Naples Botanical Revisited

I decided to put a wide angle lens on the camera to show you more of the gardens than the macros I usually share. It’s such a beautiful place!  They have a dinosaur display going on until June. They’re really cool!  Way better than I thought they would be. They’re huge, animatronic, and they make noise. Me eight year old just loved them!  So did I, to be honest. Totally worth the trip to Naples.

Here, in no particular order, are some lovely views of the gardens.


Harry P. Leu Gardens

We took a little trip over to Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando last week.  It was a cold day for Florida.  I don’t think it made it to sixty degrees.  It was overcast and windy.  There wasn’t a whole lot in bloom, and there was a lot of damage from Hurricane Irma resulting in a lot of closed paths.  Despite all of that, we had a lovely afternoon at the gardens!  I’m really looking forward to going back later in the spring when, hopefully, the trails will all be open and there will be more in bloom.  Oh!  And when we were about to leave, checking out at the gift shop, my (after market) camera strap failed and my Nikon D810 with its new macro lens crashed to the floor and bounced!  Talk about a heart attack.  All I can say is, I’m incredibly grateful it’s a well-made little tank of a camera because it survived the fall and it and the lens is working just fine.  Phew!!

Here are the few photos I took that day.


Bok Tower Gardens

Located in central Florida, smack in the middle of cow and orange grove country, you’ll find the peaceful and beautiful gardens known as Bok Tower Gardens.  The gardens were founded in the late 20’s by Edward Bok.  He meant for the gardens to be a place of peace and reflection, and they really are just that.  There are acres of beautiful paths that lead to quiet little oases of serenity.  If you need to take a deep breath and just be for an afternoon, this is the place to go.  Check out their website here for more info:

Here are some random photos from the day.  Next time I’ll get more wide angle shots of the paths and vistas.  Believe it or not, this place is situated on an actual hill.  In Florida.  I know, crazy, right? 🙂  There’s a 12,900 square foot Mediterranean style mansion, called Pinewood Estate on site as well.  It’s a unique and awesome home full of Latin charm.  There really wasn’t a whole lot in bloom, other than like a million Japanese Camellias.  The last few shots are not from Bok Tower, but from the lake down the road.  I just had to stop for the beautiful sunset.

Highlands Hammock

Every year, we camp over New Year’s Eve at Highlands Hammock State Park.  The secret is to avoid the family camp area at all costs and camp in the Primitive section!  The campsites in the family area are right on top of each other.  The primitive section; however, is amazing.  And you can drive over to the family area if you really want a shower or flushing toilet.

There are some great trails in this park!  Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Irma, my favorite Cypress Trail was closed.  I could spend hours there taking pictures of reflections of the cypress trees in the mirror calm water.  Next time!

Naples Botanical Garden

Just some random photos from Naples Botanical.  This is one of my favorite botanical gardens in Florida!  No commentary on these, other than I love waterlilies and Mother Nature is a rock star with a really amazing sense of humor.

Manatee Springs State Park

Manatee Springs is one of my favorite places to camp.  It’s located on the Suwannee River near the tiny town of Chiefland, Florida.  The campground is perfect for tent camping.  There are still a lot of RV’s, but the sites are large enough and spread out enough that you still feel like you’re actually in the woods and not in a parking lot.

The springs put out about a hundred gallons of fresh, cool spring water every day.  Seventy two degrees cool, to be exact.  Year round.  That’s why the manatees love it here in the winter.  The best time to see the manatees in the run is early in the morning.  Otherwise, they all hang out where the spring run meets the Suwannee River, and it’s not so easy to see them there.

There are eight and a half miles of hiking trails in the park.  They’re all clearly marked and well maintained.  The park sustained a bit of damage from Hurricane Irma, so there are a lot of downed trees.  They’ve mostly all been cleared from the paths though. The trails are beautiful, going through oak hammocks, cypress swamps, and uplands.  There are also sink hole ponds peppered throughout the park’s trails.

There’s a lot to do here!  Rent kayaks, scuba dive, take a guided pontoon boat ride down the Suwannee River, swim in the spring (It was waaaay too cold for all that craziness this time around!), hike, go fishing, ride bikes, and eat BBQ made by Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures.  These are the same people who rent the canoes and kayaks and do the pontoon ride.  They start the smoker up first thing in the morning, and it smells so good, and tastes even better!

We saw a lot of critters during our six days camping here!  The deer were very curious, and not very afraid of people.  Clearly they’ve been fed by well-meaning campers.  It’s so bad for them to eat people food!  They need to be left alone to do their own natural deer thing, but it’s hard to tell some people that.  It’s very tempting to feed them when they give you that “But I’m starving to death here” look.  I even watched one run straight into a lady’s car, denting the door pretty good.  The deer was chasing after her baby, and didn’t even notice the car.  They’re losing their fear of people, and going toward the cars because people feed them from the cars.  Hey guys, don’t feed the wildlife!  It’s bad, okay? 🙂

I took pictures of most of the critters we saw, except for the raccoon.  There was just the one, but he didn’t stick around very long because he must have known I’m a big meanie who knows better than to leave food or garbage out for him.  I used to like raccoons and think they were super cute, until one killed my parrot.  But that’s another story for another time.  I’m slowly getting over it, and I no longer wish death upon all raccoons I see.  They really are kind of cute.  Though I still think they’re evil little jerks.

On to the pictures!  Enjoy!

These four deer wandered around the campground all the time looking for handouts.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but one of them was a little baby.  So cute!  They were all pretty small.

These are seed pods from the sweetgum tree.  I just thought they were cool-looking, so you get a photo of them..  You’re welcome.

Little armadillo friend scrounging for some grub.  These little guys are loud at night when they creep around the tent rustling through the dry, dead leaves looking for food.

Shelf mushrooms are so cool!

A great egret.

So at first I thought this was a black crowned night heron, but Sadie educated me with her new bird book.  He’s a green heron.  And I think he’s incredibly cute!  As evidenced by the many photos I took of him and his brethren.

Here’s our great egret friend again.  What’s the difference between a great egret and a snowy egret?  The snowy egret has yellow feet and is much smaller than the great egret.  Though honestly I get the two mixed up all the time.  Throw in the juvenile little blue heron, which is pure white, and the white morph of the great blue heron, and I’m all confuzzled.  They’re all very similar!

I know turkey buzzards aren’t the most beloved birds of all time.  But they really are kind of cool in their own creepy sort of way!

Nope, not gonna feed you.  Stop looking at me like that!

I love these crazy, bendy oaks on the sink hole loop trail!

I kept thinking “life on life” needs to be an upcoming photo challenge for our Optical D’Illusions photo club.  The lichen are really quite beautiful.


Resurrection ferns.  These are so cool how they can go from dead to bright green and lovely with just a little moisture.

Some reflections in a little fresh water pond because, why not?

There were no pretty wildflowers to be found!  This is why I could never handle winter up north and I’m forever a Florida girl!  All the brown, crunchy dead stuff is a little depressing.  Beautiful to be sure!  But still a little sad.

These squirrels were hilarious shoving gigantic, larger then their head, hickory nuts into their tiny little mouths!

So many vultures!

You’re going to have to take my word for it: this is a manatee.

Great blue heron really didn’t want me to take his picture, so he took off.  Bye bye birdie.

So many little fish!  I don’t know much about fish, so don’t ask me what kind these are.  They’re little.  And crazy!  They dart all around when you put your hand over the water, forming a shadow near them.

I do not recommend picking up an alligator snapping turtle, like… ever.  But these were people on some sort of research expedition.  They tagged this guy, weighed him, took some notes, then let him go back in the water.

I kind of wish we had rented kayaks.  Though I kept having visions of me falling overboard.  And that water is cold!  Plus, it barely got to sixty degrees any of the days we were there.  Yes, I’m admittedly a wimp when it comes to cold weather.  Don’t judge me.

More manatees.  It’s really hard to tell, but this was a mama and baby.

That great blue heron finally decided to let me take his picture.

I vowed to take a photo of every creature I saw, no matter how hard it was to capture.  So here you go: a turtle.  Don’t ask me what kind.  I can tell you it is not a snapping turtle and it is not a soft shell turtle.  Red eared slider?  No idea.  Just a turtle swimming along.

A cute little cormorant.  These are the guys you see with their wings spread out, drying off.  The other ones who do that are anhingas, sometimes called the snake bird.  What’s the difference?  Cormorants have a hooked bill, and anhingas have a spear-looking bill.  Also, anhingas have a fanned tail, and cormorants have a little stubby tail.

I thought this was a baby cormorant, but honestly I have no clue what it is.  Little ducky looking guy.

These vultures reminded me of that scene in Ice Age where the vultures are all singing “Food, Glorious Food!”

We’ll call him a great egret.

And we’ll call this autumn in Florida.  Really, it does happen.

There are only 6,620 manatees in Florida.  They’re still endangered.  They’re doing better, but they still need our love and protection.  It’s pretty rare to see them without injuries on their backs from boat propellers.  They really are such gentle creatures.  They just float around, munching on vegetation and hanging out.  What a life!  Until they get too close to a boat.

Amicalola Falls

During a spur-of-the-moment road trip, we decided to stop by Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville, Georgia.  We stayed at the lodge, which was very nice!  The room’s view over the mountains was amazing.  There’s a restaurant at the lodge, and they definitely take advantage of the fact that the nearest store is forty minutes away.  Breakfast was a buffet… think “free continental breakfast” quality, complete with waffle makers and re-hydrated scrambled eggs.  For four of us, breakfast was over $50!  And my littlest kid was free.  Insanity.  But hey, it was food, and it was convenient.

We were watching the weather waiting for a break in the rain so we could head down to the falls, but it didn’t look like it was ever going to let up.  So, we decided to go anyway!  A little rain never hurt anybody.  I actually love to go to beautiful places in the rain because it’s way less crowded (We had the whole place to ourselves), and it can make for some very dramatic photos.  Being from Florida, there are two things we don’t see much (any) of: mountains and waterfalls!  This place was truly amazing.  Photos really can’t do it justice.  I would love to go back here when we have more time to spend on the trails.  The southernmost approach to the Appalachian Trail can be reached from here.  Some day!

I didn’t get a whole lot of photos because, well, my camera isn’t waterproof. 🙂

There was an old, upside-down car under the stairs. No clue how this car could have gotten here!

Sadie knows how much I love spiderwebs, so she saw this one and made me take a picture.

The view from the top of the falls.

There were sooooo many stairs! Over 400 for the first part and close to 200 for the lower part.

Such troopers. This little girl is tough!

Checking out the car under the stairs.

Selby Gardens

One of my absolute favorite local places is Selby Gardens.  I’ve been to many botanical gardens and none have yet topped Selby’s orchids!  I could spend hours in the conservatory taking macro shots of the orchids.  The whole place is just so peaceful and relaxing.  There’s always something new blooming.  Sadie and I had a chance to go for a couple of hours last week.  I didn’t get many photos because it’s not as easy with a Little to entertain, but here are a few.  I’m sure I’ll be going back again soon!

Fairchild Gardens

We were lucky enough to get one more cool day before the Florida heat sets in for the summer. It was a perfect day for a little road trip. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens is a bit of a drive at three hours, but it was totally worth the drive!

A New Chapter

After ten years of professional photography, I decided it was time for a change.  I loved taking pictures, and I loved giving people the gift of memories they could hang on their wall.  What I did not love was  hour after hour of sitting in front of a computer photoshopping people into their ideal version of themselves.  People weren’t happy unless every flaw was removed, and inches were taken away.  I hated that!  I could see the beauty in every laugh line, in every curve, in every “flaw.”  It became very frustrating for me because it goes against my own personal standards of beauty.  I felt like a hypocrite.  To me, what makes a person beautiful is their spirit.  Are they kind, compassionate, considerate human beings?  That’s what matters.  Wrinkles, gray hair and a few extra pounds are irrelevant!  So rather than fight the standard of photoshopping flaws away, I left the business.  There were more reasons than just that, but that was a big one!  I know there are other plans in store for me.  I want to help people.  I want to make a difference in the world, even if it’s just one single person I help.  I’m going to school full-time for some kind of psychology.  I haven’t quite decided what, exactly, I want to do.  But I know that it will involve helping remove the stigma of mental illness, and helping people learn to love themselves.

So why this webpage??  Because I still absolutely love photography!  That never went away.  I became a bit jaded by the business of photography, but I’ve never stopped loving the art of it!  So, I hooked up with a few great friends and put some life back into a photo club we started a couple of years ago,  I rekindled my love of photography as we’ve created and participated in fun weekly photo challenges and monthly topics to help us and anybody else who joins to improve our photography.  We’ll also be entering some contests, which is always a great motivator!

One of the first challenges we did was symmetry.  It was a lot of fun finding things in nature that were symmetrical.  It was also very cool to create my own symmetry from things around the house, like this book of Shakespeare on a mirror.

Our photo club can be found on Instagram and on Facebook. We’re hoping to grow and find more members to come shoot with us and participate in the challenges.  These things are always more fun with friends!

If you’ve made it through my long, rambling post, I hope you’ll enjoy following my photo adventures here, and on Facebook and Instagram!  Surely the rest of my posts won’t be so long-winded and will mostly consist of photos. 🙂


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