July 2011 Archives
Red, White and Boom!
In the previous years I went to the St. Paul for the 4th of July fireworks. This year I decided to go to Minneapolis. Based on previous experience, I was hoping that arriving half an hour before the show at the Stone Arch bridge would be adequate, but that proved to be false - as I exited 35W I saw many groups walking towards Hennepin Ave and Stone Arch bridges. I drove by, but the parking lots were full, there was no available on-street parking and people were still driving slowly looking for a spot. I quickly switched to plan B and drove to the UofM campus which was busy, but I could find a parking spot then walked over to the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge which was moderately busy with people and set-up my tripod.
The moon was hanging nicely over Minneapolis:
Unfortunately when the fireworks started, I realized why the area was not as busy - the smoke-stacks of the Southwest Steamplant were partially blocking the view.
I managed to get a few decent shots, but next year I'll be parking near the Stone Arch bridge at 7 PM!
Strawberries and Stalactites
Before we went to Chicago, we talked to some friends about going to pick strawberries from a farm - C. found a site that listed quite a few pick-your-own farms selling berries and apples and we were looking forward to getting some fresh strawberries, ripened on the vine. We called around, but a few farms were already out or did not have a good crop this year - and some farms were too far, more than two hours away.
On our way to Chicago last week (I know, I need to post some shots of the Windy city but there are too many of them, and it's hard to pick a few good ones) we noticed a banner on the side of the road advertising Crystal Cave as "the longest cave in Wisconsin" not too far after we crossed St. Croix - and we thought we should visit it, since it is so close.
So as we were dialing out farms, I thought about searching berry farms that are near the cave, so we can hit two spots in a single drive - a few clicks on Google Maps found the one: Afton Apple Orchard.
We left early in the morning, as yesterday we got a scorching 97 ° F that forced the farm to close at noon since they needed to water the plants so they don't wilt while still full of fruit. The farm was very well organized: plenty of signs showing which way to the berry patch, plus a couple of guys welcoming you and sorting out the parking and distributing the cardboard 'collecting' boxes. A girl was assigning row sections to groups.
In 45 minutes we picked enough berries and took out the cameras - it is hard to photograph the field as the plants are small and the berries are well hidden, but I managed to find a few flowers still..
We paid for the berries then shifted them into ziplocs and placed them gingerly in a "hot-cold" bag that contained 5 pounds of ice, and we left for the cave.
The gift shop that sits on top of the cave has many varieties of fudge. I have tried two pieces, the walnut-chocolate and the coconut-chocolate - they were good, but extremely sweet. I felt that I needed some energy to spend one hour at 45 ° F . I found it annoying that camera bags were prohibited from the cave, but given the tight quarters it was to be somewhat expected. I had my special photography shorts with me, whose side pockets can house the 24-70L (without hood) so I had the 24-70 on the camera, the 100L macro in one pocked and the 580 mkII flash in the other. That kept me suitably grounded, even on slippery cave floor. It was my first time in a cave so I didn't know what to expect in terms of lighting. I knew I didn't want the flash on camera and the Canon extension cord is quite tight and it pulls the flash - so I took the Cactus V5 wireless triggers, even though that meant the loss of E-TTL and semi-constant fidgeting with the power ratio.
Lighting was difficult, and the group moved briskly from one room to another - they really keep the cave busy all day long. I got a few shots of my companions and quite a number of boring shots of rocks that work well as abstract or dirt backgrounds but do not give the depth of feeling of 'being there', plus a lot of shots were spoiled by the cabling they installed to lit up the cave: They need to hide that cabling better. I definitely would like to go into a cave again and try to lit up those rocks and nooks and crannies. Luckily, at the entrance of the gift shop they had a brochure with other public-access caves in the 50 states which included a couple in Minnesota - so I will go and practice some more this summer. Maybe even suggest a meet-up!