Places

Passing through Cheile Bicazului (part 2)

I realized something after I read through yesterday’s post on Cheile Bicazului a couple of times. I hadn’t included any photos of the actual mountain pass, which made my comments about how it was carved out of the rock seem a bit superfluous. That was an oversight that needed to be corrected.

This time, you’ll get to see what the road looks like. I have to confess I was too much in awe of those abrupt and incredibly tall walls on each side of me to notice the road very much. Maybe I’ll get my head out of the clouds the next time I visit the place. Till then, here’s what I’ve got.

This was taken before going into the pass. You can see the fog and bad weather hovering above the pass a few kilometers ahead. That’s Ligia walking toward me in the photo.

Walk toward me

After we entered the pass, my eyes kept wondering upwards toward those impossibly abrupt mountain faces. Not only were they almost vertical, some were even leaning inward. This very next photo reminds me of an impenetrable hold, or fort of medieval times.

Hold

It’s amazing how efficient trees are at finding places to grow! You wouldn’t think it possible, but those evergreens managed to find their ecological niche growing right on sheer rock!

Find a niche

I finally managed to get my eyes on the road for this next photo. It’s narrow all through the pass as it squeezes between the mountain peaks, and there are no lane markers. At strategic points along the road, you’ll find shops that sell various folk items such as earthen vessels, carved ladles and other kitchen utensils, sheepskin vests and coats, and other such things.

Mountain shops

When I think of how they made the road, this photo comes to mind. Notice the deep cuts in the stone? It was by brute force alone they managed to get through that impregnable granite.

Deep cuts

This next photo will get across the sheer size of the stone walls surrounding the visitor. Those are fully grown evergreens sitting on top of that ridge!

Tall and taller

Remember the brook in yesterday’s post? That same happy little mountain brook has grown a little wider by the time I took this photo. It winds along through the pass, accompanying the road.

You’ve grown

I can’t resist showing that impressive wall of granite one more time.

Try climbing that

Once we made it through to the other side, the road widened, and we entered a village. Yes, that’s the very same brook shown above. Notice how high the stone walls are on either side? That bridge is also placed high for a good reason. Our happy little brook turns into a furious torrent when the snows melt every spring. The villagers need all the protection they can get to make sure they don’t get swept away with the water. It’s very possible that even that high wall doesn’t protect them enough, and their courtyards flood every once in a while.

On the other side

Cheile Bicazului is such a wonderful and photogenic place! I’ll do my best to return there with Ligia in the near future.

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Places

Passing through Cheile Bicazului

This is Part 1 of a two-part post on Cheile Bicazului. You can read Part Two here.

During our recent trip to Romania, we passed through Cheile Bicazului, a stunning, narrow pass carved through the Carpathian mountains. We started out on the Transylvania side, where the weather was beautiful and sunny, though we could see the clouds hovering over the mountains far into the distance.

Zigzag into the horizon

As we got closer, the weather got chillier, and we could see the mountain peaks enshrouded in fog. This mountain meadow was still bright and sunny, though the cold wind made us shiver.

Steep slope

Just a few kilometers away from the meadow pictured above, we stopped at Lacul Rosu, a lake whose origin is uncertain. It seems falling rocks blocked the path of a river, and a lake accumulated in that valley hundreds or thousands of years ago. The trunks of the flooded evergreens can still be seen in the water. Here the weather got even colder and wetter. There was no question about it — we were high up in the mountains.

At the edge of Lacul Rosu

That same punishing weather proved truly beneficial to my photography. Without it, the mountain peaks wouldn’t have looked quite as good. Here are a couple of peaks seen at the start of the pass.

Enshrouded in fog

Here’s a truly majestic peak seen from inside the pass. That fog was just perfect!

High above Cheile Bicazului

The sharply winding road broke through the peaks onto a meadow set in a small valley. I stopped the car and peered over the edge of the cliff to get this photo of the mountain brook passing below us. I love that little wooden bridge, twisted into a precarious position by spring torrents and autumn storms.

The little bridge down in the valley

There was a group of cabins in the meadow, and off to the side, I found this deserted hut, built out of stone right into the side of the hill. Grass grew on its roof, and overgrown shrubs surrounded it. I wonder what purpose it once served.

Deserted and overgrown

That same mountain brook seen just above can be seen in the photo below. The same bridge can now be spotted in the top left corner. I really like mountain streams. They flow fast, and the water’s clean, cold and invigorating.

A happy mountain brook

We weren’t dressed for the weather, and we ended up with slightly sore throats by the time we made it to the other side, but it sure was worth it! It was my first time through Cheile Bicazului. Ligia used to come there with her parents quite often as a child. We want to go back again and hike through those mountains should we get the chance.

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Places

Right here with you

I took this photo during our recent camping trip to the Blue Ridge mountains, somewhere near Natural Bridge, VA. Although the sky was overcast during our first night, it cleared up afterwards, and we couldn’t believe how many stars were visible during our second night. It was so beautiful and peaceful, that I couldn’t help but feel God’s presence there.

Right here with you

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Thoughts

Busy, busy, busy

It’s a bit unusual for me that I can’t find the time to write posts, but that’s just what’s happening. I left home shortly after noon on Friday with Ligia to go camping with close friends of ours in the Blue Ridge mountains. Had loads of fun, and we visited Natural Bridge. I’m afraid I wasn’t very good company. My eye was pretty much either glued to the viewfinder of my 5D, or looking for reasons to stay glued to it. Took lots of gorgeous morning, evening and night photos and I can’t wait to post-process them.

Came back early afternoon Sunday and got ready for a photographic gig that same afternoon. Finally arrived home for good around 7:30 pm, exhausted. I’ve been using my spare time since to work on those photos. They get top priority since I got paid for them, which is very nice indeed. In between bouts of work, I also need to spend a little quality time with Ligia.

When you count it all up, it adds up to no spare time whatsoever — short of a trip to “Spare Oom”, where time runs on a different schedule… Perhaps I’ll get a little more time in a couple of days. Till then, I suppose.

Afternoon delight

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Lists

Interesting animals

The olm is a cave salamander completely adapted to the dark environment where it lives. It has no eyes, and is completely without pigmentation. Early discoverers thought olms were baby dragons. These salamanders live in a group of caves in the Balkan mountains.

Do you know what animal has the strongest punch in the world? Look no further than the stomatopod, an ocean creature that punches its prey to knock it out.

Have you ever seen a giant snail? Given the various parasites all snails host, I’m not sure I’d play with them. This brave woman’s got a giant snail on her arm. Yuck.

This horse is amazing. It’s called Blue Hors Matine, and the rider is Andreas Helgstrand. I have never seen a horse move like that. Even the commentators are left speechless.

The bower bird is a truly amazing animal. It builds an elaborate nest, complete with assorted objects of various shapes and colors, in order to attract a mate.

If you didn’t think crows could use tools, think again:

Have a look at this fantastic battle between a herd of water buffalo and a pride of lions. If you watch till the end, you’ll see how the buffalo attack the pride in numbers in order to retrieve a captured calf. The poor thing not only has to resist the lions, but a crocodile that grabs onto it from behind as well. It’s a heroic battle, and that little calf is a true survivor.

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Places

A hike to Cheile Turului

Cheile Turului is a picturesque and little known canyon located near Cluj, Romania. It’s a bit hard to get to. It’s off the main roads, and one has to travel on unpaved country roads and through a couple of villages to get to it, but the effort is worth it.

I’m not sure how to best describe the place. One normally associates canyons with climbing up a mountain or at least a sizable hill. Not so with Cheile Turului. You simply travel along on fairly level ground, climbing imperceptibly, until you get to it, and all of a sudden, you’re faced with this gorge that’s lined with serious stone walls on either side. It’s as if the ground opened up to create it. There are crevices and mini-caves almost everywhere one looks. I’m sure spelunkers and climbers would have a field day there.

I visited it in November of 2002 with my brother, on a fairly cold day, and photographed it. Unfortunately, I took most of the photos with my camcorder, so the resolution is fairly low. Some are even captures from video, so they’re at 640×480. Nonetheless, I wanted to share them because it’s a beautiful place to visit.

Cheile Turului

Cheile Turului

Cheile Turului

Cheile Turului

Cheile Turului

A single cow was out to pasture, grazing peacefully nearby. It was thoroughly unimpressed with my camera. Judging the quality of the photos, I can see why… 🙂

A cow

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Places

Passing through the Carpathian mountains

I dug up some old photos of mine from November of 2002, taken from the train as it passed through the Carpathian mountains in Romania. They’re posted below. I apologize for their graininess, but I took them with an old APS camera and scanned them years after they were developed. But they get the point across anyway, which is that those mountains are gorgeous.

Carpathian Mountains

Carpathian Mountains

Carpathian Mountains

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Places

Fantastic fall foliage

If you live in a place where you don’t get to experience the wonder of nature called fall foliage, then you’ll probably enjoy the photos I took on two trips to Shenandoah National Park and its most prominent and well-known feature, Skyline Drive.

I wrote about our September trip to Shenandoah a few weeks ago. Ligia and I took a trip in October as well, and that’s when I got some pretty cool photos of the changing leaves. I think it’s pretty hard not to get good photos from Skyline Drive. The landscapes are just amazing. The road hugs the very mountain peaks, and you get to peer down into the valleys of Virginia and toward the peaks of the neighboring mountains. The overlooks are plenty and offer tons of scenic opportunities, although sometimes I wished I could just stop the car in the middle of the road to take photos.

It’s a gorgeous place! I’d like to take a week’s camping trip out there with a quality dSLR, batteries, lots of CF cards, and a good tripod, to see what photos I’d get. And maybe a good book to read in the quiet evenings, by the campfire.

Skyline Drive is shown below.

Skyline Drive

The road to color

What’s wonderful is that one can see little villages and houses in the valleys below the mountains. I took these photos from various overlook points on Skyline Drive, and as you can see, the valleys below are quite picturesque.

Little villages

Patches of green

Taking advantage of the wonderful zoom on my Kodak v610 point and shoot, I was able to get fairly close to the lake in this photo, even though it was quite far away.

Lake of color

Some of the slopes were just getting some autumn colors in them.

The colors of fall

Autumn starts

Some slopes were already fully colored, and they were quite a beautiful sight.

The colors of fall

Descent into the valley below

Shenandoah Valley

Barrage of color

A short walk through the forest yielded even more beauty.

Parallel lives

Trees on a mountain peak

A glimpse of the autumn sky

One of the other impressive sights was that of the lone peaks arising from the valleys adjacent to the mountain ridge. I found them quite unusual. In shape, they resembled hills, but they were as tall as the mountains we were standing on.

Peppered with gold

Overlook on Skyline Drive

And with that I close. The Shenandoah valleys and mountains are quite beautiful, and I invite you to visit them if you get the chance.

Incidentally, the Shenandoah Valley is part of the story in “The Howards of Virginia” (1940), a movie about a colonial family that played a part in the American Revolution. The title role there was played by Cary Grant.

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Places

Camping in the Shenandoah National Park

This past weekend, close friends of ours and Ligia and I went camping in the Shenandoah National Park. It was a surreal experience. We left a little later than we’d planned, and caught the rush hour traffic heading west on Route 66. We rued our day as we slowly crawled through miles of clogged up highway, but when we got out of the Manassas area, the traffic improved.

At any rate, we’d been slowed down enough that we arrived on Skyline Drive after dark. Then, it started raining as we approached the park. As if that wasn’t enough, fog set in and we could barely see ahead of us. But after all, we were traveling on mountain tops, and it was the start of fall, so the weather can be pretty unpredictable and wet. After trudging around in the dark, we got to the camp, and found one of the few remaining spots for the night. We were shocked to find out that they were booked solid and there was a waiting list. Our friends, who wanted to stay for two nights, couldn’t.

We bought some firewood and headed to our camp site, dreading the experience that would follow: pitching our tents in the dark, in rain, and in strong wind. Fun isn’t the word to describe it. We turned on our headlights and kept them on as we unpacked the tents and raised them. I’ll spare you the muddy details, but you’d be amazed what four pairs of helping hands, working in unison, can accomplish when under pressure.

We got the tents up, then tried to eat. What to eat? We wanted to heat up the food, but we needed a fire. Have you ever tried to start a fire while it’s raining and windy? No copious amounts of lighter fluid and paper will help. It kept dying down, even though the wood was dry. Finally, I gave up and called in the reserves: our friends. They both tried it, persevered, and finally succeeded. We gave up warming the food and ate some cold sandwiches instead, as we sat and warmed ourselves by the fire.

Fireside chats? Not that night! After we got done eating, we went directly to bed, where another surprise awaited us. Our tents were summer tents, and while they held up very nicely in the wind and rain, they were, shall we say, constructed more for the purpose of aeration than insulation. Luckily, we’d brought plenty of covers, but our friends didn’t. Even though they didn’t admit it, methinks they froze their butts off during the night. And what a night! A gale wind blew the whole time, and waves of rain beat down on our tents. It was noisy and lousy, and cold. It took me a while to fall asleep, but thankfully, I stayed asleep till morning after that. We woke up early, with the wind still blowing outside. The rain had stopped, and I managed to get a fire going without help.

We ate our breakfast and had tea, then had two wonderful surprises. One was the Monarch butterflies, in various stages of development, attached to the exterior walls of the bathrooms. Why they picked the bathrooms I don’t know, but that’s where I found them.

Monarch butterfly larva

Monarch butterfly cocoon

Monarch butterfly cocoon

I found the gold lining on their cocoons truly amazing. That’s actually what drew me to them in the first place. If I hadn’t seen the gold spots and crown lining, I’d have passed by them like many of the other people using the bathrooms. It’s no wonder they’re called Monarch butterflies. They sure look regal with those spots of gold, don’t they?

Then Ligia had the second surprise. She found a wild apple tree, and picked a few apples. (They were delicious, by the way.) What do you think she found on one of them? An Eyed Hawk Moth larva, of all things! What was it doing in the Appalachian mountains? It normally lives in Europe. I don’t know, but it was a beautiful thing to behold.

Eyed hawk moth larva

After our breakfast — and this time we could chat around the fire — we took off and went hiking on the Rose River Trail. Our goal: Rose River Falls. The trail was easy and beautiful. Here are a few photos from the hike:

A nonconformist tree

Tree on a rock

Rose River turned out to be a brook in the forest — quite the optimistic name for a brook, isn’t it? 🙂

Rose River

Forest art on display

Rose River Waterfall

After the hike, we had a wonderful late lunch at the Skyland Lounge, then headed out on Skyland Drive, and stopped along the way at overlooks to take photos of the gorgeous vistas. Here are a few of them:

Wide vista

Set against the sunset sky

Mountain tops

Hazy outlines

Fall colors

Was it a wonderful trip? You bet your britches it was, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even with all the nightmarish traffic and surreal weather.

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