Working for that cliffside view
Maine's Acadia National Park serves up spectacular views at most every turn. But the park's Otter Cliffs on Mount Desert Island offer the adventurous among us a chance to take in the picturesque Atlantic shoreline from the edge of a sheer granite wall. Rising some 60 feet above the crashing waves below, the cliffs are shown here at low tide—when the tide is up, that ledge at the bottom is completely submerged.
The spot's become one of New England's premier climbing destinations, with routes beloved by experts and beginners alike. Climbers begin by either rappelling down the cliff or being lowered from the top. The heart races at the bottom, as waves crash against the seawall right below the climber's shoes and ocean spray makes the first few hand- and footholds slippery. From there, the only way out is up, back to the top of this stunning crag and the cap to a thrilling ascent.
America's oldest planetarium
When it first flicked on the projector lights in 1930, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago was the only one in the Western Hemisphere. At the time, planetariums themselves were only a 7-year-old invention imported from German lens grinders. But the American public's fascination with stars and distant worlds, it turned out, was skyrocketing. By 1934, the Adler had welcomed over a million visitors.
And though our love for space endures, these days in Chicagoland it's tough to catch a clear night sky past all those wonderful bright lights of the Windy City. That helps explain why the Adler still pulls half a million visitors in a typical year, with three state-of-the-art auditoriums and even a massive telescope that lets visitors view far-off galaxies.
This landmark of the Land Down Under is usually pictured in sweltering desert sunlight. Now a 21st-century addition near the ancient rock of Uluru has people flocking here even at night.
Bruce Munro's 'Field of Light' installations—which blanket landscapes in thousands of small LED lights—have appeared around the globe, first in the artist's native England. But it was decades ago while camping here at Uluru that Munro first had the idea for an immersive artwork that would bathe its surroundings in soft light nightly, like desert flowers that bloom after dusk in the Australian Outback. Munro was finally able to bring 'Field of Light' to this forest near Uluru in 2016, and it became so popular with visitors that it's been extended indefinitely.
The 'dancing trees' of Sumba Island
On the northern coast of Indonesia's Sumba Island, a stand of mangrove trees appears to dip and sway to summon another dreamy sunrise. Walakiri Beach is gently sloped, so it's easy for a visitor to walk out into the knee-deep water to examine the extraordinary transitional zone of a mangrove ecosystem. Mangroves thrive here at the boundary between land and sea, growing in coastal salt water and low-oxygen conditions where other trees would quickly die. Their complex root systems filter out the salt and form a strong natural defense against storm surges, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion. Mangroves also create aquatic nursery habitats that support a highly diverse range of juvenile fish and crustaceans.
But despite their critical role in maintaining healthy oceans and coastlines, mangroves are disappearing fast, several times faster than forests on land. The United Nations estimates that the world has lost half its mangrove coverage in just the last 40 years. To raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems and to promote solutions for their sustainable management and conservation, the UN has declared that July 26 is International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem. We'll dance to that.
Let the games (finally) begin!
Shining like an incandescent Olympic torch, the Tokyo Tower is our cue to finally say, 'Let the games begin!' Along with so much else, the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed last year (as you probably heard). But with Covid-19 vaccinations well underway and capacity restrictions in place, Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics opening ceremony today, almost exactly one year after the games were originally due to start.
The events will be held at 42 venues in and around the city, with most held in Tokyo itself. Organizers expect some 11,000 athletes from about 200 countries to compete. Four sports will make their Olympic debuts at the Tokyo Games: karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding. Also, baseball and softball, which were last held in 2008, are being reintroduced. Closing ceremonies are scheduled for August 8. Game on!
Singing praises of the oceans
In Japan, mid-July brings an excuse to head to the beach, as if we really needed one. That's because this time of year marks Marine Day (aka Ocean Day), an observance recognizing the close bond the island nation shares with the seas and ocean that surround it. Because Marine Day roughly coincides with the end of the rainy season, it has, over the years, become a sort of unofficial kick off to the hot summer season. One place sure to attract visitors is the picturesque Minokake-Iwa rock formation seen here, lying off the coast of Honshū's mountainous 31-mile-long Izu Peninsula.
Ordinarily Marine Day is observed on the third Monday in July, but this year the holiday was moved to immediately precede the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. So, this is the day to hit the beach in Japan, just before the Olympics' opening ceremonies begin tomorrow.
A reflection of Europe's past
Today we're in the central German state of Thuringia to visit Wachsenburg Castle. It's the most famous of a trio of medieval hilltop castles collectively referred to as 'Drei Gleichen' (Three of a Kind) because of their close resemblance. Wachsenburg was originally built by the Hersfeld Monastery sometime in the early 10th century as a fortified castle, but it underwent significant changes over the centuries.
As might be expected of a building nearly 1,100 years old, the castle has housed many different occupants in its time, some of them notorious. Through most of its history it was used as a defensive fortress, and by the 13th century the Counts of Mühlburg had added a moat to help fend off invaders from nearby Hungary. Later, in the mid-15th century, an infamous brigand and wayward knight named Apel von Vitzthum conquered Wachsenburg. He used it as a base to carry out raids against merchants in the nearby town of Erfurt before the locals finally banded together to put an end to his pillaging. The Duke of Saxony took control of the fortress in 1710, but by the late 18th century, it was being used as prison. These days, Wachsenburg plays a different role in the local community. Following a number of renovations, including a major one in the 1990s, it's now a tourist destination complete with restaurant, hotel, and museum.
月球的高清合成影像 Composite image of the moon (© Prathamesh Jaju)
Fly me to the moon
It was 52 years ago today that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon. Their photographs of the moon and others since then have become commonplace. But for Moon Day—the annual celebration of that first lunar landing—let's take a close look at this extraordinary image of Earth's only natural satellite. Prathamesh Jaju, age 16, of Pune, India, worked for more than 40 hours stitching together this detailed photograph from more than 50,000 images he took of the moon's surface. Jaju, who describes himself as an 'amateur astrophotographer,' used an automated telescope to track the moon's movements over a four-hour period in May 2021. The result is this highly detailed portrait of the moon's craters, textures, shadows, and colors. While this image may be as close as we ever get to the moon, at least we know we'll never gaze at it the same way again.
Wander the ancient medina
This colorful alleyway is in the medina—the ancient part—of the Moroccan city of Tétouan. From above, the medina appears to be a maze of ancient white plaster buildings surrounded by rampart walls and seven magnificent gates. But inside the maze, some alleyways like this one display a burst of color, an embellishment created by mixing pigments into the buildings' plaster. The alleyways here are tall and skinny, large enough for a donkey and its handler to pass by, but too small for vehicles, so they invite peaceful strolls through the colorful shade.
The old city was founded by the Amazigh people in the 13th century, but 200 years later, Castilians from the Iberian Peninsula destroyed the fortified settlement. The medina later became a refuge for Muslims and Sephardic Jews from Andalusia who were fleeing the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition. These refugees helped rebuild the city that had been destroyed by Castilians, making a significant mark on Tétouan's architecture, art, and cuisine. The medina remains largely unchanged all these centuries later, making it a natural fit as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.