Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nature: to share or not to share?

I was browsing Instagram today, and one of the accounts I follow, extreme_oregon, wrote about their decision not to share the locations of the photos they post. They asked for thoughts and received several comments from followers on either side of the fence, but they ultimately decided they would no longer be posting the locations of the photos they feature.

"I'm thinking about no longer sharing the locations of the places I shoot unless they are very commonly known. I have been noticing some heavy disrespect to many natural places I visit and it seems to be getting worse at a rapid rate. I am not blaming anyone nor claim to never leave a footprint anywhere, but I feel this page has become more of a travel guide than an art page and worry that I am contributing to the trampling of many pristine places. Can you guys appreciate the photographs on this page for what they are and still be interested in viewing if I don't state the location? Thoughts?"

It is disappointing, because I've used their account (as well as many other Instagram accounts) to build a list of places I'd like to visit and photograph. At the same time, I completely understand where they are coming from, and I respect their decision. It also made me think about whether I should do the same thing in the future (although my blog and Instagram account are not popular or well known and are only seen by a few people).

I've written about a similar topic before in my post about the downsides of a popular nature attraction. One of my favorite places in the world is the beautiful Oneonta Gorge, a canyon with moss covered walls and a waterfall at the back. A few years ago, Oneonta Gorge was not well known. In recent years, it's had a large increase in visitors, most likely due to photos of it online and being featured in guides about the Columbia River Gorge. As a result, Oneonta Gorge gets very crowded during certain seasons and certain times of the day. Enough people enter the gorge at times that there is a line to get over the log jam.

From TripAdvisor. Waiting to cross the log jam at Oneonta Gorge.

I'm willing to visit the gorge right after the sun rises, or outside of the summer season, in order to avoid the crowds. But what I worry about is not just avoiding the crowds, but whether Oneonta Gorge is still going to be around years from now. I worry about the large amount of visitors destroying the gorge. It's not a big place, and I wonder if it can handle this many people going in and out of it. An even bigger concern is people purposefully destroying the gorge by leaving trash in it, ripping the moss off walls or trampling over the plant life in the gorge.

It's very sad, but some people have no respect or appreciation for nature. It makes me want to cry when I see carvings and graffiti on trees and rocks, plants trampled over, and trash left behind. I don't want people who do those things to visit my favorite places or visit unknown, off-the-map places. I don't want everything to become a tourist attraction.

The owner of Extreme Oregon posted this in the comments regarding his decision:
"I recognize the majority of people are respectful and careful in nature. There is an element that is not that way and don't seem to care about anything but themselves, their selfie or their DSLR photo. The latter in my opinion, don't easily respond to being lectured on the Leave no Trace practices. I am conflicted because I want people to get to see these natural places if they respect it, but don't if they won't. Since my IG page doesn't discriminate, the only control I have is to not post location. Second, the more time I spend in nature, the more I fall in love with it. It would break my heart to think of a bunch of new trails, trampling, trash, tagging and noise at some of my favorite places that few people currently go. I know some increase in traffic is inevitable as population grows around here, but I don't have to feel I may be partially to blame for it."
I feel the same way. It would be heartbreaking if any of these beautiful places were destroyed by crowds and/or disrespectful people. As much as I appreciate popular nature photographers sharing the locations they've photographed, and as much as I want to keep sharing the places I visit, I wonder if doing so is a mistake. At this point, it's probably fine to name the places that are already well known, but I worry about the places that are more of a secret.

I hate the idea that nature should be exclusive only to a certain set of people, or that some places need to be kept secret, but I understand why those ideas are coming about. I'd like to think that efforts to educate the general public about Leave No Trace principles and how to respect nature would be a better way to go than keeping places secret, but given some of the behavior I've seen, I don't have much confidence in the general public.

So for now, I'm torn about whether I should follow other bloggers and nature photographers in not sharing locations, or if I should continue to share locations but try my best to educate others on how to treat nature when they visit. I haven't visited anything that's not well known, no one really pays attention to my blog, and I don't have many followers on Instagram, but any of those could change in the future, especially as I plan to explore further in the coming years. I'll have to put some more thought into this issue moving forward.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Running in Washington vs. Georgia

I took up running last May on the day after my 27th birthday. At that time, I lived in Seattle, Washington. As I started to improve and run longer distances and began participating in races, I knew that I was in an optimal city and state for running. I have friends who run in Georgia and Florida, where it is much hotter for several months out of the year and where it's humid most of the time. I've asked them more than once how they do it. When I came home to Georgia to visit last Christmas, I ran outside a few times and it was awful. The humidity was suffocating, it was too warm, and there was nothing beautiful to look at. I felt very lucky to be able to run in Seattle.

In Seattle, I live in an awesome apartment on the waterfront. Myrtle Edwards park is 0.7 miles away from my apartment, and it stretches along the waterfront, eventually becoming Centennial Park. The Elliott Bay Trail goes through both parks and then continues on past the Seattle Cruise Ship Terminal 91, along the train yard, and then around the terminal parking lot. Through the parks, there is a designated bike path and a designated walking/running path. Those paths join after Centennial Park.

Myrtle Edwards park. Running/walking path on the right, with a dirt path on the left.

I could leave my apartment and immediately take off running along the waterfront to the park. Once I was in the park, there were no streets to cross and no cars to deal with. I was able to look at Elliott Bay, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains while I ran.

Mt. Rainier and the Port of Seattle.

Sunset over Elliott Bay against the Olympic mountains

 I was able to run past a huge grain terminal, a fishing pier, a ship terminal, and an active train yard. I could easily get 8 miles on this route, and I suspect I'd be able to get 10 miles out of it if I tried.

One of my long runs from my apartment, all the way around the cruise terminal and back. 8 miles with most of it right on the waterfront.

Ship on Elliott Bay 

While Seattle can have cooler weather, windy days, and does have a lot of overcast days with light rain in the winter, overall the weather is fairly moderate. Temperatures usually range from the low 30s to occasionally the high 70s. I never noticed much humidity. Seattle doesn't get thunderstorms and torrential rain. Through my months of running in Seattle, I thought about how great of a place it is to run in, and how I could never be a runner if I had to run in the south where it's hot and humid.

Seattle also has a ton of races available. Magnuson Park has the Magnuson Series, a monthly race through the park with the option of doing a 5k or a 10k. A few months per year, they also offer a 15k and a half marathon. The races are affordable, the money goes towards planting trees, and participants get their time and place recorded along with free race photos. Northwest Trail Runs also puts on several trail races in various locations with at least one event per month.

Unfortunately for me, all of that ended. My boyfriend of nine years broke up with me, and I went to Georgia to visit my parents for a while, in the state I grew up in, and where I also said I could never be a runner.

I could have quit running during this visit. I could have gone by my statement in which I said I could never be a runner in Georgia. But, I couldn't give it up. Other than hiking, running had become my other big hobby. I still had plans and goals I wanted to accomplish. I enjoyed how I felt after running and I enjoyed participating in races. Running kept me healthy, in shape, and a bit sane.

But in all honesty, I was devastated. The area where I'm staying in Georgia doesn't have a monthly race series. The weather is going to be difficult to run in. There is no 8-10 mile stretch of designated running path without cars. I can't even find any parks with running trails longer than a couple miles. There is no view of mountains or bays or ships or train yards. I knew going into it that running in Georgia was going to suck, but I have to make the best of it.

Things got worse when I developed an injury within 2 weeks of starting to run in Georgia. I started getting pain on the lateral side of my knees, and a couple times they buckled towards the end of my runs and I had to limp home. My IT bands, particularly the left IT band, were tight and were causing the knee pain. I ended up having to stop running for most of March and April, and only participated in races I had already signed up for. I'm doing my best to rehab my IT bands and hope that the problem will go away, but I'm still dealing with the issue. I can't say for sure what caused it, but I attribute it to suddenly having to run a lot of hills. The path that I ran on in Seattle was flat. In Georgia, there is a big hill I have to run up as soon as I leave my house, and another bigger hill I have to run up to get out of my neighborhood. After that, there are several hills no matter which route I take. I think running up and down all these hills and going through a dramatic life change probably led to my IT band issues. Even though I want to try my best at running in Georgia, just being here is making that difficult. But, I'm going to try my best to push forward.

Where I run now - not too exciting or scenic.

The best part of my run in Georgia is when I get to run by these guys! The most exciting thing to look at by far.

Although I don't like my situation, and although I know it's going to be difficult, I know it will make me a better runner. In Seattle, it's almost like I didn't have to work for it. Running was easy - anyone can be a runner in Seattle with the abundance of gorgeous running paths, monthly races, and moderate weather.

I want to find out if I really love running and if I can do it when it's not easy. Running in Georgia is difficult. It's hot and humid. I'll have to run up hills and run on old, slanted, crumbling sidewalks near busy roads. I'll have to be aware of cars at all times when they drive past me at 40 mph. I'll have to hope people won't throw stuff at me out of their cars, which has happened to me before and happened to others I know who run here. I'll have to stare at houses and neighborhoods as I run, instead of mountains and bays. If I can't run in this setting, then maybe I don't deserve to be a runner.

I'll have to put in my time here in Georgia so I can go back to Seattle as a better runner. If nothing else, it will make me appreciate running in Seattle even more when I go back.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Trail Report: Yonah Mountain

Round trip distance: 4.4 miles
Highest point: 3,166 feet
Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
Pass: None; free parking

Atlanta Trails page: http://www.atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/yonah-mountain-hiking-trail/
HikeTheSouth page: http://www.hikethesouth.com/hike.aspx?id=25

After spending a Saturday in north Georgia visiting waterfalls, I went back on Sunday to hike Yonah Mountain - my first hike in Georgia that wasn't at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park or Stone Mountain. Although I grew up in Georgia, I hadn't explored much beyond the area I lived in. I'm looking forward to seeing what hikes are available in north Georgia!

Yonah Mountain was recommended to me and I figured it would be a good introduction to hiking in north Georgia. I knew it wasn't as big as the mountains I'd hiked in Washington and I knew it wouldn't be as difficult as those, but I was hoping for something much more difficult than Kennesaw Mountain.

The trailhead is off Chambers Road and is up a slightly rough gravel road. The trail starts out mostly flat, winding through the woods, and then begins to gain elevation. There are a couple spots where you have to go over or around boulders, but it doesn't require climbing or anything difficult. A few trails split off from the main trail in different directions, but the main trail is the widest one. If you're not sure where to go next, look for bright green rectangles posted on some of the trees.

The Atlanta Trails page says this hike is moderately difficult, and the HikeTheSouth page says it's not a beginner's hike, but I was a bit disappointed with the difficulty. It didn't seem any harder than hiking up Kennesaw Mountain and to me, it was a beginner's hike. I think I expected much more, and next time I hike I'll have to remember that what's rated as "moderately difficult" in Georgia would be rated as "easy" in Washington. I'll have to keep looking and go further into the mountains to find a more strenuous hike in Georgia.

That said, the views from the top of Yonah Mountain were gorgeous! I am used to looking at the snow capped mountains in the Cascades and seeing Mt. Rainier in the distance, but this view was a nice change and offered something different than what I'm used to. There was a smaller peak right in front, covered in trees with bright green spring leaves, and a few more peaks in the distance. The landscape below consisted of farmland and forest.

It took 57 minutes to reach the top, and that included stopping at a clearing on the way up to talk to other hikers and take pictures at the halfway point. I would do this hike again, but probably only as a warm up to another hike or as an extra stop when visiting waterfalls in the surrounding area. I would like to come back in the fall when the leaves are changing colors - the view should be even more amazing! For anyone who hasn't done much hiking, I recommend this as a good beginner hike.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Trail Report: Anna Ruby, Dukes Creek, & Raven Cliff Falls

This past weekend, I drove up to north Georgia to visit some waterfalls. I chose three that were within a short driving distance of each other - Anna Ruby Falls, Dukes Creek Falls, and Raven Cliff Falls.

Anna Ruby Falls was my first stop. The cost to see it is $3 per person and there is a visitor center and gift shop. Out of all the falls, this one was the most accessible and had the most amenities. After passing the visitor center, I followed a half mile paved trail to the falls. Since it's only one mile round trip and the trail is paved, this set of falls should be easy for almost anyone to get to. I arrived around 10:30am and saw 15-20 other people, but by the time I left the parking lot was starting to fill up.

While I was at these falls, I learned that I need to work on my photography skills. Waterfalls aren't easy to photograph, but knowing how to do it would have been helpful. I'm hoping one day I can go back and do a better job. What also surprised me about these falls is that it wasn't just one big waterfall - it was several.

Stream along the path

All of the falls

One of the Anna Ruby falls

My next stop was Dukes Creek Falls. There is no attendant to take the $4 fee - you fill out the front of an envelope, put the cash inside, and deposit it into a box after tearing off a pass to hang from your rear view mirror. A few people who arrived around the same time as me didn't pay, which was disappointing. I'm happy to pay for hikes or nature attractions because I want to keep them available for me and other people to visit. Fees like this go towards maintaining amenities for nature attractions and maintaining the trails themselves.

It was a mile hike through the woods to get to the falls, so only 2 miles round trip. After a few minutes on the trail, you'll come to a set of stairs. At the bottom, go left to continue on the trail to the falls. There is no sign at these stairs letting people know which direction to go.

I didn't see as many people at these falls as I did at Anna Ruby. The trail wasn't difficult, and the falls had a few viewing platforms that were well built and well placed.

This part of the falls was closest to the viewing platforms.

The upper falls were more difficult to see.

Another part of the falls.

On the way back, I took a detour. There is an unnamed waterfall that can be seen from the trail, and there is a short, steep, unofficial path leading down to it. I made my way down to get a better view of this mystery waterfall. It's not too difficult to get down to it and back up, but you do have to watch your footing and hold onto some trees or roots. I recommend making the short detour to see this waterfall. Since all of the trails to see the waterfalls were easy, this was one of the most adventurous parts of my day.

Unnamed waterfall off the Dukes Creek Falls trail.

Came down this somewhat steep section to get to the unnamed waterfall.

My last stop was Raven Cliff Falls. As far as I know, parking here is free. I didn't see anything online or at the trailhead that said there was a fee. This was by far the most crowded hike, and was also the longest at 2.5 miles (5 miles round trip). I was lucky to get a parking spot, because there were several cars parked along the side of the road. The lot here isn't paved like at the other two falls - it's gravel.

The trail follows a stream the entire way. I saw several people camping in the woods along the stream, or sitting down by the stream eating a snack and watching the water. It was a very pretty hike. The trail wasn't very difficult - it was mostly flat with a few small uphill and downhill parts.

The stream along the Raven Cliff Falls trail.

The falls themselves come down between two huge cliffs. They weren't as big as the other two falls I saw earlier in the day, but they were unique. There is a steep path up around the side of the cliffs. It does require pulling yourself up using rocks and roots, but it's doable. There is a large area on top of the cliffs where you can take in the view. Climbing up this steep path to sit on top of the cliffs was the other more adventurous part of my day, and I recommend it as long as you feel safe doing so.

Raven Cliff Falls. There is a person sitting on the left edge of the photo for perspective.

Gorgeous cliffs.

View from the top of the cliffs.

Pretty, unique falls.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Trip Report: Custer State Park & Mt. Rushmore

While making the drive from Seattle to Atlanta, we took a half day detour to Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Mt. Rushmore

Custer State Park was a lot of fun. It was the off season, so except for some park staff and a couple police cars, we were the only car in the park. I had been here before when I was a kid, and my parents said in the summer there was a line of traffic to get through the park. I definitely preferred us being the only ones there! I was also very glad that I have a decent camera with a long range lens so I could get plenty of close up photos of the animals.

Before we even got to the front of the park to pay the entry fee, we saw two bison. One of them was eyeing us as we took pictures.

We kept driving and got on the Wildlife Loop road, and we came to the first of many herds of bison.

They were out grazing and didn't pay us much attention - except for one of them. He walked up to the car on the passenger side. I had the window rolled down, so he was about 2 feet away from me. I didn't get any pictures because I didn't want to startle him. He looked at us for a few seconds, and then licked my car door and moved on.

We moved on and then came to a small herd of pronghorn antelope. They were more skittish and stayed a little further away from the road while they grazed.

We came to a small visitor center where an adorable rabbit was grazing. He kept an eye on us, but he didn't move until a large truck drove by.

There were several more herds of bison throughout the park. Towards the end, we found some that were play fighting. We watched for a few minutes and then moved on when they started getting closer to the road. I didn't want to take the chance that they'd run into my car during their fight.

Before leaving the park, we got a good view of surrounding area. The park is beautiful and it's so easy to see a variety of animals. It's only a 40 minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota and the entry fee is $20 per car - well worth it in my opinion. The best time to visit is morning or near dusk, since that is when the animals come out to eat.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Roadtrip: Seattle to Atlanta

This past week, I drove from Seattle, Washington to the metro Atlanta area in Georgia. My parents and I flew out to Seattle to pack up some of my stuff, and then we drove my car and a rented van across the country. I've made this drive before, in reverse, when I moved out to Seattle from Georgia. I had an awesome time and saw some gorgeous places so I was looking forward to doing it again.

We left around noon on a Sunday and got back Wednesday night (2am, so more like early Thursday morning). It took us 3.5 days to go a little over 2,600 miles. It would have taken less time, but we stopped at Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park, and that detour took half a day.

38 hours of driving for 2,609 miles. We took I-90 for as long as we could.

The first half of the drive - through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota - was the most scenic. Past South Dakota, it was mostly flat farmland and trees. There were pretty sights there as well, but they couldn't quite compare to the mountain ranges and wide open spaces of the west. I highly recommend that everyone make the drive from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Seattle, Washington once in their lives.

We took over 1,000 pictures during the drive, so it's difficult to choose just a few to share. This blog post is definitely more about pictures than words.

Lake and mountains in Washington

Mountain pass in Idaho

Sunset near Missoula, Montana

Missoula, Montana sunrise








Hills in Wyoming