Autumn has not been very kind to these mountains the past few years.
There were the horrific wildfires in 2016 that left much of my area gasping for air most days, and nearly destroyed my favorite home away from home, Gatlinburg (see my blog "From The Ashes.") I somehow managed to squeeze in a few images here and there in places away from all the smoke. Or at least, upwind of the smoke.....
There were a couple of nice autumn moments in 2017, notably my very productive trips to Rough Ridge, which also produced a notable highlight for me at the tail end of this summer, as an international publisher used one of my images from my final Rough Ridge session in a book called "Ride Out;" but otherwise the autumn portion of 2017 was uneventful, with dull colors and erratic weather which didn't help. I recently looked through my 2017 autumn images apart from the Rough Ridge sessions just to be sure, and nope - nothing to write home about. Try your luck next year, guy.
So next year got here; and I was wondering if autumn had skipped town. Either that or Mother Nature's thermostat was stuck on summer, as the same ol' pattern of weather persisted into October - 80's for highs, 60's for lows, with a nice helping of humidity; all adding up to a whole heck of a lot of green remaining on the trees, well into the month.
I did a little research; and I decided to head up on October 7 to an area I figured would be out of the heat - the northern part of West Virginia, with my eyes set on places like Dolly Sods and Blackwater Falls, places that generally peak in the first week of October.
I'd thought of staying home on the day I was to leave, as I was in the beginning stages of what would be a rather persistent and aggravating cold. But after visiting with a couple of friends Sunday morning who encouraged me to travel anyway, I decided to head up, staying at a Days Inn in Staunton VA just off Interstate 64/81 that looked like it was placed in the middle of nowhere - the view to the east was nothing but rolling countryside, with wide open fields as far as the eye can see, and no sign of civilization otherwise - my kind of place, actually.
I groggily awoke Monday at 6:30 AM to a soggy waffle for breakfast and a foggy morning jaunt on US 220 into places like Monterey, VA, where I saw the entire town engulfed in fog from an overlook:
The fog and clouds lasted through mid morning, through places like Germany Valley, WV, up until I reached the places I'd picked to shoot - Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls. Yet once I reached those places, it was as though those clouds never existed. The skies were totally clear - the complete bane of my existence as a photographer. There was SOME fall color there, but the local journalists that reported on the fall foliage (and whose word I depended on) were a bit guilty (okay, a lot guilty) of hyperbole. Blackwater Falls had a smidge of color, but only that - a smidge:
The clear skies and high sun also torpedoed my idea of visiting Dolly Sods, so I skipped it over. Once I returned to places like Seneca Rocks, the cloud cover returned as well, making for interesting skies at the popular landmark. This image required a bit of maneuvering on my part, as I had to sit in the grass and lean way back (a sitting limbo?) to use the goldenrod in the foreground to cover up the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, a fairly large building just on the other side of the aforementioned goldenrod:
So perhaps in terms of finding the elusive fall foliage, my initial West Virginia trip came up snake eyes. But in terms of finding some new locations to square away in memory (next year, maybe?) it was still a productive and fun trip.
I decided to stick around home for the next couple of weeks. But at places like Bear Trap Gap, I still caught a whole lot of green, with some nice light to go along it. If green is your favorite fall color of course.....
I went back to shoot a week or so later, and bumped into fellow photographer Dave Allen at this same spot.
Dave: "Heard you haven't been out shooting lately."
Me: "Yeah, I've been a little under the weather."
Dave: "You haven't missed much."
And those four words sum up how the first few weeks of autumn photography season 2018 went. One photographer, Mark VanDyke, threw up the white flag on fall and headed for the coast. Stubbornly, I decided to stick around.
Eventually, Mother Nature's ol' thermostat got repaired or unstuck or whatever, as those clear, cool days and crisp, chilly nights finally emerged by mid-October. But it is quite telling that my first autumn images - okay, images with a color other than green - were taken October 22, at the popular Dry Falls:
And a few days later, as I explored the west fork of the Pigeon River, trying hard to navigate the slippery stones without busting my keister, I found a little more color:
I had made two prior attempts to visit the über popular Babcock State Park, located in West Virginia - once, in 2015, and again last year - both times, coming up totally empty.
With the colors finally coming on strong, I decided to push my luck. But I waited a week from my initial nudge, as that "small, still Voice" held me back. I was exhausted from a very busy week, so I awoke October 28 with thoughts of maybe giving up on finding West Virginia fall color altogether and sticking around the house to see what remaining local fall color was out there.
But I had to give it a go. That initial nudge I felt kept nudging me (when God speaks, make sure you listen) so I decided to drive the 300 or so miles to Beckley to see if the grist mill and river were adorned with fall splendor this go around.
I had both very nice color and nice water flow, especially since I arrived after rain had just passed through. The overcast skies gave me some nice, even light to play with, and I even waded out midstream with my shaky legs in knee deep water - at the risk of busting my clumsy butt (sensing a theme, here?) - to catch that big cascade you see in the first pic. Overall, it was an amazing canvas to capture several different perspectives:
Yet I wasn't done. The cloud cover and occasional rain yielded a nice shot as I drove back towards my motel room in Beckley: a rainbow over the New River:
I awoke the next morning to scout a little bit more; and in doing so I ran into some rather annoying road construction near Sandstone Falls. Once I made it through the mess, I found some nice cascades with a splash of fall:
As is my custom, I also took back roads from that point, avoiding the interstates and finding some nice surprises, first at the quaint-yet-charming town of Hinton, West Virginia:
Not too long after I left Hinton, I was contacted by a small business in Colorado (of all places) who wanted to purchase one of my images for use on their website. And with that purchase (that came about mighty quickly), my trip to West Virginia was paid for. Sweet! If there was ever a sign this trip was ordained by God......
But there were still more surprises as I drove back to home, as I approached the tiny town of Pipestem, and its namesake waterfall, Pipestem Falls:
The better image came when I walked above these falls to one of the smaller cascades. I lost my circular polarizer filter in shooting this, but the result was worth it:
And with that, my autumn shooting season quickly came around.
Still, I wasn't done yet......
One of the local tourism boards asked me to capture some fall images (if the colors were good), so the next week, I obliged, with images from the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Along with images from some of the popular waterfalls in the area, splashed with fall color:
And I caught a hint of winter as well, as on November 3, we had our first snow (albeit light) of the season, contrasting cool winter tones with warm fall foliage:
I even checked out a place unknown to me prior to this year, so close to home. It was a friend's post on Instagram that introduced me to this lovely place, Mount Soma in my hometown Haywood County (thanks, Chelle):
Finally, I revisited a place in the Great Smokies where I was able to reprise an old image, yet with a better understanding of technique and composition than my initial try in 2013:
With that image, my fall foliage shooting season (albeit quite water-centric) was complete, and more fulfilling than any prior fall since I first moved here. It all came a tad late (okay, much later than anticipated!) but I survived it, and then some.
And I survived it without anything more than some soaked hiking boots (and without falling over! A major victory!). The bumper crop of images I caught more than made up for any temporary annoyance......