It's almost the middle of November. The retail stores, never known for wasting time on silly non-commercial holidays like Thanksgiving, have their Christmas decorations out (and have for a couple of weeks). The nonstop barrage of carols, sales, and Santa Claus is in full swing. Ugh. With that in mind, I thought I'd post a picture that's the complete antithesis of Christmas madness. This is the extremely peaceful Gulf of Mexico at Gulf Shores, Alabama at dawn.

For photo geeks like me: This is the tone-mapped version (HDR) created from a single RAW file shot with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm lens.

Ellis Island

From 1892 until 1954, Ellis Island was the main point of entry into the U.S. for immigrants arriving from Europe. This was the first stop for over 12 million people trying to make the U.S. their home. The island itself is a tiny-ish thing, mostly covered with buildings of which only one is normally open to the public. (There are a slew of other buildings, mostly medical buildings according to Wikipedia, that aren't open but appear to be under renovation.) To reach the island, you take the same ferry as to reach the Statue of Liberty. Liberty Island is the first stop; Ellis Island the second; then the ferry returns to Battery Park. There's also a ferry leaving from the NJ side.

If you go, I recommend coughing up the $8 for the audio tour. It's well done and will free you from reading each exhibit sign, allowing you to spend your time taking in the atmosphere and letting your imagination wander.

9/11 Memorial

I spent this past week working in New York and was lucky enough to have some time off to do some exploring. After a freak October snow the previous weekend, the weather had gone back to traditional fall: sunny with highs in the mid- to upper-50's. In other words, perfect weather for extended walking. Three things were on the To Do list (besides just general walking around): See the 9/11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I'd never spent much of any time in lower Manhattan so this was all new territory.

For those who don't know, the 9/11 Memorial sits (as expected) right on the site of the twin towers. The central features of the Memorial are two fountains that roughly cover the footprint of the two buildings and are surrounded by a park. And while the fountains and park are fully constructed and operating, all around the Memorial are construction projects: a museum, new office buildings, a new train station. It's somewhat surreal inside the park as it's relatively quiet, much of the outside noise muffled by the white-noise sound of the fountains, while all around are bulldozers and crains and jackhammers and construction workers. Somehow, at least aurally, the city disappears. Here's what the fountains sound like:

9-11Memorial Fountain by BobRansom

Getting in to the Memorial takes a bit of pre-planning. Tickets are free but you must register for them in advance online. HINT: If you go, book early as the tickets go fast. The soonest we could get in was 5 hours later in the day (and this was on a Wednesday in October). Once you're secured your entrance time and have a print-out from the web site, you proceed to to the ticket office to print your actual ticket. From there, you walk roughly five blocks (past the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccatti Park and down an alley) to the entrance.

Security at the site is, as you'd expect, seriously high. We passed through at least six checkpoints, including a full airport-style metal detector/x-ray machine, as we wound our way through the turnstiles and then out and down a closed street with construction on either side. As I mentioned before, once you're inside it's a completely different experience and worth the hassle to get there.