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So over Christmas break, I had the chance to spend some good solid quality time with my best friend. As we both enjoy nature photography and animals, we chose to go to the Chattanooga Zoo together. I had not visited the place for several years, so I was excited to go again and see what updates had happened in my absence. It was a slightly chilly day, but we bundled up and had fun. It was great to use my telephoto lens again. Here are some of my favorite pictures!

 The tamarins were quite active, but the reflections made them hard to photograph. Still very cool to see these creatures.


 

I really, really liked this shot of the fairly clear tamarin with the reflection of the kid looking at it. Really helps to capture the idea of what a zoo is, to share wildlife up close with those who wouldn't otherwise get to see it. 

 The White-Nosed Coati was SO CUTE!!!!!!!









 Let sleeping bobcats lie...



 The cougar exhibit was perhaps my favorite exhibit of the whole zoo, plus the cougars themselves were quite active!

 I'm such a fine cat!

 Awww!!!
 Who, what, us? No, we're completely innocent... ;)
 Time for a stretch...

 Beautiful peacock!

 Above, some Francois Langurs. Below, sleepy snow leopards!


I really liked this Komodo Dragon!! Such a cool creature. The Deserts & Forests buildings were some of my favorites in the zoo. Very well designed.



 Rhinoceros Iguana above, and Fennec Fox below. 

 Roadrunner!

 ...and finally, the icon of the zoo, the African Crowned Crane.

 See zoo (you) next time!
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form.

In this last post, I'd like to share about my last full day in California. After the three intense day trips to San Francisco, it was nice to stay a bit more local. My uncle and I walked around the grounds of the California State Capital, then finished up at the incomparable California State Railroad Museum.

On my last visit to California several years ago, my uncle took me to tour the inside of the Capital, but we did not have much time at all to explore the grounds. This time we skipped the inside but spent a fun hour exploring the grounds. (Oh yes, and right before this, my uncle treated me out to a DELICIOUS breakfast place!!!!). It was very nice; beautifully kept up and some great memorials to veterans of different wars. There was also a fantastic memorial to California firefighters. I thoroughly enjoyed completing the virtual cache there!








 This tree as a seedling went to the moon!!

 I really, really liked the firefighters memorial!!





We wrapped up our adventures with visiting the California State Railroad Museum. I haven't been to any other railroad museum, but this one has got to be one of the best. Just an utterly amazing collection of railroad engines and rolling stock related to the American West, particularly the Transcontinental Railroad (fun fact: the Museum is located like only one block away from where the Transcontinental Railroad had its' western terminus!!). First engine of the CP, first and last engine of the SP, SO MUCH AMAZING STUFF when it comes to California's relationship with the railroads. On this trip my uncle took me to many places that I had never been to before; the RR Museum was one of the few places I had visited before, actually quite often when I was a kid. It was really fun to go back again and see that everything still holds up. Great introductory film and fantastic guided tour, we got a "private" tour since we arrived when the museum first opened up that day!!


 Wahoo! I'm a kid again!! :D





















After we finished at the Railroad Museum, it was time for lunch and we headed back home. Enjoyed some last treasured moments with family and extended family, then 3am the next morning I awoke to fly back to grad school in Michigan.

I had the chance to see a really cool cross section of Northern California courtesy of my aunt and uncle, but most of all, it was just plain fun hanging out with them in real life again. It was a really awesome trip!!
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form.

One year ago today...'twas the third day in a row that my uncle and I made that two-hour commute from Sacramento to the Bay Area. By this point, it was old hat! But I must admit, that both my uncle and I looked at each other when we left at 7:30am and were like, "We're so glad that this is the last day we're doing this!" Three consecutive all-day trips from Sac to SF definitely took their toll! But the tiredness definitely did not diminish our enthusiasm for another exciting day playing tourist together :D

The main destination of the day was the USS Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum. I was excited to visit not only because it was an aircraft carrier, but also because it was the ship that recovered Apollo 11!! It was very interesting to walk around, see the planes, and hear from docents how everything worked - both with regards to the machinery and also with regards to what life was like. I especially enjoyed going up to the island! We also got to see the helicopter that picked up Gemini IV (McDivitt & White), and the Mobile Quarantine Facility for Apollo 14. After spending several hours on board, my uncle and I disembarked and drove north to Martinez. This is where the famed naturalist John Muir lived, and his home is now a national park. Another stamp, another video, another awesome experience!!! Really, really enjoyed touring his home and imagining what his life was like. An especial highlight was seeing his writing desk!!





After that, my uncle and I called it a day...and when we walked in the door that night, my aunt commented that for the first time, I actually looked tired! True! Anyways, following are some of my favorite pictures from the day. I hope you enjoy! 


 On a guided tour in the island.
 Captain's chair!
 Cool planes on the flight deck!



 I really like that direct angle and bright colors of this photograph.

 This is the Gemini IV recovery helicopter.
 The Apollo 14 MQF.
 Here are some of the memorabilia from the Apollo 11, and later Apollo 12, recoveries.

 John Muir's home!!
 Dramatic lighting.
The writing room!!!
Really a beautiful home.







The plants were so pretty!





I hope you enjoyed my photos!

See you tomorrow...

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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form.

It was January 1, 2018. I had been having an utterly fantastic time on vacation! Just yesterday my uncle took me all over San Francisco, and today we were going just north of the Bay Area to Point Reyes National Seashore. Once again, it was going to be around a two-hour commute; and all said and done we actually drove three hours because we had to drive for an hour in the park to get to the lighthouse, where we were going. 

It was roughly a 14-hour day trip to San Francisco, and I was up total for around 16-17 hours. Today, we slept in till 6am...only had to leave at 7am!!!!!! ;D It was so fun to watch the sun rise as we drove along; by this point, the commute was getting quite familiar! Though we did veer slightly to the north, as opposed to downtown SF. It was beautiful, crisp, clear...new day, new year, I couldn't imagine a better way to start 2018 off than by visiting a national park with my uncle!! As we drove along, we went from clear to fog, clear to fog, clear to fog...I honestly had no idea what to expect at the coast. Oh well, I was determined to have fun no matter what! We arrived at the visitor center parking lot a little prior to 10am, bought our bus tickets, and boarded the white beast for the ride out to the lighthouse. At least at the bay right in front of the visitor center, it was an absolutely gorgeous view. 



















 It was amazing all the green that was there...and then PEEP!! There's the ocean!!! SO. COOL.


 Above, a cool little burrowing owl. Below, a bunch of bovines. I much preferred the bird to the cowls ;)

 We got out to the over look by the lighthouse, and MAN!! I could not believe my eyes. Great weather and the postcard-perfect, iconic view of the park. Waves crashing upon the shore...wow! So cool. Stuff like this just doesn't happen to me!! Hands down this was my favorite view, favorite pictures of the entire trip.






 Next up was the visitor center, complete with passport stamp and cool exhibits about the ocean!

 A grey whale skull.
 Now to get our exercise, 300+ steps down to the lighthouse!!

 So rocky!!! Definitely would not want to be down here when it was windy or bad weather...
 Beautiful, though.








 300 steps down, 600 on the way back up... ;)
 The second stop, after the lighthouse, was a short trail to an overlook with elephant seals. There were super cool volunteers who told us all about the seals (yay from biologist me!!), complete with scopes to view the seals up close. So cool!!

 Photographers from around the world come to Point Reyes to take pictures of this cypress tree tunnel. And since my uncle and I were driving right past it, of course, we had to stop and take photos too!!
 We wrapped up our time at Point Reyes at the main visitor center and enjoyed the exhibits. I really liked all the info about the discovery of this area of California, and the stuffed animals they had too!!






It was a really, really, really fun day. Hands down one of the best days of my life.

See you tomorrow!
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form. 

In this article, I'd like to share about when my uncle and I visited San Francisco proper - the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point, and SF Maritime NHP. It was really fun to visit these national parks and learn of the history and culture that San Francisco is. It was honestly hard to believe that I was seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in person - what a behemoth! I particularly enjoyed the exhibits at Fort Point on soldier life and bridge construction. The architecture of the fort was particularly appealing to me photographically speaking. I hadn't realized that the Golden Gate Bridge is LITERALLY built over the fort!!



I had wanted to visit SF Maritime NHP for a long time and was thrilled when my uncle gave me that opportunity. The visitor's center was absolutely top-notch, and I enjoyed going on board several authentic vessels. One of them was even named "Ukiah", the town where my grandparents used to live! Later, my uncle and I found the oldest geocache in San Francisco, a big bucket in the middle of a public garden.

We wrapped up everything by watching sunset just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in an area called the Marin Headlands. Combined with visiting Muir Woods earlier in the day, it was an exhilarating, exhausting, but incredibly fun day!! Especially because I got to experience these places with my uncle. It was great material to film and photograph, and I also had lots of fun getting national park passport stamps. Following are some of my favorite photos!















 The lighting was really cool at the fort.
 Really cool angle!!
 Nice lighthouse.
The Pacific Ocean...first time seeing it in 12 years!!


 This is one of the best visitor centers I have ever been to. Each room/section talked about a different period in San Francisco's history, and of course, the effect shipping and trade had on the city.








 This is the C. A. Thayer, a really cool ship with quite the storied past. Served in the first half of the 20th century (and go check out my YouTube channel if you want to learn more!).
 No apologies - I absolutely LOVED playing with angles here!!!






 Across the bridge once more, another cool national park to check out! I enjoyed learning about the different people groups who have lived in this area.




 What a beautiful sunset! :)


There's that famous view!!

***

It was a fantastic day. After the sunset it was a two-hour drive back to Sac in the dark, but not without a stop at Chipotle for supper, thanking God for a fun day and incredible year. I honestly cannot believe how much I got done in 2017!!
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form. 

One year ago today: hands down, unequivocally, one of the best days of my life!!! Due to a variety of logistical factors, Uncle Doug and I decided to spend December 31 exploring downtown San Francisco. My primary goal was to visit Muir Woods National Monument, a beautiful coast redwood forest that is around half hour north of the Golden Gate bridge. Secondary goals, if at all possible, included visiting Fort Point National Historic Site right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park nearby. By day's end, Doug and I not only visited all three parks, but also nabbed San Francisco's oldest geocache, caught a sunset in the Marin Headlands, and shot a ridiculous amount of photos and video. Most importantly though, we just had a fantastic time hanging out together!




I took so many photos in San Francisco that I will be breaking this day into multiple articles. You'll have to wait later today to read more!

First up? Muir Woods. It was absolutely BREATHTAKING, and definitely where I left my heart! ;) Let's just say that my uncle redefined for me what "day trip" means ;) (I've never gone two hours away before on a day trip!!) Muir Woods opened up at 8am. From what I hear it's one of the most popular attractions in the Bay Area, and I wanted to walk through that forest with my uncle, but minus as many other people as possible. When my uncle offered to leave Sacramento at 6am, I needed no further invitation to say "yes" ;) So, up at 5 and out by 6... :D :D :D

Muir Woods is not too far from the town of Mill Valley which is right off of 101. The main roads go through the geographical gaps...the towns are built upon the ridges and hills! I always find fascinating the topography of land from where I live, to a well-known location. I know home, I know pictures of all the well-known landmarks at the famous place, but the route between is unknown. I guess my uncle's GPS was trying to take us the most direct route. It led us up this winding, almost one-lane road up the eastern side of this ridge, then down the other side as we descended into the valley where Muir Woods is. It definitely made for some memorable moments. Lots and lots of curves!! And then, poof! There it is. Like a pocket, a treasure, hidden away in this valley. We arrived by 7:45am and started our walk through the woods before most everyone else. That's how it was for the whole two hours we were there; being slightly ahead of the rest of the pack really enhanced our experience.

I'm going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking here. Not many people or places leave me speechless, but Muir Woods does. It's one of the three most beautiful places I have ever visited, along with Point Reyes and Cades Cove. Mesa Verde is also pretty high up on the list!





















I hope you enjoyed my pictures!
See you later today...
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form. 

One year ago today, my second full day in the Sunshine State, was a good day of rest and relaxation, compared to our other days! In the morning I went to church, then in the afternoon visited with some good friends whom I had not seen for many years. Afterward, my uncle offered to take me to visit Sutter's Fort State Historical Park - a fun destination that was not a far drive away at all! For those of you who don't know, Sutter's Fort was a major destination on the California Trail, and owned by the guy who owned the mill where gold was discovered. Gold was discovered up in Coloma, but it was verified to be gold in Sutter's Fort. At any rate, it's a super cool place regardless of what aspect of American history you are into, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time. It very much reminded me of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida. Photographically speaking, I was excited to visit Sutter's Fort during evening golden hour! Following are some of my favorite shots...


 It was lots of fun to walk around and see the sights.




 I particularly enjoyed looking inside the various rooms.



 This was a scale model of the fort that I really liked.

...and here my uncle caught me in action ;)

See you tomorrow...
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What's happening: One year ago I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in northern California playing tourist. I started writing this blog soon after the trip ended, and as I enjoyed myself so much, I have decided to write about my trip experiences in blog form.

Today I would like to share about the fun times my uncle, cousin, and I had visiting gold country. We visited two state parks: Marshall Gold Discovery, and Empire Mine. As you might imagine, the first is the actual site where gold was first discovered and the gold rush began. Empire Mine is the site of what was once one of the largest gold mining operations in California.

Marshall Gold Discovery was one of the two top spots that I had really wanted to go to - so fun to go there on the first day! I guess I had never really thought about what the site of that big gold rush discovery looked like, or if it was preserved at all. I was so happy to find out that it was preserved, and one of the nicest state parks I've ever visited, too! Fantastic visitor center, a really cool lineup of old buildings, and of course, the walk down to the American River where gold was first discovered back in 1848. Oh and we also found a really cool geocache under the back steps of the schoolhouse!

Well without further adeiu, here are the photos!

 Lovely, lovely mountains surround the area.
 First up was the schoolhouse! (Yeah, evidently it wasn't REALLY Christmas break... ;D)
 If you look closely, you might spy a geocache!
 I thought this corn husk doll was a real nice addition to the window.
Just one of the several really nice historic buildings in the park. It really felt like an old fashioned town, all lined up on the street...

 There were some very nice diaramas and informational signage in the museum!


 And the famous spot where James Marshall first discovered that nuggest of gold. Absoluetly beautiful view, and lots of fun historical markers to read!




 Last stop in the park was to drive up a bit of a mountain where we had this beautiful view. Standing guard there was a great statue of James Marshall himself (see below). Oh, and not surprisingly we found another geocache!


Then it was onto Empire Mine State Historic Park. There was a beautiful home we toured, then onto the gold mining buildings. We even got to descend and see the top of one of the chutes that the miners would traverse on their daily commute down. Deep, dark, steep and scary! But cool to see when I'm safely on the OTHER side of the bars! ;)



 It was really fascinating to learn about all the varied industries that supported the gold mining business.




 I really like the lighting in these shots (above) with the lighting on the smoke, and (below) just the light overall...really nice coming in from the side and bathing the otherwise dark and dusty contents in some fresh sunshine again!




 What a fun place!
Per my memory it was about an 8-hour day trip. Absolutely fantastic day - I mean, if visiting the site where gold was first discovered is not on my top-10 list of places I've ever filmed, I don't know what is!! Certainly good and long day. But I didn't know at the time that this was only the beginning!
See you tomorrow.
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It's really hard for me to believe that it's been one year now since my big exciting trip out to California, to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins. As I started this blog shortly after the trip, I'd like to take the opportunity to, over the next week, write blog posts of my CA trip adventures, one year to the day later!

***

My alarm woke me up at 4am. I had spent a wonderful ten days with my family on my first visit home since starting grad school, and honestly, the time flew by a lot faster than I had anticipated. Prior to my time in Tennessee, I thought that the only big exciting happy thing for me would be going to California, but I guess absence makes the heart fonder...it was so fun to spend time with my family in my old stomping grounds, for Christmas no less! Alas, a great time but it was time to go. I was SO EXCITED to see my relatives in California but also sad to leave my family in Tennessee!

I remembered the day prior, my uncle and I had texted back and forth:

Me: "Hey Uncle Doug, I was thinking, I'd really like to come out to California. By any chance do you have any free rooms in your house?"

Doug: "Actually I do. When would you like to come out?"

Me: "How about tomorrow, for a week?"

Doug: "Sure! I'll pick you up from the airport!" ;)

I was dressed in my yellow Southern hoodie and blue Cades Cove hat. Still quite sleepy that morning, I turned on my video camera and gushed out as enthused as possible:

"Guys! I'm so excited! Today I'm gonna board a plane in Chattanooga and fly out to Sacramento to see my aunt, uncle, and cousins. California here I come!

Soon after I hopped in the car with my dad, as I needed to be at the airport by 5:15am. I shot a few shots of the airport exterior...

***

"Something inside of me..."

***

...then it was time to say goodbye to one brother and say hello to another. The security lines were short (per usual, one of my favorite things about flying out of CHA) and soon I was eating my apple-and-peanut-butter sandwich while waiting for my 7:15am flight to Atlanta. I noticed that the Christmas tree was still up, despite it being three days past the holiday. I didn't mind. The small terminal was horseshoe-shaped. Gate agents were busily double checking everything while the pilots and support personal were readying our metallic, new-fangled species of bird. Today it would be a CRJ900. Passengers huddled in small groups: the solo travelers, the young families, and the business travelers all having their varied habits.

***

"...Knows there is surely more than this / Echoes of eternity all around us..."

***

I was one of the first down the jet bridge. It really felt like I was beginning to leave town. After what seemed forever, everyone was loaded and luggage secured. It was a grey day outside, but I couldn't have been more excited. My excitement really grew palpable when our plane turned over all those white stripes and began accelerating.

***

"Something inside of me

Knows there is surely more than this

Echoes of eternity all around us

There's music within my soul

I'm more than these flesh and bones I know



Whispers of a destiny deep inside us..."
***


We quickly ascended above the clouds, into the clear, blue air of early morning. I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. Soon we landed in Atlanta, taxing past that famous hotel, "Fly Delta Jets" sign, and iconic control tower. My Sacramento flight was clear across the airport at the end of a completely different concourse, so I definitely got the "full experience" of riding the tram, up and down escalators and navigating through tons and tons of people. But let me tell you, finally sighting the sign for the flight to "Sacramento, CA" and knowing that I would be on that flight, was so so very exciting!!





I was pleasantly surprised that the captain, prior to takeoff, came down the aisle and greeted all of us. I was also excited, I believe I was on a 737, anyways, it was big enough to have the screens in the back of the chair in front of you and I was super excited to follow our flight path! It had all sorts of other interesting information, like time elapsed, elevation, speed, and time until arrival (my favorite metric!).


***


"This beating heart

I was made I was made for You

My God evermore evermore

My soul, my soul sings for You"

***

We once again crossed those amazing white stripes. The engines roared to life. Up, up, and away we went, leaving Atlanta, the southeast, and indeed the entire East behind. It was a long flight, 5.5 hours. There were all sorts of scratches on my window, so I ended up getting better photos (my phone did not autofocus on the scratches) than video (my video camera did focus on the scratches!). Oh well. Still got some pretty epic footage of the takeoff. Tracked the plane on my screen all across America. It was pretty clouded in America that day, but west of Texas things really cleared up. I greatly enjoyed seeing the red rock country of Utah and Nevada. At long last, the snowy Sierra Nevadas appeared, and not long after that we were preparing for arrival. HALLELUJAH!





Landing in the middle of the Central Valley was amazing, being in the middle of all the farmland after so much desert and then the brief mountains. Plus we were getting closer and lower to the ground. When we landed, I honestly couldn't believe I was in California! We docked at the same gate that I've always come into Sacramento at, and right away I saw the beloved Sacramento "River" that is carved into the floor. And yes, just like a kid I walked in the "river"! (sorry not sorry couldn't help it! ;) )

***

"My life be on Your altar God
My every breath exalting You
My life be on Your altar God
This heart like a drum beating strong for You
 
Oh, this beating heart! This beating heart!
This beating heart
Like a drum, it will beat for You 
Like a drum, it will beat
My God evermore evermore
My soul, my soul sings for You"

***

I once again turned on the video camera, "Guys! I made it here to Sacramento! I'm so excited, let's go have fun!" Took a few pictures, then headed out of security. Was about to take a few pictures of the ceiling decorations and text my uncle, when all at once I glimpsed my uncle at the bottom of the stairs. Who cares, all ideas of more photos went out the window!! I raced down that escalator with a grin as wide as the state of Texas on my face...


***

"My soul sings to You
My soul
My soul sings to You!"

***

It was so fun chatting together on the ride from the airport to my uncle's house, and even more so once I was able to reacquaint myself with my aunt and cousins. One thing I noticed right away was how different the trees are in California as opposed to Michigan or Tennessee. Anyways, we had a great supper and in general, had a ball catching up. Enjoyed touring a local park, the flowers and pioneer statue there, and finding the first geocache of the trip. The other main thing we did that evening was plan out our time together for the week that I was there. At the end of the week, there was just one conclusion: it was going to be an EPIC week!!

See you tomorrow...

Flying Across America to California! - YouTube
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Well, with the upcoming winter weather system and all, I knew that the last several days' worth of good weather would be the last time I could head out to Warren Dunes before the end of 2018. The thing was, I was in the midst of finals study, so as today I finished finals (YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), I headed on out. Even though the forecast said it was going to be mostly cloudy.

It felt really, really great to get on out there again after almost two months of not going out - last month I chose to go to Dowagiac Woods and the Potawatomi Zoo instead. Only one other car was there, two people walking down on the beach. I first climbed the little hill right between the parking lot and the beach, and to my great delight found that while it was cloudy most everywhere else, right around the setting sun there was a small patch of nice blue sky. Well, the sun was shining through the clouds to be specific. Anyways, the sun shone like a dream on a little river/creek that fed into the lake, and I had a blast taking photos. I had not been this far south on the beach for some time. It was a cold, cloudy, and brief visit, but I had a great time and here are some of my favorite pictures to share with you! :)

~Austin

 Loved the grasses.
 So, so beautiful. Yeah guys, winter in Michigan this year has been really rough ;)

The sun's reflections on this little river was my main focus of this trip; it was enjoyable playing around with various compositions. 


The river almost looks bigger than it really is in this shot above.
 And now onto the beach proper. Love the reflections in the surf!!

 Which of these photos is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! :)


Day is dying in the west...
And finally a self-portrait. See you next time!!
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