I flew into Anchorage after work on Thursday night, landing at a reasonable time thanks to Alaska being four hours behind Eastern Time. We stayed in Anchorage on Thursday, did some work from there in the morning and drove up towards Denali National Park on Friday afternoon.

Before leaving Alaska, we stopped at an outdoor store to buy some bear deterrent spray. This National Park Service video convinced us, though it was unlikely we’d run into a grizzly on the hikes we had planned. Neither of us fancied running into a male bear given they can tip the scales at 680 kg and stand 3 m tall.

The drive was nice, we were lucky with the weather for the whole weekend. We did a couple of short hikes on the way, at Thunderbird Falls and Little Coal Creek before arriving at our accomodation for Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday I saw a little of the northern lights; our host woke us up as they were out. When he woke me up I raced outside in my pajamas with a jacket on top which was inadequate given the weather! In hindsight I wish I’d gotten dressed and stayed out there longer. It was a bit bright where I was standing so didn’t get any good photos.

We were staying about 35 minutes south of the park entrance, so we still had a short way to go on Saturday morning. We ended up driving further north in search of coffee, and ended up at the nearest ‘large town’ of Healy (population around 1,000) where we found somewhere that was still open. We drove through a few small communities that were all boarded up for the winter which was bizarre to see. A lot of the businesses shut down completely and the people working there move south to somewhere warmer for the winter!

The drive along the eastern edge of Denali National Park featured some breathtaking views of the mountains. Denali Mountain was almost always visible in the distance. It’s the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit of 6,190 m (for reference, the highest mountain in Australian peaks at 2,228 m). The upper half is permanently snowy.

The first hike was the Savage Alpine Trail, the first photo I took on the hike was of a ‘bears frequent this area’ warning sign so we were happy to have the spray. It was super windy in some parts, here’s a video which tries to capture it (turn your volume down before opening it). After the hike we drove into the park until reaching the point where the road is closed for the winter at the Teklanika River.

On the way out we got our wish of seeing a bear from a safe distance, I’m glad we got to see one in the wild. It’s a fair distance in this video, but it gives you some idea of the size. A group of people assembled to watch and as you can see about half way through the video it must have got a bit spooked! We didn’t do loads more on Saturday, but did head out again late at night to try and see the northern lights.

Sunday was a late start, but we did a full on hike at Bison Gulch (a ‘gulch’ is the name for a valley formed by erosion). I recorded the hike on Strava and plotted it on Google Maps:

Photos from the hike start here in the album. It was pretty brutal, we climbed 1,259 m and a lot of that towards the end was over very loose shale. Here’s one of us up near the top:

It’s lucky we went when we did; a couple of weeks later and it would have been rather chilly! I think the snow there is from some early falls a week before we arrived. We were ridiculously fortunate with the weather. It was relatively warm, with clear skies. The whole place seemed so remote, the air was super fresh and the stars were all out. Other than the bear, we also saw a couple of moose and a pair of mountain goats.

All the photos from the trip are in an album on Google Photos (some of the links above should jump to certain spots in the album).


This weekend I visited Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest city. It has plenty of historic sites from the American Revolution, as well as a fairly famous prison and the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is potentially better known for “Rocky” than the art.

I didn’t have big plans (I was looking for a relatively quiet weekend after the week tripping around CO/UT), but still had a busy Saturday. The day started with a train to the Wissahickon Valley Park. From there I did some hiking/walking through Wissahickon Valley and on to Boathouse Row, along the Schuylkill River. That leg (recorded on Strava) came to 18.5 km, and the walk downtown came to roughly another 12 km, so I definitely got my steps in for the day! Here’s the route I took through the city centre:

That took me past Boathouse Row, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Eastern State Penitentiary, Washington Monument Fountain, Rodin Museum, Parkway Central Library, Logan Square, Love Park, Reading Terminal Market, Sonny’s Famous Steaks for a Philly cheesesteak, and a load of spots in Independence National Historical Park.

The walk from Wissahickon Valley also included lots of historic buildings and bridges. A few highlights of the day follow.

Statue of Tedyuscung

At a point along the trail in Wissahickon Valley, there is a statue positioned fairly high up the valley, showing a Native American looking out over the valley. It’s a fairly huge statue, and I didn’t expect to come across it, but I’ve done some reading about it since. The history of the sculpture is here (the marble version I saw was dedicated in 1902), though apparently it’s a bit contentions with one local calling it “a monument to ignorance”.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary was the first major prison based on the principle of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement. The idea was the inmates would practice penance through silent reflection upon their crimes and behaviour. The whole prison is designed around this idea. Inmates never saw anyone for the entire duration of their sentence. The walls are solid and at least a foot thick. Each prisoner has their own exercise yard. The guards even wore socks over their shoes so the silence wasn’t disturbed. This understandably went fairly terribly, with lots of inmates mental health taking a hit. The prison operated using solitary confinement from 1829 until 1913, and it closed in 1971.

The city council intended to redevelop it, but the site was abandoned for around a decade and fell to ruin. It was ‘stabilised’ before opening to the public as a museum in 1994, but large parts of the prison are as they were after the period of abandonment:

There was also an exhibit at the end of the tour about prisons today and mass incarceration, which was pretty sobering.

More photos from the day are in an album on Google Photos.

Colorado & Utah hiking

I attended Explore DDD in Denver again this year, after enjoying the conference and Denver itself so much last year.

This year I took a couple of days off work before the conference, and planned a road trip to do some hiking in the area. I made it to one of the parks near Boulder, five national parks in the area, and a quick hike near Colorado Springs on the way back to Denver.

It was a fun week of hiking (89 km) and driving (2,261 km), with a little planning required:

  • AllTrails worked really well for organising hikes. I paid for a lifetime Pro membership, which meant I could download trails for offline use (very handy in the more remote parks)
  • Airbnb rooms near the hiking spots meant I could get up early and beat the crowds & heat
  • An America the Beautiful Pass covered the entrance fees at all the national parks
  • A 3L Osprey Raptor 14 pack kept me hydrated
  • KEEN Targhee III Low WP hiking shoes ensured that my feet stayed dry and had decent support

Boulder Open Space

First up was Chautauqua Park in Boulder, CO. A couple of colleagues based in Denver/Boulder recommended hiking here, and I’m glad I listened.

The route below is a combination of the Royal Arch Trail, First and Second Flatiron Loop and the Green Mountain Loop.

The hike had amazing views of the Flatirons & Royal Arch:

Rocky Mountain National Park

I visited the Rocky Mountains National Park last year, but as you can see from the earlier post linked above, the weather was a little different this time.

I was lucky enough to drive past a fairly huge elk chilling very close to the road.

Most of the hiking I did was in the Bear Lake area, on the Emerald Lake and Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge trails.

The mountain lakes & aspens were spectacular:

There was a very friendly marmot up near Sky Pond, though he was probably just looking for food:

Arches National Park

Sunday saw me driving from Boulder to Arches National Park in Utah, through Grand Valley.

The Devils Garden trail was amazing, with the 88 meter Landscape Arch a highlight.

Canyonlands National Park

Next up was Canyonlands National Park. I stayed near La Sal on Sunday night, which made the Needles section of the park a better option than heading back north to Island in the Sky.

The Chesler Park Loop was one of the highlights of the whole trip. The landscape looks other-wordly at times, and it was a lightly trafficked trail.

Mesa Verde National Park

After staying in Cortez on Monday night, I visited Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is best known for the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans.

I managed to get in early and score a ticket to a guided tour of Cliff Palace, a dwelling built around year 1200.

Other than the Cliff Palace tour, the only hike I did here was Petroglyph Point, which passes a large petroglyph panel. The carvings were likely made around the same time as the cliff dwellings were built.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

The final national park I visited was Great Sand Dunes. This was a rushed visit, but I wanted to make a stop in the park to see the contrast of sand dunes and mountains. In my mind dunes belong in deserts or at the coast, not at 8,200 feet elevation in the foothills of mountains.

Zion National Park and Las Vegas

Last weekend a I took a couple of days off to see some of the western United States, with a visit to Zion National Park and Las Vegas.

Zion National Park is absolutely stunning. We did a couple of hikes, the first was to the peak of Angels Landing, a 454 m high rock formation (total elevation 1,760 m). The trail was built in 1926 and is cut into solid rock most of the way. It’s only 3.9 km to the top, but it felt much longer given the elevation and the temperature (it was about 40 °C).

The photo below was taken from somewhere near the start of the trail, Angels Landing is the peak in the foreground of the photo on the left side.

The view from the top was worth it though!

Given how hot it was on the first day, we set out a little earlier for our second hike to Observation Point. The line for the buses into the Canyon was already quite long, so we took the opportunity to walk the Pa’rus Trail to the second bus stop.

I’m glad the buses were full, as the Pa’rus Trail provided some amazing views along a fairly flat and safe path. It was nice to have a casual stroll and look around without needing to worry about veering off the track!

The walk up to Observation Point runs through Echo Canyon Passage, which was a nice change of landscape and the canyon walls also offered some protection from the sun.

Observation Point itself made the hike worthwhile, it’s a great vantage point for almost all of Zion Canyon.

We were all flying out of Las Vegas, so on Sunday afternoon we drove back to Las Vegas and explored there a bit. It was roughly what I expected - lots of bright lights and tacky touristy things 🤣. The Fountains of Bellagio were pretty impressive though!

Travel posts

Sometime in the next couple of days I’m going to publish a bunch of back dated posts about travel I’ve done recently (or in some cases not so recently). A lot of these posts are taken straight from emails I sent to family and friends at the time I did the actual travel, I decided to post them here as email is where keystrokes go to die.

This is a bit of a departure from what has been the norm on this blog so far, and for those following via RSS I’ve introduced categories and separate feeds for the Software/Tech category and the Travel category in addition to the existing feed containing all posts. If you’d rather not hear about travel posts, please update your subscription :)

Technically, the only interesting part of this is handling the images I wanted to include in the posts. I’ve included a few images in the past, but never in a large quantity.

I use Google Photos/Drive for all my photos, and originally tried hotlinking the photos from there. If this was supported it would have been the best solution, as I wouldn’t have to duplicate the photos and it would be easy to include them (though some of them are quite large). Unfortunately (though unsurprisingly) Google Photos/Drive doesn’t support hotlinking, and any direct links to images expire after a while.

The next option was using the Google Drive ‘embed’ functionality, which involves inserting some HTML into the post which will load an IFrame. This worked, but:

  • it looked a little clunky on desktop and didn’t scale well on mobile
  • a Google IFrame means Google tracking cookies
  • performance was poor - loading all the images on one of the travel posts using this method resulted in a whole load of extra requests:

I ended up committing them into the Git repository that backs this static site, but that does mean the repo size is going to grow a lot more than it should. As it’s just me working on this repo though, I can always use git filter-branch as a last resort if I do want to move the images elsewhere. To avoid bloating the repo too much and to keep loading times low I did fairly aggressively reduce the file size with ImageMagick:

mogrify -sampling-factor 4:2:0 \
  -strip \
  -quality 85 \
  -interlace JPEG \
  -colorspace sRGB \
  -resize 50% \

The final change was adding lazy loading using Lozad.js. Thankfully I include almost all the images on my site using a custom Jekyll include so I just had to include the library and change one file to get lazy loading across the board.