24 hours in beautiful Cedar Key

New prints capture beauty of Gulf Coast

I had never heard of Cedar Key, Florida, until last week while searching for somewhere to spend some time between Bassmaster Elite Series events. I came across it on Google Maps, and then a buddy who once lived in the Sunshine State promised me I would love it.

He was so right!

I arrived in the quaint little fishing village about noon, grabbed lunch at a small diner on the main strip and asked a local for lodging recommendations. Moments later I was checking in to the Beach Front Motel.

Then I started driving around. On the way in I had seen mud flats lining the one road leading to Cedar Key, and it looked like there was trash everywhere. Turns out those areas of "garbage" were actually clams, for which Cedar Key is famous. The motel owner told me clams are big business and are shipped all over the country to "rich people."

The natural beauty of the area was amazing, with rich tidal beaches and flats everywhere. No matter where I went, the trademark clam beds were present.

The challenge was finding locations to shoot. While not quite as developed as Florida's Atlantic Coast, the islands had houses lining much of the seashore — and private property signs were everywhere.

I finally found a place to shoot sunrise the next morning. It was a beautiful pool of water trapped by a clam bed with a mangrove tree in the background and two of the nearby islands on the horizon. I shot a really nice daytime photo of the scene and moved on to locate a sunset spot for the evening.

Honestly, I started to panic a bit. You see, clouds that promised a wonderful sunset formed as the afternoon aged, so I just had to find a perfect spot to set up.

I finally noticed a sign pointing to the Cedar Key Railroad Trestle Nature Trail, so I pulled into a spot and made the short hike to the end of the trail. The walk was stunning, through thick forests of mangrove trees. The trail ended at a bayou that had some potential, but I wasn't just blown away by the scene.

As I walked back to the truck, I spied something on the edge of the mangroves on the sunset side of the trail. I picked my way through the trees to find an old pier that had fallen into the mud flat.

It was the perfect setup. Clam beds were scattered over the mud flat, and puddles of water were trapped. I knew if the skies really lighted up those puddles would provide wonderful reflections.

I was right. As I stood on that old wooden platform (which was covered with mud and prone to breaking under my feet), the setting sun threw beautiful colors across the clouds.

The final print, "Low Tide at Cedar Key," is simply amazing!

Sunrise took my breath away

My eyes popped open at 3:30 a.m. the next day. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get back to sleep. So I brewed a pot of Community Coffee, and worked up "Low Tide at Cedar Key." It was just a 10-minute drive to that sunrise location, so I had a lot of time to burn (sunrise wasn't until 7:20!).

By 5:45 a.m., I couldn't stand it anymore. I downed the last of the coffee and walked to my truck. 

I parked on the side of the road almost an hour before the first hint of light edged the horizon.

It was fortunate I was so early. I was setting up exactly as I planned the day before, and then I realized the sun would not rise where I calculated. Sure, I could have tried to get indirect color on the southern horizon, but a large cloud bank there made me worry it just wouldn't work.

So I had to refigure my composition. I hurried closer to the mangrove tree, and found a really nice scene that would show off iconic Florida tree and some clams on the beach. And I could use the tree to hide the town's water tower. Perfect!

The resulting print, "Cedar Key Sunrise," is one that will always trigger memories of standing on that beach and watching the sun cast beautiful colors over the scene.

Other beautiful photos

While my focus was capturing sunrise and sunset, I created a couple of other prints that captured the beauty outside those few magical minutes.

While scouting for the sunrise photo session, I shot the scene at the mouth of Daughtry Bayou with wonderful clouds above and a small reflective pool of water trapped by a clam reef. I titled this gorgeous print "Daughtry Bayou Lagoon" (scroll down to see it).

The next morning after the sunrise color faded, I repositioned to capture the amazing morning sunlight on the mangrove and clumps of clams. "Mangrove in the Morning" is such a beautiful print!

I had to be in Tavares, Florida, that afternoon, so I decided I was going to head that way immediately after securing the early morning sots.

And I almost made it out of the area. However, at as I drove northeast on Highway 24, I passed a little dirt road beside a sign reading "Lukens Tract, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge." Yeah, I quickly turned into the refuge just to see what was there.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing on the edge of a wonderful pond surrounded by marsh grass. I set up and created "Cedar Keys Pond." Scroll down to see this beautiful print

The trip resulted in five gorgeous prints: I made the 1 1/2-hour drive with a smile on my face.