Mike’s Great Smoky Mountains Adventure – Final Day

Don’t y’all hate when it’s the last day of a vacation or trip? Yah, me, too. But today is bittersweet. Of all the days I’ve spent here in The Great Smoky Mountains, today (Wednesday June 28th, 2017) was THEE best for pictures and sightings! Yee Hawe, indeed! šŸ™‚
smoky mountains, great smoky mountains, great smoky mountains national park, bryson city NC, steam trains, railroad, railway,
I started out in Bryson City, NC with a visit to The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Much as I DO like train rides, I didn’t venture over there with the intent of riding. I wanted to take my own photos of the railroad and a few of Bryson City itself But more than just that, there are several trestles where the GSMR Trains cross – one of them not too far from the downtown depot. I’d hoped to get a few good ones of the train traversing the bridge. But as luck would have it, I captured about 10-12 GOOD ones – so rare for even the best photographers. It was too hard to choose which ones to put herein this blog. Therefore, I just posted one herein. The rest I plan on including in another post which will contain a slide show video. More on that later.

After the railroad shots, I headed over once more to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just after entering the park, I ran into a traffic jam. I knew tis either meant a car accident or a wildlife sighting. I got lucky – it was a herd of elk on the side of the road as well as crossing the road. Must’ve been about 20 of `em. Again, YEE HAWE!!! šŸ™‚

As if the herd of elk sighting wasn’t enough, I drove about another 3 miles down (well, UP) the road. What do I spy there you ask? ANOTHER 2-3 elk. Luckily, there was a small roadside turnout where I could stop my car. I jumped out and clicked off about another 50 shots of these beautiful animals grazing in the high grass.

Did it all stop there? NO I SAY šŸ™‚ I headed to a place called Newfound Gap Overlook. The plan was to stay long enough to capture a sunset. This was at the suggestion of a friend of mine, Alta. The idea was good and I had every intention of staying another hour or two to make this happen. But my luck began to run out, The clouds kept growing and thickening all around the gap and beyond. So I made the best of it and shot about 2-3 different locations (including Newfound Gap) in long exposure with a neutral density filter (which lets you take long exposures in the middle of the day etc…). One of them I’ve included herein this post. However, I will admit there are several more that are ‘fine art’ quality and will be a for sale item at a later point (as are several other shots I’ve shot over the last few days … hey I like y’all and wanna share some of these images, but I gotta save some to offset the cost of these trips LOL).

AND THEN – – – As I was about to depart the park for the day, I was finally able to locate one of the roadside attractions I’d been looking for the last few days. It’s an old fashioned, historic Grist Mill. I got there a little late in the day and the mil itself was already locked up. But again making the most of it all, I captured several pictures of the Grist Mill and the grounds. I included one for now in this post.

Anyhoo – that’s about it from the Smoky Mountains. Headed back to Florida tomorrow (Thursday). I may do a recap video slide show in the next few days. We’ll see how that pans out. Wanna make sure I have enough shots to make a short video worthwhile.

Thanks for stopping’ by and following these last few posts about Ā mIke’s Great Smoky mountains Adventures! šŸ™‚

Peace – Mike T.

Smoky Mountains Adventure – Day 2

“In every walk with nature, humankind receives more than is sought” – John Muir

great smoky mountains, smoky mountains, cases cove, wildlife, nature, deer, elk, mooseWell, today (Tuesday June 27th, 2017) was one of those ‘outa sync’ days. Meaning – my timing was off, mother nature was off, even the wildlife was off :). Lots of driving through and around the mountains but I just couldn’t make more than a few good photos happen. But it’s really hard to be that unhappy while up here in this beautiful place!!! And that ‘outa sync’ thing … well … I guess it isn’t 100% accurate anyway as you can see by the four pictures herein this blog post.

While visiting Cades Cove (within The Great Smoky Mountains National Park), I chose to drive the 11 mile scenic loop. For those not familiar, this driving loop encompasses a vast area in Cades Cove where all kinds of wildlife are known to live, come out and feed etc… But here’s why I referenceĀ that ‘outa sync’ thing. Even though I saw a mother bear and two cubs, they were so far into the forest, trees blocking my shot, plus it was rather dark where they were, hence, no photos of that little family :(. I also saw what I believe was a fox that came prancing right in front of me. By the time I had my camera at the ready, he / she was gone in the high grass and into the woods . I mean it was really cool to see the two aforementioned. The memories will live in my brain and my heart & soul forever. I just wish I could’ve shared those visions here via my photography. Ahh well.

There were plenty of places to shoot more majestic scenery of these spectacular mountains (see the two photos herein).

And of course the two shots of the two elk (or moose – not sure šŸ˜‰ ) atop this page helped make up for anything I might have missed for whatever reason. And by the way, those shots (of the elk/moose) were taken right alongside the roadway as I was leaving Cades Cove.

Well, that’s about it for tonight. Hopefully more pictures to share after tomorrow’s big adventures :).

Peace – Mike T.

Mike’s Great Smoky Mountains Adventure – Day 1

“Going to the mountains is going home” – John Muir

smoky mountains, north carolina, maggie valley, gatlinburg, cherokee, tennessee, pigeon forge, dolly parton, blue ridge parkway

I’ve planned and attempted several time to make a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains. I cancelled once due to a projected forecast of heavy rains for like 5-6 days in a row. The last time I chose not to go due to the massive & destructive wildfires they were experiencing. But this time around, I just said to heck with all that, booked it aboutĀ 3 days before my departure (from central Florida) and just went. God shone down and made the weather perfect for my adventure.

And a big adventure it’s been so far. I can’t explain it. It’s more of a feeling inside my soul. But in just one day (and night) I’ve spent here, I fell like … I dunno … like I’ve taken a step back in time, but in a good way. So many past emotions, experiences and peaceful moments. More on all that stuff in anotherĀ blog post ;).For now, please read on and view the rest of today’s ‘select shots’.

So here I now sit in my hotel room at the ends of day 1 (which began for me at about 6:30 AM) just in time to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Side note – didn’t get any shots of the sunrise TODAY as I didn’t realize until it was too late that I was basically on the ‘wrong side of the mountain’ for that. But here’s hoping for tomorrow or one of my other days I’ll be here.Ā I managed to visit many of the beautiful and historic areas or venues throughout The Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as some bordering views just outside the park along The Blue Ridge Parkway.

There are lots of old, historical heritage locations like these last two shots in and around the mountains here. The plan is to visit them over the next 2-3 days. Once again, more on all that in more / other blog posts.


These pictures are just a few ‘teaser’ images. At the end of this trip, I’,planning on putting many more photographs on this blog (and elsewhere – i.e. – Instagram (@MikeThomasImagery) etc… For now, enjoy these and let your mind wander into the peace & QUIETNESS of these wonderful mountains!


Peace – Mike T.

“Pan American Flight From The Past Now Arriving…”

airplane, jet, propeller, pan american, airliner, airport, international flight

So there I was – driving home from the small Florida town of Mount Dora Wednesday morning (see other blog post on that one) after shooting the Mount Dora Lighthouse and some bird wildlife. I look over to my right and I suddenly feel like I’ve stepped back in time. I see this airplane (and I use that term intentionally – not jet or jetliner – look at the propellers on this baby) parked on one of the taxi ways. I then noticed an entry / exit to the airport where this plane is. I swerve (carefully of course) off the main highway and into the airport. I find a good spot to capture this shot with a very long lens (so I don’t have to drive out on the taxi way with my car …. yah, THAT would’ve ended well I’m sure ;)). I’m not sure if it is in fact an actual Pan Am airplane or some sort of converted plane that the owner just painted the logo and the Pan Am colors on to. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty good find. Made my day :). Perhaps I’ll go back out there, talk to whomever and try and get permission to go right to where the plane is parked and grab some even better pictures. We’ll see :).

Peace – Mike T.

An Early Morning Visit To Mount Dora Lighthouse, FL

lighthouses, florida, mount dora florida, nature, landscape, mariner, boating, lake, water, ocean


lighthouses, florida, mount dora florida, nature, landscape, mariner, boating, lake, water, oceanFor those reading this who don’t know (and I understand that’s probably most of you – especially those who don’t live in Central Florida), there’s this beautiful, quaint old town called Mount Dora. Roughly north of Orlando, Mount Dora is home to old fashioned streets, diners, shops and more. There’s also a lake in the downtown area that’s pretty vast. Many a watercraft can be seen cruising the large lake.

lighthouses, florida, mount dora florida, nature, landscape, mariner, boating, lake, water, ocean

There’s a marina that’s also big enough to warrant a light house. Yep – that’s right. Small as the lighthouse is, it is a working lighthouse. I’m not sure if it’s on the National Registry of Lighthouses or not. But it does serve a purpose for mariners to heed the shore line of that portion of the lake that’s home to the marina. I’ve been meaning to get out to Mount Dora for some time now to shoot the lighthouse (and some of the town and its folks – but that will come in another post later). The area where the lighthouse stands I found to be a very peaceful, serene place, especially in the earlier part of the day like when I was there at about 8:00AM. The wildlife / birds aren’t overly plentiful. But they’re around and some will pose for pictures – like this guy :).

As I said above. there’ll be at least one other post coming about the town of Mount Dora. But in the meantime, if you’re ever in that area and enjoy old time, small town, down home look & feel, ya’ gotta check out Mount Dora, Florida :).

Peace – Mike T.

“Look Into The Eye”

orlando, orlando eye, attractions, florida, disney, universal orlando. sea world, theme parks

While browsing some pictures I’d captured in days gone by, I came across this black & white shot of The Orlando Eye. I did a blog post about two years ago when I went on this baby for the first time. But all (or most of) the shots I’d posted were night time shots as The Orlando Eye looks quite beautiful at night. So I thought I’d post one of my slightly more artistic black & white shots of this nifty, cool attraction!

Peace – Mike T.

Pandora – The World Of Avatar


disney, animal kingdom, avatar, pandora, pandora-land of avatar, tree of life

So I’ve had quite a few emails & messages inquiring as to whether I have any pictures of the new, “Pandora – The World Of Avatar,” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Well, yes I do. But several points to be noted here. One, the new ‘land’ is beautiful for sure! But I’ve yet to capture (and I’m not sure I ever will in this specific case) the majesty, vastness and beauty of it all. It’s one of those rare ‘gotta be there’ type scenarios.

That being said, here are 4 photos I’ve managed to take thus far while visiting on my own the last week or two. Point two, the night time shots here are pretty but are some of thee most difficult and challenging shots I’ve ever taken.

They way to really shoot these is on a tripod (not hand held as this one is), long exposure and with nobody in the place. Hmmm? If only I could figure a way to do that one . We’ll see – perhaps a later post if I can arrange it all.

Point three, I semi-shamefully admit I’d never seen the movie, “Avatar,” – until last night that is. I bought it via iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised and very entertained by it all. Way better than I expected it to be. Point here being, now that I’ve seen it, SO MUCH MOREĀ makes sense to me in this new ‘land’ at Animal Kingdom. I know: “DUH”!!! :).

Anyway, if you haven’t yet been able to go see Pandora – The Land Of Avatar at Walt Disney World yet, it’s definitely worth it, if for nothing else than the sheer beauty of it all both day and night!

Peace – Mike T.




Honor Flight – Central Florida Chapter – June 3rd, 2017

(to view ALL photos by yours truly from this latest event, please click the link below at the end of this post)

honor flight, military, united states, america, army, navy, marines, air force, coast guard, we, korean war, vietnam, flags

This makes the third Honor Flight Welcome Home Event I’ve ben blessed and lucky enough to be present for – and got to photograph it! Tell ya’ what – I’m LOVING this!!! I estimate about 250-300 people showed up voluntarily to welcome these World War II, Korean and Vietnam Veterans back home. If you haven’t had the chance to read any other of my blog posts about Honor Flight or perhaps aren’t aware of what Honor Flight is, let me briefly explain.

Honor Flight is an entirely volunteer organization that flies United States Military VeteransĀ up to see their respective memorials in Washington, D.C. (i.e. – WW II Memorial, Korean War Memorial etc…). It’s a 1 day trip up and back that starts pretty much at the crack of dawn and ends with their return back home (in this case to Orlando International Airport) at around 8:30 PM +/-. The tradition of having good hearted, well meaning, Patriotic people at the arrival gate area at the airport when they return has grown immensely since Honor Flight first started. I’ve spoken to many of the folks that come regularly to these things. They tell me they’ve made so many new, supportive friends at the events. It’s like a mini reunion or get together each time an Honor Flight gets set in motion. But it’s not really a social gathering or a personal meet & greet. Everyone is there for one purpose and that’s to welcome home and say thanks to these great Veterans. The emotion and outpouring of love is beyond words. You really need to be there to feel it, not just see it.

Thank you to all who came to lend their support tonight. And of course a huge THANK YOU to all the heroic, Patriotic Veterans who served for America. May God Bless You and this still great country!

To view all photos I managed to capture tonight, please click HERE.

Peace – Mike T.

AFTER Memorial Day

florida, military, army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, national cemetery, cemetery, Bushnell florida

As you might have surmised by the title of this blog post, this is about not forgetting those whom we remember on Memorial Day. In other words, I waited purposely until the day after Memorial Day to create this post. It’s sorta like when lots of folks go and work in the soup kitchens right at Christmas or Thanksgiving time. Yes, it’s admirable for anyone to go and do charitable work. But in conversing with some homeless folks, one of the common denominators they agree on is that after whatever Holiday comes and goes, those folks I talked to say they feel forgotten (again). They’re not bitter. It’s just that for some reason, people feel charitable and giving at the Holidays. But not so much after. Now before anyone gets upset or takes issue with me, I’m NOT saying everyone who helps out in the shelters and the like falls victim to this mentality or behavior. Nor am I knocking anyone who has the decency and kind heartedness to give of themselves. But with society and times changing constantly, trends just seem to take some folks’ thoughts and actions away from doing good things or remembering the fallen, the forgotten, the homeless etc… That’s the basic premise in posting this article immediately after Memorial Day 2017.

So to get back on track as to what this post is about, I have a question for you the reader: Did you know that there was a National Cemetery in Florida? I’ll adit it – I didn’t. I thought the only notable National Cemetery was Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

I was searching on the web for things I could go and pay tribute to via my photography. I found several celebrations within a 1 to 2 hour drive of my location in Central Florida. But the one that jumped out at me was this National Cemetery up in the town of Bushnell, FL. For various reasons, it was going to be a real stretch for me to get there on Memorial Day Itself. Hence, the idea of ‘AFTER Memorial Day’ came to fruition in my brain. What I discovered when I got there was pretty astounding!

Arlington National Cemetery is approximately 625 acres with about 400,000 interned there. Florida National Cemetery is approximately 512 acres with 129,000 interned. Arlington was established in 1864. Florida National Cemetery was established in 1988. Let that sink in just a bit. Spanning about 150 years, Arlington has managed to have 400,000 buried therein. But Florida National Cemetery in just shy of 30 years has managed to welcome home 129,000. Pretty high ratio.

Florida National Cemetery is in a very rural area of the Sunshine State. The landscape is nothing short of beautiful. American Flags line all the roadways on both sides throughout the property. It’s very evident the staff take extreme care in monitoring and beautifying the land.

I’m well aware that it may be considered a little off beat to even do a blog post on a cemetery. But given my flag-waiving Patriotic beliefs and my deep set appreciation and recognition for our Military Personnel, to me it’s not that obscure. Especially if it brings the needed attention to educating in any way possible what our fallen Military heroes have done to allow ALL of us to do what we do every day in this still great United States Of America!

If you have reason (or not), make a trip out to Florida National Cemetery. It is, dare I say breath taking and will set your Patriotic heart & soul afire. Florida National Cemetery might not be as big as Arlington. But it’s every bit as majestic and emotional!!!

God Bless all our fallen Military people. You will never be forgotten by this blog writer!!!

Peace – Mike T

Honor Flight: Space Coast Florida Chapter – Saturday, May 20th, 2017

honor flight, military, veterans, ww ii, world war ii, korean war, vietnam

So if you don’t know or haven’t read my blog of late, I finally got to attend an Honor Flight return / arrival at the (Orlando International) airport on Saturday, May 6th, 2017. Briefly, Honor Flight is an all volunteer organization that transports American Military Veterans who served in World War II, The Korean War and The Vietnam War to see and experience their respective memorials that have been built over the years in Washington, D.C. It’s become sort of a tradition for good, flag waiving, patriotic American people to welcome the Veteran back home after their rather long day traveling to and from D.C. Today – Saturday May 20th, 2017 (also Armed Forces Day Weekend by the way), I was so lucky and honored to attend yet another Honor Flight Return. This one was from the Space Coast Honor Flight Chapter from the Titusville, FL area.

honor flight, veterans, military, ww ii, world war ii, korean war, vietnam

Last time I posted on the May 6th, 2017 event, I included a fair amount of pictures. This time around, I’ve included only the two most heart warming photos I was able to capture, both of the same little girl welcoming home two different Korean War Veterans. But there are many other photos I’ve put up online for viewing at THIS LINK. Please make just a little time and check out the story behind each photograph. Try and feel, or at least imagine the emotion just overflowing for these guys and gals who served in battle as they were welcomed back and celebrated by the good souls who gave of their time to drive to the airport on a Saturday night just to say ‘thanks’ or ‘welcome home soldier’. Ā By the way, what did you do Saturday night? No guilt trip here. Just trying to plant a seed in your heart & soul to perhaps think about going out to attend one of these events. Much as I try and convey both in text and in pictures, I don’t believe I’ve yet captured the experience that takes place at one of these things. Ya’ have to bee there. And with Ā that, I’ll leave you for now.

Thanks for stoppin’ by.Again, please check out the rest of the photos at THIS LINK.

Peace – Mike T.

Somedays, Ya’ Just Get Squirrels

nature, wiuldlife, squirrels, lake louisa state park, florida

I ventured out to test / try and repair some problems I’ve been having with one of my cameras. I went to one of my favorite nature places – Lake Louisa State Park here in Central Florida. In the past, I’ve been able to capture (in pictures) great wildlife such as deer, eagles, osprey, gators and more. But today was just one of those days that kinda reminded me of an old John Denver song, “Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stone.” Today, all I was able to capture on the nature trails and/or by the lakes were these little critters.

squirrels, nature, wildlife, lake louisa state park, florida

Not a bad thing I guess. But I probably could’ve poked my head out my front door and captured similar :).

Peace – Mike T.

“Wishes” – Farewell Old Friend

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photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

It was late September, 2003. I was still a Walt Disney World Cast Member. My role at the time was documentation photographer for various Administrative Business Units. I was based out of The Magic Kingdom Park at the time. I had just received direction from a few of my Administrative and Executive Leaders to come in after park closing for a few select few upcoming nights and ‘scout out’ this new Night Time Spectacular pyrotechnics show – something they were calling, “Wishes.” The show was described to me and others as ‘A Stage In The Sky Show’. Sounded interesting but I couldn’t get my head around what they meant…. until I saw the first testing of it a few nights later. HOLY COW! It really was like a show presented on this ‘stage’ in the sky. Additionally, the 12 minute presentation told a story from beginning to end. Truly unbelievable! I’d never seen anything like this kind of fireworks display in my life. Now the problem or challenge (and I do mean CHALLENGE) was going to be how the heck to shoot this thing and have my photos tell a story and/or convey the emotion the show had within itself.

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

I proposed a plan to my leaders that would encompass several nights of yours truly shooting the show in order to piece it together in the end. Reason being – photographically speaking – the change in the intensity and duration of the various pyrotechnics could never be captured in one single night of shooting. They agreed with no objection. So ….. I set out on the first full debut of this new show (October 9, 2003) and figure I’d have it in about 4-5 nights of shooting. I couldn’t have been more wrong! šŸ™

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

To accurately and artistically capture this show, it took me (get this) about 4 weeks of shooting every night that I was working (so 5 nights a week times 4 weeks – about 20 nights of shooting). Granted, I AM my own worst critic, so maybe I could’ve had it in a little less time. But after 4 weeks of shooting this beautiful new show, I had it!!!

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

As “Wishes” bids a fond farewell tomorrow night (May 12th, 2017) after just short of a 14 year run, many Guests, Cast Members and myself have fond memories of this classic Disney show. But for me, it had a different & special meaning. “Wishes” was the night time pyrotechnics show that literally taught me how to be an expert (self proclaimed lol) on shooting fireworks, not just at The Magic Kingdom Park bit at any Disney Park or venue anywhere! Even today when I go to shoot any fireworks show, as I set up my cameras (yes, I usually use two cameras when I’m shooting any fireworks show), I automatically think back to the settings, lessons and mistakes I made 14 years earlier while learning to shoot “Wishes.”

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

I’m excited to see the new show that will replace “Wishes.” But to me, it’s kind of like when you graduate high school: All those lessons and memories learned along the way will now take a back seat as my career (and life) continue in the only direction possible: FORWARD! Thanks to the designers, Imagineers, Technicians, Disney Entertainment Cast and so many more for making a never ending memory in all of our hearts including mine!

Oh by the way – all of these pictures herein this blog post were shot by yours truly. But on my own time. The Walt Disney Company has all those shots from the 4 weeks of shooting (and more). But I loved the show so much I used to come over and shoot it just for my own personal use or memories. Thought it was finally a good time to share some of these shots as the show leaves.

Peace – Mike T.