Category Archives: National Parks

Muir Woods National Monument

If you hike, you know about John Muir. And if for some strange reason you don’t, research him now. He was basically the “father” of the National Park System and pushed for Yosemite. He was also involved with creating other parks such as Sequoia, Mt. Ranier, and Grand Canyon. His name is everywhere in northern California.

My daughter and I were excited to stand next to some Redwoods and decided to go to Muir Woods National Monument. This is a small-ish park just outside of San Francisco. If you’re headed to that area of California everyone will tell you to visit. And by everyone, I mean everyone. And everyone visiting WILL visit and the park will be crowded. They have instituted a parking reservation system to limit how many people can be there on any given day. There are ferries you can take as well (they also require a reservation) and then a shuttle bus to the park. Even with these reservations, it still gets crowded but not overwhelmingly so.

It really was a wonderful place. The trees tower over you making you feel very small. The moss and ferns make you feel like you’re in a different world full of fairies and tiny, little, cute things. The main trail is basically a big loop. You can make it shorter by crossing over one of many bridges but don’t do that. Instead, go left (most people will stay straight). You’ll get to a portion of the trail that goes up higher. Go there. It isn’t a hard hike. But not a lot of people were on it. We often had it to ourselves and it was wonderful. We heard an owl hooting but could not spot it. I like to think it was one of the rare Spotted Owls (it was most likely a Barred Owl but one can dream). Unfortunately, there was a tour group made up of teens. They proceeded to yell, scream (yes, scream – who knows why) and were very loud. They pierced our experience. They wouldn’t move on the narrow path and walked two-by-two making us get off the trail and onto vegetation. I don’t know why you’d go to Muir Woods and act that way but then they aren’t my kids.

Standing in a Redwood
So much beauty along the trail

Off of the main trail, there are other trails you can take that lead outside of the official park. I bet these are wonderful but we had other places to go so we didn’t venture down them. One day, maybe. As we turned to go back out of the park, there was a family stomping around an area that said, “Endangered vegetation. Please do not go off path and do not walk on vegetation.” They were having a blast doing it. They were in the water, flipping rocks, and disturbing everything. I couldn’t help it. I yelled at them to stop. I told them they were off trail and it was wrong. They just laughed. It bothered me so much. I probably embarrassed my daughter but she’ll live. It was a deliberate act.

I wish I had taken more like this but from farther back to show just how amazing they look.

I was sad to have to leave. We were there right around noon so my photos aren’t great. The light was bad and I didn’t want to use my tripod to get any longer exposures. If I would ever return, I would go first thing in the morning. Maybe even hike in to get the very first light. I bet it would be beautiful.

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Yosemite National Park

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Before heading to San Francisco for spring break, my daughter and I discussed going to Yosemite. It would be a four hour drive to/from the park and it seemed like a lot. My daughter wouldn’t be able to drive the rental car so it would be all me. We originally decided not to go. However, her father kept badgering us and asking why in the world would we go all the way to California and not go.

So we decided, yes, we’d go. It was the best decision. We woke up pretty early and were out of the AirBnB by 5:50 am. We stopped along the way for gas and coffee. The scenery was beautiful during the entire trip. Once we started driving up the mountains I knew we were close. I was excited.

If you haven’t been to the park, heed the warnings. GO EARLY! We were there by 9:45 am within the grounds of the park. The problem was there was view after view of mountains, El Capitan, Half Dome, etc. We would stop for photos along the way. We crossed over a magnificent waterfall and I had to stop and try to get a good photo (fail). Finally, I said, “No more stopping!” because I knew we’d never get to hiking. (Note: I stopped two more times). I have to say that at the moment I saw the view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls together, I teared up. There was something powerful and overwhelming about that view. I tried to explain how I was feeling to my daughter and she felt the same way.

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Finally, we got into the valley. We wanted to make our way to the visitor center to see about hiking to Mirror Lake and maybe elsewhere. By 10:30 am-ish the parking lots were 90% full. Thankfully, we had a small rental and squeezed in a small area. We walked over towards the visitor center and our first stop was in the Ansel Adams Gallery. As a photographer, I had to go inside. There is no doubt he is one of the greatest artists to have lived. I saw one of his photos and was overcome with emotion. The worker here was so knowledgeable that he actually saved us a trip to the formal visitors center. Bonus!

We walked through the gift shop, got some tshirts, and headed back to the car. We drove towards Mirror Lake and, again, found a place to park. I don’t know how others missed the spot but I am glad they did. We started our hike. Did you know that way back in the day they used to drain Mirror Lake and put up a dance floor/area? We all agreed that letting it go natural is the best option. Obviously, the hike was amazing. It is an easy, short walk to the “lake”.

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The worker at Ansel Adams let us know that it is filling with less and less water and slowly growing back to a meadow. I was really looking forward to getting some reflection photos and was a little worried I wouldn’t. Finally, we arrived and my fears were unfounded.

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We walked across the meadow area and got closer to the stream that flows through the area. I could have stayed there all day. The granite rocks exploding up around us made me feel small and tiny. I couldn’t stop looking at them. My daughter really wanted to go look at the rocks along the stream but that meant wading through the water to get there. We took off our shoes and took a deep breath. That water was cold. There were boys on the other side of the stream and they were determined to get across it. It wasn’t too deep and some just took off running. Another group walked across. Their yells and hollering were quite funny. One yelled, “I can’t feel my legs!!!” They all made it though. I took in the scene of my daughter bent over examining the rocks. She wants to major in geology so this was special for her.

Eventually, we turned and walked back. As we drove out of the park, we stopped next to El Capitan. I don’t know if you’ve seen Free Solo yet (I have not – stressful!) but seeing it up close makes it even more amazing that he climbed it and did so quickly. It really blew my mind and I think that I am ready to see the movie now.

As we drove out of the park, I was sad. I love my Shenandoahs. I love the Rockies. But somehow Yosemite implanted itself in my heart and all I can think about is returning and spending years there exploring every inch of the place. The drive back didn’t feel like forever. We were high on beauty. After reviewing my photos I feel like I couldn’t capture the emotion of Yosemite. I guess this is one reason Ansel was so successful. You FEEL his photos and I didn’t do that. But I hope you enjoy them regardless.

Click to see the rest of my photos.

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Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

This past weekend I drove up to Michigan for two reasons: 1 – to celebrate my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary with our whole family and 2 – to pick up my kids. My daughter has been with them for 2 weeks and my son for 1. Because it is a long drive, I like to break up the trip going there.  So I headed out Friday afternoon and had plans to meet a friend.

Our original intent was to hiking to a couple of waterfalls. She lives right next to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and I had found a couple of short hikes.  While I was driving, though, it stormed. Bad. I drove through multiple downpours where I could barely see. We changed plans and decided to go to dinner.

Thankfully, by the time dinner was done, the sun was more or less shining and she suggested we try for at least one waterfall. We grabbed my camera equipment from the hotel and drove the whole 6-7 mins to the trailhead.  We chose Blue Hen Falls for our waterfall. It was already 8:00 pm so we didn’t have a lot of time.  We drove down the small drive to the parking lot and hopped out for the 1/6th of a mile walk.  The trail, while, short, was so pretty. And then it opened up and there were the falls.

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We were both wowed by their beauty.  While I was taking photos, the sky turned a beautiful pink color (in fact, you can tell in my photos – everything had a pink glow). I wish the pink sky could have come through in the photos because it was so pretty.

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I didn’t even need to attach a filter to my camera. In fact, it was almost too dark. I was able to shoot for 10 seconds or more for my shots which was really nice.  Thanks to the thunderstorms that moved through earlier, there was just enough water for a pretty shot but not so much that I had to get wet for the close ups. My friend mentioned there had hardly been any rain lately so the creek bed was very low.

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I really didn’t want to leave. I could imagine getting there very early in the morning and having beautiful light. Alas, I will have to save that for another time.  We didn’t have flashlights or anything so we returned to our cars. I was so happy to have that time with my friend and be able to visit a beautiful waterfall. If you’d like to visit Blue Hen Falls I would recommend visiting this link on The Outbound. They have the parking area marked. This waterfall is approximately 10 mins from the Ohio Turnpike so if you are traveling along that route, you could visit the falls, have lunch there, and then continue on your way. It wouldn’t take any time at all.

A Walk Among the Lotuses

If you live near/in Washington DC or are planning a visit, I highly recommend taking some time to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The summer months are perfect because the ponds and ponds full of lotus flowers are blooming. I saw on Instagram that there was a rare Empress Lotus blooming at the park so I dragged my son with me on the 4th of July. We arrive early – approximately 7:30 am and so did every other photographer in DC.  I thought I had a unique idea. (insert laugh here).  The way the park is designed, there is almost always room for many photographers.  I did have an experience where a woman just kept inching closer and closer to me. I finally stopped taking photos and waited. Eventually, she stepped right in front of me almost falling into the water.  Trust me when I say that this behavior isn’t necessary. There are beautiful lotus flowers everywhere. Thousands.

 

 

The humidity was high. I’m sure it was 100%. My son left me to go find shade and I commenced to feeling bad that I brought him. However, I know he enjoyed it. He couldn’t hide it. He just hates the humidity – it gives him a headache.  I searched for the Empress Lotus but, alas, did not locate it. I mistakenly thought it was a different one (and thought I was right as I overheard another man talking about it).

There is a nice boardwalk that offers a small amount of shade but I didn’t take it this time. I eventually settled in on trying to capture dragonflies and butterflies before giving up on wiping the sweat from my eyes.  The gardens are a must-visit for anyone. Go and experience the beauty.

 

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Queen Victoria Lily Pads Grow up to 6 feet in diameter (later in summer)