On the same trip that I visited Carlsbad Caverns, I also went to White Sands which in the grand scheme of things is nearby. If you’re going to one it makes sense to go to the other and since they’re such wild opposites, it’s a really interesting contrast. From deep underground where you pupils are dilated to their max and then to blinding sand where your darkest sunglasses are barely adequate. It’s great.
Over the years I’ve seen some amazing photography coming out of this area. Stark and otherworldly and so I had it in my head to replicate or try to replicate those images. I wasn’t prepared for how popular the park is despite being in the middle of nowhere (and next to a missile testing area). The place was CRAWLING with people. Mostly what they do is walk up the dunes and sled down them. Footprints everywhere. Very much NOT what I needed as a photographer.
So I got sneaky. Basically there is an out and back loop road that brings you to different sections of the dunes, some with or without picnic areas and/or comfort stations. Big parking lots. One of which was chained off so you couldn’t drive down it. But you could walk. It didn’t have a sign saying that was forbidden, so that’s what I did. It was the perfect solution and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any monkey-see-monkey-do business that followed. Nope. My solitude (relatively speaking) sustained.
It was easy to get overawed by the immensity of the vistas. It’s a little overwhelming and sometimes challenging to put together a compelling and balanced landscape, but I slowed down and really tried to look and experiment.
One thing to remember if you visit is that you would shoot this desert like you would a snow scene – overexpose by a stop or so, that way you preserve the whiteness of the sand. And it really is white. Not really like snow since it doesn’t sparkle or reflect light the same way or take on the color of the sky so it can be a little more stark than a snow landscape.
Going to black and white seems like it would be perfect, but I didn’t do a lot of it. Mostly because there isn’t a lot of absolute black or white in the scenes. This one is close, but I wish the mountains had been darker; the angle of the sun lit them up. I actually darkened the blue value in Lightroom to get the shade down to something reasonable, but I’m still not sure it works well.
The sand is white because it’s gypsum and when formed it was not powered yet, which has happened by weather and wind. There are a few spots where the stone itself still exists in strange little outcrops that reminded me of Tatooine.
Even though it was early November, some plants were still flowering and you could hear them before you got close. Well, it wasn’t the plants specifically but the hundreds of bees feeding on the nectar. Everyone was so overwhelmed by their gorging that it was easy to isolate a few beauties. It was a little surprising they were so pristine this late in the season. At home the surviving butterflies are ragged at the end of summer.
It being so bright I hand held everything and left the tripod in the car. I went into this more casually than I do many photo sessions, but I still made an effort to create interesting views. Hope you enjoyed and can visit someday yourself. It’s amazing and a tremendous place to see.
Way back in November 2016 I went to New Mexico for a long weekend and one of the places I visited was Carlsbad Caverns. I love caves and really hit it lucky that I could bring my tripod down into the depths of the earth (on the self-guided tour). It helped a lot. A few years ago I visited similar (but much smaller) caves in Oregon where tripods were not allowed and oh the ISO I had to use! Here I stuck pretty much to 500 ISO which is a good compromise between having fairly quick shutter speeds (just for time’s sake) and noise.
No matter where you are, it’s always important to remember your pictures are secondary and to respect the rules and regulations around photography. No tripod means no tripod. No flash means no flash. Sticking to the trail and not putting a leg off means just that. That’s important because a bunch of jerks flouting the rules just make it harder for the rest of us. I think I goofed once on this trip and a ranger pointed it out, nicely, but firmly and I paid better attention. Eek!
So, here are some things that worked for me. Shooting in caves is always challenging whether you have a lighted system like at Carlsbad or unlighted like the Lava Caves in northern California. Paramount is dealing with the lighting. If the caves are lit like these, it’s in pockets, pools and slices. It isn’t uniform which makes for great texture, but hot spots where you will blow the highlights. With today’s cameras though, you can still underexpose and capture a lot of detail in the shadows, so I recommend just barely clipping the highlights. For me it was overexposing by about 2/3 of a stop overall.
Then in Lightroom I pulled the highlights down, increased exposure, waved the adjustment brush around a bit and things evened out without being too noisy. With images like these, having lots of texture, I find boosting the clarity helps emphasize that primary aspect.
Another challenge is white balance. No matter what light source you have (flashlight painting is fun if you get the chance) it will create color casts that aren’t natural to the stone. It’s amazing what light does to color and for the most part, the white balance in camera was ok, but my husband had a very neutral flashlight with him and I realized how warm the light was down in the rooms. So I cooled it off a bit in Lightroom, just so that it wasn’t overwhelmingly golden. I also dialed down the green tint and boosted the magenta just slightly.
Then there’s composition. Caves are intensely three-dimensional. There’s a lot to look at and most of it relies on the mind’s ability to separate shapes, color, texture, light and shadows. The camera isn’t good at doing all of those simultaneously. So at first I shot with an eye to what I was seeing. Only after time did I change that to what the camera could convey. Compare these two images. The first is a pool of water that has collected at the very bottom of the cave and I find it to be pretty abstract at first glance. You have to figure out what you’re looking at and to my mind that takes longer to do than the first one (since you already have the cave context for the pics, that helps a lot rather than going in cold).
So that was my experience in Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a true wonder of nature and I highly recommend visiting even though it’s in the middle of nowhere. The walk down is staggering (if you’re up to it, if not there’s an elevator, but walk if at all possible). Jaw-dropping formations and just the age of the whole thing really makes you realize how insignificant you, and all of humankind is. We’re just a blip. The cave is eternal.
Will it be shocking to admit I’m a uni-dimensional photographer? Yeah, I can hear you all gasping and muttering that it can’t be so.
It’s not as if I don’t admire or appreciate other forms of photography, like the shots below, but that I really don’t enjoy cities. They’re loud, crowded and smell awful. Lots of people thrive on the possibility of the unexpected you can have in a city, like some jerk on a bicycle almost running you down and then yelling expletives when you stepped into the bike lane to go around parked car (thanks Amsterdam!), but it’s the kind of stuff I just hate and can do without.
So what possessed us to go on vacation in three different European cities? Well, partially it was a great fare to Brussels. Partially it was the fact that we never leave the country. As great as the US is for its diversity of landscape, ecological environments and weather, we felt a bit insular about just traveling here. So off to Europe it was. And for the most part we enjoyed ourselves. We had good weather (damn was it ever hot – over 90 degrees F on several days), saw interesting sights and ate in some really good restaurants.
Photographically speaking, it took me a while to feel at all connected and in tune with what surrounded me. Mostly lots of other tourists, canals, bicyclists and tiny cars. I totally embraced the tourist thing, too, btw. No being coy with a camera, pretending to be unimpressed. No hiding my joy and amazement over something we’d never see in the US and hadn’t seen before. Nope, I went with it and took the camera almost everywhere.
When I first saw the bike and the fountain it was blocked by a parked car and then, when I was at the end of the street I noticed the car moving away and so pretty much ran back to get the shot before anyone else could park. Spaces in Brussels are coveted and really hard to get sometimes and competition is fierce. The space wasn’t vacant long.
That’s an underlying theme of my photographs – the bicycle. European cities are, by and large, not suited to cars, buses or trucks. Bikes are much more practical and nimble for the crowded streets. Cheaper, too.
Although there were scads of bikes for rent, we didn’t dare. Everyone is in a hurry, the streets are unfamiliar and we needed to really look at signs to translate them for meaning. Walking was enough. lol.
But then there’s the architecture and it is too captivating to zip by on a bike.
As you can see, I had to work with some intense light since we were out in the daytime. Because my husband has to put up with enough of my camera, I don’t go out a lot at night and I don’t interrupt dinner time even though it usually occurs during the best light. Call me lazy, but it isn’t that much of a sacrifice. We have so much fun wandering and exploring.
One of our favorite habits we picked up was going for afternoon frites. This was our favorite shop. It’s in Brussels near our hotel.
Oh are the fries good in Europe. So much better than here, where we fry them in rancid industrial oils instead of beef tallow.
On the whole, I think I could have done better with the camera. I wasn’t as able to adapt to new surroundings as I wanted to be. I’m used to being able to control the shot and take my time with set-up. With urban or street photography you have to be fast. The chaos was a bit overwhelming for us, too. A few times in Amsterdam I got really overstimulated and had to shut down…read, head back to the hotel for a glass of wine! It wasn’t so horrible that I wouldn’t repeat it though. I’d even go back to Brussels and Bruges one day, and not just for the fries!
Yeah. It’s been a dog’s age. I know. I’m a bad blogger. If you can guess the band that I snagged the post title from, you get…uh pictures of caves.
Anyway, here’s more from the Oregon/California trip. After Crater Lake, we decided to head to Lava Beds National Monument. For some reason we had it in our heads that it would be a lot like Lassen, but we were in for a surprise.
Lots and lots of caves. Very little supervision. Only one cave in the whole gigantic park has lights in it. And unless you catch a tour with a guide and that person’s pet cave project, there are none. You are on your own.
Awesome. We dig that and apart from the tour we went on, we only saw people one time when exploring the caves. It was so amazing. The intense darkness and silence were something I would love to experience again. A lot of people said they were afraid in the caves, but I never once felt anything like that. Just awe and humility.
Anyway…here’s Mushpot cave, the one with lights. It’s right by the visitor’s center and is a good starting point.
I was really glad I had my travel tripod with me. I was gonna need it! Basically all the easily accessible caves are on a loop and so you drive and park to each of them. Another good thing is my ultra-prepared husband and the fact that he had a couple of good flashlights with him. This next cave had a couple of natural skylights that allowed for some illumination, but the rest of it is in total darkness so photography would have been impossible without the flashlights.
The caves are made by tubes of lava as they exploded from the nearby volcano which is called the Medicine Lake Volcano. It is still active and last erupted approximately 950 years ago. As the lava flows across the desert floor, it cools and becomes hollow inside as the flow ends and the outside layers cool. The tubes eventually are covered entirely in lava and presto! Caves. Awesome, windy, bumpy, mysterious caves.
This one is called Golden Dome and the second shot will show you why more than this one. It is incredibly hard to show depth in these shots. The tunnels wind around and out of sight and vary a lot in height. We decided we were good with crouching and duck-walking, but without kneepads it’s a bad idea to crawl so we didn’t. This one is only about 5 feet high and the floor is really difficult to manage because it’s so uneven and strewn with loose rocks and rubble.
At a few points between these two shots, we’d stop and turn out all the lights and just sit. Unless you’ve experienced being underground like this I can’t even describe it to you. There isn’t silence like this anywhere on earth. No sounds at all. At all. No wind. No birds. No planes overhead. No cars in the distance. Just your own breathing and the pulse in your neck. And dark. There is no dark like under the earth dark. Pitch dark. Absolute dark. Words cannot describe it. You lose all sense of surroundings and have to rely on gravity alone to guide you. Not that I moved around much, it was too treacherous, but damn it was an amazing thing to sit in perfect dark and silence.
That’s the reason for the name. The rock becomes a rich, deep yellow color with splashes of green and even blue. Another big challenge for me was composition and focus. We had to keep shining the flashlights at the walls while I set up and framed. I locked the focus on the mid-distance and then we went dark for a couple of seconds and when the shutter opened we painted the walls, floor and ceiling with the flashlight beams. He would take a certain section of the cave and I another. After a few tries, I got the exposure down and just used manual settings for every shot. Color temperature varied hugely between the two flashlights and it was really hard to capture the true color of the rock. I did my best. Not all the shots translate though. It’s hard to have depth in these and so I have dozens of them that I can appreciate because I was there, but that if I was a stranger looking at them I’d wonder what the heck I was seeing.
During the time we explored Golden Dome we got a tiny bit turned around and had a moment of slight panic. A lot of the tunnel looks the same and there were loops and switchbacks and dead ends. And did I mention there are no lights, maps or blazes? Yeah. Once you’re down there, you’re down there. I can’t even imagine losing or breaking the flashlights. Or having dead batteries. The panic would be intense. Only later did we learn the way to tell if you’re heading in or out of a lava tube cave. It’s all about the smiley faces.
This next one is called Skull cave because of ancient bear skulls that were found at the bottom of it. Also at the bottom (there were I think four total staircases like these) is ice. Ice! It’s so deep that it never melts although now it is barricaded off because the constant traffic and soil tracked in by boots was causing it to melt. Other caves had already lost their ice, so this is the very last cave at Lava Beds that has intact ice. Very cool. Literally.
It was extremely hard to light and you can see the temperature difference between the two lights really easily in this shot. The ceiling is 80 feet high, making it the largest cave in the system. At least so far. Every year spelunkers find more caves. Despite it being in the middle of nowhere California, I’d go back. And bring kneepads.
Our next caving adventure was in Oregon and fell along more conventional lines. These caves are large, tall and open and are more what you think of when you think of caves. They have stalagmites and stalactites and are entirely formed of limestone. Check this out –
Apparently way back before it was a state park, it was privately owned and they used to have weddings on this spot. Kind of cool, but damn way to inconvenience your guests. Unfortunately you could neither explore on your own nor bring a tripod into these caves and so I had to crank the ISO and shoot basically wide open. Luckily my new lenses have a maximum aperture of 2.8 so it was manageable. Handheld underground, baby. Far out.
For this next shot, I put the camera on a rock wall and shot. This space used to be a speak easy during prohibition. Hundreds of bathtub gin drinkers would gather down there and line the staircases. Amazing.
Just behind me and to the left is a huge chimney formation –
Don’t they look like the formations on the mother ship in Aliens? OMG. They were jaw-dropping in their weirdness and intricacy. I’m guilty of holding up the tour group because I kept turning around and around in the space getting dizzy with the idea of the time involved in making these formations. So much time that you can’t fit it into human scale. A problem I would continue to have on this vacation only above ground.
So that’s our cave experience. We had no idea we’d spend so much time underground on this vacation, but we’d do it all over again. It’s so outside of the way we live our lives these days. And there isn’t much in the way of caving here in New England, so it’s especially weird for me. I loved it.
There’s an update. I hope not to be such a lazy jerk in future. Sorry for the lapse.
In September, my husband and I headed to southern Oregon on vacation. We’d never been there before and our modus operandi is to find an area that interests us and find out what we can see and do in that area. Southern Oregon has a lot to do and see and I think we tried to cram too much in. We ended up doing A LOT of driving – over 1200 miles! Phew. Our first destination was Crater Lake. It’s tourist central, yeah, but worth seeing and even though the light wasn’t especially good, I shot anyway. Dealing with harsh light on vacation is something I’m used to and on this trip I was especially glad for my new Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 lens. Instead of big vistas full of flat colors, harsh shadows and blown highlights, I decided to slice the landscape into smaller shots. The light still is what it is, but I tried to use it to bring up textures and geometry. Not sure if it’s a success or not, but here goes.
On the way from our hotel, we followed route 62 which runs close to the Rogue river and through a douglas fir forest. After a couple hours in the car, I was ready for a break so we stopped at this little park featuring some really great gorge formations on the Rogue River. The sun being high, it wasn’t suitable light for my normal river work, so I put the longer lens on and hunted for something interesting in the shade. To my delight I found these maiden hair ferns. I love maiden hair fern and had never seen it before outside of cultivation. I like the geometry in this shot and I think the square crop gives it some emphasis.
Finally we got to the park proper. The sun was still at an angle, but was heading for straight overhead soon. Glad I was able to catch these trees backlit with just a touch of mist. They’re on the rim of the crater left behind by an ancient volcano that holds the lake water.
Since my husband was sick, we didn’t do a lot of hiking. We followed the rim road and stopped fairly frequently to take in the views. Occasionally we got away from the parking areas where everyone else gathered to take pictures. Granted, there aren’t a lot of ways to shoot Crater Lake and this next shot is practically identical to the first picture ever taken of this majestic lake.
The island is called Wizard Island so what else can a Black Sabbath fan do? The crater that forms the lake was once a volcano. Oregon is home to a lot of ancient volcanic activity along the Cascade mountain range. Before it erupted, Mount Mazama was probably 12,000 feet high, the remaining caldera not so much, it collapsed and the lake is 1943 feet deep. The most powerful eruption was probably 7200 years ago. The rising magma and exploding gases caused the mountain to collapse, creating the crater that holds centuries of rainwater. Surprisingly, Mt. Mazama is not an extinct volcano and much like Mt. St. Helens, it could erupt again someday.
I couldn’t resist playing with the intense blue color of the water.
Another slice –
Of course as soon as I noticed Pumice Desert on the map, I knew we’d go check it out. Not much to explore, but I waited out the traffic for this shot. Thanks to Mt. Theilsen for adding terrific drama to my shot. And pointy-ness.
I really debated going to this little waterfall because of the light, but it was only a 2-mile hike on nice flat paths and when I got there I figured ‘what the heck’. I couldn’t get a really long exposure even though I used a neutral density filter and low ISO. Knowing to crank down the lens aperture results in image softness, I kept it within the sweet spot. It came out ok after a bit of Lightroom adjustment.
I also had a mini-panic that I’d left a lens cap here. Jogged back and checked. No lens cap. It was back in the car in a jacket pocket. Doh!
Anyway, our last stop at Crater Lake was Pinnacle Valley. It was really interesting and inspiring to see this formation. I love looking at examples of geologic time and how vast that is and how almost incomprehensible it is to us since we don’t live that long. These spires are called fossil fumaroles where volcanic gasses rose through a layer of ash, hardening the ash into rock. Weather, water and wind sweeps away the loose ash leaving these chimneys behind. I love how their shapes mimic the trees (mostly douglas fir). Again, the light was pretty harsh, but honestly, I’m not sure if any light would show these well. I tried to get some good shadows, texture and separation, but again, I don’t know if they convey the specialness of this location.
Some of these pointy bits are 100 feet high and Sand Creek, the waterway to cut the valley, hundreds further down. Sometimes getting too close to the edge was scary. Very steep. I loved looking out into the tops of the trees though. Monster douglas firs. Of course, as soon as we got into the redwoods, they didn’t seem so monstrous anymore, but damn, they were plenty big.
Anyway, that’s it for Crater Lake. I enjoyed my time there, but it wasn’t my favorite place we visited. More on that coming up as I process shots from more parks later in our week.
Hey all. I haven’t posted in a while, but today I’m back with some shots from last weekend when my husband and I flew to Ohio to spend a weekend with some friends. It wasn’t a photography trip per se, but I did shoot a little bit. We visited Killbuck Marsh which is a very large floodplain surrounded by farms. We didn’t spend a lot of time there though. We spent a bit more time at our friend’s ranch and so I’ve got a few shots of his neighbor’s ranch at sundown. Enjoy!
Ah that famous scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent enumerates the little differences between the US and Amsterdam. I had a similar experience recently and no, it didn’t involve Burger King either.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I practically live in the woods. It started when I was a kid. No amount of fairy tales would keep me out. (what was it with making the woods scary or having scary things happen in the woods all the time? Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, even the Three Pigs had a rough time of it there.) Anyway…I love the woods and so when I tagged along on one of my husband’s most recent business trips I knew that’s where I’d go on my day alone while he went to his meeting.
I decided to go to the Long Hunter State park just outside of Nashville. The trail I picked was called the Day Loop Trail and I thought it would be long enough to take up a few hours. Also I thought it would be interesting enough with parts overlooking the reservoir itself and the rest in the forest. After getting turned around a bit and taking a while to find the trailhead which isn’t in the main part of the park, I set off on my hike.
Timing couldn’t have been more perfect. First – the foliage was at its peak, second – the temperature and humidity were ideal, and third – I was basically alone. While hiking this 5-mile loop I only saw 3 other people. Perfect!
The first thing that struck me as different was the rocks. Well, duh. I’m used to granite. They don’t call NH the Granite State for nothing. The stuff is everywhere. Most mountain trails wind through long strings of boulders. Huge granite ledges and outcrops give the land its uneven character. In TN that granite is replaced by limestone. It is just as ubiquitous, but looks much different. A lot of it is carved by ancient winds and water and there are strange holes in some of it. The way it is worn away at the surface and can sometimes run in shelves and seams was different, too. After a while though, it was eerie not having miles and miles of stonewall accompanying me through the forest. In New England you can’t go ten feet without tripping over one. While our soils are fertile, the land is so strewn with boulders it has to be cleared before it can be tilled. Rock walls not only got the stupid things out of the way, but they also helped establish boundaries for land owners. A lot of land now set aside for conservation was once farmland so the walls are everywhere. Not so in this part of Tennessee.
The second thing that struck me was the undergrowth, or rather the lack of it (at least in this section of the park). I don’t say that there was NO undergrowth, but sometimes it seemed that way. I’m used to ferns by the thousands. Hobble bush. Blueberries and raspberries. Laurels of several varieties. Maple leaf viburnum. Witch hazel. All kinds of undergrowth make up the NH forest. So when I’d come across patches like these, it startled me –
Like I said, not all of it was bare, I found this glorious swath of vinca minor which must be amazing in the spring when it blooms –
So no ferns to photograph and weirdly, no mushrooms either. Plenty of trees though and while most of them were yellow, some weren’t –
Speaking of trees. Here’s the last thing that kind of freaked me out a bit. All through this part of the woods there wasn’t a single pine tree. Not one. No firs. No hemlocks. No pines. No spruces. No cedars. Well, ok, red cedar, but it’s really a mis-identified juniper so doesn’t really count. I didn’t see a single pinecone. Very, very strange for this northerner. Lots of deciduous like maple, oak, shagbark hickory and sycamore, but strangely no birches, aspens, poplars or beeches. Again, odd for this little gray duck.
Unfortunately, the light wasn’t great for views of the lake, but I did like the way some folks had tipped up these slabs of limestone –
In New England we stack up rocks along the trail (and especially on mountaintops) to make little cairns. People just love rocks and piling them up on each other. Funny.
Oh and here’s someone I ran into…well almost ran into on the trail.
She was so different from the orb weavers we have up here that I wished I could have photographed her closely and better, but the wind was relentless and so I had to go for a wide open, high-speed silhouette instead. I do wicked love that her jaws are silhouetted as well. Pure luck.
And so ends my wonderful, magical and eye-opening hike through some of Tennessee’s beautiful forests. Oh wait, let’s take one look back –
It’s been a “rough” four days. Rough only in a strict first world sort of way. I was without the internet at home for four days.
Yeah, we had a wicked noreaster come through and dump a foot or two of snow on us. Some got more, some got less, but a few million of us lost electricity and cable. If it happened a month later it wouldn’t have been so bad because more leaves would have dropped. Since so may were still on trees (especially oaks) we had tons of tree and branch damage to power lines. Lots of impassable roads and spoiled nature preserves. Bummer, but no injuries and no deaths except a few by carbon monoxide build up in homes from generator use. The people I heard about were using them correctly (outdoors, away from the house), but didn’t realize a window in the basement was open. That stuff is so deadly.
Anyway…I do have a generator wired to the house so I got to watch plenty of movies (all 3 Lord of the Rings which was a treat, I tell you), run the microwave, take hot showers and keep my toes toasty. Better than most I know, but the no internet thing was killing me at first. Then I got into a new routine and it wasn’t so bad. Still, I did miss it.
So here I am with a belated Halloween post for you. When we left Woodford Reserve in Versailles KY (the pronounce it Ver-sales, btw…oh my the French would be so appalled…it is SO American to do stuff like this…embarrassing, but that’s off topic). Anyway, when we left the distillery we took some back roads. We LOVE back roads. This is why –
I tell you I couldn’t stop and get out of the car fast enough. A train!!! Stuff like this just doesn’t exist in New England outside of barricaded train yards. OMG. I went right past the notices telling me I had to have a railway agent accompany me to the train and not to approach it at all. Bah. Who could keep away? Certainly not the locals who were wicked creative and put a haunted train together.
Not all the cars were dressed up this way, but a few were and we saw lights strung up and even a fog machine. Oh how I’d have liked to seen it at night.
Oh it was fun. And yeah, I had to get up into a couple of the cars. Obviously others had done so before me and didn’t die…or did they?
I was in Kentucky and Tennessee this past weekend. My husband had a seminar in Nashville on Monday and since he had to go down on Sunday anyway, we decided to go a day early and see what we could see. Having never been to either state before it was a new experience for both of us and one we’re likely to repeat. One reason is Kentucky bourbon. We’re both fans and so some bourbon tasting was definitely on the agenda. A friend of his suggested we take the back road to Woodford Reserve so we could see some distillery ruins. Oh how could I refuse? Unfortunately (or fortunately since they seemed really decrepit and dangerous) we couldn’t get into one and didn’t have time to trespass in the other. Here’s the one we couldn’t go into –
Old Crow Distillery –
To get all of these shots I had to put the camera on top of the chain link fence between strands of barbed wire. It was well over my head and I was very thankful for my flip and swivel LCD so I could see to compose.
Bourbon making evolved out of whiskey making pretty soon after it got started in Kentucky. Every current bourbon producer has its own story as to how bourbon was created but a few things are consistent. At first whiskey was a clear liquid made simply from corn mash. It was drunk all through the colonies and also used as a bartering product in Appalachia (leading right to the Whiskey Rebellion under the contentious administration of Jefferson and Hamilton). I didn’t get a sense of Kentucky’s participation in it, but here is where true American whiskey was born. Someone, somehow put whiskey in a barrel that had been burned. Exactly how it was burned is lost to us, but it was probably an accident. Shipping whiskey down to New Orleans took a long time; 5-6 months on average and by the time it arrived it had taken on the character, color and flavor of the charring inside the barrel. After a while people began to prefer it, asking for that whiskey from Bourbon county Kentucky, eventually shortening it to bourbon.
Just down the road from the ruins of Old Crow are the ruins of the Old Taylor distillery. In between are barrel houses upon barrel houses, many of which are used today by the Jim Beam company. When we got to Old Taylor we could hear voices from people trespassing by the barrel house and further up the sound of some power equipment; like a saw. There was a new, red pick up truck parked just inside the now open gates. Eventually someone came out and asked what we were doing there. He warned us that if we were caught inside the complex or even had our car parked near it, we could be ticketed or towed or both. Playing the tourist angle and introducing ourselves got us an invitation into what turned out to be a woodworking shop, ironically housed in the old cooperage. Deputy Sheriff Sandy was working on some plaques for the various law enforcement departments he does work for. He invited us to sit a spell and talk. We did.
He told us all about the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries and how the Old Taylor brand is being revived by the good people at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. It was closed down in the 1970s and left to sit. Barrel tracks, loading bays, mash cookers – all left behind. Even the timecards of the last shift workers were left in the clock house by the gates. Sandy went on to explain that Kentucky bourbon must first be made in the state, contain no less than 51% corn mash, distilled to 160 proof and no higher, be barreled for at least 24 months in new, charred, white oak barrels. Charring those barrels is a highly individual thing and ranges from just a few seconds to almost half a minute. Most bourbon spends far longer in those barrels; averaging 7-9 years.
Well, as much as it pained me to go (since I wanted to tour the ruins legitimately) we had to. Before we did though, Sandy told us about a soldier who is buried in the cemetery across the street from the distillery gates. I would have stopped there to shoot anyway (you know me and cemeteries), but knowing about this really old dude made it all the more special. Here’s his death notice in the Louisville and Nashville Christian Advocate 1853 –
JOSHUA McQUEEN born Baltimore. Co., Md., Oct. 15, 1746; died Franklin Co., Ky., April 17, 1853 in his 107th year; s/o Thomas and Jane McQueen; firstborn of five children; enlisted in American army and served 7 years during the Revolutionary War; among battles he was in: Germantown, Monmouth, Brandywine. “At Valley Forge, he was one of the sufferers in that memorable winter, when the fidelity of the soldier was thoroughly tested” during which time he was servant to Gen. /Nathanael/Green(e); md Margaret Baxter; had 11 children; about 1790 moved to Madison Co., Ky.; joined MEC 1792/93; wife died and he md Jemima Cornelison d/o John and Elizabeth Cornelison of Ky. who was a Baptist; moved to Franklin Co., Ky. 1832; to three miles below Frankfort, Ky. in 1842 where he died.
Wow. Just wow. Sandy himself bought and erected the modern stone you see here. No one knows exactly where Joshua is buried, but just knowing he’s been commemorated is a good thing.
Oh and before I go, here’s a working distillery – Woodford Reserve –
We got an excellent tour here. That building houses all their active production; shipping & receiving, bottling, yeast cooker, mash fermenters and 3 copper distillers themselves. Amazing and very labor intensive. Small batches is putting it mildly. The tour guide mentioned a nearby cemetery, so of course I had to go there, too. It’s directly across the road from the visitor center and had its own fascination –
In the back corner there is a stylized representation of what I think is a corn maiden. Corn being the biggest cash crop around Kentucky and a mandatory ingredient for bourbon, it’s not too surprising that images of corn appear everywhere; signs, gateposts and fences just to name a few.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Coming up – a Kentucky ghost train just in time for Halloween!
May in California is wildflower season and the high desert of the eastern Sierras is no exception. I took tons of photos, but due to the harsh light, relentless wind and time constraints (who can wait forever for the wind to die down on every single shot?) most of them are for my reference and remembrance only. Some did work out well though I wasn’t able to identify most of them. I had a book and have used the internet, but still their IDs elude me. If anyone definitely knows what some of these are, feel free to add a comment.
Most of these are unbelievably tiny and I can hardly believe they survive, much less thrive, in such seemingly harsh conditions. So different from the wildflowers in New England, but gorgeous none-the-less. I spent a lot of time oohing and ahhing over them. It was hilarious and I felt really bad that I kept saying ‘Just one more’ to my stalwart husband. He’s a gem, he is.
So, if anyone knows what these are, chime in.