Milwaukee portion

Milwaukee Portion continues my Springfield/Chicago trip with Tim Karas.  The earlier posts about the trip are Springfield Part OneSpringfield Part TwoChicago Day OneChicago Day Two, Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Day Three

MAMHD072016001This is the day I was dreading because it was my last day and the day I was heading home.  I checked out of the hotel and headed over to Tim’s apartment.  After breakfast we drove up to Milwaukee to have lunch with my brother.  Since Milwaukee is about 90 miles from Chicago, we didn’t have a lot of time before meeting Rick for lunch so we headed to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The architecture of the building is itself art work.  The museum is one of the largest museums in the country.  Since we only had about 20 minutes, we took photos of the architecture and the shadows. 

We had lunch at Hooligan’s.  It was great seeing my brother and Tim had a front row seat to our relationship.  Rick and I have a very unique relationship, we are very sarcastic with each other.  It drives our parents nuts.

All to soon, we were heading back to Chicago.  Tim and I said goodbye and I headed on my way home around 3pm local time.  Not really looking forward to the long drive.  Nor surprisingly I hit heavy traffic leaving Chicago.  It took me over an hour to get out of the city. The drive went pretty smoothly after that until I hit Louisville and had to take a detour around the western part of the city.  I ended up stopping in Tennessee at Hampton Inn around 12:30 EDT. I didn’t set my alarm, deciding to let my body decide when to get up.

The next morning I was on the road a little after 8am.  I saw an exit for Great Smoky Mountains National Park so I decided to head there to get a stamp in my passport and maybe hike to a waterfall if it wasn’t too far.  After driving for 20 minutes and not seeing any more signs, I quickly brought it up on my phone GPS and was shocked to see that the entrance to the park was too far away so I turned around and headed back to Interstate 40.  I did stop by a roadside store and pick up some fudge before getting back on the interstate.

Drove into a thunderstorm in Columbia.  The weather cleared once I passed Columbia until I hit Conway. It was getting darker as I got closer to home and then as I passed the turn off to Highway 544, the skies opened up and torrential downpour.  Thanks for the welcome home Mother Nature.  It was a great trip but one I will not make again.  I will fly next time I take a vacation in Chicago.


Chicago Day Three

Chicago Day Three continues my Springfield/Chicago trip with Tim Karas.  The earlier posts about the trip are Springfield Part OneSpringfield Part TwoChicago Day OneChicago Day Two and part one of Chicago Day Three – Brookfield Zoo.  

CHICHD072016005After having a great time at the zoo, I will definitely have to go back there, Tim and I headed back downtown for a 1920s architectural tour of the city with Tim’s friend Wendy of Wendy City. The tour wasn’t until late afternoon so we headed to my favorite fast food restaurant Chick Fil A for lunch.  We ended up staying there for a few hours due to the first rain storm to hit during my trip.  Tim was not happy because the milkshake maker was not working. He thought nothing was more important and that they should have stopped everything and get it fixed, in his words "it was an affront to civilization."  Apparently he takes milkshakes very seriously, who knew! 

The tour started at the Hampton Inn which was the old Chicago Motor Club headquarters.  Inside the lobby is a large map of the United States with the some of the national parks on it.  The architecture in the buildings we went into was cool.  I really liked the intricate design on one of the elevators.  Wendy was quite knowledgeable about the city and the time period.  She even had a slide show on her iPad.  I would definitely recommend it.  Unfortunately we had to cut the tour short due to Mother Nature deciding it was a good time for a downpour.  We went back to the Hampton and had drinks and appetizers.

BF072016001The last thing we did was head to Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park to capture some long exposure shots.   Let me just say HUGE doesn’t begin to describe the size of it.  The fountain has a major display every hour where the center jet shoots up water to 150 feet. Its especially cool at night, not only do you get display but you also get music and light show to go along with it.  

After the light show on the fountain which ends at 11pm, we turned to get long exposure shots of the city. Clouds moved in while we were there so we got some cool cloud shots.

All in all, another great day with a lot of walking and great photo opportunities.


Story Continues in Milwaukee Portion


Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo continues my Springfield/Chicago trip with Tim Karas.  The earlier posts about the trip are Springfield Part OneSpringfield Part TwoChicago Day One and Chicago Day Two.   This is part of Chicago Day Three blog.

LION072016002Due to my trip being cut short due to not staying in Milwaukee, we had to reschedule some things including when we were going to the zoo. It was originally going to be Thursday morning but because of our lunch plans with my brother, we moved the zoo excursion to Wednesday morning.  Before the trip even started,  I told Tim the only requirements I had for the trip was Springfield (done), day and evening shots of downtown Chicago (done) and of course, a zoo.  I love animals and my favorite animal is tigers.  When we were at the DC National Zoo in April, the tigers had already been taken in for the evening so I wanted to make sure I saw some this trip.

We bought our tickets and headed into the zoo.  The first animal we came across was an amur leopard that was sleeping high in its enclosure.  As I was getting ready to take a photo I noticed that my battery was low, mainly because the long exposure shots for the evening before and the fact that I hadn’t changed my battery yet during the trip so we headed back to the car to get a replacement battery.   Before heading back, I stopped in the shop and picked up a small stuffed tiger and fox to add to my collection.  As I was replacing the battery, I decided to grab an extra memory card because I only had about 500 photos left. We then headed back into the zoo.

TIG072016001The next stop was the lions which had a male and female.  The lion enclosure had rock walls along three sides and on the left side is an alcove that has a window. You pass the window when heading to the main part. As we were taking photos of the two lions, the male lion got up, walked over to the alcove and roared several times.  The people at the window had a front row seat.  We, however, were at the main part of the enclosure so all we could see was his back end.  At one point, the lioness looked over at him with the "oh will you shut up" look on her face. 

Next up was the tiger enclosure. Good news there was an Amur Tiger (aka Siberian Tiger) in the enclosure.  The bad news, however, was he/she was sleeping the entire time we were standing there taking photos. That didn’t stop me from taking many photos though.

It was a good thing that I brought that extra memory card because sure enough after MANY photos of the gorillas (there were babies), my card ran out of space while shooting the grizzly and polar bears.  We also saw and got photos of snow leopards, rhinos, giraffes and kangaroos.  I felt sorry for the tiger, polar bear and snow leopards, it was very hot the day when we were there and they aren’t used to high temps, they are used to much colder climates.

Story Continues in Chicago Day Three


Chicago Day Two

Chicago Day Two continues my Springfield/Chicago trip with Tim Karas.  The first thing posts about the trip are Springfield Part One, Springfield Part Two and Chicago Day One.   

LotusTuesday found Tim and I heading to the Chicago Botanic Gardens after having breakfast at a diner around the corner from his apartment.  The gardens are beautiful, I did take a few photos of flowers but most of the flowers I saw I have already taken photos of at Brookgreen Gardens at home. I really enjoyed the Japanese Gardens and Bonsai Collection which we don’t have at home.  My favorite part of the gardens is the waterfall where Tim and I spent some time doing long exposure photographer with neutral density filters.  The hardest part was because it was the middle of the day and we didn’t bring our tripods with us so we were setting our cameras up on either walls (Tim) or on the wall, on top of my camera bag and filter envelope (me).  The bright sunny day also made shooting the flowers fun because of the harsh sunlight.  Luckily we were able to find some flowers in the shade. 

We stopped for lunch and had authentic Chicago hot dogs and fries. Tim did anyway, I had them hold the onions, tomato and mustard but still had the relish and pickle. Apparently it is blasphemous to add ketchup to the hot dog.  Tim was bound and determined to get me to eat something authentic Chicago (or Springfield in regards to the horseshoe) but he ran into my stubborn streak and picky eating habits. We had milkshakes for dessert. 

BT072016002After lunch we headed to the Ba’hai Temple to take more photos.  Be careful when using the phone GPS because it took us down a road that was a dead end.  Luckily the temple was nearby and we could see it so it wasn’t an issue.  This is the second religious place Tim has taken me to on our trips (the first was a catholic church in DC) so I’m beginning to see a pattern but since I’m not religious, I will happily take photographs of them but that is all.   I had brought my crystal ball with me on the trip and this was the first and only time we used it.  Tim learned the joys of carrying it on a sunny day. Not only is it heavy but if it is held at the wrong angle to the sun, it will burn you.

While we were at dinner, my brother who lives in Milwaukee, called me to tell me that he had forgotten that I was coming to town (I was planning on staying with him on Thursday night).  Because of renovations, we agreed just to have lunch on Thursday and then I would head home. More on that story on the next blog post.

We headed back to to temple to get long exposure shots and met up with Tim’s friend, Jeff.  At 10pm when the Temple closed we headed back to our cars.  Thinking I would see Jeff at the parking lot, I quickly headed to my car worried we were going to be locked in.  We were blocked in but because the gate consisted of a barricade and two orange cones which needless to say were very easy to move but unfortunately Jeff had parked in the street so I didn’t say goodbye.  

Story continues in Brookfield Zoo


Chicago Day One

Chicago Day One is day 3 of my trip to Springfield and Chicago. The first two days are Springfield Part One and Springfield Part Two.  

CHICHD072016003Monday morning I woke up at 6am thanks to the alarm on my watch that I forgot to turn off.  After picking up Tim’s friend Joe, the three of us headed to Downtown Chicago to spend the day.  Our first stop after eating breakfast was Millennium Park to shoot Cloud Gate aka the Bean.  It was rather warm but I still managed to take tons of photos from many different angles.  I was also told by a friend when I took a selfie of my reflection that I looked like a midget.  If you have a chance to visit Chicago, I definitely suggest you visit the Bean.

We then headed down to the James Thompson Center AKA the Atrium to take some photos of the lobby.  You come in on the 2nd floor, food court is on the ground floor. What I thought was odd was the security check point was not at the front doors but near the elevators on the 2nd floor. We ended up grabbing lunch at  Kentucky Fried Chicken. 


First we checked out the Clark Street Bridge (surprisingly it didn’t bother my fear of heights but it did make me a little nervous on how much the metal plates were shaking).  We then headed down to the Riverwalk.  We certainly got our exercise and took MANY photos which is par for the course with me when I travel some place I’ve never been to though I’ve been known to do that even when going someplace I have been to many times. (cough Surfside pier cough).  I LOVE taking photos.  We stopped along the Riverwalk for refreshments, the guys had beer and I had lemonade. We also took photos from the Lake Shore Drive bridge.  

We ate dinner at the world famous Billy Goat tavern before heading to the John Hancock building for the sunset and night shots of downtown Chicago.  What is cool about the building is the John Hancock Observatory which is on the 94th floor and has a 360 view of the city.   Tim and Joe also did the Tilt which tilt’s outward 1,000 feet over the magnificent mile which according to the website "offers visitors unique, downward facing views from 1,000 feet up".  There is not enough money on the planet to get me to do it but Tim and Joe had fun.

The story continues with Chicago Day Two







Springfield Part Two

This is continued from Springfield Part One

LH072016002After a great night’s sleep in a really comfortable bed, I was ready for Springfield Part Two.  My friend, Tim Karas drove down from Chicago to join me. On the agenda was tours of the Lincoln House, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Old State House, the Train Station and the Lincoln Tomb.  Tim picked me up at the hotel and we headed to breakfast at Charlie Parker’s, a popular Springfield diner.  The food was great.  We then headed back to my hotel so I could check out and pick up my car.  We parked in the same lot that I parked in the night before.

Our first stop was the Lincoln Home.  After I grabbed my National Park Passport we headed to the visitor center so I could get a cancellation stamp for the passport and we could pick up the tickets to tour the house. Once that was done, we headed back to the car to grab our camera gear then we headed across the street from the house where the tour would start.  The Park Ranger gave us some background history on the house before we went inside.  One thing he did tell us that we would have all the time we would need to take photos.  Probably not something you want to tell photographers especially those who shoot HDR.  Tim and I took MANY photos and were hurried out of the rooms a few times so the tour could proceed.  We were in the backyard talking when apples kept falling off the apple tree and one almost hit me.  There was a squirrel in the tree who I think was throwing them at us but I had no proof. The first photo is Lincoln’s bedroom.  I stood in the doorway to Mary’s bedroom to take the photo.OCHD072015004

Our next stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  We only toured the museum, the library is across the street. As we weren’t sure if photography was allowed, it was, we left our camera equipment in our cars. It was nice not having to carry anything which I more than made up for by the time we left the gift shop.  We did have our photo taken with the Lincoln Family which when I texted it to her, my friend Maureen told me that we should add a tree and use it as a my Christmas card. My favorite souvenir from the trip was bought here – an Abraham Lincoln Bobblehead.  

We also toured (and took many photos) of the Old State Capitol building and the train station which had a exhibit from Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field.   The right photo is the staircase at the Old State Capitol building.

LT072016001Fitting end to my time in Springfield was Oak Ridge Cemetery where we saw not only monuments to the different wars but also Lincoln’s Tomb.   The last photo is the cenotaph above President Lincoln’s body.  Lincoln is buried in a concrete vault ten feet below the marble floor. Crypts in the chambers south wall hold the remains of his wife Mary, and three of their sons – Edward, Tad and Willie Lincoln.  Their oldest son Robert was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

We stopped for dinner at Dublin Pub and then headed to Chicago for the rest of my trip. 

The story of the trip continues with Chicago Day One

You can also read’s Tim’s blog of our trip here.  



Springfield Part One

As much as I was looking forward to my trip to Springfield and Chicago, I was not looking forward to the 16 hour drive. Springfield Part One starts a little after 4 am on Saturday July 9th.  Though the drive was long it was fairly uneventful UNTIL I got to Louisville, Kentucky.  Although I’m sure its a nice town, I wasn’t feeling the love.  Major construction is going on so the entrance ramp to I65 was closed.  The GPS kept taking me in circles through the city.  I finally ignored it and was able to get past the city and continued on my way.  

Lincoln House

Most people after that long a drive would probably have just checked into the hotel, grabbed dinner and probably had an early night.  Well I’m not most people and as I’ve told a few people, Springfield is my Disney World.  You might wonder why I was so excited about the capitol of Illinois.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE President Abraham Lincoln fan and Springfield has MANY Lincoln sites including the only house he ever owned and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  I got my second wind the second I drove into the city.  

I checked into the Crowne Plaza , very nice hotel with the most comfortable bed that I wanted to smuggle home. Unfortunately it wouldn’t fit in my Jetta.  Of course they were working on the elevators when I arrived so I took the stairs to my 5 floor room and dropped off my stuff except for my camera bag. The reservation desk was on the 2nd floor which I took an escalator up from the the first floor but I still had to climb 3 flights of steps.  I debated having dinner first but decided to grab something downtown. I drove around a little before seeing visitor parking lot for the house.  The lot was closed but I was able to find a garage across from the neighborhood where the house is located.  

The National Park Service does not allow cars in the neighborhood so it looks almost exactly as it did when Lincoln lived there. Because it was after hours, not many people were around and I could take as many photos as I wanted.  After shooting more than 100 photos and knowing I would be back once it got dark, I decided to head to my next Lincoln destination. Unfortunately I left my map back at the hotel.  

ALPM072016001The next place I photographed was the Capitol Building which had nothing to do with Lincoln as it was built after his death but the clouds were too good to pass up.  I thought the Old State Capitol Building was near the new one but alas it was not. I did finally find it along with the Presidential Library and Museum. 

After taking day shots of multiple Lincoln sites, I decided to grab dinner to kill time before I could take some long exposure shots of the different sites.  I then retraced my steps and took long exposure night shots of the different Lincoln sites.  Of course in changing angles at the Lincoln Herndon Law Office I tripped and fell injuring my hand and slight damaging my 24-70mm lens, Luckily the lens cap took the brunt of the fall but it is harder to screw in the filters now.

I was quite proud of myself, even after driving almost 1000 miles, I still managed to walk over 12,000 steps. I finally headed back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.  This brings Springfield Part One to a close. 

Continued in Springfield Part Two which includes tours of the house and the museum.





Raven Cliff Falls Hike

RCF102015002This is part 2 of the series,  Part 1 can be found here.  This is the actual hike to Raven Cliff Falls at Caesars Head State Park.

After leaving the Visitor Center, I headed further up to the mountain to the parking lot where Raven Cliff Falls trail starts.  The parking lot was full so I ended up parking along the road.  I grabbed my Thinktank Streetwalker backpack which had both the Nikon D300s and D700 camera bodies along with the following lenses:  24-70mm, 80-400mm, 10.5mm Fish Eye and 85m Macro.  I also carried Thinktank Photo’s Hubba Hubba Hiney which had my bottle of water and I hand carried my tripod because I forgot the 2nd strap to attach it to my backpack.  I was not packing light. 

The beginning o the hike is a down slope which I was not going to look forward to at the end of the 4.5 mile hike.  The hike to the observation platform is 2.2 miles and is a beautiful hike especially in the fall but it has a lot of twists, goes up and down frequently and sometimes the trail was on the edge of a steep drop.  You definitely want to watch where you are walking.  There is also a 8.5 mile hike that takes you to the bridge over the falls but I was making another stop before heading home so I just decided to head to the observation platform.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I am in good enough shape especially carrying all the equipment to do the longer hike.

It was interesting to see all the couples hiking where the guy was carrying all the equipment they had.  I hiked alone so I really had no choice but to carry my own equipment but even if I did, I plan to use it, its my responsibility to carry it.  I would estimate my backpack probably weighed more than what most people were carrying.

I finally made it to the platform. The view of the falls surrounded by the fall colors was spectacular.  Luckily I brought the 80-400mm  lens because the fall were across a valley and not that close.  Between the two cameras,  I probably took about 350 photos, most of them were HDR.  

The hike back was interesting and took longer for two reasons – I did stop more often to rest but I also stopped to take some photos with the photo I carried around my neck.  The hill up to where my car was packed was  especially brutal but I made it then proceeded to hit myself in the forehead with my camera as I was putting it away.   

Next time I go hiking, I either need to get my hiking boots repaired or get a new pair.  Sneakers just didn’t cut it.







Fall in the Mountains

Raven Cliff FallsIs there anything more beautiful than fall in the mountains?  Living near the beach has its advantages…..beach and warmer weather but one thing it does not have fall foliage.  Most of our trees are pine trees which don’t change which is great in the winter when they are still green but we don’t have the beautiful reds, yellows and oranges that places of higher elevation get.

Two weeks ago,  I decided to head to the upstate of South Carolina to shoot the fall foliage.  It was probably a week early for the peak but with not knowing whether or not we would be getting remnants of Hurricane Patricia, I thought this past weekend was a better time to go. I woke up early and headed out in my new Volkswagen Jetta.  I am going to miss many things from my jeep….moonroof, heated leather seats, the height and cargo space but one thing I’m not going to miss is the gas mileage, or lack thereof.  Since this was just a day trip, my plan was visiting two places.. Caesars Head State Park and Campbell’s Covered Bridge. Since Caesars Head State Park was the longer distance, I decided to head there first. It is 289 miles away which according to GPS would take me 5.5 hours.  Of course GPS does not take into account my lead foot so I knew it wouldn’t take quite that long.  It took me about 5 hours and that is with stopping for gas and getting stuck in traffic.  It was overcast when I left.  During the drive I saw a bald eagle, red shouldered hawk and what I think was a red tailed hawk flying overhead.  

My initial plan was to stop by Dunkin Donuts on my way out of town. I decided to hold of getting breakfast until I was further along in my drive but by then I couldn’t find a place I wanted on my side of the road.  By the time I stopped and got gas around 10am I was starving.  For much first couple hours of the drive, it was either overcast or I drove through a fog bank or two. I was worried that this trip would be a waste but by the time I got near Columbia, the clouds were gone and it was a beautiful day.

The drive up the mountain to the State Park was breathtaking with all the fall colors.  The drive itself was something else especially for someone who’s new car was five speed manual transmission.  It was my 3rd day driving a manual transmission after 16 years driving automatic.  The road was all curves so I kept having to shift.   The drive up the mountain reminded me of the drive into Yosemite only this time I wasn’t behind an tractor trailer.

Apparently I was not the only one who decided to come here.  The parking lot at the Visitor Center was almost full and a couple of the Rangers were directing traffic.   After showing the Ranger my SC State Park Pass, I bought a book of all 47 State Parks and a map of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness which Caesars Head State Park was part of.  In my haste to get started on the hike, I forgot to grab the map.

Next blog post – The Hike to Raven Cliff Falls

Yosemite Trip Part 3

Yosemite Trip Part 3Yosemite Trip Part 3 is a continuation of my first full day in Yosemite.  After taking a water/rest break, I decided to continue the hike up to the top of Nevada Falls which round trip is 7 miles from Yosemite Valley.  The hike to Vernal Falls is a moderate hike, continuing on to Nevada Falls makes it a strenuous hike.  I was really starting to feel it in my legs when I got to the top of Nevada Falls.  After taking a break, I prepared to head back down to the valley by way of the John Muir trail.  Two cute guys that I met on the trail tried to talk me into continuing the hike with them which would end at to top of Half Dome.

The thing about the Half Dome hike besides it is a long hike (10-12 hours round trip) to reach the summit, to be able to reach the summit, the cables (ladders) have to be in place because it is the length of 4 football fields at almost 90 degree angle. This is a hike that is best started at sunrise.  Hikers/climbers also need to be careful for thunderstorms in the area because Half Dome gets hit by lightning frequently.  I found out when I got back to the valley that the cables were not in place yet so it wouldn’t matter.  As much as I would love to see the incredible views from the top of Half Dome, I don’t think I could handle it due to my intense fear of heights.

Yosemite Trip Part 3

By the time I made it back down to the valley, my legs were like jelly.  I couldn’t wait until I got home and developed the rolls to see all the photos I had taken.  About an hour or two later I decided to push myself and made the hike over to Yosemite Falls. It’s an easy short hike to the tallest waterfall in North America so it is always crowded.  One thing that surprised me was how loud the falls are.    I took a few photos and used up that role of film.  The next roll that was put in the camera was my b/w roll.  Halfway back down the trail I stopped turned around and took a photo of Upper/Lower Yosemite Falls. This was by far the best picture I took from my trip.  I have had visitors to my apartment think that it is an Ansel Adams print.  The highest compliment this nature photographer can receive.

Deciding to treat myself, I went over to Ahwahnee Hotel restaurant and had prime rib.  Overpriced but it tasted good. Just as I made it back to my tent, the skies opened up and it started to pour.  I read for a few hours and then went to sleep.