Monday, December 1, 2008

First Day in El Paso

Visitor center of Chamizal National Memorial.The vacation was great and it was awesome as ever. It’s always nice to be home however. Now I’m sifting through the photos and great memories. We haven’t been writing anything down, but we’ll try to put some thoughts together on the blog, so memories don’t fade away.

Everything started with Alena setting an alarm for 3:30am. The plan was to get up, get dressed, maybe eat some breakfast and pretty much get ready for the cab that will be picking us up at 4:30am to go to LaGuardia airport. I woke up at 4:29am from the call from my dad asking if we were ready. O.o shock

Mexican border. Road to Juárez, Mexico.The alarm didn’t go off. Alena changed her work day alarm to 3:30. The only problem was that it only works on weekdays. ) We ran out like crazy and were at the airport well ahead of the flight. We got an extra hour of sleep though. )

Our first day was dedicated to exploring El Paso. We went to Chamizal National Memorial — the place where U.S. border with Mexico used to pass until Rio Grande changed its path. We also were about 100 meters from the actual Mexico border.

Museum in downtown El Paso.Everyone in the town obviously speaks Spanish. We also tried to visit a famous military base, Fort Bliss. But they called military police on us for taking pictures of the gates which was really uncalled for. So we decided we don’t need that and just left.

The town center has a bunch of museums, but it was dead quite on the weekend. Nothing really special and I don’t think this is the place I’d like to live at. The day passed quickly and we turned in early since we were very tired.
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Friday, December 5, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns

One of the caves in Carlsbad Caverns.Our second day started out very early. After eating the breakfast at our hotel and driving through the downtown we left El Paso and set out to the east, towards the Carlsbad Caverns National Park through Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. These were our two main objectives for the day.

Papa and mama along the route 180 in Texas.As soon as we left the city we were greeted by an always familiar yet different southwestern landscape that I’ve come to love so much over the past years. Huge flats, tall distant mountains, what might seem to be scarce vegetation of unusual to us composition — cacti and yuccas, and the never ending road. Road that I might say is always great no matter how distant of a place it runs through.

Alena and I on salt flats in Texas along route 180.Our first find was a big white field that was absolutely flat. Finally, the salt flats that I’ve heard so much about. I guess the water evaporated not so long ago, or it was raining recently. The salt was not rock hard, but soft and slightly soggy. I imagine during the summer it feels more like concrete.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park.In Gaudalupe Mountains NP we got a whole bunch of new stamps for our passports (4 official and one bonus). The park consists completely of hiking trails. We took a rather short one going through different plants with plaques attached to most of them. But we didn’t spend much time here as we didn’t want to be late to our next park.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park.We got to Carlsbad Caverns NP at about 1:30pm. The natural entrance to the caverns closes at 2pm and the elevator down closes at 3:30. After talking to the park rangers we decided that we’ll take the elevator right away, since the natural entrance adds an hour to the hike and you don’t really get to the interesting part until you reach the point where elevator would put us anyhow.

One of the caves in Carlsbad Caverns. Look at the guardrails around the trail to get a sense of scale.The elevator took us 750 feet down (that’s more than half of Empire State Building). I’ve never been in any cave or cavern before so for me this was a new experience. First of all the whole thing is HUGE. The farther we went the more space opened up. There were bleak lights installed behind some rocks, but you had to watch carefully where you were going because it was still pretty dark.

Hall of Giants. Carlsbad Caverns.The formations of different stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other things I do not know the names for were magnificent. Underground lakes and springs, the constant sound of water drops. My dad was the “luckiest” of us all with respect to water drops landing on his head. At one point he started worrying about growing a stalagmite. )

Carlsbad Caverns.I managed to take a good number of pictures and most of them came out well thanks to my micro-tripod and a remote control combo. The only thing that is hard to capture is the size of the whole thing. On some photos you will notice the trail itself with guardrails around it. Those were from 1 to 1.5 meters in height and should give you some sense of scale.

Alena with a nice prickly pear cactus in Carlsbad Caverns NP.After that we drove through a tiny town of Carlsbad itself to our final destination of the day — another tiny town in New Mexico — Artesia. We ended up having our 2nd anniversary dinner right in the hotel Chinese Buffet. But it’s not the food that matters, but the company, and the day itself was great.
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

White Sands

Dunes of White Sands National Monument.Даня уже писал о Карлсбадских пещерах, а мне хочется добавить еще пару слов о своих впечатлениях. Лет 8 назад мы с Кузей посещали подобное чудо природы – Крымские мраморные пещеры – но мои воспоминания о них очень расплывчаты и отрывочны.

Карлсбаские пещеры произвели на меня довольно сильное впечатление. Мне то казалось, что я попала в какой-то сказочный дворец на бал, и свисающие с потолков резные люстры вот-вот зажгутся и осветят пространство мягким мерцающим светом; то возникало ощущение что я иду по какому-то морскому царству, и мокрые скользкие обитатели его величественно возлегают тут и там и думают о чем-то своём, глубокофилософском, не обращая на нас, мягкотелых ахающих людишек, никакого внимания.

Carlsbad Caverns.Переговаривались друг с другом мы приглушёнными голосами — этому способствовало не только то, что работник парка предупредил нас о прекрасной акустике пещер и попросил уважать других посетителей природного музея, но и сама атмосфера вокруг — полутьма, таинственность, мягкие звуки шлепающих о камни капель воды. Кстати, я ожидала, что в пещерах будет намного прохладнее (довольно низкая температура запомнилась мне из предыдущего посещения пещер), но не очень тёплой кофты оказалось достаточно для того чтобы чувствовать себя комфортно.


Главной целью следующего дня было посещение национального монумента под названием “Белые Пески” (White Sands National Monument). Признаться честно, я не ожидала очень многого от этого места, но фантастический ландшафт снеждно-белых дюн просто поразил моё воображение. Но начнём по-порядку.

Overlooking Tularosa Basin. Lincoln National Forest.Проснувшись с утра пораньше (как мы старались делать во все дни нашего отпуска) и позавтракав яичницей в китайском буфете, мы отрпавились в дорогу. Гостиница наша находилась в Артезии — небольшом городке, не насчитывающем даже 15,000 душ. Путь наш пролегал через Lincoln National Forest — хвойный лес, напомнивший мне пейзажи Колорадо. Мы сделали пару остановок — в деревеньках Mayhill и Cloudcroft, а так же в солнечной обсерватории, расположенной на одном из пиков Sacremento Mountains.

Solar observatory at Sunspot.Как же хорошо дышалось чистым и душистым из-за окружающих елей и сосен воздухом возле солнечной обсерватории! Сами здания обсерватории меня немного разочаровали — почему-то я ожидала, что нам дадут посмотреть в телескоп на небо… Но, конечно, разрешили нам только гляднуть через стекло на старую модель телескопа, и побродить возле современной модели, окруженной целой кучей компьютеров.

White sand flowing out of Alena's hands.Следующей нашей остановкой были белые дюны. Сначала мне показалось, что мы попали в зиму — занеженная дорога, грязноватые комки снега по обочинам, чахленькие пучки по-зимнему бурой травы, выглядывающие то тут, то там из сугробов… Ан нет — обман зрения! ) Снег оказался вовсе не снегом, а сыпучим и прохладным гипсовым песком.

Us at White Sands.На многие киллометры протянулись белоснежные поля, испещрённые характерными ребристыми узорами оставленными непоседой-ветром, а также следами лапок жителей этого необычного мирка. Конечно, на территории доступной туристам, мы видели и множество отпечатков подошв самых разных размеров.

Mama in White Sand Dunes.Бродить по песчаным дюнам было интересно, но мы старались не отходить слишком далеко от машины, потому что потерять ориентацию в этом белом царстве очень легко.

Road through the White Sands National Monument.Многие люди приносили специальные доски, на которых можно было скатываться со склонов барханов, и мне тоже захотелось слететь вниз и почувствовать восторг от скорости и адреналина. За неимением специальной экипировки, я решила воспользоваться тем, что мне предоставила природа — собственным задом. Увы, я не слетела, а скорее сползла с горы, причём в ход пошла на только пятая точка, но и ноги с руками, послужившие толкательными рычагами.

Papa near one of the few plants he liked in White Sands.Даниному папе очень понравилась растительность бело-песчаных дюн. Представители местной флоры должны были приспособиться к двигающимся пескам или погибнуть. Мы видели столбы песка, держащиеся только за счёт корней растений, спрятанных в их глубине, — довольно интерсное зрелище.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cacti of Arizona

Sunset near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.I always have been drawn to cacti in a certain way. It might be from the fact that it was nowhere to be found in Uzbekistan in the wild, or maybe because we were always told from early age that everyone should keep a cactus by the monitor to absorb some of the radiation — mind you, nobody knew what an LCD was back then.

Southwest of this great country and Arizona in particular is home to many different kinds of cacti. But now I’d like to talk about the two kinds that stand out the most — Saguaro and Organ Pipe.


House on the hill of the mountain covered in Saguaros. Outskirts of Tucson.On early Tuesday morning we drove drove through a couple of historic places of Las Cruces and left New Mexico shorty after, setting the course to Tucson, Arizona. Our main objective of the day was to visit at least one of the two parts of Saguaro National Park that is located on the outskirts of Tucson itself.

Saguaro National Park.I really had no idea what Saguaro stood for, but it turned out that it was actually the name of the cactus that I wanted to see so much. Papa and one of the bigger Saguaros at Saguaro National Park.Because of that I had no idea what to expect of the park, but to our surprise we were greeted by what I was expecting to see in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument a day later.

The closer we were getting to the park the more obvious it was becoming — we were in the middle of an actual forest made up of huge cacti — Saguaros. Some were standing as lone huge poles, some sprung out a couple of arms and some had up to ten of them. All kinds of shapes and forms. Some were going up, some were going down. Most of them had holes in them, probably created by woodpeckers, but sadly we didn’t see any of the inhabitants of those homes.

Dead Saguaro.We got a bit unlucky with the weather, as all of the sky was covered in thick gray clouds and sun was nowhere to be seen. But that didn’t stop us from being amazed by the unusual landscape that was surrounding us. A real cacti forest, or as my dad called it — the kingdom of cacti.

Two Cacti — Alena and Teddy Bear.We made a whole lot of scenic stops, took a lot of pictures and hiked one of the trails in the park. I, as everyone else, was just amazed by the size and the forms of some of these. They could easily run from 2 to 5 heights of me.

Saguaro forest at dusk.When we were done with the park we were pretty tired and the the sun has actually sat down — it was dark outside already. We went and found our hotel in Tucson (Google actually had it in the wrong location on their maps), ate a very good dinner in the hotel diner type of restaurant, took a walk around our neighborhood, jumped into the jacuzzi we had in our room and retired for the night.


Alena hugging Organ Pipe Cactus. Really. No Photoshop.Wednesday was even better. By the morning the sky cleared up and the 2nd part of the park was right on our way out of Tucson. But before leaving we drove to downtown, and again set out for a short walk.

Fallen Saguaro. Organ Pipe Cactus NM.We stopped by a visitor center where a lady tried to talk us out of going to Organ Pipe Cactus NM. I think she almost managed to convince some of us that it was a bad idea to go. Her arguments were that it was really remote and pretty dangerous place, being so close to Mexican border.

Papa, mama and I at Desert Museum on outskirts of Tucson.However I was 100% set on going. This was one of the main destination of this trip. I remember looking at the map multiple times, on that square near the Mexican border, thinking how I would love to visit this place which is so far away from everything. And that’s exactly what we did, but I’ll get to that later.

As planned we went out to the 2nd district of Saguaro National Park and took a lot of pictures on our way there and in the park. The landscapes were amazing, but I think it’s pretty much impossible to capture with the camera.

Fox at Desert Museum Zoo.On our way we stopped by Desert Museum, which we expected to be quite a bit more exciting than it was. We were promised to see a lot of animals, but there were very few. However we’re glad we did it, because otherwise we’d be left wondering if we missed something really good.

Mega Saguaro at Organ Pipe Cactus NM.But on to the main destination of the day — Organ Pipe Cactus NM. The road that was supposed to be bad turned out to be as good as at any other place. We thought that it might be going through the mountains, so it would be slow, but it actually turned out to be going through the valleys of more cactus forests and was pretty straight. We did see a LOT of border patrol cars all over the place though.

While we were driving the sky was getting darker and darker. Eventually we started to see huge streaks of rain ahead and on the left — where the park was supposed to be. We drove into it and the weather was so bad that you couldn’t see 10 meters ahead. However to our luck we drove right through the storm to some more blue skies right by the time it was time to turn south, into the park. The weather got beautiful again.

Entrance of Organ Pipe Cactus NM. Bad photo, but the only one we have.Turns out Organ Pipe Cactus is a different type of cactus and that’s what Organ Pipe Cactus NM has a lot of (weird, I know). o.O It also does have a lot of Saguaros. I think my best memories are from this day. Standing in front of the sign at the entrance to the park — it was hard to believe that we’re actually on that spot on the map that I looked so many times at.

We asked for a good hiking trail at the visitor center, Organ Pipe Cactus.and we were giving great destination. The 2 mile trail lead us through the forest of Organ Pipe, Saguaro and many other cacti. It went through one of the mountain peaks which gave us a great view of the whole valley. And there was not a single soul there but 4 of us, under blue sky, surrounded by a magnitude of different cacti. Amazing memories.

And after that we drove through the towns of Why and Ajo all the way to Phoenix. Scottsdale actually. That’s where our last hotel was, where we were going to spend the last 3 nights of our great trip.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Rambling

Raspberry tea — we drank a lot of this in the past 2 weeks.Friday, 11 p.m. Danya and I just finished watching “4400″, and I want to write a couple of words about the last few weeks.

After we got back from the vacation Danya caught a flu somewhere (had 39C fever one day), and was recovering for almost two weeks (he spent the first whole week at home). I was courageously holding up, but also had a mild fewer, running nose and other niceties of being sick for a couple of days. Both of us are much better now.

Last Saturday was the 6th anniversary of our fist date. I keep saying this, but — oh my — time just flies! I still remember how anxiously I was waiting for our 3 months anniversary — for some reason it was always a critical point in my previous dating experience. Now I can only laugh at my naivete. ) I got Danya a pajama pants (stole that idea from him) — or at least I thought that I did. He said that the design is not very attentive to male’s physiology… so now I have another pair at my disposal. He-he. But some other stuff that I got him fits — that made me happy. )

Indian wedding vase hand made by Navajo Indians.Speaking of presents. When we were in Las Cruces, NM, we stopped by the older part of the town to take some pictures. On the side of a little deserted square we walked into a gift shop featuring some Native American pottery. Danya’s parents got us a present for our 2nd wedding anniversary — a very pretty wedding vase, which was made by Dee Nelson of the Tangle Clan of the Navajo Tribe. I really like this vase — both the design and the symbolical meaning. The vase has two necks and one body — it symbolizes two soles coming together and creating a new strong union.

On the other note — the economy seems to be getting worse, and people are worried. The thoughts of job stability cross everybody’s minds, and some of my friends’ friends are getting laid off. I hope that everything will come back to normal sooner rather than later, but in the meantime I am really happy to have a job. ) I got the first-in-my-life bonus today, and even though it is small, I still felt excited about it. )

My friend Gurya sent me an audio book by Василий Аксёнов called “Остров Крым”. I listen to it on my way to and from work. The book was written a while ago (around 30 years if I am not mistaken), and it is some sort of anti-utopia. The emotions this books stirs in me are similar to those that I got from reading “1984″ by George Orwell, although Orwell’s novel IMHO is stronger. Good thing USSR collapsed when it did (I wish it happened earlier). I just hope that future (ha-ha, this word has a strong association with financial derivatives now) will be kind to us all. )
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Свинина с Грибами

Pork with mushrooms.Хочу записать пока помню точно не новую, но для меня пока свежую комбинацию мяса с подливкой.

Мне понадобились:

  • 4 свиные отбивные без косточек
  • 1/2 крупной головки репчатого лука
  • 1/2 фунта свежих грибов
  • 15-20 маринованых оливок
  • 1 стакан half-and-half или сливок
  • 1/2 пачки макарон (я выбрала спиралевидные cavatappi)
  • Соль и перец по вкусу

Процесс приготовления: Continue Reading
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Friday, December 19, 2008

First Snow

First snow of 2008.This is what’s happening outside right now. Lots and lots of snow and it looks like it’s sticking. I’m not so sure it’s a good thing (who’s going to un-dig the car?), but it sure is pretty.

Snow sticking to the road.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Hunt For The Watch

Casio watch box.This year it was decided that I was going to get a certain Casio watch for New Year as a present from Alena. Since she claims she doesn’t really understand much about watches the choice was left to me. After days and days of research and deliberations I set my mind on one particular model.

We soon discovered that the model is nowhere to be found online except for one store. Alena placed an order, but to our disappointment got an email within an hour saying that there was a mistake on the site and they didn’t not have the watch in stock. I should mention that the list price for this item is $400, but a lot of online places have it for $299, when they do have it in stock that is. Continue Reading
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Phoenix

Phoenix. We had a picture of this building from our first trip as well, so it stood out.В Фениксе, столице штата Аризона, мы с Даней побывали второй раз, а его родители увидели город впервые. В нашу поездку в 2005 году мы практически пробежались по городу, и он оставил какое-то смазанное и тусклое впечатление. В этот раз Феникс мне показался намного приятнее, и кроме кактусов, поразивших нас раньше, я заметила опрятные домики построенные в каком-то южном испанском стиле, оливковые и апельсиновые деревья, современные небоскрёбы даунтауна, разномастные пальмы…

Rare rainy day in Scottsdale.Останавливались мы не в самом Фениксе, а в Скотсдейле — городке, прилегающем к Фениксу, который считается более фешенебельным районом в этой местности.

Homewood Suites. Our hotel in Scottsdale.Гостиница Homewood Suites оказалась очень уютной, и нам даже удалось снять 3-х комнатный номер впервые за всё путешествие (в остальных гостиницах мы просто брали отдельные номера). Мне однозначно больше нравится жить в таких номерах с двумя спальнями — веселее и как-то уютно-спокойнее. )

Us in front of Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix.Приехали мы в Феникс в среду вечером, а весь четверг посвятили изучению города. Мы прогулялись по площади возле местного капитолия — чистенькое, но очень безлюдное место. Statue of Novajo Code Talker in front of Capitol.Мне запомнился памятник индейскому радисту из племени Навахо — во время второй мировой войны индейцы успешно использовали свой язык в качестве кода, который японцы так и не смогли расшифровать.

Когда мы гуляли по городу, солнце то выглядывало, то пропадало за тучами. Надо было видеть в какое уныние невозможность сделать красивые фотографии вгоняла Даньку, и как он радовался и бегал от одного красивого места к другому, когда солнышко являло нам свой улыбающийся лик.

Alena attempting to eat Phoenix oranges. They turned out to be extremely bitter.Мы случайно забрели на выставку автомобилей и потратили там часа 1.5-2 нашего времени. Ну что можно сказать — выставка как выставка, ничего особенного. )

Стоит заметить, что в тот день страна отмечала День Благодарения, и мы пораскатывали губы на специальный праздничный ужин в каком-нибудь из многочисленный ресторанов в районе нашей гостиницы. Каково же оказалось наше разочарование, когда мы поняли, что закрыто было буквально ВСЁ! Phoenix City Hall and the post with names of sister cities.Магазины, рестораны, даже room service в нашей гостинице не работали в связи с праздником. Мы уже смирились с мыслью, что придётся нам довольствоваться 4-мя маленькими кусочками пиццы, оставшимися с прошлого ужина, но на нашу удачу мы увидели одно место над которым висел большой банер с надписью “Открыто”. В этот-то итальянский ресторан мы и пошли вкушать наш праздничный ужин. Индюшки у них не оказалось, но всё что мы заказали было очень вкусным. )
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lightbox

Bulova watch photographed inside the lightbox.With all the watch excitement lately I needed to come up with a good way to share with the readers of the blog. For that you obviously need good pictures. And to take good pictures of watches you obviously need a lightbox of some kind.

Lightbox in use. Desk lamps from the left and the top, remotely controlled Nikon SB-800 flash from the right. I used a simple guide posted on Strobist to build one without spending a lot of money. Borrowed a cardboard box from work, Alena bought some tracing paper and that’s pretty much it.

Construction process is very simple. Just cut out 3 of the sides and tape over the cuts with tracing paper.I need to replace one of the lamps with a regular bulb with a lamp with a tungsten bulb to get rid of the yellow light. And I guess a 2nd flash would do wonders too. But overall not bad of a result at all for a first try with this cheap structure.
In: Photography   Tags: , , , , ,
Time: 15:25   Comments: 2 Comments   Post a Comment  
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ra Pa Pam Pam!

Roasted Turkey Roulade.This year I used Inna Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics” cookbook to select the Christmas menu. Since it was only four of us, I’ve decided to go with simple, but new recipes. Also, since we’ve totally skipped turkey or even chicken this Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to correct the issue, and served it tonight.

“Roasted Turkey Roulade” turned out to be very good! If anybody’s interested I can send the recipe, but let me just mention that the stuffing includes dried figs and cranberries, Italian sausage, pine nuts, celery, onions and fresh rosemary which gave the stuffing a very nice hint of flavor.

Our Christmas dinner table — corn, turkey, mashed potatoes.I prepared the stuffing last night in order to reduce cooking time and to get less tired today. It was a smart move, since today it only took me and Danya, who helped to tie a rope around the meat, just 10 minutes to prepare a roulade for oven. I got a chance to use a meat thermometer — one of the last New Year’s presents from Danya. It turned out to be very useful, since I wouldn’t be able to measure the readiness of the dish so precisely without it.

I served the turkey with a “Confetti Corn” (an easy-to-make warm salad from corn, red onion and bell pepper) taken from the same book and oven-roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Yam! )

But enough about food — let’s talk about Christmas. Continue Reading
In: Food & Dining, Life In General   Tags: , ,
Time: 00:27   Comments: 3 Comments   Post a Comment  
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Friday, December 26, 2008

More Lightbox

Movado watch photographed inside the lightbox.Today I’ve done some more experimenting with the lightbox. Again — not perfect, but again — interesting.

Lightbox setup for the above shot.The setup is pretty simple. Color paper on the background, black marble for the bottom and simple paper as a reflector inside.

Black and white shot of Movado watch inside the lightbox.And after some more experimenting I came up with this B&W photo. Better reflections on the dial, but I think I like the color on the first one.
In: Photography   Tags: , , , ,
Time: 17:00   Comments: 5 Comments   Post a Comment  
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