In many ways this has been a strange and wonderful year, probably my most favorite year of my life to date. I traveled to Japan on a great flight deal, I hiked more than 1100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and I drove across the USA on two (!) cross-country road trips, the latter a wonderful solo trip where I took my time photographing and visiting wonderful parks and museums.

To be honest, I'm very apprehensive about the future, but I'm hoping to stick it out and hopefully have more enjoyable experiences like I thankfully had this year.

My previous “year in photos” reviews: 2018, 2016, 2014

At the movies

Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy Playing at Stanford Theatre, Palo Alto, California

I knew I'd be moving out of the area permanently, so I was sure to take advantage of the Stanford Theatre, a wonderful place that introduced me to many movies. This was the first time I'd see the Apu Trilogy, and I was sure to purchase the Criterion Blu Rays the next time they were on sale!

This was truly my place of refuge in Silicon Valley. In an area obsessed with newness, money and with a one-track mind when it came to technology, this was a place I could go hang out and get away from all that.

Plum blossoms in Kyoto

Plum blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu shrine in Kyoto, Japan

I think fall is my favorite time to visit Kyoto, but the next best time is February, when the plums are blossoming and the big cherry blossom crowds haven't yet arrived.

This was definitely one of my favorite photo shoots this year - a time when I wasn't rushed, where I really took my time and tried to find good compositions that were hiding in the garden.

Hanging out in Kyoto

Japanese hanging lantern at Kitano Tenmangu

This is an ok photo, but I was most proud of getting all the spacing between each element, which took some moving around with my feet, and a lot of patience.

Tokyo skyline

Tokyo skyline at night, with Tokyo Tower visible in orange, its tip just reaching the low clouds

Believe it or not, this was a totally impromptu shot. I was carrying my camera around with me that day, and I was having dinner with my friend at a fancy restaurant. The view from the restaurant was definitely worth the price of the expensive food!

We were super lucky to get a seat by the window, and on the window was a perfect place to rest my camera. I propped it up on my jacket to aim it a bit better, then set a timer, and got this!

Somewhere along the Appalachian Trail near Falls Village, Connecticut

The Appalachian Trail near Falls Village, Connecticut

This was my life for a large chunk of the year. It was really nice having a concrete goal, and being able to see progress towards that goal every single day as more miles were hiked. As someone wrote in a trail register at the Mason-Dixon line: why can't normal life be setup like this, with a definite goal and direction? I feel like more folks than just me are craving for that.

This photo is of a pretty tame trail. Connecticut and Massachussetts had pretty nice trails such as this, before the truly challenging trails of New Hampshire and southwestern Maine.

Katahdin!

Yours truly standing by the Mt Katahdin sign at the summit

This year I hiked Harper's Ferry (West Viginia) to Mount Katahdin (Maine); a bit over 1100 miles! In the middle of the hike I helped my parents move cross-country, and it also gave my aching knees a chance to recover. As I'm typing this, my knees are pretty well recovered, but I'm still having issues with my feet! Hoping they will fully heal eventually…

After many miles of somewhat same hiking, Katahdin brought back some more of the crazy technical challenges reminiscing of southwestern Maine and New Hampshire. Thoreau wrote about this place, and you know it because he talks about holding onto roots and whatever else you have to in order to ascend.

The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.

-Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

Read more about my Appalachian Trail adventure.

Escape from California

San Luis Reservoir in Merced, California

I grabbed my valuable stuff out of storage (mostly my camera equipment) and started my drive to the opposite coast. This felt a bit like an “escape from California” to me, and I wanted to stop and enjoy everything that I would maybe not ever see again.

This is a manmade reservoir that I used to pass all the time driving down to see my family when they lived in LA. Despite the lack of water, there was a certain beauty that I paused to appreciate here. In the background you could hear the traffic madly driving through the 152… a place of mostly not good memories of angry drivers and crashes (I was rear-ended here in a mini-pileup… it cost nearly $10k from my insurance to fix my car).

LA is stealing water from a lake 400 miles away - you wouldn't believe what happens next! (-clickbait headline)

Mono Lake tufa

I've visited Mono Lake a lot over the years, but never really got a photo I liked until now. This composition appeared to me while slowly driving along a different dirt road than I'd been on before.

It may very well be my last visit there, so I spent a decent amount of time shooting photos and hiking a bit.

Fall comes to California, too

Fall colors on a tree, with the Alabama Hills and Eastern Sierra in the background (Bishop, California)

I loved the light coming through here, and I'm afraid the photo doesn't do it justice. But I'm happy to capture some of the brief fall color that California gets.

Red Rock canyon

Red Rock canyon in Nevada

I had heard about this place from a friend who likes to visit Las Vegas a lot. Red Rock Canyon was very close by, and is a popular and crowded area.

I got to use some of my filters for this long exposure, which made the fantastic clouds a little more dreamy.

Desolate road

Scenic lookout near Bryce Canyon National Park

This viewpoint was a preview of the pretty desolate road I'd be venturing on, just outside of Bryce Canyon. This whole area was like another world, with strange formations and different colored dirt, almost like some Martian landscape.

Tree silhouetted by the sunset

Tree silhouetted by the sunset, at a scenic lookout near Bryce Canyon

At the same viewpoint as above, I spotted this cool-looking tree. The original photos brought out more of the details in the shadows, but I tweaked it a bit because I think it looks simpler and nicer as just a silhouette. A case where you shouldn't use HDR!

Moonrise over Monument Valley

The moon rising over the Merrick Butte formation in Monument Valley

The classic Monument Valley shot

Monument Valley at dusk: the two 'mitten' formations on the left and middle, with the Merrick Butte formation on the right

I know this photo has been taken millions of times before from this exact spot, but I wanted to have a shot of my own. I've thought about photos like this a lot, and I think it's worth waiting around for. It's sort of like fishing - of course people have caught bigger and better fish before, but I suspect people fish because it's inherently enjoyable, and there's a certain pride that comes with catching your own fish.

The same with photographing popular spots: it's inhertently enjoyable, and I enjoy being able to capture the photo for myself. If nothing else, it's surely good practice!

Carlsbad Caverns

Cave formations at Carlsbad Caverns

I was skeptical of this place because it sounded like it's a big touristy National Park (it is), but my mom suggested to me that it would be worthwhile, so I stopped by. I really enjoyed arriving early, taking the elevator down, and enjoying the quiet cave before it filled up with more visitors.

I ended up walking uphill through the natural entrance for some much-needed exercise, and it felt like I was escaping Plato's cave and venturing out into the real world. Quite an experience, and a beautiful place.

A pretty good parking spot

My parking spot, in front of Independence, a space shuttle mockup at the Houston Space Center

Everybody remember where we parked.

-Captain Kirk after illegally parking a starship in Golden Gate Park.

The remainder of the cross-country trip

East of Texas I pretty much only stopped at a good fish restaurant in Baton Rouge, then sped back to South Carolina, where my family is currently. I have no idea where this next year will take me, but I hope I eventually find a good place, working at a good job…