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Grand Firebirds

Grand Firebirds

Every year I take a trip to Phoenixville, Pa for the annual Phoenixville Firebird Festival. It is definitely my favorite event of the year! I started going in 2012 and just keep going through rain, snow, whatever. This year's event will be Saturday, December 8 at Veteran’s Park.

Phoenixville is a nice town to get out and explore when you want to get out of Lancaster for a bit. They have a number of small shops and eateries along Bridge Street. The downtown area has changed a LOT since I started attending the festival. Every year there seems to be new shopping and dining options available.

This festival is a great time to get out and walk around. The foods is great and plentiful, the small shops in town provide an opportunity for finding a unique Christmas present, and the atmosphere around the phoenix is charged with excitement as they light the bird.

I was unable to attend the 2017 Firebird Festival, but below you will find collections of my imagery from 2012-2017. Let’s kick things off with a sneak peek of the 2018 firebird …

2018 Sneak Peek

Grand Firebirds Video 2012-2017

Phoenixville Photo Gallery


Going to the Firebird Festival?

Share your pics with us using the tag #GrandLancaster, we would love to see your perspective. You can also share your photos with us in the Grand Lancaster Society Facebook Group. Click the button below to share with us ...


Map

A big change to note this year is that the Firebird has been moved, yet again, to a new location that’s better equipped to deal with the size of the crowd. This year the firebird is located at Veteran’s Park on Mowere Street. Be sure to checkout the website for information on shuttle bus. Based on experience the shuttles are mighty convenient.


Another worthy adventure ...

Inaugural Fireworks Lewes Beach Delaware 2018

Inaugural Fireworks Lewes Beach Delaware 2018

Going to see fireworks and going to the beach are two of our favorite summertime activities. This year we celebrated Independence Day by doing both.

I heard the news that Lewes Beach in Delaware would be hosting their Inaugural Fireworks event. From what I read online there was a lot of excitement about bringing a new tradition to one of our favorite beaches. Not only is Lewes a fun area to explore, but we like Lewes Beach for the kids due to the calmer waters. This definitely topped our list of Fireworks displays for the fourth of July.

If you've never been, Lewes Beach is located at the southern end of the Delaware Bay, with the Cape Henlopen Peninsula curving northward between the bay and the Atlantic. I like waves a lot, but I've been known to enter "unsafe" waters. These days I have to think about the kids' safety so places like Lewes Beach are generally much more attractive to us. 

We’ve been to Lewes as a family before, and we've been wanting to explore the Cape Henlopen State Park for a while. Looking at the map it seemed like the area might provide a great view of the fireworks as well as a quiet spot on the bayside where we could let the kids roam a little. We were not disappointed!

View of the Delaware Bay off Cape Henlopen

We checked the view on the bayside and it was excellent, so we took an opportunity before the fireworks to walk over and dip our toes in the Atlantic. Since it was only a short walk to the Ocean side we left most of our stuff in the car and didn't stay long before heading back to the bayside.

There was plenty to keep us entertained on the bayside. This area was filled with sea creatures including small fish seen breaching the surface, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, and other yet-to-be-identified creatures. The northernmost tip of Cape Henlopen is off limits as it’s a bird nesting sanctuary, but I was fortunate enough to see some deer grazing the dunes from the overlook next to the parking lot. We love beaches with plenty of wildlife, so this is definitely a park we’ll be getting back to in the future. There are also some observation towers and a disc golf course we want to checkout next time.

 The bayside offered calm shallow waters as the tide went out.

The bayside offered calm shallow waters as the tide went out.

With a cloud front over the western sky we didn’t get a very good sunset, although I’m certain this park has plenty of those. Dusk began it's lengthy approach as the skies turned darker and darker shades of blue. The crowd slowly began making their way over from the Ocean and other parts of the park. Brightly colored folding chairs and blankets soon dotted the beach. As everyone awaited the big show many small arial fireworks could be seen for miles along the bay's shoreline. Looking around the anticipation was at it's peak.

This being the first year for the Lewes fireworks display everyone seemed kind of confused about exactly where to look. We knew the fireworks were going to be set off from a barge offshore, but we weren't sure exactly where it was positioned. Every time a small firework went into the air the kids asked "is that it?", then suddenly one shot went much MUCH higher ...

The Big Show ...



The Photos

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Little bit of lemonade ... 

I have to mention one MAJOR downside to this event. Apparently, the fireworks planning commission severely underestimated the traffic this event would cause. If you’ve never been to Lewes Beach there is a canal which essentially makes the area an island, and that forces all traffic over just two bridges. This created the worst traffic jam I’ve ever witnessed personally. The worst part was that coming from Cape Henlopen put us at the tail end of all this traffic. Once we pulled up to the traffic we were at a complete standstill for almost 2 hours (literally a few minutes short of 2 hours, no joke). We’re going to keep this in mind for next year for sure. We'd love to go back, but that traffic jam was painful when we were trying to make it back the Pennsylvania the same night. We wish we had booked a campsite well in advance, but maybe next time.

After an hour and a half of not moving everyone parked and turned off their cars, or at the very least turned off their headlights. The few remaining wisps of clouds broke up and the night sky was twinkling with stars. To make the best of a bad situation I got my camera out and snapped a few shots of the Milky Way overhead ...
 

 

The Milky Way as seen at Cape Henlopen State Park while we waited for the traffic to ease up after the fireworks

 
 

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ROAD TRIP: Swatara Falls

ROAD TRIP: Swatara Falls

As a nature lover, there is one natural feature that gets me really pumped. A feature that can take a bit more planning, a bit more walking, and sometimes a bit of physical ability to actually get there. The extra effort is typically rewarded as you approach the scene of any one of Pennsylvania's dozens of cascading waterfalls. Join us for a look around Swatara Falls near Tremont, Pa.

This week we seized the opportunity to make the most of a day off and take a day trip to Swatara Falls,  which has been on my "must-see" list for a while now. This 25-30 foot cascading waterfall sits along the Swatara Creek just a couple miles south of its headwaters in Schuylkill County. Roughly 40 miles away from the falls the Swatara Creek empties into the Susquehanna River just up stream from Lancaster County in Middletown, Pa. Although, it's nearly 70 miles if you follow the creek as it twists and turns through Schuylkill, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties.

 

Our Trip to Swatara Falls

A little bit of a gripe I have about life in Lancaster County is our lack of spectacular waterfalls, but what can you do? If we want to see great waterfalls it's just gonna require a road trip. Then you can find hundreds of waterfalls around the state ranging in type and as sizeable as 150 feet at Raymondskill Falls (Pennsylvania's tallest). This week we were looking for a waterfall that was not too far away BUT sizable, wooded for shade, rustic for a short hike, with the ability get our foot or more in the water. 

Getting there was quite easy. Due to a detour for lunch we took I-81 to get there. Headed northbound we hopped off at Exit 112 to Route 25, we turned right and the trail runs off of Route 25 just up the street. The trail will be to the left and you will see a fairly open pull off area to the right plastered with “No Parking” signs. There were a couple of other trails leading into the woods, but I was told to take the last trail on the left BEFORE the pull off to the right. I imagine parking can be tricky on a busy day, but fortunately we didn’t have a problem. Be careful, there are a lot of heavy trucks zooming along this road. The route back later was a little more rural as we headed towards Route 501 for a stop at the Applechian Trail Overlook, a good reason to come through that way.

On The Trail

As we headed down the trail we were first greeted with a large illegal, or at the very least unfavorable, dump site. The path it small as it snakes it’s way through, but then it widens out again. From there you’ll notice some intersecting trails, but the trail to the falls is quite notable. It wide and well worn. As you continue on you’ll start to hear the familiar sound of falling water getting louder and louder. This trail pretty much leads right to the falls. According to AllTrails it’s about 1.7 miles round trip with only an overall elevation change of 200 ft. The only real hazard along the trails are some patches of large loose rocks. So not stroller ready, but a fairly easy hike for everyone.

The waterfall itself is quite stunning. As you approach the falls the trail opens up to a spectacular hillside view. It’s a bit steep to get down to the creekbed, but again it’s not unmanagable for most hikers. Since there weren’t many people we were able to claim a little spot and throw on our watershoes to cool off a bit in the creek.

 

The flow here varies. When we went we recently had some rain as could be evidenced by recent erosion and debris along the sides of the creek. However, I’m told it can slow to a trickle in a long enough dry spell. With a good flow, we were able to cautiously get right up under the falls and feel the mist and water coming down on us.

Man interwting feature at this waterfall is that this area was heavily mined for coal in the past and the creekbed is filled with many interesting geological finds. We found a number of pieces of coal that were extremely smooth with a very unique highly polished shine to them. 

On the opposite side of the creek, a trail leads to the top of the falls. It was fairly easy to climb to the top with a lovely view close to the edge. There were some lovely smaller falls upstream, but I didn’t want to overextend the kiddos so we kept it simple this trip and stayed around the base of the falls.

It's my understanding that the popularity of Swatara Falls has been growing quite a bit in recent years. It's not hard to see why, but I wanted to share a word of wisdom. It's not entirely clear who owns the area around the falls. While no one owns the creek, there is always the potential that access to the creek could become problematic if we don't treat this area with respect. There was litter and graffiti in the area, as well as general signs of human wear and tear. If you decide to visit, be sure to respect the area.

This is one short day trip we highly recommend. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos. Below you’ll find a map to discover this amazing destination for yourself. Be sure to drop a comment below let us know what you think l, or if you’ve ever been to the falls, we’de love to hear from you!

Light City Baltimore

Light City Baltimore

It's time again for one of the coolest events I've ever attended! It's a short drive for those of us here in Lancaster County, but it's definitely worth it! I would even recommend it for folks further away than us. I'm talking about the Light City event in downtown Baltimore.

When I heard about the first event last year I instantly knew I would like it. Afterall, photography is essentially the process of capturing light. So an entire festival devoted to light is right up my alley. The festival is a full fledged takeover of downtown Baltimore. In addition to the light art installations sprinkled around the city there are a number of mini-events focused on innovation in electricity, and a fair amount of music to get the feet movin.

As the first city to embrace electric street lights Baltimore compliments the festival nicely. The inner harbor also provides a fabulous environment with the rays of light flickering off the surface. It also opens the conversation on the innovative work that is going into cleaning the harbor and the Chesapeake Bay every day.

There is so much more to say about this event, but the best source of information can be found at LightCity.org. I would highly recommend downloading their smart phone app too. It's very helpful in navigating visitors to all of the installations, music, and other events. 

 

2018 Highlights

 

Get PUMPED for 2018!!

April 14-21, 2018


Light City Baltimore 2017

Unfortunately I only had one free night to make it down to the festival in 2017, and it was pouring down rain. I tried to make the best of it and took a few 360 photos whenever the rain slowed down for a second. Check it out ...

Topaz Glow Remix 2017

Since I only had a few photos I decided to try something a little different. I edited the photos I had using the Topaz Glow 2 Photoshop Plugin. Here's what I came up with ...

 

2016 Light City Mashup Video


360 fun on Instagram


 

2016 Photo Gallery


Eclipse Roadtrip

Eclipse Roadtrip

I imagine by now anyone who didn't know there was a Solar Eclipse last Monday has heard by now. I imagine it was probably the most photographed natural phenomena ever. I imagine we'll continue to see those photos trickle off photographer's memory cards for a little while too. While I'm going to share two of my eclipse photos below, I personally found the adventure to be much more exciting. Here's a taste of what we saw on the road to West Virginia ...

note about the music: I recently discovered Event Horizon on Instagram and really liked this track. A special thanks to Shane for letting me pair his music with my Images. You can find him on Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, Instagram, Facebook, and other sites ...


 

Hitting the road ...

Living in Pennsylvania meant that we were around the 70% of totality zone. If we wanted to see the total eclipse we would have to do some traveling. While I had my heart set on Kentucky it seemed kind of impractical, especially given the threat of clouds and storms that would block the view. So I waited and tried to pick a place with some potential that was a little closer.

I finally settled on Valley Falls State Park near Fairmont, West Virginia. The photos I saw of the area looked gorgeous, and I always love a good waterfall scene. It was a really beautiful place which helped my patience while the clouds were blocking the sun.

 Valley Falls State Park - Fairmont, WV

Valley Falls State Park - Fairmont, WV

 

The Eclipse ...

The eclipse began just as we arrived at Valley Falls State Park. We were able to catch a glimpse or two at the beginning before the edge of a storm system moved in. We were literally right on the edge of the clouds, but it was better than getting rained dumped on us. That was the situation just a few miles away. The clouds swished by for a while and the system didn't really move much until after the peak of the eclipse. Despite the challenge I was happy to walk away with some photos.

 A quick snap before the clouds took over for a while.

A quick snap before the clouds took over for a while.

 Wisps of clouds passing in front of the eclipse at it's peak in northern West Virginia 8.21.17

Wisps of clouds passing in front of the eclipse at it's peak in northern West Virginia 8.21.17


Along the way ...

The eclipse was awesome, and Valley Falls State Park was awesome, and there were two other stops along the way that we really enjoyed. On the return trip we stopped at the Youghiogheny Overlook Welcome Center near Friendsville, MD. It provided a nice place to relax for a little with a lovely view of rolling mountains and the Youghiogheny River Lake flowing North towards Pennsylvania.

My favorite stop on the entire trip was the Sideling Hill Welcome Center near Hancock, Maryland. We were able to stop there going both directions. The eastbound rest stop is connected to the westbound via a walking bridge. I definitely plan to return there in different seasons and different weather conditions. This was one of my favorite views in a while, check it out ...

Looking East from Sideling Hill Welcome Center in the morning.

Looking west at Sunset from Sideling Hill Welcome Center during our return trip. 

Route Map and Photos ...

Take a look at the route map below and you can see exactly where we stopped. Zoom in and you can see some of the images I captured at each location. If you're a Google Maps user you can save the map for a future road trip for yourself!! Happy Exploring!


 

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