Newfoundland: The Place That Will Remain on My Bucket List

After you visit somewhere, you’re supposed to check it off of your bucket list.  However, every once in a while you find somewhere with so much depth and so much to see that you feel that in order to truly experience it you have to spend at least a month there, seeing numerous sights and getting to know the people who call it home.  That’s how I feel about Newfoundland.

To be honest, it’s a place that I knew very little about.  But, everything that I did know said that the place was incredible.  As a result, when the fall foliage was being stubborn (due to the drought and a warm fall), I rearranged what was supposed to be a Maine vacation to a trip to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  We couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.

Arriving off of the ferry in Newfoundland, we were greeted to some of the island’s famous weather of 50km/hr winds, 4 deg. C temps, and rain squalls.  However, the skies began to clear and the island soon revealed it’s glory.  Autumn color had begun to arrive, turning the tundra like “barrens” red and the boreal forests a mix of bright colors.  By the end of the week, bright blue skies abounded and an “Indian summer” was in full swing, helping to usher in even more brilliant autumn foliage.

Typical scene along the Trans Canada Highway along Western Newfoundland. Fall colors had just begun, turning the tundra-like barrens red.
Typical scene along the Trans Canada Highway through Western Newfoundland. Fall colors had just begun.

To an American who’s never seen the island, the best way to describe it is to cross what Maine was in the 1950s with the scenery (and wilderness) of Alaska.  Between the small fishing villages that dot the coast (and produce incredibly delicious seafood!) and the boreal/sub arctic landscapes, this land is a landscape photographer’s dream.  However, there’s more: Newfoundlanders are a wonderfully friendly people with a distinct culture all their own.  While most are proud Canadians, there is a strong sense of independence here, born out of the island’s isolation and the self sufficiency that it requires.

Take away the deciduous trees, brightly colored buildings, and if someone had told me this was Alaska, I would've believed them
Take away the deciduous trees, brightly colored buildings, and if someone had told me this was Alaska, I would’ve believed them

While we spent 5 days on the “rock”, most of it within the confines of the massive sized Gros Morne National Park, there is so much more to see.  Everyday we were out from sunrise to sunset and only saw a small fraction of the island.  And based upon that fraction, I can only imagine what the rest of the island looks like.  For that reason, Newfoundland will remain on my bucket list.  That and I want to come back and see the island in spring/summer when whales, wildflowers, and icebergs (melting off of glaciers in Greenland) abound!

As The “Green Season” Draws to a Close

 

As a landscape photographer, I enjoy capturing the visual “fruits” of every season.  And as much as I love winter weather, I look forward to the annual “greening” that spring provides.  While winter landscapes can be beautiful, they can be extremely difficult (and sometimes downright dangerous) to capture.  For this reason, summer is one of the best seasons to capture visually appealing landscape photography.

See an interesting scene that you’d like to shoot, but don’t have time that day? – Come back in a week, or wait a month until the lighting conditions are just right, no problem! Unlike in Autumn, where if you come back 2 days later the leaves may be gone, there is a greater degree of flexibility.  While fall is without a doubt my favorite season, one miscalculation could make the difference between getting a perfectly lit vibrant shot and something that just looks brown and downright “Meh.”  As I had posted on my facebook page, the difference in foliage can affect an image greatly: capture

With the impending “brownout”, I plan to make the most of the next 2 months and look forward to shooting the vibrantly colored hillsides to come.  One thing for sure though, I certainly won’t miss dripping sweat all over my camera equipment!

 

Louisiana

 

It’s a place that I’ve always heard people talk about visiting, but I’ve never made it a priority to do so.  Partially because of the stifling heat and partially because of other people’s accounts of seeing “someone not able to handle their liquor on Bourbon Street.”  Added to that were the terrible images that saturated the newscast after the disaster that was Katrina.  I never gave the state a fair chance, and I’m here to make things right. Not because I’m sorry; I’m entitled to my own opinions afterall.  Instead, it’s because Louisiana is truly a special place.  It’s not often that you find a place that has such an incredibly rich culture and such beautiful spaces.

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“Sportsmans paradise”, the state motto emblazoned on license plates, is absolutely the truth.  The wealth of wildlife in this state is incredible. I can’t recall seeing a place so rich in so many different species of birds (of all sizes colors and varieties!).  The state even has it’s own subspecies of black bear, which I didn’t happen to see.  Additionally, the wetlands in this state are a true national treasure.  Spanish moss draped oaks, cypresses, and tupelos line the waterways creating a natural “cathedral”.  What the area may lack in hills/mountains, it more than makes up for in beautiful trees and plants.  The area has it’s own iris that adorns the banks of many bayous.  -If you have a camera, find someone with a boat – you will be impressed!

Louisianans are proud people in part due to their incredibly rich culture.  Many people came from incredibly difficult situations with very few materials possessions and made a living for themselves.  The state is incredibly prosperous due to its vast energy resources, productive agriculture, and strategic trading location at the mouth of the Mississippi.  The state’s vast pride and wealth shines through in it’s numerous structures.

Speaking of structures, it’s impossible to ignore the area’s numerous churches and cemeteries.  Some of the prettiest churches that I’ve seen anywhere are housed here, having been built years ago.  The strong faith of the locals is visible to this day…we arrived in Lafayette the day before their new bishop was to be installed.  There were local TV news crews and enough flowers to fill a small floral distribution center.

 

In addition to having a strong culture, the people are truly a kind and sociable people.  One of the best experiences that I enjoyed while here was shooting alongside a very talented local photographer, Andy Crawford.  Two months before visiting Louisiana, I contracted Andy to ask him where I could find some places to shoot some local wetlands.  To my surprise, Andy was so happy to help that he volunteered to take a day off of work and take me in his truck/boat all over Southern LA.  I was able to experience several areas through the eyes of a local, who shared the same passion for creating great images as me.  In addition to picking up new photography skills, I picked up a new friend…That’s something that doesn’t happen everyday and a better takeaway than the great images that I created.

Winter 2016

I’ve hinted in the past that while the vibrant “organic” colors that Spring through Fall bring make for amazing photographs. However, there is something to be said for the simple beauty of winter.  After all, the peaceful beauty that freshly fallen snow (let alone the peaceful silence of being out in the snow as it quietly falls) makes for great images.

While winter may have gotten off to a late start here on the East Coast, it made for some great photography: bringing the foggiest December on record to the Mid Atlantic.  Then in January, we were treated to a true whollop of snowstorm, bringing 34 inches to my backyard.  Some areas of West Virginia saw 40+”!  Unfortunately, this much snow made it extremely difficult for me to get to get to scenic locations to photograph, but my new pair of snowshoes got a lot of use for a week 🙂

Finally, we were able to make it up to Canaan Valley in the high Alleghenies of West Virginia for Winter’s last true stand.  While not quite as cold or beautiful as the winter of 2015, all-in-all winter 2016 did not disappoint.

Cheers!

-Tom

What American Public Lands Mean to Me

When I think back on many of the best moments of my life, several common denominators can be observed.  One of the most typical of these is the type of places that these occurred.

My family has always seeked out places of natural beauty for our vacations and other recreational pursuits.  I certainly continue this legacy, as I am always heading out to some beautiful place to pursue my latest photographic or hiking pursuit.  Since meeting my wife, we have planned vacations that centered around places like this. Lucky for us, some of the most spectacular scenery to be found on terra firma is right here at home and it’s open to us all.

Whether it was combing the surf battered rocks of Oregon’s coast or craining our necks to see the canopy of a virgin redwood forest, most of these moments occured on American public lands.  We are fortunate that our country was expanded and settled in a time when awareness and respect for the natural environment wasn’t far off in the future.  Even more so that we had visionaries like Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Thomas Moran, and countless others influencing/creating national policy towards our wild treasures.

We hear a lot about what has made our country great in terms of our economy and our tenacious defense of liberty.  Our beautiful (and plentiful) public lands are one of the things that sets us apart from other countries.  Achievements like creating the world’s first national park and the Wilderness Act of 1964 have made us a worldwide leader in the preservation of earth’s natural treasures.

Below are some of my favorite memories created on our public lands:

 

The Heart of Chile

For week’s I’ve debated on how to sum up/write about the areas of Chile that we visited outside of Patagonia.  For a country that stretches 4,300 Km in length, with climates ranging from the driest desert on earth to the third largest glacial ice field on earth, it is hard to sum it up by just visiting two regions.

While we spent nearly 2 weeks exploring some of the best sights that this wonderful country has to offer, I feel that we barely scratched the surface.  What I can say is that modern Chile has a lot to be proud of: a stable government,  South America’s strongest economy, friendly people, an embrace of their history, wonderful traditions, and great food…There is nothing quite like a Chilean sandwich anywhere else on earth!

I think one of the things that I like the most about Chile is the immense pride that their people have in their country.  Driving down any road, there are bright Chilean flags flying outside of just about every house.  While at a bar here, the native Chilean bartender was trying to one up his Argentinian coworker by crafting a perfect cocktail.  I have to admit he did a good job…It was probably one of the most beautiful drinks I’ve ever drank.

As passionate as Chileans are about their country, they are passionate about religion.  It is impossible to talk about the history of Chile without involving Catholicism.  The biggest crowds that we saw while in the country were gathered around churches and religious monuments.

We were fortunate enough to experience Chile’s culture in the sprawling capital of Santiago and the nearby coastal city of Valparaiso.  Each of these cities is unique and it is easy to tell that Santiago is the economic and political powerhouse of this part of South America.

While Santiago packs in the masses and serves as Chile’s economic & governmental capital, Valparaiso packs in the charm.  Some have called it the San Francisco of South America.  The great thing about this city is that it has garnered enough attention to preserve the unique buildings, but not enough attention to ruin the unique local culture.  Walking down the streets in Valparaiso is like walking through a history museum turned art museum.  Photographic opportunities abound around every street corner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patagonia: The Land That [Far] Exceeds Expectations

Since I received my first “Patagonia” brand fleece as a little kid, I have been intrigued by the mountains on the clothing brand’s logo. However, I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to visit this remote land.

Then, two years ago I started researching locations for my wife and me to travel on our next “big adventure” and I was instantly hooked when Patagonia popped up. I spent countless hours since then researching when, where, and how to go. So much so that I began to think, “Is there going to be much more to discover than what I’ve already seen on Google image search?” Luckily, I was wrong and I could not have prepared myself for the land that many say is a true “landscape photographer’s dream.” My wife fell in love with the landscape, too, and she expressed interest in returning before we even left, which certainly says something given the often “less than ideal” weather conditions and many challenges with traveling to and around this remote land.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the region, getting to/around there isn’t the easiest of tasks. It took no less than three flights  with 15+ hours of total flying time for us to arrive in Punta Arenas from Washington-Dulles International Airport. And, even after arriving at the airport, there were still hundreds of miles to drive between the individual destinations. To make matters more difficult, the wind is so great that it tests the skill of even the best drivers, blowing the car all over the road. The wind literally caused our Toyota Corolla to blow apart, causing me to do emergency roadside maintenance on the side of the road as local drivers whizzed by at 90+ mph (normal cruising speed on the straight Argentine roads). Since the next settlement, let alone gas station, may be more than 150 miles away, pre-planning is a must when visiting the region.

The same climatic engine that drives the “less than ideal” weather also creates unimaginable natural lighting. During our trip, we observed some of the most stunning lighting while 70km/hr winds were ripping across the landscape, and keeping a tripod steady, let alone hand-holding a camera, was often challenging in these conditions.

 

While most people (including me!) come to Patagonia for the landscapes, the wildlife certainly does not disappoint. My wife commented when driving through the Eastern entrance to Torres Del Paine that it felt like we were on a South American safari. The variety and number of animals in the area was a surprise since many of the animals–including flamingos, rheas, and armadillos–are animals normally associated with warmer climates. This coupled with cold weather animals, like penguins, creates an amazing biodiversity.

My wife and I have been blessed to travel often during our marriage. Our Patagonian adventure, coupled with the amazing experience we had the week prior in central Chile, certainly made this a trip of a lifetime.

High Allegheny National Park

That was the name of the proposed national park along the highest ridgelines of the Mid-Atlantic.  As I’ve previously noted, the area truly boasts “national park quality scenery.”  The National Park Service actually surveyed the proposed park in 2012 for entry into the system.  It’s a truly unique area that in addition to unique geological features boasts a microclimate that supports plants and animals found much further North in Canada.  During fall the area comes alive with brilliant colors.  Yellow aspen leaves shimmer in the wind, while red maple leaves dominate the slopes of the higher peaks.  Brilliant red blueberry bushes hug the ground in the meadows at Dolly Sods.

While the thought of the area being recognized as a national park excites me, I also have concerns.  Chiefly, I worry that increased promotion as a national park would draw hordes of crowds, putting pressure to build more visitor facilities, roads, and more trails in an already sensitive area.  Not to mention, there is still a lot of private land in the area, which could prove to be a problem if the area becomes overly popular.  “Come buy a condo with a national park view!”  I’m not the only one having second thoughts.  Local residents became so concerned that Senator Joe Manchin (WV) sent a letter to the National Park Service revoking his support of the park over concerns of access, hunting, and fishing restrictions.

West Virginians want to keep the WILD in “Wild and Wonderful”  and I think that that’s great.  Much of the land is already protected as congressionally designated wilderness and administered by the US Forest Service.  If anything, I’d say that the federally designated wilderness should be expanded to additional existing USFS land.  At the same time, existing private land owners will be able to keep their farms, which add to the area’s charm.  One of my favorite hikes involved hiking on a public Forest Service trail through a private farm leading to the Roaring Plains Wilderness.  The stark combination of the agrarian landscape with rugged wilderness is what makes this area of West Virginia so special.

Colorful Colorado

Arriving in Colorado from Kansas or at DIA (Denver International), the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signs seem like an oxymoron.  However, as soon as you leave the taupe colored plains, climbing into the Rockies the colors begin to emerge.  The mountains have many different shades, especially in Summer when wildflowers abound in the cool alpine air.

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Storm clouds loom over the grasslands of Park County

My wife and I were fortunate to be visiting during one of the wettest summers in memory, so even the “taupe colored plains” were bright spring green.  Between the bright colors of the vegetation and the beautiful lighting provided by the thunderstorms every afternoon, this might’ve been one of the most photogenic summers in Colorado.