Vacations are full of fun.
That's the message we heard loud and clear from you, our readers, who shared your favorite vacation snapshots this year for our travel photo contest.
And fun they were. You visited sites in exotic locations and those that were oh-so-familiar, from the Great Wall of China to the Statue of Liberty. You traveled far and wide, and stayed close to home. You shared your travels with family, friends and unsuspecting tourists, and with giraffes, dolphins, camels and snakes. You captured forever the moments that made you laugh, smile or stand in awe. And even when things didn't work out as planned, you managed to make the best of it -- and still get the photo.
Each photograph unveiled an experience that won't be forgotten, and we loved them all. Narrowing the selection to just a handful was difficult.
Here, then, are our favorites, the best of the best, the ones that showed a skillful photographic eye but still managed to capture the energy and allure of a great vacation.
The all-around favorite of the judges ( Star-Telegram editors) was a photo taken by Charm Minton of Crowley. The family -- Charm, husband Tom and their children, Victoria, 15, and Daniel, 8 -- were in Miramar Beach, Fla., in late-July on a last-minute surprise trip planned by Charm. One night after dinner, the family decided to take a walk on the beach and watch the sunset. The photo, like the vacation, was spontaneous. "It was just kind of a spur-of-the moment picture," said Tom Minton, who submitted the photo for the contest.
What the judges said: Wiggling your toes in the sand is the hallmark of a beach vacation, and doing it with your family makes it even better. This picture captured a true family vacation, from Dad's sunburned feet to the teenager's green toenails. And it's a nice photograph -- the light is good, the texture of the sand is visible, and you can just imagine the family standing there in a virtual group hug.
The Roberson family of Fort Worth -- Dennis, wife Charlene and children Katy, 11, and Alex, 9 -- were in the midst of a "rambling Oregon vacation" when they visited Proxy Falls, a 15-minute hike off the road near the little town of Sisters. "I have hiked and backpacked all over North America, including Hawaii and Alaska, but this ... waterfall absolutely took my breath away," said Dennis Roberson, in submitting the photo for the contest. "I have never seen a more sublime, entrancingly beautiful waterfall and setting than this one in central Oregon." Charlene took the photo as Dennis climbed up to get a closer look. "I never wanted to leave," he said.
What the judges said: The surreal quality of the photo captures the luminescence of the falls, and the man in the picture gives it depth and perspective. It has a luscious, untamed look.
Great Sand Dunes
Sometimes tourists you don't know can make a great photograph. Ray Wood and his wife, Marilyn, of Grapevine, had been vacationing in the mountains of Colorado when they decided to stop off and visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa. Ray Wood said the dunes are towering -- the tiny spots deep in the picture are actually people climbing up -- and difficult to photograph. Then he spotted the other tourists nearby. "I thought, 'Wow,' and I just started snapping pictures," he said.
What the judges said: The blue sky and clothing offer a brilliant contrast to the desolation of the dunes, and the shallow sky adds perspective.
Caleb and the lizard
Eight-year-old Caleb Coon of Fort Worth was fishing in the river near New Braunfels with dad Monte and mom Toni when this tiny lizard went floating past. He snatched it up, and his dad stuck it on his nose before snapping the photo. "I told him to look at it, and he did," Monte Coon said. The New Braunfels excursion was a one-day diversion after a weeklong trip to Port Aransas in June.
What the judges said: This made us laugh. It's a priceless moment captured in time.
As her friends know, Wendi Paschal of Keller does everything in high heels, including flashing a wave from The Wave, a sandstone formation in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the Utah/Arizona border. Paschal won a government lottery to gain entrance to the area and figured she'd won the lottery again when she got there. She didn't actually make the hike in the heels -- she carried them in a backpack and pulled them out for this photo, taken by her husband, Ed Paschal. "I go to the beach in high heels. I've gone to Africa in high heels.... It was just a fun thing to do," she said. The Paschals were vacationing with friend James Hill of Fort Worth in August when the photo was taken.
What the judges said: The phenomenal color in this photograph is tempered by the incongruity of the high-heeled tourist in the center. It looks like fun.
Best family portraits
Holes in the rock
This photo by Marshall Gardner of Fort Worth captured the true ins and outs of a family vacation to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. The Gardners -- Marshall, wife Joy and daughter Eleanor -- were joined by Joy's sister, Valerie Valentine-Heath, and her children, Helen and Herschel, in an annual trek to the Big Bend area to visit family for Thanksgiving. They decided to take advantage of the nice weather by going geocaching (a family treasure-hunting pastime that they read about in the Star-Telegram). "We said, 'This is a perfect rock,'" Marshall Gardner said. "It just kind of lended itself to the photograph."
What the judges said: The intriguing elements of the rock formation wouldn't have been evident by a typical stand-in-front-and-shoot photograph. By putting themselves into the rock, they added perspective, humor and a little family fun.
The Ringel siblings -- Eli, Brittany, Chelsea and Jordon -- of Arlington know how to take matters into their own hands, even on vacation. This photo, by mom Janet Ringel, taken while vacationing in the Caribbean, turned into a chart of the evolutionary process at the suggestion of Jordon, 25. "He's probably our goofy son," Ringel said. "He got up and said, 'Let's do this one.'" The family, including dad Chris Ringel, traveled to St. Maarten with friend Lauren Pedersen during spring break and took a day-trip to Anguilla, where this photo was taken. With the kids now scattered across Texas and beyond, it's getting harder to take family vacations, Janet Ringel said. But this time, it all fell into place.
What the judges said: You can feel the impish energy in this group of siblings and their friend and know that they enjoy spending time together. That's what family vacations are all about.
Girls at the beach
Exploring the tide pools at Solana Beach, Calif., made for a magical moment for the Whitfield sisters, Katie, 9, and Landri, 6, of North Richland Hills. The girls were vacationing with their parents, Brad and Marie Whitfield, over Thanksgiving break in San Diego and found this deserted spot just about sunset. "You can never get them to pose," said Marie Whitfield, who took the photograph. "You just kind of have to do it on a whim and get them when you can."
What the judges said: This is a beautiful photograph -- it looks like the cover of a book or a greeting card. The light is just perfect and the moment just right, with the girls reaching into the water. Lovely and serene.
Enjoying the cruise
This self-portrait by Karen Duesman of Fort Worth put years of studying photography to good use on a cruise to Jamaica, Cozumel and the Caymans in June. Duesman said she spotted her reflection in a window and decided to give it a shot. When she finally saw the results, "We started laughing," she said. "It's kind of spooky," said her husband, Leo Duesman, who submitted the photo. The couple were vacationing with their daughter and boyfriend and two close friends, and they're planning another cruise this month.
What the judges said: This photo looks more like a work from artist Magritte than a typical vacation photo. The eerie disembodiment contrasts with the casual cruise-line atmosphere to make for a memorable shot.