Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Day in Nerd Heaven…Kennedy Space Center

A month ago or so, I took a day trip to the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast east of Orlando.  Besides photography and all things outdoors, I’m a big history buff with a special interest in the space program.  When I was a very small child, I cut the back fabric off my parent’s couch because “I wanted to see what it looked like inside.”  I went on to college and studied mechanical engineering, so I guess it is not terribly surprising I think NASA’s space program is one of the most significant accomplishments of man kind (and therefore really, really, cool).  Seeing the launching point for the entire space program up close is truly inspiring whether you’re a big space nut or not.

Because NASA’s complex at Cape Canaveral and Cape Kennedy is so large, to see the sites, you have to take guided bus tours that take you to different areas of the complex.  Being the nerd that I am, without hesitating, I signed up for the “mega tour.”  The mega tour starts at the visitor center complex and takes you the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Space Shuttle launch pads, and then to an exhibit of the Apollo Saturn V rocket.

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Vehicle Assembly Building Interior

To call the interior space of the vehicle assembly building, or VAB for short, vast would still be an understatement.  Nearly 530′ from the floor to the ceiling, the VAB is the fifth largest building in the world by volume.

Launch Pad 39

Launch Pad 39

Launch pads 39 A & B were used as the launch site for the manned Apollo missions and were then outfitted and used for the duration of the shuttle program.  Ten seconds before launch, the entire contents of the water tower in the right of the above image, were dumped onto the launch tower and platform to help protect it from the immense heat of the rocket engines.

The Flame Trench

The Flame Trench

On the launch platform, the shuttle (and moon rockets that came before) sat directly above two trenches that, to prevent damage to the launch facilities, direct the flames of the rockets away from the surrounding infrastructure.  Still, during a launch, the area surrounding the platform is anything but a friendly environment.  Even with the flame trenches, the heat from the launch would kill anyone within 400′ of the platform.  Within 800′ of the platform, the sound of the rockets firing would be so deafening, your heart would stop!

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis

About a minute after the space shuttle was launched the main engine (big orange tank in the middle) had to be throttled back to slow down the space craft’s acceleration.  If the shuttle continued to accelerate at such a rapid pace, the thick lower atmosphere of earth would have crushed the spacecraft.  Only once the space craft was much higher in the atmosphere, where the air is much thinner, could the main engine be brought back to full throttle.

Saturn V Rocket Engine Base

Saturn V Rocket Engine Base

Saturn V Rocket Engines

A Closer View – Saturn V Rocket Engines

The diameter of each nozzle on the five rocket engines on the Saturn V rocket is more than twelve feet in diameter.

Stage 1 - Saturn V Rocket

Stage 1 – Saturn V Rocket

When the first stage of the Saturn V rocket was lit, the resulting noise was the loudest man made sound ever produced.  Also worth noting, the VIP viewing platform for Apollo rocket launches and also during the shuttle program was three and a quarter miles away from the lunch pad.  Why so far?  When fully fueled, if the rocket (or space shuttle) were to malfunction and blow up on the ground, the minimum safe distance from the launch platform was three miles!  In fact, there was as much explosive energy in the fully fueled space rockets as an atomic bomb!

Lunar Module Interior

Lunar Module Interior

With walls so thin, a man could easily punch through them, the lunar module carried two astronauts and landed them on the moon.  The lunar module was notoriously unstable and extremely challenging to fly.

Apollo Command Module

Apollo Command Module

When viewing the Saturn V rocket as a whole, it is incredible how small the main space vehicle is compared to the rest of the rocket.  The command module was the only part of the space craft designed to return safely back to earth (although it was not reusable).  The command module was built to carry three men to and from the moon and did so with the the computing power less than a modern day simple scientific calculator.

My day at NASA was incredible; I was literally like a kid in a candy store and could have easily spent several days exploring the complex at Kennedy Space Center.  As our space program continues to evolve, with the Special Launch System (SLS) in development, along with the rovers we’ve sent to mars, and satellites and probes we’ve sent into space, the story that is the United States space program is far from complete.  I’m sure I will be back to visit again…

Categories: Architecture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

From the Archives – Favorite Images from 2009

With my computer’s hard drives near capacity, one of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to go through my old photo archives and cull the herd so to speak.  In the process of sifting through literally thousands of images, I found a few images that I really enjoy, but had forgotten about.  I ended up spending a lot of time reminiscing on past adventures and dreaming of future ones!

The year 2009 was truly a pivotal year in my life.  I had been living in the Colorado mountains for several years and was really falling in love with the mountain lifestyle; I couldn’t see myself ever leaving.  I spent  all of my free time exploring the mountains and was becoming comfortable hiking off trail and navigating the vast wilderness areas that Colorado and the American West so thankfully have.  I was also introduced to backcountry skiing and began catching glimpses of the incredible beauty the mountains have to offer in the winter.  I was lucky to have friends that were willing to teach me the techniques required to play safely in the mountains.

It was in 2009 when I began to truly focus my energy to not only visit beautiful and remote areas in nature, but to photograph these locations in a more personal and artistic way.  In the past, I had used my photography as more of a means to document my adventures, but in 2009, I really began to shoot my photographs with the intent to invoke an emotional response with the viewer.  I didn’t want to just show people I had been somewhere neat; using my photographs, I wanted people to feel what it was like to be there.

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Bald Mountain Summit – Gore Range, Colorado

Bald Mountain rests opposite the valley from the world famous Vail Ski Area in the Eagles Nest Wilderness.  From the village of Vail, 12,126′ Bald Mountain rises over 4000′ vertical feet in 5 miles from the trailhead on the valley floor.  Climbing this mountain was a major undertaking and success for me at the time.  With Bald Mountain being one of my first winter climbs, every time I see it, whether I’m skiing at Vail Resort or just driving by on I-70, this peak puts a smile on my face.

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Mount Huron Sun Burst – Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

When I tell people I think it is fun to go camping in the snow, most of them think I’m crazy.  I think it’s awesome.  And, besides, snow can linger in in the mountains well into July.  Considering snow storms can come as soon as September, to enjoy the high mountains of Colorado means you also need to enjoy snow!

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Bridal Veil Falls Detail – Hanging Lake, White River National Forest, Colorado

Hanging Lake outside of Glenwood Springs is a mega tourist destination; the steep trail is packed with vacationers throughout the summer.  In fact, by mid morning on a nice day, the parking lot at the trailhead often fills up and spills out onto the shoulders of the interstate!   Despite the crowds, one visit to the lake and accompanying Bridal Veil Falls, you you will understand why the spot is so popular.  I made the hike to Hanging Lake in late spring and had the place all to myself.

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Vail Valley Sunset – Edwards, Colorado

I sometimes forget how spoiled Coloradans are.   The above view is a short hike from a my former home in Edwards, just west of Vail, Colorado.

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Mount of the Holy Cross – Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

William Henry Jackson literally put Mount of the Holy Cross on the map when he was the first to photograph the mountain in 1873 while on the Hayden Survey.  Nearly 150 years later, not a whole lot about this mountain has changed.  To get the above image of Holy Cross, I drove to the trailhead in the middle of the night so I could climb Notch Mountain and be on its summit before sunrise.

The Holy Cross Wilderness is an incredibly beautiful area.  Especially surrounding the wilderness namesake, the valleys are chock full of sparkling high alpine lakes packed with  vibrantly colored trout.  I’ve hiked the majority of the valleys and climbed many of the mountains in this wilderness and still, I feel myself being pulled back to this incredible slice of paradise.  Accessed from the town of Eagle, Nolan Lake on the western end of the wilderness is one of my favorite spots.  From parking on the rough road at the ghost town of Fulford, it is a relatively easy several mile hike with only 1,400′ of vertical gain.

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Nolan Lake – Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

In the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness outside Aspen, Colorado, one popular and awe inspiring trek is the four pass loop, which in 30 miles, circumnavigates the famous and photogenic Maroon Bells (if you don’t recognize the names, trust me, you’ve seen pictures of them).  The trek involves hiking up and over four high alpine passes all around 12500′ in elevation.  The start and finish of the four pass loop is Maroon Lake, where the most well recognized photos of “The Bells” are taken.  I feel a little guilty in admitting it, but I’ve never visited Maroon Lake under ideal conditions to photograph; I’m always passing through on my way into the wilderness….

Fravert Basin - Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

Fravert Basin – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

At the time, the four pass loop was the longest hike, in both mileage and days off grid, that I had undertaken.  I have since graduated on to longer and more intense treks, but at the time, I could hardly believe my accomplishment!  Hiking thirty miles carrying a heavy pack in up and down terrain at high elevation is hard work, but well worth the effort!

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Snowmass Lake Reflection – Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

With Utah being Colorado’s western neighbor, I ashamed if I don’t visit this amazing state at least once a year.  The sandstone fins, arches and canyonlands in the Moab area alone could keep an adventurous soul exploring for a lifetime.

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Dead Horse Point – Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The canyonlands across southern Utah is jaw dropping but so are the out of this world arches and rock formations; especially those found in Arches National Park located north of Moab, Utah.

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Klondike Bluffs – Arches National Park, Utah

Categories: Hiking, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dry Tortugas National Park

In January, I was asked to manage a 6 month project in south Florida.  Living in the Rocky Mountains and being an avid skier, moving to a sub tropical climate in the middle of the winter was honestly a hard decision to make.  In the end, I decided a short term move to Florida would make a great adventure.  Before moving down to Boca Raton, Florida, I researched outdoor activities and attractions in the area and it became immediately clear that a visit to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park was on the top of my “to do” list.

I always thought the end of the Florida Keys was at Key West; well, the roads end there, but seventy miles further west sit the Dry Tortugas, the true end of the Florida Keys.  On Garden Key, sits the massive Fort Jefferson; the third largest coastal defense fort in the United States and, with over 16 million bricks, the largest masonry built structure in the Americas.  Although accessing the fort is very easy thanks to the Yankee Freedom ferry, access at my favorite times to photograph, sunrise and sunset, is a bit more challenging.  With the Yankee Freedom arriving at the island each day at mid morning, and then leaving mid afternoon, an overnight stay was in order.   As luck would have it, very limited primitive camping is provided on the island and I booked a two night stay in the first week of June.

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The Moat Wall – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Upon arriving on the island, I began running around scouting locations to come back to and photograph when the light was better.   I was immediately drawn to this small section along the moat wall where the original brick pavers were still covering the top of the wall (most of the top has been “restored” by pouring concrete in place of replacing the brick pavers).   I noticed this stretch of moat wall pointed due west, and knew the sun would set at the end of the wall, making for a powerful image.

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The Parade Ground – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

The parade ground of the fort is 18 acres.  At the height of the fort’s use, nearly two thousand soldiers and their families lived on this parade ground.  During and after the Civil War, Fort Jefferson was used as a prison, even housing the conspirators of the Lincoln assassination.

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Endless Arches – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Over 16 million bricks were used to build hundreds of arches throughout the fort.  All of these arches make for countless photographic opportunities,

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Hidden Alcove – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

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Coaling Dock Ruins – Dry Tortugas National Park

Everything man made on Garden Key is in one state of decay or another.

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Brick Beach – Dry Tortugas National Park

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Historic Decay – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Although the fort takes up the majority of Garden Key, there are two beaches that offer spectacular snorkeling.

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South Beach Twilight – Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park

I must say, after spending two nights on this very small and remote island, I was ready to get on the ferry, take a shower, and head home.  However, I already would love to go back.  Even if you only have time to do a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, go and see it!  You will not be disappointed!

Categories: Architecture, National Parks, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking the Plunge

I believe it to be much overdue, but the time has come to join the blogging community.  I must say, I can’t help but feel excited to begin sharing my travels and adventures through my photography.   However,  must admit, learning a new piece of technology gets me nervous.  I dare say more nervous than I was this March when I stumbled upon and had a stand off with a very large alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve!

Staring Contest - Big Cypress National Preserve, FL

Staring Contest – Big Cypress National Preserve, FL

Categories: Nature, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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