Tag Archives: Saitama Japan

Walking to Gunma

Once there was a time when I traveled around Japan and even around the world to photograph and explore landscapes. These days, I am restricted to wherever I can go for a few hours in the early mornings. That means I spend my photography time fairly locally, and for the last few years I have been concentrating on exploring the mountain roads in western Saitama Prefecture. After moving to Kumagaya City, I am now within a half-hour’s drive of the local mountains, and there’s a convenient toll road that gets me way out into the heart of the mountain region in less than another half hour.

During the beginning of May there’s a holiday period known as Golden Week. I took advantage of one morning to wake up very early – at 2 am – and drive out to a road that was closed to public traffic. From the gate, I have always wondered what lay beyond as sheer cliffs of rock jutted upward from the steep green mountain slopes. So, at 4:20 am, I parked my car by the gate, shouldered my camera bag, and slung my tripod over my shoulder and proceeded to hike up the road. For the first 20 minutes or so, the road was pretty rugged. In one section I would have been pretty wary of driving my car over the rocks and dips. But after exiting a short tunnel, the road was nicely paved all the rest of the way. I mean, it looked to have been paved within the last year as there were only a few scratch marks where a fallen stone may have been scraped over the asphalt under the wheel of a truck. Mountain roads such as this one usually bear the scars and wounds of falling rock impacts or the spreading of cracks due to the slumping of the earth beneath the road. So this was fresh work here!

At the start of the hike, it was still pretty dim, and the scenery was not revealed in full colour glory yet. I passed some of those verticle climbs, a steep gorge, and dry runoff chutes cut into the rocks of the slopes. My plan was to keep hiking until I hopefully had some views in time for the sunrise, but it soon seemed that such views were not about to present themselves at any time soon if there even were any. So I relented to my desire to start photographing.

The road climbed gently and serpentine-like for a while before hitting a switchback and there it began climbing more steeply. I found chunks of limestone on the road but saw no sign of the parent rock until I rounded a bend and found a large limestone outcropping with a few caves facing out to the road. These caves were not deep and the usual cave formations such as stalactites, flowstones, and soda straws did not exist here. There were still some modest formations to discover and many broken pieces littered the ground outside the caves. I discovered several hooks attached to the cave walls and recognized this as a rock climbing practice site.

After exploring the cave area, I continued up the road until I finally came to the road closure at the other end. It was just after the exit of a long tunnel whose other end was in Gunma Prefecture. Two young men had driven up by car and were apparently disappointed that the road was closed. I continued into the tunnel, which became so dark that I could not see a piece of wood on the road and I kicked it accidentally.

After reaching the Gunma side, I turned around and made the trek back to my car. In the light of the morning now, I found many beautiful spots where the river ran through gorges and ravines of diorite. I again made a few stops for photography.

I finally reached my car at 11:30 and began the drive back but stopped when I saw more limestone outcroppings with boulders of marble in the river. My next plan will be to ascend another road that I am sure I drove up some 18 years ago to a pass called Mikuni Touge. This crosses over to Nagano. I went to this road a couple of years ago but it was closed after a point. I may have to walk to Nagano when I visit there again.

Aside from photos, I also made a video of the excursion. It can be viewed here.

More photos are at Flickr here.

An Autumn Outing

It’s the truth about having a family. You just don’t get outside as much as you’d like. And though when the kids were younger I tried to get them to enjoy the outdoors, these days it’s only the walk to school that gets them outside. So my own outings are precious as they are spread far apart and last only three or four hours.

Last week, November 3rd was a holiday, and I stole away in the early hours and drove out to Nakatsukawa Keikoku deep in the mountains of Saitama. I had some targets in mind; however, as is often the case, I got sidetracked when I stopped to photograph the Nakatsu River and discovered a fascinating little ravine and gorge near the rest rooms. There were exposed section of diorite, and this intrigued me as this is now the second time I have found diorite in the mountains of Saitama. The mountains here are largely comprised of sedimentary rocks like chert and limestone and metamorphic rocks like schist. So, to discover exposed diorite – an igneous rock – sheds light on the geologic history of the area.

With most of my time used up here, I went on up the road a little further to find one more location where I could lose myself in photographing. I discovered a waterfall just off the road that had no proper access but could be reached with a little intrepidness.

Note: I am having a terrible time with this new WordPress. I have tried formatting the photographs a dozen times nearly and they come out poorly every time. The first photo is squished. The next three should be all the same size but they are not. I’m afraid this new WordPress is proving to be too frustrating to use.

Nakatsukawa – River and Canyon
Right near the restrooms at Onamesawa.
Looking up Onamesawa
The waterfall off the road at Aiharasawa.