Category Archives: Travel

A Visit to Roanoke

Mill Mountain Star in Roanoke, VA. In-camera HDR with Canon 5D Mark III

Kathy & I recently visited Roanoke, Virginia to visit with our friend Steven Norris and attend the opening of a gallery show that Exposure Roanoke is having at a gallery there.  We had visited Roanoke many, many years ago, and had good but fading memories of the place.  We had been intending to return for a long time, and this gave us a good chance to go.

Evening shower, Roanoke VA

We didn’t have a lot of time there, but we stayed at the Hotel Roanoke, which gave us easy access to the downtown area.  With the expert guidance of Steven & Cheryl we visited some of the downtown highlights on Saturday night, and I returned for a little shooting on my own on Sunday morning, before meeting up with our friends for the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Hotel Roanoke.

I’m not exactly sure what ‘Tomato Water’ is, but if they can make a Martini out of it, how bad can it be?

Roanoke is a railroad town, having grown around the success of the Norfolk & Southern, now Norfolk & Western.  A lot of coal moves through Roanoke.  With a population of just under 100,000 with 303,000 in the MSA, it’s a happening place without the sprawl and congestion of larger cities.  Situated right near the mountains and The Blue Ridge Parkway and an easy drive from Charlotte, it’s a place we need to spend more time visiting, especially with friends there.

Roanoke VA at night
Roanoke VA at night

Despite the amazing number of railroad tracks, there are numerous bridges and pedestrian walkways, so getting around is easy.  Our hotel had a walkway right across from the entrance, so we could be in town within minutes of leaving our room.  And with the exception of going out to the gallery, once we parked our car we didn’t need it again until we left.  My kind of place!

Pedestrian overpass in Roanoke, VA

We didn’t visit the Transportation Museum, deciding to spend our limited time seeing more of the town.  We did visit the O. Winston Link Museum on Sunday afternoon and learned the story of Link and is railroad photography.  The Link museum is a fascinating place, located in the former N&S passenger depot.  It’s definitely a must-visit for any photography and/or railroad buff.

Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA

The Taubman Museum of Art is across the tracks from the Link Museum, and provides an interesting architectural contrast with much of the older architecture in the area.  I got the impression that there were only two opinions about the place most residents considering it either a hideous eyesore or beautiful.  In my opinion there’s no point in making an art museum look like a Wal-Mart, so I guess I would fall into the “beautiful” camp.  I’d vote for spending my tax dollars on it.

Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA

We had a nice weekend in Roanoke, a wonderful visit with Steven and Cheryl, and hope it isn’t another 30 years before we return for another look.

Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke VA

A Stop at Mabry Mill

Blacksmith shop at Mabry Mill, at MP 177 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia

Kathy & I headed to Roanoke, VA this past weekend, and as we often do we took the “slow way,” stopping at Mabry Mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 177 in Virginia.  There’s a little restaurant there and some of their buckwheat pancakes are “just the thing” if you like that sort of thing.

Barn and vines, Mabry Mill, at MP 177 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia

The mill itself is probably the single most photographed thing on the Parkway, so I don’t even aim my camera in its general direction these days, unless there is something really special to shoot.  After our sumptuous breakfast we took a few minutes to wander the grounds before heading back up the road.  They were setting up for their weekend demonstrations, and I got a couple of nice shots in the blacksmith shop.

Blacksmith shop at Mabry Mill, at MP 177 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia

Here are a few photos from Mabry Mill to satisfy the curious until I get the Roanoke photos processed.

Old wagon at Mabry Mill, at MP 177 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia

Just One Shot

Rain, Billy’s Restaurant in Roanoke, VA

Kathy & I spent this past weekend visiting friends in Roanoke, VA.  More on that later.

Sunday afternoon we were walking around the downtown area, when a thunderstorm passed through.  Taking refuge under the overhang of the City Market, we were right across the street from Billy’s, a restaurant we had stopped at for cocktails and appetizers the evening before.

The girl in this photo is a hostess at Billy’s.  During the height of the downpour, she pulled up in front of the restaurant in her car, and one of her co-workers from inside came outside under an umbrella and handed her another umbrella through her car window.  She then drove around to the side of the building to park.  Sensing a possible photo opportunity, I maneuvered into a position I thought might be suitable, and waited for her to come down the sidewalk.  As she approached the front of the building, I lifted my camera, took this one shot, and she immediately covered her face with the umbrella and that was it.  But this is the shot I was looking for, and the expression on her face makes it for me.

Passing the Umbrella, Billy’s Restaurant in Roanoke, VA

The photo itself is probably not a big deal, but what excites me the most is that I envisioned the scene, saw it coming and made it happen.  The fact that I only got one shot is interesting, but I only needed one, right?

More to come on the rest of our wonderful visit with good friends, but I wanted to share this one before I go back to working on the rest of my photos.  I’ve got a few more!

Long Overdue

Kathy & I had been trying to find a weekend to head to Waynesville, NC – our favorite little town in the NC mountains – since March.  With the exception of our Alaska and California adventure, things just haven’t been very conducive to getting away for the last several months.  We finally had our chance this past weekend and took advantage.

As luck would have it we didn’t get a lot of relief from the high temperatures, as Waynesville – while about 10 degrees cooler than Charlotte – was still unseasonably hot, to the point where most of the HVAC systems were doing their best to keep up.  Most of them were up to the task, a few were not.

We wisely headed out early and got our in-town sightseeing done early.  In the heat of the afternoon we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few hours, and while it was 97 in town, it was an unusually warm but relatively cool 84 at Waterrock Knob, an overlook and visitor center at 5,820 feet.  After a stop for ice cream it was back to town for a nice dinner and some rest in our thankfully-air-conditioned room.

Sunday was spent getting back to reality, and after a stop in Statesville here we are.  A couple of work days with a holiday sandwiched in, and before we know it we’ll have another weekend!

No serious photography this trip, but I had a camera with me at just about all times!

Wine Country!

This vacation was our first visit to California, so naturally our visit to California’s Wine Country was our first visit there as well.  It was something we had been planning for a long, long time and as we sailed back to San Francisco from Alaska we were very anxious to get the next step of our vacation started!

Once we disembarked our cruise ship in San Francisco on Wednesday morning our first order of business was to get a taxi to the airport to pick up our rental car.  This was sort of bass-ackwards as the airport was the opposite direction from where we wanted to go, but that turned out to be the cheapest place to rent a car.  Plus we wanted to be able to drop the car off at the airport on our return as it was much more convenient.  After an exciting ride with a Greek cab driver (You like my driving, no?”) we made it safely to the airport and navigated the rail system to the rental car desk.  Soon we had our car and were back on the road.

We had Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday for our adventure, so we wanted to make the most of it.  Our first order of business after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was to locate Highway 1 and head toward the coast.  Our intention was to stop at Muir Woods National Monument, but for some reason the place was packed – on a Wednesday!  The main parking lot was full, the over flow parking was full, and the overflow for the overflow parking was full and people were parking on the road.  We decided to drive on, and people were parked along the road for nearly a mile from the entrance.  We hadn’t done any research ahead of time, so maybe the place is always that crowded.  I’d sure hate to go there on a weekend if it is even busier.  Amazing!  We’ll have to do that another time.

After a brief stop at the Muir Beach overlook to get a view of the Pacific Ocean from the land side, we headed on North along Highway 1.  What a view!  Nothing like we get along the East Coast, that’s for sure.  We stopped at a little restaurant in the town of Stinson Beach for lunch, then headed inland toward Santa Rosa, where our hotel was located.

We knew that with nearly 4 days, we would have plenty of time but we also knew that we had a lot to see.  We also decided that we didn’t want to have a “death march” through wine country, although how hard is drinking wine, right?  Seriously though, this was less about seeing how many wineries we could visit or how much wine we could drink and more about seeing the countryside, exploring side roads and having plenty of time to enjoy our time there.

We had started planning our visit several months in advance, and with the invaluable advice and assistance of our good friend Jon Dressler of Dressler’s Restaurants in Charlotte, we had arranged private tours of 4 wineries.  Two of our tours were on Thursday and two were on Friday, with one tour each morning and one tour each afternoon.  We purposely left Saturday completely open in order to see what else we wanted to do.  As it turned out we used Saturday to visit Napa, as none of the wineries we visited were located there.  We had an 11:00 flight on Sunday, so that day would be spent solely on travel.

We used the four scheduled tours as the framework for our visit, and I think it worked out very well.  We got an early start each day in order to have as much “piddle time” as possible with plenty of time to get to our first destination.  We left time between tours for lunch, with plenty of time to drive to our afternoon destination.  Our standard practice after the second tour of the day was to head back to our hotel, make a dinner reservation on Open Table, then take a nap.  Like I said, no Death Marches for us!

Three things stand out to me from our visit:

(1) Distinctive geography – we always hear about the differences in climate, soil and terrain and how those differences affect the grapes and ultimately the taste of the wine.  It’s one thing to hear, but to actually the area is to appreciate the descriptions.  When someone describes a wine as coming from grapes “planted on a steep mountainside at 2500 feet” or coming from “the sandy and rocky soil of the Carneros Valley, it really drives home the distinctions that each area has to offer.

(2) Each winery has its own very distinctive character, from the style of the building, the layout of the winemaking area to the design of the bottles and labels.  What I love about this is that it really allows us to enjoy the wine as a unique statement of everything that goes into the product.  Each bottle is a representative of the winery, since every decision about every ingredient and every step of the process has some kind of an impact on the final result.  Just like photography, everyone starts with the same basic set of tools but ends up with their unique expression of those tools.

(3) Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, is the amount of passion that people have for their business, from the winemakers to the tasting room people to the staff in the restaurants we visited.  The people we encountered were visibly passionate about their work, and that passion is contagious.  This made visiting the wineries, dining at the restaurants, and generally visiting the area a very pleasurable experience.

I’m going to have more to say about our experience in future posts, but the time since we’ve returned has slipped by in a hurry.  I wanted to get this post wrapped up so I can “put a bow” on the overview and get back to some specific commentary about other parts of our vacation.  Hopefully this collection of photos will provide a bit of a sampler of the 4 days we spent in wine country.

Victoria, BC

Looking like a wet bus ride in Victoria, British Columbia

For a lot of cruisers, Victoria is little more than a fuel stop and a way for the cruise line to comply with the Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) that, among other things specifies that a foreign-flagged vessel operating out of a US port must call at a non-US port before disembarking passengers back in the US port.  It makes things a bit more complicated and interesting for cruises originating from a US port and going to places like Alaska and Hawaii.

Ship's photographer in Victoria British Columbia

Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, which interestingly the city of Vancouver is not on, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia.  The locals say that on a clear day you can see across the channel to the Seattle area, the Olympic Mountains, the Cascades and Mount Rainier.  I’ll take their word for it!  We could barely see the water, let alone the US, it was so rainy and cloudy.  No problem, though.  We were going to see a castle!

Welcome to Victoria, British Columbia

Google Street View Car in Victoria, British Columbia

Our tour started, ominously enough, with a visit to the highest point in Victoria, Mt. Tolmie.  But the peak was socked in with clouds and rain, so other than a few photos of blurry yellow flowers and some wet rocks, there wasn’t much to see or photograph.  We spend some time driving through town and looking at the sights of Victoria through raindrops on our bus windows, so not many photo ops there!

Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

View from one of the tower windows at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

Craigdarroch Castle is an interesting attraction, and its history is full of intrigue, family feuds and probably some steamy romance.  Check the website for details!  Located in a residential neighborhood, buses are not allowed to come to the castle, so we were dropped off a few blocks away and walked there through a very nice neighborhood.  We didn’t have time for a leisurely walk because we were late for our scheduled arrival, plus it was raining (still) and we wanted to get to the shelter of the castle.  That sounds so romantic!

Bear rug at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

Huge pool table at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

Brass telescope at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

The castle was fairly dark and full of people, so my photography there was rather limited and shot at a pretty high ISO (thank you 5D Mark III!).  I don’t think there’s much here that I’ll frame and put on the wall, but we’ll certainly have a few frames to remember our visit.  The furniture was beautiful and the woodwork was extraordinary, most of it original but some of it added recently during renovation.

Angles and Shadows - good to have ISO 6400

Light and shadows at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia

Our visit to downtown Victoria was complicated by the fact that it was Victoria Day – British Columbia’s version of Memorial Day – and downtown was rather congested due to closed streets for a parade.  And it was raining pretty steadily, so except for a few grab shots from the sidewalk outside our bus, I don’t have much to show.  It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to and spend some time, hopefully in better weather.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria Day celebration complete with a 21-gun salute.  Victoria, British Columbia

I’ve reached the end of the cruise portion of our vacation, so I’ll start shortly posting about our visit to wine country.  I think I have more to write about our visit than I have photos, and I haven’t decided exactly how I want to present it, but I’ll be working on that soon.  It’s been fun reliving our vacation, and I hope those following along have enjoyed the recollection of it as much as I have!

A wet day for a water taxi ride, Victoria, British Columbia

I missed this part, but think these guys were in a band and were coming from the parade.  Dressed in "Rocky" sweats.

More About That Boat

Questionable Boat in the Ketchikan, Alaska Harbor

Several people commented about the boat I used to illustrate my last post, and as it turns out I had taken some other photos of it but hadn’t gone back and looked at the rest of that day’s photos until yesterday.  I thought it would be amusing to post a few more.  I can’t imagine that the person who owns this boat pays dock fees for it, so I can only guess that he works for the marina or for one of the tour boats that operates from there.  Hopefully he doesn’t have far to travel.

Questionable Boat in the Ketchikan, Alaska Harbor

I don’t know much about boats but I don’t think this one would pass a Coast Guard inspection.

Questionable Boat in the Ketchikan, Alaska Harbor

I’m slowly catching up on my processing after a momentary slowdown.  Stay tuned for some better subject matter very soon!

Attitude Adjustment

Scrap pile behind the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan, Alaska

At work the other morning, someone asked me how I was doing.  She was somewhat taken aback when I replied that I was doing “fantastic.”  She looked at me like I had just spoken to her in Swahili.  I then said that having just gotten back from a 2-week vacation that I was loving life, even though the benefit of the time off was quickly fading.  Cue the “must be nice,” “wish I had your money,” I could never take 2 weeks,” etc., etc., etc. commentary.  Then she said something about “coming back to this place” to which I replied that I would gladly come back to work in order to be able to do another vacation like I just did, that I thought it was a fair trade.  More Swahili.

We all know and work with people who are, let’s say, “happiness challenged.”  Not that they are depressed or anything – although it’s possible that some of them are – but mostly they just spend a lot of time with negative attitudes – toward work, their spouse, their kids, their cars, etc.  And they’re not too shy to talk about it.  But that attitude carries over to how they live their lives, to the point where, for many people, they don’t seem to have the ability to understand the concept of doing things that make them happy.  Sometimes I meet up with friends for lunch or dinner, and way too often all they do is complain about things.

We all have stuff that makes us angry or drives us crazy.  But I have come to the conclusion – and this was a long time coming – is that it is not all of these outside things that bother me and make me crazy.  It is my reaction to those things that makes them intolerable.  So I’ve been working really hard at managing my own attitude, and I’ve found that it really helps.  Don’t like the way people are driving?  Back off and think about something else.  Don’t like your cube neighbor’s Polka ringtone on his cell phone?  Laugh it off.  Neighbor’s dog barking endlessly while they are away?  I haven’t solved that one yet, so I just turn up the music.  Blue jeans in the cruise ship dining room?  Whatever!  I can’t change any of it, so fix the things I can fix, and for those things I can’t fix, I accept them and move on.  Works for me.

The great thing about taking a vacation is that it does tend to put things in perspective.  There’s a lot more to life than work, and there is way more to life than finding things to complain about.  So look for the positives!  While coming home and going back to work can be difficult, I would gladly trade a few months’ work in order to take another nice vacation.  It’s a worthwhile trade.


One of the best sayings I saw or heard on our trip to Alaska: “There is no such thing as inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  That pretty much says it!

Don't Laugh, It Runs!

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

Our day in Glacier Bay was my single best day, photographically, in a long, long time.  I don’t know if that is a result of the place being so photogenic, or the fact that I was prepared for my time there, with my only goal for the day to make photographs.  It’s probably a combination of the two, since Glacier Bay is certainly an amazing place and I found it quite inspirational on my first visit several years ago.  I have to imagine that what I experienced was a confluence of my own openness to the place and the renewed inspiration I felt from being there.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

The Tourist Approach would be to slap a wide angle lens on the camera and shoot the huge expanse of icebergs, blue water and glaciers.  But what I was feeling was more intimate, although even with a 400mm lens, the actual slice of landscape I captured was still quite large.  The scale of the place never ceases to amaze me.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

One of the most striking things about being in Glacier Bay aboard a cruise ship is how quiet everything becomes.  They mercifully turn off the sound on the outdoor “Movies Under The Stars” entertainment system (it’s just a big television), the ship slows to maneuvering speed, and except for a few comments from the onboard naturalist, the place is silent.  And I crave silent.  Silent makes me happy.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess


Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

Only one ship at a time is allowed in each area of the park, which is huge (3.3 million acres!) with several “inlets,” so the captain is able to essentially stop the in front of the glaciers, and when the ship moves from one place to another it does so slowly, barely creating a wake.  The slower movement of the ship makes using a tripod very easy, both for composition and for holding the camera still.  People ask me why I use a tripod on a moving ship, but it really does make a difference.  Other than a couple of videographers, mine was the only tripod I saw on board the entire cruise.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

I scouted ahead of time and found a great spot on the aft of the ship that had good, unobstructed views, access to both sides of the ship and had enough room to get out of the way.  You would think that, with 2000 people on a ship in a place like Glacier Bay it would be crowded, but except for the time in front of the major glaciers and the times when they were giving away free hot chocolate on deck (there are always crowds around Free Food) I had the place pretty much to myself.  Most of the people hung out in the center of the ship, closer to the pools, the restrooms and the bars.  Silly me, the bars!

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

The onboard naturalist told us that one of her most frequently asked questions was, “what’s the best side of the ship to be on to see wildlife?”  To which she replies, “the OUTSIDE!”  She also stated that wildlife watching involved a lot of wildlife “waiting.”  But amazingly, most people didn’t like the idea of waiting.  I saw dozens of seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and whales, and often I was the only person around to see them.  Once in a while someone would walk by, see all my gear and ask me if I had seen any whales.  When I replied that I had, they looked at me like they thought I was lying.  Most of them were too far away to take photos of them, but they were still fun to watch through my binoculars.

Even on a ship large enough to hold 2000 passengers – small by modern cruise ship standards – I was struck by the enormous scale of the landscape and how small I felt within it, the ability for it to remain relatively undisturbed and how quiet it was.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

My personal favorite photos from the day are the abstracts.  They really speak to the quiet and calm I felt that day.  I seem to have a thing for moving water, and some of the patterns are simply spectactular.  I’m thrilled that the photos reflect them so well.  I also enjoyed finding patterns in the glaciers and on the mountainsides along our route.  Again, the relatively slow speed made for some pretty easy composition, although I did find that I had to “lead” the scene just a bit in places.  All I did there was to keep the panning knob within easy reach, so that once I had the composition framed up and level, I could just pan the camera just a bit as needed.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess

One of the funny things about being an obviously serious photographer on a cruise ship is that people always ask me to take their pictures.  I always oblige, although Kathy often handles that task so I can keep making my own pictures.  What was really funny was that I think every one of the ship’s photographers took our picture at some point during the day.  They knew we would understand that they had a count to make and almost looked like they wanted to apologize for it.  We didn’t buy any of their photos but it was interesting to see the difference in composition and framing between the different photographers.  Good photos, reluctant subjects!

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska from aboard Sea Princess