A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Glade Creek Grist Mill – Mill Tour Part 2



Glade Creek Mill at Babcock State Park in Virginia

Glade Creek Grist Mill, often called Babcock Mill because it lies within Babcock State Park near Clifftop, West Virginia was the second mill on our recent tour. From Mabry Mill (part 1) on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, we drove north on Interstate 77 for about three hours. The weather began to turn sour, and our clear, sunny skies gave way to clouds and even a few sprinkles. The conditions, however, proved to be ideal for me. The overcast skies softened the shadows, deepened the colors and eliminated the dappled light which I try to avoid whenever possible. Having bright highlights on leaves, rocks and sky really messes with the dynamic range. That isn’t much of a problem if you’re posting an image to Facebook or Instagram, but it makes printing the image a real headache. So, although it was raining and I along with my gear was getting wet, I was still loving it. An added benefit to the weather, was that it kept the tourists down to a number that I could deal with. The way the mill is situated, right on the edge of the creek, did not allow for people to walk all around it as they did at the Mabry Mill. At Babcock, visitors could poke themselves in and out the mill door, but really couldn’t go any further. Once I was done shooting the mill up close, I moved downstream where people and other distractions became less of an issue.

This shot was  literally made from the parking lot.

All the mills I photographed this particular weekend were very accessible. They were either right off the road of within walking distance from the parking lot. Usually, no long trek through the woods is required. Maybe that’s why I like photographing mills so much. That, and the fact that they are quickly disappearing from the rural American scene and need to be recorded while they’re still here. Glade Creek Mill represents over 500 mills that were once thriving in the state of West Virginia. It was constructed of three older mills which outlasted their original usefulness. The earliest original parts of the mill date back to the 1850’s while other parts date to the 1890’s. The basic structure is from Stoney Creek Mill and the mill deck and other workings are from the Onego Grist Mill, originally located near Seneca. The mill was rebuilt in 1976, so what you see today is actually only 43 years old.


Parts of the mill are scattered about the site


The fall colors were just beginning to peak when I was there

Apparently, West Virginia has been experiencing the same drought that we have been dealing with all summer back here in Alabama. The low water levels at Babcock State Park prevented the mill from operating the day I was there. I believe the mill operator told me that Glade Creek was two feet below normal, so there would be no milling until the areas received substantial rainfall. Perhaps, the rain I was experiencing was the beginning of just that. I would have liked to have seen the creek flowing better for photographic reasons. I could have used a bit more water cascading over the rocks, especially in the downstream shots. I also would have preferred to have the water wheel turning to provide some motion to the static image. Water spilling over the wheel off the sluice is always something I try to capture in a mill photo. Unfortunately, that would not be possible this time.

A view of the mill from downstream


Unfortunately, the low water levels prevented the mill from operating this day

The Glade Creek Grist Mill and the Mabry Mill (part 1) are both wonderful examples of early mill construction. They remind us of another time, one less rushed and complicated. They both represent an era when mills dotted the American landscape, much like the covered bridge which has all but disappeared.  I actually visited a third mill on our tour of the Virginias. It was the Tinger Mill located near the town of Paint Bank, Virginia. We found it totally by accident, but I’m glad we did. While it doesn’t have the old-time charm of the Mabry and Glade Creek mills, it is a wonderful example of a working mill and a reminder of why mills were so vital to the surrounding community.

Despite the fact that the Tinger Mill is not as photogenic as the Mabry and Babcock mills, it is a very nice example of a working mill, and I may post some photos of it in a few days. Stay tuned.


November 12, 2019 Posted by | Architecture, Mills, Photography, Travel, Virginia, West Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Down By The Old Mill Stream

Sometimes I enjoy things that are spontaneous, like going on a trip without much forethought or planning. I took such was a trip recently to the states of Virginia and West Virginia to photograph a couple of grist mills. I had seen photographs of these two particular mills, and I knew that I had to drive up there and try my luck at capturing these amazingly beautiful structures. I decided to make the trip right in the midst of fall color season, but I feared that I might be too early for peak color based on the fall color maps I had seen. My wife agreed to join me on my mill tour, although she only has a passing interest in mills or photography for that matter. I think she considered it a good chance to just get away for a few days and to see a part of the country that we don’t normally get to see. This was Appalachia we were heading to, and it soon became apparent that some of the most scenic parts of this country are also among the most depressed. Even in this time of relative prosperity, we saw towns and villages that seem to really be struggling, and have been for a long time.

Our first stop was at Mabry Mill in Floyd County, Virginia. The mill is located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 176. We got there a bit late just as the sun was going down, but I did want to see it’s orientation to determine if it would make a better morning or afternoon shot. As it turned out, it definitely favored the afternoon, but I was just a bit late. Part of the mill was in bright sunlight and part was already in shade. The dynamic range was too great to hope to get good tonality across the entire structure. Although it was late, I decided to try getting a few shots anyway. I played around with HDR (high dynamic range) techniques to try to equal out the shadows and highlights, but that made things only marginally better.

Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I realized that my best bet was to wait until the sun completely set, placing the mill in total shadow. I would have to adjust my exposure settings somewhat, but since the camera was on a tripod I didn’t have to worry much about the shutter speed. I could maintain my small aperture and thus, depth of field. My shutter speed slowed way down, but that provided a benefit by blurring the water wheel to give a sense of motion. I was lucky that the mill was working and the wheel was still turning. I found out that the sluice had just recently been rebuilt. The old one had rotted out a while ago, and the water had to be channeled through to an iron pipe in order to keep the mill in operation. For photographic considerations, having an operating waterwheel is almost essential. Another visitor told me that the sluice had just been put back in operation this summer, so my timing was uncharacteristically good. With the sun setting, my light was fading fast and I had to decide quick, if I wanted to return the next morning and try again.


West facade of Mabry Mill

The Mabry Mill is located about forty minutes from the town of Hillsville, the nearest town of any size. We decided to spend the night there and if the weather held, I planned to drive back to the Mabry very early the following morning. Unlike the evening before, when I arrived I was the only person on the scene. Gotta love it. I knew my luck would not last long however. The fact that I was there on a weekend during “almost peak” fall color season, guaranteed that tourists would soon be arriving in droves. I was not wrong. Now, I have nothing against tourists. One or two help to add interest and scale to a photograph. It’s when the number of people climb into the dozens, that I begin to have a problem. At a certain point, too many people in a photo creates a distraction and all you see are the people. Plus, when you’re shooting with very slow shutter speeds like I am, you run the risk of blurring the people since they are usually moving around. I know there are software programs that eliminate such distractions, but I don’t like using them.


Mabry Mill is a favorite of tourists driving the Blue Ridge Parkway


The water wheel powers the grist mill.

So, I had to work fast. I concentrated of getting photos of the mill itself from several vantage points and then planned to move to other parts of the site. Near the mill is Matthews Cabin, an excellent example of mountain architecture and workmanship. A working blacksmith shop, a whiskey still and a sorghum mill demonstrate to visitors and school children what it was like to live in this part of the country in the late 1800’s. The mill was built by Edwin Boston Mabry in 1903 and was in operation by 1908. Considered a “slow mill” due to the lack of sufficient water power, it eventually developed a reputation for producing some of the finest tasting corn meal in the area. Apparently, a fast mill runs the risk of grinding too fast and scorching the grain.

After a couple of hours, I began to realize that I reached to point where the number of visitors had reached critical mass. It was time to call it a day. I did take a few minutes to go inside the mill and I even took a few shots of the pulleys, belts and internal workings that transform the movement of the wheel into a means of grinding grain.


Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway – late afternoon


The recently rebuilt sluice once again channels water to the water wheel to power the mill

In a few days, I will post some photos from the second mill we visited, the Glade Creek Grist Mill near Clifftop, West Virginia.


Matthews Cabin is an excellent example of mountain architecture, circa 1900


November 1, 2019 Posted by | Photography, Travel, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Desert Architecture

Recently, I had the good fortune of being able to accompany my wife to the United Arab Emirates. She goes to the Middle East once a year for business meetings, but this was the first time that I was able to join her. Ever since she returned from her first trip there, with stories of the country and its people, I’ve been eager to join her on a subsequent visit. I especially wanted to see the architecture of this relatively new country, a country of great wealth due to its vast oil reserves. Money from oil has allowed the U.A.E. to embark on an aggressive and perhaps unprecedented building plan.


The Corniche in Abu Dhabi which includes the Etihad Towers and the Emirates Palace

The cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are where every global Fortune 500 company wants to have a presence. To that end, new skyscrapers, hotels, condominiums seem to rise up overnight. Construction cranes fill the sky, and a large portion of the population seem to be construction workers, often expatriates from neighboring Arab states. Building never stops and it sometimes extends far into the night, but I suspect that has to do with the oppressive heat during the daytime hours. The average high daytime temperature we experienced during our visit in late September was 110 degrees. You would think that living in Alabama, as I do, would prepare you for this kind of heat, but it was not the case. It is not a dry heat either, like the kind you might experience in the American southwest. This is a humid, sticky, draining sort of heat. It really saps your energy. What is amazing though, it that most everyone is well covered up. The Muslim faith dictates that both men and women display little, if any skin, which I guess, acts to protect them to a degree as well. But when you see construction workers toiling all day, in long sleeved shirts and long trousers, it makes you wonder. You know they cannot be comfortable. My wife says, it’s all a matter of what you are used to. Maybe so.


The Grand Hyatt and the Bab Al Qasr Hotels on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi

As I said, one of the main reasons that I wanted to visit U.A.E. was the architecture. My major in college was architecture, and although I only practiced in that profession for a short time, I have always admired those who design and build these modern-day structures where we live, work, go to school and shop. It seems with today’s building materials and computer-aided designs, anything is possible. The more spectacular and innovative you can design a building the better. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become the places where architects can let their imaginations run wild it seems, and where anything goes. Everyone wants to outdo the other guy, and their building has to be more spectacular than the one that came before it. Nothing seems off-limits here. We saw round buildings, cylindrical buildings, pyramid shaped towers including the Burj Khalifa, presently the tallest building in the world. We briefly got a glimpse of the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel which somewhat resembles a sailboat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get too close to it since only guests and VIPs are permitted onto the property.

The Dubai Mall and the Emaar Office Complex

The Gates Residential Towers in Abu Dhabi

For the the past several years, U.A.E. has been moving away from an oil-based economy, to one of finance and tourism. At some point, all that oil will play out and I suppose they want to be positioned so that there will be alternative industries in place to supplant oil production. That’s the prime motivation for this incredible building boom. A real effort is being made to become the world’s financial and business capital as well as the world’s playground. Billions of dollars have gone into constructing some of the most amazing facilities to lure visitors to the emirates. Already constructed is the world’s only totally enclosed theme park called Ferrari World, an indoor ski slope complete with a chairlift, their own Louvre and planned Guggenheim museums, more shopping malls than you could ever want, and golf courses that rival the world’s best. Mix in the planet’s only eight-star hotel and a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, and you get a picture of the lengths the country is going to in order to entice well-heeled travellers to visit the Persian Gulf Coast.

Buildings along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.

Another method in getting cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the map, so to speak, is to employ the help of Hollywood. Having an flashy, action-packed movie filmed in your city certainly helps to draw attention to it. In the last few years several movies have been filmed in the U.A.E. You might remember Tom Cruise rappelling off the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Mission Impossible, or how about the scene in Fast and Furious 7 where a super-expensive sports car sails from one tower to another of the Etihad Towers in downtown Abu Dhabi. Star Wars and Independence Day also used U.A.E as a backdrop, along with many other films. A couple of seasons ago, the Amazing Race TV show chose Dubai as a major location for one of their stops along the race.

The Plaza of the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi

The exterior of the new Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi

The architecture of U.A.E. is all designed to impress. Seemingly, no expense is spared in acquiring the most talented architects and engineers to create these modern masterpieces. One example is the new Louvre Museum. The museum is a collaboration between Abu Dhabi and France. It was designed by Jean Nouvel to showcase the elaborate web-patterned “floating” dome which consists of eight layers of steel webbing. Sun filters through it resembling the sun shining through date palm fronds. The dome roof weighs as much as the Eiffel Tower. The entire building is surrounded by water to give the illusion that the museum is floating on the sea. The collections are gathered from museums throughout France. Another art museum planned, is the new Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, the museum is expected to also incorporate water into its theme when it is built. Today, the project is on hold for a number of reasons, not the least of which are fears of terrorism. Concerns about an American museum with a Jewish name  in a country which doesn’t even recognize Israel have led to several years of delays. Time will tell if it ever becomes a reality.

Prayer Hall of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The modern skyscrapers which stand like sentinels along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi or the Jumeirah in Dubai are marvels of innovation and technology. They test the laws of physics by their very form. Shapes that defy gravity and reason are everywhere. Structures that somehow stretch out at unimaginable angles, giving the viewer the uneasy feeling that they might topple over at any second, somehow remain upright. It’s all quite amazing. That’s not to say that there isn’t practiced a more traditional style of architecture in the U.A.E., however. The country becomes a bit more conservative when it comes to their spiritual needs. Their mosques, of which there is one in practically every neighborhood, are designed more with an eye towards tradition and practicality. But dispel the idea that a mosque can’t be extravagant or opulent at the same time. Quite the opposite. Seemingly, no expense is spared on their religious structures, again, owing to  the great wealth of the nation. These designs take on a much more measured approach. Modern 21st century designs give way to a much more traditional treatment.

A gallery at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

My wife and I had the good fortune of being able to stay at a hotel within walking distance of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It is the largest mosque in the U.A.E and the eighth largest in the world. It can accommodate 40,000 worshippers at one time. In a word, it is huge. Upon entering, you are required to remove your shoes and women must put on a loose-fitting robe called an abaya (provided) while men must wear long pants and a button-down shirt. Call to prayer is five times a day, so there’s a good chance you will witness at least one call during your visit. The structure is almost completely white and almost blindingly bright. Someone advised me to bring sunglasses, but of course I didn’t heed their good advice. I soon regretted it. It was so bright, the light meter on my camera was doing crazy things, jumping around and giving me  incomprehensible readings.

Entering the Prayer Hall

I visited the mosque with a colleague of my wife’s as she was still at a meeting on the day I went. We only stayed a couple of hours, but I could have stayed all day and promised myself I would return before leaving for home. Of course, I never did.  The place was just so fascinating, so much so that I didn’t even remember that it was still about 110 degrees inside the courtyard. Unfortunately, I picked perhaps the busiest time of the day to visit the mosque. I have never seen so many tourists in one place outside of Orlando. The fact that everyone had a cell phone and were all taking selfies, kind of spoiled the whole spiritual atmosphere of it for me though. I expected to see worshippers devotedly praying to Allah, but I saw little of that. Maybe that happens on specific days I’m not aware of. Regardless, the mosque was a beautiful sight, from the delicate gilded floor tiles to the soaring minarets poking up to the not-so azure Arabian sky. Yes, regrettably, the skies along the Arabian Peninsula are not so blue. During the nine days I was in the U.A.E. I seldom saw a blue sky. They are mostly gray with lots of haze, I suppose from all that sand that gets stirred up. It was a little upsetting at first, but I got used to it. Polarizers or haze filters were of basically no use here. So, you photographers out there planning a trip to U.A.E, you can leave your filters at home. You can also leave your tripod at home. It’s so darn bright everywhere, you can handhold just about every shot, even at f/22.

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

All in all, it was a great trip even though I returned home with a terrible head cold for my efforts. I predicted it too. I knew that going back and forth from air-conditioning to 110 degrees was going to do me in, and it did. Oh well, it was worth it. I hope I get the opportunity to go back to U.A.E sometime. I learned some things on this trip that will better prepare me for the next time and I missed getting some shots I’d like to have another crack at. I never made it back inside the Zayed Mosque at night, and that I really regret. The lighting at night really transforms the building to something even more spectacular I’m told. Overall, I’m happy with what I got to see and photograph in the United Arab Emirates. For any lover of art and architecture U.A.E is a must place to visit. Just make sure to pack a bottle of water or two. You’re going to need it. Sunglasses too.

October 6, 2018 Posted by | Abu Dhabi, Architecture, Dubai, Middle East, Photography, Travel, United Arab Emirates, United Arab Emirates | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Touring the Palouse

I have never had a desire to join a photography tour group. I’ve always looked at my profession, my hobby, my passion as a solitary endeavor. Photography was always something I did to escape from daily life, something to allow me to pull back from human interaction and enter a quieter, more peaceful place. Maybe, that’s why I am primarily a landscape photographer. I have an excuse to get out into nature, away from the city, the traffic, the people. It is a joy for me to be able to pick up my camera and venture out to a place I’ve never been before. I love experiencing new things and seeing different parts of this amazing world we all share. A common refrain I hear from photographers, those truly passionate about their craft, is that photography is like breathing. They cannot imagine existing without it. I feel that way too and never more than when I’m able to experience a place for the first time, such as when I recently got the chance to visit the spectacular Palouse.

Due to my advancing age, my wife thought it prudent for me to not “go it alone” this trip, and instead, consider joining a tour group. She pointed out that it would be safer if I were with other people. “What if you had an accident or medical emergency”, she asked. “What would you do if you were alone in the woods, or on top of some mountain and had a heart attack or got lost?” This is the point where she would remind me of the time, years ago, when I spent a cold October night on a mountaintop in the Smokies. I had lost my way back to the trailhead before the sun set. I had no food, no water and no shelter. I only had the shirt on my back, unless you count the photographer’s vest I was wearing and the twenty-five pounds of camera gear I was carrying. My tripod was my only defense against any curious bears that might wander by. Fortunately, none did.

Okay, so maybe going with a group might not be such a bad idea.


From Steptoe Butte. This is perhaps the most iconic of all Palouse images and the one most photographers come for.


While there are no shortage of photo tour companies operating in the United States, up until a decade ago, not too many made the Palouse a prime destination. Most photographers were heading off to places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Alaska. Most people didn’t even know where the Palouse was. As tour companies increased in number and began to search for more options, the Palouse began to receive notice. Here is a part of the U.S. that is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Unique to itself, it is often compared to Tuscany in Italy. Similar in ways, it displays its own special topography. These rolling hills change color by the season depending on what is growing, not growing or what is being harvested.


Spring wheat


So where is the Palouse you ask? Well, it comprises several hundred thousand acres of prime farmland in southeastern Washington, with parts extending into central Idaho. Wheat is the primary crop (both spring and winter), followed by barley and legumes. The variety of plantings give the landscape an ever-changing color palette. The light greens of spring give way to the darker shades of green and yellow of summer. Then gold takes over as the wheat matures and is finally harvested. The brown earth shows itself again after harvest and then the cycle is repeated with the planting of winter wheat. Alternating colors play off the undulating fields, while puffy white clouds provide constantly moving shadows to give dimension, definition and texture to the beautiful hills and valleys.


Dairy bucket, spade and pitchfork


Tractor tracks


Choosing the right photo tour group company was not easy. I knew I wanted one where the groups were kept small, so as to provide better one-on-one interaction and to keep things flexible. I knew there would be lots of driving around and I didn’t want the hassle of constantly having to get on and off a bus or van while lugging all my gear. I also wanted a home-based company, one that really knew the territory as well as the history of the region. Knowing the local farmers turned out to be invaluable. Our tour director, Jack Lien, not only knew the farmers, he was their neighbor. Because of that, we had access to places that other groups just didn’t have. Not only that, but we had access to his own property, which provided us an ideal venue for doing some amazing astrophotography on our last night.


Old truck


The Palouse is gaining so much popularity, that it’s almost a bad thing. Photographers come from all over the world to photograph this surreal landscape, but sometimes they don’t respect the land they stand upon. In their zeal to capture the perfect moment, photographers have trespassed on farm property trampling crops and destroying structures. By word of mouth, or by publishing their GPS coordinates, photographers have unwittingly made some places so popular with their fellow shooters, that farmers have had to declare their barn, silo, field or homestead off-limits. Some have gone so far as to torch their old barn to prevent future incursions onto their property. Jack told me that the Palouse is losing an average of three historic structures every year due to farmers intentionally setting them on fire. Photographers are literally killing the Palouse with love.


The Weber Homestead


Jack is doing whatever he can to preserve the Palouse. He thinks that a balance needs to be maintained between the photographers and the landowners. He sees the need to preserve the beauty of the region for future generations of photographers and others, while maintaining the privacy and livelihoods of the farmers. No one disputes the fact that photographers bring needed revenue into the local economy. The community relies on the money that these folks spend during a typical week’s stay in either Colfax, Pullman or any number of smaller towns. The hotel in Colfax, which served as the base for our tour group, caters to photographers. The place was booked solid for the week with photo tour participants, and I suspect it’s like that a good portion of the year.


Jack’s favorite spot


When I decided to go on my first organized photographic tour, I had to decide where to go. My list of possibilities was long. Included were Colorado, Yosemite, Denali NP in Alaska, Lofoten Islands in Norway, Cuba, Iceland and the Palouse. While some of these other choices might be more recognizable, or sound more exotic, there was something about the Palouse that captivated me. I had seen photos of the area, but it wasn’t until I saw the photography of Mike Brandt that sealed the deal for me. His photos of the Palouse were just stunning. Mike is a tour leader for a competing tour company, and while I’d have loved to have joined his tour, the high tuition cost forced me to look elsewhere. That’s important when seeking out a tour company. Some are all-inclusive, meaning that your tuition covers everything except transportation to the location. Hotels, meals, snacks, tour transportation, permits, etc. are rolled up into one bill. While that may seem convenient, you are paying for that convenience. You can often do better by going with a company that offers a lower tuition, but you pay for everything else separately.


Wheatfields and silos. Shot from Steptoe Butte.


Palouse Falls


In the end, I chose to sign up with The Palouse Country Photo Tours. Jack is owner and operator and a superb photographer to boot. I liked the fact that he was a local resident, lives right in the Colfax area and even runs a B&B there. As I mentioned, Jack knows the territory and more importantly, the farmers. I didn’t know how critical that would be until I became more aware of the sometimes contentious relationship that exists between photographers and landowners. Tour companies that spend maybe two weeks a year in the Palouse cannot possibly develop the kind of relationship that Jack has with the local landowners. They haven’t been able to cultivate  the friendships necessary to gain access to some of the most photogenic spots in the Palouse. A lot of prime places are just off-limits to many of the out-of-town companies. Jack encourages all his tour participants to print what he calls “goodwill photos” to distribute to the locals farmers in order to maintain a positive and friendly relationship. Private property “photo spot” GPS coordinates are a well-kept secret in order to protect the privacy of the landowners.


An abandoned grain elevator near Pullman, Washington


The tour lasted only five days, but it seemed longer. Maybe that’s because it was jam-packed. Our group usually headed out for a day of shooting around 5:30 am and didn’t return until dusk, but we did carve out a few hours mid-day to rest up and to recharge our batteries (ours and our cameras). The Palouse is best capture in either early morning light or around sunset. You need the low sun angle to cast the long shadows to give the hills form and shadow. Any other time of day, the landscape is pretty flat looking. Better to use those mid-day hours to photograph old barns, trucks, canola fields, crop dusters, etc. Since those dawn and dusk “golden hours” are so limited and always subject to the weather, Jack was constantly “recalculating”, a term he used to adjust to the whims of mother nature and the clock. No day’s schedule was carved in stone. We had to be flexible so that we could use the light and weather to our best advantage. Size was another advantage to our group, which only had eight participants. We were small, but nimble. Our caravan totaled three vehicles, which allowed us to travel quickly from place to place, even though some of the roads were less than ideal. Basically, there are three types of roads in the Palouse – paved, gravel and dirt. We didn’t spend much time on paved roads, or dirt roads for that matter, but boy, did we see our share of gravel roads. Thankfully, I was always in the lead car, so I didn’t have to drive through a constant cloud of dust like those following us did.


Jack and his group minus me.


On one of our last days of the tour, Jack invited us all up to his house for a wonderful barbecue dinner and a chance to unwind from a pretty hectic week. That morning we had survived a 4:00 am wake-up in order to get on the road and up to Steptoe Butte to catch the sun’s first rays. Many of us wanted another crack at our own interpretation of perhaps the most iconic image of the Palouse. It’s a shot of the Whitman County grain elevator from the top of Steptoe Butte (first photo). Captured from just the right elevation and angle, it looks like the structure is almost floating above the rolling landscape. On any given morning in June, when the sky is clear and the sun is just rising, you can easily determine the best vantage point.  It’s where you’ll find throngs of photographers lining the road attempting to do the very same thing you are. You’ll be lucky to find space enough to plant your tripod. Be sure to bring warm clothes and leave your lens hood at home, because the wind will blow it off anyway.


Windmills from Steptoe Butte


By that evening, we were all pretty wiped out, so the barbecue couldn’t have come at a better time. Jack and his wife made us a fantastic meal.  We all had a fun time kicking back, drinking a beer or glass of wine and getting to know each other a little better. Turns out, five of our group of eight were from British Columbia, two were from South Carolina and there was me from Alabama. I was the only male in the group, which my wife found quite interesting, when I casually mentioned it to her. After dinner, we got to see some of Jack’s photography. He told us the story behind a few of his images – how luck sometimes plays a part in getting the shot, but mainly, it was his close relationship with his fellow farmers that primarily contributed to his success. Some pictures just wouldn’t have happened without the goodwill he has fostered all these years. The evening was to be capped off with some night photography, but we were all pretty tired by that point. Jack agreed to put it off until the following night (our last) as conditions were expected to be just as good, if not better.

I had never attempted “astrophotography” or night photography before. I thought you had to have special equipment or something, but that is not really true. All you need is a decent camera, a fast wide-angle lens (14-24mm), a remote shutter release and a tripod. It also helps if the landowner has a bunch of vintage vehicles and an old windmill to use as foreground props. Jack had all these things. He also had a flashlight which he would deftly “light paint” onto these objects so they would record in camera along with whatever was in the background. For our first foray into night photography, we were planning to photograph the Milky Way. Now, in June, in the northwest United States, the Milky Way doesn’t make an appearance until around 11 pm. Did I mention that our days were long? Fortunately, we had a clear night and the stars were bright. We all caught on to the process of shooting long time exposures while Jack lit up the trucks, tractors, windmills, etc. with his flashlight. It was fun and I can finally say that I have  “shot” the Milky Way. After a couple of hours, we all felt we had a sufficient number of “keepers” to call it a night. It was well past 1 am when I finally got back to the hotel, but it was all worth losing a few hours of sleep.


The Milky Way and Jack’s truck


When our five-day tour was over, I still had a couple of days on my own. After we all said our goodbyes, exchanged email address with promises to stay in touch, I headed back out to revisit some of the places I did not get very good results the first time. A prime example of that was at Palouse Falls. I just wasn’t happy with the images I got on my first visit earlier in the week. The falls were ninety minutes away from our base in Colfax, but it was important enough to me to attempt a do-over, even though it’s a dangerous place to photograph. Four people have either fallen off the cliff above the falls and died or have drowned in the swift river current in the past couple of years. On our first visit, Jack held onto our belts, shirt collars, jackets, anything, while we photographed the falls to prevent any of us from meeting the same fate. Unfortunately, on my second visit, I was by myself, so I had to be extra careful. As it happens sometimes, my results the second time were no better than the first. Along with revisiting some places, I hoped to explore our base town of Colfax a bit, and then make my way east into Idaho and then north to Coeur d’Alene and finally to Spokane and my flight home.

So, what did I conclude about my first photo tour, you might ask? It was fantastic. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I go back to the Palouse? Without a doubt. There are still shots I wasn’t able to get due to weather or lack of time, but overall, I’m happy with what I came back with. I didn’t lose, or break, any gear along the way, and that is always a big plus in my book.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I am getting older. Maybe latching onto a tour group is not such a bad thing. Maybe my days of venturing out and going solo are behind me. We’ll see. I really don’t relish the thought of spending another cold October night alone on top of a mountain. You know what I’m saying?


July 6, 2018 Posted by | Farming, Landscape, Nature, Palouse, Photography, Travel, Washington | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Aloha Hawaii

On quite the spur of the moment, my wife Sharron and I decided to go to Hawaii. We had been to the 50th state way back in 1980, almost 37 years ago. That’s a long time, so when we got an offer from Hilton Hotels to stay at their resort village on Waikiki Beach, at a reduced rate, we said, why not. The catch (there’s always one of those) was that we would have to endure a two-hour sales pitch to purchase a Hilton timeshare. We’ve been to these sorts of things before, so we thought we could easily survive their efforts to get us to sign on the dotted line.


Sunset on Waikiki

We decided to go in January, which we felt would be a good time to escape the cold. We didn’t know how right we were until we started receiving texts and emails from family members back home telling us that Alabama was experiencing some of the lowest temperatures in years.

Hilton Hawaiian Village


Diamond Head at Waikiki

We arrived on Saturday, January 13, a momentous day in the history of the Hawaiian Islands, as it turned out. That was the very same day that an erroneous emergency alert was sent out to every citizen’s cell phone, TV set, radio and Apple watch, that a ballistic missile attack was imminent and to seek immediate shelter. Fortunately for us, our plane was still several hundred miles away from landing in Honolulu. Once we did land, the threat had already been determined to be in error. The panic felt by many Hawaiians had already dissipated by the time we arrived.


Our first week on Oahu was spent at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, an enormous vacation resort right on Waikiki Beach, and just a few hotels away from where we stayed 37 years ago. It’s a beautiful place comprised of a half dozen high-rise residence towers, five pools, an equal number of restaurants, two Starbucks, shops and even its own lagoon. You could get lost in this place, and believe me, we did.


The Fire Dance at the Hilton luau show

Our week on Oahu was great. When we weren’t enjoying the beach or one of the pools, we were exploring the island. We took a tour of Pearl Harbor, drove through properties once owned by the Dole Pineapple Company, watched surfers challenge thirty-foot waves up on the North Shore and visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. We even saw the locations for several Hollywood movies, like Jurassic Park and From Here to Eternity. One night, we took in the Hawaiian luau at our hotel and really loved the show.

Scenes of Oahu

For our second week, we flew to the island of Hawaii, or as it’s better known, the Big Island. We had never been to this island before so we rented a car since we planned to do a good bit of exploring. To get a sense of the place, we took a group tour around the entire island on the first day to see the major highlights, and decide which places we wanted to return to on our own. From Kona, we headed south and then east to Hilo, the main town on the east, or wet side, of the island. Because of the prevailing winds and mountainous terrain, the east side of the island gets over 200 inches of rain a year, while the west side gets relatively little. Unfortunately, most of what we wanted to see was on the east coast, so we kept raincoats and umbrellas close by.


On the road to Ka Lae (South Point)

We did manage to revisit several spots we saw on our first day’s tour. The black sand beach at Panalu’u was made better on our second visit by the presence of several green sea turtles. We wanted to go back to the Volcanoes National Park, but that wish was almost dashed when Congress did not vote on the budget and the government shut down. As a result, most national parks were closed including Volcanoes NP. Fortunately, a few days later, Congress did approve funding for a few more weeks and the park did reopen. A highlight of the trip was getting to stay overnight at the Volcano House, the historic hotel on the edge of the Kilauea Caldera. At night we got to see the lava glow from the crater right from our hotel, but a better vantage point was from the Jaggar Museum. We drove the Crater Rim Drive down to the ocean, walked through the Thurston Lava Tube and survived several active steam vents.


The glowing caldera on Kilauea

Another place I wanted to return to was Akaka Falls. The tour company took us here, but conditions for photographs that afternoon were awful, so I planned to return the next morning. Akaka is a spectacular 420-foot waterfall, one of many on the island. Rainbow Falls was another beautiful waterfall we got to see and photograph. The natural beauty of the island of Hawaii cannot be truly appreciated until you actually visit there. The Waipi’o Valley is a beautiful and spiritual place, as is Ka Lae, which is better known as South Point, the southernmost point of the United States. The road to get there is narrow, and the last couple of miles can only be safely accomplished with a four-wheel drive vehicle. We didn’t want to test the capability of our two-wheel drive rental car, so we drove as far as we could, but didn’t quite make it to the green sand beach at Mahana Bay. We did see several black sand beaches, including one where a bathing suit was optional.

The Big Island

We took the drive up Mauna Kea to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy that was named for the Kona-born astronaut who died in the shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Not far from the slopes of this 13,000-ft. extinct volcano, the land begins to flatten out into beautiful grasslands. This is the Parker Ranch, the largest privately held ranch in the U.S. The land supports 35,000 head of cattle. We visited the original homestead, which was a bit underwhelming.

Perhaps the highlight of our time on Hawaii was our zipline adventure. Surprisingly, Sharron has had ziplining on her bucket list for a while, so we figured this was as good a place as any to make it a reality. The zipline company we chose was highly rated and we were not disappointed. The course was comprised of seven ziplines progressing in height and distance. You start out nice and easy, but before you know it, you’re sailing over 400-foot ravines and a distance of over half a mile. We passed by some amazing waterfalls and lush tropical vegetation. Our guides pointed out the notable flora and fauna of the area and we even got to sample the local “apple” bananas and sugar cane growing there. We really had a fun time and hope to do it again sometime.


A fellow zipliner takes a selfie

Our self-guided tour of the Big Island basically followed the same route that we took on the first day, but we were able to see so much more. Had we not gone off on our own, we would have missed St. Benedict’s Painted Church in Honaunau, highlighted by bright biblical scenes painted by a Belgian priest. We’d have missed the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Historic Park that showed us how the early Hawaiians lived and worshipped. And we would have missed the humorous things that kept us laughing, like the coffee plantation named “Kona Lisa” whose marketing featured that smiling DaVinci maiden sipping a delicious cup of Hawaiian coffee. We’d also have missed the bookstore that was open for five hours on Wednesdays only! That’s the job I want.

Parker Ranch and Panalu’u’s green sea turtles

It was a great trip that ended all too soon, as most good things do. Our flight home from Kona was uneventful. The airport there is totally outdoors, which I suppose illustrates the little rainfall that side of the island receives. It is not well managed, which leads to a bit of confusion. We had no idea what gate we were flying out of until the last minute. All flights are accessed from the tarmac, so Sharron had a bit of a struggle dealing with her carry-on luggage and all the souvenirs she brought back for all the kids and grandkids.


Windmills along the road to Ka Lae

One final note – we did manage to resist buying a timeshare in Hawaii, much to our kids’ dismay.


Kilauea Caldera

March 11, 2018 Posted by | Hawaii, Photography, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments