My Top 6 photography trips of 2019

The best photos of 2019

2019 was an almost continual road trip for me. I was away from home more than 23 weeks, mostly shooting Bassmaster tournaments. And every trip during the year produced beautiful photos for my online gallery.

So with 2020 stretched before me, I've been thinking about the wonders of the past 12 months — and there have been plenty. So here are my Top 6 photo trips of 2019.

No. 6: Oklahoma's Route 66

Who doesn't dream of driving the famed Route 66? Well, I had three free days in Oklahoma between a couple of Bassmaster events, and I spent them traveling the parts of the old Mother Road located within the Sooner State.

It was just a fun adventure, stretching from just south of the Missouri state line to 90 miles east of the Texas Panhandle. I drank coffee at the famous Rock Cafe, and shot photos all along the route.

My favorite Route 66 photo has to be Lucille's Service Station, which once was an important fueling stop for travelers before the interstate system was built. I arrived just as the last light of day colored the western sky, and used an LED panel to bring out the cool old gas station while capturing the amazing sunset. It was just beautiful.

See my entire Route 66 Collection by clicking here.  

No. 5: Cloudland Canyon State Park

My wife and I made a three-day stop at Georgia's Cloudland Canyon State Park in June, and it was so much fun. The higher elevation broke the summer heat (for the most part), and it was a revisit of a place I spent many summers as a child.

We hiked the entire place, and I got some neat shots of the waterfalls, even though there was little water running.

But I struck gold with one of the  most-colorful sunrises of my year. We set up at the main overlook facing Sand Mountain about 45 minutes before sunrise, and we enjoyed the solitude until light began leaking over the mountain. Some perfect clouds were set to make it a memorable photo.

And then everything went dull. The colors that had begun dabbing the edges of those clouds just disappeared, so I walked away from my camera and sat by MTA (My Trusty Assistant, aka my wife) to watch until she was ready to head back to our camper.

Then the colors came back — in spades. Those clouds lighted up like Nashville's Music Row, and I almost tripped over myself getting back to my camera.

The resulting image stands as one of my Top 3 sunrise photos ever. See the entire Cloudland Canyon Collection here.

No. 4: Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has been on my bucket-list for years. I can't explain why, but it's just been one of those places I've longed to visit.

My wife and I finally made it happen in December when we drove the 900 miles to the massive West Texas park. And I was NOT disappointed.

Big Bend is a place of stark beauty, with arid deserts being broken by alpine-like mountains. We only had three days to spend there, so we covered just a fraction of the 800,000 acres, but we saw enough to understand the national park's mystic.

I shot a number a beautiful photos, which can be seen in my Big Bend National Park Collection. I'm still working on a few, so be sure to check back.

However, the highlight of my photographic ventures at Big Bend National Park was shooting the old post office at the hot springs (I haven't released this print yet - more on why below). It is a cool stone building built in the early 1900s. A huge palm tree standing near one corner adds a great element to the scene. My wife didn't even ask when we walked by it one evening on our way to relax in the hot springs (a must if you visit): She KNEW I would set up and shoot a Milky Way shot after we watched the night sky from the warmth of the hot springs.

The final image is one of the coolest astro photos I've shot to date — and it is the subject of a naming contest that launches tomorrow (Jan. 4) on my Facebook fan page. You could win the Artist's No. 1 Sample Print by helping name the beautiful Milky Way photo: Just click here to enter your suggestions for a chance to win this gorgeous print!

Big Bend National Park is definitely on my return list.

No. 3: Nantahala Mountains

I had never spent much time in the Nantahala Mountains until 2018, when I poked around for a day while working on a Bassmaster assignment. Man, I was blown away by its beauty.

So in July, MTA and I spent a week in the heart of the mountains at a wonderful Nantahala National Forest campground, headquartering out of our Tiny Camper Company mini-camper. It was such a great trip.

We camped at just more than 3,800 feet of elevation, so temperatures dipped into the 50s every night and topped out in the upper 60s or lower 70s during the day. In July. In the Deep South. It was nirvana.

The rhododendrons were in full bloom, and there was water flowing over every waterfall we visited. We hiked more than 50 miles that week, and saw some amazing scenes.

I captured photos of everything from the wildflowers to waterfalls to sunrises and sunsets. My favorite image from the trip was a simple photo of the Nantahala River flowing through Standing Indian Campground. It just captured the tranquility found in those beautiful mountains.

The trip was just a fun, relaxing time. In fact, we plan to spend a couple of weeks there this July. The Nantahalas are just that amazing.

Click here to see the entire Nantahala Mountains Collection.

No. 2: Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is renowned as the location of one most beautiful waterfalls in North America. At least that's what I'd always been told. I can now confirm the truth of that statement.

Watkins Glen is simply amazing. As my buddy James Overstreet has told me, there are photos around every corner of the 1-mile walk. But the real gold — "the juice," in the words of Overstreet — is Rainbow Falls, which sits pretty much at the halfway point.

I followed Overstreet's advice and ignored the many cool shots along the way to Rainbow Falls, and I'm so glad I did. The only person there when I arrived early one morning was another photographer.

This waterfall is iconic, and I quickly set up to capture my version of the amazing scene. It's my favorite waterfall photo in my gallery.

You can see all the Watkins Glen photos here.

No. 1: South Colorado

The opportunity to visit South Fork, Colorado, came about unexpectedly in the late summer. My photog buddy Tim Stanley called and asked if MTA and I would be interested in an eight-day trip out there with him and his wife. We would headquarter at a cabin belonging to James Eastham, whom I had met a couple of times and would serve as our guide.

Well, I'm not stupid, so I jumped at the opportunity. It was my favorite trip of the year — by a long shot. Why? Well, I can explain that in two words.

Golden aspens.

We arrived in South Fork about midnight two days after my final Bassmaster tournament of 2019, and when the sun rose the next morning we were surrounded by mountains painted with aspens in full autumn glory. We who had never experienced the Rockies in the fall could barely keep our jaws from gaping.

We spent the week being driven around by Eastham, exploring the Rio Grande National Forest and several of the towns in the region. We even made the trip to nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park, a true wonder of nature.

It's very difficult to choose a favorite photo from the trip, but if I had to pick one it would be the first aspen photo I took, which is included in this blog. But the entire Colorado Collection is stunning. Click here to see all the photos.

We've got an invite back to the cabin, so we just have to find the time — but it WILL happen.