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There is a story here…

Tucked back in a Cabernet vineyard in prime Napa real estate, sits this forgotten home. Once the residence of grape farmers, the development of real estate in the area probably forced this structure into disuse. The surrounding homes begin in the $7 million dollar range, fostering a market with very little interest in restoring a no-frills place like this one. It sits now as a hidden marker from a different time in the Napa Valley.

And although the neighbors might not care about the dilapidated structure, there is a story here. There were a family of farmers who were dedicated and attached to the fruit which was farmed here. They may have been wine-making pioneers. They had children. They survived by the grapes grown in this very soil. And then they left. Perhaps on to bigger and better homes, perhaps in to financial problems or maybe just in to a different lifestyle. But they managed to leave behind two trucks (both 1950’s Dodges), assorted farming equipment, smudgepots and a two-story home filled with furniture and other artifacts.

It’s clear that someone has invested massive resources in to continuing to farm and harvest this land, but nothing has been done to rehabilitate or demolish this old home. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the family that lived here. Where they might be now and why they moved in such a hurry that they left behind so many of their things which had once been such a big part of their lives. Stay tuned as I continue to research this property and what happened to its occupants. I just know there is a good story here.

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Georgia Swampland

(Best viewed in full size by clicking on the photo)

I have so much left to edit from the past 3 weeks of shooting, but I keep finding favorites that I am too anxious to hold on to. While exploring rural Georgia last week, I was testing out some HDR photography. Here is one of the first edits of a roadside swamp that we stopped to shoot.

 

Paynes Prairie- Gainesville, FL

It is hard for me to believe that in the 4 years I lived in Gainesville, I never saw Paynes Prairie…until I stopped on my way out of town (literally, I was moving away). I moved away to cookie-cutter suburbs and found myself longing for an outdoor place to explore and I kept the prairie in the back of my mind until I found myself living back in Gainesville again 3 years later.

This amazing place almost defies explanation as the expansive prairie (21,000 acres) opens up just miles from the Gainesville swamps. It looks like no other place in Florida and attracts migrating Mustang, Bison and Sandhill Cranes to the area to co-habitate with alligators, wild hogs and rabbits. Equally intriguing is the historical significance of this area. Archaeological evidence shows human activity here as early as 12,000 years ago. Fast forward to the mid-1600’s and Paynes Prairie would find itself home to Rancho de la Chua, the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida. The wild horses on the prairie which still remain today are thought to be descendants of the horses brought over from Spain during this period. As early as the 1770’s, naturalists, artists and writers like William Bartram, Marjorie Kinan Rawlings and James Audubon have been drawn to the areas beauty, uniqueness and ecological diversity. The following century found the prairie under water from heavy rains. The drain for the basin, called the La Chua sink, clogged and the basin flooded for nearly a decade creating what was then called Alachua Lake. Steamboats delivered lumber, goods and passengers on the lake until the early 1900’s when the basin dried up.

In 1971, Paynes Prairie became the first state-funded preserve in Florida. It is open year round for hiking, canoeing and limited camping. There are numerous different entry points to the preserve scattered around Alachua county which offer many different vantage points in which to take in the views. I recommend checking out the La Chua sink (where the gators sunbathe) and Sweetwater Branch Overlook (where you can look down over the whole prairie) as first stops and try to make it for sunset which is always spectacular. Both are located here off of the Boulware Spring Trailhead.

“On the first view of such an amazing display of the wisdom and power of the supreme author of nature, the mind for a moment seems suspended, and impressed with awe.”

-William Bartram, Travels (1791)

[On his feelings while gazing at Paynes Prairie for the first time]

Abandoned Six Flags

On a whim this past Summer, my brother and I took a roadtrip to New Orleans. We were excited to explore a new city together, to eat good food and to hear live music. But these were all added bonuses to the real reason we traveled 533 miles. Standing in the middle of the Crescent City is the graveyard of a theme park. Abandoned in all its glory. Upon first seeing a set of photos from this place, I knew I had to go.

Six Flags New Orleans (once called Jazzland) stood only a few miles from Lake Ponchartrain and suffered immense damage during Hurricane Katrina. The irreparable destruction came in the following days as 53 levee breaches devastated the city. Because of its proximity to Lake Pontchartrain, the park had little hope to survive the ensuing flood. Six Flags sat under 4-7 feet of water for more than a month before it could be fully drained. Most of the parks rides and structures still stand, bearing a moldy reminder of the water that once took over the park.

In 2006, the insurance company for the park declared it a ‘total loss.’ Since then, the park has been tied up in various pending deals with developers that have never quite panned out. So the park stands there, waiting to be built up, or torn down. All the safes have been looted, vandals have tagged 50% of the park and thieves have taken most of the signs that were left. But as we wandered through the park, I was struck by the amount of employee belongings that were left behind in offices and lockers. A bicycle in the security office, pairs of shoes, a thermos and a cooler in the employee break room. In an accounting office above a ride I found a dry erase board with a hotline for employees to call to find out when to return to work after the storm. I couldn’t help but think of the theme park employee who spelled out ‘Closed for Storm’ on the marquees and had no idea that those letters would still be there 5 years later.  These people all imagined that they would return within a few days to their jobs, and life as usual. The hurricane had other plans for this place.

 

To see more from Six Flags New Orleans, check out my flickr set: Amusements Abandoned.

Sunsets on the Gulf

There is something undeniably magic about watching the sunset over water. Almost inexplicable colors illuminate rippled patterns across the mirrored surface. The air begins to cool and the clouds seem to dance as the sun bids adieu to another day. Here is a collection of some of my favorite shots from the Florida Gulf Coast: Fort Myers, Steinhatchee and Cedar Key.

Forgotten Florida (part one)

Abandoned church in rural North Florida

Abandoned church in rural North Florida

Citrus groves, sugar mills and packing plants once stood all around North Central Florida, offering work to Florida frontiersmen. These workers founded communities, built churches and opened schools for a good part of the late 1800s.

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Railroad routes were built up around the citrus industry and post offices were erected. If you wanted to be a citrus farmer, this was the place to be. Unfortunately, two back to back freezes in the winter of 1894 and 1896 devastated area crops. The damage was so irreparable that most farmers left after the first freeze of 1894 and moved further south to the present-day Orlando area. The footprint they left on the area can still be seen, if you’re looking for it.

Abandoned School

Abandoned School

For the handful of cities in this area, the story is eerily similar. The freezes forced the citrus grove to close. The railroad was redirected and eventually the post office shut its doors. Some of these towns have no remains to speak of but many of them hold on proudly to a few dilapidated structures as time ticks on.

The remnants of an early 20th century home in rural North Florida

The remnants of an early 20th century home in rural North Florida

As I wander the back roads of rural Florida, I need only find a rusted tin roof, an old railroad track or an abandoned barn to find remnants of these old communities. I imagine a simpler, slower time. A small group of people trying to make it, and their eventual evacuation of the roots they fostered and the structures they built.

Abandoned church in rural North Florida

Abandoned church in rural North Florida

 

To see more photos of Forgotten Florida, check out my flickr photo set:

Forgotten Florida on flickr

Forgotten Florida (part two)

St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine has long been a favorite of mine to visit. I can remember visits as a kid to the fort (Castillo de San Marcos) with my mom and having picnics on the sprawling green lawns that surround the fortress and moat. There is something magical about walking down a coquina street that is over 500 years old that struck me as a child on my many trips to The Nation’s Oldest City. The city holds the same appeal and magic that it did on my first trip there 20 years ago.

Of course now as an adult, I am able to enjoy all that the city has to offer by way of food and libation too. Any trip I take to St. Augustine requires a stop at The Columbia Restaurant, an Old City staple since 1983. If you go, please order the 1905 salad and Black Bean Soup. You will thank me for this. There are some wonderful newer restaurants on the scene that have been welcomed discoveries like Spy Sushi, Collage and Bistro de Leon. For great atmosphere, a glorious Port list and a different-from-every-other-bar experience, please check out Stogies Jazz Club. This is a cigar bar, but if smoking isn’t your thing, there is a nice sized courtyard to sit and enjoy. Bonus points for live jazz on the weekends!

When I take a break from eating my way through St. Augustine, I most enjoy wandering the cobblestone and coquina streets to people watch and look for photo opportunities- which are everywhere. Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, Castillo de San Marcos and too many beautiful old churches to name are just blocks from each other. The streets of Old Town St. Augustine are lined with quaint Bed & Breakfasts and more candy makers and bakers than I can resist. The history, food and quirky cross-section of people you’ll find here make St. Augustine the most charming city in the state of Florida!

Youngs Chapel- Ben Hill County, GA

Of all the different types of photography I shoot, I must confess that I most enjoy exploring and capturing abandoned structure and decay. It’s partly the adventure, the unknown, the history and the recognition that few others will have the opportunity to see what I am seeing first hand. My search for abandoned and historic architecture is most thrilling when I have the time to meander aimlessly in the rural south looking for remnants of a slower, simpler time.

With a bit of preliminary research, a handy gps and some gut instincts, this stuff isn’t as hard to find as you might think. I headed to Georgia and dirt road after dirt road through cotton field after cotton field led me to this gem. Literally in the middle of nowhere, Youngs Chapel stands abandoned with nothing but cotton as far as the eye can see. There is little information available online in regards to this little beauty, but I know it was built in the 1890s and operated as a Methodist church. I couldn’t help but wonder who attended this church or how they got there so long ago as it seems to be the only structure of its time (or any!) to be in the area.

With the piano still sitting in the chapel and a small (and still maintained) cemetery in the back, you can envision church-goers wandering slowly up the dirt path to Sunday service so long ago.

To see more photos from the set, check out my flickr gallery: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjwmQ4jE

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, FL

I have always been fascinated with lighthouses and have a dream of traveling up the Eastern U.S. to capture all that I can along the coast. But, until that adventure is a possibility I will take advantage of the lighthouses that Florida has to offer!

The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, completed in 1887, is the tallest standing lighthouse in the state of Florida. Located on Ponce de Leon Inlet (formerly Mosquito Bay) this lighthouse is still in active service with a Third Order Fresnel lens in its tower. The climb to the top was slightly sketchy, but well worth it.

For more photos from the set, check out my flickr gallery: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjv569qm

New Orleans, LA (part un)

I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans, LA this past August (!) for some photography. I went with few plans and even fewer expectations and only one solid site on my photography ‘to-do’ list. I knew I would figure it out when we (my brother and I) arrived. What I got to see, photograph and experience in Nawlins’ was something wonderful. Despite what my best guesses might have been, the people of New Orleans are the proudest I have encountered. My lack of attachment to any certain zip code has always made it hard for me to relate to people who feel more attached to a particular locale. But the splendid folks I met in New Orleans made me wish I didn’t have to leave this kooky southern city.

My brother and I stayed at a hostel because I love hostels and I thought it would be a great experience for him. With the lack of hostel accommodations in most of the States, I was pleasantly surprised to find more than one hostel option in New Orleans. I read a bunch of reviews, glanced through pictures and then booked with India House Hostel. This place is wonderful. There was an ecletic mix of people of all ages and origins as you would hope to find at a hostel. We stayed in a newer part of the hostel which was clean, comfortable and nicer than what we had expected. It is right off of the trolley stop and close to the French Quarter. Although I never felt unsafe, I will mention that the hostel is on the edge of a neighborhood that I wouldn’t hang around in at night (like much of New Orleans). If you like hostels and you’re going to New Orleans, I would definitely recommend this place. It was an awesome first hostel experience for my brother!

To see the complete set, check out my flickr gallery:

New Orleans, LA, a set on Flickr.

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