Impressions from trip to Japan

Fuji-san with Hakone Shinto Shrine Here come the long-awaited pictures, panoramas and movies from our three-week trip to Japan in March and April this year.

We travelled from Tokyo via Kyōto and Hiroshima to Kagoshima and spent the last days on the remote island of Yakushima. In each area we visited many of the local attractions and collected interesting and amazing impressions of the traditional and modern Japan with its buddhist temples, shinto shrines, and cemeteries, its ryokans, minshukus, western-style star hotels and ultra-modern sky-scrapers, its bullet trains, cable cars, and taxis with automatic doors and white-gloved drivers –  just to mention a few. We loved the Japanese food and every single meal was a pleasant experience but also a little adventure. Last but not least: the people, always friendly and trying to help despite our incapacity to speak, read or write their language.

The highlights of the journey were when we managed to travel off the beaten tracks like in our excursions to the Gokanosho mountains and the Yakushima island. The outstanding hospitality of our hosts at the minshuku of the Heike samurai clan in Gokanosho, watching the knife and sword smiths of Moritaka Hamono, and climbing the steep hiking trails into the rainy mountains of Yakushima with its abundant vegetation, millenia-old Yakusugi cedar trees and endemic monkeys and deer will always remain in our memories of this fascinating country.

Enjoy some of the impressions captured in these pictures, panoramas and movies.

Desierto Florido 2017

Desierto Florido 2017 After the heavy rains this winter in the North of Chile an extraordinary blossoming of the Atacama Desert could be expected.

A quick two-day trip to the region between Huasco and Totoral early August confirmed that the “Desierto Florido” had already started and that this would probably become the most spectacular event of the last ten years. We had never visited the Desierto Florido in its early phase and I was surprised how different it looks to what we had seen before e.g. in 2004. The early phase is dominated by individual plants either spread over the desert or concentrated in narrow ravines. The dominant colours of the early flowers are yellow and white.

We returned four weeks later in early September to visit the same places and it looked very different. The early flowers had mostly disappeared and now the desert was covered in carpets of blue and purple flowers. In particular the purple fields of the “Patas de Guanaco” dominate the landscape left and right of the Panamerican highway between Copiapó and Vallenar. Further we found at several places near Carrizal Bajo the spectacular “Garra de León” (the lion’s claw), a plant endemic to Chile with long stalks and large bright red flowers.

Enjoy the flower pictures and the panoramas of the flower carpets.

Visit to W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawai‘i

Keck I telescope
A few pictures from a visit to the Big Island of Hawai‘i and the W. M. Keck Observatory in June this year. My colleagues from Keck Observatory had invited me to serve on a review of Keck operations as review board member. The review primarily took place at Keck Headquarters in Waimea. But the agenda also included an exciting visit to the two Keck telescopes (Keck I inside panorama, Keck I inside) on top of Manua Kea volcano at 4200 meters altitude.

On my free day before returning to Chile I tried to take a helicopter flight with “doors off” from Hilo to photograph the actual lava flows in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Unfortunately, both attempts in the morning and afternoon failed because of bad weather with heavy rainfalls. Between the flights I visited the National Park which has considerably changed since my last visit in 2005 due to the 2008 eruption in the Halema‘uma‘u crater. I enjoyed the Crater Rim Drive and a few short hikes. Unfortunately, the cloud layer lowered even further in the evening so that there was not enough visibility to see the lava glow from Jagger museum overview.

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year 2017 We wish you all the best for a Happy New Year!

We spent the time between the years with another trip to the Atacama Desert, this time visiting ESO‘s La Silla, Paranal, and APEX Observatories. In-between we enjoyed whale watching from Chañaral de Aceituno and the Laguna Santa Rosa, the Salar de Maricunga, the Laguna del Negro Francisco, and the Laguna Verde all in or close to the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park near Copiapó. From Paranal Observatory to APEX Observatory we took together with our friends visiting from Germany, Birgit and Michael, a route passing through the Escondida Mine, the Salar de Imilac, the Monturaqui Crater and along the Salar de Atacama to San Pedro de Atacama. After an early morning visit to the APEX telescope at 5100m and to the old sulphur mine below Cerro Toco at 5465m – from where our traditional Happy New Year picture was taken – we explored in the afternoon the colourful Laguna Lejía following a wash board road around the always smoking Láscar Volcano. The well-known nearby Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques were unfortunately already “closed” by the park administration when we arrived at 6:30pm in the most beautiful evening light. We continued our trip with a morning visit to the beautiful Arcoiris (“Rainbow”) Valley near San Pedro and then with a long drive to Pica. From there we visited the nearby dunes and the Salar de Huasco where we encountered an amazing number of suris or puna rheas. After we escaped a heavy thunderstorm at Salar de Coposa we spent the afternoon visiting the Humberstone and Santa Laura historical saltpeter towns. On the next day we began our return trip to Santiago with a visit to the impressive Geoglifos de Pintados and continued south along the coast on Ruta 1 to reach the Pan de Azúcar National Park in the evening for a camping night with a self-made pasta dinner and the noise of the pacific waves. After two weeks we returned to Santiago with 6300 additional kilometres on the counter.

Enjoy the pictures and panoramas from this trip.

Picture Gallery from Roundtrip through the Western USA published


Olmstedt Point
This picture gallery is a selection of pictures from our 26-day tour in the Western USA through the states of California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada in August and September last year. We did an amazing round trip of 5265 miles (8473 km) starting and ending in Los Angeles and visited 17 national and state parks, national monuments and other landmarks.
Among those, the Sequoia, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Death Valley National Parks and the Valley of Fire State Park were our favourites.
The Yellowstone Park is undoubtedly the oldest and most famous national park in the world. And with its amazing variety in landscapes, its geological and geothermal features, and its amazing fauna and flora it was definitely the highlight of our trip – despite the incredible and sometimes unbearable amount of visitors from all-over the world.
Enjoy the pictures and panoramas!

Roundtrip through the Scottish Highlands

Loch Eilt This picture gallery is a selection of pictures from a ten-day and 1450-miles roundtrip through northern Scotland starting and ending in Edinburgh.

The SPIE conference on Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation was held in Edinburgh this year – a can’t miss opportunity for us to visit Scotland for the first time. After the week of the conference in the City we rented a car and took off towards the North with our first stop in Stirling, the “Gateway to the Highlands”. In the following week our overnight stations in the Scottish Highlands were ObanPortree on the Isle of Skye, Ullapool, Durness, John o’GroatsInverness, and Dinnet before returning to Edinburgh. Our daily tracks can be followed on the map below!

We really enjoyed the diversity of this trip: continuously changing coastal and mountain landscapes, countless lochs, national parks with neat hiking paths, picturesque villages, old castles and ruins, local food, local history, quickly alternating sun and rain, and friendly, welcoming people. The narrow cross-country roads of the Scottish Highlands force a slower pace and allow to enjoy the surroundings once we got acquainted with the left-side driving and the passing routine for oncoming traffic.

Isle of Skye was for sure one of the highlights of the trip and we were happy that we had planned for two nights there. Skye is like having all the highlands on one (not-so-small) island and our roundtrip there showed us many of the features listed above. Cairngorms National Park towards the end of the trip was a nice surprise because we had initially not planned to spend time there but followed the tip of our landlord at the B&B in Inverness. By this the Muir of Dinnet with Loch Kinord became the beautiful finale of our trip.

Enjoy the pictures and the two 360° panoramas at Neist Point and Polin Bay near Kinlochbervie.

Tour through the Atacama Desert

Crossing the Atacama Desert This picture gallery is a selection of pictures from a five-day tour through the chilean Atacama Desert with the geologist Professor Guillermo Chong from the Universidad Católica del Norte in Antofagasta.

In the week after Easter our small group of six people in three 4×4 cars headed north from Antofagasta to explore the Chilean Atacama Desert. Focus of the excursion was the geology of this unique region between Antofagasta and Arica and from the Pacific coast to the Altiplano. We further experienced the rich history of the region from the golden age of natural sodium nitrate mining in the late 19th and early 20th century until today’s large scale mining operation for all kinds of natural resources. Under the most competent guidance of Guillermo the geology and history of the Atacama Desert came to life for us. Distances in the desert are large and when we returned to Antofagasta after five days we had spent 2500 kilometers on highways and dirt roads.

Enjoy the pictures and follow our tracks on the map!

New Pictures from Aysén Patagonia


The Carretera Austral crossing the Queulat National Park
This picture gallery is a selection from our ten-day trip to the Aysén region of the Northern Chilean Patagonia between Christmas and New Year.

Taking the overnight ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaitén allowed us to drive down the Carretera Austral until Puerto Puyuhuapy on the same day. After visiting the Queulat National Park including its Hanging Glacier and Magic Forest we reached the village of Cerro Castillo – the starting point for our circle of the General Carrera Lake, the second largest lake in South America. The sunny, warm and calm weather allowed us to visit the famous marble caves near Puerto Río Tranquilo and to spend New Year’s eve at Lago Negro sitting outside until midnight. After an excursion following the Baker and Cochrane Rivers and visiting the new Parque Patagonia, we concluded the circle crossing the General Carrera Lake by ferry from Chile Chico to Puerto Ingeniero Ibáñez. After passing through Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén we visited the valley of Lago Riesco and later boarded a catamaran for a day trip to the San Rafael Lagoon. We concluded the round trip with the ferry from Puerto Chacabuco through the Patagonian channels to Puerto Montt.

Enjoy the pictures and don’t miss the panorama of the Bosque Encantado in the Queulat National Park!

New picture and panorama galleries from Iceland and East Greenland added


Tændere ("the teeth") mountain range near Kap Stevenson
These picture and panorama galleries are a selection from our three week-tour to Iceland and East Greenland in August and September last year. After we had circled Iceland by car already in 2010 we concentrated this time on some of the areas we had to skip like the highlands around Kerlingarfjöll and Landmannalaugar. Of course we rediscovered a lot of Iceland’s highlights including its geysers, waterfalls and glaciers. too.

Nevertheless, Iceland was only the starting point for our trip to the Scoresby Sund in East Greenland. After a short flight from Reykjavík to the Nerlerit Inaat (Constable Point) Airport near Ittoqqortoormiit we entered our ship, the Ópal. With this beautifully restored two-masted schooner from 1951 and under the guidance of Rolf Stange we then explored for one week the fantastic landscapes of the largest and longest fjord system in the world, the Scoresby Sund. Traveling late in the Arctic summer was rewarded by excellent weather during long days, several sightings of Polar Lights during the short nights and an abundance of gigantic icebergs floating in the fjords.

Enjoy our pictures and panoramas! Rolf also provides a travel log in german and pictures from the trip. The map below shows the GPS track (thanks to Erich Petri) of the trip with the Ópal and our hikes at land. Picture locations are indicated in red, Panorama locations in yellow.