Florida or Bust

It’s 25 degrees in Marathon, Texas.  It’s 81 degrees in Marathon, Florida.  Solution:  ROAD TRIP!

Having never been to the Florida Keys, it’s only logical that our next destination, especially in February, be Hemmingwayville (not to be confused with Margaritaville).  So, the next couple of weeks we will chronicle our trip from west Texas to Key West, FL, some 1950 miles away.  We will be joined during the journey by good friends, David and Marcia (see their blog on our Blogroll “AdventureDavid”.

IMG_6428 Start of Trip

First two days were fairly short days.  First night was spent near Amistad National Recreation Area, at a private campground with clean bathrooms, a very friendly counter person, and very few amenities.  Exactly what we needed.  Second night just outside of Houston, TX, at an RV park similar to the first night…easy to get into and easy to leave, with a friendly staff.  No amenities here, either…close to the highway, but far from restaurants or grocery stores.  No problem.

First night at American RV Park, Del Rio, Texas:

IMG_6446 Del Rio 1

Day 2, Houston West RV Park, 35 miles west of Houston, Texas:

IMG_6448 Brookshire

Day 3 dawns cool and clear, and it’s time to hit the road for real, this day.  540 miles to go, so we’re off by 9:00 a.m.  Met up with our friends, David and Marcia, on Dauphin Island, Alabama.  and checked into Dauphin Island RV Park.  We highly recommend the ribs at Dauphin Island Barbecue.  When something exceeds your expectations, it makes you smile…these ribs had us grinning from ear-to-ear.

The next morning, a short walk over to the beach just after sunrise, then it’s time to pack up and head to Florida.  An osprey was underwhelmed at our presence, an intrusion upon his hunt for breakfast.

IMG_6469 Beach Dauphin Is

IMG_6474 osprey

Happy to see the last of I-10 for awhile, we turn south at Tallahassee on Alt 27 and drive the Georgia-Florida Parkway, a reminder of slower cars and times, much like the travels I remember as a kid on Route 66.  The glory days of Florida vacation travel.  Logged another 450 miles today, putting us at a 4-day total of 1,500 miles

Finally in Florida, at Cedar Key, I check my weather app for home and at 10:00 p.m. it’s 63 degrees in Marathon…while my indoor/outdoor thermometer here at the RV park in Cedar Key, Florida, is reading 27 degrees.  Let’s see, what was the motivation to drive 2000 miles to Florida?

And how I love technology.  It’s 6:15 a.m., and I wake with a cold head.  Dark.  Really dark.  It dawns on me that nothing in the camper that uses electricity is working, especially the heaters…and it’s 22 degrees outside!  No lights…no heat.  Troubleshoot.  An inspection of the converter box reveals that the one 20 amp fuse is blown.  No backup fuses (lesson learned).  I steal a 15 amp fuse from another socket in the panel and pop it into the 20 amp socket.  Voila…heater and lights come on.  However, still no 110v heater, or any other 110v outlet, for that matter.  Battery power shown on my volt minder is 12.44 volts.  If the 110v ac power was going through the converter, that should be about 13.85 volts, so nothing is going through the converter.  Walking outside I find a dark campground.  Totally alien, given the fact that half of all RV’ers burn some sort of decorative lights all night long as some sort of RV park ritual or something.  I pull my volt meter from my truck tool box (it’s still dark and 22 degrees), and there is no power at the 30 amp plug.  Relief, because I thought I had blown a converter.  Alas, it’s them and not me.  Hooray!

Cedar Key is quaint…a word totally overused, but in this case, quite appropriate.  A small, historic, old downtown is the Florida of Hemmingway novels.  The restaurant selection is small, but Tony’s is simply the best.  So good, in fact, that we ate there two consecutive nights.  Have the internationally recognized clam chowder.  Do not get the “Super Bowl”  unless you are either starving, or simply want everyone in the restaurant to run over with their cell phones and photograph you eating it.

The operative phrase for Cedar Key is “laid back.”  Some of the flavor:

IMG_0713 Hut IMG_0723

Up early, it’s a long day’s drive from Cedar Key to Key West, Florida (about 550 miles), and speed limits once you reach the Keys drop to 45-55 mph.  We arrive at Boyd’s Key West RV Park just in time to set up in the dark, a somewhat daunting task with short, tight camping spots necessary to maximize valuable real estate on this island.  Success at last, and we settle in for a good night’s rest.

Next morning we check off a required visit to Ernest Hemingway’s House in old historic Key West.  The 6-toed cats are as advertised, and the house is well worth the $13 entry fee.  Second floor veranda and lighthouse in background:

IMG_0764 Hem House

Jodie with one of the sweet 6-toed cats:

IMG_0778 Jodie 6-cat

The study, desk and typewriter, where Hemingway wrote his most famous novels:

IMG_0788 desk

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is perhaps the most unexpected treat of our trip so far.  It is a must if you ever get to Key West.  A couple of the more exotic bird-sized moths at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory were these:

Attacus Atlas Moth (the largest moth in the world).  This one had a wingspan of about 10 inches:

IMG_0834 Moth

And the Actius Luna Moth, with a wingspan of 5-6 inches:

IMG_0835 Luna Moth

Some other notable butterflies whose color, shape and delicate grace made this a memorable experience:

IMG_0799 BF IMG_0801 BF IMG_0807 BF IMG_0826 BF

A hitchhiker on top of David’s hat:

IMG_0805 BF

From the pier at the end of Atlantic Blvd., we are at the southernmost point in the continental United States.  To say the sunset was spectacular would be a lie…it was one of the finest sunsets we have ever seen, anywhere.  On the horizon you can barely define 3-masted sailing ships, probably out for an evening sunset cruise:

IMG_0843 Sunset

IMG_0851 KW Sunset

If you enjoy beautiful sunsets, 80-degree weather in February, and clam chowder, hang with us the next few days as we explore this tropical extreme right here at home.

Photography Tips: A good Starting Point

Having been a professional photographer much of my working life, I have seen technology change dramatically, especially with the invention of digital photography.  Digital cameras have gone from prohibitively expensive, even for the working professional, to cameras that can be considered “disposable,” they are now so inexpensive.  You can argue ad infinitum on which brand, model, or chip type is “best,” but in the final analysis, nearly all the new digital cameras are excellent for capturing an image for enjoyment by the average person.

What has not changed, from the beginning of photography until present, is the fact that the camera is only a BOX TO CAPTURE LIGHT.  What makes the difference between a good image and a poor one depends on these factors:  LIGHT, EMOTION, COMPOSITION, and THE LENS that the light passes through.

You’ll notice that of the four basic elements of a good photograph, only one of those is related to equipment, and it’s not the camera.  So, let’s discuss first the LENS.  You can have the most expensive camera out there, and believe me, there are a few that can still set you back many thousands of dollars, but if you bring the light (the image) through a cheap lens, one with poor glass, and many poorly engineered moving parts within to make the lens zoom, it matters not how many pixels your camera’s manufacturer brags about, you will get a poorly focused, inconsistently exposed, and disappointing image.  For example, I have a Canon 5D Mk II camera body, which is one of my studio cameras that has been a workhorse for me ever since it was introduced a few years back.  When Canon introduced the Rebel T2i camera, I bought one for my backpacking, since it is much lighter, and if I trash it on the trail, I won’t lose nearly as much sleep as if I destroyed my more expensive camera.  For an experiment, I took the lens that came with the Rebel and put it on my 5D and did some test shots.  Then, I took one of my favorite Canon lenses, which cost much more than the camera, and put it on the Rebel and did the same test exposures.  Results:  the $500 Rebel with the more expensive lens produced sharper, more vivid images that did the $3000 5D with the cheap lens.  No contest.  So, if you are serious enough to justify owning a SLR camera (one with interchangeable lenses that views through the lens), research your lenses more thoroughly than you do the camera when making the investment, and spend your money on the lens.

The only other thing I’ll say about cameras and lenses is that if you talk to 10 “professional” photographers and ask which is the best one to buy, you will get 10 different answers, usually based on what each one of them owns.  Go to a reputable camera store (not Best Buy, Walmart, or some other discount box store, but a camera store that has been in that business for years), and find a knowledgeable salesperson to demonstrate a number of different cameras for you.  With digital, you can actually take photos right there in the store and find one that you feel comfortable with (operator friendly).  The best camera for you will be the one you can use easily without having to fiddle with the controls when taking an image so that you miss the shot of that child making a wonderful face, or that elk blowing frost from his nostrils on the edge of a clearing on a cold morning.  Buy that one, get a great (not good, but great) lens, and go out and take a lot of pictures.

One more thing:  please don’t have the salesperson spend a lot of time getting to know you and demonstrating the equipment, only to go order the camera on the internet from B&H.  Bad form.  If you go armed with the internet prices, the store will meet those prices.  If they don’t, then you are justified to go to the internet for your purchase.  I know of no professional camera store that will not meet an internet price.  Just ask.

LIGHT:  the most important ingredient in taking a great image.  The best light for photography is a cloudy day.  Yes, I said cloudy.  Professional photographers spend hundreds of dollars on large umbrella-looking attachments for their studio lights that have large, opaque, white covers on them to diffuse the light so it looks soft and brings out detail while hiding sharp edges, such as lines on faces.  Clouds do the same thing to the sun.  Embrace a cloudy day and properly expose for the lower light levels, set your camera on “auto white balance” to compensate for the color temperature change, and see how much better your exposures will be outside.  Having spent years studying light and lighting for photography,  I could write an entire book (and some have) on lighting, so this is to say, go find out more about it and your pictures will get better.  And one more thing, try to not always take images with the sun at your back, as you have always been taught.  Use backlight from the sun (or other light source) to rim the outlines of your subject, and you will add drama to the scene.  Learn how to use your camera’s flash as a “fill light” when your subjects’ faces are in shadow from the sun being at their backs, and you will eliminate squinting and furrowing of brows because they are not looking directly back into the sun.  Here is a good “how-to”  basic article on this: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/05/20/master-fill-flash-in-4-easy-steps/

Practice, practice, practice.


The Old Ore Road


Today, it was time to ride!  I just didn’t expect it to be 90 degrees in this part of Big Bend National Park, out on the “Old Ore Road.”  This is one of the least-traveled, most secluded, and most often hottest parts of this huge desert environment.  In a new book, “Death in Big Bend,” several fatalities due to heat stroke are chronicled when unfortunate, and unprepared people, find themselves stranded on this 26-mile-long 4-wheel-drive dirt, rock and boulder-infested historic road.  It’s not unusual for temperatures to reach 90+ degrees in January and February out here, but today was a departure from recent trends this winter.  With that, I set out on a “shake-down” ride after a tune-up to my old Trek 7000 aluminum mountain bike, which included new shift-grips, new tubes and tires, and a new trip computer.  


After about 4 miles of technical sand, rock, and rutted off-camber climbs and descents, I turned around and headed back to Jodie and the waiting Jeep.  I had not figured in the 30-40 mph headwind that I would be fighting all the way back, and on a technical rock-infested climb, I stalled out.  Usually not a problem, but I had not switched out my pedals to my mountain bike pedals, which I had cannibalized onto my recumbent last fall, so my shoes did not release from the clips and I planted myself and bike into a thorny mesquite tree, complete with a lechugilla cactus at its base.  Nothing unusual out here, but it’s not only painful, but dangerous.  Lucky this time, I came away with only a small loss of blood, and a larger hurt pride.


The trip home included a stop at the Stillwell Ranch, where I found that Jasamine, the girl I met on the bicycle two days ago riding from Florida to California, had stopped there for 2 days and had a great time.  As the dust storm increased in direct proportion to the increasing speed of the wind, we rode the tailwind home, taking time to photograph a dust-filtered sunset over Santiago Peak.  Another —— day in Paradise!


Jasamine, Coast to Coast


Out on my bike this morning for my daily ride, I came upon a girl just leaning her bicycle against a highway sign.  Suspecting possible bike trouble, I stopped to offer help.  She was talking on the phone…bluetooth earbuds.  She politely signed off and greeted me.  Her name…Jasamine.  She informed me she was from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, cycling coast-to-coast from St. Augustine, Florida, to San Jose, California.  She works for a bike shop in Minneapolis, and had pedaled about 1700 miles so far.  Just had to spend a week in Austin to wait out the snow, and after two days in Marathon, was headed through Big Bend NP, then on to Terlingua, TX.  I told her she should stop at Stillwell’s Ranch, RV Park, and General Store for the night and catch the free concert of cowboy music put on by the Whitfords in the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum every night until March.  She said she would head that way, and with that, she was off.  What a great adventure.