My Favorites Of 2018

December 20, 2018

I went into 2018 with the thought of "different."

 

I also went into 2018 with the thought of "Geez, Robert, don't break your other arm," since I rang in the new year with my left arm in a brace and a sling from a freak accident just before Christmas 2017, but I digress....

 

In all seriousness, I was simply worn out from the past few years of repeating myself, going to the same places to get the same images as everyone else. I even took a detour into creative modeling photos last year just to break the monotony - it was a lot of fun pushing myself into new territory, and there's still so much to learn. There were no modeling images in 2018, but I hope to revisit the concept sometime in the future if I can find the right model for my ideas.

 

So my modus operandi this year was first to find different places; and if I found myself at the same ol' places, I would try to find a new twist on things.

 

As a result of my self-imposed moratorium, I made exactly one visit to Roan Mountain and Cades Cove this year, two visits to Craggy Gardens (which is my favorite place on Earth), and zero visits to places like Magnolia Gardens. I deprived myself in order to push myself. So in some ways, 2018 was a step back, if only to forge two steps forward in the future. I've begun to see the dividends from my new approach recently, and God willing they will continue to pay off in the new year.....

 

But I also found myself in new places too - not necessarily new to most people, but new to me - and that's what mattered most.

 

So here is a selection of my favorite images of 2018 - not necessarily my best, just the ones that spoke to me most profoundly. If nothing else, I got back in touch with the original concept of this whole "Solitary Traveler" thing that has served me well - and I detached myself somewhat from the idea of needing to keep up with all the other photographers out there. I'm doing my own thing, with zero apologies....

So there's nothing particularly scenic about this first image, to be sure. Just a creepy old road being swallowed whole by overgrowth.

 

But this is not just an old road - this road was once a major thoroughfare - and the double yellow line is still visible. This is a section of old US Highway 64, west of Franklin, NC. This image is part of a larger photographic project of mine called "Project 64," detailing the history and relevance of the longest road in North Carolina - all 563 miles, from the Tennessee state line to Manteo on the coast. So I've studied old maps to retrace what's left of the old route, while snapping images along the current route. This project should continue on well into 2019, God willing.

 

Speaking of the current route.....

 

This was a scene I chanced upon on the current routing of 64 this past summer - a big thunderstorm rumbling over Franklin, with a very visible hail shaft left of center. I stood there for thirty minutes, watching the storm pass as thunder rumbled in the distance. What a rush!

The image above was from my only visit to Roan Mountain in 2018, on a foggy, cold day during the winter months. With memories of my rather claustrophobic visit there during the summer of 2017 (which triggered my 180 to creative modeling photos) I purposely stayed away from Roan during the rhododendron bloom. Maybe I can revisit there with a fresh approach in 2019 - as long as I'm not contending with the hordes again......

 

And maybe I'll even revisit my favorite place, Craggy Gardens. I went there twice in 2018, and this was the only image that stood out for me....

Sometime in June, I decided to break my moratorium on visiting Craggy Gardens; and fortunately I timed it right, as I found partial rainbows and dramatic skies throughout my time there. I bumped into a couple of other photographers as I shot away; and frankly I was mystified by their decision to turn towards what turned out to be a rather dull sunset while a truly dynamic scene was brewing to the east. A thunderstorm and a partial rainbow, with mountain laurel spicing up the foreground - complex to be sure, yet utterly appealing - much more so than the rather cliched, pedestrian sunset happening on the opposite side.....

From the complex to simplicity. The image above was taken on the Appalachian Trail near Damascus, VA after a snowfall in March. I love the simple trail markers with the white blazes....

Another simple image, taken in April at Lover's Leap Wayside near one of my favorite places, Meadows Of Dan, VA. This was my "breaking in" of my new camera, a Nikon D810. I met up that spring morning with my friend Vanya who lives not too far away from there; and she and I shot images of the sunrise and the morning light shining over the valley. We will likely reprise this moment a few short months from now.....

Even though the image above was technically shot in December 2017, I'm including it here, for contrast to this image....

Which was taken from virtually the same spot, just a bit closer to shore, at Lake Junaluska in August 2018.

Then there's this.....

 

A trip to Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky/Virginia border in May, where the conditions were once again in my favor, thanks to adventurer extraordinaire John "Gnome" Forbes, who led me to this spot, with rhododendron blooming, and rain and thunder in the distance as the sun set. Another chance to break in the D810.....

And this one was from that same day at Breaks, shot from Stateline Overlook, as I waited for Gnome and fellow hiker Cosmo to emerge from the bottom of the gorge.

My only usable night image from 2018. My eyesight has deteriorated significantly in the past year as I approach 50 years of age - mainly, a "night blindness" thing, so driving at night is difficult - and my late night trips were curtailed as a result. But this trip to Newfound Gap in the summer cured my cravings for a Milky Way image. I hope to have corrective measures in place soon so I can once again get out at night.....

A true return to the "Solitary Traveler" days of old here, as I found this old historic "See Rock City" barn above on US 411 near Madisonville, TN. These historic, nostalgic images often speak to me so much deeper than the landscapes.......

A refuge from the chaos....

 

I had taken on some work during the summer that involved photography to a point, but was more exacting and demanding than I really cared to deal with; so once that work was done, I retreated to a place nearby where I needn't be so exacting - the wondrous "Pretty Place" chapel on the North Carolina/South Carolina border. And since I had the place to myself, I soaked in all the spiritual goodness and blessing I could. If you can't feel the presence of God when you're standing there, all I can say is "God bless you......"

One of the most photographed places in the entire Appalachian region; and yet it wasn't until this year that I was able to truly introduce my take on it - the mill at Babcock State Park, near Beckley, WV. The conditions were perfect for capturing this iconic landmark in all its autumn glory. My favorite trip of the entire year, and here's another reason why....

Witnessing this scene over the New River Gorge as I returned from Babcock the very same day was the clincher for me - rainbows, perfect light, and a scenic railroad bridge - a sure enough sign that God led me just where He wanted me to go, and at the right time, too.....

So I tempted fate and went to one of the more popular overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the fall foliage season.....and quickly got the hell out of there, as the predictable hordes were all lined up to shoot the same ol' sunset I've seen a gazillion times there.

 

So I drove down to a different spot only a few miles south of Cowee Mountains Overlook, and had the place all to myself. Just as I like it, and I guarantee my shot from here was far more original than any shot from Cowee that night...

I drove upon this scene as I traveled through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park earlier this ear - a simple image of a fly fisherman casting a line into the Oconaluftee River. It's very rare for my images to have people in them (unless they're posing) so this was a nice, unscripted moment and a departure from my norm.....

 

As often as I've driven on Newfound Gap Road in the Smokies, it's getting tougher to shoot something along the way that doesn't look like something I've done before. But standing at Morton's Overlook on a dreary, cloudy, rainy day earlier this summer gave me an idea. It was pointless to capture the whole dreary scene before me, so I grabbed my telephoto lens and zoomed way in to capture the clouds and fog rolling over the peaks. And this is why they're called the "Smokies."

This is my most recent image, taken after Winter Storm Diego dumped over a foot of snow in my area. I knew if I had stayed at home as the storm arrived I'd get stuck; so I went to Gatlinburg (the only place it wasn't snowing), stayed overnight, and did a loop from Gatlinburg to Newport to Hot Springs to Marshall to Asheville and back to home, trying to capture what I could. This was taken in the charming town of Marshall. I even brought out the ancient Nikon D2Xs to capture that charm.....

 

And here's one from the same day at Hot Springs, taken from the school overlooking town:

Here's a relatively new place for me, the lovely Lake Lure, where I spent a July afternoon walking through a local park and thinking I'd just stumbled into paradise.....

And in a case of seeing something different from a very familiar place........

Okay, so I've shot this overlook to death - and that's why I didn't do much shooting on the Blue Ridge Parkway during autumn. This is Woolyback Overlook, certainly one of the most photogenic scenes on the entire Parkway, with endless ridges and often dramatic skies as seen here, with the rare sight of sunlight reflecting off rainfall. The only other time I'd seen it like this was in 2012, when I captured the "Golden Rainbow" image just up the road at Waterrock Knob....

 

And if I have to choose a favorite photo from 2018, it has to be....

That time I finally got to meet the Fabio pony (and his lady friend - he's quite the ladies' man I hear) at Grayson Highlands State Park. It had been a bit of an inside joke with my friend Kristi that one day I'd stumble upon this seemingly mythical creature, as I had visited several times before but came up empty.

 

But on a snowy March day, I didn't have to walk far to find him, as Fabio and his lady grazed in a field near the parking lot. A rare wildlife image for me, although the ponies at Grayson Highlands are hardly "wild." But there he was, in all his fabulousness.

 

And now that I finally found the notorious Fabio, my life is complete.

 

Oh wait - I haven't been to Banff, or Yellowstone, or Arches, or New Zealand, or Switzerland, or Iceland, or Scotland.......

 

Guess I'd better spend 2019 working on getting those items crossed off the ol' bucket list then!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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