Oakes Quarry: Walking Through an Ohio Desert

Always obey the signs.

Here is a link to the trail map if you would to follow along as I retell my story. Feel free to download and print it out as well for your own use. Enjoy!

Note: All photos are from the October 2017 trip unless otherwise captioned. I have made a handful of repeat visits since then.

My first trip to Oakes Quarry Park was in October 2017. Located in Fairborn, Ohio. This is a stunning location for Southwest Ohio. Filled with natural history and wonderful hiking trails.

You may be wondering why I chose to blog about this nature place in particular compared to all the others I’ve been to, and it is simply because of the emotions and feelings felt were a little different. This place is unique for what it is.

Simply put, the first trip was quite a revelation for me. Oakes Quarry is unlike most other natural and scenic spots in the Dayton area. I was so used the wetlands, prairies, meadows and woods. This location has a dry and sparse, almost “desert” feel to the landscape and topography that I cannot resist enjoying.

In contrast, Oakes Quarry is the second largest park in Fairborn. Features include horseback trails and footpaths that take you around limestone fossils and fairly steep cliff faces. You may also fish here without a license. There is also a loop trail near the parking lot. The perimeter trail is 2 miles long and worth the repeat hikes.

A back trail at the northern side of the perimeter loop takes you through a densely wooded area with a stream crossing along the footpath. Eventually this leads to an opening at the neighborhood connected to Oakes Quarry.

A variety of bird and other wildlife are present there. Many woodland and grassland birds are found here along with white tailed deer, cottontail, red fox, coyote, raccoon, and red tailed hawk. Below is a small selection of birds I have been able to observe and photograph.

Invasive species removal and reforestation efforts have taken place over time to conserve and protect park developments. I hope this 190 acre park is preserved for decades to come.

Next let’s go back in history..

In 1929, the entire area was surface mined for limestone to make cement, eventually the land was sold to the Oakes family in the 1990’s. Then the family donated the land to the City of Fairborn in 2003.

So I made my way up north on a warm Autumn day. A sunny day with a gentle breeze.

This is the first real view of the park as you make your way through a narrow and (mostly) muddy trail. Soon you will make it to a clearing where you can diverge to the left, right, or straight ahead. I first chose to go forward where you make it to the edge of this lake.

Just stand there and take in the sights and views. Imagine stepping back in time 440 million years ago. Oakes Quarry was a coral reef in a shallow sea. It is simply amazing.

Next I took the way right down the middle to really feel the scale and size of this area. You can see from the image above in the center past the pond, there is a smallish hill that takes you towards the right of the perimeter trail. The rocks are where I stopped and took these photos.

Choosing to press on down the middle of the park, I made it to the far side where tall limestone cliffs are met with crinoid fossil piles. You can spend hours searching the fossil piles and discovering new ones underneath.

This crooked sign warns visitors that rocks may fall and hit you, and that you shouldn’t be climbing or scaling the walls, although I’ve never seen either happen.

A few small hills lead you up to the grand view and spectacle seen below..

It is from this perch where I sat and read a National Geographic Traveler magazine as the sun went down. I spent the majority of that day hiking in awe of this place. Every subsequent visit has been met with this same feeling. Nature is a powerful force to experience!

Graffiti on the rocks is fairly common at Oakes Quarry, December 2018

Oakes Quarry Park is the northernmost section of the Beaver Creek Wetland Corridor and presents unique habitat and green space. Lovers of geology will find the crinoid-era fossils at this site to be one of the best to study in the U.S.

Fossil-diggers, hikers, birders, nature photographers, a quiet evening with your loved one, the list goes on and on. You get the point, I adore this place, and you might too.

For more information and directions about the park, visit

Sunset Landscape, December 2018

Have you been here before? What makes this an awesome location to hike and explore? What is your favorite part of the park?

Leave a comment down below, I can’t wait to hear from you!

Take care and get out there.

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My Time With NYIP

Disclaimer: I am not being paid or endorsed by NYIP to write this, I just really believe in the value and education they provided me. Think of this as more of a review or write-up. Find more information at http://www.nyip.edu – Enjoy.

Time Began in a Magazine… The New York Institute of Photography (referred to as NYIP henceforth) is a nationally-accredited online-based school. They host a myriad of photography-related classes ranging from portraiture, weddings, videomaking, business, and Adobe Photoshop. I first heard about NYIP while flipping through an issue of Popular Photography magazine at the local public library.

It was a neatly placed advertisement along a right-hand page margin. I try not to be swayed by simple ads, but this one stuck out to me. The bright and bold red-grey-black colors and letters caught my eye.

The ad touted having exclusively online photo courses for demanding schedules as well as affordably low tuition. At this time I was not enrolled in any sort of college or higher education.

NYIP describes itself as the oldest photography school still around, getting its’ start in 1910 teaching film photography, when obviously digital wasn’t around. Now having progressed to being an online-only school with only an office building located in New York City. Digital photography is their main focus, and they do it well.

All I had was a lot of (read: expensive) camera equipment I had bought and used extensively for many hours.

And free time, lots of it.

This was definitely a “why not?” situation…

…and so I did it.

I made the choice within a couple weeks, and soon I was enrolled and fully paid off; just over $1,200 for both courses. Very affordable compared to a traditional community college or university photography class.

At the time of this writing, there is ten different courses to choose from. While there is some overlap, each one presents a different genre or subject of digital photography. I settled upon the Complete Course in Professional Photography and the Intensive Course in Travel Photography.

In retrospect, the Nature & Landscape Photography course would’ve suited my portfolio and style a bit better. When discussing the school with my mother, she even agreed to that. Fortunately both the courses I took discussed nature photography to some degree.

The nice part is that NYIP alumni are always welcome back to take the other courses (at a discount too). I could always take the nature course in the future, however I feel actual in the field experience is what I need to devote myself to now.

This is How It Went..

I eagerly began the classes, and it was love at first sight. I could work and study on my own terms, going at my own pace through the wealth of material.

The assignments (which I am showing throughout this blog post) really challenged my creativity and typically involved getting out of the house to complete them, although some projects were more studio-based or required artificial lighting.

I bought some new equipment within that time, some of it needed to do the assignments.

The good news is you can invest in as much or in as little as you want or need. Meaning, you can go through the course with a point-and-shoot or “prosumer” camera or a full-framed one, or something in between. The choice is yours.

Despite taking a two month break in between, I somehow managed to push through and complete both courses in about 12 months to my surprise. That’s about half a year before the first deadline.

I completed the Professional Photography course in September 2017 and the Travel Course in October 2017, not too far off from what would be the 1 year mark in November.

The important thing was that it narrowed down my career path for me, which would be wildlife, nature, and landscape in a fine art and conservation perspective. That same SmugMug site I created for my final project portfolio (which I entitled “Living Things”) became the actual website I used thereafter (www.ryanltaylor.com)

I obviously kept the site and tweaked it after finishing both courses, with it being the platform to share and becoming the next stepping stone in my overall career.

How It Feels to Be an Alumni

I am proud of all my progress in that single year, as I have framed and hung my two certificates on the bedroom wall to remind me often. Display your achievements with pride!

I still try to contribute to the student forum whenever I can, a nice community of students trying to hone their craft.

If I ever travel to New York someday, I will surely make a stop to say hello.

To End On a Cliche

The takeaway for you is that some impulsive decisions can turn out good, and you may want to go with your gut feeling.

I was somewhat lost before enrolling, and by the end of my term I had carved my photographic niche.

Who would’ve thought that reading that magazine would turn into enrolling in photography school.

It just sort of happened.

Take the chance, will you?

Is Proper Education Necessary to Succeed?

Personally, I think online classes (or any in-person ones) are worthwhile if you are self-motivated enough to succeed. This is definitely a case of “you get what you put into it.” So make a conscious effort to do your best. Take the classwork seriously, read it, study it, but have fun! The photo assignment are where you creativity and special style can shine!

Do you have a formal education in photography? Where did you go to school at? Are you self-taught?

Everyone has a story of how they came to be, professional or amateur.

Tell me your story down in the comments below or drop me a note at my email.

Have a nice day.

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Creative Ruts & Breaking Free

Every person can relate.

Writers get the dreaded “writers block,” painters get the annoying “canvas shock,” and photographers (like me) just get burned out homogeneously shooting the same thing.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting the same results.”

Knowing when to dial back your day-to-day operations is essential to well-being. Don’t feel guilty for resting! Creating takes a lot of energy and you should use that valuable resource conservatively and only when inspiration strikes.

Not surprisingly, I stared at this blank page waiting for the right words to come flowing out.

I tend to get inspired pretty easily, in turn making me become overly-motivated and being overworked. Obviously there is a fine line to dance along here, so here’s one take on the subject matter…

First you must ask yourself “am I being lazy or am I burned out?”

If laziness is occurring, you probably don’t have a strong desire to work on any creative project at all.

If acting lazy is the case, then you should reevaluate why you are creating in the first place.

The answer is for you to decide, and it probably will mean you should move on. Why do something you do not like?

However, burnout would be where you feel exhausted yet you feel compelled to continue working.

Big difference, right?

I have found that this is the case for me. My actions become robotic and frigid, like I have no control yet I cannot stop.

The work should feel (mostly) like play. But when your creative pursuit begins to feel like a creative hump… It becomes time to put a full stop on your time. For me, not knowing when to take a break becomes a trouble.

The life of a nature photographer isn’t exactly glamorous. Yes, we love what we do. But that is at the expense of being weeks or months away from family and friends (at least for some professionals.) We have to endure long hours or waiting and turbulent weather. Many miles of driving to and from locations. The list goes on..

This becomes apparent when having to do a lot of repetitious work.

In the case of art & craft fairs, I spend many days printing, matting, and preparing prints, greeting cards and the like. You essentially have to build up a moderately sized inventory of items to sell.

The payoff of time and dedication is priceless, but the process shouldn’t have to exhaust you either.

Let’s not forget the countless hours editing photo/video, the marketing/promotion on social media and elsewhere, all that time in front of a computer.

You get the point, there’s a lot of hard work.

The trick is to not swept up in being busy for the sake of busyness.

I have forced myself to work before, and the results can come out horrendous.

The three examples here are of what I am not quite sure was the goal. The matting choices and layout were just all “off” or uninteresting. The weird and uncommon sizes didn’t help either. OK ideas; bad execution. Safe to say I was stressed and burned out quite a lot when I made these prints.

You can produce your best work while under some pressure, yet forcing yourself to create often result in a total mistake you wish to forget.

Reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has influenced the way I think about mental blocks. She draws conclusions about how most of our creative struggles come from within. Everyone is an artist in some way, and every one of us has an “inner self-critic.”

By journaling every day and writing down positive affirmations, we can let go of the stress of succeeding and pressures to work harder.

“Work smart, not hard.”

This the key takeaway from the book, by working less, we do more.

I can keep myself busy all day long, whether at the home office editing and printing, or hiking out massive state parks. It can feel like I’m being productive, but will the quality of the work even be halfway decent?

I would recommend a small daily walk, about half an hour, I find helps immensely to detach from all the commotion and ideas streaming through my head. No music, no phone, no distractions. Simply walk and take in the smells, sights and surroundings in the real world.

I am not ashamed to show and talk about my worst work right beside my best work, all of it make’s me who I am.

Have any burnout stories to share or tips that helped you break through? Leave a comment below or send me an email.

Thanks for reading.

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Gallery Exhibitions – First Experience

Decked out in a thrift store suit.

Dressed to the nines.

This was it.

100’s of hours preparing came down to 30 Photo frames, 30 loose prints, 28 days, 2 hours for a reception, and my first success into the public (and local) spotlight.

In this moment, nothing mattered quite as much.

OK, let me step back to six months before this…

It was July and I happily submitted my first-ever application to an art gallery located about 10 minutes from my home.

Wanting to impress the gallery directors, I opted to submit the application via mail. I wanted to make a distinct impression in a world that was saturated with email and digital photo files. So I filled up a tiny self-addressed envelope with five 4×6’s of pictures I took of frames…printed pictures of pictures. Narrowing my now diverse collection of prints to just five to show was quite the task.

Within several weeks, I got an email from the gallery coordinator saying they’d be happy to exhibit my work. The earliest being February next year.

I was quite excited yet a little bummed I’d have to wait six months, however this would prove to be worth the time waiting.

Things in the art world seem to move rather slow. What I mean is you have to apply and schedule out events many months in advance.

My first ever (and absolutely terrible) booth shot. While this blog post isn’t about art fairs, I took this in May for a festival that was in September.

I spent the next 5-ish months preparing more and more for February.

Printing, matting, hanging, and displaying your work is the final piece of the puzzle. Digital screens will never compare!

Opening day was here at last…and of course that would be too easy. Several inches of snow fell and there was a water main break on the way there forcing a detour.

Opening Day: All loaded up and ready to go.

Not only that but one of the frames fell and broke..

Fortunately, I replaced the parts and worked it out before reception night.

Then comes reception day, nerves were running very high for the 24 hours before the reception. Besides one of the framed pieces falling six days before, there was nonstop rain all day, and did it pour hard with no signs of letting up…

The view looking outside my window. Heavy rain certainly dampens the mood of any event.

To be honest I wasn’t quite sure how many people would show up, and if the rain would change their minds. Basically all my friends and coworkers were aware of the event.

Safe to say, the reception night was a success, five personal friends came and five members from the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association to my surprise.

Overall it was fun and I happened to make a sale from a friend!

All tucked away and ready to give.

So, would I recommend you exhibit your artwork?

Absolutely! No matter what medium you choose, the self-satisfaction of seeing your creation(s) outside your house on a public wall is worth the expense and effort. Not only that but seeing others’ reactions makes me joyous as well.

Galleries really aren’t the best sources of stable income unless it’s an established and high-end gallery or you’re a big name in the industry. However, see this as an opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals and to network!

Find a gallery near you and apply! They are certainly everywhere and would be happy to share your work with the world!

Me trying to hide the smirk of success, this whole endeavor was so much fun that I will certainly be doing it again.

I’d say give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

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