A Pearl Harbor Photo Pilgrimage.

A low-light sensitive imaging sensor and a perspective control lens were used for capturing this dramatic predawn view of the Pearl Harbor National Monument's new visitor center for - Seattle Architect The Portico Group. Photo by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

A low-light sensitive imaging sensor and a perspective control lens were used for capturing this dramatic predawn view of the Pearl Harbor National Monument’s new visitor center for – Seattle Architect The Portico Group. Photo by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Multimedia essay by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Whether you’re a filmmaker, fine-artist or commercial photographer, you need to be resourceful in a full-spectrum of talents to have viewers take a serious interest in your work.

For the past 12 years I’ve made traveling to the Hawaiian Islands a priority.  In this tropic paradise, my experience is one of creative renewal, brought on by inspiration from the Island’s “Aloha spirit” and dramatic volcanic landscapes.

Iconic view of Diamond Head, from Waikiki. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Iconic view of Diamond Head, from Waikiki. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

On the Island of Oahu, Pearl Harbor, has been a great interest for me. Some years back, The Portico Group — a Seattle architectural firm began exploratory work for designing a component of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Pearl_Harb_VC_BPP_e76

In 2008, I contacted a principal architect, Mike Ham at Portico with news of my planned travel to Oahu.  At that time, preliminary stages of design were just taking place and there wasn’t much opportunity in photographing the site. Undeterred, I made arrangements for a window seat on a Hawaiian Airlines, Boeing 767, which would allowed access for aerial photographs of the Pearl Harbor site. Fortunately, clear weather did allow me to photograph the Monument on approach to Honolulu Airport.

There are beautiful architectural design elements within the visitor center. This one captures a Zen like composition. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez

There are beautiful architectural design elements within the visitor center. This one captures a Zen like composition. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez

Upon returning from the trip to Oahu, my aerial photos were emailed to the architect.  I followed up with a phone call … although the feedback was polite it was revealed the timing was still too early in the project for the firm to consider using photography.

If you’re a dedicated photographer, you realize the value of patience and learning from both success and failure while reaching for your objective. This applies to resourceful technical and creative approaches, which are used to achieve your vision and the equally challenging strategic applications used for marketing that unique vision.

Looking back from the Arizona Memorial  towards the new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Visitor Center.  Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Looking back from the Arizona Memorial towards the new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Visitor Center. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

By emailing new photographic work over several months, I kept in contact with Portico and learned in 2010 that the project was nearing completion.  Unfortunately for me, I would not be able to attend the December 7th dedication and would be arriving in Hawaii two months later. It was decided by the architectural firm, that a local architectural photographer would be hired to shoot the new center.

The new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument's Visitor Center is a popular destination for national & international visitors.

The new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument’s Visitor Center is a popular destination for national & international visitors.

Undaunted, I asked for the opportunity to photograph the visitor center in February, with no financial obligation to the firm.  The architect agreed to this offer by providing me with a National Park Service administration contact in Honolulu.

Youth and elders view a globe showing where the conflict in the Pacific  was fought during World War II. Photo: David Johanson Vaquez ©

Youth and elders view a globe showing where the conflict in the Pacific was fought during World War II. Photo: David Johanson Vaquez ©

A couple of weeks before flying to Hawaii, my contact allowed me to view images the Honolulu photographer took back in December. The photo coverage was good, with many angles of the new center shot, using various times of day for best light.  This review confirmed my approach would have to be a new approach from what was previously used. With the help of some intense research methods using Internet images and information gathered, I became familiar with the site’s geographical attributes before arriving.

At 30-thousand feet in a Hawaiin Airliner Boeing 767, we begin our decent as we approach the Island of Oahu. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez ©

At 30-thousand feet in a Hawaiin Airliner Boeing 767, we begin our decent as we approach the Island of Oahu. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez ©

The February, 2011 flight to Hawaii was pleasant and as the plane was approaching Oahu I could clearly see Honolulu. However, after de-boarding the plane, blue sky had given way to a partial mixture of dark clouds.  Phoning the national park services, contacts, the staff informed me the forecast was not promising for my intended early morning photo shoot. So I decided to be flexible for the next week, while watching local weather forecasts for an early morning photo opportunity. After a few relaxing days under a blend of tropical sun mixed with passing clouds, a favorable forecast came in for the assignment.

Entrance to the Pearl Harbor National Monument's Visitor Center. The Battleship Missouri & USS Arizona Memorial are in the background.

Entrance to the Pearl Harbor National Monument’s Visitor Center. The Battleship Missouri & USS Arizona Memorial are in the background.

Traveling in darkness I arrived at the site, prepared to use the predawn light.  Scouting the visitor center a few days before, revealed a hill, which would be ideal as a shooting platform. Using some available artificial low light, I took a series of carefully composed photographs. Soon twilight gave way to sunrise, revealing a vibrant panorama backdrop of multicolored clouds in my viewfinder.  As morning light lit the visitor center, I joined the legions of visitors descending upon open gates.

The forward magazine of USS Airzona exploded after being hit by a Japanese bomb , December 7, 1941. Frame clipped from a color motion picture frame taken from on board USS Solace.Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection

The forward magazine of USS Airzona exploded after being hit by a Japanese bomb, December 7, 1941. Frame clipped from a color motion picture taken from on board USS Solace.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection

The "Tree of Life" sculpture,  is used as a universal symbol for renewal and rebirth of life.

The “Tree of Life” sculpture, is used as a universal symbol for renewal and rebirth of life.

The shores of Pearl Harbor, and the Arizona Memorial, have persistently drawn me to this honored site. Several members of my family have served in the military, and I have gratitude for the dedication and sacrifices during their time of service.  What began at this historic site, as a surprise Japanese attack, on an early December 7, 1941 morning, brought our country into WWII.  The individuals, who were under fire here, exemplify the strongest dedication to preserving and defending our nation, particularly those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. An unseen force pulls me to this place, and I offer homage to what happened at his historic site.

This photo which was taken September 1941, is part of another essay on Cuba and Panama, which was impacted by the Pearl Harbor attack.

This photo taken in September 1941, is part of another essay on Cuba and Panama, which was impacted by the Pearl Harbor attack.

The first photo essay I posted using WordPress was about my mother as a young girl traveling to Cuba and then Panama by a steam-liner in September of 1941. My grandmother was taking my mom and her baby brother to the Canal Zone to meet with my grandfather who was stationed there with the Navy. They had only been united for a couple of months before Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mom along with all Americans were forced to evacuate, for fear of a Japanese invasion. A German U-boat shadowed the ship my family was evacuated on in the Gulf of Mexico and I’ve included a link at the end of this essay for a related story on the Pearl Harbor attack.

USS Missouri "Mighty Mo" Iowa Class Battleship - The last battleship built by the U.S. and was the historic site on which the Japanese Emperor  signed the surrender agreement to end World War II.

USS Missouri “Mighty Mo” Iowa Class Battleship – The last battleship built by the U.S. and was the historic site on which the Japanese Emperor signed the surrender agreement to end World War II. Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

My appreciation for 20th century history is another reason for my interest in this National Monument. Historically the Pearl Harbor attack represents a great milestone, a solid beginning as Pax Americana —[the U.S. ascending position as undisputed world leader for the second half of the 20th Century.]

Once inside the Monument’s entrance, helpful park service staff greeted me, as they were expecting my visit. The beautiful tropical morning light illuminated the site ideally as I photographed the visitor’s center from all the best angles.  Pearl_Harb_VC_BPP_e815

Leaving Pearl Harbor after a successful shoot, I felt fortunate the weather had been so cooperative, as it produced a combination of soft, diffused light with interesting clouds to ad sky texture.

Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Photo: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

For my remaining visit on Oahu, was an enjoyable and relaxing time with family and friends.

At Jackie & Mark's home we're etertaine with some live Hawaiian Music.

At Jackie & Mark’s home we’re etertained with some live Hawaiian Music.

We all came together for couple of nights to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday in Hawaiian style with great food, live music and Hula dancing.

Our Hawaiian host coach the Johanson father & sons act to do "The 3-Step Male Hula Method"

Our Hawaiian host coach the Johanson father & sons act to do “The 3-Step Male Hula Method”

Celebrating the former Marine, Dave Johanson's 80th-birthday near Honolulu, Hawaii.

Celebrating the former Marine, Dave Johanson’s 80th-birthday near Honolulu, Hawaii.

Waikiki umbrella 2011

Of course I found some time for my personal photography work. Hawaii has some remarkable subject matter, which is always worth discovering. Pearl Harb essay 2011

Beside the gorgeous tropical landscapes there is a diversity of Ocean Culture to experience.

On the Island of Oahu there are urban scenes with blends of South Pacific, Asian and North American cultures creating a unique, Pan-Pacific experience.

One of my creative specialities is night or low-light photography. The moon over head gave a halo rim-light on the palm trees.

One of my creative specialities is night or low-light photography. The moon over head gave a halo rim-light on the palm trees.

Honolulu has some high-density urban environments with high-rise hotels and condominiums.

Honolulu has some high-density urban environments with high-rise hotels and condominiums.

Perhaps the sense of renewal I experience while working and playing in Hawaii is due to this unique fusion of culture created on the Islands.

A night view overlooking Waikiki Beach and the volcano crater Diamond Head. David Johanson Vasquez — ©

A night view overlooking Waikiki Beach and the volcano crater Diamond Head. David Johanson Vasquez — ©

Photo: David Johanson Vasquez ©

Photo: David Johanson Vasquez ©

Pearl_Harb_VC_BPP_a1373

Pearl_Harb_VC_BPP_2ec1432

A skyline view of Honolulu's Waikiki area. —David Johanson Vasquez ©

A skyline view of Honolulu’s Waikiki area. —David Johanson Vasquez ©

Another influence I draw from this land is the constant vibrant growth of plant life — along with continuous volcanic activity, which never slows down as it furiously creates new land on a daily bases.

Upon returning to a cold winter in Seattle, several days went by before a meeting could be scheduled with the Portico Group.  Once the meeting did take place, a couple of lead architects, along with marketing manager, Leigh Tucker, reviewed the photographs I brought in.  The response was enthusiastic and appreciative for the photographs presented, along with compliments for my approach of using subtle light to help illuminate compositions. Two dramatic photographs were purchased at the presentation in order to meet a deadline for an architectural awards competition-taking place that week. These initial purchases covered all my expense of travel and lodging  while on Oahu. Within days, more images were acquired from me, which featured views not included in the earlier photography completed at the December dedication event.

This rewarding photographic experience was a classic lesson in fortitude, patience passion and not giving up, no matter how challenging the odds are.

Nighttime on Waikiki Beach.— David Johanson Vasquez

Nighttime on Waikiki Beach.
— David Johanson Vasquez ©

Mahalo nui loa! ~

Resource Links for more information and learning:

World War II Valor in the Pacific – World War II Valor in the Pacific National

Monument

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument – Arizona Memorial

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument | National Park Foundation

The Portico Group | Architects | Landscape Architects | Interpretive Planners | Exhibit Designers

Flights to Hawaii, Hawaii Vacations & Travel – Hawaiian Airlines

Male hula dance: Learn the movements…

Pearl Harbor Images

A Glimpse Into Havana’s Legendary Watering Hole | bigpictureone

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Blinded By Light, In The Middle Of Night

 
Multimedia eLearning program by: David A. Johanson © All Rights  — Second Edition

The author is a multimedia specialist, CTE instructor and a former Boeing scientific photographer. For an alternative formatted view of this program, please visit — www.ScienceTechTablet.wordpress.com

 

My photo wingman, Rick Wong and I headed into the heart of darkness in a quest for the Perseid meteor showers. Mount Rainier National Park, was our destination to use its iconic landmark for framing an infinite field of stars—far from the glare of city lights. Traveling at night in Rick’s new hybrid Ford Fusion, equipped with “information technology”—voice navigation, made it easy finding the park without using a map.

Arriving at our location, luminous stars lit up the night as expected, but we were surprised by some uninvited competition, which nearly stole the show.

A stunning view of Mount Rainier reflected in Reflection Lake, with the summer stars overhead. The pink and orange glow on the left side of the mountain is light pollution emitted from the City of Tacoma, approximately 65 miles northwest.

We found an ideal location above Reflection Lake to begin our photo shoot, with one of the Cascade Mountain’s most famous stratovolcano in the background. An unexpected warm light was glowing behind Mount Rainier, which I reasoned, was a faint remnant from the earlier sunset. However, the sun had set at least four hours earlier, so it couldn’t be the source of the illumination. Rick suggested “its light coming from the City of Tacoma,” located about 65 miles away. During a 20-second long exposures used to take an image of the snow-capped mountain, I began thinking about the effects caused by light pollution.
With a bright moon rising, we worked fast to keep up with the changing light, until its intensity eventually overpowered the stars.

Just now, the moon was rising higher into the night sky, it too was causing us to shift focus on what to photograph. Like a giant diffuse reflector, the moon reflected soft, filtered light onto a previously dark, formless landscape. Moonlight was beginning to compete with the canopy of stars’ brilliance, partially masking crystal clear views of the Milky Way, along with some meteor sightings. So being photo opportunist, we used the moonlight to illuminate shadow-detail on Rainier’s south face.

Like some sorcerer conjuring an intense cauldron of red light, the photographer adjusts his digital settings before Mount Rainier and her crown of stars above.

A Peaceful Paradise Lost                                                                                             There’s a tranquil feeling while in the process of taking long exposures at night; it’s normally quiet and not many visual distractions overwhelm the senses or interrupt your focus. I personally enjoy these rare opportunities of solitude, to visualize an image, using a minimal, Zen like perspective.

 

When a distraction, like a car suddenly rounding a corner occurs, it’s often an annoyance, which takes you out of the moment. My moment was taken by clusters of cars, with glaring lights as they came around a turn… just as the moon illuminated the mountain, as it was reflected onto a perfectly still lake.. Their headlights flooded the calm mirror-like water and stands of old growth trees beyond with glaring intensity— as I used my hands in an attempt to shield the lens from light flare. Finally, the cars diapered into the darkness with no more approaching vehicles until dawn.

Photo-illustration of micro light sources, which can cause light pollution by unintended spill-light.

Moving above the lake to find new angles for interesting compositions, I took notice of something not seen before. Lights of various colors were coming from photographers bellow me, created by their digital camera’s preview monitors and infrared sensors for auto focusing. With the low light-sensitive Nikon cameras I was using, these multicolored monitor lights, appeared like a bright flare on the long exposure images. Now, I had one more unwelcome light source to avoid, which required strategic timing in the photo’s exposures to minimize glare.

Again, my thoughts returned to the issues of light pollution. Recalling the time back home, when I attempted to photograph some constellations at night, only to have a neighbor’s motion sensor flood light, overwhelmed the backyard with brightness. The piercing light  forced me to find the last remaining, isolated shadowed corner of the yard.

My reminiscing was cut short by a distant, but bright, pinpoint of light from bellow Mount Rainier’s summit. Flashlights from mountain climbers near Camp Muir shined bright—like lighthouse beacons from the semi darkened rocks and glacier fields on the mountain. Even the faintest light can shine bright at night as was noted during World War II, when warships were forbidden from having any exterior lights on at night — including a lit cigarette, which posed a risk of being spotted from great distances by enemy submarines.

Lights from mountain climbers on the approach to the summit of Mount Ranier.

Encountering the Universe’s Brilliance                                                                       The improper, overuse of outdoor lighting has erased one of our basic and most powerful human experiences—encountering the universe’s brilliance with its galaxies and billions of stars shining in the night sky! Making visual contact with our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is one of the greatest shows seen from Earth.

 

In less than a century of civilization’s reliance on electric technology: two-thirds of the U.S., half of Europe and a fifth of people in the world—now live where they cannot see the Milky Way with the unaided eye. You can appreciate how we lost our stellar view by seeing aerial photos taken from orbiting spacecraft and the International Space Station. These startling images taken of the Earth at night, reveal a man-made galaxy of artificial light, which cancels out much of the real one in the sky above.

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Some years back, I was a part-owner in a small recreational ranch, in Eastern Washington’s, Okanogan County. Brining friends over from Seattle, it was often nighttime when we arrived. The instant of exiting the cars, was a startling event as the Milky Way’s intensity of light overwhelmed your senses. The “ranch” was remotely located, at about 5,000 feet in the mountains, near the Canadian border and 30-miles from the closest town. Days would go by where we didn’t see a car or even hear a small airplane go overhead… it was one of the most refreshing experiences of my life, to perceive nothing except wind going through trees and seeing only starlight at night for hours at a time.

Image courtesy of NASA

A television interview with the director of a major observatory in Southern California recounted when Los Angeles had its last electrical blackout —people were calling 911 and his observatory, with reports of strange, bright objects in the night sky. Actually, what the callers were seeing for the first time, was the Milky Way’s canopy of shining stars.

   

Image courtesy of NASA.

Besides forfeiting a life inspiring, wondrous view of the cosmos, there’s tangible losses associated with light pollution. Conservative estimates are—30 % of U.S. outdoor lighting is pointed skyward in the wrong direction, which wastes billions of dollars of electricity. The unnecessary practice of lighting clouds, burns more than 6 million tons of coal, which adds: harmful greenhouse gas emissions, along with toxic chemicals into our atmosphere and water.

Further scientific studies indicate wildlife is suffering the ill effects of excessive urban lighting. The City of Chicago has taken measures to turn off or dim its high-rise lighting to enable migrating birds to continue normal migration patterns. An increase in species of insects attracted to light along with rodents, which are drawn towards bright city lighting, is a growing concern to many scientists.

Heavy equipment product shots never look quite this good. Scheduled improvements to the viewing area above Reflection Lake, had some equipment, taking a nap, before going to work when the sun came up.

Education Is the Solution to Light Pollution                                                                    The reason light pollution continues to expand is, we have grown accustomed to its seemingly benign presence. After all, probably no one can point to a single case of a person killed from overexposure to light pollution. However, there is a growing correlation of health risks associated with overexposure from artificial light. Some of the main symptoms include, physical fatigue and damage to eyesight. This lighting health risk was recognized in 2009, when the American Medical Association officially established a policy, which supports the control of light pollution.

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Municipal lighting codes are beginning to help define and eliminate unnecessary light pollution. Lighting enforcement can create a more pleasing environment, by reducing excessive urban lighting, which causes fatigue from glare and cuts down on unnecessary electric utility cost. Redirecting outdoor lighting away from the sky where it is needlessly wasted is a simple and easy solution.

Installing motion detector security lights are another efficient and productive mitigation strategy. For security purpose, a light, which is triggered by motion is much more effective for crime prevention than a continuous floodlight. Motion detector lights have a clear advantage of focussing our attention onto an area, which is triggered by a sudden change from darkness to bright-light.

The light intensity of the Milky Way is a breathtaking wonder to witness at night —` unrestricted light-pollution has faded this wonder from what was once a valued human experience. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy in the right 1/3 of the frame. Nikon D700 – Nikkor 28mm lens @ F3.5 @ 20 seconds August 11 11:48 p.m.

 

The encouraging news is… the key to reducing light pollution is a simple matter of basic education and action. Public awareness of over-lighting requires a minimal expenditure, which will quickly pay for itself in energy savings and perhaps return the opportunity to experience one of the greatest shows seen from earth. ~

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Light pollution glossary:

Urban Sky glow: the brightening of the night skies over municipalities and communities, caused primarily from high-volumes  of collective, reflected light and poorly directed light, which is pointed upward or not shielded properly.

Light trespass: light falling or spilling into areas where it is not intended. Also know as “spill light” – as in municipal streetlights, which go beyond the intended illumination of street signs and sidewalks, causing an unwanted exterior lighting of residential homes.

Glare: A direct, bright or harsh light, which causes discomfort or pain. The effects of glare can be reduced or eliminated with the use of a shield or filter.

Uplight: Light angled inappropriately upward towards the sky and serving no purpose. Uplight washes out the night sky and reduces opportunities for astronomers and star-gazer to enjoy the beauty of the planets, moon and stars.

Light Clutter: Poorly planned, confusing and unpleasant use of grouped lights usually associated with urban or retail lighting. Retail business often trying to outdo the competition by using overly bright, multicolored or pulsating lights.

Links to articles & information on light pollution:

http://news.discovery.com/animals/light-pollution-a-growing-problem-for-wildlife.html

www.darksky.org/assets/documents/is001.pdf

www.njaa.org/light.html

www.skymaps.com/articles/n0109.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_pollution

ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/Light_Pollution      

The Unworldly Splendor of Oregon’s Painted Hills.

If you would like to see an alternative format in the graphic design of some of the following multimedia presentations, please see our new site at— http://ScienceTechTablet.wordpress.com

Photo/video and text by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

The sun had just set as I arrived at my friend’s condominium on Lake Washington near Seattle. Rick was loading camera equipment into his SUV, Ford Escape — a gasoline-electric hybrid, which holds the honor of being one of the first American-built hybrids.

We had a long drive ahead, which required us to drive all night before reaching our destination in the high desert of Central Oregon. It was a cool, but clear, May evening, as the SUV climbed steadily up to Snoqualmie pass. After cresting the Cascade Mountains we descended into a dryer, warmer Eastern Washington. After a few hours of driving the glow from a near full moon was illuminating the desert sagebrush outside the town of Goldendale on the Columbia River.

Wind turbines above the Columbia River are lit by the moon.

Our adventure to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, was planned to coincide with a full moon for illuminating the surreal Painted Hills. Rick and I use digital cameras, featuring full-sized image sensors and fast optical lenses, which are ideal for capturing low light environments. Taking the opportunity to harness some moonlight as it rose above the Columbia Gorge, we made a stop to photograph wind turbines. These wind gathering  monoliths, heavily populate this section of Washington and Oregon. The site is ideal for wind farms, due to the wind tunnel conditions created by compressed airstreams forcefully moving through the constricted Gorge.   

Standing next to a colossal tower is a strange experience. These massive wind catchers are the largest machines you’ll probably encounter on land. And the eerie sounds caused from wind moving massive propeller blades takes some time getting use to.

Driving on the Washington side of the Columbia River and continuing into Oregon, you see legions of wind turbine sentinels as they constantly harvest the restless winds. It takes an hour of driving south on the highway before we see fewer and then suddenly… no steel towers flanking our drive.

Now what I become aware of is not seeing any cars traveling in either direction of a deserted looking highway. Eastern Oregon’s vast size can’t be appreciated unless you spend some time touring its sprawling, unpopulated counties.

After traveling all night and encountering some falling snow as the hybrid SUV started ascending the road to the high desert—we finally entered into the realm of the primeval Painted Hills. It’s totally dark now that the moon had set hours earlier, cloaking the desert from our view in all directions. Fatigued from hours of driving, we pull into a remote area to catch a couple of hours of sleep before our video and photography expedition can begin.

The John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is organized into three Units; the Painted Hills is the third Unit, which contains 3,132 acres of wildlife, plants and some unusual geology.

Over millions of years, layers of ash from nearby volcanic eruptions mixed with clay. Through the process of erosion, intense surreal hues and patterns of color explode in every direction.

The following morning was a like waking up in some eye-candy dreamland. The colors just popped out at you like viewing a TV monitor, with the hue saturation cranked up high.  Stunned by the startling beauty, I grabbed my video camera on a tripod and began shooting panorama footage. Attempting to capture the details of the environment, an external microphone was used to record the outburst of chattering songbirds, which had woken up to announce the beginning of a new day.

My first impression was of being overwhelmed by sensory overload — it was challenging to take in all the colors, sounds and surreal shapes of the textured topography. What I was seeing, appeared to be out of this world — like viewing some futuristic post cards of a terraformed Martian landscape.

What I remembered from earlier road trips to the Southwest, was how striking the Painted Desert in Arizona was — that location now seemed pale in comparison to the Painted Hills.  What makes the geology of this site so vivid is the saturated colors, caused by a series of volcanic eruptions, taking place over millions of years. The accumulation of layers of ash, dust and clay mixed together from relentless years of erosion to form the hills of strata of colors, like some massive layered cake.

What remains buried beneath the volcanic soil is a time-capsule preserving the fossilized carcasses of mammals and plants, which lived in the region during the  Cenozoic Era —the Age of Mammals. This era began roughly 65 million years ago, so this National Monument is a target rich environment for paleontologist studying fossils from that era.

After I shot about an hour worth of video from the spot from the spot I started from, it was time to scout other dramatic locations.  Not too far into our drive we spotted a family of graceful antelopes, casually grazing in a large field. Apparently, from talking with one of the NPS Rangers, this National Monument is teeming with indigenous wildlife including: bears, cougars and eagles.

Latter in the afternoon we stopped at the side of a gravel road to take in a stunning view of  one of the larger hills at the site.  The clouds above were opening and closing like a massive shutter on a spotlight — producing lighting effects which were irresistible. We set up tripods along with our video and still cameras to begin shooting right away.

Shortly after we setup shop, a ranger pulled up close to the SUV and was intently watching us. Rick and I shrugged as we looked at each other with a shrug, thinking perhaps we had unknowingly parked in a restricted area. Eventually the ranger introduced himself, he had the impression we were part of a National Park Service video crew, which was schedule to be doing work at the Monument.  We were invited to join his walking tour with a group of  photographers into a restricted area of the Painted Hills.  As it turned out, this special photography tour only takes place one weekend out of the entire year —when the John Day chaenactus (a bright yellow wild flower) begins to bloom, then as quickly as it appears—it begins to fade away.

The photographer’s tour was visually fantastic and can only be experienced under the supervision of an NPS Ranger.  The plant life is so fragile here, you’re only allowed to  walk inside a dried out creek bed while touring this area.  The Ranger was gracious enough to allow me to interview him about the site.  Wind is common and unpredictable in this high desert area, so I came prepared with a wind guard on my microphone; but I did experience a few audio dropouts,  hopefully you’ll be able to hear the main message clearly enough.

Later that evening we photographed the landscapes using a full moon for our lighting. I’ve never seen greater clarity of the stars and moon from this high desert environment, which created a great backdrop for an unearthly landscape. We photographed throughout the night until the light of predawn appeared.

At a little over 2,000 feet in elevation, the high desert can produce cold, bone-chilling weather and as mentioned—windy conditions.  I recommend warm clothing and gloves to help keep your hands comfortable from wind-chill.  For photography, the higher altitude is a great benefit, especially for optical clarity if your focus is on night photography of stars and landscapes.

I definitely plan to go back to the Painted Hills as soon as possible… it’s a dreamlike setting I have rarely experienced, which captivates the senses, with its splendor of stunning colors contained within an unworldly environment. ~

LINKS:

Here’s a link to National Park Service’s John Day Fossil Bed National Monument:   http://www.nps.gov/joda/index.htm

Exploring Etruscan ruins beneath the cliffs of medieval Orvieto, Italy.

 

     

Etruscan ruins under cliffs of the citadel of Orvieto

                                               

                       

Etruscan art presented in Orvieto museum.

Woman holding an umbrella during a rainy day in Orvieto, within Umbria region of Italy.

Photos and text by: David Johanson Vasquez © All Rights

Please note this story is designed to be a work in progress. New text and photos may be added at anytime. You’re invited to view the photos and read the essay as is. Thank you for your interest —to enrich the interactive nature of this story you’re encouraged to contribute with suggestions, questions or comments.

 —We boarded a train in Venice with just a few days remaining of a three-week adventure in Italy.  Our coach moved steadily from its station, with the island city quickly vanishing from view.  Soon my wife and I were transported into the countryside, which gave us fleeting panoramic views of charming Italian landscapes.  My mind wandered, trying to imagine what intriguing encounters we would find waiting for us at our next destination.

While the train traveled deeper into the center of the countryside, gray sky’s hung low overhead as morning turned into afternoon.  Undecided of our next destination, we took a chance to stay in a mysterious fortress city, perched on cliffs, within the region of Umbria.

We had engaging conversations with an Italian couple, who were traveling to Naples with their young children.  The youthful husband was born in Naples; his profession was a train engineer for the Italian rail network. His charming wife was blond, with blue eyes, and Norwegian born. Both husband and wife spoke fluent English.  We exchanged information and ideas about many subjects on world culture, technology and comparing educational systems.  Time went quickly as we used most of it in dialogue with our newfound friends, but soon we had to prepare to deboard at our intended destination.  As the train slowed down to stop I caught a glimpse through the clouds, of a mysterious town perched on cliffs,  appearing as if it were floating in clouds. We had arrived below the ancient town of Orvieto, and instantly became intrigued of its mysterious  atmosphere.   

This was a location we had penciled in as possible place to spend our 5th wedding anniversary.  Before flying to Europe, we visited the office of Rick Steves, an America’s authority of European travel.  His business is in a nearby town of Edmonds, located next to the Puget Sound.  We bought one of his books and attended a seminar on Italian travel in which the medieval town of Orvieto came up.  Steves mentioned this place was a refreshing one to visit, as tourist travel had not yet overrun it.  The tip was spot-on and there were few tourist in town compared to busy Venice where we just came from.  Rick Steves is an iconic figure in the travel industry and it’s remarkable how well he’s revered throughout Italy.  Whenever I mentioned his name to hotel workers, they smiled and had positive words to say about him and his organization.

Poster promoting a performing arts event in Orvieto, Italy.

Because we were traveling off-season, we found without reservations, a wonderful hotel just outside of the medieval township of Orvieto.  The hotel had a shuttle to take us up the steep road leading to the town, which resembled a fortress citadel on top of a volcanic butte.

In ancient times this bastion had been the capital city of the Etruscan Civilization, predating the Roman Empire by centuries.  On my agenda was to explore the remaining Etruscan ruins, located at the base of the massive cliff stronghold.  To better understand the past, our plan was to do a walking tour of Orvieto, to see if there were any impressions still remaining from its ancient ancestors.

Arriving on top of a dramatic plateau, we were greeted by vast panoramas stretching in all directions. There are no shortages of striking views, which any past tribal or clan leaders would have recognized as strategic in value.  Bellow is rich fertile green valleys stretching outwards to distant foothills.  Nature would have a challenge constructing any better fortification than this volcanic butte, with its solid ring of 100′ foot sheer cliffs. From this vantage point it was clear why this site was chosen… location, location, location!

Returning to the interior of Orvieto we found a small neighborhood with an interesting subterranean museum.  Once inside, the steps descends rapidly in a winding cavern naturally formed into the porous tuff volcanic stone.  Dim light with damp smells created an environment  which hasn’t changed in thousands of years. This was ground zero of where this settlement’s roots developed. In prehistoric times this cave provided protection from the elements, attacks from aggressors–both man or beats and it provided a continuous fresh water supply.  Latter the Etruscan used the grotto for religious ceremonies and eventually carved out passages for escape routes leading outside of the walled city.

I’ve always liked the experience of exploring caves.  As a young teenager, I lived in California’s Mojave Desert, not far from Joshua Tree National Monument.  My brother Jim and I would explore natural caves and man-made gold mines; while enjoying the cool, moist air which was a relief from the scorching desert air outside.

My wife and I found this fascinating setting for our fifth wedding anniversary dinner, named Le Grotte del Funaro.  Enclosed in a natural grotto the restaurant featured windows cut through stone walls to view the valley bellow.  This place was like out of a location scout’s, central-casting dream, except it was authentically medieval.  The meals served were exceptionally fine—Italian seafood cuisine—paired with fantastic regional wines.  Any-one traveling to Italy knows how remarkably delicious and distinctive the food from each region is.  Realizing it was a special occasion for us, the restaurant staff gave us a wonderful dinning experience we will always cherish.

Italian hospitality is some of the best in the world. The people of this country are so gracious and accommodating, its no wonder celebrities such as George Clooney have chosen to live in Italy.

A large stone manor sat on a hill next to our hotel. It looked centuries old and I couldn’t tell from where we were, if it was still occupied.  Employees working at the hotel shrugged their shoulders when asked if they knew anything about the place.  It seemed as if the estate had been there so long, it just blended into the background and was ignored.

While traveling by rail or car, throughout Italy you see a landscape dotted by buildings centuries old, some are abandoned in various states of disrepair.  These orphaned stone structures intrigued me because they stood the test of time and all had stories to tell.  Finally an opportunity presented itself, to quench my curiosity of exploring one of these ancient sites.

Lounging farm animals near Orvieto, Italy.

I walked over a mile on a winding road, through rustic farm country. Following a dirt path uphill, past plowed fields, I came face to face with what was once a grand estate with a marvelous view.

The building was clearly abandoned, in disrepair with sections of walls missing, allowing for flocks of pigeons to fly out of its exposed interiors.  Cautiously walking into an entry; I considered each step taken between mounds of debris, to ascend a crumbling stairway.  At the top of the

flight of stairs a series of makeshift catwalks followed second story walls.

Carefully balancing myself with one hand holding my camera and the other holding parts of the building, I took a series of photos throughout the building.

                                                                         

Once back on terra-firma, I found a basement wall with iron bars on it.  The room appeared designed to either keep people out or possibly in.  Whether it could have been a storehouse for valuables or a jail for criminals, its dark entrance into the basement looked to foreboding for me to consider exploring  without a flashlight.  On the other side of the estate was a large kitchen with a wood oven and portions of a table still holding utensils. After taking several more photographs from various angles, I retreated back to the road and leisurely walked to the hotel for a rest from my solo adventure.

  Orvieto has an intriguing urban context with the way stone streets, buildings and neighborhoods are laid-out.  In some places the town resembles a maze, so we took advantage of this and turned it into a fun game—to just walk and explore new places in hopes of getting a little lost, then looking for visual clues to point the way back to a familiar landmark.

                                                        

Etruscan warfare depicted on ancient pottery.

Looking at preserved Etruscan artifacts, it’s apparent they adopted the Greek alphabet and most of this art appears borrowed from classic Hellenic culture.  No major surprise of a dominant cultural influence here, as Greek tribes heavily colonized the Italian peninsula, primarily with the Achaeans beginning in 800 BC.

With the recent popularity of Roman culture being portrayed in Hollywood movies such as: Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and STARZ cable series Spartacus: a misunderstanding has developed of where mortal combat began as a “spectator sport.” This brutal form of entertainment certainly didn’t begin in Rome, as many would be led to believe.  The Roman historian Lily, stated it was imported from the Achaeans who colonized the Campania region of southern Italy.  However, the majority ancient historians chronicle its beginnings  as a uniquely Etruscans enterprise from northwestern Italy.

Most ancient historians credit the Etruscan with inventing the blood lust sport of gladiatorial combat.

A series of Etruscan tombs located at the base of Orvieto, Italy

Etruscan tomb used as final resting place for individuals and family members.

A view from guarding walls, which perhaps have not changed in centuries.

What I find  intriguing and especially more so, for my better-half; is the power which Etruscan women held in their culture.  Unlike their Roman and Greek sisters, who were not allowed to freely mingle with the opposite sex or to own property, these women had much more control over their destiny.  It’s surprising the Roman’s question the morality of Etruscan customs, labeling it as scandalous and more promiscuous than their own. This was primarily due to Etruscan women empowerment, who could freely chose their mate, own property and have a say in politics. This concept  equality and of liberation had to wait until the 20th century for many women in the western world.

The beautiful Gothic Duomo of Orvieto, it’s architecture dominating the background.

One of my favorite Duomos (cathedral) of Italy is the stunning Gothic one found in Orvieto.  Construction of this impressive house of worship began in 1290 and it took over three centuries to complete.  Intricate, textured forms of the facade are partly accented with brilliant gold leaf, which projects illuminated light onto viewers even during an overcast day.  A multitude of Biblical scenes are marvelously painted in relief and beautifully incorporated into the dazzling front entrance.

It’s interesting to note the sites of churches and cathedrals in Italy, were once the very same sites used for earlier pagan temples and places of worship.  This practice of building over existing sacred sites has been done since prehistoric times and was continued by the conquering Spanish in the New World — as seen in places where Central and South American indigenous people had previously settled and worshiped.

Duomo di Orvieto – Orvieto, in Umbria region of Italy

For me, Orvieto was the most intriguing of the places we visited in the charming country of Italy. This ancient citadel’s isolated location allowed it to preserve and retain much of its architectural essence and unique character. Orvieto has a sense of mystery that I’ve never experienced in any other place and because of this, I hope to return their soon to explore more of its hidden wonders.