The Big Blue of the Sierras
High in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, straddling the border between Nevada and California, you'll find the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe—sometimes called Big Blue. Seventy-two miles in circumference, with an average depth of 1,000 feet, it has the sixth-largest volume of any lake in the US—only the Great Lakes are larger. For at least 6,000 years, the territory of the Washoe people centered around Lake Tahoe, but the arrival of non-native people in the 19th century led to a series of armed conflicts and eventual loss of land to farms and townships.
The lake has a long history of disputes. Even its name wasn't formally agreed upon until 1945. Since the first European-American saw it in 1844, it has been called Lake Bonpland, Mountain Lake, Fremont's Lake, Fallen Leaf Lake, Maheon Lake, and Lake Bigler, after California's third governor and noted Confederate sympathizer, John Bigler. It was that name that Lake Tahoe finally supplanted on maps starting in 1862. But not everyone was enamored of the new moniker. Mark Twain famously criticized it as an 'unmusical cognomen' and that it should retain the name Bigler 'until some name less flat, insipid and spooney than Tahoe is invented for it.' Apparently, we're still waiting.
The festival known as Ólavsøka spans several days, but officially July 29 is the big day of merrymaking on the Faroe Islands. What exactly are the Faroese people celebrating? Technically, they're observing the death of Saint Olaf. The Norwegian King Olaf II is said to have died in battle on this day in 1030. A century later, he was sainted by the Catholic church.
Today, the Faroes are an autonomous territory of Denmark, but they have centuries-old ties to Norway, and the Norwegian influence of Faroese culture remains so strong, they celebrate King Olaf II with Ólavsøka—literally translated to 'Olaf's wake.' Clear as the skies over the Faroes, right? The celebration includes a rowing competition, traditional Faroese chain dancing, and music everywhere.
Over the boardwalk
In this shallow stretch of Shark Bay in Western Australia, a natural record of Earth's history lies just below the water's surface. Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve protects our planet's biggest collections of stromatolites—small sedimentary rock towers built up over the centuries. Each layer captures fossils of the many microorganisms that populate our oceans. Some of the stromatolites in Hamelin Pool contain fossil specimens that are 3 billion years old. When you're strolling down the boardwalk of Hamelin Pool, you're walking over an unparalleled collection of biological history. The view of the Indian Ocean's not bad either.
A stunning sight in Mexico's wilderness
Here in central Mexico, the Gallinas River spills into the Tampaón River gorge to create Tamul waterfall, renowned as a jewel of the country's wilderness. Both rivers offer great swimming near the falls, and boaters can float by on the Tampaón for close-up views. Both activities are best attempted between July and October, though: During wetter months, the falls converge into a thundering cataract as the Gallinas rises to form torrential rapids.
In the ancient Huastec language, Tamul means 'place of pitchers,' comparing the cenotes—or underwater sinkholes—that dot the Gallinas riverbed to giant vessels being poured out by the gods. This corner of the state of San Luis Potosí was once a domain of the Huastecs, who split from the Maya three to four millennia ago to settle the lands from here east to the Gulf of Mexico. By the early 16th century, the society crumbled as other Mesoamerican cultures gained influence and the Spanish began colonizing Mexico. But many of their stone temples and earthen pyramids in the region still remain, as do tens of thousands of native Huastec speakers.
Fields of Castile
What you can see today in our image is a wheat field in the province of Valladolid, northwest Spain, cut out under the Castilian sky. We show you this because now is taking place the harvest season in most of the country. And also because on this day in 1875 was born Spanish poet Antonio Machado, whose master piece is called ‘Campos de Castilla’ (Fields of Castile).
Machado wrote it during his stay in Soria, not in Valladolid (both provinces belong to the same region), and managed to portray with extraordinary fidelity the personality of the rural Castilians, with their weaknesses and virtues, as a metaphor of the whole country. As long as he described dozens of landscapes as the one you can see in the picture.
Going with the floe
Welcome to Disko Bay near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland, where summer's midnight sun will dip just below the horizon for only about an hour and a half tonight. In fact, for several weeks in the period around the summer solstice, the sun doesn't set at all on Disko Bay. Technically, the 'midnight sun' occurs in places north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle when the sun remains visible at the local midnight. This natural phenomenon lasts from April to August in the northern regions of Greenland. (The opposite effect, polar night, occurs during winter months when the sun does not rise above the horizon.)
So much light during the summer months means that the massive icebergs in nearby Ilulissat Icefjord are easily visible from this west-coast town, which is home to about 4,500 people, most of them indigenous Inuit. Ilulissat is also home to almost as many Greenland dogs, which are sturdy sled dogs with thick fur that prevents frostbite. They're bred for long-distance travel in cold climates, and those physical attributes come in handy, because even in the height of summer, average daily temperatures here barely top 50 degrees, despite all that sun.
Wooden doors and a stone path at the base of Fort Lovrijenac in Kolorina Bay, Dubrovnik (© Barbara Vallance/Getty Images)
At the foot of 'Dubrovnik's Gibraltar'
The stairs in today's photo lead to Fort Lovrijenac, an 11th century fortress jutting out into the Adriatic Sea just outside the walled city of Dubrovnik. 'Game of Thrones' fans will recognize these doors as an entrance to dwellings in the fictional city of King's Landing. Legend claims that when the fort was built on this rocky coastal outpost in the early 11th century, it took just three months to construct. The locals, of what was then Ragusa, knew they had limited time before their rivals, the Venetians, would arrive to build their own outpost and rule over them. According to 'The Chronicles of Ragusa,' the plan worked–the fort was completed just as the surprised Venetians arrived in ships heavy with supplies.
As the centuries marched on, Fort Lovrijenac was reinforced and added to until an earthquake in 1667 nearly destroyed it together with the rest of the town. What would eventually become Dubrovnik was rebuilt, as was the fort, complete with an inscription above the gate that translates to 'Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasure in the world.' Today the walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, safeguarding much of the city's Baroque architecture as well as one of the oldest arboretums in the world.
Wildebeest on the move
Each year, as many as 1.5 million blue wildebeest move through the Serengeti region of eastern Africa, traveling in a roughly 800-mile loop through Tanzania and Kenya as they chase lush, green grass and fresh water. When resources are depleted in one area, the animals move to another. Late summer often finds them Kenya's Maasai Mara nature reserve, shown on today's homepage. The speedy wildebeest (the species can run up to 50 mph!) is not alone in its journey; hundreds of thousands of zebras, gazelles, and elands accompany the herd. The great number of animals makes this phenomenon one of the largest land migrations on Earth, often called the World Cup of Wildlife.
Belgium celebrates its independence
On July 21, Belgium celebrates its independence from the Netherlands and the anniversary of the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1831. The holiday brings us to the banks of the River Meuse across from the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Dinant, the best-known landmark in the Belgian town of Dinant in Namur province. For such a small city (population about 14,000), Dinant has a rich history. It's the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, and has a museum dedicated to his life and instruments. The Charles de Gaulle Bridge, which crosses the Meuse, is lined with 28 saxophone sculptures, each one representing a different country in the European Union. Namur province is also the birthplace of Leffe beer, which was brewed by monks in the abbey of Leffe starting in 1240.
Of course, you can celebrate Belgium today with classics like Belgian waffles, fries, or chocolates. But if you're in Dinant, you might also crack open a Leffe and listen to your favorite saxophone player.