The Surreal Landscape of Deadvlei, Namibia

The picture below is not that of a painting. It was taken inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, in a strange and alien landscape called Dead Vlei. Although sounds similar to “dead valley”, Dead Vlei is not an actually valley. The term means “dead marsh” (from English dead, and Afrikaans vlei, a lake or marsh in a valley between the dunes).

Deadvlei is a white clay pan located near the more famous salt pan of Sossusvlei, scattered with hundreds of dead Acacia trees that once thrived when water from the Tsauchab River soaked this piece of land. Some 900 years ago the river diverted its course, leaving Dead Vlei literally high and dry. Dead Vlei has been claimed to be surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world, the highest reaching 300-400 meters which rest on a sandstone terrace.

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Abgestorbene Akazien im Dead vlei, Namibia

Icebergs, Whales and a Football Pitch

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Disko Island is just off the west coast of Greenland. It has a population of approximately 1,200. It has an area of 8,578 km2 (3,312.0 sq mi), making it the second largest island of Greenland (after the main island of Greenland) and one of the 100 largest islands in the world. The vast majority of the landmass is rock. But the soccer hungry people of the island built a top quality football pitch on a beach.

While the soccer game is on spectators can enjoy the beautiful scenery, especially the icebergs just offshore. And every so often whales can be seen breaching the surface and blowing water out of their blowholes.

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The Unique Mountain that is Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has a very unique appearance in relation to other giant mountains of the world.  First of all the upper reaches of the mountain are not covered in ice and snow, and the sparse vegetation at the top give the mountain a dark chocolate colour.  Second is the volcanic crater in the middle of the flat top.  It reminds me of a big mound of chocolate sprinkled lightly with whip cream.

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Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, KiboMawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcanic mountain in Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet above sea level (the Uhuru Peak/Kibo Peak).

Kilimanjaro is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 5,895 m (19,341 ft); Mawenzi 5,149 m (16,893 ft); and Shira 3,962 m (13,000 ft). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim.

Kilimanjaro is a large stratovolcano. Two of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, are extinct while Kibo (the highest peak) is dormant and could erupt again. The last major eruption has been dated to between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Although it is dormant, Kibo has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on Kibo in the past, one creating the area known as the Western Breach.

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The Sand Dunes of Rub al Khali

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Rubʿ al-Khali, (literally “Empty Quarter” in Arabic), also spelled Al-Rabʿ al-Khali, is a vast desert in the southern Arabian Peninsula, covering about 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km) in a structural basin that takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest area of continuous sand in the world. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter’s size but composed mostly of graveled plains and rocky outcrops.

The desert is 1,000 kilometres long, and about 500 kilometres wide, and its topography is varied. In the west the elevation is as high as 2,000 feet (610 metres) and the sand is fine and soft, while in the east the elevation drops to 600 feet (183 metres) with sand dunes, salt flats, and sand sheets. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains.

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Aerial image of the sand dunes of Rub’ al Khali.

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The image above was taken on May 16, 2011, by the crew of the International Space Station. Parallel rows of salmon-pink and white alternate to create a rippling pattern. White salt flats, known as sebkhas or sabkhas, separate the dunes. These salt-encrusted plains vary in hardness, in some places creating a surface strong enough to drive a vehicle over, in other places disappearing into sand.

The orientation of the linear dunes lies at a right angle to northwesterly trade winds that originate in Iraq, known as the Shamal winds. Secondary barchan (crescent-shaped) dunes and star dunes—with crests originating from a single point and stretching in several directions—can form atop the linear dunes when southwesterly winds blow during the monsoon season (Kharif winds). The long, linear dunes begin to break up into isolated large star dunes to the northeast and east (image right). This is likely the result of wind pattern interactions and of changes in the sand supply.

The Empty Quarter was so named because the hyper arid climate and difficulty of travel through the dunes has long discouraged permanent settlement within the region. The first documented journeys made by Westerners were those of Bertram Thomas in 1931 and St. John Philby in 1932. With daytime temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius, and dunes taller than 330 meters, the desert may be one of the most forbidding places on Earth.

There is however, evidence of human activity at Rub’ al Khali dating from 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found. Several fossil remains of animals such as hippopotamus, water buffalo, and long-horned cattle also indicates the presence of water once in the distant past.

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Photo credit: NASA

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Pittsburgh, PA.,: A very Hilly City

Being from Winnipeg, one of the flattest cities in the world, hilly cities have always intrigued me. I always thought San Francisco was the U.S. city with the most hills, but I discovered that Pittsburgh is even hillier than the California city.

The city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the United States, is located over an unruly terrain of hills, hollows, valleys and three intersecting rivers. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Pittsburgh was growing as a coal and steel town, factory workers built houses in the hills rising above the flat riverbanks that were lined with factories. In order to commute to work, city officials and residents built staircases along the hillsides, originally of wood and later with concrete that ran up and down throughout the city.

Revered American journalist Ernie Pyle famously wrote about the city in 1937:

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States. Physically, it is absolutely irrational. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat… I’ve flown over it, and driven all around it, and studied maps of it, and I hardly know one end of Pittsburgh from the other… There’s just one balm — people who live here can’t find their way around, either.

 

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The steps

Many of the city’s neighborhoods are steeply sloped with two-lane roads. More than a quarter of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods make reference to “hills,” “heights,” or other similar indicators by name.

The city has some 712 sets of outdoor pedestrian stairs with 44,645 treads and 24,090 vertical feet including hundreds of paper streets composed entirely of stairs and many other steep streets with stairs for sidewalks. Many provide vistas of the Pittsburgh area while attracting hikers and fitness walkers.

 

Population (2013)
 • City 305,841
 • Rank US: 62nd
 • Density 5,540/sq mi (2,140/km2)
 • Urban 1,733,853 (US: 27th)
 • Metro 2,360,867 (US: 22nd)
 • CSA 2,659,937 (US: 20th)
 • GMP $131.3 billion (23rd)

 

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Route 66

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U.S. Route 66 or U.S. Highway 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the Route 66 television series, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964. In John Steinbeck’s classic American novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the road “Highway 66” symbolized escape and loss.

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US 66 served as a primary route for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.

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American pop-culture artists publicized US 66 and the experience, through song and television. Bobby Troup wrote “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”, and the highway lent its name to a TV series in the 1960s.

The end of the road at the Santa Monica pier

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The World’s Southernmost City

The southern part of South America is fractured into a number of small islands collectively known as Tierra del Fuego. Located roughly between 52° and 55° latitudes, these islands constitute some of the most distant landmasses on earth measured from the equator.

The region is sparsely populated, but there are two major population centers here—Ushuaia and Río Grande—both located on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, the largest island of the archipelago. This island is shared by Argentina and Chile, and while the Chilean part is geographically larger, the Argentinean side is more populous. Both Ushuaia and Río Grande are similarly sized, but Ushuaia is located further south, a position that has allowed it to claim the title of the “southernmost city in the world,” although it is not the only town who claims so.

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Ushuaia is the administrative capital of Tierra del Fuego, an industrial port and a tourist hub. Almost all tourist trips to Antarctica start from here. People from all over the world fly in to Ushuaia, disembark and immediately proceed to board one of the cruise ships that line the dock, for the voyage south. Few actually stop to explore the city.

Ushuaia has a sizable population of 71,000 and the infrastructure to call itself a city. There is a settlement called Puerto Williams further south, but it has a population of only 2,800. Puerto Williams is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province, and it too claims the title of world’s southernmost city. But because of the town’s small size and population, that claim is not taken too seriously.

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Ushuaia’s claim is challenged by Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. Punta Arenas is among the largest cities in the entire Patagonian Region with a population of 127,000, as of 2012. The city is located north of Ushuaia, but Chilean authorities claim that Punta Arenas is a truer city than Ushuaia being vastly larger than Ushuaia both in population and area. Ushuaia is only 23 square kilometers, while Punta Arenas is more than seventeen thousand square kilometers. This makes Punta Arenas a strong candidate to the title of the “world’s southernmost city”.

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If size is not a criteria, than Puerto Toro is the world’s southernmost settlement having a permanent population of 36—mostly fishermen and their families. It is the only such community on Earth that is situated below the 55th parallel south. It is also the only Chilean locality and port with coasts and waters belonging to the Atlantic Ocean.

Puerto Toro was founded in 1892 during the Tierra del Fuego Gold Rush and was once one of the most important towns in the region. Once the gold prospect diminished, people moved out and Puerto Toro became a small hamlet.

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