state park

Lover's Leap Canyon in Rockhound State Park of Spring Canyon

Lover's Leap Canyon in Rockhound State Park of Spring Canyon

Lover’s Leap is Steep

Traveling all over the state of New Mexico for rural land photography work allows me to explore some off the beaten path places in between shoots. The latest was Spring Canyon State Park, which is really part of Rockhound State Park, and this particular canyon is Lover’s Leap Canyon. That’s complicated! All without mentioning these parks are made up of the Florida Mountains! The trail up Lover’s Leap Canyon is allegedly only 0.9 miles, but it takes over 30 minutes due to how steep and rocky it is. The view just keeps getting better and better as the trail gets higher. Once at the top, take off your backpack, get out a snack, and enjoy the fruit of one’s hiking labors! This is another hidden gem in New Mexico.

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City of Rocks State Park New Mexico Photography

City of Rocks State Park New Mexico Photography

Getting to the City of Rocks

My job as a professional photographer in New Mexico takes me all over the state. After photoshoots, I sometimes have the opportunity to seek out unusual places in the remote area I happen to be. On a recent 4-day photo shoot in Silver City, I had the chance to visit City of Rocks State Park. This is a place definitely off of the beaten path, as Silver City itself is out of the way, and City of Rocks is another 30+ minutes drive into nowhere. The investment in miles is certainly worth it though, as you can see in these photographs this is a unique place of natural wonder. Out in the midst of flat desert is an appropriately named city of unusual rock formations. There are no set trails or paths in this park, you have to just wander. It’s fantastic!

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Return to Colt Creek State Park Florida

Kiki in the open fields of Colt Creek State Park with friends in the background - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/250thFour years went by fast, which was the time span between my first and second visits to Colt Creek State Park (official website).  The park was like a wetlands during that first visit in September, but it was all dried out on this December visit.  In the wide open spaces and fire roads, it felt like being on a ranch, and I thought Kiki would make a good working farm dog.

Rare wide open space in Florida is part of Colt Creek State Park - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/100thI like Colt Creek State Park specifically because of its wide open spaces, a rarity in a Florida park or anywhere in Florida for that matter.  It felt like being in another place, perhaps Montana or some other big sky area.  We saw no people the entire time out in the park on the trails proper.

A lonesome palm tree in Colt Creek State Park - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/8 ISO 200 1/80thWhen I see a single palm tree like this growing out of the grass all by itself, I wonder if it thinks how did I come to be the only one of my kind around?  Does it feel naked?  Or perhaps it likes the clear solitude from which it sprang.  

De Soto National Memorial Florida Park

View from De Soto National Memorial hill - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/8 ISO 400 1/320th

I am always searching the west-central Florida Google map for new parks, preserves and forests to visit and explore.  De Soto National Memorial, on the map, is a very humble tip of land jutting out into Tampa Bay. gave its beaches a dog friendly rating.  The park exceeded all my expectations and is a true hidden gem in the Anna Maria Island and Bradenton area.  

Water not over Kiki's head - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/125th f/8After a bit of disappointment at the underwhelming and dog unfriendly Lake Manatee State Park, we still had a thirst for adventure in Manatee County that day, but an approaching rain storm caused us to hesitate.  I decided to press on anyways and as you can see above the storm was already well past once we arrived.  My philosophy:  It is better to regret doing something than to regret not doing something.  The beach was very natural, really just small coves among a coastline of mangrove trees.  The water was shallow and calm, allowing Kiki for the first time to be able to stand and walk around in any body of water.  She really loved being able to do that and I imagine any other water loving dog would as well.  These calm conditions also allowed me to without fear take my Nikon D300 out in the water!  I was knee deep for this shot.  One warning though, there are some random sharp shells around even in the water.  I cut my left big toe!  

 settler ruins/haikyo -- Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/8 ISO 400 1/125thBesides a beautiful, natural, dog-friendly waterfront, the memorial had a lot of great history that we did not have time to study much this visit.  There were some scary photo realistic placards of Native Americans and Spanish Conquistadors hidden along the trail that startled me (and Kiki too).  It is always nice to find a haikyo/ruins site, like the one above, as well.

Beware the Devil Dog! -- Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/5 ISO 400 1/800thDe Soto National Memorial is a highly recommended park for an afternoon trip that offers history, trail walking, hilltop views and dog-friendly private beaches.  We will definitely be back soon.  If you visit, just keep you eyes open for the Devil Dog!

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Lake Manatee State Park

Kayaking opportunity on Lake Manatee - Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 5-bracket HDR tripod mounted with Nikon MC-30 cable releaseI was excited to spot Lake Manatee State Park on Google Maps.  It seemed like it was an exciting find as I especially like to visit state parks with lakes or rivers.  In fact, it is a very modest state park with one small, but nice access point to the lake, which is itself somewhat nondescript.  In other words, the place was basically a desert.  The campground was booked solid with it being Labor Day, but the park still felt rather empty.  This is normally ok with me, but it seems there was a reason for it being so.  Kiki was with us so we could not swim in the lake (against its alligator attracting rules), a prudent precaution by the park, but with a number of people swimming, including children, it would seem quite safe enough and any alligator would be avoiding the human contact of the area.  Still, we could have rented a canoe and brought Kiki on the lake that way, and since you can only rent a canoe at the entrance, we thought we should have just rented one then and saved the return trip.  However, we ended up being glad we did not fork out the $10 for a 2-hour rental ahead of time as the lake offered no cover and we would have only boiled on its surface with minimal sightseeing opportunities.

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 5-bracket HDR tripod mounted with Nikon MC-30 cable releaseDespite all that we enjoyed window shopping as we walked through the campground wondering what all the trailers and RVs looked like inside and had a nice picnic lunch on one of the numerous covered table areas.  We even made use of the playground for a bit.  

Visit this park in cooler weather and I do not recommend bringing a pet/dog since the park's best feature, the lake, is basically off limits to them. 

Brief Survey of Weedon Island State Preserve

All I saw on my 90-minute trek through Weedon Island State Reserve was typical Florida forest.

I woke up early (for me) this morning to go to Weedon Island State Preserve because I had been feeling like it has been a long time since I went out and did nature photography by myself.  Now I first visited this preserve a few months ago, but only walked along its winding boardwalk.  I thought this time if I go on one of its trails early in the morning, surely there would be birds to photograph, not to mention the stray armadillo or other critter or insect.  I did not see a single bird nor a single creature of any kind.

This tiny fluff of color was all that I found in Weedon Island State Park.

I had my macro lens on and ready to discover something tiny and interesting.  The only photograph I made with it all morning was the above tiny pink flower puff, which was the only bit of color (other than green) to be found anywhere in the preserve.  

The quintessential Florida nature woods trail view.

For a peaceful stroll in pristine Florida woods and wetlands, Weedon Island State Preserve is a great spot.  The paths and trails are fairly well marked and are long enough to spend hours on.  However, they are definitely for the meditative mind rather than a photographic one.  If I return to this preserve it will be to go cycling on the long roads that run through the preserve, or to just take a nice, undisturbed walk.  I'll save my back some work and leave my DSLR at home.

If you have visited this preserve and photographed any fauna or interesting flora, please let me know in the comments below.


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Colt Creek State Park Landscapes & Wildlife

HDR of the expansive wetlands of Colt Creek State Park

I enjoy pulling up Google Maps and looking for new state parks that are manageable day trips from St. Petersburg.  Colt Creek State Park is a very new state park, I imagine the newest, as it just became public land in 2007.  I called a day before visiting to confirm that dogs were allowed on the hiking trails and got a prompt call back to my voicemail stating pets are ok.  Horseback riding is allowed in the park as well.

these riders kindly encouraged the birds into flight for me

The park's website mentioned that some hiking trails can easily get flooded.  This was the case as we visited the park at the height of the rainy season.  The horses pictured above seemed to enjoy traipsing through the foot deep water, but we were limited in which trails we could brave.  The horseback riders, as they circumnavigated the lake, spooked a flock of ibises from one end to the other.  I tried to get back in position to capture these mini-migrations.

a flock of mostly white ibises disturbed by horseback riders flew back and forth

Despite the strong Florida mid-day sunshine, I was pleased with the landscape shots I was able to make, both in high speed shots, like the flock of birds immediately above, and the HDR shots like the lead photo.  There are primitive campgrounds in this park that would make great staging areas for sunrise and sunset landscape photography.  Once the temperatures go down and the mosquitoes take the fall and winter off, we will return and camp so as to be able to photograph the full beauty this park has to offer.

Likewise for the wildlife.  Again, even in mid-day, there were plenty of white ibis wading and feeding, as well as some hiding out in the woods.

white ibis do not mind crooked perches apparently

Besides the flocks of white ibis, there were a few other stray birds I could not quite see well enough to identify.  While walking through a forest fire road, a good sized deer did not mind us interrupting her foraging for awhile.  I say for awhile because as soon as I snapped on the old 80-200mm lens, she pranced off into the dense wood.  Even though I did have my macro lens with me, I did not get around to photographing either of the two peculiar spider specimens we came across.  Lazy for a photographer, I know, but the heat!

I look forward to returning to this mostly unknown state park and seeing what it has to offer in cooler times.

only a small portion of the 12 miles of trails seemed to be dry