Monday, August 5, 2013

Traveling Millions of Years Through Time (Grand Canyon)

My measly 25 years on this planet is like a spec of dust compared to the millions of years in front of me. There is no other place (I think) on this planet in which you can literally see the millions of years of Earth's history with a single glance than at the Grand Canyon.

I wound up in the Southwest because of my job in January this year. And of course, if you're going to be in Arizona, you absolutely have to go see the Grand Canyon. I flew in a few days earlier just to get a chance to experience this world famous landmark.

Prior to my visit, I always imagined the Southwest as just a hot dry dessert. I never even considered any other weather conditions. Boy was I wrong! I hit a major snow storm on my drive up from Vegas to Flagstaff. Actually, I have never in my life driven in such a winter snowstorm (and I've live in Chicago for 20 years!). The highway was moving less than 10 miles an hour with almost 0% visibility and skidding vehicles on all sides. Not only was it one of the most scariest drives I've ever had, I was also by myself in the middles of nowhere. There were no exits until you reach the city. What's more, all the road signs were covered in snow and cell phone reception was impossible. I almost had a nervous breakdown, actually I probably did. But I just kept following a truck, carefully outlining its tracks in the snow with my car just so I wouldn't get stuck. I took a gamble on taking the second exit as we approached Flagstaff (the first one was dark and seemed like it went to nowhere). Thank heavens my hotel was right off the highway exit as you approach the city. Phewww! Survival.

So, as I learned firsthand, some regions in the Southwest have really bad winters, especially in high elevation. But there was no way I was going to let the snow keep me from seeing the Grand Canyon. A long hot shower later, plus 10 back to back episodes of Hardcore Pawn and Chinese food, I was passed out, eagerly awaiting my trip to the Grand Canyon the next morning.

I woke up super early and set out to drive to the Grand Canyon. Luckily, the snow storm passed and the roads were cleared. I even broke a personal record: for the first time in my life, I hit over 100 miles per hour while driving. And the more I though about it, the more it made me realize that speed is just relative. When driving through the barren snow covered land, going 100m/h feels no different than 10. You see nothing but the road in the horizon.

Visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because there aren't as many tourists as in the summer months, it gives you a chance to really personally enjoy the beauty of the landscape.

It felt surreal seeing this vast wonder with your own eyes. It was such an indescribable feeling approaching the edge of the canyon, looking down at the depths below. I just kept thinking about how lucky we are just for being on this planet. Being there, you cant help but think how minuscule you are in front of mountain, how powerless you are in front of a river, how insignificant you are under the stars. It was both humbling and empowering at the same time.

The Grand Canyon reveals millions of years of Earth's history. The plains of the Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata (yes, I do Wikipedia everything) were uplifted because of continental shifts. A few millions of years thereafter, the Colorado River has persistently cut through the layers of rock. Thus, the Grand Canyon is unique in exposing some of the oldest layers of rock on this planet.

I also found it really interesting that there are still some Native American tribes that live inside the canyon. I also heard that mules, as well as helicopters, are used to deliver items to the villages.

Wandering the icy pathways, it's pretty freakin' terrifying approaching the edge, especially cause many places don't have a fence or anything between you and the cliff. You can literally walk right up to the edge and look down below. The ice and snow does not help.

I asked one of the bus drivers if there are many accidental deaths at the Canyon. Boy, as soon as one question was out of my mouth, he did not stop talking as he graciously shared information about the Canyon and the people that lived there. Although I cannot recall most of the facts he told me, he did say that surprisingly there are not too many accidental deaths, but some suicides do occur every year. What a scary thought.

When not wandering the frozen pathways, the Bright Angel Lodge is the place to warm up. They had delicious soups and sandwiches. And if you're ever there, ask for Paul. He’s cute.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Secret Diary

When I was little, my mom would threaten me by telling me that she would throw my diary into the collection box at the library if I misbehaved. Oh boy, did that work! I was on my best behavior for twenty straight years.

Now, as I read my diary from my 10-year old self, I can't help but burst out laughing at the major life dilemmas I faced as 3rd grader: Kathy didn't share her scissors with me during art class. I'm not talking to her anymore! Tomek is cute, but he won't ever walk with me, even though we walk home the same way. My mom is making me clean my room again. Life is so unfair!

I still write a lot to this day. I keep a journal (not a diary! those are for kids). I have lots of random notebooks of reflections, feelings and ideas. Actually, it's so nice to see how much my grammar and sentence structure has improved thorughout the years. Phew!

I wonder if ten year from now, when I read what I write now, I will be laughing at myself too?

I guess that is just part of growing up.

Grade school: Olena & Kathy (and Kathy's little sister).
My sleeping arrangements at age 10.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Following In The Dinosaurs' Footsteps

Just imagine, voracious raptors scouring the land over a million years ago at this very same spot that I am standing on today. It seems surreal to imagine how different the land was back then, as compared to what it looks like today. Nevertheless, its history is preserved in the hard rocks of the Arizona landscape.

You can be an archaeologist for the day as you rummage through the rocky arid land in northern Arizona. In a dessert of 7,000 feet elevation, you can explore the Earth's history through its numerous fossils that have been preserved in this very dry landscape.

This Dinosaur Outpost (a few miles west of Tuba City, also about an hour east of the Grand Canyon) offers a tons of rocks in which you can find footprints and other interesting imprints from a million years ago.

Standing next to the dinosaur tracks in Arizona.
The Dinosaur Outpost is free and right along side the main highway (map below). There are guides available, usually local Native Americans, that offer guided tours around the area for tips. There are also merchant booths set up that sell beautiful handmade Indian jewelry and artisan-work.

I always like to ask a lot of questions and learn about the Native American culture. One thing that I learned from a Navajo woman is that in their culture long hair is a symbol of wisdom. That is why it is traditional to keep hair long for both men and women.

Native American jewelry for sale

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Do You Dare Wander into the Valley of Fire? [PHOTOBLOG]

In a magical land far, far away from Vegas (about an hour drive north) is the Valley of Fire. Entering this National Park feels like you just arrived on Mars, with deep orange and red rocky landscape all around. Especially during sunset, the colors are magnified to which it seems the land is about to burst on fire.
Hardcore explorer
This really exotic landscape was featured in several movies, including Star Trek Generations, Transformers and Need for Speed.

The Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. The park derives its name from red sandstone formations that were formed from the shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs.

Check out these photos from my trip:

^ grandma driver

Entrance to the State Park
The Beehives

Sunday, January 13, 2013

American Capitalism At It's Best (Las Vegas Strip)

You don't have to travel the world, just come to Vegas to blow all your money. Vegas has everything you could ever want and everything you don't need, just as long as you have the Benjamins to pay for it.

Honestly, before I arrived, I thought Vegas would be overrated. And if it wasn't for my work that brought me to the American Southwest, Vegas was not on the top of my list of places I wanted to visit.  But to my surprise, Vegas exceeded all my expectations! (But maybe I'm also just a sucker for shiny things).

I thought the Strip was just a section of a street with big hotels and casinos. Oh no no no! Honey let me tell you: the Strip is a maze of castles and  movie scenes; its a fantasy land that combines the past and the future into one; its a magical playground that entices you to give in to all temptations. Welcome to Sin City.

The world's most famous spots are all under one roof—the Pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower of France, the gondolas of Venice, Times Square in New York and more. And by roof I mean one super-lit, flashy, sexy boulevard in the middle of a desert.

 Las Vegas Boulevard
You cannot just walk here. The bridges, escalators, sky-walks and malls will have you lost in seconds so that you literally cannot make your way out of this place until your wallet is empty.  There are advertisements in every direction and everyone here is trying to sell you something. On every corner, there are people handing out stripper flyers. They will even take you in the limo to the strip club, but you will have to find your own way back. Good luck with that.

Blinded by the lightsno joke, your eyes start to hurt if you spend too much time on the Strip. There are huge LED digital screens in every direction your eyeballs may wander. Normal street lights? Pffft, not in this fabulous city. Vegas has lasers, lightshows, strobe lights, neon signs, and radiating tv screens. You just stare in awe as you take in the grandeur of American commercialism.  

Sin City is know for its strip clubs, sex shops, casinos, bars, clubs and shows. Millionaires from all over the world come here to blow their money. No doubt in my mind that this city has more slot machines and poker tables per capita than any other city. Even when you arrive in the Las Vegas airport, you are immediately greeted by the slot machines that are oh-so-conveniently placed for your enjoyment.

Casino life
When not gambling, Vegas is shopping galore. Every luxury boutique has a shop on the Strip. There were even some stores that wouldn't even let me step foot into them. Sorry, I'm not interested in your $1000 dollar undergarments anyway.

No money? No problem. Put on your sexiest clothes and go find yourself a sugar-daddy billionaire. Afterall, this is Vegas, baby.

Where did I find this charming and handsome dark chocolate candy bar who can seduce you in 3 different languages? Argentina. But he's already taken. Go figure! (Thanks again Scott for being such an awesome host. Love ya!) 
The Bellagio Fountains. Absolutely Amazing! I could spend all night watching the fountains dance to the music. This is my favorite spot on the Strip.