A Texas Holiday

Last year, I travelled to France for the wedding of Anne and the New Year. Air travel was less stringent back then, as I brought everything aboard the plane in my LoweAlpine Contour IV backpack. This year, my Swiss Army Knife stayed at home and my tripod was checked-in for my flight to Texas.

My family’s trip to the Lone Star state took us to a number of museums, monuments, and historical buildings, and I took over 500 pictures with the Canon 1D, learning much about its feature set and idiosyncracies during my eight days in Texas.


Museums and Monuments

San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park Complex

The San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park Complex is home to the Battleship Texas (BB-35) and the San Jacinto Monument. San Jacinto was the site of General Sam Houston’s victory over General Santa Anna in 1836. The battle secured the Texans’ independence from Mexican rule and led to the annexation of about 1 million square miles of territory to the US when Texas eventually joined the Union.

The Texas was built in 1914 and was steadily upgraded through the years. It was engaged in numerous conflicts in the next two World Wars, serving at one point as the flagship of the US Atlantic Fleet. At 573 feet long, the Texas is much smaller than the Iowa class of fast battleships (887 feet), but it’s still a massive vessel. The ship is permanently docked in Houston, with its propellers removed to prevent any Enterprise-like incidents (from Star Trek III).

Our guide was Dennis Mitchell, and he was well-versed in the history of the ship. We toured much of the ship, from the engine room to the bridge. I don’t know if I could have served for so long on a ship with such cramped living spaces. Enlisted men slept in bunks stacked four to five high, with only a small locker for their worldly possessions. The officers, on the other hand, all had their own quarters within the green-painted walls of Officer Country.

The scenes in Pearl Harbor on board many of the battleships were filmed on the Battleship Texas. I even got to pretend that I was Cuba Gooding Junior’s character while sitting in one of the anti-aircraft guns!

National Museum of the Pacific War

The National Museum of the Pacific War is located in Fredericksburg, Texas, which just happens to be the birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz. On seven acres, the museum details the story of Pacific Theatre conflict of World War II through a number of exhibits and galleries.

One of the Japanese midget submarines is on display at the museum. The submarine was supposed to be involved in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, but it was damaged and subsequently beached outside the entrance to the harbor. The submarine is 80 feet long, housing two sailors and two torpedoes.

Texas State History Museum

The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is located in Austin, within walking distance of the state capitol and the University of Texas campus. It opened recently, in April, 2001, and is home to a 400-seat IMAX Theatre. According to its web site, the museum is a non-collecting institution, which means the objects on display have been borrowed from a variety of places. I figure this is a good way to keep the museum experience fresh upon multiple visits.

There are three floors to the museum, highlighting important chapters in the Story of Texas: Land, Identity and Opportunity.

Lance Armstrong is from Texas. In the museum, there’s one of his yellow jerseys and bikes from the Tour de France. Austin, although hillier than Dallas or Houston, is still a flat city. I can only imagine what he had to do to get his hill workouts when he was younger and living in Plano. Lance’s got three maillot jaunes in his pocket and is gunning for a fourth in 2002.

Texas State Capitol

The Texas State Capitol is the nation’s largest state capitol. It’s also the first state capitol that I’ve ever visited. I find it interesting to see that the state capitols are almost never the state’s economic capitols. When you think of California, you think of Los Angeles or San Francisco, not Sacramento. When you think of Texas, you think of Houston or Dallas, not Austin. I remember having to learn the names of the state capitols in elementary school. If given the test today, I don’t think I’d pass!

The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures

Where the Texas State History Museum is oriented to describing the state’s history, the The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures is dedicated to understanding and celebrating the history and diverse cultures of Texas. Located in San Antonio, this museum is home to permanent exhibits on 26 ethnic and cultural groups, from Native Americans to the Chinese to the French to the Mexicans.

The Alamo

Who can forget the line (made famous at the battle of San Jacinto), “Remember the Alamo!”? For many people, including myself, I thought going to the Alamo would mean travelling a long distance to a desert location where the complete Alamo would stand. In reality, The Alamo is located in the heart of San Antonio with only two original structures still standing, the church and one wall. “That’s it?!?” I thought to myself when I was there.

Of all the museums that we visited, only the Alamo did not allow the use of photography (or video) indoors. I found it curious that they didn’t even allow non-flash photography. In the end, it was okay, since the Alamo wasn’t too much to look at indoors. After all, most of the original structure is gone. If you want to relive the experience of the Alamo, go to the Alamo Village in Brackettville, Texas, located some 120 miles west of San Antonio.

Texas Military Forces Museum

The Texas Military Forces Museum is located in Camp Mabry in Austin. It’s self-proclaimed as the “only museum in the nation that presents the history of the Texas Military from the Texas Revolution to the present.”

There are a number of vehicles, dioramas, and weapons on display at this museum. There was even a diorama of the battle at The Alamo, which I was able to photograph. It was fun taking pictures of the tanks. As a big military buff when I was younger (couldn’t you tell judging from the types of museums I went to?), I remember drawing German Jagpanzers and M1 Abrams tanks. At the Texas Military Forces Museum, I could stand right next to one!

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

Our last museum trip took us to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. This was the first Presidential Library that I’ve even been too, and it was very interesting to see all of the artifacts, documents, and memorabilia from LBJ’s presidency on display.

There was even a 7/8ths scale reproduction of LBJ’s Oval Office in the museum. It must be something else to stand in the Oval Office. Few people in the world get to do that, and most people have to settle for a place like this.

The LBJ Library is also host to the Ransom Center, a collection of some of the world’s finest and oldest treasures. Among the Ransom Collection is the world’s first photograph, a copy of Gutenberg’s Bible, and the first book printed in English. That’s history for you.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s heliograph was taken from his third story window in Gras, France. The image was formed on a pewter plate, which was “sensitized with an asphalt derivative, bitumen of judea.” A positive image was created after an 8 hour exposure time. I looked upon the world’s first photograph holding my Canon 1D, which could take images in thousandths of a second, not hours.

Seeing the Gutenberg Bible literally gave me chills. It was remarkably well-preserved for a book, let alone one that was over 500 years old! We’ve certainly come a long way since those two inventions, but there’s so much more out there left to be conceived and invented.


Other Places

Eight museums in less than eight days! I didn’t realize that we visited that many places until I sat down to write this entry. Phew!

But wait, that’s not all that I saw!

Steve Jackson Games

In between our frequent museum/momument trips, I had the opportunity to drive by the offices of Steve Jackson Games. When I was younger, I used to play a lot of their board games with my brother, including Car Wars and Ogre.

People may recall that SJ Games was raided by the Secret Service in 1990. The Secret Service mistakenly thought that the company was creating a guide on hacking. In reality, SJ Games was writing a supplement for their GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) game, GURPS Cyberpunks. Three years later, a federal court judge ruled in favor of the company against the government, awarding SJ Games with damages and attorneys’ fees.

Lord of the Rings

It was written in years past that Adam once gazed upon the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his family’s bookcase, muttering to himself, “Those books are sooo long, I’ll never finish reading them!” And so it came to pass that Adam never read the books, though he has fond memories of the Return of the King animated film from the early 80’s. “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way!” Years later in 2001, the Lord of the Rings movie had reached theaters to rave reviews. Adam wanted to watch the movie, but only after he had read the book.

In Texas, those same books that he once shuddered at reading were once again in his grasp. With determined effort, Adam digested 500 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring in one day and the first few chapters of The Two Towers a day later. It was on that day he saw the first installment of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the Tolkien classic.

In a word? Epic. See it once, see it twice, and read the book!


Canon 1D Thoughts

I used the new Canon 1D Digital SLR for all of the photos in this photojournal. It’s a dream camera to handle and use, but there are some things to keep in mind when shooting with the 1D.

Banding

Don’t underexpose. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned from using the 1D in Texas. Whenever I underexposed my images, the chances for banding to appear increased dramatically.

My first night in Austin, I took a picture of the beautiful night sky. Orion was out, and I decided to take a wide open 30 second exposure at ISO 200. The resulting picture looks good, but you can’t adjust the levels too much or visible banding will emerge. Sigh.

Most of the museums I visited prohibited flash photography, so I shot primarily at ISO800 or ISO1600. With the D30, I never would have shot at ISO1600, but the 1D has useable noise levels (or lack of noise) up to ISO1600. In fact, noise levels at ISO1600 remind me of ISO800 on the D30 on the 1D. The problem with the noise is in its pattern, it’s banded! You can see this banding in a number of images that I shot at the Pacific War Museum and the Texas State History Museum. Double sigh.

Dust

In over a year of shooting with the D30, I can’t recall any time when I had to clean the sensor because of dust. In two weeks with the 1D, I discovered two large pieces of dust on the sensor. The dust particles were only visible when I stopped down the lens, which I did often outdoors. You can see two of the dust mites in the header image at the top of this entry. While it’s relatively easy to correct in Photoshop, it’s something that I’d rather not do.

Zoom playback

I didn’t notice that there was dust on my sensor until I shot the sky days later at the Institute of Texan Cultures Museum. Most digital cameras allow you to enlarge captured images to examine detail, but the 1D does not have this critical feature. Ugh!

The LCD screen doesn’t represent the colors of the picture as accurately as my computer monitor. That’s to be expected, but sometimes it seems way off. One of the reasons why a number of my pictures were underexposed is because they looked too blown out on the LCD viewscreen! Double ugh!

Let’s hope once again that Canon releases a firmware update that rectifies these issues. I’m crossing my fingers!

Enjoy the pics and remember, “Don’t Mess With Texas!”

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