Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Return Through Mountain Passes

Well, I'm typing this via phone, so will be short!

Breck got a bunch of snow the last day of shoots in the village. It helped to make the drive through the Vail Pass slow and a wee bit treacherous. But at least it was in the afternoon light, winds were low and the temps were high. But all commercial vehicles had chain restrictions. Passing the slow semis I thought it sounded like tank treads, with their spinning of chain covered tires. There was another accident in the opposing lane but I made it safe in town.

In Vail, I shot in the oldest property there, located at Vail's village central landmark,, the covered bridge.

Today I shot, spent time down in the village for Mardi Gras and on the morrow return through the passes for a journey homewards. Just as my body has acclimated to the elevation.

Happy Mardi Gras and don't forgive to give something up for lent! ;)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

At Elevation

My last property to shoot in San Antonio was a posh place that was the favorite of many celebrities. It was relatively-new and was quite dark inside. That never makes it much fun when one uses available light sources for illumination! Behind a big display case was a collection of blown glass oranges, each with the autograph and various comments made by the celebrity it was given to. There was quite the collection in there, Bill Cosby, JaRule, bands such as Tool, the Jonas Brothers and Blink 182, Marc Anthony and J-Lo. One of the very first rooms that I shot was J-Lo's favorite.

That evening I went on a little stroll through the downtown area and ended up eating down by the Riverwalk. I would explore this in more detail the following day.

The following day the sun had decided to make an appearance! It had hid from me during most of my Texas visit and now, it made this all the more merry. It improved my mood quite a bit too. So, with my 20-pound, constant companion, camera and tripod upon my shoulder, I found a convenient place to part just outside the main downtown area (by the big broadcast attenae) and head towards the Riverwalk.

My first stop was at a little Mexican square, called La Vallita that was an artist enclave. It was nice to find a cozy bit of history and stone warming in the sunlight, so near the bustle of the downtown area. Bolivar Hall, and old church and fountain seemed to be significant landmarks.

But now I continued past the the big red twisted monument, given to the US from Mexico and supposing to symbolize hands shaking in friendship. Near this is one of the stairways down to the Riverwalk, an area that is one level below the streets and through which part of the San Antonio river runs through. While the city once considered covering it as a storm sewer it now acts as the main attraction in San Antonio. This channel of mud-colored water curves through the city. All along it are walkways on each side and many shops and restaurants. There are also many popular hotels along its banks, including the one that I videoed. I even saw a cute mob of little ducklings.

I walked and shot, interviewed and did some on-camera bits - a little Rick Steve's action. I ended the visit with a tour on one of the boats that go up and down the channel. For $7.75 you get a 35-minute tour of the river. It passes under the many bridges, takes the many curves and brings you to the edges of some very big buildings. I found our Mexican tour guide to be very funny. I think I found him more funny than most others. Tough crowd! Goodbye to San Antonio, my namesake and saint of Padua, patron saint of children and lost things!

Now it was time to drive up to Austin to stay one night and shoot the next day, an historic and swanky mansion. When I pulled in there were big ol' boys smoking cigars on the front porch. I was more interested in the signs of a college town everywhere. That should mean at least once decent cafe! And, that is what I did, found myself a cafe, did some work and then retired.

The day was sunny and the shoot went well. I was excited, as the end of this shoot meant that I would be able to visit my brother now, living in Austin. So, off it was to Jollyville in no time at all!

My visit was very pleasant. My brother showed me some popular sites in the area, including a cool overlook onto Lake Austin. It appears much more like a river, this long stretch of water with a bridge crossing over it. But, in the sun and on the edge of a cliff it felt most nice. Afterward we caught up with his wife and we then visited some of her favorite haunts. There was a nice stone path in a place called the Arboretum. What I liked most was these smoothly-polished stone cows beneath a grove a trees with a sign that read "Climb at Your Own Risk." How cool! I just wished I would have climbed on them. We then went down to Lake Austin and visited the shore and eventually a bar and restaurant.

The area around the lake was accessible by everyone. However, as you looked all along the hills facing the lake you saw the enormous houses, seemingly crammed into every possible space. The rich seemed to claim this view as their own. Even in Austin it seemed to reflect much of what I saw everywhere in Texas, the lack of public land. Only 4% of Texas lands are public. Expect to see fences everywhere you go.

At the end of the night it was time to head back. We had some Compari, that strong red, Italian liquor that tastes like you are drinking concentrated citrus rinds. But my hermano's wife made a good concoction of orange juice, lime and compari. Quite civilized. ;) Then it was some down time with the bro and it just so happened he had the free trial period of cable and wouldn't you know it, Flight of the Conchords was on! Ah, sweet medicine! But I was sad. It was nice seeing my brother. But seeing him, makes me miss him.

In the morning I left as they left for work. They departed and I finished getting all my gear ready in the car. Then, as I went to start my little PT Cruiser. Nothing. What compounded issues was that I was in a little gated complex. The puzzle was going to be just how to make this work with the rental company and get to the airport on time!

But, it worked out, I was given a replacement and able to head to the airport on time for a flight to Denver.

Arriving around 5pm or so, I got my new rental, and head into the mountains. What I noticed first was the complete lack of snow in Denver. But, as I made my way out of Denver and into the mountains, the snow hit hard. The same 20+mph winds that had made my airplane landings one of the more sketchy, with the yawing of the nose back and forth, had decided to throw plenty y of snow. The traffic was packed as all of the people were headed to the slopes for the weekend.The big flakes whipped and spun and began to make me a wee bit dizzy. I stayed in that left lane and was glad to have the tail lights in front of me as visible signs of the road were gone. We went up, but mostly down in curving this way and then that, was the pattern. I put on some droney music and just tried to chill.

Sometimes a mountain tunnel would come and give you a brief reprieve from the storm, but, it would end in an almost comical end. At the end of the tunnel were multiple flashing signs and warnings such as: 'Icy Road,' 'High Winds' and 'Watch for falling rocks and animals!' Each minute closer to my destination was a better moment for me. One of the last sites was in the opposing lanes where there were the flashing lights of emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle and a backup of traffic for miles. I just need to get there!

And here, is Breckenridge. I was here shooting at this time last year but for a much longer stint. Now it is for shorter time, thankfully! The weather is has been absolutely beautiful so far! The days have been sunny and warm, skies blue, with the occasional white clouds and the mountains covered with snow. Quite a pretty site! The shoots have gone well, but busy and I look forward to wrapping them up!

Well, that is it for now. I shall check back in if able but wanted to send a cheers!

One more thing... about this time last year, from the same part of the country I am now, I gave a little recognition to the loss of one the greatest actors of our times, Heath Ledger. Tonight, he may be recognized posthumously at the Oscars. Here's to his memory and legacy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saddle Sore. Literally.

My body is currently recovering from white-knuckle adventure astride a very fast quarter-horse. More on that shortly.

Recently, I've had some time in San Antonio. Having a few hours at my disposal I zoomed in to see the Alamo. I found it, much like most Texans and non-Texans have described it - small. But I found it to be pretty dang cool! It was once a Spanish mission, later converted into storehouse and fort. It now sits in the middle of busy downtown San Antonio, neighbored by the large Alamodome and River Walk.

The fort is surrounded by an old wall, but the front is open to view from the main drag. The courtyard has oaks providing shade and little channels of water that hold koi 3/4's the length of your arm. Entrance to the fort is free but cameras are prohibited. Once you enter, it feels much like a vault set deep beneath the earth. Years of use had long since worn-away most indications that this ever was a mission and the little antechambers have display cases of artifacts from the battle at the Alamo and other items once owned by such famous characters as Davy Crocket.

I had a tinge of excitement when I first entered. The very idea of what had occurred here and who had been present on these very grounds made this a very significant landmark. Some hold their noses in the air at the concept of this 'cradle of Texas history' but you have to be more objective. After all, think of who spent some of the very last hours of their lives here. This was a mixture of Tejanos and southern and Yankee Americans. In fact, the very first symbols to greet your eyes when cross the threshold are the state flags of New York, Massachusetts and other god-forsaken Yankee realms.

Davy Crocket, once accustomed to stars being the only roof over his head and now as comfortable as could be with his fame and notoriety, headed south, to whatever fate awaited him.

Anyhow, there is something truly American in this motley band, forming together against insurmountable odds. The word Texian once represented a lot more than is given credit to that word now!

After leaving, in fact, running, to get out of the hoard of visitors, I hopped in the car, ready to head back to my lodging to catch the setting sun for a property shoot.

The next day it was back to San Antonio and the Mission Concepcion. This is arguably the coolest mission in the city. There are about six significant missions still standing and this is one of them. Far larger than the Alamo it still maintains its status as a church. The exterior looks much the same it did 200 years ago, though lacks the geometric shapes that once adorned it. Inside is a simple interior with pews, a dome and altar. Much of the artwork present was original. And, while most of the frescoes fell away years ago, you can still see some remnants. One of them was a sun set in the ceiling above, supposed to represent a mestizo (Spanish-Indian).

Back in town I dined at Rosarios, at the fringe of downtown, so parking was not as chaotic. While it was very busy, it was well worth the little wait. The food was very good and had the Mexican staples you hoped would be on the menu.

After a few hours drive north it was into Bandera and true Texas Hill country. This was a shoot on a ranch. In fact, the only ranch to show longhorn cattle to its visitors.

Shortly after arriving, I went out on a trailer and videoed the cattle as they were being fed. News to me, both male and female longhorn cattle have horns. Male horns will tend to grow longer and get that beautiful curl in it. While the correct appearance of a longhorn is scraggly, these were plump and well fed. There was a cute little white calf, born the day before and, appropriately, named Valentine by one of the guests.

That night it was a ranch meal of brisquet, honey glazed sausage and peach cobbler.

Afterwards, I learned how to play Texas Hold 'em. Normally not much of a card-player, I thought there couldn't be a better place to learn! I did pretty good, pretty quick. Of course, I often seem to have difficulty in understanding some pretty basic concepts and, if people really wanted to, they could bend the rules against me. However, I had very good hands at the beginning, bluffed sufficiently the remainder of the game and, just as victory was in my hands, I lost to the only other guy remaining. Oh well! At least I understand the game a little now. And, I must admit, it started me thinking... You see, one of the problems with being a "True man of the North" with a gravity furnace is a $500 gas bill. Even with it set at 58 degrees. Now, if a man were to his cards right... I kid, I kid. I won't be gambling anytime soon.

The next day I did some video, ate a ranch breakfast and got ready to hit the trail. I would be going horseback riding to get some action shots. Putting my camera in my backpack and padding it up, I hopped up on my quarter-horse named Frio. I was with an outdoor group of college students from San Antonio. Some were very experienced riders and some were beginners. I was looking forward to it, but apprehensive at the same time. I had the camera to worry about and my previous boss, who could ride quite well, said it was hell to have a backpack on at a gallop. I'm really poor in the saddle at a gallop to begin with. So, this also played in my mind. When I've had a choice, I tend to pick the large horse or better yet, a Tennessee Walker. Strong, steady and good natured. This wasn't on a plantation, nor the Rocky Mountains, nor New Zealand beaches, this was cowboy land.

We made our way across the hard, limestone beds and through the scrub brush. The clop, clop of the horse hooves on that worn rock beneath us sounded like chalk against a blackboard. It has been a year of drought for hill country. The rain Bandera had seen was 7 inches in August. As many know, a hard rain in dry country is an especially bad thing, as it runs off and away. This helped to make our route particularly dry and dusty.

Whenever any open stretch appeared, the horses and lead cowgirl would set off at a gallop. I had only one horse behind me, put there because it was a bully to all the other horses. This factor plays into the next occurrence. I also had the cowboy guide back with me. A cool guy, with a big ol' cowboy mustache and a lifetime of experience 'cuttin' horses. That is, teaching horses to cut out cows. More on that a different time, maybe.

The cowboy told me that he picked Frio for me because I had the camera and that he was nice and slow. But in almost the same breath says, "Frio is the fastest horse here. So, don't let him get away from ya," in a very serious tone. He confirmed that he was slow but really fast at the same time. I could see where this was headed.

In the past, when I've come to obstacles on a horse, I was used to them taking a slow and purposeful approach. But the rule of the land here was for the horses to charged up and through. When there was a steep climb up a rocky cliff, they ran up it. When there was a gully, they ran through it. Initially, this was no big thing to me, as I knew they would need to stop eventually, unlike open stretches, when who knows when you'd stop!? And I know I'm good on a horse up a hill. You lean forward. I knew I was good on a horse when in dropped down. You lean back.

Then we came to a gully. Horse after horse ran down and out. Then mine dropped in. All of a sudden, my mind and body were in primate survival mode. I did not know what was happening at the time, but the horse was flipping out! I just felt it pitch forward and back and forward and back, and my thoughts were subsequently clouded with the camera in my backpack cracking against the back of my skull. I held onto the saddle horn and rode it out.

"I've NEVER seen him do that before! I've NEVER seen him do that before," exclaimed the cowboy. You handled that real well bud! I've never seen him do that before. Well, you can say you rode a bucking horse. Those weren't small bucks either, those were three full bucks!"

Yay. Only two more hours to go.

The ride continued with no more bucking. But we had plenty of full out gallops. At the beginning of some of these stretches the horses would weave in and out of trees and drop down into a gully, then leap up to an open stretch. It sometimes felt quite thrilling, dropping your heals, raising your butt off the saddle and dropping lower near the the horse's mane. At times, I even got my rythym and went along well.

But, the bag also slapped out of rythm at my back and, usually, my crotch receive the baseball bat blows from the saddle. That was one thing, but when you start to feel as though you are off balance and just floating out of your stirrups, it gives rise to 'whoaing' that horse down! At least, it did for me. How was I going to explain if anything happenings to the equipment? That in my backpack, that is.

Man, on those open stretches, I understand what the cowboy was talking about! My horse would be at full gallop. But, you know how it is in the movies, when people kick or whip or say something to their horse to go even faster? My horse would get whipping along, where its head would do the very rapid back and forth thing, I've only beforehand seen at that part of a movie. And I felt like an ass, getting to a part where I was whoaing it down and I knew that it was the last thing that this horse wanted to do.

Well, at least 1/5 of that 2.5 hour trip was at a gallop! And at the end he let us know that everyone had been very, very fortunate. He said they only allow people that had been with them for 3 to 4 days ride like that.

Well, I'm all about getting to the top of that mountain and taking a look around. No real desire to see it again, but I sure as hell know what it's like to be there.

Though, as excited as I was to be done, I was a little bummed that the next people to ride had showed up. The cowboy had wanted to ride with me and the other cowpokes into town, to catch a beer. Now that is more up my alley! Riding into the cowboy capital of the world to grab a beer! I suppose I would have gone with a Sarsparilla...

After finishing my shots (oh yes, at one part my and the cowboy did ride up ahead, charging through brush and rock to get a good video shot of the coming group) I bid my farewells and head began my drive up to Fredericksburg. Glad that the camera was in good shape and nursing a bloody bump that was concealed under my cap, I head out to more Hill Country.

On my way I was forced to stop and ask some friendly fire fighters for directions. Ah, I see, right on 16, left on Eckert, right on Crabapple! I always like stopping for directions when not in a hurry. You get to see some folks you normally would never interact with.

This was in the neighborhood of Enchanted Rock. That cool rocky dome that I climbed earlier this year!. After passing the unmarked entrance to the property once, I began the climb. Already I could tell this was something cool. The drive was a tan, textured surface, that must be concrete, dyed and scoured to make it look cracked and Tuscan. It wove up the hill and soon, I entered a completely different world. It was a road that weaved through a village, like a blend of southwest American and Italy. The doors were different collections of Indonesian and European and the conglomeration of styles and cultures made it difficult to pinpoint exactly where I was. Somewhere completely different. I've never been to a place like this before!

Here's the short of it. A former musican artist and a chef banded together to create their own private village. They searched the whole US until they found this precise place, atop a hill and with a view of Enchanted Rock. They began with their own home. It was a series of large tunnels, dome-arched shaped and constructed of brick. But there were strategically placed arch-shaped windows that allowed natural light in quite well. More on this unbelievable home later.

The village that they created became their resort. Almost akin to the Winchester mansion, where the widow kept building on to the property in a never-ceasing mission to keep building, building, building, this property just went on and on in the most imaginative way. The main structure was a square that surrounded an inner court yard. one side of the square was Italian fine dining. After all she was a chef and since it was an 'Italian' theme just about everyone you saw in or out of the restaurant had a glass of red wine in their hands. One side looked in at the courtyard, one side looked out at Enchanted Rock. Also built within the square were some of the guest rooms, including the one I was staying in. And, like most of the rooms, there was no lock, just a long L-shaped bolt that you slid into place. To open the wooden door you pulled at the ring hanging from the the bronzed greenman's mouth. Inside the room was cozy, with vaulted brick ceiling, antiqued wood bed, table and ornately carved dresser, housing a Sony flat screen. The shower chamber had a stone textured floor and walls the color of red rock.

Many of the other rooms, some inside the main building, some housed in separate outbuildings, had similar antiqued but artistic furnishings and most had simple latches on the doors. Atop the main building was a covered porch area with mosaic floors, iron furniture and a view out to the rock. The inner courtyard was flanked by hanging bull skulls.

There was almost no titling, no numbers denoting what anything was. It forced you to explore! As I had a whole day and a half to roam, that is exactly what I did. Working ones way down the curving drives from the restaurant you come to one of the few buildings with a sign, the Prisidio. It has a large church bell in a adobe-like bell tower and is topped with a statue of Mary. Opening up the narrow, double wooden doors, you enter see a statue of Mary and Jesus to your left, and a beautiful brick canopy, making a tunnel that drops down stairs into an altar-room. Here are rose petals covering the floor and pews facing the Christian/Pagan fireplace at the alter. The acoustics were just fabulous in the chamber! And, as you tip-toe around the petals, approach the alter and take the tunnel to your left you come to another wooden door, damp and sweating. Inside you hear the trickle trackle of a little waterfalls. Pulling open the door and voila! You are in the grotto. In this dark, humid cave, there is a pool to your left, some feet below you and stalagtites hanging from the ceiling. Here is your very own cave pool!

Now, retreating back through the chapel, lets go out and explore some more! In one off-building, you open a side door and what should it be, but a dinner theater. In actuality, it is a replication of a stage saloon in Deadwood, SD. There is a full wooden bar, with a collection of authentic spurs hanging above it, real percussion cap revolver chandaliers, giant old Western movie posters, Civil War flags, a stage and balcony area on either side. It feels like a saloon through and through and upon closer examination you realize everything is authentic. I had to stop and look at the faded flags in their frames and touch the guns that were now simple ornaments. Let's go! There's more to explore.

After passing through the small spa, the adobe-like rooms that rise up the curve of the driveway and passing a simple little shack named office, you walk on top of an underground tunnel and up the stairs to an exposed metal arch structure. You are now on top of the owner's home. You can look down into their courtyard, with its running water pond and see the arch-shaped windows that barely give you an idea of what it must look like inside. But your eyes immediately see the patter. The arch of the windows, arch of the chimneys, arch of the tunnels, arch of this giant metal structure, all mirroring the arch of the enchanted rock in the distance! There is a large spinning metal fan in this structure. You gaze at this and then back at the full-size windmill at the top of the hill. Still, more to see.

Back up to the top of the property and there is a enormous garage. You slide back another metal bar and push in the unmarked door into a room the size of a dance hall. What should be inside, you ask? The largest cap-gun collection in the world! Literally. There is stained wood and glass display case after display case housing full kits, chaps and holster sets that must have been from the 50's and before. It just goes on and on and on! You look into one little case holding dozens and dozens and imagine at the value. Here are guns with their original boxes in pristine condition. Most chaps are splayed out in museum fashion on the back of the case with their complete kits. It would be magical for a child raised in the 50's! Cowboys and girls galore.

We are not even close to being done. But I'll give you the quick to this quick version. One last room is the reception hall. Push open the door and what's inside? It's an arch-shaped hangar larger than a basketball court. It's what's on the walls that catches your eyes! Endless collections of animal heads. I should preface this by saying these people are not hunters. But, every animal you can possibly think of. And its real! Boars and crocodiles and lions and snakes and walrus and water bison and on the far wall, a complete elephant head!

Did I tell you that these people are artists and collectors? Collections of everything. Everything! And what was on the surface was a small fraction of what was below...

So, I stayed that first, through the day the next and then stayed for another night. Pampered, I was. Mostly it was the wife that I interacted with. She'd be there one moment and then disappear the next. I'd wander, get some shots, get lost, open doors I wasn't sure I was supposed to open and peak inside. And you'd see the random couple doing the same thing. Slowly sliding a latch, looking in apprehensively and then the child-like wonder pulling you inside. Everyone there was either a couple, a worker or some odd collector with a scraggly beard and tan leather cowboy hat and glasses.

I dined the first night, had lunch with the family on the second and then dinner the last night. She created a lobster-crab ravioli, wrapped in a red-green banded pasta, serving it up with a South African Shiraz. Needless to say, they knew a lot about wine too.

OK, backing up to the final and most interesting chapter. I asked her if she would like to do a little interview and she was more than willing. "Oh,let's go in the house!" I was excited at this proposition, not knowing what could lie inside.

Down we went, past a chamber of whiskey casks, and continuing down the arching tunnel and up to a giant iron door, that just made you wonder from what castle they got that! Passing through, she continued on and quite merrily told me a was free to shoot anything I'd like and take a look around. Here are a bunch of my husband's collections and through there is the Civl War room. So, instead of being rushed to go do the interview, I was left in a place dreams could seldom conjure. The room was a mixture of collections behind old, glass museum quality display cases and much of the items on top of the cases and piled in different places. There were collections of everything you could possibly imagine! To my right was a stack of spears and lances leaning in the corner, a case of chinese armor and plains Indians clothing and weapons. And the more I looked the more I realized, that this was real stuff. Heck, most of this I knew to be authentic! I tried to quicken myself but was sure to capture footage, meant only for myself and friends. No one else should see these secrets, he he! There was a stack of .58 Civil War guns, a flint lock trading rifle, mummified items from tombs, old period toys and as I kept pulling myself along I was passing along and I see a full set of armor on the floor. I knew that it was Conquistador and must be a reproduction, but still, priceless! The son came out and I talked to him about it being Conquistador and how many of Cortez's soldiers fell from their horses running away from the Aztecs and drowned in the river, wearing that very same armor. Then we passed from the room, passing a whole case of toys, WWII Nazi soldiers. A major collector item. I hadn't seen those since Greece!

After chatting with their kids, their mother took me out into further chambers of the house. I passed tons of artwork. Gieger-esque screaming mouths surrounded with feathers, fanciful paintings of circuses with floating Dodge Ramchargers, and full size face-casts. Walking into the dining room, she points at the chairs, all hide and horns and said, 'these were Teddy Roosevelts!" She then brought over a scrapbook of her sons artwork. Wonderfully detailed work of armored soldiers and ninjas and gryphons. Just as we were about to get to the interview. The cool, artist, soccer-playing kid, comes around the corner and has on the suit of armor! "Mom, isn't this awesome!" It was a site to see, how articulated the joints of that armor was. In a half question I exclaimed, "That must be a reproduction, huh?" "Oh no, we don't buy anything that is a reproduction." My gosh! That was real conquistador armor!

So, we had our interview. It was very much full of spiritual talk and dreaminess and what you think you might find on the West Coast. But fun and friendly. And, I'll tell you this, you need a belief in magic to make the things that I saw. It is the purest manifestation of dreams I had ever, ever seen. Their hearts and minds were made manifest in that world.

After a quick discussion with the husband, he was gone.

So, that was that place. Sorry for the length, but I cannot begin to explain what an incredible place this is. Absolutely, incredible!

Now, I'm back in San Antonio after a morning drive through rain and fog. I got to see quite a bit of the Riverwalk, have a burger and am staying in a posh place. Just a few hours ago I was in J-Lo's favorite room. There is quite a list of celebrity's that have stayed here! Bill Cosby, Carole Burnett, Ja Rule, Tool, Jonas Brothers and the list goes on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

This trip started in Dallas, the fourth largest metro area in the US.

With half a day to explore before a 3 and-a-half hour drive to the Woodlands, I had to be somewhat purposeful in where I chose to go.

The aquarium did not open until 12, so I poked around the western part of Dallas, taking some shots of the tower, or microphone, or golf ball, as some Texans refer to it. This wasn't the only unique architectural item. Everywhere you look in Dallas, there seems to be some funky geography that deserves attention. You will walk beneath an underpass and as you look up, you see an incomplete arch, framing the sharp peak of a sky scraper, off in the distance. The shapes, the contrasts between old brick and new composites and way in which light played off of all of these items (even in the gray blah of this February day) made you wonder what a good photographer could do with it all!

It was finally time for the Dallas World Aquarium. One of the biggest attractions in Dallas, it not only housed a very impressive aquarium, but a South American collection too. They were very accommodating and gave me free access to shoot inside. In the midst of a swarm of excited school children, I curved my way through the museum.

They were very smart in how they used all available space inside. There are overhangs and canopies, windowed exhibits that hold curious South American biology. You look up to the sky above and the greenery reaches up there, but instead of focusing on the glass ceiling, your eye drops with the waterfall, splattering the water 30 feet below. Once again, your eyes study the curious shapes swimming quite actively in the water below. Yes, I see curious birds, but, what the heck are those? Giant carp? They are scaled and bigger than a man. Is that a manatee. No, no, it's that peculiar South American fish known as a Pirarucu. With its giant fish scales, fat tail fin and duck-like mouth, this fish swims quite actively in the big pool below. I can't wait to see what the look like from the aquarium windows.

Passing tiny monkeys, sqwaking colorful birds, fat bird-eating tarantualas, crocodiles, anacondas, bats and a pool of the most playful otters (the children loved them the best and the otters responded back in kind) I descended excitedly into the tunnels below.

First you see the smaller aquarium tanks that display aquatic life specific to such places as Indonesia and Japan, you pass into the observation room for the South America tank. In it you see the Pirarucu fish and a big ol manatee, focused on sucking on something on the bottom popping up to the service ever so often for a breather.

Then, it was to the tunnel beneath the shark tank. How cool, to be beneath the hovering hammerheads, saw, tigersharks and rays. With the light filtering in from above, the forms of the fish were silouetted very nicely.

After a goodbye to a playful loggerhead turtle and a pacing leopard, I was heading to the West End.

The West End, is a few blocks of restaurants and shops, that preserve a Texas charm. It is also one of the main stops for the Dallas light rail. It's the area that you'll find the Dallas book repository, the place from where JFK was supposedly shot. I tried to get in for some shots but there was quite a few steps to go through for that. I suppose I should have planned for that more in advance. I think the story is so 'myth-like' especially to generations that did not live through it, that the site becomes shrouded in doubt. What is for certain is what happened on the grassy knoll. I walked down to it. Though the February grass was brown and tan, it was still interesting. It is a an area that runs parrallel to the building and drops down beneath an overpass. It has these curious pale stone bunkers, that seem almost like communist monuments, on either side.

After a failed attempt at the Arboretum, I had to make my way south, to the Woodlands.

For food, I've had a great Cajun combo the first evening in Dallas. It had shrimp creole, in a spicey red sauce, gumbo, in a brown roux with crawdads, some wonderful baked beans with chunks of ham. The cajun spices make the top of your head sweat. The type of spicey, next to salt spicey of Asian cuisine, that I like best. This was all accompanied by sweet tea, of course!

In the West End I had a small meat plate for lunch, of brisquet, ham and pulled chicken with very sweet bbq sauce and green bean casserole.

In the fancy, rich Woodlands area, so-named because of the preservation of the coniferous forests, etc., I stopped at the Sweet Tomato. This was the perfect remedy for daily road food. It mainly serves salads, soups and bakery and is buffet-style.

My path down from the Woodlands to the Houston was congested at first. I'd have to say it was more aggressive driving than I found in Boston 5pm rush-hour during the World Series! All the lanes were packed with vehicles but, thankfully, moved along. Usually, when you switch lanes and people aren't giving you leway, you can just cross the lines and they are forced to make way or suffer damage to their car. But, I find that this did not always work in Houston. I crossed the line and cruised along with no change in my opponents path so had to give it another go, with no problems, on another fellow commuter.

Many of the freeways are flanked by frontage roads full of businesses. It makes things see more congested but also gives you quicker access and a line-of-sight knowledge of what is where.

After Houston, the roads opened up and flowed through the brown, desert lands. This wasn't desert but the low shrubs were bare, the grass yellow-brown, small rivers low and mucky and the gray hung over everything.

I stopped to take a few pictures of an old abandoned house and another dilapitated building. Humoursly enough, the signage read "Chamber of Commerce." Reflective of the times, eh?

My route brought me to even flatter lands. There were abandoned ranches, convenience stores and gas stations along the way. The oil pumps were not working and I saw the sight of a newer pickup truck on some of the properties as a hopeful sign of some vibrancy. The stretches of road were very long and very straight. A perfect path for droney music playing in the car and buzzards soaring in the hard winds.

Eventually I came to the cost of Rockport, after taking a little detour through the small town of Tivoli. The fierce wind was even more so here, coming directly off of the Gulf. I checked into my place and watched the waves beat at the waters edge, within a stone's throw of my low balcony. This was not very accommodating weather for a video shoot. Perhaps things would settle by the morning.

For dinner, a cajun boil. They cover the table with paper and pour your meal right out in front of you. Potatoes, shrimp and sausage!

That evening, I threw open the window to let the sea salty wind blow at the curtains. It was a relaxing sleep.

An evening storm washed the wind away and things were bright and sunny. This shoot went perfectly and things fell into place nicely. Afterwards I shot a little bit of Rockport - the Fulton mansion, the rocky ledge the town is named after and a few birds to pay respects to birding activities to prevalent here.

Next was Cape Aransas. A few miles above Corpus Christi, this stretch of sand dune was accessible through means of a short ferry ride. There were plenty of condominium, restaurants and surf shops. If you've never seen these shops, they are often immense square buildings with a large logo and often, have a model of a large sea creature incorporated into the fascade. Such as one on this island, with the big ol' gape of a shark's mouth as an entrance.

You can drive along the shore and feel secure in doing so, seeing how much traffic has gone before you and the sight of many little cars along the beach. The chop of the waves was strong and there were people flying kites and walking along the shoreline. The channel here was full of ships. I can't remember ever seeing so many large vessels in such close proximity of one another. Out further in the gulf you can make out standing structures in the middle of the ocean. These must be oil platforms?

In all, this region felt more like southern parts of Florida than my previous experiences with Texas. But this is 'snowbird' country after all, popular with folks from places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

After some property shoots today, I had a 3.5 hour drive up to San Antonio. The winds had died down a bit and I was glad to be heading away from Margueritaville and towards places a little more Texas.

My current appointment is a very large hotel with a view of the San Antonio surrounding. And what perks for the people that stay here! A knock at the door and I'm handed a covered plate. Taking it off, what should be inside but some chocolates hiding in a parafin case in the shape of Texas! A thanks to the guests staying here. I'm appreciative of these little gestures, but with a gut sick of road food and little romance in my current mode it passes as more an experience than it does excitement. Chocolates anyone?

Onwards to exploring more Hill Country, some familiar places, some new. Soon on the horizon, the Alamo!