Mountain Ridge Sunset

I'll admit that my luck with spectacular sunsets seems to have run dry after my memorable sunset at Horseshoe Bend in December 2016. I have gone out in search of more sunsets than I care to remember since that incredible day, but nothing has come close to the wondrous pink and orange sky I saw that night.

A few weeks ago, we went to West Virginia, and again I searched for a sunset, though I didn't expect to rival the Horseshoe Bend experience. I have just been in such a long sunset drought that I was willing to take nearly anything! We hiked out to a rocky cliff that overlooks the mountain ridge and setup for the (hopeful) show. 

The sunset that night didn't come close to threatening the supremacy of Horseshoe Bend, but it had a characteristic that I found I loved. Instead of vibrant and exhilarating colors, this sunset was a soft glow that created a warm blue light throughout the mountain ridge. It was inviting...the sort of sunset that I could imagine watching from a rocking chair on the front porch of a country home. Looking out over this West Virginia landscape, I found myself humming the lyrics to the famous song "take me home, country roads, to the place, I call home....West Virginia."

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(Not) a Beautiful Photograph...

Look carefully at this photograph, because it is not beautiful.

I know of only two places in the United States where you can find rocks that are that brilliantly orange surrounded by pools of baby blue, turquoise, and teal water. One of them is Havasu Falls, which is part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon. The other is Douglas Falls outside the small town of Thomas, West Virginia. 

The vivid orange rocks and rainbow colored waters entice a swim.

Surely a landscape this beautiful carries some sort of mythical healing powers. Certainly this has to be one of the most tranquil places east of the Mississippi River?

There are few places on earth where these sorts of colors are "natural" -- I used a polarizing filter, some neutral density filters, and my Nikon D850 to capture the turquoise water and orange rocks.

Certainly not.

Douglas falls is beautiful, but for all the wrong reasons. 

Unlike Havasu Falls, where the beauty is natural, the beauty of Douglas Falls is not... the brilliant colors and tranquil scene are the result of pollution from coal mining. 

In the late 1890s, Thomas, West Virginia was home to the Davis Coal & Coke Company. In those days, there were over 500 beehive coke ovens burning in the town, which was setup entirely to support the mining operations. By the turn of the 20th century, the coal mines in the surrounding area produced over 4,000 tons of coal daily. The explosion of mining in Thomas was short-lived; by the outbreak of the first World War, advancements in refining methods meant that coke production in the beehive ovens had ceased, and by the 1950s, underground mining in the area ceased all together. The population of Thomas diminished, and the city today is a shell of it's former mining glory. 

Douglas Falls, as seen from the side. The rocks radiated a yellowish-orange that was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Old beehive coke ovens line the roadway leading to Douglas Falls. At one time, there were over 500 of these ovens polluting the surrounding habitats.

Old beehive coke ovens line the roadway leading to Douglas Falls. At one time, there were over 500 of these ovens polluting the surrounding habitats.

In just a few decades, the landscape was permanently altered. The harsh acid from the coke ovens has turned the rocks orange. A hundred years after much of the mining ceased, the waters of the river are still plagued by harsh acid. In the 1990s, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection established a reclamation effort to clean up exposed mining waste. The project created new drainage systems, restored destroyed wetlands, reseeded grasses, and re-countoured the hillsides around the river.  They hope this project will eventually return this habitat to it's natural state... but nearly thirty years after the cleanup project, the acids continue to wreck havoc on the landscape. 

The contrast of the brilliant orange with the turquoise blue and green waters was a spectacular sight to behold...for all the wrong reasons.

Some ferns grow out of the ground around the falls, where acids from the coal mining that occurred nearly a century ago has stained these rocks. Acids continue to leech into the landscape, despite a cleanup project in the 1990s.

As much as I love photographing beautiful scenes like this one, I would much prefer to photograph a landscape for it's natural beauty. While I love these photographs, there will always be a cringe associated with seeing them because I know their beauty came at a great cost.

Quick Shot: Harpers Ferry Train Tunnel

You've seen me post photos of the Harpers Ferry train tunnel that I've taken from the ground (both from above at the Maryland Heights overlook and below from the Harpers Ferry train station), but this is the first time I have photographed the tunnel from above!

To get this photograph, I used my DJI Phantom Vision 2+ quadcopter and hovered over the bridge - I was well above the bridge so as to not be in the way in case a train suddenly emerged! I really like this photograph because it offers a different perspective on something I've photographed so many times before.

The Harpers Ferry train tunnel, as seen from above via a DJI Phantom Vision 2+ quadcopter.

Video: Aerial Tour of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Finding places to fly around Washington, DC is rather challenging, due to a 30 mile "no fly zone" around downtown DC. This weekend I opted to travel well beyond the city limits to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to capture some aerial photos and videos of this historic and scenic town. Harpers Ferry sits at the intersection of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers come together. It has been a historically significant town, serving a key role in the civil war and still providing rail service up the east coast.

To capture these images, I used the DJI Phantom Vision 2 Plus. In total, it took three flights of about 20 minutes each to capture the footage seen here. Most of these photos and videos were taken from a height of about 100ft above the ground.

I was rather lucky to capture the train footage - on my second flight, near the train tunnel, I was preparing to land when I heard the rumble of a train approaching. I had just second to position the camera in front of the tunnel to capture the CSX train as it emerged! 

Join Kristen from Scenic Traverse Photography for a brief aerial photo and video tour of historic and scenic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia - where two rivers and three states come together!

The Best of 2013 Rewind: Bear Surprise

With 2013 coming to a close, it's time to dig back and revisit some of the best photos and experiences from this year. 

To kick off this rewind, let's go back to the end of June and let me tell you about the time I was surprised by a wild bear.

I have travelled extensively through "bear country" - whether in Alaska, Yellowstone, or the Grand Tetons, and have never had an encounter with a wild bear that was good enough to make a decent photograph. This has obviously frustrated me, but not to the point that bears had become a "quest" subject to photograph.

While exploring Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia, bears were the last thing on my mind. After all, this wasn't "bear country"!

I was driving through the park and came around a tight curve when I was SHOCKED to see a wild black bear sitting 10 feet off the road. Through what I can only assume was  divine intervention, I happened to have my camera in the passenger seat, which happened to be the same side of the car as the bear. Unfortunately, my divine intervention fell short in that I only had a mid-range zoom lens - not the one I'd ideally want to photograph the only bear I've ever had a decent shot of!

Despite being in total shock with my good fortunes to find this bear, I managed to pull the car to the side of the road, roll down the window, and leaned into the passenger seat, where I took a few shots before the bear decided he'd lost interest in me and scampered back into the woods. 

The entire encounter lasted only 10-15 seconds, and I probably could have gotten a better shot with a different lens, but at least I got a shot! 

Needless to say, I now carry the camera with the mega zoom lens in the passenger seat, but that must be a repellant because I've had no other vehicle encounters since!

It's not my best photograph from 2013, but it's certainly one of the more memorable ones. Stay tuned to see some other highlights from 2013.....

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Quick Shot: Blackwater Falls

Waterfalls have always been a favorite subject of mine, but there are only so many different falls within a reasonable drive of Washington, DC, which means I tend to revisit the same falls throughout the year and try to catch them in a new season or setting.

A few weeks ago, the colors of fall were very vibrant in DC, so I grabbed the camera and headed to a favorite spot in West Virginia - Blackwater Falls State Park. As chronicled in my previous blog, my arrival in West Virginia was greeted with snow.... all the fall leaves had given way to an early winter storm. 

I grabbed the camera and went out to Blackwater Falls, the main attraction for the park, which was very colorful due to a recent storm and late afternoon sun poking through the dark storm clouds. Thankfully a few pine trees added some extra color and masked the fact that all the leaves had already fallen! 

I've photographed this waterfall in many seasons and with many techniques (including infrared) but I think this is one of my favorite photos of the falls to date.... and it didn't even go as originally planned! Shot with the Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. 

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Quick Spooktography: Sinks

So you're probably wondering how a set of sinks could be "spooky", right? Well this photograph is (to me) more eerie than spooky...... 

Like yesterday's Spooktography post, this photo was taken at the Weston State Hospital - known now as the Trans-Alleghaney Lunatic Asylum.  

The main building at the Weston State Hospital, which was designed to house most of West Virginia's mentally insane (and in the early 19th century, other "undesirables") is called the Kirkbride building. The name refers back to psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride who believed a nice building layout with well manicured landscape could help treat the mentally ill. The building design was used at numerous mental institutions around the US during the 1800s.  

The Weston State Hospital had been open for over a century, so walking through the different buildings it was interesting to see how the architecture changed to fit the currently prevailing theory on treating mental illness. The Kirkbride building was amongst the oldest buildings on the hospital grounds and was probably the nicest as well. Most patients had private rooms built in a long corridor. Nurses had a station at each end of the hall and the decor and paint schemes in the rooms was soft and calming.  

Spaced throughout the patient rooms were group bathrooms, similar to a college dormitory. The bathrooms held a few showers, toilets, and pod of sinks. 

I remember taking this photograph for two reasons: 1)  the light from the windows made the room seem bright and welcoming, although it had clearly decayed from years of abandonment and 2) despite the dis-repair, I could still envision what it must be like to stand there as a patient and brush your teeth. 

So what makes this photo spooky? To me, it's the thought of what these sinks must have seen during their lifetime. How many patients of various conditions washed their hands here? How many patients looked into that mirror and cried for home? It gives me tingles down my spine to think about, which is why I am sharing it for today's Spooktography. 

Remember this Halloween that while it's fun to act like a crazed zombie for a night, there are people who spend every day struggling with mental illness. These posts are designed to be a little light-hearted to put you in the Halloween spirit, but deal with very real and personal issues and I have the utmost respect for giving historically accurate information, rather than telling a "ghost story."

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Quick Spooktography: Ward 8

With Halloween approaching, I've decided to temporarily suspend my normal "Quick Shot" posts in favor of a Spooktography theme. Today's spooky photograph is of a painting at the entrance to Ward 8 in the geriatrics unit of the abandoned Weston State Hospital.

The hospital, known now as the Trans-Alleghaney Lunatic Asylum, is located in Weston, West Virginia and closed in the 1990s after over 130 years of treatment for the mentally insane. The asylum now conducts tours for visitors year round.

In July 2012, I packed my camera for a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the asylum. While guests normally can explore the main hospital building and medical center, we were permitted access to places such as the woman's ward and geriatrics unit. These buildings were in terrible condition - leaking roofs had caused major mold problems and rotten drywall had formed a thick sludge on every surface. Despite the decay and dis-repair, I still had a chance to experience and imagine what it must have been like to be a patient at this hospital. 

The geriatrics ward was one of the eeriest buildings. Unlike the main building, which had individual rooms for patients, the patients here were kept in prison style barracks with hundreds of patients sharing a common quarters. The bathrooms were worse - toilets were not separated from each other and there was no illusion of privacy. 

The geriatrics ward caused me to think back to the 19th century cruise liners that categorized guests based on a class system; without any privacy the geriatrics patients seemed to be 3rd class when compared to the higher functioning patients with private rooms in the Kirkbride building. Part of me ached for these patients; the mentally ill deserve to be treated with the same dignity as any other human. 

I took very few photos in this ward because of the chills it gave me. The one thing that really caught my attention was this painting welcoming you to Ward 8. I couldn't decide if the nurses and doctors painted this to add a warm and soft touch to an otherwise dreary and depressing environment, or if the painting was actually designed to mock the patients with it's irony. Nothing about Ward 8 was inviting.... and the rabbit wasn't making it any more so.

I'm posting this photo for the Spooktography because of the chills and eery feeling I had while standing in that ward. Even remembering standing there as I write this blog post has given me goosebumps. As a result, this is probably high on the list of the most moving photos I've taken to date.

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