Better Late Than.....

November 6, 2016

"When I last left off" seems to be a recurring theme in my travel blogs lately. I'd sit down and begin writing a new blog, only to be distracted by one thing or another (and there have been a LOT of distractions), then I'd go wafting off without even typing another word, and another travel blog gets abandoned. That being said....

 

When I last left off.......

 

.......we were somewhere in August, and I had endured a stormy summer, literally and figuratively speaking. I'd about had my fill of shooting mountain scenes; so I abandoned them totally for a quick but oh-so-needed diversion to the coast, a spontaneous overnight jaunt to Charleston that yielded a few nice images, both at sunset and after dark, with a sunset image at the iconic Ravenel Bridge in Charleston:

 

Followed by a night image only an hour or so later on Folly Beach, under the light of the moon:

 

 

From there, it was "hurry up and wait" for fall, as September tends to be a down month for photography. So, I tried night photography some more, just to change things up; attempting to shoot the Milky Way for the first time. And mostly, I succeeded there:

 

 
The trouble was that fall was taking its dear old time arriving on the scene. Warm temperatures and a total lack of rainfall (which explains the paucity of waterfall images taken this year) delayed the changeover; so there was still a whole heck of a lot of green hanging about, well into October. And my meticulously planned and carefully thought out itinerary for said month of October (which I made out in August while making an overnight stay in Franklin, NC) kept getting either pushed back or abandoned entirely.

 

It was only by mid-October when I felt like I could head out to catch the foliage developing. But this year I skipped my traditional first stop at Graveyard Fields, and headed north to the Beacon Heights area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where finally, some color began to reveal itself, in spite of the blanket of green on nearby Grandmother Mountain:

 

Speaking of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have taken on the role of "volunteer photographer" for the Parkway; and while the job doesn't pay directly, there are perks: the exposure my images have gotten potentially can lead to inquiries which can lead to income down the road, as major publications often contact the Parkway for images. I felt since 85% of my work is Parkway-related, it wouldn't deviate from what I normally do - I had nothing to lose, and so much more to gain. And by the tremendous response my images have gotten through the Blue Ridge Parkway pages on various social media sites, it's only a matter of time before it pays off. And I just love the Parkway anyhow - it's a labor of love. Taking the role was a no-brainer, in my opinion.

 

A week or so after I had taken this image, I came right back to the area to catch the continuing development of fall foliage, especially on nearby Rough Ridge; but I decided again to engage in a little night imagery just for fun, this time on the iconic Linn Cove Viaduct:

 

 

I had set my sights on a morning sunrise at Rough Ridge when I made my overnight stay at the nearby Pixie Inn in Linville, a place I've frequented often this year. And I stubbornly held to my plan, even as I felt the whipping wind on my ascent up the trail. I had a particular spot where I wanted to shoot a sunrise, but I never made it there. The winds were in excess of 40 MPH in places; maybe even close to 50-60 MPH, as I had difficulty standing up at times. I settled on a spot on the boardwalk, cussing like a sailor at the fate the winds had left me. My old Nikon D2X was oscillating on my tripod from the brutal winds, so any shot I attempted was blurry with the low light. The foliage was blowing everywhere, and trying to freeze the action with a fast shutter speed seemed like a taller task than I felt I could handle. I just about packed it in.

 

It was at that point that, somehow, God got through to me that I needed to change cameras. I'm overly enamored with my old D2X, as it is a thoroughly professional instrument in every possible way - precise, exacting, demanding. I love the challenge that old beast gives me, and almost every time, it rises to the occasion.

 

But in low light, the old beast is, in a word, awful. Just trust me on this. That camera was designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: highly detailed images in normal light, which it does exceptionally well; in some cases better than today's more modern camera bodies.

 

But put it in a position where you have to raise the camera's sensitivity to light (better known to us pros as "ISO speed") and it totally drops the ball.

 

That's why I have a backup body, one that does better in these situations: an equally old Nikon D700; but it is infinitely better at those low light, "high ISO speeds" needed to capture certain scenes; and after I had put together a nice composition, this was the result: clean, concise, colorful, and crisp:

 

 

This might be my favorite image of the entire fall season, if not the year; mainly due to the lengths I had to go through to capture it. It's not perfect, but it's good enough. I love how the boardwalk adds to the flow of the image - follow it, and it follows right into the rising sun. One of my favorite compositions.

 

From that point however, finding great scenes in the coming days was a challenge - not only due to the lack of rain, but cloud cover as well. We have had an extraordinary string of dry, sunny days this fall - with perfect blue skies and harsh, afternoon light - not so conducive to great imagery.

 

Out of sheer curiosity, I set aside a Sunday in mid-October to explore within my own territory here in Haywood County; and I discovered the lovely Purchase Knob only a few miles from home. There was sufficient cloud cover to make things interesting, and as I made my way up the trail, I found a pleasantly colorful slice of heaven:

 

 

 

And one night later, I found an equally colorful sunset with brilliant light:

 

 

As I approached the end of October however, the fall foliage was still taking its dear old time in places, at least by way of comparison to prior seasons. At around 3,500 feet in elevation, there was still a fair amount of green to offset the color, as I discovered in this image taken on the Parkway by Balsam Gap:

 

I squeezed in an early morning stint with my lovely friend Beth soon after - at a place we had made plans for some time to visit, Wayah Bald, about 45 miles from home near the town of Franklin. But Beth has had some challenges of her own, with hand surgery; and recently, lower back surgery, to correct a bulging L5 disk. It was only October 27 that we were able to pull off the road trip, Beth gingerly moving around yet still enjoying herself. We were socked in with fog, so no sunrise. But on the way back down the forest service road, we hit paydirt, as the brightening light made for some compelling images in the fog, with the wind-swept, colorful trees providing the drama:

 

 

 

With the slow change in color, I had to keep moving my grand ambition for the season back - that was to capture some lovely fall scenes in Virginia, where in the past two seasons I found myself disappointed, mainly because I had jumped the gun and visited too early.

 

I deliberately waited until October 30, wondering if I might be too late - wondering if the colors might have already come and gone. I decided to give it a go anyway, in hopes of salvaging something. Otherwise, my fall foliage season might be a bust.

 

I blocked out my persistent Fibromyalgia pain and set out at 4 AM on Sunday, October 30 in hopes of a journey that would define my fall foliage shooting season. I decided to go the quick route from home - I-40 to I-77, exiting at Fancy Gap where the Parkway crosses over. And while I arrived just in time for a nice sunrise sky at Groundhog Mountain Overlook.....

 

......I found that, at least between here and the quaint town of Meadows of Dan, the trees were mostly barren, with only hints of remaining color here and there. Had I come too late??

 

No sooner had I passed the lovely Mabry Mill landmark......

 

 

......than the colors returned; and from Mabry Mill north to Roanoke, there was an abundance of lovely color indeed:

 

 

 

At Tuggles Gap near Floyd, I made my usual pit stop at the Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel for some sustenance and to give my poor old car a break. I picked up one of their business cards while I waited for my food, the frazzled waitress running round trying to do nineteen things at once, as a large group of bikers had just entered to order lunch. The card had all the pertinent info: address, phone number, web and email addresses, plus a curious little slogan:

 

"Innovative and healthy meals prepared daily"

 

So naturally I ordered a bacon cheeseburger. Hey, they said their food was healthy and innovative - who am I to argue?!? Plus, it was delicious. But as always, I digress......

 

North of Roanoke, the colors were muted and dull. Many of the images I captured ended up in the recycle bin of my desktop, as the combination of harsh light and dull color left me with a bunch of boring images.

 

So it was off to find an overnight stay, in hopes of waking early enough to check out The Cascades, a place I had discovered earlier in the year with the help of my friends Elyse and Wes who live in nearby Blacksburg. I found a cheap room at a rather aging motel in Daleville that likely did the business in its heyday, in the 1970's - a dilapidated Howard Johnson, where the improvements made to the outdated rooms were roughly the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. I did sleep well however, even with the excessively noisy AC unit.

 

With the lack of rainfall, plus the possibility of harsh light in the gorge at The Cascades, I nearly decided to drive on home Monday morning. But I made a last second decision to go anyway, which was a good thing - the sunlight still had not filtered over the gorge, there was still some great color left, I had the trail all to myself, and there was enough water to make things compelling - with scenes along the way both rugged and beautiful:

 

 

 

 

 

The main attraction was the 66-foot Cascade Falls, and though the light had just begun filtering into the gorge, the scene was still a lovely one:

 

 

It was at this point that an absolute throng of teenagers from a nearby Roanoke school happened upon the scene, shattering the silence I'd enjoyed to that point. But the good news was that my work was done. It was time to head back home.

 

And yet, my work is still somehow never done, as I often chance upon unexpected beauty on my way home. Such was the case as I drove south on I-26 in Tennessee, approaching Sam's Gap and the North Carolina state line. This stretch of highway is one of the most scenic in the country, and one of my favorites to travel, any time of year. This image came directly from an opening on this busy interstate highway:

 

 

With that, now my work was finally done.

 

But not really. I'll wake up in the morning (despite my total exhaustion) and set out to find whatever remaining fall foliage is left, as this particular autumn has arrived late yet shown a great deal of stamina, and promises to continue bearing colorful "fruit" well into November.

 

Better late than never.......

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