Friday, January 11, 2013

About twenty years ago I painted this, it was after a trip to Glacier National Park where I learned many obvious and several not so obvious points of traveling. I was very much into photography at the time, in fact it was a growing passion at the time and was just beginning to lose my eye for it, which I will explain in the midst of describing this trip and the lessons I learned about creativity, traveling and altitude sickness.

I had never dealt with altitude sickness before and I didn't diagnose the problem until many years later only that the subtle symptoms I experienced in Montana became more acute in Colorado and New Mexico when I started to learn to ski. The overwhelming feeling of acute altitude sickness is the mental confusion and lack of the ability to have the brain communicate to the extremities. For Montana, having not known about the altitude problem I did not prepare myself with Diamox is something I learned about as a precaution on the second time skiing. So all of my plans for Montana was to photograph every scene big and small with a large format camera, three 35mm cameras with multiple lenses, I was prepared for everything. If I remember correctly I had bought thirty plus rolls of film and had all the expectations to take my next masterpiece photograph-move over Ansel Adams-I was young, give me a break.

On the problem of losing my eye, or my focus-this came from a wonderfully horrible experience of selling a photograph for a large amount of money-one slide and I felt I had arrived. It was for a major wireless company and I used my vacation week at my than seasonal job to take pictures of a nondescript city over a lake or some body of water that would be nondescript to capture the effect and sell the product without distracting from the overall message. After getting great scenic and impressing them with my skills as a photographer, the final meeting and I took some great stuff for a scenic but unfortunately not for their ad. I was crushed-the last day, we are talking about going to Buffalo New York or somewhere else where a nondescript city sits on water-I failed, simple as that. I went home and thought about the process, I had an epiphany, I would go to a yet undisclosed place, photograph the sunrise on the hood of my car-the fill-in water-It worked, I sold the photograph. So what was the problem-after that everything I saw was where I could sell the image. I started seeing things as objects of sale instead of some intangible that I just thought made a good image. I lost my eye, once I used to photograph a fence on the side of the road, an open area of a field for no other reason but I was inspired-it's the difference between an artist seeing things and a business person questioning the creative image before it even appears.

I went to Montana with an eye for the sale and left one thing home; the creative simplicity of the artist that saw things from a creative eye and not a businessman looking to be paid. I carried all my film, cameras, tripod and lenses on the plane and through the field, I must have looked very foolish because in retrospect it must have been a clumsy fumbling appearance which brings me back to altitude sickness. I was in the middle of this incredible landscape and I dropped lenses, dropped tripods, had film falling into streams, lens caps down hills and polarizing lenses rolling off bridges into a creek. It was an embarrassing ordeal but I lived through it. The clumsiness and lack of clarity in my head is what I attributed to altitude sickness as in a more extreme case the confusion and clumsiness is almost debilitating-in this case I just looked like an idiot and lost equipment.

What also occurred to me during this trip is, if you want to have a photography trip-go alone or with people that understand photography and the changes in light during the day. If you see a beautiful image of a lake and the lighting is just right-the image will be gone by the time you get back, so the idea of "we'll get it when we come back down the mountain" just doesn't help the situation. I watched more amazing shots fly by the window than I was able to frame in the lens.

Glacier is an amazing place where the photo ops just leap out of every corner but that doesn't make a great photograph. Good landscape photographs are common, great landscape photos are pretty regular-God has already done the work for us. It's the amazing photographs-the ones that speak without a word, a shot that shows you something you don't and can't see without a photographer framing it and lighting it so the viewer will notice it in a different way. I realized it is almost easier to shoot great work from a place that wasn't beautiful, it made you work harder, you had to look for the image, you had to find something that no one else noticed. In Montana my eye was just not where it needed to be and mixed with the aggravation of altitude sickness, I came up with good and even descent photographs but none that no one else couldn't have captured with a descent camera. I was disappointed with the outcome but the lessons I learned I feel have really helped me get a better eye for art and photography as well as learning there are different kinds of trips and they shouldn't be forced and combined-nothing good comes from that process.

Another thing I learned being in Montana and watching the waterfalls and pristine areas-I love water, waterfalls and the clarity and crystal clear feeling of water is something I have sought after ever since. Sometimes failure is the best way to learn-so get out there and explore, fall down, drop stuff but have fun and learn things-until the next time. I will talk about how I really came to love water and waterfalls and the side project that became from my obsession with waterfalls.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

San Francisco, caves, friends and the Pacific

I Planned this trip for months, I was finally going to take Matthew on his second flight in his life, the first one was to Colorado but it was so long ago he doesn't remember it. The hardest part of a trip like this is the breaking away from your life. Work was intense at the time, life was hectic and suddenly it's spring break 2012. I had so many ideas and the worst  thing you can do on a trip like this is plan too much in too little time, the more I make these activity filled trips the more I learn to leave a bit of flexibility in the plan.

Everything works out in the end, not necessarily the way you plan but that's where the flexibility comes in and that's when you need to be able to force yourself to calm down and get off the ledge. It's supposed to be a vacation, this is why you go away to get rid of stress, so why was I so stressed. The stress quickly dissipated and we were on the plane and on our way to California-I saw the excitement of my son and felt as if it were my first time on a plane, it had been a while. We flew Virgin Airline which I would highly recommend, their service, the new airplanes, the great attendants and the descent price, I can't say enough positive things about them and I have travelled again with them after this trip.

We arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the afternoon and by the time we got to the rental car and our hotel it was the evening and we were both exhausted. We ate at IN-N-OUT Burger-my sons' choice-I couldn't help thinking we finally have them in Texas and we need to go to California and get IN-N-OUT-it was good as always and a great way to start our California odyssey.

The next day was sunny and beautiful, a typical California day, blue skies and we were so excited to see the redwoods for the first time. We started in Redwood City-one minute your on the highway and the next minute your driving around mountainous areas in the middle of the redwood forest-one of them anyway. We went to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park-California's oldest national park. We were going to take a three mile hike to see a waterfall-it was an amazing walk, just the two of us and through the whole hike we talked about bears, cougars and anything else that might pose a threat to a hiker. The trees were tall and dwarfed us both, there is a wonderful feeling of being so insignificant, the smell of the air, the cool breeze, my son and I in a great mood-I couldn't ask for anything better. We got off the trail once and got a bit turned around but we made it to the falls and were able to relax before heading back. It felt great to be in the woods, like coming home-no I wasn't raised by wolves-I just love being deep in the forest-it's the ultimate escape from stress for me.

I've always heard about the redwoods but to actually be standing beneath them and to realize how long each tree has lived gives you bit of perspective of where man fits on the geological scale-a small pixel on an enormous screen. I could have stayed there for the whole vacation but we had many miles to go and a short bit of time to achieve that goal so we were on our way to San Francisco. We made it just after morning rush hour but before the afternoon rush so the ride was very calm and without stress, I was impressed with the way drivers didn't hang on your bumper, in fact I even had someone pay it forward on a toll, it was a bit different from the rush hour in downtown Dallas.

Our first place to visit in San Francisco was Aquarium of the Bay-a medium sized aquarium with many very interesting displays. I loved the window walk where you walk through a glass walkway filled with sharks and large jacks. We both were tempted to go get our fishing rods but they frown on that sort of thing in an aquarium. I liked the fact that there were different areas along the aquarium that described the local bay sea life with an emphasis on conservation.  There are also interactive areas where you can touch the sea creatures and learn about the pacific coastal marine life. Some highlights were the moon jellies, which are lit with an orange light, the seven gill shark which I hadn't seen before in an aquarium and the giant octopus which we were able to watch as it was very active. After a long day at the redwoods and a wonderful evening checking out the aquarium, we were both starving and seafood
seemed the obvious choice.

We ate at the Fog City Fish House on Pier 39-it was amazing, the view from the window was the bay and the sea lions-we watched the tourists and watched the sun go down. I had Anchor steam ale- a local beer which was excellent, my son had a bread bowl full of clam chowder. The menu was great, the soup was wonderful and it was a great end to a beautiful day. After we ate, we went down to the harbor and watched and listened to the sea lions.

The next day we explored San Francisco- we started out with donuts- yes donuts-again my son's idea-we are in San Francisco and we ate donuts, we argued a bit but made the best of it. We walked around the city near the harbor, checked out fisherman's wharf and I got a chance to pay into the California government fund-live and learn, if you park on the street between the lines, make sure you fit perfectly because if you don't you will pay a fine. On to the San Francisco zoo, with a bit of aggravation but I got over it-who can be mad at the zoo? We enjoyed checking out the polar bears and learning from the keepers about their distinct personalities. We also got to watch a
grizzly bear very close-I think it was a highlight. We also enjoyed the komodo dragon, the scenery was wonderful and I think the animals were very well cared for.

We drove up the coast and found a beach to walk and it was great taking off our shoes and running in the sand, the water was cold and the mountains surrounded the ice blue water. There was a fisherman catching sea perch, locals with their surf boards and just us and the ocean. You don't realize how much you miss the sound, the feeling of the water rushing and the smell of the salt water until you haven't been there for a while, I've been to the Florida coast and that is beautiful in it's own way but this was the Pacific, the mountains on the edge of the horizon, the mist and the sound of seagulls-it was an excellent walk even if for only a few minutes. I was glad to be at the ocean, it's funny how universal that feeling of being enthralled by the ocean is, especially at night when the moon shines on the water-but I digress and we were hungry again.

A bit of a ride along the coast and we discovered a place that both of us have pictures of on our cell phones, it was that memorable. The place is called Louis'-I just can't say enough about this place. We have had hamburgers and steak burgers before but none that ever tasted like the one we got there-it's huge and it tastes like every barbecue enthusiasts' dream. It is served with fries and even if you aren't hungry-which would be a shame- the view from the window is amazing-like I said it is on both of our phones. If you go to just one place I describe on this blog-this is one of them. Just a wonderful place all around, they don't take credit so bring cash. After we ate we worked off our meals climbing on the cliffs next to the ocean, scenery, incredible food and anchor steam beer-I had arrived. After exploring the cliffs for a while and enjoying the beach we were off to the golden gate bridge-we couldn't go there without walking the bridge right? Look Louis up on Yelp-they have many nice pix of the place and even a picture of the burger I was talking about.

We walked in the park near the bridge and got to the area where you walk just in time for sunset. If you get a chance to walk the bridge, make sure you watch your back as the bicycle riders tend to come out of nowhere and they seem to have the right-of-way, which means if you and bike collide-they will always win-just physics. We got to watch the bay as the colors changed and the cold breeze off the water got colder as the sun went down. We even got to enjoy the wonderful smell of pot on the way back from the other side, I didn't like the fact that he pointed it out but we happened to walk behind a couple that were enjoying a bit of a toke for the evening, by the time we got back to the car, we were really hungry again and for some reason felt like Doritos.

We got to watch the bay as the lights came on and got to get a preview of Alcatraz from afar. We watched the bay fisherman and listened to the seagulls, each of us watching for a great white shark that we imagined cruising through the water. By the time we got back, we were very cold and extremely energized, it was time to go back to the city and get a taste of the night air and what else? Seafood of course, which brings me to the next great highlight of the trip, another memorable restaurant-The Franciscan Crab.

Learning my lesson earlier in the day, I parked in the paid parking area, it was more affordable than the ticket. One thing about California in general, they have perfected the way to pay for parking without needing an attendant. I felt good to know it was paid for and there wouldn't be another ticket that evening.

Back to the Franciscan Crab-we were a bit warn out from a very busy day and were quite a bit under dressed but they seated us where no one could see our disheveled selves. It was quite a fancy place with a cost to boot but I was determined to enjoy the best of San Francisco and now was not the time to skimp. We ordered the dungeness crab-too two crab and the garlic clams-it was quite a feast. The crab is roasted with a Parmesan like crust, the flavor is amazing and the meal was perfect for both of us. I can't say enough great things about this place, wonderful meal, wonderful service and did I mention a great menu.

The next day we were on our way to the caves and to visit a very good friend of mine. I was eager to see a new landscape, although it was hard to leave the Pacific. The drive to the caves was through wine country, it was beautiful and it was nice to see the California countryside, an area I had not previously visited. The first cavern was Black Chasm, a cavern that boasts rare helictite crystals. The rooms were large and dramatic and there were several features we hadn't previously seen in other caverns.

The next cavern we visited was the Moaning caverns, this cavern had a spiral staircase straight down, one hundred sixty five feet straight down and the wonderful thing about this is you couldn't fathom the depth. This is a perfect example of what I have described in painting, if there are not visual cues to explain to the brain a distance, distance becomes indiscernible. At the bottom of the cavern you feel like you are looking up fifty or so feet but instead they can fit the entire statue of liberty in the cavern, It is a bit unnerving as the eyes and brain tend to have a problem discerning the distance because there is no visual cues for perspective. That was a highlight of this cave, also the fact that you go straight down into the cavern was a very cool experience.

We spent the next couple of days with my good friends that live near Fresno, it was a wonderful break from the road where we picked up right where we left off-I know cliche but it seems great friendship just seems to be a small constant in our busy lives. We enjoyed talking about the past, the present and the future and we laughed like we were young again, well at least younger. The next day we went to a very cool place that I would never have known about if it weren't for them- Forestiere Underground Gardens. It is an amazing and inspiring story about a Sicilian immigrant who sought his fortune in America-he built an amazing underground garden complete with living areas, grottoes, patios and garden courts-created by this self taught artist and builder, the story was both interesting and especially in this day and age of what the media would like to call hopelessness- an immigrant sought out and forged his own dreams-that's how I see America and always will-but I digress.

The next day we were off to Yosemite and a real adventure began. We got to the valley and were amazed at all the waterfalls that seemed to appear out of the iconic peaks as we passed through. As you drive through the park you drive parallel to a perfectly pristine river with clear blue water. We would stop and take pictures as we went along the way. It is almost an overload to the senses as the beauty of nature is everywhere. We parked the car near the visitor center and walked, and walked and walked and never once felt tired or fatigued. We were amazed by a large herd of mule deer that seemed indifferent to our presence. It doesn't get much better than sitting on a baseball field watching deer play in the field in front of you. We attempted to walk one of the long hikes that took you up to the top of the falls but it was a six hour hike I think and it was too late in the day to start-we will go back and try again. We did get to climb around the lower falls and took a decent hike through the area around the lower falls.

The next part of the trip never happened-we were supposed to go to the Inyo National Forest- here's the problem and why better research is necessary-you can't get there from here, well not the way you expected, we drove around in circles for a while, almost two cooperative deer and saw a bit too much snow without having chains on the tires and we finally decided to stop and regroup. I talk about this in a previous blog post more in detail but we both learned many lessons that day and I was able to practice what I always preach-don't panic and always be flexible enough to change your plans. The pass was closed and to get to our next destination we would have had to go back up to Reno Nevada and down the other side of the mountain range-about six or seven hours-we were already tired. Every time we ended up on the snow covered roads, I had visions of a ranger having gone home and just remembering they forgot to close off the road I was on, to be safe we stayed in Groveland.

We had wonderful pizza in town at a small diner and stayed at the Groveland Hotel. They had the very best beds of any hotel we have been to-giant feather beds that look uncomfortable at first site and when you lay down you get lost in a ridiculously comfortable bed under a giant warm comforter, I don't think I have gotten a better sleep since. The hotel is rich with history from the gold rush days and the whole place was very atmospheric. The breakfast was really good too and great coffee-just what we needed to start another long day on the road.

The next day we were on to lake Isabelle, the landscape was different, the beautiful pines of Yosemite gave way to a rockier and more rugged landscape of peaks that surrounded Lake Isabelle. We got to explore the lake on our own, there wasn't any other visitors walking around and climbing the rocky hills around the lake. We got to hike and attempted to rent some poles for fishing but couldn't seem to find rentals-it is a beautiful blue lake and you really feel like your on your own-a feeling I love. We both enjoyed the hike and climbing the rocky hills around the lake, it was very cold and windy but it didn't dampen either of our spirits. We stayed at Paradise Cove Lodge and it was a nice comfortable place to stay-very nice people.

Our next destination; Bakersfield-again, interesting place, not a place I would visit regularly but definitely glad we passed through. A memorable highlight we found was an oasis-24th street cafe-it was really great. I had Cajun eggs- pan fried poached eggs with Cajun sauce and crawfish-I think it was a special as I could not find it on the menu but it was really good. My son got pancakes-it was a great lunch and we were on to Los Angeles. We stopped at the LA Zoo and I think the highlight was the chimps as they were feeding them and the gorilla enclosure was an interesting display. It was definitely worth visiting
and the atmosphere was very open and the environments natural.

We went through the small towns around LA looking for the Hollywood sign-I know, kind of touristy but it was his call to find the sign and we were determined to find it. The first place we stopped was a small city park, we drove to the top of a hill, walked around an area and were directed to another place. I was impressed with how active the locals seemed-you can tell they were locals and not tourists, tourists look around and seem like their lost, locals are plugged into their cells or tablets and walk quickly as if they have a purpose-very much a sweeping statement but I would bet I was accurate.

Next we went to a hill up the road that overlooked the observatory and we finally got a glimpse of the sign we had searched for. It was a great walk but both of us didn't like the smog that seemed more evident than before. For the next few hours we drove down toward the coast. Both of us were very eager to see the ocean again. Our next stop was the San Diego area. This was the longest bit of driving we had taken on the trip but it would be worth it. My son became the navigator and found the first place in Oceanside-Monterrey Bay Canners- The atmosphere was great, food excellent and it was so nice to be back by the ocean again. That night we walked around seaport village and stayed in Oceanside.

The San Diego Zoo was the largest and most impressive zoo as far as size and variety of species. The polar bear swims in the water just the thickness of glass away from you. There was a very large komodo dragon, a great reptile house and so many highlights it is hard to narrow them down. We had to wait for the panda to make its appearance and that was well worth it-they are kind of celebrities and walked around as if they knew it. We also got up close and personal with a peacock who also escorted us out. We left exhausted but felt like we definitely got our money's worth.

After the zoo we went to the nearest beach and we enjoyed just hanging out near the waves. It is amazing how relaxing the ocean is, it was cold and overcast but it didn't interfere with our excitement. We probably picked one of the few days where San Diego isn't warm with a perfect blue sky-we had been lucky as there had been rain up and down the coast and we had been ahead of it each day, when we were in San Francisco it was raining down south and vice versa, unfortunately it caught up with us that day.

The rest of the evening was heading to San Francisco, Matthew had made a reservation at a hotel up near Monterrey so that evening we would have to get up to Monterrey which was another six hours. We ended up meeting with close friends for dinner in Ventura. The kids got re-acquainted and the adults caught up on old times over drinks and seafood. Unfortunately it was late and I still had a six hour drive ahead of me. I really wanted to show him Highway 1 but it wasn't going to happen that day as it was overcast all day. It was a long ride and exhausting at that and I was happy when we finally got to Monterrey. Over this whole trip he navigated using his IPhone-I must say it paid for itself on this trip and Matthew successfully navigated us away from the cliffs of highway 1 and made the trip a bit less treacherous driving late at night with fog and rain.

We got in late to Monterrey and slept in the next morning.
The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast at the Monterrey Bay Lodge- I had an omelet that reminded me of the ones my dad would make when I was really young. There's a strong flavor, maybe organic eggs or really fresh eggs, whatever the reason they were delicious and the memories that rekindled was worth the cost of the meal. We were planning on walking around Monterrey and going to the aquarium that day. It was very cold and rainy and we had to run for a long distance under each awning on the street to avoid getting completely soaked and having the wind at our face, it was a long walk to the aquarium but a memorable one. I feel like it all depends on how we deal with things-it could have been a terrible windy rainy day that put a damper on our trip to Monterrey or we could laugh about the experience and share another memorable day-we always try to chose the latter.

The Monterrey Bay Aquarium was well worth the run or even the cold swim. It seemed like it just kept getting better, when you walk in there is a giant aquarium with large fish and kelp bed, you are looking up from the bottom of the kelp beds. There are places where you can see the native bird life, touch the native crustaceans and watch as a wave crashes right in your face-it's behind a clear plastic window but after dealing with a polar bear at the zoo, a wave seemed quite harmless. We walked through all the different areas and just when we thought we were finished we found
another room to explore. One of the strongest and last impressions was a giant room where yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi and hammerhead sharks, all amazing, all huge roamed as if we were out in the middle of the ocean, It was hard to

By the time we got out of the aquarium the weather improved and the wind died down, we got to walk around Monterrey a bit, buy some souvenirs and eat at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company- I got a great beer, we enjoyed some amazing seafood and the atmosphere was great. It was an outdoor lounge and luckily the weather was more appropriate for outdoor seating.

We stayed in San Francisco again that night, a better hotel than previous, right in the middle of the activity. We were able to walk down to the cable cars and ride them around the city. We walked to the pier 39 and ate at another restaurant, The Crab House, we ate amazing dungeness crab, got a magnificent view of the harbor and just had a wonderful evening. We got to enjoy riding around town without the car to cost me any money or headache. That night was a wonderful time in the city and the next night we would be going to Alcatraz.

The day before we left for Dallas we ended up meeting with yet another really good friend, she's an artist in the Oakland area-we got to visit her studio, drink stout at a great little pub and have great conversation. On the way back to San Francisco she directed us to the Oakland Zoo. A small zoo but very cool, the highlight was a monorail that allowed us to see the whole zoo. It was a great place to spend a few hours before going to Alcatraz.

We walked through San Francisco one more time on the way to Alcatraz and found another childhood memory; fried glazed donuts. These are small donuts that they fry in oil and lightly powder with sugar-I used to make them with my family when I was very young, Matthew was impressed, They were great, I only wish we would have gotten a few more when I had the chance. Finally it was evening and we were on our way to Alcatraz, this was a ghost tour for us, we were looking for ghosts-it was a night tour. I must admit we taunted any entity we could find which we didn't find any and they assured us there were no real ghosts but we both chose to believe it was haunted-no experiences but we are still believers, because we enjoyed the eerie feeling. We even were locked in to one of the cells for a minute-which was creepy but no ghosts, how disappointing. The tour was really informative and we very much enjoyed the whole thing including the boat ride across the bay.

The next trip we are planning will be a kayak trip across Oklahoma, seven or eight lakes in a week-lots of kayaking, fishing, exploring and a zoo or two if I can squeeze them in or talk him into it. The next trips will be more detailed as per the food places, the specific hotels-good or bad, because the writing will be done on the trip instead of after the trip. I hope these stories are not too long and if there is any specific interest in traveling or questions about the road tripping please feel free to comment. I hope the photography will improve greatly as well with a new camera. Until than, get out an explore, eat, drink, and experience it all-life is too short after all.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys (so many things to do, so little time)

One place that I have been wanting to go for as long as I can remember is the Florida Keys. It's an extremely long drive but so worth it in so many ways, it really is a sportsman's paradise. This trip would be everything and more and set the bar for future road trips. Fourteen days in a paradise for fishing, photography, snorkeling-everything my family enjoys.

The first day we drove to Pensacola Florida-very uneventful and yet all of us were excited about getting to the keys-especially my twelve year old son. We had been planning our fishing trips, snorkeling places and getting excited about the amazing seafood. We stayed the night in Pensacola and moved on to Sunrise Florida the next day. We could see alligators as we got into the area near Sunrise, there are canals around the area and alligators can be seen on the banks and in the water. We visited Naples Florida which was an upscale area on a canal where yacht clubs were abundant and we could watch jacks and tarpon as they patrolled the many docks that surrounded the area. We had an amazing dinner and had drinks in a small restaurant that sat on a harbor. The smell of the sea air and the incredibly fresh seafood was everything we had looked forward to.

We drove many miles along alligator alley which is an area that is the beginning of the everglades and there are many alligators as it is named for. We also found out later from a fishing guide that there are juvenile tarpon running through the channels as well-just have to talk the alligators into sharing their banks with you I guess-we never actually got to fish there but will definitely get back in the future.

The next day we went close to Miami for a chance at fishing for Peacock bass, a fish you usually go for in South America. These bass are ferocious and an amazing fight and they are beautifully marked, closer to a tropical cichlid than a bass actually. The peacock bass has been introduced in freshwater Florida waterways to feed on the non-native Midas cichlids, Oscar and Tilapia. The speckled variety did not flourish but the butterfly variety did well, they are a tropical fish and can not tolerate colder temperatures of water. The reputation of them being great fighters was not an exaggeration as they attack the bait ferociously and even the smaller ones put up a great fight. My son, as always out fished me but I did pretty respectful on getting several decent size peacocks and a Midas cichlid as well. It was a great day-much of the fishing was sight fishing and the scenery was very beautiful. The canals go through residential areas, city parks and the landscaping was amazing with many species of crimson hibiscus and a tree that was huge with large red flowers in abundance.

That evening we had clams and crab from a local restaurant and the next day we would be heading to the Keys which was another day of traveling south, we were also excited about seeing the everglades which we would be driving through the next day. One thing that really struck me about Florida during that time of the year-June is the rainy season which means everyday in the middle of the afternoon a great dramatic storm would come through for just a short period of time but during the storm the dramatic lightning and the clouds converging on the horizon was both dramatic and thrilling with a backdrop of the palmetto trees and the edge of the glades. We all kept our eyes alert for Florida panthers and the many gators we could see-no luck on the panthers though.

Just as soon as we got to the keys, I was happy to be there, my son got sick of songs like Key Largo and margueritaville in a goofy way we are famous for, okay famous in our own circle-the album comes out next year, but I digress. On the way through the first key and out of the everglades we were watching for American crocodiles and again-no luck. It's like driving through a zoo but we tend to get skunked each time-much like my fishing recently but I am still hopeful.

We stayed at a house that overlooked a bay area-the view from the balcony was breathtaking and I had the impression of what the pirates must have felt like moving through the areas back in the day, it was so remote and pristine. We fished for Barracuda and searched for bone fish, no luck on the bone fish but we did get some barracuda and a mangrove snapper. We walked out into the area that surrounded the mangrove thicket-there we hit into some barracuda as well. I am happy to say we all kept our fingers-barracuda have lots of sharp teeth.

The pace in the keys is slow and peaceful, just the kind of place I was looking for and it lived up to my expectations. The seafood restaurants, the Jamaican rum and the scenery that surrounded every place you went made it a very memorable trip. We were determined to find a guide that would fish the flats-the real flats that supposed to surround the area but we never actually found the Permit or bone fish we were expecting-wrong time of the year-always too late or early. There was a recent die off of Snook and the Permit were not plentiful at the time so we decided to go for Tarpon.

At the restaurants that are close to the water you can see the tarpon coming in, they feed them off the balconies and I've seen people actually reach in and feed them by hand. It is amazing to see such a huge fish so close, especially when it is sort of the holy grail among fishermen.

We visited Annes Beach, a place where you can snorkel, we didn't see many fish but the walk out to the area where you snorkel was beautiful and the water was clear and very comfortable. We chased the fish close to shore and continued to explore for a while and the kids got to swim. We spent the day at the beach and enjoyed some great seafood along the way.

The next day we went to the Dolphin Research Center where my niece got to pet the dolphins. We got to photograph the iguanas and meet the many dolphins they have while learning about the area and how they came about, the trainers and attendants were very friendly and knowledgeable. We spent the early afternoon with the dolphins, ate at a wonderful pub nearby and looked for places to snorkel.

We found a place called Bahia Honda, after swimming around the grass beds and finding sparse amounts of fish we decided to go to the edge of the park where it opens to deep water and a rocky wall falls into a steep drop off into deep water. There we found barracuda, multiple kinds of jacks and various bait fish and a very large snook that came through. It was a great snorkeling area and every time we swam through the area there were new species to explore. A barracuda eyed us as we swam closer to the deeper water.

Looking out across the edge of the sandy bottom, there was an amazing coral blue that got deeper as you looked farther where the bright blue turned into a deep turquoise-it reminded me of the beauty and intensity of scuba diving at night-if you look up you could see the moon shining through the water and the color of the water was an intense deep Prussian blue but the darkness was transparent and silhouettes of fish passing through the intense color. To bring me back to reality-I realized I had forgotten to prepare for snorkeling and was still carrying something you shouldn't swim with....

Unfortunately I found my cellphone was not waterproof-who would have thought?-The excitement of snorkeling kind of got the better of me and before I realized it, I had been swimming with my phone for the entire time. No drying on a heater would save any part of the phone-with the saltwater it became a decorative paper weight. After snorkeling for a while we fished at several areas around the park and got to see a large sea turtle across the water that looked like a large crocodile from our vantage point. Still no luck in finding the illusive American Crocodile, but we were still hopeful.

The next day was really a highlight of the trip-we went to John Pennekamp State Park and went on a snorkeling trip. They drive you out into the ocean, maybe five miles or so and you jump out of the boat and you are in a reserve. There was a shark sighted, unfortunately we didn't see it but we saw large jacks, angelfish, spiny lobster and so many other fish I lost count. The reef is a large area of corals and sea fans surrounded by areas of sandy bottom which we were instructed that we could not touch as it was a protected preserve. The fish were large and the coral and outcrops of sea fans were amazing. I could have stayed all day, we ended up there for an hour or so, just in time for the afternoon storm to roll in. The rain was cold and the wind picked up and it was one of the more memorable and dramatic moments of the trip as my son still remembers the storm we drove back to the dock through.

That evening we got to finally fish for the holy grail of fishing-the tarpon, my son got on to a nurse shark and than he got the first tarpon. I think he was amazed with the strength of this fish, I have never seen such an intense battle and was so proud that he was able to handle him and successfully landed his. Soon after, another shark for him and I was on to mine, it was over one hundred pounds, a bit larger than his and by the time it was over, I was content-I've never fought such raw power on the other end of the line and was extremely happy that they don't even take them out of the water, they let them go with as little stress as possible. I have a new respect for tarpon and everything else will seem to pale in comparison, I was glad we both were able to land one. That night we ate at Bass Pro and talked about the days' fishing.

The next day I went back to John Penekamp for a forgotten souvenir and on the way back to the house I stopped by the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. It was a great experience to do alone, surrounded by egrets and herons as I walked along the dock. I was about due for some time alone and it fit the bill perfectly. You walk through this area of birds in various cages, all rescued in some way or another and you are surrounded by egrets and pelicans all curious about your presence. I have never gotten so close to the wild bird species.

After returning home, we decided to go kayaking, we rented kayaks down the street and took them out, again I was skunked but my son and nephew caught several barracuda and mangrove snapper. I got caught out in open water as a storm came in-I could see the rain coming and there was no escape-wish I would have had a video of me turning around and trying to escape from the pouring rain that was quickly inundating me and the kayak. Again, it's things like this you remember-the rain was cold, sudden, loud and did I mention cold? It was a great end to a fishing trip but I really missed my own kayak which we had just started to learn to use at the time.

That evening we went to Key West and ate at the Conch Republic Seafood Company. One of the most incredible places we ate, you are on a harbor area looking out over the water. All of the food was good but one thing stood out-a melt in your mouth fillet Mignon that was as flavorful as it was tender. You are surrounded by shops and local color, you could watch the tarpon along the docks and just take in a bit of the Florida Keys at its best. Across the street was a key lime pie baker where you can get all kinds of novelties and ice cream, we had dessert while sitting around a small pond where cichlids and gold fish were beautiful to watch. I could have walked through that town for the rest of the evening, the energy was wonderful. After eating, we visited Mark Twains' house and explored tourist attractions around the area including the farthest point south which we all took a photograph by.

On the way home, it was sad to leave the Keys but we were excited about exploring the Everglades a bit more-we went to several places looking for American Crocodiles and on one exploration we all walked along a small pond until we were attacked by a swarm-I mean a serious swarm of hungry mosquitoes. They chased us into the car and we found ourselves smashing one after another-We decided to explore the glades from our car with a closed window-still not crocs-they say they are illusive and we'd have to agree. There is also a visitor center that we checked out quickly and we were back on the road to Navarre Beach.

We ended up staying the night in Pensacola and  got to walk the streets at night. We ate pizza at New York Pizza Depot- for lunch which was great as usual with a bit of local dark beer it was a nice end to our vacation-enjoying pizza and beer in a familiar place where we had vacationed many times. Later in the evening we ate a Flounders, another great place we had visited-try the diesel fuel-it really did the trick. We all got to walk the beach and enjoy the peaceful pace of Pensacola before we had to get back to our hectic lives. We also were able to fish the Navarre Beach Pier, we got to fight some reds and I had a king mackerel to hit my bait. It was a wonderful end of the trip for all of us.

The next trip my son and I would plan in California-along the same lines-caves, zoos, seafood, and anything else we could discover. Stay tuned and get out and explore-the road is waiting..... or the ocean, or the mountains, well you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

March 2011 Spring Break

For this spring break we wanted to explore Arkansas, I have always wanted to go to Mountain Home and fish on the white river, I had also been to Petit Jean several years previously and was interested in visiting again. My son, Matthew is getting more savy with his navigation skills so he pretty much mapped out the trip as we went along.

We stopped and did a bit of fishing at Degray Lake but didn't catch anything-it was a cold gray day but we were both in the mood for a long drive. We would go out across the state and drive straight up to Petit Jean which would be the first place we would stay over night.

Our first destination was Crater of Diamond State Park, although we weren't quite prepared to get filthy and didn't have the tools it was still fun. We rented some shovels and tools and took our place along the dried up river area. We found lots of rocks and interesting things and visited the gift shop but no diamonds-not even my son who is so lucky at finding things-we will definitely returned more prepared next time.

We drove from Crater of Diamonds to Petit Jean State park. When we arrived it had just started to storm and it was beautiful backdrop to a wonderful night sleep. The thunder echoed across the cavern in front of the cabin-I was excited to see the surroundings and by morning I was not disappointed. You look out the back door of the cabin and there is a deep cavern surrounded by moss and lichen covered rocks, the other side of the canyon was almost completely obscured by early morning fog which heightened the atmoshpere. That first step off the back yard is a ridiculous drop off-very scenic and very cold that March morning. There are cedar and pine trees all around you and the fauna is quite different than much of the Texas parks, I was enthused about going to see the falls which is a moderately short walk down the canyon to end up directly beneath the falls.

The way down was wonderful and the excitement of both of us made the trek pretty effortless. Going up was another matter as I felt my age. I kept up with my son and very quickly climbed what felt like straight up the wall and the views were amazing-just needed a bit more oxygen. Let's just say we did it too quickly and I'm not twelve anymore. The falls were well worth the hike, the water beneath the falls is very cold and clear, there are large rocks that we climbed and he got closer and into areas that seemed a bit dangerous but we made it back in one piece. I have done a painting of the falls and it will be out on the website in the next month or so. There is a lot of history about the park and we hiked a lot around the falls and through trails in the park. It is a beautiful place to visit.

Our next place to stay was Rocky Hollow Lodge near Bull Shoals Lake. My first intention was to get a boat for the day but it was really windy and cold and that idea quickly faded. We did fish near the lodge and around the area with no luck but I was determined to get him on some trout. That night we ate dinner at Gastons-even if the food was not as amazing as it was the scenery would make it worth the visit. You sit at the window and look out over the White River while raccoons walk along the deck outside the window, it really gives you that wilderness feel but your in an upscale very elegant restraunt. The food was amazing as well and lots of fishing enthusiasts to share great conversation with. It was worth the price tag of dinner and a very memorable experience.

The next day I booked a fishing guide for trout on the white river. My son caught the largest and the most and he had to ease up on his bass technique he was used to. He ended up with a large brown-I can't remember the guide service or I would include it now because they were great people to go out with. This is the problem with writing about a trip after the fact-as I get more trips uploaded they will get a bit better in details and specifics.

All around the area are many areas to fish for trout and we did well with small trout from some of the bridges in the area. My son is still quite partial to bass but I think he enjoyed the trout as a change of pace. The scenery of the Norfolk and White rivers is so worth the drive and we will definitely go back.

The first Cavern we got to see is the Blanchard Springs Cavern, there are two distinct rooms-an upper and lower chamber, each have their own kind of formations including massive flowstones, delicate soda straws and stalagmites and stalagtites. We also enjoyed seeing the cave salamanders and crickets. Its a very large area-one room, the Cathedral Room is the as long as three football fields. The guides were very informative and answered all the questions we had.

The last day of our trip would be our caving tour, we ended up staying close to Branson Missouri in a small town that was perfect for us to just relax and do nothing for a night. It's hard sometimes to feel like there is no activity plan but on these trips that's often the only time you get to rest and recoup from the climbing, hiking and fishing.

The next day we got up early and travelled to several caverns in the area, Mystic Caverns and Cosmic Caverns- I loved the guide for the mystic cavern, she had a great sense of humor and was quite knowlegable, the amazing thing about the cave was the overwhelming flowstones-they dwarfed all of us and the flow of the path down into the cave was very steep and dramatic. The highlight of Cosmic Cavern was the bottomless cave lakes with blind trout-the green color you can see of the lakes are just amazing. There is also a record soda straw that measures nine foot long. It was the last cave of the day and we both enjoyed the tour although both of us were about worn out.

The rest of the trip was driving through the mountains of Arkansas-a long drive home but an incredible trip with my son. The next trip we planned is a trip to the Florida Keys-this trip is a family affair where my whole family goes for fourteen days. Stay tuned for more pix and more daytripping.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

August 2010-Late Summer Trip

It was the end of the summer and I wanted my son to get to the coast for fishing so I decided to plan another one of our circle trips centered around fishing on the coast. It was a great expansion from our previous shorter trip to the Hill Country. Half of the fun-okay maybe not half but a good portion of the enjoyment I have is searching the web for places to go and explore. I use Google Maps a lot, I plug in caverns or zoos and it gives me a bunch of plugs where the destinations are in close proximity to where I plan on traveling.

Our first destination was the Cameron Park Zoo, a zoo I can't believe I hadn't visited yet as I went to school in Waco Texas, in that time I enjoyed Lake Waco, the mall but never the Cameron Zoo. The first thing that struck me about the zoo was the fact that this city park zoo seemed like you had departed from Waco, it is situated on the Brazos River which gives a relatively small zoo a large feel. There are river settings filled with fish and turtles, deep lush vegetation that makes you feel you have left waco for some jungle destination. We spent more time looking at the fish and the water areas than any one animal-okay maybe the komodo dragon also got much of our attention but it was the lush scenery that really struck me about this zoo. I also liked the way the zoo broke areas out- the South American exhibit, the Asian forest-it seemed more intimate as well and we saw many animals do things we normally didn't see in other zoos. An elephant, very close to the fence washed itself in the water and even shared a bit with us onlookers. It seems every zoo we go to there are different experiences or things you remember. This zoo made you feel like you were up close and personal with many of the animals without feeling like you needed to run.

The next place we went to was San Antonio-we stayed in a really nice hotel that seemed like it typified the spanish feel of the San Antonio area. It was the Riverwalk Inn and it did not disappoint. On going into the hotel my son found a brochure for ghost hunting the Alamo and this is how the wild card destination came to be-I said why not and soon was calling the local ghost tour company. We had hours before sunset which is when the tour began so we went on the riverwalk. There is a freedom to not having a car and just walking to where ever you need to go and that's what we did. We walked along the river looking for a place to eat. The atmosphere of the riverwalk is so exciting and there is such a social feel to it all. After eating at a steak house right on the river we walked along the street and stumbled upon Ripleys' Believe it or Not, it was a bit pricey but well worth it and one of our highlights of the trip.

Just about sunset we met our tour group. We were able to walk the streets of San Antonio and learned about the local history and took readings along the way with various meters we took with us. We didn't see any ghosts but got many interesting tidbits of information and visited the Alamo which was very interesting.

The next day we visited the  San Antonio Zoo, we both had been there before without the other but this time we were able to share it together and that made all the difference. It was a nice sized zoo with all your favorites-lions and tigers and bears-oh my-Dorothy never showed up-but I digress. The butterfly exhibit was amazing-giant butterflies with owl eyes on their wings and flash of amazing cerulean that no artist would attempt to imitate. My son really enjoyed taunting the monkeys-I frowned on the process but he insisted on looking them in the eye. There was a flamingo area that was amazing-the scenery and the way they lay out the scene-you don't feel like you are in Texas for sure. We both really enjoyed the reptiles and amphibian exhibit.

On the way down to the coast we went to the Cascade Caverns just outside of the city. A bit out of the way on our trip but so worth it. I would say it was one of the more wild caves-there were Eastern Pipstrelle bats, Cascade cavern salamanders, Cave Crickets, and leopard frogs, we saw all the wildlife but unfortunately the waterfall wasn't present at the time. We met some great people and enjoyed the cool atmosphere in the cave. It was one of our favorite caverns because of the wildlife and how alive everything seemed, from the running water to the bats so close you could touch them-but don't. Another interesting aspect of the cavern was the Mastodon bones, Sabertooth cat and bison as well as indian artifacts-lots to explore. They have an up close and personal tour both of us want to take one of these days but didn't this time.

After enjoying the trip to the cavern it was off to the coast, both of us were eager to see the ocean and get some seafood. The ride was long but enjoyable as the coast got closer and closer with every mile.
We stayed at the Lighthouse Inn, it was a beautiful stately looking place. It felt like we were really soaking up the coastal feel and I would highly recommend both the amenities and the atmosphere. The staff was very friend and accommedating as well. Close to the Inn was the Copano fishing Pier where we fought with the many dolphins for the small but plentiful speckled trout and the wild jumping ladyfish. We stayed there into the evening and enjoyed great success on light tackle-well lit and overall a very comfortable relaxed setting. The next day we fished at Goose Island State Park-we didn't catch much but my son enjoyed looking for crabs and exploring the pier. There was a conservation film going on at the time so it was interesting to talk with them.

I had planned the whole trip around the fishing guide that we were going to hire for redfish and specks, weeks before I had looked for places to stay in Rockport Texas and guides that I could go out that were not ridiculously priced and seemed to have a personal approach to getting out and fishing. It's extremely hard to decipher as there are so many out there-I can tell by the voice and how quickly they respond and how excited they are about bringing you and your son out fishing, it's still a crapshoot but we got lucky.

I chose Lanny Phillips at Tigernet fishing guide service, we were not disappointed. He was a fireman and a previous baseball player for the Boston Red Sox and the Brewers. There is never a shortage of stories and he was very helpful in explaining fishing and all he knew to my son who was just starting to get into fishing. We had a long process of waiting at first and in that time we had a very enjoyable conversation from firefighting to baseball playing and all his time fishing. It was so interesting and my son really loved the discussions we had. My son caught a keeper speckled trout, a hammerhead shark and a batfish-a very strange looking fish.

Than as promised, he found them and we were into reds, for the next 40 minutes or so we were fighting redfish. Lanny passed rods between both of us and did all the legwork to make sure each of us had only to worry about catching fish, as soon as I had one one and Lanny landed it, my son had another on and was fighting it. The sound of the screaming drag and the excitement of all of us was intoxicating. It was an amazing experience and well worth waiting for. When we got into the dock after limiting out, our fish were cleaned and prepared for us to take on a long trip back to Dallas. I would highly recommend looking Lanny up as we will in the future.

On the way back to Dallas we found one more zoo to check out-it was the Texas Zoo. A bit out of the way and small but still interesting to explore. Great zoo for young kids as are there is a dig site, a reptile house and a conversation caboose as well as an education center. Kids can also feed the fish and turtles, it's a nice family friendly place to visit.

Our second circle trip was a great success and we were already talking about our next place to explore-the scope of driving and the availability of funds and an ever expanding base of interest was motivating us for the next great trip out there. We decided on a trip to Arkansas-caverns and trout fishing-stay tuned.
Artistgordon - Find me on