Category Archives: travel photography

Waking up to Global Warming

It’s been a little over four months since I flew home from a 10-day trip to England.  My very first! I attended an interdisciplinary conference at Oxford on “Religion, Women and History” (and noted the ironic lack of Oxford comma in the title), developed satisfactory left-hand lane driving skills (with stick shift and without destroying the clutch), toured special places I’d long dreamed of visiting (Ah, Kelmscott! I love you even more, William Morris), discovered the delights of “a pitcher of Pimm’s with all the trims,” and enjoyed an all-around good time.  The British are delightully polite, witty, friendly people.  Old Oxford feels like an academic’s paradise: fortunate are they whom the gods have favored with full-time study or employment there.  I would go back to Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds in a heartbeat.  If only.

Even flying, which I generally dislike, was tolerable because the airline’s route to London took us north, over other places I had never before seen: far north into Canada, over Hudson’s Bay and the southern tip of Greenland, skirting the northern coast of Ireland, before landing at Gatwick. Sunset on the way to England lingered for what seemed like hours, a tight band of vivid red light hugging the northern horizon.  Regrettably, the flight attendant demanded “Shade down!” so that other passengers could have darkness for sleeping.  Spoil sports.

Thus, I missed seeing Greenland as we flew over during the early, early morning hours.  Going home on a morning departure from Gatwick, however, provided the perfect midday opportunity to study the glaciers.  Good old iPhone recorded some stunning landscapes despite the pitted glass of the airplane window.  This image, in particular, continues to haunt me.

greenland melt

You are seeing, in the foreground, a small section of the southeast shore. Barren rock has been exposed near the water, as well as further back where the ice’s bright white appearance suggests the glacier remains thick/deep there. The ice seen along the top and right edges of the water is different, slushy gray, and a careful eye can find the innumerable bright blue puddles formed in the slush’s wrinkles and crevices at the image’s lower-right corner.  Perhaps more troubling, three distinct sets of flow lines reveal where ice melt from the bright-white areas is seeping through the slush to the bay. How wide do you think each water flow is on the ground, given that the photo was taken at 35,000 feet of elevation? How many gallons of fresh water might be running off the glacier, into the North Atlantic Ocean?

These are but intellectual questions. What haunts me are the personal conundrums presented by the act of discovering glacial melt and global warming from the privileged perspective provided by a jet-fueled Airbus.  Was my epiphany worth my share of the billions of greenhouse gas molecules this passenger jet spewed into the atmosphere?  The point is not that I could have, should have taken advantage of the guilt-greening market mechanism—buy “carbon offset credits”—that airlines and other carbon-intensive industries offer their consumers.  A “better than nothing” trade in feel-good carbon credits dodges the real issue: How much longer can our planet tolerate our fossil-fuel fueled mobility? Cutting closer to the bone, now that I have seen the environmental effects of my life-style choices, what can I do to reduce my carbon burden? I had hoped to do more world traveling after retiring from teaching, but now, it seems, this recent trip to England must remain my farthest and last international trip.  What, then, of my twice-yearly flights between Las Vegas and the US East Coast to visit my aging parents and other family members? The geophysics of climate change care not that I have these emotional attachments nor that, 30 years ago, I chose to move away from “home” because I believed I could always visit whenever I wanted.  When 19th-century pioneers dragged their futures in Conestoga wagons across a wild continent, they accepted that they were, in fact, severing familial ties with those left behind. Can I live with the compromise of abandoning siblings and cousins after my parents die? Can I, instead, expect Amtrak to save my future Thanksgivings and Easters by building a transcontinental mag-lev train system?  In my lifetime?

Dear thoughtful Reader, you must know that my questioning does not end here, but this blog post must. I have no answers, and I must weep.

Celebrate Christmas at Christmas Tree Pass!

So, it’s Christmas day in Southern Nevada: the luster of newly opened presents is already fading, a malaise of “Is that all there is?” is settling over the family room, and little storm clouds are brewing on the horizon of your children’s boredom. But outside, the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, and unseasonably warm weather beckons. What do you do? Why not pack the kids into the family car—or, better yet, SUV—and surprise them with an adventure along Christmas Tree Pass?

Accessible from Hwy 95 south of Cal-Nev-Ari or from Hwy 163 west of Laughlin, Christmas Tree Pass is a dirt-and-gravel scenic drive that leads to a display of decorated juniper trees. A few of my favorites from my recent holiday’s excursion are featured in this slideshow.


Christmas Tree Pass – Images by Jennifer Nelson

The trees are situated along the highest, narrowest, and most twisty part of the road (the middle, closer to Hwy 95 than to Hwy 163). Since no one lives along this back country byway, you’ll have no difficulty convincing the young ones that Santa’s elves created this high-country Christmas display out in the middle of nowhere.

That isolation, of course, means you need to travel smart. Yes, the 12-mile road is in generally good condition when it’s dry though a couple rutted and steep sections can pose challenges for low-clearance cars and inexperienced drivers. If the weather has recently rained or snowed, do not attempt this excursion in anything but a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Pack a picnic with plenty of water in addition to the juices and sodas your clan usually drinks. There are spots among the trees where you can park off the road and allow the children to explore. Yes, you’re in snake country, but even on winter’s warm days those creatures are hibernating. If you want to experience Christmas at other times of year, the trees will still be decorated, but you will want to be more cautious of where and how you walk through the rocky desert.

With the right precautions and a wondering spirit, traveling along Christmas Tree Pass can be a gift of experience the whole family will enjoy.

To Albuquerque and Back Again, Part 2: Petroglyphs National Monument

As I look with dismay upon the months elapsed since I last posted to this blog, I am reminded of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre‘s insights on people’s relationships to the stories we tell about our lives. In his book Nausea Sartre writes,

This is what I thought: for the most banal even to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it. This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.

But you have to choose: live or tell.

In my silence we find evidence that I have chosen to live.  In doing so, I left you, dear Reader, behind, and now it’s (long past) time to catch you up with all that has happened since our last visit together.

My travel last March to Albuquerque, New Mexico, focused on exploring the histories and cultures of the Puebloan peoples. The day after my tour of the Acoma Pueblo (near the town of Grant an hour or so west of ABQ), I hiked the Rinconada Canyon trail of Petroglyphs National Monument. This federally protected area, located along ABQ’s westward city limits, actually consists of four disconnected areas where petroglyphs may be found.  The Rinconada Canyon trail skirts a steep hillside strewn with large boulders and the cliffs from which they fell, before looping back across open desert to the parking area.  Examples of rock art may be seen all along the outbound side of the loop with the largest concentration of images, so we heard, situated just before the trail turns away from the hillside.  My friend and I made it nearly that far before needing to turn back, but despite missing this grand gallery we were still thrilled by all the glyphs we did find.  You can see some of what we saw in the slide show below.


Petroglyph National Monument – Images by Jennifer Nelson

Created by Pueblo people over the centuries, these petroglyphs served various functions. Some marked water sources along established trade routes; others warned of dangerous creatures, like rattlesnakes, lurking among the trail-side rocks; still others promoted the clan affiliations of those who traveled along a route that extended deep into the land we now call Mexico. Many glyphs served ritual purposes and now provide windows into the spiritual beliefs of Puebloan cultures. As reminders of communal practices lived closer to the land than our modern, urbanized way of life, perhaps these rock art images challenge us to imagine how we might reform our society to restore the planet we have damaged and how we might once again attune ourselves to receive the Creator’s many gifts.

To Albuquerque and Back Again, Part 1: Acoma Pueblo

No matter what the calendar may say, spring always arrives in Las Vegas in February, bringing with it two contradictory impulses:  plant the home garden and see the world beyond the city.  I indulged in both activities, leaving this poor blog to fend for itself, but now there’s time, dear readers, to catch you up with my stories before I take off again at the end of March for a trip to the East Coast.

February’s travels took me to Albuquerque, and I took this opportunity to explore Native American culture and history. One highlight of this trip was my afternoon at Acoma Pueblo, and it turns out that the Sky City Casino along Interstate 40 is NOT the most interesting attraction of this locale. Taking the highway exit designated for the Haak’u Museum, I found the Sky City Cultural Center, debarkation point for the guided tours of the historical Sky City atop a nearby mesa.


Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico – Images by Jennifer Nelson

My traveling companions and I joined a tour group of about 25 people, and we were taken to Sky City in a small bus.  As we walked along narrow, rutted and rocky dirt streets, our guide explained the origins, history, and culture of the Acoma people.  Sky City contains a large number of multi-story stone and adobe houses, as well as a centuries-old Catholic mission church and its cemetery, both still in use.  Photographs were permitted of anything not associated with the church’s interior or the cemetery entire:  the Acoma people maintain a firm commitment to their culture’s sacred teachings and traditions, which include preserving the sanctity of ritual spaces.

Even though the church and the cemetery were off limits, I found many interesting subjects to photograph.  Today’s posting shares the highlights of my visit and, hopefully, helps you imagine Acoma daily life at Sky City.  For instance, when you notice all the stone blocks used to build the houses, consider the weight of each one and the fact that all had to be transported to the mesa top from a quarry site in the valley below.  The tall logs comprising the ladders people still use to get into their houses also had to be brought to the mesa top from the pine forests of Kaweshtima (what we call Mt. Taylor), many miles away.  What I could not photograph at Sky City were wells or aqueducts that supplied the community with water: they don’t exist!  Although wooden drains in the church walls suggest that rain water could have been harvested, the people’s daily water needs could only be supplied by the laborious carrying of water up the cliffs from springs in the valley below.  Despite these difficulties, Acoma people accepted (and still cherish) their mesa-top home and its way of life as gifts of the Creator.

When I look at all the problems of the modern world–from global warming to community violence and government dysfunction, to name only three–I begin to wonder whether we could learn some life-saving lessons from the Acoma people.  You can explore Acoma Pueblo for yourself, now offering daily tours from March through November 2013. If you’re interested in purchasing Acoma pottery direct from the artists, touring the Pueblo is a great way to accomplish this goal.

Would I rather be in Corkscrew Swamp?

This weekend, with daytime temperatures in Las Vegas hovering in the 40’s (F) and nightly temperatures falling into the 20’s, my answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!”  Alas, I am not flying to sunny southwest Florida any time soon, so reminiscing about my January 2010 trip to Naples and the Audubon Society’s sanctuary there will have to help me imagine I am keeping warm. Good thing I took a few photos.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Images by Jennifer Nelson

If you can’t visit Corkscrew Swamp in person just now, why not enjoy the vicarious experience of finding your way to the solution of this online jigsaw puzzle featuring a tricky image of ferns, trees, and sky reflected in still water? Your computer needs Adobe Flash player, and you need patience and persistence for this 250-piece labyrinth!

» More free online jigsaw puzzles at TheJigsawPuzzles.com