Gateway Arch – St. Louis, MO

The Gateway Arch, also called the St. Louis Arch, stands an impressive 630 feet tall.  In fact, the Gateway Arch is not only the tallest building in Missouri, but the tallest arch in the world.  Originally conceived in the 1930’s, the Arch was designed in the 1940’s, and finally built in the 1960’s.  I was only in St. Louis for an evening, so obviously had very little time to explore the city.   But I am glad I took the time to visit this amazing piece of architecture and engineering.

Before even arriving in St. Louis, I knew I wanted a to use the unique shape of the arch to create a few unusual and abstract compositions.  But once I arrived and saw the shear size of this monument to westward expansion, I also wanted to find a way to capture the incredible scale of it.  Maybe it was blind luck but I walked away from the arch with few images that I really enjoy and think capture a bit of the awesome and unique beauty that is the Gateway Arch.

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Looking up the south leg of the arch.  In the above image, you can barely see the windows of the observation deck at the apex of the arch.

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Cheesy self portrait.  Regardless of the cheese factor, it’s pretty clear the St. Louis Arch soars into the sky.

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The curves of the arch make for some interesting compositions.  Even though the arch is clad in stainless steel, corrosion does build up with time; the results of which are more evident in this black and white image.  It really is strange how one panel can have much more corrosion than even panel right next to it!

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Maybe it is my introvert personality, but I was drawn to the row of empty benches and had to take their picture.  In fact, a group of street performers were just out of site to the left of this image and I carefully crafted this composition to exclude them.   Besides, I wanted the street lamps in my image to have that “star burst” look, and to do so, my camera required an exposure time of of several seconds.  Those moving street performers would have been nothing but blurry blobs…give and take, I guess.

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As a landscape photographer, I am always stressing out over clouds.  Clear blue skies are boring but total overcast is equally bad.  I had spent the majority of my time at the arch under clear blue skies, but as the sun dropped below the horizon, I saw a small group of clouds drifting toward the arch.  I anticipated where the clouds would pass, and waited for my opportunity.  The fast moving clouds streaked across the sky during the 30 second exposure, giving the clouds a unique and more dynamic feel.

Categories: Architecture, National Parks | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 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

Buildings of Historic Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Although not terribly old by European standards, Charleston, South Carolina, founded in 1670, certainly is old by American standards.  The city sits on a peninsula that juts into a large natural harbor, which has kept Charleston by and large, prosperous throughout most of its history.  During the British colonial rule, Charleston was the richest city south of Philadelphia and considered the cultural hub of the South.  After the Revolutionary War, the South, and especially the area around Charleston, relied more and more on slave labor to produce and export through Charleston, the cash crop of the day: cotton.

In order to protect the southern way of life, South Carolina was the first of the confederate states to secede from the Union.  In fact, the first shots of the Civil War were fired from Charleston and the surrounding area, laying siege to Union controlled Fort Sumter, which sits at the entrance to Charleston Harbor.

For much of the Civil War, Charleston was a relative safe haven for the Confederacy, but eventually the Union was able to use long range cannons and shell the city, causing massive destruction.  War was not the only thing that laid waste to the city; fire, earthquakes, hurricanes, and new construction developments have all greatly altered the look of the city over the years.

Considering how much damage–both natural and man made–Charleston has seen over its history, it is amazing how many historic structures remain.  Thankfully, the residents of Charleston did realize the incredible beauty of their city and much of the old downtown area is now preserved as a National Historic District.  Walking through old downtown is like taking a step back in time (that is, if you are able to ignore the automobiles).

For a photographer, countless opportunities exist for fun picture taking.  I spent two days in the city and could have spent two weeks wandering just the downtown streets.  Below are a few of my favorite architectural shots from Historic Downtown Charleston.

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I almost didn’t take this photo; I woke before sunrise and thanks to fully overcast skies, had been shooting for several hours.  With food and coffee very much on my mind, I had packed up my photo gear and was making my way back to the hotel for breakfast when I saw this pair of windows and knew I had to stop.  This was actually the last picture I took in Charleston and turned out to be one of my favorites!

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Photogenic windows and entryways await around every corner in this town.  Each morning and evening, I hopped on my bike and slowly cruised around the neighborhoods looking for interesting photographic subjects.

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The Dock Street Theater looks like it belongs in New Orleans.  Well, considering New Orleans was not founded until 1718, I suppose you can argue many of the buildings in “The Big Easy” belong in Charleston!  Like many historic American cities, you can find a wide variety of Architectural styles.

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Recorded in 1789, 18 Church Street is the earliest known deed recorded in Charleston.  Back then, as well as today, it is a private residence.  I was lucky to make this photo.  The home owner’s Audi was parked on the street barely out of sight to the right of this image.

Categories: Architecture | 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

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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