When I’m out searching for the best fall colors in Texas, I often have time to contemplate life while driving and exploring. One of my favorite writers is Robert Frost, and when I hike in the among the changing leaves of Autumn I am sometimes reminded of his poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. In the Hill Country where I reside, green leaves and long summer days are passed, and the memories of hot afternoons and warm evening walks with my girls are quickly fading.
On one of my November treks for Autumn color a few weeks ago, I drove to the Utopia and Vanderpool areas and spent a few days at Lost Maples State Natural Area. I remember visiting this little state park many years ago and enjoyed the solitude, but in more recent years, the rest of Texas has discovered what a gem this place is, as well. These days, I only visit during the week, and even then the trails are filled with leaf-peepers. This influx of folks strolling the paths can be pretty frustrating for a photographer, I assure you.
I arrived in the morning after a short drive from Garner State Park – after a lousy night of sleep in the back of my 4Runner. I had waited around that morning at Garner for low clouds and fog to clear, but I finally gave up and made the hour drive to Lost Maples. There, I had hopes the sun would burn off the clouds and blue skies would again appear. Normally, I prefer to shoot at sunrise or sunset, but for the reds and oranges of maples and cypress, my personal preference these days is for blue skies dotted with nice white clouds. I find the contrast between red and orange and blue and white to be like Nature’s gold in Autumn. And I know the brilliant colors won’t last long, and in some years don’t appear at all.
If you’ve ever hiked at Lost Maples, you probably know it isn’t that big. The main loop takes you north from the big parking lot, through the short Maple Trail, then up along the East-West Trail, then back down a steep rocky path, by the ponds area, then back to the parking lot (sort of). The loop is about 5 miles long and offers some pretty decent views from up high. However, ironically, the overlook listed on the trail map has probably the poorest view of anywhere on the rim of that walk. Don’t waste your time on the 1/3 mile trek to the scenic overlook (labeled #3 on the state park map). And as you head west on the trail, you reach another overlook on the map. It, too, is pretty poor. However, if you continue west and are willing to cut over to the edge of the cliff – maybe a 50-100 foot walk, you’ll continue to see better and better vistas.
From high up on the edge of the East Trail in Lost Maples, this view shows the the colorful trees lining the lower portion of the trail as it winds its way back to the Sabinal River.
OK… back to my morning. I arrived under overcast, spitting gray skies. As I started north on the Maple Trail, usually the highlight of the fall trip, I discovered I was sharing the path with a group of perhaps 25 middle school students on a field trip. I have to admit, I grew frustrated waiting for views to open up without kids hanging from branches or climbing on rocks. But I tried to choose a different response and reminded myself they had as much right to enjoy this area as I did. So I talked myself from a “Get off my lawn” old man attitude to an “everybody have fun” perspective. I even chatted up some of the kids, heard how they found a tarantula, and how they were excited to find Monkey Rock. Eventually, I pulled ahead of them when the steeper portion of the hike slowed them down, and thought to myself “this old father of two girls still has it!” HeHe.
Along the trail, I met several nice folks – a couple from Houston; a family from Kerrville, and a couple from just up the road from me in Austin. As I arrived at the previously mentioned overlooks, the clouds final began to break up, showing patches of beautiful blue sky. So I lingered here for a while, enjoyed a caffeine-laden Cliff protein bar and some lime Gatorade, and waited for a better sky. It finally arrive.
From high up on a trail, this view looks down at a small pond surrounding by the changing leaves of Autumn. This area in Lost Maples State Natural Area is one of my favorites to photograph, and the fall of 2020 was one of the best in many years.
Down the steep rocky path and back to the ponds area, I took in the views and appreciated the smaller crowds.
One of my favorite places to photograph the Autumn colors at Lost Maples State Natural Area is this little pond with a backdrop of red and orange maples reflecting in the water. This image was taken on a cool mid-November afternoon.
Along the flat east trail I watched a mother taking pictures of her little girl playing in the leaves. Before arriving back in the parking lot, I paused in several areas to photograph the red maple trees.
The red leaves of Lost Maples State Park Autumn show turn the path into a carpet of crunchy color. This path is along the East-West Trail and, each fall, it winds through groves of glorious maples trees with leaves of red and orange.
Eventually, I arrived back at the car, but realized I needed to walk a portion of the loop again and photograph the maples and red oak under better sky conditions. It is rare when a landscape photographer gets a redo! So on I went, revisiting the same areas I’d walked a few hours earlier.
A small bridge along a path in Lost Maples is surrounded by Autumn colors on a cool November afternoon.
Walking back to the car for a second time, I reminisced on Robert Frost’s poem. It seemed appropriate on this late afternoon. The words he wrote go much deeper than just a fading of reds and golds into winter. I suppose like these rolling hill country views and the changing of the seasons, there are layers of life waiting to be experienced, then contemplated on some future walk in the woods.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
August is one of my two least favorite months – right up there with February. But now the hottest month is in rear-view mirror. With the arrival of September, I feel like we can finally start dreaming about cooler weather and Autumn colors.
Despite the ominous cloud hanging over us that is 2020, the summer was still good and productive. I spent much of June and July photographing the mountains, streams, and wildflowers of Colorado. I enjoyed the 30 degree mornings and afternoons in the mid-70s, for sure. Arriving back in Texas in August, as always, was a rough transition. But I also know I’m fortunate to do what I do. And if you want to see my summer work, please feel free to jump over to my other gallery at Images from Colorado.
Back in Texas, the heat seems to have relented just a bit. We had rain yesterday at my place in Dripping for the first time since I’ve been home (about a month) and this morning I awakened to a 75 degree humid morning. The good news is that the temperature is supposed to remain in the 80s, which is a nice reprieve from the 100 degree days.
Heading into fall, I’ve already planned trips to Palo Duro Canyon to meet up with the Caprock Canyoneer, and after that I hope to make a short and first-time trek to Caprock Canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon is one of the gems of the Texas State Parks system. From the parking lot to the summit of Capitol Peak, the hike is only about .7 miles, but the last quarter mile is an 350’ uphill scramble over loose and crumbling rock. But the views are unforgettable. With layers of the canyon walls showing off their morning glow of orange, the landscape changes its tones and hues over the 30 minutes before and after sunrise. While the temperatures on this November morning were in the high 20s and the hike up in the dark was a bit sketchy, I was glad I made the journey.
This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
I just finished shooting a photography book for San Antonio along with a friend of mine. Glad that is done!
From the calm waters of Woodlawn Lake west of downtown San Antonio, this is the skyline at sunrise. Taken with a telelphot lens, this image is made up of several photographs stitched together to show the iconic buildings such as the Tower of the Americas, Bank of America, and the historical Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.
Next, I’ll have to head out to Big Bend National Park (if the park is open) and finish up shooting for a book and publisher.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Road in Big Bend National Park is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. It winds around, curves, climbs and dips for 30 miles along the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains. Along the way, several interested locations can be enjoyed, including Santa Elena Canyon, Sam Neil Ranch, the Burro Mesa Pour-off, Tuff Canyon, and the Sotol Vista overlook.
In between those trips, I plan on following the fall colors of the Hill Country and maybe sneaking in a trip to the coast. Of course, all this depends on how the virus progresses and what my own kids are doing in school. With so many moving parts, it is hard to make any firm plans. As an example, I was supposed to travel to Iceland to shoot there this summer, but that trip was cancelled when the airlines cancelled our flight and Americans were not allowed into the country without quarantining for 14 days. That trip has been rescheduled for next summer, and a week in Ireland has been added for good measure.
That’s it for my rambling now. I’m ready to get back out to nature and find those beautiful places that are just waiting to be photographed. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys the cooler weather!
~ Rob Images from Texas on Instagram Images from Texas on Facebook
Sometimes I have these grand visions for how things should work – whether it is my own kids’ birthday parties, a Disney family vacation, or a nighttime landscape with the comet NEOWISE hanging over the canyons of Palo Duro.
On one occasion, a colorful birthday cake for my then 7-year-old daughter ended up face down on the floor of a local pizza joint. When we flipped it over, the mix of colors would have made Monet blush. Five little girls looked on in horror while the one I loved cried. But it was a birthday party they won’t forget! On another occasion, our family was at Disney World when my five-year-old had a meltdown on a boat and actually laid down in the middle of the aisle. Folks coming on board had to step over her. My wife just put her head down to hide. It was later on that we realized my youngest daughter had a phobia about being on the water and on a boat. But we cemented those issues!
* * *
I spent most of the summer photographing the Rocky Mountains and even a few days on the more arid western slope near Grand Junction. The time in the mountains allows me to escape the summer heat of Texas and the raging Covid pandemic in the south while enjoying the beauty of cooler mountain climates at elevations above 9,000 feet.
And this leads me back to my vision for the comet. I’d planned on leaving Colorado for my trek back to Texas and stop over at one of my favorite places, Palo Duro Canyon. I wanted to see the Comet NEOWISE in the dark skies of the panhandle and photograph this rare event from somewhere in the red rocks of this state park. I’d already photographed NEOWISE from Berthoud Pass, Colorado, in the early morning hours, and now wanted to see it from my home state.
That was as far as my vision would take me. Shortly before I departed on the 16 hour drive back home to the Texas Hill Country, I found out Palo Duro Canyon was not allowing visitors in the park after 10pm. It was July 22, and NEOWISE was only visible in the evening and best seen around 10pm. Ironically, about the same time as my planned departure from Colorado, I had a client contact me wanting an image of NEOWISE over the canyon. Bummer.
So I got creative.
First, on the evening of July 23, I stopped in west Texas and shot the night sky using my star tracker. This instrument allows the camera to track the stars and photograph the night sky using a long exposure. Using this device results in stunning, sharp pinpoints of light for the stars and little noise in longer exposures. The comet was clearly visible, hanging just beneath the Big Dipper. Setting in the western sky, the crescent moon added a surprise element in this photograph taken on July 23.
But I couldn’t get into Palo Duro Canyon State Park. So I did the next best thing. I’ve visited this area many times in the past, and I had a RAW file image that showed the canyon facing northwest, that was exactly what I was planning on shooting. With full disclosure to the client, I used this as the base image and the star-tracked night sky to show the comet. An hour of Photoshop magic later, this was my creation straight from the canvas of God…
From the night of July 23, 2020, this is a composite image of the Comet NEOWISE over the beautiful red rocks of Palo Duro Canyon. The foreground was taken from the summit of Capitol Peak after the sun had faded. The comet fanned out beneath the Big Dipper. Just a little after sunset, and the crescent moon fell behind the western horizon.
I know some photographers are purists, and I am most of the time, as well. But I have no issues with dabbling in the creative universe when a client asks. After all, I have two young mouths to feed and a wife to keep happy. I don’t want to be a starving artist. So far so good.
My grand vision of this particular scene didn’t play out exactly how I’d intended, but the end result was pretty similar to what I had in mind. No one cried nor threw a fit, and no birthday cakes were overturned. While a few obstacles presented themselves, I’m still pretty happy with the final image in all of its creative glory. The purists may throw stones, but I’m not hungry here
Stay safe, Friends.
~ Rob Images from Texas
Bluebonnet season is just a month away. The rosettes on our land are not as plentiful as in other years, but we’ll still have a decent showing of blue by late March. While reading up on this year’s wildflower predictions, I’ve found that rainfall was hit and miss in the fall, which means some locations have potential while others will be barren. So on this cold, rainy February morning, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of my favorite bluebonnet images from the last ten or so years. These are not necessarily my bestsellers, but the photographs below are special to me for one reason or another.
Just Over the Mountain
Between Round Mountain and Johnson City, some of the smaller roads north of these towns can produce some nice blooms every few years. On an April evening in 2016 as I drove up and down Althaus-Davis Road, I found some nice blooms along old fence lines, but nothing that really jumped out. I was hoping that, like life, when you see things from a different perspective, the situation will appear more positive, so I turned around several times, scanning the roadsides and the rolling hills. Unfortunately, the change in perspective didn’t result in a glory field of blue.
I had passed a rancher feeding his cattle just off the dirt road a few times, and finally just slowed down to say hi. He asked what I was doing and I explained I was l searching for bluebonnets. He introduced himself and said he was the ranch manager for this land. Continuing, he told me that just over the hill (heading overland and away from the road), the bluebonnets were full, and that I was welcome to explore. Just watch out for rattlesnakes! We chatted a bit more, but as the sun was close to setting, I didn’t linger long. I thanked him profusely, grabbed my tripod and backpack, and set out for the hills. After about a 10-minute walk through scrub and cacti, I topped the first hill and found a palette of bluebonnets rolling down the hill. The sky was showing pastel shades of orange and blue, and I scrambled to find the optimal composition to remember this beautiful scene.
Bluebonnets adorn the gentle slopes of the Texas Hill Country in this sunset image taken in early April. Thanks for a local rancher and land manager, I was allowed to visit a few areas of private land that were covered in these favorite wildflowers. The sunset helped the landscape come alive, as well.
At one point, I squatted down and inadvertently sat on a prickly pear cactus. I can’t write here was I said, but I can tell you the drive home was painful, and I often tried to prop up my buttocks so as not to put any weight on it when driving. To finish off the evening when I returned home, I had my wife perform the unenviable task of plucking out tiny needles and thorns from my backside. She didn’t get them all, and the twitches of pain from being poked lasted for a week. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Big Bend Bluebonnets: A Once-in-a-lifetime-bloom
In late February and early March, 2019, the slopes of the Chisos Mountains along East and West River Roads came alive with seas of bluebonnets. I have a few friends that spend much of the year in Terlingua, and, just as the park rangers said, they’d never seen a bloom like this. I was fortunate enough to spend a week in the Big Bend on two separate occasions last spring, and it is challenging to pick just one favorite from those trips. The rugged landscape of rock and cacti and yucca stood in such sharp contrast to the unique species of the taller, tougher Big Bend Bluebonnet, and petals of blue had filled in all the empty spaces. And so I’m going to offer two images here. One shows bluebonnets at sunrise looking east towards Cerro Castellan, one of the iconic features of the western slope. The other shows a sunrise, bluebonnets, an ocotillo, and Cerro Castellan as the moon slides in the western horizon.
I knew the sky was going to light up when the. high clouds became visible well before sunrise. I also knew the bluebonnets were full and healthy after scouting locations the previous day. The winds were calm and the landscape of Big Bend National Park came alive with color about 15 minutes before sunrise. Bluebonnets – the best bloom in memory – filled the slopes and washes with color and the beauty of this remote area came alive on a very cold February morning. in the distance, the iconic Cerro Castellan rises over 3000’ into the orange sky.
With the sun rising in the east, the three-quarters moon began to fade in the west. Under a tranquil west Texxas sky, bluebonnets of Big Bend awaited the warming light on this mesa on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. In the distance, the well known Cerro Castellan rises over 3,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert, making for a grand landmark in this beautiful and remote area of Texas.
I love my time in the Big Bend, and look forward to returning there again and again.
A Most Amazing Evening
My dad used to accompany me on some of my wildflower hunts. These days, he’s older, can’t hear well at all, and doesn’t get around much anymore. Still, on April 3, 2012, he was with me for one of the most beautiful Texas Hill Country scenes I’ve ever photographed. We’d left my home in Dripping Springs while storms unleashed rain across the area. Driving up 71 towards Llano, the clouds started to break, and eventually we made our way out of the rain, through Llano, and on towards San Saba. I had a friend who’d tipped me off about some nice bluebonnet patches on some off-the-beaten-path dirt roads. After 30 minutes of searching, we came across this field.
Evenings on the edge of the Texas Hill Country don’t get much better than this. I had driven 2 hours in search of bluebonnets and finally arrived on a little country road near San Saba. The setting sun turned the sky into a palette of color, and the only company I had were the cows in a distant field. In my trips to photograph Texas wildflowers, this was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
The storms had passed, leaving the winds completely and absolutely motionless. The clouds caught the last rays of evening and put on a colorful display of orange and blue, and the strong and unforgettable scent of bluebonnets floated in the still air. For nearly two hours we hung around this one location, never seeing another car, and the only sounds were the distant mooing of cattle. And to show the utter calm of the atmosphere, my last image from this evening – taken well after sunset – was a 20 second exposure of bluebonnets, with the result being a tack-sharp photograph. I’ve never experienced anything like that night. I’m glad my dad was with me. This was a good memory.
The Wooden Fence
Between Llano and Burnett, an old wooden fence stands unnoticed for most of the year. In the Spring of 2010, bluebonnets surrounded this fence and created a sort of mini-landscape perfect for photography. My oldest daughter was nearly two years old, and, along with my wife, had come along with me to search for bluebonnets. We ended up spending most of our time at this little location – my wife and daughter waiting patiently while I worked my craft and photographed the bluebonnet-laden fence from all angles.
One of my favorite places for close-ups of bluebonnets is an old fence row near Llano, Texas. If you passed by it in wildflower season, you might not even notice because it hides a bit behind a hill. One side is private property, so you have to be respectful of that land, too. In a rainy spring, the bluebonnets start along side of the road and spill into the distant field. In this particular season, the area was a sea of blue, perfect for intimate shots of the flowers and fence.
I even took few photographs with my daughter, though we were careful to avoid stepping on any bluebonnets. Unfortunately, thanks to social media and moreso to folks who are careless with where they step (or just don’t care), word spread about this little fence. In the last 5+ years, the bluebonnets do not last long as folks trample them for their own selfies and family photos. The last time I saw this area look really good was 2012. On one particular evening early in the wildflower season, I was able to shoot several nice shots of bluebonnets with the old wooden posts. I returned just two days later to find more than 50% of the bluebonnets mashed to the ground. I’ve tried to return to this location a few times in the last five years, but it has never been the same.
One of the roads I drive quite often has an old windmill off to the side. You’d barely notice it, and I’d never thought about stopping to photograph it. But one afternoon as I drove home from the San Antonio area, I notice a large patch of bluebonnets in front of the structure. I thought about stopping, but then decided against it, as the scene just wasn’t worth it. Back at home, I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed this little scene so easily. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I rose early one morning and drove back to the windmill, arriving well before sunrise. The clouds were thick and the sky gray. Why did I roll out of bed for this? I decided to wait and, as good fortune would have it, the skies began to break up and the morning light filtered through the gray, creating an amazing and unusual sky for a few brief moments.
When I set off from my house to photograph this windmill with a foreground of bluebonnets, the sky was overcast and fog made visibility quite limited. I arrived with the sky pretty dark but still had 15 minutes until sunrise. I had just about given up hope when I noticed a little break in some low drifting clouds. Five minutes passed, and suddenly the sky begain to light up in oranges and pinks, and I was escatic with my good fortune. I only had time to capture a few images from that morning. This is my favorite.
And this is what a little patience can offer. I can’t count how many times I’ve just about given up on nice colors at sunrise or sunset, only to start packing up to find the sky lighting up. (And I should note I’ve packed up many times but had no regrets, either). But not this time. It was beautiful. And if you drove down this road today, you’d barely recognize this location. I’ve never seen bluebonnets there again.
Thanks for perusing this blog. If you’d like to see more, please feel free to visit my online bluebonnet gallery.
For now, we’ll wait and see what the season holds. I fear the warmer temperatures will stimulate the growth of tall grasses before the bluebonnets appear. But hope springs eternal, and we’ll know shortly how the Wildflower season of 2020 looks.
Howdy from 30,000 feet in the blue sky on a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando to Austin.
I know this is supposed to be a photography blog, and Texas wildflowers are (hopefully) coming soon, but I’m going to deviate from that formula for this installment. Instead of writing about recent photographic adventures or tips, I’m going to share my review of my family’s holiday at Disney World. If you don’t want to read further, I understand. My next blog will be, most likely, a bluebonnet and wildflower update for the hill county.
I’ll start with an overall assessment. After that, if you’re bored or curious, I’ll recount the details of the adventure… Keep in mind I’m writing with the perspective of having 2 girls, ages 11 and 9.
A few general thoughts…
* Four years ago when we first visited Disney World in Orlando, I did not have high expectations, but I really did enjoy my time there. Yes, then and now, the crowds begin to wear on me, and we’ve never been when it is really crowded (only in February all three times). Part of the appeal is how much fun my girls have. That, and I’m basically responsibility-free for the time we’re there. No car, no worry about food, the entertainment is provided, and a lot of unique experiences can be had by all.
* If you don’t have a good time at Disney (apart from the crowds), that’s on you. There is something for everyone. And some planning goes a long way. It seems each time we go, we uncover layers of the park we hadn’t discovered in a previous trip.
* Customer service is better than anywhere I’ve experienced. The employees of Disney go out of their way to help with any need. The parks are clean, too. Maybe we should have the Disney Corp. take over the government. I imagine things would run smoother, be much more efficient, and not so wasteful or dishonest.
* Disney is extremely efficient at moving people. With the mass of folks that visit, even during the slow time of February, the entrances, security, lines, etc., all move along pretty smoothly.
* There are still jerks that visit the park, too. Folks try to cut in line and not wait their turn. I can’t worry about them.
* The Mouse is really good at taking your money. He’ll have his hand in your pockets wherever you go. The whole system makes it easy to spend money without too much thought.
* My family had a great time. Yes, it is expensive, but you really do get what you pay for. We visited Sea World in San Antonio a few years ago and spent nearly a thousand dollars for one day (passes, food, hotel, and a meet-the-dolphins behind the scenes tour that really wasn’t as advertised.) Sea World and Disney can’t even be compared when talking about customer service, cleanliness, ease of getting around, friendliness, efficiency, and the overall experience. We’d never return to Sea World, but we’ll probably go back to Disney again when our girls are older.
This holiday found my two girls, ages 11 and 9, and my wife flying from Austin to Orlando on SWA, landing in MCO, and taking the Disney bus from the airport to our on-site hotel, the Coronado Springs Resort. This is, admittedly, our third trip to the Magic Mouse’s headquarters, and he’s better than ever at finding ways to take your money. For this stay, we splurged a little and had a room with “Club Access.” I didn’t really know what to expect, but when we arrived about 11:00pm at the hotel’s front desk and the attendant noticed we were “club level,” she immediately said she’d get the manager who would give us a tour of the 15th floor amenities. However, it was late and we were exhausted, so we made our way to our 14th floor room, found our television had a nice, personalized greeting for our family, and noticed our window looked across at Hollywood Studios and Galaxy’s Edge – “Star Wars Land” (our destination for the next morning).
I should note here we had purchased a meal plan with two quick-service meals and two snacks per person per day. This plan also came with a “complementary” Disney refillable mug (those mugs are $20 each). Did I mention the Mouse knows how to take your money? We did obtain our mugs that first night and filled them up with lemonade and made our way to the room. That would be the last time we’d use these mugs during the trip. Club Level, we soon found out, had its privileges.
Our alarm that first morning went off at 6am. Everyone rolled out of bed, excited for the day’s prospects. The concierge had told us to meet the bus at 7:00am in order to be at Hollywood Studios (one of the Disney Theme Parks) and, most importantly, inside the park, by 8:00am. At precisely 8:00am, we’d learned, the boarding passes are doled out via online registration for the current most popular ride – Rise of the Resistance (the newest 18 minute “experience” in Star Wars land).
At 6:55am, my clan waited at the bus stop. Looking around, we sized up the few other early risers and the competition to snag a coveted boarding pass. But with only 4 other folks waiting, the plan was falling into place. Twenty-minutes passed. Busses came and went, transporting folks to Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and the Magic Kingdom. But not for Hollywood. Finally, around 7:30am, a bus pulled up – no sign nor notification – but the driver announced “Hollywood.” By this time, the crowd had grown considerably. I was getting a little nervous because we still had to go through security, wait in the line to enter, and then, after our party of four was accounted for inside the park, we could press the buttons on our phone fanatically along with everyone else hoping to snag a coveted boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance.
And that’s when everything halted. A poor soul in a wheel chair needed to enter the bus, as well, so we waiting at least 5 more excruciating minutes for the bus ramp to lower, allow the mobile-challenged person to enter, then raise the ramp. By the time everyone loaded the bus after this, it was standing room only. We were dumped off at the park about 7:49am, ran to the security line like a heard of lemmings heading towards a cliff, waited for admissions, and at last entered the park at 7:59. Amazing. As soon as my youngest had magic-banded her way inside, both my wife and I started pushing the boarding pass button. Shockingly, I accessed the system within 30 seconds and we secured Boarding Pass 29. Whew. Stand down! We’d accomplished task #1 for the day.
The other ride in Galaxy’s Edge is called Smuggler’s Run, a recreation of the Millennium Falcon where each rider is assigned a task. We waited in line for slightly under an hour (the longest we’d wait during our time at Disney). I won’t go into details here because if you haven’t ridden this ride but plan to, I don’t want to take away from the experience. I will say all four of us were disappointed. I have friends that really loved it, but we came way not wanting to return to this particular attraction.
We had some time to do other things before our Boarding Pass for RotR was called, and we had Fastpassed Star Tours, another Star Wars 3D experience. So off we went to enjoy this simulation of Star Wars action. But not before a visit to Starbucks. One thing I learned before our trip is that out meal plan included two snacks per person per night, so that meant we each had eight snacks to use. And those snacks could be used at Starbucks – for pastries or drinks -even the largest sizes! My girls were in heaven. I’m usually a naysayer about spending so much money for a drink, and they are told no for Starbucks more times than I can count. However, here, these indulgences were already paid for, so drink up!
Ok… back to the ride… We’d last ridden Star Tours two years ago, and at the time this ride had six different experiences. This year’s ride had been updated to show the latest movies, in particular The Rise of Skywalker. The five-minute simulation did not disappoint, but we were to find out after two more rides on the same attraction that there was only one experience (not six like last time). Still, it was good.
After this, we had time to grab lunch with the use of our meal plan We settled for burgers at The Backlot in Hollywood Studios. The burgers were ok, but by the end of our trip, and taking into account past trips, the food at Disney just isn’t outstanding. Serviceable, yes, but not great. However, some of the pricier sit-down restaurants offer some good selections. One of the nice things about this burger place was that you could refill your drinks. That’s always a plus.
And soon after we finished, my phone vibrated that our boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance was up and we hurried to the long-awaited adventure. Again, I’ll not share details, but this was an experience that lasted 18 minutes. Some parts we stood, some we rode. We oo’d and awed and had a great time.
We explored Galaxy’s Edge a little more, then zipped around on the kid-friendly “Alien Saucers” then made our way back to the hotel. After dropping our backpacks in the room, we decided to check out our Club Access. We’d heard there were snacks. So we rode up to the 15th floor, magic-banded our way through the golden doors, and found ourselves living the good life at the Chronos Club. All sorts of goodies awaited, from prosciutto and cheese to artichoke quesadillas and fruit to several kinds of fresh, hot cookies. Alongside these offerings were an endless supply of drinks – juice, carbonated drinks, coffee, tea, and a lot of alcohol. And my daughters were pleased with the goldfish, pretzels, and more kid-centered snacks (even crustless PBJs.)
We had planned on going out again, but swimming at the pool and enjoying the waterslide took longer than expected. So what to do? We went back to our hood in the Club and ate a little more. We then discovered, thanks to two of the amazingly nice hospitality folks, Mary Kay and Daniel, that the Club could hook us up with extra Fastpasses – and we did not need reservations for the rides… just show up and go! We also learned that desserts were served nightly, along with beer and wine, at 8:00pm. This coincided with the 8:00pm fireworks show at Hollywood Studios which could be seen outside the Club’s vast bay windows. Yes, we could get used to this!
After falling asleep back in our room – exhausted and with bellies full – we awoke the next morning and enjoyed some of our favorites at Epcot Center – Frozen and Soarin. But I need to tell a story that will stay with us for a while. My little family of four was sitting on the bus riding to Epcot that morning. Across the aisle and slight to my left sat a family of three – a mother with a child on her lap and the father to her left (my right). The mom was directly across from the bus doors (the bus had two entrances and exits – one in the front and one in the middle). Anyway, the baby girl on the mom’s lap was playing with the mom’s phone. Suddenly, the toddler chunked the phone towards the bus exit. It landed against the door. Immediately, the mom yelled in a very harsh tone, “Get it, Kyle!” Everyone around us gasped and waited to see what the husband (obviously Kyle) would do. He’d been given a direct and forceful order. And it was clear he did not appreciate being called out so loudly in public. He hesitated. We all waited to see his next move. He never made eye-contact with his wife, but did mumble something about the phone not going anywhere. Reluctantly, slowly, he rose, stooped down, grabbed the phone and handed it back to the wife all the while avoiding eye contact. The impatient wife snatched it from his hands with nary a thank you. Carl, I imagine, was embarrassed. So, from this point on in our trip, whenever one of my clan needed something, we’d say “Get it, Kyle!” and laughed. Poor Kyle. Hey Buddy, if you’re reading this, we feel for you. I hope your trip was ok.
Now, back to Epcot… One ride we hadn’t been on – Spaceship Earth – was somewhat entertaining, if only to sit down and rest our feet a bit, and made for some good filler until lunch. For food that day, we dined in Morocco (in Epcot) on lamb and chicken. Good, but not great.
Back at the hotel, we met our new friend and hospitality worker again at the Club, Daniel, who was nice as could be. He asked us about our morning, and then hooked us up with more Fastpasses – this time for the Magic Kingdom. I’d already made Fastpasses for the afternoon at MK – securing short waits for Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and The Seven Dwarfs Runaway Mine Train. With the extra passes, we walked into the Haunted Mansion (not great), flew with Peter Pan (my girls liked it – especially after the Haunted Mansion), and rode the Runaway Mine Train twice back to back.
We were feeling pretty special being able to walk up to any line and go right into the Fastpass lane – even without reservations.
We finished that night getting fat and happy at the dessert bar while watching fireworks again. Life was good.
Our last morning was spent riding the familiar Na’vi River Journey, Kili Safaris, and Dinosaur, all crowd favorites. During our float along the Na’vi River, my 24-hour check-in window for the next morning’s flight came up, and I ended up having to do the online check-in during the middle of our ride. Not ideal, but we got “A” boarding passes, so all was not lost. Later, while riding on the Safari through the Savannah, we had a Masai Giraffe walking along the road in front of the truck and stop. So we waited for at least 10 minutes while the tour trucks behind us stacked up. Finally, it took a park staff truck to come by and offer the giraffe some treats before he/she decided to move. Our last ride at Animal Kingdom was our favorite – Flight of the Avatar – a 3D simulation ride on the back of a banshee This experience was our favorite during the last trip and this one as well. When we entered the Fastpass line, the wait for the commoners was 3 hours 45 minutes. Just wow. We were riding the banshee within 10 minutes. We were fortunate.
One funny thing happened that day as we were walking through Africa in the Animal Kingdom. There was a cultural street dance going on. One of the entertainers was an African man on stilts. He was reaching out to the crowd for volunteers to come dance. He saw my wife, who is extremely shy, and motioned to her. She back-peddled faster than Michael Jackson doing his moonwalk. The African man on stilts did not acquiesce easily, and my wife ended up trying to blend into the crowd. He made some sad faces at her, but not before we all had a good laugh, yes, at her expense.
Lunch at the Animal Kingdom was spent at the Yak and Yeti. My teriyaki beef bowl was good, and I’d get it again.
Departing the Animal Kingdom, we rode the bus over to Hollywood again for one last activity: the Droid Depot. My girls had been looking forward to this activity for a month. The inconspicuous door in Galaxy’s Edge leads to a hub of noise, machinery, parts, and lots of people building droids. As usual, the workers are outfitted as real Star Wars folks. My girls picked their droids, grabbed the necessities for the droid construction from the revolving carousel of parts, and commenced building a BB8 and an R2D2. Of course, you still need to purchase a “personality chip” ($13) so your droid will make noises, and the R2D2 unit needed colorful stickers (another $7). Even in a galaxy far, far away, the Mouse still knows how to take your money. But my girls had a great experience, and we walked out after spending just short of $250. Ouch. Thank goodness the grandparents had frontloaded my girls with some extra spending money.
Back to the hotel for one last dessert hour and fireworks, then it was time to pack our bags for our flight out the next morning.
Finally, here are a few of our personal ratings of the rides we’ve done:
Best – Flight of the Avatar – and it isn’t really close
Upper Tier – Rise of the Resistance, Runaway Mine Train, Space Mountain
Middle Upper Tier – Star Tours, Thunder Mountain Railroad
Fun for little ones – Alien Saucers, Barnstormer
Probably overrated – Smugglers Run
Wouldn’t do again – Haunted Mansion, Mission Mars, Living with the Land, Journey into the Imagination with Figment, Frozen Sing-along (we love Frozen, but did not like this sarcastic show).
Next up, Texas bluebonnet and wildflowers season is just around the corner – only a month or so away. I’m not sure how great the bluebonnets will be. Our lack of rain in the fall may diminish the returns for bluebonnets. But we’ve had more rain this January and February, so maybe the wildflowers such as Indian blankets, coreopsis, and other varieties will put on a show.
Sometimes everything works out – the bluebonnets were beautiful, the winds calm, and the sky eased into night with pastel shades of pink and orange and blue. This evening along a quiet backroad in the Texas Hill Country was just about perfect. Somewhere around four miles off a paved road, several miles of bluebonnets and white prickly poppies covered the fields and stretched to the rolling hills in the distance. For three hours, a friend and I explored the incredibly colorful views this dirt road offered, and we did not see another car nor person for the duration of the trip. In the distance, the sounds of cattle mooing could be heard, as well as the call of wild turkeys as they roamed the area.
It was a long drive back to my home and family in the hill country, but the nearly 2-hour commute each way was worth it for the beauty we found on this night.
Summer is finally in the rear view mirror, fall seemed to last about two days, and now cold fronts have blown in from the north. And that means fall colors in Texas are on the way. In early October, I spent a week in Colorado shooting the changing leaves in the Rockies, covering 1700 miles over 7 days and enjoying the amazing display of color across the state. While Texas can’t match Colorado’s Autumn colors and the sheer coverage of changing leaves, the Lone Star State can still offer some pretty stunning areas to take in the red maples and oak and the orange cypress.
Around this time of year – October and November – I’m often asked where the best fall colors can be found. A few years ago, I added an online gallery dedicated to fall colors in Texas. And in this short blog, I’d like to share a few of my favorite places in no particular order.
Located off Highway 187 near Vanderpool, Lost Maples State Natural Area is arguably the most popular location for fall colors in the Hill Country. And that means it is the most crowded, as well. In good years when the rain and temperatures cooperate, maples and oak turn red and orange during the early part of November. Paths through colorful leaves and overhanging branches lead through small groves of the Uvalde Bigtooth Maple trees.
Along the East Trail in Lost Maples State Park, you’ll enjoy views like this in mid November. This day was perfect – calm, temperatures in the 50s, and very few people (it was a weekday). In this area of the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find lots to do besides photograph the beautiful Autumn colors. Towns like Leakey, Vanderpool, and Medina, as well as Garner State Park, offer places to explore, have lunch and enjoy the country life.
The Sabinal River winds through the park, as well, presenting a few opportunities to see and photograph colorful scenes with a peaceful stream flowing through the area. But be warned… this place is packed on the weekends with locals and tourists who drive hours to take in the beauty. So plan ahead, book an entrance ticket early, or better yet – arrive early on a weekday. When you finish hiking, there are even a few good wineries in the area!
Garner State Park
Just 28 miles southwest of Lost Maples near the town of Concan sits Garner State Park – home to the clear Frio River and Old Baldy. In the fall, cypress and oak along the Frio turn red, gold, and orange in a beautiful display of fall color. Here is one image taken while standing in the Frio on a cold late afternoon that shows the river with the Autumn trees lining the banks. This image also appeared on the cover of Texas Highways Magazine in October, 2019.
* This image from Garner State Park appeared on the cover of Texas Highways Magazine in the October 2019 edition.*
On a serene evening deep in the Texas Hill Country, fall colors of red and gold shine in the evening sun along the Frio River in Garner State Park. Standing in knee deep water to capture this image, and with Mount Baldy in the background, I had to pause at the beauty and mirror-like reflections of this amazing scene.
Photographic opportunities abound in this area. Walks along the river provide various angles full of pristine water and colorful cypress trees. A short hike up Old Baldy, the highest point in the park, affords views overlooking the river valley and the summit makes a nice place for a snack or picnic. But like Lost Maples to the north, the parking lots usually fill up by late morning on weekends. When I shoot here, I bring my wide-angle lenses and I arrive early on a weekday.
After Garner State Park, heck out some of the surrounding drives and towns. The loop from Vanderpool and Lost Maples west to Leakey, south to Garner State Park, west to Utopia, and back north to Vanderpool makes from some amazing views. Try some of the side roads, as well, exploring the smaller streams and creeks that run in the area. Hidden gems are just around the corner.
Located about an hour north of Van Horn and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the Guadalupe Mountains rise out of the Chihuahuan Desert, reaching their highest point at the summit of Guadalupe Peak (also the highest point in Texas). The mountain range is the fossilized remnant of the Capitan Reef and is now composed of almost entirely of Limestone. But hidden in one of its canyons is an ancient stand of bigtooth maple. A hike into McKittrick Canyon in early October reveals secrets of this lost grove of trees, and the trail can often be ablaze in the red fall colors of the changing leaves. The image below was taken a few years ago along the McKittrick Canyon trail and was used by Texas Highways Magazine.
Following the trail through McKittrick Canyon, there are places of dense maple trees. At one point, you are nearly surrounded by the beautiful leaves, and in Autumn the forest can turn orange and red with some of the most beautiful fall colors in Texas. The main hike is around 4 miles each way, but you can continue up to ‘the Notch,” a climb of about 1500 vertical feet over another mile or so at which point you can look down into a canyon on each side of you. The hike up is a grunt, but the views are incredible. You can look back down and see the colorful maples as they follow the path of the river.
The hike trail will take you as far as you want to go. I usually enjoy climbing to the top of McKittrick Ridge to a point called “the Notch” – a high point in the trail that offers views of the valley in both directions. This trail is a day-use only area, so plan accordingly. I try to hit the trail as soon as the gates open and enjoy a morning and afternoon exploring the area in all its colorful beauty.
Pedernales Falls State Park
I probably know the land that borders the Pedernales River better than any other place in Texas. This little park is close to my home, and I enjoy my early morning walks here when all is quiet and serene. In the fall – usually mid-November at the earliest in this park – the cypress along the clear, cool waters of the Pedernales River turn orange and dark red.
The Texas Hill Country comes alive with autumn colors each November. Here, the cypress lean in and cover the Pedernales River on a cool fall morning, their gnarled roots wandering their way down into the water.
Exploring both upstream and downstream leads to small cascades and cypress-lined portions of the water. This park does become crowded on the weekends, but when exploring at sunrise or sunset I’ll often find myself alone.
If planning to visit this area in the late fall, check their calendar. The last several years, the park has been closed during peak color times for planned hunts, something that has left me frustrated at missing out on such colorful opportunities. I believe the hunt-closure for 2019 is not until December (thank goodness), but check before heading out.
Other places in Texas offer fall colors as well, and some can be quite amazing. I’d love to hear from folks out there about their experiences in fall at Caddo Lake, Daingerfield State Park in east Texas, and other locations where the colors have been eye-catching.
In the meantime, it is time for me to head out to the hill country and start scouting. I plan on starting my trek for Texas fall colors in just a few days and am ready to go!
A few weeks ago, I took a break from the relentless Texas heat and headed to the mountains for a week of cooler temperatures and colorful landscapes. While fall colors are on the way here in Texas, the oranges and golds of Autumn leaves have already come and gone in Colorado. I’ll dive into the highlights of my trip to the Rockies just down this blog, but first, I invite you to peruse my Colorado Fall Colors gallery.
Before I start reminiscing, I’d like to share some good news. First, one of my Autumn images from Garner State Park was chosen as the cover for the October edition of Texas Highways Magazine. Thank you to the folks there for continuing to use my work in their publication.
Next, Fox Sports contacted me to use nine of my Houston skyline images during their broadcast of the ALCS and the World Series.
Now, let’s get to Colorado. I started from my home away from home, Winter Park. From there I traveled through Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, then through Grand Lake and west to Carbondale. I then headed further west to the Grand Mesa, then south to the Dallas Divide and Silver Jack areas south of Cimarron. I completed the loop by returning to Winter Park before spending the day with my summer hiking buddy in Denver. All in all, I covered over 1700 miles in 7 glorious days and took over 1700 images (all RAW files).
I haven’t shot fall colors in Colorado in several years, but I do remember in years’ past when exploring in September and October being struck by the richness and depth of color – from the golden aspen to red-orange of scrub oak to the yellow leaves of cottonwood along creeks and rivers. Colorado is beautiful when the Autumn season passes through like a cool breeze.
From this adventure, I’d like to offer a few of my favorite images and locations from the trip.
Rocky Mountain National Park
I only focused on the northeast and most visited side of RMNP. I knew where I wanted to shoot based on previous trips – on a slope facing southeast overlooking Bear Lake with Longs Peak in the distance. From high up on a boulder field, this scene peeked out between colorful aspen leaves.
A little later in the morning, this image came from a trail not far from Bear Lake:
Maroon Bells Wilderness Area
One of my favorite places in all of Colorado is the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake. The problem is that this area is a favorite of many people – both locals and tourists. In the fall when the leaves are changing, the parking lot often fills up by 5:00am with photographers waiting for the perfect shot. In addition, the rangers that protect this sensitive area have installed a small fence around the lake, thus preventing any really good angles where a reflection of the mountains can be seen in the clear water. Instead of the iconic photograph that many are familiar with, I chose to explore more areas (and visit some of my favorite spots to take in this scene. Here are two images – one of the colorful aspen and leaves; the other is a panorama of West Maroon Creek with Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, both 14,000’ summits, in the distance.
Southeast of Carbondale is a lone peak that rises to nearly 13,000’ – Mount Sopris. Numerous backroads can be found around this summit, and after some exploration, I found a spot where I could capture the remarkable fall colors in the foreground at sunrise. To photograph this area required an early wake-up call, and soon I was bumping along a dirt road to the previously located location – a park and hike up a hill to shoot across a beautiful valley. The temperature was around 28, and my fingers felt frozen as I watched low clouds move across the landscape. I was a bit concerned at the conditions (the forecast called for clear skies), but fortunately, the clouds began to break up. This panorama was taken during the breaking-up part before the skies went clear. And it all happened in about 10 minutes. Mountain weather changes quickly, for sure.
Home base was Montrose, just north of Ridgway, for this part of the trek. I met up with a good friend, Mike, from San Antonio. He’d been able to scout out a few areas before my arrival so we made good use of his recon and immediately headed to County Road 7. Over the course of a sunset this night as well as a sunset the next night, we covered the dirt roads County Roads 5, 7, and 9, and came away with some nice photographs of the Dallas Divide, a range of mountains that include Mount Sneffels, and Mt. Wilson. The red scrub oak and golden leaves of aspen trees filled the mountainsides and valley with amazing color, making for nice views in all directions.
Silver Jack Reservoir
The unincorporated town of Cimarron, Colorado is about 30 minutes from Ridgway. From here, CR 858 turns south and winds back into the San Juan Mountains. One of the most well known areas is Silver Jack Reservoir. With its backdrop of rugged mountains and slopes of aspen, this location made a great place for our sunrise stop. The clouds were constantly changing. In the course of 30 minutes, we experienced snow, wind, sunshine, and a little rain, as well. The dynamic conditions gave us a lot to work with. Here is one panorama from that morning overlooking the reservoir with Turrett Peak in the distance.
From here, we traveled further down 858 to Owl Creek Pass, stopping in several locations to take in the colorful aspen groves and expansive, colorful vistas.
These were some of my favorite locations, and while I stopped a few times on the way home to shoot a few areas (McClure Pass and Lake Creek on the east side of Independence Pass), my time on this journey was drawing to an end.
Looking back, and even in the midst of the trek, I am grateful for the beauty I saw as well as time spent with good friends. It was a week I won’t soon forget. But I’ll be back to explore even more areas the next Autumn. In the meantime, safe travels, everyone! I hope you enjoyed some of these moments from the Rocky Mountains.
It’s been a while since I’ve done any writing. But not for lack of desire – well, maybe a little – but more for lack of things to say. I have a continuous dialogue in my head and sometimes I think I have good things to say, but to have it come out in coherent thoughts on a public blog is still a little sketchy. So instead of delving into deep thoughts and life-changing decisions, I’ll share snippets of the summer’s adventures.
In June, I finished shooting for my third book. I’m not sure what title the publisher will give it, but after nearly 9 months of photographing locations in and around Austin, Texas, I sent over 400 files to Twin Lights Publishing to let them sort through what will become a photographic guide to Austin. I was even able to include my two daughters as part of the crowd in some photographs The publisher sent me a nice check, too, and they were great to work with. I’m happy they asked me to take on this project. In the process of visiting the 100+ locations, many of which I’d never heard of despite living 45 minutes from downtown Austin, I discovered some new and interesting places around Austin, including the Texas State Cemetery, the Cathedral of Junk, Pioneer Farms, and a few other artsy-fartsy places. Some I’d go back to; others, not so much.
As soon as Austin locations were taken care of, I piled my family into the car and we headed to Colorado for about 5 weeks. I was able to add to my current Colorado website, Images from Colorado, and include new locations such as the Grand Mesa, views from the summit of Mount Huron, and sunrise at Lake Granby.
On the drive back, we stopped in Palo Duro Canyon for a quick hike around Capitol Peak. The temperatures were unusually cool for late July, and the sunset was amazing. I’m already looking forward to a return trip to this gem just south of Amarillo.
This panorama shows a glorious sunset over Capitol Peak in Palo Duro Canyon. Comprised of over 27 images stitched and blended together, the peak and its adjacent hoodoo are one of the iconic locations in this beautiful and colorful park.
This Palo Duro panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
Upon returning to the Hill Country after enjoy a month of temperatures that rarely rose out of the upper 70s, I was quickly reminded of how hot Texas is in August and even September. Since our return 5 weeks ago, the clouds still haven’t produced a drop of rain. My trips out to Pedernales Falls have found the river lower than I remember in a long time, and trips to shoot in downtown led me to humidity that had to be in the 90s.
Butterfly Bridge crosses Shoal Creek near West Avenue on a summer morning in this photograph from downtown Austin. Not far to the west is Ladybird Lake. This pedestrian area is one of the places that has been revitalized by the city, and it makes for a nice stroll on a weekend. This view looks directly south just before sunrise.
It was a fine summer morning in the Texas Hill Country. The air was warm and humid and the waters of the Pedernales River flowed a clear aqua color. This sunrise image showing the first rays of daylight was taken from a ridge overlooking the river’s limestone basin. I had arrived well before the first glow of light appeared on the horizon, but left shortly after this photograph was taken. As usual, I never saw another person.
Yikes. So now I’m hunkered down and waiting for cooler temperatures. With a trip planned for fall colors in Colorado, I’m literally counting the days.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered in the last two months in no particular order…
* I still have a touch of acrophobia. The edges of a rock face with a precipitous 1,000′ drop make my vertigo kick in.
* I found out a semi-professional photographer in the Austin/Hill Country area has gone to nearly all the exact spots I’ve visited in the last several years and replicated my images – basically copying everything I’ve taken. I won’t say more, but it bums me out that other people would do that.
* One of my images will be on the cover of the October edition of Texas Highways. Thanks to a friend for accompanying and guiding me to Garner State Park and this specific location last November to take this photograph.
* There are different kinds of falling… falling in love, falling off your bike, falling when you are old, and countless others. Some are good; some are not so good.
* Fear can be a deterrent and hindrance and can keep you from doing things you dream of. Fear can also be a powerful motivator. I look forward to writing more about this in the coming months.
* Something that is truly beautiful doesn’t need to seek out attention and is not self-serving.
Several years ago, I was shooting a pasture of colorful wildflowers through a barbed-wire fence east of San Antonio in a rural area. I never trespass, so I had my tripod and camera pointing through the barbed-wire surrounding the property. I had driven an hour and a half to photograph this beautiful scene at sunrise, and the sky was just beginning to show some color. About that time, a local sheriff pulled up and asked me what I was doing. He said a neighbor across the street had noticed my suspicious activity and called 911. That’s when I discovered in my sleepy state, I’d left my wallet, money, and driver’s license at my house back in Dripping Springs. I explained to the sheriff what I was doing – that I was a professional photographer here to take in this colorful landscape. He asked for ID, and thankfully he accepted that while I didn’t have my license, I did know the number. He continued to question me as I watched the sky begin to show some nice orange and pink color. Finally, I asked if we could pause and let me take some shots. I explained that I had no intention to go inside the fence, but the moment was passing quickly and I needed to get to work! He acquiesced, and even said something to the effect that yes, that is a really nice field of flowers. He eventually left me to my work, and I was left to enjoy the sunrise in peace. Whew!
The morning’s collection of photographs worked out well, and a few years later one of the panorama images became a 120×15 feet wall mural in the Archer Hotel in the Domain in north Austin.
This panorama of Texas wildflowers comes from a little road near New Berlin, just east of San Antonio. The colors of 2014 were amazing, offering a rainbow of purples, reds, yellows, and blues.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago… I received a contact through my business website from that land owner. I was initially thinking… oh no… what is going on? But the owner just expressed his enjoyment of my work. After exchanging a few email pleasantries, he invited me to shoot on his land, saying the flowers were at peak and it was the best he’d seen… and even gave me the gate code.
I can say that most of my best wildflower images – either a mix of flowers or simply bluebonnets – have come from private land owners inviting me to shoot inside the fence and on their land. This time would be no different. I visited the location two times this spring – once for sunset and another for sunrise. The field contained a mix of Indian paintbrush (red), bluebonnets (blue), phlox (violet and purple), gold (Missouri primrose, coreopsis, and tickseed), and even a few daisies (white). For the evening visit, I was fortunate to have beautiful clouds and, despite the forecast, a pretty nice sunset that had color for about five minutes.
A sea of color seemed to stretch to the horizon in this wildflower photograph from New Berlin, Texas. I hadn’t visited or photographed this area in several years, mostly because the wildflower bloom had been disappointing. However, I was invited down from my home in the hill country by a land owner, saying the field was the best he’d seen in many years. So I made the trek down and enjoyed this marvelous sight for an evening. The sky offered fleeting yet amazing color overhead as wildflowers of several varieties, including bluebonnets, phlox, groundsel, coreopsis, paintbrush, and Missouri primrose filled this pasture. I spent an hour shooting this scene, and each direction I turned offered another amazing view.
On my return a week later for sunrise, I awoke about 3:30am, loaded the car, and drove the 1.5 hours in the dark in order to photograph the Milky Way as it towered over the southeast horizon. An hour later, I’d enjoy the first light of day.
On a very cold early morning, the Milky Way rises in the southern horizon and a pasture of colorful, frozen wildflowers. Taken in the rural community of New Berlin, Texas, this image is a blend of several images and highlights the variety of wildflowers, including bluebonnets, coreopsis, tickseed, phlox, and Indian paintbrush. The Milky Way was taken about an hour before sunrise using a star tracker as a trace of orange began to appear in the east. The star tracker allows the camera to track the stars during a long exposure – usually three to five minutes, thus eliminating star trails and allowing for sharp, pinpoint stars. The foreground was taken using another long exposure about 25 minutes before sunrise in order to add color and definition to the landscape. The final image was created on photoshop to show what our eyes can see but what the camera cannot capture.
This night sky wildflower image was taken on private land with permission from the owner.
As I was shooting in the middle of the field, I did notice the across-the-street neighbor pull out of his long dirt driveway. It seemed he paused much longer than necessary. Great, I thought… Mr. Local Sheriff will be here soon. Fortunately, no constable showed up this time.
Later that morning, with temperatures in the low 30s, I witnessed a brilliant orange and red sunrise – as good as I could have hoped for. Frost covered the ground that morning, and many of the delicate petals were frozen together. Some of the more fragile flowers – the primrose and coreopsis – appeared droopy from the weight of the frost. Still, as the air began to warm, the flowers grew stronger – and my fingers began to work better, too!
A red patch of Indian paintbrush highlights this wildflower photograph taken near New Berlin, Texas. The sunrise was amazing on this morning, painting the sky in red and orange strokes. On the ground, a thin layer of frost covered the delicate petals of red, yellow, and purple as pre-dawn temperatures dropped into the low 30s. It was cold out there, but the landscape was covered with soft colors all the way to the tree line.
This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.
Just a week before, another land owner invited a fellow photographer and me onto her land. About 60 miles away from the aforementioned area. Her land, too, was covered in a rainbow of color. She was kind and met us at 7:00am at the gate of her long and fairly hidden driveway – just in time for a 7:30am sunrise. Her field was colored with reds, blues, and golds and even had a windmill.
A field of Texas wildflowers and a windmill at sunrise help created this amazing landscape. Taken on a cold morning in Atascosa County, the morning was painted with bluebonnets and Paintbrush with a sprinkling of gold mixed in. The sun had just cleared the horizon, forming a sunburst as light rays spread into the blue sky overhead. It was a memorable and colorful morning.
This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with the permission of the land owner.
The morning was a bit breezy, so I had to shoot at a lower f-stop and take several images focused at different depths. Without going into too much detail, aligning and blending these layers had to be manually done (Photoshop would help with flowers were in different locations in each image.) Still, despite the tedious work, I am pleased with the finished product. All of the images could be printed at 60×40, and the panoramas could go quite larger. The sunrise was nice, and I came away with a few keepers from from this visit.
From Atoscosa County near Poteet, Texas, south of San Antonio, this panorama shows a field of colorful wildflowers at sunrise. With a windmill as the backdrop, red paintbrush, blue bluebonnets, and golden groundsel bring vibrance to a beautiful morning.
This image is available in larger and custom sizes.
I don’t take the kindness of these folks lightly. I appreciate their trust in me, and I always offer a print of their choice to show my gratitude. I try to capture the beauty of their land as well as the backroads of my home state as best I can.
I enjoy photographing wildflowers when the blooms are nice, and I don’t mind getting up early, staying out late, driving long distances, and plowing through laborious work in photoshop. And while I love bluebonnets and their unique aroma, I really prefer the variety of colors from fields containing a mix of many different wildflowers. Later this year, I’ll hunt wildflowers in Colorado, but I haven’t seen anything there yet that can compare to some of the fields I’ve witnessed in the last few weeks. And I know the fullness of these recent blooms east and south of San Antonio don’t happen in too many years.
Just north of Poteet, Texas, and south of San Antonio, wildflowers of red, blue, gold, and purple fill a field on a cool spring afternoon. This colorful landscape is made up of groundsel (gold), bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and phlox (the small purple blooms). A windmill rises in the distance to complete a beautiful spread of vibrant color.
Now, though, it is time to turn my attention and my 4Runner towards the hill country around Llano, Mason, and San Saba – and to bluebonnets along the backroads that surround these little towns. Right now, bluebonnets are fading because of the lack of substantial rain. But with rain in the forecast in less than 48 hours (fingers crossed), the moisture may rejuvenate the bluebonnets season from its current rapid decline.
In the meantime, safe travels to everyone. Get out and smell the bluebonnets!
My cousin’s wife of 30 years, Elaine, has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Fortunately, their two girls are young adults and self-reliant. Three-hundred miles away, spring wildflowers are colorful and vibrant in south central Texas. Many fields are glowing with bluebonnets, paintbrush, groundsel, and phlox.
I don’t know Elaine that well. I know she worked in one of the most difficult of professions – a special education teacher in a public school – only to face this quiet ending before she was able to really enjoy the good life of retirement. I know at holiday gatherings where we made small talk and no one was really comfortable, she’d often stay out of sight, probably because she was mild-mannered and shy.
These days, I only see my cousin, Darrell – Elaine’s husband, every few years at a Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together. Distance and time have taken their toll. Several years my elder, Darrell lived about a half-mile away as we were growing up, and our houses were separated by pastures of green grass and open skies. I remember when I was young, Darrell would take me on his horse and, with fishing poles in tow, we’d ride through the trees to a hidden pond in search of aggressive perch and hungry bass. We’d sit in the summertime shade and eat our gooey peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches from brown paper sacks, all the time watching our bobbers and listening to the sounds of a breeze rustling through willow trees. At the time, it seemed like we were kings of the earth, and this sanctuary was ours alone. Looking back, we were just kids in the country enjoying a life with little worry nor responsibility. But we grew older; life brought change.
Though I think she was born in Texas, Elaine went to college in Utah. I’m not sure how they met, but I know Darrell visited her, traveling back and forth from Texas to visit his love. I remember their wedding, too. He wore a late 70s baby blue suit that still makes me chuckle.
Years later, with childhood far in the rear-view mirror, I have two young girls of my own, and I struggle with being a good dad. I love my girls as best I can yet always feel like I’m inadequate at this one big task in life. Darrell is just trying to keep his life together while facing an inevitable loss. I don’t know how he’ll fare. I don’t know how I’d get along, nor how anyone really handles this.
Yet in all this darkness, wildflowers are blooming. Beauty remains outside the cold window of a hospital room.
I drove around areas south of San Antonio last week chasing wildflowers, and I tried to make sense of this situation. I’ve been trying to make sense of things going on 40 years now, but I haven’t come across any burning bushes yet.
Seasons of colorful wildflowers – really vibrant spring times – don’t come around often – maybe once every five or so years. When the delicate petals of blue, purple, gold and red show up, I try to make the most of the weeks we have with wildflowers and am on the road photographing their ephemeral beauty. And sometimes I don’t pull out the camera. Rather, I just enjoy the moment. It seems that’s how life is – made up of single moments we try to hold onto – or let go of – in our memory. And as sure as the slanting last light of sunset fades, the seasons of spring and color I search for turn to summer, then are lost to cold and darkness, but eventually they find the way back.
I’ll try to linger in my spring – with my family – as long as life allows.
I hope Darrell and Elaine can find their spring again, though it will likely soon be in spirit only. These seasons are short, but I know Spring ultimately prevails.
Wildflowers are blooming somewhere.
Lupinus texensis, or Texas bluebonnet, is a Texas favorite among wildflowers. It is also the official state flower of the Lone Star State. Once known as buffalo clover, these blue wildflowers seem to put everyone into a state of wanderlust when springtime comes. This portrait of a single bloom was taken on a calm evening in the Texas Hill Country.