Goin’ to Mt. Pilot, Paw!

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Mount Airy, the home of the Andy Griffith show, lies in the shadow of Pilot Mountain. In fact, I understand that little Opie said at least once to his paw, that he was headed to Mt. Pilot.

This mountain is unique in that it has a big ol’ nub that sticks out, and you can see it for miles. In fact, coming South on I-77, you can see Pilot Mountain from Virginia – about an hour away!

From the top of Pilot Mountain, you can see a gorgeous view of Winston-Salem and the farmland surroundings. Pilot Mountain is one of the most notable views in the state of North Carolina.

Day of the Dead

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November 1, Dia de los Muertos – the Mexican tradition of honoring deceased family members – has been getting more and more popular in the U.S.

Is it a result of the American love of scary things? The beautifully painted skulls? Is America’s great melting pot starting to accept Mexican traditions? Who can really say?

For me, it’s a little of all of that. It’s also a nod to my wife’s Mexican heritage.

This photo was taken at the Springs Preserve – an outdoor nature park in Las Vegas. Each year, families set up alters to honor their dead. As people walk through the grounds and stop at the different alters, the families are quick to tell you about the deeds and heroics of their honored deceased. It’s an incredible and humbling experience – almost like a funeral eulogy given once a year, instead of just once.

As we make our way through halloween this year, maybe we should all take a moment in the midst of our sugar buzz and think about how we would honor our loved ones – what would you tell a complete stranger about someone you loved?

Feliz Dia de los Muertos, everyone!

 

The Sun Sploosh

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The first time I went to Key West, it was a magical trip. It was during my “lost weekend” in 2002. After I finished treatments for Hodgkin’s Disease, I took a few weeks to tour the Southeast – to warm up and rejuvenate.

I ended up spending a couple of days with some friends in Miami Lakes, Florida. One day, we decided to drive down to Key West. It was a magical experience for me – the sunshine, the warm breezes (despite being November!), and the music we played on the CD player along the way, all added to the magic!

Just before we hit the 7-Mile bridge, we stopped to eat at Porky’s. At that time, there was nothing better than a couple of Corona beers, some Bar-B-Q (the fried Key Lime Pie was pretty wacky, too!), and local entertainment.

The trip was a brief out-and-back, but it’s one of those trips that give you the warm fuzzies every time you think about it.

Years later, my wife and I spent Christmas in Florida. We stayed a few days in Hollywood, and experienced a big-as-your-head burger at Le Tub for our Christmas dinner. It was crazy to be someplace warm and sunny on a day that’s traditionally cold and cold in the Midwest!

From Hollywood, we drove on down to Key West. We had a blast taking the trolley tour, and hanging out at the wine bar at night. At the tip of Key West is an area called Mallory Square. It’s here that you can see the sun sploosh into the ocean at the end of the day.

Mallory Square is crazy – EVERYONE knows that this is where you can see the sun sploosh. Therefore, EVERYONE is there! There are buskers, artists, performers, all sorts of people trying to get a few bucks out of you (admittedly, one of the funniest shows was the trained cats!).

Each time I go to Key West, it triggers all of those magical memories. Each time, I try to get to Mallory Square for the sunset. Views like this don’t come every day, and you certainly don’t see many cats jumping through a ring of fire!  Plus, If you ever get a chance, rent a moped for a day and explore the island in geeky style – just watch out for the chickens!

Spooky!

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On this fine October Sunday morning, the air smells of fall, which in many cases, reminds people of Halloween. It is in that spirit (see what I did there?) that I chose this creepy picture. On the outskirts of true blue ghost town Rhyolite, NV , lies two spine-tingling items of note: the Goldwell Open Air Art Museum, and the town cemetery.

The beauty of art is a powerful emotion. Here, set in the backdrop of a deserted ghost town, the art especially takes on an air of eeriness. The piece “Ghost Rider”, shown here, was created by artist Albert Szukalski. Szukalski has a few pieces in this strange collection, including the amazing “Last Supper”.

Rhyolite sits right on the edge of Death Valley. It was founded in 1904, and grew exponentially for the next two years. In 1907, however, the city began to falter, and it “died” in 1916.

A few people decided to stick around for their lifetimes, and many were buried in the dusty, gritty cemetery outside of town. During daylight, the town, cemetery, and art installations all seem safe enough, but the harsh desert air feels like it is hiding secrets of the past – secrets we probably don’t want to know anything about!

Guardians of the Mojave

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The Mojave Desert is a strange animal. Somewhat equi-distant from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the Mojave is similar to Death Valley, but has a completely different vibe and personality. It is the dusty, miserable home of 29 Palms – the U.S. Marine installation. It also houses the often-mysterious Edwards AFB and the U2-inspiring Joshua Tree National Park.

The original Route 66 also runs through this area, so you can imagine what might have been there 50 years ago. Roy’s Gas Station and Motel is there, as is one of Roadside America’s grand oddities, “The Shoe Tree”. Which, sadly, has fallen due to its own popularity.

As with many views of the Southwest, one can see for miles – and travel miles before seeing another car or person. One can almost envision Jim Morrison and the Doors dropping acid and dancing with the snake.

And there, in the middle of the desert, not far from a crater of celestial origin, sits two imperial Chinese guardians, marking a non-existent gate, perhaps a quarter mile in length. What they are guarding, exactly, is a mystery. How long have they been there? What is their purpose? Why there? The questions are as endless as the desert itself.

The only thing known for sure is that mysteries abound in the beautiful, magical desert. I often found myself wondering how many skeletons lie in and upon the desert dirt, and what stories could they tell?

The Cross

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My mini obsession with photographing churches started in 1990, when I lived in Germany. The medieval cathedrals fascinated me.

St. George Church in Dinkelsbuhl was always under construction when I visited, but it was an amazing building. The Neresheim Abbey was just as fascinating. St. Lorenz in Nuremberg, The Cologne Cathedral, the list goes on and on. Seriously. On. And on.

When we moved to Las Vegas, there were churches, sure, but the Southern tip of Nevada prides itself on re-building itself, and rebirth. One would hope to see dusty, windswept, creaky old wooden churches, but there were surprising (or not) few.

This doesn’t mean that there were no churches in the Southwest – earlier, I posted about El Sanctuario in New Mexico. Santa Fe also had some really beautiful churches. Of course, there is also the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

Back here on the East coast, though, we have some of the richest  American history. And our country was essentially founded on religious freedom.

Fortunately for me, this means churches!

One of my goals now that I’ve completed school is to do church photography in the Southeast. The photo for this weeks’ post is the church in Corolla, North Carolina, near the Currituck Beach Light. I love the cross on top, and the one immediately underneath, above the door. This church is the original church in Corolla, but it’s obviously been renovated relatively recently.

Have you run across any cool or unusual churches in the Southeast? Let me know, so I can add it to my list!

Corolla – the town, not the car

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Spending a week in North Carolina’s Outer Banks is “something North Carolinians do”- Like Michiganians go “Up North”, and Las Vegans “stay away from the strip”…

We’d get up at 6am each morning, and walk the two blocks to the beach. Once we hit the sand, we’d kick off our sandals, and dodge the crabs that quickly ran into their hiding holes.

There were a handful of other people up and down the beach, and we’d watch the tide begin to roll in – in big, glorious waves, making criss-cross patterns of water at our feet. We would watch as the sky went from dark blue, to light blue, then pink and orange. The temperature was perfect, and the water was still lukewarm. The perpetual OBX winds were rather quiet, perhaps reflecting on the day ahead, as were we.

We combed the beach while – as Laurie Anderson has put it – “the sun came up like a big, bald, head”. The waves crashed, producing the soundtrack to our scanning the beach for unique gems of the sea.

Each morning, we saw the best sunrise of the day. And later on, we would sit on the back porch and watch the sun set beyond the trees, into the sound.

But from this now 7am point of view, we had the task of a full day ahead of us, filled with the urgency of reading, swimming, and relaxation.

Freshly armed with the infusion of freshly extracted vitamin C, we dodged the crabs again as we picked up our sandals, and followed the boardwalk back to the fortress of Lasting Impressions.

Amitabha Stupa

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The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, located in Sedona, Arizona, sits in a quiet corner of a neighborhood at the base of thunder mountain. I am a big fan of Buddhist beliefs, so it was a joy to visit on our last trip to Sedona.

The park provides a few short hiking trails, which are lined with Buddhist statues and prayer flags. You can also find crystals and rosaries hanging from trees.

As visitors reach the Stupa, they make their intentions, and meditate on those intentions as they make three trips around the Stupa in a clockwise direction.

This photo is from the rear of the Stupa, and in the background, you can see some of the amazing and beautiful rock formations that the West is known for. If you look closely, you can also see a woman in white meditating in the sun as the Stupa’s shadow makes its way towards her.

This picture was taken on Thanksgiving weekend, 2014. It was a rushed trip, but we did have the opportunity to take a great four-hour train ride into a canyon, where the leaves were starting to change.

The View That Took My Breath Away

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While living in Las Vegas, we took a trip through Zion National Park, Kayunta (Arizona – home of Monument Valley), and the Grand Canyon.

We also stopped in Bryce Canyon – oddly, we had known very little about this Southwestern gem prior to this trip.

In the Southwest, there are many gorgeous views that I never expected to see, as I grew up in the Midwest. Despite the amazing views, I never truly saw a sight that took my breath away – until we got to Bryce Canyon.

This picture is the view that literally took my breath away. I had never seen anything in my life like this. If you don’t know what to expect, and walk up to the lip of the canyon, this sight punches you in the gut. Amazing.

While at Bryce Canyon – a trip taken over Memorial Day weekend – we drove to higher elevations, where it started raining. Then snowing. I laughed and took pictures – it was the first time we’d seen snow since we moved from the Midwest – more than a year prior!

Hola, mi Hermano!

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For a hundred miles along I-95, the weary traveler can keep up on the antics of “Pedro”, the mascot of South of the Border.

South of the Border is nothing more than a tourist trap, created to give families someplace to stop, stretch their legs and exercise their wallets along the road from Maine to Florida (or Florida to Maine, depending how you look at it!).

The half-mile stretch of road just off I-95, at the Northernmost exit in South Carolina – just South of the North Carolina/South Carolina border – is lined with multi-colored Pedros, such as the one in this picture. From this angle, I like to think that the red-hatted little Pedro is looking up to his big brother, Pedro, thinking that someday, he will be able to follow in his brother’s sombrero, and hold the sign that welcomes pilgrims to the holy land of chatchki, funky hats, kooky mugs, and lousy t-shirts.

As trite as it may sound, there is one truth of South of the Border – you truly never sausage a place!