Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
This winter I have been fortunate to be able to travel away from home. My first trip, which I reported on recently, was to Iceland. Last week, under the guidance of John Barclay and Cole Thompson, I attended a photography workshop in Death Valley, CA. Much of the workshop was devoted to converting photos from color to black and white. Color photography has been my passion, as colors seem to make me feel more alive, but I learned that black and white photography can create moods not available in color.
Decomposing Car Near Abandoned Mine
The process in “developing” black and white images is different, as well. In spite of the “focus” of the workshop, I was compelled to create both color and black and white photos. I love stretching myself, learning new approaches and skills, as I form my unique vision.
Sand Dune Art with Light, Shadows, and Textures
When in Iceland, I was unable to photograph the aurora borealis because the sky was cloudy every night. Mother Nature conspired against me in Death Valley, too. The week before I arrived, there was an intense rainstorm, the result of which was that many areas in the national park were closed. I had hoped that the rain would result in the growth of desert flowers while I was there, only to learn that it is not recent rain that causes that growth, but rather rains from the fall, of which there was very little, even by desert standards. In spite of the lack of access to large parts of the park, however, there was still not enough time to spend there.
Evening Light Kissing Sand Dune Ridges and Tips
Death Valley is a photographer’s paradise. The landscapes very from parched and dried up soil, to large, snow-covered mountains, salt and mineral flats, moon-like surfaces and rock formations, and rolling sand dunes. Throw in a few abandoned mines and towns, and you have a microcosm of so many other locations in the US and abroad. If you visit, make sure you go in the winter. Summers are extremely hot and dangerous, with temperatures recorded as high as 135°F. The park also marks the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level.
Alabama Hills/ Giant Alien Skull?
There are other places of interest within reasonable driving distance from Death Valley. Our small group spent a couple of days in the Alabama Hills, which are in the vicinity of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Also nearby are Joshua Tree National Park and Mono Lake. These are among the many places that will draw me back to this area.
Sand Dune Ridge or Ocean Wave?
What a month I’ve had, going from glaciers to the desert. Later this year, Niki and I also will travel to Israel to visit family and friends, where I will complete the circle, as we have arranged to photograph parts of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. So how low can I go? The Dead Sea is 1,388 feet below sea level at its lowest point!
Top photo: Mountains Bathed in Early Morning Light and Shadows
Mention that you are going to Iceland for a vacation and you get quizzical looks or bombarded with questions of why there, of all places. But travelers have discovered Iceland and are flocking there in ever-increasing numbers, and from all parts of the globe.
Sea stacks at Vik
My wife, Niki, and I actually discovered Iceland about seven years ago, when we met our son half way between Maryland and Israel, where he was living. On that trip, we went in August. For each of our days there, we participated in two-a-day adventure tours. Among the activities that we joined were kayaking, horseback riding, white water rafting, glacier climbing, hiking among hot springs, and snorkeling. In addition, we crawled through a lava tube, went whale watching, and dipped in the infamous and crowded Blue Lagoon, known for the medicinal benefits of its mineral waters. For bird lovers, Iceland has many species, including puffins.
In spite of the weather (there were a couple of sunny days), we managed to find more than enough to keep us busy, entertained, enriched, and fulfilled. This trip, unlike the first, had a heavy emphasis on photography. Iceland is a landscape photographer’s paradise, and it did not disappoint us. To maximize our time there, we hired a guide, who happened to be one of the top photographers in Iceland. Although we didn’t get to see the aurora, we witnessed many other wondrous acts of nature.
Flowing Ice at Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Rising Sun at Black Sand Beach
Perhaps our highlight was spending hours on the black sand beaches of Glacier Lagoon, where large and small chunks of ice, many as clear as diamonds, others blackened by volcanic ash, washed ashore for us, and others, to play in and explore.
View of Valley and Coast from Cave Interior
Water Melt Roars Through Ice Cave
Because of the high temperatures and the constant rains, all of the glacial caves were closed for normal tours. Yet our guide was able to arrange entrance to a small part of one of the caves. Unlike the more popular caves in which the ice was fairly transparent, ours was more black and gold, due to the amount of volcanic ash that had been absorbed by the ice in that area. The rains also made sure that the waterfalls were fully flowing.
During a normal winter, Iceland would also offer visitors a variety of other seasonal activities, such as skiing, and snowmobiling. The colder weather often finds reindeer grazing at lower elevations. Our last night was spent in Reykjavik, where most of the island’s population lives. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, where you can find shopping, dining, and entertainment until the wee hours of the morning.
We returned home feeling euphoric on the one hand, but cheated on the other. The inability to see the aurora borealis was very disappointing to us, but we promised ourselves to return when conditions, measured by a variety of apps and websites, give us greater odds.
So, do your research, then go to Iceland. If you like adventure tours, amazing landscapes, a variety of geological conditions that lend to the island nation’s mystique, its relatively close proximity, then Iceland is the place for you.
Just over two hours from the Washington, DC area, in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, are the decaying remains of the Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), which was operational from 1829-1971. It was an enormous structure. In fact, at the time, it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever built in the United States.
The prison was the nation’s first penitentiary. In theory, its inmates were to make penance while held in a form of solitary confinement. This solitude, combined with vocational training, was supposed to lead the prisoners to rehabilitation and to live a newly found moral life. ESP’s approach was heavily influenced by religious views. It was designed around a hub with spokes, similar to a wagon wheel.
The inmates were physically separated from each other. Although ESP’s methods were controversial and in competition with other approaches to running a prison, it played a central role in how over 300 prisons worldwide treated their inmates. The practice of solitary confinement at ESP was abandoned in the early 20th Century because of a shortage of space.
Today, the prison is a museum. Visitors will see the decayed state of the building and its many cells. They will also see an effort to retain some of the more colorful aspects of the prison, including a barber’s chair and a dentist’s chair, the overhead lights in the hospital, and even a synagogue.
But perhaps its main feature is the cell that was occupied by the infamous gang lord, Scarface, better known as Al Capone. The Capone cell is the only one in the prison that is maintained in the condition it was in during his incarceration. It was obvious that the relative luxury of his cell was highly unusual and spoke volumes of his influence even behind bars.
ESP’s other famous inmate was Willie Sutton, who, along with others, dug a 97-foot tunnel and escaped in 1945. While Sutton’s notoriety was not as great as Capone’s, he will be remembered forever for his witty response to the question of why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is.”
Even though it was near a local high school, it was always a quiet neighborhood in Lanham, MD. That all changed in 2012, when a massive construction project began rising from 16.5 acres of land that had been purchased initially and partially in 1993.
The concept became the Diyanet Center of America (DCA), which opened its doors in 2015. But the DCA, which claims to be the largest Muslim campus in the Western Hemisphere, has made an extraordinary effort to be a part of the community, and after the construction phase ended, it has done its best to blend into the neighborhood.
The DCA was designed and supported by the local Turkish-American Muslim community. It serves as a house of worship as well as a place where Muslims conduct their cultural, social, educational and fitness activities. The DCA also organizes inter-faith programs on the site.
In addition to a mosque, the campus includes a cultural center, auditorium, social hall, cafeteria, library, exhibition halls, as well as a Turkish baths, a swimming pool and fitness center, including a basketball court, guest homes, and an education center. The many worshipers and community members visiting the DCA park in an underground garage.
The mosque is the centerpiece of the center. It was modeled after the style of 16th-century Ottoman architecture. Much of the construction materials and artisans came from Turkey. The weight of the domes is supported by four marble pillars. The mosque is an engineering marvel, from the domes and minarets to the courtyard.
Every item, from Arabic inscriptions to the design of the carpeting has been meticulously planned. The interior of the mosque includes many features that help enhance the prayerful experience.
The DCA welcomes all visitors, whether Muslim or not, to share their vision of a facility that they hope will lead to a greater understanding of their religion and of the Turkish people, and which will foster peace between all.
Have you ever wished so hard for something specific to happen on your vacation, that not only did it miraculously occur, but it did so at the very beginning, setting the tone for the rest of your vacation? That’s exactly what happened when my wife, Niki, and I recently spent time in Grand Teton National Park.
The Sought after Moose
Spotting and photographing a moose was high on our list of goals for our short stay in the park. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we parked our SUV near the entrance to our vacation rental, a female moose was munching on willows and weeds less than 25 feet from us! And we were rewarded even more a few days later when we saw a male moose, with his enormous rack, eating his way through some bushes on the side of the road.
Niki at Teton National Park
Teton National Park is just north of Jackson, WY and just south of Yellowstone National Park. Together, these two parks form one of the greatest locations on earth for diversity in landscapes, wildlife, and sheer beauty and majesty. Having been to Yellowstone only 18 months ago, we concentrated our time on absorbing the breathtaking landscape all around us. Our photographs include the awe-inspiring panoramic views, as well as the fine details that help make up the stunning surroundings.
From a visual perspective, the Teton range is at its most glorious when its peaks are reflected like glass in the rivers and ponds at their feet. But one must awake early, very early, like 4-4:30 am early, in order to observe this phenomenon. If you arrive shortly after sunrise, chances are good that the wind will have picked up and that the glassy views will have disappeared. You also will have missed the spectacular sunrises, which are often more intense than the sunsets in the Tetons.
Snake River Overlook
Our short nights were rewarded by the early morning views we took in at Oxbow Bend, the Snake River Overlook, Schwabacher’s Landing, and the Beaver Ponds. Hiking the hills of Jenny Lake afforded us grand views from up high, even as we dodged the rain drops and forged upward through the fog.
We also planned a dawn visit to the Mormon Barns, but instead found ourselves in their vicinity before, during, and after a powerful thunderstorm. The lighting at the barns was so amazing that we decided it couldn’t possibly be duplicated at any other time. Our timing for our visit was further rewarded by the presence of what some locals said was the greatest concentration of wild flowers in 30 years.
As if visiting one of our nation’s greatest national parks during the system’s 100th anniversary wasn’t enough, we preceded our trip to the Tetons by participating in a photography workshop, run by Jay Dickman and FirstLight Workshops, on Absaroka Ranch in Dubois, WY.
For five days we witnessed and documented a way of life unknown to folks like us that live in or near a big city. And it’s not just the older generation that gets up early and goes to bed earlier. There are plenty of young people that prefer what can be viewed as a simpler life.
And many of these youngsters are women, who engage in all aspects of running a ranch. They are not confined to kitchen and laundry duties. They play an equal role in herding the horses and cows to keeping the business affairs in order.
For 10 days we escaped the heat of the East Coast and the constant focus on politics that is a part of the daily focus in and around our nation’s capital.
But in the small towns and their nearby ranches in the West, life and work are the daily focus of the good people trying to eek out a living and maintaining a way of life that is dear to them. Below are links to my website and more photos of our visits to the Absaroka Ranch and Teton National Park.