July 2012


Posted by: Katherine Munchmeyer, Management Counselor

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Aerial view of Niihau Island in Hawaii, looking southwestward from the north. Taken by Christopher P. Becker (polihale.com) on 25 Sep 2007 from a helicopter.

Aerial view of Niihau Island in Hawaii, looking southwestward from the north. Taken by Christopher P. Becker (polihale.com) on 25 Sep 2007 from a helicopter.

Hawai’i, the Aloha State.  Eight magic islands where the sun will shine:  The Big Island of Hawai’i, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau.  The names themselves evoke the exotic nature of this former island kingdom, now the 50th state in the Union.

Growing up in Hawai’i, I had no idea I was growing up in paradise.  As a kid I took for granted the tropical climate, the cooling trade winds, the white sandy beaches and clear blue waters.  As an adult, just writing about my home state makes me want to hop on a plane and head for the islands.  In fact I have done it – gotten on a plane on the east coast of the Mainland (as Islanders refer to the contiguous 48 states) in the morning, and jumped in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon.  That was “da kine” awesome day, man.

In fact, what brings tourists back time and again to the islands is precisely their beauty and gentleness.  Tourism is the single most important industry on the islands, overtaking agricultural cornerstones of sugar and pineapple.  Over 7 million come to visit this state whose own population is just under 1.5 million.  And who can blame them?  A cold day in Hawai’i rarely gets below 15C, while hot summer days usually stay below 30C.  And there is so much to see and do!  Of course, most people think of Hawai’i and its beaches.  The most famous is

View of Waikiki Beach area hotels.

View of Waikiki Beach area hotels.

Waikiki, which is framed by the classic outline of Diamond Head crater.  But travel around the island and you’ll find the unique Hanauma Bay, with its beautiful coral reef in the middle of another collapsed volcanic crater.  Put on your mask and snorkel and you can view the many colorful tropical fishes normally found behind the glass of exotic aquariums. The beach at Kailua is a great place for windsurfing, or a wedding at sunset. Up on the North Shore you can watch the surfers at Waiamea Bay – just be careful not to let those waves wash you away!  The best part about Hawai’i’s beaches is that they are all public.  Regardless of how exclusive the hotel or wealthy the estate, the property rights end where the sand begins.

The most popular destination is still the main island of O’ahu, where the capital Honolulu is located.  Honolulu is incidentally where Barack Obama was born, and where he graduated from Punahou School, my alma mater.  Maui is the second-most popular island.  The town of Lahaina still retains the flavor of its old whaling days.  You can climb Mount Hale’akala and witness the sunrise as did Mark Twain.  But my favorite is still the Big Island of Hawai’i.  It is here you can feel the power of Pele, the goddess of fire.  According to legend, Pele was exiled from her home in Tahiti by her father because she was always fighting with her sister, the Goddess of the Sea.  Pele created each of the Hawaiian islands, but her sister always put the fire out, until a final epic battle in which Pele died and was transformed into a goddess herself.  She now resides in the volcano Kilauea, which has been erupting along a rift zone continuously since 1983.  Hawaiian volcanoes are normally relatively gentle.  It is possible to visit the crater of Kilauea, and to walk over the recent lava paths to witness new land being formed as the new lava flows slowly into the sea.  But be careful how you treat Pele – legend also has it that if you take a piece of lava or otherwise anger the goddess she will bring you nothing but trouble!

Posted by: Michael Burnham, Consular Intern

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Alaska is a state that can only be described in superlatives. It is by far the largest state (over twice the size of Texas), is the northernmost and coldest state, hosts half the world’s glaciers, and boasts the most wildlife, wilderness, lakes (3 million), coastline (more than every other state combined), and volcanoes (over 100), than anywhere in the United States. The centerpiece of Alaska’s geography is Mt. McKinley—also known as Denali. While Mt. Everest has more notoriety for being the world’s highest mountain, Denali is actually the world’s biggest mountain when measured from base to peak. Located in central Alaska, the massive peak can be seen from hundreds of miles away in virtually every region of the state.

Denali National Park

If you’re looking for nightlife and parties, Alaska isn’t your state. Culturally it’s far removed from much of the United States. Most residents would rather spend their night under the northern lights than the disco lights and are more comfortable with a shotgun than a shopping bag. Yet, with the lowest population density in the United States, frequent encounters with the world’s biggest moose, world class fishing and camping, and the occasional bear wandering onto your back porch, it is the ultimate land of outdoor adventure.

Alaska, Iditarod Dog Sled Team

Alaska is not a state that boasts many celebrities. In fact the only Alaskan that many people are familiar with may be politician Sarah Palin. Alaska is a state of ordinary people who are content with their happy lives. The people there welcome everyone with a very sincere brand of friendliness and openness. It’s a great place to visit, but an even better place to live. No matter how short your stay though, you’re guaranteed to leave with a few new friends.

The purchase of Alaska from Russia has been the source of some controversy in former Soviet Republics. Many believe the 1867 transaction was not actually a sale, but a 99 year lease and the United States failed to return the territory during the Cold War. In reality, however, this is an urban legend. Original documents of the transaction confirm that it was a sale, and make no mention of a lease or time at which the territory was to be returned.

While many associate Alaska with an uninhabited frozen wasteland, in reality it is one of the world’s greatest natural treasures. Summer is the best time to visit; it is pleasantly warm, bursting with life, and enveloped in seemingly endless daylight. For anyone who enjoys the natural environment, Alaska is a must have item on the travel bucket list.

Humpback Whale

Posted by: MAJ Sven Olson, Bilateral Affairs Officer

Cowboys Up The Creek (Sedona AZ)
Photo by Sven Olson

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It is such an honor to have the opportunity to introduce the 48th State, Arizona, to our readers of “50 States in 50 Days”! I often tell friends around the world that Arizona is a wonderful place to go home to, and I truly mean it from the depth of my prickly pear soul. In all my explorations of the world, Arizona stands apart as one of the most magical. It never stops giving me breathtaking moments and unforgettable adventures. When I close my eyes I immediately think of cowboys and Indians, and in Arizona, those dreams are our reality! The brilliant sunsets and sharp desolation of the desert and cactus are wonders of the world that each of us should have the privilege to see some day. Whether in a city like Tucson, or in a long deserted ghost town, the mysteries are boundless in sights, sounds and smells. One of the most unforgettable scents on earth is the wet desert mesquite after a hard summer rain. It’s a freshness so unusual that no one can describe it better, than just experiencing it for yourself.

Monument of Time (Monument Valley, AZ)
Photo by Sven Olson

There are 21 unique and amazing tribes of Native American Indians in Arizona. Their lands are now protected and their cultures preserved by Pow Wow’s and patriarchs of ancient family bloodlines. (more…)

Posted by: Eric Salzman, Economic Officer

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The state bearing the motto “Land of Enchantment” presents a fascinating mixture of the ancient and the futuristic within its borders.

Taos Pueblo residential complex, probably built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. (Photo by Luca Galuzzi)

Out of the Past

Native cultures flourished in New Mexico beginning around 1,200 BC, giving rise to the Anasazi civilization, which built fortified cities and cliff dwellings for defense and roads for commerce. “Anasazi” is a Navajo term to refer to the “Ancient Ones” who once lived in what later became the Navajo territory (encompassing large parts of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado). The Anasazi were forced to abandon their stone cities, perhaps due to a 300-year drought, but the ruins have become National Monuments and Cultural Parks at Bandelier and Chaco Canyon, and their descendants may still live on in the Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni and other tribes that call New Mexico home. Every August, New Mexico hosts the Gathering of Nations Powwow, which features exhibitions and competitions in dance, music, and traditional crafts of native peoples from throughout North and South America.

White Sands National Monument

Into the Future

In 1942, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was founded in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project, with the goal of developing the atomic bomb. Today, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the Laboratory continues to conduct cutting edge research in all branches of science. (more…)

Posted by: Jerrold Frank, Regional English Language Officer

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Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!  When many people think of the state of Oklahoma, this popular verse by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from the score of the musical Oklahoma, immediately springs to mind.  Perhaps what many people don’t know is that Oklahoma derives its name from the Native American Choctow language, okla and humma, meaning “red people.”  However these days people who live in Oklahoma are often called Oklahomans. Sometimes Oklahomans are referred to as Sooners.  This is because when lands in the region opened to settlers in 1889, some tried to stake their claims before they were supposed to.  These people became known as Sooners, as they arrived a little too soon. After that, the name stuck and Oklahoma earned the nickname The Sooner State.

The state's high plains stretch behind a greeting sign in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The state’s high plains stretch behind a greeting sign in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Oklahoma is located in the South Central region of the United States. Of the 50 United States, Oklahoma ranks number 20 in terms of size and number 28 in terms of population.  The landscape in Oklahoma is very diverse, ranging from large eastern forests to sweeping prairies and small mountain ranges in the west.  Also, much of Oklahoma is located in an area of the United States known as Tornado Alley, where warm and cold air masses frequently collide to produce severe weather.  Besides being a major producer of agriculture, natural gas and oil, Oklahoma also has one of the fastest growing economies in America.

A river carves a canyon in the Wichita Mountains.

A river carves a canyon in the Wichita Mountains.

Sports play a very important role in the lives of Oklahomans. The state’s only professional sports franchise, the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma Thunder, made it all the way to the NBA finals this year.  Sadly, despite a gritty effort, they were defeated by the Miami Heat. Perhaps closer to the hearts of Oklahomans are their college football teams. The Oklahoma State University Cowboys and the University of Oklahoma Sooners regularly have more than 50,000 fans attending their games.  It can be argued that the biggest sporting event in the state occurs when the two universities meet to play each year.  The enthusiasm of the fans at these events has led to these contests being dubbed as the Bedlam Series.

The Sooner Schooner on the field during a football game.

The Sooner Schooner on the field during a football game.

Just because Oklahomans are crazy about their sports teams does not mean that the state is devoid of culture. The city of Bartlesville hosts an annual Oklahoma Mozart Festival, one of the largest classical musical festivals in the South, and Oklahoma City’s Festival of the Arts is one of the top in all of the United States.  In addition, the state has produced five world famous Native American ballerinas and the city of Tulsa boasts one of the best ballet companies in America. Not to mention, if you want to see the musical Oklahoma in person, you can head to Discoveryland, an outdoor amphitheater and official headquarters of the musical in Sand Springs.

Oklahoma! Original Broadway Cast Album (1943)

Oklahoma! Original Broadway Cast Album (1943)

Whether you love great natural diversity, sports, or the arts, if you’re not from Oklahoma, the SOONER you get there the SOONER you will be able to enjoy all this great state has to offer.

Posted by: Luke Schtele, Deputy Press Attaché

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Salt Lake City, Utah, USA in January 2009, photo by Skyguy414

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA in January 2009, photo by Skyguy414

Utah is my home. I was born in the high desert valleys where the Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau come together and form awesome rock formations and pristine alpine lakes. I spent most of my childhood in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. The jagged mountains of the Wasatch Range always watched over us, as if they were giants protecting those below. I didn’t realize how much I relied on the mountains for comfort and orientation until I first traveled to the Great Plains of the United States and realized I did not have the mountains to determine which way was up or down, north or south. I still seek mountains or hills in every country I visit or live in to feel at “home.”

Park City Skiing

Park City Skiing

Utah natives are not the only ones who enjoy the mountains of Utah.  Four million visitors come every year to ski in what is called “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Utah’s winter wonderland includes 14 ski resorts where skiers, snowboarders, and those who come just for the après-ski, can try arguably the best powder skiing in the world.  Utah’s mountains and snow are no longer a secret outside of North America since hosting the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. The world descended on Salt Lake, including 68 Ukrainian athletes that competed in 11 sports. The quaint former mining village turned ski town, Park City, is the heart of Utah’s ski country. In Park City you will find some of the best ski runs by day and bars and restaurants at night.  Park City also plays host to the most important film festival in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world, Sundance.  January at the Sundance Film Festival is the time to go to see and be seen and rub elbows with Hollywood stars on Park City’s Main Street.

Antelope Island

Antelope Island

Salt Lake City is Utah’s capital, largest city, and world headquarters of what is popularly known as the Mormon Church.  Salt Lake is unique among large cities in the United States. It is surrounded by towering mountains on three sides of its valley and a large terminal salty lake to the north, the Great Salt Lake.  The Great Salt Lake, in its saltiest point, has a salinity level of 27%.  For comparison, the world’s oceans have a salinity level of 3.5%. Bathers come to float in the lake, but birds come in much larger droves.  The wetlands of the Great Salt Lake are habitat for millions of migratory and shore birds.  As a kid growing up near the lake, I remember riding my bicycle to its shore to look across the expanse of the dead inland sea and watch the pelicans, cormorants, grebes, and seagulls flying above or lounging on rocks.  One of my favorite spots in all of the United States, and a place I must go to each time I travel home to Utah, is Antelope Island. The island is the largest in the Great Salt Lake and has been turned into a state park. One can hike or bike the island’s trails and see pronghorn antelope, American bison, bighorn sheep, and if you are lucky, a bobcat.  There are also beautiful bays with unique white oolitic sand beaches. Oolitic sand is made from concentric rings of minerals from the lake that surrounded a tiny pellet of brine shrimp fecal matter to form the grain of sand.  Access to the island is easy, just drive on over from the mainland via a 7 mile (11 km) causeway.

Sunset at Delicate Arch (Arches National Park, Utah), photo by Palacemusic

Sunset at Delicate Arch (Arches National Park, Utah), photo by Palacemusic

The wonders of Northern Utah are very different from the beauty of Southern Utah. Five U.S. National Parks are located in Utah’s red rock country. Arches National Park is home to the highest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. Impressive towering red, pink, and cream stone monoliths loom over the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks feature narrow slot canyons, gigantic rock domes, and whimsical sandstone hoodoos respectively.

One breath of fresh mountain air or glimpse across the red sandstone plateaus and you will know why Utah chose the slogan, “Life Elevated.”

Posted by: Jerrold Frank, Regional English Language Officer

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Grand Geyser, Yellowstone-Nationalpark, USA, photo by Stefan Pauli

Grand Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, USA, photo by Stefan Pauli

With its sweeping plains, high deserts and majestic mountains, the state of Wyoming typifies the Great American West. As the ninth largest in terms of land mass but the least populated state in the United States, those seeking solitude in vast wide-open faces can find it here.  The state offers countless outdoor recreational and sightseeing opportunities and is home to the first national park in the United States, Yellowstone National Park. Within more than 2 million acres comprising Yellowstone National Park, visitors can view up close some of the most unique geothermal features in the world – including perhaps the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful. So interesting are the features of this park that the first published reports of the region in 1807 describing the Yellowstone area were thought to be fictional. Nobody could believe the other-worldly descriptions of the geography and geology found there. In addition to Yellowstone National Park, the state also boasts Grand Teton National Park, Devils Tower National Park and Fossil Butte National Park. Each of these parks is special in that they house one-of-a-kind natural landscapes that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetimes.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Wyoming is a state of many firsts. Aside from having the first national park in the United States, Wyoming was also the first state to grant women the right to vote and to serve on juries. In addition, the country’s first female governor was elected in Wyoming back in 1924. This has lead the state to become known as the Equality State.

With so few people living in such a large land mass, naturally there is room for an abundance of wildlife in Wyoming. Some of the more famous non-human inhabitants of Wyoming include grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, elk, pronghorn deer, antelope, moose, mountain lions, eagles, and yes, American bison.  Also, keep on the lookout for rattlesnakes! If you’re out hiking in the Wyoming wilderness, best to wear some ankle high hiking boots. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also find game such as elk or bison on the menu of some local restaurants.

In terms of crime and personal safety, Wyoming has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. The biggest danger in Wyoming is the sheer size and emptiness of the place. Visitors must be sure to plan ahead when trekking into the great open spaces of Wyoming. Winters can be especially fierce so you don’t want to get caught in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. That being said, the middle of nowhere offers the outdoor-minded opportunities to fish, hunt, ski, snowmobile and camp. Just be sure you know what you’re doing.

If you’ve ever watched a cowboy movie and yearned to explore the open spaces of the Great American West then Wyoming is for you. Who knows, once you visit you may not want to leave.

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