The very first thing I was dying to do in Chicago this spring was to go find the goslings in Lincoln Park. More and more I’ve been getting into wildlife photography, and with a new camera and lens to test out, I was eager to head out in the warm weather to shoot. Continue reading →
After receiving substantially more rain than typical in the 2015-2016 winter season, Death Valley National Park is experiencing a rare “superbloom” of wildflowers. The last superbloom event was 11 years ago, in 2005. Since missing this year’s superbloom could mean waiting another decade or more before it happens again, we knew we had to go see this rare event. Continue reading →
Week seven was by far one of the most memorable weeks on our road trip. I can’t believe how much we saw in one week! Oodles of wildlife, gorgeous sunrises, and even the Northern Lights — all the way down in Yellowstone National Park (they’re not usually visible so far south).
Somehow we managed to visit FOUR national parks all in one week. And despite late night Milky Way photo sessions, we managed to wake up before dawn TWICE to witness the gorgeous sunrises Yellowstone has to offer. If you’ve never seen Yellowstone yourself, add it to your bucket list NOW. And in the meantime, you can drool a bit over these photos!
Note: I’m still catching up on our weekly road trip re-caps! This one covers June 20-27.
After completing our third week on the road in the U.S. this summer, we decided it was time for a little breather. We departed St. Louis at the beginning of week four and then pressed the pause button when we reached Chicago. And there we stayed, visiting my twin brother, for the first two and a half weeks of June.
Despite growing up in St. Louis, I’d never visited the nearby Windy City ’til now. And what an awesome place it turned out to be! So much so that we decided we’d return to Chicago for an even longer break after our upcoming national park loop. We finished off this three-week period in Badlands National Park, where we found unique erosion-formed landscapes, plentiful prairie dogs, and the craziest (and unexpected) storm we’ve ever experienced! (You don’t want to miss that video.)
Note: Since we paused for so long in Chicago, this recap covers weeks four through six of our U.S. road trip. And I’m still catching up on our weekly road trip re-caps! This one covers May 30 – June 19.
I was half asleep. Only half because of the awkward angle at which my head was tilted when I’d closed my eyes. Sleeping in the car has never been my forte. I quickly snapped out of my sleepy state, however, when my brain finally registered the three words that had just exited Ian’s mouth: “the Northern Lights.”
It was an unexpected sight, in Yellowstone National Park, but having severely sub-par cell service the past two days couldn’t even stop us from seeing them. There was no visible green glow or anything, but the eery gray streaks sweeping across the northern sky were visible to the naked eye. I quickly pulled my RX100 out of the glove compartment and clambered over the middle console of our Yaris and into the driver’s seat. Ian was already out of the car with the a7 mounted to his tripod. I opted for the meager warmth our Yaris could offer with its front window rolled down all the way.
My first shots were crap, from a photographer’s perspective, but the colors were absolutely amazing. To start, I’d quickly flipped my dial to ‘M’ and prepped for a 6-second exposure. No tripod. Just handheld. Propped atop the open window frame of the driver’s side door. With some expected star streaking from my unsteady hand in my first few exposures, I made some minor adjustments — adding a 2-second timer, using the tilt screen to more steadily prop my camera up on the window ledge — and was rewarded with better results. My final improvement to my set-up was turning the car’s engine off and setting the e-brake (Ian never does) to keep car movements to an absolute minimum. And I was quite impressed with my results!
Johnson’s Shut-Ins is a magical place from my childhood… A two-hour drive from home in St. Louis, we only visited a handful of times when I was young. But boy did I remember it. I’ve always loved outings that involved swimming, and of all the places I’ve swam in the world, Johnson’s Shut-Ins takes the cake.
Crystal-clear water flows through, around, and over the rocks at “Nature’s Water Park,” creating tiny pools where tadpoles grow up into frogs… And you can climb right in to experience it firsthand! It’s amazing. It’s also one of few places you can find where it’s fashionably acceptable to wear tennis shoes with a swimsuit. And you need them to climb around the slippery, rocky pools. The Shut-Ins aren’t particularly large, so it was always busy when we’d arrive early morning in my childhood. But mid-afternoon just after Memorial Day weekend, we were pleasantly surprised to have the place almost entirely to ourselves. If you’re looking for a summer day trip from St. Louis or Branson or the Ozarks, go here. You won’t want to miss it.
After crossing the big wide state of Texas in week two, this week started with an epic day of gluttony in the New Orleans French Quarter. We filled our bellies with pralines, boudin and beignets and then turned north so Ian could experience the best baseball in the country and what I think is one of the most unique state parks in the entire U.S.
Roaring wind. Rippling sand. Rolling dunes. All were present on the night we backpacked out to our backcountry campsite at White Sands National Monument. As luck would have it, we’d gotten the last available site. And we were grateful. Otherwise we’d’ve had to backtrack 30 miles toward Las Cruces and the nearest campground.
Up and over and in between the dunes we hiked, each carrying our backpacks, cameras at-the-ready. It took us 45 minutes to get to our campsite, racing the setting sun. We set up camp, took off our boots, and set out barefoot for the top of a neighboring dune, getting in just a few more photos before darkness and the evening wind settled in. We’ve now completed week two of our cross-country U.S. road trip, and White Sands stands out as one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. It was magical. Enchanting, even. If you’ve never hiked over sand dunes before, add it to your bucket list. It’s surreal.
One week into our road trip, and we finally made it to the Grand Canyon! Before this visit, I’d been there for a brief stop along one of my many journeys between St. Louis and LA in college, and Ian had only flown over it in a plane. It was time for both of us to really see this place. And see it we did, in the sun, rain, sleet, hail and snow!
We camped for two days at the South Rim’s Desert View Campground — a deal at just $12/night — and endured cold, snowy weather inside our warm sleeping bags and tent (see more of our camping essentials here). After roughing it at Lake Mead and Williams the two previous nights, I was SO happy to finally be staying at a place that had showers (thought it did require a 20+ mile drive to the other side of the park). It was also the perfect, iconic place to round out week one of our all-American road trip.
Last week we concluded our month-long adventure in Costa Rica and headed onward to Mexico City. But before we left Costa Rica, we paid a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park.
It was the first time we’d ever gone swimming in an ocean at a national park. The sun was shining, the water was warm, and there were tons of monkeys jumping from tree to tree along the shore. We spent three days in the Manuel Atonio/Quepos area (see the place we stayed on our list of preferred accommodations), and we spent time at a different beach each day: the first at a private beach, the second in the park, and the third at Playa Espadilla, just outside the park entrance.
This photo of a surfer heading out into the waves during the last light of the day was taken on that third beach day, at Playa Espadilla, with the Sony a7 II and 35mm f/2.8 lens. (Continue to view full photo). Continue reading →