Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

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Utah occupies a rather prominent role in the history of U.S. rail travel. On May 10, 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in the then-Utah Territory, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and forming a continues line from east to west.

It’s a scene that is depicted on the state’s official quarter, along with the phrase “Crossroads Of The West,” and yet despite residing in Utah for 91 percent of my life I’ve never really participated in long-distance rail travel (subways and a quick trip on the Long Island Rail Road excluded).

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But a few months ago I was at a journalism conference where the invited speaker was Tom Zoellner, a former Utah journalist who authored the book “Train,” which is about, as it turns out, trains.

At the end of his speech, the mediator asked him what one what piece of advice he would give a roomful of professional journalists. I was suspecting some bit of industry parlance like “work your beat” or “write tight” but instead Zoellner said to get on the California Zephyr and ride to San Francisco.

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Until he said that it hadn’t even occurred to me that Amtrak stopped in Salt Lake City. We’re westerners after all, we have cars. But then I remember that of course you can get on a train in Utah. We’re the Crossroads of the West!

I’ve been to San Francisco, and most of the points west along the Zephyr’s route, but in 27 years of Utah living I had never visited Denver, our intermountain sister-city to the East, so when a 3-day weekend availed itself to me I packed a back and headed for the tracks.

Obviously there’s a lot of drawbacks when comparing travel by rail to travel by air. A nonstop flight on Delta from SLC to DEN takes 90 minutes, compared to the 16 hour churn of the Zephyr. And because the Zephyr runs a single route on repeat, ad infinitum, there’s not a lot of options for departure times. In Salt Lake, that means boarding at 3 a.m. if everything runs on time (more on that later).

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But it has its advantages as well. The cost is typically lower, the seating is considerably more comfortable, you can stretch your legs with a trip to the lounge car or catch a full-service meal in the diner. And security is scant, with almost no limits on your luggage and the ability, if you choose, to snuggle with your dog. Let’s see you do that on Delta.

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Speaking of the lounge. On both my departure and return trains there was a family of – what I presume to be – Amish people. At first I thought “Oh, we’re all coming back together” but then it occurred to me that these were not the same people. Turns out the Amish don’t ride planes, with the more orthodox seeing them as an unnecessary worldly luxury and thus necessitating the use of trains for long-distance travel. Who knew!

The other way that trains have planes beat is the scenery, which particularly through the Glenwood Canyon was just incredible.

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Our first stop in Colorado was Grand Junction, a rather dilapidated relic of the railway golden years. You can almost imagine old scenes of men in trench coats, puffing on cigars in the moonlight while the steam from an arriving trains billows along the platform, or enlisted men leaning out of windows for one last kiss as their girls wave and dab at tears with frayed handkerchiefs.

Now it’s just boarded windows and chain link fences, with a metallic Amtrak Sign lending support to the cracked and faded lettering on the junction’s facade.

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We arrived at Denver’s Union Station a little before 7 p.m. The building was closed for a private party celebrating the end of a renovation project so we travelers wrapped around the perimeter and headed up the 16th Street pedestrian mall.

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16th Street is a charming feature of the city’s downtown, with through-traffic relegated to the cross streets and only public transit and rickshaws allowed down the main drag. The street itself is largely dominated by Starbucks shops and chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Chili’s, making it something of a pedestrian mecca for those friends of yours who like to go out but don’t have particularly refined taste.

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There are exceptions of course and the ritzy Larimer Square is nearby, where I got some killer sushi and potstickers at Tag. And since this is Colorado, I moseyed into a recreational marijuana store. I didn’t take any pictures though, because I didn’t want to be that guy who walks in with a Utah ID and a camera starts snapping photos like some puritanical narc.

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Saturday was my main day to explore the city. I watched the Rockies lose to the Twins while eating a footlong bratwurst at Coor’s Field and stopped by Tatterred Cover bookstore to pick up my own copy of A Tale of Two Cities (which was fitting, because my king bed at the Grand Hyatt allowed me to end the night with one of the better rests that I have ever known).

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I also headed over to Commons Park, which runs along the South Platte River, and happened upon a skateboarding tournament, which made for a nice distraction. I’m not a skater, I’ve never been a skater, but it’s incredible what they’re able to do.

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From there I headed back to my hotel with a quick detour to the Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park, where most of the city’s government buildings (and the Denver Post) are located. Colorado has a great capitol, with a blue-ish rotunda that makes it stand out from the relatively identical nature of those buildings.

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Nearby are the public library and Denver Art Museam, two great modernist buildings surrounded by sculptures and pop art. I’m a sucker pop art, always have been.

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I was supposed to leave Sunday morning at 8 a.m., but around 6:30 I woke up to a message that my train had been delayed four hours to 11:50. When a 16-hour ride is delayed four hours, it puts a bit of wrinkle in your plans. What puts an even larger wrinkle in your plans is when that train is delayed again until 12:15, and then again until 12:30, and then finally leaves around 1:15.

But on the bright side, I finally got a chance to explore the union station.

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I admit that some of the romance had worn off by my return trip, during which I spent less time gazing out the lounge windows and more time with headphones in my ears binge-watching the first season of The Americans on my laptop.

But even while I tried to resist, the scenery at times was just too much to ignore.

 

 

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Utah Pride Parade

Utah’s Pride Festival rolled into downtown Salt Lake City this weekend and once again, organizers could not have asked for better weather. That’s great for attendees but not so great for pictures, so I (again) apologize for how washed out some of these look.

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This year’s grand marshalls were the three couples who challenged Utah’s amendment 3, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled in the couples’ favor in December, beginning a 17-day period when same-sex marriages were legal in the state, before a stay of Shelby’s ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court pending appeal.

The three couples were joined at the head of the parade by some of the Utahns that were married during that 17-day period, many of whom carried signs listing their wedding date and how long they had been together.

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A Boy Scout Troop was also present to serve as color guard.

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Two separate groups of members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in the event: Mormons building bridges, which is consistently the largest entry in the parade,

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as well as Mormons for Equality

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Both SLC mayors were present: Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker

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and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

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University of Utah, Westminster College and Weber State University all had floats in the parade, and WSU President Charles Wight sported a purple and white headdress for his school’s entry. (Rear left of photo above).

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A small group of protesters was present at the start of the parade. This man was actually pretty game, standing in the center of the street while the MCs read of his list of persons destined for hell, with parade attendees cheering at the various descriptors they self-associate with. He was then hugged by a small group of parade-goers.

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These colorful balloon blossoms were a very popular feature this year.

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This group performed “Keep It Gay” from the Producers. I wasn’t able to get him in the frame but they made sure to have a singing, dancing, rainbow flag-waving Hitler as part of their entry.

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Flag twirlers from West High School

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QUAC – The Queer Utah Aquatic Club

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The final entry consisted of the largest flag I’ve ever seen (I’d wager it stretched from one intersection to the other, but I couldn’t get high enough to see) and accumulated donated money thrown from the watching crowds as it passed by.

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A while ago my friend Erin posted on Facebook that she wanted to take trip to Zion National Park for spring break. “Spring Break” isn’t really an aspect of my life any more but the prospect of a camping trip in Zion immediately piqued my interest, as it did for my friend/colleague Jordan, so we hopped on board.

As it turns out, Erin is the boy who cried vacation. She immediately bailed, leaving me and Jordan to take the trip that was her idea in the first place. This wasn’t a big deal, I just know she’ll be reading this and I want to take advantage of every opportunity to rub her nose in it.

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With Erin out of the way – Good Riddance! amirite? – Jordan decided he wanted to take advantage of the trip to visit a few photo-ready places around Utah and northern Arizona. We started by spending our first night in Goblin Valley – most known outside of Utah for doubling as an alien planet in Galaxy Quest and inside of Utah for recently being vandalized by Boy Scout leaders in the name of “safety.”

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Goblin Valley is a bizarrely beautiful place, teeming with bulbous rock formations – or ‘Hoodoos‘ – that contrast perfectly with the clear blue sky. I remember going there as a kid on family vacations and playing tag for hours at end. Now, as a 27-year-old, a few minutes of walking around and scampering over rocks was enough to wear me out.

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But scamper we did. Jordan got out early while the sun was setting. I slept in and did what I could with the harsh lighting.

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From Goblin Valley we headed south to Monument Valley (first picture above) where Forest Gump decided he didn’t really feel like running any more. I’m a sucker for bridges, especially ones that burst out of rocky cliffs. The bright yellow sign is a little jarring, you would think the engineers would anticipate that this picture would be taken.

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Monument Valley was a first for me (I think. My parents took me all over the place when I was too young to remember). Before arriving at the actual valley we went through the Moki Dugway, a series of tight switchbacks that drop 1,000 feet over 3 miles on an unpaved road.

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That’s Jordan. He doesn’t like having his picture taken.

DPP_16We stayed in Monument Valley on our second night, then dipped briefly into Arizona in the morning to stop at Horseshoe Bend. I went to Dead Horse Point last year and figured it would be about the same but at Horseshoe Bend, you can walk right up to the edge, which is either a great or terrible thing depending on your attitude toward heights.

From there we made our way to Zion, which is probably the best hiking in all of Utah. We got in a little late, so the first night we just took a quick stroll up the Hidden Canyon Trial by the Weeping Rock.

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The next day’s hike was not so quick. Most of our itinerary was set by Jordan but I insisted that we do Angel’s Landing, which sends hikers climbing to the top of a 1,488-foot rock formation. Along the way we passed a crew from BBC America who were apparently filming a woman who was going to spend the next three days climbing up the cliff face to the top of the Landing. Multiple-day rock climbing is a whole other kind of crazy.

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Angel’s Landing is the kind of trail that hiking was made for. Roughly half of the trip is straight up via switchbacks, with the other half being either a paved trail cut out of the side of the rock or a chain-assisted scramble with certain death at every side.

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It ends at an area that is roughly the size of my studio apartment. The last time I did it I was probably 11 years old and having now gone back I’m fairly certain that first trip was an elaborate scheme by my parents to get away with filicide. I mean really, who would take a child up there? “He just slipped,” they would say from behind forlorn expressions, “there was nothing we could do.”

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From the landing, you can almost see the whole park end-to-end. We had perfect weather, hot enough for comfort but cold enough to avoid a sweat-drenched death. The view, as always, was impeccable.

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And so ends another festival, and a very successful one at that. In all I saw 20 films, breaking my personal record, and also managed to catch at least one screening on each of the 10 days of Sundance (including the big winner Whiplash, which was a highlight of the week.) If you haven’t already, you can read my capsule reviews of this year’s films here, here, here and finally here.

I was busier than usual with work-related activities and I also made the executive decision to not lug my camera around unnecessarily. The result is a smaller crop of photos but since every Q&A looks the exact same, that’s not necessarily a problem.

That first image above is of the historic Egyptian Theater on Main Street. As part of this year’s New Frontier, every night the facade was lit up with a series of adaptive images projected from across the street. It was great having New Frontier back on Main Street and I wish I had more time to explore it, particularly the Oculus Rift installations that I hear were pretty trippy.

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This year’s festival closed with William H. Macy’s “Rudderless,” a very good film about a man mourning his son’s death who finds some direction by covering his son’s music. It was Macy’s directorial debut and very promising, with one of the best-handled “twists” I’ve ever seen.

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The best Q&A award goes to “They Came Together,” which saw director David Wain joined by stars Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Max Greenfield. The film is essentially one long satirical sketch about romantic comedies (imagine a feature film version of the movie-within-a-movie sequence of Don Jon) and the cast was fittingly sarcastic during the panel. Here’s a video I shot of the Q&A but fair warning, there is some adult-ish sexual language.

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And here is director Lynn Shelton and the crew of “Laggies” taking questions in the MARC theater.

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That’s Jake Paltrow (brother of Gwyneth) taking questions after a screening of his film “Young Ones,” which was another one of my favorites. Directors have a tendency to be very vague when asked about the artistic choices they make while making a film (not wanting to undercut the poetic ambiguity, I suppose) but Paltrow’s answers were all surprisingly direct.

Young Ones stars Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning. Watch for it.

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Speaking of Elle Fanning, she performed a reading during this year’s Celebration of Music in Film Event.

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As did Glenn Close.

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I didn’t make it to any of the musical acts at ASCAP this year, but I was able to catch a series of performances at the Celebration of Music in Film. Above is the performer Jetta, who killed it and whose music you can find here.

.@jettaofficial performing at #sundance

A post shared by bjaminwood (@bjaminwood) on

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Another of the evening’s performers was Rae Spoon, who was the subject of the documentary film “My Prairie Home.” I wasn’t able to catch the movie, but Spoon had a great sound at the celebration event.

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And of course, Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, joined a small jazz number who are no doubt renowned in jazz circles but whose names unfortunately aren’t as memorable as “Flea”. I was going to post a picture of Flea’s face but I just couldn’t pass up this one of him in power stance. (And unlike the Peppers’ Super Bowl performance, his guitar was plugged in this time.)

I only had to attend one red carpet this year, which was fantastic because red carpets are the absolute worse. People often mistakenly think they’re glamorous. You’re wrong. As a journalist you’re packed into a space considerably smaller than your physical body where you wait for an hour for “the stars” to arrive. When they finally do, it becomes a gauntlet challenge where they try to pass through as quickly as possible while reporters literally climb on top of each other, thrusting cameras and microphones in order to ask extremely asinine questions.

But here’s Mitt Romney, arriving for the Salt Lake Gala premiere of “Mitt” which is now available on Netflix (it’s also not meh).

Lastly, I didn’t want to bombard ya’ll with instagram photos but I had to share this. I attended the Sundance Awards Ceremony for the first time this year and was assigned a table with other journalists. Now, most people know already, but journalists are notorious booze hounds, particularly when the booze is free.

I personally don’t imbibe, but even without my contributions we had a couple dozen bottles of Stella on the table by the end of the night (full disclosure, a few passers-by added to the collection, but only after it had already become formidable).

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DPP_102Growing up in the Intermountain West, I’ve been to Yellowstone several times but always in the summer. So this year, a serendipitous turn of events saw me with a three-day weekend right before Christmas and a friend with an empty cabin in Island Park.

So we packed up way more food than four people could reasonably eat and headed North through a snow storm to get some R&R.

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Our first day was spent cruising around the park in a Snow Coach, a.k.a a four-wheel-drive van with caterpillar tracks in place of wheels. We had the coach to ourselves, along with our stalwart tour guide Scott, who regaled us with fascinating bits of trivia about the park and even more fascinating anecdotes from his life as a nomadic naturalist. He’s encountered yetti at least twice, has been picked up by a bear, lost some of his eyesight to a scorpion sting and was quick with a story about unwise tourists perishing to the natural dangers of Yellowstone.

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The park is an interesting place in the winter, first because there’s almost no one there and second because the cold weather makes the steam and water vapor pouring out of the hot pots thicker and more visible. In the summertime, the geothermal features seem like quaint additions to a heavily forested park filled with wildlife. But in the wintertime, with the horizon dotted with plumes of boiling gasses, it’s much more apparent that your meandering on top of a deadly volcano.

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That shot is my favorite one. Scott explained to us that the caldera stays in place while the ground above it shifts along tectonic fault lines, resulting in a consistently evolving landscape. This tree is one of many “Bobby Sock” trees, which became partially petrified after shifts in hot spring run-off.

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The hot pots themselves were less visible in the winter since most of the time they were obscured by thick fog. This is one of the few spots where we were able to see some of the deep blues that you find in the center of these death traps. At the Old Faithful gift shop my buddy Adam picked up a copy of Death in Yellowstone, which starts with a story of a man swan diving head first into a hot spring to retrieve a dog. That particular spring is now called “Hot Dog Spring” and according to Scott some of the dogs fatty tissue is still in the spring, causing it to behave erratically.

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Most of the trees surrounding a spring were covered on one side (the side facing the water vapor) with a wall of ice and snow. The vapor itself is deceptively warm, so you don’t realize until you get back into the freezing air that you’re covered in water. Water-proof clothing is a must if you plan to visit Yellowstone in the winter.

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On our way out of the park we mostly followed the Firehole river, which runs through the park intermittently picking up hot spring run off and washing out into a swimming hole (for the summer months). I remember swimming in the river when I was a kid, there’s a portion that runs through a narrow canyon where you can ride the rapids for about 100 yards before being dumped out into a widened pool. Every so often people will cliff jump off the canyon walls and get slammed against the rocks by the current, it’s covered in Death in Yellowstone.

Below is Kepler Cascade, which I had never seen before. If you’re coming in from the West Entrance it’s a couple of miles beyond Old Faithful. Apparently it’s named after the son of the man who found a route into Old Faithful from Jackson Hole. Also, I learned that in order to be a “Falls,” water has to free fall for at least 10 feet. As such, this, is a cascade.

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I didn’t take too many pictures of our second day. We cooked a big breakfast, did a little snowshoeing/cross country skiing and then mostly sacked out in the cabin for the rest of the day, which in my opinion is exactly what winter cabins are made for.

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Hey Stockers (people who read Wood’s Stock, in case you’ve forgotten) I apologize for the dearth of posts the last couple weeks but as you’ll see in these photos, I’ve been enjoying some much-needed R&R in Hawaii. So forget you.

This was my virginal voyage to the Sandwich Islands and we selected Kauai since it’s more rural and peaceful while still filled with the kind of breathtaking vistas that are often featured in swashbuckling adventure movies or anything with dinosaurs.

My goals for the trip were simple. 1) Drink from a coconut 2) Hike through the jungle 3) Sit on the beach and lose track of time and 4) Buy a new Ukulele.

Mission accomplished.

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Our first day was spent snorkeling at the beach by our hotel and checking out the shops in Old Kaloa Town, which is where we came across The Ukulele Store, which sells Kamoa Ukuleles, a brand owned and operated on Kauai.

Kamoa’s line is elegant in its simplicity. They have their high-end Kauai-made Koa wood ukuleles that will cost you two month’s rent, but for the average Uker they carry six sizes of solid wood ukes (Vintage, Soprano, Pineapple Soprano, Concert, Grand Concert and Tenor) available in three colors (yellow, red and brown).

They also tune most of their ukes with a low-G base string, which is gangbusters for finger-picking and fills out chords with a full, deep sound. I bought a brown pineapple with low-G, and you know that means I’ll be posting a One Wood Uke video soon.

As for the snorkeling at Poipu beach, I unfortunately didn’t plan ahead for waterproof camera gear. So just take my word for it when I tell you that I was literally waist deep in fish. It was bananas.

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Day two was our chartered boat tour of the Na Pali Coast, a.k.a Jurassic Park. “Na Pali,” I am told, means “cliffs” and the coast is so named for the staggeringly steep topography that drops into the ocean (see header photo above). Some of Hawaii’s most iconic images come from Na Pali, which is only accessible by boat or hiking trails.

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On our way around the island we ran into a (school? I’m not sure what the collective known is) of dolphins who took advantage of our catamaran to scratch their backs. This didn’t make for particularly amazing photos, but when you come across dolphins in the wild you basically have to take pictures and when you take pictures of dolphins in the wild you basically have to post them on your blog.

We also stopped for some deep sea snorkeling, where we were yet again surrounded by exotic marine life, including a giant turtle that was close enough for me to touch (I didn’t, I controlled myself). Again, I wish I had the equipment neccessary to capture this but alas…

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After we got back in port we took a drive up Waimea Canyon for the land-based view of the Na Pali. This is the wet side of the island and the entire time we were walking around these low-lying clouds would rush in every few minutes, mist us, then vanish. This had the repeated effect of making it nearly impossible to see five feet in front of you one second, then in the blink of an eye a 1,000-foot drop would open up in front of your eyes. It was spooky. I loved it.

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   This is the tree tunnel on Maluhia Road, which we drove through every day to get to and from our hotel on Poipu.

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On Day three we hiked a little bit into the Na Pali on the Hanakapiai beach trail at the end of the road. When we first arrived, our rental car guy told us there’s two choices leaving the airport: turn left or turn right. If you turn left you eventually end up on the end of the road on Kauai’s North Shore, which is literally the end of the road at Ke’e Beach, which is also great for snorkeling (pictured below).

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Hanakapiai Beach, on the other hand, is another beast entirely. After hiking two miles on a trail that skirts the cliff edges (and is lined with fresh-growing Guava, om-nom-nom) you end up at a wooden sign that basically says “If you swim here, you die” and includes a couple dozen hash marks chronicling the number of tourists the beach has claimed. I looked it up on Wikipedia and apparently the sign is not officially maintained and the number of dead is largely speculative.

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The problem is that swells on the North Shore are the biggest on the island, to the point that in the winter time the waves are so strong that the sandy beaches are completely washed away only to be re-deposited when the season subsides. I looked it up on Google and found several yelp-style reviews from parents who had nearly lost their children to unseen rip currents. We decided not to swim at that particular spot, but I did stop to contribute a cairn to the rock garden.

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From the beach its another two miles up river to the Hanakapiai waterfall. At this point it was raining fairly regularly (which I loved because I felt like Indiana Freaking Jones) but my mother was less keen to the idea of. Still, like a trooper, she made it the whole way, carefully navigating the muddy and slippery trail while clutching a pink umbrella in her hand and gathering humorous glances from the seasoned hikers that passed us on the way. Like a boss.

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The waterfall itself was a several-hundreed-foot drop that cascaded down two or three levels. I swam out underneath it but was a little scared to stay out and enjoy myself because minutes before I entered the water a shower of rather large rocks had fallen into the pool like gun fire.

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The beach at our hotel, at dusk. Everything you’ve heard about Hawaiian beaches? They’re better.

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Some waterfall whose name I don’t remember that we saw from the road.

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The Hanamaulu stream, making its way to the ocean. There’s several jungle-type adventures you can have along this river, from kayak tours to zip-line exploring. When I go back I’d love to spend more time in that area.

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This weekend was the Utah Pride Festival and Pride Parade in Salt Lake City. I’ve been meaning to go for years but my schedule never allowed it but luckily everything worked out this year. The festival itself was awesome. Organizers couldn’t have asked for better weather and the whole event was bursting with positivity and joie de vie.

As for the parade, I couldn’t pass up the chance to snap some pictures. The lighting was crazy harsh and I unfortunately got into a position where everyone was walking away from the sun so forgive me if a few of these seem washed out.

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I was going to lead this post with another picture, since most media coverage of the Utah Pride Parade will inevitably focus on the Mormons Building Bridges group and the perceived conflict in Salt Lake City between the LGBT community and the Mormon Church, but at the parade it was obvious that MBB was a centerpoint. The group itself was massive this year and when it rounded the corner onto 200 South the crowd erupted into cheers.

Also, it should be noted that Salt Lake City was named the Gayest City in the U.S. in 2012 and recently it was reported that SLC has the highest percentage of same-sex couples with children.

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Most of the “floats” consisted of groups of people walking down the street. Visually it’s not as striking as, say, a Thanksgiving Day Parade, but at least everything is vibrantly colorful.

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Also, the spectators are just as fun as the parade itself.

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The Smith’s entry, which featured a squad of rainbow-adorned shopping carts.

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Sen. Jim Dabakis, the only openly gay member of the Utah Legislature, spending time with a potential voter.

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Flag twirlers from West High School

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The Human Rights Campaign, carrying their signature blue equality flag. I love the way the light goes through the flag and makes a mirror image on the ground.

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The men and women of Wasatch Roller Derby jumping in the street. This picture was fraught with problems, the sun washed everything out and I  ran out into the parade trying to capture this guy in mid-air but was too late.

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“Real Men Sing!” I couldn’t agree more, though I would add “…and play Ukulele!”

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The beautiful men and women of Club Hydrate.

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I didn’t catch what group this was (American Express?) but loved the visual of these colorful flags lining the street.

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Fierce!

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My favorite float of the parade. These guys had a whole choreographed number to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and the colors were great.

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The Moab Pride Festival guys representing. We had a chance to explore this float the night before at the Pride Festival and it’s absolutely chock-full of gadgets and flair. You can’t see it from this angle but on the other side of the fan there’s a rope swing on an extended beam.

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I had to work in a balloon-rainbow photo.

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Salt Lake City’s Bike Share

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