The America You Don’t Know: A Journey Through The Unseen And Beyond

On my last return home from the United States, I ran into an old acquaintance outside a café in Hauz Khas. He knew I loved travelling so he asked if I had been to New York, Vegas or Los Angeles. I replied in the affirmative but during the walk to my car, I reflected on his question. I realized his query represented the general outlook on American tourism that we, Indians, have: a glamourous concrete jungle. Moreover, even our Bollywood foreign dream sequences are almost always shot in Europe – never in America!

However, the reality of the United States is far more beautiful.

In fact, I will challenge your perception by claiming America has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world! As an outdoor photographer, allow me to share my experiences travelling through the diverse and stunning locations of the US. Although I could write a hundred pages, I will illustrate my point through two regions: Pacific Northwest and Canyon Country.

Note: You will notice many National Parks mentioned in this article – and for good reason! The National Parks system of America has been dubbed “America’s Best Idea.” It boasts 60 parks that preserve remarkable ecosystems and natural beauty. The accessibility to these remote places is amazing and will surely entice the nature-lover in you! Having explored 43 of the 60, I can attest these parks should be the main attraction of America!

The Pacific Northwest

Visualize: You are driving along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, negotiating cliffs and curves that flirt with the crashing waves. This same road then meanders through the countryside. Soon, you arrive at the High Sierras where snow-capped peaks overlook a vibrant landscape punctuated with turquoise lakes and roaring waterfalls. Yes, this is all within one region. No, you would not be dreaming! Welcome to the Pacific Northwest!

Generally speaking, the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, (western) Montana, and (northern) California constitute the Pacific Northwest (PNW). Adventures from the region often feature the hashtag “#pnw.”

Characterized by mountains, valleys, desserts, and a rugged coastline, PNW is much like an all-you-can-eat buffet! I have made several road trips through this region. Starting in California, the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a day’s worth of pleasure itself! I started the drive from Santa Monica and leisured along PCH all the way up to San Francisco. Close to Silicon Valley, the Big Sur area is particularly representative of the breathtaking coastline that includes the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.

Actually, you could spend weeks in California! Having explored all nine National Parks in the state, I would say Yosemite is my favorite! Majestic waterfalls decorating the valleys of the High Sierras, Yosemite attracts a plethora of visitors. Not very far from Yosemite is an unbelievably blue alpine Lake called Lake Tahoe. I could not believe such a place existed until I dived into the lake in person!

Further north, you enter into Oregon. Oregon is a treasure chest of gorgeous waterfalls, especially the Columbia River Gorge area! Multnomah Falls is iconic and picture-perfect. My personal favorites have to be Proxy Falls and Ramona Falls. Basking in the spray of these cascades was simply surreal! A drive southward from Proxy Falls would take you to Crater Lake National Park. The deepest lake in America, Crater Lake holds the purest water in a volcanic crater that witnesses beautiful sunrises and the Milky Way during nights.

Continuing the Pacific journey northward, we cross into Washington. You may know Seattle as an IT hub. However, two hours in either direction of Seattle, have you heard of Mount Rainier National Park or the Olympic Peninsula? The snowiest place on earth at one point, Mt. Rainier National Park is reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. Summers in Rainier are especially beautiful with wildflowers decorating the landscape.

Furthermore, you could spend a weekend in Olympic National Park. The peninsula showcases glacial tarns, expansive views into Canada, and dreamy sea stacks! Recently, I did a 29 km day-hike in Royal Basin of Olympic that rewarded my effort with a stunning lake! What is amazing is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these glacial lakes throughout PNW.

View this post on Instagram

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Footsteps even lighter" – Kelly Clarkson. When my bud had to turn back on the trail to the seductive pool of blue at the Upper Royal Basin of @olympicnationalpark , I didn't realize that the bulk of the replenishment was left in his backpack (I was carrying mostly camera gear). The return trip could've ended grimly. At one point, I considered risking getting poisoned and eating some wild berries. Fortunately, before that could happen, the last pair of hikers caught up to me. I heard myself asking "Do you have an extra trail bar?" THE most delicious bite of my life! PS: Although most camp overnight at Royal Basin, the trail is best experienced as a day-hike…given you don't mess up like I did!

A post shared by Simanta V. Mahanta (Sim) (@simexposure) on

Many such fantastic glacial features exist in Glacier National Park in Montana. It was bestowed with the title “Crown Jewel of the Continent.” After spending four days in Glacier National Park, I understood why. Nestled between glaciers and the Continental Divide are incredible turquoise lakes. Pictures from Grinnell Lake and Cracker Lake would convince even a non-hiker to make the effort!

Of course, my paean of PNW would be incomplete without mentioning Alaska. Alaska is untamed, raw beauty. You can experience the Ice Age first hand deep in Kenai Fjords National Park. In Denali National Park, I encountered my first grizzly bear prowling the vibrant red tundra. All grizzly bear documentaries are shot in these places. Denali is home to the famous Mt. Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley). I visited Alaska during peak autumn. Hence, the entire foliage was resplendent in hues of red! Moreover, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis for the first time! It was an emotional moment. I was fortunate to venture into the Arctic Circle when I entered Gates of the Arctic National Park (sounds epic, does it not?). In the region, you can visit an old Native American village called Anaktuvuk Pass where incidentally, I was served the best wings of my life!

View this post on Instagram

The Grinnell Trinity! @glaciernps The hike to #GrinnellGlacier takes you by #GrinnellLake fed by the Grinnell Waterfall! I was under prepared on the hike as I went on an empty stomach and survived on one snack bar and a bottle of water. The toll led to a fall which sprained my ankle at the start of the return. My #superdad carried my backpack, camera and tripod along with his own stuff all the way down. Some very kind hikers helped me with an ice pack as I limped my way back. #LessonLearned . Always be prepared. ——- #GlacierNPS #Grinnell #nps100 #usinterior #findYourPark #ManyGlacier #_gnp #glacierNationalPark #montana #montanamoment #lake #glacier #OptOutside #pg #earthpix #NeverStopExploring #earthGallery #LonelyPlanet #GetOutside #hike #mountains #wednesdaywisdom #nikon #nikond810

A post shared by Simanta V. Mahanta (Sim) (@simexposure) on

Canyon Country

Visualize: You are sitting beneath a natural rock arch all by yourself in complete silence. In the darkness of the night, you are able to see your surroundings. Why? Because thousands of bright dots and the nebulae of the Milky Way have illuminated the night! A couple of hours later, the rising sun casts a vermillion glow on the arch, heralding a beautiful morning as the sky transitions through hues of pink and orange. Welcome to the Canyons of the United States!

You have probably heard of the Grand Canyon. However, are there other canyons that are no less “grand” in spirit and beauty? Absolutely! The landscape of Utah and Arizona makes for epic adventures and striking imagery!

Say, you make the mandated trip to the Grand Canyon and have a few days to spare. What would I recommend? I will present names such as Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Zion National Park.

Not many outside the US would be familiar with those places. However, think of a typical Wild West shot. If I showed you a photograph of Monument Valley, your brain would make the connection! This iconic spot is only a couple of hours away from Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon where light shafts galvanize the narrow walls in an explosion of colors! From there, you could cross into Utah to explore Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Monument Valley, Utah

My primary purpose in Zion was to complete the Angel’s Landing hike. What is special about Angel’s Landing, you ask? Steep and narrow trail along the ridge of a canyon, chains to assist your effort, and 1000-foot drops on either side. I cannot express the sheer thrill that courses through your muscles as you inch forward on the precarious trail!

Further into Utah, you can spend an afternoon in Bryce Canyon. It is famous for its Amphitheater section that houses geological features known as “hoodoos.” Now, let me share Bryce Canyon’s biggest secret. If you remain in the park after all others have left, on a moonless night, you will witness one of the best night skies of your life! I remember the moment when I walked out into an area with a 360 panoramic view and looked up. Goosebumps and tears! Every inch of the midnight-blue sky had a celestial object.

You can experience brilliant night skies all over Utah. All my nights in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks were spent under the Milky Way. Both these parks are located close to a town called Moab which is popular among adventurists.

There are so many other places I could have mentioned! But I do hope I have been able to paint an eye-opening picture. So, let me ask you – next time you make travels plans to America, would your itinerary go beyond New York, Vegas, and Los Angeles? Unfortunately, the package tours you come across cater to convention and are not aware of the beauty that lies beyond those places. However, all you need is information and an adventurous spirit! Talk to someone who has had experience travelling through these beautiful regions or do your own research. I encourage you to explore the America you do not know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published.