A Peaceful Stay at Purtis Creek

A Peaceful Stay at Purtis Creek

Purtis Creek is yet another lovely Texas State Park, with a few pleasant, easy trails and a nice-sized lake aimed at anglers interested in catfish, crappie and bass. I don’t fish, but I still had a peaceful time and several good walks through the woods.

I camped in one of the RV/tent sites with water and electricity, but the next time I visit I plan to reserve one of the primitive sites I passed while walking the Beaver Slide Nature Path. Each site was tidy, nicely spaced out along the shoreline and overall very inviting. My biggest objection to primitive camping in state parks is how far in you have to hike (daylight hours are precious to a photographer) but these were a just a short stroll from the parking lot–a half mile or so to the first site.

The Trails at Purtis Creek State Park

Besides the Beaver Slide Nature Path, which has some great views of the lake (especially first thing in the morning) Purtis Creek has three connected trails all named the Wolfpen Hike and Bike trail (although they use different colors on the map and are well-marked by color-coordinated signs). All were flattish and an easy stroll through the woods; there wasn’t much to see but a patch of green grass here and there, bright against the drab January woods, and along the edge of the park you get a picturesque view of a neighboring farm. I could hear the occasional gunshot in the distance, and cows mooing at the farm, but it was an otherwise quiet country walk.

Back at the lake there’s a short but interesting paved trail called the Solar Walk that goes along the dam, parallel to the road. At one end is a sign with information about the sun, and further down the trail are signs with info for each planet in our solar system, each marker representing the scaled distances between them. I thought it was a clever way to spice up an otherwise straight-forward walkway.

At the end of the Solar Walk is a short road to a large and generous day use area with tons of shaded picnic tables, a playground, a swimming area, a fishing doc, a boat ramp and a sheltered fish-cleaning station. While there were only a couple of anglers out and about while I was there I imagine the whole place fills up in the summer with swimmers and fishers and the intoxicating smell of a dozen different lunches cooking on the grills.

In the evening I made a fire (the self-service wood locker was empty, but the rangers directed me to a convenience store a couple miles down the road for wood) and spent a pleasant evening watching an unusually large number of raccoons try to sneak up on me.

Purtis Creek State Park is a peaceful getaway in the off-season and, I’m sure, an exciting destination for summering families. Five out five stars for yet another fantastic Texas State Park!

Photoshop Script for Resizing All Photos for Instagram

I like to post my park photography on my Instagram, and Instagram only allows certain crop ratios. As of right now (March 2020) the ratios and their optimal sizes are:

  • Portrait: 1080 x 1350 (4:5)
  • Landscape: 1080 x 566 (1.91:1)
  • Square: 1080 x 1080 (1:1)

I mostly use the 4:5 (I like the landscape in principle, but on a phone app it’s easily overlooked.) But sometimes a photo looks bad cropped at 4:5, in which case I might crop it however I like, then add a little “padding” to each side to make it 4:5. I usually do this with 4:6 photos, but any portrait size could use this trick.

Example of a 1.91:1 landscape photo on an Instagram screen
Landscape (1.91:1) – Easily overlooked on Instagram!
Example of a 4:5 portrait photo on an Instagram screen
Portrait (4:5)
Example of a photo on Instagram padded to fit the 4:5 ratio
Padded portrait (4:5) – Notice the white strips on both sides

But what if you have several photos in multiple ratios (say, a bunch of images you just exported from Lightroom) and want all of them to be optimized from Instagram at once? A Photoshop script can do the trick!

Read below if you don’t know how to install a Photoshop script (it’s very easy!) Otherwise you can download the .jsx file, or copy the code from here:

while (documents.length > 0) {

	var docRef = activeDocument;
	var docName = activeDocument.name;
	var layerRef = docRef.activeLayer;
	var currentWidth = docRef.width;
	var currentHeight = docRef.height;
	var imgRatio = currentWidth / currentHeight;

	if (imgRatio < 1.92 && imgRatio > 1.9) { //1.91:1 ratio
		docRef.resizeImage ("1080 pixels", "566 pixels", 72);
	} else if (imgRatio == 0.8) { //4:5 ratio
		docRef.resizeImage ("1080 pixels", "1350 pixels", 72);
	} else if (imgRatio == 1.0) {
		docRef.resizeImage ("1080 pixels", "1080 pixels", 72);
	} else {
		if (currentHeight > currentWidth) {
			var paddedWidth = currentHeight * 0.8 ;
			docRef.resizeCanvas (paddedWidth, currentHeight, AnchorPosition.MIDDLECENTER);
			docRef.resizeImage ("1080 pixels", "1350 pixels", 72);
		} else {
			docRef.resizeImage ("1080 pixels", undefined, 72);
			alert ("The image " + docName + " is too tall for the 1.91:1 ratio. It was resized to 1080 pixels wide, but will need to be cropped when uploaded to Instagram.");

	function saveJPEG( docRef, saveFile, qty ) {
		var saveOptions = new JPEGSaveOptions( );
		saveOptions.embedColorProfile = true;
		saveOptions.formatOptions = FormatOptions.STANDARDBASELINE;
		saveOptions.matte = MatteType.NONE;
		saveOptions.quality = qty; 
		docRef.saveAs( saveFile, saveOptions, true );
	docName =  docName.match(/(.*)(\.[^\.]+)/) ? docName = docName.match(/(.*)(\.[^\.]+)/):docName = [docName, docName];
	var suffix = '-insta';
	var saveName = new File(decodeURI(docRef.path)+'/'+docName[1]+suffix+'.jpg');

	saveJPEG( app.activeDocument, saveName, 12 );	

Photoshop Scripts for Beginners

If you ever need to do something repetitive in Photoshop, a script can likely do it for you. It’s similar to the basic automation under Windows > Actions, but it can make more complex decisions based on input (such as the current ratio of your image).

To use my script (or any script, Google “free Photoshop scripts” and go nuts), first download it, then put it in your Scripts directory (mine is at C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CC 2019\Presets\Scripts). Restart Photoshop.

My script requires all the photos you want to run it on to already be open in Photoshop. After you’ve done that look for “Instagram Sizing” under File > Scripts and select it.

Screenshot of Photoshop showing a script selected under File > Scripts

Boom, it’s done! The photos will be saved in their original folder with the “-insta” suffix on their filenames.

What the “Instagram Sizing” Script Does

The script I wrote looks at each open document in Photoshop and resizes it to the optimal Instagram size. If it’s already 4:5 or 1.91:1 ratio it only changes the pixel size to 1080 pixels wide; if it’s 4:6 or some other portrait size it first adds padding to make it 4:5. All images are then saved at 72 dpi with the suffix “-insta” added to the filename, and closed.

If it’s a weird landscape size it resizes it to 1080 pixels wide, and an alert pops up to remind me that I’m going to have to crop it again in Instagram (I didn’t want it to crop automatically since the script would have no idea what would look the most visually pleasing.) This case rarely comes up, but I may eventually change it to instead add padding to the top/bottom to make it 4:5 as well.

Please note that this script was written to work on jpgs that I’d just exported out of Lightroom. I’m not a programmer, I just know a little bit of Javascript and wanted to see if I could make something for my particular needs. I did, and it was fun, but I’ve no doubt someone out there could write a broader and more efficient version of this script.

Uploading to Instagram from Your Computer

You may have noticed that, when you go to your Instagram page on your desktop computer, there doesn’t seem to be any way to upload photos (without third-party software, anyway). But there is a way!

Using the Chrome browser, go to your Instagram page and right-click on the background and select Inspect. A frame full of code should show up on the right side of the window; ignore this and look for the little screen resize button near the top.

Screenshot showing the "toggle device" button in Chrome's inspect mode

Toggle this button to switch between desktop Instagram and mobile screen Instagram–the mobile version will have the little upload photo button you’re used to seeing on your phone. You may have to refresh the page first to make the upload button show up.

It’s not perfect–your filters are available, but edit doesn’t seem to do anything. And once you’ve uploaded a photo you can’t go back and change it (you still can on your phone). Still, I’ve found it a lot more convenient than transferring my photos to my phone and then trying to write captions and hashtags without a real keyboard.

Happy Instagramming!

Twists and Turns at Bonham State Park

Twists and Turns at Bonham State Park

My October visit to Bonham State Park was bittersweet; on the one hand, it rained hard the first day and my hiking boots tore up and my rain-jacket turned out to be only weather resistant and the trails were weird, man.

But on the other hand, I had a nice time with a great group of campers from a local Meetup. My camping meals are usually snacky and–well, let’s say utilitarian (I eat a lot of surplus MREs)–but on this trip I was blessed with an abundance of real, hot food from many generous people, along with good conversation and a cheery atmosphere. It really helped, as the rest of my Bonham experience was kind of a wet mess.

I went for a hike soon after setting up camp; it was raining and my boots tore up, as mentioned, and filled with water. The trail–the Gnarly Root trail, –was covered, in most places, with the stickiest grey mud I’ve ever encountered. It packed into the tread of my shoes like cement; it formed a crust all around my boots that quickly built up, heavier and heavier (I’m pretty sure this is what finally ripped off the soles.) Scraping the mud off was futile–the only time I saw it easily release was when I was walking and great big gobs of the stuff would detach from my boot and coat the back of my legs.

None of the signs I saw referenced the Gnarly Root trail by name–they all said things like “M-3” and “A-5” and had little bicycle symbols. My trail map did not use these symbols, although it didn’t become a problem till the next day when I went for a hike on the Bois d’Arc trail.

It had stopped raining by then, although I made the mistake of walking through a patch of wet grass and instantly resoaking the insides of my boots. I then proceeded to get lost–really lost!–on the bizarre hairball of trails that make up the Bois d’Arc. The M-whatever signs were no help, and there were no other markers. Just when I think I’d pieced together the only possible spot I could be based on the map and nearny landmarks, the trail would unexpectedly fork. There are also only two CCC points of interest marked on the trail map in that area, but I found at least five different things that they might have been referring to.

So I was lost, but not scary lost. The entire Bois d’Arc trail is only 2.7 miles, and maybe half of that is the tangled-up bit where I got stuck. I eventually got out by following voices and found a couple of other hikers by the road who said they had also gotten turned around. Other than being completely bewildering it was a fine trail, with only a few steep parts and a lot of lovely lush, green moss in the trees. If my feet had been dry I would have enjoyed getting a little lost out there.

The Lake Loop and Armadillo trails were much more straightforward; the former was flat with cute little bridges here and there and led to a few nice spots by the shore, and the latter was gently sloped and often covered with crushed bricks.

Although I was cold and wet for most of it, my trip to Bonham State Park definitely had some high points. I saw several spiderwebs slung across the trails, all with the same kind of orb-weaver hanging on them, and I was eventually able to take a really decent photo of one–my favorite shot of the trip. In terms of composition I feel like my photography took a step forward at Bonham.

I also enjoyed the truly delicious labors of a Dutch oven presentation, held by some of the park rangers outside in the main day use area. Bonham seems like a really great park for day users, with its small, tidy lake and an abundance of covered picnic tables.

I’d like to return to Bonham State Park, with better gear or at least better weather. The facilities were clean, the park rangers were great and I choose to view the trails–now that I’m not standing out in the middle of them in wet socks–as a fun challenge. I give Bonham 3 out of 5 stars, and will bump up the rating if somebody will go out there and set out a couple of usable trail signs for us directionally-challenged hikers. No regrets! The Texas State Park system, once again, provided me a weekend of healthy physical activity, great memories and interesting photo opportunities.

Everything’s Heavy at Longhorn Cavern

Everything’s Heavy at Longhorn Cavern

The last stop in my June 2019 four-state-parks-and-a-state-natural-area trip was Longhorn Cavern. There’s no camping at this park, but the enormous Inks Lake is just up the road.

It was starting to rain as I arrived. I signed up for a cave tour and then hung around a bit outside and explored some of the trails–they’re all easy and very short (the longest is just over half a mile). It was nice to be able to walk around in the woods while waiting for the tour to start, rather than just hanging out at the gift shop, and I enjoyed poking around some of the historic CCC structures and trying to take their photos in the increasingly wet weather.

I returned to the visitor center and waited on the cozy back porch with my fellow tourists for our guide to arrive; the rain picked up and started coming down in earnest. The nice thing about a cave, of course, is that it’s all underground–I slipped and slid a few times just outside the entrance, but once inside the bad weather was confined to a few holes in the ceiling.

Longhorn Cavern is a treasure–big and comfortable and with excellent lighting design that really shows off all those weird, alien-landscape cave structures. In some places the walls looked rough and crystal-like, in other places creamy and smooth. The tour guide had a lot of great information, both geological and historical–for instance, one of the cavernous rooms was used as a dance hall and concert venue in the ’20s, and food and other supplies were lowered through openings in the top. The tour was about a mile long, every ambling twist and turn bringing another interesting texture or ancient structure into view.

There wasn’t much wildlife, just the occasional hibernating bat. The guide informed us that these were tricolored bats (named so, I half-remember, because they were brown, dark brown and brownish gray.)

I have one little regret: in order to keep up with the tour and out of everyone else’s way I didn’t use my tripod for any photos and just cranked the ISO up as high as it could go. It was a great low-light photography learning experience, but I do hope one day to photograph a cave at leisure. It was a little heartbreaking to be literally surrounded by stunning, abstract patterns of light and shadow and texture and not being able to take a few thousand slow and careful photos.

There were a couple of kids on our tour and they seemed to enjoy the tour as much as me, albeit in a more expressive way. Most of the parts of the cave you explore are open and airy; the floor is usually paved with cement. There was a part where all the adults had to hunch over for a little bit.

Our tour guide mentioned the weekly Wild Cave Tour, which is where you pay to crawl through the mud and squeeze through the tiny spaces of the unfinished parts of the cavern. I later learned that one of my friends had gone through this. According to her, “We wore hard hats and crawled around in some spaces. Even went through an underground lake. We had to crawl through it so you got totally soaked.”

She added, “Definitely not the average cave tour. Totally worth the time.”

Expect to spend about an hour and a half on the regular tour; you can bring a picnic lunch or get food at the visitor center. I arrived early and booked the first tour of the day and there was no line, however their website recommends you book your tour ahead of time. I’m sure they get a lot of Inks Lake traffic.

Longhorn Cavern is a five out of five, and any trip to Inks Lake should include this tour.