Magical Places: Goblin Valley, Utah

Mornings are cold in the desert, and in the early months of the year, they try to hold to that coolness until the sun wins. Visiting Goblin Valley is an experience in extremes. There is soft sand and hard sculpted rock, hot sun and cool shade, energetic kids and tired parents, really tired parents.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The most unique draw of the park is its alien-like “goblins” called hoodoos which result from the uneven erosion of the sandstone by wind and water. Down in the valley, these hoodoos form sculptures and mazes, as you approach the far edges, the hoodoos get larger and combine into a wall that stretches into a butte.

Fun fact, part of Galaxy Quest was filmed there. The whole business with retrieving the Kryllion sphere from the alien planet and the battle with the rock monster? Totally been there. Be jealous.

Tim Allen keeping his shirt on, for now.

If you want to visit Goblin Valley, keep the following in mind:

It’s a desert. No really. See all that dirt, sand, and sky? You’ll fry here if you’re not prepared. Bring lots of water and a big hat. I prefer a water backpack because having my hands free is super important. I’d rather not end up flat on my face if I trip. Wear sunscreen, even if you’re that random person who never burns, do it anyway. Blame it on me if you have to.

Early spring and late fall are best. I prefer early spring because the sharp weeds aren’t thorny yet and the temperatures are nicer. Dress in layers. It might be a brisk 55 when you start and well over 100 when you leave. Also, it takes a few hours, if not half the day, to haul a family to the other side and back. Pack food, bandaids, and all the patience you can muster.

All said, it’s truly an incredible place. I might set a story here …


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Magical Places: Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Ever want to go somewhere that makes you feel like you are on another planet? Those who live in the western United States are familiar with the Bonneville Salt Flats – an impossible stretch of pristine white perfectly flat ground that stretches to the horizon. I’ve been there. It’s both incredible as it is blinding.

Bonneville Salt Flats is ringed by the different ranges within the Rocky Mountains, which are visible in the photo below. Now imagine if it were 100 times larger and you’d have Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest salt flat in the world.

Me, being a complete dork on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Salt flats are formed where prehistoric lake beds have filled and dried millions of times over the course of eons. In Utah, that prehistoric lake was Lake Bonneville and it used to cover over half of Utah. This cycle of filling and drying left behind a meters thick even layer of salts that are distributed so evenly that NASA uses them to calibrate the altimeters of Earth observation satellites.

Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano (literally translates to ‘high plain’) of Bolivia and originated from the prehistoric lakes Lake Minchin and later Paleo Lake Tauca. The altitude is so high in fact, at 11,800 ft, that it’s recommended for travelers to acclimate in La Paz for a few days before visiting. It’s also bitterly cold in the winter, dropping as low as -4F (-20C).

Because it’s as beautiful as it is alien, it has become a highlighted tourist stop for those traveling in Bolivia. Hidden within the vast expanses of these salt flats are technicolor lagoons, gushing hot springs, and surreal deserts.

Now I totally want to create a story that has a salt flat… so cool.

As the brine beneath the crust rises and falls it forms geometric shapes.

Interesting facts about Salar de Uyuni:

  • It’s the largest concentration of lithium on the planet. The battery in your phone most likely has lithium from Salar de Uyuni in it.
  • The final battle scene in The Last Jedi was filmed here
  • After the rain it creates the largest natural mirror in existence.
  • It’s a huge breeding ground for three species of Flamingo who turn pink from ingesting the pink algae.
During the rainy season, Salar de Uyuni becomes a giant natural mirror

Resources:

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Magical Places, Mont-Saint-Michel

Castle and monastery, church and fortress, Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France has been a bit of everything over its thousand-year plus history. Which is what makes it perfect material for a post here on the blog, where I seek to find magic everyday.

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Mont-Saint-Michel at Sunset

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love ancient castles and churches. My Instagram is loaded with gorgeous pictures of them because they stir my imagination and tell so many stories.

 

I visited Mont-Saint-Michel when I was a young naive teenager. At the time, it was just another wonderful place to visit in a series of interesting places I’d been on a long trip through France. Looking back, I wished I had taken more time to soak in the history. I’m making up for that now.

The earliest history of the island extends back to the 8th century, when the island was called Mont Tombe. “Tombe” meaning grave in Latin evokes the feeling of a graveyard or a final resting place. There is a secondary, and far more fitting, translation as “mount hillock” meaning a raised place. For anyone who has visited the island, it fits this description well. From base to tip, the island rises over 260 feet out of the ocean, and all of it rocky unforgiving granite. I remember my legs burning as we trekked up the steep streets toward the monastery.

According to legend, in 708 AD Archangel Michael appeared to Aubery, bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church in the Archangel’s honor. The bishop repeatedly ignored this heavenly visitor, a truly bad idea, until Saint Michael burned a hole into the bishop’s skull with his finger. The church was built October 16, 709 and devoted to Saint Michael. Mont-Saint-Michel literally means “Saint Michael Mount.”

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Saint Michael Iconography

The location of the island is unique as it historically it could only be reached during low tide and was surrounded by silty sand that was prone to becoming quicksand. This made the island easy to defend as the assailants couldn’t continue their fight for risk of drowning.

 

It was also halfway between the two power Duchies of Normandy and Brittany during the early Middle Ages, which made it the target of the two powers and through the ages it changed hands frequently. At one point it was invaded by Vikings.

Fast forward to 1204, the Breton Guy de Thouars, an ally to the King of France, tried to take the island in a siege. In the process, he accidentally set the main buildings of the monastery on fire, destroying the very same buildings he wanted to occupy. The King of France at the time, Philip Augustus, or Philip II, was horrified that a holy site was damaged in connection to him and offered funds for a major restoration and expansion which included many of the Gothic style buildings we see today.

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Courtyard with Gothic arches

Throughout the following hundreds of years the island continued to be an area of dispute. Each successive conqueror added and destroyed parts of the island’s structures until we reach the present day. For more history, there are references below.

 

Modern day Mont-Saint-Michel can be reached by a long bridge built specially to allow the flow of tidewater underneath. Thrill seekers are still allowed to approach over the sand during low tide, however there are signs everywhere warning of the dangers of quicksand.

Do you have a favorite castle or magical place? Share about it in the comments below and I might do a feature on it in the future.

References:

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Update

I swear I’m not teasing you about doing a cover reveal. It will happen, and it looks like it might be by next week’s post. This week we pinned down a few more needed pieces to create the advance review copies for distribution. If you love reading epic fantasy, and even better, love giving reviews, please send me a note!

Also, I’ll be at the Eagle Mountain Writing Conference this weekend. If you are there, come say hi!

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Magical Places, Tree Cathdral, Bergamo

The Fantasy in Real Life series is dedicated to showcasing the weird and wonderful creations and natural phenomenon that occur around the world. This week we visit Bergamo, a city in Lombardy, Italy. Located just 25 miles northeast of Milan, Bergamo can be considered part of the greater Milan metropolitan area. To the north are the foothills of the Bergamo Alps.

As an ancient city, there are plenty of cathedrals and other examples of medieval architecture in Bergamo, but today we are going to focus on something new.

imageThe tree cathedral was the brain child of Italian artist, Giuliano Mauri, and is touted as one of the world’s most impressive examples of organic architecture. A lover of nature, Mauri created the original plans in 2001. Sadly, he died in 2009 before the work could be realized.

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, Mauri’s plans were put into action as a tribute to his life’s work. 42 beech trees were planted to form a basilica of five aisles will grow into the supporting columns. These beeches are supported by fir poles and branches of hazelnut and chestnut that have been woven together. These will be allowed to deteriorate as the beech trees grow larger. image (1)

Additional resources and articles about the Tree Cathedral:

Magical Places: The Kelpies

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The Kelpies are 30 meter tall (nearly 100 feet) horse head sculptures in Falkirk, Scotland and were finished in October of 2013. They opened to the public in April of this year. They commemorate the completion of a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Historically, Kelpies are mythological water creatures that have inhabited Scotland’s waterways and lochs for thousands of years. They can appear in many forms, including human, but are most commonly associated with horses and are said to have the strength and endurance of 10 horses.

In the Falkirk area horses have played a major role in the economy and industry and were used to pull the wagons, ploughs, barges, and coalships along the canals. The sculptures pay homage to this heritage.

From the Wikipedia entry:

According to sculptor Andy Scott “The original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point for the artistic development of the structures.”[7] “I took that concept and moved with it towards a more equine and contemporary response, shifting from any mythological references towards a socio-historical monument intended to celebrate the horse’s role in industry and agriculture as well as the obvious association with the canals as tow horses.”[8] 

According to Scott the end result would be “Water-borne, towering gateways into The Helix, the Forth & Clyde Canal and Scotland, translating the legacy of the area into proud equine guardians.”[7]

Read more about the Kelpies: