2023 Year in Review

Morning in the Badlands

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40K+ miles, 20 states, 5 national parks, amazing photos

This year has been a blur of travel. I’ve driven more than 40,400 miles and photographed the beauty from at least 20 states from the East Coast all the way to Wyoming. And I visited five national parks in the process!

And, after finally finishing my long road trips for the year, I fell in love with my native swamps all over again.

Much of my travel was due to my role as a Bassmaster photographer, which keeps me on the road roughly 19 weeks each year. Between those bass-fishing tournaments, I searched out new scenes to document.

Yes, there were waterfalls. But I also was able to photograph lighthouses, covered bridges and, of course, sunrises and sunsets.

The road absolutely wears me down, but it’s been a fun year. And who can really complain about seeing the beauty of this country?

Here are some of the highlights from the year:

Lighthouses

Sunset at St. Marks Lighthouse

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Lighthouses I absolutely love lighthouses, so it’s always a great year when I get to photograph some of the country’s wonderful old beacons.

And 2023 included stops at three of these beauties. The first was St. Marks Lighthouse, built in the Florida Panhandle in 1830. It’s a lighthouse I’ve wanted to visit for a number of years but have never had the time.

After wrapping up some Bassmaster work in South Florida, however, I had three days to get to South Georgia. So I headed straight for St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

I was blown away with the the scenes I found there.

I created four beautiful images of the lighthouse. And it’s a place I really want to go back to again.

 Next up was Ohio’s beautiful Marblehead Lighthouse (below), which stands on the shores of Lake Erie and is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the American side of the Great Lakes.

I arrived an hour before sunrise, and found a perch on the rocky ledge to the west of the tower. The lake was slick calm, with barely a ripple on the surface. The only clouds were on the eastern horizon, so I stood quietly hoping for some color when as sunrise approached.

And about 20 minutes before official sunrise the sky around the distant clouds began glowing. I used a neutral density filter to ensure I could extend my shutter speed so the light ripples in the water would smooth out.

The effect was fantastic.

And I timed the photo to ensure the green glow of the light chamber was included. I just love the colors of the rocks and sea weed, the smooth lake and the contrasts of the image from the sunrise glow to the blue of the sky above the lighthouse.

Twilight at Marblehead Lighthouse

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Sunset at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

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Finally, I was fortunate enough to spend time on the Maine coast with my buddy Rick Berk, who told me he had just the location for an amazing sunset.

We arrived at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (above), which is the state’s most photographed beacon. It appears on the Maine quarter, and is just amazing.

We worked in the late afternoon light, and I created a couple of really great images.

And then it was time for sunset. Rick positioned me perfectly, allowing me to capture two incredible photos of the old lighthouse.

Even though I cut my visit short as rains moved in, the quick trip to Maine was so worth it.

Linville Gorge

Upper Linville Falls

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This was another first for me. I’ve seen Linville Gorge on Google Maps, but just never made the time to visit.

Man, was I ever missing out!

This beautiful stretch of North Carolina is located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and its largely untouched wilderness is unmatched.

I climbed to the top of two mountains for sunsets, as well as creating beautiful images of its waterfalls.

Probably my personal favorite is the print titled “Upper Linville Falls” (above), which is just wonderful. 

 However, another highlight (well, maybe lowlight) was when I hiked a strenuous trail to the top of Table Rock Mountain with plenty of time to just sit and enjoy the afternoon - only to realize I needed a longer lens 20 minutes before sunset. I literally ran down the mountain, grabbed the lens and jogged back up.

Honestly, if I had died halfway up I wouldn’t have been disappointed. However, I arrived back at my perch, set up captured a simply gorgeous sunset over the mountains. The image, titled "Last Light Over the Blue Ridge Mountains," is an iconic representation of the beauty of these incredible mountains.

I also managed to get a couple of wonderful shots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, including the bucket-list photo of trillium in full bloom. It took a lot of work to come up with a composition that worked, but I really think this photo titled "Blue Ridge Trillium Field" nailed it nicely.

And I spent a couple of nights in the wonderful Linville Falls Lodge & Cabins, a classic Blue Ridge Parkway motel that was founded in the early 1930s and remains in the same family today. It was such a neat place to stay, and the owners are wonderful.

Blue Ridge Trillium Field

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Great Plains — Again

Anyone who has followed me for a while probably knows that I have fallen in love with the Great Plains. There’s just something about those vast stretches of the country that enthralls me.

So I was stoked to make not one but two trips through the midsection of the United States.

The first came over the summer, when My Trusty Assistant and I packed up the camper and headed out with the ultimate goal of spending time in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park — one of my favorite places on earth.

MTA had never been to the Dakotas, so I couldn’t wait to show it to here. My only worry was that it wouldn’t live up to my hype. I shouldn’t have worried!

But first we made a stop at our good friends Matt and Robin Vincent up in Yuma County, Colorado. Matt, a real shooter himself, knows that country like the back of his hand. He put me in position to create a handful of wonderful photos, including a sunrise at Fremont Butte and gorgeous shot of the area’s sand hills covered in phlox during sunset.

Sunrise at Fremont Butte

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And then we were off to North Dakota.

Yvette was wowed by the badlands of Teddy Roosevelt NP. We spent a couple of days in both units, and enjoyed the stunning views and watched all manner of wildlife.

Yvette’s favorite form of wildlife in the park was the wild horses of the North Unit.

Of course, I added some gorgeous new prints to my Theodore Roosevelt National Park Collection while I was there.

We wrapped up the trip by spending three nights in beautiful Wind Cave National Park, which is tucked in the southern portion of South Dakota’s Black Hills. It was new territory for both of us, and we even added in a day of hiking in Custer State Park. 

I photographed the beautiful terrain along Needles Highway, created some gorgeous shots of the Wind Cave NP landscape and added a few bison shots to my Wildlife Collection.

It was just a wonderful trip, especially since I shared it with my No. 1 traveling companion.

3 More National Parks

Sunrise Over Mormon Row

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I came off the road for Bassmaster in mid-September. Frankly, I was worn out. But my annual travel wasn’t over just yet.

A week after driving home from my final bass-fishing tournament, I repacked the truck and drove to Sugar Land, Texas, to pick up two great friends for a foray to the American West that Tim Stanley, James Eastham and I have been planning for more than a year. Three national parks were on the agenda, and we were excited to get going.

We left Southeast Texas and pointed my truck first to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We made it to little Eads, Colorado, in time to check into our motel and drive about 30 minutes north to Kit Carson for sunset at the little town’s old grain elevator.

And then following morning I was up early to capture sunrise at a nearby abandoned homestead (below). The other boys slept in, so they missed out on a great photographic opportunity. The print, titled “Golden Hour at the Homestead,” shows the sun bursting through a window the old house and painting the grasses with golden light. And it's one of my favorite images from 2023.

Golden Hour on the Homestead

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After spending most of the second day poking around the Colorado plains, we checked into our AirBnB in Estes Park and turned in early. Our first day in Rocky Mountains National Park would be a doozy.

We left our house at 4 a.m. the following morning, met up with Alex Santiago at the Bear Lake parking lot and started the hike in to be ready for sunrise at Emerald Lake.

I’ll be honest: This was my idea. And it sounded like such a great thing to do — until the altitude kicked in. The trailhead sits at 9,475 feet and the 1.75-mile hike ends at over 10,000 feet. The hardest short hike I've ever made.

I think Alex was the only reason we made it, because he forced us to take a few five-minute breaks to catch our collective breath.

But when the first light of day struck the mountains surrounding Emerald Lake, all the labored breathing and lightheadedness was forgotten. Man, it was glorious! The resulting image, "First Light at Emerald Lake," made all the work to get there worth it!

We were hoping to shoot some bugling elk in the park, but the closest we came was when a big bull was trailing a couple of cows down a mountain ridge very early the next morning as we prepared to walk out to Canyon Forest Overlook for another sunrise. I managed to get a shot, which I titled "Trail Boss," and it's a really cool silhouette against the glow of the early morning light.

A couple of days later, headed to Grand Teton National Park — a place of legendary beauty that had long been at the top of my to-do list. And, boy, did the Tetons match my expectations.

We created images of the iconic Mormon barns, spent time at Oxbow Bend, caught the morning light on the mountains from Schwabacher Landing and generally ate up the beautiful autumn colors and light. Click here to see the full collection of amazing prints!

And we even carved out a day to make the hour-long run to Yellowstone National Park, driving the southern loop. We photographed the thermal beauty of this wild country and generally had a great time.

I definitely need to go back to Yellowstone when I can devote more time there!

Snake River Thermals (Yellowstone NP)

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Back to the swamps

I returned to my South Louisiana home tired but thoroughly satisfied. I was determined to spend time in my native swamps, and to add to the experience I bought couple of kayaks.

It’s been an amazing time padding through some of the wildest wetlands in the United States.

My kayaking adventures began at Henderson Swamp, which was in the midst of a planned drawdown. This is a program by which the state intentionally lowers the water levels to control invasive plants. It’s a very beneficial thing for the swamps, keeping vegetation like hydrilla from taking over the swamps.

And the benefit for photography is the opportunity to show the swamps in unique ways.

Sunrise was incredible on the day I choose to paddle out to one of the the dry flats. The earth was hatch marked with gaping cracks, creating incredible texture that only added to the already beautiful swamp scene.

Cracked Henderson

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Most of my time during November and December, however, was spent in the unbelievable beauty of the swamps ringing Lake Verret.

This natural lake, which is one of the filming locations for the popular Swamp People reality show, offers natural beauty everywhere one looks. The cypress trees are draped with Spanish moss, and the amount of wildlife is incredible.

I have fished this lake much of my life, but for some reason I never spent a lot of time photographing. After spending a few weeks working the swamps ringing the lake, I really can't understand why I neglected it.

Golden Hour at Attakapas Landing

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That time of the year also provides some beautiful fall color, with the cypress trees turning beautiful shades of burnt orange and gold.

I created some incredible images working from the kayak. I would simply paddle into the flooded swamp, sink my tripod into the bottom of the lake and carefully secure my camera to create beautiful sunrise images.

After the sun popped over the horizon, I would continue shooting until the light turned harsh. In addition to capturing beautiful swamp scenes,

I also secured some wonderful photos of the birds living around the lake. A highlight was creating some very cool shots of roseate spoonbills, a bird that has been on my bucket list for a long time.

These trips to the swamp have been the perfect way to wrap up one of the busiest travel seasons of my career.

My time in the swamps also has re-energized me, so I’ll be ready to go when the 2024 travel season begins in February!

Ethereal Verret

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Mystical Dawn

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Into the Lost World

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Launch of the Roseate Spoonbill

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