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.