Sunday, September 29, 2013

Had a Blast in St Augustine




I have just returned from a mini vacation in St Augustine, Fl and have posted only three photos so far. I have 600+ more to sort through. It will be a blast re-living the entire trip and sharing with you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Performing in the MeduSirena Marina Swimshow - Fort Lauderdale, FL

In one of my very rare appearances in front of the camera, here I am performing in the MeduSirena Marina Swimshow....... as bait. I very rarely as in never hand off my camera to someone. In this case, it only seemed fitting to pass the shutter button to the mermaid who introduced me to this fabulous retro show right here in my own backyard. After all, I have been constantly taking her photo along with the rest of the mermaids for a few years now. Not only do the performers revive a retro vibe, they interact with the audience as only a live show can.

Marina (the thumb biter) and her mermaids put on an hour long show at the Wreck Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach every Friday night, starting at 6:30. An obscure show I never heard of until recently that has been running continuously for seven years. After two recent television appearances, I think the "Aquaticat" is out of the bag. Get to the show early as the place can fill up pretty quickly and be sure to pose with the mermaids after the show. They seem to enjoy it.

For more shots from this particular evening of fun [click here].

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mingus Mill - Great Smoky Mountains

Mingus Mill - Great Smoky Mountains
Sometimes getting lost has it's benefits. Like locating the Mingus Mill in the Great Smoky Mountains. My intention was to find Clingmans Dome - the highest point in Tennessee. I was doing my best to follow the directions on my GPS which suddenly cut out right at the sign for Clingmans Dome. Clearly I should have been keeping an eye on the road, not the tech but I zipped right by the tiny sign for the turn off.

I then started an ear popping descent with hair pin turns and no possible turn around. Not until I came across this old cabin a few miles down the road and a few thousand feet down the mountain side. I was happy to pull over and pry my fingers loose from the steering wheel. We don't do turns and hills here in Florida and in the Tennessee mountains they don't do straight and level. Not even the parking lots. It was a bit of a driving shock.

In one of those "well since I'm here" moments and not yet convinced I was actually lost, I decided to take a look inside and ask for directions. It went something like this.

Me - "Can you tell me if I'm close to Clingmans Dome?"

Folksy guy in the cabin - "It's way up there on the top of the mountain you just come from son. How did you miss it?"

It might have had something to do with a two foot tall brown sign in the middle of a forest I thought but I kept that to myself. I did purchase a sack of fresh ground corn flour complete with instructions on how to bake cornbread.

It didn't take too long for the sounds of nature to calm me enough that my hands stopped shaking for these shots. Then it was time to mount up and head back up the mountain, exercising those lower three gears I normally only use when launching my vehicle the first five seconds from a dead stop.

Mingus Mill - Great Smoky Mountains

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Lost Sea Adventure - Sweetwater, TN

Entrance to the Lost Sea Adventure - Sweetwater, TN

I like this photo because it is one of the most unnatural photos I've ever taken yet leads to one of the most impressive natural wonders I've yet experienced. At the end of this tunnel is the Lost Sea Adventure. I'm not sure if what lies beyond the tiny tour guide far in the back of the photo qualifies as a sea. What I did find was a really big lake, glass bottom boats, spooky lighting, dripping water, and schools of hungry fish ready to swarm over snacks tossed by the guide (who was much larger than the photo indicates).

The lost Sea Adventure was one of many, out of the way, lightly visited, travel spots far off my intended path that I just had to check out. As usual, it was well worth the detour.  The fact that not a single person I know has ever heard of it let alone seen it sort of makes it my special find. I took a few shots inside but the lake is so big my meager, on board flash could not hit the walls of the cave. I pretty much got nothing except a warning not to blind my fellow travelers. Yeah - they knew I was from Florida. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stone Mountain, GA

Confederate Memorial - Stone Mountain, GA

I have visited Stone Mountain, GA several times. Every time I am awed by this immense blob of granite dominating the landscape. To give a sense of scale, I read that workers carving the Confederate Memorial would stand inside the horses mouth to escape sudden rain showers. This is one of those sights that no photograph can do justice. Whether you were rooting for the North or South, you will get chills when you realize the scale of this carving first hand.

Things sure have changed in the nearly 30 years since my initial visit. The first thing I noticed on my last trip was that a theme park has popped up.  Not exactly what I was looking for but it did have excellent food and a glass blowing exhibit. I was more interested in taking my daughter on a hike up the back side of the mountain as I had done many times. So many people have taken those same paths over the decades, they have actually worn slight groves in the mountain. She was more interested in taking the tram so we did that instead. We both agreed that the laser show was well worth spending the day waiting for.

I have great memories of this place interwoven with my parents, various friends, and now my daughter. I still get a slight chill when I look at this carving and remember staring up at it, marveling at the size and effort it took to produce. I'll be back again one day and next time it will be to hike.

Confederate Memorial - Stone Mountain, GA

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail - Gatlinburg, TN

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

This is one of my personal favorite shots. I had read about the Roaring Fork Motor Trail near Gatlinburg, TN in a travel book. One whole paragraph was dedicated to it. Intrigued, I did my research and found little more information. Definitely the kind of place I was looking for so I planned a whole trip around it.

I drive a fairly large SUV, with a manual shift, mostly in Florida. When I pulled up to the entrance I suddenly realized that was going to be a problem. The motor trail is a one way goat path of steep hills and wicked sharp turns punctuated by poorly placed trees and ridiculous drop offs. Oh, and it was raining. Trees scraped my car in the first five feet. They did say "narrow" in the tour book.

I was so alone on this trek, I thought several times I may have been on an abandoned road heading for a great fall. At least twice I had to exit the vehicle at the top of a hill to see if the road broke left or right. From the drivers seat it just disappeared entirely into the mist.

But then there was the scenery. I would have walked this road to enjoy this beauty. There are plenty of pull outs but as I saw 4-5 cars the whole two hour trip, I could have stopped anywhere. The only thing I neglected was a picnic lunch.

So about this picture. I always wanted a shot like this. There are several possibilities along the roadway but this one was the most accessible for a flat lander. Even so it was a step climb to the creek. To add just a bit more stupidity and danger to the shot, I stood on a rock in the rushing water, in the rain, to take it.

The lovely picturesque moss on those rocks is slipperier than ice and even with my hiking boots, I managed a hard and muddy fall. I kept the camera safe by taking the brunt of the impact on my hip.  As luck would have it, one of the few passing motorist witnessed the incident and offered assistance. "No Thanks", I said through the tears. "I'm fine".

I will take better shots than this in the future but without the painful back story I hope.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Someone Still Cares - St Michael's Cemetery - Pensacola

St Michael's Cemetery

I think everyone wonders who will remember them when they are gone. St Michaels's Cemetery in Pensacola is old by Florida standards. It's interesting to read the head stones and get a sense of the people who built this town.

I took notice of this singular example honoring someone long gone. It stood out like a beacon across a sea of weathered head stones and sun burnt lawn.

I wondered who this person was so I did a few seconds of research. I quickly found this link.
 [click here]. You no longer need to actually walk among those who have passed to pay your respects. You can simply click online and send flowers. It seems to me to leave something missing. Visiting a grave site should be a more personal and tangible experience.  What do you think?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hot Air Balloon Ride - Port St Lucie, FL

Hot Air Balloon Reflection

This photo, like many of my photos, comes with an interesting story. My sister had won tickets for a hot air balloon ride and after holding them for a nearly two years, offered them to me. I was there the next weekend, camera in hand and only days to spare before they expired.

The day of the flight was perfect, which is not always the case when scheduling this type of adventure. The air was calm, the sky blue, and the balloon company questionable. I flew with a captain, and a couple celebrating an anniversary of some sort. Even though my sister had two tickets, I could not find anyone else willing to go on such short notice. Just as well as the basket was fairly small. Not only that but I learned the balloon had crashed the day before and was patched with high temperature duct tape. That made my fellow passengers a bit nervous for some reason.

After going through the ritual of inflating the balloon and launching, we barely cleared some power lines. I am sure we were way too close as was the top of my head to the fireball heating the balloon. We drifted along for a bit then stopped dead still in the air 2,000 feet above a neighborhood and a single barking bog determined to alert everyone of our intrusion. It was the most eerie feeling. Near silence and standing completely still in mid air in a wicker basket. Only the ferocious whoosh of  a giant column of fire, again only inches from my head, to disturb the moment.

As we descended,  the wind  once again took control of our flight. To get this shot, I had to wedge my foot on the huge tank of gas that was fueling our trip, lean way over the basket, and shoot straight down into a canal we were passing over. The captain and crew were not impressed. I was more interested in getting a once in a life time shot than thinking about the consequences of my foot slipping and me taking my final shot - a closeup of the ground.

Our landing was pretty uneventful as balloon landings go. It was nice to see the couple so happy to be in each others arms on the ground again. Nothing renews a bond like duct tape, a near miss with power lines, and witnessing crazy people taking risks just for a good photo I guess.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Zipline at Florida Eco Safari

Zip Line at Florida Eco Safari

How do you combat a serious case of Acrophobia (fear of heights)? I chose to go zip lining.

The towers in this photo are not a series of tree houses. They are the launch and landing zones for the zip line run at Florida Eco Safari. This was not my first zip line tour but my heart was pounding just taking this initial photo. What is unique to this run is the double zip cable. It's a little less intimidating to not find a pole or tree trunk directly in the path of your high speed run. It does not, however,  lessen the thrill of flying over the treetops. My fear and excitement levels were pretty much neck and neck for the entire tour. Once I was done and safely on the ground, I was ready to do the whole zip again.

Florida Eco Safari has a few more surprises like the only zip line roller coaster and the Canopy Cycle Ride. If you are in the Orlando area and in need of a full day of high wire therapy, I highly recommend a visit to Forever Florida.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Loxahatchee River

Loxahatchee River

Generally in my life, when I've discovered something that captures my interest, I just go do it. I found out about the Loxahatchee River tour back in the '80s but only recently took the plunge.  Quite literally as I sunk my kayak and myself on the return trip attempting to cross this dam. On this particular day the water was low. When there is a stronger flow, water cascades over the dam and so do the boaters. The brave ones at least.

This is one of the truly unspoiled bits of South Florida. It is one of the more challenging kayak trips I've been on and there are a few alligators that may pop up to add to the thrill. There are also ancient cypress trees, twists and turns, obstructions, low hanging branches, and wildlife all around. This is one of the most memorable kayak trips and well worth the long wait to enjoy it.

Pensacola Lighthouse

Pensacola Lighthouse

This seems as good a place to start as any. I took this shot a few years ago while exploring Pensacola with my daughter. Little did I know this is where she would land her first job after college.  A little while before I took this shot, the sky was clear blue. Shortly afterwards it was clear again. Only for a few short moments was the scene this ominous. Such is the unpredictably of life and Florida weather.