2013, Featured, Journeys

The Biltmore House at Sunset

October 19, 2013
Biltmore House at Sunset

This photo of the Biltmore House at Sunset was taken in mid-October around 15 minutes prior to sunset.

The Biltmore House and surrounding estate was built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 and stands as the prime example of the gilded age in America’s industrial revolution. George Vanderbilt commissioned Richard Morris Hunt, a favorite architect of the Vanderbilt family, to design the home. The home features over 250 rooms including an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, elevators and early forms of lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration. The 178,000 square foot Biltmore remains the largest privately owned residence in America.

Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture and who is known for designing New York’s Central Park, designed the surrounding landscape architecture. Immediately adjacent to the Biltmore house is the formal garden and greenhouse, and beyond that the landscape shifts to the more natural setting that defined Olmstead’s approach.

Following George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, Vanderbilt’s widow sold 85,000 of the original 125,000 acres in the estate to the federal government. This land, including much of the scene in the background of this photo, became the foundation for the Pisgah National Forest area.


Travels with Gus

January 4, 2016

I’ve been photographing and journaling my travels for nearly 10 years. In that period of time alone I have traveled over a hundred thousand miles, visited 38 states and several countries, and during this entire time my near constant companion has been my loyal dog Gus.

Gus is a energetic, extroverted big miniature schnauzer who decided I looked like a good bet 10 years ago. I think it’s paid off for him. Since that time we have had countless experiences exploring the world.

Dogs gain an energy in exploration. They live to smell new scents. Meet new people. Explored the unexplored trail.

Humans have one scent organ. Dogs have a second called the Jacobson’s organ. It’s a direct pathway to the brain, bypassing many of the scents that would turn off humans. They are engineered to explore.

Together, Gus and I have hiked the mountains of Vermont, Colorado and North Carolina. Frequented the Northwoods of Wisconsin and Michigan. Explored the backwoods of the Appalachians. Walked farm fields in Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Kayaked and swam in the deep water of the Great Lakes. Lived as natives in the urban confines of downtown Chicago, Cleveland, and Dallas. Done pub crawls in Charleston and New Orleans.

He has regularly traveled with me for work. Gus has stayed over 500 of mostly well behaved nights in a hotel – nearly earning his own Starwood platinum card – but is equally at home camping in a tent in the middle of the wilderness.

Gus has meaningfully visited 32 states. Not merely passing through, but exploring and staying. All by car. It is impossible to know for certain, but I estimate he has traveled nearly 100,000 miles with me in that time. He is possibly the best dog for road trips since Steinbeck’s poodle, and far more fearless.

We drove through the Big Horn Mountains of Yellowstone in 2008 and unexpectedly encountered a blizzard. We made our way down the icy switchbacks of the eastern escarpment with me white knuckling the steering wheel and Gus sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat.

We drove across the highways of Iowa during a fierce prairie blizzard that sent cars careening off the side of a road. We were the only car on the road between Des Moines and Omaha. Visibility was limited to 10′ in front of the vehicle and we traveled in a single lane at no more than 25 miles per hour. Gus again sleeping in the passenger seat.

We recently returned from a trip to New Orleans. Louisiana and Texas had been receiving torrential rains for days and our GPS was routing around accidents and roads closed due to flooding. We drove the country back roads, passing cars that had hit the shoulders and found themselves sunk in feet of mud. Gus spent most of the trip playing with a ball or bone in the passenger seat.

We rode across small car ferries of a turbulent Lake Champlain in northern Vermont with waves crashing across the hood of my vehicle. Gus looked on in wonderment, and then settled in for a nap.

Gus is a master of maximizing nap time in vehicles. He sleeps in all manners on the passenger seat. On his belly. On his side. On his back, legs sprawled. He knows no fear in a car as long as I am nearby, or more importantly my free hand for the occasional rub.

This fearlessness isn’t always the best thing for his master. He howled with the wild wolves of Yellowstone from the confines of his safe vehicle while his father was outside photographing a nearby grizzly. A few years later while in a bitter cold camp late at night in the Green Mountains, from my side near a roaring fire Gus sprinted into the dark, hitting an animal broadside not 20 feet away, sending the stunned animal rolling. Gus thankfully came back quickly on command, as I only then noticed the white on black stripes of the skunk (he did avoid being sprayed).

We woke one morning in a tent in the Rocky Mountains to find ourselves surrounded by a herd of dozens of elk that were wandering down to the grassy hole. I found myself thankful at his discretion on that occasion.

Along the way, his personality (and frankly, eyelashes) has opened conversations with people of all backgrounds. Dogs have a wonderful way of starting conversations with strangers. In Montana, an 80-year-old man on the front porch of the local watering hole asked me about my dog. That turned into a conversation where I learned this man had surveyed the back country of Yellowstone over a 30 year period beginning in the 50’s. In New Orleans in the French District, at least 20 people a day of all ethnicities came up to meet him. I learned a perspective of the area we visited through their stories.

In most of these photos, Gus has been at my side. If these photos are my memory of what I experienced, he has been a main motivation for me to get out and experience the world. I have loved these past 10 years, and hope for many more new roads and adventures together.


Audubon Park, New Orleans

November 29, 2015
Audubon Park New Orleans

Audubon Park is a city park located in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States. The park is approximately six miles to the west of the city center of New Orleans and sits on land that was purchased by the city in 1871. It is bordered on one side by the Mississippi River and on the other by St. Charles Avenue, directly across from Tulane University and Loyola University. The park is named in honor of artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who began living in New Orleans in 1821.

The land now housing Audubon Park was formerly Plantation de Boré in colonial and early statehood days. It was initially an indigo plantation owned by Étienne de Boré who was also the first mayor of New Orleans. It saw use by Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War.

The city annexed the surrounding Uptown area in 1870, and purchased the plantation land in 1871. The site was the location of the World’s Fair and World Cotton Centennial in 1884. It was after the closing of this fair that the development of Audubon Park in it’s modern form began. The park was designed by John Charles Olmstead, the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmstead, as part of the Olmstead Brothers firm (Frederick Law Olmstead also designed Central Park in New York City and the Biltmore residence gardens).


Fog at Blood Mountain Shelter

October 5, 2015
Blood Mountain Shelter

I spent 8 days backpacking the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, a 76.4 miles stretch that goes from Springer Mountain to the North Carolina border. My backpacking friend and I started earlier this year, but a knee injury coming down off a steep mountain led to a premature exit. We made a commitment to pick up at that exact spot and complete the Georgia section in less than a year, so in late September we resumed from Gooch Gap.

The Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia is an amazingly beautiful and interesting trail. The Army Rangers complete the mountain portion of their training in the area near Dahlonega. The field they use for rapelling out of helicopters is next to the AT and you can hear them firing off rifles at all hours of the day. You won’t see them, but they are known to stalk hikers on the trail for practice.

The trail itself is beautiful and has amazing vistas from peaks frequently between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. I know this because I had seen portions of it earlier, not because there was any visibility. Unfortunately, during my September trek Hurricane Joaquin parked off the coast of the Atlantic and drenched the area in rain for the entire 8 days. We walked in clouds, fog and pouring rain the entire time. Progress on the trail was slowed down as every rock scramble became a slippery risk. Downhills became even more treacherous, as the drenched soil let rocks and mud give way under boots. Socks were constantly drenched, and within a few days in a unique and not pleasant mildewy trail aroma had formed in our tent at night.

The upside of hiking in this weather is it decreased the “Walk in the Woods,” crowd. Much like how unseasoned hikers took to the PCT after seeing Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” our trail shuttle driver Ron told us of several parties watching Robert Redford and Bill Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods,” and deciding to make an immediate go of the AT. Those backpackers burdened by freshly purchased heavy packs quickly gave up after 2-3 days of constant rainfall, leaving the trail to amazing personalities. We made friends with Bunchberry and Miami at Low Gap Shelter during an overnight. Bunchberry was hiking the second half of a flip flop, having completed Katadhin to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park, and now was hiking northbound. She had a 14 lbs. pack with frequent drop boxes and was made for speed. Miami was on the trail to figure out things, and at a 50 lbs. pack was clearly not built for speed. We sat in Low Gap Shelter commiserating, and later watching torrential rain come down into the valley. All along the trail we ran into terrific people, all experiencing the shared suffering of hiking big mountains and long distance and further challenged by the drenching rain.

We came across the Blood Mountain shelter here on day 2. Built in 1934 by the CCA, it’s a beautiful old stone structure that has secured thousands of hikers against the weather and wildlife. Black bear especially active in this area and have learned how to deal with bear cables. The hike down from Blood Mountain shelter to Neels Gap is strenuous, but we quickly moved as the reward of restocking and pizza lay at the end.

We made it to 6 miles from our goal overall before seeing NWS warnings of severe flash floods and mudslides in the area. We practice safety first. And besides, it gives us another reason to go back to the trail.


Avenue of the Giants

September 20, 2015
Avenue of the Giants

The Avenue of the Giants is a scenic highway that winds through 31 miles of old growth forest. Lined with hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient coastal redwoods and offers travelers many opportunities to stop and hike through ancient redwood groves. Coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) are the largest living things on this planet, growing up to 350′ high and 15′ in diameter, and are as old as 2,000 years. The average age for the redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants area is 600 years, but there are several that are considerably older.

Until 1960 the Avenue of the Giants was part of US Route 101 when a bypass was created. It’s hard to imagine trucks lumbering through this road, where sequoia sempervirens often are at the immediate edge of the road. There are three locations where cars can drive through a giant redwood, a throwback to a time where the importance of these trees was not fully appreciated. The state of California and the US government have gone to great efforts since to ensure these treasures remain available for many generations to come.

2015, Journeys

Tall Trees Grove

September 15, 2015
Tall Trees Grove

The Tall Trees Grove in Redwoods National Park, located in Northern California near Orick contains some of the oldest and largest living things on Earth. This grove was untouched by loggers, preserving these trees for generations of future people. John Steinbeck once wrote that, “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree.” I would add that nobody ever captured the peacefulness of the moment in a grove of giant redwoods.

The Tall Trees Grove in Redwoods National Park, located in Northern California near Orick contains some of the oldest and largest living things on Earth. This grove was untouched by loggers, preserving these trees for generations of future people. John Steinbeck once wrote that, “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree.” I would add that nobody ever captured the peacefulness of the moment in a grove of giant redwoods.

The journey to Tall Trees Grove requires a keypass to a gated road, a 7.9 mile drive down a winding gravel road, and then a steep 800′ decent down a trail. The end destination is this a serene and magical space.

The giant coastal redwoods of northern California are among the oldest and largest living things on Earth. These Sequoia Sempervirens are over 300 feet tall and more than 15 feet in diameter. The older trees can live for up to 2,000 years, and doubtless some of the trees in this grove are approaching that age. For reference, my backpack and 4′ long trekking poles are near the bottom of the frame.