Back to the NC Mountains
After thawing out a bit from the Dolly Sods trip I took one last autumn journey to the North Carolina Mountains during the 3rd week of October. It was winter-like with cold temps and bare trees at the higher elevations, but there was still some nice color a bit lower. I took a chance there might still be some nice fall foliage around Max Patch, an easily accessible and popular place for hikers and photographers about 40 miles northwest of Asheville. It was my first time there and I was glad I made the trip. This high meadow is only at 4600 feet, but it offers some beautiful 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain landscape. I also drove the picturesque Rt. 209 up to Hot Springs, a drive I recommend for some nice rural scenery.
I finished the trip off with several days exploring the wonderful waterfalls and mountain scenery around Brevard, Lake Toxaway, and the Cashiers-Highlands. I managed to make it to a dozen or so waterfalls, but there are so many (in the hundreds) I've yet to see. You can see a few photos from the trip here, or just click on one of the photos below.
Dolly Sod Wilderness and Scenic Area
Dolly Sods in Northeastern West Virginia is know for its extreme weather, and I certainly got a taste of it on my early October fall trip. Cold and wet, very windy, raining during the day, snow accumulations at night, and dense fog. Exciting and a little uncomfortable for camping. But when things dried out enough to actually get the camera out of the bag there was certainly no shortage of wonderful places to photograph. The slowly receding fog combined with the sun peeking out here and there provided prime conditions.
The area is unusual for its rugged topography, high mountain meadows and bogs, heath highlands, and plant and animal species more typical of places further north in Canada. The scenery in the fall is unusually beautiful with the red colors of the blueberries and other low vegetation set off by the picturesque boulders and rock formations, the wet meadows often enshrouded in fog, and the fall colors on the distant mountain sides. You may click on any of the photos below to get a larger version or to see more images from my trip.
Late Summer at Roan Mountain and Cataloochee Valley
A couple of clear, sunny early September days at Roan Mountain were pleasant for hiking and camping, not so much for photography. But the stream side Roan Mountain State Park campsite was relaxing, the endangered Roan Mountain Goldenrod was in bloom, and I had my first encounter with the Angora goats being used to keep the balds clear. More about the goats --
The grassy open balds of the Roan Mountain highlands are thought to be very old, perhaps even having been created during the ice age. It's theorized by some scientists that the balds were once kept clear of trees by pre-historic animals (think mammoths, mastodons and giant tapirs), later by bison and elk, and more recently by the livestock of settlers. In recent decades, however, the balds are shrinking, becoming forested. These high balds are home of a number of unique plant species as well as habitat for animals not normally found this far south. Plus they are just unique, beautiful places with great views. So, back to the goats. They are being used on an experimental basis, with donated goats, private funds, and volunteer labor, to determine if they can cost-effectively help keep the balds clear and their unique natural systems from disappearing.
I also spent a couple of days in less traveled section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoying some elk viewing at Cataloochee Valley and a pleasant hike along Big Creek in a nearby section of the park. There were hints of color in the dogwoods, so it will soon be time to hit the road again to catch the fall foliage photo extravaganza. Click any of the photos below to see a few more images from this Roan-Cataloochee trip --
A Day at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Fog and Flowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Three days of fog and rain in the NC mountains offered a nice respite from the triple digit temperatures back in the Piedmont. I spent most of my time on the stretch south of Asheville, mostly between mile post 408 and about 435. I think it's my favorite stretch of the Parkway. While the fog obscured the sunrise (and any other vistas) I had hoped to catch by hiking up in the dark early one AM to Black Balsam Knob, it did provide a wonderfully quiet and mysterious atmosphere on top of the bald. Similarly, the fog gave a little different look to the creeks and waterfalls of Graveyard Fields. The fog and clouds were also great for photographing the variety of summer wildflowers which seemed particularly plentiful this year. And I got one of my favorite mountain images ever just after sunset as the fog began to come in, rolling down the hillsides into the valley. All in all, it was a good little summer escape. Click the photo below for a larger view and a look at a few more images from the trip. Thanks!
Roan Mountain Balds
The grassy balds of the Roan mountain are enjoyable places to visit most any any time of the year with their photogenic rock formations, unusual vegetation, and the spectacular views they provide. But when the rhododendrons are at their peak, they are downright spectacular. I was fortunate this year when I hiked up to Grassy Ridge to catch the rhododendrons at their best with whole hillsides covered with blooms. Click any of the photos below to get a larger version and to see a few more images from my trip there.
Carolina Low Country
** If you want to skip the words and go straight to Low Country spring travel photo slide show, click here.
Beach Ruins, Church Ruins - Hunting Island SC
It was just last year that I discovered some of the charms and wonderful natural areas of the South Carolina low country. I decided I must visit again this spring. First stop, Hunting Island near Beaufort. While the island has 3,000 acres of beautiful salt marsh and a wonderful palmetto and live oak filled semi-tropical forest, my main photographic targets were the textures, shapes and colors on some of the 4 miles of the island's beach. The weather was cold and very rainy most of the time, not the best for making colorful sunrise images (or for camping either!). I did manage a few images between storms. I also spent some rough weather time time exploring this interesting area and visiting the picturesque ruins of the 18th century Sheldon Church and the Chapel of the Ease.
Millponds, Lots of Snakes, and a Few Birds
After living in North Carolina for 40 years (!), I finally made a trip to Merchants Mill Pond. The pond is 200 years old and has developed into a mature bald cypress and tupelo gum ecosystem with a diverse array of wetland wildlife and 200 species of birds. The only good way to see the area is from the water, so I finally got up the courage (or fool hardiness) to put my camera gear into a kayak and floated around for a few hours. It was a quick trip, but I look forward to more of tehm and to paddling to the upper end of the pond to Lassiter Swamp with its "Enchanted forest" of old growth cypress.
Next, a return trip to South Carolina and some of the great photographic opportunities around Charleston. I was there a week and had the pleasure of a photographer friend taking time to show me quite a variety natural areas, plantations, prime sunset spots and as well as some great little restaurants. I look forward to visiting many of those areas again. On this trip most of my photographic keepers came from nearby Beidler Forest, The Audubon Swamp Garden, and the Botany Bay Natural Area on Edisto Island. The Audubon Society's Francis Beidler Forest is a 16,000 acre preserve in the Four Holes swamp that preserves the largest remaining virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum forest in the world. In addition to 1,000 year old trees, the preserve is home to a long list of reptiles, birds and other animals. Photography here can be a little hit or miss, but with patience you are almost sure to find some interesting targets for your camera.
The Audubon Swamp is an old rice plantation next to Magnolia Gardens that has been converted to a more natural swamp. For over 200 years the area has been home to a very accessible bird rookery with several species of egrets and herons as well as anhinga nesting within reasonable camera range. Plus there are many other birds, nesting hawks and ducks, a large population of alligators and other reptiles. There is lots of wildlife action -- it's really quite a treat for photographers and nature watchers. If you are within a few hours drive you should definitely make a visit, especially in April (for nesting and mating activity) or May (baby birds). Here is a series of images of a Great Blue Heron at the Swamp catching a breakfast of a primitive salamander called a Siren.
Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area on Edisto Island is a beautiful undeveloped area with a photogenic ocean beach, extensive marsh habitat, and also a great spot for song birds including Painted Bunting. Here are a couple of shots of the beautiful drive into the area and one of the beach early in the morning --
West Virginia High Country & Some Ohio Birdwatching
Canaan Valley-- In early May I spent about a week in Northeastern West Virginia enjoying the wetland meadows, waterfalls and high country of the Canaan Valley area. Part of the time was spent with a group led by Bill and Linda Lane (Natures Image) who several years ago gave me the tools to pursue my little nature photography obsession with a little more success. The area is a fascinating one with two state parks (Canaan Valley and Black Water Falls), a large national wildlife refuge, and the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area with its unusual sub-arctic vegetation, mountain bogs and photogenic coniferous forests and rocky terrain. The historic small towns and picturesque rural landscape in the valley a add even more interest to the area. I barely got started exploring here, and I look forward to returning this fall, especially to the Dolly Sods area.
From West Virginia, I moved onto northwest Ohio and Magee Marsh. This area attracts naturalists and birders from all over the US and even foreign countries to view the large numbers of migrating songbirds, especially warblers, that pass through here and rest a bit before crossing Lake Erie and moving onto to their breeding areas. Even if you're not a hard core birder or bird photographer, it's pretty neat to be able to see so many species in such a relatively small area in such a short time. Even at this spot one really needs a longer lens than I have to get good images of these small song birds, but I did get a couple of passable shots with my 100-400 zoom --