James Richardson Photography: Blog http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog en-us (C) James Richardson Photography janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) Sat, 19 May 2018 17:58:00 GMT Sat, 19 May 2018 17:58:00 GMT http://www.jdrichardson.com/img/s/v-5/u446081002-o426854207-50.jpg James Richardson Photography: Blog http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog 120 115 A Forrest Ride Through West Tennessee http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/a-forrest-ride-through-west-tennessee Tennessee is a great touring ground for Civil War enthusiasts. In fact, more conflicts took place in Tennessee than any other state except Virginia.  Tennessee’s significance in The War Between The States was due in large part to its critical river and railroad systems. In addition, because of the state's strategic position and shape, it was a natural pathway for defenders from the South and invaders from the North.
Fort Donelson Dover TN (14)Fort Donelson Dover TN (14)
Many generals took part in the Civil War on both sides. One in particular served in Tennessee and his battle route makes for an interesting tour. General Nathan Bedford Forrest made a name for himself as one of the most worrisome opponents for the Union army. He led a cavalry division and made raids against Union supply lines and often won decisive battles for the Confederate army.
A good introduction to General Forrest is at Fort Donelson near Paris, Tennessee, where he first distinguished himself in February, 1862. Fort Donelson sits on the banks of the Cumberland River, which was a major entry point of the Union naval forces. An overlook from the fort replicates the view from the Confederate cannon positions on the Cumberland River. Dover, a town near the fort, is the site of the Surrender House, as it is called. It was originally the Dover Hotel and is the location the surrender documents were signed by the commanding generals of both sides. Forrest was not a general at the time.
After the Union forces took Fort Donelson, Forrest took his forces to Nashville to defend Tennessee's capital. However, it was to no avail because Nashville was the first state capital to be captured by the Union forces.
Near the town of Camden is Nathan Bedford Forrest State Historic Park, obviously named for the General. On November 4, 1864, General Forrest attacked and destroyed the Union supply and munitions depot at (Old) Johnsonville across the Tennessee River from the state park. New Johnsonville has been rebuilt after Forrest's visit. His operations were concentrated along the river in the vicinity of the park and the nearby small town of Eva.
The park's Tennessee River Folklife Interpretive Center sits atop Pilot Knob, the point with the highest elevation in West Tennessee. The center features information on General Forrest, the Battle of Johnsonville, and the lifestyle of the residents on the Tennessee River.
Just south of Interstate 40 at exit 108 is the visitor center for Parkers Crossroads Battlefield. This is a relatively small battlefield, but there are trails with interpretive signs along the way. This battle occurred on December 31, 1862. General Forrest out-maneuvered the Union forces and withdrew south to Lexington and then across the Tennessee River. Both sides claimed victory, but the Confederate claims are more recognized.
TN Parkers _003CrossroadsTN Parkers _003Crossroads
The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6 - 7, 1862, and was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. The battlefield covers many square miles and has a printed tour that details the battle strategy and lists monuments with their significance. Even though Forrest was only a colonel at Shiloh, he was stationed as the rear guard and was protecting a field hospital. During fighting he was seriously wounded when a Union soldier fired his musket striking Forrest in his spine. However, Forrest survived the battle and the war.
There is much to see at Shiloh, including a national cemetery and many monuments to the generals and the states whose armies participated. The Union army called Shiloh the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, because it was their base of operations and landing site for river steamers carrying troops and supplies. The Confederates called it the Battle of Shiloh Church. The Shiloh Meeting House was occupied by both sides at differing times during the battle.
Shiloh BattlefieldShiloh Battlefield Shiloh BattlefieldShiloh Battlefield Shiloh BattlefieldShiloh Battlefield Shiloh BattlefieldShiloh Battlefield
Forty river miles north of Memphis is the site of another West Tennessee battle. Because of its strategic location to control traffic on the Mississippi River, Fort Pillow was attacked and captured by the Union army, which controlled it during most of the war. An exception to this control occurred for less than one day immediately after the Battle of Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864. General Forrest overran the fort and forced the Unions out. However, the same day the Confederates abandoned the fort. The only result of the battle was the temporary confusion of Union strategy.
Both the North and South agree that General Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the greatest tactical officers in the Civil War. His campaigns took him across much of the state of Tennessee. From Fort Donelson southward along the path of the Tennessee River, to Shiloh National Military Park, there is plenty of history and scenery for visitors.
janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) battlefields civil war general forrest tennessee http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/a-forrest-ride-through-west-tennessee Fri, 18 May 2018 17:24:28 GMT
The Old City of St. Augustine, Florida http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/the-old-city-of-st-augustine-florida  
St Augustine City Gates (1).JPGSt Augustine City Gates
As the travel brochures and the tour guides are quick to point out, St. Augustine does not claim to be the oldest city in the United States, but the oldest continuously occupied European colony. Either way, a visit to St. Augustine is a trip through history – over four hundred years of it. And a city of contrasts. From its Spanish beginning, which is especially evident in its architecture, to its modern attractions, St. Augustine and Northeastern Florida is blessed with a combination of great things to do, beautiful beaches and history, all within easy driving distance. That is what makes St. Augustine so special.
On March 27, 1513, Don Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida. He was exploring for Spain in search of land and treasures to claim for his homeland. He sighted land on Easter Sunday (March 27 in that year) and called it Pascua Florida, which is a name for the Spanish Easter season. Fifty-two years later on September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed on Florida soil and reclaimed the land for Spain. He established the city of St. Augustine and named it for the saint whose feast fell on August 28, 1565, the day he first sighted land. Such were the Spanish beginnings.
Many attractions in the historic district show evidences of Spanish influence. The original City Gates are still standing and were the only way into the city from the north. They are located near the Visitor Center and are constructed from coquina stone, a prevalent building material here and is made from shell collected from Anastasia Island across the Matanzas Bay. The Visitor Center, which is also made from coquina stone, should be one of the first stops in St. Augustine. A variety of tours are available from the center, from carriage to tram to train. All are thorough and cover the major attractions of the historic district. Most tour tickets are good for more than one day and allow riders to get on and off at points of interest.
Oldest House Outside (4).JPGOldest House Outside Oft Photographed Gate, St Augustine (1).JPGOft Photographed Gate, St Augustine (1).JPG Old St Augustine Village.JPGOld St Augustine Village.JPG
One of the main streets within the historic district is the pedestrian-only St. George Street, which is lined with unique shops and eateries. In this historic district of the oldest city, there are the expected “oldest house”, “oldest schoolhouse” and the “oldest drug store.” The history of the Oldest House, the Gonzales-Alvarez House, is well documented. The original hut on this site was built in the early 1600s. It burned in 1702 but was replaced with a structure made of coquina stone. Those original walls still stand. Records remain that trace the families who occupied this house for nearly four centuries. This St. Augustine museum is in itself a must see attraction.
Bridge of Lions, St Augustine (11).JPGBridge of Lions, St Augustine (11).JPG Bridge of Lions, St Augustine (1).JPGBridge of Lions, St Augustine (1).JPG Flagler College (15).JPGFlagler College (15).JPG
The Ponce de Leon Hotel, a lavish 18th-century Spanish Renaissance structure, was completed in 1888 by millionaire developer Henry Flagler and is now home to Flagler College. It is located in the heart of St. Augustine and is a very impressive, instantly recognized building. Across the street is the former Hotel Alcazar, which houses the Lightner Museum with its collection of artifacts including examples of cut glass and Victorian art glass. Within the former hotel’s casino area is the Lightner Antique Mall, which contains a remarkable collection of nineteenth century art and antiques.
Castillo de San Marcos Fort, St Augustine (9).JPGCastillo de San Marcos Fort, St Augustine (9).JPG Castillo de San Marcos Fort, St Augustine (15).JPGCastillo de San Marcos Fort, St Augustine (15).JPG
The Fort Castillo de San Marcos still stands guard along the Matanzas River. The fort was never conquered and endures as the nation's oldest and only remaining 17-century stone fort. Tour the National Park Service’s fort, and then step across the street (San Marcos Avenue) to the Spanish Quarter Village -- a living history museum centering on life in colonial St. Augustine. Just down the street is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, located in the Castle Warden, a beautifully restored landmark built in 1887. The museum contains oddities collected from around the world.
Just to the north of the historic district are two other notable landmarks. The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park (established in 1903) is said to be the explorer Ponce de Leon’s legendary spring. Even if the springs do not rejuvenate the visitor, the ground’s gardens will make the visit worthwhile. The Mission of Nombre de Dios (1565) is the site of the beginning of Christianity in this country. The site is marked with a cross visible for miles.
St Augustine Lighthouse (2)WC.jpgSt Augustine Lighthouse
Lighthouses are always interesting attractions to visit and the St. Augustine Lightstation, as it is called, is no exception. The lighthouse was built in the late 1800s and was manned from 1874 to 1955. Now the lighthouse and its outbuildings serve as a museum attracting thousands of visitors annually. The ascension of the 219 steps to the top of the 165-foot tower rewards the climber with a panoramic view of the beaches of Anastasia Island, the city of St. Augustine Beach, Matanzas Bay and its marinas, and the three bridges leading to historic St. Augustine. At the top of the lighthouse a museum staff member is stationed to answer questions about the tower, the museum, and the view.
St. Augustine has no shortage of outdoor activities either. Opportunities for tennis, golf, and water-related sports are prevalent and as varied as St. Augustine’s other attractions. A visit to the “nation’s oldest continuously occupied city” is a step back in history and a step everyone should take.
janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) america florida fort castillo de san marcos lighthouse oldest city oldest house st augustine st augustine lighthouse usa http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/the-old-city-of-st-augustine-florida Sat, 05 May 2018 12:00:00 GMT
Green Jays, Chachalacas, and Winter Texans in McAllen http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/green-jays-chachalacas-and-winter-texans-in-mcallen TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan_Plain_Chachalacas-140067Nothing Plain about the Plain Chachalaca
There is one place I know that is definitely for the birds, and is all about the birds...the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. During a recent visit to the southern tip of the state, I discovered a lot more about this part of the Lone Star State. I discovered a great place to spend the winter in one of the many RV parks. I discovered that it is an extraordinary bird watching location. And staying in McAllen, I found that there are exceptional restaurants and an almost endless variety of shopping experiences.
My trip to the Rio Grande Valley was a bird watching vacation. This area is home to many tropical bird species found nowhere else in the United States. It is a major bird migration corridor and the location where two major flyways -- the Central and Mississippi -- come together, and that allows the birder an even greater opportunity to see more species. I wanted to visit as many birding sites along the Rio Grande Valley as possible. I was hopeful that I would see a few of the unique species of the region, like the Green Jay, the Plain Chachalaca, the Common Pauraque, and the Great Kiskadee.
This part of the Rio Grande Valley contains the World Birding Center, a series of nine different birding sites. My trip would only include five of the nine sites, but I did enjoy some good birding. The five sites I managed to visit were the Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, the Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, and the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse.
TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140078Quinta Mazatlan
Quinta Mazatlan is a 1930s historic Spanish Revival hacienda located in the center of McAllen. It is a seventeen-acre urban sanctuary. The large home is surrounded by woodlands that are the perfect habitat for a variety of wildlife, especially birds. There are trails through the grounds where visitors may see the Plain Chachalaca, the White-tipped dove, and hummingbirds. The tour guides tell visitors that Quinta Mazatlan is a "mansion with a mission."
TX_McAllen_Edinburg_Scenic_Wetlands-140160Edinburg Scenic Wetlands
Near McAllen, the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands provide another type of habitat for birds. It is a 40-acre tract of land consisting of a lake and ponds with trails throughout the surrounding woodlands. Birders can enjoy watching waterfowl and shorebirds from platforms overlooking the water. As many as thirteen species of ducks winter in these wetlands. The park hosts bird and dragonfly tours, and wildflower walks at various times of the season. An interpretive center has excellent displays and the full-length windows with provided telescopes allow for easy viewing of wildlife just the other side of the glass.
TX_McAllen_Bentsen_Rio_Grande_Valley State_Park-150348Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park
In Mission, Texas, the Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park, which serves as headquarters for the World Birding Center, is a 760-acre tract that adjoins with over 1,700 acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife land. It is near the Texas - Mexico border, and from the wheelchair accessible two-story observation tower, visitors can see Mexican buildings across the border while scanning the tree tops for raptors and other wildlife. A visitor center has an exhibit hall, park store, and a meeting room. Surrounding the center are butterfly gardens and hummingbird feeders. Visitors can travel through the park by tram, ride bikes, or walk the seven miles of trails and stop at two enclosed blinds to view or photograph birds up close.
Also adjoining the state park is the Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, which has one of the largest lists of amenities I have seen previously. It is a 250-site park that offers most anything an RVer, guest, adventurer, or birder could want during his stay. Free wireless, free long distance telephone calling in the US and Canada, free passes into the state park, free bicycles, pool, fitness, and birding blinds. There is even a shooting range and a wood shop. Space does not permit the entire list. Check it out at www.bentsenpalm.com/bentsen-palm-village-rv-resort/. 
The next site of the World Birding Center is the Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco east of McAllen. It contains over 230 acres of varied landscape. There are lakes and woodlands, and is the largest wetlands environment of the World Birding Center sites. Migrating waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds gather here, including the Wood Stork, the Roseate Spoonbill, and the ibis. This is the site that I spotted, with the help of the park rangers, the Common Pauraque, which I discovered is not too common.
TX_McAllen_Hidalgo_Pump_House-150395Hidalgo Pump House
The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, another site of the World Birding Center, tells the story of the Rio Grande's transition from a semi-desert region to a fertile valley because of the introduction of irrigation. That was accomplished with the massive steam-driven irrigation pumps located here. Visitors can tour the pump house and wander the museum grounds, where hummingbirds and many other bird species are viewable. The grounds have walking trails and historic tours are provided.
At the five of the nine sites of the World Birding Center along the Rio Grande Valley, I managed to spot a number of rare birds. This area is a hot spot for birders from around the world, hence, its name. But besides being a fantastic birding destination, the Rio Grande Valley, and McAllen especially, has much to offer visitors.
Winter is a great time to visit McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley. So much so, that winter RVers are welcomed and are called "Winter Texans", as opposed to the somewhat unpopular tag of "snowbirds." There are several hundred RV parks within the Rio Grande Valley. Consult the Escapees website for a more detailed listing and descriptions.
The interesting history museum, the Museum of South Texas History (MOSThistory.org) is located in Edinburg, just north of McAllen along Interstate 69C. The museum chronicles the area's history with displays and replicas illustrating significant events. It began as the Hidalgo County Historical Museum in the Old Hidalgo County Jail, which was built in 1910, and is now under renovation. When completed, the Old Jail will continue to be one of the most important sections of the museum. Another museum is located in McAllen. The International Museum of Art and Science is a Smithsonian Affiliate and contains over 50,000 square feet of space for permanent and rotating exhibits. Get full details of current programs and a list of the museum's galleries on their website www.imasonline.org.
Everyone visiting McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley may not want to go birding every day and night. And everyone may not want to shop. But, there is a huge choice of shopping opportunities. Shoppers from all over South Texas and Northern Mexico come to McAllen because of its more than forty shopping centers. The choices range from high-end American retailers to quaint specialty boutiques to outlet shops. So, there is something for every taste.
Not only is there a variety of taste in shopping, but also in eating. I particularly enjoyed the authentic Mexican dishes at the Palenque Grill along Highway 83, the major east-west thoroughfare in McAllen. Other delicious places to eat are the Rodizio Grill and SALT - New American Table. The Rodizio offers Brazilian fare, while SALT has locally grown, organic cuisine. 
My birding trip to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley was enlightening. Not only did I view the rare birds that I was hoping for, but I also found a place that I might become a "Winter Texan."
TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065 TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065 TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065 TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065 TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065 TX_McAllen_Quinta_Mazatlan-140065
janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) bentsen - rio grande valley state park birders birding common pauraque green jay mcallen museum of south texas history old hidalgo pumphouse plain chacalaca quinta mazatlan rio grande valley texas world birding center http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/5/green-jays-chachalacas-and-winter-texans-in-mcallen Tue, 01 May 2018 16:31:29 GMT
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Wisconsin http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/4/apostle-islands-national-lakeshore-of-wisconsin  
Locals say, when speaking of Lake Superior, "The lake is the boss!" There is a good reason for that. Lake Superior is generally considered to be the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. It has an average depth of nearly 500 feet. It is the coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes. It stretches approximately 350 miles from west to east, and 160 miles north to south. Its shoreline is almost 2,800 miles long. As Rev. George Grant said in 1872, "Superior is a sea. It breeds storms and rain and fog like the sea....It is wild, masterful, and dreaded."
Apostle Islands Cruise on Lake SuperiorWake of cruise boat on Lake Superior near Apostle Islands Wisconsin
If Lake Superior is rough, stay on shore. But, if it is calm, it can be exciting, especially along Wisconsin's northern coastline where the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located. A national lakeshore is operated by the National Park Service (NPS) and must be established by an act of the U.S. Congress. There are four national lakeshores, two on Lake Superior and two on Lake Michigan.
Lighthouses Lighthouses
The Apostle Islands are a group of twenty two islands in Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. All the islands except for Madeline, the largest, are part of the National Lakeshore. They are known for their historic lighthouses, sandstone sea caves, and old-growth forests. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other NPS area. There are eight historic lighthouses on six of the islands. For most of the century, the lighthouses have guided ships and boats through the rough waters of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.
The town of Bayfield serves as starting point for exploring the Apostle Islands. The small town has every amenity necessary for the boater and traveler -- restaurants, locally owned motels and inns (no big chains), and marinas. Bayfield is known for its good sailing due to the shelter offered by the Apostle Islands. The National Lakeshore headquarters and visitor center are also located in Bayfield.
 The Apostle Islands offer outstanding boating opportunities with its protected bays, public docks, and natural beauty. Public docks are found on thirteen of the islands. At some docks space is reserved  for NPS vessels and excursion boats. The remaining space is available to the public on a first come, first served basis for a small fee. There are also public boat launches in Bayfield and surrounding towns.
Bayfield, WisconsinDowntown Bayfield Wisconsin view of harbor at sunsise
The NPS does not recommend the use of boats smaller than sixteen feet for travel between islands. Smaller boats can be extremely hazardous when weather conditions become unfavorable. Before launching, as any wise boater knows, check lake conditions (especially on Lake Superior).
There are several ways to explore the Apostle Islands. Kayaks and personal water craft are popular. Tour boats are sometimes preferable because they have narrators on board who know the history of the various islands. Many visitors choose to kayak, either by bringing their own or renting from a local shop. The islands also offer opportunities to view interesting rock formations and shipwrecks. There have been 350 shipwrecks on Lake Superior.
Sea kayaking has become a very popular means to travel among the Apostle Islands. Lake Superior is renowned for its cold temperatures, rough seas, fog, and sudden squalls. Average water temperatures in May and June are only in the 40s. Even in late summer, surface temperatures rarely exceed 60 degrees, except in protected bays. Average summer winds blow from five to twenty knots with waves of one to four feet. Higher are possible.
Apostle Islands Cruise Apostle Islands Cruise Apostle Islands Cruise
The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers a variety of nonstop sightseeing excursions and island shuttles with stops at several islands. Their office is located in Bayfield near the city dock. All cruises depart from Bayfield.
All the Apostle Islands have unique names, The origin of the name "Apostle" is believed to come from early explorers. According to their practice they gave holy names to new places. But the individual islands have names like Hermit, Oak, Outer, Cat, Otter, Rocky, Bear, Sand, and Devils. Most have special characteristics. Devils Island is the northernmost point in Wisconsin. The most notable feature of this island is its sea caves, which are erosions in its sandstone cliffs, and are favorite destinations of kayakers and tour boats. Kayakers and boaters can see sea caves on the east side of Sand Island as well.
The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers daily trips to the Raspberry Island lighthouse in summer. The lighthouses on Sand, Devils, and Michigan islands are staffed by volunteers, who give tours to tourists who get there in their own boats. During the Lighthouse Celebration in September, the Apostle Islands Cruise Service schedules trips to Sand, Devils, Long, and Michigan islands as well as Raspberry.
Permits are required for all camping on the National Lakeshore, where it is permitted on eighteen of the twenty-one islands. Also there are more than fifty miles of hiking trails on the islands. These trails provide access to lighthouses, abandoned quarries, old farm sites, historic logging camps, beaches, and scenic overlooks. In addition, the Islands and surrounding area offer anglers opportunities to catch Lake, Brook, and Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Coho Salmon.
Madeline Island, the only one of the Apostle Islands accessible by automobile, is not within the National Lakeshore. Attractions on Madeline Island include Big Bay State Park, with its lakeside campground, and the Madeline Island Historical Museum, with its exhibits about the fur trade era. Madeline offers full tourist services. With a population of 302, La Pointe, the only town on Madeline Island, has restaurants, lodging, and various activities. The population increases to over 1500 when summer residents arrive.
Transportation to and from the mainland is by the Madeline Island Ferry Line, a car ferry from Bayfield that runs from spring breakup to winter freeze-up, which is generally from early April through early January. It there's ice, a wind sled (a flat-bottomed vehicle with an airplane propeller on the back) carries passengers prior to an ice road opening, which happens when the ice is thick enough and deemed safe to allow vehicles to drive between the mainland and Madeline Island. Naturally, caution is always advised if driving the ice road.
Visiting the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin is rewarding. Just remember, "The lake is the boss!"
janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) america apostle islands apostle islands cruise service bayfield lake superior madeline island national lakeshore the lake is the boss usa wisconsin http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/4/apostle-islands-national-lakeshore-of-wisconsin Thu, 26 Apr 2018 16:59:57 GMT
Steinbeck's Salinas - As in California http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/4/steinbecks-salinas---as-in-california Salinas Valley of California

It's called the "Salad Bowl of the World", the "Artichoke Capital of the World", and the birthplace of John Steinbeck. The Salinas Valley of Central California is all that and more. The fertile valley bordered by the Santa Lucia and the Gabilan Mountain Ranges help make the climate ideal for the first two claims. And John Steinbeck spent the early days of his life in the city of Salinas.
Wineries abound
Besides the proliferation of fields of colorful fruits and vegetables in the valley, and the mountains' as-far-as-the-eye-can-see grape vineyards (and that means many, many wineries), there are plenty of natural resources to enjoy, like whale watching, cruising the coastal waterways in search of other marine life, and hiking in the nearby mountains. Plus, the museums and restaurants round out the attractions to see and the adventures to be had in the Salinas Valley. 

The many farmlands in the valley raise a majority of this country's fruits and vegetables. Because of the long growing season and the resourceful use of the land, farmers can plant another crop in a field as soon as the previous one is harvested. With the valley's ideal climate, coupled with innovative irrigation methods, that makes for a plentiful harvest and happy farmers. The restaurants of the valley and all over benefit also.
Cannery Row and Ed Ricketts Lab
John Steinbeck wrote a lot about farming, farmers, migrant workers, and the Salinas Valley. Many characters of his books are based on real people he encountered during his life and his travels. One of his most famous works is The Grapes of Wrath, which in 2014 marks seventy-five years since its writing, is based on a family's migration from Oklahoma to California is search of a better life and work. Cannery Row is set in Monterey, just south of Salinas, and concerns the booming sardine canning business, which he participated in during his illustrious career.
John Steinbeck Center John Steinbeck House
His popularity, or notoriety, at the time he was living in Salinas, is varied. Yet, the National Steinbeck Center celebrates the life and times of the writer with interpretive displays arranged by seven different themed showcases among others, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath. Two blocks west of the Center is the Steinbeck House, the boyhood home of the author. It is Victorian in design and was built in Salinas in 1897. The Steinbeck family moved into the house in 1900. John was born in 1902 and spent his early years here. The Steinbeck House is now a restaurant but also holds tours of the home.
  Monterey Bay Aquarium Monterey Bay Aquarium
Much of Steinbeck's stories took place around Monterey Bay where the canneries were located. The city of Monterey sits on the bay and has become very commercialized. Cannery Row is a tourist destination with restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and the excellent Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium opened in 1984 and is a showcase for the habitats and sea life of one of the world's richest marine regions. There are more than 35,000 sea creatures representing over 500 species. The aquarium sits directly on the bay, an ideal and appropriate location.
Elkhorn Slough_wildlife cruise Elkhorn Slough_wildlife cruise
Also on Monterey Bay at Moss Landing, there are opportunities to board vessels of varying kinds and get on the water. Visitors can explore the nearby Elkhorn Slough for sea otters, harbor seals, and a multitude of birdlife, both waterfowl and shore birds. A slough is a wetland that is fed by a larger body of water, whether a bay or river. A cruise on the Elkhorn Slough is an excellent way to observe the wildlife. Two cruise companies offering tours on the slough are Whisper Charters and Elkhorn Slough Safari. Other adventurers can board ship with Sanctuary Cruises and get up close and personal with dolphins, humpback and blue whales, and orcas. Their cruises are with marine biologists and typically last 3-4 hours.
  Pinnacles National Park Pinnacles National Park
Besides cruising for wildlife in the Bay, visitors can travel to the highlands and visit one of the newest national parks, Pinnacles. Named for the landscape formed by an ancient volcano, the park has two entrances: one on the eastern side and the other on the western. The two parts of the park are connected by trails. No road passes completely through the park. The eastern entrance leads to the park campground  and visitor center. The western portion has only a ranger station and a parking area for trail users or rock climbers.
Wildlife is abundant in Pinnacles. The park is one of a few places in the country that is a release site for the endangered California condor. Of course, their range is greater than just within the park, but chances are greater to see a condor from the protected boundaries of the national park. There are a couple recommended spots where the chances are better. One is in the High Peaks area, which requires a substantial hike, but definitely worth the attempt. The other suggested spot to see condors is along the ridge just south of the campground.
Needless to say that hiking or rock climbing is the thing to do at Pinnacles. The hikes range from moderate to strenuous and vary in length. Some pass through talus caves, which are formed by falling rocks that get wedged creating passage ways. Bats find them good enough to call them home.
  Salinas Valley_Agriculture and Rural Life Museum Salinas Valley_Agriculture and Rural Life Museum
The Salinas Valley would not be complete without a museum illustrating the farming heritage of the area. The Monterey County Agriculture and Rural Life Museum, located in the town of King City south of Salinas, was established in 1980 and tells the agricultural story of the Salinas Valley. There are several preserved structures on the grounds and a reconstruction of a dairy barn that houses many artifacts and equipment of an earlier day. There is also a train depot and the Museum of Irrigation present also. An RV campground with 99 sites at the park can accommodate big rigs.
With all there is to see and experience in the Salinas Valley, it will be easy to appreciate all the superlatives of the region. From the Salad Bowl and Artichoke Capital of the World to the latest national park to the birthplace of John Steinbeck, there is an activity for any visitor.
janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) america's salad bowl artichoke capital of the world california john steinbeck salinas http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2018/4/steinbecks-salinas---as-in-california Thu, 26 Apr 2018 16:34:53 GMT
El Camino Real http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/el-camino-real The Oldest and Longest "Highway"?
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro

          Between the New Mexico cities of Las Cruces and Albuquerque is the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, a good place to learn about El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, or the Royal Road to the Interior. The Heritage Center gives an overview of the 1500 mile historical route from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Some historians even extend the route to Taos and Veracruz. El Camino is the oldest and longest continuously used "highway" in the U.S. and Mexico and it closely follows the modern-day Interstates 10 and 25 from El Paso, Texas, to Santa Fe. That will be the route of this story.
NM El Camino Real_036 Heritage CntrNM El Camino Real_036 Heritage Cntr

          El Camino Real International Heritage Center is located in a very appropriate place. It might seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but after a little thought, it is the perfect location. Only five minutes drive off Exit 115 of I- 25 and thirty miles south of Socorro, the Heritage Center tells the story of El Camino Real with exhibits, period artifacts, displays, and traveling exhibits about the trail and the establishment of colonies in New Mexico. It is suitable for all age groups. Visitors can explore the history and heritage of the trail from Mexico to Santa Fe as it appeared 300 years ago. 
          The Heritage Center overlooks the dry desert of the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death), the lower Rio Grande, and El Camino Real trail. The remote desert location is appropriate because it shows a sense of the climate and the long dusty trail endured by the early travelers, spending six months or longer on the trail to reach Santa Fe from Mexico City. The Jornada del Muerto was the most dreaded stretch of the journey because, even though it was ninety miles in length and took nine to ten days (at 8-10 miles per day), and contained no water or shelter, it still saved several days taking this route rather than the path along the longer 120 miles bend of the Rio Grande River. That is the appropriateness of the location of the Heritage Center.
           Most historians say the use of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was used from 1598 through 1885. It began to decrease in use in the mid-1880s with the advent of the railroad, which transported people and supplies along the Rio Grande in hours rather than weeks. But, in the early 1900s, automobiles traveled El Camino Real, serving as the first highway from El Paso to Santa Fe. That restored life to the old trail again for a short period. Except for a portion between Las Cruces and Socorro, I-25 follows the Rio Grande, rather than the 90-mile waterless shortcut through the Jornada del Muerto. 
NM El Camino Real_028 Heritage CntrNM El Camino Real_028 Heritage Cntr

          There is much to see and do in El Paso and Santa Fe, and travelers are probably aware of most of their attractions. But perhaps the attractions of the smaller towns along El Camino Real may not be so publicized. 
           Bosque del Apache (Spanish for "woods of the Apache") National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best in North America. Tens of thousands of birds, including Sandhill cranes, Arctic geese, and many kinds of ducks, gather each autumn and winter there. The 57,191-acre refuge is located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert, and straddles the Rio Grande, approximately twenty miles south of Socorro. 
          Belen, New Mexico, is another of the towns with mileage noted on the signs along I-25. Besides art galleries and a great little restaurant called Pete's Cafe, the Harvey House Museum is located there. Harvey Houses sprang up over the Southwest along railroads ran by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF). The Harvey Houses were combination restaurants, hotels, and newsrooms that catered to the train travelers of the late 1800s. Fred Harvey was an Englishman that moved to New York to start a restaurant business. After the Civil War, the restaurant business declined, but the railroads flourished. Mr. Harvey saw an opportunity and joined with the president of the ATSF and created what was to become a profitable business. The Belen Harvey House was one of more than a dozen in New Mexico. At the peak of his career, there were 84 Harvey Houses across the Southwest.
NM Belen Harvey_003 House MuseumNM Belen Harvey_003 House Museum NM Belen Harvey_008 House MuseumNM Belen Harvey_008 House Museum     

          Just northeast of Belen is another special spot, Tome' (pronounced To' mi), New Mexico. Just outside of town with its numerous art galleries, Tome' Hill is the site of an annual Good Friday pilgrimage. In 1947, Edwin Berry made a promise to God and kept it. As a military policeman during World War II, he saw friends killed in battle and narrowly escaped death himself. He promised God that if he returned safely from the war, he would build a monument where all the faithful could go to give thanks and to worship God. Berry and his friends began fulfilling the promise in March 1947, by carrying building materials on foot and by mule to the top of Tome' Hill. After a year, the project was complete and three massive crosses stood vigil on top of El Cerro de Tome, or Tome' Hill. And still do today. Besides the crosses, there are over 1,800 petroglyphs (rock drawings) that have been documented and catalogued by archaeologists from the University of New Mexico. The oldest petroglyphs are believed to be about 2,000 years old. Many represent the animals that are still in the area today, such as the coyote.
NM Tome Hill_001 CalvarioNM Tome Hill_001 Calvario

         The climb up Tome' Hill is steep, but definitely worth the effort for the views from the top. It not only is a physical, but also a spiritual experience. At the foot of Tome' Hill is a steel sculpture called La Puerta del Sol (the Gateway to the Sun) that commemorates El Camino Real and Tome' Hill. 
          The city of Albuquerque also is situated on El Camino Real and the Rio Grande. Just a few special things to do and see relate to the outdoors and dining. The city has an average rainfall of just below ten inches, and is sunny most of the year. Since Albuquerque is the hot air ballooning capital of the world, it would seem that taking to the air is one must-do activity. The Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, the world’s largest, takes place each October, when there will be from 500 to 700 balloons in the sky at one time. It is probably the most photographed event in the world, drawing a huge crowd of balloonists and spectators. During the festival, there is only one company licensed to take visitors aloft from the Balloon Fiesta Park, where the mass ascensions occur. That is the Rainbow Ryders of Albuquerque. Of course, they offer rides at other times.
NM Albuquerque_043 Hot air balloonNM Albuquerque_043 Hot air balloon NM Albuquerque_065 Hot air balloonNM Albuquerque_065 Hot air balloon

          Because Albuquerque is the hot air ballooning capital of the world, it seems natural that there would be a hot air ballooning museum. And there is. It is the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum and is filled with interesting historical artifacts of ballooning and other flying-related endeavors. 
          A jeep tour in the mountains is another unique experience. New Mexico Jeep Tours has a variety of tours available to see ancestral Pueblo ruins, ghost towns, volcanic necks, and other unusual geological formations, or can customize one to suit your needs. A jeep tour will allow visitors to get an up close perspective of natural New Mexico, rather than the standard touristy attractions.
          But there are standard touristy things to do and see within Albuquerque also. Historic Old Town is the city's cultural center, with seven museums and more than 100 shops, galleries, and restaurants around the centerpiece -- the 1793 San Felipe de Neri Church. Dine at El Pinto, one of the best restaurants in Albuquerque. It is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. It features New Mexican cuisine, which blends Native American and Spanish ingredients and prepares dishes with Albuquerque's signature ingredients, red and green chiles.
          Historic Route 66 passes through Albuquerque, and is called Central Avenue. It goes through Old Town and the downtown business district. There is a tour available for download on the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau website.
          Closely associated with the Native American heritage is the Petroglyph National Monument outside Albuquerque. It stretches seventeen miles and protects a variety of cultural and natural resources which includes five dormant volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 petroglyphs carved by Native American people and early Spanish settlers.
          Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe are a group of Indian pueblos and reservations that attest that the Native American influence still is a large part of culture of the region. That and the importance El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro had on the Spanish arriving in the Southwest make the diversity of cultures of New Mexico a great place to visit, explore, and savor.
NM Tome Hill _031 PetroglyphsNM Tome Hill _031 Petroglyphs NM ALB San Felip_002 de Neri ChurchNM ALB San Felip_002 de Neri Church



janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) Jornada del Muerto albuquerque belen bosque del apache edwin berry el camino real harvey house hot air ballooning museums new mexico rio grande tome hill http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/el-camino-real Wed, 29 Apr 2015 18:50:00 GMT
Fort Pickens, Florida http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/fort-pickens-florida Fort Pickens, Florida
            Florida’s Panhandle is a highly traveled part of the state. Rightly so, due to the popular Emerald Coast area from Panama City to Destin to Pensacola. Just south of Pensacola across the bridge at Gulf Breeze on Highway 399, one section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore offers visitors a unique look at barrier island life and the remnants of a historic fort – Fort Pickens. The attractions of this stretch of land along Santa Rosa Island make this area a very desirable and unique vacation spot away from the typical sand, sun, and surf destination.
          The Gulf Islands National Seashore does have sand, sun, and surf. In fact, there are miles of Gulf Coast white sandy beach frontage. There are ample parking areas with easy access to the sand, sun and surf. With a short walk down the beach you might find yourself alone. The crowds are in Destin and Panama City. If it is isolation you are looking for, visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore. From these beaches, distant views of high-rise condominiums lining Pensacola Beach’s shoreline are reminders of the typical beach vacation.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
            Visiting the beach is always part of a trip to Florida, but there is more to this area than just white sandy beaches. The national seashore is special in itself. Protected sand dunes are a part of the landscape along the roadway. The constantly changing dunes have restrictions. No walking is permitted on the dunes. There are walkways over the dunes and boardwalks across the dunes for access to the beach. 
            The Gulf Islands National Seashore contains several tracts along the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coastline. There are eleven sections over about 150 miles. The national seashore stretches from West Ship Island just south of Gulfport, Mississippi, to the eastern tip of Santa Rosa Island near Fort Walton Beach.  There are four historic forts on the barrier islands – Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island, Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan in Alabama near Gulf Shores across Mobile Bay from Fort Gaines, and Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. The forts were built in the nineteenth century and were constructed for the protection of our major waterways from enemy attack after the War of 1812.

Fort Pickens
            Along the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island, the remains of Fort Pickens occupy the extreme western part of the island. Construction on Fort Pickens was begun in 1829 and was completed in 1834. Fort Pickens is the largest of the four forts and was built to defend Pensacola Bay and its navy yard. Incidentally, across Pensacola Bay from Fort Pickens are Fort Barrancas and the Pensacola Naval Air Station. While visiting the historic Fort Pickens, frequent reminders of the nearness of thundering modern fighting planes across the bay offer a unique contrast to the stillness of old Fort Pickens.
            Several remaining batteries from Fort Pickens are scattered across the landscape of the tip of the barrier island. Large bore cannons are entrenched along the beachfront facing the Gulf of Mexico at a variety of locations. Frequent parking areas along the coursing roadways throughout the fort enable visitors access to most of the batteries. Several batteries are closed to the public for safety reasons, but there are ample examples for touring.
            The main part of the fort offers a walking tour of the different structures within the fort. Along the surrounding walls of the fort are several mounted cannons. Under the heavy walls within the fort are barracks and sleeping quarters. There are tunnels leading to mine chambers that can each hold one thousand pounds of gunpowder. Building a heavy walled fort on the sands of Santa Rosa Island had its design problems. To support the weight of the fort on the soft sand, engineers resorted to an old design of arches, which are designed to distribute weight. In parts of Fort Pickens overhead arches, along with reverse arches in the foundation, were used to spread the fort’s weight to minimize settling. A reverse arch is a downward arch and, when it was used in conjunction with the overhead arch, was able to support considerable weight. There are several examples of this combination at Fort Pickens.
Arched doorways Ft Pickens M1566.jpgArched doorways Ft Pickens M1566.jpg    Double arches at Ft Pickens M1571.jpgDouble arches at Ft Pickens M1571.jpg Double arches at Fort Pickens M1573.jpgDouble arches at Fort Pickens M1573.jpg

Attractions of the National Seashore
            Besides Fort Pickens and the beach along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, there are nature trails to enjoy and appreciate the different forms of life contained on a barrier island. The Blackbird Marsh Nature Trail is on the bay side of Santa Rosa Island. The Dune Nature Trail is on the Gulf side of the island and offers a boardwalk over the fragile and changing landscape of the sand dunes. The area also has an amphitheater, picnic grounds, and a visitor center and museum.

            On the bay side of the island adjacent to Fort Pickens a fishing pier extends into Pensacola Bay. No license is required and fishing is permitted twenty-four hours a day. However, a night owl permit is required to use the pier when the park is closed. One can be obtained from the campground registration office.
            The campground for the Gulf Islands National Seashore and Fort Pickens has approximately two hundred sites many with electrical hookups. A campground store offering groceries and supplies is located near the campground reservation office. In addition to the camping fee, there is an entrance fee of $8 for the Gulf Island National Seashore and Fort Pickens and is good for seven days. 
Getting there
            To get to the Santa Rosa Island section of Gulf Islands National Seashore and Fort Pickens, take Highway 399 south from US Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze. Gulf Breeze is the first city across the Pensacola Bay Bridge out of Pensacola along US 98. From Interstate 10, take I-110 through Pensacola to the US Highway 98. Follow the signs to the Pensacola Bay Bridge. In Gulf Breeze, look for Highway 399 and signs to Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. 
            The extreme western part of Florida offers visitors the same white sandy beaches as the more notable sections and more. Fort Pickens and the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola Beach is a great place to get a way from the crowds and soak up sunshine and history at the same time.




janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) beach camping florida fort ickens forts gulf islands nationa seashore national park service pensacola sandy santa rosa island white sands http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/fort-pickens-florida Sat, 25 Apr 2015 15:42:11 GMT
Huntsville, Alabama http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/huntsville-alabama Beyond Space in Huntsville
         Without a doubt the most impressive, and the most notable, attraction in Huntsville is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. But with closer investigation, visitors will soon see that there is much more to see and do in this north central Alabama city – like seeing world-class museums, visiting a botanical garden with the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house, and getting a bird’s eye view of the city atop a mountain with even more surprises.

          Huntsville is a city with many surprises. One does not normally think much beyond the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, but there are other attractions just as notable in their own way. Many of the city’s attractions are located in the downtown area, which is easily accessible from Interstate 565, the connector between Huntsville and neighboring Decatur. Within the downtown area, there are the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Early Works Museum Complex, consisting of the Huntsville Depot and Museum, the Early Works Children’s Museum and the Alabama Constitution Village, and the Huntsville Visitors Center.
US Space & Rocket Center Saturn V and Davidson Center For Space Exploration 001.jpgUS Space & Rocket Center Saturn V and Davidson Center For Space Exploration 001.jpg Early Works Childrens Museum Huntsville Alabama 002.jpgEarly Works Childrens Museum Huntsville Alabama 002.jpg

          Also along I-565, the Huntsville Botanical Gardens is a 110-acre natural paradise. With its gardens and displays, the botanical garden could be a destination in itself. To go along with the space and rocket theme, there is also Sci-Quest, a hands-on science center for children. At Sci-Quest kids can explore the mysteries of many things usually taken for granted.
          When it comes to nature and the outdoors, Huntsville is not left out. Besides the botanical garden, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The city has foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on three sides. Just a short drive up a mountain is Monte Sano State Park, which offers an incredible view of the city below. Hiking trails, camping, picnicking, and bird watching are very popular activities.
The Attractions
          The first stop should be the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau just off I-565 at Exit 19A. Their facility is adjacent to the restored depot and has all information of sights, sounds, and great eating spots in the city. Plus, it is an ideal place to get assistance in planning your itinerary.
Early Works Historic Hunstville Depot and Museum Huntsville Alabama 001.jpgEarly Works Historic Hunstville Depot and Museum Huntsville Alabama 001.jpg
Early Works Historic Hunstville Depot and Museum Huntsville Alabama 006.jpgEarly Works Historic Hunstville Depot and Museum Huntsville Alabama 006.jpg
          The nationally accredited Huntsville Museum of Art has a permanent collection and traveling exhibits throughout the year. In addition to its exhibitions, the museum offers art classes for children and adults, and has special programs. The Huntsville Museum of Art is located downtown in Big Spring International Park. As well as being impressive on the inside, the grounds of the museum are beautifully landscaped with a lake and fountain with plenty of area for picnics. 
          Early Works History Complex, near the Huntsville Museum of Art, offers three venues to discover history. The Children’s Museum has displays and opportunities to interactively learn about the history of Alabama. The Huntsville Depot, built in the mid-1800s, has old locomotives on its grounds and a Civil War section with a wall of graffiti left by soldiers.
          The Alabama Constitution Village is a living history museum. As the site for the 1819 Alabama Constitutional Convention, villagers dressed in period outfits enlighten travelers of the way life was in the early 1800s. There are eight Federal style buildings on one square block in Huntsville’s downtown area containing the Village.
Constitution Village Huntsville Alabama 003.jpgConstitution Village Huntsville Alabama 003.jpg

          If there were not enough history at the Early Works Complex, Huntsville has five historic districts on the National Register. The Twickenham Historic District contains many early nineteenth century homes, many of which were used during the Civil War by the Union army. Fortunate for the district – this saved them from being destroyed. The Old Town District contains Victorian homes built in the 1870 – 1930 range. Stop by the Visitors Center for information on the walking tours and directions.
Huntsville Naturally
          For the traveler looking for the natural side of Huntsville, he will not be disappointed. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that surround the city on three sides hold many opportunities for the hiker, bicyclist, bird watcher, or anyone just wanting to be outside. The most popular of these foothill destinations is Monte Sano, which contains a state park of the same name, 547 acres held by the Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama for recreational purposes, and a museum and living history site called Burritt on the Mountain.
The Land Trust holds and protects almost 4000 acres and maintains three major mountain preserves, which are open to the public. On Monte Sano the Trust offers ten different trails in the acreage they support. A parking area for the trailheads is along Bankhead Parkway on Monte Sano. One trail follows an old railroad bed of the Monte Sano Railway of the late 1800’s. The original eight miles of track were laid in approximately four months in the year of 1888 in order to connect the Huntsville Depot to the Hotel Monte Sano. Time was of the essence because the hotel was actually a health resort built during the period of yellow fever, cholera, and diphtheria. The thought was that clean mountain air might help visitors recover more quickly.
The current trail is along one and a half miles of the original route of the Monte Sano Railway. Along the trail, there are evidences of the supports for the trestles and bridges. Large stones used for those supports still hold their position. Markers along the trail describe the old railroad features at each marked point. It makes for an interesting hike.
Nearer the base of Monte Sano, Burritt on the Mountain offers equally spectacular views of Huntsville below. Originally the estate of Dr. William Henry Burritt, these 167-acres have the mansion for tours, an interpretive museum, and a recreation of a nineteenth century farm complete with livestock. The mansion is of a unique architectural style and is listed on the Register of Historic Places.
AL_Huntsville_Burritt on the Mountain-9170098AL_Huntsville_Burritt on the Mountain-9170098
For birders there is the North Alabama Birding Trail, an addition to the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Fifty bird watching sites are scattered throughout eleven North Alabama counties with several in the Huntsville - Madison County area. A brochure and map is available at the Visitors Center.
Besides the Monte Sano campground, there are a couple others that are convenient to Huntsville and its attractions. Ditto Landing, with a campground and marina, is located north of the Tennessee River bridge just off Memorial Highway (US Highway 231). Another campground in the area is at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Its campground has full hookups and is within walking distance of the most exciting attraction in Huntsville. So this one should be a first consideration if the Space Center is in your itinerary.
Speaking of the Space and Rocket Center
          The most visited attraction is the US Space and Rocket Center. The museum tour explains the history of the US space program and the part Huntsville and Dr. Werner Von Braun played in shaping that history. Museum pieces include a Space Shuttle, Saturn rockets, a lunar rover, several of the actual Apollo crafts that made the first missions in orbit and to the moon, and many rockets that propelled those crafts and our astronauts into space. Don't miss the Davidson Center, where a full size Saturn V rocket is housed. Another important feature and popular part of the Center is the Space Camp program, In this youngsters, teachers, and other adults enroll and get intensive astronaut training.
          Huntsville has a lot more to offer its visitors than the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, but that is still the most popular attraction and the reason most people come to Huntsville. But after they visit the Center and venture off other exits, they will soon understand the amount of things to do in Huntsville. 
AL_Huntsville_Davidson Center-9160019AL_Huntsville_Davidson Center-9160019


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) alabama huntsville monte sano u s space and rocket center usa http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/4/huntsville-alabama Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:26:13 GMT
Talladega Scenic Drive http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/talladega-scenic-drive For a Scenic Drive – Try the Talladega
(Not the Superspeedway!)

     Of the four national byways in Alabama, the Talladega Scenic Drive is the shortest, but arguably the most scenic. Located in the east central part of the state about eighty miles east of Birmingham, the Talladega runs the ridgeline of the Horseblock and Cheaha Mountains through the Talladega National Forest. In its twenty six miles it passes six overlooks, several trailheads, and the Cheaha State Park, but provides many opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Talladega Scenic Drive scene Alabama 001Talladega Scenic Drive scene Alabama 001














               The highest point in Alabama is contained within the Cheaha State Park at the mountain of the same name. Its elevation is 2407 feet above sea level. Within the park are several miles of hiking trails, a restaurant, motel, camping facilities, and an observation tower marking the highest point. Observable wildlife is plentiful within the park. Not only is Cheaha State Park the highest point of the Drive, it is also the “high point”.
     As the Drive passes through the national forest, it connects on several occasions with access points to the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, which has section in Alabama and Georgia and links to the Appalachian Trail. This 100-plus mile long trail is second to none in the state as it meanders through rolling hillsides, up rocky crags, past mountain streams and waterfalls, and the panoramic vistas atop the mountains of the Talladega National Forest.
     The 7,300-acre Cheaha Wilderness lies next to Cheaha State Park. From  the observation tower on the summit of Cheaha Mountain, a dense second-growth woodland stretches south across the state park and into Cheaha Wilderness. Numerous forms of outdoor recreation are available within the wilderness area and the national forest. Hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, and, of course, hiking are all great ways to experience the good nature of the Talladega. The previously-mentioned Pinhoti Trail passes through the wilderness area.
Cheaha Trailhead Cheaha State Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002Cheaha Trailhead Cheaha State Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002 Cheaha State Park observation tower Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002Cheaha State Park observation tower Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002
     Within the Talladega National Forest are three developed recreation areas – Coleman Lake, Pine Glen, and Lake Chinnabee.  Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area is not far from Cheaha State Park. This 17-acre lake and small campground are tucked into a peaceful valley. The recreation area has eight campsites and offers more opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and fishing. The Chinnabee Silent Trail connects the campground to the Cheaha Wilderness.
     The Talladega Scenic Drive is accessible easily from the north from Interstate 20 near Oxford. Take Exit 191, which is US 431, south to its junction with AL 281, which forms the majority of the Talladega Scenic Drive. AL 281 continues in a southwesterly direction winding through the national forest past the Cheaha State Park. The Drive continues in that same general southwesterly direction. Its name changes several times on maps (Skyline Motorway, Blue Ridge Road, Sky Line Drive), but it still carries the National Scenic Byway designation of the Talladega Scenic Drive. Along its route it nudges the small towns of Erin, Clairmont Springs, Weathers, and Chandler Springs. The largest town near its southern terminus is Talladega, the county seat of Talladega County.
Talladega County Courthouse Talladega AL 001Talladega County Courthouse Talladega AL 001














           In these times of economic worries and higher gasoline prices, visiting places close to home makes a lot of sense. And where better to visit than the Talladega National Forest and its Scenic Drive. The outdoor recreational possibilities are varied. The wildlife is abundant. The scenery is great. And it is close to home.

janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) Cheaha State Park Chinnabee alabama drive scenic talladega talladega scenic drive usa http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/talladega-scenic-drive Mon, 30 Mar 2015 23:21:23 GMT
Alabama Gulf Coast http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/alabama-gulf-coast The Inside and Outside of the Alabama Gulf Coast

            The white sandy beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast seem to call travelers to “come visit”. There is something about the white sand, the sun, and putting it all together that makes it a special place to spend a night or to spend a week. Because more and more vacationers and weekend travelers are coming to this popular spot, there seems to be something new each time that makes it even better. More attractions, more condos and motels, more restaurants, more souvenir and gift shops. More campgrounds. More golf courses. More fun.
Beach scene Gulf Shores (13).JPGBeach scene Gulf Shores (13).JPG

            Of the approximately fifty-seven miles between the Mississippi and Florida state lines, there are only thirty-two miles of beaches on Alabama’s Gulf Coast (excluding the approximately ten miles on Dauphin Island). But for that short space, there are a lot of activities to occupy time. Relaxing on the peaceful beaches is one of the most popular activities. There are several public access points. One is at the intersection of US Highway 59 and SR 182 (the main street through Gulf Shores). At Gulf State Park there are other access points to beaches.

Alabama Coastal Birding Trail

            One of the latest additions to the “things to do” list is the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Signs are posted along roadways throughout the area noting special places to see birds. The Trail is an arranged series of loops describing the birding spots frequented by Alabama birders. The loops are scattered around the Gulf Coast, but it is not necessary to follow the complete loops to enjoy birding. Suggestions are given at each site as to which species of bird may be seen at that particular site.

            The Gulf Shores-Orange Beach Loop starts at Perdido Pass near the Florida state line and extends near SR 180, which leads to Fort Morgan. Another loop – the Fort Morgan Loop -- begins at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Pick up a brochure and map of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail at one of the visitors’ centers in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach.

Other Attractions

            Gulf Sate Park contains 6000 acres and separates Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Part of the park is located along SR 182 and access to the campground, fishing lakes and pier is from SR 180 also. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a few minutes out of Gulf Shores on SR 180 and has 6700 acres of coastal terrain, including secluded beach access, changing sand dunes and rolling pine-oak woodlands. The name Bon Secour means “safe harbor” and is very appropriate for the native flora and fauna obtaining sanctuary at the wildlife refuge.

            At the western terminus of SR 180 from Gulf Shores the historic Fort Morgan overlooks Mobile Bay. Construction began in 1819 after the War of 1812 when Congress realized the US was vulnerable along the southern and eastern coastlines. The fort was completed in 1834 but proved obsolete even during the Civil War as General Farragut led his Union fleet past the fort with the loss of only one ship. Redesign of all the brick forts followed. Now the self-guided tours through the fort demonstrate the combination of the old brick and the new concrete structures. Near the fort the Fort Morgan Ferry operates carrying cars and passengers to Dauphin Island where the sister Fort Gaines stands guard across Mobile Bay.
AL Fort Morgan Ferry (7).JPGAL Fort Morgan Ferry (7).JPG

Outdoor Recreation

            Fishing and golfing prove to be popular diversions for the outdoor enthusiast. With over one hundred boats in the Orange Beach fishing fleet there will be one ready to take eager fishermen in search of grouper, snapper, triggerfish and amberjack. For those with their own boats there are plenty of public boat launch sites for fresh or saltwater fishing. For those wanting to be on the water without fishing, there are sightseeing cruises for shelling or dolphin sightings.

            There are plenty of golf courses in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area offering golfers many opportunities to try their luck and improve their skill while visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast. Sportsmen may set up tee times on line by visiting this website.

Inside Recreation

            Perhaps the favorite things to do on vacation while not soaking up sunshine or enjoying the beach are to shop and to eat. By being of the Gulf with a backyard so bountiful with fish, many restaurants offer catch-of-the-day seafood prepared in a multitude of different ways. Gulf Shores has many excellent restaurants with a variety of cuisines for whatever taste.

            The Tanger Outlet Factory Stores, just north of Gulf Shores on US 59 in Foley, is an outlet mall with over 120 stores. Bargains await shoppers looking for fill a few bags while relaxing away from the beach.


            The first thing an RVer will probably want to do is find a suitable location to park the motorhome. A little research beforehand makes for a more pleasant stay regardless of the length of time involved. There are several campgrounds with excellent facilities. A nice campgrounds in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area is Island Retreat RV Park. It has all amenities and is about one and one-half miles west of US 59 on SR 180 (Fort Morgan Road). Other recommended campgrounds are Gulf State Park Campground, the Luxury RV Resort, and Doc’s RV Park.

            For a great vacation or long weekend test the waters along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Outdoor and indoor recreational opportunities abound at this fun-in-the-sun destination.
AL Beach at sunset Gulf Shores (4).JPGAL Beach at sunset Gulf Shores (4).JPG




janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) alabama alabama birding trail beach birding coast gulf coast white sand http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/alabama-gulf-coast Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:24:38 GMT
Cumberland Falls http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/cumberland-falls  

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky

            Wanna see a moonbow? Do I mean a rainbow?
Cumberland Falls Moonbow(3)This moonbow shot was taken about 11:00 p.m. during a full moon at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

            Moonbow. South Central Kentucky has a very unique natural attraction. Cumberland Falls is one of a kind. It is the only waterfall in the United States at which regular moonbows occur. The only other waterfall at which this occurs regularly is Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in Africa. Occasionally moonbows occur at other waterfalls in this country, but at Cumberland on clear nights with a full moon, this natural phenomenon is routine.

            What is a moonbow? It is a “rainbow” seen at night. Conditions have to be just right for a moonbow to become visible. First of all, there must be a full moon. The skies should be clear with no clouds obscuring the moon. When the full moon moves overhead so its light rays can reach into the gorge, its light beams pass through the mist created by the thundering water. That produces the moonbow the same way a rainbow is made visible. The best location to view the moonbow is on the lower overlook nearest the waterfall. As the moon changes its location, the moonbow moves accordingly. First, it is visible very close to the waterfall. Then, as the moon moves overhead, the moonbow shifts and appears further away from the waterfall. It seems to move down the gorge away from the falls. Since the park closes at midnight, viewing time is limited to a couple hours after dark until midnight. During the summer with daylight savings time, darkness arrives around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. That is not much moonbow viewing time. There is a moonbow schedule posted on the Cumberland Falls website, which gives dates the moonbow may be visible.  

            Cumberland Falls is a great place to visit even without the moonbow. The waterfall itself is 125 feet wide with a 68-foot plunge. The average volume is over 3200 cubic feet per second. It is a powerful waterfall in the 677-mile long Cumberland River. The waterfall is situated in the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. The Daniel Boone National Forest covers a large portion of South Central Kentucky and surrounds the state park creating a wilderness retreat with a list of outdoor recreational opportunities. Heading the list is the assortment of hiking trails ranging in length from one-quarter-mile to a 10.8-mile trail, which begins at the visitors center and follows the gorge of the Cumberland River until it joins the Laurel River. This trail, called the Moonbow Trail, is part of the Sheltowee Trace, which extends the length of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Cumberland Falls (2)Cumberland Falls (2)

                    One particularly scenic trail, Eagle Falls Trail, is one and one half miles in length and follows the cliff line along the Cumberland River. This trail offers some of the best views of Cumberland Falls. About one half mile from the trailhead, a short trail leads to an overlook over the Cumberland River gorge just below the falls. This trail is also the only one leading to Eagle Falls, which is a forty-four foot waterfall formed as Eagle Creek plunges into the Cumberland River basin.

            The stretch of the Cumberland River below the waterfall is a popular run for canoeists. The twelve-mile stretch of river offers experienced whitewater enthusiasts adventure on the water. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters for information on guided trips. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters also offer several guided whitewater trips into the Big South Fork.

            What make this park a state resort park are its other amenities. The Dupont Lodge has deluxe accommodations, a first class restaurant, and a full-time naturalist on staff. There are programs throughout the summer months and activities for the entire family. Views from the restaurant at the Dupont Lodge are excellent. Tables line the picture-windowed walls giving a panoramic vista of the Cumberland River and the surrounding national forest. The lodge itself is of rustic construction with its timbered interior. That gives authenticity to the wilderness flavor. Solid hemlock and knotty pine paneling accent the large stone fireplace in the historic main lodge building. The Blair Museum is located in the lodge and features Native American artifacts and exhibits of the area.

            Getting to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in not difficult. It is easily accessible from Interstate 75. From I-75 take Exit 25 and go west on US Highway 25. At State Highway 90 follow the signs to the state park. It is approximately twenty miles from I-75’s Exit 25 to Cumberland Falls. Interstate 75 passes through Cincinnati, Lexington, and Knoxville and is intersected by several other interstate highways making Cumberland Falls, the resort park within a wilderness setting, and the moonbow very accessible.

Feel free to leave your comments. Thanks for reading.

janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) camping kentucky moonbow park resort rv waterfall http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/cumberland-falls Tue, 17 Mar 2015 21:50:00 GMT
Enchanted Rock http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/enchanted-rock            If you are visiting the Texas Hill Country and you happen to be driving along Highway 965 north from Fredericksburg, and something huge materializes from nowhere, relax! You are approaching one of the unique natural landmarks of the country -- Enchanted Rock. This is one of the most visited parks of the Texas Hill Country and for good reason.

            Enchanted Rock State Natural Area of Texas is about eighteen miles north of the city of Fredericksburg. The annual visitation to this park has exceeded 300,000 each year for the last five years. There must be something worthwhile for visitors with those numbers.

            The Texas Hill Country is best known for its springtime wildflowers, particularly the bluebonnets. But Enchanted Rock is popular year round. The huge granite formation is the second largest in size only to Georgia’s Stone Mountain. The park covers 1643 acres and has many features attractive to visitors. The dome covers about 70 acres and rises three hundred twenty-five feet above the bed of Sandy Creek, which flows past the mountain.
TX-Burnet Cnty_043TX-Burnet Cnty_043













         There is much history associated with this large granite dome. Archaeological remains are common in the park and indicate that Enchanted Rock was attractive to a variety of prehistoric groups of people over a long period of time. The first documented explorations of the area did not occur until the early 1700s when the Spanish were attempting to settle Texas. During the mid-1700s Spaniards made several trips north to what is now the Hill Country to establish a mission and to mine for silver and gold. Discovery of Enchanted Rock is attributed to Captain Henry S. Brown, who was leading a group of new Texans pursuing a party of fleeing Indians.

           Indian legends contribute largely to the tales about the Rock. The Apache displaced the Tonkawa in the early 1700s and the Comanche followed the Apache in the late 1700’s. All Native American tribes felt the same way about Enchanted Rock. It was sacred and revered as a place favored by the Great Spirit. Indian lore tells of groans emanating from the Rock on cool nights and of seeing flames on the surface following a rain. These mysteries have been explained by geologists as natural events. The flames probably were caused by reflections from the wet mica on the Rock’s surface. The changing temperature of the rock could cause the groans.

            German immigrants helped found communities like Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country. Groups of Germans left their homeland because of political unrest and overcrowding. They were looking for opportunities and a new start. The first settlements were begun in the 1840’s. There are many evidences of that heritage in towns of the Hill Country. The German settlers named Fredericksburg for Prince Frederick of Prussia. When the Germans arrived in Texas, they encountered many unexpected hardships. The Texas war with Mexico broke out as the Germans were attempting to get to their new settlements. Trouble with the Indians caused obvious problems until a treaty was made.

           Rock climbing and rappelling, hiking, primitive camping, and picnicking are the major activities for visitors to Enchanted Rock. The activities on the rock are obviously the main attractions for visitors. Rock climbers must check in at park headquarters. There are route maps and climbing rules available. Pitons are prohibited on the Rock. Leather-soled shoes are recommended for climbing and hiking due to the slippery nature of the rock surfaces.

          There are several trails in the park. A four-mile Loop Trail circles the Rock and winds around granite formations. Enchanted Rock Summit Trail climbs 425 feet in six tenths of a mile to the top of the dome. There are no water and electricity hookups for RVers and trailer campers. Only primitive and tent camping is allowed at the park. It is “walk-in” tent camping. Tenters must carry their equipment a short distance from the parking area. The forty-six campsites have tent pads, picnic tables, a fire ring and a nearby water faucet. Restrooms with showers are nearby. Backpackers have three twenty-acre areas with sixty sites for primitive camping. They must also carry their water in and their trash out. Most of the primitive sites are located behind Enchanted Rock and can only be reached by trail and no vehicular traffic is permitted. 
M 1799 Tent camping in Enchanted Rock SP, Texas Hill CountryM 1799 Tent camping in Enchanted Rock SP, Texas Hill Country

       Fees are $7.00 per person per day for entry into the park. Children twelve and under are admitted free of charge. Tent camping sites are $18.00 per night and primitive camping sites are $14.00. Only four people are allowed in each primitive camping site and up to eight people can camp in the tent area. The camping fees are in addition to the entrance fees.

         Enchanted Rock is a very popular destination on weekends. Visitors from Austin (about seventy miles to the east) come to enjoy the distinctiveness of the State Natural Area. The park gets so crowded during the summer months that rangers must close the parking area temporarily. The park limits the number of people in the park to protect its fragile resources. When parking lots are full, the park will close for up to two hours. This can happen September through May, sometimes as early as 11 a.m. Arrive before ten in the morning to avoid the crowds.

        The Texas Hill Country is a beautiful part of the country to visit. The scenery is distinctive and its attractions are unique. Enchanted Rock is a definite stop while in the area.


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) bluebonnets camping enchanted rock granite hiking hill country rock stone tents texas http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/enchanted-rock Mon, 09 Mar 2015 12:00:00 GMT
El Paso Texas http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/elpaso  

Two Cities, Two Countries, One Visit


          Throughout its colorful history, El Paso has progressed from a small adobe village of just a few hundred to a western boomtown to the sixth largest city in Texas. Today El Paso is still colorful, but it has outlived its old nicknames, like ‘Sin City’ and ‘Six Shooter Capital’, and has acquired modern-day ones like ‘Sun City, ‘Land of the Sun’, and ‘Star of the Southwest’. Its former nicknames came about in the 1800’s, but things changed in the early 1900’s, and the city has progresses. El Paso’s color today comes from its rich heritage and its mixture of cultures. Its sister city, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is separated only by the Rio Grande River. That affords travelers easy access to two cities and two countries in one visit.

          El Paso is in the extreme western corner of Texas and is closer to large cities in New Mexico than any others in Texas. The New Mexico border is just a few miles away and Los Cruces is forty miles to the north. Interstate 10 passes through El Paso, which makes getting there easy, as far as good highways are concerned. If coming from the east, Texas is a wide state and it will seem as big as all claims. Getting to El Paso from the west (I-10) and north (I-25) are also convenient. Travel within the city should not pose any major problems for motorcoaches except for in the downtown section, where parking and traffic will be the largest concerns.

          Once there El Paso has plenty of activities and attractions to enjoy. From museums to shopping to entertainment to outdoor recreation, there is something for every member of the family. There are museums on archaeology, history, art, science, the border patrol, and the holocaust. Shopping can be at modern malls or across the border in Juarez’s City Market. A variety of theaters and programs provide entertainment. Outdoor recreation can be in the form of hiking, biking, or rock climbing in the Franklin Mountains, or golfing on one of El Paso’s courses.

          Downtown El Paso has several attractions of interest. The El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau is located adjacent to the convention center and would prove to be a useful stop to gather up to date information on activities and to answer any questions about travel into Mexico. There are tours that originate there and at other locations in El Paso that take visitors across the border. Taking a motorcoach across the border will involve getting permits of various types. Consult the Department of Homeland Security for current requirements.

          Juarez has some excellent restaurants and historical attractions. The tours will give an overview of where suitable destinations in Juarez are located for those wanting to do independent travel.

          The El Paso Museum of Art and Insights -- the Science Museum is within walking distance to the convention center. The Museum of Art houses over five thousand pieces in permanent collections. They include collections of early European and American art, Mexican colonial art, and contemporary southwestern art. Insights – El Paso Science Museum focuses learning by doing. Interactive exhibits emphasize the hands on experience to learning.

          The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center is another addition to the list of museums located in El Paso. Its mission is to educate the public and to honor the memory of those who perished.

          Museums not in the downtown area but worth visiting are the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, the National Border Patrol Museum, the Fort Bliss Museum, and the Railroad and Transportation Museum of El Paso. The El Paso Museum of Archaeology and the Border Patrol Museum are in the north part of the city along the Transmountain Road, which passes through the Franklin Mountains and affords great vistas at several overlooks.   

          The Archaeology Museum tells the story of the area’s first inhabitants using dioramas and colorful exhibits. The museum grounds cover fifteen acres and include nature trails, outdoor exhibits, and a desert garden with more than 250 varieties of native plants. The National Border Patrol Museum depicts the history of service and tells of some of the heroes that guard our borders.

          There are a series of three missions dating back 400 years. The route between the missions, called the Mission Trail, is marked and maps are available at the convention and visitor center or online. These adobe churches (Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission, and the San Elizario Chapel) will inspire visitors and will add to the visit.

          The Chamizal National Memorial is located downtown near the Bridge of the Americas, one of the four border crossings. It recognizes the treaty that resolved the border land dispute. Because the Rio Grande River changed courses, there was a section of land that both countries thought theirs. In 1963 that dispute was settled and this 55-acre park and museum honor that peaceful decision. An outdoor amphitheater and an art gallery are also on the grounds.

          El Paso is a military town and Fort Bliss is in the center of it. The fort itself has a long history. It began in 1848 with a regiment of mounted infantry and today is known for its air and missile defenses. A museum is on its grounds and is one of the must-sees of a visit. Permits are required for entering the military installation. Directions for visitors are posted at entrances.

          Shopping in El Paso can be as varied as the visitor desires. Convenient malls and specialty shops are readily available. Historic El Paso Street is located in the heart of the city. El Paso Street is near one of the bridges into Juarez. Visitors will pass storefronts with all kinds of merchandise – both American and Mexican. Just across the border in Juarez is City Market, a popular large two-story building where vendors sell everything from blankets to burritos. A trip across the border and to the City Market is another must-do experience while in El Paso.

          Eating is always a popular experience while traveling. El Paso has a variety of great restaurants, and of course, there are some excellent ones serving Mexican food. After an evening meal there are many opportunities in different venues for entertainment.

          The Plaza Theater in downtown offers a variety of scheduled events. It was built in the 1930s and was advertised as the largest theater between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nearby at the convention center the Abraham Chavez Theater has another impressive list of scheduled events, including the El Paso Symphony performances.

          For the outdoorsperson, Franklin Mountain State Park will provide plenty of hiking, biking, and rock climbing in its more than 24,000 acres. It is the largest urban park in the nation and covers thirty-seven square miles and lies within the city limits of El Paso. The highest peak in the park is the North Franklin Peak with an elevation of 7192 feet. As far as camping in the park, there are only five self-contained RV sites in the park. No water or electricity hookups. No ground fires permitted. Reservations are recommended for anyone desiring to stay in the park. The McKelligon Canyon area of Franklin Mountain State Park has established rock climbing areas.

          Before leaving El Paso, there are a couple other must-sees and must-dos. The Wyler Aerial Tramway at the edge of the Franklin Mountains climbs 940 feet and offers a view of 7000 square miles. That includes three states and two countries from its 5632-foot elevation. There is an observation deck at the top of Ranger Peak. Another must-see, must-do is to take the Scenic Drive along Rim Road. Along the residential road views of El Paso and Juarez are possible. There is a park along the route to pause and take in the panorama.

          El Paso is a colorful destination where visitors can experience two countries, two cities, and two cultures in one visit. Even though the two cultures of El Paso and Juarez have merged significantly over the years that these two sister cities have coexisted, both are great places to visit. And do not miss the opportunity to visit Mexico while in El Paso.


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) border patrol museum el paso franklin mountain juarez mexico museum texas http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/3/elpaso Mon, 02 Mar 2015 13:00:00 GMT
West Virginia's New River Gorge http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/west-virginias-new-river-gorge  

Wild and Wonderful –
West Virginia’s New River Gorge

     Like the license plate of West Virginia explains, the state is “Wild Wonderful”. Especially so is the southeastern portion, which holds several tracts of land managed by the National Park Service. The largest, most notable, and most exciting of which is the New River Gorge National River (NRGNR). Others are the Gauley River National Recreation Area (GRNRA) and Bluestone National Scenic River (BNSR). Babcock State Park is also located in the area and has many attractions for the visitor.
     The part of the New River Gorge set aside as a National River is a 53-mile section that covers nearly 70,000 acres and offers fabulous whitewater adventure, rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, wildlife watching, and camping. It is the combination of the fast-moving river and the resulting gorge that provides such a beautiful backdrop of all the activities.
Grandview Overlook at New River Gorge National River14.jpgGrandview Overlook at New River Gorge National River14.jpg
     The New River has its beginnings in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina near Blowing Rock, flows through Virginia’s Appalachians, and passes through this Southeastern section of West Virginia. It joins with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River, which eventually empties into the Ohio River.
     Actually, it is believed that the New River is among the oldest on the continent. So, its “new” name is a misnomer. The New achieved the designation of an American Heritage River in 1998. It is one of only fourteen in the country. The American Heritage Rivers Initiative of 1997 has three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation.
     On average there is a one thousand-foot difference in the elevation between the river bottom and the land above the gorge. Because of its extremes in elevation and the moisture gradients, it supports a much greater variety of plant and animal life. The New River has longed served as a migratory corridor for both plants and animals. As an example, animals more commonly found farther north make the Gorge the southernmost extent of their range. There are some animals found only in the New River area. But there are many common species of wildlife that a typical visitor will spot and identify.

Outdoor Activities

     The multitude of outdoor opportunities includes hiking, mountain biking, whitewater activities, fishing, wildlife and bird watching, and rock climbing. Of course, while hiking the many trails, wildlife and wildflowers are appreciated. Trails vary in length from one-quarter mile to seven miles, and can be combined for longer hikes if desired. Because wildflowers are numerous throughout the Gorge, they are a popular quarry during hiking outings. Many common ones are the several varieties of trillia, Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Asiatic Day-flowers (Commelina communis), May apples (Podophyllum peltatum), and Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), just to name a few.
Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis) P258Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis) P258  
Mayapple plant with bloom P429AMayapple plant with bloom P429A














     There are also mountain bike and horse trails scattered throughout the National Park Service or state park lands. The Thurmond to Minden Trail is one of the most popular trails for hikers and bikers because it is an easy grade and is wide and smooth. The entire trail is 6.4 miles round trip, but only 2.5 miles round trip to the main overlook. This trail provides views of Dunloup Creek, the New River, and the community of Thurmond. It was formerly a railroad route which was used to haul coal from the mines in Minden to Thurmond.
     One of the lesser known trails is the Endless Wall Trail. Obviously its destination is a site popular with rock climbers. Great views of the river a thousand feet below are afforded along this trail. In addition, the largest coal mine of the 1800s – the Nuttalburg – is in this section, which is the latest addition to the NRGNR.
     Several outfitters can accommodate those wishing to experience the area via horseback. A stop at any of the visitor centers will provide the most current trail conditions, wildlife and wildflower species viewable, and other pertinent information during the visit. The New River Gorge visitor centers are in the Sandstone area in the southern portion, the Grandview and Thurmond in the central part, and at the Canyon Rim in the north.

White Knuckled Whitewater

     One of the most popular attractions of the Gorge is its whitewater and the activities associated with it. Outfitters offer half and full day rafting trips and also rent kayaks and canoes. There are many put-in and take-out locations along the New, Bluestone, and Gauley Rivers. Hauling your own is also acceptable for those experienced in negotiating the class of whitewater found here. Many class III - V rapids give enthusiasts plenty of opportunities for thrills and probably spills. Generally, the rapids of the southern section of the New River are rated lower (class I – III). Those are ideal for beginner to intermediate boaters. The rapids north of Thurmond (class I –V) require more skill and experience. As an example for the reason of the appeal of its Gorge’s whitewater, the New River falls 750 feet in fifty miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge (that is where the New River joins the Gauley). In comparison, the Mississippi river falls 1428 feet from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. That is a distance of 2300 miles and the reason whitewater is not so popular on the Mighty Mississippi.
Kayaker at Fayette Station Rapids New River Gorge National River19C.jpgKayaker at Fayette Station Rapids New River Gorge National River19C.jpg Whitewater rafing at Fayette Station Rapids New River Gorge National River30.jpgWhitewater rafing at Fayette Station Rapids New River Gorge National River30.jpg
     The Bluestone NSR and the Gauley River NRA are all located in the southeastern section of West Virginia and are within a couple hours drive of each other. They provide opportunities to enjoy the scenery and partake in the outdoor activities in a similar setting as the New River Gorge. The Bluestone NSR is located south of the New River Gorge NR, but does not offer the whitewater action as the New and the Gauley Rivers. The Gauley is north of the New River Gorge and has numerous Class V-plus rapids. The New River Gorge is the largest of the three tracts and thus has more opportunity for a variety of activities.

Rocking Good Time

     Rock climbing is another of the major attractions of the New River Gorge. Within the nearly 70,000 acres there are over 1400 established rock climbs. “The New”, as it is called by climbers, has become one of the most popular destinations in the country. Little wonder, as the sandstone cliffs range from thirty to one hundred twenty feet in height and have excellent features for climbing. Local climb shops or guidebooks will be helpful in locating a favorite climb. Climbers come here from across the country to experience the New River Gorge.  There is a driving tour (Fayette Station Road Tour) beginning at the visitor center that passes this rock climbing area, goes under the New River Gorge Bridge twice, crosses the river on the Fayette Station Bridge, and affords great views of some of the best whitewater on the New River.
Rock climber in New River Gorge National River 01.jpgRock climber in New River Gorge National River 01.jpg
     Camping throughout the NPS tracts is all primitive with no drinking water or hookups, but it is free and available on a first-come first-served basis. Most camping areas are located along the river and require registration, which can be done with any ranger. There are four camping areas – all located between Thurmond in the central section and Glade Creek southward – Stone Cliff Beach, Army Camp, Grandview Sandbar, and Glade Creek. Get directions from any visitor center.
     There are several private campgrounds surrounding the NPS land and the area state parks maintain campgrounds with full service facilities for RV’s. Consult the latest campground directory. Reservations are recommended during the summer peak season.

Fish Tales

     Fishing is another way to enjoy the New, Bluestone, and Gauley Rivers. Trout are present in several tributaries of the New River. West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources stocks these rivers and their tributaries each spring with golden, rainbow, brook, and brown trout. Trout are fishable on several creeks and streams within the NPS tracts. Within the New River are the Meadow, Glade, and Dunloup streams. Glade Creek is in Babcock State Park, and Mill Creek and Gauley, Meadow, or Little Bluestone Rivers also contain trout. Fishermen should be aware that there are several catch and release areas. Consult the fishing regulations before casting.

Babcock and Thurmond

     Babcock State Park adjoins the New River Gorge NR and has a 52-unit campground, riding stables, Boley Lake for fishing, and a fully functioning grist mill. There are twenty miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, a couple of scenic overlooks, and a visitor center full of information. The Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock is an excellent photo op and is located next to the park headquarters. The grist mill has an interesting history. It was actually resurrected in 1976. It was built as a re-erection of one which stood at its present location. It was constructed using parts and pieces from several old mills across the state. Babcock State Park is located east of the New River and is accessible from SR 41 near the town of Clifftop.
Babcock State Park Grist Mill  Southern West Virginia  near New River Gorge Natl River 14.jpgBabcock State Park Grist Mill Southern West Virginia near New River Gorge Natl River 14.jpg Babcock State Park overlook Southern West Virginia  near New River Gorge Natl River 03.jpgBabcock State Park overlook Southern West Virginia near New River Gorge Natl River 03.jpg
















      The entire gorge area has much history associated with it. Coal and timber played an important role in the development and decline of the area. Coal became an accessible and popular fuel source in the late 1800s and timber was readily available for building and also fuel. Because the area was plentiful with both, the area began to grow, especially around the town of Thurmond, which sits in the center of the 70,000-acre NRGNR. Thurmond became the chief railway center for the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. At the town’s peak it had two hotels, two banks, restaurants, and a variety of stores and businesses.

THE Bridge

     The most impressive man-made feature of the NRGNR is the bridge across the New River along US 19. It is the highest vehicular bridge in the Western Hemisphere, and is the second longest steel arch bridge in the world. Completed in 1977, it is second only to the Millau Viaduct in France. It is 3030 feet in length and 876 feet above the river below. For local travelers, its completion changed the time required to get from one side of the gorge to the other from forty-five minutes to about one minute.
Bridge over US 19 at Overlook Canyon Rim Visitor Center New River Gorge National River05.jpgBridge over US 19 at Overlook Canyon Rim Visitor Center New River Gorge National River05.jpg













    West Virginia’s largest one day event is Bridge Day, the third Saturday in October. What is Bridge Day? It is a day the New River Gorge Bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and opened to only pedestrians (it is closed to pedestrians for the rest of the year). BASE -- building, antenna, span, and earth -- jumpers gather from around the world and do their thing over the side of the bridge. Quite a sight!
     The first Bridge Day was celebrated in 1980. Since then, it has become an increasingly large event with each year. The one-day festival includes demonstrations of rappelling, ascending, and BASE jumping of course. Bungee jumping is banned because of a deadly accident in 1993. 
     The southeastern portion of West Virginia is one of the most scenic and recreationally rich areas of the Appalachians and certainly in the state. With its rich heritage and abundance of outdoor possibilities, the New River Gorge and its neighbors are certainly a must visit destination. And then it will become evident as to the validity of the state’s license plate motto “Wild Wonderful”.

New River & Gorge from overlook at Class VI with James R in foreground Southern West Virginia 02.jpgNew River & Gorge from overlook at Class VI with Yours Truly in foreground in Southern West Virginia




janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) New river gorge The Bridge The New biking hiking rock climbing usa west virginia wildflowers http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/west-virginias-new-river-gorge Mon, 23 Feb 2015 13:00:00 GMT
Drive a Crooked Road http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/drive-a-crooked-road Drive A Crooked Road: Virginia's Cascade Highlands

          The Cascade Highlands of Virginia is located in southwest Virginia and does incorporate a part of the "Crooked Road", which is a marked tour through the southwestern section of Virginia focusing on the musical heritage of the region. The driving route through the Cascade Highlands of Virginia also has close ties with bluegrass music, but there are also great opportunities for outdoor recreation, cozy places to stay, and excellent food. Plus, most of the roads are crooked.

          The Cascade Highlands is composed of nine counties in North Carolina and Virginia. The purpose of this group of counties is to tie together their common and abundant outdoor recreation, music, arts, wineries, and events. And this piece will only tour the Virginia portion of the Cascade Highlands.

          The counties of Smyth, Grayson, Carroll, and Patrick are included in the Virginia section and all have activities worthy of a visit. Interstate Highway 81 clips the northwestern section and passes through Smyth County. The major town is Marion. The north-south I-77 goes through Carroll County, the largest towns of which are Hillsville and Galax.

          The best routes in the Cascade Highlands are on portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which bisects the area, and the east-west US 58/221. The north-south highways of SR 16 in Smyth County and US 52, which parallels I-77, are also good scenic drives. 
VA Blue Ridge Parkway Hay bales 008VA Blue Ridge Parkway Hay bales 008

            This section in the Cascade Highlands of Virginia has the Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213. The center has permanent and rotating exhibits on the area's musical heritage, but mainly focuses on bluegrass. There are daily mid-day performances by local and regional artists throughout the season. An evening show is added on Saturdays.

          Two other musical venues include shows at the Historic Rex Theater in Galax and at the restored Lincoln Theatre in Marion. "Blue Ridge Back Roads Show" is a regular Friday evening event in downtown Galax. The musical concerts are one of the nation's last remaining live radio broadcasts. They are carried on station WBRF-98 into five states and streams on the internet.
VA Galax Rex Theater 005VA Galax Rex Theater 005
VA Marion Lincoln Theater Inside 005VA Marion Lincoln Theater Inside 005

          The Lincoln Theatre in Marion is a restored 1929 500-seat auditorium that has state of the art sound and lighting. It does a regular series for PBS called "Song on the Mountains", which are bluegrass concerts featuring regional performers. There are also theater touring groups that do shows.

           Practically next door to the Lincoln Theatre is the General Francis Marion Hotel. Of the some 300 guest rooms in the town of Marion, the 36 at Francis Marion are probably the nicest. This newly renovated 1927 boutique hotel and conference center has the Black Rooster Restaurant, Gallery, and Lounge, and provides excellent service.
VA Francis Marion Hotel 005VA Francis Marion Hotel 005
VA Galax Smokehouse 001VA Galax Smokehouse 001

          One of the best restaurants in the Cascade Highlands is the Galax Smokehouse, an award-winning barbecue restaurant. The restaurant participates in the contests conducted by the Memphis Barbecue Network and has an outstanding record for wins in the associated competition. Try the ribs and banana pudding.

          For outdoor recreation there are few places better for the variety than in the Cascade Highlands. There are three state parks, three major trails systems, the New River, and a national recreation area. The state parks include Hungry Mother, Grayson Highlands, and the New River Trail. Mount Rogers National Recreation Area has the highest peak in Virginia and offers visitors opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, camping, and of course, scenic riding.

          Grayson Highlands State Park has the second highest mountain in the state. Little Pinnacle is just over 5000 feet in elevation. A good hiking trail along Wilburn Ridge provides an opportunity to see wild ponies, which are part of a herd introduced here a few years back. Horseback riding trails cross the Wilburn Ridge trail. In addition, the Appalachian Trail passes through Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
VA Grayson Highlands State Park  006VA Grayson Highlands State Park 006
VA Grayson Highlands State Park  wild poinies 021VA Grayson Highlands State Park wild poinies 021

          Hungry Mother State Park in Smyth County near Marion has many amenities from a lake for fishing and boating to a beach area. There are cabins for rent and camping facilities. Activities for kids keep the little ones entertained. A lodge with a restaurant and gift shop are also on the park grounds. At the beach area, SR 16 continues upward for an exciting ride to an overlook that allows great views of Rich Valley below. The ride back down is even better. 

          Paralleling the New River, a fifty-seven-mile linear park provides trails for bicycling, equestrian, and hiking. Also camping along the river, fishing, tubing, and boating are activities available at New River Trail State Park. The park office rents horses, bicycles, canoes, and kayaks.
VA Hungry Mother State Park Overlook 005VA Hungry Mother State Park Overlook 005
VA New River Trail State Park biking 001VA New River Trail State Park biking 001

          Ironically, the New River is considered one of the oldest rivers in the world, according to geologists. It has its origin in Ashe County, North Carolina, and flows northward through Virginia and into West Virginia, where it merges with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha, which flows into the Ohio. In West Virginia, it passes through the New River Gorge, providing some of the best whitewater action east of the Mississippi. But in the Virginia section, the New River flows more gently and still is popular for floating and tubing. Trout and other fish species are plentiful along portions of the New. Watch for my blog upcoming on the New River Gorge. 

          Within the Cascade Highlands is a town with an interesting history -- Saltville, which is located in Smyth County, west of Marion. It does not fit into any of the previously mentioned categories as having a great restaurant, or as having outstanding outdoor activities, or having a musical heritage such as Galax. But it is unique in that it is situated on huge actively producing salt wells. Excavations have recovered several well preserved skeletons of now extinct species dating back to the last ice age, according to archaeologists. During the Civil War, Saltville was one of the Confederacy's main sources for salt and was considered vital to the Confederate war effort as the salt was used to preserve meat for Confederate soldiers and civilians. Because of that, the town became a target for Northern forces intent on capturing the salt supplies and removing the town from Confederate control. There were two major Saltville battles in 1864 and eventually the Union army gained control of the town and the salt. The loss of Saltville was considered a major blow to the Confederacy's shrinking resources.

          Saltville is home of the Museum of the Middle Appalachians. It is in the center of town and presents an excellent view into the past history of the town and region. It has numerous exhibits regarding the town and its geologic past, the Civil War, and the Indians that inhabited the area before the white man.
VA Saltville city overlook 008VA Saltville city overlook 008
VA Saltville Museum of Middle Appalachians 005VA Saltville Museum of Middle Appalachians 005

           There are several routes that could cover the Virginia portion of the Cascade Highlands. The main east-west route would be along US 58, which is a portion of the Crooked Road. Stops at Grayson Highlands State Park, the towns of Galax and Hillsville, would give an overview of the countryside and would allow time to take in some of the area's culture, music, and food. Then, to conclude the trip, it would proceed eastward to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

          A worthwhile north-south ride would be SR 16 from US 58 near Grayson Highlands across I-81 to Marion. Stopping over to see the Lincoln Theatre and maybe nightover at the General Francis Marion Hotel would also allow some soaking up of the culture. From Marion, head north to Hungry Mother State Park. Then to SR 42 and west to Saltville.

          Along either of these scenic drives, take time to stop and enjoy some good barbecue and bluegrass music. It will be worthwhile.

**Following the link to the photographs will take you to a page where you may see many other images of Virginia's Cascade Highlands.


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) barbecue bluegrass cascade highlands music new river outdoors virginia http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/drive-a-crooked-road Tue, 17 Feb 2015 03:43:18 GMT
Florida's Big Bend Scenic Byway http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/floridas-big-bend-scenic-byway Florida's Big Bend Scenic Byway

     Most people have never heard of the Big Bend National Scenic Byway in Florida but it passes through some of the state's most natural and non commercialized areas. Included in the byway are parts of four counties, three state parks, a National Forest, a National Wildlife Refuge, and several small coastal fishing villages. It is basically a loop tour with a few spurs, one of which goes to the town of Apalachicola, the largest along the byway. Another spur goes northward through a national forest and a state forest. A third ends at a lighthouse. And the fourth passes along a barrier island. Although the byway is not filled with high-rise hotels and elaborate development, there are plenty of places to stay and eat and enjoy.
     The 220-mile long Big Bend Scenic Byway is accessible from Apalachicola in the west, Tallahassee in the north, or Newport in the east. It includes State Route 65 from the Franklin and Liberty County line to US 98 and SR 30 at the coast. It spurs to the west on US 98 to include Apalachicola. Another spur includes St. George Island via the bridge across Apalachicola Bay on SR 300  The byway goes eastward along the coast to Carrabelle, past Bald Point State Park, Panacea, and Newport. Then one spur goes south on CR 59 to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse. From Newport the corridor forms a loop that starts northwest on SR 267/CR 2203, north on SR 263, west on SR 20, south on CR 375 to the town of Sopchoppy, then south on CR 299 to US 319 until it connects once more with US 98 at the coast.
     The minimally-traveled roads along the coast have sweeping turns and the forest roads are mostly long and straight. But there are plenty of things along the way for which to stop. The southwestern part of the byway consists of Franklin County with Apalachicola, Eastpoint, and St. George Island being the major population areas. Franklin County harvests more than 90% of Florida's oysters and 10% of the oysters consumed in the nation.  So, if seafood is a passion, this is the place to visit.
Riverfront Park_010Apalachicola FLRiverfront Park_010Apalachicola FL
Apalachicola Bay_002fishermanApalachicola Bay_002fisherman
     The town of Apalachicola, the first spur along the byway, has many restaurants, shops, and historic spots to visit. Once the third largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, Apalachicola's diverse and colorful past is still evident. There are over nine hundred historic homes and buildings in the National Historic District. The Apalachicola River and Bay provide great fishing opportunities for both fresh and salt water fishing enthusiasts. Outdoorsmen can explore the seemingly endless bays and waterways by kayak or canoe.
Big Bend SB_008EastpointBig Bend SB_008Eastpoint
     Back on the byway heading back eastward, cross the five-mile long bridge over East Bay and the mouth of the Apalachicola River and enter Eastpoint, one of several fishing towns along the coast. Many of the oysterman harvest their catch and bring it here for processing. Stop at Captain Snook's for a taste of that fresh seafood.
     Another spur is to the 28-mile long barrier island of St. George. SR 300 crosses the four-mile bridge over Apalachicola Bay to St. George Island. It affords a great view of the bay. Stop by the prominent Cape St. George Lighthouse at the intersection of SR 300 and Gulf Beach Drive. Visitors can climb to the top for good views of the island. There is also parking and access to the beach.
St George Island_006LighthouseSt George Island_006Lighthouse
     Several rental companies have properties along on the beach or bay side. At the eastern end of the island is St. George State Park with nine miles of undeveloped shoreline, large sand dunes, forested areas, and salt marshes. There is a series of hiking trails, boardwalks, and observation platforms. Bird watching is a popular activity here.
     Retrace the route back to US 98 and continue eastward through Eastpoint toward Carrabelle along St. George Sound. At SR 65, go northward along this spur which separates the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area and Tate's Hell State Forest. The road has little traffic but has great scenery. Return to US 98 by backtracking.
     On US 98 go eastward and stop by the 112-year old, 103-feet tall Crooked River Lighthouse. It guided boats through East Pass between the barrier islands of Dog and St. George. Visitors can climb the 138 steps to the top only on Saturdays and Sundays. This part of US 98 passes along the southern boundary of the 200,000-acre Tate's Hell State Forest. There are more than 800 miles of roads built to carry on the management of the forest operations. Most are dirt and gravel and not for motorcycles or new cars. 
Crooked River LH_002Carrabelle FLCrooked River LH_002Carrabelle FL Carrabelle River_004at sunriseCarrabelle River_004at sunrise
     Carrabelle has a couple campgrounds. One, the Carrabelle Beach RV Park, has rental cabins that would afford good access to the Big Bend Scenic Byway and attractions long the route. The beach along this portion of the byway served as a training ground for the amphibious assault on Normandy Beach during World War II. The Camp Gordon Johnston WW II Museum is dedicated to that time in Carrabelle's history.
     For golfers, or another good option for accommodations, the St. James Bay Resort, is located in Carrabelle. The golf course is Audubon certified, which means the natural environment was minimally disturbed during its design. The accommodations are low-rise condominiums and villas with the Crooked River Grill on site.
     Past Carrabelle the loop route splits at US 98 and 319. The northern portion (US319) goes through the Apalachicola National Forest past Fort Braden and comes near Interstate 10 and Tallahassee. Then it takes a southern bend through the Wakulla State Forest toward Newport and the last spur to St. Marks.  The other part of the split (US 98) continues along the coast past Alligator Point and Bald Point State Park and across the Ochlockonee River. Alligator Point, where Ochlockonee Bay meets Apalachee Bay, has other rental properties, and would be an ideal stopover for visitors wanting a more isolated destination. Bald Point State Park has over 4000 acres and offers a multitude of land and water activities and is a popular destination for birding and wildlife viewing. Each fall, bald eagles and migrating birds, along with monarch butterflies, stop over during their trip south for the winter.
Bald Point St Pk_003FloridaBald Point St Pk_003Florida
     The southern part of the loop route continues through the town of Panacea, and toward Newport, where the two portions of the loop join. A spur southward from the split goes to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse. The refuge is one of the oldest in the country and was established in 1931 as a wintering ground for migratory birds and encompasses 68,000 acres. The St. Marks Lighthouse is the second oldest in the state. It was completed in 1831, but in 1842 was moved because of erosion. In 1960 the light was automated and is still active. Retrace the route back to Newport, which is the easternmost point of the byway.
     The Big Bend Scenic Byway can be divided into coastal and forest portions. The coastal traces US 98 from Apalachicola to St. Marks. The forest consists of the SR 65 spur and the eastern loop. Each is distinctive, but scenic. The byway is less commercial and less developed that many parts of Florida, but that makes the Big Bend Scenic Byway a special place. 




janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) apalachicola big bend carrabelle crooked river florida usa http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/2/floridas-big-bend-scenic-byway Wed, 04 Feb 2015 17:28:44 GMT
Pictured Rocks of Michigan's Upper Peninsula http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/1/pictured-rocks-of-michigans-upper-peninsula Picture This!
The Pictured Rocks of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

     Miners Castle, Lovers Leap, Indian Head, Battleship Rock, Grand Portal, and Chapel Rock are just a few names of formations along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And the names do not do justice to the uniqueness of this section of the Lake Superior shore line.
Miners Castle Pictured Rocks UP Michigan (5).JPGMiners Castle Pictured Rocks UP Michigan (5).JPG

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Lovers Leap Upper Peninsula Michigan 117.jpgPictured Rocks National Lakeshore Lovers Leap Upper Peninsula Michigan 117.jpg

     Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is comprised of 16,542 square miles and has about 1700 miles of shoreline on Lake Superior, Michigan, and Huron. The maximum east - west distance in the Upper Peninsula is about 320 miles with the maximum north-south distance being about 125 miles. There is much for the visitor to see and do in the UP. One of the most impressive natural attractions is its Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The thirty-five mile stretch of coastline along Lake Superior from Munising to Grand Marais has that designation of a national lakeshore – one of only four with that distinction. The other three are the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes in Indiana on southern Lake Michigan, and the Apostle Island National Lakeshore on southern Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

     The sandstone cliffs of the national lakeshore tower up to two hundred feet above Lake Superior’s surface. The cliffs are “painted” by the mineral deposits in the rocks. Because of the weather, the erosion, and the pounding of the water, the cliffs have been molded and carved to take on a variety of shapes, most of which have names, like those mentioned above.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Upper Peninsula Michigan 19.jpgPictured Rocks National Lakeshore Upper Peninsula Michigan 19.jpg

     This section of the Lake Superior shoreline is a haven for tourists, pleasure boaters, tour boats, and kayakers soaking up the coast’s natural beauty. The best way to see the Pictured Rocks is by tour boat. In Munising the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises operates tours of the coastline from May to October. The narrated boat tours last approximately two and a half hours and cover about thirty-seven miles. The times are posted on their website
Munising Harbor Pictured Rocks cruises Upper Peninsula Michigan 03.JPGMunising Harbor Pictured Rocks cruises Upper Peninsula Michigan 03.JPG

      On land many of the features of Pictured Rocks are accessible by a short hike or can be driven to for a different perspective. Miner’s Castle, for instance, is the most recognized of the formations. There is an interpretive area above Miners Castle with a picnic area, information center, and hiking trails. Most of the beaches, waterfalls, and other formations require hiking longer distances.

     Munising should be the base of operations for exploring the Pictured Rocks area.  There are plenty of services, including campgrounds, shopping, restaurants, and service stations. The visitor center for Pictured Rocks and the nearby Hiawatha National Forest is in the middle of the town at the intersection of State M-28 and Alger County H-58. Information on lake and trail conditions is available here. Many outdoor activities can be enjoyed around Munising (and most everywhere else in the UP). Kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and snowmobiling are just a few of the things to do while visiting.

     The Hiawatha National Forest has much to offer visitors wanting to enjoy outdoors adventure while in the area. There are actually two large units of the national forest, but the West Unit is located near Munising and provides a playground for year round outdoor activity. There are twelve developed campgrounds and numerous undeveloped primitive camping areas in the West Unit. Some have hookups. Most do not. The visitor center at Munising can provide up to date information on the camping areas or check at the forest service campground website
Lake Fannie Hooe Campground.JPGLake Fannie Hooe Campground.JPG

     Another option for camping is in the Lake Superior State Forest, which is also in the Munising vicinity. There are eighteen sites but no hookups are offered. The North Country Trail runs through this campground. It is a National Scenic Trail hiking route from North Dakota to New York and includes over 1500 miles in Michigan. Its total length is 4,600 miles stretched across seven states. Managed by the National Park Service, it is the longest hiking path in the United States and passes through ten National Forests. Information on the trail is available at its website.
Lake Superior State Forest road to Chapel area Pictured Rocks (4).jpgLake Superior State Forest road to Chapel area Pictured Rocks (4).jpg

     Lighthouses are always good destinations for visitors and there are several in the Pictured Rocks area. During the last century they were very important to mariners, especially in Lake Superior, due to the combination of rough water, extreme weather, and the rocky shoreline.

     The Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse can be seen from the Pictured Rocks Boat Tour or by visiting Grand Island. For many years sailors dreaded the eighty miles of dark shoreline that stretched east from Grand Island Lighthouse to the light on Whitefish Point. Unmarked by any navigational light, these dangerous shores claimed dozens of ships. To fill the gap, a lighthouse was placed near Grand Marais on Au Sable Point in 1874. To reach the lighthouse, follow H-58 from Munising for about 12 miles to the Hurricane River Campground within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Park and follow signs along a trail to the lighthouse. It is about a 1.5-mile hike.

     Whitefish Point, called the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”, is the site of the first lighthouse on Lake Superior and also, appropriately, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Within the museum are interesting artifacts of various shipping disasters, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, about which a song was written. The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve is a section of the coastline to conserve shipwrecks and historical resources on its 376 acres. Also at this location is the Whitefish Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is on the migratory route of many species of raptors, water birds, and songbirds. The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, an affiliate of the Michigan Audubon Society, operates a research and education facility at Whitefish Point.

     Waterfalls are also plentiful destinations in the Upper Peninsula and the Pictured Rocks area. The waterfall at Tahquamenon Falls State Park is probably one of the most scenic in the UP and one of the largest. There are two waterfalls in the Tahquamenon River – the Upper and Lower. The Upper is the grander of the two with a drop of nearly fifty feet and a width of about 200 feet.  There are trails for hiking in summer and for snowshoeing in winter. Wildlife abounds throughout the park. Tahquamenon Falls is located between Munising and Whitefish Point along H-28.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park Upper Falls UP Michigan (14).TIFTahquamenon Falls State Park Upper Falls UP Michigan (14).TIFDOROTHY

     Near Munising there are Wagner, Alger, Memorial, Horseshoe, and Munising Falls. Within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, there are several others -- Miner, Mosquito, and Chapel Falls. From the boat tour Spray Falls is viewable and is a large waterfall emptying directly into Lake Superior.

     Getting around the UP is mostly via two-lane highways. The only interstate in the UP is I-75 connecting Sault Ste Marie on the Canadian border with the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. It continues southward to the Everglades of Florida. The main east-west routes are US 28 in the north and US 2 in the southern part. US 28 connects I-75 and Munising.

  **If you would like to order a copy of any of these photographs, please click on the image. You will be taken to my website where you will be able to order any size, quantity, and mats and frames if desired.

    Thanks for visiting.


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) camping hiking michigan miner's castle munising pictured rocks upper peninsula http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/1/pictured-rocks-of-michigans-upper-peninsula Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:52:58 GMT
What Defines My Photography http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/1/what-defines-my-photography         I suppose the most asked question at my art shows concerns two of my photographs. The question, "How do you get that picture?"

Bridge with Moon

     These are the two pictures that get most comments and "How'd you get that?" And are my best sellers!

      Well, here's the scoop.

      Top picture is called "Cypress Swamp." I was on my way to shoot in Shelby Forest (Meeman Shelby State Park for those who don't recognize Shelby Forest.) Early morning, about dawn, as I was driving along Watkins Street west of Highway 51 in Memphis, I looked to my right as I approached the Loosahatchie River Bridge. This is what I saw: a smallish cypress swamp with dead trees encased in an early morning fog. The sun was just coming up but was obscured by the fog. This brownish hue was natural. I stopped the car, set up my tripod, and made several exposures. This was before digital, so I couldn't check the picture there. I shot with my Yashica 2 1/4 square medium format camera and with my Nikon 35mm camera.

      When I got the images back from the processor (that's what we did back in the pre-digital days,) I was pleased to see the results. All were shot as transparencies (slides.) That's how that one was conceived. No thought. No pre-planning. Just blind, dumb luck...and a little help from the good Lord for creating such a scene.

      My "Bridge with Moon" shot was taken on New Year's Eve a few years ago. I can't remember exactly what year it was. Dorothy and I were celebrating our anniversary downtown Memphis and stayed at one of the hotels overlooking the Mississippi River and the bridge (the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.) Early morning had brought a light rain and made the streets glisten. The moon was not actually there, although it could have been at that location had the conditions been right. The light streams of the car headlights add to the fact that I used a long exposure. This image was taken on film also, like the Cypress Swamp. The full moon was shot several nights before on the same roll of film. I noted where on the frame the moon was ans framed the bridge appropriately. I always tell visitors to my booth who question the moon really being there that I double exposed the image and got the moon there "the hard way." I did not use Photoshop (although it would be easy to do.)

      That is the story of two of my best selling photographs. I suppose they define my photography.

      If you would like to own a copy of the photographs, you can be the proud owner of either, or both, by clicking on the image and follow the link to my website, where you can order a copy in any size. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. I appreciate you input also.


janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) art work bridge with moon cypress swamp memphis photography tennessee http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2015/1/what-defines-my-photography Sat, 03 Jan 2015 16:51:58 GMT
Albuquerque Outdoor Recreation http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2014/12/albuquerque-outdoor-recreation The Trails of Albuquerque Lead to the Great Outdoors

          Most visitors to the Albuquerque area of New Mexico associate the city with hot air ballooning. True, it is the premier ballooning destination, but the city and its surrounding area is chocked full of outdoor opportunities in the way of hiking, bicycling, and equestrian trails, fishing and hunting, and wildlife and bird watching. The area mountain ranges, the Sandias and the Manzanos, provide much of the outdoor possibilities. But within the city itself, there are protected areas, called Open Spaces, that afford low impact recreation.

NM Albuquerque_043 Hot air balloonNM Albuquerque_043 Hot air balloon NM Albuquerque_065 Hot air balloonNM Albuquerque_065 Hot air balloon

          The city of Albuquerque, which is bisected by the Rio Grande River, lies within the northern and upper edges of the Chihuahuan Desert. That means low humidity and little rainfall. As a matter of fact, on average there are 310 days of sunshine, an annual rainfall amount of about nine inches, and an average relative humidity of only 44%. As a precaution for visitors, that low humidity and much sunshine means they need to stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water and by using sun protection. The effects of the sun are somewhat intensified because of the city's altitude. Albuquerque has one of the highest elevations of any major city in the United States. The elevation of the city ranges from 4,900 feet above sea level near the Rio Grande Valley to over 6,700 feet in the foothills of the Sandias.

          The Sandia Mountains are a range located in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, just east of  Albuquerque. The range is mostly within the Cibola National Forest, and part of the range is protected as the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. A portion in the foothills belong to the Albuquerque Open Spaces. The range is home to the Sandia Peak Ski Area and Tramway. Its highest point is Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet. The word sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and is thought to reference the reddish color of the mountains at sunset. The Manzano Mountains are a small range running north and south and are about forty miles long. The center of the range lies about 25 miles southeast of Albuquerque, and the northern foothills (called the Manzanitas) are just a few miles east of the edge of the city.

          Most of the city's best biking and hiking areas are concentrated in and around the Sandia and Manzano foothills. The Sandia Mountains offer a wide range of hiking, biking, and other recreational opportunities, including more than sixty well-established hiking trails that total over 150 miles. Some of the more popular areas in the Sandias are the Tramway, the La Luz Trail, and in the winter, the ski area and Capulin Snowplay area.

          The Sandia Peak Tramway is the world’s longest aerial tramway and it transports passengers a distance of 2.7 miles near the top of Sandia Peak. The tramway is not the only way to the top. For hikers, the most popular way to climb Sandia Peak is to follow the La Luz Trail, a seven mile trek up the west side of the mountain with about 3700 feet of elevation gain. Oddly enough, the trail has a lot of traffic, particularly on weekends and holidays. The Sandia Crest Trail traverses the entire range of the Sandia Mountains. The northern end of the trail is located at the Tunnel Springs Trailhead and the southern end is at Canyon Estates Trailhead. Hikers can purchase one-way tickets if they decide to hike up and ride the tram back down. There is also a restaurant and gift shop at the tramway station with some nice short hikes and spectacular views from the top of the tram area at the observation deck.

NM ABQ Sandia Pk_013 TramwayNM ABQ Sandia Pk_013 Tramway NM ABQ Sandia Pk_004 TramwayNM ABQ Sandia Pk_004 Tramway

          The ski area with chair lift and mountain bike routes are on the backside of the Sandia Mountains from the Tramway. The biking trails range from novice to more technical ascents for advanced riders. Begin at the base of the ski area, and loop up and back down. Or, take the chairlift to the top, and choose one of several trails back to the base. There are no established campgrounds in the Sandia Mountains, but camping in Cibola National Forest and the Sandia Mountain Wilderness is allowed. Only fires are prohibited. Camping in the Foothills Open Space is by permit only.

          The Sandia Foothills Open Space is part of an initiative by the City of Albuquerque to acquire lands for public use. Currently, the Open Spaces comprise over 28,000 acres in and around Albuquerque, and provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation. Another of the most popular Open Spaces is within the city limits of Albuquerque. The Rio Grande Valley State Park contains 4300 acres for low-impact recreation, such as hiking, bicycling, mountain biking, in-line skating, and horseback riding. Within the state park, the Paseo del Bosque is a natural surfaced trail of approximately sixteen miles with a myriad of unmarked trails winding throughout the bosque (a bosque is an area of forest found along the  flood plains of streams and river banks and gets its name from the Spanish word for woodlands). The Rio Grande State Park offers an environment of large cottonwood trees and coyote willow, which provide a cool, shady forest for habitat for beaver, numerous bird species, turtles, and snakes. There are several other sections belonging to the Open Spaces, some of which will be described. Check the Albuquerque website for a listing and location.

          South of Albuquerque near the town of Socorro off Interstate 25, another "bosque" is noteworthy. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge offers unique viewing opportunities during the winter months from November to February. During this time wintering bald eagles, snow geese, and sandhill cranes make this refuge a seasonal home. There is a fifteen-mile auto loop tour allowing visitors the chance to see and photograph wildlife. Since the birds are accustomed to vehicles, it offers a good opportunity to observe wildlife more closely.

          Several "trails" from Albuquerque offer visitors a variety of tastes of the culture and countryside. A couple have excellent associated outdoor recreation. El Camino Real is the oldest and longest continuously used "highway" in the U.S. and Mexico and it closely follows the modern-day Interstates 10 and 25 from El Paso, Texas, to Santa Fe. Near Socorro is the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, a good place to learn about El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, or the Royal Road to the Interior. The Heritage Center gives an overview of the 1500 mile historical route from Mexico City to Santa Fe. It is located in a very appropriate place because the Center overlooks the dry stretch of desert known as the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death), the lower Rio Grande, and a portion of El Camino Real. The Jornada del Muerto was the most dreaded stretch of the journey because it took nine to ten days (at eight to ten miles per day) to cover that portion. It was a "shortcut" to avoid a bend in the Rio Grande.

NM El Camino Real_036 Heritage CntrNM El Camino Real_036 Heritage Cntr NM El Camino Real_037 Heritage CntrNM El Camino Real_037 Heritage Cntr

          At the Heritage Center there are short trails to see the native plant life and longer trails, developed by the Bureau of Land Management, to allow visitors to enjoy the remote, pristine desert on either foot or horseback. If visitors want to take the longer trails, they should stop at the Visitors Center for the current conditions, and always notify Center personnel before departing on the BLM trails.

          North along El Camino Real (and I-25) is another small town worth visiting -- Tome'. In March 1947, Edwin Berry began fulfilling a promise he made during World War II. He built three crosses on top of Tome' Hill, just outside of town. The one-half mile climb up the hill is steep, but definitely worth the effort for the views from the top. Tome' Hill rises 500 feet above the Rio Grande Valley, which is one landmark viewable from the top. Besides the crosses, there are over 1,800 petroglyphs (rock drawings) documented. The oldest petroglyphs are believed to be about 2,000 years old. Many are of the animals that are still in the area today, such as the coyote.

NM Tome La Puerta_002 del SolNM Tome La Puerta_002 del Sol

NM Tome Hill_005 Calvario with Dante BerryNM Tome Hill_005 Calvario with Dante Berry

          More petroglyphs are located at the Petroglyph National Monument, which is just outside the Albuquerque city limits. The core of five volcanoes are visible along the horizon. According to geologists, these "extinct" volcanoes produced dark gray basalt upon which the petroglyphs are carved. A moderate hike will take a visitor near some of these volcanic cores. More strenuous hikes are required to reach the top.

NM ABQ Petroglyph_016 Natl MonumentNM ABQ Petroglyph_016 Natl Monument NM ABQ Petroglyph_003 Natl MonumentNM ABQ Petroglyph_003 Natl Monument
          The national monument is composed of three sections -- Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and Piedras Marcadas Canyon (another Open Spaces area of Albuquerque). All three have petroglyphs. All have hiking trails. The Boca Negra is the most visited and has three well marked trails.

          Another "trail" in the Albuquerque area with many possibilities for outdoor recreation is the Jemez Mountain Scenic Byway. It is north of the city and begins at San Ysidro, a small town at the junction of US 550 and State Route 4. The Pueblo of Jemez, an Indian village, is five miles north of San Ysidro and is located in the Red Rocks area. There is a hiking trail from the Walatowa Visitor Center through the Red Rocks. Information is available at the visitor center on the Jemez Pueblo, which is open to public only on feast days a couple times a year.

          Farther north on Forest Road 485 the Gilman Tunnels border the rock walls along the Guadalupe River. Pullouts allow visitors views of the scenic area. The tunnels were products of the 1920s, when logging trains needed access to the timberlands.

          North of the town of Jemez Springs, are the Jemez State Monument, Soda Dam, Battleship Rock, and Jemez Falls. Jemez State Monument is the location of remains of an ancient pueblo of the Jemez Indians and a 17th century Spanish mission called San Jose de los Jemez.

          Soda Dam, a natural dam in the Jemez River formed by water flowing from underground hot springs, is a unique geologic formation. It is located 3/4 mile north of Jemez Springs. A 200-foot tall rock formation called Battleship Rock has a picnic area and trails along the base of the formation and along the Jemez River. Hiking to the top of Battleship Rock is not permitted. The elevation at the picnic area is 6760 feet.

          Jemez Falls, a large 70 foot waterfall at an elevation of 7880 feet. The Jemez Falls Campground is about one mile off SR 4. A parking area at the campsites allows for about a mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall.  

          Fly fishing is a popular activity in the Jemez Mountains. There are many small streams in the Jemez area that are loaded with rainbow and brown trout. Many remote areas of the Jemez River see very little fishing action so there is plenty of opportunity to avoid the crowds. According to local fishermen, the main stretch of the Jemez River is a good place to start, particularly above the town of Jemez Springs. The Guadalupe River is another good area to test fishing skills. One of the most popular areas to fish in the Jemez Mountains is Fenton Lake.

          The Jemez Mountain Scenic Byway continues to the city of Los Alamos and then to the Bandelier National Monument. The city of Los Alamos' main attraction is the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where physicists created the world's first atomic bomb during World War II. Los Alamos County has over fifty miles of pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian trails that connect to hundreds of miles of cross-country trails in the surrounding Santa Fe National Forest. There are a set of connecting trails that lead into White Rock Canyon from several points around the nearby town of White Rock. They are known as the Red Dot and Blue Dot trails. White Rock is just southeast of Los Alamos and has an amazing overlook into White Rock Canyon and the Rio Grande. Getting to the overlook is by way of Overlook Road, which is on the east side of town. The steep Blue Dot Trail starts about 100 yards from the overlook observation platform and is just over one mile in length one way to the Rio Grande below.

Cliffs at Bandelier Natl Monument (16).JPGCliffs at Bandelier Natl Monument (16).JPG Cliffs at Bandelier Natl Monument (12).JPGCliffs at Bandelier Natl Monument (12).JPG

          Bandelier National Monument, which has remains of cliff houses from 13th century Pueblo Indians is southwest of White Rock along SR 4. The main attraction of the monument is Frijoles Canyon, which contains a number of ancestral pueblo homes, kivas, which are ceremonial structures, and more petroglyphs. Some of the dwellings were rock structures built on the canyon floor and others were produced by carving into the canyon walls. The "Main Loop Trail" from the visitor center is one mile long, is mostly paved, and provides access to these dwellings. A good option for camping is Bandelier's Juniper Campground. But check the park's website for closings prior to visiting. www.nps.gov/band/.

          The "trails" around Albuquerque offer visitors many forms of outdoor recreation, with the surrounding mountains providing the most. Among all the cacti and lovely plants, there are rattlesnakes, so beware. Remember the sunscreen and have lots of water available.

**If you would like to order a copy of any of these photographs, please click on the image. You will be taken to my website where you will be able to order any size, quantity, and mats and frames if desired.

      Thanks for visiting.

janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) Jemez mountain trail albuquerque america bicycling edwin berry el camino real hiking hot air ballooning new mexico outdoor recreation petrolyph national monument rio grande sandia sandia peak tramway tome hill tome. usa http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2014/12/albuquerque-outdoor-recreation Tue, 23 Dec 2014 20:46:48 GMT
Destination - Destin http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2014/12/destination---destin Destination -- Destin, Florida

            As you arrive in Destin, Florida, from the west, a sign welcomes you to the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” If Destin is your final destination, you will find out, while the fishing is great, that there is much more to do here than fish.

            The Panhandle of Florida is a growing area for many reasons. The major reason is the convenience and accessibility of the Panhandle to the rest of the country. The guidebooks say that Destin is nearer to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, than Destin is to Key West. This area of Florida is commonly known as the Emerald Coast because of the white sandy beaches appearing green as seen through the shallow blue waters of the Gulf. Traveling to points beyond the Emerald Coast adds hours to a trip -- valuable hours of soaking up the sun’s rays. Destin’s white sandy beaches are the major single attraction of the Emerald Coast.


            Along with the beach and fishing, Destin’s attractions include restaurants of every variety, an almost endless choice of condominiums, waterparks, golfing, camping, and shopping. The leading rental agency’s catalogs of available units get thicker by the year. That is one reason camping is so appealing. Destin and the other communities along the Emerald Coast are constantly building high-rise condos, adding restaurants of different fare and other attractions for the visitor.

“World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”

            The Destin marina is lined with fishing and sightseeing charter boats. Early each morning there is a parade of boats leaving Destin Harbor loaded with anxious fishermen hoping to be one of the luckiest. Their destination is the open Gulf from ten to twenty miles off shore. Charters last from a half a day of about six hours to all day of eight to ten hours to overnight. The most economical way to go fishing is by party boat. Party boats are large boats that can accommodate thirty to forty fishermen. The smaller charter boats that carry six to eight people are very popular and fairly reasonable. On these smaller boats, service is more personalized. The crew is made up of the captain who pilots the boat and one or two deck hands, or mates, who prepare bait, help with the day’s catch, and even clean your fish at the end of the trip. Deep-sea fishing is the second, or perhaps third, most popular activity of the Emerald Coast. Eating seafood is the other activity that gives fishing a run for second place.

Destin Marina Destin Florida 007.jpgDestin Marina Destin Florida 007.jpg   East Pass Destin Florida 020.jpgEast Pass Destin Florida 020.jpg

            Sightseeing excursions for dolphin watches, snorkeling, and evening dinner cruises add to the excitement and the boat traffic in Destin’s harbor throughout the day. In addition the privately owned yachts, fishing boats and the wave runners increase the size of the parade in and out of the harbor.

Crab Island Destin Florida 002.jpgCrab Island Destin Florida 002.jpg East Pass Destin Florida 024.jpgEast Pass Destin Florida 024.jpg

Food and Fun

            The beautiful white sand beaches and all the related activities -- sunbathing, wave running, parasailing, and just strolling on the beach -- combine to attract thousands of sun-worshippers to Destin. The white sand of the Emerald Coast is like no other. The sun is the same, but the crowds seem to think it is better here.

            There are almost as many restaurants in Destin as there are condominiums. All those visitors have to eat somewhere. Of course, seafood is the most popular fare, but there are cuisines of every variety -- All-American steak, Italian, Oriental, Brazilian, Creole, Caribbean, and Mexican. Good restaurants usually require a long wait during the summer months. However, if the restaurant happens to located on the beach, the wait does not seem so long since there is always easy access to the waterfront. Most restaurants along the beach provide decks to enjoy the sight and sounds of the surf.

P8150242P8150242 P8150237P8150237

            Within twenty-five miles of Destin there are at least 360 holes on eighteen golf courses. The Emerald Coast is a true golfer’s haven. Some courses are associated with resorts and packages can be arranged that include accommodations and golf. For the golfing traveler, there is no shortage of excellent courses on which to play.   


A Tour of the Area

            US Highway 98 runs eastward through Destin and continues as the Emerald Coast Parkway to Panama City. Inside the city limits of Destin Old Highway 98 takes a turn toward the south and follows the coast. More restaurants, condominiums, and other attractions are located in this area. Outside the Destin city limits Scenic State Route 30 heads south from US 98 and also follows the coast. Smaller communities are springing up with rental units and restaurants and things for the traveler. As you leave the city limits of Destin, the landscape changes from one of urban development to the more scenic natural vistas of sand dunes, sea oats, and scrub pine trees.

Sea Oats on Beach Destin M626.jpgSea Oats on Beach Destin M626.jpg Fire Hydrant in Sea Oats.jpgFire Hydrant in Sea Oats.jpg Sand Dunes & Sea Oats Destin MF189.jpgSand Dunes & Sea Oats Destin MF189.jpg

            Notable stops along Highway 30 are Grayton Beach State Recreation Area and Seaside. The recreation area is just east of the community of Grayton Beach and has a campground, fishing, boating, swimming and, of course, beach access. Seaside is a community worth a visit. Its structure incorporates a town center with organized residential and rental units around the center. There are shopping areas with centralized parking.

            To the west US 98 passes through Fort Walton Beach, a city of similar size to Destin with similar attractions. Further to the west US 98 joins Interstate Highway 10 in Pensacola. Interstate 10 is the major east-west highway across Florida’s Panhandle. US 98 is the scenic route.

            Because of Destin’s proximity to the rest of the country, the Emerald Coast on Florida’s Panhandle is a choice destination for lovers of sand and surf. Destin’s white sandy beaches, deep-sea fishing opportunities, and excellent accommodations and campgrounds make the Emerald Coast a favorite for thousands of visitors annually. 

 **If you would like to order a copy of any of these photographs, please click on the image. You will be taken to my website where you will be able to order any size, quantity, and mats and frames if desired.

      Thanks for visiting.

janddrich1@yahoo.com (James Richardson Photography) america beach charters destin emerald coast fishing florida sun usa white sand world's luckiest fishing village http://www.jdrichardson.com/blog/2014/12/destination---destin Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:00:00 GMT