national park

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If you know me, I love a good road trip. Especially the ones that make you feel like you’ve hopped on an airplane and you’re miles away from home but in actuality, you just jumped into your car. So if you’re like me, I created a list of my favorite summer destination that are 3 hours or less from Washington DC with a variety of adventures waiting for you. So if you like being in the outdoors, this list is for you:

Great Falls Park:

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Great Falls Park from the Virginia side

I’ve mentioned this place a hundred times on my blog so it’s definitely a favorite. Less than 20 miles outside of Washington DC, find some peace in Great Falls Park. From the roaring falls, to plenty of space to roam or have a picnic, Great Falls is kind of an unexpected gem outside a major US city. The great part about Great Falls is that there’s a Virginia and Maryland side. You can see actually see the Maryland side while in Virginia and vice versa but they are very different.

Virginia has a better view of the falls and in my personal opinion, the park just feels a little bit more open with wider fields and more viewing spots of the falls. It’s a great place to have a picnic or go on a hike with friends.

Maryland allows you to be closer to the rocks but I personally enjoy the views on the hike on the Maryland side much more.

Don’t be surprised if you see kayakers navigating the rough waters or blue herons fishing for the dinner on either side of the park.

Alexandria, Virginia

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Old Town Alexandria at sunrise

Specifically, Old Town Alexandria. Old Town Alexandria is just 8 miles away from Washington where you can enjoy a day by the Potomac River. Surrounded by cute shops and even better restaurants, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise if you find yourself smiling while walking around the neighborhood. If you of age, The BRÜT Wine Bar is a personal favorite if you like bubbly adult drinks. Waterfront Park is a fantastic place for kids to run around and to experience free outdoor art. I can’t express how much I enjoy this cute little town every time I visit.

But Alexandria is also a great central point for many other excursions. Hop on a scenic water taxi that will take you the National Harbor in Maryland or to DC destinations such as the Wharf, Georgetown, the National Mall, and Nats Stadium. It is also along the Mount Vernon trail that gives you access to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntly Meadows Park, both wetland areas with boardwalks that make it fun for birdwatchers and photographers to enjoy the views.

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive on a foggy early morning

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful summer, fall, spring, winter, whenever! Just 70 miles outside of the District, it’s the best place to get a great hike in. My personal favorite is Old Rag Mountain Trail and Hawksbill Mountain Trail. Both give you an unbelievable view of the mountains and surrounding areas. Just know that both of these hikes are steep but Hawksbill Mountain Trail is significantly shorter, so plan accordingly with the time you have in the mountains.

If hiking isn’t your thing, I highly suggest finding a rental company where they’ll take you down to the river. You can rent canoes, rafts or tubes to float your way down the river. It’s so relaxing.

But if you just want an easy way to enjoy the views, Skyline Drive has stunning views from multiple overlooks along the way.

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The day I wrote this blog post about fall foliage, I create a fall photo to-do list. On that list were my usual spots like Great Falls Park, the Tidal Basin, Shenandoah National Park, etc but I also added some places I’ve never been to. Falling Water in Pennsylvania and Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia were top of that list. It’s amazing how it all played out because the universe was definitely listening to me that day and, by the end of the day, I had made plans to visit both of those places I’ve never been to that weekend.

So I’m home after a long weekend full of fall adventuring. I probably got a little ahead of myself because there wasn’t much color change in either of the places I visited, but it was great to do a little photo scouting and I can never really complain when I have a camera in my hand.

This image is actually taken outside the visitor center at the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County, PA. We stopped on our way home from Falling Water and it was definitely an emotional experience. But to document I was actually there, I took this reflective self-portrait that was 100% inspired by Vivian Maier who was an amazing street photographer and she would take these sorts of portraits as well. I thought this image turned out interesting with the lines in the glass but it is also very moody, which was how I felt while I was there.

My camera settings for this image is F6.3 at 1/1000th sec and ISO 320 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom lens.

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We’ve been having a lot of stormy weather lately in the Washington DC area. It seems like almost every day I’ve been getting warnings on my phone about rain or thunderstorms. I’m not complaining though because it feels great to break up some of the hot, humid summer days. But with all these rainy days, I’m always thinking about the water levels at the Tidal Basin and how bad the flood walls need to be repaired.

Even though I took this image last summer, it reminds me of what it’s probably been like at the Tidal Basin right now. It’s pretty ridiculous to see how much the Tidal Basin gets flooded, even on a day that doesn’t rain that much. To be honest, this particular day was the worst I’ve ever seen it. The sidewalks are flooded and it has become un-walkable. At some point, I had to walk up the slight hill, up to the sidewalk in order to get around trees and the flooding in order to walk along the Tidal Basin. It’s crazy!

If you’re are just as concerned as I am about your grandchildren seeing the Tidal Basin in all its beautiful glory, including the iconic cherry blossoms, please consider taking the pledge from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a national treasure that needs to be preserved.

My camera settings for this image is F4 at 1/250th sec at ISO 640 with my Sony A7II and 16-35mm wide angle lens.

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Yesterday my friend, Geoff Livingston launched his podcast Show Me. In each of the episodes he discusses famous photographs and why they worked.. or did not work. Then he asks each one of his guests to give their opinion on their own photographs.

I’m so honored and grateful to have been a guest on his show and to have been one of the first 4 people he sat down and talked to. We discussed a few Ansel Adams’ pieces before talking about some of my own images of the cherry blossoms, US Capitol and more. It’s always a good time to hang out with Geoff. I’m just glad there is actual documentation of it now. LOL.

There’s also a video recording of the podcast so you can see each of the images we’re discussing as we’re talking about them. You also get to see how much I talk with my hands when I speak so there’s that too!

PS At the end, I call him Gerry. That’s totally an inside joke. LOL I definietly know his name is Geoff.

So I figured the most appropriate image to post to honor Geoff and I’s conversation is to post my version of Half Dome. It’s been almost 10 years since I first visited Yosemite but it was such an amazing experience that I still remember it like it was yesterday. To this day whenever anyone asks me about my favorite national park, I always say Yosemite (besides the National Mall of course). I would go back in a heartbeat. I never doubted why Ansel Adams spent so much time photographing this extraordinary place. Props to him for doing it with a medium format camera and wooden tripods though!

My camera settings for this image is F7.1 at 1/320th sec and ISO 100 with my Canon 5D Mark II and 24-105mm lens.

 

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This was captured on the same day after this image. Probably just 1 or 2 hours after the sunrise image was captured,

You know it’s so funny when you visit a place for the first time before the sun actually rises, everything is so dark and you can barely make out what’s in front of you. Neither Andrew or I had ever been to Joshua Tree and we had no idea what’s was really going on. But once the sun came out and you can actually see, it’s always so shocking and beautiful. Like, “I missed out on all this?”

So this image was taken on our way out of the park. I know we drove down this road during sunrise, but didn’t really know what it looked like. It just took my breath away once I could actually see it. I love the way the shadows are crossing the road. I believe they were created by some Joshua Trees but I am not completely sure. It mimics the clouds in the sky so well, almost as if it were a reflection. And nothing more says the American Southwest to me than those huge wide open spaces. I made Andrew pull over so I could capture it really quickly. Luckily we visited during the government shutdown and in the middle of winter when there weren’t as many people around. It made it really easy to just pull over and hop out real quick for the picture. Looking at this image definitely makes me want to go back soon but I’m not sure which is better, the extreme cold (wind) or the extreme heat that Joshua Tree experiences.

My camera settings for this image is F 4.0 at 1/5000th sec and ISO 800 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom lens.

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I haven’t been taking as many pictures around DC lately. Mostly due the fact that it’s been raining so much. Also I feel like I still have so many images to go through from this year. When I come home from travel, I get really excited and look at all my images. I’ll pick a few that I like the best and spend some time editing those. But for the most part, I’ll leave most of the other images just sitting there.

Sometimes I feel like I just need a break from them or I’ll end up getting really excited about a photowalk I did at home and those images will distract me for a bit.  Either way I always find it better after I have spent a little time apart from the images that I’ll be really happy with the edits. Now that I think of it, when I go back to look at those travel images after some time, it instantly brings me back to all these great memories and I think it’s easier to edit them after I can figure out how these places and experiences made me feel.

For example, this image was taken on our very first morning in Joshua Tree at the very end of December 2018. It was the best sunrise we had the entire trip but for some reason I was never extremely happy with the way I edited them. 5 months later, I had some time over the weekend and looked through a lot of my Joshua Tree images. I almost forgot about this sunrise and I can’t believe it. It reminds me of the morning when we woke up really early, even without alarm clocks because we were still on east coast time and hoping into the car. Since we were on our way to Joshua Tree, I felt like the only appropriate thing to do was to listen to all the U2 songs I could think of off of the top of my head. It ended up being so fun and we were cracking up over the littlest things. Aww so fun!

My camera settings for this image is F4.0 at 1/250th sec and ISO 2000 with my Canon 5D Mark II and 16-35mm.