So the first part of my spring found me trying hard to avoid repeating myself (See my prior blog "Looking For New"), tossing a spanner into the works to keep things fresh for myself, mainly because I get bored so easily. The trip to Breaks Interstate Park did the trick.
I had returned a bit to the old routine soon after (old habits die hard), visiting Linville Gorge for some scouting to prepare for something that never happened. Here's why......
After chatting off and on for the better part of a year with the host of a hiking conglomerate in the Linville Gorge area, I had taken on the challenge of conducting a group photography workshop at the end of May. I would be the host's "guest instructor" while he led the group on a hike through the Gorge. So after setting a weekend aside, making several announcements on all my social media pages, and even paying for a few Facebook promotions, the whole thing fell through, mainly because the host--for whatever reason--made virtually no effort to promote his own workshop, and made very little effort in staying in communication with me about it. It left me scrambling for work since I had set an entire three day weekend aside for this thing. I called him the Monday before the workshop to check on its status, he hemmed and hawed, and never called back. So I never pressed further, and that was the end of that.
Right about the same time, a regional publication asked if I had any "stock" images of North Carolina lakes for possible consideration in a later issue. I told them I had a few; but they were only local, local, local lakes - like Lake Junaluska for instance, right down from the house. They were not only looking for images of the lakes proper, but also docks, marinas, house boats, even people at play along the lakes, of which I had zip, zero, nada.
And suddenly, there was a new challenge set before me--and one that didn't require collaboration with unreliable sources. I would be venturing out to new places, capturing my traditional landscapes, albeit with a slight twist - while escaping the local, local, local places I've just about shot to death.
But I did begin my quest for lakes with that one local, local, local lake - Junaluska. And since they have installed a new pier on the lake, it gave me a new perspective from a familiar place:
I even snagged a photo of one of the few tiny docks on the lake, with a small boat resting on it:
The real fun though would be set aside for a single day, where I mapped out a loop route that would carry me to several lakes in extreme western North Carolina, several of which I'd never been.
So on a humid Sunday at the outset of June, I drove west towards Fontana Lake, where I had visited several months earlier with a lady friend of mine. And just before I reached the marina, I spotted a house boat (named "Changes N Attitudes," a take on the title of the Jimmy Buffet song, one would presume--I know this because the resolving ability of the Nikon D810 allowed me to zoom in closely enough to see the name on the boat):
The nearby marina gave me an opportunity to catch some reflections of the big sky on the lake:
I made a stop atop Fontana Dam, but oddly never thought of capturing the dam itself. (And sure enough, that same publisher came back to me after I submitted my lake images to them--"Do you have any images of Fontana Dam?" Why no. I do not. Dammit.)
But dummy here promptly drove downstream and captured Cheoah Dam instead, with quite the water release--with the recent heavy rains, it was necessary. Even Fontana had a bit of a release as well. For those of you scoring at home, the sign to the left says, "WARNING Dangerous Waters."
After a very brief stop at the biker capital of the world (also known as Deal's Gap), Santeelah Lake was next on my agenda, though my paper road map was a bit deceiving. It showed US Highway 129 skirting the edge of the lake; but in reality it was the original routing of 129--now known as Thunderbird Mountain Road--that rolled along the lakeshore. Good thing I had brought my laptop, consulting a website with old aerial highway maps, to figure that out.
By this point the humidity and haze were becoming obvious in my images of Santeetlah:
And as I reached the small town of Robbinsville, population 620, skies were beginning to get a tad angry as well. Several "pop-up" severe thunderstorms were bearing down on the area just northwest of my location, moving southeast at around 15-20 miles per hour.
From Robbinsville, I figured I could outrun the slow pace of the storms and make a pit stop in Andrews as they passed through, before resuming my journey. As it turned out, I arrived in Andrews just before the storms arrived--yet they had gained in intensity as they bore in on the area. I consulted my trusty, geeky weather radar app on my iPhone to keep abreast of the situation, milling around Andrews for a short while and trying to find a place to park to shield the Honda Civic from the marble-to-quarter sized hail that accompanied the approaching weather. I had pulled back out from a rather desolate looking downtown Andrews on US 19 just as the storms hit--so for about 30 seconds, I was pummeled with blinding rain, heavy wind, and the aforementioned hail. Thankfully, I found a nearby gas station and parked under an awning to escape any further wrath.
Once the worst of the weather passed, there was still some rather ominous looking skies left in its wake:
Now that the worst was over, my next thought was where to continue. My original game plan had me driving west into Murphy, then looping back around on US 64 to catch Lake Chatuge before sunset.
But the storm that had just passed through would be bearing down on Chatuge by the time I arrived there. So, time for Plan B.
I backtracked a little, having remembered that there is another lake to the southeast of Andrews--a smaller one, but one still worth checking out--and one that would be out of the way of the thunderstorms.
Nantahala Lake is located on Wayah Road, a connector road between US Highways 19/74 and US Highway 64; but for the length of that road--wow! I had only used Wayah Road previously to visit its namesake, Wayah Bald, but as I would soon discover, there was so much more to see.
A stream runs alongside the road, boasting many nice cascades along the way. (Note to self: this is a "must-see" autumn destination.) As I drove past an obviously washed-out road from the recent rains, I could hear the rush of a waterfall--so I decided to turn back, just to see.
I drove back to the intersection of Wayah and Beachertown Roads, far worse for wear after the flooding rains of the past few weeks:
Obviously, the road was shut down by the US Forest Service, yet was still accessible by foot; so as I began my short walk to find the waterfall, a young couple approached me, holding up a rather intriguing camera lens, with a query:
"Is this your lens?"
I replied, "Nope."
"Well, we'd hate to leave such an expensive lens here without someone claiming it. We thought you might have left it behind by accident."
"No, it's not mine."
The reality was (and I told them as much) that the lens - an older model Nikkor 55-200 VR lens, to be exact - was only worth about $100. I told them that the lens on my particular Nikon (a Nikkor 24-120 VR lens, not even a top-of-the-line lens) was worth several times more than that. Their wide-eyed response betrayed their genuine surprise at my claim. But that abandoned lens still intrigued me. I bolted it to my D810 to see if it worked; and sure enough, it did. I placed it back where the couple had left it.
I walked with that young couple to the bridge (located in the center of the above photo) to snap a shot of the river, with that roaring waterfall I had heard in the distance:
And this old guy with the shaky legs gingerly stepped over wet stones on the short trail on the left, leading to the greater falls, where I set up for a closer look:
I parted from the young couple soon after, so they could enjoy the waterfall on their own. I returned to where I had parked, and that particular camera lens, still just lying there on the ground--with myself, still intrigued.
Why, you might ask??
See, I enjoy occasionally trying my hand at sports photography. I have an ancient, totally obsolete Nikon D2Hs--a meager 4 megapixel camera, by the way--that I like to use when I attend minor league baseball games. The files are noisy, the colors are off--it's a 2005 camera, after all--but it's still a super fun camera to use. Plus it sounds like a machine gun when it fires away at eight frames per second.
But when my old D3s decided to stop reading my "D" lenses last summer during one of my photo shoots with my alternative model friend Shardae, I used the D2Hs as a "donor" body, swapping the part from that camera to replace the malfunctioning part on the D3s. So now, the D2Hs was only able to read "G" lenses.
And that abandoned lens was a "G" lens, and would be the ideal lens for the D2Hs.
But that lens also was not mine, and some unfortunate owner had accidentally left it behind. As sorely tempted as I was to take it home with me, I just couldn't. So I found some plastic wrap in my trunk, wrapped it around the electronic contacts of the lens to protect it from any further rain, and left it on the guardrail, in hopes that the owner would come back and retrieve it. I had done my good deed for the day, leaving with a clean conscience.
Now, it was on to Nantahala Lake.
According to their website, "Nantahala Dam was finished in 1942 creating the lake (reservoir) that was critical to the success of defense projects for World War II," and was the official training ground for the Army Green Beret and Special Forces. Today, it's simply a boating and fishing destination.
I found the Lakes End Marina, and a couple of nice scenes as the late afternoon sun lowered in the sky:
As I drove on, I noticed a nice little opening on the roadside, so I pulled off and grabbed my camera. A fisherman was there; and sensing I was on private property, I decided to ask before firing a shot:
"Hey bud, is this private property?"
"Yeah, but you're more than welcome to come down if you want to take a few pictures."
So I took him up on his offer--this image best representing the vibe of the moment. The fisherman (and his boat) are in the lower left corner:
And yet, as I left--even with daylight fading rapidly--I felt my journey wasn't done. In fact, I was saying to myself, "I think there's a few shots left in this day."
Indeed there was.
First, at another boat dock on Nantahala, further down the road:
And finally, at Wayah Bald itself--a place I hadn't been since visiting with a friend back in 2015 (or was it 2016?).
All I know is that since my last visit, Wayah Bald had undergone a transformation-- and not by its own choosing. The wildfires that ravaged the area in 2016 still showed some scars once I arrived at sunset, with burned out trees still hauntingly standing against a radically different landscape from my last visit:
The observation tower (at least, the wooden parts anyway) was restored after those horrific fires:
And the views from up there were still as dynamic as ever, even in the darkening skies:
And with that, my day of finding "new" was done. I don't think any of the images I submitted to that publication were used, but no matter--for me, it was all about getting back in tune with my "muse" and returning to the "Solitary Traveler" concept that has served me so well over the years. To peek around the corner in search of the unknown, at least to me.
And it will pay dividends, soon enough, and God willing.....