Greenery and Water in Arizona

I’ve spent very little time in Arizona, but that will hopefully change in the future.  I can’t wait to go back.  The environment in Northern Arizona is not what I was expecting at all.  I mean, come on, if you don’t live there or otherwise know about the area, is this what you picture when you think about Arizona?

Being from the Pacific NW, I had an aversion to the American Southwest.  I guess I pictured something from a Road Runner cartoon with nothing but sand and rocks and an overwhelming dryness.  That turned out to not be the case, at least in Sedona.

The above images were taken at Slide Rock State Park.  The next time I go there, I will definitely hike in with a tripod to take a long exposure and get the water silky smooth.  Although the temperature was above 100 (F) every day, this was not the dry wasteland I had in mind.

One thing I expected that turned out to be accurate was the beauty of the sunsets.  Sedona and the surrounding environs are replete with massive, beautiful rock formations that light up in the evening.  I was constantly reminded of the Mull of Kintyre lyric “Past painted deserts the sun sets on fire . . . ” because around every corner was something like this view of Cathedral Rock.

Just outside of Sedona there are a few Native American ruins that are worth seeing.  Montezuma’s Castle has nothing to so with the Aztec emperor (he was never at this place).  It was misnamed by the Europeans who stumbled across this 5-story dwelling carved right in the side of the rock.  This is in the heart of the Verde Valley, and agriculture and fresh water were abundant.

A quick drive from Montezuma’s Castle takes you to Tuzigoot National Monument.  I’m not sure if the Tuzigoot (pronounced TOOTS-ih-goot) were a war-like people, but I can’t image that name struck fear in the hearts of English-speakers.  Here we find the ruins of an entire community that also took advantage of the verdant Verde Valley.

Each of those chambers was a room for something – a bedroom, a kitchen, whatever.  I’m not sure how they entered and exited the chambers as I could discern no doorways, but I’m sure they managed.

There is so much amazing scenery in Sedona, that even the view from a parking lot can be cool.

Of course we haven’t even talked about the fact that the Grand Canyon is a two-hour drive from Sedona, or about the neat little town of Jerome that is just 30 minutes away.  Those places will be covered another time.  I’ll leave you with another shot of Cathedral Rock, set on fire by the setting sun.

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Vashon Island 4th of July Fireworks 2015

Every year I look forward to the 4th of July fireworks show on Vashon Island.  Compared to the display over Lake Union in Seattle, our presentation is quite humble.  It is, however, a much more intimate affair.

We aren’t watching the show from a mile away with tens of thousands of other people.  We aren’t high up on rooftops from across the city, hoping for unobstructed vantage points.  We are right there with our friends and neighbors.  Still, it wasn’t a perfect how (for taking pictures) this year.  With almost no wind, the smoke built up fast and obscured the bursts.  Instead of getting nice, crisp streaks of light, I often got smokey blurs.  I did what I could though.

This year was a little different for me.  I didn’t go to my usual favorite spot on the rocky beach of Quartermaster Harbor.  Instead, I attended a fundraiser event for the Vashon Community Care Center at a private home that sits on the water.

The barge that shoots of the fireworks couldn’t have been more that 250 yards away from us.  I mean, it was right there.  In spite of this proximity, or perhaps because of it, I had some trouble finding a good viewing point where I could see the sky and the water at the same time.  The property was beautiful, but it had several large trees and lots of surrounding foliage.  As I scoped it out, I kept thinking that each spot I examined looked pretty good for just watching the show, but perhaps not so much for taking pictures and trying to get some of the water reflections.

They had a little staircase that wound down to the water, but at high tide the stairs went right into the Sound.  There was no land down there on which to stand.  I thought perhaps I could set up on the bottom steps, but there was a problem there too.  Some of the trees were overhanging in the shot, and I didn’t want the branches and leaves obstructing my view of the fireworks.

After considering my options for a bit, I decided the only viable option was to go in.  I took off my shoes and socks, hiked up my shorts, said a little prayer for the safety of my tripod and then waded into the Puget Sound.  This is ocean water from the Pacific.  We are closer to the North Pole than the equator here.  It was cold.  But there’s only one day of the year when I can shoot 4th of July fireworks, so that’s what I had to do.

It was surreal.  With the launching barge so close, and standing in the water, I felt like I was inside the fireworks display – like I was physically part of it.  The colors were all around me.  I could clearly hear and see the spectators in the boats.  Although I’ll probably be back on the beach at Quartermaster Harbor next year, this was a nice change in routine for me.

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Atlanta at Night

Atlanta wasn’t all scene locations from The Walking Dead.  I also went to a fabulous Tex-Mex restaurant.  After that meal, complete with a live trivia game, my buddy and I explored the Centennial Olympic Park which was right across the street from our hotel.

SkyView Atlanta is what they call the Ferris wheel.  Although it didn’t look quite as big as the one here in Seattle, the Atlanta version has the distinction of actually being photographed by me.  We were pretty close to the thing when this image was taken (it’s a fairly wide-angel shot).  I couldn’t decide if I like the still version above or one where the wheel was in motion.

What’s not pictured in either of the above images is the guy who insisted on standing in front of us for an extended period of time.  Normally with a long exposure, you wouldn’t have to worry about people walking around in the shot because they’d disappear in the final image.  But when they stand completely still it becomes an issue, and a moderately long waiting game took place before I could get these shots.

Turning around, we could see the Omni Hotel – the CNN tower, which is where we were staying.

Since I could see the Ferris wheel from my room, I guess one of those windows in the tower on the right would have been mine.

Moving on from SkyView, there is the Fountain of Rings.

I waited for the man in the front there to move out of the frame before realizing he was taking a selfie.  I guess he wanted to get it just right because he was there for a pretty long time.  Now he’s forever immortalized here on this humble blog.

The next day our group trotted around the corner to The Tabernacle, which is an amazing music venue in downtown Atlanta.  Our performance this year was Eric Burdon and The Animals, and man did they ever rock.

I’ve been in to The Animals since high school, so I was especially excited about this year’s show.  After taking some backstage pictures I was a bit concerned about this older gentleman with the egg-shaped head still being able to belt it out, but those concerns were absolutely baseless.

The entire group rocked hard, and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever had.

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Walking Dead Locations

The big annual business conference I go to was in Atlanta this year.  For a fan of The Walking Dead, what else is there to do in Atlanta besides trying to visit as many filming locations as possible?  My buddy found an app that overlays shooting locations onto Google Maps and works with your GPS to guide you to each of the spots.  I dare say he was even more enthusiastic about it than I was, and it turns out that many of the locations were fairly close to our hotel (the Omni Hotel/CNN Center).

It was on a lunch break when my coworkers and I decided we’d like to see Terminus.  It looked like it was just out of walking range, so the same aforementioned buddy flagged down a cab and asked him to take us to Terminus.  This went as you’d expect it to go when asking a cab driver who barely spoke English to take us to a fictional location for a TV show that he didn’t watch.  The buddy was undaunted, however, and navigated with his phone.  Eventually we started driving past some buildings that looked very familiar.  Then we crested a small hill and came around a corner to see this.

Fans of the show will immediately recognize this as it looks almost exactly like it did in the Season 4 and 5 episodes.  There were five of us on this particular sojourn.  Three of us casually walked out to see what we could see.  The buddy ran off down the hill, past the No Trespassing signs, into the heart of this dilapidated site.  The fifth guy was slow to exit the cab.  Suddenly the driver became chatty while he waited for us and informed the fifth person that this was no place to hang around.  He told us to be careful, not wander too far, and return quickly.  I’m not sure we followed any of that advice.  This was the first of many sketchy situations we put ourselves in.

You can still see, in the shots above, where the Terminus letters were once painted.  Did they pick this building because it has the right number of windows, or did they pick the name because it has the right number of letters?

On the way back from Terminus, we had the cab drop us off a few blocks from the hotel.  The plan was to hit as many downtown sites as possible.  We did see a number of shooting locations from the show, but none were really iconic.  We found the street where Rick got stuck in the tank and Glenn had to get him out.  I have a picture of that, but really, it’s just a downtown street in a city.  This next one, however, might be a bit more recognizable.  This is the alley where Glenn and Rick fled after the tank.  It really is right down the street from where the tank scenes were shot.  We also found the ladder they climbed up to safety.  It’s in this same alley, but visible from the other side.  I figured one image of an alley was enough to share, though, so we’ll move on.

Hopefully this next one is recognizable to any fan of The Walking Dead.  It is, of course, the freeway where Rick rides into Atlanta on his horse.  If you pull up the cover for Season 1, you can see that there was some movie magic applied here, but mostly it’s the same scene.

You have to stand on the Jackson Street Bridge to get this shot.  That is a fairly busy overpass that isn’t all that easy to get to.  My memories of getting this shot are mostly consumed with thoughts of our insane Uber driver.  Although the ride was way more exciting that it should have been, we did get there, and he waited for us to take some pictures.

Getting the above shot was kind of my white whale on this trip.  Once I had it, I finally relaxed a bit (as much as I ever do).  We saw many other shooting locations around Atlanta, but most just look like normal city places that even fans of the show might not get too excited about.  Also, most of the places we went were not in particularly good parts of town.  I might not have been so tense if I didn’t have the camera gear on my person at the time, but what would have been the point?  Because I can’t resist including just one more, here is the building where Rick, riding through the streets on his horse, sees a helicopter flying in the distance.

BONUS MATERIAL:  Toward the end of a particularly bad (scary, unsafe, ill-advised) walk we (enthusiastic buddy and I) found ourselves traversing the same foot-bridge Rick uses when he first enters the city.  My personal-safety meter was at DEF-CON 5 at the time, so we didn’t realize we were missing a photo op, but I did notice what looked like a shanty town assembled below the bridge.  As I was thinking it looked a little too perfect for an actual shanty town, I saw that it was, in fact, being put together by people who looked like they live in a regular town.  Since I wanted to salvage something from this walk I went ahead and assumed this would be the site of a future filming location.  Even if something will be filmed there eventually, we have no way of knowing if it’s related to The Walking Dead.  But just in case, you saw it here first.

I have other Walking Dead location pictures that I will probably never post because they’re just not that interesting.  However, I also have some non-Walking Dead images from Atlanta that will probably make their way here very soon.

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Icy Airplane Mode

It’s been awhile since I took some in-flight pictures from an airplane.  This is largely due to the fact that I’ve been sitting in the exit row for the last many flights, which is directly over the wing.  Nobody wants to see a bunch of shots of an airplane wing.  Wouldn’t we rather look down on winter landscapes?

For a couple of trips now, I’ve sacrificed the legroom of the exit row and sat a little further forward in the cabin, so I at least had a chance of getting some shots.  Still, it takes a relatively clean window (all of the several panes need to be free of gunk) and little or no cloud cover.  All of the images here were taken on the same flight from Seattle to Detroit.  These aren’t sunrise shots, but it was still morning light.  As usual, I was sitting on the port side of the aircraft which, since we were flying east, means the camera was pointing north.

I like this icy river image.  I like that it’s not quite totally frozen over.  I like the bends and the crags.  I like the juxtoposition of the man-made fields (the squares and circles) with the natural randomness of the river’s shape.  Before you ask, I do not know what river this is.  I can tell you that all of these images were taken over Montana or one of the Dakotas.  I think this one is over Montana.  If it looks familiar to you, please send me a note and let me know what the name of it is.

This scene I like because the physical features look like veins to me.  Perhaps “veiny” is not the first adjective a landscape photographer wants to hear when someone describes their work, but, whatever.  There’s a joke about having ice in one’s veins in here somewhere, so that’s good enough for me.

This might not be the strongest image ever, but there is a chance that the line in the upper third is the actual border between North and South Dakota.  Go ahead, look at a map; this is what the border looks like.  I’m basing this on what the in-flight map was showing me at the time.  The little picture of our plane was directly over the border, and, sure enough, when I looked outside the window this is what I saw.

As you can see, the clouds started rolling in toward the end of our flight.  Before they completely obscured the view, I got this one that shows clouds, clear sky and the shadow from a different bank of clouds that’s off-camera.  The depth of field here (shot at f/8) gives almost a miniature look to the scene.  If you follow the link and view it as big as your monitor will allow, it might almost look like an optical illusion.  This look could probably be achieved with Photoshop trickery, but this particular image is pretty much what things looked like at the time.

BONUS IMAGE:  As most of you know, my destination is almost always Indianapolis, Indiana.  As luck would have it, on the day I departed Indy to return home, a fairly famous person flew in for a couple hours to talk about education or something.  Normally I would never publicly show such a shakey image, but I figure I probably won’t have very many opportunities to even see this thing, let alone take a picture of it.  It was parked way out there at the Indianapolis airport.  When the PA system told us there might be an interruption in services while a special guest arrived, I made my way to the end of the terminal.  A small group had gathered with their iPhones to snap some pictures when I said, “Excuse me while I whip this out.”  I had my 70-200mm lens hooked up to a 2x teleconverter for a total of 400mm of focal length.  Even then, this image is severley cropped (I told you it was parked WAY out there).  400mm is tripod-distance, especially when shooting through thick airport-glass, but I was one tripod short at the time.  So, those are my excuses for showing this somewhat blurry image.

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