Back from West Virginia!
I just made it back from West Virginia last night after after 4 days of camping on Dolly Sods. Autumn color is looking great this year with lots of vibrant reds and oranges covering the forest. As of right now the color is at about 40 – 60% on dolly Sods and most of the higher elevation mountains in the northern Potomac Highlands. The color in Canaan Valley also looks tremendous and is at about 40% with rich vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Red is definitely the dominant color this fall and it looks to me like this might be the best autumn color in about 5 years!
I met up with a few of my friends on Friday afternoon to spend the weekend celebrating our good buddy Dave’s bachelor party. We found a great little campsite near the southern end of the wilderness and spent the weekend hiking and climbing in the area. Of course, I got up at O’Dark Thirty each and every morning to get out and shoot sunrise. The days were spent exploring new trails and scouting locations to shoot.
Vista from the South Prong Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia. (shot at mid day with nice transient light. I will return here in the future for sunset)
On Friday evening, we hit the Blackbird Knob Trail a little before sunset and hiked out to a great location for sunset. Along the way, we traversed an open rock field with beautiful ferns dressed in autumn color. I stopped and set up my shot waiting for the sun to go behind a cloud and cast the landscape in shade before tripping the shutter. I used my wide angle lens to frame the ferns and rock field with the rich autumn hues of the forest in the background.
After hiking back to the trailhead in the dark, we all pilled into the car and made our way back to the camp. The campsite we choose was a wide open area under a stand of tall pine trees on the far side of an open meadow about 300 yards of the road. As soon as we got into camp we lit a nice fire and settled around to tell stories and sip beer and whiskey. At about 10:30pm we heard “Hey Joe” echoing trough the the woods and wondered what in the hell was going on. Only to see a pair of headlamps stumbling through the woods and into our campsite. My friends Alex Mody and Chris Kayler had somehow found us in the pitch black night. We invited them to set up up camp with us and spend a few days hiking and shooting on the Sods. After another hour or so of camp fire camaraderie, it was time to retire to my tent under a clear sky filled with a million blinking lights. I slept like a baby nestled warm inside my mummy bag and awoke at 6:00am and Alex, Chris and myself headed down to Bear Rocks to catch sunrise.
The sky was clear and a strong wind was blowing across the exposed open expanse of Bear Rocks. There were a few dozen photographer all set up along the road so we hiked far off into the preserve to catch first light in a secluded area. Without any clouds in the sky, I focused on the rising sun and framed an interesting rock ledge in the foreground nicely complimented by the autumn trees just below. A 5 stop graduated Nd filter was needed to balance the extreme contrast between land and sky.
Sunrise at Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia
After shooting first light, I turned my attention to the red cranberry bushes to the north. I was trying to make some images that were a bit different than the others I have made in the area before. I shoot up here so much that it is always a real challenge to come away with fresh and unique images. Because of the lack of color or uninteresting weather it was really hard to get anything super original. I settled for a low angle and framed the heath barrens against the most interesting part of the distant landscape. The wind was fierce and I went with it letting the foliage dance around during the course of the 15 second exposure.
Later in the day, we hiked the south Prong Trail near Roaring Plains. This is a great trail to shoot intimate scenes and is best on a foggy or overcast day. Round trip its about 6 miles of very easy hiking and you pass through many open meadows and bogs as well as some very pretty sections of forest. Here is an image I made about 2 miles into the hike as it passed through a very wet bog.
The rest of the day was spent in camp resting up and reading. At around 4:30pm, we all pilled into Will’s truck and headed to the start of the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail. Our destination was the Rohrbaugh Overlook which is reached after a 3 mile hike into the wilderness. The overlook is one of the best I have found in the region and provides a 270 degree view looking west across Red Creek Canyon.
After finishing up shooting sunset, we followed the trail in the dark as it dropped down towards Red Creek and took the Wildlife Trail for 2 miles and 400 vertical feet back up to Forest Road 75. After reaching the road, we still had a mile hike back to base camp. Arriving in camp with a furious appetite we started a small fire and cooked diner before retiring to the warm confines of our tents for another night under the stars.
Myself, Alex and Chris all awoke at 4:30am to break camp and head down into Canaan Valley in hopes of catching some fog and breaking light in the morning. The forecast was calling for 100% humidity and a temperature inversion. That is when the temperature on the mountain tops is warmer than the valley below in which fog forms and is trapped for some time under the warmer and thicker air above. Upon arriving in the Valley just before sunrise, we took note that the weather had produced some nice ground fog, but not the pea soup think stuff we were hoping for. We settled for a sunrise shoot in Canaan Valley State Park at favorite location of mine. The light, color and fog were just perfect for capturing moody and dramatic images of the landscape.
After getting our fair share of images in Canaan Valley State Park, we headed north towards Blackwater Falls State Park for breakfast at the lodge. Once inside the park, we had to pull over to shoot some of the foliage along the side of the road in soft morning shade. The reds are amazing this year!
Autumn color, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
As we continued towards the lodge, Chris Kayler and Alex motioned for me to pull over as we passed over the bridge spanning the Blackwater River just above the falls. In my lust for breakfast, I completly missed the reflections in the shaded portion of the river. We had to take a couple more minutes of shooting before it was time to eat. It was well worth it and I came away with a nice image of river rocks and reflections.
Autumn reflections on the Blackwater River, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
After a well deserved breakfast, I parted ways with Alex and Chris and went scouting shooting locations for the upcoming workshop that starts this Friday, October 10. From what I can tell, its going to be one of the best autumn workshops in years. The color is great and should be reaching peak by next weekend. The waterfalls are running and I can’t wait to get the group out into the field and make some amazing autumn images!