Each year on Instagram, users share their top nine most liked photos, and these are mine, plus a bonus that should've made the list. They're all travel photos from my year traveling solo across the United States. Like my top photos from last year, most of these feature isolated, solitary landscapes.
I only use my iPhone, snapping perspectives that give me pause. Sometimes I'll be walking, or more often hiking, and in a glimpse, I see the image and must stop. It's awkward when I'm walking with others, but that is rare and my friends are accustomed to this practice.
This year, many of these images were part of a series, so the photos shared here are just the first one that shows up in the feed. You can see the others on my Instagram at @renecizio. My favorite photo, of a sunset in Death Valley National Park, didn't make the list, but you'll find it at the link.
Except for my #1 photo of the bees, I was alone when I took each of these travel photos.
9. Redwood Forest
I spent several weeks of 2021 in Northern California hiking in as many redwood forests as I could find. This one is just outside of Rio Dell and I was driving through a long stretch of redwoods. I pulled off a side road and saw the fantastic orange leaves. Because there weren't any other cars on this road, I stopped right in the middle for this shot.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "If magic exists anywhere, it must be in a redwood forest."
8. Road into Death Valley National Park
I spent a night alone in Death Valley National Park and did some hiking. I was amazed by the surreal landscapes and utter desolation of the place. I took this photo as I was leaving the park and it's a look back at the road I'd just traveled.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "The landscapes of Death Valley were otherworldly. It’s a national park, which means there will be other people, but I was still a little scared to go to a place with a name like that. It made me think of the Bible passage … 'yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the Death …'
But it wasn’t scary there; it was stunning, open, diverse and wondrous. I even learned that a few Star Wars movies were filmed there, and of course, they were it really was like being on another planet."
7. Red Cactus blooms
I spent a month in the Taos area of New Mexico in the springtime. The cactus blooms had a banner year, but the red ones are still rare. It's much more common to see yellow. I was hiking along the Rio Grande Gorge when I saw the red far off in the distance. I went off trail a bit to get this image. (I'd never go off-trail in a forest, though! A good way to get lost.)
What I wrote on my Instagram: "I found this cactus with beautiful red blooms on a weekday hike in New Mexico. Part of the delight of hiking is finding little bits of the unexpected. This showy prickly pear cactus called out to me from a distance, shining in the sun, the brightest thing I’d seen in an hour. I see lots of yellow and orange cactus flowers, but less so this bright red. Isn’t it magnificent?"
6. Oregon Coast
The Oregon coast was amazing because I had it virtually to myself for days. I soon realized the reason it's so empty is that it's always kind of cold and windy. So it remains untouched. This day was so windy, with mist blowing off the ocean, it was almost miserable as I walked the coastal trail and didn't see another soul. Minutes after I took this photo it started to get shrouded in mist.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "It was so cold and windy this day. I’ve spent the last two weeks in Oregon along the coast and every day has brought a new wonder. This shoreline is so untouched and special. I’ve often been the only person on the beaches. The drive along the 101 too is among the best drives you can make with little towns and crap shacks, short hikes and scenic pull-outs all the way all through the state."
5. Tiki God
I walked past these tikis (there are two of them) at Swami beach twice before they finally caught my eye. This beach is next to the self-realization fellowship center and gardens that I visited twice, so I was too distracted to notice them at first. But, one day, that sun glinting in the background caught my eye and when I turned, this is what I saw.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "The tikis at Swami beach in Encinitas, California make sure the surf is always up for all the beach bros and babes I so enjoy watching. I think when I make my way down into warmer waters this winter, I might have to give it a try again and see if I still got it. What do you think?"
4. Look up: Redwoods
It is so difficult to capture the grandeur and size of redwood trees in imagery, but in this photo series, I came close. I took this in the Lady Bird grove at Redwood National Park. It was one of those days when I was mesmerized by the trees and spent so much time just looking up in awe. I spent the entire day going from grove to grove and before I knew it dusk was settling. I miss those trees.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "Redwood trees are the closest thing to immortal on this planet. They can live for thousands of years and are nearly indestructible. Even fire will not kill them. Fire helps them by clearing the forest of competition and opening their seed pods. They’re also the biggest living things on earth. Imagine trees bigger than the Statue of Liberty. There is an energy that pulses from them. A quiet all seeing all being magnificence. There were here before humans and they’ll likely be after. We are the only thing they need to fear. They are spectacular and I’ve never felt so small in my life. Standing next to them brings perspective we can all benefit from in many ways."
3. Monument Valley
Monument Valley in Utah near the Four Corners National Monument was one of the most surreal places. I didn't plan to drive through it, but I saw a scenic route on my way from one corner of Utah to the next and I took it. So on this day, I didn't plan on being in this valley and what I saw was the stuff road trip dreams are made of. I stopped to buy a turquoise bracelet from an American Indian woman on the side of the road and snapped this picture.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "The simple majesty of Monument Valley is incomparable. There are no lines, no traffic, and no pass required to see it. It was early afternoon when I drove through this great place. The sun, my constant companion as I made my way into this land as old as time. I’d love to go back when the visitor's centers are open and spend some time there. Have you ever been?"
2. Joshua Tree Cholla Garden
As I was driving to my campsite for the night, I passed the famous Joshua Tree cholla garden and stopped to watch the sunset. The fading sun made the white tips glow in the contrast of the yellow and orange sky. What you don't see is how nervous I was about making it to my campsite before darkness fell, but I couldn't help but stop and admire this view for a few minutes anyway.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "There is nothing like the colors of the desert. White-tipped teddy bear cholla cactus nearly glows in the fading golden light of the Mohave desert. But there are no pictures that can explain the feeling of a desert sunset and the coming darkness. They are few places more mysterious or magical than a desert at nighttime.
My campsite for the night was a few miles from this spot and I made it there just as night came on. The sky was covered in a blanket of clouds that made it even more quiet, dark, and spectacular as I listened for the hum of the vortex."
I took a beekeeping class - making this the only image I took where I wasn't alone because the beekeeper is holding this comb. Of all my photos I'm surprised this was the most popular, but maybe it's the series, our collective love of bees, or the idea of learning about beekeeping? I started this class afraid to be near the bees, but by the end, they didn't bother me at all - they're really very docile and that was a miraculous surprise.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "I took a beekeeping class and learned so much about these sweet creatures. Like most people, I used to be so afraid of any type of bee but getting up close and personal with them taught me most of my fear was unnecessary.
I can’t keep bees while I’m traveling, but I’d like to one day. Bees pollinate the plants other animals and we eat, and our planet can’t survive as it is without them. Do you do anything to help save the bees?"
Honorable Mention: Somewhere under the rainbow
Instagram Top 9 measures the number of likes a post gets, which is subjective for many reasons. So, this post didn't make my Top 9, BUT it almost did and if you account for the fact that I had a few thousand fewer followers when I shared this post in April - I believe it to be my most "liked" image, so I give it an honorable mention.
I took this image up on a hill on some public land in Roswell, New Mexico. I wasn't looking for aliens, but I wasn't not looking for aliens either. What I was looking for was magic and it found me, alone on a rainy Sunday afternoon, just a girl with an iPhone, catching one precious moment in time, forever.
What I wrote on my Instagram: "Last night I stayed in this hill in Roswell, New Mexico. It was raining and vanGo’s roof vent started leaking! We thought it was impenetrable, alas no. Still, it’s a beautiful place. As I was driving and admiring the red, red dirt, The rain stopped, the sun came out, and this beauty appeared. It is the brightest rainbow I have ever seen yet. But I’ll keep looking."