As mentioned in my previous blog, I have decided to divide this year's top ten list into two segments. My first post consisted entirely of images from my trip to Ireland, and the images chosen for this post have been culled from all of my images outside of that trip. Even so, it was still difficult to choose ten favorites from my portfolio. Among the images I have chosen, you will find scenes from old familiar places as well as several new locations.
Although I began the year with some ideas of what I hoped to photograph, the year had its own surprises. For example, I intended to spend considerable time during the spring exploring canyons with intermittent waterfalls in my home state. However, my plans were thwarted by historic springtime flooding in Missouri which made it impossible to reach the locations. Highways and secondary roads were impassable throughout the state and even the interstate system was shut down. By the time the floodwaters began to recede, it was time to leave for Ireland. Upon my return we experienced dry conditions which continued for the rest of the year. It just reminds me that a nature photographer is always subject to the forces of nature and its uncontrolled elements. I invite you to join me on a journey through the lens of my camera as I reflect on the past year.
As spring beckoned, I returned to some familiar places in mid-April. The dogwoods were in bloom at Hawn State Park and I was drawn to a forested area that was strewn with fallen trees, testimony to the high winds which had toppled them in their prime. Recent rains had left the bark damp and rich in color under the bright overcast light, while white dogwood blossoms accented the scene.
During my trips to the southern Missouri Ozarks in mid-April I also encountered wild phlox in bloom. While hiking in the St. Francois Mountains I came across several sections of a trail where these wildflowers lined the trail on both sides, adding a lovely accent. It was a pleasant day for a hike as clouds quickly passed across the sun, creating moments of shadow and light streaming through the trees (not ideal for photography though). Added to the mixed lighting were frequent breezes which made the scenes challenging to photograph. It is difficult to photograph wild phlox in the forest because the tonal value is similar to the greens and earth tones. Our eyes compensate to distinguish the colors but the camera finds it more difficult to make that distinction. With skill and patience, I was able to create a series of images that captured the moment. More images from this hike can be seen in my Wildflowers in Missouri gallery
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a special affection for Hawn State Park and Pickle Creek. The above image captures the peaceful serenity of this creek on one of my visits in the early springtime, when the trees were displaying those vibrant greens that come with the season. You can see more of my images from this park in my Hawn State Park gallery
Summertime was a busy time, as usual, and I spent a great deal of time sorting through the images from my Ireland trip. So it was with eager anticipation that I awaited the coming of autumn and I began planning and creating a bucket list of places I hoped to visit, including a new region to explore. I returned to Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois, taking my wife this time so she could see the beauty I experienced last fall. The above image of Lonetree Canyon captures that moment when the bright overcast skies illuminated the golden leaves amongst the deep shadows of the canyon. Visit my Starved Rock State Park gallery to see more images from this region.
Throughout the autumn of 2017 I began to explore the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. I have wanted to explore this region for the last 40 years and finally carved out the time. I made numerous day trips to the area (well over 100 miles from my home) which made for very long days. I travelled on a loose itinerary that sometimes acted on a whim. I found that the weather could change dramatically from the western side of the state to the east on any given day. On one of the trips I stopped at the forest service headquarters and spoke with the ranger on duty. I asked her what her favorite spot was and she quickly replied "the Rim Rock Trail", so I decided to check it out. Arriving late in the day, I set out on the trail that follows an escarpment along a sandstone canyon before descending to the valley floor. I spied this weathered cedar on the bluff along the way and couldn't resist photographing it. The fall colors were grand as I descended into the canyon below, under overcast skies, and I spent so much time photographing I never finished the trail. As evening fell I decided to return the way I came as it was the shortest route and I wanted to be off the trail by dark. For more images from the trail visit my Rim Rock Trail gallery
One of my impromptu trips into Shawnee National Forest was a visit to Garden of the Gods. I had been there once before but the light was not good for photographing the beauty of this place. Fall colors in southern Illinois were especially good this year and I had made a trip to Piney Creek Ravine on the western side of the state, near the Mississippi River. I had encountered light rain off and on most of the morning and finishing my hike in early afternoon I decided, on a whim to drive across the state to Garden of the Gods. About half way there the cloud cover became heavy and it began raining. I decided that I was already committed and continued the journey. I arrived at Garden of the Gods at early evening time and it was pouring rain. I sat in the car for a bit and decided to head out on the trail anyway. As I got out and started weatherproofing my bags and equipment the rain let up and by the time I reached the rim of the canyon, the rain had stopped. Then, to my awe and amazement, a mist began to rise from the valley floor mingling with the autumn colors. What a glorious evening it turned out to become! More images of this special place can be found in my Garden of the Gods gallery
Among the new places I visited in Shawnee National Forest this year was Bell Smith Springs. Apparently this is a popular swimming hole in the summertime, however, the day I visited I had the place to myself. This is another one of those places where a sandstone escarpment meets a tranquil canyon below with slow moving little creeks converging in the valley. Huge boulders are strewn across the canyon and lie in the middle of the creek beds. The fall colors were illuminated under a sky where clouds passed quickly across the sun above. With mixed, dappled light streaming through the trees, and intermittent breezes, it was an exercise in patience as I sought out compositions and waited. The above image is the result of one of those dramatic moments of light. Visit my Bell Smith Springs gallery to see more images from this place.
As the autumn colors extended into November, I took a friend along with me on a trip to Taum Sauk Mountain. The highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk is part of the St. Francois Mountains which contain some of the oldest exposed rock in North America. I love the region and never cease to enjoy visiting. As we approached the area, driving through the Arcadia Valley, we could see the clouds hanging low over the hills and the drive up to the trailhead was shrouded in thick fog. Heading out on the trail the fog lingered for quite some time and I captured the moment with several images (wish I had taken more). When we reached the lookout above Mina Sauk Falls the fall colors were gorgeous. To view more images of Taum Sauk Mountain visit my Taum Sauk Mountain gallery
The final image I have selected for my 2017 Top 10 is the above image of Johnson's Shut Ins. During autumn, the evening light that illuminates this area of the Black River couples with the fall colors in the surrounding hills to produce an exquisite juxtaposition between the granite bedrock and the reflections from the water. For several years I have been capturing similar scenes and this year was no exception. To see more images like this visit my Johnson's Shut Ins State Park gallery
It has been difficult to choose 10 images from this year as my favorites, and my opinion could change, but I think these encapsulate my photographic adventures for 2017.