The Gem Carvings of Konovalenko- Denver, Colorado

Following up on my last post regarding my at times overzealous interest in geology and pretty much all subfields therein, it’s only fitting to admit the #1 reason we decided to visit this particular museum over any others. We (and by that I mean ‘me’) had been undecided on which museums in Denver we were going to try and make it around to, since there’s a fantastic abundance of them (the Denver Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Byers–Evans House, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Museo de las Americas, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art and of course the the historically interesting Molly Brown house museum) but a quick google search through the current exhibitions they had going on at the Denver Museum of History and Science had me 100% decided this was the one we would definetly have to make time to go see.

Specifically, it was the exhibition regarding the Russian folk life gem carvings of Vasily Konovalenko that caught my eye. I didn’t know it at the time, but the museum is home to the most significant collection of these gem-carving sculptures in the world- actually the only collection on public display outside of Moscow. I could probably wax poetic about these amazing works of art for pages on end but the thing that struck me the most when I first saw these carvings in real life was not only their beauty, but the sheer mastery of skill displayed in each of them. These are sculptures carves from gems, and not only are are they wondrously- almost magically-  gorgeous, they’re also engaging. Each carving tells a story and there’s not a single one that doesn’t draw you in with the magnificent play of colors and the forever frozen flexing of stone hands and candid features.

– a short video regarding three of the sculptures displayed at the museum and the background and history behind their beauty: A Stone Live On

– this is one of my favorite quick reads for a little more information on the artist behind these wonders.

The exhibit is in a very quiet part of the museum, tucked away in the back of the second floor, just off the Explore Colorado area, easily overlooked if you weren’t determined to find it. While we were there, people shuffled in, wandered around the glass cases and then shuffled right back on out, few really taking the time to look at each display or read the placards beneath them. On the one hand I was glad to have the room pretty much all to myself, to get the chance to look for as long as I wanted to at each carving and take photos from all angles….but on the other hand, I really wanted to rush up to each person that just walked away after a quick look-see and beg them to appreciate the beauty of each sculpture, to linger just a little bit longer. Of course, i’m not that big of a weirdo and eventually I too shuffled out- though I did end up buying a book at the giftshop below, called Stories in Stone , which I would very much recommend if you’re interested in the carvings but can’t quite make it out to Denver just yet.

And if you do get a chance to visit, I hope you give yourself the time to really enjoy this room and all the beautiful and compelling work it holds.

~m

All That Glitters…- Denver Museum of Nature and Science, CO

I’m a pretty nerdy person. I read economics books for fun, go nuts over things like Masdar City and most anything involving Elon Musk, will gladly talk about the Byzantine Empire with anyone that has half a passing interest and i’ll probably breakdown in tears if I ever get to actually touch a piece of Hadrian’s Wall. So it should come as no surprise that I would make it a priority to hit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science while in the area.

It’s certainly been a good while since I visited a museum that truly captured my attention, the last time being when I was in NYC and visited the American Museum of Natural History with my good friend Kat and I about lost my mind in the opulence of their minerals and gems exhibit. You could say I have an er….mild interest in geology (somewhere I can hear the slightly hysterical laughter of friends and co-workers i’ve sunk into boredom with my talks on exactly why geology is so dang interesting).

We hit the museum early on our last full day in the Denver area and we had plans to spend just a couple of hours there before checking out the Denver Art Museum, but I ended up mesmerized by the Gems & Minerals exhibit (as well as two others, but more on that later). The crowds were pretty mild, probably because we went during a weekday and I’d definetly recommend a visit if your in the area and are interested in learning more about Colorado’s rich (ha) mining history. The exhibits were informative, engaging and definetly fit with the whole atmosphere they had going on, managing to make the experience intimate without toeing the line towards claustrophobic that i’ve seen some geological exhibits veer into. Eventually though, the kiddos on field trips streamed in and so we headed out towards the next stop.

(Btw, just a heads up- if you’ve no interest in museums, feel free to skip the next two posts which will be on the Konovalenko Gem Carvings and North American Cultures exhibitions.)

~m

In The Humid Dark- Carlsbad Caverns NP, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns, NM Carlsbad Caverns, NM Carlsbad Caverns, NM Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Carlsbad Caverns was (supposed) to be the last stop on this frankly epic roadtrip we took, after which we were to head directly home to meld ourselves onto the couch and promise never to do another trip like that again. Thats not exactly how things worked out, but thats a story for the last post.

This post is just a short one where I give you some advise that in retrospect I should have already known going in and also this is the post where I apologize for the terrible iPhone photos of above. After enduring a rather grueling 12+ hour drive we did from Joshua Tree, having an early start that next morning was about the last thing we needed. So by the time we made it to the already bustling parking lot of the caverns, I was ready to just fold myself into the backseat, take a nap and just let the bf do the Caverns tour by himself. But common sense prevailed and he convinced me that I would regret not peeling myself out of the car to go see this much talked about underworld.

Two things to remember if you plan to visit this park :

  1. The humidity down there is INSANE. Please don’t do what I did and dress in 5 different types of layers, unless you bring a backpack to put said layers into when you inevitable soak through all of them and end up walking around like a disgruntled mushy mess.
  2. If you decided to take the Natural Entrance down into the caverns (by which I mean the self-guided tour), please do be very aware of your own physical fitness level.   From the NPS own website : “The Natural Entrance route is a self-guided tour available to visitors with plenty of time and in good physical condition. This 1.25-mile tour follows the traditional explorer’s route, entering the cavern through the large historic natural entrance. The Natural Entrance route descends more than 750 feet into the earth following steep and narrow trails through a tall and spacious trunk passage called the Main Corridor.

There is an elevator available through the main building (where you’d go to buy your entrance ticket and get to the Natural Entrance) that takes you down into the caverns so it’s not strictly necessary to go down the natural entrance to see the caverns but I will say, it’s the best way to get acclimated to the atmosphere and in general really get an appreciation for the size and scope of the whole thing.

I didn’t bring my camera down into the caverns as I have little to no experience shooting in that kind of environment and also i’m clumsy as all hell and didn’t want to risk banging up my equipment but, I don’t actually regret that as it gave me more freedom to just enjoy the splendor of the caverns without worrying about trying to take good photos. If I saw an interesting formation or came up to a precipice that looked over and out, I would take out my iPhone and snap a couple of photos but in general it was one of the more leisurely parts of the whole trip and I enjoyed it immensely.

My last bit of advice while exploring this park is this, be aware of your surroundings and don’t be a jerk and/or weirdo. What do I mean by that? Sounds echo down here, and while most areas are pretty well lit, this is still a deep dark cavern and there’s plenty of places where the darkness is slightly suffocating and creates a horror movie kind of feel. Don’t be that person who talks overly loud, destroying the atmosphere and forcing everyone to listen in to your conversation and don’t be that person who walks WAY too closely to others, especially if they’ve made room for you to pass. I was side-eyeing more than a few people who did both of these things, though thankfully it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the experience.

We emerged from the caverns by the elevator into the gift shop, sweaty and with shaky legs, eyes blinking into the brightness like creatures unused to the light. The bf had visited this park in his childhood and seemed infinitely thrilled to have gotten to experience it again and as for me? Well, it was my first time descending willingly into the darkness like that, and just as my first experience with a canyon was sufficiently grand, so was this first experience with caverns. Definetly can’t recommend it enough if you’re in the area.

~m

p.s that last photo of Dolls Theater? Let me just say it’s even creepier in person. 

Goodbye, Utah- Canyonlands National Park

The thing about roadtrips is, no matter how fantastic a place might be, eventually you have to move on to the next leg of the journey. And as amazing as the time we spent here was, after three full days spent wandering around this corner of Utah, I was ready to pack up and head West.  We finished up our last morning at Canyonlands with a breakfast at the picnic area at Upheaval Dome and then headed out with a playlist heavy on Coldpay and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I think we’ll be back to Utah, eventually. But considering my heart is almost desperately yearning for a different continent altogether, probably not for a good couple of years. Thats ok though, because while it would be a lie to say i’ve gotten my fill of the marvels this state holds, I think I’ve enough good memories to tide me over till we come back again.

~m

Green River Overlook- Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Orange Cliffs Overlook, Canyondlands national park, Utah Orange Cliffs Overlook, Canyondlands national park, Utah
Green River Overlook, Canyonlands NP
Green River Overlook landscape, Canyonlands NP
Canyonlands NP, Utah
Canyonlands NP, Utah landscape

The second in my series on Canyonlands NP, the last post will be on Friday (hopefully, if procrastination doesn’t just knock me over and sit me down on the couch to watch Star Trek Beyond ).

I had originally meant to just fit these photos in with the last post but there was something holding me back from that…and whether thats the fact that this overlook had that “WOW” factor I hadn’t been expecting or because I had America’s song Horse With No Name on repeat while I edited these photos in Lightroom, no one will ever know. We managed to get this overlook all to ourselves for a good while that morning, and with the sun filtering in and out of the clouds overhead, casting different lights and shadows as it willed, it was magnificent. It’s certainly a different kind of view than the Grand View Point, but perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have any expectations coming into it that made it all that much more incredible.

Full disclaimer- despite the title of this post, the first two photos are actually from the Orange Cliffs Overlook, which I highly recommend stopping by as well. While we were there, only one other car stopped by and they didn’t even get out of their car. From the road the overlook doesn’t look like much, but if you walk a little further down the path, the land opens up a bit more and you start seeing buttes and other kinds of formations out there which….sure, might not be much to get excited about for a lot of people but, you’ll always find me running out towards whatever geological formations are around 9/10 times.

“You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la, la…”

~m

p.s This song might have been more appropriate while editing photos of Death Valley but, you’ll soon understand why “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel was much better suited.