Tag: park

Surprises In The Wild.

2014-9-8 Smoky Mountains_DSC4502

**UPDATE**  I finally got around to editing the video! Check it out at the bottom of the post, before the pictures (down there). **UPDATE**

At the beginning of September, my girlfriend and I took a trip down to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee to enjoy an invigorating and adventure-filled time camping and hiking in nature’s majesty.  Though we’d undertaken our adventures of years past with all the forethought of a labrador running at a barely opened door with an over-sized stick, we figured such a sizable endeavor warranted some grown-up planning.  To be precise, the Smokies are bear country.  Personally speaking, I was preternaturally excited at the prospect of crossing paths with a bear.  The girlfriend – not so much.

You see, in my mind black bears were the tiniest and least-threatening of all bear species.  Roughly the size of a large dog, with a demeanor more curious than anything else, they pose little threat to people – even less to those who aren’t afraid of them. Well, my proclamations of the friendliness of the species fell on deaf ears. In an effort to quell concerns, I purchased bear spray, a hunting knife, a riot baton, an alarm whistle, and a wildlife warning bell. This had the opposite effect than it probably should have. In my mind, I was now completely prepared to stand my own and come out victorious in the inevitable event of a bear attack. After all, we would certainly be strolling through bear-filled valleys and driving to the nearest Bestbuy to purchase more memory cards after we filled our existing 150gig of storage space with award-winning pictures of the majestic Ursus Americanus.

All told, we had line-of-sight to black bears for a grand total of 2.64 seconds.  In case you’re curious, that’s not enough time to reach down pick up your camera, focus, and press the shutter trigger.  Not. Even. Once.

This leads to the topic of the day:  A brief list of stuff we learn in our extensive research of the Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Your eardrums are gonna get jacked up.  This should probably go without saying, but in our case, it was just something we didn’t even consider.  You see, in the past 16 years I had not ventured outside an elevation level which, for the sake of clarity, we’ll refer to as “The Midwest.”  That is to say, I’ve hanging around the flatest of the flat geography for the past half of my life. This situation became apparent once we reached southern Kentucky and began ascending rapidly. It’s something that’s easily accepted and quickly put out of mind.  That is until you’re in the mountains, proper.  When you spend a straight week and a half either hiking or driving in and around a mountain chain, you have 2 options: up or down.  Suffice it to say, we went through a ridiculous amount of gum and spent more time yawning than a fellow student in Ferris Bueller’s economics class.

2. There’s no air.  This is directly related to #1.  If you aren’t a mountain dweller, or rarely find yourself venturing more than a few hundred feet above sea level, you’ve probably grown blissfully ignorant of the abundant of oxygen available to you in your day-to-day activities. It’s cool. So did we. During our preparation for the trip, we knew the up and down of the trails was going to be a shock to our muscles, as that wasn’t a common movement in our daily lives.  What we didn’t consider, however, was how our activities would be impacted when something like 20% of our oxygen supply was suddenly not there. Factoring in a solid 30 pounds of camera gear, each, things like moving – at all – became rather more straining.

3. The road to the mountains is paved in hideousness. Have you heard of Pigeon Forge? It’s horrible. The mountains are incredible, but to get there you have to go through something equally incredibly but in the completely opposite meaning. I’ll set the scene: You’re driving through rural country towns in southern Tennessee.  There’s a home-cookin’ restaurant every so often, pickup as far as the eye can see, and good ol’ boys sittin’ on their rockers on the porch drinking whiskey and spittin’ chew. Say what you will about it, but when it comes to cultural expectancy of a region, it hit the nail on the head.  Then, in a span of no more than half a mile, the trees fade away, the neighborhoods disappear, the mom ‘n pop shops vanish, and you’re thrust into the middle of what can only be described as “Vegas meets gift shop meets Jed Clampett meets theme park.” It’s like someone tried to make Disney World in the middle of mountain country, theme it like an old Hatfield VS McCoy cartoon, funded by novelty shop owners, and develpoped by a board of directors whose motto is “Is it ostentatious, gawdy, and over-priced? Build it!”

4. There are no mosquitoes. Yes – you read that correctly.  In the 10ish days we were there I was bitten by maybe 5 mosquitoes. But, like all things in life, there’s a trade off. Instead of mosquitos, the Smoky Mountains have spiders. Lots of spiders. Everywhere. They look like this. I’m gonna assume they’re the reason why there aren’t any mosquitoes. Other things the Smokies have in quantities, I didn’t think possible: Butterflies, dragonflies, salamanders, and centipedes the size of a standard Sharpie.

5. The Smokies are one step short of a rain forest.  The “smoke” in the Smokey Mountains isn’t smoke. In retrospect this seems more than a little obvious.  Smoke means fire and, well, if an entire mountain chain was continually smoldering… I guess I don’t know what that would mean but I’m pretty sure it would be a bad thing. Had I actually considered it, the concept of smoke would have seemed odd, but it simply never crossed my mind. So, nope – that “smoke” is actually “mist” – as in “water vapor” – as in “wet.” All the time. In all fairness, we did go at the start of the rainy season, but still.  With the exception of back country camping, all campsites are in the valleys between the mountains. This means that each evening, the plentiful water in the air condenses and settles on things one may want to keep dry, such as clothing, bedding, firewood, and pretty much anything else that fairs poorly when it maintains a wetness level of “permanent.”

That said, The Smoky Mountains were one of the coolest places I’ve been.  They’re part of the Appalachian Mountain Range, the oldest mountains in North America. You can feel it when you hike the rivers. It’s history, geologically speaking.

Check out the video (3/22/16 update)

Here’s a selection of some of my favorites.  To see the whole gallery, stop by my fine art site.

– Jon

A Midsummer Night’s Celebration

Well hi there!

It’s been a minute…

I don’t know about you good folks, but this summer’s been a wee bit crazy.  By “crazy” I mean busy, and by “busy” I mean I have projects coming out of my ears.  There’s been corporate-y stuff, assorted events, videos, commercials, and one big-time marketing campaign for a regional company that’s about to go national… there’s also been a bunch of dogs (like you’re surprised).

But all that in time.

To get you guys caught up, here’s a little ditty from earlier this month.  A couple friends of mine tied the knot at Indian Springs Metro Park in White Lake, MI and I got to photograph it.  It seems that each summer I end up shooting one wedding.  So, who’s gettin’ hitched next year?

– Jon

Windy Travels Part 2.

Back in October, I took a trip to Chicago.  Afterward, I processed my 17 gazillion images from the adventure and wrote you fine folks a blog post about it.  At the end, I mentioned that more images were to follow and that I would relate my experiences with my new favorite hotel chain.

Promptly after writing the post, I completely forgot.

My bad.

So, here we are.  4 months have passed and you still wake up in the middle of the night wondering whatever became of that followup post…  OK  That’s probably a bit hopeful on my part.  But still – true to my word, I shall visually enthrall you with more optically-dazzling imagery.

FIRST – the hotel.  For those of you that spoke with either myself or my lady friend, you know that Ashly and I had been planning this trip for something like 5 months.  However, when I say “this trip” I mean a trip.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.

In the end, we actually planned out 5 different trips… in about 3 weeks.  We considered Maine, Kentucky, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a perimeter-tour of the lower peninsula, and Chicago.  Chicago won out simply because of the mind-boggling selection of educational day-trip destinations.

We like our learnin’.

That little back story may not seem relevant, but oh how wrong you are.  See, 5 days before we left for Chicago, we hadn’t even begun considering going there.  We were still in the planning stages of a Michigan road trip.  I don’t really remember how we ended up switching to Chicago, but it happened and we found ourselves with slightly over 72 hours of time to organize an itinerary, buy tickets to stuff we wanted to see, and find a hotel whose room fee didn’t require a bank loan, gold bars, an arm and/or a leg, or a first-born child.

In the end we ended up staying damn-near 45 minutes outside of the city.  Were it not for the downtown parking situation (which were completely unaware of) it wouldn’t have been an issue.  In fact, all things considered, it was one of the better snap decisions we’ve made.

We found ourselves at an Extended Stay out past Downer’s Grove.  At first glance it looks like a normal over-niter for business travelers.  We found out that (as the name suggests) it’s designed for people to stay for over a week or 2.  But enough rambling, here’s what makes it so awesome.

  • Long-term stay means people need more elaborate forms of equipment to use.  Example:  A FULL KITCHEN.  Now, this might not seem like much to you, but I cook.  A LOT.  It was awesome.
  • No explanation needed: It was one of the cleanest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.  Period.
  • Lastly and most importantly: In order to keep the charges down on a room rental that may go past 3 weeks, the hotel got rid of one of the staple functions of most chains.  There is absolutely no maid service.  While at first you may think that seems cheap, remember that I am a visual artist in a digital age.  I take a LOT of really EXPENSIVE gear with me everywhere I go.  I don’t need to drag my lights and laptop with me every step of the way.  The fact that no one (trustworthy or otherwise) would NOT be coming into to move things around took my nervousness level from my standard 362% to effectively zero.

And also ’cause the per night price gets cheaper the longer you’re there, our week’s stay cost us something like $50 a night.

Conclusion: Extended Stay: Do it.

Oh and hey – MORE CHICAGO PICTURES!!

– Jon

Windy Travels Part 1.

As some of you may or may not know, I was busy being a tourist in Chicago until this past weekend (hence the lack of posts over the past couple weeks).
I, of course, took a picture or 2.  There’s been a bit of back and forth in my head about how to display them, especially since most of the shots fall more into my fine-art style rather than commercial.

But enough of the speculation.  Let’s break down the trip a bit.  You may say to yourself “Self, why won’t he just skip to the goods?”  Well, to that I say:  shock and awe.  No, not the tactical military scenario, but my reaction to a handful of things in Chicago that you, who may travel there, should certainly know about.

If you are avid travelers or simply have been to Chicago recently (I don’t get west  very much) you probably already know.  Back in 2008 or 9 or something, The city of Chicago sold rights to all the parking in the city to Standard Parking (effectively creating a monopoly).  While the city got a little over a billion smackers out of the deal, they now have to deal with astronomically high parking rates – to the tune of $20 or more for even 15 minutes of parking.  Oh, and did I mention that the contract is valid for 75 years?

Of course, as it happens, now that I’m back in Michigan, I came across a news article from yesterday, mentioning that the city will be auditing Standard parking to ensure responsible use of city funds.  In the meantime, there are a few little tricks to get around this catastrophe.  A number of people have suggested parking outside the city and taking in the bus.  I like this idea, but if you are on a schedule and have to park downtown, I happened upon 2 options that seemed reasonable:

1. Parking in Chinatown is a decent way to go.  The main lot is less than half the cost of parking downtown and it sits immediately under the “L.”

2. The Adler Planetarium is nestled in the museum campus right on the edge of the city and the road to the front door is lined with parking meters that cost a quarter of the price of parking in any structure.  The downside is that there is a VERY limited number of spaces.

I’ve still got a whole ton of other neat tips and tricks for you (Next post: the best hotel to stay at if you’re a visual artist).

For now, enjoy a selection of city shots from Cloud Gate to Chinatown and plenty in-between.

– Jon