The 5 Most Beautiful Places I Have Ever Been

April 14, 2020  •  3 Comments

Quarantine.

Stay-at-Home Orders.

Travels cancelled or postponed.

This is the time we live in now, but it will not always be like this. 

We will be able to travel again soon, and I'm sure many of you are already planning your next adventure, waiting with fingers crossed for a time when we will be able to get out and play again. Here's a blog post dedicated to those beautiful places that call us to explore. 

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A few days ago on Instagram I posted a photo of Laguna Colorada in the Bolivian Altiplano, and in the caption I wrote that it was one of the prettiest places that I had ever seen. I thought I could narrow down all the beautiful places that I have been fortunate to visit into a list of the top 5 prettiest places. But at the time I could not, and I ended up with a 5 or 6 way tie for 5th. I know. I wimped out. But I have found the courage to complete the task. Here is my top 5 most beautiful places.

1. Kauai, Hawaii

Kalalau LookoutKalalau CloudsSometimes when I need a little a space and peace i go into nature, set up and camera and just photograph what I see. At times like these it's all about enjoying the moment and receiving Kauai's nurturing energy.
Koke'e Sate Park, Kauai, Hawaii
Kalalau Clouds, Kauai, Hawaii

I start the list with my home island, Kauai. The natural beauty here is simply off the charts. The greens and the blues give a healing quality to the landscape and the energy here just feels good. When thinking of this list the feeling of the places became very important to me. Thinking about how being somewhere makes me feel. And being on Kauai just feels good. I've been all over the island to photograph and I think the most beautiful places are Kalalau Lookout (photo above), Hanalei Bay (below) and Ke'e Beach, looking towards the Na Pali Coast and the dancing waves that at times mosh and at others delicately pirouette.

Hanalei BayA Perfect Day in HanaleiBlue skies and gentle waves at one of my favorite places on island. Yes, it’s another perfect day in Hanalei.
Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
A Perfect Day in Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Bay is the happy place. I don't photograph here too much because it's not a place to work. It's a place to enjoy. It's the place to take a long walk on the beach and figure things out. To sit with wifey and friends with a cooler and towel. To play. To live. To be. 

Hanalei BayDance at the BayThe deluge of April 2018 has passed, and while the bay changed, the ocean still flows and the pier is still there. The light is magical and we follow nature's shifts and changes. We still dance, it's just we know now it is Mother Nature who leads.
Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Dance at the Bay, Kauai, Hawaii

Lastly, if you catch Ke'e beach on the right day this place just gives and gives and gives. The mana or energy is so powerful to be spiritual. I like it best in the fall when you might catch the waves jumping towards the rugged cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. At this time of the year the light is exceptional and the side/through light of the evening can really light up the ocean waves as they rise through the air. 

Napali CoastWhen Conditions Are Right (Wheel of Life)Giant waves jump together with the Napali Coast cascading in distant shadows as a bird flies in the upper right corner, giving life to the scene.
I went to Ke'e on two consecutive evenings. On the first evening I went to photograph what I thought would be an epic day on the north shore. And it was. I got some really good shots that day and wanted to go back again-- not so much to photograph more-- but simply to experience again. To feel the mana and power again. This shot was taken on the second day and, like the first, it was an epic evening on the Na Pali Coast.
Haena State Park, Kauai, Hawaii


Awards
8th Annual International Color Awards Honorable Mention (Professional Nature Category) .
2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Editor's Favorite (Spontaneous Moments Category)

*12"x18" Metal Print SOLD OUT
*16"x24" Metal Print SOLD OUT
When Conditions Are Right, Kauai, Hawaii

Alive, Kauai, Hawaii

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2. Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Spring is nature's perfection. Standing at Tunnel View, looking out over the valley and seeing El Capitan on the left, Half Dome in the middle, and Bridal Falls on the right is seeing symphony of symmetry. It is absolutely awe inspiring. 

Dreamworld (Yosemite)Dreamworld (Yosemite)We arrived at the Upper Pines campground around 2 AM following our drive from the San Jose Airport. So we didn't see anything along the way except for some fruit signs in Fresno and wild eyes glittering in the forests as we approached Yosemite Valley from Wawona. After quietly setting up our tent (total stealth mode!) we crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep. We awoke later that morning to dreamworld of granite walls, waterfalls, wild animals and so much to explore.
Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Dreamworld was published by National Geographic to the Daily Dozen feature on June 15, 2017. From National Geographic photo Editor Matt Adams, "I love your title for this image, Lee. It definitely feels like a dreamworld that I am looking at. The low hanging clouds really set this landscape image part from ones that might be similar. You captured a great moment here, there's a nice mix of shadows and light that add some interesting layers to this photo."

11th Annual International Color Awards Nominee in the Professional Nature Category.
Dreamworld, Yosemite NP, California

Light enters the valley and plays with the many waterfalls, creating rainbows in the day and moon bows at night.

The Bridal VeilThe Bridal VeilRainbows dance at Bridal Veil Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

The Bridal Veil, Yosemite NP, California

Moonbow and Yosemite FallsMoonbow and Yosemite Falls Moonbow Chasing, Yosemite NP, California

 And while Yosemite is certainly no secret, you can still find quiet scenes to have all to yourself. Here, you can contemplate the serenity instilled by the granite walls that are all around you. And in the fall you can appreciate the quiet calm brought by this magnificent local as the Merced runs slow and offers time of reflection. The overall feeling of Yosemite is inspiration. 

Merced Flow Slow in the FallMerced Flow Slow in the FallThe Merced River reflects the beauty of fall in Yosemite NP, California. Merced Run Slow, Yosemite NP, California

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3. Laguna Colorada, the Bolivian Altiplano, Bolivia

Laguna Colorada in Reserve Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, a Bolivian national park very near to the Chilean border, is incredible. It's water is the color of burnt-orange and rust-red. It's full of rare flamingos-- James's, Andean, and Chilean flamingos. And 16,000 foot mountains surround it. Vicunas roam it's shore and play in the valleys that lead to its shallow waters. The feeling of the place is newness, like what the Earth was like when it was new. 

One of the Prettiest Places I Have Ever BeenOne of the Prettiest Places I Have Ever BeenLaguna Colorada is one of the prettiest places I have ever been. I would say that it is right up there with: Kauai, Yosemite Valley, Denali NP and the Cordillera Blanca in Peru.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
*2020 ND Awards Honorable Mention-- Nature: Landscape.
One of the Prettiest Places I Have Ever Been, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

When the Earth was NewWhen the Earth was NewThe Altiplano impresses me to imagine what the Earth may have looked like when it was new. Volcanos active, soil red and ashen, lakes full of color and smells. The Altiplano was like a collision of chemistry and geology and the landscape was fresh and new.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
When the Earth was New, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

The flamingos flying around this lake really helped to put this place on the list. The scenic beauty is incredible, but the flamingos give the place life and a relatable splendor.

Walk on WaterWalk on WaterA James's Flamingo walks on water at the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in the Southwest corner of the Bolivian Altiplano.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Walk on Water, Laguna Colorada, Bolilvia

A James's Flamingo Glides ByA James's Flamingo Glides ByA James's Flamingo strides by in the shallow waters of Laguna Colorada.
Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia
Honorable Mention in the 2021 International Color Awards Photo Contest (Professional Wildlife).
James's Flamingo Gliding By, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

The surrounding area of the Reserve is raw and surreal. The weather volatile. It is a place where you believe that you may find something that you have never yet seen. It is incredibly fresh and new and even a little playful.

Hey ThereHey ThereA vicuna roams the high plateau as storm showers fall in the distance. This is the Altiplano, wild and beautiful.
Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia
Hey There, the Altiplano, Bolivia

The AltiplanoThe AltiplanoSometimes I like the unexpected image more than the planned one. Like, on this trip, I had dreamed of photographing the Salar de Uyuni, the near mythical salt flats of Bolivia, flooded and at golden hour with reflection of sky all around me. And while I did that and enjoyed the experience and find the images from those days compelling, I almost like this one more. The unexpected scene that I happened upon at just the right time: blowing storm over the red lake in the distance with just enough sunlight shining onto the colored earth and clouds to make the scene pop. Yes, this image shows the magic of the Altiplano. The unexpectedness of its rugged beauty. The volatility of the land and weather. The little moments of magic that are soon gone forever, unless you have the picture.
Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia
*2020 ND Awards Honorable Mention-- Fine Art: Landscape category.
The Altiplano, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

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4. Denali National Park, Alaska

A Sunny Summer DayA Sunny Summer DayOver the past two and one half years I have camped at Wonder Lake 12 nights and never seen the mountain full. Even on this trip I didn't see it clearly until changing campsites to Teklanika. Luckily, I was able to drive out to Wonder Lake to get this photo. I actually drove there and back twice on this day, making sure to take advantage of the privilege of the permit and the blessing of the mountain.
Denali National Park, Alaska
A Sunny Summer Day in Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska is the wildest place I have ever been and Denali National Park may just be the wildest place in Alaska. Big mountains. Big vistas. Big wildlife. The place is just so wild and awesome. 

Denali Park RoadDenali Park RoadQuintessential Denali-- Grizzly, Park Road and a colorful and rugged landscape inspiring one to explore.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali Park Road, Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali is a park that rewards those who persevere. If you are looking for wildlife, dome days you don't even see a bear's butt. But on other days you see Toklat Blonde Grizzlies, Caribou, Moose, Wolf, Ground Squirrels, Beavers, lynx (I haven't yet seen one in Denali, but I've heard they are there...), snow hare, porcupine, and so much more! And when the weather is clear the mountain views of the Brooks Range are uplifting. I've said before that seeing Denali or the mountain is like seeing God. It makes sense that Denali means "The High One" because seeing it is indeed a spiritual experience. On some days Denali is like a storybook land whose pages are full of nature's gospel. Church.

Alpen GlowAlpen GlowAlpen glow sets on Denali and it's reflection around 11 pm on a summer night. Alpen Glow, Denali National Park, Alaska

Caribou CruisingCaribou CruisingI was driving towards Wonder Lake one evening when I came upon this Caribou just cruising the park road. I love how he is backlit by the warm evening light that brightens the pastels and green of the tundra landscape that surrounded us.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Caribou Crusing, Denali National Park, Alaska

A Look into the HeavensA Look into the HeavensDenali National Park, Alaska

Northern Lights, Denali National Park, Alaska

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5. The Santa Cruz Trek, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

To this day the best hike I have ever done is the day hike to Laguna 69 and the best through hike or backpack is the Santa Cruz Trek. Better than the Teton Crest Trail, better than Tombstone and better even than the Kalalau Trail. Here is a glimpse of Laguna 69.

The Magic Triangle of Laguna 69The Magic Triangle of Laguna 69The Laguna 69 Trail along the Santa Cruz Trek in the Cordillera Blanca region of the Peruvian Andes. Laguna 69 is a 4,000 meter high alpine lake that derives it's beautiful blue color from the surrounding glaciers.
Huerez, Peru

The Magic Triangle of Laguna 69, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

And waterfalls that we passed on the way...

laguna 69 trailNature is Awesomethe view along the laguna 69 trail reminds me once again that nature is awesome.
location: santa cruz trek
Nature is Awesome, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

The Santa Cruz trek was a difficult hike with several high altitude passes, the highest of which was Punta Union Pass at 4,750 meters above sea level. Here's a look on a cloudy day from atop the pass (best lunchtime view I've ever had).

Circle of Blue (The View from Atop Punta Union Pass)Circle of Blue (The View from Atop Punta Union Pass)peru 2014-- lima, cusco, machu picchu, huarez, cordillera blanca Circle of Blue, Santa Cruz Trek, Peru

Looking back at the trip now, I realize that this was my first time real experience in a big wilderness area. And now I just want more and more.

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Mahalo for reading. What's your Top Five? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below. I'm always looking to add to the list!

Stay well and be safe!

Aloha,

Lee

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To see more photos of Ke'e Beach and Kauai seascapes, please click here.

To see more photos of Yosemite National Park, please click here.

To see more photos of Laguna Colorada, please click here.

To see more photos of Denali National Park, please click here.

And to see more photos of the Santa Cruz Trek, please visit the Travels gallery here

 


Comments

Sandy Herndon(non-registered)
Aloha, Lee, and many mahalos for sharing the artistry of your camera, recording the artistry of Mother Kaua`i's beauty. I love the Alaka`i Bog shots...sorta reminds me of a "Boggy Mountain Breakdown" ! Lyrical, rhythmic, and so beautiful! And of course, memorable!
Light Source Photography by Lee Scott
Aloha Shirley,
Thank you for taking the time to view my blog post and especially for the recommendation that I photograph Loften Islands, Norway. The place sounds spectacular. Perhaps, once this craziness ends I’ll be able to make it that way.
Stay safe and have a wonderful weekend.
Shirley Olsen(non-registered)
Your photos are beautiful and breathtaking! I recommend the Lofiten Islands in northern Norway! The mountains rise out of the sea and waterfalls plunge into it. Colorful fishing villages are tucked in to small inlets and smooth, sandy beaches are pleasant surprises amidst such ruggedness. If you go in late winter or early spring, Aurora Borealis adds the crowning touch! Give yourself at least two weeks.
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