Monday, August 7, 2017

Ten of the Most Beautiful Places I've Ever Seen

This blog post is an encomium to the beauty of the natural world. Too often do I fall into the trap of gloom and doom, the rhetoric of "this world is being ruined and humans are in the driver's seat of the destruction." True or not, this pessimist's cynicism does little for my health or mood. Sometimes I have to force myself to step back and let things fall into perspective. There is only so much burden any one back can bear.

Today, I'm in the mood to celebrate some of the amazing places I've seen and share them here with you!

NOTE: There are so many places in the world I haven't seen. I can't imagine what this list would look like if I'd seen even half of it. Someday I hope to visit as many parts of this incredible planet as my relatively short life allows, but sadly there just isn't enough years in a human lifespan to see it all.

So without further ado, here are ten of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in no particular order.

1. The Grand Canyon
There is no doubt that Arizona's Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular sights in the United States. The sheer scale of it is hard to comprehend when standing on the rim. At 280 miles in length, up to 18 miles across and over a mile deep, the Grand Canon truly lives up to its name. I have had the fortune of visiting it numerous times, including an 18-day kayaking trip in 2005, a memory that remains one of the highlights of my life.

Deer Creek Overlook, Grand Canyon
2. The Wind River Range
Wyoming's Wind River Range ranks as one of the more spectacular ranges in the Rocky Mountains. This rugged collection of Wyoming's tallest and most remote mountains offers dense solitude and the largest concentration of glaciers in the contiguous United States (i.e. outside of Alaska.) My backpacking trip to the Winds in 2011 was one of the great outdoor experiences in my adult life.

Island Lake, Wind River Range. Fremont Peak top right is Wyoming's third tallest mountain
 3.  Zion National Park
Of Utah's "Big 5" national parks (Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches) my personal favorite has to be Zion. This rugged place staggers the imagination with vertical cliffs over 1,000 feet tall and hidden slot canyons concealing surprisingly verdant streams. My wife and I spent a week in Zion in 2015 and barely scratched the surface of possible sights.

Exploring Zion River Narrows in Zion National Park, one of the most unique hikes anywhere
4. The Belize Barrier Reef
The Caribbean is one of the world's premier tropical destinations. One could lose themselves forever in the coral reefs, the thousands of dreamy islands, and the warm, aquamarine waters. One of its many amazing features is the Belize Barrier Reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world. When people think of paradise, they often envisage somewhere like this. After spending over two weeks in Belize in 2016, I was transformed. Some of these islands could very well tempt me to leave my cherished mountains.
Tobacco Caye in Belize is a true tropical island paradise
5.  The Sawtooth Mountains
Idaho's rugged Sawtooth Mountains are some of the best kept secrets in the Rocky Mountains. Serrated and formidable, the Sawtooths are so isolated it does not take long to find a place among them seldom visited by people. I had the pleasure of living near the Sawtooths for a few months in 2016 and was shocked I hadn't heard much about them before.

The Sawtooth Mountains near Redfish Lake humbled and overwhelmed me
6. Alaska's Kenai Peninsula
Alaska is one of the world's most rugged landscapes and one of the few true wildernesses left on the planet. The Kenai Peninsula on the southern coastal region of the state is one of its gemstones. This incredible place is resplendent with glaciers, towering mountains, wildlife, and ambrosial forests. I've been visiting the Kenai Peninsula since 2007 and now call Seward, Alaska home.
Glacier wonderland in Kenai Fjords National Park, a place accessible almost exclusively by boat
7. The Elk Mountains of Colorado
The Elk Range of Colorado is one of the most impressive parts of this mountainous state. They include some of Colorado's most rugged and formidable ramparts, such as Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain, and the Maroon Bells. Living at the foot of the Elks in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley for almost 20 years allowed me to explore this amazing range extensively.
The Maroon Bells in Colorado's Elk Mountain Range. This is about 45 minutes drive from the place I still call home
8. The Ecuadorian Jungle
Ecuador is a lush, jungle wonderland. It is also a highly mountainous and dramatic slice of the Andes Mountains, quite possible the world's most impressive mountain range outside the Himalayas. My trip to Ecuador in 2001 was life changing. My only regret is the lack of photographic skill I possessed at the time.

Kayaking the Rio Jondachi in the Ecuadorian mountains. This little gem was exciting and so beautiful
9. The Oregon Coast
Formidable amounts of rainfall combined with a sharp, angular coast makes for one stunning vista. The Oregon coast is one of the gems of the American collision with the Pacific Ocean. Spotted with quaint towns, massive sea stacks, and copious wildlife, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful place. My wife and I spent a week exploring the Oregon coast earlier this year and I look forward to the chance to return.

Oregon Coastal vantage. What isn't readily apparent in the photo are the dozens of seals in the lower right corner

10. The California Redwoods
The first few times I entered the Redwood Forest, I was humbled nearly to tears by the sheer scope of these living creatures. It is not just the massive height of the world's tallest trees but their age that plucks at the heartstrings, as some of them can be 2,000 years old or more. It is incredible to imagine these trees standing for so many lives of men, keeping a silent watch over the changing world. I had the pleasure of living among these real-life giants for three months and still feel small every time I think about it.

Giant Redwoods just off the Avenue of Giants. These trees humbled me nearly to tears the
first time I saw them
No photo can do these places justice. They must be experienced for yourself. I should have gone online and stolen photographs by much better photographers to give a better sense of these wonderlands, but alas I decided to abide copyright law and stick to my own pictures.

I would love to hear about some of your favorite places so I can add them to my bucket-list of must-see places, a list that grows far faster than I can check it off. Also, I would be interested to hear which of my above photos you liked best.

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  1. Beautiful photos! I love mountains, and New Zealand has some stunning mountainous regions. Unfortunately all my photos ended up in one unsorted heap last time I upgraded my operating system, so I can't produce any photos.

    1. You have amazing mountains! I want to see them so badly! Maybe someday I will have the chance....

  2. You definitely love your mountains! However for islands I would recommend Niue and Tonga in the South Pacific. Niue is just stunning, and Tonga has a coastline of waterspouts that is phenomenal. Peru also has some pretty special mountain ranges.