The Schulemburg Chamber of Commerce markets and offers tours for the historical gems in their local area known as the Painted Churches. While twenty of these ornate, historical structures exist around the state, four reside within a 15 minute radius in Fayette County. St. John the Baptist Catholic (Ammannsville), St. Cyril and Methodius (Dubina)), St. Mary's High Hill (Schulemburg), and St. Mary's Catholic (Flatonia) are 100-year old churches built in the late 1800s and early 1900s by German and Czech immigrants. Adorned with detailed and colorful frescoes, statues, columns within old-world Gothic architecture, these working parishes are worthy of a visit. Whether you take a guided tour offered through the Chamber or you do it yourself (like me), witnessing this beauty is a day well spent - and a visit into our Texas history.
Painted Churches of Central Texas
Autumn at Lost Maples State Park.
One of my favorite places to visit in Texas each Autumn is Lost Maples State Natural Area. I try to plan a visit during the week because on the weekends, these trail can become very crowded. Last year, even during a few weekdays, I had to jockey for position with visitors and even a group of students on a field trip (during Covid) to shoot some of the prettier sights. Still, you can escape the masses and find some very nice colors on good years. The Red Maple's leaves are often vibrant in early November, the trails are easy, and the colors are some of the best in Texas.
Autumn at Garner State Park
I've grown to love Garner State Park over the years. The colors each fall along the Frio River are often explode with red and orange and gold. In the distance, the iconic "Old Baldie" rises high over the river. From the top of this little peak, the bends in the river, lined with cypress, wind away far below into the distance. I try to get out here each Autumn on a weekday. Like its neighbor, Lost Maples, crowds pour in during the weekend. But I'll often find myself shooting at sunset alone in the quiet solitude of this beautiful park.
Pedernales Falls in Autumn
I am biased towards Fall Colors in Pedernales Falls State Park. I live nearby and before Covid I would make frequent trips there just to hike and enjoy the sunrise when the world is quiet. Now, with the new restrictions, I feel like one of "my places" has been taken away. Nevertheless, I still plan on visiting several times this fall. I've already reserved many days and am hoping for a nice display of color from the cypress and good weather for at least a few of my trips. Along the river, the cypress turn deep orange and hues of dark red and can rival fall colors anywhere in the hill country. Combined with the cool, clean water of the river that winds through the limestone and granite basin, this is a great area to explore anytime, especially when the leaves are changing.
South Prong - Caprock Canyons State Park
Caprock Canyons State Park in Briscoe County is the third largest state park in Texas. One of my favorite places is the South Prong Trail. From the very start, the views are beautiful, showcasing the red rock of the rising cliffs the make up the canyon. Though this par is far from just about anything, if you make it out there, you'll find quiet, solitude, and a large herd of buffalo to greet you.
West Ridge, Capitol Peak - Palo Duro Canyon
On a recent trip to Palo Duro Canyon, my seeking new angle to photograph this amazing landscape took me off-trail. I wanted to photograph the iconic Capitol Peak with its red ridge line leading into the image. I had hoped to reach the actual ridge. After studying my own photographs from the top of Capitol Peak, along with satellite images from Google Earth, I decided on a line that seemingly offered the least resistance. However, after starting the climb in the dark, the path up the rocky gully proved to be a steep wash filled with scree that left me sliding back a foot back after each two steps up. It was a difficult and dangerous scramble on all fours that left my hands and wrists cut and bleeding. Still, I managed to reach a small point about 2/3 of the way up. After butt-scooting to the edge of a small promontory (too afraid to stand up because of the loose rock), I waited patiently for the sun to light up the clouds and sky in morning colors. I was finally rewarded with a few images with which I'm actually pretty pleased. I'm not sure I'd do this again. I love my life and my family too much to take risks like this often :-) But it was a great adventure!
McKittrick Canyon Trail in Autumn - Guadalupe Mountains
In late October and early November, big tooth maple leaves turn orange and red, painting the McKittrick Canyon Trail in a splash of color. The first four miles of the trail is easy as you pass through maple groves and areas of agave and yucca. After that, a series of switchbacks leads up to "the Notch," a point that offers spectacular views of both where you came from (the valley below) and where you are going (a valley in front). You can look back from where you came and see the trail of red leaves following the small creek. And always keep an eye out! The last time I was up there, I sat down to take a drink of water and notice about 5 feet away was a small rattlesnake telling me I was on his turf. Yikes!
Capitol Peak, Palo Duro Canyon
One of the most well-known icons in Palo Duro Canyon is Capitol Peak. This summit can be seen from the main park road and is a short half-mile walk to its base. A pseudo-trail leads to the top, but nothing official. The rock is loose and it is a scramble to reach the summit, but the views from the top reach out in all directions to the amazing and rugged Texas landscape. I've made this trek a few times in the dark, and it is a little sketchy when your only light is a flashlight. Still, sunrise on the peak is a magical experience.
South Padre Island in May
South Padre Island is a mecca for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. During the day, the sandy shores can be pretty full of sun worshipers and happy families enjoying the surf and easy living. I prefer the beach at sunrise or sunset when it is quieter and more tranquil, and the monotonous sounds of the rolling waves can ease the spirit. My daughters chase the sand crabs while I photograph the ever changing light, and overhead the seagulls watch our every move.
The Lighthouse - Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon is a Texas State Park gem in the panhandle. Just 30 minutes south of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon runs for 120 miles and is the second largest canyon in the U.S., and this "Grand Canyon of Texas" offers miles of hiking trails. One of the most well-known paths is the Lighthouse Trail which is an easy 6 mile round-trip trek to the iconic Lighthouse hoo-doo red-rock formation. The trail is relatively flat until the end, where the last quarter-mile requires some uphill hiking and even a bit of a scramble. The views from the base of the Lighthouse provide and expansive view of the valley below and make for a great place to take in the sunset. If you linger until the last light of day, however, bring a flashlight. Night falls quickly and (to me) everything looks a bit different when hiking at night. To see more photographs from Palo Duro Canyon and of the Lighthouse, as well as prints for sale, please visit my Palo Duro Gallery.
Pedernales Falls State Park
Pedernales Falls is only 25 minutes from my home in the hill country. This little gem also happens to be one of my favorite places to explore. I usually only shoot there at sunrise or sunset, and I rarely see anyone when the sun is coming up. The Pedernales River has cut through the limestone rock and winds through the park, creating small cascades and nice fishing holes, as well. The main cascades - the park's namesake - are easy to see from a lookout point high on the cliff, but stairs lead down to the river's edge. Hikes both upriver and downriver quickly remove you from any crowds and place you in some amazing hill country landscapes. For some of my favorite images from this area of the hill country, as well as many prints for sale, feel free to visit my Pedernales Falls gallery.
Big Bend National Park in Bluebonnet Season
Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places in Texas. The miles and miles of trails, including some of the most remote in the Lone State State, make this a great place for adventure and escape. One aspect of this park that few outsiders realize is that every once in a while, the rugged landscape of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert will undergo a "desert bloom." Big Bend has its own species of bluebonnet -Lupinus havardii. This bluebonnet is a bit taller than others species across Texas but still packs the color. Every few years (sometimes more than a few), bluebonnets appear out of the red and brown rock dirt and spread like waves across the slopes of the landscape. To see more of these west Texas blooms, as well as prints for sale, please visit this Big Bend Bluebonnet gallery.
South Rim Sunset, Big Bend National Park
I'd been trying to reach this location for several years, but the weather had always thwarted my efforts. Finally, using a sunset predictor called SkyFire, I found a potentially good evening to hike the trail in Big Bend National Park that takes you to the iconic South Rim, one of the best and most stunning treks in Texas. From the cliff's edge, you can see the ancient remains of some of the Chisos Mountains, the Rio Grande as it flows eastward, and the desert beyond the river into Mexico. The trip can be between 12-14 miles round trip, depending on your route, and the payoff at the midway point is worth the 2000 vertical feet and miles of walking. I stayed for a while, lingering to shoot sunset at various locations, then captured the Milky Way as it scrolled across the sky. If you are a hiker and live in Texas, this destination is a must - worth the extra effort to stand on the edge of the Texas landscape.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
The Barton Creek Greenbelt offers over 12 miles of trails for walking, running, and even biking. Two of the waterfalls found along this creek, Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls, offer nice opportunities to photograph the clear water as it cascades over limestone deposits. Several trailheads give different points of access to the stream - but the most popular is near near the intersection of 2244 and MoPac. Two different mornings, I was the first car there and found myself walking through the dark in order to photograph the falls at sunrise. It is an easy trail, but if you go early on a late summer morning, bring a long stick. (Use the stick to knock down the spider webs in your path!) I encountered so many spiderwebs spun across the trail I am still pulling webs off my arms, it seems. Yikes! But morning walk through the water is refreshing and worth the effort. It is hard to imagine this oasis is only miles from the downtown Austin skyline.
Bluebonnets in the Hill Country
Every spring, bluebonnets appear after many cold months of hugging the ground. The rains in the fall and winter help determine how prolific the bloom will be. The little rosettes appear in October, November and December and wait. In those special seasons when the rainfall is good over the winter and the temperatures in the spring are just right, explosions of blue can appear in spring across the Texas Hill Country. In mid to late March, roadsides are lined with shades of blue, and as the season moves into April, the coverage of bluebonnets spreads into the fields, often painting entire hillsides in a blanket of blue. To see a collection of bluebonnets from the past ten years as well as bluebonnet prints for sale, please visit my bluebonnet gallery.
Lost Mine Trail - Big Bend National Park
Big Bend will always be one of my favorite places to shoot, and the Lost Mine Trail holds a lot of bang for a short walk. The easy uphill path is a 5+ mile round trip hike to a beautiful vantage point overlooking Juniper Canyon. In the distance, even the ancient mountains in Mexico can be seen across the Rio Grande. Sunset is my favorite time to shoot here, but bring a flashlight because the skies are dark after the light fades quickly in this remote area.
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park contains four of the five Spanish missions. The fifth and most well know is the Alamo, but it is under Texas control and not part of the National Park system. On a recent drive to San Antonio, I had the opportunity to photograph two of these missions - Mission Concepcion and Mission Espada. Both rest just south of downtown San Antonio, and are worthy of an evening. The grounds are clean and well cared for. The stone structures take you back to a time in Texas history when times were more challenging.
Bluebonnet House in Marble Falls, Texas
This past week I visited the iconic stone building just north of Marble Falls, Texas, that sometimes has bluebonnets in the front field. After more than several years of nothing but grasses, this year’s display is quite nice – probably the best in 5-7 years. I’ve driven all over the hill country in the last few weeks, and this is about the best coverage I’ve found in a field. (The roadsides are nice in several places, but there are not many fields full of flowers). Still, I am grateful for scenes like this.
Prickly Pear Bloom at Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places to shoot in Texas. I try to get out there every year for bluebonnets. Some years are better than others, but something always presents itself to capture with my camera. In spring, the prickly pear cacti bloom with colorful displays of orange, red and yellow blooms. Combined with magical sunsets in the lower elevations of the park - in the Chihuahuan Desert area, the prickly pear displays are quite the sight to behold. This image was taken only a few miles from Santa Elena Canyon in the Chihuahuan Desert just before a powerful thunderstorm rolled through the area.
Lou Neff Point - Austin, Texas
This little scenic point along the Zilker Park Hike and bike Trail offers an often-photographed view of the Austin skyline from across Lady Bird Lake. In the summer, the trees are green and the water is blue. But during the winter months of January and early February, this is one of the few places I like to shoot. While the leaves on the trees are gone during this time of year, at sunrise the sun ascends straight down this portion of the Colorado River allowing for some nice early morning perspectives.
Autumn in the Guadalupe Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a long way from my home in the Hill Country, but the drive is pretty easy and the Texas landscape changes drastically several times along the 7 hour haul. And Autumn is the perfect time to visit the park. Visitors are a bit more scarce, and the vegetation and leaves are beginning to turn vibrant fall colors. In the park, Guadalupe Peak might be one of the best hikes in Texas, covering just under 9 miles round trip. The hike takes you to the highest point in Texas and affords commanding views of the Chihuahuan Desert 3,000 vertical feet below. Just below Guadalupe Peak is the more well known El-Capitan, a limestone mountain (the 8th tallest peak in Texas) that has served as a waypoint and landmark for a thousand years.
Along with these two mountains, the Guadalupe Mountains are also home to beautiful canyons that house hidden remnants of ancient bigtooth maple trees. Each year in late October and early November, the leaves on these trees show off their fall colors reds and oranges. The trek through McKittrick Canyon is a wonderful day hike, as well. If you have the time, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a great place to explore.
Hamilton Pool's Last Stand
Hamilton Pool is one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country. I can remember when you could hike in from the back side and look over the edge of the limestone cliffs of the grotto. Later, I remember buying a season pass and visiting many times when no one was there. The tranquility of this little oasis was unrivaled. Today, however, you cannot access this wonderful area without reservations - a necessary evil as the cool waters and shade have become more widely known to the public. So this panorama of Hamilton Pool's emerald waters from the back of the cave may be one of my last at this location - and at least for the foreseeable future - as I have no desire to fight the crowds or photoshop folks out of the quiet beach. It's still a great place to visit, and if you haven't seen it, the extra hassle and money is worth it at least once. We had a good run!
Port Aransas Paradise
For many Texans, Port Aransas is a little slice of heaven. I had the opportunity to photograph the beaches there for a few days, spending each sunrise and sunset hoping for skies full of color. Early mornings paid off, and the gulls and herons cooperated as I was able to incorporate these feathered friends into a few images. Along with the birds, Caldwell Fishing Pier makes a nice foreground for these beach photographs, adding a little interest to the Port A landscape. While this beach becomes quite crowded during the summer days, if you walk along the sand at sunrise or sunset, you'll often have longs stretches all to yourself.
Palo Duro Canyon
I had the opportunity to spend a few days at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhanhandle in November of a recent year. The days were beautiful and the sunrises and sunset were amazing. Palo Duro is vast - the second largest canyon in North America. With plenty of trails to explore, it is a hike and bike paradise.
One of the most famous locations is the Lighthouse, a hoodoo that sits at the end of a 3 mile walk through beautiful red-rocked canyon area. Though the path is well traveled and I saw many folks on my way there, I did not see anyone the last mile nor the rest of the trip. I hiked there in the evening to enjoy and photograph sunset, then walked back under the light of a nearly-full moon. It was a beautiful ending to a wonderful day.
If you get the chance to visit, I'd highly recommend this area of Texas, though probably not in the heat of the summer months.
From the Sky - Aerial Views of Austin
I am a licensed drone operator. One of my favorite places to photograph when I fly is the downtown Austin area and Lady Bird Lake. My Austin Aerial Gallery offers several aerial views of the skyline and Colorado River. Evenings are best, in my opinion, as the city lights turn on and the buildings catch the last light of the sun.
The Beautiful Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is known for its beautiful architecture. Generally regarded as one of the most stunning capitols in the United States, it provides a wonderful place to stroll and enjoy the views on an early morning. The historic structure itself sits on 2.25 acres. It is surrounded by 22 acres of trees, grass, rose gardens, flower gardens and monuments. At sunrise and sunset, the sun's rays light up the pink granite building into wonderful shades on pink, red and orange. Whether you are a local or visitor, don't miss this little sanctuary in downtown Austin, Texas
Pennybacker Bridge (aka the 360 Bridge)
Pennybacker Bridge, known to Austin, Texas, locals as the 360 Bridge, opened in December of 1982. The steel used in construction was manufactured in Japan, then shipped by freighter to Houston, then onto its final destination. No part of the steel structure touches the Colorado River below. The final cost was around 10 million US Dollars. These days, the structure is an icon for Austinites. Boaters, fishermen, and folks who enjoy water activities use the water beneath the bridge. From the edge of the cliffs on the northeast side, you have great views of the bridge as well as the downtown Austin skyline.
Driftwood, Texas, may be best known for the Salt Lick, a famous barbecue joint on FM 150 . But this unincorporated community also has a winery, an old Texaco station, a post office, and at last count (according to the 2010 census) a population of 2,467. Originally known as Liberty Hill, the first settlers arrived in the 1850s. The town grew, then dwindled with the ebb and flow of trading and commerce, and eventually ended up where it is today - a sleepy town on the edge of the Texas Hill County, where life is pretty good.
The Boardwalk along Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake)
The Boardwalk along the trail at Lady Bird Lake connect two previous portions of the Zilker Park Hike and Bike Trail. The views along this area look across the water towards the downtown Austin skyline. On a very warm summer evening, this is the view you can enjoy all along this walkway.
Vernal Pools of Enchanted Rock
At the top of Enchanted Rock, you can see for miles and miles across the Texas Hill Country. Over time, atop that granite uplift, erosion has left depressions in the rock. When the rains come, those depressions fill with water and provide a rare and fragile ecological system for both plants and animals called vernal pools. I like to visit this location after rains because of the unique shapes of the pools. They seem to constantly change with the level of the water, and if the rains last long enough, hearty plants spring from these pools.
Texas Reds Part 2 - Field Creek
Field Creek is a small country creek that is near one of my favorite places to photograph bluebonnets. However, in the spring of 2015, the bluebonnets did not make much of an appearance in April. However, in early May, the firewheels and bitterweed (reds and golds) could be found in abundance. Driving along Highway 71 northwest of Llano, the roadsides were filled with colors, and these colors spread into the fields, creating beautiful palettes of Texas wildflowers.
Texas Reds Part 1 - Cherokee
North on Highway 16 just past Llano is a little town called Cherokee. I don't know much about this dot on the map, but I do know the dirt roads in this area offer secrets each spring - fields of beautiful Texas wildflowers. In May, the firewheels have the potential to fill a meadow with red. This image shows one little field at sunset along a dirt road.
No wind. No noise. No people around. Just the free-range cows mooing in the distance, the wildflowers, and me. Not a bad way to spend the evening.
Llano County and that Crazy Texas Weather
Wildflowers in spring along Highway 29...
I had just about decided not to make the drive up to Llano in search of fields of Texas wildflowers. The radar showed heavy thunderstorms headed towards Mason and Llano counties, and I was tired from a morning shooting around Fredericksburg. Still, something said to keep going, so apprehensively I started the trip. About 5 miles south of Llano on Highway 71, I was forced to pull over. The rains were coming so fast and hard I could not see anything in front of me. Several cars turned around. I check the weather on my ipad and hoped those huge cells that were purple and blue moving over Llano and this portion of the Texas Hill Country would pass. I made the decision to trek on, and about 10 miles west of Llano on Highway 29, my efforts were rewarded. A beautiful rainbow appeared. I took some time to enjoy this moment and capture these colors as best I could. Then the clouds appeared - those wonderful after-the-storm clouds that are rare and unique - mammatocumulus clouds. With a solitary oak in the distance, I found a field of wildflowers sprinkled with bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and coreopsis to finish off the night.
Bluebonnets in Art, Texas
On Highway 29 between Llano and Mason, Texas, in the northern part of the Texas Hill Country, a tiny dot on the map can often provide a unique photo opportunity. A little Methodist church in Art, Texas - in good spring bluebonnet years - will sometimes have a field in the front of the chapel filled with bluebonnets. In down years, it is still a nice hill country scene.
Castell, Texas, Bluebonnets
Castell, Texas, has a population of 104. It is barely a blip on the map, but in April it often transforms into a vibrant area for Hill Country bluebonnets and other wildflowers. On Texas Highway 152 from Hwy 87 to Castell and then Llano, the roadsides and hills are often filled with blues, pinks, golds, and whites. Castell sits along the Llano River, making it a good jumping off point for fly-fishing and canoeing.
Rocky Mountain National Park in Summer
To escape the Texas heat in the summertime, I venture up to Colorado annually during June and July and spend time photographing the wildflowers, landscapes, and wildlife in the Rocky Mountains. This summer, I was fortunate to spend about six weeks in the cooler temperatures of high altitude and never saw a day over 79 degrees. I admit it was hard to adjust, but I persevered :-) !
The wildlife was abundant even above tree line, as seen in this image of an elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Colorado wildflowers were also abundant at 12,000 feet, especially the golden sunflowers, commonly called "Old Man of the Mountain." See more wildflowers and landscapes in my lone Colorado image gallery.
I'm always amazed at how quickly time passes, especially six weeks in Colorado. But now it is back to Texas and time to seek out new and unique photographic opportunities.
Bluebonnets and the Milky Way at The Big Bend
Seventeen million years ago, an ocean covered what is now Big Bend National Park. This past week while I was at this incredibly remote Texas park, I think that is how many stars I could count. I was excited to try out the new Canon 11-24 L lens for nighttime photography on this trip. The wide angle lens did not disappoint. After taking about 30 minutes to set up my IOptron star tracker near a Mesa overlooking the Mule Ears rock formation, I spent from 4:30am-6:00am capturing long exposures of the Milky Way as it churned across the southeastern sky. Along with my fascination with the night sky, I also devoted time to finding wildflowers, especially the Big Bend version of the bluebonnet. From both sides of the Chisos Mountains colorful blooms were abundant in this unusually wet spring. On a personal note, I was pleased to reach the top of Emory Peak, including the short class 3 scramble at the top to reach the 7825 foot summit. Unfortunately, when on the peak visibility was limited to about 25 feet in all directions because of dense fog. The crazy thing was skies were clear when I hit the trail at 5:00am. I guess that is mountain weather for you - even in Texas.
The Alamo in San Antonio
I recently spent a few days exploring the San Antonio Riverwalk and the Alamo. Though I am a 4th generation Texan, I've never photographed the Alamo, so this was a new experience. For such a little structure, it has an amazing history, and I was excited to have this opportunity. I also learned more history about the Alamo. For all its battle history and significant role in Texas annals, did you know in 1876, some of its buildings were once sold and used as a wholesale grocery store?
One morning I arrived very early - maybe 45 minutes before sunrise - to capture the building in floodlights. When the lights are facing up, they cast shadows on the 2nd floor of the outside wall. The shadows appear as tombstones (or so say the guards I talked with). And they were right. So I had to ask... had he ever seen a ghost? The guard smiled, paused for a moment, and said his bosses preferred he not talk about such things... but yes, he'd experienced some unusual happenings in his time on the nightshift at this place where so many men died on March 6, 1836.