Smoky Mountain National Park 2020

We took a 5 day, 4 night long weekend get-a-way to the Great Smoky National Park for Sharon’s birthday.  The main purpose was to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law.  Sharon wanted to shop and knock out some Christmas shopping.  I only got to go around Roaring Motor Fork twice and up to Cades Cove twice.

After stopping for the mandatory ice cream at the camp store we started around the loop road drive.  Sharon stayed in town, while Deb, Dave, and I made the trip to the cove.  My sister is always on the lookout for the big FIVE.  Bear, Deer, Turkey, Coyote, and Bobcat.  I would add another one on my list of River Otter.

First loop we found turkey and some really small deer.  The whitetail numbers seemed to be WAY down from previous years.  

Second loop we ran up on 3 different bear jams, but the rangers and park volunteers had broken them up and the bears were gone before we got anywhere close.  The park was really packed with everybody trying to get outside during COVID.  People are rude and were not using the pull-offs like they were supposed to.  FINALLY on the way out, I found a bear, was able to park and got my big lens out which of course caused another bear jam.  A 2 year old 250 ish pounder\ He was close to the exit between Sparks Lane near where the horse trail crosses loop road.  It was laying down in a ditch behind some brush but I could hear it crushing acorns.

Sorry that was as good as I could do with the light I had t o work with, but at least a documented bear.

Our last full day we were trying to decide between going to Cataloochee to see the elk and chasing black bear again.  Sharon wasn’t really feeling the trip up and over to Cherokee and Maggie Valley.  So we grabbed Subway and headed to one of my HAPPY Places.  Kent’s cove, I mean Cades Cove.

Before we even got to the “Entering Cades Cove” sign I saw some black movement on the side of Little River Road.  There was a pull off close by and by the time I got my gear out there was only 3 people watching the bear.  Miss Sharon must be the bear whisper.  She went bearing with me 2 years ago and had an up close and personal with a 2 year old. Once Sharon caught up to me with her binoculars, the bear had started to move straight towards her.

We were on the side of the road about 10-12 feet higher than the bear.  He just kept coming straight at us.  Once he got close enough my lens would no longer focus, I knew it was time to go.  I thought he was going to come up the slope and onto the road, but instead he just disappeared,  There was culvert that ran under the road. The bear went into it like it uses that as it’s own highway.  This was a large bear and I would put it at 300-350 pounds.  I felt a little sorry for it as the flies would not leave it alone.  Watched it for a good 7 minutes and 40 or 50 photos.  Never got a butt shot to see if it was a female or a male.

OK, trip was a success and pressure was off as I was pretty sure I had at least one full-frame black bear photo for my blog.

Stopped at the camp store for restrooms and to get Sharon her Ice Cream and we started around the loop.  It was early,, maybe 2:30 and usually don’t really find anything good until close to dark.  Bear whisperer Sharon strikes again.  Brakes light lit up everywhere and knew it wasn’t a deer jam.  I got out grabbed my gear and starting walking passing car after car.  Sharon drove the car and moved up when she could.  It was a HUGE male well over 500 pounds just hanging out on the edge of a field.  Once I got there, at least a mile hike up to where the bear was he just started walking straight up the tree line towards where I had setup.

He then got inside my minimum focal length of 33 feet and I put a couple cars between me and the bear, he crossed the road heading up the hill and then starting eating acorns.  I would not want to end up on the wrong end of those teeth! 

After about 20-25 minutes Sharon finally rolled up to where the bear was, but he was long gone.  I’m on cloud nine and jump back into the car and decided we would head back to town when we rolled up on yet another big bear eating acorns.  Shot about 6 frames and moved on.  He wasn’t doing much, just sitting on his haunches and munching away on acorns.

Man, what a special day in Kent’s Cove!

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Life is good and I am blessed.


Anniversary Cruise

It had been several years (3) since Sharon and I had been on an anniversary trip. All our vacations and trips can be found on this blog at Vacations. Several cruise companies had been running some specials. Matt and Ashly love to cruise as does my sister. Miss Sharon and I said what the heck, let’s try one. We live 4.5 hours from Galveston, so we decided on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Cozumel, Gand Cayman, and Jamaica. I was afraid I would feel stuck on the ship with 4,300 of my closest friends. So we booked excursions for every port. I was a little torn if I was going to take a DSLR or just go with my trusty iPhone. Ended up taking a DSLR and a tripod only because we booked a trip to Chichen iIza to see one of the 8th wonders of the world.

Sharon does not travel well. She gets car sick so we were worried going in. By day two she was so sick she got to see the ship’s doctor even though she had patches and sea bands.

Needless to say she missed the first port of call. So I went solo to Chichen Itza.

I felt bad that Sharon miss the excursion, so I bought her a local hand made silver necklace and earrings.

Didn’t take the DSRL off the boat the rest of the trip. Sharon was a new person by the time I got back to the boat and was up for the next excursion. A day of shopping in the Caymen’s. We had a wonderful lunch at Jimmy Buffets, after a morning of diamond shopping. Sharon scored a new wedding mount and two new wedding bands. I was worried about them switching out our diamond. They made the mount, and I watched them like a hawk mount our diamond. It has it GIA number lasered onto the griddle, and I was able to verify it was still our stone.

New Mount

A comparison shot of her old mount and her new mount.

All in all we had a great trip but we are not cruisers, and I am guessing this was our first and last cruise. I needed to get this post out so I could get onto the owls I have been shooting.

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Life is good and I am blessed.



I have been to San Francisco 6 or 7 times and never had or took the time to visit Alcatraz.  This trip I had a small window on Monday.  So, I walked down to Pier 33 with fingers crossed hoping I would be able to get on a boat from a stand by line in case somebody didn’t show up.  They were sold out and they quit using the stand by line.  The lady stated they sell out 2 to 3 weeks in advance but that they still have a few tickets for Wednesday afternoon.  What the heck, bought a ticket for the Wednesday 3:50 boat.They start lining people up 30 minutes before they let you board the boats.  They check your ticket three different times before you finally get to board.  One of the other guys I was traveling with did the tour on Sunday and he was telling me all about the plant life and the succulents that grow on Alcatraz.  I always thought San Fran is cold and rainy but there were cactus and succulents everywhere.   Finally time to board and the tours were running three boats that day.  I would guess each boat took 300 people at $38.50 a head every 30 minutes.  That is a lot of money.  Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate Bridge National Park.It was a little foggy but could still see the Golden Gate Bridge on the ride out. Alcatraz Island started as a lighthouse for the San Francisco Bay.  Then a military outpost, then the famous prison, now a historical national park. One of the guard towers One of the park rangers giving the do’s and don’ts and where to get your audio tour headsets.One of the original cannons from the military fort. Part of the old mission style fort. The buildings are showing their age from the weather and salt air.  It looks like they had started to repaint the cell block and stopped. The walk up the hill was not bad, but is comprised of a set of switch back ramps.  There is a tram for the handicapped and people who could not make the trek.  The tour starts in the cell block building.   The tour starts where the new prisoners would begin, in the showers and then to processing to get their clothes and bedding.   The tour is narrated by four previous correctional officers and inmates.   The incoming inmates were then paraded nude down “Broadway.” The cells were super small.  7 foot by 9 foot by 7foot. If inmates were on good behavior they got time in the yard.  Some of the more famous inmates, include  Al Capone and the Bird Man. Cell block D was for the worst of the worse and also contained the six cells where all light could be shutout.  “The Hole” The prison library, Guns and Keys were never allowed in the cell block.  They were kept on either end of the block called the Gun Gallery.  In 1946 inmates distracted a guard and over powered him, and one inmate climbed the gun gallery to the top and used a homemade bar spreader made in the local machine shop to spread the bars, and over took the guard with keys and a gun.  They held the prison for 3 days.  The photo below in from the explosion of hand grenades that were dropped by the army.  Several inmates and 3 guards died during these 3 days. C/D street There were only 4 visitation booths. Guard uniform, the inmates called them red ties. Great view of San Francisco from the warden house end of the island. The Golden Gate Bridge from the other end of the island.The lighthouse The Administration Building What is left of the Warden’s house.  Only 4 different men served as warden at Alcatraz.I didn’t take any DSLR equipment on this trip . Everything was shot and documented with my new iPhone XS Max.  I am impressed with the portrait settings as used in this selfie.The escape.  Two adjoining cells used spoons from the kitchen to tunnel through the concrete.They have opened up a panel in the wall to show the space in between the cells where the inmates climbed the pipes to get out.Not all tours every day do the “Sounds of the Slammer”.  I was lucky enough to get to be there during this demo.

The prison closed in 1963 due to rising cost.  It was costing more than $500 a day to house 1 inmate.

Several Indian tribes took Alcatraz in 1969 and held it for 19 months to protest how the Indians were treated and and how may treaties had been broken.  You can read more here at The Occupation of Alcatraz.

So my last post before this was almost 1 year ago.  I came close to not renewing my blog this year.  I made a promise to myself I would try to get back to doing more photography and posting more.  So time will tell.

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Life is good and I am blessed.


Sedona, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend

The last 4 years Sharon and I have been going out to Phoenix to visit her sister and our dear friends the Vandermoon’s around her birthday.  This year I decided I wasn’t going to take my golf clubs and made this trip all about Sharon.  We spent day one hanging out with the Vandermoon’s and took a trip out to Tortilla Flats.  It was a very scenic drive and a nice lunch in a little saloon.  

Spent Saturday day 2 driving up to Sedona.  Beautiful drive and mountains around Sedona.  I could have spent several days hiking and exploring there, but we were on a quest to find unique Christmas gifts.  Spent five hours exploring almost every shop and had a nice wood fired pizza for a late lunch.  Headed up to Page Arizona for the night.

Sunday was my big day.  A photography tour to Antelope Canyon, which has been on my bucket list.  The tour guides take 4X4 trucks with the people in the back on benches.  Once we pulled in and started off road I understood why the truck.  They sand was deep in places and he would lock it into 4 wheel drive and just root through it. About a 20 minute ride from the tour operator to the canyon.  At first I thought Sharon was just being a good sport.  But about 10 minutes into the tour she was getting incredible shots with her iPhone.  The first 30 minutes in the canyon was super nice as we had the canyon to just us 5 photographers and Sharon.  Then the madness came and 250 to 300 people flooded in.  I messed up a couple camera settings about half way through and got frustrated.  

When we got to the other end of the canyon we went outside to regroup and let the crowds clear out.  One of the other Canon shooters had taken a night tour the night before and showed me the beauty of “Live View”.  I reset all of my settings and we headed back in with Live View and we shot the canyon rooms from the other angle. All in all, I am super happy with my results, but a little bummed.  The light beams only happen during the summer.   All the more reason to be going back in June to capture the light beams and also do the night tour while the Milkyway is over the canyon.  

We returned back to town a quick lunch and shedding a couple layers and we were off to find and document Horseshoe Bend.

Horseshoe Bend is a hike up about a 100 foot climb, then across a plateau.  Then a gentle slope down to the canyon’s rim.  After the first climb and Sharon’s looking the decent over, she almost decided to stay on a bench while I went on, due to her hip and knee.  After seeing an older couple I am guessing mid eighties to ninety, she declared what the heck.  Didn’t come this far to regret not going.

Once down at the rim, I quickly realized I was scared of heights.  There were kids just jumping across cracks and standing on one foot on the edge.  Made me sick to my stomach.  If figured if Sharon could mustard up the strength to hike back up I must over come this feeling to get the shot at all cost.  I started about 8 to 10 feet back and did the military style belly crawl out to the rim.  Once I got there my hands were shaking so bad I had to brace the camera on the rock to keep it from shaking and messing up the shot.  After taking a test photo I realized I wasn’t dead center and had a rock outcropping in the way.  Crawled back and moved over 30 feet and repeated the belly crawl once again.  Sharon was laughing so far I could hear her.  I am glad she was there with my phone to call 911, but instead she documented the crawl.So I over came my fear to get the money shot.  I hope after that build up my humble offering isn’t a let down.I felt amazing to be back in the field with a camera in my hand,  We both truly enjoyed this trip!

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Life is good and I am blessed.




Granddaughters Texas Summer Vacation 2016

I had a work trip back to Illinois, Sharon decided to drive up and spend some time with Shelby and then met me in Bloomington to get to see Audry and little Layla.  Somehow while she was up in central Illinois she was able to talk her kids into letting her kidnap the oldest two granddaughters for TWO weeks.  It was my job to try and balance work and time with all the girls.  My main objective was to keep them busy and wear them out!

Everyday at least once a day time was spent in our pool!  They wore Nana down and she let them jump off the waterfall.  Then Nana had to get in on the action.  This is my favorite photograph of the two weeks.

PBKJ7498-FrameShop_2Day 1 Activities was Urban Air:  Both girls learned to do back flips!PBKJ7520-FrameShopPBKJ7526-FrameShopPBKJ7555-FrameShopPBKJ7561-FrameShopMy trusty 5D3 handled the tough lighting conditions, but the iPhone videos did a nice job of capturing the series of flips.

Couple more days in the pool and then over to JumpStreet in Allen for a larger trampoline park.KJ5D6044-FrameShop KJ5D6057-FrameShop KJ5D6058-FrameShop

Even Nana decided to flip around.

The last big adventure was to take their cousin and her friend over to Fort Worth to see the Long Horns and cattle drive.

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I was really impressed when Sharon told me to pose the girls and capture the repeating vanishing lines.KJ5D6097-FrameShop

All in all I think they had a blast and went home wore out.

Life is good and we are blessed!

I have several new hummingbird photos to post, I’ll work on keeping caught up and doing better!