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Stormy Weather

When I last left off, your faithful reporter was firmly "in my element," living life "to the max," and "going epic." (How's that for seamlessly weaving my last three blog titles into the intro of this latest one?) It seemed like every adventure yielded a new discovery, a new inspiration, a new revelation - with a bumper crop of great images to boot. And boy, did all that "epicity" pay off - I've had numerous print sales of images taken from that period, as well as downloads from the stock photo agencies that display my work. Let's just say that this past month looked quite good on the sales ledger, thanks to my adventures in April and May.

But summer came; and with it came my annual pilgrimage to Roan Mountain, where I right and truly wore out the Appalachian Trail from Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge from late May to mid-June:

I came in search of the colorful blooms of the Catawba Rhododendron, finding some along the way too:

I even found the elusive Gray's Lily, named for botanist Asa Gray, a very rare but beautiful flower:

And yet, I found myself disappointed - not only at the erratic blooms of the rhododendron, but the less-than-stellar skies I experienced during my visits there. I ran into my photography buddies Dave Allen and Mark VanDyke while up there, and even they were less-than-impressed with the conditions they were given. I almost wrote a blog about my many experiences at Roan, tentatively called "Roan and Bear It" (a humorous, "punny" take-off of the phrase "groan and bear it") about my many trips there during May and June and my pursuits of something epic, all to no avail. My favorite photos I took the entire time were not of the vast mountain scenery I'd hoped to capture in an epic way, but of a rare flower (as seen above) and a momma bird building a nest along the Appalachian Trail:

Hence, "Roan and Bear It," but I digress.

Speaking of digression, at some point during all of this, Yours Truly here let himself get distracted. I was presented with an opportunity, and I accepted. I was quite reluctant at first; but I soon warmed to this opportunity, as I thought it was well worth the sacrifice. I then proceeded to wander off the reservation a bit, altering my life to make this opportunity "fit" into my general scheme of things. Let's be clear here - what I wandered off for wasn't a bad thing at all - not in the least bit. It in fact became very precious to me. I just simply wasn't ready for it, and it certainly wasn't the right time in my life for it - and deep down I always knew it. I lost focus. I took my eyes off the ball, off God's plan for me, and I really have no one to blame but myself for it. This guy wasn't quite ready for prime time. Lesson learned.

So life goes on, and so do I. But again I digress.

A side effect of summer is (of course) the high humidity and "pop up" thunderstorms that dot my area; and they have been plentiful this year. The oddity is that the streams that feed the numerous waterfalls here in Western North Carolina are still barren despite the many showers we've had - the problem is that the storms form, they rain themselves out in short order, and abruptly end. What's needed is a steady soaking, not a brief torrent; and brief torrents are the order most every day here in the Smokies.

Because of that, I've had to adjust my style of photography - typically, I'd be looking for bright light rays and sunsets late afternoon; but lately, I've just ran into walls of clouds and rain. So my latest images have reflected that "storminess;" even the few light rays I did manage to capture had that dark, foreboding feel to them. I stood there shooting, often wondering if lightning would strike nearby, or just strike me:

And that theme carried on to this past Monday, when I decided to change tack and seek out something new (for me, anyway).

My original plan was to chill and play a round of golf nearby at Maggie Valley Country Club, with an eye on a sunset at nearby Max Patch Bald. This former 7 handicapper has had a hankering for hitting the links again and getting my "game" back (because crazy folk like me enjoy chasing a round, white ball around an otherwise beautiful pasture), but the forecast thunderstorms nixed that idea; so it was off to the Blue Ridge Parkway initially, in search of that "stormy weather." If there was to be drama in the skies, I might as well should be the one to capture it, even with the attendant lightning and thunder. Since I'm crazy and all.....

I entered the Parkway near Mount Pisgah; and right away, the early afternoon fireworks had begun, as seen from the overlooks heading north towards Asheville:

No lightning to speak of here, sadly (sadly I say, only if you're a total nut like me). Just some dynamic skies. Yet the Parkway was only the first stop along the way to my desire for "new and different."

My ultimate goal that day was to seek out the area around Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, two places I'd heard of yet never seen in person.

I had seen the popular landmark in pictures but never made the relatively short drive there - at least until Monday. I also had heard that Chimney Rock was also featured in the film "Last of the Mohicans," a film made some 25 years ago, and a title which I could identify with; since I'm likely one of the "Last of the Mohicans" to use the ancient camera that I take a majority of my images with, a Nikon D2X - a mostly obsolete 12 megapixel "crop frame" professional camera that still takes stunning images, if you know how to use it. It should be noted that every image in this blog - save for the wide angle images I shot with my "full frame" Nikon D700 at Roan Mountain - was taken with that ancient D2X. There's just something about the image quality of that old camera that pulls me in, every time, even with its limited, decade-old technology. In images with any depth to them whatsoever, the D2X image quality is almost three dimensional - some of my very best selling images were taken with that camera. The images from the D700 are cleaner, especially in low light, but there's more of a character to the D2X images - it captures subtle tonal details that even newer cameras with higher resolution cannot capture. Nikon and Sony knew what they were doing when they collaborated on the design of that camera, which is still held in high esteem more than a decade after its release.

Hence, the D2X got most of the work at Chimney Rock, since I used it mid-afternoon when the light was at its best.

After I drove through sleepy one-light towns like Fairview, Gerton, and Bat Cave (guess the secret's out, Bruce!) I arrived at cozy Chimney Rock Village and enjoyed the small town feel right away, browsing through some of the shops there before heading up to Chimney Rock State Park.

The main feature there is of course Chimney Rock, the 315-foot rock outcropping that can be accessed by elevator; but the elevator has been shut down for nearly a year, so one has to huff-and-puff up some 500 stair steps at a steep elevation climb to reach the rock, which is decorated with an American flag:

Of course, the park could take advantage of this by advertising the lack of an elevator in their promo materials like so:

"Get incredible views, plus a StairMaster workout - all for only $13!!"

Fortunately, I'm in good enough shape that the climb was not particularly strenuous. I needed it anyway. I kept searching for a good spot to incorporate the rock into an image without succumbing to the "standard" image that is frequently seen, usually taken from the "opera box," a small opening with an overhang that resembles an opera box, like one would see in a theater.

The image above was actually taken to the right of the "Opera Box,", as I wanted to incorporate the trees on the left into my image for depth. The lake to the upper right is Lake Lure, created in 1927 with the damming of the Broad River, which runs alongside Highway 74A, the main highway that runs through Chimney Rock Village and the town of Lake Lure.

But as so often has been the case this summer, those pesky afternoon "pop up" thunderstorms threatened nearby (see the first image at top of this blog), and I high-tailed it out before getting stuck beneath one on the mountain. By the time I got off the mountain, there was a seemingly endless torrent of rain. I waited it out at a gas station in Lake Lure, the rain pelting down so heavily I never had a chance to check out the lake itself. Maybe next month, we shall see.

My next "exploration day" was Thursday; and since I'd given my home state of Georgia such short shrift lately, I felt I needed to make a return engagement to go waterfall chasing. There had been heavy rain in the northeast Georgia mountains, so the waterfalls should have been roaring, and they were at Talullah Gorge, though the mid-afternoon lighting was awful for photos. (though I did get another "StairMaster" workout on the 1000 or so steps to and from the gorge floor - my calves are right and truly toned by now) I had a far better experience on the way home, visiting Mud Creek Falls near Sky Valley, the cloud cover giving me good, even lighting to capture the falls:

While I was there, a couple were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary, playing cards, eating lunch at an adjacent picnic table, and enjoying a glass of wine; and unbeknownst to me, they were also watching me in action, and took a photo of me taking a photo, all sprawled out and spastic-looking as I typically am:

The couple went on to tell me that they spent their honeymoon in my home town of Maggie Valley, at a motel that has since been razed. I just found myself impressed that there are still couples out there who have been together longer than I've been alive (in this case, three years longer). Chatting with those lovebirds was easily the most heartwarming moment I've experienced in quite some time.

The exploration continued Friday evening, as I tracked storms near home after getting off work. Of course, Waterrock Knob was going to be the best spot to capture all that dynamism; and sure enough, I found myself sprinting like a lunatic from one end of the overlook to the other to capture it all (as lunatics with cameras do). On one end, a rain shower and partial rainbow:

And on the other, soft, stunning light as the sun hid behind a sliver of clouds:

These final two fit right in with the current "stormy" theme that saw plenty of dramatic skies; and yet these latest images carried a brighter, more colorful, more hopeful tone than the ones I've been capturing recently.

I say, keep bringing it on though, whether the skies are foreboding or optimistic - as I don't mind dodging a few rain drops here and there to keep capturing nature in action, doing what I love to do, and feeling blessed that God lets me continue to do it.........

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