Sunday, September 23, 2012

Iguazu Falls, Brasil - Argentina

Iguazu Falls, Iguassu Falls or Iguaçu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River on the border of Brazilian State Paraná and Argentine Province Misiones. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. The Iguazu River originates near the city of Curitiba. It flows through Brazil for most of its course. Below its confluence with the San Antonio River, the Iguazu River forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil. The name "Iguazu" comes from the Guarani or Tupi words "y" [ɨ], meaning "water", and "ûasú "[waˈsu], meaning "big". Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. The first European to find the falls was the Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541.

Fiji islands, Oceania

The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity started around 150 million years ago. Today, some geothermal activity still occurs on the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Fiji has been inhabited since the second millennium BC. The country comprises an archipelago of more than 332 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of circa 18,300 square kilometres (7,100 sq mi). The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 850,000. The former contains Suva, the capital and largest city. Most of Fijians live on Viti Levu's coasts, either in Suva or in smaller urban centres. Viti Levu's interior is sparsely inhabited due to its terrain.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch and the British explored Fiji. Fiji was a British colony up until 1970; British occupation lasted almost a century. During World War II, the United Kingdom allowed for many thousands of Fijians to volunteer to aid in Allies' efforts via their attachment to the New Zealand and Australian army units; the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) consist of land and naval units.
Because of the abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources, Fiji is one of the most developed economies in the Pacific island realm. Today, the main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports. The country's currency is the Fijian dollar.
 Fiji has a local government system where city and town councils fall under the general supervision of the Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development. President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau became Fiji's president, after a high court ruled that the military leadership was unlawfully appointed after a 2006 coup.

The amazing Chameleon

Photo by Giovanni Mari
Chameleons (family Chamaeleonidae) are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of lizards. They are distinguished by their zygodactylous feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, their very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongues, their swaying gait, the possession by many of a prehensile tail, crests or horns on their distinctively shaped heads, and the ability of some to change color. Colors include pink, blue, red, orange, turquoise, yellow, and green. Uniquely adapted for climbing and visual hunting, the approximately 160 species of chameleon range from Africa, Madagascar, Spain and Portugal, across south Asia, to Sri Lanka, have been introduced to Hawaii, California, and Florida, and are found in warm habitats that vary from rain forest to desert conditions. Chameleons are often kept as household pets.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tiger's Nest monastery, Bhutan

Paro Taktsang (spa phro stag tshang / spa gro stag tshang), is the popular name of Taktsang Palphug Monastery (also known as The Tiger's Nest), a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex, located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley, Bhutan. A temple complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup (stag tshang seng ge bsam grub) cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen taktsang or "tiger lair" caves in which he meditated.
The Guru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang, the temple devoted to Padmasambhava (also known as Gu-ru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang, "The Temple of the Guru with Eight Names") is an elegant structure built around the cave in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye; and has become the cultural icon of Bhutan. A popular festival, known as the Tsechu, held in honour of Padmasambhava, is celebrated in the Paro valley sometime during March or April.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Seasonal floods transform the large, dry surfaces of the world's largest salt flat into one of the biggest mirrors on Earth. Salar de Uyuni, near the crest of the Andes, is made up of the remains of dried-up prehistoric lakes. The unusually flat and reflective salt crust gives visitors the illusion they are walking on clouds.
Although little wildlife or vegetation lives on the flats, it is a breeding ground for three species of pink flamingos. Visitors should have sun protection, warm clothing and plenty of water.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Angel Falls (Spanish: Salto Ángel; Pemon language: Kerepakupai Vená, meaning "waterfall of the deepest place", or Parakupá Vená, meaning "the fall from the highest point is a waterfall in Venezuela. It is the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979 m (3,212 ft) and a plunge of 807 m (2,648 ft). The waterfall drops over the edge of the Auyantepui mountain in the Canaima National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Canaima), a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State. The height figure 979 m (3,212 ft) mostly consists of the main plunge but also includes about 400 m (0.25 mi) of sloped cascades and rapids below the drop and a 30-metre (98 ft) high plunge downstream of the talus rapids.
The base of the falls feeds into the Kerep River (alternatively known as the Río Gauya), which flows into the Churun River, a tributary of the Carrao River.
Angel Falls is one of Venezuela's top tourist attractions, though a trip to the falls is a complicated affair. The falls are located in an isolated jungle, and a flight from Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolívar is required to reach Canaima camp, the starting point for river trips to the base of the falls. River trips generally take place from June to December, when the rivers are deep enough for the wooden curiaras used by the Pemon guides. During the dry season (December to March) there is less water seen than in the other months.

Spotted Lake, Canada

During the summer, peculiar white, green and yellow spots appear on this salty lake in British Columbia.
The explanation: When the lake water evaporates during the summer, natural walkways form on the lake from crystallized mineral deposits. The spots, made up mostly of magnesium sulfate, vary from white to green based on the mineral composition. The Okanagan Indians considered the lake sacred for its therapeutic qualities.
The Okanagan nation owns the lake, which is closed to visitors, but the spots can easily be viewed and photographed from Highway 3, which runs next to it.

Chiricahua National Monument, Ariz, USA

Chiricahua National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service located in the Chiricahua Mountains. It is famous for its extensive vertical rock formations. It was created on April 18, 1924. The national monument also preserves the Faraway Ranch, owned at one time by Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson.

The monument is located approximately 36 miles (58 km) southeast of Willcox, Arizona. Geologists believe that it preserves the remains of an immense volcanic eruption that shook the region some 27 million years ago. The thick white-hot ash spewed forth from the nearby Turkey Creek Caldera, cooled and hardened into rhyolite tuff, laying down almost two thousand feet of dark volcanic ash and pumice, highly siliceous in nature which eventually eroded into the natural features visible that we see at the monument today.
In 2008, the Chiricahua National Monument Historic Designed Landscape, covering roughly 80% of the National Monument, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cancun Underwater Museum

Cancun Underwater Museum is a series of sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor placed underwater off the coast of Isla de Mujeres and Cancún, Mexico. The project began in November 2009 with placement of a hundred statues in shallow waters of the Cancún National Marine Park, which had been previously damaged by storms.
The sculptures are created with pH-neutral marine concrete and are based on members of the local community. The artist planned the sculptures as artificial reefs with fire coral planted in the initial sculptures. A total of 400 sculptures were installed by the end of 2010.
Snorkeleres, scuba divers, and tourists in glass-bottom boats all visit the underwater installation.

Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan

The Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild monkeys bathing in anatural hot spring. The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey's natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka.
The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes' walk from the park entrance. Visitors will likely already encounter monkeys along the path to the pool. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Naturally, it is prohibited to touch or feed the monkeys.
The park has a small information center with information mostly in Japanese. However, there is a small explanation of the alpha male system of the monkey troop in English, as well as portraits of the park's present and former alpha males, dating back dozens of years. There is a live camera beside the monkey pool that is accessible online.

Although the park is open all year round, the bathing monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February. Monkeys enter the bath around the year, but they sometimes need some encouragement to do so by park wardens throwing food into the pool, especially during the warmer seasons of the year.

Jigokudani, in which the park is located, means "hell valley" and is a common name for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Although its landscape is not as dramatic as some of Japan's other jigokudani valleys, Yamanouchi's Jigokudani does produce a few steaming hot springs. There is a ryokan called Korakukan in the valley, which visitors will pass along the way to the monkey park.

The Seven Coloured Earth(s), Mauritius

The Seven Coloured Earth(s) (Terres des Sept Couleurs in French) are a geological formation and prominent tourist attraction found in the Chamarel plain, in the Rivière Noire District of south-western Mauritius. It is a relatively small area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colours (approximately red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). The main feature of the place is that since these differently coloured sands spontaneously settle in different layers, dunes acquire a surrealistic, striped colouring. This phenomenon can also be observed, on a smaller scale, if one takes a handful of sands of different colours and mixes them together, as they'll eventually separate into a layered spectrum. Another interesting feature of Chamarel's Coloured Earths is that the dunes seemingly never erode, in spite of Mauritius' torrential, tropical rains.
The sands have formed from the decomposition of volcanic rock (basalt) gullies into clay, further transformed into ferralitic soil by total hydrolysis; the two main elements of the resulting soil, iron and aluminium, are responsible for red/anthracite and blue/purplish colours respectively. The different shades of colour are believed to be a consequence of the molten volcanic rock cooling down at different external temperatures (hence rates), but the causes of their consistent spontaneous separation are yet to be fully clarified.
The place has become one of Mauritius' main tourist attractions since the 1960s. Nowadays, the dunes are protected by a wooden fence and visitors are not allowed to climb on them, although they can look at the scenery from observation outposts placed along the fence. Curio shops in the area sell small test-tubes filled up with the coloured earths.

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Komodo National Park is located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Established in 1980, initially the main purpose of the Park was to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) and its habitat. However, over the years, the goals for the Park have expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, both indications of the Park's biological importance.

Komodo National Park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands creating a total surface area (marine and land) of 1817km (proposed extensions would bring the total surface area up to 2,321km2). As well as being home to the Komodo dragon, the Park provides refuge for many other  notable terrestrial species such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, an endemic rat, and the Timor deer. Moreover, the Park includes one of the richest marine environments including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, seamounts, and semi-enclosed bays. These habitats harbor more than 1,000 species of fish, some 260 species of reef-building coral, and 70 species of sponges. Dugong, sharks, manta rays, at least 14 species of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles also make Komodo National Park their home.

Threats to terrestrial biodiversity include the increasing pressure on forest cover and water resources as the local human population has increased 800% over the past 60 years. In addition, the Timor deer population, the preferred prey source for the endangered Komodo dragon, is still being poached. Destructive fishing practices such as dynamite-, cyanide, and compressor fishing severely threaten the Park's marine resources by destroying both the habitat (coral reefs) and the resource itself (fish and invertebrate stocks). The present situation in the Park is characterized by reduced but continuing destructive fishing practices primarily by immigrant fishers, and high pressure on demersal stocks like lobsters, shellfish, groupers and napoleon wrasse. Pollution inputs, ranging from raw sewage to chemicals, are increasing and may pose a major threat in the future.

Today, the PKA Balai Taman Nasional Komodo and PT. Putri Naga Komodo are working together to protect the Park's vast resources. Our goals are to protect the Park's biodiversity (both marine and terrestrial) and the breeding stocks of commercial fishes for replenishment of surrounding fishing grounds. The main challenge is to reduce both threats to the resources and conflicts between incompatible activities. Both parties have a long term commitment to protecting the marine biodiversity of Komodo National Park.

Bay of Fundy, Canada

The Bay of Fundy (French: Baie de Fundy) is a bay on the Atlantic coast of North America, on the northeast end of the Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with a small portion touching the U.S. state of Maine. Some sources believe the name "Fundy" is a corruption of the French word "Fendu", meaning "split", while others believe it comes from the Portuguese fondo, meaning "funnel". The bay was also named Baie Française (French Bay) by explorer/cartographer Samuel de Champlain during a 1604 expedition led by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts which resulted in a failed settlement attempt on St. Croix Island.
The Bay of Fundy is known for having the highest tidal range in the world. Rivaled by Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, King Sound in Western Australia, Gulf of Khambhat in India, and the Severn Estuary in the UK, it has one of the highest vertical tidal ranges in the world. The Guinness Book of World Records (1975) declared that Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia has the highest tides in the world:
“The Natural World, Greatest Tides: The greatest tides in the world occur in the Bay of Fundy.... Burntcoat Head in the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, has the greatest mean spring range with 14.5 metres (47.5 feet) and an extreme range of 16.3 metres (53.5 feet).”
Portions of the Bay of Fundy, Shepody Bay and Minas Basin, form one of six Canadian sites in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and is classified as a Hemispheric site. It is administered by the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the Canadian Wildlife Service, and is managed in conjunction with Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
In July 2009, the Bay of Fundy was named as a finalist for the New 7 Wonders of Nature contest that ended in November 2011. It was not chosen as a wonder.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Metropol Parasol, Spain

 A bizarre site in a medieval Spanish city, Metropol Parasol rises from Seville like an enormous honeycombed mushroom. If it conjures memories of popsicle-stick sculptures from your childhood, it's because the structure is built from pieces of timber glued to one another. Begun in 2004, Metropol Parasol made its debut in March in an effort to revitalize Plaza de la Encarnacíon, a spot usually skipped in favor of more popular tourist destinations nearby.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 kilometres (30 mi) north of the city centre of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. The river is also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. The park is also known as St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang.
In 2010, a group of environmentalists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor, which means that there are small waterfalls inside the cave. They also found a huge cave dome, measuring 300 meters above the underground river, incredible rock formations, large bats, a deep water hole in the river, more river channels, another deep cave, marine creatures, and more. Deeper areas of the underground river are almost impossible to expedite due to oxygen deprivation.
On November 11, 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was provisionally chosen as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. This selection was officially confirmed on January 28, 2012.

The park has a limestone karst mountain landscape. The main attraction here is St. Pauls Underground River Cave - a more than 24 km long cave, which contains an 8.2-kilometer-long underground section of Cabayugan River. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it winds through the cave before flowing directly into the South China Sea, and is navigable with a boat up to 4 kilometres in from the sea. The cave includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers, including the 360-meter-long Italian's Chamber with approximate 2.5 million square meters volume - one of the largest cave rooms in the world. The lower portion of the river up to 6 km from the sea, is subject to tidal influences. Until the 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River was reputed to be the world's longest underground river.
The area also represents a habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia. It was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 4, 1999.

Gullfoss in Iceland

Visitors approaching Gullfoss, whose name translates as "Golden Falls" in English, might think it empties into an abyss given its unusual drop. The glacier-fed falls, about 70 miles east of Reykjavik, plunge abruptly into a wide and narrow canyon at a perpendicular angle, creating a striking scene.
Photo by Scott Ableman
The two-tiered waterfall drops about 105 feet into the Hvita River in south Iceland. On average, water flows through Gullfoss at a rate of about 29,000 gallons per second. Heavy flooding has produced as much as 530,000 gallons per second. For comparison, American and Bridal Veil Falls at Niagara Falls flow at an average rate of about 76,000 gallons per second.
Photo by Scott Ableman
Gullfoss is now one of Iceland's most popular attractions, but in the early 1900s, industrialists sought to harness its cascades for hydroelectric power. A struggle for the falls ensued, but plans eventually fell apart. In the 1970s, Einar Gudmundsson donated the grounds surrounding Gullfoss to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Council, and it was later turned into a nature reserve.
 Gullfoss lies on Iceland's Golden Circle, a 190-mile stretch of road encompassing some of the country's most popular natural attractions. Other destinations along the route include Geysir, a geyser that spits out water up to 200 feet in the war, and Thingvellir, a scenic national park where Iceland's leaders gathered during the Middle Ages.
Photo by Scott Ableman
In the winter, parts of Gullfoss freeze to create an icy wonderland.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico (near Cochiti), is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed site that was established as a U.S. National Monument by President Bill Clinton in January 2001 shortly before leaving office. Kasha-Katuwe means "white cliffs" in the Pueblo language Keresan.

The area owes its remarkable geology to layers of volcanic rock and ash deposited by Pyroclastic flow from a volcanic explosion within the Jemez Volcanic Field that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Over time, weathering and erosion of these layers has created canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks themselves are cones of soft pumice and tuff beneath harder caprocks, and vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet.
The monument is open for day use only and may be closed by order of the Cochiti Pueblo Tribal Governor. A 1.2 mile (1.9 km) recreation trail leads up through a slot canyon to a lookout point where the tent rocks may be viewed from above. A 1.3 mile (2 km) loop trail leads past their base. The park is located on the Pajarito Plateau between 5700 and 6400 feet (1737–1951 m) above sea level. The monument is closed to dogs.

"Door to Hell" gas deposit, Darvaza, Turkmenistan

The Derweze area is rich in natural gas. While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft) at 40°15′10″N 58°26′22″E. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided the best solution was burn it off. Geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas is still burning today. Locals have dubbed the cavern "The Door to Hell".
Next to capturing the gas, flaring is safer and friendlier to the environment than releasing the methane into the atmosphere, as methane is a relatively potent greenhouse gas and considered to have a high global warming potential of 72 (averaged over 20 years) or 25 (averaged over 100 years).

Turkmenistan plans to increase its production of natural gas. In April 2010, the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed, or measures be taken to limit its influence on the development of other natural gas fields in the area.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Makepeace Island, Australia

Makepeace Island was developed in 2009 as a private getaway for owners Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and Brett Godfrey. The island located on the Noosa River in Queensland, Australia became available for exclusive booking last July. It can accommodate up to 22 people and includes a swimming pool, spa, outdoor cinema and tennis court.

Ireland's remote Skellig Michael island

Approximately 300 stone steps lead to the monastic complex atop Skellig Michael.Photo by Christine Schramm

During her visit to Ireland in 2006, Christine Schramm traveled to the island of Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site about seven miles off the country's southwestern coast. The island, which houses a 7th century Christian monastery, was nearly deserted when Schramm visited, leaving her to wander its grounds freely. "It was most of the most amazing experiences I've ever had," she said.

Ireland's earliest Christians built the monastic complex perched atop the pyramid-shaped island. It was occupied continuously until the 12th century, when weather conditions forced its monastic community to the mainland. Due to its isolation, which has kept visitors away until recently, the complex is very well-preserved.

Beehive-shaped huts atop Skellig Michael. In the background is Little Kellig island, a nesting ground for seabirds.
Photo by 
Christine Schramm

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The Petrified Forest in eastern Arizona contains the world's largest collection of petrified wood, trees whose organic matter has been replaced by minerals over millions of years. The fossils of about 78 animal species have also been found here. The park's fossil cache has been a valuable source of information for the Late Triassic period (about 225 to 205 million years ago). Aside from petrified wood, the Petrified Forest features colorful badlands and hundreds of petroglyphs.

Trulli of Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello, whose population is about 11,000, dates to at least the mid-14th century when it was colonized by the Count of Conversano. The town's distinguishing feature is its trulli, cone-shaped dwellings made from limestone. In this prehistoric construction technique, structures are built from interlocking rocks without the use of mortar. This made buildings easy to dismantle and reassemble. Alberobello contains some of Europe's best examples of this architecture style. The trulli of Alberobello were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. 

Source: LA Times