I just returned from a photography trip to North Carolina with a little stop in West Virginia along the way. NC's slogan is "A better place to be," and I can't say how much I agree with those words. The scenery is jaw dropping and the people are warm and friendly and never fail to say "hey" when they pass you on the street. I felt very safe and found many folks were eager to help me find hidden gems to photograph. In fact, several fellow photographers that I met while hiking were more than happy to share "secret" locations that I might enjoy shooting! Now that is hospitality. So if you get a chance, grab your camera and a few snacks, fill up with gas and head to North Carolina! I guarantee you won't be disappointed until it's time to leave.
In case you might want to plan a little trip to get some amazing shots, here is "the scoop" on the areas that I visited. I highly recommend Ken Adams book on NC Waterfalls, along with his accompanying map. I didn't have it for this trip, but ordered it as soon as I got home and will take it with me in October. Yep, I am going back!
My first stop was an overnight stay to check out a few places in West Virginia. I am a sucker for old grist mills, and I've seen many photos of the mill in Babcock State Park near Fayetville, WV. So after a long day of travel, I still had enough energy to stop by for a look. I arrived about 5pm and was the only person there. I had expected at least some other visitors, but had the place to myself. It was like a class in composition! So many great spots and such pretty light that evening. I stayed until dark!! I hope to visit again in the fall, I can't imagine this place with autumn leaves! The mill is located in Bacock State Park and is easily found on Google Maps. There is a large parking lot and very easy access to photograph the mill.
Easy access and so many compositions make this a place to return to at different times of year.
I set out for Banner Elk, NC the next morning after a quick check of nearby waterfalls in WV showed very little flow. I made it to NC in time for a quick lunch and then did a hike on a new trail called Otter Creek Trail in 7 Devils. It is a very easy hike down to a glorious shaded waterfall, with lush vegetation and a beautiful little meadow area filled with fluttering yellow butterflies. Timing and weather are crucial to waterfall shots, and I was not lucky with either this day. Mid afternoon was the only time I could go and the light was very patchy on the waterfall, but that happens during travel and you have to make the best of what you have. I sat by the waterfall and took it all in, wishing for wonderful light but happy to be able to visit such a lovely location. I vowed to return in better conditions!
That evening showed some promise for sunset, so I hiked up to Rough Ridge, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway after the Linn Cove Viaduct. It is a moderate hike with some rocky sections, but very doable. The top overlook area has huge, fairly flat rocks that are easy to walk on and the views of Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains are spectacular. It's hard to imagine a better place for sunset photographs than Rough Ridge!
This looks much more precarious than it actually was!
Even a "so-so" sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a sight to behold!
The sunrise shoot the next morning was at an overlook just down the road from Rough Ridge. It's a funny thing about sunrise and sunset shoots, you just never know what you're going to get. And if you stay in bed for just one more hit of the snooze button, I can almost guarantee that it will be a show stopper! This day was just an OK sunrise, but anytime I can gaze out onto blue layers, I'm a happy girl!
The placement of the tree to highlight the area with fog in the valley is not accidental. I worked to get that to line up! Don't be afraid to move your tripod, change camera angles or tripod height--pay attention to the details of your composition and you will be happier with your image when you get home. As one of my instructors always says, "don't let your tripod grow roots!"
An afternoon visit to Wiseman's overlook, even though done in harsh light, turned out to be a good scouting outing for future visits. It's down a long and bumpy gravel road, but the actual hike to the overlook is quite easy. And when you get there, wow!! The whole valley is laid out in front of you, with only some big boulders between you and the drop off. This would be spectacular with some soft light and fall colors--on the list it goes!
Quite a spectacular view from Wiseman's Overlook.
I couldn't stand up on these rocks without feeling anxious, so sitting with the tripod became a solution
I even found some wild blueberries along the path to the overlook.
("Painted" with Topaz Impressions)
Peak rhododendron time usually happens around mid June, and I was lucky enough to hit it just right. Roan Gardens is beautiful and is worth a stop, it's the largest natural rhododendron garden in the world! Definitely make this a stop if you are in the area during the month of June. Because of the beautiful flowers and potential for a nice sunset, I hiked up to a part of Roan Mountain known as Jane Bald. How appropriate! It was quite a little jaunt at the end, but more than worth it! Sunset was not the show I had hoped for, but it was still pretty amazing to be sitting in the mountains, just taking it all in as the day ended.
My final day of the trip was a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway--be sure to fill up with gas before starting on this route! My mission was to stop for sunset at the much touted Cowee Mountains Overlook for what was supposed to be the absolute best place for sunset shots in the entire area. Well, my luck on this trip ran out that night, as I sat there in a moderate thunderstorm for an hour before deciding that it wasn't going to clear off. Another entry for "the list" for sure.
So if you are in the area, I hope you find some wonderful spots to photograph, or even just to "sit a spell" and enjoy the beauty and splendor that is North Carolina. I promise you won't be disappointed with the scenery or the friendly folks that live there.
Here is a link to a video slideshow I made of the trip, just to whet your appetite! I'm working with Craig McCord to develop a workshop opportunity for June of 2018 to coincide with the azalea explosion. Stay tuned for more information, or drop me an email if you might be interested and I'll put you on the mailing list for the workshop. Hope to see you "out there!"
Until next time, happy trails and great light!