Skyline Drive Round 2 (2016)
So last week I went back to Skyline Drive just in time for peak foliage. This blog post won't be as long as last year's, because this time I only stayed for one night, but it was still an adventure all the same! And if you prefer watching as opposed to reading, then here is a vlog of my adventure:
So it began on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 1, 2016. I left my house around 3pm or so. I had wanted to leave a couple of days earlier, but I had a meeting to attend on the previous Sunday, and on Monday I had to stay to celebrate Halloween, and to announce the winner of my Cosplay Battle contest. I also meant to leave earlier in the day, but I got lazy.
Anyway, I got there right around 4:30pm or so and knew I wanted to catch the sunset on Little Stony Man cliffs. The parking for Little Stony Man was about 8 miles from where I entered the park (Thornton Gap entrance), so I got there as fast as the 35mph speed limit would allow me. This time around I knew carrying a ton of camping supplies wasn't necessary, and it wasn't as cold this year, so I got to travel much more lightly.
I got the the top of Little Stony Man just as the sun was setting. It was a bit overcast so I didn't actually get much sun action, but I got some decent photos nevertheless.
While I was at the top of the mountain I ended up getting a phone call (coincidental, because I didn't have cell service until I got to the top), where I was interviewed for a waiting position. Guy's gotta eat, right? After the phone call, I video called my mom so I could show her the view. A treat which she appreciated.
It started to rain, so I took a selfie, and started to head back down.
And this is where the adventures really begin...
The rain started really coming down (I'm glad my camera is weather sealed) as I started to head back down the mountain. I was trying to get down quickly before it got dark, and so I ended up slipping, and fell a couple of yards down the mountain. Thankfully, it was more of a slide than a face-planting fall. And AS I was falling, I noticed a bear walking by. I thought, "COOL."
It was a baby bear, but I had no desire to stick around for momma to come. I wasn't equipped properly to photograph bears (always carry bear mace), so I wanted to get out of there. It started to get dark, so I used my phone's flash as a flash light.
Things were going well until I realized.... I've been hiking down for way too long. It only took me about 20 minutes to get up there, and here I was having been walking for 30 minutes with the end nowhere in sight. I was hopeful, but it began to sink in that I was lost. At some point I think I had missed a turn and actually wrapped around to the other side of the mountain. And then my phone died.
So it was raining, it was dark, my phone was dead, there were bears walking around, and I was lost. This is where I began to pray. Lord, please get me out of here alive. I kept walking figuring I'd get somewhere eventually, and then I began to hear cars driving by above me. So somehow I had gotten below the road and on the opposite side. At this point, I was just desperate to get back to civilization and so I said screw it, used my tripod as a hiking pole, and scaled up the side of the mountain to get back to the road. It wasn't like a 90 degree hike, but it was pretty steep.
Finally, I got to the road and just chilled, recollecting my composure until a car came by. I waved him down and asked for directions. I freaked the guy out by standing out in the middle of the road, but it was my only option. Turns out I went about a mile past and below my car on the opposite side of the mountain. So I walked back up the road and finally got back to my car, and boy was I relieved. I got into my car and relaxed for a bit before licking my wounds - I scratched my hand up pretty bad in the fall.
After I was cleaned up, I drove to Skyland Resort, and (like last year) got a hot chocolate (and shared my story with the cashier) and relaxed in the lodge for a bit, editing photos. After awhile I got back to my car to find a spot to take star photos. I found an overlook which worked and took a couple.
The next day, I planned on getting up at dawn and taking photos at Big Meadows, because someone had recommended to me last year that Big Meadows is a good place to see the deer at dawn. So I wanted to find a place to crash for the night, close to Big Meadows. I drove around for a bit till I found a parking lot, and enjoyed a bruise inducing night of sleep in my car.
I got up around 6am to get ready for photos in Big Meadows. I got out there early while it was still dark and looked for good compositions. I didn't get anything to exciting until the sun started to actually rise, and then I got some decent ones.
After some landscape shots, I noticed some deer wandering around, and a couple of other photographers started showing up to photograph them as well. I met a photographer from New Zealand, names Graeme, who shared with me some advice on getting my photos published in the local papers, and he shared some stories with me about some of his experiences. He's had a photo published in National Geographic, and he's sold a couple for some big bucks! (pun intended). You can check out his work here: https://www.graemesimpsonimages.com/ He gave me some advice about shooting the deer and then we parted ways get photos. Here are a couple that I got. It was really cool to be that close to them (I was using my 50mm), though I did have to be careful around the bucks as their body language told me they weren't gonna take any crap.
I also met a photographer named Tyler who shared a few thoughts as well, and he got some really amazing shots that morning of the bucks. You can check him out here: http://tylerareber.photography/ He specializes in wildlife, so I certainly have a lot to learn from him.
Once the deer started to clear out, I went to Big Meadow lodge for a hearty breakfast, another tradition from the year before. After eating, I checked out the Big Meadow exhibit, and learned me some history about the area, and then got back to the road, looking for wildlife. After awhile, I took a nap at an overlook, before scouting around for good spots to photograph the sunset that day. I found a few roadside overlooks (with a recommendation from a ranger), before coming to parking for Bearfence Mountain. Now, by this point I had kinda had enough as far as mountains go, but it was about mid day so I figured it wouldn't be so easy to get lost again.
Now, Bearfence Mountain was freaking COOL. The hike itself was fun, with a lot of areas requiring climbing and rock scrambling. I am normally afraid of heights, but for some reason that's never been an issue for me in nature. Only skyscrapers, or flying. Anyway, I got to the peak and it was absolutely breathtaking. It felt like you could see the whole world from there. Here's a (almost) 360 degree panorama view from the peak.
I hung out up there for a little while before heading back down. I realized at that point that this is something I want everyone to see! It inspired me as a photographer, but I think it's also important to see these things outside of a viewfinder, or from a photograph. I encourage any and everyone reading this to travel as much as you can, and to see all you can. That's my reason for living; to take in and enjoy God's creation, and to thank him for it. So I called my buddy George and told him about the view, and that he had to come with me next year. It's fun traveling alone, because it's just you and nature, and if you want to talk to people, you're forced to approach strangers, and meet new people, but it's also nice to travel with someone so you have someone to share the adventure with.
I would have liked to take sunset photos up there, but I wasn't interested in having to hike down in darkness again, especially alone. Once I got down, I drove around a little longer, prepping for sunset photos. Finally, I found a decent spot at The Point Overlook, and waited for the sun to come down. And down, it came.
After that sunset, I decided to call it a day, and in fact, ended my trip. I had enough adventure in those two days to last me a little while.
I met some really cool people, learned to take better landscape photos, learned to appreciate getting up at the crack of dawn, and wildlife, and had an eye opening and exciting adventure.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this post, and I hope you'll stay tuned for other adventures!