Nature

The Florida Coast – From the Treasure Coast to the Dry Tortugas

Starting last February, for seven months I managed a construction project in Palm Beach County, Florida.  Before leaving Colorado for this assignment, I knew full well that I’m a mountain man at heart but looked at the South Florida project as an opportunity to explore a region I would normally not spend more than a few days time while on vacation.  Knowing this was very much a short term assignment, I made it a point to get out with my camera often.  I was especially spoiled since my apartment in Boca Raton was only a few miles from the beach!  So, quite often, I’d set my sights on the beaches of south Florida for my photography.

Even though I often frequented the the beaches that were within a short drive, mainly Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach, I did take pictures of the coast as far north as St. Augustine.  But, my favorite images were taken in Southern Florida.  One memorable trip was when I went backpacking into the Everglades from the Flamingo area to Clubhouse Beach on Florida Bay and was nearly eaten alive by ravenous bugs in the process.  Another favorite place I visited was Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park where I camped for nearly three days and took my favorite image while in Florida.

I did quickly realize beaches are popular at all times of the day!  This posed a challenge for me because I usually prefer “nature” photos that do not show any human presence and purposefully don’t often include people in my images.  Living on one of the most densely populated stretches of coastline in North America, removing all human presence from my images sometimes proved to be an impossibility.  However, I did learn that sometimes what makes an image is by including that human connection.

Photographing the ocean also proved to be quite challenging.  On the Atlantic Coast, shooting sunrise means you are looking directly into the sun, causing scenes with very high contrast that makes controlling the exposure of images very difficult (for example, you have a really pretty sky, but the ground is totally black.  Also, the ocean is a very dynamic beast.  The difference between high tide and low tide can completely change the look and feel of a location.  Waves are ever changing; sometimes calm sometimes wild and crazy, changing from one extreme to another if what feels like a matter of minutes.  I learned an expensive lesson at Blowing Rocks Preserve near Jupiter, Florida when I was hit by an unexpectedly large wave that soaked some of my camera gear and caused several hundred dollars of damage!

Living and frequently shooting the Southern Florida Coast proved to be very challenging and definitely put me outside my comfort zone as a photographer.  But ultimately I learned a lot from my experiences in Florida and was able to take away some of my favorite imagery.  Even though I’m not destined to live the “salt life,” I understand and appreciate why many people do…

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The Splash Zone – Blowing Rocks Preserve – Jupiter, FL

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Witches Brew – Boca Raton, FL

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Moonrise at the Pier – Deerfield Beach, FL

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Sunrise at the Pier – Deerfield Beach, FL

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Mudflats to Infinity – Clubhouse Beach – Everglades National Park

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Twilight Blues – Delray Beach, FL

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Florida Bay Blues – Everglades National Park

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Serenity Now – Boca Raton, FL

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Surf’s Up – Boca Raton, FL

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Gone Fishin’ – Boca Raton, FL

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Starburst Sunset – Clubhouse Beach, Everglades National Park

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Colorful Calm – Delray Beach, FL

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Morning has Broken – Boca Raton, FL

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Serpent’s Tongue – Boca Raton, FL

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The Moat Wall – Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Categories: Hiking, National Parks, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clingmans Dome – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

At 6,643′ in elevation, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest point east of the Mississippi River (the other two points are nearby in North Carolina).  In late August, I spent several days in the area around Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spent most of the time visiting the more “touristy” spots in the park.

I must say, after living for the better part of a decade in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with 54 mountains soaring over 14,000′, I under estimated how challenging hiking in the Smokies would be.  After just a couple day hikes I was sore for several days!

Although many of the hiking trails are challenging, getting to Clingmans Dome is easy; for most of the year, you can drive nearly to the top of it.  In fact, all of the pictures below were taken from the parking lot at the end of the Clingmans Dome Road.

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The “Smokies” got their name not from smoke or air pollution in the area, but the from the mist and fog that regularly forms in the area.  In fact, during my visit, it was foggy every morning!

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Unfortunately, air pollution is a real problem.  Prevailing winds blow in air pollution from hundreds of miles away.  On a clear day, you used to be able to see more than 100 miles; views like that are a rarity anymore.

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The upper elevations of Clingmans Dome are covered in spruce-fir forests.  Being so far south along the Appalachian Chain, these spruce-fir forests only live at the high elevations of the mountains.   When hiking, I was just blown away at how diverse the plant and animal life is; in just a few hundred feet of elevation change, all of the plant life would change!  That level of bio diversity was really neat to see.

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The diversity on the Smoky Mountains is in jeopardy.  Even though the Smokies are protected in a National Park, the forest atop Clingmans Dome is being killed off by invasive insects.

I only had time to spend one sunset at the top of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but was lucky enough to capture a nice sunset.  Even though I liked the images I took away from this location, I would happily return!

Categories: Hiking, National Parks, Nature | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Landscapes of Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is such a dynamic town, with beautiful parks and both stunning historic and modern architecture, if you were to only explore the historic neighborhoods of the city, you would be missing a large part Charleston that does deserve attention!  After putting together a my previous blog that focused on the historic district in downtown Charleston, I immediately knew I had more to share from the city.  To be totally fair, all of South Carolina is incredibly beautiful; I only had two days in South Carolina, both spent in Charleston, but I wish I could have spent more time exploring the coastal and lowland areas that surround the city.  Without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite images from Charleston that are NOT of historic buildings.

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Oak Trees at White Point Garden

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Charleston Bay from Waterfront Park

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Moonrise over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

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Traffic Light Trails Across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

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Waterfront Park Fountain

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

Backpacking Clubhouse Beach – Everglades National Park

Having little experience outside of mountain backcountry travel, I knew getting into the Everglades backcountry would be putting me out of my element.  However, I love all things nature and was bound and determined to see an area of the Everglades that is off the beaten path.

Not owning a kayak and not wanting to rent one, I was stuck with finding a hiking trail into the Everglades backcountry.  Like many of the national parks, backcountry camping is only allowed in specific areas and in Everglades National Park, very few backcountry camp sites are accessible on foot.  I settled on a overnight backpacking trip to Clubhouse Beach via the Coastal Prairie Trail.

The Coastal Prairie Trail starts at the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park and is 7.5 miles one way to Clubhouse Beach.  I knew my girlfriend and I were in for a real adventure when picking up our camping permit,  the park ranger exclaimed, “Oh, wow!  You’re hiking to Clubhouse Beach?  No one goes out there!”

Even in mid April, to say it was scorching on the hike would be an understatement.  Although the trail is flat, the trail was very muddy.  And, the mud was of a greasy and sticky consistency that  coated the bottom of your shoes and made hiking very difficult, especially since our packs were overloaded with fresh water for cooking and drinking.

On the hike out to Clubhouse Beach, we ran into an alligator hiding in a bush right next to the trail.  He saw us before we saw him and turned toward us and began hissing to let us know to steer clear…talk about intense!  We also saw a few snakes and literally thousands of little land crabs that would scurry back to their burrows when we would get within a few feet of them.  I can only describe the noise the swarm of little crabs made scurrying about through the brush as creepy.

Shortly after the turnoff to Clubhouse Beach, we found about 100 yards of knee deep water and swamp between us and the beach.  Knowing we had just recently had a close encounter with an alligator, hiding in a bush of all places, it took some serious courage on both my girlfriend’s and my part to wade through the swamp (prime gator habitat) to reach our final goal.

All that effort was absolutely worth it; the southern terminus of the everglades, where land meets the milky colored salt water of Florida Bay, is absolutely beautiful.  Even though it was the dry season, the bugs were far worse than anything I’ve experienced in the mountains.  Still, I managed to hike around and explore the beach and surrounding area and was treated to a spectacular sunset and sunrise.  I paid dearly for my explorations; by the time we left the everglades, I had more mosquito bites than one could feasibly count….easily over a hundred on one hand alone!

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Sunset at Clubhouse Beach – Everglades National Park

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Last Light on the Mudflats – Clubhouse Beach, Everglades National Park

Florida Bay is very shallow.  At high tide, you could walk out hundreds of yards out into the bay and never get any deeper than your waist.  When the tide went out, vast amounts of interestingly textured mud flats were exposed.

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After the sun set, a calm bluish dusk set in.  I like to think this photo reminds me of how calm and comfortable this place is, but in fact, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

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Florida Bay Blues – Everglades National Park

I took several photos of this interesting shaped remnant of a tree but noticed dark spots in my first few test shots.  The mosquito swarms were so intense, the bugs were even swarming my camera!  I had to take my baseball cap and waive it around my camera to scare off the bugs and then quickly take a picture before the swarm returned to attack me and my camera.

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Batis Patch – Everglades National Park

A patch of Batis, or saltwort, stands out in a large field of the same.  Saltwort is a very important salt tolerant plant that grows in the boundary regions between fresh water and salt water.

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Katrina’s Wrath

In the mid 2000’s Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma moved across the Everglades and caused significant damage to the coastal forests, killing many trees by stripping them to their trunks, which are left behind as a reminder to the power of these tropical storms.  I thought these trees looked like ghosts.

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Expansive Flat – Everglades National Park

The Everglades are absolutely vast, but remains a very threatened place.  Since 1900, the amount of birds in the everglades has been reduced by 90%.  In fact, I was shocked at how few birds we saw over the weekend.  With this trip just being a simple in-and-out overnight trip, I was surprised how whipped I felt upon exiting the wilderness, but a sore body is a small price to pay to enjoy a piece of paradise…even if only for a brief time…

Categories: Hiking, National Parks, Nature | 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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