A Frigid Day in the Forest

Those who know me well, know how much I love 2 things: cold weather and forests.  Therefore its natural that I take an annual trip deep into the woods on one of the coldest days of the year.  While not as cold as the previous year’s -10 F venture into the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, this year’s venture did not disappoint.

In fact, I’d say that this year’s venture was better because: A. my wife could tag along and B. my photography has improved immensely over the past year.  Our venue this time was to the Pedlar District of the George Washington National Forest, also known as the mountains to the Southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia.  In addition to being the home to Thomas Jefferson, UVA, Dave Matthews Band, many great breweries, the area boasts some truly exceptional scenery.

Entrance to the parking lot
Entrance to the parking lot, featuring the classic US Forest Service sign.

For the first segment of our trip, we chose to visit Crabtree Falls, which boasts (by local tourism agencies) “the tallest waterfall” East of the Mississippi.  I’m somewhat skeptical, because while the net drop in elevation may be greater than any other series of cascades, the waterfalls is just that a series of cascades (multiple waterfall).  That out of the way, the waterfall is truly spectacular and no visit to the area would be complete without gazing up at it.  Or in this case, climbing to the top of the primary series of cascades.

Mound of Ice
Looking up at the main set of cascades

We arrived in the parking lot to a temperature of 24 F, after a week of sub freezing temps.  The result: (mostly) frozen really tall waterfall!  This is truly a place that should be visited in all 4 seasons.  And next to autumn, I’d say seeing the waterfall frozen up in winter is a close second.  Climbing the trail, zig zagging up the mountain through switchbacks we climbed the icy trail, seeing numerous unique and differing vistas of the cascades.  Finally arriving at the top, we were greeted by a beautiful vista down the “ice chute” and a view of the still rushing stream up above.

Frozen water wasn’t contained to the waterfall
The stream above the main set of cascades

          Stepping carefully

Stream running underneath the bridge on the entrance road to the parking area
Stream running underneath the bridge on the entrance road to the parking lot

For our next adventure of the day, we drove back up twisty Virginia 56 to its intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway at 3000′.  We hopped on the parkway and drove almost to its end, to the trail-head for Humpback Rocks.

While not as rugged as a Western state, Virginia is graced with numerous rugged mountaintop rock outcroppings.  Some of them are downright impressive, and this is one of the better ones…or at least one of the most popular.  Proximity to a large college town and good road access also help.

Catching the last glints of light
Glowing Rock
Glowing Rock

Despite having good roads to the base…they still make you climb a little…I actually broke a sweat, despite taking off my fleece and it being 21 deg. outside.  We arrived just at the right time, the rock was fully engulfed in the glow of the quickly setting sun.  Every minute, the rock became more saturated with more and more of the sun’s brilliant rays…and it felt like none of them were doing anything to warm my now cold body.  The one thing that I don’t like about hiking in the winter: you have to be very careful to manage your body’s temperature and not sweat so much that you soak your clothes…fortunately I’ve learned how to control this, but it’s still cold!

Back to talking about the photography, we weren’t alone on the rock.  In fact there was another photographer and a group of college students from VCU in Richmond.  In the past, I would’ve been completely annoyed with other people scampering about the rock, ruining my “perfect” shot of an isolated wild mountain peak.  But, people make great subjects, especially when they’re enjoying the very place that you came to capture…I was actually quite glad that they were there.

Taking it in

A fellow photographer catches the last glints of light on the horizon

The sun quickly faded, but not before putting on a spectacular show in the crystal clear winter air.  Day quickly turned to night, quickly becoming a dark starry night, what the German’s call: Still Nacht.  I packed up my equipment and rushed down (My wife already back at the car), because after all we had dinner and local brews to get to at our favorite pizzeria.


-From the parking lot before heading off.
-From the parking lot before heading off.

Gute nacht!

Why I Love PA

A state that has contributed so much to the nation, there is much to see in this state that is well off the beaten path.  Here are the reasons that I like it so much:

1.  Beautiful Landscapes:


2.  A “keystone” of American history:

Sunset near Little Roundtop at Gettysburg.
Sunset near Little Roundtop at Gettysburg.

3.  Plenty of wildlife:

Bull elk in Elk State Forest

4.  Cold winters:

January sunrise over the Susquehanna at Holtwood Dam
January sunrise over the Susquehanna at Holtwood Dam

5.  Unexpected surprises:

Entrance to a partially completed rail tunnel in Tuscarora State Forest

6.  Beautiful forests:

Unfortunately the state’s tree (the Eastern Hemlock) is currently being killed in mass numbers due to the hemlock wooly adelgid, which is the case up and down the East Coast. See these beautiful forests while you can!

7.  A refusal to let go of traditions:


8.  Railroads – pictured here are the railroad shops of the East Broad Top Railroad in Oribsonia




9.  “Gritty” places


10. They have a historical marker dedicated to one of the worst industrial accidents in the nation’s history:




Great But Not Dismal


The morning after Christmas: I had the day off and I should’ve been catching up on my sleep. Instead, I set a goal of going to the center of the Great Dismal Swamp to capture the sunrise over one of Virginia’s 2 natural lakes: Lake Drummond.
For those who have never been to been to Lake Drummond, getting there isn’t an easy task. It involves either a boat ride or an hour drive from major cities followed by a 6 mile drive down a gravel road. To make matters worse, there is a gate on the road that doesn’t open until after 7:30, which is well after sunrise. That was ok, because it was just another challenge to getting the perfect shot.

I arrived at the gate at around 5:00, set up my bike and immediately began riding through the cold December air. There was much fog coming off the swamp, decreasing visibility. After about 10 minutes of solid riding, my light caught two pairs of eyes in my path, about the height of a female bear and a cub. I immediately stopped the bike…they didn’t move. I let out a loud yell, the eyes turned away, and SPLASH, as they dove into the water in the swamp below.


The rest of the ride was uneventful…but eery being in the middle of a large empty wilderness. I arrived at the lake, just in time to catch the last of the stars twinkling in the inky black sky. Everything was calm and quiet, owls were calling in the distance. The first glimpses of light began to emerge over the mirror-glass still water, blue at first, then red, then yellow. Eventually, the sun’s rays poked above the horizon, shining through the branches of a bald cypress growing in the lake.

It was a memory that I will always cherish.



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I’m Tom, an avid photographer with a love of the outdoors. As of early 2015, I’m pulling together my portfolio on this little corner of the Internet and figuring out what works best. For now, please enjoy the blog posts and portfolio published here.