Yesterday, I had the honor of being the photographer for the Heroes for Freedom Golf Tournament in the Woodlands, Texas. This event raises money for Rolling Thunder who are comprised of a group of veterans who continue to serve their Country by helping other veterans.
My friend Tim Stanley helped me as we took photos of the Golf Tournament, Dinner and Awards.
It was a great event and I am looking forward to being a part of this event next year.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I took the opportunity to visit Dismals Canyon near Phil Campbell, AL. I have family in Huntsville, so it was just a short drive away. I had seen pictures taken at Dismals Canyon and was intrigued by the beauty of what I had seen, so I figured I would check it out for myself.
My son and I set out to Dismals Canyon on Black Friday. While everyone else was dealing with lines of shoppers, we figured we would go for a walk in the woods. But, I was not prepared for what I would find once I was there.
My son and I arrived at Dismals Canyon and we did not see anything spectacular on the way there. Actually, the scenery was just about as mundane as any other drive on the highway.
My expectations were dropping as we arrived to a small parking lot and I thought, “Is this it?”
But, once we started to descend into the canyon, the landscape was transformed. It was as if we had been transported to another world. You are greeted by a waterfall and a stream that makes its way through the canyon. There are trees growing out of rocks and ferns hanging on the stone walls of grottos. This canyon is quite spectacular actually, almost as if it had been made as a movie set for Lord of the Rings or something similar. you definitely forget that you are in Northern Alabama.
My son and I walked around the canyon floor awestruck by the simple beauty that surrounded us. The leaves were still turning and colors of green, red, yellows and browns were painted above and below us. There are rocks that have broken apart that must be 3 stories tall and they are leaning on each other to form grottos that are just spectacular.
Of course, the one area that gave us a good laugh was an area on the trail called “Fat Man’s Misery.” Well, I proved why it is so aptly named. I thought I was going to get stuck trying to squeeze through there on the way out.
After a great day of exploring and shooting in the canyon, we left very grateful that we had chosen to visit.
I would highly recommend visiting Dismals Canyon if you are going to be in the area. It is certainly worth your time. I am looking forward to going back and taking the night tour to see the dismalites.
The Four Horsemen of the Photopacalypse Ride Again!
Recently, I got together with fellow photographers Andy Crawford, Tim Stanley and Jeremy Mancuso to go on a photography trip that we call the Photopacalypse. It all started when Tim, Jeremy and I were planning a trip to New Orleans. I met Andy Crawford and a friendship developed between the four of us.
This year, we ventured out west of Austin and visited Pedernales Falls State Park, Luckenbach, Fredericksburg and Austin. My friend Susan Carter invited us to visit the Longhorns that her brother has at the Blue Ridge Ranch in Llano, TX. Along the way, we stopped off at my favorite vineyard and winery, Perisso’s Vinyards in Burnet, Tx. Of course, we also stopped in Austin so that Andy could get shots of the skyline.
Pedernales Falls State Park
When we arrived at Pedernales Falls State Park, we were greeted with the rugged terrain of the Texas Hill Country. This is where East meets West in Texas. The ground is rocky, dry and trees dot the hills among cactus. The Pedernales river cuts through the valley and cuts back and forth through the fallen rocks.
Pedernales Falls State Park was a great place to kick off this year’s Photopacalypse as we climbed the rocks and enjoyed the scenery. Andy disappeared for a while, walking upstream much further than I was prepared to commit to. I am looking forward to seeing the pictures that he got up that way.
It never fails, no matter where we go, we all walk away with something different.
The second morning of the Photopacalypse, we headed out to Luckenbach, Texas. Many people recognize Luckenbach, Texas from the song that was performed by Merle Haggard. While we did not find Willie, Waylon and the boys, we did find a bike rally. The bike rally was a great opportunity to walk around and get some unique shots.
Of course, I was there to get shots of the old Post Office in Luckenbach as well as the other fixtures in the smallest city in Texas. I visited the Snail Creek Hat Co. and took interest in shooting some of their hats. They sell Palm Leaf hats at the Snail Creek Hat Co. and the staff can shape, stretch or clean hats of all types. The people who work here have hattitude and a warm smile, but read the signs or they will playfully swat you with a hat.
Blue Ridge Ranch
I was updating my Facebook during the trip about the Photopacalypse and my friend Susan Carter let me know that she was in nearby Llano at her brother’s Longhorn Ranch. While I am an Aggie, I am not above going to a great ranch to get shots of champion Longhorn bulls.
The Blue Ridge Ranch is a beautiful spread of open land with free roaming Longhorn bulls and a Buffalo named Susu. Susu did not feel very photogenic, but we did get some of the Longhorns to hang out with us for a while. I have every intention of going back to Llano when the Bluebonnets are blooming to get more pictures of these beautiful beasts.
Since we were in the area and I love wine, I dragged the guys over to Perisso’s Vineyards and Winery. During a photo trip with Jeremy several years ago, we had stopped into this vineyard and gotten some great shots of grapes on the vine. This year, we visited a couple months too late to see the grapes on the vine, but they had grapes in the bottle; which is better in my book.
I sampled some of their wines while the guys took pictures of the wine casks and bottles of wine. The owners of the this Vineyard and Winery were on hand and despite having no appointment or arrangements in advance, they gave us a tour of their facility. I can’t say enough about the folks that run this place, it is one of my favorite places to go in the Hill Country. Did I mention that their wine is simply amazing?
City of Austin
The last stop of the Photopacalypse was the City of Austin. Being an Aggie, it took a lot of courage to enter the campus of the University of Texas and take photos. Luckily, I made it out before their Aggie alarm bells went off. I got a great shot of the Littlefield Gateway and learned an epic story about the Littlefield Gateway. Read more here about the Littlefield Gateway…
Next Year’s Photopacalypse
While this year’s Photopacalypse is over, that only means that we will be planning the next trip soon. I am looking forward to scouting some locations for our next journey and if you have any suggestions of where we should go, please send me your ideas.
This past weekend, I visited the University of Texas campus and learned some more Texas history. One of the great things that I love about travelling and taking photos is that I learn so much along the way. This past weekend was another trip where the “Four Horseman of the Photopacalypse” (Tim, Andy, Jeremy and myself) set out to get pictures from across the Lone Star State.
Sometimes it is while I am on a trip that I learn a great story behind one of the subjects of my photoshoot. Other times, it is when I am researching what I am going to write for a description for the photo. I have passed by the Littlefield Gateway at the University of Texas many times, but I was not aware of the history behind it until I came home to research a bit before writing a description for the photo.
The Littlefield Gateway is on the south end of campus and faces the Texas Capitol building. While it is a major landmark on the campus of the University of Texas, many people don’t realize that it also has a somewhat entertaining story behind its construction and the underlying feud between two regents.
It seems that two regents of the University of Texas had somewhat of a rivalry with one another, one regent George Littlefield, served with the Confederacy; the other regent, George Brackenridge, was a Union sympathizer and war profiteer who smuggled cotton to the North. To add to their disdain for one another, they had the same middle name, both being named for George Washington – so you have George Washington Brackeridge and George Washington Littlefield.
The rivalry between these two is what legends are made of, two wealthy men on Board of Regents at the University of Texas who ultimately want the best for the school that they support, but yet hate one another.
As the University of Texas began to outgrow its original forty acre campus, Brackenridge donated a large tract of land along the Colorado river known today as the “Brackenridge Tract”. This donation was meant to not only allow the campus to grow, but also carry his legacy with the University. Ultimately, Brackenridge was going to purchase another one thousand acres and he wanted the University of Texas to move to that property.
When Littlefield saw this strategy by Brackenridge, he decided to outflank his opponent by having a grand entrance built at the south end of the campus in order to anchor the campus in its current location. After all, Littlefield had a house just across the street from the University of Texas campus and he was not about to have the University move away to be placed on the “Brackenridge Campus.”
Littlefield enlisted the services of an Italian born sculptor named Pompeo Coppini and instructed him to design something with the figures of Southern History and people important to Texas. When Coppini presented his design for a grand entrance, Littlefield told him that it was more than he was able to pay for, so they compromised and Coppini agreed to build a fountain instead.
After the deal was approved by the University of Texas Board of Regents, Littlefield became ill and with his failing health, feared that upon his death, Brackenridge would find a way to still move the campus. So prior to his death, Littlefield changed his will to include a $500,000 to build a new Main Building, $300,000 and land for a woman’s dormitory and another $250,000 for the Littlefield Gateway; contingent on the University staying in it’s current location for another 8 years. Just before his passing, Littlefield also included his Mansion across from the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s interest.
Brackenridge was unable to match the gifts that Littlefield had made and instead of being able to achieve his campus on the riverfront of the Colorado River, he conceded defeat. Brackenridge fretted about money and grew seriously ill, dying only a month after Littlefield in December of 1920.
After their deaths, a bill asking to move the campus was defeated and the University of Texas stayed where it began. Littlefield had won.
Many people probably have not noticed, but on the brass door leading to the pump room on the back of the fountain there is a memorial to the 84 students of the University of Texas that lost their lives in World War I. The inscription in the marble along the back of the railing reads “Brevis a natura nobis vita data est, at memoria bene redditae vitae Sempiturna,” translates as, “Short is the life given to us by nature, but the memory of a life nobly surrendered is everlasting.”
So there it is, a hatred fueled battle between two rich men resulted in the construction of one of the most iconic landmarks in Austin at the University of Texas – the Littlefield Gateway.
As Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know, the rest of the story!”
Many of you who know me, know that my brother Bradley is a super cool guy and has been with the Houston Police Department for over 16 years. I wanted to put something together to show my appreciation for everything that Bradley does. In addition to being a cool big brother, he is also a great dad to his kids and a dedicated police officer. So I decided to put together an Epic Surprise.
The Story Behind this Epic Surprise
With all of the negativity surrounding law enforcement, I thought it would be really sweet to pull off an epic surprise party for my brother and build him something special. I got the idea for this project in November of 2015 when I was taking my son to the range. I was thinking about some of the cool things that my brother has done for me in the past and I came up with the idea that I would build him a basic patrol rifle. As the idea developed over time, it grew into something larger than I had originally imagined.
I started acquiring parts for the build starting in January 2016 and with each passing month, bought another piece that was needed in order to complete the build.
The first piece that I acquired was the Spikes Tactical Crusader lower. My friend Ben “Mookie” Thomas and the other guys at Spikes Tactical make some of the best AR-15 receivers available today.
Of course along the way, I had plenty of time to think about how I would pull off this epic surprise for Bradley, so I finally decided on shooting a video. Then, I got the idea that maybe I could find people to help me out. When I asked Capt. Clay Higgins, he was quick to respond with a big “Yes! I would love to!” Capt. Higgins is just a salt of the earth all around good guy and both Bradley & I respect him, so it was really huge when he said that he would help.
A good friend introduced me to someone who was able to obtain some video from R. Lee Ermey commenting on Bradley’s epic surprise and that was pretty awesome! “The Gunny” is every Marine’s hero, so to have him involved was a true blessing.
Then, another friend was able to get a shout out from Michael Biehn, which was super cool too!
As this all came to a head, the rifle had become more than just a simple patrol rifle. I couldn’t just go with standard parts, I wanted to get the best barrel, a better Bolt Carrier Group, some bones for the rifle and then of course, I ended up getting optics.
Along this journey, I met Gerald Courville of Laser Edge Engraving and I have to tell you, his engraving is amazing. That man can engrave just about anything. On top of that, Gerald is just a really nice guy who was great to work with. I will be taking more guns back to his shop in the future… Maybe even a Yeti cup.
None of this would have been possible without help from many folks, mainly LaRue Tactical and Palmetto State Armory. Both LaRue and Palmetto State Armory were just as excited about his build as I was.
In my opinion, LaRue Tactical makes the best mounts in the World. You know how the old saying goes, “Buy Once, Buy LaRue.” When LaRue Tactical heard what I was up to, they readily jumped in and wanted to be involved. It is clear to me that the folks at LaRue Tactical stand behind Law Enforcement and are great Ambassadors of the State of Texas.
And when it comes to parts, Palmetto State Armory is going to have what you need. I signed up for their Deals blast and that helped a lot during this slow build. When something went on sale, I snatched it up.
I want to extend a hearty thank you to LaRue Tactical, Spikes Tactical, Palmetto State Armory, Capt. Clay Higgins, R. Lee Ermey, Julie Golob, Michelle Vicusi McAllister, Michael Biehn, Gerald Courville at Laser Edge Engraving, Chris Eichenlaub, Gen. Joe Ramirez, Tim Stanley and many others.
The Story behind the Capt. Clay Higgins Video for this Epic Surprise
Captain Clay Higgins agreed to shoot a reveal video and got his media manager involved. Together, they created a professional production that sadly, I never got to see. About the time they had it put together, Louisiana saw flooding of biblical proportions and Capt. Higgins’ media manager lost his home in the flooding.
When Captain Higgins found out that the video had been lost in the flood, I only had one day left before the reveal at the surprise party. Capt. Higgins literally pulled off of the highway and shot a video with his phone in his vehicle. Honestly, I think his video is perfect, but it goes a step beyond. Despite the fact that everyone around him was hurting (including his own daughter) and dealing with the loss of their homes; trying to survive given the limited resources that were left behind in the wake of the flood, Captain Higgins still somehow made time to take a quick video and send it. That meant so much to me, but more importantly, says a lot about the man.
Once again, Captain Clay Higgins demonstrates that he is a man who stands by his word, no matter what obstacles he may be facing. Thank you Captain Higgins for your perseverance among the storm, you are truly an amazing man!
Due to the fact that I was planning on using a video to introduce this epic surprise for Bradley, I needed to find a location where we could get together and have a large screen. After calling around to a few area restaurants, I spoke with Adam Harling at Spring Creek Barbeque in Shenandoah, TX. Adam told me that he would reserve their party room and make sure that the A/V equipment would be in good working order for our gathering. Had it not been for Adam and his team making some last minute adjustments for us, this whole thing would have been less than epic.
Thanks Adam for coming through for us!!
I invited some of Bradley’s friends out to join in the surprise. Wayne Thompson, Neil Craig and Lawrence Baitland. Bradley has been friends with Wayne since they were in middle school together. Neil and Lawrence both were in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M with Bradley and were members of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band – B-Batt C/O ’96.
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