I had no expectations when I pulled into downtown Monroe, Louisiana last week. I had really never heard anything about it, good or bad. It was the biggest town in northeast Louisiana, but that was about the extent of my knowledge as I headed into town. Sometimes it is great when you go into a place blind, because you can see it completely unhindered by preconceived notions of what it should look like. I was impressed the moment I hit downtown by the beautiful classically industrial architecture and the lovely riverfront park and bridge. It helped that it was a gorgeous evening, but my camera and I were kept busy for hours as I wandered the streets, with amazing shots around every corner. I really had a great time taking these photos, even though it was really quiet as I wandered the streets. At one point, I was taking a photo on a street corner and a police car was stopped at the light. The officer rolled down his window and said something along the lines of “just taking photos of beautiful downtown Monroe?”. I replied “yes, I am” to which he just laughed and laughed. The light turned green, and I could still hear him laughing as he drove off into the evening. I wish I had called after him and given him my card so he could see these photos. Maybe it takes an outsider to see the real beauty in a place, and maybe that’s what makes me the right person to shoot these kinds of photos. I know he found it hilarious, but I loved my short stay in Monroe. It is truly a diamond in the rough of northeastern Louisiana.
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Ah, the Florida Keys. The closest you can get to a Caribbean vacation without having to fly. This wonderful chain of islands stretches from just south of Miami all the way to the Dry Tortugas, although the road will only take you from Key Largo to Key West. This hundred mile stretch is full of fun activities like wreck diving and dolphin encounters, and has some great state parks and beaches along the way. The vibe is definitely more “island time” than the rest of the country, and you are sure to have a good time when you visit. Wherever you are in the Keys, you’re never far from a good bar. Whether you stop in for a pint after a full day of diving, or hang out all day sipping margaritas with your feet in the sand, you are sure to find a great place to while away your time in the islands. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, and it’s not meant to be. These are just some of my favorites as you make your way south through the Keys. You should definitely not try and hit all of these in one day, and I always recommend using a designated driver. Also remember there’s only one road, so you could hit a few on the way down and a few on the way back up.
Phil Foster Park under the Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach is one of the coolest places I’ve visited on this entire journey. Situated on a small island literally under the bridge in the middle of the intercoastal waterway, this park is surrounded by warm, calm, turquoise water perfect for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Considered by some to be one of the top shore dives in the world, I had to go see for myself. Geared up with equipment rented from nearby Force-E Dive Center, I walked off the beach and descended into the blue. It really was a spectacular dive site full of big and little creatures alike. Plenty of fish were around, as were crabs, shrimp, lobsters, starfish and even one small nurse shark. I found two elusive scorpion fish - see if you can spot them in the two photos below the starfish in this post (and remember you can always click my photos to see a bigger view). You can only dive this site one hour before and one hour after high tide, so you do have to time it properly, but Force-E is there to help with tide charts and sound advice. After my spectacular 100 minute dive (it’s only about 20 feet deep), I had just as much fun above water as below. The park has a nice little beach to relax on, a good sized picnic area, bathrooms and showers, a fishing pier and great views from every angle. It was a perfect place to hang out and relax and watch the sun set behind West Palm Beach. If you ever find yourself in central east Florida, stop by Phil Foster Park for a dive, a snorkel, a swim or just a picnic and some great rays. You may end up there way longer than you planned to be. I hope you enjoy these photos from my time under the Blue Heron Bridge in Phil Foster Park.
Tybee Island is a cute little beach community just 18 miles from Savannah. It is the easternmost point of Georgia and has wonderful a wonderful beach, a nice fishing pier and a cute downtown area. The highlight for me though, as I’m sure you will guess, is the Tybee Island Light Station. A lighthouse was first built on the site in 1736, and the bottom half of the current structure dates from 1773. The top half was replaced in 1867. It is the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is in the far northwest corner of Georgia, an easy half-day trip from Chattanooga and a reasonable day-trip from Atlanta. It is a beautiful place with a thousand-foot deep canyon on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. Even the name makes me smile and conjures up magical images in my head. The hike down to the waterfalls involves a lot of steps, but is well worth the effort. I got there a little late in the day to get good light for my photos in the canyon itself, but the stunning dusk and sunset views from the rim made up for it. This was a wonderful introduction to the state and a great place to spend the afternoon. This was my first visit to Cloudland Canyon, but it will not be my last. I hope you enjoy these photos from my visit, remember you can always click on them to see a larger view.