Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cumberland Island

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Last month, I had the great fortune to be one of the instructors for the NANPA High School Scholarship Program that always accompanies the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) Annual Summit.  I've been a member of NANPA and enjoyed and learned a great deal at the annual conferences for years, but this was my first year working with the high school program. Mac Stone, the program director, has already blogged about the student program and our adventures.  I encourage you to check out his post here.

This year's Summit was in Jacksonville so we took advantage of the great natural beauty and wildlife in the area.  We spent two nights camping and exploring Cumberland Island National Seashore.  And a third day as special guests at the wading bird rookery at St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  All of this before the Summit officially began!  While the highlight of the week was working with 10 amazing students and watching their individual creativity in action... I also stole moments along the way to do a bit of shooting.  Here's a sampling from Cumberland.
Cumberland Island, accessible only by boat (mainly a ferry from St. Mary, Georgia), is a wild and beautiful place... its wild beauty amplified during our visit by the huge storm front that accompanied us there.  There is a small exclusive hotel there (which I've never actually seen), but I can't imagine it could be as beautiful as Sea Camp (campground) in the heart of the maritime hammock just inland from the coastal dunes. Here are several shots made in the rainy pre-dawn right around our campsite.

Songbirds filled these moss and fern-adorned oaks, somewhat safe from hungry raptors eyes while, at least the cardinals, trained their own hungry eyes on bits and morsels dropped by sloppy campers.

Dungeness, once a luxuriant mansion and playground for the wealthy and connected, is now a surreal ruin with wild turkeys, armadillos, deer, and horses parading leisurely around it's grounds.

The dunes along the Atlantic beach offer rich photo ops -- a boneyard of old half-buried oaks, wind-sculpted sands and salt-sculpted trees -- and the wide flat beach, a treasure-trove of flotsam, as well as the occasional wild horse and ever-present gulls.

Saltmarsh and bits of beach along the inland waterway also held riches in the way of textures - gnarly driftwood, oyster beds and creek-cut marshes.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, or in this case, the southern tip of the island.  For those who've not been, this is a destination to add to your list. (Oh, and for non-campers, daytrips on the ferry are an option.)

At the end of Mac's blog (link above), there is a short video showing many of the amazing photos made by the high school students and telling their stories. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Florida Caverns, More than Caves.

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Who would go to Florida Caverns State Park and NOT visit the spectacular caverns? I sure would. This Florida Panhandle park offers diversity and beauty galore. John and I spent several days camping there early this past winter and never made it to the caverns. We were looking for springs mainly, but found adventures and photo ops aplenty. I think this is the 3rd photoblog I have posted about this park, not counting the stories about the park's Chipola River. Needless to say, it's one of my favorite areas in old natural Florida.  Here I'll let you in on some of its secrets.

Take an early morning hike along the floodplain trails behind the Caverns ticket office for some primordial Florida beauty. And then get off the trail down into the floodplain to see it up close.

For the very adventurous off-the-beaten-track-types, follow the Blue Hole Run into the swamps and forest and you will come upon several jewels where clear blue water springs bountifully from the earth. At this one pictured, I took a precaution I am usually too excited to do. I put my camera gear safely on dry ground to test-wade across the spring run and back.  Having decided it was a safe place to cross - sand, not mud - I loaded up again and  followed the same course across, only this time one step was a few inches off as I nearly reached the far side. I plunged waist deep into a mud-filled hole, dipping my camera and belt pack. I jerked them up in a flash (as I sank deeper) but they were clearly wet. John looked grim as I handed up my gear.  It took some doing to get out of the hole, especially fishing my shoe out afterward. My main camera body and two lenses wet... but miracles do happen. After drying things off, I found no water in the battery compartment so I tested the gear and ha! it worked perfectly (and still does).  Sooo lucky.  I have too many friends who've lost or badly damaged gear in similar accidents.

Next day, we launched my jonboat in the Chipola River and proceeded upstream. This is kind of crazy because the Chipola dips underground and flows through caves for a good part of its run in the park, and what's above ground is winding, shallow, and full of treachery like logs, snags, rocks.  So it was with great care that we picked our way along often pushing off trees by hand.  Along the way, we found this really cool duo of dancing trees, a cypress and tupelo stepping pretty for their whole lives in midstream.  Tupelo doesn't even touch ground, dipping only her toes (roots) in the stream, while being held firmly by partner Cypress at mid-trunk.

Our destination was a spring group called Baltzell (among other names).  We wanted the option to sleep on the boat so we could shoot into the evening and then again early morning.  As it turned out, we had good conditions, made our photos, and got back to the ramp by only a little after dark... with an un-damaged propeller no less!

Early on our last morning, acting on a tip, we explored a part of the forest we'd never been to before.  A fallen giant lay among her still-admiring progeny.

And nearby we found a long slot spring beside a small cliff with a shallow cave beneath it. While it is hard to see from this photo, there is potential here for one of our fantasy night photos, lighting up the spring, the trees, and the cave.  All right!!! Another plan to visit the Florida Caverns already in the works!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rainbow Sink

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No posts since Christmas! That's not because I don't have photos or stories... more like I have had too many recent adventures and haven't had time to process and write.  So here's a quickie for February.

Have you ever flown into Tallahassee (TLH) and looked down to see a bunch of small ponds in the forest and wondered about them?  I sure have. One of my photo pals in Wakulla County, Bob Thompsonsuggested we go explore that forest.  Bob had scouted the site via Google Earth and also knew of a road that accessed a powerline road that would get us in.

We entered a beautiful piece of the Apalachicola National Forest of pines, big live oaks, grasses, and wetlands of cypress and surprises. I often find that cypress trees hold their beauty long after they've died -- in the first instance below, as a leader into a long-shadowed sunrise.  And in the 2nd, Bob noticed the heart (see it?) and I noticed the thinness of the shell, with each buttress hollowed, like the shed exoskeleton of a "reborn"arthropod.  Where's that cypressoul growing now?

Big ol' oaks stood majestically adjacent to domes of cypress, their ground almost imperceptibly higher.  The ponds at the heart of the domes, though low, held water, lending to the life and health of this delicate ecosystem.

We came to two small sinkholes - unlike the ponds in that they had steep banks and deeper bottoms, perhaps even reaching down and communing with the aquifer that flowed river-like beneath us.  Here are photos from the 2nd one, dubbed Rainbow Sink for obvious reasons.  Shot across the sunbeams, this intimate sink looked sweet but ordinary.  The magic happened when we walked "down-sun" and looked back.  The light passed down through a thin layer of pollen, bounced off the surface, and then refracted through the pollen layer as if through a prism, breaking into rainbow colors as it came up to our eyes and camera lenses.  As if that wasn't enough, the lilypads turned to sharp-edged silver reliefs and the mirror-smooth water reflected the sky and surrounding forest, adding mind-bending dimension.  Wow!

So, please enjoy Rainbow Sink with me as I moved closer and closer in with my lens... (Yes, of course, I did almost fall in.)