Tag Archives: photography

Hike in the Desert

Talk about fifty shades of gray. For much of the year, the entirety of the Sonoran Desert is more or less some variant on gray or brown. In spring, however, the desert landscape bursts into color with the awakening of the flowers.

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My parents and I decided to take advantage of the spring weather and hike one of Phoenix’s big mountains. Phoenix is unique in many ways, but one of the things I love most about this city is the mountain ranges that rise from the center of the metropolis. In fact, Phoenix has the best urban hiking in the entire United States.

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We decided to hike Piestewa Peak, the second tallest mountain in the Phoenix Mountain Range. Piestewa used to be called Squaw Peak, but many people felt that this name was not respectful. It was renamed to honor a Native woman who died in combat in Iraq.

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Piestewa Peak stands at 2,612 feet in elevation. Its prominence is 1,175 feet. We made it up in 36 minutes. At the top we enjoyed the sweeping views of the Phoenix area. No ocean anywhere… just miles and miles of dust and hills. What a difference from the view from Pic Paradis back home! I do have to say that I love both the watery disk of Caribbean mountain top views and the endless layers of mountains in the Southwest.

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We could even see Arizona Christian University (my alma mater), Ben’s and my first apartment, and the Cardinals stadium from the peak.

We met a small, furry resident at the top of the mountain. I don’t see many squirrels in the Valley of the Sun! He’s so cute.

 

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Later, at the bottom, we saw the squirrel’s smaller cousin: a chipmunk.IMG_0305

The top of the mountains are a butterfly’s paradise. Each spring, they flit and flutter at the peaks, away from the oppression of dust and pollution.

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Black Swallowtail
At this time of year, the cactus begin to bloom. My mom says that cactus blossoms are God’s grace on an ugly plant.

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Engelmann Hedgehog
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They certainly do add beauty to something you’d rather not hug. Still, cactus are interesting and have their own kind of charm, whether they’re blooming or not.

Desert wildflowers are gorgeous. Some years, they barely show up. Others, they carpet the hillsides in vibrant pinks and yellows. They are at the mercy of the droughts.

The quiet stillness of the hills are a refreshing break from the hurry and busyness of city life. I think that’s how we all keep our sanity. A hike to the top of the mountain puts everything in perspective.

 

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Two Girls Downtown

Sand and sun, tanzanite, johnny cakes and chapels. Downtown Philipsburg is as eclectic and international as you could ask. Philipsburg is the capitol of Dutch Sint Maarten, and its narrow streets hold a mixture of history and modern trends. Alyssa and I took an afternoon to explore this mix of past and present.

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Visitors to Sint Maarten often arrive by cruise ship. The first thing these tourists see is the Boardwalk, which is a sunny strip of sidewalk that borders Great Bay beach.

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Philipsburg was founded by a Dutch Navy captain named John Philips in 1763. Until the 1950’s, this area was relatively quiet, as far as tourism goes. At one time, it contained Sint Maarten’s only port, and saw just a handful of large boats each year. Later, as the island’s tourist industry expanded after World War II, bigger piers were built to accommodate cruise ships. It became one of the Caribbean’s busiest ports, and today thousands of vacationers stream off the gangways each week.

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The Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church is located on the Boardwalk. The St. Martin of Tours Parish is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year! The church was named after the island’s own namesake, a 4th-century bishop whose feast day is November 11. When Christopher Columbus “discovered” Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, he named the island in honor of Saint Martin’s feat day. Naturally, the island’s  first Catholic church was also named after this saint.

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The Boardwalk holds many lovely surprises, like the reggae band we found and the little open-air restaurant where we stopped for icees.

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Iced drinks are the perfect refreshment on a warm February day in the tropics.

 

 

For many, the Sint Maarten experience stops here, on the edge of the aquamarine bay with a beach chair and a bottle of Heineken. But there’s so much more to downtown than just the boardwalk! Take a quick stroll down any one of the alleys leading to Front Street, and you’ll enter a whole new layer of the tourism district.

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Front Street is a wonderful place to shop if you’re not into paying sales tax and don’t mind dropping a good bit of cash of fancy goods. It’s also a good place to get a snack from local street cart vendors.

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Apparently, it’s also the perfect street for walking your pet iguana.

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The man who photobombed this picture was a pretty good salesperson. He caught our attention by jumping into this shot, and then managed to convince us to sample his wares. The face cream was nice, but neither of us were willing to pay $120 for it!

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The Sint Maarten courthouse is the most recognizable building on the island. It’s even featured on the country’s flag. It was built in 1793 and still serves as the courthouse.

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Front street is also home to a beautiful Methodist church. We stopped to take a look inside. This building was the first Methodist church on Sint Maarten. It was built in 1851, about century after the Methodist denomination was introduced to the West Indies by Nathaniel Green.

Beyond Front Street is (you guessed it) Back Street. There are many paths to Back Street, but my favorite is Old Street.

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Old Street isn’t really that much different from the rest of downtown, but it does have a certain charm about it. Maybe it’s the 50’s-era car permanently parked in the middle of the walkway, maybe it’s the big blue castle at the end of the street.

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My personal favorite place on Old Street is the art gallery. The family who owns it came here recently from Holland. The wife creates beautiful and unique art for her gallery and teaches art classes on the weekends. Her husband has a windsurf business at Le Galion Bay. His most recent work of art, he told me, is a crayon drawing of Winnie-The-Pooh.

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Back Street is for the locals. The prices here are significantly lower than those on Front Street, and you can find anything from Nike shoes to a washing machine in the stores. The look of Back Street is unique– huge stores sell appliances, old Dutch homes buzz with modern life, and local art covers the walls.

Cannegieter Street, or Third Street, as some people call it, comes next. Every day that a cruise ship docks at the port, Philipsburg Market is open. Dozens of vendors sell their goods along both sides of the road. Shoppers can buy all kinds of islandy things here. The crocheted cover-ups are my favorite.

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Pondfill Road comes last. This street is part of the main road that travels the perimeter of the island. Pondfill also runs along the Salt Pond, where slaves used to harvest salt for their masters. Salt slavery on Sint Maarten began in the 17th century. In 1848, slavery was abolished on the French side of the island, and subsequently Dutch slaves began to escape across the border for their freedom. Because of this, Dutch slave masters released their slaves and began to pay them wages for their work in 1848, although it would be 15 years before emancipation was officially legislated. There is now a monument to the salt slaves in the center of the round-a-bout on Pondfill Road. I took the picture below on Sint Maarten’s Day, when paraders marched down Pondfill dressed as salt pickers.

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As you can see, downtown Philipsburg is more than a place to tan or shop. It is the center of Sint Maarten’s history. There is so much to do and see here, but you have to go beyond the tourist district to see it all! Wherever you are, get out and go exploring. Happy adventures!

 

Some photos courtesy of Alyssa Fry. Visit her blog at ColorMeYellow.net

 

 

 

The Haunting of La Belle Creole

They have forgotten us. We have faded from memory, like our flesh faded from our bones centuries ago. Yet we are here, invisible yet seeing, inaudible yet hearing, intangible yet sensing. Our spirits laugh with the lapping waves. We cry with the soaring birds. We moan with the wind. And we rage with the storms.

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There was a time when warm blood flowed through our bodies and warm flesh wrapped our bones. We walked on the shore then, cooling our feet in the ancient and everlasting waters. We ran under the tropical sun from shore to shore. Our children dove from the cliffs—how different they looked then!—into the clear waters of the reef. We tasted the sweet meat of the crab and danced in the firelight to the rhythm of the tide.

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Then they came—the strange men with strange words and strange clothing. They were harsh and resolute, and we hated them. They brought with them their vicious dogs, their explosives, and their lust. We grew weak, and our children died with raging heat in their bodies. Our women and men died with boils and scars. We wailed as our loved ones died, and we buried them with broken hearts near the sacred islet. I died, and I lay in the chill earth, away from the warm sunlight.

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They left, and came again, this time with their cannons and ships and slaves. They had already forgotten us, and they walked on our graves. I heard their footsteps on the ground above. They dragged their cannons over our graves and shattered our silence with their wars. They annihilated our peace with the crack of whips on human flesh.

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They left, and others took their place. Generations lived and died. We slept in peace for a hundred years, with only the occasional wanderer to stir us.

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They came. Their machines roared, rattling our bones. They dug over our resting places, and built great structures over our graves. I felt the pressure of a great tower over my body. We groaned under the weight. Many people came from the whole world over, and trod on our sacred tombs. We moaned, but our cries were lost in the wind. Our bloodless beings saw the blush of the new bride. Our bleached bones saw the sun-kissed skin of the happy travelers. We remembered what we had been, and what we had lost. And we remembered that we were forgotten.

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Our moans whirled as wind around the whitewashed walls that had become a monument to our destruction. Our screams filled the air, and our souls ripped from our broken bones. We broke through the sandy earth, through the cracking concrete to the surface. We felt again the humidity of the air. We knew again the roar of the sea. Our tears of rage and loss poured from the heavens, and the rush of our agony ripped through the trees. We stirred the elements and raged from sea to sea, screaming our anger through the darkening sky. We saw them pour from buildings and take flight from our island home. We saw them take cover in every nook and cranny. We saw that they were afraid, and we took our vengeance.

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We tore through the quaint buildings, tearing with invisible claws at the rich furnishings of each room. The sound of shattering glass was lost in the volume of our screams. We threw the books, the paintings, the decorations out of the windows and doors. We destroyed their world, just as they had destroyed ours.

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We satiated our lust for vengeance, and we regarded the havoc we had wreaked. Shredded curtains floated in the gentle breeze. Glass and splinters carpeted the earth. Not a living soul was to be seen.

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Only dead ones.

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We could not return to our graves. We could not penetrate the earth again. So we haunted the empty rooms, weeping in silence. We could not return the decayed flesh to our bodies or our island home to our children. We could only swear to defend the site of our sacred graves to the end of time.

 

These eerie photos are were taken in the ruins of La Belle Creole, a resort that was deserted after it was heavily damaged when Saint Martin was struck by Hurricane Luis in 1995. Local superstition states that the resort was built over an ancient Arawak grave site, which is why no modern building projects have been successful on the peninsula. Of course, I don’t believe in haunting spirits or jinxes, but I found the legend interesting and the ruins creepy enough to warrant a paranormal telling of La Belle Creole’s story. 

Exploring the Rainforest

Technically, it’s not a rainforest. Technically, it is considered highlands. This is what I remember from my natural geography class in college. Whatever the botanists call it, it still looks and feels a lot like a rainforest! There are even rumors of monkeys high in hills. We didn’t see any on our hike, but we did see a lot of butterflies and many points of interest! Come join us on our hike to Pic Paradise at Loterie Farm on the isle of Saint-Martin.

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You can see three countries from here: Netherlands (Sint Maarten) on the left, France (Saint-Martin) in the middle, and England (Anguilla), the long island on the right.

Loterie Farm is east of Marigot on the French side of Saint Marten. It is definitely a place you should go when visiting the island. It has a pool, a crazy zipline, dining, and (of course) hiking trails. The cost of hiking is five dollars or five euros. The money is more than worth it, I promise.

The entrance to Loterie Farm
The entrance to Loterie Farm
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Harnesses for the zip-lines

I and my friends decided to take the long hike with the scenic view at the top. It took a couple hours to complete, but we were glad we did it! This hike is now on my list of favorite hikes, up there with the glacial lake in Red River Valley, Badlands, and Kenya’s Great African Rift.

We grabbed hiking sticks, consulted our map, and hit the trail.

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The first thing that we noticed were the obstacle courses and zip-lines in the trees above us. I felt like I was walking in Tarzan’s tree house!

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There are several points of interest on the map. The first one we came to was the natural spring.

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Once we arrived at the spring, the trail began to climb steeply uphill. It was a little slippery on the mossy rocks, but the climb was worth it once we made it to Chewbacca View Point.

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We could see for miles from the viewpoint! Of course, most of that was just ocean water. The view gave us perspective to see how small Saint Martin really is. But what a beautiful watery wilderness the Caribbean Sea is! We could see three different territories from our lookout point. We could also see the ruins of an old fort.

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The next stop on our trek was the old well.

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By this time, we were all getting a little nervous about the ant armies that covered the trails. Stacey kept us safe by spraying our shoes with OFF.

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Fortunately, the bugs are our biggest problem. There are no snakes on Saint Martin. European colonists imported mongooses to catch and kill the snake population.

Now we just have a mongoose problem.

Beyond the well are ruins of the old sucrerie. Ruins are my favorite hiking gems, so I was pretty thrilled to see them.

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We pressed on as the trail continued uphill. We discovered such things as curious creepy crawlies,

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What Aquila called the Sexy Tree (I guess it is just that gorgeous),

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Interesting plants,

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And this odd statue of a double-jointed man in distress. Naturally, Kayla decided to empathize with him. Social workers are very good at that.

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We finally reached the lookout point at the top of the mountain!

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You can even see some ghostly islands in the distance. I believe they belong to Saint Bart’s. I expected to see a pirate ship sail out of the mist at any second, but all we saw was a cheerful little sailboat.

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To get to the lookout, we had to walk down a narrow path through tall grass. It made some of us itchy, but it was nice to have a break from the tree cover and feel the ocean breeze. It was also a great place for taking photos.

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Kalie was kind enough to pose for me.

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The trail seemed to go out into the middle of nowhere, so we eventually turned around and headed back to the mapped trail.

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On our way back, we found something attention-grabbing that was not on the map–graves! Or at least gravestones. Some of them were broken, so we weren’t sure if they were even in the right place. They were about 150 years old.

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The entire hike, we were surrounded by clouds of butterflies. They’re hard to catch on camera, but I did my best! There were hundreds of white butterflies and the occasional yellow one or orange monarch.

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We arrived back at the base camp tired, sweaty, and dirty, but happy and refreshed! What a wonderful way to spend a sunny morning in the Caribbean. We will be back.

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Photo credit: Breana Johnson, Stacey C, and Kalie L

Love Where You Live

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Love where you live. No matter where you live, learn to love it. When I was a kid, we moved from Flagstaff to Phoenix, and I spent a lot of time wishing we were back in Flagstaff, in the country, in the mountains. It took me a long time to learn to love where I lived. Too long. When I finally decided to stop looking North and start looking around me, do you know what I learned? Glendale is considered the best US city for taking walks. Greenbelts, winding paths to duck ponds and play grounds– that is hard to beat. I learned that Phoenix is one of the most diverse cities in the States with a great number of different people groups, many refugee communities, and immigrants from around the world. This means wonderful opportunities to meet people with interesting stories, valuable insights, and the smorgasbord of worldviews and experiences. You can attend a church in any language. You can shop at a supermarket specially designed to reflect the tastes of any continent. You can take classes in any language. You can eat at a restaurant with authentic food from any country in the world. Every subculture lives here; every opportunity for learning, entertainment, or community service exists here. And let us not forget to mention the mountains! You have not experienced Phoenix until you have climbed our mountains. I read yesterday that Phoenix has the best urban hiking anywhere in the country. In the western Valley, you can hike Deem Hills, Thunderbird Mountain Park, or, if you don’t mind the drive, the White Tanks. In the East, the Superstition Mountains offer endless trails and hide the gem that is the Salt River. In the South, South Mountain rises high above the horizon. And central Phoenix, of course contains my personal favorites– Camelback, Piestewa, Shadow Mountain, Dreamy Draw, North Mountain, and the beautiful Phoenix Mountain Preserve trails. “Mount Wasabi” is a Phoenix Mountain Preserve peak that was just three-quarters of a mile from ACU and from our apartment. We spent a lot of time running and hiking there. Phoenix has a lot of indoor points of interest, too. The Science Center, the Musical Instrument Museum, the pro sports facilities, the art galleries, and so much more. And our sunsets! But I digress.

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I loved living in the country. I loved living in the suburbs, once I learned to. And when I moved to central Phoenix, I loved living there, too. And wherever we go from here, I’ll learn to love it there. No matter where you go, there is something wonderful about where you live. I encourage you, don’t let your location get you down. You’ll never be happy if you can’t learn to love where you live. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” He wasn’t taking about superpowers. He was talking about contentment. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Vs. 11-14). What is the secret of being content in whatever situation you are in? Allowing God to give you the strength to be OK with wherever you are. Spend time with Him daily in prayer and in your Bible. So if you’re struggling with where you live, don’t look behind you to where you used to be or pine for some future place. Instead, look around and find the beauty in your hometown and look above you to find your strength and contentment in the Lord.

Photos copyright Breana Johnson