Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Capitol Fireworks

Every year, the state of Arkansas is kind enough to drape 100,000 lights on the outside of the state capitol building. And then, if weather permitting, there is a little fireworks show when the lights are switched on after a little ceremony. This year, instead of fighting the crowds gathered in front of the capitol, we headed behind the building where we could hopefully catch a slightly different perspective of the fireworks show. As an added bonus, we managed to miss the lighting ceremony, which has gotten too political the past few years.

When the fireworks started, I realized that I had seriously misjudged where the fireworks would be exploding and that my shot was woefully composed. I quickly zoomed out to get more of the fireworks, but one of the shots where I was zoomed in closer to the capitol turned out to be my favorite shot of the night.

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And a shot from near the end of the show, with a wider view of the capitol and the fireworks. By the end, there was a lot of smoke from the fireworks that hadn't blown away. But if you look closely, you can see part of the full moon sneaking its way into the shot on the left.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Oh Christmas Tree

This year, the city of Little Rock installed a new feature downtown for the holiday season - a 40 foot tall Christmas tree at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Main Street.

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Even at 40 feet, the tree does seem to be a little dwarfed by the tall buildings that surround it. But apparently we were supposed to get a taller tree, it was ordered from a place in Oregon but it was vandalized before it was shipped. It's still a lot taller than the tree we just set up in our living room though.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

On Broadway

While the new Broadway Bridge opened to traffic a few months ago, construction has continued to finish out the bridge. Recently, a ramp that connects the bridge to the Arkansas River Trail just opened up, providing access to the trail and Riverfront Park. It also provides a nice place to get some pictures of the bridge.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dagmar

The other weekend, I headed out to try to get a few more fall color pictures before the trees all dropped their leaves. This time, I headed east towards the Delta region and visited the Dagmar Wildlife Management Area near Brinkley. The WMA contains 9,805 acres of protected lands that encompass lakes, forests, streams and bayous. The first stop I made was this spot just above Apple Lake. I'm not a tree expert so I can't say for certain, but this tree has to be several centuries old. It is massive, and it's surrounded by dozens of cypress knees that stick out of the ground like buildings in a downtown skyline.

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According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the WMA contains some old-growth forests of cypress and tupelo trees that may date back to around the year 1000 (they note that some of the trees here would have been sprouted some 500 years before Columbus sailed to America). It definitely feels like an ancient area, and it's amazing that the trees here have not been cut down for their lumber.

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And one more shot of a cypress knee, sticking out of the murky water like a snaggly tooth.

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The Dagmar WMA is very near where someone spotted the long-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in 2004. On this trip I didn't spot any woodpeckers, or really any other wildlife. Hunting season has started, so most animals were probably in hiding. But even if there aren't any Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers here, this is a neat space. The Dagmar WMA has even been recognized as a "wetland of international importance" by something called the Ramsar Convention.

From there I headed over to Hickson Lake, which is part of the Dagmar WMA. The lake is lined with cypress and tupelo trees, and fallen leaves drifted across the still lake. The only thing that disturbed the waters would be the occasional splash from a fish and the wake from two fishing boats.

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This is one of my favorite places to take pictures of in the state. Especially this time of year when there are some fall colors, and there aren't as many snakes or mosquitoes. I stayed out taking pictures until it got dark.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Collins Creek

Collins Creek, which sits in the JFK Memorial Park by Greers Ferry Lake and Heber Springs, is a wonderful little spot to visit to take pictures. It's one of the very few places in the state where you can be guaranteed running water no matter what the weather conditions are.

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Even though the creek is by Heber Springs, the constant flow of water doesn't come from any natural spring. Instead it comes courtesy of a pipe from Greers Ferry Lake, which sends cool water from the bottom of the lake over to the creek so that it can be used a habitat for baby trout that are born in the nearby hatchery. It also provides a great habitat for photographers, because there are several small waterfalls and cascades along the creek.

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This was taken a few weeks ago, and was just about near the peak of the fall colors here.

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A bunch of fallen leaves had collected in a pool just below some of the larger waterfalls along the creek, and were slowly swirling around in the current. It was starting to get dark, so this ended up being a 25 second exposure that captured the leaves dancing around below the falls. From here, the leaves will flow downstream, and eventually into the Little Red River, which then flows into the White River.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Buffalo River

This has been a strange year for fall colors. It was really wet and cool in the summer, which made me hopeful that we would have a spectacular fall color season here. But then in late September and early October, it got hot and we didn’t get any rain. As a drought set in, many leaves started to turn a lackluster brown. The oak trees were hit the hardest, and most of them never recovered. It looked pretty doubtful that we’d have any fall colors again this year, just like last year.

But lo and behold, some trees really popped with color last week. So to take advantage of the colors, I met up with Zack and made a trip up to the Buffalo River. Zack has spent the past year driving around the country in his converted school bus, but is back home in Arkansas for a bit. We met up and headed north, and eventually ended up driving down this dirt road that ran deep into the woods by the Buffalo River.

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We then headed to an overlook on Red Bluff, which provided a spectacular view of a horseshoe bend on the Buffalo River. Unfortunately, I think we were just a few days past the peak of fall color here.

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We tried to be really careful here, since the overlook is not very big and a fall would result in an unhappy descent of about 200 feet through the trees and into the river. I tried to get a few pictures without getting too close to edge. This is the view looking downstream, with some bushes and trees along the river exploding in bright color.

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And the view looking upstream. There was some strange moss or lichen growing on the trees here, which looked more like Spanish Moss.

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From there we headed over to Tyler Bend and made another visit to the Buffalo River, but this time without any danger of falling off a bluff. Luckily there was still some good fall color along the river.

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And one last shot from Tyler Bend, showing the bluffs along the river. We took a few pictures here and enjoyed the view before heading back towards home.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

The Old Mill

Last Saturday, I made a quick trip over to The Old Mill in North Little Rock to check out the fall colors there. It was a cloudy and rainy day, and I was surprised that there weren't very many people there. Usually this place is packed with people, since it is a pretty little spot right in the middle of the city. And the fall colors were looking pretty good there.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Pensacola

From New Orleans, we then drove east into Florida to spend the rest of our vacation in Pensacola. It was a nice way to spend a few days, the beaches weren't very crowded and it wasn't very hot outside. The view from the hotel room wasn't too shabby either. This was the view one morning at sunrise.

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And then the same view at night. This is about two hours of star trails above the Gulf of Mexico, with streaks of light on the beach from people walking around.

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One day we headed out onto the beach around sunset, and while Jonah played I got a few pictures around the Pensacola Beach Pier. The pier runs 1,470 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico.

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These shots were taken right after sunset, so I had to have the camera set up on a tripod. Since I live in the hopelessly landlocked state of Arkansas, I don't have much experience taking pictures on beaches. So many of the pictures from here were messed up by waves coming in and shifting the sand beneath the tripod.

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On our last morning there, we woke up to this great sunset over the beach.

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And then we packed up the car and tried to make the long drive back home, which would take about ten hours and cross through four states. We were worried about the drive since we had a toddler with us, but he napped for a good chunk of the drive. We also tried to keep him entertained, which meant letting him watch some TV. By the time we made it home, we were too familiar with his current favorite TV shows - Sesame Street (especially any episode with lots of Elmo) and Teletubbies. But he really did great riding in the car, only starting to get fussy right at the end when we finally made it into Little Rock (on the other hand, I started to get fussy when it seemed like it was taking forever to drive through Mississippi).

Friday, November 3, 2017

New Orleans

After a small delay while getting a tire fixed, we finally made it into New Orleans. After checking into the hotel (and awkwardly handing the valet the keys to a car covered in dirt from driving the dirt roads around Rodney earlier that day) we then walked into the French Quarter for dinner. I've only been to New Orleans once before, but that was way back in the olden days when I was still in college. So it was nice to make another visit to New Orleans, which is really one of the most historic and unique cities in the country. Of course the food there is amazing, and we started our visit with some amazing muffulettas from the famous Napoleon House.

To burn off all the calories from dinner, we continued walking to Jackson Square. The square is the heart of the French Quarter, and it surrounded by historic buildings like the St. Louis Cathedral.

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Here's a view of the Cathedral, with a statue of Andrew Jackson in the foreground. The statue was erected in 1856 and was built to honor Jackson having helped save the city from British attack during the War of 1812.

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From there we joined the crowds at Café Du Monde and ordered some of the famous beignets. It’s amazing to me the history of everything in this city. Café Du Monde has been around since 1862.

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We headed back out to Jackson Square, which was busy with tourists, people playing jazz, people selling art or offering to read your fortune (we were tempted to have Jonah’s fortune read). Since we were travelling with a toddler, we needed to start heading back to the hotel to put him to bed. But I stopped to get a few pictures as it was starting to get dark. Sorry for all the Cathedral pictures, it is a very photogenic building!

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I had wanted to get some pictures of the cathedral early in the morning, when there would be some nice light in the sky and there wouldn’t be too many people around. So I woke up before dawn and headed back to Jackson Square and set up the camera and tripod on the boardwalk that overlooks the Square and the Mississippi River. But for it being so early, it was surprisingly busy. Lots of people were out and about, including people who obviously never stopped partying the night before. As I was taking pictures, two different people came up on the boardwalk looking for shoes they had lost there the night before.

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The first cathedral here was built in 1718. The current cathedral dates back to 1850, when the building was expanded and rebuilt, and it is the oldest cathedral in the country. It was warm and humid that morning, and the camera immediately fogged up when I took it out of the camera bag.

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Later that day, we made another visit to Jackson Square. The lush grass there is a perfect spot to let a toddler run loose, especially one who has been strapped in a stroller for a few hours. He ran all over the Square, dodging tour groups taking pictures of the Cathedral.

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Early the next morning, I snuck out of the hotel room and went to take a few more pictures. I got in the car and drove across the river, eventually ending up right below the twin bridges of the Crescent City Connection. The bridges were built in 1958 and 1988, and make for a good frame of the river and the New Orleans skyline.

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The bridges are both tied for being the fifth-longest cantilever bridges in the world and the last bridges the Mississippi River goes under before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. These were taken on a cloudy morning, and it was fairly quiet there (except for the constant hum of traffic on the bridges). The only other people out there were two people fishing and one guy that was riding a bike.

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Later that day I visited the Ogden Museum of Southern Art which occupies a spot in the CBD. The museum had a good amount of photography inside, which is always nice to see (and if they see this, please check out my website!!!). This is one of the views out the window, which includes a view of the Crescent City Connection bridges.

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We were pleasantly surprised for how kid-friendly New Orleans was, considering the party reputation the city has. There were lots of parks we could take Jonah to, but he seemed to enjoy the music and people-watching while we pushed him around in the stroller through the French Quarter. I think he also enjoyed all the food in New Orleans – he sampled muffaletas, beignets, po-boys and fried alligator (he wasn't a fan). The only thing he missed out was drinking a Hurricane on Bourbon Street.

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On our last night we went back into the French Quarter and walked along Bourbon Street and then headed back towards Jackson Square. Here is one last shot of Jackson Square, looking towards The Cabildo, which was built in 1799 and was the home of the Spanish government in New Orleans. The building was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies in 1803, and is now a museum of Louisiana history.

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The next day we left New Orleans, but then headed east along the coast to finish out our vacation in Pensacola. Stay tuned for some beach pictures soon!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Oak Alley, LA

From Natchez, we headed south into Louisiana. We drove through Baton Rouge, and then made a stop just outside of New Orleans. Along the Mississippi River, east of the city, sit several grand old plantation homes that date back to the early 1800s. One of the most famous of these houses is the Oak Alley Plantation, which was built in 1837. The path to the house is framed by two rows of massive live oak trees, and it has been used in several films like Interview With A Vampire and Primary Colors (and even a Beyonce video). We stopped to take a few pictures but found out that the entrance fee to the grounds was a very steep $22. Since we didn’t want to pay nearly 50 bucks just to take a few pictures (and we had visions of a toddler running through the house like a tornado and destroying a bunch of priceless antiques), we cheated a bit and got a few pictures of the live oak trees from the road. It worked, and saved us some cash!

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Although Oak Alley would get its revenge. Right after we left, the low tire pressure warning came on. We pulled over and found a big fat screw had embedded itself in one of the tires. We had to find a place to patch it before we drove on into New Orleans, eager to head into the French Quarter.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Windsor Ruins, MS

From Rodney, I made the short drive over to the Windsor Ruins. Since Rodney is a ghost town in the middle of nowhere, this meant driving through a few miles of bumpy and dusty dirt roads.

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At one point, the rising sun burst though the trees covering the road. The light was shining through the dust that had been kicked up by passing cars.

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The road then ran right into the middle of Alcorn State University, which I though was oddly busy for an early Saturday morning (when I was in college, I definitely would not be up and awake at 8:00 AM). There were already tons of students out walking around, and then lots of people strolling through campus. It would turn out that it was Homecoming Weekend, and there was a football game and parade that day. Streets through campus were beginning to be shut down for the parade, and I managed to sneak through without getting in the way of the game.

I drove a few miles down the road to the Windsor Ruins, which are 23 columns that are the only remnants of a massive mansion that stood here from 1861 to 1890.

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Windsor Mansion was built on a plantation that is just four miles from the Mississippi River. The mansion was huge, and contained 25 rooms and also 25 fireplaces. The roof had an observatory, which was used by both sides during the Civil War. The house probably only survived the war because it was used to watch the river and because of its use as an hospital. After the war, Mark Twain used the observatory to watch the river, and mentioned the elegance of the home in his book Life On The Mississippi.

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After surviving the Civil War, the mansion would end up being destroyed by a fire caused by a cigarette dropped by a houseguest in 1890. The home burned, leaving behind only the columns and the iron steps (which are now part of a building at Alcorn State). The columns have stood for over a century since, but they are weakening and in danger of collapse. A fence was recently installed around the columns, which prevents people from getting too close to the ruins (and also makes getting pictures a little difficult).

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I tried to get a few pictures and then made the drive back to our hotel in Natchez. Along the way I got a picture of this old church, which was built in 1824. After that we then headed further south, towards New Orleans.

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