My intention for this past Saturday was to head up to Boone for the private reception for all the finalists in the Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition at the Turchin Center at Appalachian State University. I wasn't a finalist this year; but given that I'd shockingly won two awards at the AMPC in 2017 (including the People's Choice Award for my image "An Entrance To Winter") I was invited back to join in the fun and festivities. It would also be a chance to hang out and yuk it up with many of my photographer friends whom I rarely get to see nowadays.
But the good Lord had different ideas. Up in the High Country, just because the calendar says "spring" doesn't mean winter can't stop and pay a visit every now and then. A spring snow was on the way; and Winter Storm Warnings were duly issued for the High Country and Southwest Virginia. A total of 5-8 inches of snow were forecast for Saturday morning, followed by a nice little glaze of ice in the afternoon. Wonderful.
The inevitable email came from AMPC director Rich Campbell early Saturday morning - that because of the impending storm, the reception would be cancelled. Well shoot. Time to improvise.....
So I made alternative plans, booking a room away from the snow in Johnson City in hopes of driving to and capturing some of that winter magic after the precipitation passed through (and after the road conditions improved). Besides, the thought of chilling in my motel room with a Mellow Mushroom pizza and a beer beat the pants off trying to drive on a skating rink, but I digress......
I did a little writing and editing while I was in Johnson City, and even a little car shopping. My old Civic is bearing down on 300,000 miles, so I paid a visit to the Honda dealer where I get my car serviced to check out what was there. I know its sacrilege to look at Subarus while at a Honda dealership, but I spotted a 2009 Subaru Forester with a shade under 100,000 miles at a very reasonable price. I was sorely tempted, as I am in dire need of all wheel drive given the conditions I often have to drive in, but I really didn't want to take on another car payment at this point, though the Civic is paid off. But I will buy a Subaru eventually, and I'll probably keep the Civic as long as she runs.
Sunday morning found me trying to decide where to take the Civic in my search for snow. My first thought was nearby Roan Mountain, but I'm frankly all Roaned out at this point; and after slipping and sliding up the road to Carvers Gap a few weeks ago (the main reason I was looking at Subarus) I really didn't want to go through all of that again. And besides, I felt God was leading me away from there, so I heeded His nudge.
I drove northeast instead towards Virginia, with thoughts of perhaps giving the popular Grayson Highlands State Park a try in the snow.
But I found a very pleasant surprise along the way, as I drove up Tennessee Highway 91 towards Damascus. As I gained in elevation, the snow began showing up - first, on the roadsides, then the trees, and finally, just plain everywhere. I noticed the crossing of the Appalachian Trail at Cross Mountain, elevation 3,450 feet, and I quickly pulled over to one of the few spots that wasn't still snow covered. I couldn't see the open field on the other side of the road, as a hill blocked its view, so I walked up to the gate to investigate - and found a wonderful canvas for capturing winter scenes:
Oh, the sign you see on the tree to the right in the above picture? It read (for you inquiring minds that want to know):
TN 91 ELEV 3450 FEET
DOUBLE SPRINGS SHELTER 3.0 MI.
US 421 6.5 MI.
ABINGDON GAP SHELTER 11.3 MI.
Past this point, the field opened up as the trail progressed; so I walked the trail a mile or so and explored the beauty I saw:
And just as the weather forecasters had predicted, there was a light glazing of ice over the several inches of snow on the ground. I could feel the crunch of the ice with every step I took. I could also hear the sound of ice falling from the trees with the temperatures slightly above freezing:
I even saw a building with snow covered stacks of hay, emblazoned with the iconic Appalachian Trail logo, a neat little novelty for me:
I spent an hour or so walking up and down the trail, enjoying every moment and shooting dozens of images just from this small stretch of the AT. I'd love to explore this area more when it warms up.
From there, I drove into lower elevations, passing through the what was considered the world's shortest railroad tunnel, Backbone Rock Tunnel. Today, cars rather than trains pass through its meager 22 feet. The railroad, once known as the Beaver Dam Railroad, was discontinued a century ago, and State Route 133 follows the bulk of that old rail bed:
After lunch in Damascus, it was off to Grayson Highlands State Park, located near the "blink and you'll miss it" town of Mouth of Wilson, VA. Though I never saw Wilson or his mouth while passing through, but again I digress......
US Highway 58 was well plowed as it snaked its way up in elevation to the entrance of the park. It also helped that the temperatures were just above freezing for the bulk of the trip. When I arrived at Grayson Highlands, it was 33, and I only had to drive through one or two slick spots. But as a skier at the park noted, the snow was rather soft, so the tires on my old Civic plowed through that snow quite well.
Speaking of tires.......
Once I parked, grabbed my gear, and was set to begin my journey, I heard a rather ominous sound:
I went to the source of that sound, and indeed it was my rear passenger side tire - leaking air, and quite rapidly. Ugh.
I did have my spare "donut" tire, so I quickly removed the flattening tire and replaced it with the donut. There was what appeared to be a nail in the offending tire which could easily be removed and plugged, so the spare would do until I got back to civilization to fix the flat:
So, without missing a beat, I made my way out in the 8-10 inch deep stuff, but not without noticing a rather humorous sight. It seems that the wild ponies there really like salt, and I saw one particularly amorous pony enjoying the taste of a Nissan truck that had accumulated salt from the roads:
It was just a hair above freezing as I began my journey, but boy was it beautiful, with a royal blue sky and wispy clouds above:
Speaking of hair, as I ventured out, I saw a rather familiar sight.
I've visited Grayson Highlands a handful of times; and I was told of this one pony that stood out above the others, with a mane of blond hair that most women would be jealous of. He's affectionately and humorously known as the "Fabio pony;" and it's always been a bit of an inside joke between friends that I would one day finally stumble upon this seemingly mythical creature, as he seemed to be quite elusive. I'd seen pictures of him, but never seen him in person.
This time, I didn't have to walk very far from the parking lot to find the elusive Fabio - because there in all his fabulousness, he stood, grazing away:
He and his lady friend were busy munching on the wet grass beneath the snow, occasionally kicking the snow away to expose the grass; so trying to get ol' Fabio to lift his head was near next to impossible, despite my attempts to get his attention.
And it should be noted that the "wild" ponies at Grayson Highlands aren't wild at all. Not in the least bit. They'll let you know if you're irritating them; but for the most part Grayson Highlands is a glorified petting zoo, from all the visitors who feed them. One pony in particular came right up to me and nuzzled her nose up to my hand as if to say, "feed me or pet me, or both!" I briefly patted her on the head before moving on.
As I shot away, the temperatures didn't seem to bother me as much as the blinding sunlight reflecting off the snow did. I really could have used a pair of shades, but I managed.
Finally, ol' Fabio decided he'd had enough of the grass and led his lady towards the parking lot. Keeping a safe distance, I moved with him as he walked forward:
And caught a head shot of that iconic pony as well:
I had to shoo a couple of ponies away from my car before I left, as the old Civic seemed mighty tasty to them. I drove into Jefferson, NC, where I plugged, reinflated and reinstalled the flattened tire and set on my way to Linville Gorge for some business, ending up visiting my friend Amanda in Morganton at Catawba Brewing for a brew and nice conversation before completing the circle and heading home.
I had started my weekend with one intention, and ended up with something entirely different than I expected - and with a bumper crop of images to boot.
One thing I've learned in this photography thing is to "expect the unexpected," to go with the flow and accept whatever comes my way, making adjustments and having faith that this is how God planned it.
And for this past weekend, I'm glad I followed His leaning......