Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Rushing Waterfalls and Spectacular Vistas: Yosemite in the Spring

Friday, March 16th, 2012

David Wimpfheimer (Photo courtesy of Susan Colletta)

David Wimpfheimer is a biologist and a professional naturalist with a passion for the natural history of the West and a special interest in birds. During his 25 years as a guide, David has lectured on trips to Death Valley, Baja California, Yosemite National Park, and more. This spring, David will return to Yosemite to lead a Smithsonian group. In his post below, David discusses his plans for this upcoming trip and what makes Yosemite, designated a national park in 1890, so special.

Yosemite. The very word conjures up many vivid images, thoughts and feelings. Huge, thundering waterfalls, an incomparable valley of sheer

Giant Sequoia (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

granitic cliffs and domes, groves of giant sequoias, birds, bears and other wildlife.
I have visited Yosemite National Park every year for the last thirty. I never get tired of going there. How could I with so many varied landforms and organisms?

This June, I will be taking another Smithsonian group to Yosemite. Last year, the Sierra experienced one of the greatest accumulations of snow in recorded history. While that made for a great show of waterfalls, deep snow actually prevented us from walking out to some of our destinations. 2012 is just the opposite, a very low year for snow. Don’t worry, the waterfalls will still be spectacular, and we’ll be able to walk to Sentinel Dome. This is a moderately easy mid-elevation walk through open montane forest of fir, pine, and juniper to spectacular views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra crest to the east.

Waterfall (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

With less snow in the mountains all the park’s roads will be open. Glacier Point, towering thousands of feet above the cascading waters of Nevada and Vernal Falls, is a place that never fails to impress me. The views are there, but I enjoy sharing the smaller details; spiky seedpods of a Chinquapin bush, the ethereal song of a Hermit Thrush, or even a Sooty Grouse calling from the bough of a majestic Red Fir. Tioga Pass will be open allowing us access to the dramatic alpine zone. Mono Lake lies just to the east in a spectacular sagebrush basin. This is an awesome place that I hope to show our group.

Yosemite is the kind of place that is really more than just the sum of the words describing it. A photograph of a giant Sequoia can never do justice to its size. That’s why we’ll take a walk through the historic Mariposa Grove. The spirit of John Muir seems to call out from this unique place. Our June visit will be a good time to see the huge white blossoms of azalea here while chickadees, warblers and other birds are in full song.

There is so much to share with participants, but I want you to have your own special experience of Yosemite. It may come on one of our group walks, but you’ll also have the opportunity to just sit by the bank of the Merced River and take in this glacially carved landscape on your own. Like most national parks, there are many choices here. We’ll guide your explorations, but always allow room for more discoveries.

Half Dome (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Breathtaking Photos of Northern Lights From Norway

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Over the last few days, a powerful solar storm roared past the Earth treating travelers in the northernmost latitudes to a dazzling, supercharged display of auroras. The unusually bright colors resulted from a massive solar flare that erupted from the sun last Sunday, sending a wave of charged particles rippling across the sky. The recent show is likely just a taste of what’s to come, as scientists predict elevated solar activity to continue for the next couple of years.

Here are stunning images captured this week in Valvika, Nordland Fylke and Langfjordbotn, Finnmark Fylke, Norway:

Aurora Borealis - NorwayPhoto courtesy of Flickr user trondk.

Aurora Borealis - Norway
Photo courtesy of Flickr user The-Dan.

Aurora Borealis - Norway
Photo courtesy of Flickr user The-Dan.

If these images have piqued your interest, check out the details of our Scandinavian Sojourn trips headed north this summer!

For more information on the recent aurora borealis (and more stunning photos), visit “This Week’s Breathtaking Aurora Borealis” on

Japan’s Tradition of Make-Up

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
A Traditional Geisha in Japan   Photo by Tracey Taylor

A traditional geisha in Japan. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The beauty and grace of Japan’s geishas are among many reasons visitors travel to certain parts of the Japan, such as Kyoto. The geisha tradition gained prominence in the mid-18th century, as women worked as skilled entertainers after seeing the success of male performers. Their talents included dancing, singing, playing music, and even creating poetry and artistic calligraphy.

While well-known for thir exquisite clothing, one of the most notable identifiers of a geisha is her immaculate make-up. The application of this makeup is time-consuming, detailed, and specific, and is an extra effort for apprentice geishas who are required to wear it while in public. For the first three years, the young maiko wear their make-up almost constantly.

The make-up of an apprentice geisha include three notable features – the thick, white foundation, red lips, and red and black highlights around the eyes. The white foundation originally included lead, but when it was discovered how toxic it was, the ingredient was changed to rice powder.

The white foundation covers the face completely except for two notable areas – the hairline, which gives the illusion of a mask, and the nape of the neck, which is designed in a traditional W shape, highlighting and accentuating the area, which is considered alluring. Then the eyes are outlined, originally using charcoal. Today modern eyeliner is used, but maiko still add red around the eyes to show their youthful status.

The woman’s red lips are filled in using a small brush with crystallized sugar added to the color to add texture. The rank of the geisha can easily be identified by looking at her lips. First year maiko only have their lower lip filled with color. Only a full-fledged geisha may have her lips fully colored red. It rare to see the lips filled in western-style as it would make the lips look unusually large; the intent is to give the illusion of a flower bud.

After a maiko has worked for three years, her make-up becomes more subdued because now she has matured to a point where her natural beauty can be seen. After the age of thirty, geisha wear the traditional make up only for formal events or special performances.

Which kind of make-up would you never forget to put in your luggage? Share below.

Appreciate the cosmetic efforts and performance skills of geisha in person on our Eternal Japan tour. International airfare included!

Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!

Treasures of Peru

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
A Peruvian woman weaving, Photo by Carmen-Julia Arze

A Peruvian woman weaving, Photo by Carmen-Julia Arze

If there were only five things we would do in Peru, here’s what we’d suggest:

  1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Yes, there are easier ways to get to the sacred city in the Andes mountains, but it is a completely different experience when you have put the sweat equity into the journey and are witnessing a quiet sunrise over the ancient ruins.
  2. We all want to go shopping, but going shopping with a local on a Sunday at the Pisac Market in Cusco provides a cultural experience you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll learn which traditional and authentic art pieces are worth buying, and how to make a really great deal – in Quechua.
  3. Experience the Cajamarca Carnival held every February where events include the decoration of cars, the public mocking of public figures, and dance, music, and lots of food. Also keep in mind that to really attend the Cajamarca Carnival, you will likely be soaked with water by the time you leave.
  4. To be in South America, and not find yourself in a rich rainforest is simply a shame. Try a rafting trip and a hiking excursion where you’ll witness amazing wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.
  5. Eat at least one meal with a Peruvian family. You may be trying new foods (such as Roasted Cuy – also known as guinea pig- a delicacy in Peru), but you’ll also make new friends in the process.

To experience all that Peru has to offer, join us on one of our many tours to explore Peru.

What would you recommend a traveler do in Peru?