Autumn leaf color

Cottonwood and Zion Canyon Walls

Cottonwood and Zion Canyon Walls

Cottonwood trees and the walls of Zion Canyon glow in the mid-morning light of a beautiful fall day

As I worked my way along the Virgin River in the Big Bend area of the park, I was looking for details – images that would be beautiful even outside the context of Zion. However, I found myself immersed in the overall beauty of the area through which I was hiking. The red sandstone walls, the blue-green water of the Virgin River, the yellowish-gold cottonwood trees along the river, the multi-colored pebbles in the bed of the river, and a hundred other hues had captivated my attention.

So, I began to look for an angle that could convey the beauty of my surroundings in a more holistic way. Eventually, I came upon this spot. I passed by it on my way down and back up the river thinking I would find another angle. Finally, though, I camped out here for a few minutes seeing if I could capture the essence of this beautiful place with these elements.

The image isn’t perfect. I haven’t quite captured the glow of the canyon walls as I recall them in my mind’s eye. And the angle I’ve chosen probably doesn’t convey the enormity and height of the walls. However, it’s still a nice image and certainly represents Zion well. I hope you enjoy the image. There’s more to come.

Big Bend of Zion Canyon

Big Bend of Zion Canyon

The Big Bend section of Zion National Park is named for a large bend in the Virgin River

I suppose it’s obvious by now from the images that I’ve shared that the Virgin River is an integral part of the geography of Zion National Park. This image is another example of the river and its interaction with the land.

As the Virgin River enters the relatively wide Zion Canyon, the river flows through its normal channel. I say normal because when at flood stage, virtually the entire canyon becomes the channel for the Virgin River. There are signs posted in spots around the canyon that indicate how high the river has risen in the past. Then there are the huge boulders that appear as if randomly placed there, but are more evidence of how powerful the flow must be when the river is raging.

On most days, the river sticks to its banks, though. On those days, you can walk the banks of the rivers roaming out of thickets of brush and through groves of cottonwood trees. On one of those excursions, I came upon this scene. A fallen tree has been bleached to a grayish white tone. The tree stands in stark contrast to the fall foliage of the cottonwood trees, the green foliage of the pine trees, and the red sandstone of the canyon walls. This scene is yet another example of why I love to visit Zion any time of the year, but especially in the fall. Enjoy.

Bend in the Virgin River

Bend in the Virgin River

Cottonwood trees line the Virgin River as it exits the Narrows and flows into Zion Canyon

As we exited the Narrows and began the hike back downstream, the trail followed the Virgin River for a while. We had been in such a hurry to make it into the Narrows that we hadn’t taken the time to stop along the way in. Now that we were out before sunset, we stopped a few times to soak in the incredible beauty of the Virgin River deep in Zion Canyon. This shot was taken during one of those stops. The shot is a single exposure of 2.5 seconds shot at f/14 in order to capture the depth of field necessary to keep the river and surrounding cottonwoods in focus. Perhaps it would have been more beautiful deep in the Narrows, but it is still a nice capture of beautiful Zion Canyon. Enjoy.

The Virgin River in Fall

The Virgin Narrows in Fall

Cottonwood trees at the peak of their fall color in the Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park

This isn’t the shot I had in mind when I entered the Narrows, but it is the best of the ones I took during the hike upriver. I had hoped to get far enough upstream to see where the canyon walls plunge directly into the river with virtually no sandbars or shoals in the shot. But, the elements and the beautiful scenery conspired against me to keep me from making that far into the Narrows.

As it turned out, the water was at least as cold as I had feared but turned out to be bearable. Bearable, that is, if feet just short of frostbite was my expectation. The good news was that there were frequently spots like this where we could get out of the water to allow our feet to warm a bit. The problem with that strategy was that it cut down on our travel distance considerably. The other good news, bad news of the day was that each of the stops also presented another beautiful bend in the river that begged to be photographed. This, too, cut down on the length of our hike.

I think we made it into the river about noon and sun set that day close to 6:00. That meant that we had to turn back about 3:00 or risk making our way back downstream in the dark. When I say dark, I mean the kind of dark where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Navigating the Narrows in the dark with slippery footing and wading in ice-cold water would have been a recipe for disaster. So, even though better scenes certainly laid in waiting just around the next bend, we wisely turned around near 3:00.

That did leave some time for making images on the way out, though. I had noticed this scene on the way in and snapped a few frames of it. However, using the long exposure I wanted to render the water silky allowed the wind to move the trees and cause blurring in the leaves. I stopped on the way out to shoot the same scene with a bit less wind. If you look at the top of the big cottonwood and at some of the vegetation on the left side of the frame you can see some movement even in this shot.

To get the depth of field I needed to yield sharp focus from foreground to background, I used an aperture of f/18. With the shade and dark walls shooting at ISO 100 I needed an exposure of two seconds. I like results, but I do wish I could have made the wind calm totally for the duration of the exposure. Oh well, that just means I need to go back again with a bit warmer conditions and hike a couple more miles back into the Narrows. It may have to be next year so my feet will look forward to the trip as much as the rest of me will! Enjoy.

Eagle Cliff Falls

Eagle Cliff Falls

Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen near Montour Falls, New York

As I did my research for a trip to the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, I began to see some areas mentioned over and over again. One of those was Havana Glen. Since I had no reference point for some of these locations, I had to wander around a bit blindly to find them. And, once I had found the location, I had no idea how easy or difficult the area would be to hike.

Such was the case with Havana Glen and Eagle Cliff Falls. As it turned out, the location was in a small county park not very far from Watkins Glen State Park. To my surprise, the collection booth was actually manned. There couldn’t have been much profit to the county the day I visited. The entry fee was two dollars and I saw only two other vehicles in the parking lot during my hour or so visit to the park.

Fortunately, the trail to the falls was well-marked and there was actually steps and handrails in some of the steeper sections of the short trail. In general the trails to waterfalls in New York were much easier to navigate than the ones I find in the Southeast. I don’t know the reason for that but I certainly was happy to experience it!

I shot the falls from lots of different angles, but this image turned out to be my favorite. I like the cascade as a forefront to the falls in the background. There was a bit of fall color developing as well. It’s not my favorite image of the trip, but it’s still a beautiful one. Enjoy.

Sunset from Roan Mountain

Sunset from Roan Mountain

The late spring rhododendron bloom under a golden sky at sunset on Roan Mountain

Over the years, I’ve been to most of the mountains in the Tennessee and North Carolina highlands. Usually it’s in the peak fall foliage season as I look for landscape images to capture. One of the mountains that I’ve only visited rarely even though it is prominent is Roan Mountain. It sits on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and is one of the highest mountains in the southern Appalachians. I’ve driven on Roan Mountain before but usually on my way to another destination.

For years though, I’ve heard of the rhododendron bloom on Roan Mountain. Because of the mountain’s height spring comes late there. Down in the valleys the rhododendron bloom in late April or early May. But high up on Roan, the bloom doesn’t begin until early June and peaks in mid to late June. So, I scheduled a visit there this past summer in order to view the bloom first hand.

I arrived on a Thursday evening in time for sunset. I had to leave work a bit early but I was helped by the fact that I was traveling near the summer solstice and sunset wouldn’t occur until after 9:00 pm. I planned to spend two days there photographing sunrises, sunsets, and waterfalls in the area. On the first night the weather didn’t look promising. I made it to the mountain in time to hike up to one of the balds that crown Roan’s highest peaks. However, the top of the mountain was shrouded in fog and there simply wasn’t a view to the horizon.

So, I decided to descend the mountain and photograph some of the rhododendron blooms near the beginning of the trail before the sun set. As I descended I began to emerge from the fog layer. In fact, as I approached the beginning of the trail there was actually beautiful golden light emerging as the sun dropped toward the horizon. I quickly set up my camera and tripod in order to take advantage of the golden hour conditions. Then, as I was photographing individual rhododendron blooms, the sun began to turn the sky a beautiful golden hue. I turned my camera toward the horizon and was able to capture this image of rhododendron, the sunset, and clouds passing through the valley below me. It was a magical moment and totally unexpected. I could only hope that the next two days would generate good photography conditions and that I would be able to capture them.

Late Fall Color in Cataloochee Valley

Late Fall Color in Cataloochee Valley

Only a few trees hold their color on this late October weekend in Cataloochee Valley

When I first reviewed my images from my last fall trip to the Smokies, I ranked this image high, but not quite high enough to consider posting. As I began to post images from the trip, I noticed that one thing that I had at first not liked, now became appealing to me. I knew that I had missed the peak of fall foliage so I bemoaned the lack of color in my images. However, what I now realize is that the splashes of color that were present were accentuated by the lack of foliage on other trees.

That is the case with this image from Cataloochee. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly where I was when I took this image. I just know it was the afternoon that I traveled to and through the valley. I’ve often noted that the colors in the southern Appalachians are different from those in New England. There aren’t the vibrant reds and oranges found in Vermont and New Hampshire. However, the yellows and subtle oranges are beautiful in their own way. Enjoy.


Late Fall in Cataloochee

Late Fall in Cataloochee

Oak trees on the Cataloochee valley floor contrasted with the late fall color on the surrounding hillside

My primary goal in Cataloochee was to find the herd of elk that was reintroduced to the valley a little over a decade ago. To my delight and surprise, I ended up with some great shots of elk. I’ll post those shortly. I had hoped that the colors in the valley would still be vibrant. However, the color was mostly gone and many of the trees had completely lost their leaves. As I stood on the edge of a large meadow waiting for elk to emerge from the woods, I watched the light constantly change. The sun was moving in and out of the clouds creating a wide range of conditions. I finally realized that the scene in front of me, although not the scene I had intended to capture, was beautiful nonetheless.

I was drawn to the starkness of the oak tree without its leaves contrasted with the green of the pines, the gray of the bare hardwoods, and the oranges and yellows of the few trees with color clinging to them. Hopefully you will enjoy the image as well.

Cataloochee Red Maple

Cataloochee Red Maple

A lone red maple stands out against a stand of hardwoods that have already lost their leaves

In my last post I detailed my search for fall color along the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After leaving Big Creek, I had a decision to make. I could drive back down the northern side of the park or I could continue north, east, and eventually south to reach the complete opposite side of the park from where I was staying. Since I don’t often make it to the north east part of the par, I decided to carry on and head toward Cataloochee.

If you are familiar with the park you know that there are many communities and homesteads that were abandoned once the park was created. Mountain people had lived in the Smokies for generations and many did not willingly vacate their ancestral homes. Cataloochee is a small mountain community that once had a school, churches, and many homesteads where families farmed and eked out a subsistence living. The valley is difficult to reach even now and life there must have felt somewhat isolated. Fortunately, many of the structures in Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee are still standing and can be visited.

The first time I visited the area was almost twenty-five years ago. My wife and I were dating at the time and she lived in Asheville, North Carolina. We had taken a drive west from Asheville and crossed into Tennessee. We got off the interstate and were about to turn around to go back the way we had come. Instead, we saw a sign to Cataloochee and decided that it would be fun to explore a bit. We got onto the small paved road that soon turned into a small gravel road. We were tempted to turn around but we saw a few road markers that led us to believe that this road actually led to somewhere interesting. Eventually, we even saw other passenger cars coming from the other direction which led us to assume that civilization likely lay ahead. And so it did. Although we spent an hour or more on the road driving up fairly steep hills and around tight bends, we eventually arrived at beautiful Cataloochee Valley. It was a fun adventure that we remember to this day.

So, I found myself on the same road that I had first driven many years ago. I’ve traversed the same road a few time since then so I knew what to expect. Once again, I eventually made it to Cataloochee Valley. Along the way, I was looking for vistas or fall color. Neither was in abundance, but I did find this neat scene. Amidst a forest of hardwoods that almost all had lost their leaves, this lone maple stood. I’ve seen many maple trees that exhibit this same look. All of the leaves on the maple were the same brilliant red. I don’t know why some maples turn all at once like this one. Most other trees turn in stages and sometimes have fully turned leaves inhabiting the same tree with other sections that haven’t turned at all.

I wish that I had a cleaner view of this tree. I eliminated as much of the distractions in the foreground as possible, but there are still quite a few in this shot. From where I was standing I had very little latitude. There was an almost sheer drop of fifty feet or so if I had taken one more step to my left. By leaning out past some trees and rhododendron nearby, I was able to capture this image. While I don’t like the foreground, I do like the way the red leaves stand out against the stark background of other hardwoods completely devoid of their leaves. I like the image overall. I hope you will as well.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

An old sycamore tree in full fall color hangs over Big Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On my last fall trip to the Smokies, I decided to strike out for some locations that I don’t often visit. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is large compared to many of the US national parks. It isn’t the size of the Alaskan national parks or Yellowstone, but it still encompasses a considerable area. It is certainly one of the largest protected areas east of the Mississippi. If you read this blog often, you know that my favorite place to stay is on the southwest side of the park in Townsend. To get to the northern parts of the park such as Big Creek and Cataloochee takes a commitment to drive for a couple of hours each way.

On this trip, I had seen all of the areas in the southwest and I wanted to check out some of the more northern locations. So, after photographing the sunrise from Foothills Parkway, I headed north to check fall foliage conditions at Greenbrier, Cosby, Big Creek, and Cataloochee. Since there is only one road through the park, Newfound Gap Road, other access roads mostly follow streams a few miles into the park and end at trailheads and picnic areas. I decided to check out each of these to see how fall color was progressing in several different locations. What I found was a bit disappointing. There simply weren’t any brilliant displays of fall foliage. It seemed that my arrival in late October was past the peak for many areas of the park. Yet, at the lower elevations, it didn’t seem that the peak had yet arrived.

As I drove, I kept hoping to find a pocket of color along the way. And, I did. There is a relatively lightly traveled section of road that follows the northern border of the park. The road is Tennessee 32 and it runs from the Cosby area to Big Creek. The color there was pretty good and looked promising for the north side of the park. There are several mountain communities along the way and it is a wonderful piece of asphalt to drive on. That is, when there isn’t an oversized RV trying to negotiate the switchback turns in front of you and refuses to allow you to pass. But, I digress. After that hour or so long diversion I was able to move on toward Big Creek and Cataloochee.

I drove toward the camping area in Big Creek and parked in the picnic area nearby. From there I was able to traipse up and down Big Creek looking for some good color near the rushing stream. To be honest, I didn’t see the spectacular color that I had hoped for. But, as I moved further up the creek, I saw one tree that was at the peak of its color. I’m not sure exactly what type of tree it was, but I believe it was a sycamore. Most importantly, it was full of yellow leaves, hung out over the creek, and sat above a scenic part of Big Creek. The closer I got to the tree, the more compositions came into my head that I wanted to frame and try.

I spent a happy hour or so clambering over the rocks to set up my next series of shots. I tried closeups, wide-angle shots, focused on the stream only, included rocks in the foreground, left rocks out of the foreground, and any other composition I could think of. In the end, I liked this one the best. I still wasn’t able to capture all of the vibrancy of the late afternoon sunlight filtering through the yellow leaves of the tree, but this image comes closest to capturing the feel of that brilliant late fall afternoon.

I liked this shot so much that I included it a few weeks ago in my post about my twelve favorite images of 2012. I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed capturing it.