Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I've been trying to think of the best way to describe 2015.  The year ended with some painful and heartbreaking news, but the months before had been filled with several wonderful moments.  My wife and I bought our first house, and then a little bit later found out that we were going to have a baby.  We also did some traveling, which in hindsight proved to be good since we are about to be parents in a few weeks.  Along the way, I tried to take pictures whenever I could.  I got a new camera at the end of 2014, so I tried to get as much use out of it as I could this year.  Here's a selection of my favorite pictures, from a crazy and busy 2015.

August 23: England, Arkansas.
These buildings probably store rice, and sit next to this small lake in the town of England. The lake is part of a small park, with some fishing docks. There wasn't anyone out there fishing that night, probably because everyone else wasn't foolish enough to be standing out there. Swarms of mosquitoes were hovering over that lake, and attacked as soon as I got out of the car. I actually brought bug spray with me this time, but the mosquitoes simply ignored it and then brought in reinforcements. I stood out there for a few minutes taking pictures before retreating back to the car.

Blanchard Springs
September 19: Blanchard Springs, Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.
Over the summer, Caroline and I decided to go camping one weekend at Blanchard Springs. We took the dogs with us, which we thought would be a fun treat for them. But we slowly realized that we have two city dogs. They were not impressed with the realities of camping. Why were we giving up the comforts of home to stay outside in a tent? Didn't we have a perfectly fine sofa at home? But in a few weeks we will have a new baby, who will eventually be taken out on a few camping trips. Hopefully he will be a bit happier in the woods than the dogs were. Blanchard is a great place to go camping, thanks to the spring water that provides some waterfalls even in the driest days of the summer.

Cedar Falls
January 3: Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas.
Some heavy rain overnight led to some swollen creeks and booming waterfalls the next day. I had just gotten the new camera, and headed out early in the morning to introduce it to waterfall photography. I headed up to Petit Jean, where Cedar Creek was the highest I had ever seen it flowing. I actually hesitated before starting the hike down to Cedar Falls. The creek was high and parts of the trail were flooded, and I wondered if it was safe to hike. I went anyways, and had to scramble along the hillside to avoid the parts of the trail that were underwater from the creek. I made it to the falls, only to see that a few people were already there (including a 5 year old girl who proudly announced that she didn't have any problem with the trail).

August 1: Helena, Arkansas.
Over the summer, I took a trip out into the Delta. Helena is an old town - it was founded in 1833 and became an important steamboat stop along the Mississippi River. But like most cities in the Delta, Helena and West Helena were stung by population loss and economic stagnation. Downtown Helena is proof of that, with several abandoned buildings sitting along empty streets. The back of this old building actually looks out onto the Mississippi River levee.

Petit Jean
January 3: Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas.
This is what it looks like after a storm dumps 4-5 inches of rain overnight. Usually the waterfall over the dam at Petit Jean is just a few feet wide. But that morning it was raging, which made it easy to get a photo of the waterfall and of the old stone bridge over the creek all together in one shot.

The Birds
February 1: Scott, Arkansas.
I was driving around Scott and found this huge flock of birds (snow geese, maybe?) in a field. I tried to get closer to them, but that would have involved walking through someones field. That probably wouldn't have been appreciated by whoever owns that field, or by the birds.

Little Rock
March 19: Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Junction Bridge is one of the best places to see the Little Rock skyline. It's also a great place to take pictures because the architectural details of the bridge can also be added into the photo. On this visit, the lights on the bridge were green for St. Patrick's Day.

March 1: Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.
Zack and I left before sunrise to head up to the Ozarks so we could hike to Short Grotto Falls. It had snowed recently, and there was still a lot of snow on the ground up in the Ozarks. As we got into the mountains, we drove through thick fog. Luckily the snow wasn’t on the roads anymore, but the hills around the falls were still covered with snow (which meant most of the hike was spent sliding down the hills).

March 30: Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Arkansas.
With the new camera, I’ve been able to try a few new photography tricks that the old camera just couldn't handle. One of those tricks is being able to take better long exposures at night, especially of stars. This was taken at the old bridge over the Maumelle River in Pinnacle Mountain State Park, with about an hour and a half's worth of star trails above. The light going on the bridge was made by me walking back and forth with a flashlight, and there are some streaks in the sky from several low-flying C-130s from the Air Force Base.

Cossatot Falls
November 7: Cossatot River State Park, Arkansas.
It's not that often when we have both fall colors and running water during Autumn. Usually things are pretty dry in the later summer and fall. But some heavy rain got the Cossatot River up and running, and I woke up before sunrise to drive out there to take pictures. The fall colors weren't the best here this year, but there were some good spots around the Ouachita Mountains.

Boxley Valley
April 19: Boxley Valley, Buffalo National River, Arkansas.
When I was driving up to the Ozarks to visit the Buffalo River and Boxley Valley, I noticed a weird smoke in the air in the distance. The air above the mountains was hazy and odd-looking, like weird green puffs floating around. As I got closer I realized it was actually pollen, as all the trees were releasing billowing clouds of pollen all at once.

June 26: Chicago, Illinois.
When we were on vacation in Chicago, I wanted to get some shots of the city at twilight. We were staying downtown, so I could easily walk over to take pictures. The downside is that the only time we had available for pictures would be at dawn. So I sleepily woke up before sunrise and walked the few blocks to the river for some pictures. This was taken by the Michigan Avenue bridge, in an angle where the giant "TRUMP" sign on the Trump Tower was the least obnoxious.

Blue Swallow
October 17: Tucumcari, New Mexico.
We drove out West in October, following Route 66 through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Along the way, we stopped in Tucumcari and went by the old Blue Swallow Motel. Built in 1941, this is one of the most iconic old motels along Route 66. We drove on several original sections of Route 66, and at one point the baby started kicking when we were driving along one section in Oklahoma. So he has officially gotten his kicks on Route 66, even if he didn't know what he was doing.

Little Missouri Falls
November 7: Little Missouri Falls, Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas.
I had forgotten how pretty (and bumpy) the drive up to Little Missouri Falls is. The waterfall isn't tall, but it sits in a deep gorge. Definitely need to visit this area again this year (although I'll leave the dogs at home where they'll be happier).

Stormy Sunset
July 15: Little Rock, Arkansas.
I wanted to get pictures of the sunset over the Arkansas River from the Clinton Park Bridge, but stopped when I saw the sunset reflected in the waters of the fountains in front of the library. This was taken while the library was hosting an exhibit about dinosaurs, and there was a giant animatronic dinosaur sitting in the fountain just out of frame.

Capitol Strike
August 5: Little Rock, Arkansas.
It was about 11:30 at night when I was standing on the lawn of the State Capitol, trying to get pictures of the lightning. A car randomly drove down the road, and then stopped. The driver rolled down the window, and then yelled out "Hey man, what's your ISO!?" I told him, and he yelled back "Right on, bro!" and then drove away.

Grand Canyon
October 18: Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
We drove across Arizona and rushed towards the Grand Canyon, trying to get there before sunset. We finally got there with just a few minutes to spare, and joined the crowds at the Mather Point overlook. There wasn't much of a sunset, but this storm popped up and dumped some rain on the Canyon. It was nearly dark then, and this ended up being a 25 second exposure.

Shoshone Point
October 21: Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Shoshone Point is a bit of a secret overlook on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it's not marked and not many people know about it. It's a nice change after riding in full shuttle buses with other tourists, or jockeying for space with other photographers at the other overlooks. There were only two other people at Shoshone Point this night, enjoying a stormy sunset that lit up the Canyon with a golden glow.

Acord Hollow Falls
May 17: Acord Hollow Falls, Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.
Zack and I drove up to the Ozarks, and spent the night by the trailhead to Acord Hollow Falls. A storm hit in the middle of the night, dumping several inches of rain (which made me glad I was sleeping in the car and not in a tent). The rain got the creek and the waterfalls up running high, which definitely made the rough bushwhack through slick, muddy and poison-ivy covered hills worth it.

Lower Antelope Canyon
October 23: Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona.
Lower Antelope Canyon is an amazingly beautiful place, but a pain in the butt to take pictures in. I was here as part of a photographer’s tour, but even with only two other people on the tour it was still nearly impossible to get pictures without someone else walking into the frame. And it is a slot canyon, so some parts were so narrow that there was barely enough room to walk, let alone set up a tripod. But I was lucky that we were able to visit the canyon, it had just opened after a flash flood closed it for several days.

Rockhouse Falls
April 10: Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee.
Fall Creek Falls is a great park that is filled with waterfalls, including one that is 250 feet tall. This is Rockhouse Falls, which is 125 feet tall and pours into a deep pool next to another waterfall (the 85 foot tall Cane Creek Falls). Also the park is just a few hours from Nashville so you can go look at waterfalls and then go honky tonkin' that night.

The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright
February 7: Near Scott, Arkansas.
I became slightly obsessed with star trail pictures last year, and spent many nights sitting in the cold for several hours while the camera took pictures. This is about 250 :30 second exposures, all stacked together to create the star trails. Not all of the attempts at star trail pictures turned out, it took three attempts to get a picture at one old abandoned church. On the first attempt, some clouds moved in and covered up the stars. On the second, the lens fogged up and then the battery died. Finally on the third the lens stayed dry, the battery stayed charged, the sky stayed clear, and no critter attacked the camera in the dark.

Moran Point
October 19: Moran Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
We drove to Moran Point hoping to catch a sunset, but some storm clouds moved in instead. The storm started to drop a few bolts of lightning and I tried to get the camera set up to get a few pictures. I somehow managed to get this shot, with four bolts of lightning hitting the North Rim. Luckily the storm was several miles away from where I was standing (next to a metal tripod), but the storm would hit us a little bit later. Thick hail rained down on us, coating the road in ice as we tried to drive out of the park.

December 5: Little Rock, Arkansas.
Caroline and I met some friends down at the State Capitol before the fireworks were set off. The ceremony this year was a little different, with 80s movie star Judge Reinhold being the emcee for the night. But we heard many people in the crowd who didn't realize it was the guy from Beverly Hills Cop, and instead were thinking he was someone like a state Supreme Court judge up there talking and telling corny jokes.

Horseshoe Bend
October 22: Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona.
This might be one of the photographed places in the country, but it's with good reason. The view from here is amazing. And I never realized the sheer scale of the view. The Colorado River is 1000 feet below, and boats looked like tiny toys in the water. The view at sunset was crowded with people, many of them being tourists from other countries. There were dozens of languages being spoken, but the universal word that connected all of them was "selfie." The edge was lined with hundreds of people trying to squeeze the view behind them in cell phone pictures, along with several people with tripods perched as close as they dared to the cliff. I was quite happy that I didn't manage to drop the wide angle lens I borrowed, sending it crashing into the river below.

If anyone has made it this far, thanks for taking the time to look at these pictures! We are looking forward to our 2016 - the baby could actually get here any day now. I'm pleasantly excited about the very generous family leave that my work is offering me when the baby is born (12 weeks paid time off!), where I might be able to take a break from changing diapers and take some more pictures.

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