A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Green Mountain Autumn

Here are a few images from a recent outing to the Madison County Nature Trail in Huntsville, Alabama. The preserve is located atop Green Mountain. The 72-acre park is a popular place for visitors from throughout the state and beyond. A 1.5 mile trail surrounds Sky Lake and is very popular with nature loves and anyone just needing a bit of get-out-of-the-house time during this pandemic we find ourselves in. The most popular structure on the trail is the Cambron Bridge, a beautiful covered bridge and very often photographed. There is also a pavilion, a rustic chapel, amphitheater and picnic area on the site. Admittance is free, but donations are encouraged.

I have photographed the park many times and each time it offers something different. It is most spectacular in the fall but each season has its own unique look. The drive up to the top of Green Mountain is a beautiful drive in itself, but it can be challenging in winter, as it does ice up in places, so take it slow if you plan a visit.

Fishing dock and the Cambron Covered Bridge
Possibly a native pointing tree
A peaceful afternoon on Sky Lake
Abstract autumn
Fishing at the Cambron Covered Bridge

November 28, 2020 Posted by | Photography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Westward Ho

Nobody can deny that 2020 has been a crazy year. The worldwide pandemic, social and racial division plus the most contentious presidential election in modern history has all our nerves a bit frayed, to say the least. The thing is, none of these issues seem anywhere near a resolution. COVID-19 is still spreading globally and it seems to be getting worse instead of better. Hopefully, recent news of a promising vaccine will prove effective and we can rid the world of this scourge. The election seems far from over as President Trump claims the results fraudulent and he plans to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though his opponent, Joe Biden and his transition team offer assurances that the election was on the up and up. Time will tell.

Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock near Bayard, Nebraska

It is for these reasons that my wife and I decided, several weeks ago, that this might be the right time to take a little trip, as a way to regroup and recharge our batteries. On top of everything else going on, we are also currently in the process of building a house on the lake. Add that stress to everything else and you can see that a little respite was definitely called for. The next order of business was to decide where to go. Initially, my wife wanted to head north to New England. She thought it would be nice to see the fall colors and it would give her a good excuse to visit her brothers and other relatives along the way. The idea sounded reasonable, but when we checked the COVID restrictions states like Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia had imposed for high-risk states such as Alabama, we quickly realized that a drive north was not going to be feasible during this latest wave of the disease.

So, where to go? If New England wouldn’t take us in, maybe the mid-west and some western states would welcome us with open arms. We checked their COVID restrictions and found virtually none. That settled it. As Horace Greeley once proclaimed, “Go west young man.” Well, I’m far from a young man, but I was more than eager to take that advice, so west we went.

Our ultimate destination was North Dakota for the simple reason that we have never been there before, and we felt that we could manage that long of a drive in the fifteen days we had allotted for our trip. Did I mention that our daughter decided to join us on this excursion and she brought along her dog “Chunky”. We welcomed her company and her dog travels very well so it was all good. The only problem was that some some hotels and most restaurants do not allow dogs, but fortunately, Chunky is a certified therapy dog so many places made an exception.

Our daughter Jennifer with her BFF “Chunky”

We set out from Alabama and worked our way up through Tennessee, Kentucky and into Illinois. We stopped in Springfield, the state capitol, for a couple of days for two reasons. The first was that my wife wanted to see the home of Abraham Lincoln there. It is the home he lived in while practicing law between 1844 and 1861 and just prior to him winning the presidency. His house is located in an historic district which is beautifully maintained as it would have appeared during Lincoln’s day. There is also a fantastic museum in Springfield dedicated to the 16th president.

The second reason for stopping off in Springfield was to visit the Dana-Thomas house, one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s premier designs. Visiting the house has been on my bucket list for some time now. The house represents a good example of Wright’s Prairie School style, demonstrating the principles of organic architecture which he embraced. Built for socialite Susan Lawrence Dana in 1902, it was one of the few projects Wright took on that had an unlimited budget. The house, which incorporates the existing original family home, contains over 12,000 square feet of livable space. Almost everything inside the building, including furniture, windows, lamps, etc. were designed by Wright himself.

South facade of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House

From Springfield, we headed west through Iowa, Nebraska and into South Dakota. The cornfields of Iowa and Nebraska appeared endless. It seemed like we could feed the entire world with just what we saw. Wind turbines were everywhere generating electricity from the seemingly ever-blowing prairie winds. We checked out one of the Pony Express way stations in the town of Gothenburg, Nebraska and saw some beautiful natural rock formations near Bayard, like Chimney Rock, Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock. In Scottsbluff, we drove to the top of the butte there. It was so windy in places, I thought the lens on my camera might blow off.

Chimney Rock near Bayard, Nebraska
Atop Scotts Bluff near Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Scotts Bluff Monument

Next, we headed north and up into South Dakota. No visit to the Black Hills would be complete without a stop at Mount Rushmore to see those magnificent carved faces of four of our greatest U.S. presidents. My wife and I had been there several years ago, so this visit was mainly for our daughter’s benefit, but seeing that incredible sculpture again was no less special the second time.

Mount Rushmore

Custer State Park is a short drive from Mount Rushmore. Located within the Black Hills, it may have been the highlight of the trip for me. Encompassing 71,000 acres, it is a wildlife reserve and home to herds of bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats and even a band of burros. Prairie dogs continuously pop up and down from their burrowed homes making photographing them a real challenge. The most magnificent creatures in the park were undoubtedly the bison. Close to two thousand bison graze the grasslands giving visitors somewhat of an idea what things must have looked like, not long ago, when millions of bison roamed the western prairies.

Bison, pronghorn deer and prairie dogs at
Custer State Park in South Dakota

Driving further on from Rapid City where we spent a few days, we reached the Badlands National Park. Just prior to that, however, we made a quick stop in the town of Wall, South Dakota to visit the famous drug store there. Wall Drugs started out at a small establishment that soon staked out its identity by promising westward travelers (along what is now U.S. 90) “free ice water.” Weary travelers could take a break from their exhausting and dusty trip, and enjoy a refreshing cup of ice water, something in short supply along the road. Today, some two million travelers make a stop at Wall’s, not just for the promise of cold water, but for anything else they can think of. The roadside attraction has grown into a huge retail space covering 76,000 square feet. To be truthful, we thought it was basically a tourist trap and we didn’t stay long.

The Badlands National Park is a special place. The landscape resembles something you might envision on another planet. The topography is comprised of layered rocks, steep canyons and majestic spires. The layers are colored brown, yellow, rust and even red which seem to change hues depending on the time of day. As in the Black Hills, wildlife thrives here with bighorn sheep, bison, mule deer and badger taking center stage. We didn’t see any bighorn sheep at Badlands, but we did at Custer State Park. I’ll admit that it was a long way off and I had to use the longest lens in my bag to get a halfway decent photo of him, but it was great to be able to add another animal to the growing list that we spotted along our way.

Badlands National Park

It was about at this point that we decided to make a major change to our travel plans. Our daughter kept hearing from friends and coworkers, via texts and emails, to make sure to add Glacier National Park to our itinerary. They said it was beautiful and not to be missed, especially since we were so close anyway. Well, close is a relative term. Yes, we were basically only one state away, but Montana is one hell of a big state. Not only that, but we’d have to cut through a corner of Wyoming to get there. We tried to think of what we’d miss if we didn’t stick to our original route and destination (North Dakota) and soon realized that the answer to that question was – nothing! We were hard pressed to come up with a reason to see that state other than the fact that it is one of only a handful of states we have not yet visited. When we checked Wikipedia to see what North Dakota is famous for, we found out that the state is the nation’s number one producer of honey and dry edible peas. Guess we’re off to Glacier National Park!

Along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

As I mentioned, we had to cut through the northeast corner of Wyoming, so a stop at Devil’s Tower was a no-brainer. If you are a fan of the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, you will immediately identify this unique natural formation formed from volcanic activity eons ago. The tower is the country’s first national monument and it soars almost 1300 feet above the Belle Fourche River Valley. We hiked the trail around the base of the tower and spotted several native prayer flags, feathers and other items placed high in the branches of trees. Several Indian tribes consider the tower to be sacred ground. As we approached the south side of Devil’s Tower, we could see climbers attempting an assent, although conditions, to us, didn’t seem ideal as it was an extremely windy day.

Devil’s Tower

By the time we got to the town of Whitefish, Montana, the weather had deteriorated. Whitefish lies just outside of Glacier National Park and it was our plan to spend a couple of days here exploring the park as well as this pretty little ski town. Unfortunately, Glacier lies so far north that by October part of the main road through the park is already closed for winter. We did drive the portion that remained open, but the day was rainy and the temperature was dropping. Snow and ice were predicted for the next day, so we began to get concerned. Would we get snowed in for a time and have to delay our return home? That was our fear, so we did the prudent thing and left Whitefish for warmer weather further south. We headed to Yellowstone National Park back in Wyoming.

Visitors brave the chilly conditions at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Park turned out to be a bit dryer, but possibly even colder than it was back in Montana. The temperatures didn’t deter visitors to the park however, and it was quite crowded. Although the park’s most identifiable geothermal features like its numerous hot springs and geysers produce heat, we shivered as we waited for Old Faithful to erupt. Once it finally did blow, its usually towering spray seemed somewhat diminished, as if to tell all us tourists, that was the best it could do in those frigid conditions. Old Faithful seemed to be telling us to come back in the spring .

The Grand Prismatic Spring

Well, if Wyoming couldn’t welcome us with warmer temperatures, perhaps we should drive even further south, we thought. Our daughter heard that Colorado was pretty and especially at this time of year. Maybe we’d catch the Aspen trees before they lost all their golden autumn leaves. So, we made a beeline south down past the magnificent Teton mountain range and into Jackson Hole where we stopped for dinner. Every hotel within our budget was booked, so we were forced to continue on. I don’t even remember where we did stop that night, but I do remember it was very late.

Cottonwood trees turn golden in the Fall in Colorado

Our ultimate goal was Colorado Springs, which we arrived at the next day. Mercifully, the weather improved and the temperatures warmed up considerably. We toured around, my wife acting as travel guide. We drove to the town of Cripple Creek, an old mining town. The mines have long since played out, but the town has found new life as a gambling center. Dozens of casinos line the main street accompanied by gift shops, cafes and bars. As remote as the town is, we all had to wonder just how successful this newest endeavor could possibly be.

From Cripple Creek we drove on to Bishop’s Castle which seemed a fitting end to our trip. We began this vacation by touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois and we ended it by exploring another example of classic American architecture. Bishop’s Castle is an elaborate and intricate “one man” project started in 1969 and is still ongoing. For the last forty years, Jim Bishop has been constructing his “castle” from native rocks quarried from his property that he purchased when he was just fourteen years old. Begun as a vacation home for his family, it has evolved into quite the structure complete with turrets, towers, stained glass, spiral staircases and even a functioning fire-breathing dragon.

On our final day before heading home we decided to get in some horseback riding. Our daughter had never ridden a horse before, which for a former veterinarian technician, we found somewhat surprising. I went with her mainly because the trail would take us through the Garden of the Gods, a national natural landmark comprised of magnificent sandstone rock formations in the shadow of some of Colorado’s most majestic mountains including Pike’s Peak, the tallest summit of the southern range of the Rocky Mountains.

The Balancing Rock at Garden of the Gods

We drove home almost straight through back to Alabama. All three of us shared driving duties and we made it back in two days. Needless to say, we were all exhausted once we arrived, but we were happy for the experience, grateful that we arrived home safely and content knowing that we had a wealth of stories to tell our family and friends and more than a few photos to post to social media.

When we arrived home, the world-wide pandemic was still raging, social unrest was still rampant and the presidential race was getting even nastier, but somehow we all had a renewed sense that we would survive whatever came our way, but still looking forward to the end of 2020.

November 17, 2020 Posted by | Photography | 2 Comments

The Dismals

Recently, I took my grandson on a visit to the Dismals Canyon in northwest Alabama. I have been there many times, going back at least thirty years, but this was my grandson’s first visit. I’ve never really known why the place was given such an unlikely name as it is anything but a “dismal” place. In fact, it is one of my favorite places to visit in the entire state and I feel fortunate that I live only ninety minutes away. Located in Franklin County, near the town of Phil Campbell, the Dismals is a limestone gorge which exhibits a topography quite unlike any other place in north Alabama. There are towering rock cliffs, caves, grottos, a meandering stream and a stunning waterfall which empties into a shallow pool, perfect for cooling hot summer feet. The canyon is also the home to the insects known as “dismalites”. The larval forms of these flies emit a bright blue-green light to attract food and mates. They cover the canyon walls and are quite a sight to see on a warm summer evening. The bugs have been the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary as they are quite rare and can be found in only a couple of places. Nightly torchlight tours are conducted in order to view the dismalites up close and personal.

Dismal Canyon was declared a National Natural Landmark in May 1974. The history of the canyon is quite interesting. Over 10,000 years ago cavemen inhabited a bluff shelter on the canyon floor. Several Indian tribes like the Chickasaw and Cherokee followed making the Dismals home, but in 1832 they were forced from these ancestral lands as part of the Trail of Tears migration westward.

Unfortunately, the Dismals has become a very popular place to visit, especially during this time of COVID-19 and our need to social distance. Getting out in nature is one activity most people seem to think comes with minimal risk. The day I took my grandson there, it was very busy, and although the property comprises over 85 acres, it still seemed crowded. It was a far cry from visits years ago, when often I would be the only person in the park. Nevertheless, my grandson and I had a good time just exploring and taking photos. Following the map that we received when we arrived, my grandson blazed the trail, although I could probably have hiked the 1.5-mile trail blindfolded. He got into the history of the place, which was recounted in great detail on the opposite side of the map. He enjoyed learning about the few bandits and desperados who used the canyon as their hideout after a bank robbery or worse. I’m not sure how many of those stories are based in fact or are just the fanciful dreams of some tourism promoter.

If you plan a visit to the Dismal Canyon, please be aware that it is located on private property and there is an entrance fee. There is a gift shop, soda fountain (closed during COVID-19), rental cabins and rest rooms on site.

Here are a few images from my most recent visit to the Dismals Canyon.

 

Rainbow Falls at the Dismals

 

Entrance to Pulpit Rock

 

Indian Head Rock

 

Dismals Branch

 

Rainbow Falls Bathers

 

The “Impossible Tree”

 

Rainbow Falls and Swinging Bridge

August 16, 2020 Posted by | Alabama, Franklin County, Historic Alabama, Landscape, Nature, Phil Campbell, Photography, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace and Justice

A few weeks ago, I went on a tour of some of the monuments, memorials and museums commemorating Alabama’s civil rights struggle. One stop was at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. The memorial, which opened in April 2018, is this nation’s first dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, and specifically to the over 4000 African American men, women and children who were lynched between 1877 and 1950 in this country. The 805 steel suspended monuments represent each county where lynchings took place, engraved with the names of the victims. A matching set of monuments lie outside, waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent as a way to show which parts of the country have confronted the truth. Sadly, most remain on site.

The Peace and Justice Memorial sits atop a six-acre site near downtown Montgomery.

 

A visitor reads the inscriptions on the over 800 suspended steel monuments.

 

Madison County, Alabama’s memorial to lynching victims.

 

The monuments play against a constant cascade of water around the perimeter of the monument.

 

Over 800 suspended steel monuments represent the counties in the United States where lynchings took place.

 

Over 800 suspended steel monuments represent the counties in the United States where lynchings took place.

 

Replicated monuments lie flat outside waiting to be claimed by the counties where the lynchings occurred. Most remain unclaimed.

 

Students take notes on a school visit to the memorial.

 

A multi-figure monument to the transatlantic slave trade by artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo.

March 18, 2020 Posted by | Alabama, Architecture, Historic Alabama, Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Glade Creek Grist Mill – Mill Tour Part 2

 

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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