Dramatic mountain landscape
Coast & seascapes,  Deserts,  Mountains,  Sunday Stills,  Themed galleries

Gallery: Mountain, Desert, Jungle or Ocean?

Some years ago the Wanderlust magazine used to have a regular feature in which it asked contributors and readers:

What are you?

Mountain, Desert, Jungle or Ocean?

It always surprised me that most respondents were able to name a clear favourite. I am less drawn to jungles (too hot and sticky!) but find it impossible to choose between the other three. Perhaps that’s because they all share one characteristic: a sense of space. The huge blue skies arching over a desert. The vastness of the ocean stretching to the horizon and beyond. Mighty peaks soaring overhead, dwarfing me as I stand below or look down from a high viewpoint.

For this week’s Sunday Stills theme of the Great Outdoors I simply want to share a few favourite photos of each.


Desert landscape with blue sky and camels
In the Empty Quarter, Oman

A small herd of black camels crosses the flat plain of the Empty Quarter in southern Oman. The Empty Quarter or Rub al Khali covers a quarter of a million square miles or 650,000 square kilometres.


Sand dunes and camels
Wahiba Sands sunset, Oman

Camels forage for slim pickings among the dunes while the tourists who rode them here focus on another beautiful desert sunset.


Sand dunes
Sossusvlei, Namibia

The dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia conform exactly to the image of deserts that we all have in our heads.


Dead trees among sand dunes
Dead Vlei, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Dead Vlei is a dried-up salt pan in the heart of the Sossusvlei dunes. It is scattered with dead camel thorn trees that give it an almost apocalyptic air.


Scrubby landscape and low mountains
Scrubby landscape in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Not all deserts are sand, as this scrubby landscape in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert illustrates.


Sunset glow on mountains
Sunset at the Mirador de Kari, Atacama Desert, Chile

When the sun sets the Atacama becomes an even more magical place.


View from cliffs of rocky coastline
Coastline at Arnarstapi on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

The dramatic coastline of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland, like all such landscapes, allows us to stand on dry land and wonder at the power of the ocean’s waves to shape our world.


Black sand, grey waves and stone stacks
At Reynisfjara on the south coast of Iceland

And the black volcanic beach of Reynisfjara on the country’s south coast is another reminder of the sometimes deadly power of those waves, as my good friend Regina explains in her blog.


Colourful rocks and breaking waves
Waves at Arnarstapi on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

But waves do make for beautiful photos, and have created the lovely rounded shapes of these rocks.


Sparkling sea and small boats
Sea view at Boulmer, Northumberland

Sometimes though the ocean is perfectly tranquil and calms us rather than invoking awe.


Ocean waves breaking
The seas off the island of Sol, Cape Verde

But the waves are incessant, wherever we are in the world.


Waves breaking on a beach
Waves crashing on the beach on the island of Sol, Cape Verde

I love the almost abstract images created by the meeting of water and sand.


Two ladies in saris and small girl sitting on a beach
Enjoying the ocean at Kovalam, Kerala

Many of us are drawn to the waves and can sit and watch them for hours.


Panoramic mountain view
Viewpoint at Sharaf al Alamayn, Oman

At this highest point on our drive through the Hat Mountains the tarmac turned to gravel and we descended through a series of hairpins into Snake Canyon below.


Misty mountain view
Jebel Akhdar near Sayq, Oman

Elsewhere in Oman the mountains are greener, with villagers farming on precarious terraces wherever they can get a foothold.


Green mountains in stormy light
The Tizi N’Tichka Pass through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

The Tizi N’Tichka Pass also has a green hue in the late afternoon sun, but the mountains are barren apart from a few scrubby trees.


Jagged peaks beyond trees scattered on a slope
The mountainous interior of Santiago Island, Cape Verde

Away from the coast the interior of Santiago Island in the Cape Verde archipelago is surprisingly mountainous.


Meadow with blue flowers and mountain ridge beyond
Lupines at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympia NP, WA

The interior of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is also very mountainous in places. To explore the national park it is necessary to drive into to the most scenic spots from a ring road – there’s no driving through mountains like these.


Snowy mountain rising above forests
Mount Rainier from a distance, WA

Driving towards Mount Rainier NP in the same state we spotted a sign next to local church, promoting the views to be had from their car park – a generous gesture to help tourists and maybe a life-saving one too, as this is a seriously distracting view for any driver.


Snowy mountain and blue sky above
Cotopaxi in Ecuador with refuge hut in the foreground

We drove to the highest parking spot on the slopes of Mount Cotopaxi and planned to walk up to the small refuge hut. But here altitude sickness got the better of me and a severe headache forced to me to retire to lower altitudes.


Misty river with mountain beyond
At Kappabashi Bridge in Kamikochi NP, Japanese Alps

Finally, the view we got of the Japanese Alps on the morning the rain finally stopped and the clouds lifted in Kamikochi.

So – which are you?


  • Teresa

    I love oceans and mountains but there’s a lot of them here, where I am …. But the dessert., and your dessert photos… those are really just marvellous. Makes me wanna go and be transported in there.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Teresa – isn’t travelling all about a change of scene?! We don’t have many mountains in the UK, and no deserts at all – maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them? On the other hand we don’t have any jungles and I’m not so keen on them!

  • rkrontheroad

    I live in mountains and love the variation of forest, wildlife, peaks, trails. The ocean is probably my favorite, but just there on the beach or coast where the waves come in, not necessarily the beach towns to live in. Deserts I can take in small doses. Your desert photos are striking.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      How lovely to live among mountains Ruth! I agree that deserts need to be taken in small doses – I love to visit but wouldn’t want to live in one. For that I would choose the ocean but it would need to be a proper town or even a city, but with easy access to some wilder beaches. I love the sea in the winter in particular!

  • Marsha

    Wow, Sarah, I’m astounded at the beauty of the desert. The mountains also invite awe. We live in the high desert and I love the beauty and the many things to do here. I miss the ocean. I’ve never had the privilege of living on the ocean, but if I could I would – especially the warm ocean, ie CA or HI. I’m with most of your readers about jungles. Extreme hot and muggy weather stops me cold. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      If I weren’t such a city girl I would choose the ocean for living by too, but not so warm. I like my seas a bit dramatic! Northern CA and points north would suit me in the US. In fact as I AM a city girl, give me a city by the ocean, like San Francisco / Portland / Seattle / Vancouver 🙂 We have no such cites in the UK, our coastal places are all relatively small towns although some are quite close to the sea.

      • Marsha

        I lived in Portland from age 15-24 and loved it. My first husband was from the Seattle area, so we traveled there regularly until we moved to CA. My favorite little town is Avila Beach in Central California.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          That’s an amazing coincidence! When we did our first road trip in the US we spent our first night on the road at Avila Beach. We’d planned to stay in St Luis Obispo but the motel messed up our reservation and there was a big event in town so we were advised to look elsewhere. We just headed for the sea, landed up in Avila Beach and got a room at (I think) the Surfside Motel. We both fell for the place, and it’s now our benchmark for rootsy little US coastal towns 😀

          • Marsha

            It has changed over the years. I don’t know where you were there, but probably 15 years ago there was an oil spill. The whole town was closed for a long time – years maybe. Anyway, almost every building was sold and demolished to make way for a brand new town of Avila beach. It was built up and commercialized immensely. It’s still lovely, but looks nothing like the quaint town it was. Cambria, up the road is more like a quaint town.

          • Sarah Wilkie

            We were there in 1991, thirty years ago! Sounds like it has changed a huge amount – we should probably avoid going back if ever we’re in the area as I suspect we’d be disappointed 🙁

    • Toonsarah

      Thanks Amy. We have been to a lot of places but there are still plenty more left to discover, once we’re able to start travelling again!

  • Debbie

    Wow what a fantastic trip I just did by looking at all your photos Sarah! I can relate to the Iceland shots and love the deserts too – all fabulous and a great example for the great outdoors theme.

  • Heyjude

    I remember this from the magazine. My choice was and still is Ocean, not because I enjoy sailing (I don’t) but I find the ocean to be mesmerising. The waves crashing in winter, the smell, the openness, the colour. Mountains would be second as I love looking at them, too old to climb now. And one reason why I loved living in Cape Town. Wonderful mountains and two oceans. Jungles, no. Too hot, wet and too many bugs. Desert no. Too hot, dry and sort of eerie. I love your photos though, you make all of them look incredible.

    • Toonsarah

      Totally agree with your reasons for not liking jungles! As to deserts, I think it’s the eeriness that I’m drawn to. But for somewhere to live, I’d choose oceans every time 😀

  • rosalieann37

    I think my husband is an Ocean man. He’s happiest on a boat. My father’s family was definitely Mountains. They came from Bavaria and settled in Colorado. My uncle said he was never comfortable unless he could see the mountains. He hated the NW coast of California (fog) and the east coast (too many trees and clouds). I have not been to many desserts but I think I could rule that out. I agree that Jungles are mostly hot and sticky, but for myself, I need trees. If Forests were an option, that would be my pick.

  • Anna

    I am definitely desert or mountains. Maybe not so interested in ocean as I’ve lived by it all my life. Jungle is ok…. Too hot and buggy! But deserts and mountains are definitely my fave!

  • Manja Mexi Mexcessive

    Beautiful and well-balanced images!

    For me it’s like this:

    1. I am the ocean.
    2. mountains
    3. jungle (where I’ve never been)
    4. desert (where I never wish to be but where we are all heading)

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    I have a spent enough time in each habitat to rule out desert and jungles–they are incredibly beautiful. Your images of the camels in the desert are stunning, Sarah! Having spent a little time walking in the jungle areas of upcountry Hilo, Hawaii, the size of the bugs alone puts jungles at the bottom of my list. I lived near the ocean in San Diego and never tire of the sounds of the waves and that particular beach scent that smells like sand mixed with salt and grilled hot dogs! But, I’m a mountain girl at heart and live closer to the mountains in Washington State now. Yosemite’s granite peaks and soaring pinnacles in the high country in Tuolumne Meadows spoiled me for good! How I would love to visit patagonia and see more of Chile (where my hubby has several relatives). Some day…gorgeous armchair tour!

    • Toonsarah

      Thanks so much for the detailed comments Terri 😀 I’m with you on jungle bugs – and the sticky heat! Glad you enjoyed my camel shots and Patagonia – I hope you get there some time.

  • Susanne Swanson

    I LOVE your desert photos, and of course your mountains from Washington! I have a hard time choosing between forests and oceans! Well, maybe mountains too! I’ll take all 3!

  • leightontravels

    I am least in favor of jungles, while oceans are my clear favorite. If I were to base my answer on your images, the desert and mountain photos are incredible. The sunset in Atacama and the Namibian desert landscape, especially.

    • Toonsarah

      Thanks – as I said to Sandy there’s maybe a difference between where we want to take photos and where we want to be/live. But for me jungle is bottom of both lists!

  • SandyL

    Striking photos and if that’s the basis, the desert scenes are my favorite. However, I know very well that I would be miserable in a desert. Based on where I would physically want to be .. the ocean.

    • Toonsarah

      Thank you Sandy 😃 I guess the most interesting places to photograph aren’t always the most comfortable ones to be in. I love to visit deserts but I couldn’t live in one. For that I choose ocean or mountain for sure!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Oh gosh, it’s hard to choose! Never been in a jungle, so can’t really say. But when I’m at an ocean, it’s my favourite. When I’m in a desert, it’s my favourite. When I’m in the mountains, it’s my favourite … I think you understand my dilemma 😉.
    But I’m certain of one thing – your pictures is breathtaking beautiful!

  • maristravels

    Not in favour of jungles or deserts so it has to be mountains and oceans. And if I were to make my choice based on your photographs it would be mountains as your images as spectacular.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Mari 🙂 I’ve realised I find mountains (and deserts) easier to photograph than oceans, as I had many more reasonable photos to choose from!

  • Henna

    Hard to pick the favorite as you said! Not yet been in a jungle so can’t say if I like it or not but as an idea I like it albeit the insects and I do not get along at all..:) Beautiful pictures as always, but I was surprised that there weren’t any of English coast 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Henna – Boulmer is on the Northumberland coast in the north east of England so I do have one of our coastline. There was one from Cornwall in my original selection too but I had to reduce and it didn’t make the cut!

  • SoyBend

    I am a Mountain/Desert person. I liked all of your desert photos, especially the third one. The fifth one looks like our property, with the addition of invasive juniper trees. Your photos of the Olympics and Mount Rainier are beautiful!

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!