It’s a place that had always intrigued me, but until recently I had never been to. The reason was simple, it’s a peninsula that isn’t on the way to anywhere else. Which in reality is a good thing, allowing the area to develop a character all it’s own…far from the hustle and bustle of the nearby I-95 corridor/megalopolis. Here, small towns and sleepy waterways reign supreme, adding to the area’s relaxing atmosphere. Driving through Reedville, we passed by an oyster and shrimp feast at the local fire hall. We would’ve stopped had we not just filled up at the Northern Neck Burger Company (seriously some of the best burgers that we’ve had anywhere).
Bald eagles can be easily seen along major highways
Loblolly Pines here are at the extreme northern end of their range
The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay
The “Horsehead Cliffs” at Westmoreland State Park
A Tupelo tree glows brighly in fall colors
Working on my upcoming book, one of the primary things that brought me to the area were the natural sights along the Potomac. Our first visit was on a gorgeous fall day to the beautiful cliffs at Westmoreland State Park, where it is possible (and encouraged!) to find ancient fossils such as sharks teeth. In addition to beautiful scenery, the neck has an incredible bald eagle population. I was able to see and photograph numerous eagles just by driving down major highways. Outside of Alaska, this was the largest amount of bald eagles that I’ve seen.
Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee
Historic episcopal church
Birthplace of president James Monroe
An abandoned lodge of the Order of Odd Fellows
The area’s former jail
Reedville – one of Virginia’s most important fishing ports
Historic mill at Stratford Hall
Despite the area being “off the beaten path” of today’s travels, it wasn’t always that way. The Potomac was once a major shipping thoroughfare for goods grown on the Neck’s rich soils. The productive agriculture gave root to some of Virginia’s most famous families. In fact, George Washington, James Monroe, and Robert E. Lee were all born here. So significant is the area’s history that the New York Times wrote an article about it, titling it “Virginia’s Forgotten History.”
Growing up in a family that loves trains, I would often be dragged along to see various trains and locomotives at home and abroad. Fortunately for my dad/uncles, they didn’t have to do much dragging because I find the “iron horses” of old to be fascinating. It had been a while since I had seen a steam engine in action, so I was excited about the prospect of seeing one of the greatest (and last) steam locomotives ever built.
I set out on the morning of June 7th and picked up the 611 at The Plains, followed by Delaplane, Markham, and Front Royal (all made possible by the line’s close proximity to a 70mph interstate).
N&W 611 Steams out of The Plains
Under heavy steam, 611 climbs into the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Markham
While at one of the stops I had heard that it was possible to view the bridge over the Shenandoah that the train would use while turning around at the Wye (my previous research had shown that this was impossible due to it all being private land/active rock quarry/NS land surrounding the bridge). So, I decided to take my chances and head straight down there…
My research was correct, I arrived at a private campground, and immediately tried to find the owner to ask permission (he wasn’t around). But, in the meantime I met a few friendly campers who were also interested in trying to see a “steam locomotive” cross the bridge. We were climbing around the banks of the S. Fork of the Shenandoah River and attracted the attention of a curious fisherman, who navigated his boat over to the shore to strike up a conversation. Not long afterwards, came “I can take you out to see the bridge, I’d like to see the train myself.” And the rest is history…aside from 2 other fishing boats, we were the only ones out there.
611 Crosses the Shenandoah River at the confluence of the North & South Forks of the River
The onlybridge crossing of the journey, the engine had to back across this bridge and then pull forwarward in order to turn the train around
On the way back, I was able to pick up the 611 at two stops: historic Rectortown (the former train depot was used as a prison for POWs during the civil war) and sharply contrasting Gainesville, which is more of just a large modern freeway interchange these days.
I am constantly trying to improve on my methods. As I do so, I find myself trying to find the best and most interesting lighting conditions.
Proper lighting has been a key component of my photographs for as long as I’ve owned a camera. However, it’s become even more important as my skills have evolved. Our summer has been off to a stormy start in the Mid-Atlantic, so unique lighting conditions have been easy to find. Below is a compilation of some of my work over the past couple of weeks.
The sun pokes through the clouds on my way out to a shoot
Great Falls of the Potomac
The early morning sun pierces through Great Falls Park
First Landign State Park, Virginia Beach. The sun’s early rays illuminate the marsh surrounding White Hill Lake.
The sun’s early rays illuminate White Hill Lake in First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach.
Spanish Moss Glow. First Landing State Park is one of the few places in Virginia that Spanish moss naturally grows
Not only is spanish moss rare in Viriginia, it is also at the extreme northern edge of its range here.
Maple leaf in First Landing State Park. I find the caostal swamps of Virginia to be interesting, being at the extreme edge of many plants’ natrural ranges, you get a large amount of biodiversity.
I caught this little guy climbing a road in the George Washington Naitonal Forest. It is currently turtle nesting season, so these guys are all over the place.
A low-canopy forest is illuminated in the last rays of the day.
North Fork Mountain Trail
Catching the last lighting here, a distant storm over Elkins, WV created cloud cover that obscured most of the sunset. Tibbett Knob is a spectacular rock outcropping along the VA/WV state line in the GW National Forest.
Clouds clear after a late day storm over North Fork Mountain on the Virginia/West Virginia state line in the George Washington National Forest
I had originally been planning a hike to one of the top sights in the George Washington National Forest to take sunrise pictures. So, when the weather forecast began to call for clouds, I began to make alternative plans. I awoke on Sunday morning and made a quick check of current satellite observations of cloud cover, they confirmed the weather forecasts: 100% cloud cover = no sunrise. I almost went back to bed, but decided to get out anyways and head up to Shenandoah National Park. As much as photographers love early morning lighting, cloudy days are also nice due to their “even” lighting. I arrived at the top of the mountains, greeted with off and on drizzle, which helped ensure that I was the only one out that early. Most notably, there were low hanging wispy clouds in the valley, which always makes for interesting photography. It was a great morning: hiking to mountain tops, waterfalls, and fern forests. Yet another instance that I was glad I got out of bed at 3:00.
Spring green cloaks the slopes of Stony Man on a misty May morning,
Shenandoah National Park
What was once a spectacular “old growth” Eastern Hemlock forest, the Limberlost area has fallen victim to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA). HWA has ravished most of these beautiful forests…if you know of a still-standing Hemlock forest, visit it soon
While not as beautiful as the once mighty Hemlocks, beauty can still be found in new growth.
Falls in White oak Canyon
A millipede poses for me
A forest of ferns grows at one of the higher areas of the park.
It has been a while since my last blog post, and given the theme of the weekend, I thought that I’d use the time post some pics of the VE day celebrations in Washington from earlier this month. Because after all, it’s only because of the sacrifice of so many brave men that I am able to enjoy such a relaxing weekend with family and friends!
WWII Reinacters at the National Air & Space Museum
Honor flight participants enjoy a show at the National Air & Space Museum.
Anyone who has driven through the Shenandoah Valley within 2 hours of sunset knows how phenomenal this area can be for photography. I’ve always thought how much I’d love to have a place in the central Shenandoah Valley and drive around to photograph old farms and the surrounding hillsides. Over the next year, I plan on highlighting the varied terrain and flora of the Commonwealth. It truly is a four season state, each season bringing it’s own unique beauty. I consider ourselves extremely fortunate to live in such a beautiful area. Within 15 minutes of driving/walking from my house, I can be at some truly beautiful (and unique) places. For the moment we’ll stick to the 3 sets of pictures taken over the last 2 weekends. The first set is of the upper Shenandoah Valley taken at sunset from the Appalachian Trail at the top of Blue Ridge. Which, for reference is a 45 minute drive from my house in suburban metro Washington. How cool is that?
A fellow photographer at Bear Rocks on the Appalachain Trail
Speaking of suburban metro Washington, we live in the planned community of Reston, which is famous for its green space. That and it truly is a great community to live in (I personally love all of the running trails).
The state tree; now all I need is acardinal perched on that branch…
The 3rd set is of the northern portion of the George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park. I love the contrast of the agricultural land next to preserved federal lands.
A hanglider sails above the Norht Fork of the Shenandoah after liftoff from the George Washington National Forest
Michelle climbing the Woodstock Fire Tower on top of Massanutten Mountain in the George Washington NF
A full moon rises above the Shenandoahs cloaked in the colors of early spring
My camera got hijacked again…
Bench out in front of the Dickey Ridge Visitor’s Center in Shenandoah National Park
The sun sets over Massanutten Mountain & the South Fork of the Shenandoah River
Growing up in the South, I have always been intrigued by this old adage, since all of our flowers always came up well in advance of May. Even further North in the Mid Atlantic (after an extremely long and cold Winter), most of our flowers will be out well before May. It seems as if the adage was either coined by someone : A. living in Saskatchewan B. living at an elevation greater than 5000′ or C. living in the “Little Ice Age.”
I’ve been telling people for months now how excited I was about Spring, if nothing else, just to see colors other than taupe, blue, and white (even thought I deeply love winter). Well, Spring has finally sprung in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s been nothing short of spectacular. So much so, that I think that my wife’s patience with my photography has been wearing thin, due to the fact that I’ve been devoting so much time to it. But hey, the Cherry Blossoms and the Bluebells only come for 2 short weeks a year.
These first set of images are from a spectacular storm that arrived late one evening, right before sunset. The results were some really interesting lighting conditions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leave the neighborhood to set up shots, due to the fact that I had a large pan of Moussaka (which was mighty tasty, I might add) baking in the oven. Despite the lack of a “super interesting” venue, I really liked the results with the lighting.
This next set of images are of the Virginia Bluebells. If you’ve never seen these beauties, and are in the Mid Atlantic in mid April, make it a point to go see these. They grow in large patches in wooded river bottoms (flat places along Bull Run, the Potomac, and I’ve even photographed them along Rock Creek in the District). Where they occur, there are literally acres of these tiny blue little gems. Thomas Jefferson liked them so much that he had several planted in his garden. There’s nothing that compares to a stroll in the warm spring air along a flat trail surrounded by millions of these little guys. The below images of bluebells are from both River Bend Park in Great Falls & Bull Run Regional Park near Manassas.
The final set of images isn’t exactly springy, but of some interesting places that I shot while out in Manassas to shoot pics of the bluebells.
Henry House. Decided to try my hand at making this image look as old as possible. Seems kinda ironic to take a raw 36 megapixel digital image and make it look as old and grainy as possible!
It was almost 150 years to the day since the end of the civil war when we visited Manassas Battlefield. I couldn’t helpbut reflect on the men who gave their lives on this site for their cause.
I’ve always been fascinated by mining activities. So, when I saw this rock quarry along US29, I couldn’t resist the chance to shoot it. I also liked the angles of all the converyor belts.
I always find the peace ofbattlefields to be so ironic.