Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday travel photo

Yet another Friday travel photo, because I have been so lax in updating this travel blog. I'll try to revive it in 2010... in the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Looking back on Monument Valley in Utah

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cross-country in pictures

The following photos are not the best in terms of quality, but they demonstrate our 3,085-mile route across these United States of America from New York to California. I wish we'd had a more relaxed pace by which to explore the sights along the way, but two cats onboard and a new job awaiting did not allow for much lingering.


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Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday travel photo

Offshore Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Leaf peeping in Harriman State Park

With recent trips to the Catskills and the Delaware River, we have definitely taken advantage of some of the natural beauty around New York City. But one destination we had not yet explored together was Harriman State Park. Located only about an hour outside the city, it always seemed too close for a real getaway. But last weekend, wanting to fit in one last backpacking trip before the weather got too cold, and also hoping to see some fall foliage, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by doing a quick overnighter.

It's prime time for leaf-peeping, but it seemed many people were scared off by the tail end of a rain storm that passed through the previous night. We had no trouble finding a parking spot right at the trailhead, so we quickly strapped on our packs and started making tracks. By no means did we have the trail to ourselves, however. Even with the less-than-ideal weather, we crossed paths with many day-hikers. Perhaps they too had studied the weather forecast, which called for clearing skies.

Regardless of the lack of solitude, we were not disappointed. The park may be close to the city, but it was as scenic and woodsy as anywhere in the Catskills. The Pine Meadow and Kakiat Trails followed a creek between two mountains all the way to our destination, Pine Meadow Lake. After biting off more than we could chew on our recent Devil's Path backpack (which we learned, after the fact, is one of the toughest hikes in the Northeast), we were more than happy to amble along the gentle inclines of these trails. Much sooner than expected, we reached the lake.

Perhaps best of all was our primo campsite on the shore of Pine Meadow Lake. Harriman State Park rules prohibit camping anywhere other than in designated shelters (or within 300 feet of said shelters if they're occupied), but as we circumnavigated the lake, we passed site after gorgeous site where blackened fire rings and other evidence made it obvious that illicit camping was common (though, if you go, beware: hiking back to the car the next day, we spoke with a hiker who got ticketed on a past trip).

After our shorter-than-expected hike, we had plenty of time for leaf peeping. Though we saw plenty of stunning fall colors, our best guess put peak foliage about a week off (so try to get up there this weekend if possible).

On the south shore of the lake, we came across Conklin Cemetery, a small family plot where most of the markers were so weathered and broken that they simply looked like jagged rocks sticking out of the ground. Ironically, the oldest grave had the newest headstone; Ezekial Conklin served in the Revolutionary War.

As weekend escapes go, this one met all expectations. We enjoyed one last backpacking trip to close out the season; we saw our share of fall foliage; and as the sun went down, we were reminded that fall colors could be found in more than just the leaves.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday travel photo

I visited San Diego last weekend, and Saturday was a gorgeous day for a hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve. The clarity of the water made me wish I'd brought my dive gear.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday travel photo

Sunset in Westpunt, Curacao, Dutch Antilles

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday travel photo

"Bait ball" in Bonaire, Dutch Antilles (with a "Good luck!" to my in-laws, who are starting their scuba certification course this weekend)

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Catskills backpack: Trying out a new hobby

I've enjoyed camping as long as I can remember, even if there have been periods in my life when I haven't done much of it. Growing up, I often slept under the stars with friends in the state park behind my house. When I moved back to San Diego in 2003, I got involved with an adventure club and took frequent camping trips to destinations in southern California and Mexico. More recently, I met my wife when we pitched (separate) tents at Dutch Springs, a scuba diving park in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Despite my love of camping and the outdoors, however, my backpacking experience is almost nil. I did an overnighter to Kennedy Meadows in the Sierra Nevada with some friends in college, and hiked into Havasu Canyon with another friend in 2001, but those are the only times I've ever camped with nothing but what I carry on my back. The rest has all been car camping—which is more convenient, but also more limiting.

Car camping on the East Coast has seemed more limiting than it was out west, where (in my experience, at least) there is more wild public land where one can drive and camp anywhere (as opposed to designated campgrounds). Lately, my enthusiasm for camping has been tempered somewhat by the anticipation of loud music and partying unfortunately common in some campgrounds—which has made the prospect of backpacking more appealing. Living with limited square footage in New York, dealing with only what you can fit into a backpack—instead of a large pile of gear—also has its merits.

For me, the final push was seeing what I missed when my wife spent a week backpacking in western Colorado last month. After looking at her photos, it didn't take long before I became the proud owner of my very own new Osprey Aether 70 backpack.

Last weekend, we set out on my first "real" expedition (since the two trips described above were impromptu affairs, and the "backpacking" part of it was a means, not an end in itself). To ease me into the new hobby, we chose a seemingly easy trail loop in the northern Catskills, planning to summit Hunter and West Kill Mountains on a three-day/two-night trip.

The first half went according to plan; Spruceton Trail, which led to Hunter's summit, was wide and grassy, with only one steep section. But for the heavy pack on my back, it almost felt like a walk in the park. On the mountaintop, we shot some photos from the fire tower and enjoyed the wide views of the surrounding mountains. On the other side of the slope, we descended and picked out a lovely camp site in the midst of a pine forest. Not a soul around us; and despite our precautions hanging our food out of reach, not a bear in the vicinity either. For a newbie like me, though, it was still a tough day, and I barely had the energy to crawl into my sleeping bag at 8:00.

The next day, we continued our descent into Diamond Notch, the valley between the two peaks we planned to bag. At the bottom, the sound of rushing water lured us to Diamond Notch Falls (also known as Buttermilk Falls), a cascade under which I gladly showered, despite the cold water temperature. Here, we faced a dilemma. We could continue on with our plan, following Devil's Path Trail up West Kill Mountain, ending back at the road the next day—which would also mean a three-mile walk back to the car on the road. Or we could hike a short distance south on the offshoot Diamond Notch Trail, make an early camp, and then have a short and easy hike back to the car north on the same trail the next day. Cassie left the decision to me, since it was my birthday weekend, and I opted to stick with the plan and go for the greater challenge.

We soon learned that Devil's Path was aptly named.

If Spruceton Trail was an easy stroll, this was the opposite. Devil's Path was one of the steeper trails we'd ever hiked, and the backpacks made it that much tougher. And it kept going up. And up. And up. I kept looking at the map, trying to match the contour lines with the steepness of the trail to see when we'd get a break, but the ascent continued. And then the Devil stole my soul. Or at least my sole. My boots had many miles on them before this trip, and Devil's Path proved too much for my left one. Walking up the trail, the sole caught on a rock and pulled almost all the way off. I looked down in disbelief, and then looked at Cassie. Was that the end of our hike? Should we turn around? No. She urged me to secure it with duct tape and rope, which I did—and we were on our way again.

We finally made it to the summit, weary and sore. After enjoying the most gorgeous view of the entire trip from Buck Ridge Lookout, we faced the next challenge: where to camp for the night. Regulations prohibited us from camping above 3,500 feet or within 150 feet of the trail. The original plan was to descend westward from West Kill's 3,880-foot peak and find a suitable site below the 3,500-foot mark, filling up at a water source along the way (indicated on the map). But we soon discovered this was a good plan on paper only.

First, the "spring" shown on the map—which was also the last water source on our route—turned out to be little more than a trickle, and even that was nearly inaccessible amongst thick bushes. Second, the terrain was so uneven and the forest so thick that we could find no suitable site to pitch a tent—above or below 3,500 feet, within or beyond 150 feet of the trail. As the afternoon wore on and daylight started to wane, our bushwacking in search of a site grew more desperate. Finally, just as we started debating whether we could push all the way through to the road before it grew pitch-dark, we happened upon a secluded grove of ferns with a small patch of grass, where we pitched the tent underneath a fir tree. At that point, beggars couldn't be choosers, and we would have settled on just about anything; but the site turned out to be quite lovely.

We had no luck with water, however, so we were forced to ration what little we had left. That meant no side dish to go with our pasta primavera, and no evening powdered "cocktail" of Crystal Light pink lemonade (Cassie) or Blue Frost Gatorade (me). It also meant no coffee for me the next morning—my birthday morning, no less—which was the worst part. But we had enough water left over to get us through the last few miles of hiking the next day, which was all that mattered. Once again, I spent my last strength crawling into the tent before it was even fully dark out.

Devil's Path was as steep on the descent as it was going up, so by the time we got to the relatively level final mile in Mink Hollow, we were ready to reach the finish line. That last mile, though, was for me the prettiest scenery of the entire weekend (and not just because the trail was mostly flat). Tall, leafy trees rose high above a bubbling stream filled with moss-covered rocks. An enchanting setting that belied the brutal miles preceding it, and which I can't adequately describe.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, despite of—or perhaps even because of—the unexpected challenges. Cassie cautioned me against buying too much backpacking gear before the trip, in case I didn't end up enjoying it. But if the weekend was a test, I passed—and now I have a new hobby.

See all the photos from the trip

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday travel photo

American Falls at Niagara Falls

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday travel photo

Taking my then-new Xterra off-road for the first time in Fish Creek, Anza-Borrego State Park, east of San Diego. [Full gallery]

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where I'd rather be: New Zealand

New Zealand has long been near the top of my travel wish list. Anyone who has seen pictures (or the Lord of the Rings movies) knows what a gorgeous country it is. Between the North and South Islands, there exist many diverse opportunities for outdoor adventure on beaches, over mountains, through forests, across rivers and yes, even under oceans.

My friends Greg and Sirpa stoked my envy in recent years, when they showed me hundreds of photos after their respective visits and told me their travel tales with glowing excitement. When Fodors offered me a free travel guide last year in exchange for quoting me in one of their books, I chose their latest New Zealand guide. Cassie and I even briefly considered the country as a honeymoon destination. But the place still remains on the wish list.

While Googling "Lake Harris" the other day, looking for information about camping in the Adirondacks, I accidentally hit on this page of jaw-dropping New Zealand photography (because, apparently, there is also a Lake Harris Down Under). Travel photographer Tom Dempsey whisked me away for a solid 20 minutes as I longingly scrolled through several pages of his spectacular photos. So if, like me, you'd rather be in New Zealand, let your mouse be your guide.

Photo credit: Tom Dempsey /



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Honeymoon in St. Lucia

Last June 20, I married my beautiful wife and travel companion. We are both adventurous, but after months of wedding planning, we wanted nothing more strenuous than relaxing in a hammock and cooling off in a pool. We got exactly that by spending a week in a private villa on the West Indies island of St. Lucia, though we couldn't go the entire stay without a little adventure (as you'll see, we hiked to the top of the Petit Piton). There's nothing so cliche as a "honeymoon in paradise," but we happily lived the stereotype!

View photo album

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Where I'd rather be: Costa Brava

I have wanted to visit Spain since I was a teenager. In fact, the reason I ended up in Honduras as a foreign student during high school is because I had indicated Spain as my first choice. (I suppose their logic was "Spain? They speak Spanish in Honduras also, we'll send him there.")

Today, as my mouse led me astray across the web, I found myself on Spain's Costa Brava, a gorgeous stretch along the Mediterranean. Take a look at this photo gallery and, like me, you'll find yourself thinking you'd rather be there.

Bonus: If you are serious about visiting, download this 16-page guide.


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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate the holiday, whether by attending a church service, taking part in an Easter Egg hunt, or simply enjoying a delicious brunch!

Below, I wanted to share a pair of beautiful photos taken by my friend Dawn Risk, with whom I spent a year in Honduras as a foreign student during high school. She is currently in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. For Semana Santa (Holy Week), they decorated the downtown streets with colored sawdust. Fantastic!

Tegucigalpa Honduras colored sawdust in the streets for Holy Week

Tegucigalpa streets during Semana Santa


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where I'd rather be

In the interest of breathing some new life into this blog, I'm going to start a semi-regular feature, "Where I'd Rather Be." While I'm not suggesting that I'd rather be anywhere other than "right here," a little escapism can be exercise for the imagination. And, in the current economic climate, it might be the only kind of travel some of us can do right now.

What I'll do is virtually travel through the internet until I find an entrancing picture of someplace "I'd rather be," and then post the picture here for you to share. So, in a way, we'll get to virtually travel together.

Today, here's where I'd rather be:

Pool at Bishops' Court B&B, Cape Town, South Africa

This picture caught my imagination while I surfed the net over my morning coffee, the image of an infinity pool and lush landscape on a sunny day quickly pulling me away from an overcast and gray Brooklyn day.

See the rest of the photo gallery in the New York Times' Travel section.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Long weekend in London

With all the economic uncertainty and a wedding to plan for later this year, we had not made any big travel plans. But when Cassie's brother Mike and sister-in-law Michele announced that they were moving back to the United States in March, we took advantage of an extra day off on President's Day—as well as lower-than-typical air fares—to visit London one last time before they move.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hurricane Omar brushes Dutch Antilles

Last week, a late-season hurricane named Omar swept through the Caribbean. The election-frenzied American media barely gave it a passing mention, and I didn't pay any attention myself.

So imagine my surprise to learn tonight that the storm brushed Curacao, the island in the Dutch Antilles where I proposed to Cassie last month. I quickly emailed Sunshine, a friend we made down there, who described destructive waves, flooded homes and widespread damages (though fortunately no loss of life).

Back in August, when flooding wreaked havoc on Havasu Falls in Arizona, I posted a before & after set of photos. Sunshine sent me links to pictures of Omar's fury, and I found one that showed waves pounding Playa Lagun. Check out the before & after pics below. I shot the first one during our visit; the second was taken last week. It's no tsunami, but keep in mind that Curacao is supposedly outside the hurricane belt, and the seas are flat 360 days a year.

I'm glad the people are okay. I hope the coral fared as well.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Road Trip: Buffalo, New York

This blog focuses on travel, not sports, so it offers no clue (with one exception) that I'm a die-hard San Diego Chargers football fan. I'm no crazy sports freak—football is the only sport I follow—but I've been a Chargers fan my whole life.

Last weekend, I traveled with several other Chargers fans from New York City to Buffalo to see the Chargers face down the Buffalo Bills. If you judged the trip solely based on the outcome of the game, then it was a failure—the Chargers lost.

Buffalo Road Trip
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View Slideshow
But to the contrary, we had a fantastic time despite the game's outcome. With fall colors peaking along our route, it was the best weekend of the year to make the drive. We arrived in Buffalo with enough time to visit Niagara Falls. And the internet enabled us to coordinate with a legion of other Chargers fans—even John McCain made an appearance—so we spent yesterday morning tailgating with 50 other fellow fans.

If I had a larger travel budget, I'd be on a plane for London, where the Chargers play their next game.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday travel photo

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday travel photo

St. Willibrordus Church and cemetery in Curacao

Photo by Cassie Craig

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Monday, October 6, 2008

My photography in La Jolla

A few weeks ago, a large map was unveiled at Kellogg Park, the public space at La Jolla Shores in San Diego. Made of lithocrete (a mixture of concrete and recycled glass), the map covers some 2,300 square feet of ground, and depicts the La Jolla Underwater Preserve as a way to bring the undersea world to beachgoers who might not realize what lies under the waves.

Accompanying the map is a wall of photos showing the various marine creatures that live in the nearby waters. This fish ID board identifies everything from sheephead and señorita to lobster and octopus. The creators of the lithocrete map solicited the local dive community for images to place on this wall, and as luck would have it, they selected my photo of a white sea bass. I'm not a professional photographer, and this particular photo was hardly my best work, but apparently few images of this shy fish exist. I got this particular shot a couple of years ago, while diving La Jolla's kelp forests on a visit to San Diego. This fish kept following me around, keeping its distance but apparently curious. I snapped a photo unaware of what kind of fish it was—and having no idea the photo would eventually end up on an art installation at nearby La Jolla Shores!

So next time you travel to La Jolla Shores, whether you're a local going for a day at the beach or a tourist visiting San Diego, be sure to stop by Kellogg Park and check out the map and fish ID board. And see if you can find my name!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No pain

Do I really need to describe this photo and what it represents? Cocktail hour at sunset on Curacao? Painkillers, the fruity cocktail equivalent of ambrosia? Our own private deck overlooking the Caribbean Sea, less than 10 degrees north of the Equator? Kicking up our feet after a day of swimming with eagle rays, sea horses, sea turtles, barracudas (not the Alaskan kind) and many other sea creatures? Shall I continue? I think not....


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Eine kleine nachtmusik in Curacao

Moonlight and a little music can be magical on any night, but when it's your first evening on a tropical island, and the music emanates from a cute church right across the street from where you're staying, you feel like you've entered a fairy tale.

I couldn't put my camera away on that first day, even when the sun had long since set. When I peeked out the front door to investigate all the activity outside, I found this lovely little scene of Saturday evening church service.


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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fishy Curacao

The house reef at All West Apartments, where we stayed in Curacao, has seen some impressive visitors in the past year or so—if we are to believe what we were told. Pods of dolphin, a passing manta ray, even a random whale shark! So on each dive we made, not just on the house reef but everywhere, we kept glancing away from the reef, out into the blue, in the hopes we might see something big.

Ultimately, we didn't spot anything bigger than a really fat barracuda. But we still saw plenty. As this picture shows, Curacao was plenty fishy.


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Friday, September 26, 2008

Playa Lagun: A wonderful little dive

One thing Curacao has over nearby Bonaire—the so-called "Diver's Paradise"—is lovely little beaches like Playa Lagun, pictured below. We pulled our pickup truck up to the sand here, strapped on our tanks, and wandered into the clear water. Though we enjoyed a nice dive on the reef, out beyond the mouth of the narrow bay, it was within the bay itself (in snorkeling depths) that we saw the most interesting sea life: a group of squid on the swim out, and a green sea turtle and large barracuda on our return.

On the cliff overlooking Playa Lagun sat a cute little complex of residences, Bahia Apartments (the composite photo below was shot from their deck). Like All West Apartments, where we stayed, it seemed to serve mostly divers. We might have to check that place out if (when?) we return to Curacao.

(Click for full-size photo)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Willemstad, Curacao

The iconic waterfront of Willemstad, Curacao, architecture that earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only about a million other people have taken this exact same photograph.

Stay tuned... the Week of Travel Photos continues.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Underwater photography with a point 'n' shoot

As expected, Curacao provided a wealth of fantastic photo opportunities both above and below the surface. And like other dive trips, this one gave me the chance to further hone my underwater photography skills.

I think I'm approaching the limitations of what my point 'n' shoot camera and housing can do, but with practice and patience, it's possible to get decent macro shots with a point 'n' shoot camera using the built-in flash. Still, might be time to finally take the plunge and get a digital SLR with real strobes.

Here, a shortstripe goby hides out inside a tube sponge.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Curacao: Gorgeous sunsets

Those of you looking forward to this blog resuming its normal publishing schedule may have to wait a bit longer. I haven't even touched my luggage, and unpacking will also involve the laborious task of washing the dive gear (which would be far easier if I had a garage or yard).

Until things settle back into something of a routine, I may take the lazy route and post some pictures instead of writing much. Today, I'll share one of the gorgeous nightly sunsets we enjoyed from our private oceanfront apartment in Curacao.


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Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday travel photo and vacation!

I'm on vacation, which means so is this blog!
We're off to Curacao, in the Dutch Antilles,
for a week of diving and relaxation.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday travel photo

Chapel of the Holy Cross
Sedona, Arizona

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday travel photo

Washington, D.C. Metro (Court House station in Arlington, VA)

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