Monday, July 30, 2018

Perry County

I headed out the other weekend to get a few pictures, driving west into the Ouachita Mountains. The first stop was a few places in Perry County, including the St. Boniface Catholic Church. This is definitely one of the prettiest churches in the state. The church was built in 1906, with a steeple that is 95 feet tall (or about the size of a nine story building).


The church was open, and I went inside to take a look. The massive altar at the front of the church actually dates back to 1901, to the first church built here. That church caught fire in 1906, but the altar was saved and was installed in the rebuilt church.


From there I headed on west towards the small town of Perry. I've always known Perry as being a bit of a speed-trap, but it is also home to a historic old train station that was built in 1918.


The train station was built to serve the Rock Island Railroad, which eventually ran from Memphis to Amarillo, Texas. The Rock Island ceased operations in 1980, but the rails are still used by a shortline railroad that runs between Little Rock and Danville (the Little Rock & Western Railway). The old station is used for storage, and a metal locomotive shop was built right behind the old station.


Last year the railroad decided to construct a new machine shop, which meant demolishing the old train station. Luckily preservationists were able to make a deal, and it appears that the old station will be saved. The century-old building will be moved about 150 feet over to property owned by the city of Perry, with the eventual hope that the building will be turned into a museum. It's always great to see old buildings like this be saved.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Little Rock Lightning

A line of heavy thunderstorms recently moved across the state, bringing some much-needed rain and also a lot of lightning. I was sitting at home watching TV when the storms hit, and decided that I needed to head outside and make an attempt at catching lightning pictures (instead of sitting safely at home, like any sensible person would do). So I grabbed the camera (and the metal tripod, always a smart thing to carry in a lightning storm) and drove towards downtown Little Rock.

I headed to a parking deck that provides a pretty decent view looking west towards the downtown skyline. But when I got there, the bulk of the storm had shifted, and most of the lightning was off towards the south. So I hurried over and tried to get a few pictures pointing in that direction, which turned out to include a view of the old Albert Pike Hotel. The hotel was built in 1929, and was once one of the most luxurious hotels in the state. It was converted to apartments in the 1970s.

Getting any pictures of lightning involves huge amounts of luck. You have to be taking a picture in the exact second that the lightning strikes, and hopefully the shot won't be over-or-under exposed or be blurry. The camera just happened to be taking a picture when this bolt dropped down, sending electricity dancing in the air above the old hotel.


And another shot, taken a few minutes later:


Sunday, July 22, 2018


We were up in Fayetteville last weekend to visit my family, and before making the three hour drive back to Little Rock we made a quick stop at the St. Catherine's Church at Bell Gable. It's a beautiful little church, and it's a popular spot for weddings. Although it looks old, it is fairly pretty new. Construction on the church started in 1986.


There is an old barn nearby, which I'm guessing is used for lots of wedding receptions.


These were taken on a Sunday afternoon, and the area was fairly quiet. There were a few other people out looking around, and also this one small horse (Li'l Sebastian?) hanging out by the fence.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Every year, Caroline's family has a reunion during the summer around the Fourth of July. This year it was held in Dallas, or actually the suburb of Frisco. Now Frisco has a warm place in my heart since FC Dallas' stadium is there, and we've made many trips there over the years. We spent most of the weekend in Frisco, but I did have a chance to head into downtown Dallas to take a few pictures one night. Luckily it had cooled off around sunset, since it was scorching hot down there (so hot that a can of Coke exploded in my car after it had been left in the heat for a few hours).


From there I headed over to get a few pictures of the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which opened in 2012. The most striking part of the bridge is the massive arch, which towers over the Trinity River. The bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava, who by wacky happenstance is the same person who designed places in New York and Toronto that I've visited lately. I guess I should join his fan club.



Friday, July 13, 2018

4th of July

I headed downtown on the 4th of July to make another attempt at some fireworks pictures, and was a little surprised at how crowded it was along the river. I assumed that since the 4th fell on a Wednesday this year that most people wouldn't be out since they had to get up early in the morning for work. But there were tons of families out, and lots of people had already claimed spots along the river when I managed to show up a bit late. Another photographer had already snagged the spot I had planned on setting up at, but luckily he and his wife didn't seem to mind me showing up late and asking to set up my tripod right next to them.

Just before the fireworks went off, a huge group of kayakers floated by on the river and went to a spot near the Broadway Bridge to get a good view of the show. Finally, after a slight delay, the fireworks were shot off from the Main Street Bridge and lit up the muggy night sky.


And a zoomed-in view looking towards the Broadway Bridge. If you look closely, you can see a the kayaks floating in the water. And also a long line of traffic on the bridge when all the cars stopped to watch the fireworks.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Heading Home (YYZ-LGA-MEM)

So the trip was over, and we had to fly back towards home. Our flight was very early in the morning, and we both managed to oversleep, so we hurried off to the airport as the sun was beginning to rise over downtown Toronto. We did manage to make it quickly through security, but got caught in a long line at customs. We finally made it to the front, only to make the mistake of asking where a trash can was so that we could throw away a banana peel that had been part of a snack during the wait in line. The customs agent sent us back towards an interrogation room, so that we could declare our fruits and vegetables. But luckily a manager stopped us when she realized we only had a banana peel. Since a lowly banana peel is not a threat to national security, we were sent on our way (the manager angrily headed off towards the customs agent, hopefully to give the poor guy a talking to). We made it to our plane just as it was boarding, and were soon on our way to New York.

We flew into LaGuardia, which isn't the best airport (especially the Southwest terminal - ugh). But the descent into the city during landing is amazing as the plane curves around Manhattan. The views are great - I was lucky enough to have a window seat this time.



After a short layover, we then flew to Memphis. From the airport we got our luggage and found our parked car (luckily I didn't forget my keys in Canada that morning). And soon we were driving back towards home, just making a slight detour to Searcy to pick up Jonah. We took a back road, Hwy. 64, which cut across the flat lands of the Delta and Crowley's Ridge. We had to stop a few times, thanks to some construction on the road. But I also stopped to take a few pictures at an old abandoned cotton gin.


It looks like it's been empty and abandoned for some time. But it also looked like it had recently been used as a party place for high school kids.


Wildflowers were growing amongst the weeds outside the building.



Next to the cotton gin was a small concrete building that was cocooned in a web of weeds and vines. It also looked to have been abandoned for awhile.


After that we made it to Searcy and were reunited with our toddler (who had enjoyed his long weekend with his Aunt and Grandparents). We loaded him up and then made the short trip home, and were finally done after a long day spent hurrying from Toronto, New York, Memphis and Little Rock via two airplanes and a few hours in the car.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Toronto Islands

One afternoon we hopped on the ferry and made the short ride over to the Toronto Islands, which sit out in Lake Ontario near downtown. The islands are peaceful, with beaches and parkland. It was a nice change of pace after being in the traffic and crowds in Toronto. It also felt about ten degrees cooler there too, which was a huge bonus.

Some people do live on the islands, which seems like it would be an amazing place to live. I imagine the ferry rides might be a little chilly in the winter though. But the views are probably well worth it.



We went by one beach and watched sailboats move across the lake, and then went to get some drinks at a little cafĂ© nearby. After that we headed to this beach which had a great view of the Toronto skyline (there is a clothing-optional beach on the Islands, but this wasn’t it. I didn’t visit that particular beach – you’re welcome, Toronto!). On the other side of the islands there is a small but fairly busy airport, so it was a little strange to see airplanes flying low as they went in to land.


The sun was starting to set, and it slipped right behind the CN Tower.


And a wider view of downtown, with some small waves lazily hitting the beach.


It turned out to be a pretty good sunset too.


One good thing about being out there at dusk was that there didn't seem to be many mosquitoes out. If I was taking pictures back home I would have been devoured by bugs.


It was starting to get late so we got on the ferry and headed back. Luckily the ferry also provides some great views of the skyline as it heads back.



And one last shot, looking towards the CN Tower.


This is the last of the shots from the Toronto trip, thanks for reading this far! It was a fun little vacation, although I admit that I'm still a bit confused about poutine.

Monday, July 2, 2018


After Niagara, we spent a few days exploring the city of Toronto. With a population of about 2.7 million, Toronto is the largest city in Canada. It’s also described as being one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. We were staying downtown, just off of the always busy Yonge Street, but we did manage to visit a few other neighborhoods in the city. It was a fun trip, but honestly it was just refreshing to take a little break from US politics and spend a few days in a country that is much saner at the moment.

One of the first places we visited in downtown Toronto was the Allen Lambert Galleria, which is descrbed as the “crystal cathedral of commerce.” It’s a large shopping center with a parabolic arched roof that was designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava (who also designed the new train station by the World Trade Center in New York). I liked how the design incorporated some historic buildings.


The shopping center felt Canadian – it had a Tim Horton’s, a Roots store, and it was right next to the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Another stop was the Distillery District, which as the name suggests was once the home of the largest distillery in the world. The first whiskey distillery opened here in 1832, and it soon grew large enough to produce over two million gallons of whiskey per year (mostly to the US during Prohibition, thanks Canada!). The Distillery District is now home to 13 acres of historic buildings, including the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.


The buildings in the district were renovated and repurposed, and are now home to all sorts of eclectic shops, boutiques, galleries and artist's spaces. There is a good microbrewery there, and even a Mexican restaurant that was amazing (one of the best dishes I’ve ever had at a Mexican restaurant was at this place in Canada. The cheese dip, however, was fairly lackluster).



Later on we visited the Harbourfront area and went to a place for drinks, which got really busy with people streaming in after the Toronto Blue Jays game. But it was by this nice view looking towards the harbor and the CN Tower.


Another day, we went and walked around the Old Town. One of the definite highlights was this large two-tier fountain in Berczy Park that features 27 life size sculptures of dogs (and one cat). I’m sure our two pups back home would have appreciated it.



The fountain and park are surrounded by a row of neat old buildings…


The park is also right by the Gooderham Building - the Flatiron Building of Toronto. The Gooderham was built in 1882, and is one of the iconic buildings in the Old Town area.



The modern buildings of the Financial District tower over the Gooderham and the other old buildings along Front Street. There is a pretty eclectic mix of architecture here.


From there we wandered over to the Cathedral Church of St. James, which opened in 1853. The cathedral’s tower and spire were not completed until 1874, making it the tallest structure in Toronto and also Canada. It held that distinction for 25 years. And while there are much taller buildings in Toronto now, the cathedral still boasts the tallest church spire in Canada, and it's among the tallest church spires in North America.


And a view of the interior, where the choir was practicing.


And some stained glass inside the church.


We headed back out and walked out of the Old Town, and then headed past the glass towers of the newer downtown.


This is the view of the Dominion Public Building, which was completed in 1935. Towering above it is the 58 story L Tower, which was built in 2015.


It was starting to get late in the afternoon, and the sun was reflecting off of the glass towers and bouncing back onto the other buildings nearby. I think the older building here is the Royal York Hotel.



Next we headed across the street to Union Station, which is the largest train station in Canada. The station sees more than 250,000 people a day, many of whom are passing through on Toronto's inter-city rail service.



The exterior of the station is dominated by 22 Roman Tuscan columns, which are each 40 feet tall and weigh 75 tons.


Inside the station is the massive Great Hall and Ticket Lobby, which runs 250 feet long and 88 feet high. Carved just below the cornice are the names of Canadian destinations that were serviced by the station when it was built, stretching across the country. Since this happened in the days before spellcheck, the people who carved the names of the cities accidentally misspelled one - Sault Ste. Marie.


On a different day, we did more walking through downtown Toronto. At one point we passed by the old Toronto Stock Exchange Building, which was built in 1937. The stock exchange has since moved into a more modern location, and the old building is now home to the Design Exchange, which promotes arts and designs by Canadians. But it is interesting how the modern skyscraper was built up and around the old building, like a Tetris piece sliding into place.


It started to rain on us as we walked closer to the CN Tower.


Although we didn't go to the top, we did walk by the base of the Tower. The CN Tower opened in 1976 and stands 1,815 feet tall. It held the record as the world's tallest structure and the world's tallest tower for a few decades. It is now the ninth-tallest structure in the world, and it still holds the rank of the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.


And while we didn't make it to the top of the CN Tower, we did make the most of our visit to the area by visiting the Steam Whistle Brewery. The brewery makes just one beer, but it is a pretty good beer. We went to grab a pint, but it was crowded and there were no tables open. One table only had one guy sitting at it, and he was kind enough to invite us over and offered to share the table with our group. We got to talking to him - he was visiting Toronto from Mexico. He told us his story, which including him flying in to meet some friends here. But those friends were too caught up watching the Mexico-Germany World Cup game that they managed to forget to pick him up at airport. Since Mexico won that game, he didn't seem too bothered.

But while we were talking he went to drink his beer and got choked, and then managed to spit a mouth-full of beer out on everyone at the table (which was like one of those spit-takes that only happen in TV shows and movies). He felt really bad about it.

The brewery sits just below the CN Tower in the old roundhouse that was once used by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The building is also home to the Toronto Railway Museum, and there are several old trains sitting out on display.



And one last shot, which I liked since it looked like the CN Tower was shooting out of one of the train cars.


I'm still working on the pictures from the trip, including shots from the Toronto Islands. That visit was one of the highlights of our trip.