Virginia’s Northern Neck

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).

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.

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.”


Steaming Through 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).

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.

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.

Chasing the Light

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.

One of those moments where you just have to stop the car and take a picture.  Late day post storm light pierces through the canopy in the George Washington National Forest
One of those moments where you just have to stop the car and take a picture. Late day post storm light pierces through the canopy in the George Washington National Forest

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.

A Damp Morning in Shenandoah

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.

Happy Memorial Day!


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!

Virginia is for [landscape] photographers

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?

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 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.

April showers bring….April flowers!

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.”

Bluebells at sunset in Bull Run Regional Park
Bluebells at sunset in Bull Run Regional Park

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.

Thanks for looking!



One of my wife's favorite pastimes while on photography outings is to grab the camera from me and take shots of me.
One of my wife’s favorite pastimes while on photography outings is to grab the camera from me and take shots of me.