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When Opportunity Knocks

I've likely said this in one form or another in my previous travel blogs on Facebook, and maybe even in one of my two self-published books, I'm sure (I do tend to repeat myself sometimes as I get older), but it bears repeating:

I'm no fan of winter.

Perhaps when I was younger and more sprightly the thought of cold and snow was more appealing to me (because that meant staying home from school, another thing I was no big fan of), but today I'll gladly take green grass, blooming azaleas (or blooming anything) and warm, sunny days over the dreariness of winter.

But enough complaining about another winter of my discontent. The fact is, it's the most challenging season for a budding, wanna-be full time photographer, as the options given aren't as aplenty as those in the warmer months. (Though it should be noted that, here in January, I just wrapped up my very first written magazine article - including images - to be published in Golden Isles Magazine for their March/April issue.)

So, adapt I must, and prepare I should, in case some rare photographic manna happens to fall into my lap from the heavens. Or, if snow happens to fall from the heavens as well, ushering in the opportunity for such a photographic bounty.

And to my good fortune, wintry weather was headed my way Monday morning. The only question was whether I would be able to actually get anywhere to capture any of it, as my Honda Civic is not equipped for snow skiing. Yet. But I digress..... Also to my good fortune, the forecast of 3-5 inches of snow didn't materialize in the valleys, where we were instead treated to snow flurries. It was in the higher elevations above 3,500 feet where the snow accumulated, allowing me to arrive at my planned destinations relatively ice free. I had considered two places in particular, both on the very-much-closed-due-to-ice-and-snow Blue Ridge Parkway - Soco Gap, which is only about six miles from home, and the intersection at Lake Logan Road, also known as North Carolina Highway 215, which gives easy access to Devil's Courthouse, and further up the road, Black Balsam. At Soco Gap (4,340 feet in elevation), the snow there was relatively light - perhaps an inch or so, just enough to make things pretty. I parked my car gingerly at the icy parking area (there was ice and snow on the entrance ramp and parking area at Soco Gap), grabbed my camera bag and tripod, and began my hike up the Parkway, where I was greeted by a couple of Park Rangers who had just driven through the barricade in their 4x4, giving me a report on conditions further up the road - essentially, Waterrock Knob was fogged in, and the best conditions for images were likely to be no further than Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook. (As an aside note, every time I pass Thunderstruck Ridge I hear the old AC/DC song in my head - "Thunderstruck!") Sure enough, as I approached the Overlook, I looked up and saw the higher ridges fogged over. This was as far as I was going to walk, unfortunately. Yet I saw this lone evergreen tree high upon one of the ridges, standing out amongst all the iced-over deciduous trees. And it called out for a very simplistic, minimalist approach in capturing it:

Heading back, I remembered an old abandoned log cabin near Soco Gap, usually not visible from the road in the warmer months, but with everything stripped away, and a coating of white surrounding it, the cabin stood out as I walked past, so I investigated further. The door to the cabin was padlocked, so I couldn't enter. There were no "no trespassing" signs around, so I felt safe in giving the old cabin a look from the outside, and found the best approach to shooting it was to use a wide angle lens, accentuating the rotted porch, the snow adding a look of drama to the scene:

From there, a brief stop for lunch in Waynesville before my final trek up Lake Logan Road to hopefully catch a shot from the summit of the popular Devil's Courthouse, under cover of snow. As I ascended up the highway, the temperature fell into the upper 20's, with snow still falling, yet the road was perfectly fine. I saw a salt truck passing by more than once. In my time here in Haywood County, I have never failed to be impressed by the amazing work done by not just the NCDOT, but by local and private plows and trucks as well. We've had accumulating snows a half dozen times or more since November, yet the roads have always been kept remarkably clear for the most part. I even felt safe parking along side the road to make a brief pit stop for one of the many waterfalls along the highway, and a snowy cascade just below it:

Getting to the waterfall was relatively simple. Getting to the cascade below it however.....not so much. I had to traverse over icy stepping stones; luckily for myself the water was shallow enough to where if I did fall, the most that could get bruised would be my ego. But Captain Clumsy here only slipped once, and fortunately my camera is both weather sealed and insured. By State Farm, no less. Arriving at the barricade near Devil's Courthouse, I could hear the wind howling, yet as I walked up the Parkway I was shielded from the elements by trees and the hills on either side of the road. Once I made it to the overlook however, there was nowhere to hide - couple the mid-to-upper 20's temperatures with a gale force wind, and I had difficulty standing at times. I was triple layered in clothing, and the winds cut right through. Not just that, the peak of Devil's Courthouse was shrouded in fog, not to mention ice and snow. (apparently, Hell had officially frozen over, at least at Devil's Courthouse.) No sense in even trying that hike, particularly with the brutal conditions. So I contented myself instead with images of ice formations on the rock outcroppings aside the road:

I scurried back to my Civic, driving across the bridge to the west barricade, stopping long enough to take an image of the frozen tundra from a nearby overlook:

At that point, I'd had enough - the wind chill factor was in single digits, and my digits felt like they were about to freeze off (note to self: bring gloves next time), so I retreated back to the Civic for good and headed for home. And yet, once I arrived back in civilization, one more opportunity arose as I pulled back out on Highway 276 from Lake Logan Road - I noticed the sun was finally peeking through, leaving brilliant displays of light rays through the heavy clouds. So I made a u-turn, found a decent spot alongside the road - and finished my wintry day with a little light from above:

And on one of the coldest of days, I was blessed with an opportunity to capture one of the warmest of endings. Maybe winter isn't so bad after all.....

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