Y is for Yellowstone

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Today is the second to the last day of the A to Z Challenge! So for today, Y is for Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is located in the state of Wyoming in the US. It was established in 1872 and is the first US National Park. It’s famous for wildlife and geothermal features, as it sits on a hot spot with lots of volcanic activity. It’s also a supervolcano that has erupted at least 3 times in the past 2.1 million years!

Old Faithful at Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park – photo by kei

The volcanic activity underground creates many hydrothermal features, such as the world famous Old Faithful Geyser. There are also fumaroles with dry steam, bubbling mud pots, and bright blue hot springs. There are several geyser basins throughout the park, and since the entire park is on a volcano you are never far from a geothermal feature. This means that you should be careful when walking through geothermal areas, stay on marked paths, and never try to touch the hot springs. Continue reading

W is for Wyoming

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For today’s A to Z ChallengeW is for Wyoming. Wyoming is a semi-arid state which is usually dry, and primarily receives precipitation in the form of snow, which can close down roads in the winter. Wyoming is the least populous US state, with plenty of wide open spaces perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Bighorn Basin Wyoming

Near the town of Lovell in the Bighorn Basin, WY – photo by kei

The state consists of many geologic basins (low spots), which formed in between mountain ranges (high spots) due to tectonic plate movement during the Cretaceous through Eocene periods. This is called the Laramide orogeny, or mountain-building episode, and this is what formed the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. This also means breathtaking views from mountains across the expanse of the basins. Continue reading

U is for Utah

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U is for Utah in today’s entry of the A to Z Challenge. Specifically, Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the capital and most populous city in Utah. Its name comes from its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, a huge inland salt lake that contributes much to the dry continental climate, that produces hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. This makes Salt Lake and the surrounding resorts a popular summer resort and winter skiing destination.

Salt Lake City Utah State Capitol

State Capitol building at Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city of Salt Lake City was founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers in 1847. They extensively irrigated and cultivated the arid landscape, and today the city hosts the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints headquarters and Temple Square.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Utah

Mormon Temple of Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city is a hub for air travel, conventions, music and the performing arts, and of course is a great ski destination. The city is located in a valley, and as a result offers breathtaking Rocky Mountain views of towering mountains beyond the city buildings.

Salt Lake City Utah at Night

Night view of Salt Lake City, Utah (without tripod) – photo by kei

Have you ever visited Salt Lake City? What is your favorite attraction? How about a favorite ski resort (anywhere)? Let me know in the comments!

S is for Sakura

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S is for Sakura for this installment of the A to Z ChallengeSakura 桜 is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, the light pink flower that blooms for only a few weeks a year in the spring before falling to the ground in a flurry of blossoms. Cherry blossoms have fallen for the most part in mainland Japan, although Hokkaido is still due to be in full bloom next week. So I thought I would post about these beautiful flowers.

Sakura at Shiroyama

Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Yamanashi Prefecture – photo by kei

Japan has a whole flower-viewing culture 花見 based around cherry blossoms. When spring hits, sakura themed food, drink, and cute characters bloom like the flowers they represent. School ends during cherry blossom season, and many graduation songs reference cherry blossoms. School rejection letters have even been known to contain a metaphor that goes something like “the cherry blossoms are falling.” Continue reading

O is for Oklahoma

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For today’s A to Z ChallengeO is for Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a southern state in the US that is considered a midwest state. Confusing, right? It’s location is southern, but the people consider themselves part of the midwest culturally. It’s located north of Texas, and is home to a large proportion of Native American tribes (although not all by original choice).

Oklahoma City State Capitol

State Capitol at Oklahoma City – photo by kei

Oklahoma has a very expansive (read flat) landscape, except in the southern part of the state, and is mainly dominated by agriculture and oil and gas industry. The capital is Oklahoma City, which is a smaller big city. Continue reading

L is for Las Vegas

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For today’s entry in the A to Z Challenge, L is for Las Vegas. Las Vegas is located in Nevada in the US, and is famous as a gambling capital. Other things Las Vegas is famous for is marriages performed by Elvis, conventions, and general debauchery.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip – photo by kei

My first experience with Las Vegas was at age 18, much younger than the legal gambling and drinking age of 21, which really limits the places you can go. In the hotel casinos you can’t go near the gaming machines – which are often between the hotel rooms and the hotel entrance. You can’t enter clubs, and your activities can be limited, especially if you are with a group of 21+ people.

Las Vegas

The Chandelier Lounge at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris & Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

My later trips to Las Vegas were after I turned 21, which opened up a lot of options. I don’t gamble (except the occasional game of pachinko, where I know I’ll at least win back my money) but the shows in Las Vegas are pretty awesome. From pricey shows like Cirque du Soleil (visually stunning acrobatics), to mid-range shows like the Tournament of Kings (a medieval jousting show) at Excalibur, to free shows like the Bellagio Fountain show – you can find something that appeals to you.

Las Vegas

Chandeliers at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris Tower in Las Vegas – photo by kei

I’ve been to Las Vegas for a conference, a wedding, and even at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a popular time for Japanese (and other) foreign exchange students to visit Las Vegas. You can eat a Thanksgiving dinner (buffet style or Chinese), go shopping, and enjoy the usual Vegas attractions. I will warn you that it gets really crowded, and you probably want to get reservations well in advance.

Las Vegas

Bellagio water fountain show in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas isn’t for everyone, but even if you only go for a weekend I think it’s an interesting experience. My advice is to plan ahead with a few attractions that appeal to you, and then enjoy yourself!

Have you been to Las Vegas? What was your favorite attraction? If you could get tickets to any show or event, which would you pick? Let me know in the comments!

J is for Jodo Mission of Lahaina

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Just outside the historic whaling town of Lahaina on the island of Maui lies a Buddhist temple. Thus, J is for the Jodo Mission of Lahaina for today’s entry in the A to Z Challenge.

Amida Buddha at Jodo Mission

Amida Buddha at Jodo Mission in Lahaina – photo by kei

The great Buddha and temple bell were constructed in 1968 to commemorate the centennial of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is the largest Amida Buddha outside of Japan. It was cast in Kyoto and is made of copper and bronze. It is 12 feet high and weight 3 1/2 tons. Continue reading