Lost to Time

Wanderlust

Taipingshan, Taiwan

Tucked away in the county of Yilan, one of the northernmost points of the Island of Taiwan, exists a national forest (one of three major national forests within the territory) called Taipingshan. The forest is thick with cypresses, hemlocks, and maples with leaves that turn vibrant purple in summer.

I personally happen to be a big fan of forests, being a big fan of trees. I’m actually a huge advocate for greenery in general. But what’s most striking about Taipingshan isn’t the foliage it boasts, nor the alpine lakes, hidden waterfalls or hot springs. What’s most captivating and singular about the area is the abandoned railroad tracks, half-reclaimed by nature and time so that they seem to straddle the realm of human engineering and natural beauty.

The haunted quality of these tracks is striking, and one can clearly imagine strolling along this man-made route through a sea of ancient groves and woodland, the vegetation which survived the arrival of man’s mechanical revolution and continued on to watch it pass into obscurity. Cliché as it is, these lost tracks of Taipingshan are a compelling reminder of the strength and enduring qualities of the outside world, as well as the fragility of humanity and the fleeting nature of our influence and our constructs.

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Light Up the Sky

Wanderlust

Usually every week I like to pick out and feature some exotic location I hope to one day travel to. But this week I’d like to present less of a place and more a particular event; to be specific, the Lanna festival of Yi Peng in Thailand.

Lanna, the area of Northern Thailand, is known to employ the use of ‘sky lanterns’ for celebration throughout the year, but the Yi Peng festival is the most well known. It is held on the night of a full moon, and it involves the launching of several lanterns into the sky. Wikipedia, at the most poetic I’ve ever seen it, describes the lanterns as such: “they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky.” No reason to try and improve on such a flowery description.

The lanterns function in about the same way as a hot air balloon, but it’s not the mechanics of the floating lanterns that interest me, and honestly I know very little about the reasons for the festival itself. What piques my interest about the Yi Peng festival is the effect created by thousands of lanterns being simultaneously released into the night sky :

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When just a photo is this breathtaking, I can’t imagine what it must be like to actually be present. Here’s a few more shots, but if you simply Google image the festival you’ll be bombarded with stunning photographs. I don’t think it’s possible to take a bad picture of an event like this.

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I tend to be sentimental regarding any sort of ceremony or gathering that peacefully bring people together such as this one, and the added touch of beauty and otherworldliness brought by the lanterns only adds to the emotion. Why the contraptions haven’t caught on over on this half of the planet I don’t know, but there’s absolutely no denying their beauty.

Mark Northern Thailand down on the list of places I need to get myself to stat.

The Seven Giants

Wanderlust

Your exotic destination of the week is Man-Pupu-Nyor located in the Komi Republic, a federal subject of Russia. Reminiscent of Stonehenge (albeit formed through entirely natural methods), the imposing stone structures have been granted a place amongst the ‘Seven Wonders of Russia’ and sit amidst the northern part Ural mountains.

The Man-Pupu-Nyor is a collection of seven rock towers ascending from an otherwise flat landscape, similar to Devil’s Tower (but, of course, at a much smaller magnitude). It as apparently a popular tourist destination amongst citizens of Russia but remains a comparatively well-kept secret internationally.

Situated in a rather harsh environment, the trek to see these majestic towers up close can be an arduous one, but well worth the journey. The seven structures vary in height, ranging from 30 to 42 meters tall, and are believed to have existed for over 200 million years.

It’s no surprise these seven towers have a great deal of legend and mythology attached to them, but tracking down the actual tales proved surprisingly difficult. One of the most popular is that they used to be seven giants who were frozen in their tracks. I guess I’ll just have to get myself to Russia some day and ask a local to get the full story. 🙂

The name ‘Man-Pupu-Nyor’ is from the Mansi language (the indigenous people of the Tyumen Oblast)   is translated as ‘Little Mountain of the Gods’, a fitting title given the powerful image they strike against the otherwise flat landscape. The fact that they are grouped in a cluster of seven also lends a mythical quality to the site, seven having always had a great deal of supernatural and mythological history assigned to it.

Blood Falls

Wanderlust

So, this is rather embarrassing. After making a big deal about ‘officially being back’ and ‘not missing another post’, the next day I went and missed a post. Things are not off to a good start.

But in my defense I have been sick for the past couple days! Why do illnesses always have to spring up at the most inconvenient times? Aaanyways, I’m here to make up my missed Tuesday Destination of the Week!

While I’m generally a fan of locations that feature sparkling water, white sand and swaying palm trees, this singular landmark caught my eye. It’s more than a little eerie, but this particular spot and all its eccentricities begged to be featured!

Yes, the above image pictures a naturally occurring waterfall located in Taylor Valley, Anarctica. It’s called ‘Blood Falls’ and is, as you can see, rather aptly named. It was discovered in 1911 by geologist Griffith Taylor, and I can only imagine what an unnerving sight it must have been. If you look closely at the above picture you can spot a colorful, striped object in the lower left-hand corner; this would be a tent, which puts the size of the falls into perspective.

It’s the iron oxide in the water that gives it its distinct hue. There are sixteen forms of iron oxide known to man, rust being the most common. Fun fact, it’s also often used in society as a pigment! 🙂 The source of the waterfall is a subglacial pool buried beneath 400 meters of ice, which winds its way to the Taylor Glacier and then into Lake Bonney.

I’m not a big science person, but if biology is your cup of tea you might be interested to know that Blood Falls houses a rare subglacial ecosystem of autotrophic bacteria (yes, that was pretty much copied word-for-word from Wikipedia). These bacteria metabolize sulfate and ferric ions (also from Wikipedia!). Apparently the water in Blood Falls contains nearly no oxygen, which is apparently perplexing as it brings up the question of how these microbes are completing the process of respiration. Scientists suggest that the microbes use  (I’m just gonna put this one in quotes) “sulfate as a catalyst to respire with ferric ions and metabolize the trace levels of organic matter trapped with them (Wikipedia).” I only bring this up because my dear friend Wikipedia goes on to state that this is apparently the only known natural location where this sort of process has been seen.

So while it’s probably not worth it to plan an entire trip to Antarctica around one rust-colored waterfall, if you, I don’t know, happen to drop by (?) it’d definitely be a sight worth seeing!

Wanderlust

– 

Today’s destination of the week just happens to be another location found in the United States; sometimes, living in just one place, it’s easy to forget how expansive, beautiful and unique the U.S. geography really is.

This particular location happens to be in Austin, Texas, although it looks more like something you’d find in Africa or South America. It’s called the Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, a pool surrounded by limestone slabs and stalactites.

      The spot is a little more crowded than some of the others I’ve posted; apparently it’s a popular swimming spot (I can see why!), but more on a local scale than a national one. The pool was formed after the collapse of an underground river, leaving behind this gorgeous swimming hole.

It’s not exactly a multi-day trip, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you ever happen to be passing by. 🙂

There, short but sweet! 🙂

Till tomorrow,

– Amy

Close Encounters

Wanderlust

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this spot earlier; my mom will be so excited to see this! 🙂 It might be cheating, since this is a place I’ve actually been to, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of some much-deserved exposure! You’d think with its scenic beauty, rich mythology, and a big movie-mention under its belt, this location would get a little more love, and yet it remains relatively unknown. But I guess that’s really a reason to be grateful, seeings as the most remote and unspoiled of nature’s creations are oftentimes the most worth seeing.

So here comes the unveiling of The Zebu’s November 1st location:

       Devil’s Tower, Wyoming:

    That’s right, and we didn’t even have to leave the USA.

     Devils Tower is a monolith dramatically looming 1267 feet above an otherwise flat terrain. Now an officially recognized national monument, Devils Tower is an object of fascination for painters, photographers, hikers, rock climbers, geologists and curious tourists from all over the country. A major point of interest when it comes to the tower is the method of formation. There are a lot of different theories, but for the most part scientists will tell you that Devils Tower is the partially-eroded remains of a laccolith, which is “a mass of igneous rock formed form magma that did not find its way to the surface but spread laterally into a lenticular body, forcing overlying strata to bulge upward”. Basically, a dome formed by layers of sedimentary rock. But that’s a pretty boring explanation for something as stand-out as Devils Tower, which is why I prefer the mythological telling of the story, as shared by the Native American tribes who revere the tower as a more spiritual entity.

    There are many different versions of the story, but they all follow a similar thread. Some girls from the tribe were out playing when they came across a hungry bear. The girls ran, but the bear gave chase. The girls scrabbled up onto a rock and began to pray to the Great Spirit, asking to be saved. The Great Spirit acquiesced and caused the rock beneath their feet to grow taller and taller, rising up towards the sky. The bear refused to give up, attempting to scramble up after them and raking at the rock, leaving behind the deep grooves that have gained the Tower so much recognition. In some stories, the rock kept rising until the girls found themselves among the stars, becoming the constellation that is now known as the Pleiades.

Photo by Keith Ladzinski (http://ladzinski.com/)

The areas immediately surrounding the Tower offer some pretty breath-taking views, too. The beautiful Belle Fourche river snakes its way by, and stunning red rock formations, rolling hills and forests weave their way around the Tower’s base.

If you happen to ever consider taking a trip, I would strongly recommend you check out staying here: http://www.devilstowerlodge.com/. It’s run by Frank Sanders, a sixty-something product of the hippie generation who owns the inn and guides visitors on rock-climbing exploits on the tower. He was the first to put up an impressive amount of routes on the Tower, as well as the man who put together Project 365, in which he summited the tower every day for at least two years straight in order to raise money for neighboring American Indian tribes. He’s an incredibly vibrant person with some incredible stories; definitely a man worth meeting.

So there you go, your destination of the week. 🙂 Enjoy!

– Amy B

The Floating Mountains

Wanderlust

So for the more travel-savvy among you, here’s a destination you might have heard of before. It’s located in the Hunan province of South-Central China, and is the inspiration behind the stunning ‘Hallelujah Mountains’ from blockbuster Avatar. It’s name? Wulingyuan.

Wulingyuan, which I suppose would be considered a mountain range, is composed of multiple quartzite sandstone pillars, each looming about 3,100 feet tall above the ground. The pillars are a karst formation, similar in origin to a previous location-of-the-week, Plitvice Lakes National Park. The range actually spans three different parks; Natural Reserves of Emperor Mountain, National Reserves of Suoxi Gully, and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, so if you plan on seeing everything make sure you leave yourself plenty of time. But if you’re on a tight schedule, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Yuanjiajie Scenic Area, located in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, is accessible by a forty minute bus-ride and offers one of the most spectacular views of the pillars. The scene is apparently so breath-taking it even has its own name; Shenbingjuhui, meaning ‘God’s Force Rally’ (which comes across as a pretty good recommendation).

View from Yuanjiajie Scenic Area (image from http://www.chinafacttours.com)

       It’s easy to see why the creators of Avatar, not to mention artists from all over the world, were inspired by these commanding testaments to the beauty of nature. Not surprisingly, it’s a very popular tourist site (although Western tourism is sparse; most visitors are from other parts of China) so expect crowds. But I think any amount of crowding would be worth the chance to take in this view firsthand: