Tyler Azalea Trails 2016
Spring Flowers in Tyler, Texas
I thought it was such a great photographic opportunity that I returned to Tyler the next weekend with my brother.
Read this trip report for more information about the Tyler Azalea Trails, including tips to get the most from your day, restaurant reviews and comments on photography.
AZALEAS AND TULIPS AND DAFFODILS, OH MY!
Since 1960 the city of Tyler has established a trail through their community for visitors to follow as they witness extraordinary gardens of azaleas, tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers.
The trails last for three weeks each spring.
What makes this event remarkable is that the Tyler Azalea Trails take you on a tour of beautiful flowers set against the spectacular backdrop of plantation styled mansions and historic homes that grace the community.
Tyler has two trails, the pink trail (called Dobbs) and the green trail called Lindsey. While the two trails overlap quite a bit, it's still worth a drive along both routes to see all the displays. You'll find yellow signs along the trails that tell you where to turn.
Some of the prettiest sights you'll find along the trails are the Azalea Belles. These young ladies volunteer to dress in antebellum gowns and stand along the route to greet tourists. I really liked to see high school kids so happy to participate in their community's beauty and history. The Azalea Belles are tremendous ambassadors for Tyler.
Here are some tips for your visit to the Tyler Azalea Trails.
First, starting a week before you plan to go, check out the city's websites for dates, times, shows and events, and up to date information on how the flowers are blooming. Here are their links:
Second, when you arrive in Tyler you should stop by the visitors information center at 315 North Broadway. The nice folks there are happy to help. You can grab a map of the trails, get suggestions on places to eat in town, even pick up coupons for local restaurants.
Next, you'll be happy to know this is not just a driving tour. You can get out of your car to photograph the flowers almost anywhere on the trails. Some residents even put benches in front of their homes so tourists can shoot family portraits.
You can even park your car and pick up the Azalea Trails Shuttle for a chauffeured trip around the trials.
Some residents allow you to tour the gardens in their backyards and these locations should not be missed. The backyard gardens feature bridges, gazebos, waterfalls, statuary, and of course, a brilliant array of spring flowers.
You can easily navigate the 8 miles of azalea trails in a day. We did the Dobbs Trail first, had lunch, and then toured the Lindsey Trail.
The Tyler Azalea and Spring Flowers Trails offer a wonderful opportunity to get out of town and enjoy a casual tour through beautiful homes and stunning gardens. People from all across the US visit Tyler for the trails and it's easy to see why.
Overall, while the homes and flowers were great, I was most impressed with the civic pride shown by the people of Tyler. So many residents take part in this. It's remarkable how much work they have to put into their gardens all year round to make this happen.
I think the people of Tyler believe their community is showcasing their flowers. In my opinion, that's backwards.
My impression was that the flowers are showcasing the wonderful community and its residents.
I had a great time in Tyler for the spring flowers, and I look forward to returning this fall when their world famous rose gardens are in bloom.
Restaurant Reviews for the Tyler Azalea Trails & Spring Flower Festival
We had the chance to eat at two restaurants in Tyler.
We had received a recommendation to eat at Stanley's BBQ from locals, but they also suggested Portofino's Italian Restaurant. Stanley's had a line out the door so we went to Portofino's, and that worked out just fine.
The restaurant is part of a strip plaza which doesn't bode well normally, but once we were inside the decor was very nice.
We tried two appetizers, the calamari and the cheese garlic bread, and both of them were extremely good. The marinara sauce that came with the cheese bread was particularly good.
Our positive experience continued with the main courses, which included a stromboli and chicken parmigiana. My wife had the stromboli, which she liked very much. Her salad which featured a variety of greens rather than just lettuce, and she said it was excellent. I went straight for the chicken parmigiana. It was very lightly breaded, covered in that terrific marinara sauce - this may have been the best chicken parm I've ever eaten.
With things going this well, we had to try the desserts. I got the chocolate mousse cake and she got creme brûlée.
We should have stopped before the desserts. The cake was very dry and the mousse was more like fudge frosting - too rich and thick to give me the mousse taste I was expecting. The creme brûlée was even worse. It had the lumpy consistency of being cooked at too high a heat, and the flavor was way too eggy.
The real dessert came with the check - pricing for this excellent dinner was very reasonable, under $50 for both us to have appetizers, main courses, desserts and drinks. The service was great - I believe our waitress was named Mary and she did a great job for us.
Definite thumbs up for Portofino's . . . their dinners are outstanding - and skipping dessert is probably a good idea anyway, right?
When my brother and I returned to Tyler, I knew we had to try Stanley's BBQ. When locals send you some place and customers are lining up out the door to eat there, you can expect a great meal.
Stanley's has the prototypical look of a local, popular hole-in-the-wall barbeque place, with its neon signage and hand-written signs on the outside. Parking at Stanley's is a royal pain in the butt. We found a spot on the road behind the restaurant and many people had to park in a lot on top of the hill behind where we were. Apparently, the restaurant's neighbors get grumpy if you park in their spaces and will get you towed if you do it . . . so you probably shouldn't.
We stood in line for 15 minutes to place our order - this was at 2:00 in the afternoon. Definitely a busy place.
When we got inside, we saw a sign that said to call in your order to skip the line. That's a good tip for you if you don't want to wait.
I ordered a four-meat sampler of pulled pork, brisket, hot links and sausage, and added an order of ribs so we could try them out as well.
The choices on the four meat sampler were all quite good. We both thought the hot links had the best flavor of the four - it had a nice, subtle after-heat that I really enjoyed. The brisket was good, but its bark was even better. You can order your brisket with a lot of bark, and that's how I'd do it next time. The pulled pork was very moist but didn't have a lot of flavor; the sausage was also very mild.
The ribs are done Memphis-styled, with a dry rub. I thought they were tender and had a very nice flavor, but again, a subtle taste you don't really expect with BBQ. We ordered a full rack and the portion was very generous, which is good for a plate that costs $28.
The ribs came with side orders of beans, potato salad and cole slaw. Again, these items were good, safe, not strong-flavored. My brother said the potato salad was chopped finely, as he likes, as was the cole slaw.
I'd be happy to go back to Stanley's again but I was struck by how conservative and restrained the seasonings were. I think the BBQ I'd get from places like Red, Hot and Blue or Bone Daddy's is peppier and more flavorful, but Stanley's definitely topped the food you get at Texas chains like Dickeys.
Photographic Comments for Tyler Azalea Trails & Spring Flower Festival
Colorful flowers, beautiful mansions, sunny blue skies - it doesn't get much easier to shoot photos than this.
I used several cameras in Tyler, including the Nikon D5300, GoPro HERO4 Silver and Panasonic G7. My brother shot his Nikon D7100.
I've given up trying to shoot video with the Nikon D5300 - it's limited to 1080p resolution and won't record anything longer than 10 minutes, thanks to some truly stupid laws and tariffs in Europe. Instead, I'll do my video work with the GoPros and Panasonic.
For stills, however, the Nikon is my #1 camera. I shot everything with the 18-140mm lens and this gave me all the flexibility I needed. I had the ultra-wide lens with me, but didn't need it. My brother started with a 150mm lens but this was too long. He switched to an 18-35mm lens and had a much easier time of it. The long lens did give him some nice portrait shots from a distance, however.
Remember that your biggest photographic enemy in this situation is the shadow. There are so many large trees in Tyler that cause a constant web of bright and dark lighting almost anywhere you shoot. When confronted with this situation you can mitigate the shadows with a fill flash; this helps but is not a perfect solution as you can see in the photo to the right. The fill flash helped brighten the girls' faces but the shadows still spoil the shot.
When possible, move your subjects into a solid shadow or solid sunlight. When shooting in the light, keep the sun behind or mostly behind you.
Another way to address the shadows is to visit key locations twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. You'll have more chances to get properly illuminated subjects this way.
One other idea to try while in Tyler. The dynamic range is more than your camera will be able to handle.
This is a perfect opportunity to put your camera on a tripod and bracket your shots for HDR. You should be able to get some very cool pictures this way. We only tried a couple shots like this, including the one to your right. Photoshop isn't the best for processing HDR images so we could probably get a neater final image with another program.
Speaking of tripods, I'm still learning to use my video tripod and that's apparent in my shots. I'm still practicing how to use it for smooth pans and tilts. My best video clips were the ones where I didn't do pans - this is something I'll have to improve.
Texas Day Trip Travel Reports
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