2015 Year in Review: Keeper of the Plains, Big Sur and more!

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Mickey

2015 was a great year for photography! I managed to take three major trips this year! In March and April, my wife and I visited Seattle, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the southern coastal mountains of British Columbia near Whistler. We stayed in Ucluelet, British Columbia to tour western Vancouver Island’s enchanting Pacific Rim National Park, where the Pacific Ocean crashes into the raw coastline of this enchanting and rugged national park. We drove up the Sea to Sky highway and viewed a number of waterfalls, along with spending a day or two checking out Vancouver and the surrounding areas.

In July, we took a roadtrip from Wichita to Phoenix. We didn’t just drive down the interstate though. We traveled through southern Colorado, crossing the mountain ranges of the Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans. We visited the iconic Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park amidst some unseasonably chilly weather in the desert.

And in September, I took my annual autumn colors trip out to Colorado before boarding a plane in Denver with my wife, sister-in-law and friend to California. While in California, we drove the length of Lake Tahoe and celebrated a wonderful wedding in the mountains north of Lake Tahoe. We also explored San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with the communities in the mountainous and foggy regions to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge including the John Muir National Monument where the towering and mysterious redwoods still live. My wife topped it off with a couple of days down in Monterey and Big Sur, where every sunrise and sunset seemed to light up the sky in beautiful and vivid colors every morning and night!

I also spent more time exploring the eastern half of Kansas than I’ve ever explored before. I made it a personal goal to try to find as many of the many Kansas waterfalls I hadn’t seen yet this year. As we had a number of good rainfalls, I’ve expanded my list of waterfalls to 80+ and counting in the state of Kansas. I’ve also traveled many of the scenic byways of Kansas in recent months including the Glacial Hills and Frontier Military Scenic Byways. 2015 was a year of exploration close to home to visit many of the beautiful hidden gems here in Kansas.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that 2015 wasn’t just a great year for me personally as a photography, but also my wife, who started a business as a wedding and lifestyle photographer! Check her out at ValerieShannonPhotography.com!

I also wanted to mention that all the top 15 images of 2015 are currently on sale until January 15th, 2016 at 10% off!

With that said, here’s my top 15 photos from 2015 Year In Review:

15. Moody Trout Lake

Moody Trout Lake
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Moody clouds drift through the mountains above Trout Lake

I had hoped to get a beautiful sunset on the night I shot this. Unfortunately the clouds never lifted, but the scenery was still beautiful! Wildflowers dotted the hillside on the west of Trout Lake, giving a great foreground to the moody background above Trout Lake in the San Juans of Colorado.

14. Pacific Rim Coastline

Pacific Rim Coastline
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The Pacific Ocean crashes into the coastline of Pacific Rim National Park

This shot just screams Pacific Rim to me. Both rain and sun seem to show their heads every half hour as storms come in from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island. This was shot just to the south of the lighthouse in Ucluelet, British Columbia. With the rocks being battered by raging waves and the rain coming inland once again, this photo sums up my experiences on the west coast of Vancouver Island and Pacific Rim National Park.

13. Stormy Kansas Sunset Panorama

Stormy Kansas Sunset Panorama
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Panorama of storm clouds at sunset near Minneapolis, Kansas

This is just one of many great shots I actually got on the night I shot this. My wife and I were visiting her grandparents in Minneapolis, Kansas over Memorial Day weekend when a thunderstorm rolled through the area. This was the first shot I took, stitching together multiple images to create a panorama of the large storm cloud spread out on the horizon. As sunset was just beginning, the colors in the clouds added to the beauty of the storms.

12. Atkinson Lighthouse

Atkinson Lighthouse
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A kayak is left on the rocks below Atkinson Lighthouse

One of my favorite shots from my trip up to Vancouver and Vancouver Island back in April, this shot was about half an hour before sunset. A few other groups of people were enjoying the views as well. Atkinson Lighthouse is situated in West Vancouver and overlooks the Howe Sound. On a clear day, you can see down towards Vancouver Island.

11. Friends University Winter

Friends University Winter
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A winter storm brings heavy snow to Friends University

A sunset was attempting to shine through at the beginning of a snowstorm on the campus of Friends University. I chose this scene out of four shots I took down there as it had a sort of Thomas Kincaid feel to me, due to the slightly purple sunset hues and the lampposts and lights on the campus.

10. Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
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Beautiful Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

One of my favorite stops on Vancouver Island was the beautiful Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Surrounded by ancient forest, the river that ran through this park that created multiple beautiful falls was so vividly aqua-blue and green. Vancouver Island in general was such a mysterious and enchanting place, and Little Qualicum Falls only added to that feeling!

9. Keeper of the Plains Fiery Sunset

Keeper of the Plains Fiery Sunset
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A beautiful and fiery sunset at the Keeper of the Plains

The second of two amazing Keeper of the Plains sunsets I managed to shoot in one night. The sunset first started off extremely yellow and orange, then turned to bright red before showing off a multitude of colors in this scene!

8. Sunflower Sunset

Sunflower Sunset
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A beautiful sunset gives a great backdrop to the classic Kansas sunflower scene!

I spent quite a bit of time trying to find a sunflower field near Wichita that was at peak. I managed to find one just a few days past peak up near Lindsborg and captured this sunset over the field of yellow sunflowers!

7. Swissvale Falls

Swissvale Falls
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One of the many beautiful waterfalls I’ve found in Kansas this year

I went on a number of Kansas waterfall runs this year, in an effort to map out all of the 80+ waterfalls I’ve found in Kansas so far. One of my favorites is this little known waterfall southeast of Topeka called Swissvale Falls. It lies on a rails-to-trails hike called the Landon Nature Trail. This photo is one of my favorite because of the lush green scenery that complimented Swissvale Falls perfectly!

6. Keeper of the Plains Winter Illumination

Keeper of the Plains Winter Illumination
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Snow falls while illuminating the Keeper of the Plains

I loved the way the snow became almost texturized in this shot at the Keeper of the Plains. The shutter speed was set in a way that captured the wavy motion of how the snow was falling.

5. Sangre de Cristos Double Rainbow

Sangre de Cristos Double Rainbow
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An intense double rainbow stands high about Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristos mountains

As I traveled with my wife from Wichita, Kansas to Phoenix, Arizona back in July, we drove down a scenic route that took us to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for sunset. Shortly before a vivid sunset, this beautiful double rainbow popped up over Blanca Peak and the Sangre de Cristos mountains!

4. Kansas Sunset Thunderstorm

Kansas Sunset Thunderstorm
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A beautiful sunset illuminates ominous looking thunderstorm clouds

This insane thunderstorm rolled through the Minneapolis, Kansas area in late May. My wife and I grabbed the camera and tripod and tried to follow ahead of the storm. The clouds were rolling through right at sunset as well, so they lit up very spectacularly!

3. Vivid Keeper of the Plains Sunset

Vivid Keeper of the Plains Sunset
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An extremely vivid orange sunset lights the clouds behind the Keeper of the Plains

I shot this image back in May during one of the most insane sunsets I’ve ever seen! In fact, there are two Keeper of the Plains sunsets on this top 15 in 2015 list from that very night. It was just that good. This was the first of the two, and had me running back and forth from various spots around the Keeper of the Plains for different vantage points. There was even a rainbow behind me when shooting this. You know it’s a beautiful sunset when the sunset itself takes precedence over a rainbow! The sunset really felt like fire was rising out of the sky behind the statue.

2. Teter Rock Winter Milky Way

Teter Rock Winter Milky Way
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The Milky Way sets in the western skies above Teter Rock

This shot was taken in November as the Milky Way was setting in the western sky. Teter Rock is my go-to spot. Especially for night scenes, as the Milky Way usually shines bright in the sky over it.

1. Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur Sunset
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A fiery and colorful sunset lights up the spectacular Big Sur coastline of California

This photo easily topped my list this year! I’ve been two Big Sur twice now. The first time I witnessed an insanely beautiful sunrise back in January of 2012. I had the pleasure of visiting it with my wife back in September, and was treated to two spectacular sunsets and an amazing sunrise! This was shot on the second sunset of our Big Sur adventures. We had driven the length of Big Sur and were driving back. I really wanted to get a sunset picture at McWay Falls, so we stopped and admired the view of the falls to the south. However, to the north and out over the ocean, this magnificent sunset was unfolding. I turned my camera in that direction and shot the scene that’s before you.

Looking ahead to 2016

As I look forward to 2016, I don’t have any planned major trips out of the state of Kansas. However, most of my trips this year were planned mere months in advance at best, so I would imagine my camera will lead me somewhere!

However, I do plan to travel the state of Kansas really extensively with planned trips out to western Kansas to finally visit places like Monument Rocks, Castle Rock, Wilson Lake, Scott City State Park and the Cimarron National Grasslands. I also hope to finish visiting the rest of my waterfall list if we’re blessed with enough rain in 2016. My hope is to publish a book about the beauty of Kansas in late 2016 or early 2017 showcasing all the awesome places I’ve visited in the past six years!

Thanks for a great 2015 and here’s to an even better 2016!

Posted under: California, Canada, Colorado, Kansas, News & Updates

Vancouver and the Sea to Sky Highway: Pacific Northwest Spring Adventure Part 3

Posted on July 11, 2015 by Mickey

This is the continuation of our Vancouver and Vancouver Island adventures. You can read about those in the first part, traveling around the Seattle area, and the second part which was an amazing experience on Vancouver Island! After arriving at West Vancouver, we started our drive up the coast towards Squamish where we would be staying. We stopped to shoot the sunset at Porteau Cove. The Howe Sound was extremely calm and beautiful, as seen below!

Porteau Cove Sunset
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Calm waters and no wind made for a beautiful sunset at Porteau Cove on the Sea to Sky Highway

After finishing up at Porteau Cove, we drove the rest of the way up to Squamish to our hotel, Squamish Mountain Retreat Hotel. After asking the hotel clerk and doing a little Google searching for a restaurant with good ratings, we ended up settling on the Timberwolf Restaurant that was inside the hotel. We picked up a West Coast pizza (an amazing smoked salmon pizza) and took it back to the room to eat and then crash! Definitely a great choice and the leftovers provided a good snack the next day! The hotel was great, and looked like it had a nice swimming pool with a fun slide, but we were too tired to take advantage on this trip.

The next morning, my wife got an extra hour or two of sleep while I drove back to Porteau Cove Huge difference from the night before, which was much colder and windy. Waves were crashing in from Howe Sound, so I shot with a little slower shutter speed to try and capture a silkier texture on the water as they poured over the rocks.

Porteau Cove Sunrise
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A windy and cold sunrise over the choppy waters at Porteau Cove Provincial Park

After sunrise, I went back to help pack up and be on our way. We planned to hit up a few waterfalls in the mountains. We grabbed Tim Horton’s for breakfast, and drove up to Brandywine Falls. The sun was out in full force for the first time on this trip. That made shooting the waterfalls a bit more difficult during the day, but as you can see, Brandywine Falls was a beautiful and powerful famous waterfall between Squamish and Whistler. Brandywine Falls are roughly 230 feet from top to bottom.

Brandywine Falls
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Beautiful Brandywine Falls between Squamish and Whistler

After visiting Brandywine Falls, we stopped in Whistler for a restroom break. We had hoped to go up to Nairn Falls, but were already running late for seeing everything else. So we decided to check out Alexander Falls. Alexander Falls are situated in Callaghan Valley, just below the Olympic Park, where many events from the 2010 Winter Olympics were held. Alexander Falls get a lot more visitors since the Olympic Park was built. They are one of many impressive falls on the Sea to Sky highway and drop a good 140 feet or so.

Alexander Falls
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Alexander Falls in the Callaghan Valley

After Alexander Falls, our third waterfall visit would be Shannon Falls. By this time, it was late morning, and you could tell Vancouverites were out enjoying the sun after days of cold, cloudy weather. Not the best for photography, but a beautiful day for sure! The parking lot at Shannon Falls was PACKED. We braved the crowds to visit these beautiful falls.

Shannon Falls
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Shannon Falls near Squamish, British Columbia

After the waterfalls, we needed to spend a couple more hours doing something before we could check into our hotel. Decided to try the Lynne Canyon park instead of Capilano because it was free. As we got closer, we realized everyone else had the same idea. There was no parking within a few miles of it. At that point, we decided to check into hotel a little early and take a quick nap before heading back out to see more of the city. My wife had booked the amazing Pinnacle Pier Hotel at an exceptional rate. It lived up to it’s reputation and was a great place to stay! We took a quick nap, got settled in, and decided to get some sushi for dinner! Just down the street was Sushi Bella, which had great ratings. We walked to the restaurant, arriving just before it opened back up for dinner. The thing about sushi on the west coast that’s so much than sushi from our hometown of Wichita, Kansas, is that it’s not only fresher, but much cheaper! Between that and the favorable US dollar to Canadian dollar exchange rate, we got four large sushi rolls for the same price as two would have costed us in Wichita. And it was so much better!

After our amazing sushi dinner date, we hoped back in the car to go check out Atkinson Lighthouse. We joked that we visited Shannon Falls, which had my last name, and then visited Atkinson Lighthouse, which had my wife’s maiden name. We hiked around until we found a great view of the lighthouse with part of Vancouver in the background. Not only was it one of my favorite photos of the trip, it was a nice place to just relax and watch the ships head into Vancouver Harbour as the waves rolled in. On our hike back, I encountered something I had never seen before in my years of hiking! While Atkinson Lighthouse is technically in West Vancouver, the entire Lighthouse Park is covered in beautiful virgin rainforest! I’ve hiked everywhere from the Swiss Alps to the Colorado Rockies to part of Kauai’s famed Kalalau Trail. I’ve met many people on my hikes. I’ve encountered everything from people training to climb Mount Everest to a 70 year old man dominating 20 year olds on the Kalalau Trail. But never before have I come across a group of people carrying huge boom boxes on their shoulders blaring hip hop music throughout an otherwise tranquil forest looking like they’re shooting a hip hop video. But in Vancouver, at the Lighthouse Park, my wife and I did just that. Definitely a new one!

Atkinson Lighthouse
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The beautiful Atkinson Lighthouse in West Vancouver

After the Atkinson Lighthouse, we decided to watch the sunset on the pulloff above Vancouver on Cypress Mountain. It’s an awesome view that looks over all of Vancouver. On a clear day you can see a number of volcanoes in Washington, along with the many islands, including Vancouver Island, out in the sea.

Vancouver Sunset
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Sunset over Vancouver from the pull-off on the way up Cypress Mountain

After sunset, we drove through Stanley Park and into downtown Vancouver. One photograph I really wanted to get was a night shot of the famed Gastown Steam Clock. We arrived by complete accident right before 9PM when the steam clock let out a lot of steam. We were exhausted, so we didn’t stay long, but it was cool to experience the steam clock when it was letting out it’s hourly steam!

Gastown Steam Clock
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The famous Steam Clock of Gastown in Vancouver

Before crashing for the evening, I took advantage of the amazing balcony view over the North Vancouver Harbour back towards downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver Night
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The night time cityscape view from North Vancouver towards downtown Vancouver

While I had planned to get up and shoot a sunrise, three days of getting up before sunrise with little sleep caught up to me. I got up and shot a quick sunrise out the balcony window and slept in a little bit with my wife.

Morning in Vancouver
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Morning in Vancouver, British Columbia from my hotel balcony in North Vancouver

Our flight in Seattle left around 5 that afternoon, so we knew we needed to get a move on. We grabbed Tim Horton’s for breakfast again on our way out of North Vancouver, and spent an hour checking out Stanley Park for a bit. While we wanted more time to explore one of the most famous city parks in the world, we at least got to spend a little time walking through some of the gardens, as seen below.

Stanley Park
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Exploring famous Stanley Park in Vancouver
Stanley Park Gardens
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The beautiful gardens of Stanley Park

As we didn’t know what the border crossing would be like in terms of time, we knew we should probably leave a little early. So we made for the border, stopping one last time at Tim Horton’s to pick up some snacks for the rest of the day. Thankfully the border crossing took little time, and left us with an extra hour or so that we spent very well. We knew that April was tulip season in Washington, and one of the most famous tulip festivals in the world is situated in Skagit Valley. We decided to take a little detour and drove around the amazing tilup fields at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Looking back, we really wish we had more time to devote to checking this out! Many of the tulip fields were ridiculous crowded and cost money to park. As we had less than an hour to spare (and less if traffic was bad in Seattle), we really didn’t have time to pay to park and walk into one of the fields. But as we were nearing the southern area of Skagit Valley, there was a place where we could park right next to one of the fields and get out for a few minutes! We spent 10-15 minutes walking around the red and yellow fields of tulips. The color in these fields is extremely vivid, and we felt blessed to be able to finish off our trip in such a beautiful place!

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
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The vivid tulip fields of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

We finished our drive back to airport in Seattle, knowing we would have to return to the Pacific Northwest again!

Posted under: Canada, Washington