Death Valley – A Heat Tourist Destination

During my recent January visit to Death Valley I observed to a local that very few visitors were in the park and that I found this surprising given the moderate winter temperatures (daytime in the 60’s and 70’s). I ventured that summer would be a terrible time to visit because of the well-known record high heat indexes. “Au Contraire” said the local….summer is the park’s high season and the valley is filled with foreign tourists that the park’s rangers recognize as “Heat Tourists”. These are people who want to experience some of the highest temperatures on earth for themselves, even though they can’t actually spend a great deal of time outside in the furnace-like conditions.

Death Valley Dunes

Death Valley Dunes

This was my first visit to Death Valley National Park and it kindled fond memories of watching “Death Valley Days” in black & white on our first family television in the 1950s. It was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Borax which was a popular clothes detergent at the time (Can you imagine Millennials buying a cleaning product made of borax today?). Those “Mad Men” advertising folks were right on the money…….huge amounts of borax were mined in Death Valley in the early and mid twentieth century and in the early days, the borax was indeed carried out of the mines to processing centers in wagons pulled by teams of twenty mules.

20 Mule Team Placque

20 Mule Team Placque

Furnace Creek is the locale where earth’s highest recorded temperature occurred in 1913….134 degrees. Average day time highs in the summer are 116 degrees.

Dunes

Dunes

I expected that most of the valley floor would be covered with sand dunes but the dunes cover only a small portion of the valley.

 

 

 

 

Salt Flats

Salt Flats

Much of the valley floor is composed of these salt flats which are formed when water from the surrounding mountains carry sediments down onto the valley floor where the water eventually evaporates and leaves the minerals (much of it salt) sitting on valley surface

Moon rising in Death Valley

Moon rising in Death Valley

In addition to Death Valley, Death Valley National Park encompasses a wonderful variety of different landscapes and environments including other smaller valleys and various mountain ranges. These Joshua trees are in the park but about 10 miles from Death Valley itself.

Layers

Layers

I shot this on one of the scenic mountain peaks surrounding Death Valley just as the sun was rising. If you look carefully, you can see the various layers of mountains and color.

Sunrise Across The Dunes

Sunrise Across The Dunes

One of the enduring lessons in photography is during those magic moments when the light is special….look around! As I was taking the “Layers” photograph above, the dunes behind me were being lit up by the sunrise. This kind of scene lasts less than five minutes because the rising sun gradually fills in the shadows and the drama disappears. Lucky I turned around to see what was happening behind me!

Dunes at Sunset

Dunes at Sunset

To get a sense of scale…notice the figure walking on top of the dunes in the upper left portion of the image.
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Frank

Shrewsbury, MA

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Eastern Sierras

Here’s a little quiz for you geography geeks….where is the highest and lowest point in the continental United States? Well amazingly, they’re within 100 miles of each other in eastern California. Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states and of course, Death Valley is the lowest spot in the U.S.

In January, along with six other folks, I joined a photography workshop in California led by the superlative professional photographer Marc Adamus. In the course of a week we covered several thousand miles of California splendor as Marc continually put us in position to capture iconic images.

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney

 

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The Alabama Hills

The Alabama Hills are a legendary set of rock formations in Lone Pine, California and were the location of virtually every western movie (and many TV shows) made in the 1950s and 1960s. A local road called “Movie Road” meanders though the hills and the sites of some of the most renown western movies. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Lorne Greene, Tom Mix, and Roy Rogers were regular visitors to Lone Pine (could this town have a better name?). Their photos and hundreds of others are hanging in many of the town’s restaurants.

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Eastern Sierras View with the Owens River

The Owens River flows through the Owens valley in eastern California and was the target of the fierce California water wars in the early 1900s. Facing an increasing population and decreasing water availability,  the city of Los Angeles bought up land in the Owens Valley and constructed an aqueduct to carry the water out of the Owens Valley into Los Angeles. By 1920 the city had completely drained Owens Lake and valley farmers were irate that their agriculture businesses were in danger of collapsing. This led to years of years of resistance and accompanying violence (farmers blew up the aqueduct repeatedly). Aspects of the conflict were the basis of the Jack Nicholson film Chinatown

Eastern Sierras as seen in Bishop, CA

Eastern Sierras as seen in Bishop, CA

 

Bishop, CA ranchland

Bishop, CA ranchland

The area around Bishop California is prime photographic territory. Galen Rowell, one of photography’s luminary figures was based in Bishop and although he passed away years ago in a plane crash, his Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop is a must see for everybody. His work is an inspiration to all aspiring landscape photographers.

Follow the Curve

Follow the Curve

This day there were intermittent storms and cloudy conditions that obscured the mountains but occasionally there would be a luminous shaft of light that would strike the landscape. My goal was to find something photogenic and wait for that shaft of light to make some magic.
I found this curved fence line leading to this lone tree with blue toned clouds obscuring the mountains in the background.

 

 

Morning Light

Morning Light

 

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

These stalagmite structures called “Tufas” sprout up in heavily carbonated Mono Lake as a result of underground springs rich in calcium rising in the lake and interacting with the carbonated water with the resulting calcium carbonate material incrementally forming these spires (Wow!  heavy science info!). The water level has receded significantly in the past 50 years leaving many of the largest Tufas on the shoreline where photographers photograph them incessantly.

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Sunset over Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes resort is on the northern portion of the Sierra Range and like much of California in the past few years is experiencing severe drought conditions with the natural snow pack on the mountain being much smaller than normal. One third of California’s water originates from this snowpack.

Because of the hilly terrain and high altitude, the area is a mecca for athletes, particularly long distance runners, who like to train at high altitudes.

 

 

Storm in the Sierras

Storm in the Sierras

 

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Frank

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Firenze

As the capital city of Tuscany, Florence was the center of medieval European trade and finance and is generally considered the birthplace of the Renaissance. Many of the world’s towering artistic giants walked Florentine streets and the city remains a magnet for art lovers the world over. The names are legendary…Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Dante, Lorenzo di Medici, Botticelli, and Filippo Brunelleschi.

Duomo

Duomo

In 1418, Brunelleschi was commissioned to design and construct the dome (Duomo) of the unfinished Gothic Cathedral of Florence. The dome is actually two domes on top of one another entirely constructed from brick. Even today, the actual method of construction is a mystery and several noted Italian architects are constructing a small-scale version of the dome in an attempt to replicate the methods used in the 15th century.

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Neptune and the Palazzo Vecchio

The Fountain of Neptune is situated on the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and was commissioned in 1565 to celebrate the wedding of Francesco de’Medici to Johanna of Austria. It is the work of the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati.

The Palazzo Vecchio was the 16th century home of the Medici clan and is now the Florence town hall.

Nuns Noodling Neptune

Nuns Noodling Neptune

How often do you see a group of Nuns staring at a naked man?  Only in Italy!

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Rape of the Sabine Women

The main Piazza in Florence is the unrivaled showplace for some of the finest sculptures ever chiseled out of marble. These nonplussed peopled are sitting beneath Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women which was commissioned by the Medicis and carved out of a single block of marble in 1583. No other place in the world contains such a breathtaking array of original work by legendary artists and provides such a degree of free public accessibility.

Entrance to Palazzo Vecchio

Entrance to Palazzo Vecchio

The Rennaissance blossomed in Florence partly as a result of the Medici’s love and funding of public art which began to celebrate the human form. In the image above you can see a replica of Michaelangelo’s David (on the left) which marks the entrance to the Medici’s palace. The original David, which is now housed in the Accademia Museum, occupied this public space for almost two hundred years.

Contemplating a Sculpture

Contemplating a Sculpture

This young girl wandered off from her family to check out Pio Fedi’s Rape of Polyxena

Bored

Bored

She soon wandered back to her family and showed her complete boredom with public art.

High Fashion

High Fashion

Led perhaps, by Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Medicis made dressing up an art form during the renaissance period. Fast forward to today and many of the worlds most noted fashion designers are rooted in Florence. Starting fledgling businesses in the city, Gucci, Pucci and Ferragamo  have all built worldwide fashion empires. DSC01756 Begun in 1294 and finished in 1442, The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories. (Wikopedia)

Michaelangelo's Tomb

Michaelangelo’s Tomb

Michaelangelo’s tomb is right next to Dante’s tomb (although Dante is actually interred somewhere else).

Duomo at Night

Duomo at Night

Dancing in the Street

Dancing in the Street

This vivacious little burst of energy began dancing to a radio playing in the Piazza and attracted every cell phone camera in the area.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button. Frank Shrewsbury, MA

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Africa – The Big Cats

If we play a word association game and I say…..Africa!…. many of you will say…… Lions! And I would say Bingo!  The King of the Jungle resides on the plains of Africa and I can tell you it’s a thrill the first time you see a lion in its natural habitat and you realize exactly why you came to Africa in the first place. It’s to see the big cats. A visit to Africa is exciting and worthwhile in so may ways but seeing and photographing lions is the capstone experience.

The King

The King

 Historically lions used to roam south-east Europe, India and all of Africa but todays world lion population of approximately 25,000 lions reside in southern and eastern Africa. Males can weigh as much as 500 lbs with females considerably lighter. Lions are the only member of the cat family in which the males and females look distinctly different.

Young Lions

Young Lions

Lions are the only social species of cats and congregate into Prides of ten-twenty lions. Like elephants, the groupings are matriarchal and most hunting is done by females.

Needing a cleanup after Lunch

Needing a cleanup after Lunch

This young male and two brothers killed a Cape Buffalo (weighing roughly 2,000 lbs.) and feasted on the carcass for several hours. It’s one of the enticing and sometimes grizzly aspects of viewing predators in the wild….the full life cycle unfolds right before your eyes.

Playing with a Wildebeest skull

Playing with a Wildebeest skull

This young cub ran around with the remnant of a kill made just a few hours ago and we watched him being chased by his siblings as if they were playing a game of “keep away”. It’s the lion equivalent of a soccer ball.

Posing

Posing

 It almost looks like these two were posing for a photographer. This Pride of lions was featured in the BBC series “Big Cat Diaries”. The Pride contained a lot of cubs and young juvenile lions who cavorted and romped with each other much the same way young domestic kittens do. For photographers, arriving at a scene with lion cubs out in the open playing with each other is the cats meow ( see what I did there?)

Looking for the mud room!

Looking for the mud room!

This Pride is called the “Marsh Pride” for obvious reasons.

Brothers

Brothers

Lions are very affectionate and it’s not uncommon to see cubs, juveniles and lionesses lying amongst and overlapping each other with lots of licking and nuzzling going on.

A Young Leopard

A Young Leopard

Leopards are the second largest of the three large cat families in Africa although they are much smaller than lions. Unlike lions, leopards are solitary creatures and mothers raise their offspring alone without the aid of a social grouping. They have large heads and very strong jaws and shoulders allowing them to drag kills weighing more than they up into trees where they can devour them without being threatened by other predators.

Leopards are scarcer in the wild than lions and getting un-obscured images of them doesn’t happen on every safari. We were thrilled to find this young leopard out in the open in his tree perch.

Relaxed

Relaxed

As we were photographing this young cat, a lioness was circling the tree below. Amazingly he was totally unconcerned about the twenty or so safari vehicles trying to get a view of him but focused his attention on the threat posed by lioness.

Young Cheetahs

Young Cheetahs

Cheetahs are the third and smallest of the three big cat species in Africa. Renown for their speed and agility, they are also solitary animals where mothers raise cubs alone. With small heads and long legs and tails they can run up to 70 mph in short bursts. Hunts usually last only 30-60 seconds and are successful only 50% of the time.

A Cheetah Kill

A Cheetah Kill

This cheetah killed the Impala shortly before we arrived on the scene and is stressed by the numerous vultures and cranes waiting for the cheetah to abandon the kill so they can move in. After feeding for a while the cheetah departed and the vultures began what can only be described as a vicious food fight. Within fifteen minutes the Impala was only a skeleton.

With Mom

With Mom

This Mom had six cubs but by the time we came upon her only five remained. Cheetah cubs have high mortality rates since they are easy prey for most of the other predators on the savannah. We photographed this cheetah family for about an hour and it was a highlight of the trip…..Absolutely nothing is cuter or more photogenic than a litter of cheetah cubs in full play mode.

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button. Frank Shrewsbury, MA

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The Maasai

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people inhabiting portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. During my recent photographic trip to Kenya I visited several Maasai villages and had the opportunity to photograph traditional Maasai ceremonies as well as make candid portraits of these regal people.

Warriors in the morning

Warriors in the morning

Getting Painted

Getting Painted

Maasai tradition call for boys to be circumcised at ages 12-13 and spend the next 10-15 years performing traditional cattle herding duties on the tribal lands sometimes in places quite distant and remote from their villages. After performing this extended duty for the village, young men return to marry a teenage bride usually selected by the parents. This young man is being decorated in preparation for an Adumu or “jumping dance” which we were able to photograph.

 

 

Adumu Dance

Adumu Dance

The jumping dance is intended to strengthen the men’s legs in preparation for the rigorous herding tasks ahead.

Enjoying the ceremony

Enjoying the ceremony

Many of these women are stunning and would be at home on a Vogue cover! The colorful dress is the norm in the village but the accessorizing of jewelry, headwear and body paint is part of the special preparation for the ceremonies.

Very Chic

Very Chic.

This is one of those stunning women. She would turn a lot of heads if she were strutting down 5th Ave or the Champs-Elysees in the latest haute couture outfit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing

Preparing

The young men apply each others decoration and use mirrors to admire their look. The ochre color comes from the dominant earth tones in the area.

Warrior Portrait

Warrior Portrait

This portrait was taken inside one of the village huts/homes which have a rounded rectangular shape and are constructed from grass, sticks, mud and cow dung. The homes are without running water or electricity and contain fire pits which are used for warmth and cooking.

The light for this image originates from a small window on the side of the building and provides nice soft lighting for a dramatic portrait.

 

 

Making Fire

Making Fire

This young man created fire from a couple of tufts of dry grass and a stick. Very impressive.

Village Elders

Village Elders

After marrying men gradually gain seniority in the village and some rise to the position of village elder where they provide advice and governance in the Maasai way.

Young boys

Young boys

I worked with these little guys for 20 minutes and finally got them to relax and not “pose” for the camera. Once they forget there’s a camera there, the magic can begin.

 

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank

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Amboseli

“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”
Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer

Here's looking at you!

Here’s looking at you!

Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya boasts the best opportunity in Africa to see free ranging elephants up close and personal.  Home to approximately 1,000 elephants, the park’s dusty savannahs draw thousands of visitors annually. And although the park contains its share of lions, cheetahs, cape buffalos and other prominent wildlife species, most visitors come to Amboseli to see the elephants against the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro which overlooks the park from nearby Tanzania.

The park, at approximately 150 square miles, consists mostly of large open grassy plains and several large swampy areas fed by streams flowing down from Kilimanjaro.

Just fooling around!

Just fooling around!

Elephants are social creatures who organize themselves into matriarchal herds usually led by the oldest and largest female. Herds range in size with the largest herds containing up to 50 elephants.

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Heading for the Swamp

Most elephants in Amboseli spend their nights in the forests at the base of Kilimanjaro and spend their days in the swamps eating up to 300 lbs. of vegetation. Visitors to the park seek out the long lines of elephants as they make their way to and from the swampy eating and drinking sites and delight in seeing the tiny elephant calves walking among the hulking adults.

Having Lunch

Having Lunch

One of the most startling and unexpected observations one makes from seeing elephants in the wild for a few days is the amount of “personality” exhibited by the pachyderms both as individuals and in groups. In the same sense that one envisions teenage boys roughhousing and wrestling with one another….so did we witness young male elephants roughhousing and pushing each other around. We also saw the tenderness and affection displayed by mothers toward their offspring that one commonly sees in humans and other animal species.

Roughousing

Roughousing

A Gentle Touch

A Gentle Touch

Unfortunately the demand for ivory as a status symbol in China (and to a lesser extent other countries in Asia) has caused catastrophic elephant poaching in Africa. According to a recently published study by the National Academy of Sciences, 100,000 African elephants were killed from 2010 – 2012 and Central Africa lost 64% of its elephants in a decade. Remediation efforts are uneven, particularly in the more strife ridden areas of the continent, but countries like Kenya have enacted strict laws and rigorous enforcement policies to combat the problem. Hopefully this and education efforts in Asia will begin to curb the killing.  Otherwise, at the current rate of population loss and as hard as it may be to contemplate, experts estimate that elephants will disappear from Africa in 10 years.

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Getting a Trunk Up

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A Family Unit

Although elephants are surely the prime attraction in Amboseli, other animals and the spectacular African sunrises and sunsets are not far behind.

Sunset over Amboseli

Sunset over Amboseli

I love this image because it captures so many special elements of being in Africa…the wonderful sunrises and sunsets, the beautiful Acacia trees that dot the landscape and of course the zebras ambling across the savannah.

Leading the Pack

Leading the Pack

I went to Africa with the irrepressible professional photographer Piper Mackay, whose passion for Africa is boundless. She urged us to take advantage of the dusty Amboseli conditions to make images with drama and character by allowing the backlit sun to light up the dust. She was so right!

Early Morning Gnus

Early Morning Gnus

Zebras Cavorting at Sunset

Zebras Cavorting at Sunset

The back lit sun adds so much flow and perspective to the above three images. Thanks, Piper.

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

No post about Amboseli would be complete without a shot of wildlife under the gaze of Africa’s greatest mountain (and also the world’s tallest freestanding mountain).

Giddy up little guy

Giddy up little guy

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank

Shrewsbury, MA

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Amalfi Coast

“The day of judgment, for the Amalfi people who will go to heaven, will be a day like any other.”     – Renato Fucini –

The Amalfi Coast consists of 13 small towns along a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea just south of Naples, Italy.  Most of these towns are situated in ravines formed by the severe terrain and cascade from the upper hillsides down to the sea in amazingly vertical formations.

Amalfi

Amalfi

First mentioned in the 6th century, Amalfi developed into a maritime power along the Mediterranean Sea and became a medieval commercial center in the region through its trading of grain for gold dinars and byzantine silks. A Tsunami destroyed the lower tiers of the town in 1343 and the town and the region never regained its former position as an important commercial center. These days Amalfi and its sister towns are seen as charming and idyllic places to vacation and draw huge numbers of visitors in the vacation season.

Amalfi Cliff

Amalfi Cliff

Selling Lemons

Selling Lemons

The region is renowned for its lemons who’s trees can be seen growing in practically every terraced garden and small yard in every village on the coast. They come in amazingly large versions and it’s common to see ripe lemons the size of melons. The growers have turned the lemon crop into gold by creating limoncello liqueur which is sold seemingly on every street corner.

Cathedral of St. Andrew

Cathedral of St. Andrew

Dating back to the 11th century, St. Andrews’s Cathedral overlooks the Piazza Duomo in the center of Amalfi and is said to contain the remains of St. Andrew in the tomb and crypt below the church which were built once Cardinal Pietro Capuano brought the remains to the cathedral from Constantinople in 1208.

Positano

Positano

Positano, an enclave set into the hilly terrain of the Amalfi Coast, was a maritime power in the 16th and 17th centuries. These days its economic engine is driven almost entirely by tourism as its charm and scenic beauty draw visitors from around the world. It was the featured Italian village in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard wrote “Midnight Rambler” in a Positano café while on vacation .

Santa Maria Assunta Church

Santa Maria Assunta Church

The church of Sana Maria Assunta features a dome made of Majorca tiles as well as a 13th century Byzantine icon of a black Madonna. According to local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying “Posa, Posa” (Put down! Put down!). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated. (Wikipedia)

Typical seaside patio

Typical seaside patio

Positano at Night

Positano at Night

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the twentieth century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950’s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar in May, 1953. “Positano bites deep”, Steinbeck wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” (Wikipedia)

Positano Street Ad

Positano Street Ad

I imagine Christopher Columbus was unfamiliar with modern lingerie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positan fishing boats

Positano Sailing boats

Positano Beach

Positano Beach

Positano has only one main road weaving through the town and unlike other villages on the Amalfi Coast, it has no public parking areas. Consequently, tour buses cannot stop in the town and it is relatively free from the touristy knick knack shops and massive crowds that can overwhelm these small villages.

 

 

 

 

Terraced Vineyards

Terraced Vineyards

This image was shot from a historic local path high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast called “The walk of the Gods”. The terraces on this land have been developed over hundreds of years and one can imagine the work involved in creating the terraces with only hand tools and animal power.

Sunset on Positano

Sunset on Positano

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank

Shrewsbury, MA

 

 

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