major city in the country. Like our National Parks, the National Wildlife Refuges system is one of our country’s best ideas.

Click on this link for more photos of National Wildlife Refuges.

March 8, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Hawaii Volcano Eruption

Molten lava splattering at Kilauea fissure eruption

Molten lava splattering during Hawaii's Kilauea volcano 1986 fissure eruption.

Madame Pele has been putting on a spectacular show the past few days at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a new phase of an eruption in the east rift zone of Kilauea volcano on the the island of Hawaii that has been going on since 1983. Most of the eruptive activity has been from a single vent, named Pu’u O’o, but this new activity is a fissure eruption and is causing a lot of excitement for the geologists that work at HVNP.

In the 1980s I lived on the Kona side of the Big Island, and was extremely fortunate to witness and photograph several phases of the Pu’u O’u eruption. To see a volcano erupting is truly a mind-boggling and totally awesome experience.

The current eruptive phase is very similar, and very near to, a fissure eruption that I got to photograph up close in July, 1986. Reknowned French vulcanologist Maurice Krafft chartered a helicopter to take him to the site of the eruption so that he could film it, and the helicopter pilot invited me to go along since there was an empty seat.

Kilauea East Rift Zone Eruption

Kilauea East Rift Zone Eruption, July 18, 1986.

At that time, Kilauea had been erupting almost continuously for three years at the Pu’u O’o vent, but on July 18 the lava was fountaining from a long, narrow crack in the ground, forming a “Curtain of Fire”.  We circled the site several times getting aerial views, and then landed as close to the eruption as the pilot dared. Maurice grabbed his Arriflex and started filming, moving closer and closer to the splattering lava. I followed to the point that I couldn’t stand the heat anymore and thought that the soles of my boots were going to melt. Maurince ventured farther still, returning not long after with burn holes in his clothes from flying cinders.*

The heat was intense, the roar was deafening and the fumes choking. It was an incredible experience, so much so that I’ve always struggled to find words to do it justice. We don’t normally think of the earth as being alive, but witnessing a volcano eruption tends to change that perception.

Here is a link to more of my photos of the Pu’u O’o eruption.

* Maurice and his wife Katia, also a respected vulcanologist, both perished while filming the eruption of Japan’s Mount Unzen in 1991.

February 20, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

International Year of the Forest

old-growth temperate rainforest

Old-growth temperate rainforest, Olympic National Forest, Washington

The United Nations has declared 2011 as the International Year of the Forest, with the objective to reverse the loss of forest cover, enhance economic, social and environmental benefits, increase the area of sustainably managed forests and to mobilize increased financial resources.  Here in the United States, the U. S. Forest Service, in partnership with the National Association of State Foresters and the American Forest Foundation, is participating in the efforts, kicking off the year with the campaign “Celebrate Forests. Celebrate Life.”

Some people might argue that the USFS and it’s named partners are responsible for devastating a huge portion of American forests, but for now let’s all join in celebrating forests. Rainforests, dry upland forests, tropical jungles, old-growth forests, wilderness forests and urban forests. Forests all over the world.

I’m an unabashed tree-hugger and forest lover, and just happen to have a few forest photos here.

February 5, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Oregon Coast and Kauai Coast Top-Rated

aerial view of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai

Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

National Geographic Traveler magazine recently rated coastal destinations all over the world, with a ranking based on, among other things, environmental health and visitor experience. I am very pleased to find that two of my favorite coasts are among the top-rated. Both the Oregon Coast and the Na Pali Coast on Kauai are, according to the magazine, “In excellent shape, relatively unspoiled and likely to remain so.”

The rugged and remote Na Pali coast is one of the scenic wonders of the world, and thanks to the fact that the entire coast is protected by the State of Hawaii, it will likely remain so. All of the coastal area, and inland, from Ha’ena Beach on the north side of Kauai to Polihale Beach on the south, is designated as State Park (actually a series of state parks) or Natural Area Preserve.

Southern Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast, Samuel H. Boardman State Park

Much of the scenic Oregon Coast is also protected and preserved for future generations. While cities and resort developments dot the coast, there are also untouched stretches, particularly in the southern part of the state. Just steps from a state wayside, you may have an entire beach or cove to yourself, even in the busy summer months, at places like Pistol River State Park and at numerous spots along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.

Click on this link for more of National Geographic Traveler’s place ratings.

For more of my photos of Kauai and the Oregon Coast, check these links:

Oregon Coast photo gallery

Kauai photo gallery

January 23, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Favorite Photos of 2010

aspen tree trunks

Aspen trees, eastern Washington.

I’ve been inspired by the blogs of a number of photographers who’ve recently posted their top photos for 2010, so decided to add my own to the mix. Most of the photographers post either landscape and scenic photos or travel photography. I do a mixture of both – something to do with being a Gemini perhaps? – so my selection of favorites is a combination of nature images and snaps from my travels this past year.

 

 

man walking on beach in Dubai

Walking on the beach, Dubai

Early in the year, I had the opportunity to visit Dubai, which is about as far as you can get – both literally and figuratively – from Eugene, Oregon. Not exactly my kind of place, but it certainly was interesting to see what can be accomplished or enjoyed when money is no object. Going out one morning to get a photo of the place I was staying – the Burj Al Arab – I spotted this man walking on the beach and was attracted to the simplicity of the scene. And was reminded that oft times the simplest pleasures are the best.

 

young Buddhist monks on their morning procession

Buddhist monks, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dubai was followed by a trip to Thailand, where on another morning outing I photographed these young Buddhist monks. In a daily ritual, the monks form a procession, walking from their monastery through the Huay Kaew neighbhorhood of Chiang Mai, offering prayers and chants in exchange for their day’s food. I really enjoyed visiting a bunch of temples and street markets in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and can easily see why Thailand is a perennial favorite destination for world travelers.

 

Mount Baker and reflection in an alpine tarn

Mount Baker and alpine tarn, Park Butte Trail, Washington

Much of my time this year was spent working on a book about Washington, and I made a number of trips, criss-crossing the Evergreen State from Cape Disappointment to Spokane and Bellingham to the Palouse. Lots of wonderful scenery, but most enjoyable for me were the backpacking trips in the Cascade Mountains. Incredible vistas of Mount Baker, The Enchantments, Mount Adams and North Cascades National Park. Washington is a hiker’s paradise and I can’t wait to get back for more.

 

 

Deception Island and sunset sky
Deception Island and sunset over the Salish Sea

The Washington Coast offers some pretty decent views for photographers, too. Okay, major understatement there. Nice combination of long, sandy beaches, tiny coves, forested headlands and the myriad islands of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Got lucky one night with the gorgeous sunset above, taken from Rosario Head overlooking Deception Pass.

 

 

sunrise at Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo Beach sunrise, Windward Oahu

Got lucky another time during a trip to Hawaii with this sunrise at Waimanalo Beach on Oahu. Used to live not far from this beach, and I always make it a point to watch the sunrise from somewhere on the windward side of the island during my return visits.

 

 

Rhododendron flowering in forest

Rhododendron, Willamette National Forest

Those who know me know that I’m an unabashed lover of and booster for my home state of Oregon. Coast, mountains, rivers, forests, deserts and lakes – there’s a fantastic wealth of beautiful places here to see, photograph, experience and enjoy. I’m particularly enamored of the lush old-growth forests on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains. Found this almost perfect rhododendron blooming along the McKenzie River Trail early in the summer.

Please follow this link and have a look at some more of my Favorite Photos of 2010. Click on the Slideshow link for the best view.

And check out the top photos for 2010 from some of my photographer friends:

For even more, see the list compiled by JMG-Galleries

October 25, 2010 / Greg Vaughn

The Enchantments – Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Alpine larch in The Enchantments

Alpine larch trees at Perfection Lake in The Enchantments.

On a beautiful early October morning I stood with a 40-pound pack on my back at the bottom of Aasgard Pass and exclaimed “O.M.G.!” Twice. Once for the incredible beauty of milky blue Colchuck Lake and the towering mountains above, and once for the daunting climb ahead of me – a 2,200 elevation gain in less than a mile of “trail”. Trail is in quotes because the route is basically follow-the-cairns over loose scree and chunks of granite rock after picking your way across a slope of car-sized boulders.

The granite scramble and steep ascent was definitely worth the effort. The next several days were spent wandering through the area known as The Enchantments in Washington state’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Located on the eastern side of the central Cascade Mountains, the hike to this alpine wonderland is considered by many to be the premier backpack trip in Washington. It didn’t take me long to see why, and I’d say it has also got to be one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest for nature and landscape photographers.

The sparking lakes and jagged glaciated peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are spectacular at any time of year, but become even more incredibly beautiful in autumn when the alpine larch trees turn brilliant with fall color. An anomaly, the larch is a deciduous conifer: the needles change from pine green to lemony yellow to almost orange before dropping.

The trail through The Enchantments winds its way past a series of stunning alpine lakes, each filled with water of amazing shades of blue. Waterfront backpacker campsites offer million dollar views by day, visits by non-chalant mountain goats, and incredible star shows at night.

This is by no means an easy hike – it is the most challenging I’ve ever done – but is so popular that the number of hikers is limited and permits are required for overnight stays. The permit system is fully explained on the Wenatchee National Forest website. Additional info on the area, and an excellent guide to the trail, is available on the Washington Trails Association website.

Click on this link for more of my photos of The Enchantments.

September 2, 2010 / Greg Vaughn

National Wilderness Month

Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

Wildflower meadow, Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington.

September is National Wilderness Month, so proclaimed by President Obama. I’ve had the good fortune to hike and backpack in several wilderness areas recently, and firmly believe that our federally designated Wilderness areas rank right up there with our National Parks as some of the best things about the U.S.A.

There are a number of new and proposed wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest, places that are now protected, or worthy of protection, for future generations. Nationally, The Wilderness Society has been working for many years to preserve these special areas, and locally we have such organizations as Oregon Wild, the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Washington Wilderness Coalition.

The photo above is from a recent backpacking trip to the Mount Adams Wilderness in the southern Cascade Mountains of Washington state. Mount Adams isn’t as well known as its neighbors Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens, but forests and meadows on the flanks of Mount Adams are wonderful for hiking, wildlife viewing and photography. On this trip, I headed up Killen Creek Trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and found this meadow of lovely lupine just below the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Click on the link for more of my photos of wilderness areas in Washington and Oregon.

August 18, 2010 / Greg Vaughn

Bangkok and Chiang Mai named Best Cities

Thai dancer

Young Thai woman in traditional costume at Siam Niramit in Bangkok.

The readers of Travel + Leisure magazine have voted Bangkok as their favorite city in the world. I had the opportunity to visit Thailand earlier this year and certainly agree that it’s a wonderful place. Bangkok is a huge, bustling modern city, but with incredible historical and cultural sites. And, of course, food to die for.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Chiang Mai

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel, Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai was voted second favorite city in the T+L poll – amazing that Thailand would score #1 and #2 in the same year! Have to agree also that it’s a delightful place to visit. Click on these links to see more of my photos of Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

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