I’ve had an amazing month in Alabama, and these are the very best photos from my trip. I started my journey on beautiful Dauphin Island right on the Gulf of Mexico, traveled through the shrimping town of Bayou La Batre, and then made my way north into the stunning city of Mobile. From there, I dropped down to Gulf Shores and then out to Dothan in the southeast corner of the state. I traveled up the east coast to charming Eufaula and then through breezy Tuskegee to the State Capital in Montgomery. I made my way out to fascinating Selma and then on to tiny Demopolis in the west. From there I headed northeast through Tuscaloosa, Bessemer and Birmingham before zigzagging back west into The Shoals region. Finally, I made my way across the north through Huntsville before dropping south to Gadsden and Anniston and then north again through Fort Payne and Little River Canyon on my way out of the state. Alabama has so much to offer from history to natural beauty to clean and beautiful small towns and cities. The tragic history surrounding slavery and civil rights is not hidden away, but right in plain view and interpreted thoroughly and honestly. I found wonderful and welcoming people everywhere I went, and of course enjoyed some fantastic food and music as I’ve come to expect from the South. It was an incredible month, and my camera was very busy throughout. I hope you enjoy this “Best of Alabama” photo gallery as I take you along for one final romp through the Heart of Dixie.
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Florence, Alabama is a really neat little city in the far northwest corner of the state. It is part of a region referred to collectively as The Shoals, which includes the towns of Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield. Florence sits right on the Tennessee River, and was named for the city in Italy by the Italian surveyor who helped lay out the original plan. Florence is the hometown of both W.C. Handy and Sam Phillips, so musical traditions run deep in the area. In fact, it seemed like the arts were well represented in general there as is displayed by the beautiful street art you’ll see in this post. During my visit I also caught a wonderful performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the beautiful Shoals Theater, right in the heart of town. I really enjoyed wandering the streets of Florence and spending some time in the riverfront McFarland Park. While I spent my days touring nearby FAME Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the birthplace of Helen Keller, I kept finding myself drawn back across the river in the evening to experience all this town had to offer, from nice restaurants to some cool live music venues. While there is so much to see and do in this part of Alabama, be sure to save some time for a stroll around downtown Florence, “Alabama’s Renaissance City”. You’ll be glad you did.
Pulling into downtown Dothan, Alabama, I had no idea what to expect from it. I knew it was the seventh largest city in Alabama, and the “Hub of the Wiregrass” - a region which covers southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia and parts of the Florida panhandle. Other than that I was pretty much going in blind. What I found was a pleasant city with a compact downtown full of beautiful murals and statues. Dothan has an excellent art museum, a gorgeous opera house, and some wonderful cafes and restaurants all within just a few blocks of each other. It was a quiet and pleasurable place for a stroll, and I had a beautiful day to do just that. I spent several hours photographing this beautiful city, and you can see the results in this post. I really enjoyed my time in Dothan and I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you’re ever in southeast Alabama, be sure you stop in and say ‘hello’ - you will definitely be surprised by what you find here.
Mobile, Alabama is truly one of the most beautiful cities in America. With a population hovering around 200,000, Mobile is large enough to feel like a big city, but small enough not to lose its charm. The downtown area is a colorful mixture of old and new, classic and modern, ornate and utilitarian. It seemed that each time I turned a corner, I found a scene which I just had to capture on film, and I spent three days doing just that. This post will show you the results and, I hope, the many different faces of Mobile. It is a city whose history stretches back over 300 years and yet is full of modern touches and recent additions which seem to add to, instead of detract from, that history. Still, the one characteristic of Mobile which stood head and shoulders above the rest is the one which cannot be captured on film: the kindness and friendliness of its people. I hadn’t been to Mobile in several years and was happy to find it as welcoming as ever. I must admit I was charmed by The Port City. I left a little bit of my heart there and can’t wait to go back and find it.
Out on the prairie in the heart of Acadiana sits the tiny old railroad town of Rayne, Louisiana. Originally called Pouppeville, the citizens decided to rename their town Rayne in honor of the engineer who laid the tracks. In the early 1900’s, three brothers started a frog leg business, shipping frog legs all over the country, and Rayne got a reputation as the Frog Capital of the World. They truly have run with their nickname and frogs are everywhere you look in this quiet little town. They even host a Frog Festival every May! I loved walking the streets and taking these photos, and this post is just a sampling of all the frogs to be found in Rayne. They made me smile and reminded me that life is too short to take too seriously. How can you take things too seriously when you are constantly surrounded by frogs? Kudos to the citizens of Rayne for keeping their sense of humor and bringing a lot of joy to their town streets. Your town made me want to jump for joy!
Just off of the infamous Highway 61 near Zachary, Louisiana, you turn off on a dirt road and find yourself standing outside of Teddy’s Juke Joint. It’s hard to imagine you’re only 15 minutes from downtown Baton Rouge, because it feels a world apart. As you approach the front door, you may wonder if it’s open, but I promise you it is - every night of the week. As soon as you open that door, though, be prepared to be transported to a different time and a different world. Much like stepping into a music lover’s version of Narnia, Teddy’s is a whirlwind of colorful lights and amazing sounds. It’s what I would imagine it would be like inside of a kaleidoscope. As wonderful as this place appears at first glance, the real magic has yet to happen. Teddy and his wife Nancy have been running this joint for over 40 years, and they are some of the most hospitable and wonderful people you’re likely to meet - just good people all around. Pull up a seat at the bar and order a drink and you’ll soon find your feet tapping along with the beat and your face smiling from ear to ear. Teddy spins the records and Nancy pours the drinks, and together they manage to keep the place spotless and running smoothly, with a little help from their friends on the weekend. Speaking of the weekend, that’s an ideal time to come to Teddy’s as there are frequently live bands and jam sessions, but any night of the week your ears will be treated to great blues, soul, and an occasional slip into rock and roll. If you’re hungry, they’ll whip you up a pork chop sandwich or some red beans and rice with their own secret blend of seasoning. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting all of the remaining true Southern juke joints over the last decade, and Teddy’s is definitely my favorite. It’s the southernmost juke joint on Highway 61, and the only one that’s open 7 days a week. Whenever I’m anywhere near Baton Rouge, I find my steering wheel pulling me towards Teddy’s, even if it’s just to stop in and say hi. I know I’ll find some good conversation, a hot meal, a cold beer and great music. Yep, Teddy’s is a lot like coming home…
There are a LOT of photos in this post. Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana are some of the most vivid, colorful, vibrant, sensory overloading events in the whole world. The colors, the costumes, the floats, the music and the excitement are all overwhelming. They are joyful and happy events marking the biggest celebration of the year in the state. Photographing them is a true joy, and all of these photos make me extremely happy. In these photos I want to show you the floats, the riders, the spectators, the bands and walking groups that make up the Mardi Gras parades. There are also a few of my favorite kind of Mardi Gras shot - trying to capture beads in mid-air between thrower and catcher. There are six parades featured in this post. The first is the Krewe of Slidellians from Slidell, Louisiana. The following night parade is from the Krewe of Rio in Lafayette. The next daytime parades were the Krewe of Carrolton followed by the Krewe of King Arthur on the same day taken from Lee Circle in New Orleans. There are two photos from the Krewe of Nyx nighttime parade in New Orleans, and finally are a few from the huge Spanish Town parade in Baton Rouge, the pinkest event I’ve ever witnessed. I know there are probably too many photos for one post here, but it was hard to cut it down to just the ones I included. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you can feel the excitement and happiness I tried to capture here. More than anything, I hope they make you smile.
It was amazing to be back in Louisiana for Mardi Gras this year. I got to catch parades in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Slidell and New Orleans, and spent Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy with friends. One of the best parts of Mardi Gras are the wonderful costumes people wear. Much like Halloween, you can go as absolutely anything for Mardi Gras, and people do. My favorites are always the really colorful and intricate costumes, especially those that are handmade and obviously took a long time to create. I spent much of the day wandering around the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods trying to catch the spirit of the day through people’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of my favorite Mardi Gras costumes from 2019 in Louisiana.
The history of the Mardi Gras Indians is shrouded in mystery. They have been parading through the streets of New Orleans for well over a hundred years in elaborate, hand-made costumes which take the entire year to create. It’s believed that the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes came to be because most African American New Oreanians didn’t feel they had a place in traditional New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades. Each Tribe represents a specific neighborhood, and spends thousands of hours creating their costumes which will generally only be worn on Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph’s Day. The Tribe will emerge early on Mardi Gras morning and take to the streets, marching to meet other Tribes and engage in ritualistic battles and compare costumes. Since the Big Chief of the Tribe determines the route their march will take, they aren’t known or advertised so you have to be lucky to come across them. I felt very lucky to see this Tribe, representing the 9th Ward, on Mardi Gras Day and follow them up St. Bernard St. for a ways. Their costumes put all other Mardi Gras costumes to shame, and their history and tradition is some of the most mysterious and fascinating in all of New Orleans’ folklore. The best time to see the Mardi Gras Indians, though, is during their St. Joseph’s Day Parade. On that day, many of the Tribes descend on A.L. Davis Park to march through the streets one last time in their regalia before they start designing next year’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Mardi Gras Indians.
Coral Castle is the magnum opus of Edward Leedskalnin, and sits as a tribute to his life’s work in Homestead in far south Florida. Edward was born in Latvia in 1887. In 1913, he was engaged to marry the love of his life, but she called off the wedding at the last moment and never saw Ed again. Heartbroken, he moved to the new world, and took up work as a lumberjack and miner in several places around the US and Canada. Somewhere around 1919, he developed tuberculosis and moved to Florida for the warm air. He settled in Florida City and began work on his now infamous castle.
Ed hadn’t forgotten his former fiance, and worked to build this castle for her, in the hopes she might change her mind and come join him in Florida. Working mostly at night, for both the cool temperatures and privacy it provided, Ed slowly but methodically built this impressive structure over the next twenty years. In 1936, Ed bought a different plot of land in Homestead, and slowly moved his castle north, one piece at a time, and reassembled it in its current location. There he continued its construction until it was completed in 1940. The real marvel of the project are the 10 ton coral walls which he cut, moved and placed by himself in the middle of the night with only primitive tools and pulleys. He also built doors which weighed several tons and rested on ball bearings which allowed them to swivel easily using the pressure of just one finger. These doors gave the site the name which Ed called it in his time: Rock Gate Park. How exactly he moved and placed these giant pieces is still somewhat of a mystery, and one which he took with him to the grave. The man who built this impressive structure was only 5 feet tall and weighed in at a diminutive 120 pounds. He lived in his castle for the rest of his life, and offered tours to the general public, first for a dime and then later for a quarter. Today it will cost you $19 to tour the structure, a bit much in my opinion. For me though, I am always interested in seeing something which is a tribute to one person and their individual and unique dream…
Whitehall was the winter residence of Henry Flagler, the father of Florida tourism. Having made his fortune in Standard Oil, Flagler set out to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West and a hotel and tourism empire along the way. Bringing tourists too Florida was one thing, but he also brought fruit and vegetables from Florida as well, making tourism and agriculture the two foundations blocks of the Florida economy. One of his signature hotels, The Breakers, is located in Palm Beach very close to Whitehall.
Built in 1902, this Gilded Age, Beaux Arts mansion boasts 75 rooms including a grand ballroom, a spectacular music room, a wonderful library and a beautiful dining room. When it was built, Whitehall included all of the modern amenities of the time including electricity, indoor plumbing and even a telephone. They also had central heat which was surprisingly used mostly in summer to dry the building out from the damaging Florida humidity. It is a beautiful home, inside and out with some phenomenal detail work (albeit most of it was created with plaster casts). I really enjoyed my visit, and I hope you enjoy these photos from Henry Flagler’s Whitehall.
Established in 1846 on an old plantation, Bonaventure Cemetery is the largest municipal cemetery in the city of Savannah. It gained notoriety from John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and it’s film adaptation, and is one of the more visited sites in Savannah with several companies offering tours. It was also featured in John Muir’s Thousand Mile Walk, as he camped out in the cemetery for 6 days on his journey. I visited Bonaventure by myself and enjoyed wandering through this peaceful park. The Spanish moss gives it so much Southern atmosphere. Bonaventure is the final resting place of Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer and many other notable people from the city. It also has some magnificent statues. I hope you enjoy these photos from beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery…