Author Archives: Joe Benning

About Joe Benning

Author, photographer, musician and entrepreneur...

Duck, North Carolina

Summertime and the living is easy. Especially in Duck, NC, where we will be for the rest of July and most of August. The place is hopping. Vacation season is here and it looks like people are making up for the horrible 2020. 

The setting is gorgeous; the weather is terrific and there are plenty of excellent restaurants. But to get in, it’s best tp make a reservation well in advance. 

We arrived late Friday afternoon and have already gone to some fine restaurants and to the beach. Here are some sunrise photos, beach photos and night photos, with more to come as the month progresses. 


At the Beach, Duck, NC
Woman Walking on Beach at Sunrise
Cocktails in Early Evening
Boardwalk at Night
Moon Rises Over Duck, NC

Off to New Jersey for a Wedding

We recently traveled back up to New Jersey to attend the wedding of our nephew Kevin McDonald to Becca Lipke. The wedding had actually been scheduled for 2020, but due to the Covid pandemic, it was postponed for a year. With things finally opening up, the wedding went forward. 

The ceremony took place at Hudson House on Port Liberte. It overlooks the Hudson River, with spectacular views Manhattan’s downtown skyline, including Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty. 

While we were in Jersey City we took a walk through the Newport section and then the Hoboken train station. Here (below) are some photos from Jersey City and the train station. 


A photo of the downtown New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City on a summer morning.
A wide angle photo of buildings on the Jersey City waterfront.
A wide angle photo of a walking path along the Hudson River in the Newport section of Jersey City.
Hoboken, NJ, USA — June 19, 2021. A red headed woman walks in a streak of light in the Hoboken train station in New Jersey.
Hoboken, NJ, USA — June 19, 2021. Commuters walk through the inside of the Hoboken train station in NJ.
Washington Blvd, Jersey City, USA — June 19, 2021. A wide angle photo of outdoor dining spots along Washington Blvd in Jersey City, NJ.

Spring is Here

In a few short weeks spring emerged in Northern Virginia. Grey is out; green is in. One of the great advantages of Northern Virginia is its great variety of parks and gardens managed by the Fairfax County Parks Authority. From Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to the wetlands in Huntley Meadows Park to the children’s exhibits in Frying Pan Farm Park, there is a lot to see. 

And the parks are a great place to take photos. So here below are a few recent ones from Huntley Meadows. More from other locations will be arriving in the coming weeks and months. 


Alexandria, VA, USA — April 8, 2021. P vertical photo of a jogger running on a trail in Huntley Meadows Park.
A landscape photo taken with a zoom lens of wetlands in Huntley Meadow Park in Alexandria, VA.
Alexandria, VA, USA — April 8, 2021. A photo of phtographers working thoer craft in Huntley Meadows Park.
Landscape photo of a goose looking out over a section of the wetlands in Huntley Meadows Park.

Photos from the Past Year

The year 2020 is just about gone;  a year defined by politics and a pandemic. It is a year that I expect few people will remember fondly. 

At the outset of the year most eyes were fixed on the Democratic presidential primary, not to mention the impeachment and Senate trial of President Trump. Who remembers that now? It seems so long ago. But it wasn’t. 

By March the year had morphed into one in which the focus became the Coronavirus, taking countermeasures,  and a frantic search for a vaccine. Mercifully the drug companies were successful in finding several vaccines, and in record time. 

But not before American life turned upside down. Governors began issuing orders, often unilaterally, requiring citizens to wear protective masks, restricting travel and closing all but essential businesses. Essential businesses included state liquor stores and lottery sales. In parts of the country, churches and religious services didn’t count as essential, at least until the courts stepped in. 

The travel and hospitality businesses took a giant hit. Plenty of small businesses will never re-open. Big cities took a big hit. Manhattan is like a ghost town; some estimates put office space occupancy at around 12%. People who can work with a laptop and an internet connection are doing so from home. City real estate prices are plummeting; the suburbs are soaring as people look for more space and home offices. 

We lost a dear friend in May when Ron Thau passed away after a long illness. 

But there is some good news amongst all the doom and gloom.

Amid all the chaos and conflict, the November elections came and went, accompanied by long lines and mail-in ballots. There was a huge turnout; the largest in percentage terms since 1900 when William McKinley thrashed William Jennings Bryan. In that race McKinley won a second term in a rematch against Bryan. Unlike today, Bryan (the loser) accepted the result. 

Vaccinations of front line medical personnel began in December. More slowly than hoped for, but the process is now underway. 

Most important, two family members (our nephew Tom Benning and our  niece Shannon McDonald) announced engagements at Christmas time. 

I have included some photos below from 2020 that reflect some of the tumult of the year. Here’s to a brighter 2021. 

Pre-pandemic Politics Photos

Washington DC, USA — January 24, 2020. A Park Police Officer directs traffic at the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.
Leesburg, VA, USA. Residents attend a crowded town hall meeting in Leesburg Virginia.
February 3, 2020. Man with a protest sign in the District during Trump impeachment.
Leesburg, VA, USA — January 25, 2020. A concerned citizen addresses a Leesburg Virginia Town Hall on the subject of gun control.

The Pandemic, Isolation and Social Distancing

Reston, VA, USA — April 25, 2020. A man wearing a face mask carries his take-out dinner in a bag; others wait for their orders to be fulfilled.
Reston, VA. USA — November 3, 2020. Photo of a man sitting quietly in Reston Town Center Park while bathed in soft afternoon light.
Reston, VA, USA — Nov 3, 2020. A wide angle photo of a woman taking a walk in Reston Town Center Park on an Autumn afternoon.
Reston, VA, USA –June 3, 2020. A wide angle landscape photo taken in Reston Town Center where stores and restaurants are beginning to re-open from lockdown.
Reston, VA, USA — November 29, 2020. Photo of a young woman in a park minding 2 cups of coffee while waiting for a friend.
Reston, VA, USA — September 2, 2020. Wide angle photo of a nearly empty park in Reston Town Center

Long Lines at Voting Places

Fairfax, VA, USA — Long lines await early voters in Fairfax Virginia.
Reston, VA, USA — October 27, 2020. Voters line up to vote early in Reston, VA

Thanksgiving 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, this Thanksgiving was different. Fortunately though, we got a visit from Mary Anne’s brother  Joe on Thanksgiving day. The original game plan was for the three of us to take a ride over to Great Falls National Park in McLean and hike around a bit. 

It turns out that we weren’t the only ones with that idea. It seems that pretty much everyone in Northern Virginia had the same thought. The line of cars to get into the parking lot was so long that we abandoned that plan and headed over to River Bend National Park, which also runs alongside the Potomac River.

Joe and Mary Anne
Mary Anne and Joe Conversing

There we had a chance to look over the Potomac, and take a walk on one of the trails in the woods and catch up. Later, we went to Lake Anne and looked around, before ultimately heading back to Reston Town Center for a not-so-traditional, but delicious, Thanksgiving dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. 

A kayaker rows out on the Potomac River
Joe McDonald looks out over the Potomac
Morton’s Steakhouse in Reston Town Square

Some photos from our walk and a Kayaker on the Potomac are posted here. 

Thanks to Joe for stopping by on Thanksgiving.  

Great Falls, Virginia, USA — November 26, 2020. A woman rows a kayak toward the sunlit far shore of the Potomac.


Autumn in the Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley, with its spectacular vistas is a wonderful place to visit in Autumn as the trees begin to change colors. There are small towns and farms to visit as well as B&B’s wineries, breweries, campgrounds and RV parks. We prefer to do our camping in hotels with nice bars, so the campgrounds are not in our plans. 

We recently took a short trip to Shenandoah Valley and stayed in the Iris Inn. The Iris Inn describes itself as a luxury retreat overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.

The Iris Inn

It’s an apt description. We stayed in the Main Inn for a night so we could walk around the various paths in the woods of the valley. Unfortunately we were met by pouring rain, so that idea was scotched. Nevertheless we did see some of the spectacular sights of the Shenandoah Valley and will return someday. 

Here (below) are a couple of landscape photos from the trip. 

A landscape photo taken in the forest in Shenandoah Valley on a rainy morning,
Photo of Ttees in Shenendoah Valley as they begin to shed thier leaves in Autumn.


Baltimore, Maryland

We headed out to Baltimore over last weekend to see our long time friends Ethel, Rich and Anne Marie. Rich and Anne Marie were in town from the coast to visit with their daughter Jen, her husband and their 7 month old daughter Loretta. It was great to see everybody although tinged with some sadness because Ron Thau had passed away in May.

Baltimore (or Bal’mor as some locals pronounce it) has a population of about 600,00 making it the 30th largest city in the U.S. measured by population.

The five of us headed out to the Fells Point section where we had some lunch. Then we eventually made our way to Patterson Park where we met Jen and her baby daughter Loretta.

At 137 acres it is not Baltimore’s largest park, but is impressive all the same. Among its attractions are numerous ballfields, a duck pond, war memorials, and a pagoda that served as a lookout in the early 1800s. The locals refer to the park as the best back yard in Baltimore. Here below are some shots from the park as well as a photo of a brightly painted row house, complete with campaign sign in the window.

A wide angle landscape photo of Patterson Park taken on an autumn afternoon in Baltimore.
A wide angle landscape photo of the duck pond in Patterson Park, Baltimore MD.
The Gang and Loretta
Baltimore, MD, USA — Oct 4, 2020. A wide angle vertical shot of the pagoda style Observatory in Patterson Park, Baltimore MD.
Baltimore, MD, USA — Oct 4, 2020. Vertical photo of a brightly painted row house in Baltimore.


The Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Countryside

We got a chance to get away for a quick trip over the Labor Day weekend, so we took a drive to the Virginia Countryside. Virginia is a fairly large state by area, but not densely populated like the North East. The landmass is just under 43,000 square miles with a population of about 8.5 million people. For comparison purposes consider New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.  NJ has a population of about 8.8 million, (about the same as Virginia) but a landmass of only 8.7 million square miles—which is only 20% as much as Virginia. 

The upshot is that there is a lot of beautiful unspoiled country to see in Virginia. For instance, forests cover 62% of the State. There is quite a bit of wildlife. There are over 1 million white-tailed deer. Carnivores include black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and skunks. The skunks can generally be seen on the beltway heading toward the district. 

Photo of farmland in Virgina with the morning fog burning off.

There are lots of parks in Virginia, both State and Federal. The bigger ones include Great Falls Park, the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park. Almost 40% of the  Shenandoah National Park has been declared to be a wilderness preserve. A particular interest of ours is the Virginia Natural Bridge State Park. 

An old barn in a Shenandoah Valley meadow; the Blue Ridge Mountains are in the background.

The park includes a 215 foot arch that serves as a natural foot bridge over Cedar Creek, a tributary of the James River. It is estimated to be almost 500 million years old. In 1774, Thomas Jefferson bought 157 acres of land, including the Natural Bridge, from King George III for 20 shillings. Jefferson built a log cabin with a guest room on the land and had many famous visitors including John Marshall, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Sam Houston and Martin Van Buren. (Note).

Photo of a woman tourist walking toward the landmark Natural Bridge in Virginia.
Natural Bridge, Virginia, USA — September 7, 2020. Tourists walk along a hiking trail by a stream under the landmark Natural Bridge in Virginia.

On our trip we saw the spectacularly beautiful countryside of the Shenandoah Valley, visited the Natural Bridge, took a ride along the Skyline Drive, and stayed in the small town of Lexington, VA. 

Blue Ridge Mountains from the Skyline Drive

The Shenandoah Valley and its surroundings are sights that should not be missed. Here are a few photos of from the trip. 


The Outer Banks

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak our travel plans have changed quite a bit. The 2 month trip to Florence and Rome—well that didn’t happen. Three cheers for British Airways and Road Scholar for promptly sending us refunds after Italy shut down the country. The same can not be said for Hotel Adriano in Rome. After initially promising a refund, they tried to back out until we reported them to American Express. After that they saw the light. 

On a happier note, we traveled to the outer banks and stayed in Duck, North Carolina for two weeks. What a spectacular place–for instance, see the image below.

A beautiful pastel colored sky reflects soft morning light onto the beach in Duck, North Carolina

The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands located between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. There aren’t any cities on the 100 miles + of the Outer Banks. Instead the islands are mostly populated by small seaside villages and towns. It is a favorite vacation spot, attracting visitors from the Northeast as well as Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. 

We rented a house for a 2 week stay in Duck, a tony village with plenty of gorgeous beaches, fishing spots and restaurants.  That’s right. Restaurants you can actually go to and sit inside and have cocktails and dinner. Or you can get a table outside and relax over food and drinks. 

There are other places to go to as wee—for instance Kitty Hawk, where Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first historic flight in their flying machine back in December 1903. And then there is Corolla Park with the architectural masterpiece Whalehead and its Museum. 

If you get a chance, visit the Outer Banks and the town of Duck. You’ll be glad you did. 

Here are a couple of photos from our trip (below), taken with a Leica Q2 camera. Click on a photo to enlarge it. They can be licensed at Evocative Photos.