“Excuse me…”, an Asian gentleman walked up to me and asked, “Would you know how far is the green sand beach?”
We were hiking to the Papakōlea beach, which is tucked away in a secluded bay about three miles from the southernmost tip of the United States. About half-a-mile into the hike, we met the Asian family, who were clearly looking distraught. This family of parents and two kids were wearing sandals and did not have any water on them. They had likely mistaken Papakōlea as another touristy Hawaiʻian beach that conveniently resides right next to the parking lot. Upon being informed that the beach was another two to two-and-half miles away, the father’s face visibly sank. They thanked us, consulted in their native language and turned back to the parking lot. They did the smart thing.
Papakōlea is not just another Hawaiʻian beach and as the incident above will tell you, not everyone gets to this remote beauty on a nescient whim. First off, the internet is wrong in describing this hike as ‘easy’. Zero shade combined with blustery and treacherous lava-carved path makes this a challenging hike. Moreover, there aren't any signs, markers or trail-maps to follow. Some locals illegally offer 4X4 rides to ill-prepared tourists for a decent amount of money. While shuttling on those dry sandy trails, these 4X4 vehicles create dust-storms that are quite hazardous for hikers. To avoid this dusty hazard, we hiked closer to the coast. That added to the mileage, but allowed us to marvel at the primal appeal of the ocean pounding those rugged volcanic cliffs… if this rigmarole is not ‘eternity’, then what is?
The geology of Papakōlea is quite fascinating. About 50 thousand years ago, the adjacent ancient cinder cone – Puʻu Mahana – spouted lava, which was rich in magnesium iron silicate – commonly called olivine due to olive-like hue of its crystals. These crystals are heavier than regular sand and tend to accumulate on the little beach as millions of tiny Peridots. Framed by turquoise waters, the verdant beauty of this little tuff ring bay is undeniable. If you trust National Geographic, then this beach is one of the top 21 beaches worldwide. Also, if you trust Wikipedia, only four green sand beaches exist around the globe, and Papakōlea is one of them.
We descended to green sand by climbing down the steep trail on the crater wall. Despite being remote, the beach was crowded. Most people were sunbathing, a few hiding in shadows, and the rest were swimming in the susurrant waters. Rishabh and I got into our swimwear and took the plunge. The water was cold, but we warmed up to it soon. Rolling and dissolving with the waves, I recalled that I was swimming in the ocean after decades, and remarkably, this was my very first ocean plunge with my son. Sometimes in certain extraordinary places, one can perceive rejuvenescence; on this day, you see, its color was green.
Tags: Papakōlea GreenSandBeach MahanaBay PapakōleaBeach BigIsland Hawaiʻi Hawaii Water PacificOcean Bay Olivine Ramen Saha
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“I've been, out on the ocean.
Sailing alone, traveling nowhere.
You've been, running on hard ground.
With just you around,
your heart beats the only sound.”
~Jes Hudak (Different Worlds)
Let’s call him/her Aster… the star.
Rishabh and I met Aster on our last morning in the beautiful Glacier Bay National Park. After a berry-hearty breakfast of wild-picked berries of dozen different kinds, we made it to the tide-pool ‘by the rock’. The tide was low and the pool looked busy; Barnacles, mussels, anemones, urchins, crustaceans, seaweed, and small fishes were feasting on the pool’s riches. While I was glancing the horizon for birds, Rishabh was scanning the tide pool. Little surprise therefore, he noticed the big sea star, Aster. We were excited to see Aster, but s/he probably couldn’t tell. S/he was hiding all their eyes – five of them at the tip of each arm – underneath sand and other organisms. I lowered the camera as close to the water surface as I could, tweaked the polarizer, and made a few shots, not knowing exactly what I was shooting. Turns out, I was portraying a world, which is far apart from ours in more than one ways.
Aster can’t see colors and ‘sees’ everything in shades of light sensitivity. If the food is abundant (see those empty mussel shells nearby?), they prefer to eat small mussels instead of bigger ones; picky eaters they can be, you see! S/he eats by dangling out one of their two stomachs onto the prey and absorbing the digested food out in the open (talk about out-of-the-body experience!). Aster lacks a heart and doesn’t know what a beating heart feels like. Aster also lacks a brain; good for him/her… they don’t have to suffer from brainless acts of others. In their ocean home, s/he is self-sufficient and could regrow from only one-fifth of their body. Emma Watson would be so proud!
Despite these differences, Aster is very similar to us in a couple of unintuitive aspect. Immune systems – ours and Aster’s share a few very similar self-defense providing molecules (cytokines and their receptors). The nervous system – Aster produces neuropeptides that resemble two of our very interesting neuropeptides: Vasopressin and Oxytocin. These neuropeptides play important roles in our sexual, social and stress-response behavior (‘peptides of love and fear’). In Aster, however, Vasopressin/Oxytocin like peptides relax muscles and likely regulate the out-of-mouth feeding behavior. So no, despite having subtle similarities, our worlds are still quite different.
the crash of the waves will be far away,
and I will sail in your eyes.
Cause when it's time,
I'll leave the ocean behind.
Tags: GlacierBay GlacierBayNationalPark NationalPark Starfish AsteriasRubens CommonSeastar Ramen Saha Alaska Water Bay Tidepool SeaStar
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Indiana Dunes National Park is the 61st and newest US national park. Located an hour away from Chicago, this park is described by New York Times as ‘a long, skinny patch of 15,000 acres with 15 miles of beach along Lake Michigan’s southern shore’. Protected as National Lakeshore since 1966, it recently got ‘bumped up’ in status – and perhaps, prestige – when the current administration signed it into a national park in February, 2019 as part of the spending bill that also included funding for the Mexican wall. After a prolonged struggle, local conservationists got their wish of achieving the top NPS protection status for the park.
This status elevation has turned out to be somewhat controversial with national park enthusiasts. After all, the key feature of this park are sand dunes, which are, by no stretch of imagination, anything like epic landscape of Yellowstone or Grand Canyon. Moreover, any splendor of the landscape here is artlessly punctuated by grim steel manufacturing mills and their ugly chimneys. Also, the best dunes of this area are not part of the national park – they are in the state park which is managed independently by the state of Indiana. However, fans of this park vigorously defend the promotion and point out that the biodiversity of this park is astounding – recorded 1,100 native plant species here rank the park fourth-most diverse plant ecosystem among all US national parks, superseded only by much larger Great Smoky Mountains, North Cascades, and Grand Canyon. Also, annual visitation-wise, this park ranks a decent 13th among all 61 parks. This area was the field laboratory of the University of Chicago botanist – HC Cowles – who proposed ecological succession – a fundamental tenet of modern ecology – based on his work in the park. Like it or not, Indiana’s lakeshore is visually somewhat dissonant but is now a national treasure ready for primetime.
Arguably, the protagonist of the park is a 125 feet tall, bare dune that has an unflattering name: Mount Baldy. Due to lack of vegetation, the exposed Baldy is a ‘moving’ dune that moves 4-20 feet every year. As it moves, Baldy buries and chokes mature oak trees that stymie its languid progress. Locals tell tales of horsing around on this great pile of sand in summer, but these days, Baldy has restricted access. In 2013, a young boy on a family hike was ‘swallowed’ by a patch of Baldy quicksand. Although he was rescued miraculously after a few hours by firefighters, NPS closed the dune for further inspection and visitor safety.
We visited mount Baldy when we were in the park a few days ago. In person, the dune is indomitable and big. It sprawls right next to the parking lot and will likely engulf it in a decade or two. You see, the dune is a perfect coup between shores of lake Michigan and high winds that ride the air around here. As the wind gales, sand particles climb up the windward side of the dune and roll down leeward with a soft mellifluous rustle that is clearly audible if one pays attention. Photographing this giant was a challenge. Because the day was windy (surprise!) and clouds were moving, long-exposures came to mind and I set up my tripod. This amazed everyone nearby. ‘What are you shooting?’ several of them asked, often emphasizing strongly on the ‘what’. ‘Clouds’, I told them. In response, many looked up (‘O yeah, they’re pretty!’), while others decided to urgently vacate premises to avoid contacting my lunatic cooties.
The fragile dunes of Indiana Dunes national park were created by receding continental glaciers 14,000 years ago. Since then, they have danced with the wind, sang with the rain, frozen with the winter snow, and dreamt with clouds. If you visit them and listen to their stories, you will be surprised to find that their tales are just like your own; against all odds, they are tales of resilience and perseverance.
Tags: MountBaldy IndianaDunes IndianaDunesNationalPark NationalPark Indiana Dunes SandDunes OakTree Long exposure Ramen Saha Clouds Autumn Fall
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When summer turns to fall, leaves on our planet turn color, and sister planets of our solar systems take center-stage in the night sky.
After a wonderful sunset the other day at the Rocky Mountain National Park, Rishabh and I hung around the high perch of the Gore Range overlook at about 12000 feet for the night sky to come alive. The sky is usually crystal clear from such high elevation. However, light pollution from nearby Estes Park and distant Denver neighborhoods significantly diffuse the dark crispness near the horizon. On this particular evening, high clouds diffused out soon after sunset leaving only jets from the Denver airport to visually annoy me in the night canvas. After the astronomical sunset, Rishabh and I watched the milky way rise gloriously from its blue bath. From this elevation, its brightness was extraordinary. And then in the moonless darkness, we saw the autumnal assembly of our planets near the milky way.
To begin with, on the immediate west-northwest of the galactic center, Pluto and the ringed Saturn were close to each other near Sagittarius’ wings. Just north of the galactic center, the magnificent Jupiter could be easily spotted as a bright light. This luminous spot near the foggy center of the milky way appeared almost like a galactic lighthouse that could aid imaginary spaceships in their arduous inter-galactic journey. For most of 2019, Jupiter will remain perched within the constellation Ophiuchus – the serpent bearer. Mythology associates the snake bearer with the Greek healer god, Asclepius, who brought people back to life from the dead. In the northern hemisphere, as fall turns to winter, Ophiuchus – along with Jupiter and other planets – will switch over to the day sky, thereby remaining invisible. This was one of the last few opportunities in 2019 to catch the mighty Jupiter in Ophiuchus' cradle.
Tags: RockyMountainNationalPark MilkyWay GalacticCenter GoreRange EstesPark Colorado Jupiter Saturn Ophiuchus RamenSaha Astrophotography NightSky
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‘Do you think I could fly off this bridge, Forrest?’
~Jenny Curran in the motion picture Forrest Gump.
The windward Hamakua Coast of the Big Island near Hilo gets abundant rainfall and houses lush forest with serene waterfalls. One could catch a glimpse of several such waterfalls from the scenic Highway 19 (Hilo – Honoka'a beltway). The most pretty of them – if you ask me – is the Nanue Falls on the Nanue stream. 18 miles north of Hilo, a small depression-era bridge – appearing quite depressed itself with its slick sidewalk and lichen covered railings – spans the stream. The stream itself is hidden by a blush of green that is punctuated in the Spring by fiery red flowers of the African Tulip – an invasive implant from Africa. The waterfall is visible from the bridge as a distant siren that beckons, but inaudibly. The sidewalk on the bridge is barely two feet wide and feels utterly inadequate when cars zoom past at 55+ mph a few inches away shaking the rusty bridge in their wake. Setting up a tripod there and shooting from that ledge of sanity is remarkably insane. People have come to this bridge and tried to fly off. This is not a place to mess with. But if crazy was easy and destiny was all preordained, the world would be tremendously boring, isn’t it?
Earlier in the day, we had driven past this bridge and the viewpoint had paradoxically whispered ‘sunset’ to me. That was odd, because this view faces east and sunrise here must be smeared with buttery light reflected in equal parts from the sky and the ocean on the other side of the bridge. But the cloudy day and some subconscious instinct insisted that I drag back my glut-yard there when the sun goes down. Hence, around sunset, we drove back from the Volcano district ‘up’ in the South, barely making it in time due to the Hilo traffic. After parking at a tiny pullout at the end of the bridge, Rishabh and I walked/skipped/jogged to the spot with minimum equipment and set up the tripod gingerly; two legs on the sidewalk, one on the railing. Soon I realized, we had a few problems. One, the light on the vegetation needed polarizing, but my polarizer was in the car. Two, the ambient light was low and exposure needed more time on that shaky bridge than the home-bound evening traffic was willing to allow. And third, the cloudy light was threating a dark mutiny and fading fast.
‘Run dad, run!’ Rishabh hasn’t seen Forrest Gump yet, but few sentiments, I suppose, are digitized in our DNA. I ran to get the polarizer. On my return, I realized a fourth problem had introduced itself to the scene. The ocean behind us had churned up a gale that ran into the lush vista with Forrest Gump’s persistence. At this point, honestly, I was visibly despondent. Hoping for a miracle and cursing destiny, I kept shooting. Most exposures were ruined by cars. Some were inadequate due to excessive wind-blur in the vegetation. Only one, the one above, seemed normal.
‘What's normal anyways?' Quite likely, some questions are also imprinted in our DNA. Like Forrest, I too don't know if we have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both.
And, That's about all I got to say 'bout that.
Tags: NanueFalls LowerNanueFalls NanueStream Hakalau Hamakua HamakuaCoast Hawaiʻi BigIsland SpathodeaCampanulata AfricanTulip Rainforest Ramen Saha
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