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How to get the best experience out of Yellowstone National Park

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Yellowstone can be a difficult park to enjoy, to say the least. With nearly five million visitors a year, most of them in July and August, there are often just so many people that the popular and famous attractions are impossible to enjoy during daylight hours.

This raises the much-discussed question of how it is best to go about visiting the park. Some claim that winter is the best option, as tourism is at its lowest and many roadside attractions, such as Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs, become infinitely more enjoyable. While stories that claim that you will have the whole park to yourself are a little far-fetched and unlikely, there are for sure much fewer people for sure.

An unavoidable downside is that most of the park–generally around 95%–is very literally closed off and inaccessible by car or by foot. Rangers simply don’t have the resources to devote time and effort into cleaning up the roads and trails from snow enough to be used, and instead simply close them off for the winter. That means that while the famous attractions will be more accessible, everything else will be blocked off and you will be trapped on the roadside locations, unable to see the wilder side of the park. That is not to mention the temperature and the snow gear required for even the shortest of hikes, which only add to the problems with that solution.

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Another common idea is to explore at dusk and dawn, thus avoiding the majority of tourism. However, this is not advisable practice for a number of reasons: first off, when would you sleep? And second, what do you intend to do during the day? The obvious solution is to sleep a few hours during the day and the night and be awake for a few at dusk and dawn, but that’s extremely problematic, as you would have much less time in each “day” or iteration, and your sleep cycle would be so disrupted by this unorthodox schedule, combined with possible jetlag, that you would very likely end up too exhausted to function within the first 48 hours. Unless you are okay with doing nothing for most of the day, that’s hardly going to work out.

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There is another possibility though, and while it might sound unappealing at first, it can be the most rewarding option. The idea is to make the sacrifice of skipping popular places like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, and instead go out farther into the wilder areas of the park, avoiding the masses and exploring places you won’t find in travel guides or road maps.

Typically, in Yellowstone if a place can be driven through or there are short boardwalk loops, it’s full of people. However, hiking trails over a mile long are generally much more solitary, as a surprisingly low percentage of people take the time to actually go on a longer hike. Often, the most rewarding hikes aren’t on maps or even recommended online. Small, random trails on the side of the road typically lead to something interesting, and they can be much more enjoyable than well-used trails in popular regions of the park.

Yellowstone is littered with geothermal features and wildlife hotspots, and the well-known ones are only a small sample. Arguably the best way to experience Yellowstone is to take chances and visit the more reclusive areas, driving headfirst into wilderness directly away from the masses. It takes some luck to find the best places, but it’s unlikely that the search will be fruitless. What very few people seem to grasp is that Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic are not what makes Yellowstone such a spectacular park–it’s the thousands of rarely explored places that offer the unexpected, be it a colorful geothermal pool or a face-to-face encounter with a pissed of moose, that make up the experience.

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Check out my Yellowstone Travel Guide for more tips, suggestions, and recommendations.

Yellowstone Travel Guide

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Yellowstone is a very complicated place to enjoy. In some ways it’s a can’t-miss, and in other ways, it’s just not for everyone. You might go there for the bears or bison, but you will be encountering a very different and much more dangerous breed of animal a lot more often: humans, and a damn lot of them.

Thankfully, there are ways to get around the crowds, but it does take some skill and risk. If you do choose to visit, here are a few things you should know.

What to expect

Wildlife is one of the main reasons so many people flock to the park, and you’re almost guaranteed to have some encounters. There is a lot of wildlife, which sounds good. It comes with its responsibilities though–animals might be so used to people they act fearless, but it’s still not a good idea to get in their face.

You’ll surely see bison, moose, elk, deer, and the occasional eagle. Wolves are extremely shy of people and you would have to get very lucky to actually see them, although their howls are not a rare occurrence at night.

As far as dangerous animals go, wolves rarely get close to people and bears are shy as well. Moose are very often underappreciated and underestimated, as are bison. While unprovoked attacks are extremely rare from any animal, bear spray (and the ability to use it) is necessary for hiking the wilder areas of the park. However, the large animals are not the most dangerous. Snakes can be venomous and hard to spot, although staying on trails can solve that problem. Bug spray comes in handy and in some places can save you from hundreds of bites in one hike from mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, and many other varieties of bloodsuckers.

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Weather can be unpredictable. Precipitation is spread surprisingly evenly in the year, so rain is not unusual even in the hottest months. It gets pretty cold too–sub-zeros in the winter and often down to the 40s even in the hottest months. Be prepared for any weather, and make sure an unexpected rainstorm won’t mess with your plans.

You might be surprised to learn that if you intend to stay inside the park at one of the 9 lodges, you’ll have to book at least a year in advance, preferably more. They are always full, and you would have to be very lucky to catch a cancellation. However, there are hotels outside the park that are somewhat less busy, if you don’t mind a few hours’ drive every day.

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Speaking of driving, getting around in the park takes longer than you probably plan, due to traffic, narrow roads, viewpoints that are certain to make you stop along the way, and wildlife-induced traffic stops. Also keep in mind that there is very little cell and no internet in the park, so don’t plan to rely on your GPS–download a map instead and make sure to keep track of where you are.

There are a lot of roads in the park, but the two main routes are the Upper Loop, which passes Mammoth Hot Springs, Lower and Upper Falls, and Norris Geyser Basin, and the Lower Loop, which passes Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Gibbon River, Yellowstone River, and West Thumb Basin. The South entrance offers a scenic way of entering the park.

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When to visit

Most roads are closed in the winter and open in May, which presents a problem: there’s hardly a manageable offseason. If you are able to, it’s always smart to avoid the most crowded months, regardless of where you are going. For Yellowstone though, that’s close impossible, since 95% of the park is literally closed off in the offseason–and even if that doesn’t bother you, there’s still a lot of snow to manage.

This limits your reasonable options to either May, right as the roads open, or late August and September, as the season is ending. Either way, there’s always the risk that the snow will take longer than usual to melt or start falling earlier than expected, cutting into some or all of your trip. It’s a risk to consider.

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Visiting in the winter is possible, though it can be difficult. Although your options may be limited, there are significantly fewer people during the winter, so your experience may even be better than the other option. It’s a very different experience, and it can be much more enjoyable. However, be ready for road closures, snowstorms, and temperatures well below freezing that may interfere with plans, or even keep you out of the park entirely. It’s risky but possible.

Whatever you do, avoid July and August. The weather and insects can be extreme, and  it’s by far the worst in terms of crowds, so much of the park is impossible to enjoy without the other few million people there.

For more extensive tips on when and how to ditch the masses, check out my in-depth article on the topic.

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Places to avoid (sometimes…)

There are of course a lot of great places to go, but many of the most obvious ones aren’t on that list. There is one reason for that, and that is the crowds. With over 4 million people visiting the park every year, you will get tired of driving at 2 mph staring at the next car’s stupid vanity plate, only to finally get out and have all the other tourists engulf you in a cloud of sweat-smell, push at you and shove elbows in your ribs to get a better view and stop to pose for selfies every two steps.

Old Faithful:

While it’s certainly famous, consider skipping it. It only erupts every 36-120 mins and the sheer amount of people standing and sitting around block the view. Unless you go at dawn, there is no chance you will be left alone. In the winter though, it’s a lot easier to enjoy.

Grand Prismatic Spring:

It’s one of the most photographed places in the park, and for a good reason. However striking it may be though, the crowds confined to the narrow, boardwalk can ruin the experience in minutes. Once again, winter is an entirely different experience.

Hayden Valley:

This is mostly a drive-through attraction, so the traffic can clog up very easily. Often you will find yourself at an indefinitely long dead halt, as somewhere ahead of you someone spotted wildlife and stopped to stare. However, there really is a lot of wildlife, and since you’ll have some guaranteed elbow room in your car, it’s not a terrible option if you’re okay with incomprehensibly hopeless traffic jams.

Mammoth Hot Springs:

While the hot terraces, springs, mud pots, and other limestone features are certainly interesting, the limited boardwalks and seemingly unlimited amounts of people can very easily ruin the experience. Unless you visit in the winter, when not much else in the park is open, it will be difficult to enjoy, much like Grand Prismatic Spring.

Places to see

Despite the ridiculous crowds in some sections of the park, there are areas that the general masses typically don’t get to, but are just as interesting to see.

West Thumb Geyser Basin:

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West Thumb is a relatively small basin compared to others in the park, and it’s generally not a common tourist destination, so it won’t be too crowded. It’s certainly worth seeing though; among its abundant geothermal features are geysers (Lake Shore Geyser, Twin Geysers), hot springs (Blue Funnel Spring, Surging Spring), and geothermal pools (Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Bluebell Pool, Seismograph Pool) with stunning colors, situated conveniently right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, which is also worth checking out.

Artist Point and Point Sublime: 

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While it’s often listed as a hike, Artist Point is 0.2 miles from the road with a 16 ft elevation gain, so it’s more of a viewpoint from the highway. Point Sublime is 1.5 miles from the road and offers similar views with fewer people. They are certainly worth a stop, as they offer sweeping views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Little Gibbon Falls

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This “hidden” hike gets so little traffic most people don’t even know about it due to it’s discreet location marked only by one sign reading “Wolf Lake” and it’s absence on most road maps–which is exactly why it’s worthwhile. In addition to the falls, Ice Lake is also in the area, and if you hike an extra few miles, Wolf Lake isn’t much of a stretch either.

Two Ocean Plateau:

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Two Ocean Plateau received its odd name–given that its hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean–because all the water to the West of it drains into the Pacific, and all the water on the East drains into the Atlantic. While that’s not noticeable when you’re there, the picturesque marsh and views of Yellowstone Lake are the opposite.

Lone Star Geyser:

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Given that it’s situated almost 3 miles from the parking lot, there are refreshingly few people at this geyser. The hike is mostly flat and partially paved, following the Firehole River. The geyser erupts only every three hours, but there are plenty of other unnamed geysers and hot springs in the area to explore while waiting. There’s a log book at the parking lot where hikers write down the time of the previous eruption so you’ll know roughly what to expect.

A note on human stupidity

In broad daylight in peak season, Yellowstone is extremely crowded. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get around the crowds, but the park’s permanent residents have little choice. Both animals and tourists are sometimes so unafraid of each other that people will get out of their cars and approach animals as if neither poses a threat to the other. If the animal doesn’t like that, it’s not the tourists who get shot by the rangers, sadly.

It’s not just on the roads where stupid people can cause damage; things like getting off the trail or boardwalk in areas where there are signs explicitly saying not to can permanently damage the environments–or the people, in the case of the guy who boiled to death in a hot spring a few years ago after leaving the boardwalk.

Tourists who think they’re in a zoo or amusement park do stupid and selfish things. It happens all the time and there is little to do about it, but that doesn’t make it any better. If you want to avoid it, stay away at tourist season. If you want to change it, sue away. But whatever you do don’t be one of them.

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The Unlikely Origins of the Metal Battle Jacket

Battle jackets and vests are now a very common sight at metal shows, or even just on the street. They are an iconic and instantly recognizable aspect of rock n roll culture. However, how they were invented is, surprisingly, not common knowledge. Even people who have them may be surprised that they have more of a story than just looking cool.

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Battle jackets were initially invented in WW2, when Air Force pilots would decorate their flight jackets with squadron insignia patches, and later pop culture icons. After the war ended, many pilots got into motorcycling for the excitement and speed. They kept their flight jackets to use as motorcycle jackets, since they offered protection against crashes, but sometimes sawed the sleeves off, as they could be restricting.

They continued to decorate their jackets with logos of clubs, gangs, and rapidly developing subcultures as they began to evolve in the 50s. Since paint flakes off of leather easily under rigorous use, they began to sew patches onto their jackets instead. Sewing denim is a lot easier and faster than leather, so denim jackets were used as well alongside leather.

These clubs and gangs did not usually get along, which caused them to be affiliated with street fights, mass brawls, extreme devotion to their club, and a violent appearance to the general public. Take the two most widespread British subcultures for example: the rockers with their Triumphs and Harley-Davidsons and gangster attitudes naturally opposed the mods with their hideous Italian scooters and an alarming obsession with lights and mirrors.

As the 60s arrived and rock n roll made its mainstream breakthrough, it fit the picture perfectly. There were two very different types of music-inspired jackets that came together to spark the rise of the modern battle jacket.

The first was that the gangsters found the rebelliousness of the new genre and it defying societal norms appealing, leading them to decorate their jackets with the bands’ logos and album art. The other was the Woodstock era hippie culture, who had a radically different ideology but with surprisingly similar motivations: mostly, free self-expression and defying the expected norms.

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The two branches came together as the hippie music era dawned into a new wave of rock n roll: the various genres and subgenres of the 70s. Classic rock, punk, and heavy metal appeared almost out of nowhere, and as a result of the sudden change a lot of the new bands kept the fashion, which was naturally copied by the fans.

Punks were the first non-gangster group who started customizing their jackets with band logos, and they were quick to invent the addition of metal studs to their outfit as well. The existence of modern metal jackets is largely the unintentional consequences of punk fashion in the late 70s–an influence that some metalheads try to forget.

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There are two people who brought denim and leather, respectively, over from the punks to heavy metal. Judas Priest is one of the greatest metal bands of all time, but next to the sound, they also invented a now-classic new look by bringing head-to-toe leather into the genre. Rob Halford’s signature move of riding a motorcycle onto the stage may also have something to do with it. The denim was brought over by none other than Lemmy, who smashed his way into metal somewhat unintentionally and very drunkenly toward the end of the 70s.

With battle jackets in punk and metal, it inevitably seeped into the middle ground, traditional hard rock, as well, and eventually covered the entire musical spectrum of rock n roll. Design aspects from specific genres mixed into one. Modern battle jackets are common among any genre related to rock n roll, from grunge to black metal.

Making your own won’t take too long either–just get a cheap denim jacket, optionally hack the sleeves off, and sew patches on in whatever order you get them in.

The 10 Most Influential People In Metal

This was by no means an easy list to make, given the sheer number of incredibly influential people who participated in raising the metal scene to its full height and making it what it is today. But out of all of the metal legends who formed the genre, there are few that stand out from the crowd. This list only considers musicians, as they are the ones who get the attention, but in reality the fans are by far the most important people in any genre; none of the people on this list would be here without their fans. However, they are hardly a single person, so they didn’t make it on here.

#10: Corey Taylor

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Corey Taylor is known for being the vocalist of the notorious alt/thrash outfit Slipknot, which brought thrash through to the new millennium and kept it going strong. In an era where alt/nu metal and extreme ‘core subgenres are the only sufficiently popular styles of metal, Slipknot covers the scarce middle ground of the two extremes, drawing influences from both but spitting out something that isn’t quite either. The main push behind the band is Corey’s reckless and explosively angry personality, which can make him difficult to work with, but, combined with a powerful vocal performance and a relentless creative drive makes him a monster on stage and in the studio.

#9: Dimebag Darrel

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Pantera’s presence in the metal scene can’t be denied, and they had a significant influence on many different metal subgenres. Their guitarist Dimebag is, next to Phil Anselmo, the main force behind the band as well as the inspiration for many younger bands. His nearly superhuman Van Halen-like shredding style, combined with the tragic nature of his death–shot down playing live on the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder–only added to his influence and success.

#8: Randy Blythe

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Burn the Priest, more commonly known by their slightly less intense moniker Lamb of God, is one of the most popular, as well as influential, extreme metal bands, largely thanks to Randy’s inhuman vocal abilities. It’s hard enough to scream with simple vocal fry consistently without sustaining permanent vocal damage, not to mention growl as well and keep doing it for decades. Randy was never even taught to do it; he says it all started as a cookie monster joke. What sets him apart from all the others though is that he is able to replicate almost the exact sound from the studio at his live shows, even while crowd-surfing.

#7: Bruce Dickinson

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Bruce is an author, broadcaster, airline pilot, and solo artist, but it’s his work as the lead singer of Iron Maiden that places him here. Maiden’s sound isn’t exactly the heaviest it gets, but their classic two-guitar harmonies and galloping beats influenced more than onw generation of fans, and some very successful bands including Queensryche, Disturbed, and even Megadeth. Their mainstream success and powerful stage presence can be all credited to one factor: Bruce. Needless to say, his nearly superhuman vocal range, impressive vocal power, and instantly recognizable voice make him a legend of rock n roll and metal alike.

#5 and 6: Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield

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These two are difficult to separate, as they co-founded Metallica and both stayed with it until today. James’s lyrics and classic stage presence dominate any performance they have, and his unique down-picking style and dynamic voice land him rightfully with the title of the first thrasher. As for Lars, love him or hate him, you can’t deny his place among the legends of metal. Metallica had a rough start with Kill Em All and some dirty issues during the black album, but the founding duo managed to stick together for some 40 years, and the result certainly paid off.

#4: Tony Iommi:

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Black Sabbath can be said to have invented metal as we know it, and their influence can’t be understated. While Ozzy is for sure part of the legend that started it all, Tony Iommi was there from the start too, and shouldn’t be overlooked. His riffs loom huge over the genre, but how they came to be is even more interesting: Tony lost the tips of two of his fingers at a sheet metal factory, but instead of giving up guitar, he built his own prosthetics out of melted plastic and invented light gauge strings so he could keep playing. The plastic fingers, combined with tuned down strings and a bass amp gave him the unusual tone that Sabbath is now known for.

#3: Dave Mustaine:

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As Metallica’s ex-lead guitarist and Megadeth’s founder, singer, and guitarist, Dave was there from the start of the thrash metal genre and saw it through its most popular years. In Metallica, some of his songs appeared Metallica’s iconic debut album Kill Em All, even though he was kicked out due to some intense alcohol-induced incidents some time before the album was released. In Megadeth, he continued lead guitar but also picked up rhythm, and after some trouble finding a singer, took up the mic himself. He was in two of the most influential thrash bands and some of the most popular metal bands of all time, putting him right in the center of thrash as well as the entire metal scene, from ’81 until today.

#2: Rob Halford:

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Having been in metal for nearly 50 years and fronting the classic heavy metal band Judas Priest, its safe to say that if anyone, Rob Halford has earned the title of Metal God. Judas Priest invented both the sound and the look of heavy metal– Halford is rightfully credited with introducing studded leather to metal, and Priest is one of the first true heavy metal bands. Their sound, which incorporated traditional heavy metal, thrash, and a touch of glam, was the inspiration for countless bands to follow. It was all made possible by Halford’s near-superhuman 4+ octave vocal range, commanding stage presence, and an incredible drive to create entirely new styles unlike anything in existence at the time.

#1: Ozzy Osbourne:

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As lead singer of Black Sabbath and later a solo artist, it’s not difficult to see why the Prince of Darkness made this list. Black Sabbath is easily the greatest influence on early metal, and quite possibly the first actual metal band the world saw. While Ozzy’s slightly more gruesome antics, such as “accidentally” chomping a live bat’s head off on stage, can be a little revolting, his work with Black Sabbath and Randy Rhoads easily makes up for the, um, incidents along the way. All in all, no one person could possibly change metal more than the one who invented it.

4 Star Wars Spin-off Ideas

Rogue One and Solo were the first and certainly not the last in a new type of Star Wars movies: anthologies. “A Star Wars Story,” the subtitle given to these films, is the new Legends or Expanded Universe. The books and games were more or less erased from the timeline with the sequel trilogy, but that only freed up space for new ones. With Disney is making separate stand-alone Star Wars movies, it’s hard not to imagine the possibilities. Movies that we knew all along would never happen have a chance again. These are just four that fans would like to see.

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4: Sith origins

The Sith are a mysterious culture: we don’t know where they come from, how they came to be, how long they’ve been around, or even who they are exactly. Without the EU explanations, there is almost no solid information about the origins of the Sith. A movie about them could be set in the Old Republic or earlier. It would be about how the Dark Side was discovered, and the first people to use it — the first Sith. This could happen simultaneously with the origins of the Jedi and the discovery of the Light Side.

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3: Wookiees and Kashyyyk

This one would be a bit of a challenge to make because of the language issues, but it could work if there is a human in the story that can translate Shyriiwook. It would reveal a lot of both Wookiee culture as well as the secrets of Kashyyyk, like whether Wookiees really live in trees and why are those trees so much better than any other species. It could mention and justify the Wookiee-Trandoshian conflict, as well as their distrust of the Empire.

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2: Republic Commando

No book series depicts the Mandalorian culture better or gives more insight into the genetically elite slave soldiers of the Republic than Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando series. It could take the plot directly from the series, but with the sheer length of them, it might be wiser to make it a TV show. Either way, seeing it as a movie would be almost as good as a real Mandalorian spin-off. Which brings us to…

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1: True Mandalorians

We’ve seen bounty hunters, extreme mercenaries, thugs for hire, various classes of outcasts who value cash over culture, and even rebel soldiers, but where are the true Mandalorians? Boba and Jango were disappointing, and the Death Watch are hardly true Mandalorians. It’s about time to get a movie from a time when the Mando culture is united under a Mandalore and not oppressed by a galactic government and spread thin under its rule. The movie could be set in the Old Republic, at a time when the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire coexist, and the Mandalorians are trapped with mixed loyalties in the center of a war between the two superpowers.

7 Popular Attractions that Aren’t Worth the Hype, and Better Alternatives

The world is full of amazing places to discover. Many are in plain sight: no doubt Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Denali are great to visit. There are also countless hidden getaways waiting to be found and explored. But there are also places that might be famous, but really don’t deserve a place on your bucket list. Regarding the latter type of places, if you’ve been everywhere you’ve ever wanted to go and have no better ideas, knock yourself out. But if that’s not the case, don’t bother.

Not Worth It: Mount Rushmore.

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This iconic monument might sound like a must-see, but in reality it’s anything but inspiring. First off, it’s way farther away than you would expect; there’s no good way to get closer than the observation deck picture shows. It’s really small, too, compared to what seeing it online can lead you to believe. It’s also crowded by the hundreds of tourists waiting to take selfies from the front row. Historical significance aside, it’s just some faces in a big boring rock.

Solution: Badlands National Park.

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Only a 90-minute drive from Rushmore is this striking and rugged park that, despite its unappealing name, is certainly worth a drive through. It’s layered and colorful exposed rock and unusual rock formations make it unique among other places in the area. In addition to the scenery, Badlands is home to black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, and bison, which can be seen frequently to highlight the drive.

Not Worth It: The Great Wall of China.

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The Great Wall is an architectural wonder of the ancient world, stretching over 13,000 miles across western Asia. However, you might be disappointed to find that you won’t see much of it due to…the panic-inducing monstrosity you see in the picture. No, it’s not a fake; that’s actually what it’s like in peak season. Tourists are only allowed on a relatively short section of the wall, so there isn’t really anywhere to escape the stampede either.

Solution: The Altai Mountains, Mongolia

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This extensive mountain range is found on the border of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. From trekking to climbing to skiing, the area has endless possibilities–and much fewer people. Temperatures in the winter can get a little extreme, but that doesn’t deter everyone. In the spring, there is a lot dense of vegetation, like wildflowers, which make the landscape even more interesting, but in the fall there is much less water and the gorges are more accessible. It’s a huge place so everyone will find something to do.

Not Worth It: The Empire State Building.

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Notice anything missing?

The Empire State Building is one of the most famous landmarks in the US and one of the most well-known skyscrapers in the world, and no wallpaper of downtown Manhatten is complete without it. That’s exactly why you should not waste your money on it: you will notice any photos you manage to take through the dirty glass and chainlink and over the shoulders of all the other impatient and disappointed tourists will be missing something important — that would be because you are standing right on top of it.

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Solution: Top of the Rock. Getting to the top of this skyscraper is no less expensive, but typically less crowded and overall a more rewarding experience. The sweeping views of midtown Manhatten are infinitely better, and the Empire State Building will actually be in your pictures (or Central Park, which there is also a much better view of), which is another big plus.

Not Worth It: The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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The picture is all you need to talk yourself out of this one. The tower itself isn’t a big deal — many of the buildings around it are actually much more impressive. You won’t get a clear view of it either anytime soon due to hundreds of other people trying to get the cliched “holding up/knocking over the tower” picture. So if you want one of those pics, you’re better off using photoshop.

Solution: Rome

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Only a four-hour drive from Pisa is the ancient city of Rome, with its renown ancient architecture and rich history. While you’re there, step back a couple of millennia and check out the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, and whatever else you can find. Just steer clear of the Trevi Fountain–it’s a little crowded over there (see the Piazza Navona instead).

Not Worth It: Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge is an outstanding ancient work, the purpose of which we are at loss to understand. The complex patterns it forms with the sun and stars, as well as the amount of coordinated effort that went into building it is sure to light up your imagination. But as fascinating as it is, don’t waste your money and time on it. As you can see, you are unlikely to be alone for your trip. And if the crowds don’t faze you, consider what you get out of it: sure, it’s a cool place, but there isn’t much to do besides stare straight ahead and think, which you might as well be doing from wherever you are now.

Solution: Callanish Stones.

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Stonehenge is not the only ancient monolith in the world. This one, found in Scotland, is just as incredible and a lot more peaceful. Sure, you can get away from the crowds, but you can also you can get up close to these, unlike Stonehenge.

Not Worth It: Times Square.

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Tourists travel here from all over the world. It’s the heart of New York City, after all. It’s also loud, crowded, dirty, and unbelievably expensive. What you see in pictures is colorful billboards and skyscrapers, but what you see in person is more like the dirty sidewalk, shops where a sandwich costs more than your retirement, and an endless sea of loud, angry, impatient people who want to either take a selfie, pick your pockets literally or figuratively, or get the hell out of there.

Solution: Central Park.

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Central Park is one of the three most popular attractions in NYC–the others being the Empire State Building and Times Square. That means it gets a lot of visitors, but it’s a little different from the other two in that, instead of one cramped square or an even more cramped observation deck, it encompasses over 1.3 square miles. It’s huge, given the size and density of the surrounding city–it’s big enough to get lost in, and it would take years to explore everything. Yes, there are areas you should avoid at night, but it’s still a much better place than the city.

Not Worth It: The Great Pyramids.

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The Great Pyramids of Cairo, Egypt are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It’s incredible to think of how much work went into arranging those multi-ton boulders without only human hands in one pharaoh’s lifetime. However, once again it’s best to think from a distance. To begin, you won’t be allowed inside the pyramids, so forget exploring them (legally, anyway). The pyramids are also smaller than you probably expected; still huge but not THAT big. And you won’t enjoy the crowds either: tourists can be annoying, but so are all the locals desperately trying to sell you their things.

Solution: Aswan.

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This peaceful Egyptian city is found only a day’s drive from Giza and Cairo, and it’s a lot more enjoyable than the latter. The city is home to many attractions, from cruises on the Nile to exquisite ancient temples to camel trips in the dunes. While you’re there, you might want to check out the nearby Abu Simbel temple, and the White Desert, with its standing chalk formations.

10 Easy but Popular Songs for Guitar

Starting out on guitar, it can be hard to find a great song that’s easy enough to play right away. A lot of famous songs are virtually impossible to play even for experienced players — take a look at the tab for Paradise City, Stairway to Heaven, or One and you’ll see what I mean. But when you look closer, there are quite a few really easy songs that are also famous and successful. These are some of the best, in no particular order.

The White Stripes — Seven Nation Army:

Jack White’s classic rock hit is one of the easiest rock songs ever written, but it’s also popular. The riff can be played on a single string, and the solo is almost the same. It really only takes one riff to learn the whole song, as the others are just variations on it, but you can do a lot more with it; the possibilities for variations in notes, tones, and styles are unlimited.

Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit:

This is a surprisingly mainstream song for its genre, and really easy to cover for every instrument, which makes it an extremely common song for new bands to cover. Like Seven Nation Army, it’s a song every guitarist should know. The timing gets a little tricky when the main riff repeats in the chorus, but there isn’t much else that’s hard about it; even the solo is simple.

Green Day — Boulevard of Broken Dreams:

Arguably Green Day’s most famous song, Broken Dreams was a punk rock classic right from the start. It’s one of their most famous songs since their early hits like Longview and Welcome to Paradise. It’s easily and instantly recognizable, and like many other bands’ most successful songs, surprisingly easy.

Rage Against the Machine — Killing in the Name:

RATM can be hard to classify as any particular genre, but they do what they do well. This song is easily their most famous, and while it might not be the most popular rock song the world has seen, it’s pretty widely known. It has several riffs that have some slightly complex rhythms, so it might be more difficult than some other songs on this list, but it’s still obtainable.

Black Sabbath — Paranoid:

This heavy metal classic is as old as it is classic, but that’s partially why it’s so famous. It’s easy to play for every instrument, including vocals, so it’s a common song for bands that are just starting up to cover. It can be played in a variety of different styles, from punk to thrash, and the key can be easily changed as well to the vocalist’s preference.

AC/DC — Back in Black:

AC/DC released their first album with their new singer Brian Johnson with some understandable doubt; not many bands survive switching vocalists so late in their career. But it paid off, and Back in Black is their most successful song to date, and one of their most well known. Like so many other bands, their most famous song is also the easiest to play, and while the solos get a little tight, there isn’t much else to the song.

Green Day — American Idiot:

This punk rock hit has some fast power chord transitions, but other than that it’s pretty simple and very catchy. It’s also a very typical Green Day song, so if you know it, you can learn many other Green Day songs without too many new techniques.

Black Sabbath — Iron Man:

The instantly recognizable riff will get every audience’s attention, and although it is cheesy, it’s catchy enough to make up for that. It’s all easy until the solos, but even though they are fast both are pretty easy to learn. It offers quite a few interesting riffs besides the main one, so it’s pretty interesting to learn too. And if you do end up learning the solo, it’s not a bad one to start on.

Marylin Manson — The Beautiful People:

Twiggy Ramirez’s instantly recognizable riff and Manson’s catchy vocal styles paired with their usual radical, extreme, and gory violent lyrics made an instant metal classic when Antichrist Superstar was released in 1996. The song is extremely simple and doesn’t have a solo, but it gets you right in the middle of the 90s metal scene with only a few simple riffs.

Pantera — Walk:

You know the riff. Why not play it? This is another metal classic, this one with some harsher distortion and vocals, though it’s not quite extreme metal. Don’t let the weird tuning scare you off; it can be played just fine in E standard. The actual tuning lowers every string by one and a quarter notes, in a very strange setup that can only be described as C#.25. The solo is fairly difficult, as any of Dimebag’s solos are, but other than that section, it’s a simple classic that takes almost no experience to play.

These are not even close to the only ones; there are lots of others. These are just ideas. If you want more, check out Crazy Train, Come as You Are, almost any old school Green Day song, or nearly every Black Sabbath or Ozzy tune you can find. If you want a challenge that’s still fairly obtainable, try Seek and Destroy or Ace of Spades. In either case, use Songsterr, it’s easily the best free platform out there for tabs you can play along to real-time. Hope that helped you find something you like!

The 5 Bands That Shaped Early Metal

Some genres seem to appear out of nowhere, but others can be traced to very specific roots, artists and dates. The latter type predictably causes some controversy as to what is actually a new genre, and what is just a fancy twist on the old one. Metal is one of these; it comes directly from hard rock and rock n roll, but it’s exact beginnings are a little fuzzy. It’s come such a long way since then though that it is hardly recognizable as one genre anymore; modern ‘core is hardly comparable to the 70s glam swagger that started it all. But when it comes to finding the very first metal bands, there are a few that come to mind.

Obviously, there are much more; these are just the most influential. Metal would not have been possible without dozens of other bands in the 60s and 70s, but these are the bands that kickstarted the genre and made the rest possible.

Van Halen:

VH is credited with inventing glam metal, understandably. However, their influence didn’t stop there. Eddie’s brilliant solos invented and/or revolutionized many styles used extensively in later metal subgenres, such as two-handed tapping, whammy dives, pinch harmonics, pinch harmonics combined with whammy dives…you get the idea.

Led Zeppelin:

Led Zep is not exactly a metal band. Their most well-known song, Stairway to Heaven, may be a lot of things but it is hardly metal, and their bluesy hard rock sound was not at all unusual at the time. However, as the 70s progressed, their sound only grew heavier, eventually heavy enough to inspire future metal bands and possibly to be considered metal themselves. The definition of metal music has changed over the decades, but in the mid-70s, Led Zep fit the picture.

Deep Purple:

British prog/psychedelic hard rock outfit Deep Purple seemed like an unlikely band to kick off a genre like heavy metal, but here they are. Their sound may have been bluesy or psychedelic at times, but at the end of the day it was heavy as well, and at the time that stood out. Their unusually heavy guitars are what earned them their place by Led Zep and Black Sabbath in what is now known as the “unholy trinity” of British proto-metal.

Motorhead:

You probably weren’t expecting to find Motorhead on this list. They called themselves rock n roll, and for a while that worked out. They lived the rockstar life like no one else–leather, whiskey, and amps cranked to 11. They never cared what the world thought; they just played their music regardless of what people called it. But given their sound from the very beginning, it was no surprise that people started calling them metal as soon as the word had a meaning in music, and while their sound remained relatively stable, the labels changed from hard rock to heavy metal to early thrash metal. While the accuracy of those labels is debatable, Motorhead remains one of the most underrated and overlooked bands to influence the beginnings of metal to this day.

Black Sabbath:

Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. Sabbath is the first band to be considered actual metal, and their influence is beyond measure. The song “Black Sabbath” is credited with inventing all of metal and while one song couldn’t possibly start such a diverse genre singlehandedly, it’s album, ironically also called Black Sabbath, was the first album to be considered legitimate metal. Some of their other songs, such as Iron Man, Paranoid, War Pigs, and Children of the Grave, together were where it all began, followed up by Crazy Train and other songs by Ozzy and his new guitarist Randy Rhoads. The band’s influence on the future of metal is unmatched by all of the others combined.

8 Ways the World Could End

In a world with billions of different species fighting for survival and superiority, it is natural that one will rise above the rest. But no society can last forever. Just like an individual, a species must die out sooner or later. Normally, one species replaces another, but this time it could be different. This time, humans could be the architects of their own destruction.

Naturally, it is possible that humans will outlive the earth. By the time the earth is uninhabitable, humanity could be spread over multiple planets or even multiple solar systems. But in the event that humanity does come to an end, these are some of the most interesting ways it could go.

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8: Solar flare. Solar flares disrupt the magnetic Earth’s magnetic field when they touch it. Effects of this radiation are increased radio static, high inaccuracy in radio transmissions, and disruption of electrical circuits. One power grid or a few sensitive pieces of technology are not a huge concern, but a big flare could knock out power in the entire world. In the future, when just about everything is dependent on electricity, a global outage could result in serious problems.

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7: Failed experiment. Most of the ways we expect the world to end are natural, external factors, but humans are very capable of getting it done themselves. For this one, particle accelerators are the most likely cause, but there are others. Of course, a synthetic black hole or singularity could be the cause. These are not easy to create, but even more difficult to control, and a man-made black hole would swallow the earth in seconds. Of course other types of experiments could also spell disaster for the human race, such as artificial diseases or nuclear weapon testing.

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6: Aliens. It is unlikely that when aliens contact Earth, their first idea will be to conquer it like they do in movies. However, there are some very real threats associated with extraterrestrial contact. One risk is that the bacteria or similar organisms that could be unintentionally transmitted to Earth might be so much stronger than bacteria we know that our organisms will be wiped out completely. But the most sinister threat may be the aliens themselves. There is a good chance that the aliens that make it to Earth will be so much more advanced than us that they view us as we would view single-celled organisms on Mars. They would experiment and take samples, and the damage to our society could be catastrophic.

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5: Mass insanity. Advancements in all fields of science have led to significantly longer, safer, more comfortable, and less exciting lives. In the future, when robots have taken people’s jobs and humans have no work to do, the human existence could be so dull and artificial that boredom will be a serious psychological concern. Thousand-year lifespans, or even non-physical existence, could have serious mental consequences. Eventually, boredom will lead to insanity, and that just can’t end well.

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4: Artificial intelligence. Many sci-fi books and movies develop the idea of robots that break free of their programming and go on to attempt to take over the world. While it is unlikely to happen that suddenly, sooner or later it will become a problem. There are already robots that have developed their own indecipherable language that not even the people who built them understand. Robots have better senses, thinking speed, and reaction time than humans, and without the burden of emotions, they are able to make much better decisions. It is only a matter of time until an AI figures out that the world is better off with robot leaders than humans ones.

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3: Nuclear war. This is fairly self-explanatory. In the event of another world war, which might not be as far away as people want to think, new technologies would make it much faster and deadlier than any other war in human history. Perhaps the deadliest weapon used would be the atomic bomb, which can out an entire city instantly and make much of the surrounding area uninhabitable for decades. The technology has improved drastically since WWII. There are already existing bombs that are over 6,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast, and the total amount of nuclear weapons in existence could destroy the earth dozens of times.

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2: Biological warfare. Antibiotic-resistant diseases are here, and that’s bad news in itself. Some countries are already manufacturing artificial diseases, and if they are used, the entire human population can be wiped out in days. A resistant disease with no cure manufactured to spread fast and kill instantly could spread to all continents via air travel. In fact, given the high rodent population in most big cities, an antibiotic-resistant form of the bubonic plague is not impossible. If there is no way to make a cure, there might not be anything to do but sit back and watch history repeat itself.

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1: Global warming. It is a natural cycle, but this one is different. Humans create 114 billion (114,000,000,000) kilograms of greenhouse gases every day, which drastically increases global temperature. Even if it is stopped, the results will be catastrophic. But the truth is no matter how long we postpone it, it’s unavoidable. There has to be a storm after a calm. The only reason humans are still alive is that the Earth’s climate has remained unchanged for the previous 20,000 years, but the “heat age” is long overdue and the climate will give way eventually, and the eruption will be more sudden the more we postpone it. Even if no other apocalypse occurs, it’s only a matter of time before the Earth will be uninhabitable. We can only hope Mars will be ready to be colonized by then.