Saturday, November 18, 2017

An Unexpected Find in Standish Michigan

When driving on an Interstate everything looks the same.  Most everything that can be seen is 50 yards on either side of the highway.  If you want to get somewhere fast, eat in fast food restaurants, and see the same thing mile after mile then stick to the Interstates.  However, there is so much more to see when avoiding the Interstates.  You just have to trade speed for more interesting sights.

While traveling north through the Eastern side of Michigan we chose to travel US Route 23 instead of I-75.  Route 23 is the same 1,435-mile long road that passes through our hometown in East Tennessee and connects Jacksonville Florida with "the tip of the mitt's" Mackinaw City Michigan.  We often take 23 from Kingsport to see our son and daughter-in-law in Ypsilanti, MI.  It's a much more pleasant drive than I-75.

British Railway
Typical European Railcar
On October 2nd, Route 23 took us through the small town of Standish Michigan (pop. 1,500).  We didn't have any plans to stop there but we spotted the Standish Historical Depot on the side of the road and made a quick left.  This former Michigan Central Railroad Depot is the first stop on the US-23 Heritage Route, a 200-mile stretch of Lake Huron's coastline that runs from Standish to Mackinaw City.  After the original 1871 depot fell into disrepair a new depot was constructed of large fields stones donated by local farmers. The stone depot was completed in 1889. Today it is a museum of railcars and railroad artifacts.

The railcars were built in York, England in 1954. After serving in the British Railway service they were operated in Canada for a number of years. They were used in passenger excursion service as late as the 1970's before being donated to the museum.

The Typical European Railcar photo on the left was a challenge to make.  It was bright and sunny outside and much darker inside the cars.  I took 5 different shots at different exposures while hand holding the camera.  Fortunately, the Lightroom software was able to align the photos and blend them to create this HDR image.  My goal when creating HDR images is to make them as realistic as possible and close to what I saw when I took the pictures.

Inside A 1929 Caboose
Ice Cream Parlor In One Car
Inside the depot, we were greeted by a volunteer who spent time with us explaining the history of the town and railroad.  They had done a great job on the museum with several artifacts and displays.


1958 Was A Great Year


If we hadn't taken the back roads we wouldn't have found this very interesting stop.  We spent about 45 minutes there before heading north on US-23 along the Lake Huron Coast in search of lighthouses.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Finding Interesting Places Away From The Crowds

I recently read an article about how places are being overrun with tourists once their photos and locations are posted on social media.  One example is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. Years ago you could visit this out of the way vista and only see a couple dozen other people.  Not so anymore. After resharing the article online I heard from a couple friends who had been there recently and said it was a zoo with hundreds of people and dozens of tour buses.

This problem is not limited to National Parks or other well-known tourist locations.  The situation is becoming more and more common as people descend on scenic locations after discovering them on social media.  The article goes on to explain some of the problems that result from overcrowding of places that are not set up for large numbers of people.

When I started my photography hobby I would research a place before we went there. I would buy "Photographing the _______" books and search online to find all the best places to go to make photos. I would have a detailed agenda for our vacation with each location we would visit each day. We had a great time and I got some nice photos, but I'm afraid those days are over. Places that were formerly remote are now becoming too crowded for me. I think it's great that people are getting out and enjoying God's creation, but our vacation plans are more about seeing beauty without the crowds.

Our last big vacation took us through several states. It was designed more as a journey than a destination. We had many stops along the way, such as Bush Creek Falls in WV, where we were the only people there. Most of these stops were not the "Top 10" lists on social media. A couple of those stops were historic places along our route through Michigan on the way to the Upper Peninsula.

Castle Museum
We had planned to stop in Saginaw to see the Castle Museum. Built in 1898, the castle was originally the Saginaw Post Office. In the 1930s it became too small to handle the volume of mail and was scheduled to be demolished multiple times.  Protests saved the building from destruction and it is now the home of the Historical Society of Saginaw County.

There were many details in the structure to take in, such as the gargoyles on the top of the rain downspouts.  It looks more like a miniature version of the Biltmore Mansion than a US Post Office.

Hoyt Library

Hoyt Library Doors
We found the Hoyt Library right next door to the Castle. This beautiful building was built between 1887 and 1895. We arrived at 10:40 in the morning before the library was open so we had to be satisfied with enjoying the outside only.  However, we were the only people there the entire time.   It was a beautiful morning with no crowds to deal with.


Hoyt Library Tower
Right there with the library and castle was a historic church built in 1887.
Historic M.E. Church 1887

After we left Saginaw, we passed through the town of Standish and discovered the Standish Historical Depot. This former Michigan Central Railroad Depot is the first stop on the US-23 Heritage Route, a 200-mile stretch of Lake Huron's lovely coastline that runs from Standish to "the tip of the mitt's" famous Mackinaw City.  This is the same highway 23 that runs through Kingsport Tennessee.  We made a quick left, parked and started wandering around the old passenger cars.  More on that out of the way stop in the next blog post.

Our country is filled with Castle Museums and historic train depots.  We may have to get off the highways and avoid the crowded hot spots to find them.   Being retired with plenty of free time makes that possible.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

We made it to Michigan and found ourselves in the 16th century

While visiting our son and daughter-in-law, we took a day and went to the Michigan Renaissance Festival.  I had been looking forward to this as a fun side trip on our journey.  We've never been to anything like this and I found it to be a unique opportunity to practice street photography in a very different environment.


Pirates Welcome Us To The Festival
I've discovered that you can find Renaissance Festivals all across the country.  Michigan uses a site specifically set up for the festival. The pageantry of a 16th-century village spreads over 17 acres with building reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns, jousting fields.  Inside are hundreds of unique individuals costumed for the Renaissance period.  I had so much fun I came home with hundreds of photos from that day.  There was so much going on sharing just a few photos can't really tell the story of our day in the 16th-century.


Dealers in Women's Headgear
I was surprised to find I was one of the few people photographing at the festival.  Many people were there to participate in character and others were happy to just wander around and watch the characters.
The Silversmith
This blog post is mostly photos and less of my writing.  I hope you enjoy the photos.  Remember, if you are viewing this on the web you can always click on one image and scroll through each one using left and right arrows.

Pan the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks and nature
Many of the costumes were elaborate while a few were more early Halloween costumes.  I wasn't always sure what I was seeing, such as the guy I've called Pan.
Others, such as The Dutchman, are well known and can be found on Ren Fair websites.

The Dutchman
The Queen
At one point the Queen passed through the crowds with her court followed by a parade of other characters. She was one of the more elaborately dressed and was followed by another woman that had a rather unique and painful looking outfit.


The Queen of The Pirates
The Fireman
There were several stages spread out around the festival where performers put on shows involving knives and fire.







The big event of the festival was the joust, which is a fight between mounted knights wearing armor and using lances. Jousting was a favorite form of entertainment during the Middle Ages and drew big crowds at the festival.
The Joust 
I got to watch the joust twice.  The lances were designed to break on impact but that didn't prevent one of the knights being knocked from his horse after taking a lance to the chest.  Another knight had to have "her" armor repaired by a local blacksmith.  We were told she broke a rib earlier in the day, but we weren't sure if that was true or just part of the show.  She didn't compete again that day.
A Knight At The Joust


Repairing a Knights Armor

As with any large gathering, there will be those who get into a little trouble.  This fellow was placed in stocks and for a dollar, people could throw tomatoes at him
A criminal gets his punishment

 There was even an early exterminator known as "The Rat Catcher" wandering the streets.
The Rat Catcher


One Scary Woman

Minstrels 
Everywhere we went you could hear Renaissance music.  Some of it was melodious and bright from minstrels.


Other musicians were a bit louder and energetic.
The Band and A Fan


At the end of the day, we listened to a band called Pictus which I think was the best show of the day.  Three musicians played early Celtic music on drums, flute, and bagpipes complete with a fox skin.


The Look
Here's a video of their high energy show.

I had a blast and got more comfortable taking photos of people. Every day I learn something new.  On this day I learned that I didn't need anything more than my camera and one 18-135mm zoom lens. I could have left the camera bag in the car. If we can we will go back next year and maybe look for other Ren Festivals to go to.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Hocking Hills State Park - We Need A Do Over

I've taken a little break from blogging about our trip up to UP of Michigan and back.  Now it's time to get back at it. 

After our first day in West Virginia, we spent our second day in the beautiful and distinctive Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio.  As with most of the places on our journey, we had never been to this park and only knew it from other people's photos. The park is filled with cliffs, gorges, caves, and unique rock formations formed by water carving out the Blackhand Sandstone.  Of course, when you have water flowing through rock formations you get waterfalls and this park has them, or at least the potential for them.

Like much of the Eastern US, southeastern Ohio has had a dry spell, which resulted in the waterfalls we looked forward to seeing being little more than trickles.  If you do a Google search for Hocking Hills images you will see some of what those waterfalls can look like when there is plenty of water flowing.
Cedar Falls

Low Water Means Dry Feet

Cedar Falls / Trickle

Low Water Means Reflections

What we did find were cool rock formations, grottos, cliffs, and caves.

Ash Cave

Bridge Near Old Man's Cave
We had to use our imaginations when looking at the dry river beds.  There were several cool stone bridges and walls that would look great with water flowing by.

One of the most popular areas of the park is the Old Man's Cave, where a hermit named Richard Rowe once lived in the 19th century. Before settling in the Hocking Hills area, the Rowe family had their home in the East Tennessee. Around 1810 he traveled the Scioto and Ohio rivers and after watching closely all the happenings of the 1812 War he became a loner and chose to live a solitary existence in the forest.

Richard often took trips to the gorge in the fall and stayed there throughout the winter trapping season. One day he stopped at a stream for water like he always did. As was usual, Richard used his musket’s butt to crack the ice when the weapon fired and hit him under the chin. The legend is he was found two days later by trappers who buried him in the forest. To this day, no one knows the exact space where Richards was buried in the Old Man’s Cave.
More Leaves Than Water Near Old Man's Cave

Stone Bridge
Another popular spot in the park is a cave called Rock House.  The Blackhand sandstone cave has a ceiling 25 feet high while the main corridor is 200 feet long and 20 to 30 feet wide. Water leaking through a crack in the cliff face caused the hollowing of the corridor. Nature has hewn out of this cliff the Rock House complete with seven Gothic-arched windows and great sandstone columns which support its massive roof. We were lucky to have the cave to ourselves while we made several photos.  Photographing inside the dark cave with its multiple bright openings required taking several different exposures which I blended together once we got back home.
Rock House
As a landscape photographer, I don't always get to photograph what I came for.  There is always something of interest if we just toss out our expectations, look around, and photograph the interesting things that are all around us.

We've put Hocking Hills back on our Bucket List to do in the spring when wildflowers are blooming, the rains fill the creeks, and water flows over the falls.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Wait For It

This weekend we "Fall Back" and starting Sunday morning, sunrise will be an hour earlier than this week.  June suggested we take advantage of this last week and go see a sunrise somewhere.  We decided on Wednesday afternoon to take off the next day and go to the Smokies for a day trip.  Being retired is nice that way.

It's a good idea to plan to be to the sunrise spot 30 minutes before the sunrise, which meant we had to be at the Oconaluftee Valley Overlook by 7:20.  Even with the late sunrise, we had to get up at 4 AM, eat a quick breakfast and head on down the road. The thing about sunrises is you never know what you will get when you start out.  But if you don't get up and go, you'll never get a great sunrise photo.

The Oconaluftee Valley Overlook is on the Newfound Gap Highway just south of the Newfound Gap parking area.  It's a great spot for sunrise and we found several other photographers already there when we arrived a little after 7.  As the sky started to lighten, we were disappointed to see solid clouds in all directions, from horizon to horizon.
7:35 AM
By 7:35 it really looked like we should have stayed in bed.  The sun was to come up in 15 minutes just about in the V in the mountains.  We decided to stick it out.

Right at sunrise, there was a small break in the clouds off to the south.  We could see through that small opening a little of what was happening on the other side of the clouds.

7:52 AM
That was pretty much all we saw for a while, then the clouds started to break up off to the east where the sun was hiding.  At 15 minutes after sunrise, the sun was well above the horizon by this time, but things were starting to happen.
8:07 AM
 Then it happened!  The clouds parted and the sun broke through 20 minutes after sunrise.
8:10 AM
If we had given up and headed off to find other places to shoot, we would have missed one of the best sunrises we've seen this year.  We didn't get to see the Elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center this trip, but we saw God's Glory in the sunrise.
8:12 AM

Sunrises and sunsets are photographer's favorites.  The drama of the of brilliant warm colors in the clouds and God beams shining down on the landscape is hard to beat.  The skies don't always cooperate and we might think it's not worth going or waiting around.  Other times we might be tempted to leave right after the sunrise or sunset. Many times I will have my tripod still set up while I watch other photographers pack up and leave. My experience says wait and see what is in store.  Don't give into temptation and leave early.  Sometimes the best part is 15 - 30 minutes after sunset, or in this case, after sunrise.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

It's Important To Plan Ahead

On a recent two week trip, I ran into a problem with the memory cards I use in my camera.  The problem was I made too many photos and ran out of cards!  That shouldn't be a problem.  SD cards are available in Target, Walmart, and most any store that sells electronics.  My problem was I was in the town of Munising Michigan.  Munising is a city of fewer than 3,000 people on the southern shore of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This is the best place to go to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  It's not the best place to find an SD card.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The best option we found was a Dollar Store that said they had good SD cards.  When we got there we found they were
micro-SD cards for a smartphone.  Low capacity, slow, and expensive.  Then we learned that Munising had something that few other places have -- a Radio Shack store.  Really!  They are not all gone.  We did have a hard time finding this one because it was in the back corner of a local pharmacy. Once we found them I bought the best card they had in the store - a SanDisk 64GB XC I card. Now I'm back in business and heading down the road to the next beautiful photo destination with my new card.

I soon learned why getting the right card for your camera is so important.  My Fuji X-T2 camera makes really large photos really fast.  When I got the camera I did a little research and found the Transcend Ultimate UHS-II SDHC U3 was a good match for my camera.  That's what I have been using since I got the camera.  I now know how important a fast card is.
Shooting Fast on Lake Michigan


The Radio Shack SDXC card has a write speed of 4 MB per second. My Transcend cards have a write speed of 180 MB per second, 45 times faster!  But, what does this mean in the real world?

Most of the time I make five different exposures of the same shot, starting at - 2 EV and going to +2 EV.  When I get home I then either pick the best exposure out of the five or blend some combination of the five together on the PC.  The Fuji camera can make those 5 shots in less than a second and write them to the card in the time it takes me to take a breath.  That is if I have a high-speed card in the camera.  What I found was what appears instantaneous with a high-speed card takes about a minute with the low-speed card.  I would take the five shots then wait a minute while the camera saved those photos to the card.  That's a pretty frustrating experience. 

When shopping for memory cards for your camera I suggest doing a little research first.  Find out what the manufacturer recommends.  Then see if there is any additional information available online. I also found a few good sites with information that helped me decide which cards to buy. 

Camera Memory Speed - Performance Tests for Digital Cameras
https://www.cameramemoryspeed.com/

Fuji X-T2
https://alikgriffin.com/fastest-memory-cards-for-the-fujifilm-x-t2/

Canon DSLRs
https://www.forthebecause.com/canon-5d-mark-iii-memory-write-speeds/

All my troubles could have been avoided if I had planned ahead and brought enough memory cards with me.  I've since solved that problem and am ready for the next big adventure.