Eons ago in Kentucky, forces of erosion – mainly rainwater – percolated through sinkholes and dissolved underlying limestone layers. However, the sandstone-capped ridge (insoluble to water) above the limestone layers was left intact. Such erosion created air-filled passageways underground with a hard sandstone ceiling. These passageways – caves – are mammoth… bigger than the NYC subway passageways in many places.
Two to three thousand years ago, pre-historic ancient natives of the area explored these caves. Wearing waist-cloth and armed with cane torches, they mined ‘white crystal’ – a mix of gypsum, selenite, epsomite, mirabilite, and other minerals – from walls of these caves. The white mineral likely was intended for trade and medicine. They spent hours inside the cave to harvest as much white crystal as they could before their cane torches succumbed to the pitch black darkness of the caves.
At the turn of the 19th century, a certain hunter – Mr. Houchins – accidentally discovered the natural entrance to these caves while unsuccessfully chasing a bear. The entrance – wearing a shy waterfall – was a sight to behold (shown above and on the NPS poster for the park). Soon after, locals discovered that these caves are rich in potassium nitrate, or “saltpetre”, the key ingredient of gunpowder. Soon, slaves were deployed to dig and carry nitre-bearing earth from far parts of the cave to processing vats. Processed saltpetre from these caves were heavily used in the war of 1812. As pointed out by many astute minds, it is indeed ironic that the nation’s freedom was retained on the back of men devoid of that exact commodity.
After the war, the demand for saltpetre dwindled and most slaves switched jobs and become tourist guides. People realized that money could be made by offering cave tours to paying public and seized the opportunity by erecting commercial prospects in the area. The most prolific of these guides was a young man named Stephen Bishop, who charmed tourists both with his oratory skills and physical attributes. Incidentally, Mr. Bishop was owned by the then owner of the caves, a doctor named John Croghan, who specialized in 'treating' tuberculosis. The good doctor presumed that the refreshingly cold and humid cave air had healing properties and built recovery chambers underground for many of his tuberculosis patients. Sadly, the doctor was wrong as he himself was claimed by the disease in 1849.
In the next century, responding to the great depression after the first world war, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, where unmarried young men were enrolled, and sent off to stations far away with the objective of undertaking ‘complex work’, like, ‘the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects’. One such project was to develop the Mammoth Cave as a National Park. In 1930s, CCC arrived at the mammoth caves and undertook construction of housing and cave trails.
One day in 1935, while building cave trails, CCC workers Campbell and Cutliff discovered a gothic scene in the cave. Beyond a sharp ledge, they found the body of a man in waist-cloth pinned under a big boulder. This was the body of an ancient white crystal gatherer who had entered these caves on a fateful day 2-3 thousand years ago and was trapped under a boulder that was likely displaced by his own digging of the cave wall. The constant temperature and humidity in the cave, along with the nitre in the soil, had mummified and preserved this unfortunate archaic man in this delicately beautiful purgatory.
Tags: NationalPark MammothCaves MammothCaveNationalPark Kentucky Cave Waterfall Ramen Saha Manual HDR NaturalEntrance HistoricEntrance GreenRiverValley HillCountry
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“Space has a spiritual equivalent and can heal what is divided and burdensome in us.”
~Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
Why do I travel?
There are three parts to this answer, each of which on its own, could be a complete response depending on the reader's own experience.
First, I travel to find my expressions… my art. Art, in its barest form, is our soul’s response to all that churn us. Question us. Make us wonder and contemplate. Truest art – Gretel Ehrlich argued and I humbly concur – would have the same qualities as earth. They would weather harshness and time, hide their deepest message for those with the tenderest light, allow the wind to wipe out its frivolities, and be obtuse and worthless to the vain and the less experienced. From my travels, I learned another important aspect of art: it must be manifested – just as mountains stand and rivers flow – irrespective of having patrons or appreciation. It is purely an assertion of being alive, which transcends the medium of expression and is bounded by no limits… a miniature replica of open spaces that kindles it genesis in the first place.
Second, I travel for my son. I have often wondered, what would I want to leave behind with Rishabh when my impermanence materializes? Not riches, nor stories… he can earn them on his own. I rather leave him with lessons that come our way during our travels. Like waterfalls, we must embrace unavoidable falls in life with grace. Like butterflies, we must explore and migrate to the unknown following our instincts. Most importantly, like Saguaros and Joshua-s, we must endure harshness and despair, because they – as Ehrlich pointed out – empty out into an unquenchable appetite for life.
Third, I travel to find solace. After losing her dearest to an incurable disease, Ehrlich – a former urbanite, found her solace in nature and wrote 'The Solace of Open Space'. Stuck to my griefs, I tend to forget that life is a continuous ceremony of seasons, where – as Ehrlich puts it – “the paradox is exquisite.” New leaves of spring must fall in autumn so that emptiness may harbor hopes of another spring. In Hawai’i, I saw first-hand how the fragile land endures great loss when lava erupts from volcanoes and ruins everything in its path. But, punctuating the devastation, I also saw life protruding tenderly in those jagged lava rocks as soft seedlings. In Ehrlich’s words, ”to be tough is to be fragile; to be tender is to be truly fierce.” Out in raw wind under the warming sun, I have come to realize that my griefs are not the end of me; instead my pains and losses are, in her words, an odd kind of fullness. To quote Ehrlich again, “True solace is finding none, which is to say, it is everywhere.”
So, I travel. As often as I can. As far and as wide as I can.
Tags: NationalPark JoshuaTree JoshuaTreeNationalPark California Sunset RamenSaha DesertLandscapes Desert YuccaBrevifolia Yucca LostHorseValley
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The Roaring Fork motor trail is the best experience on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The motor trail is a 5.5 mile one-lane, one-way loop road that could be driven in less than an hour. Instead, we spent the whole day slowing down on this road. We hiked to a waterfall, made multiple roadside stops, explored historic buildings for hours while imagining yesteryear lives in them (Jim Bales' barn was my favorite), and played with fireflies after nightfall. The above image was shot close to the point where the motor trail crosses over the Roaring Fork stream. While shooting this scene at the river level, I saw many motorists drive across the nearby bridge. A significant few didn’t care to stop – they must be in a hurry to live their lives elsewhere. Among those that paused, most never got out of their vehicles. Windows rolled down, their phones recorded a beautiful scene for their Instagram followers, windows rolled up and off they went for the next expedition across their galaxy of comfort. I wish they knew what they were passing by.
On this day in this patch of the Appalachia, the air was moist with humid comfort of the South and the Spring was busy waking up sleepy rhododendrons. Rhododendrons in this area are not brightly colored; they are mostly white with an occasional patch of shy pink. True to its name, the Roaring Fork stream roars – like most of us – only when it rains inconsolably. On most days otherwise, the stream – like, pampered time – flows gently as warblers' songs. Speaking of bird songs, June is the peak of bird chatter in the Smokies. The audio next to the stream displayed above was a musical cacophony: a sweeter version of the audio in a 1st or 2nd grade classroom without the teacher in it. One can hear many more birds than they can see because of the thick vegetation. Due to this dense newly-leafed canopy, when it rained later in the afternoon, I didn't feel the drizzle on my skin but only heard it in the sky. In the meantime – as you may feel it in the photo – time lost its way, twined in these timeless elements, and slowed down to a lazy water-song effusing from a teasingly-beautiful forked stream.
Tags: RoaringForkMotorTrail RoaringForkStream RoaringFork GreatSmokyMountains GreatSmokyMountainsNationalPark NationalPark Gatlinburg Tennessee Water Stream Ramen Saha Appalachian
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Somewhere in the Kailua-Kona coast, a dangerous beauty lurks quietly. Called a sinkhole, blow hole, or lava tube, this open-ended natural conduit connects the ocean with the coastal Hualālai volcano lava flow as a ‘well’. An incoming wave rushes through this channel and pumps out hundreds of gallons of frothy sea-water, which soon after, recedes right back into the sinkhole forming several temporary enticing waterfalls. Occasionally, a random monster wave gushes up water to knee deep all around and poses a real threat to anyone nearby of being swept right into the hole and the purgatory beyond it. Despite these risks, many photographers seek and glorify such danger and the adrenaline rush they get from messing with it. Well then, now was my turn to get a shot of the ‘well’ adrenaline for myself.
After driving an hour from another part of the island, Rishabh and I reached this ‘beach’ 15 minutes before sunset. Two tripoded gentlemen, who made it easy to locate the otherwise camouflaged sinkhole quickly, occupied the best seats for the sunset-show. “Be careful, those rocks are very slippery”, one of them kindly warned me as I tried to squeeze myself into some sort of a decent view, all-the-while wishing for their prime spot. By the time they left, the sun had long set and the menacing twilight was all there was left. Other than the occasional whitish froth in the sink, I could barely see anything else with my naked eyes. The darkness – thickly dissolved in stillness of the air – prompted mild trepidation. However, the anxiety was kept at bay by the fuzzy acoustics of sea-water churning in the well – the siren’s song if you will.
Asking Rishabh to stay far back, I kept shooting, hoping sincerely that all monster waves stay away. The ocean obliged but only partially. Once, a semi-monster wave came in and drowned me up to eight inches above my ankle. As the wave receded, I felt the intense pull of the ocean in my legs. For a brief second, I didn’t know what I would do, if the grip of my hiking boots on those slippery rocks failed. Thankfully, it didn’t. I ended up returning with my dose of adrenaline, a few decent shots of the sinkhole, and fine memories of fiddling with a beauty that knows how to kill.
Tags: Sinkhole Blowhole Kailua-Kona Hawaii Hawaiʻi Limu BigIsland WawaloliBeach WawaloliBeachPark KeaholePointBlowhole Ramen Saha Twilight Twilight Reflections Ocean Sunset Sunset colors SunsetReflections
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Sea level. 2:30PM. Kahului, Maui. “So much cloud!”, I thought as we get in the car to visit Haleakalā National Park. The Haleakalā peak is shrouded behind a thick cloud bank. I fear, our trip will be in vain to a gloomy peak.
3000 feet. 3:00PM. We travel through a rich canopy of vegetation where Hawaiʻian spring is in full tropical bloom. Flowers of all colors are on display. The peak is still shrouded in clouds.
7000 feet. 4:00PM. Park Headquarters Visitor Center. The switchbacks are dizzying. So, we get out of the car to acclimatize with the rapid gain in elevation. As is my custom, I chat up the ranger at the visitor center front desk. The ranger tells me to expect clear conditions at the peak because the cloud bank remains suspended around 8000 feet. She says, “Stay for the sunset. It will be good.”
8500 feet. 4:30PM. Roadside brief stop. The vista here gets very moody as clouds swirl past us. It feels much colder as well (usually, 3ºF for every 1000 feet of elevation change). Rishabh rolls down the window to catch some cloud. As he tries, our car fills up with wet fog. Wish, I could get out of the car to shoot the Hitchcock-ian atmosphere, but the narrow road forbids.
10,023 feet. 5:30PM. Puʻuʻulaʻula summit. Brilliant sunshine all around! I see tens of people in shorts and flipflops cringing in the cold. Rishabh and I pull our jackets on. The view of the famed massive shield volcano with unreal Mars like surface is impressive. At $5 per shot, I make some cryptic dollars shooting photos for families on their phones and tablets. Park advisories remind us that the air is very thin at this elevation and we should avoid exertion. I am breathing deeper and faster. Thin air or adrenaline from the grand view? Don’t know.
9324 feet. 6:45PM. Kalahaku overlook. The sunrise at Haleakalā is one of the top draws for Maui visitors. Because of the high demand, NPS offers limited tickets for vehicles to enter the park between 3-7 AM. I tried obtaining one online on three consecutive days, but those 80 odd tickets per day disappear in about 20 seconds of the sales opening at the .gov site. No sunrise for us! But, the ranger's assurance rings in my ears: “Stay for the sunset. It will be good.” So we stay back with about a dozen more people scattered thinly over the parking lot. Slowly, the tired sun-god – La – dips into the same bank of wet fog at 8500 feet, which Rishabh had caught a bit of earlier. May be it’s just the elevation or it is lack of oxygen in my brain… everything around us feels insanely peaceful! Right in front of us, as legends promise, Maui – the mischievous demigod of Polynesian folklore – lassoes La for the day and takes him behind curtains.
Tags: Maui Sunset Sunset colors Sunburst Haleakalā HaleakalāNationalPark NationalPark Hawaiʻi Clouds Ramen Saha KalahakuOverlook Haleakala HaleakalaNationalPark Hawaii
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