Monday, March 31, 2014


On Saturday, March 29th, we drove to San Antonio with our friends, the Petersons, to spend the day.  Easily the two most prominent tourist attractions in the city are the Alamo and the Riverwalk, both situated in the downtown area, and those were our first stopS.

Unfortunately, for a couple of reasons it was not easy to get photos of the Alamo.  First, it was the weekend and the crowds were huge, eliminating any hope of a clear shot of the structure's facade.  Second, photography is prohibited in the interior of the shrine.  As a result, I was relegated to taking exterior detail shots, including the following.

These are not actually of the Alamo but of a building on the grounds that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1836 battle.  I was surprised at how much deterioration had occurred since 1936, but then I realized that that was nearly 80 years ago.

Finally, here is photo of some leaves in a pond on the grounds.

OK, pretty lame for a post on the Alamo, but the image's resolution was good, the water was green, and it was all that I had.

Then it was on to the Riverwalk.  My wife and I visited San Antonio 14 years ago, but the weather was incredibly bad (for San Antonio) and we came away with an unfavorable impression.  Not so this time.  The weather was beautiful and the Riverwalk really shone.  The only major drawback was the crowds.

I found the Riverwalk surprising for a couple of reasons.  First, the river is very narrow, perhaps 20-30 feet across in most places in the central area.  The following shots are illustrative, I think.  Note the tourist boats that were continually plying the waters.

Second, the river is below street level, so there are numerous elevation changes, but that just added to the complexity and the charm, I thought.

The area was filled with shops, bars, and eateries, including the following.

I think the worm refers to tequila, but what about the death symbols?

We solved our crowd problem by walking south from the central district.  Here are some semi-random shots of that area.

This last is one of my favorites.  It is of a tunnel lined with highly polished red tiles that create an unusual reflective pattern.  The photo was there for the taking.  I only give myself credit for seeing it.



One of the primary entertainment and shopping areas of Austin is along Congress Avenue south of the downtown, known locally as SoCo.  The other day we spent a few enjoyable hours just taking in the atmosphere.

The area includes a good deal of street art.  Here are a few examples.

I wasn't sure what was going on in the above photo, but I liked it anyway.

Signs for local establishments added to the atmosphere.

Austin prides itself in being "weird."

And there was the lemonade stand set back from the street.

And here is the closeup of the sign in front of the stand.

We stopped in one of the boot shops, where the selection was overwhelming.

There were probably 20 times this number in the store.  We didn't buy any.  Nor did we buy any of the western hats for sale in the shop.

We spent more time in another store with a more diverse selection of hats.

We couldn't resist trying some on.

No, I did not buy the boater.



Probably no visit to Austin would be complete without a tour of the Texas State Capitol.  During our visit to Austin I have been to the capitol three times and will most likely visit it at least once more.  Each time I have brought my camera and have taken a generous number of photos.

Like most state capitols, Texas's features a large central dome above an open rotunda, making it a major landmark for the city.  Here is a shot of the front of the building that features the dome, as well as the grounds that are amply treed.

Speaking of mature trees, here is an evening shot of a live oak on the capitol grounds that had not yet begun to leaf out.  Speaking technically, I took this at f/14 to keep as much of the branchwork in focus as possible.  The exposure was 0.6 seconds, requiring use of my tripod.  I do like the shot.  I could have lightened up the sky in post processing, but I think the darkening evening clouds add to the mood that the gnarly branches evoke.

Like most dome interiors, Texas's is very photogenic.  On one of my visits I was able to use my technique of setting my camera on the floor in the center of the rotunda pointed straight up to get the following shot.  We were informed that the star in the center, which is encircled by the word Texas, is eight feet across.

My 24-120 mm lens was wide open for this shot, but with my crop-sensor Nikon D7000 I simply can't get a wider shot without a true wide-angle lens.  Although the above shot is "classic," I think it is often more interesting to take shots that are off-center to pick up some of the curves of the various floors that encircle the rotunda and dome, as in the following shots.

On one of my visits was in the evening (the building is open most nights until 10 p.m.) I visited the upper floors and took some shots that feature the railings on the walkways on the lower floors.

Here, too, is a shot of one of the railings taken horizontally.  Note the portraits on the walls of the floor below.  These are of the state governors arrayed in chronological sequence.

And while I am on the subject of railings, here is a photo of one of the grand stair railings leading to an upper floor.

Here are a few more "detail" shots, including one of a statue of Stephen Austin in the foyer leading from the front entrance to the rotunda . . .

and of one of the original brass hinges on the building's interior as well as exterior doors.

Each hinge, we were told, weighs nearly eight pounds.

Texas's lone star motif is featured throughout the building, including in many of its glass-paneled doors.

Oops.  Unintended self-portraits are one of the problems with taking photos of reflecting surfaces.

The capitol's free tours feature a visit to the senate and house of representative chambers.  I enjoyed the detail in the senate chamber ceiling and took the following shot pointing nearly straight up.

The chamber had ample windows that were covered with shutters that I thought made interesting semi-abstractions.  I like the following shot that also featured the chambers desk chairs to provide some context.

The senate chamber also included two very large battle scene paintings, one (of course) of the battle for the Alamo, which the Texans lost, and one of the subsequent battle of San Jacinto, where Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Here is a section from the latter painting.

Oh, and one of our visits was on a Saturday morning that featured some sort of exercise class on the plaza in front of the building that I thought seemed to share certain similarities to the photo above.

One of the tours also included a visit to an annex building that also featured some photo opportunities, including the following.

Finally, here is what was actually my first photo of the capitol, taken the evening before our first actual visit.  This was a quick shot I took from the middle of Congress Avenue, perhaps a half mile south of the capitol, while we were crossing the street (with the light).  Despite the low light conditions, the photo, taken handheld, worked out fairly well.

Texas's capitol is large, like just about everything else in Texas (as any Texan will tell you), and it is attractive.  But I have to say that, despite its size, it doesn't have the same ornate qualities as Wisconsin's, nor is it in as good condition.  Still, a must-see for any visitor to Austin.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014


On our way back to Austin from Fredericksburg, Texas, we stopped at Luckenbach.  This place consists of a general store, saloon, dance hall, and a few other outbuildings.  In some ways it is the real deal--a genuine Western location with a history.  But in others it is a little over the top and in yet others it is a bit of a ghost town.  It housed an actual post office until 1971, when the office was closed and the zip code retired by the USPS.

We were there for perhaps an hour, wandering the grounds and listening to a couple of amateur musicians whiling away the afternoon.  Here's one of them.  They weren't too good, to be honest.

His beard aged him, but he was almost undoubtedly younger than me.  Yikes.

And, yes, there were a number of signs proclaiming the population as 3.

But I think that's probably an exaggeration.  It might be as high as 20 or so.

The main restroom on the grounds was a double wooden shack covered with old license plates, as in this shot that included a wooden armadillo playing a guitar.

There were a couple of sculptures, one of Hondo, one of the individuals that put the place on the map,  as well as a stylized wooden carving that I could resist shooting.

And then there were the signs.

I couldn't tell whether the spelling was intentional or not.

Here is the sign above the counter where you could purchase beer and a pork sandwich.

The grounds also included a long horned steer available for rides.

I liked the guy that was handling the steer.  I felt he looked authentic at least.

As I mentioned, there was a general store that had plenty of Western paraphernalia for sale, including these hats.

The store included a saloon of sorts whose walls were covered with all sorts of historical junk.

I especially liked the Budweiser sign.  Here's another shot that I underexposed to emphasize the neon light.  (I also removed the lightbulb at the sign's top right corner.)

If you're in the area, I would highly recommend stopping in to absorb a bit of the culture.