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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - July 2014

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Cloudland remote Cabin Cam July 14 - the rugged coastlie of West Maui this morning

Journal updated July 15th - TERROR ON I-40.

SUMMER OPEN HOUSE scheduled for July 19th has been CANCELLED

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07/01/14 It is late tonight, I'm in the swamps waiting for it to get dark (White River National Wildlife Refuge near Dewitt). Most sane folks prefer to be gone from swamps when darkness falls, but darkness is what I love! Although I must say it is kind of creepy in the van right now - I swear the van is rocking! (Maybe the wind is blowing?) It is kind of dark outside already, and I'm waiting another hour or so for total darkness and The Milky Way to rise and shine down. I'll be wading into the middle of a shallow lake here, in between about 200 cypress knees and giant cypress trees. Oh yes, and about a thousand gar - those are long, skinny fish with big TEETH! I saw a lot of them this afternoon when I waded in to see if I could find a suitable shooting location.

07/02/14 I got to spend a delightful three or four hours in the swamp last night taking pictures. Or actually taking one picture many times. The night began as clear as I'd seen the night in quite a while. I waded out into the middle of the swampy lake, through scores of tall cypress knees that stuck up out of the water, many of them several feet into the air. Knees and feet, waist-deep water - we have 1/2 of a person already! The water was kind of warm, and very calm - no wind at all - other than that which was produced by mosquito wings - there were LOTS of those. But I was wearing a bug jacket and hat, and that helped a lot. Thank goodness.

I set up my tripod in about three feet of water, surrounded by cypress knees, with dozens of large mature cypress trees towering over. The view was looking out from the shallow end of the lake into the middle of the lake, past some other cypress trees, and the rising Milky Way behind. It would be two hours before the stars were aligned just right for my picture, but I didn't mind the wait at all.

It was VERY NOISY in the swamp! I have no idea what all the sounds were, but some of them were very LOUD. So loud that I could hear them over the bugs and frogs and other normal critters of the night. I should go into the swamp and make an audio recording one night. It was not creepy, or scary, but it was quite different.

Well, sometimes it was creepy and scary, but only when I tried to shine my light around deeper into the swamp to see if I could figure out what the loud noises were. Every now and then I would see a pair of red eyes staring back at me, and I would turn the light off - sometimes it is better NOT to know what it is!

I spent a lot of time sloshing around back and forth, trying to get into position to shine my light on some of the cypress trees during an exposure. It takes a lot longer to run 50 feet in a swamp than it does on dry land. And when you get there, then you have to just stand there in the dark for a while to let the waves settle down so the reflection is good. That is when the noises get really interesting.

Oh yes, the LIGHT! The Milky Way was producing its own light - enough to light up the dark swamp a bit. But the sky above was in constant motion - more like strobe lights from distant thunderstorms. I'd heard from two different people that big storms were on the way, and my goodness I could see the flashes for three hours before they arrived.

There were a lot of things under the water that I did not see as I sloshed through the swamp - I hoped that the things I bumped into or rubbed up against or pushed out of the way were all friendly. And they must have been because I never got bit by anything that I knew of, other than the bugs that bit right through the bug jacket.

And one time I nearly jumped out of my own skin. I was standing there quietly in the darkness, waiting for the Milky Way to move just a little bit more (of course it moves SLOWLY when you are waiting on it to move, however it also can move quite quickly when you want it to stay put and not move so you can take a picture!). Anyway, my phone rang and it scared me to death! My "ring"
is a real ring and it kind of startled me to hear a real phone ring while standing in the middle of a swamp at night. Turns out I had "chest dialed" my brother in Illinois and he was trying to call me back. My phone was buried deep inside my photo vest behind two zippers, and under the bug jacket, so I was not able to get to it before he hung up.

Another time I was standing there staring down into the water - I could actually see stars reflected in the water, and one of them was very bright and had my attention. And then for some reason I dozed off and nearly fell into the swamp! It had been a long day, week, month, project, and the lack of sleep was getting to me. But I reached out in the darkness and grabbed a tall knee and kept from making a big splash.

Swamps are beautiful places, day or night, and this one was especially nice last night. The only problem I had was knowing there was no way I could capture the feeling and great beauty of the place with a camera - no way. Not even close. Oh, and the mud. I got the Bookmobile stuck on the side of the road, but was able to get it unstuck without too much trouble - thanks to the heavy Hankook tires with deep tread. The old van did pretty good on this trip.

It was sometime after midnight when I said to myself "Just one more" and then I'll pack it in and move to another location. During that last long exposure the world changed all around me. The wind picked up and started to howl in a matter of a few seconds, and with it came COOL temps - YIPPIE! And a lot of debris - mostly small stuff like leaves and small twigs. And thunder. The storm was about to arrive right on top of me. I literally could not get to the shore fast enough before it hit. Of course, I was soaked to the bone with swamp water anyway, so what would a little bit of rain hurt?

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I pulled off all my swampy cloths and crawled into the back of the van, exhausted, and ready for a few winks. Next thing I know it is DAYLIGHT! I slept through the storm. And I guess I missed that date with who or whatever was rockin' the van.

I'm back home tonight, and it is about 20 degrees cooler than it was in the swamp and in the Ouachitas. The air is clear and scrubbed clean. The Milky Way is just beginning to rise in the southeast - it will slide to and through the south during the night, and point towards the southwest by first light when it goes back to bed.

SUMMER OPEN HOUSE HAS BEEN CANCELLED. The open house that was scheduled for July 19th has been cancelled. Something about biting off more than one could chew. We'll have two or three open houses in November and December for sure and I'll keep ya posted.

I've been working all day and into the night on the new 2015 Arkansas Engagement Calendar, and have all the photos selected, processed, placed, and captions written. All I need now is a front cover photo! Sometimes those are easy to find, other times they wait until the very last minute like this one. There will be a lot of stars in both the new calendars for some reason...

07/03/14 Oh how cool and SWEET the air is this morning! The big storm front that passed through yesterday dropped the temp and humidity, and it feels rather like Wyoming than Arkansas for July. Lots and lots of baby clouds were formed at the bottom of the canyon during the night, and all formed together to create a sea at dawn. The night sky was as clear as I'd seen it all year here - and oh brother was the Milky Way bright and beautiful! But I was not. I had worn myself down to the extent that I was unable to get out and work during the night, and I felt it unsafe for me to spend the night in the woods - or rather to drive without sleep. I had to catch up just a little bit sometime. So I stayed at home, but did get to view the amazing scene when I got up at 1am to let the puppies out to pee. WOW!!!

A short puppy update. They are growing like weeds, have teeth like razor blades, and have the energy of a nuclear explosion. In other words, typical puppies! My lovely bride has been working overtime - not only on keeping the business running while I am out chasing Bigfoot in the night - but also trying to keep up with these puppies. Anyway, early this morning I witnessed a scene that was close to something seen in Africa. We don't feed our two cats much - their job is to mostly live of the land and eat mice. They are just like normal cats in that some internal parts they don't care for, so we often get them piled up on the front step of the cabin - always LOOK DOWN before stepping out the front door of our cabin first thing in the morning! Anyway, today as I let the pups out the front door I saw an unusually large pile of entrails, and both pups pounced on them like a lion on a fresh kill. It took them less than 30 seconds to clean the plate and lick the step clean! It was kind of like Cloudland Haggis. Remind me not to fall asleep on the ground when they are around and hungry!

07/05/14 Thursday night found me in Boxley Valley late, and quite by accident there was moonlight streaking across the headstones at Beechwood Cemetery, with a brilliant Milky Way arching overhead. The moon was setting pretty fast, and I had to find a suitable composition and set up my camera gear in a hurry. 30 minutes later the moonlight had disappeared, but I got a good photo in time.

Most folks think that moonlight is blue, but it is actually the same color as daylight. Moonlight is nothing more than bright sunshine reflected off the moon surface and onto the earth. If you expose a photo for a long enough time, the resulting landscape can look just like it was taken in the middle of the day - often the only hint will be stars. So I was thrilled to find The Milky Way in this scene, and it all worked out well. The resulting picture is one of those "right out of the camera" pictures that really did look just like that.

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Even at midnight, the temp had dropped so much that it reached the dew point and far below, so the ground was completely soaked. It was easy to move around in the shadows of the cemetery since everywhere I went I made tracks in the dew. It only took a few minutes for my boots to get soaked through and through.

My main target for the night was at the other end of the valley, but as I started to motor that direction I got stopped by another interesting scene, this time without any moonlight. There was a beautiful tree at the edge of a large meadow, which was full of tall hay. Directly behind the tree - the rising and now really brilliant Milky Way. I spent the next hour working with some delicate light painting using a homemade diffuser with a giant flashlight.

My tripod was dripping wet when I loaded it back into the bookmobile - man the air must have been really loaded with moisture when the temp dropped, and it all came pouring out all over the landscape.

My third stop was at the little Boxley Valley Baptist Church and Community Center, which was my main target for the night. I hiked out into the middle of the nearby field just as The Milky Way began to reach straight up in the sky from behind the Church. The air was clear (because all the humidity in the air was now on the ground!) and so the galaxy looked really bright and was beaming at me. I set up a composition and shot away, using two different cameras and trying some new techniques. A few little dark clouds drifted through the scene, and I spent time waiting on them gazing up at the incredible world above. WOW, this was a very special night and I felt lucky to have been able to stand there and be part of it.

It was 4-something later that morning when I rolled up to the cabin, parked in the carport, and crawled into the back to get a few winks. Three hours later I was up again and back at my computer.

It was a great day at that computer, as I was able to FINISH both of the 2015 Arkansas calendar projects, AND get them delivered to our print broker in Fayetteville - DONE, YIPPIE COYOTE!!!!! My original goal for these two projects was the end of January - I only missed it by five months.

It was just getting dark when I left Fayetteville and headed for my next shooting location - it was in fact THE LAST night of shooting for the new picture book - almost a year of shooting was coming down to this last night - I needed to get a good photo.

A couple of hours later I sat in the van and waited for the bright moon to drop into the western horizon. The photo that I wanted to take needed total darkness - kind of funny that on this night I was waiting for the moon to leave, when just the night before I was rushing to get the shot in the moonlight before it disappeared. This sort of behavior drives my lovely bride nuts!

Before long the moon turned yellow and then orange, then slipped into the night behind the far ridge 20 miles away. I hoisted my camera backpack, largest tripod, and my giant flashlight, and headed UP the steep hillside. This was the location I had to abort a few weeks ago because the jungle was so thick. It was a relative piece of cake now, with a narrow corridor having been opened up. Still STEEP, really steep. I grunted under the weight of the pack, and had to stop once or twice on the way up to blow - I could feel my heart pounding when I stopped, and hoped the old ticker would continue to work for at least the one final trip.

When I reached the top, set my camera gear down and turned off my headlamp, I looked around and said WOW!!! It was as spectacular a nighttime landscape as I'd ever laid eyes on. And it was all right there spread out before me. This was my seventh trip to this particular spot this year, and I still had one image in particular I wanted to shoot - I've talked about it every day for the past month, but could not get back until now.

Then I realized there was another scene, one I had not even thought of before, that was looming beautiful - and moving FAST. I scrambled to comprehend the situation and what I needed to do in order to capture it, and get everything set up in time. I shot for the next hour, moving around a little bit as The Milky Way moved. It was an epic scene.

At one point, I was down on all fours - actually crawling on my belly to be able to see through the camera, which was flat on the ground. It was completely dark, and I didn't really know what was down there with me, but that is where I had to be in order to see and compose and work the camera. I had actually pushed myself back into the jungle - needing to get back in there so I could get far enough away from the rock formation to be able to get everything into the frame. I knew this was prime snake country, and I had my snake leggins on, but I figured they would not help much since all of my was now down on the ground - oh well, what could I do - if I wanted the picture, that is where I had to be.

And then a couple of things hit me (fortunately, one of them was not a pair of snake fangs!). First, this would be the final shoot for the book project. After months and months and months of sleepless, long nights, difficult struggles to make it in and back out from some rugged and remote locations, and days and days and nights of redos to try and get the picture just right, I had finally come to the end. It had been one heck of a ride, and I had been privileged and privy to some of the most amazing sights on the planet. And this was it. This had been easily the most difficult book project I had ever attempted - many times not having a clue what I was doing, where I was going, or how I was going to be out. Yet the scenes I encountered and things I experienced were an order of magnitude greater than other things I had done in my life. My hope was that I had captured enough of that great natural beauty of the night to give other folks a sense of appreciation for all that we have.

And the other item was that - I FOUND IT - the front cover of the new book! (OR at least a strong candidate.) Just like the engagement calendar front cover had eluded me, so to had the book cover - I didn't have a clue what to use until I stood there in the darkness last night in total awe of the scene - it looked and FELT like a book cover. If only I could capture that with the camera.

I shot and shot and shot until there was no reason to shoot any more. I packed up all my gear, then sat down for one last look into the night. A huge relief came over me, a smile, and perhaps a small tear or two. I have no idea why, other than the fact I had become very connected to the earth this past few months in a way that had not happened before. Something about being there in the darkness for so long - the world is different at night. When I begin this book project I made up a list of things I wanted to photograph - a list that grew much longer than ever got checked off. I left hundreds of potential scenes on the table that I simply did not have the time to get to - or realized I could never accomplished. Along the way I found many dozens of new things I'd not thought about shooting before, so I guess in the end it all equalled out. I shouldered my heavy pack once more, then headed down to the bookmobile.

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I slept for a couple of hours before heading home - we had a long day ahead.

Two funny notes about that last shoot. When I was down on all fours and backed into the thickest of the thick jungle, and the scene before me was at its peak and I was struggling to capture it for the cover of the book, a wild and loud call rang out that startled me and perhaps I even peed in my pants. There was a bird, a tiny bird nonetheless, within a few feet of me that had jumped up on a limb and screamed. I'd been there for a couple of hours and there had not been another sound. At least I think it was a small bird. Anyway, that was it - just one scream, and no more. I don't know if this bird had had enough of me being in his living room in the middle of the night, or if he had looked over my shoulder at the LCD screen on the back of my camera and saw what I had captured. Either way I took it as a sign that I was done.

And about half way down the steep hillside my feet slipped on the loose earth and I went down, head first, and rolled a little bit, right into the Devil's Walking Sticks that kept me from rolling farther down the mountain. You may know that these are covered with thorns and they don't feel too well when you grab one of them. I shined my light and all I could see were more and more thorns in all directions. And then there was a single bright and beautiful yellow summer sunflower poking her head out from the thorns. There was a big smile on that little lady, which was transferred to me. I rolled over and let gravity help me up to my feet, dusted myself off, and continued on my way. There have been a lot of little flowers along the way, and I thank each and every one of them!

I have not had time to process those last few images, but will post some here when I do. Hope everyone has had a terrific holiday weekend - filled with more flowers than thorns!

07/06/14 It was kind of weird packing for this trip - a down jacket and snorkeling gear in the same bag. I plan to be both below sea level and above 10,000 feet in the same day, and within sight of each other. After a grueling 12 hours of travel, we have moved book production a little bit to the west, and arrived at a condo on the beach in Maui. We had originally planned this to be our daughter's 21st birthday present (still will be for her), but since I'm so hopelessly behind on the new book project, it will become my remote office, as I will be working on the book every day (my lovely bride is not happy about it!) - in fact, I need to have the book nearly completed by the time we head back home next week.

And to prove that I'm almost done with shooting pictures for a while, I was so exhausted to even bother to run down to the beach 100 feet away to shoot a spectacular sunset this evening - I sat at my computer and pointed the camera out the window! But I guess I will be back at photo work soon enough though, as I plan to spend the night on top of a nearby volcano tomorrow night or the next, shooting stars and the Milky Way - not for the book of course, but rather for practice - I still have not mastered my craft, but will continue to work at it!

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Sunset from my desk

07/08/14 I was up at 3am yesterday and soon found myself standing on the beach with a camera and tripod - old habits die hard I guess. The sky was mostly cloudy with a few breaks, and those breaks were filled with shining stars. I was trying to get a picture of The Milky Way diving into the ocean, but too many clouds got in the way. The rest of our group was up pretty early too, so I made a quick run into the local safeway store to get a few groceries - we were all still on Arkansas time, five hours difference.

We found out that there were several sea turtles living in the water right out in front of where we're staying, including more than one GIANT sea turtles that were - well, GIANT! So friendly too. It didn't take the girls long to warm up to wearing a mask and snorkel when one of their most favorite wild critters is in the water below or even right next to them. In fact by the end of the day it was tough to get the girls OUT of the water!

I didn't get to bed until 9pm, and then the alarm went off at midnight. I was on my feet and out the door in just over two minutes. My goal was to drive a couple of hours to the top of the Haleakala Volcano in hopes of getting above any clouds for a clear-sky view of The Milky Way.

When I first arrived on top (just above 10,000 feet in elevation) there were still some clouds, and the moon was up and very bright - not a good combo for Milky Way photos. As I hiked around in the moonlight looking for a good composition (I'd never been up there before), the moon started to race for the horizon, turning a rich yellow-orange as it sank into the ocean. Soon after, most of the clouds blew away and The Milky Way started to shine.

I spent the next couple of hours shooting pictures of The Milky Way, and eventually of it with the Haleakala Observatory buildings in the foreground. One advantage to having a multitude of folks make the long drive up to the top to watch the sunrise (parking lots fill up usually by 5am), is the fact that sometimes their distant headlights were shining on the Observatory buildings - so I took advantage and timed my exposures so that the headlights would lightpaint the buildings!

The clear skies, observatory buildings, and the brilliance of The Milky Way, made for a stunning landscape, and I was a happy camper! Although I was also a very chilled one. I knew it might be cold up there, so I packed my down jacket, goretex parks, heavy socks, wool hat, and hand warmers - and I used all of them to help keep warm. While the actual temp probably was not all that cold (maybe 40-ish?), the wind chill from a constant howling wind (40-50mph), and the fact that most of the time I just stood there waiting for long exposures of the stars (instead of moving around to keep warm), made for a very cold night - but I did OK for a country boy on top of this big beautiful volcano.

In the middle of it all I had a Cloudland Moment of sorts. While standing there looking up at the heavens, I realized what a rare and special job I have, and could not believe where I was standing. No one pays me to take pictures of the night sky that few people ever get to see anymore - I'm not sure what it would be worth if they did. Yet somehow it is one of the most important things that I do. And just to think - that only four nights before I was down on my belly wallowing into the Arkansas jungle high on a mountaintop trying to frame The Milky Way that was shining brightly. And now up on top of another mountain a world apart, scrambling over sharp lava rocks to find the perfect composition to point my camera up to the very same Milky Way. I will probably never sell an image of the Maui Milky Way, but the long hours, expense, and difficult situation I put myself into to photograph it were all worth it to me. A great big THANKS to whoever gave this job to me...

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Once again I trended against the norm, and while streams of folks where headed UP the volcano to watch the sunrise, I drove down the volcano, heading back to the condo where I had a date with three lovely ladies for breakfast. I made it back by 7am.

The rest of the day was spent swimming with the turtles and exploring our little end of the island. I did get a few winks here and there, but by sunset this evening I was pretty much exhausted and am ready for bed. We have an early 4am alarm set for tomorrow - headed to Hana - a long and twisty coastal road with more than 50 one-lane bridges.

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Amber with one of the giant turtles - he was 4-5 feet long!

We've done OK finding local economy places to eat with great food. Like this evening - one of the top-rated local restaurants has a happy hour for appetizers, so we dined on terrific food for about the price of a Big Mac and fries (by the way, they do have a Spam Burger here that I'm hoping to try - I've always loved fried Spam!).

As I've been sitting here in the darkness typing just after sunset on the back deck that overlooks the beach, a native man lit up a pair of fire balls on the beach and put on a ten-minute show of fire dancing! I got the girls up and we all sat there and watched - our own personal show. We never did talk with him, but he must have been practicing. It was quite a scene with the golden fire, the beach, and the ocean and sky behind him. Well done!

07/10/14 I've been up since 3 this morning and out wandering the beach and rocky areas in search of a spot to photograph the setting moon and its glow on the ocean. There were towering palm trees all around, the constant crashing surf, and a few odd noises coming from nearby bushes. I ventured into those bushes once to try and get down to the crashing waves, and just in case there was a snake or two about (there are NO snakes in Hawaii, but old habits, you know) I used a tiny light to show the way. I came upon a bird of some sort, rather large, sitting on the ground. He was obviously awake but not too concerned about me. He was in my way, so I had to try and coax him out of the way. Funny to watch a sleeping bird try to fly.

As the moon was setting into a bank of clouds, stars began to come out in between the clouds. Stars, moon, crashing waves, weird birds - it was all kind of surreal, but rather beautiful. I tried to take a photograph or two that could encompass it all, but it was tough to get the weird bird included.

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We left yesterday morning more than an hour before sunrise and headed to The Road To Hana, which is listed as one of the Top most incredible drives in the world - and well deserving of this honor. Soon after daylight we stopped and spent a good bit of time exploring a small forest of "rainbow" trees and the lovely meadow they lived in that overlooked the ocean. There were smiles all around, and it was one of "those" really amazing moments in life that is shared by all of us, the trees, and just the atmosphere in general. A much-anticipated highlight of our trip that did not disappoint.

We would have other moments like that during the day, like a trip to an almost-secret red-sand beach with directions like "cross the lawn next to the community center in Hana, then try to negotiate the rough and difficult steep and rocky trail down to the shore." The path at the far end of the lawn was difficult to find, and if we had not seen someone else emerging from the forest there we would never have found it. The short trail was indeed quite steep and rugged, but the coast and small red-sand beach there was quite amazing - one of the most beautiful places I'd been to during my lifetime.

During the drive to Hana we munched on warm fresh banana bread right out of the oven, and various other local fruits along the way. But when it came time for an actual lunch we had troubles - there are not many places to eat in Hana, and when we finally sat down and a little down home place to eat we discovered that the cheeseburgers were nearly $20! We don't eat at that level, but were there so made the best of it. Let's see, Pam and Sonya split a pork sandwich, Amber had a small serving of pasta salad, and I had a banana split. (It was one of the cheapest things on the menu, and I was trying to eat healthy, so banana it was!)

The last two hours were spent exploring the coastline of the state park at Hana, which was another magical place (but very difficult to spell, so I won't even try), even though we shared it with about 3,500 other folks. I did manage to sneak down to a deserted beach and mini-bay for a while - the ocean-polished pebbles there were just incredible - all black, as was the sand. I got out my "big" camera and spent some time with the crashing waves. It is tough to capture the color of the water here, and the intensity of the crashing waves, but I did the best I could.

During the drive back on The Road From Hana it rained most of the time and oh my goodness the lushness of the surrounding landscape took on monumental proportions - the very definition of LUSH!

We spent more than 14 hours in the car and drove less than 100 miles. My arms ached from all the steering wheel turns. Typical speed was 10-15mph. And it was so funny - as we neared the end of the road on the way back, we came to a speed zone sign that said "30MPH" and everyone in the jeep cheered - it seemed like the Autobahn we were going SO fast!

It is getting light here now this morning, the air is sweet and palm trees are swaying in the cool breezes. Soon the girls will be up and ready to head for the water to go swim with the turtles. I have big plans for breakfast, something I've been looking forward to for weeks - SPAM and eggs from McDonalds! I'm trying to eat the local food as much as possible...

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My three girls (above); I have no idea what these are, but this fruit attracted a lot of BITING bugs! (below)

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07/12/14 The girls got me out of bed at 2AM this morning, and within a few minutes we were on our way to the top of Haleakala Volcano. We didn't need to leave that early to get there in time for sunrise, but rather to get a parking spot. Quite a few cars arrived ahead of us, but we managed somehow to find the perfect parking spot that was so good that we didn't even have to leave the car to get a perfect view. With the temp very cold, and the wind howling above 40mph, being able to sit in the car was very helpful.

Of course, I was not content to shoot the sunrise like everyone else, so I left the car and hiked on over towards the observatories to try and get the full moon setting behind them. This is another one of those scenes that I've had in my head for a while, and with clear skies and a full moon only a couple of hours old, it was the perfect (and only) chance to get the shot. I spent the next hour wandering around and taking different pictures of the moon as it headed on down towards the big white domes, and eventually did get into position so that I could get the moon right where I wanted it. I had hauled a large lens all the way to Maui just for this scene. YIPPIE, I got it!

I had on all my cold-weather gear once again, including down jacket, gortex parka, heavy socks, etc. I forgot hand warmers back at the condo, but who really thinks about that stuff when you are on the beach at 2am anyway? I kept my hands busy so all was well.

Then I turned my attention to all the color that was happening behind me - namely the sunrise. I wasn't really prepared with equipment nor location for the type of sunrise over the giant volcano crater that I would have wanted to shoot, so I settled for a nice dome silhouetted against the brilliant colors of dawn. Sunrise proper found me hiking on back up to the summit - through what seemed like hundreds of cars that were parked everywhere, including right in the middle of the highway. I didn't blame them - it was one of the best shows on the planet.

Later on the ladies and I hiked on down into the crater as the earth warmed up quite a bit. It was a grand morning, and well worth the early-morning wake-up call.

Yesterday we trekked on over to explore the west part of the Island, which included a small state park tucked far back into the hillside with lush forest and lots of cold running water. Next we toured the Maui Ocean Center - I LOVED seeing the tiny submarine that was built in the 1960's for special deep-sea exploration, and a lot of the other exhibits of live fish and other sea critters.

We ended the day at what looked like the art capitol of Maui (Lahaina )- only known to me as the city by the docks with the GIANT multi-trunked banyan tree. That tree was indeed a sight to behold - taking up an entire city block. A wonder of nature for sure. But we also wanted to visit the local art galleries, and spent a good bit of time doing so. Unfortunately, every one of them but one thought we were there to buy a used car rather than look at beautiful paintings of the Hawaiian landscape. We never found any landscapes, but we quickly realized how NOT to treat someone who walks into your gallery, and so we gave up and left town - all of the salespeople were so pushy and high pressure and would not leave us alone. Sorry, I refuse to be treated like that. It was a shame that we never really even got to look at or enjoy much art. Oh well.. (FYI, you will NEVER be treated like that at our gallery!).

The only art gallery that gave us room to breathe had stacks of beautiful canvas prints on large tables and went about their business and left us alone - always helpful whenever we had a question, but not in our faces all the time. That will probably the only gallery I visit if going back...

On the way back to our little beach town we passed a line of bumper-to-bumper cars more than 15 MILES long headed into the little art town by the sea - Maui rotates a party every Friday night, and they were hosting it last night - good thing we were going in the opposite direction! AND, we discovered that since it was a full moon the high tide was the highest of the month, and windy conditions and rough seas actually tossed the waves over part of the highway - our windshield got splashed on by the ocean!

Tomorrow we are headed back to Hana, and in fact beyond Hana, to hike a couple of trails on the back side of the volcano national park. It is going to be a very long day for us, but it will be our last full day here so want to make the most of it. The girls just returned from the grocery with a bag full of sandwich makins' and other tasty treats, so we'll be ready for another early start in the morning. I'm hoping they will let me stop for another loaf of fresh banana bread on the way back...

moonset

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ladies

07/13/14 Our last full day in Hawaii began at 3-something this morning when I got a wake-up call from one of our resident geckos. This very green fellow has been singing to use each day since we've been here, and usually in the middle of the night when the moon is up and shining bright - as it was this morning (they really do look just like the one on TV). I got up, poured a cup of coffee, and sat out on the lanai as the moon lit up the ocean, beach, and palm trees surrounding our little corner of heaven.

The girls soon followed, and we were off for our second trip along the Road To Hana. Several locals gave us puzzled looks when saying we were going to make this trip twice, but since we live in Arkansas and drive narrow, winding roads all the time it really was not all that bad. We were well into the drive as sunrise happened at 5-something - lighting up the top of the distant volcano first, then gradually making its way down to us in the lush forests along the rugged coastline.

Our first stop was at the Rainbow trees again, and I spent a while trying to get a good image of them with my big camera. One issue I had was the fact that since the vegetation was SO THICK in the meadow surrounding these beautiful trees, I was unable to ever get even one of my tripod legs worked all the way down through the tangled mess to the solid ground. So my entire camera setup was king of just floating there in the meadow, but I tried to make the best of it (and I failed - I probably did not get a good picture of these incredible trees - bummer).

Our next stop was not until we had passed through the little town of Hana (the destination for most folks), when we pulled down to the coast to Koki Beach. Much to our surprise, there was a lady riding a beautiful horse and galloping through the surf, surrounded by crashing waves! I grabbed my camera and started framing photos as she moved effortlessly back and forth through the pounding surf - the horse really seemed to like the ocean waves!

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Our main target for the day was a pair of highlights we've been trying to get to the entire trip - the "Seven Sacred Pools" and the Bamboo Forest, both in the remote Oheo Gulch area of Haleakala National Park. Turns out the road PAST Hana is even more narrow and twisty than the other section, but it is every bit as stunning, if not more so. This side of the island had a completely different feel to it, with forests lusher than ever, and that incredible water and pounding surf. Plus a little bit of rain now and then - which is exactly what I needed for the pictures I wanted to take.

I literally hit the ground running when we parked at the trailhead, leaving the girls behind to fend for themselves. It appeared that we were right at the edge of the rainfall, and man of man I REALLY needed at least some clouds for my picture - I would hate to have driven all that day for nothing. It was a mile uphill to where the Bamboo Forest was supposed to be, but I had no idea exactly what or where I was going to shoot - I just new it was a special place and I wanted to try and capture a small part of it.

As I leaned into the hillside and kicked it into high gear, the sun began to break through the clouds and mist. OH NO! By the time I had reached the edge of the Bamboo Forest there was nothing but blue skies above, and harsh light all around me. Gosh darn it! I continued to hike on, looking for a good scene where I could set up shop and wait for clouds. I found a good spot where stepping stones lined the trail and led uphill through what had become one heck of an incredible bamboo forest - the stalks were HUGE! I got all set up and waited. And waited. Nodded a time or two as other hikers walked by - I always get funny looks when just standing there right next to my camera not taking pictures.

And then it happened - clouds began to move in, and the scene before me changed dramatically - color richer, more details in the shadows, more details in the highlights, and just MORE of what I came to find. But it wasn't quite right somehow. I spent the next 30 minutes working the scene as the clouds moved in and out. Then I decided to press on and see what else I could find.

Ten minutes later - still in the Bamboo Forest - I came upon the scene I was looking for - and son of a gun, the clouds had returned full force and beautiful, soft, delicate light covered the landscape all around me. The trail had become a raised boardwalk, that wound through the HUGE bamboo, disappearing into the distance. By huge I don't just mean tall, but it took two hands to completely encircle some of the stalks - they were like medium-sized trees without any limbs growing with thousands of their closest friends. It was just a magical scene, and no doubt one of the most incredible hiking trail locations I'd ever seen in my entire life. AND I got to TAKE PICTURES too! In fact I spent the next hour shooting frame after frame after frame, most of them under cover of clouds and beautiful light. I know it was WORK, but it was the very best sort of work for me.

The girls caught up with me and I learned that the tree of them had taken off from the main trail and followed several narrow paths deep into the bamboo - and so the four of us found the next one and spent some time exploring - this part too was a magical experience to be with my girls.

The trail ended at the base of 400 foot tall Waimoku Falls - the first waterfall I'd seen in Hawaii that to me was equal to or greater than what we have in our own Arkansas (for those who have never been here, our waterfalls ARE THAT good!). I know this island is not known for its waterfalls, but when you go to Hawaii you really do expect to see them - I guess I've been so engrossed with our own falls for so many years that my bar has been raised. But this one we came to today was pretty darn nice - a textbook Hawaii waterfall.

And then it began to rain pretty good, and rained harder as we all made our way back down to the trailhead - we were all soaked to the bone and covered with mud, but could have cared less. When we reached the car we dug out our picnic lunch and made sandwiches right there in our seats - the best picnic lunch ever!

It rained much of the way back home - including about 50 miles of The Road To Hana. 'Twas a 12-hour day on the road for us, and one that will be remembered and cherished for some time to come...

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07/14/14 I'm sitting alone at gate 33 in the Maui airport - really alone - there is no one in sight anywhere. The only sound I hear is that of the wind outside - the AC is not working in the airport, and it is pretty toasty out there, and so in here as well. The girls are off to explore the rest of the airport. We had to check our rental car in at 3pm, and our flight does not leave for another seven hours, so we are kind of stuck here for the duration.

We've had high winds the entire time we've been here, which has been GREAT! The temp has been about the same - in the upper 80's. All of a sudden this morning the wind stopped - not a breath of air was moving. And that made the temp go way, way up. I know, I'm in Hawaii, I should not complain - and I wasn't, just making a point of reference.

We took the scenic route to the airport, and HOLY COW was it indeed SCENIC! We headed up the Honoapillani Highway around the west side of the island, eventually stopping at the Nakalele Blowhole. This turned out to be one amazing spot just a short hike down the rocky hillside to the rugged coastline. While the girls enjoyed the blowhole I hiked down the coast a ways and spent some time shooting the crashing waves against the black lava rock - the water here was some of the purest blue around the island - I could have easily stayed and shot there for days. Next trip.

At some point the road changed to the Kahekili Highway, although I'm not exactly sure where. The guidebook talked about narrow and bad this highway was and not for the faint of heart (especially after the high officially ended). How bad could it really be after we had done the Road To Hana twice? Turns out parts of this road were indeed worse than Hana - in fact in spots it was downright hairy! The problem was that there were stretches of this road only wide enough for a single car, perhaps a half mile long, with no room anywhere for two cars to pass - and in many places there was zero visibility ahead. Fortunately we had an ace in the hole - Amber acted as a spotter and was somehow able to figure out when a car might be approaching from the opposite direction. I wish I would have taken a picture, but she was hanging so far out of the jeep window that she looked a little like what our new puppy Wilson would be doing soon! We also tried to keep up with a car just ahead of us to use as a blocker, and that worked really well.

The other main issue with this stretch of road was the fact that the landscape it went through was absolutely STUNNING! Yet, I could not look at any of it, only get reports form the girls - my attention was focussed on the hood of the jeep. The farther we drove, the greater the scenes got, including 636 foot tall Kahakuloa Head - a giant dome of rock whose sheer cliff face drops directly to the crashing waves below (the highway eventually went over the back side of this). That hillside protected the little bayside village of Kahakuloa - how they ever got materials into this place to build it is beyond me, but we wish we could have stopped and stayed a while - but we had to keep up with the jeep ahead of us. BUT WAIT, that jeep stopped all of a sudden, and started to BACK UP! And so did we - a car was approaching and the only way to continue was to back up to find a wide spot in the road/path.

If we ever come back to Maui, this most scenic west side of the island will be one of our first targets - all of it is just WOW!!!

I am happy to report that the girls and the AC have returned, and life is much more pleasant now. There is still no one else in our end of the airport. The plane leaves at 10pm tonight, and I plan to be asleep about the time we reach the end of the runway and wake up in Denver. It has been a perfect trip for us, and I think everyone had a grand time. It was only our second family vacation in 13 years, but we made up for lost time. The only problem I had - I never worked even a single moment on the new picture book project - DRATS! I was planning to have most of it written by now, but decided to tag along with the girls instead. Oh yes, I did get a lot of work done - I shot thousands of pictures, and am hopeful some of them will grace your walls in the years to come...

07/15/14 This was the longest travel days (actually two in one!) any of us had ever experienced. We got up at 6am yesterday in Maui, and after a final incredible day on the island sat in the airport for seven hours before our plane back home took off (which was on time - rental car had to be returned by 3pm). We transferred planes in Denver this morning (no one got any sleep overnight on the plane), and landed safely to Little Rock this afternoon. As we were driving towards home from Little Rock on I-40 in heavy traffic near Morrilton, my three ladies fell off into much-needed sleep - only a couple more hours and we would be home.

All of a sudden I heard an EXPLOSION that sounded like a shotgun blast. I turned to see Amber laid out on the back seat covered with glass - in that instant my first gut reaction was that someone had shot her through the window. I headed for the median as Pam and Sonya woke up to help. The next instant I saw our dear Amber slowly coming to life. She was indeed injured and covered with glass, and there was blood, but as the seconds ticked off it seemed less likely that she had been shot, although it took us a while to figure out what might have happened.

We think a passing semi-truck kicked up something - perhaps a piece of scrap metal - and it blew out the window next to Amber (also damaged part of the door). Turns out that Amber had laid down on the seat to sleep just before the window was blown out, and while she was hit with the flying glass that broke into a thousand pieces, she was not seriously hurt. She did have glass in her ear, cuts and scratches on her face and other places, and glass in her hair. If she had not laid down when she did, there is no telling what might have happened to her. I know any parent could just imagine the horror.

After trying to access her condition, we decided to get her into a doctor - that glass in her ear was a troubling issue, so we drove to the Monfee Clinic in Russellville and they quickly took care of her (the greatest clinic on the planet!). She still had some glass fragments in her ear, but otherwise just cuts and abrasions - and two extremely grateful parents (and one best buddy, Sonya!). After cleaning out the car - amazing how far and wide those 1,000 pieces of glass flew inside the car - I taped up the window and we were back on our way.

So you can say that our trip ended with a BANG! Although also with a great surprise - when wearrived at Cloudland and stepped out into the summertime Ozark Jungle, it felt more like October with cool temps in the 60s and very low humidity. We all are exhausted and still in a bit of shock over the accident, so this will be the last of my report from Hawaii. For anyone who has not ever been, I highly recommend a visit at least once - it is like another world over there. But it is also GREAT to be back home!

Another big surprise was all the work that Pam's dad did while we were away. He looked after Cloudland while we were gone, and managed to get a month's worth of work done somehow - HOLY COW! Besides having the best bride and best daughter, I have the absolute BEST inlaws too! How lucky could one guy get.

Now I can get to work on that picture book project that I am SO LATE getting done! Oh, but wait - I have a date tomorrow for a root canal. Hope your day goes better........

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