My Million Steps Photography Project

My Million Steps?

On a long cold walk in early January a random thought popped in my head for a photo project. I wasn’t even wanting to do any kind of “project” this year, this walk was just for exercise and I generally bring my camera on walks. I was trying out an app on my phone counting my steps to keep track of how far I walked.

Somehow out on Picnic Point, it just popped into my head- Walk a million steps this year and put together a collection of the photos you come across on your travels. Standing in the sub-zero windchill I did a couple google searches on my phone with exposed finders. I calculated that it would add up a total of around 500 miles. I would have to make two about 5 miles walks per week all year to reach a million steps. I’ve never had a photo project come totally out of the blue in just a few minutes. It was just such a good idea I just had to do it! So I started right there with photographing my footsteps on frozen Lake Mendota…

photos from around madison for my million steps photography project
Photos from “My Million Steps” project.

This isn’t going to be just me carrying my camera all the time as I walk thought the days of the year. The object is to make each walk an active search for photographs. So I can’t just bring my camera with me to the grocery store and count my steps shopping. Each walk I have to be looking for photographs and post at least one to Instagram.

The photos will be diverse and the walks will be diverse. Everything from urban walks around Madison and nature walks on the Ice Age Trail to walking the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The photos will be largely digital but I will throw in some film photos with my Holga and my pinhole cameras. Each walk I have to find at least one photo worthy of posting. Some days will hopefully yield good photos, others I’m sure won’t be so spectacular. That’s the challenge I guess.

At the very least, I’m going to try not to embarrass myself with the posts! If you don’t follow me on Instagram my account is called Around Madtown.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy photographed for my million steps project.
Pheasant Branch Conservancy from “My Million Steps” project.

My Million Steps is similar to a project I did a few years ago I called “Around Madtown” where I biked to State Street in Madison once a week for a year. The challenge was to find something new in each trip to the same street. It was a great exercise in seeing new things in a familiar place. With My Million Steps I am going to travel this year to Arizona and Istanbul to name a few places, there will be a lot of different scenery. Many of the walks will of course be closer to home here in Madison and around Wisconsin.

The forward statue in the Wisconsin Historical Society
I photographed the original “Forward Statue” in the Wisconsin Historical Society building while on a quick warming break on a cold January walk.

Just as we all need to exercise our bodies I think photographers need to exercise our vision. I think it’s important to take photos on a regular basis outside of our “everday work photography” just for the sake of taking photos. Like going to a gym and sweating for no particular reason is important to stay keep in shape.

Not to mention walks are great for your mental health as well! My Million Steps is going to be good for my creative health, my physical health and my mental health. I’m looking forward to the walks and to the images I find.

To see the entire project so far and to follow the progress go to the hashtag #mymillionsteps on Instagram. 

A woman looks at a painting in the Milwaukee art Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum from “My Million Steps” project.
More photos from my million steps project
Photos from “My Million Steps” project.

New Orleans Pinhole Photography

pinhole photo of a bike in new orleans

The history and charm of New Orleans makes for awesome photography. So when I saw a cheap airfare I jumped at the chance to go back to the city I used to do a lot of wedding photography in. So I returned in December to photograph the city again. This time with a my pinhole cameras. The weather was awful, which I guess why plane tickets are cheap that time of year, but I did my best. It just means I have to go back again one of these days to try again!

It was raining and in the 40’s almost the entire time I was in New Orleans and it was dark. This made for long exposures standing in the rain getting chilled to the bone. It was worth it though. It’s an amazing place to photograph.

pinhole photograph of jackson square in new Orleans.
Jackson Square pinhole in the heart of New Orleans.

If it’s raining, use the rain to your advantage as much as you can. The wet streets gave it a nice element.

a pinhole photo of the saint louis cathedral in new orleans
A pinhole photograph of St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in New Orleans.
Pinhole of the Metairie Cemetery in new orleans
I think the best pinhole photograph of the trip was from the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

I think the best photo was from the Metairie Cemetery. These above ground tombs are just perfect for pinholes. I hear people describe my pinhole photography as “creepy” quite a bit. I’m sure I’ll hear that about this one!

Biking on the Military Ridge Trail

military Ridge state trai

Military Ridge State Trail

Biking the Military Ridge State Trail between Mount Horeb and Verona is an outdoors treat just a few miles from the west side of Madison. It’s become my favorite morning bike route. When I have the extra time I put the bike on the roof of the car I drive the short distance to take advantage of this peaceful ride. It takes you through the woods and the marshland that make up the headwaters of the Sugar River. It doesn’t follow any roads either so you escape traffic and it’s noise.

The Military Ridge State Trail is on an old railroad bed so it’s a flat easy enjoyable ride. It’s also fairly grown up along the trail providing lots of shade and protection from any wind.

The sugar river along the Military Ridge State Trail
The sugar River along the Military Ridge bike trail.

The best way to experience the trail is to park in Riley, halfway between Mount Horeb and Verona. There’s a large parking lot right next to the trail and you can then choose to ride 6.5 miles into Mount Horeb or 6 miles into Verona for about a 12 mile round trip.

Both directions are equally scenic. Going into Mount Horeb is up a gradual hill and more wooded. Biking to Verona is flatter and more open marshland along the way. So from one parking lot you have the choice of two varied trips.

Of course there is no such thing as a free lunch, these trails cost money to build and maintain. A permit to ride on them is only $25 a year (or $5 a day). That’s a bargain for use of all the state trails in Wisconsin for a year. There is a self pay station in the parking lot in Riley, or you can buy them at the Grumpy Troll or Miller and Son’s Grocery store in Verona.

A bridge on the Military Ridge State Trail.
Pinhole photograph of the Military Ridge bike trail taken just below the Epic campus in Verona.

This is also only a portion of the Military Ridge Trail. It goes from Madison all the way to Governor Dodge State Park. I’ve ridden from Verona east into Madison and in my opinion it’s not as pretty as the Mount Horeb to Verona section. But it was cool to ride all the way into the Capitol building from Mount Horeb with only the last 4 blocks riding on a street.

In the near future I want to ride from Mount Horeb to Governor Dodge State Park. I’ll update the blog when I do.

The Military Ridge Trail
The marsh which is the headwaters of the Sugar River along the Military Ridge bike trail.

*After the Ride*

Coffee

I often go in the morning and stop for coffee and a scone in Schubert’s Restaurant in Mount Horeb or Tuvalu Coffee House if I head to Verona. Both have lots of character and charm.

schuberts restauraunt in Mount Horeb and Tuvalu Coffee House in Verona
Schubert’s Restaurant on the left and Tuvalu Coffee House on the right are both great destinations for your morning coffee or lunch.

Beers

For an afternoon trip there is great beer to top off your ride on booth ends of the trail as well. The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb and the Hop Haus in Verona are both excellent brew pubs.

Devil’s Lake Day Hike – Ice Age Trail

A pinhole photograph of Balanced Rock on a Devil’s Lake hike.

East Bluff in Devil’s Lake State Park near Baraboo has to be one of the most popular and well traveled portions of the Ice Age Trail. Early Spring is the best time to visit to avoid the crowds of summer. I also tried a unique way of experiencing this popular spot by taking a less traveled route to get there.

A lesser traveled Devil’s Lake hike

My friend and fellow nature photographer Mike Murray and I recently did a 4.5 mile hike on the Ice Age Trail in Devil’s Lake State Park. We started in Roznos Meadow parking lot on the very eastern edge of Devil’s Lake after parking our car at our destination, the South Shore parking lot. I rode my bike back to our starting point, the Roznos Meadow lot via South Lake Road. It’s a pretty easy 3 mile ride that is mostly downhill. Only the first quarter mile is an uphill climb. South Lake Road was pretty quiet traffic and there is only a short stretch on 113 so traffic was minimal.

The 4.5 mile route of the Ice Age Trail with a bike shuttle on South Lake Road.

From the Roznos Meadow trailhead, the Ice Age Trail crosses the prairie with a nice view of the surrounding bluffs and starts up the East bluff from the far East side. On the other side of the Meadow it’s a nice meandering uphill trail through the woods getting you to the top of the bluff gradually. It’s a steady two mile uphill rather than the brutal hike up the rocky 500 foot vertical bluff most people take to the top from the South Lake Parking area.

A photographer takes in the view from the Devil’s Doorway rock formation on top of the East Bluff Trail.

This longer route makes for a more compete hike that gets you to the top in a more relaxed, less crowded enjoyable hike. There is even some solitude in the meadow and woods leading up to the top of the bluff. From the top of the bluff you descend the steep and rocky trail to the South Lake area instead of trudging up it like most people do. Don’t forget to stop and see the Balanced Rock on the way down. It’s about halfway down the trail to the lake. (see the top pinhole photograph)

taking in a relaxing view of Devil’s Lake.

*After The Hike*

Lunch- The Little Village Cafe is just that, a small town diner in Baraboo that probably hasn’t changed much in decades. I always look for an excuse to stop for lunch when I’m in the area. It’s located right on the downtown Square.

Explore Baraboo- Baraboo is one of my favorite small towns in Wisconsin. If you still have the energy after the hike explore some of the great antique shops or get a tour of the historic the Al Ringling Theatre. The antique shops and theatre are all within a few blocks of the Little Village Cafe.

Hiking Gibraltar Rock – Ice Age Trail

Pinhole photography from the Gibraltar Rock trail near Lodi, Wisconsin.

Hiking Gibraltar Rock on the Ice Age Trail is a pleasant surprise to most everyone who arrives at the top of the hike. I overheard a backpacker at the top of Gibraltar say “I didn’t know there was anything like THIS in Wisconsin.” That’s the same thing I thought several years ago when I reached the top. The above pinhole photograph shows off the view.

It’s also just a short drive from Madison and is one of the best hikes in Wisconsin.

hikers on top of Gibraltar Rock
Hikers take a break on top of Gibraltar Rock.

Views from a two hundred foot high cliff offer hikers a vista for miles across the beautiful Wisconsin landscape. Blue Mound State Park and Devil’s Lake State Park can be seen in the distance. Gibraltar Rock offers spectacular views like Devil’s Lake State park, but without the crowds. This lesser known park has much fewer visitors so on a weekday you might even have the place to yourself.

The trail to the top of Gibraltar Rock is a fairly easy short hike from the east parking lot. It’s also not nearly as arduous of a climb as the bluff in Devil’s Lake State Park.

You can extend the hike by walking to the top from the east parking lot and then back down to the west parking lot and return back for a total of 3.4 miles round trip. The additional scenery going down the west side makes both sides worthwhile.

taking a break from hiking the ice age trail.
Nazan and I take in the view from Gibraltar Rock.

Nazan and I combined the Gibraltar Rock hike with another section of the Ice Age Trail connecting Gibraltar Rock to the Merrimac Ferry on Lake Wisconsin for a total of 4.8 miles. I used a bike shuttle to get back to the Merrimac Ferry after leaving our car in the west parking lot of Gibraltar where we ended our hike. That way we could enjoy a one way hike from north to south without backtracking. The bike ride between the west parking lot and the Merrimac ferry is a short 2.4 miles on 188 and County Road V. It was an okay ride in April, but It might be more dangerous biking with busy summer weekend traffic.

Rock formations on the hike up Gibraltar Rock
A pinhole photograph from the hike up Gibraltar Rock.

There is a short 1 mile road walk connecting the two sections to each other but we really enjoyed both segments making it almost a full day hike. The Ice Age Trail between Gibraltar and the Merrimac Ferry is much less used, but is still breathtaking. It climbs up and follows a ridge with amazing views of Lake Wisconsin. There is parking on both ends of the trail. Several well placed benches at overlooks are a great place to rest and have a snack. It’s well worth combining this trail with the Gibraltar segment for a longer full day hike.

The mother of all trail benches at the top of the Merrimac segment, complete with a foot rest to recline and take in the view from the top of the ridge.

*After the Hike*

Beers- Reward yourself with a beer at Lone Girl Brewing in Waunakee after the hike. Lone Girl Brewing is worth making a road trip just by itself! It’s a good stopping off point for a beer on your way back to Madison. A perfect way to end an awesome hike.

Breakfast/lunch- Lucy’s Family Restaurant in Lodi offers breakfast all day. Nothing hits the spot like having a home cooked breakfast after a morning hike.

Coffee shop- Downtown Coffee Grounds is a fantastic Mom and Pop coffee shop in Lodi. The home cooked scones are delicious if you want to stop for a morning bite to eat on the way to Gibraltar or stopping off after.

Lone Girl Brewing has some of the best beer in Dane County.

Brooklyn Wildlife Area Hike – The Ice Age Trail

a pinhole photograph of An old oak tree on the old ice age trail

I found this stately oak tree while on a hike in the Brooklyn Wildlife Area, an awesome segment of the Ice Age Trail. This photo also is a great example to show just how crazy wide angle a pinhole camera can be. It’s what I really love about pinhole. The below digital photograph shows how close the camera is to the tree. The second I hiked around this corner of the trail and saw the tree I knew this was going to be a pinhole!

a pinhole camera taking a photograph of a tree
To give an idea of just how crazy wide a pinhole camera can be this is the camera where I took the above photo.

I’ve seen the Brooklyn Wildlife Area on Google maps but had never heard anything about the place. When I saw the Ice Age Trail makes it’s way through the refuge I thought I’d have to go check it out someday. I’m glad I finally did.

The route to the right is the Ice Age Trail, the route to the left is the biking shuttle route. All four parking lots are marked with the blue pins. 

It’s a hidden gem of a hike, compete with some hilly stretches, open meadows, wooded areas and even a scenic overlook that you can see for miles. It’s about a 3.5 mile to hike from the south parking lot on Hughes Road to the north parking lot on County Road DD. For a longer 6.5 mile hike start at Hughs Road and go all the way to the far northern parking lot on Frenchtown Road.

I was able to do a point A to point B hike by myself using my bike to shuttle myself to the car. The first time I went I parked my car at the north County Road DD parking lot and rode on County Road DD for 2.8 miles to the southern parking lot on Hughes Road to start the hike. Locked my bike at the starting point and hiked back to the car. This worked great, I’m going to do this more often. I’ve always disliked doing out and back hikes. Half the hike is seeing stuff on the way back you just walked by! Just be careful on County Road DD. It’s a narrow fairly busy road. Next time I’ll get an earlier start so I beat morning traffic.

ice age trail sign
The Ice Age Trail is an awesome hike through Brooklyn Wildlife Area.

From the south the hike starts out in typical wooded area and comes to lots of hilly glacial moraine  in the middle of the hike. The trail follows a ridge running north and south and comes to an open hill with a great view for miles around. These changes of scenery keeping the hike entertaining.

If you wanted to do a shorter hike strait to the good stuff in the middle like the overlook, just park at the middle parking lot on County Road DD. From there the overlook and the middle hilly portions of the trail are a very short distance.

hiker on the ice age trail.
The view from the overlook halfway through the hike.

The trail does continue through to the farthest northern part of the Brooklyn Wildlife Refuge, but there is no parking lot there for your car and a narrow road. Not a good place to park. The Ice Age Trail even continues on outside of the refuge on another ridge running north.

Hiking the Ice Age Trail.
The very northern face of the trail near Frenchtown Road has some beautiful rock outcroppings.

My Wife and I hiked the entire Brooklyn Wildlife area hike plus the Ice Age Trail running north to Frenchtown Road parking lot on a later date. So I did the bike shuttle from the Frenchtown Road parking to the southernmost parking lot on Hughes Road. From there we walked the entire 6 miles north to the car. It made for a great day trip. The northern section follows some high hills with great views of the surrounding area. It’s worth walking the two portions together if you have the time to make it a longer day.

my bike that I used to get back to the trailhead of the Brooklyn Wildlife Area hike
A new technique or me in hiking since getting a roof rack for my car- using your bike to shuttle back to the other end of the trail instead of doing an out and back hike.