Monday, December 17, 2012

Top Shots for 2012

This post is dedicated to my "Best of 2012" photos.  I've had my digital SLR camera for one year now, and while still an amateur, I have come a long way on the learning curve.  Also, I feel my passion makes up for the limited experience.  Capturing beautiful things in photographs has opened my eyes to all kinds of new opportunities, plus it continuously encourages me to see more and more places.  Who knew this 'hobby' would be so addictive!

As a new photographer, I quickly learned that it's not always easy to put my work up for others to see.  There are times when I worry if my work is good enough, but the only way to know is to put myself out there and try.  So this is it - my best attempt at a new hobby that I have fallen in love with.

Constructive feedback is welcome, and it's my hope that you enjoy this collection of my favorite 2012 photos!

Thanks to Jim M. Goldstein (Landscape, Nature, and Travel Photographer) for collectively hosting a "Best Of" edition of random photographers on his blog. 

Lorain, Ohio Lighthouse at sunset

"Spring" - Asheville, NC

Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina

Blue Heron in flight

Fall Color Sunrise - Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina

Sun shine in the rain forest - Second Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Sunset sailing - Lake Quinault, WA

Angry Bird - Balsam Mountain Nature Preserve near Waynesville, NC

Harris' Hawk - Balsam Mountain Nature Preserve near Waynesville, NC

Breakfast - East Coast Sunrise - Myrtle Beach, SC

Appalachian Sunset

This shot is special because it's the one that convinced me that I needed a 300mm lens.

Tunnel sunrise - Blue Ridge Parkway at Craggy Gardens near Asheville, NC

Reciprocating Love - love the tenderness of this photo

Swallow sunset - Lake Erie - Huron, Ohio

Wide Angle playtime - Pawley's Island, SC

First Light of Appalachia taken at Max Patch Knob near Asheville, NC

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Day of Firsts: Max Patch

A Day of Firsts:

After living near Asheville, North Carolina for 20 years, I've heard many people speak about "Max Patch", but I had never been.   Here's the story about my first visit.

Max Patch is a knob (a.k.a mountain bald) that borders North Carolina and Tennessee. It is a major landmark along the Tennessee/North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail, although its summit is located in North Carolina. This 4,600-foot mountain was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. It is known for its 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains (thank you Wikipedia).

It seemed that each time I planned to go to Max Patch, bad weather always fouled up the plans.  Reaching Max Patch requires driving several miles on a narrow, gravel, Forest Service Road only after crossing two mountains - no matter which direction you take to get there. 

So, after several foiled attempts, I finally found myself in the small parking lot with my friend Ally, ready for the ascent, in the dark, prior to sunrise.  We encountered fog on the way out of Asheville, but we were hopeful that the 360 degree view would be above the fog.  (Nothing worse than fog after a 4:30 am wake-up AND a 1.5 hour drive for a sunrise photo shoot...aah..the joys of photography!)

From the parking area, there are two ways to the top 1.) a winding path to the left (1.5 miles), or the path straight up (.5 miles.)  Since early light would be starting soon, we decided to attack the mountain straight on.  Ugh.

Headlamp on and camera gear strapped to my back we headed straight up the mountain.  "Sometimes" when I hike I get so excited to get out on the trail that I usually forget something. :)  At least I can admit it.  So the thing I forgot in the car this time was water.  We had already hiked long enough to need a break and I was NOT going back down to the car to get water.  This is what the trail looked like (the photo was taken in daylight, but we were hiking it at dark. The trail looks like it goes to the left side of the photo, but it's really just going down the mountain.) 

When I tell you the trail was straight up, believe me - it was straight up.  The path itself was a dirt worn place in the tall grass.  No rocks, no stumps - so it was basically easy climbing so long as your lungs don't explode.  Did I mention that I forgot to grab water?  Ha.  (I wonder how I find my own shadow

First light was coming faster than I was able to climb.  I was determined to make it for sunrise and tried to stop as few times as I could.  I told Ally to go on without me (sounds dramatic doesn't it?)  But, she went at my pace so we could stay together.  At last, we reached the bald.  There were several tents, and a few people hanging out.  We quietly found a place for our tripods and began snapping away. 

Max Patch at first light.
The sun finally showed itself after a few minutes.  Soon thereafter, dark clouds began rolling up from behind us and were moving towards the sun.  Most of the Appalachian Trail hikers that had spent the night on top of the bald had packed up and headed off.  Soon, it was just me, Ally, and two other hikers. 

We kept photographing, roaming around the bald a bit, trying to capture the sunrise, the fall follage, the mountains, etc.  Then it happened...I felt raindrops.  Most photopgraphers will tell you they don't like shooting in the rain, and neither do I really.  Except for the fact that rainstorms usually produce some dramatic photographs.  But being the tallest thing on a mountaintop in a storm is not an ideal situation.  Thankfully, there was no thunder or lightning.

That's when I heard Ally yell my name from behind.  I turned around to see what she wanted me to see.  When I looked up, I saw one of the most magnificant views - ever.  There was a full rainbow stretched out over the knob, and the sunrise was giving just enough light that the whole mountain top glowed.  Wow..what a gift first thing in the morning!

It was an amazing experience!  The rain was just off the mountain, so we weren't getting wet.  If I had to give an estimated duration of the rainbow that morning, I'd say it lasted at least 20 minutes.
Photo of Ally photographing the rainbow.

So - had I made it to Max Patch on some other given day - I would probably not have been so eager to get up at 4:30 am and hike up a mountain in the dark.  And...I would have missed the Max Patch Rainbow.

I honestly believe that the best photopgrahers are people who are in the right place at the right time and know how to capture a great shot.

There were MANY "firsts" today:  my first time at Max Patch, first time on the Appalachian Trail, Ally's first time seeing a fox, first time seeing about 10 chipmunks in one day, Ally's first time up Doggett Mountain - it seems like there were other firsts today, but that will suffice for now. :) 

Here are some other shots from that morning.
Panoramic Fun:  Thru-Hikers, the rainbow, the fall follage on the mountains, the storm clouds, and Ally.  :)
Sunrise layers (Rules of Thirds)
Sunrise w/ clouds and mountains - Max Patch Bald
The White blaze is the Appalachian Trail markers.
Fall shrubery glowing at sunrise - this is where I saw scat (bear maybe?)

 If you're in the area, I highly recommend visiting Max Patch (remember to bring your good lungs.)  I would only make the trip if the weather is crystal clear as rain, fog, low clouds, dust, etc. can hamper the view dramatically. 

I don't really want to end this entry on a sad note, but one reason I've always wanted to get to Max Patch was due to a story about a girl being struck by lightning up there.  So, with disclaimer is that I wouldn't hike up in any weather situation, especially a thunderstorm.   This story has stuck with me ever since reading it in 2010.  I'm a sensitive being, so it only takes a little to make a big impact.  I'll share it here:

They say these mountains can change you way down deep in your soul....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Seattle to NC - Day 15

Saturday, September 15, 2012:   This was my travel day back to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.  I cried the whole way to the airport because I didn't want to leave the Olympic Peninsula. I think I also had some tears of relief mixed in.  Relief that I didn't have any issues or experience any crises while so far away from home.  Relief also knowing that I was on my way home.  Sometimes, there's nothing better than that feeling.

All in all, I'm excited to say that the Alaskan cruise, Seattle, and the Olympic Peninsula was an awesome vacation for me.  I have no regrets for traveling alone, and wouldn't hesitate to do another trip.  I'm so glad I did it!

It also makes me wonder what else I can do. <smile>


“Strength comes from struggle. When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities to become stronger, better, wiser, then your thinking shifts from "I can't do this" to "I must do this.”
Toni Sorenson

Olympic Peninsula - Day 14

Friday, September 14, 2012:   Waking up to the sad reality that today is my last day in the Olympic Peninsula.

It was a foggy morning overlooking Lake Quinault.  I could hear elk bugling, but couldn't see them for the fog.  Later in the day, I learned that a small herd was across the street behind the campground.  Not a big deal, I thought, because we have elk in North Carolina too.

I took an early morning stroll around the lake.  As far as photography goes, the fog added mystic to the photos and I didn't mind it a bit. 

There were a couple hiking trails close to the hotel.  One trail led to the 'Worlds Oldest Spruce Tree' which is a Sitka Spruce estimated to be 1,000 years old.  It had sap running out of it which glistened in the morning sun.  It looked like liquid gold running out.  Pretty cool.  I'm at the bottom of the photo, but I kind of blend in.

Before leaving home, I had mapped out the area around Lake Quinault.  There were tons of hiking trails, but since it was pretty remote, I decided it probably wasn't the smartest activity for this solo female traveler.  I opted for a 30 mile loop around the entire lake via gravel forest service roads.  Probably not the best option either, but at least I had my locked car doors for protection..right?  (I can see my dad shaking his head as he reads this.  Love you, Pops!) 

The decision to loop the lake worked out fine.  I saw two waterfalls which required little to no hiking.  They didn't have the water flow I'm used to here in NC, but they were still pretty.  My photo doesn't show it though.

The backside of the lake had snow measurement poles - measured in feet...eek. 

There was also some kind of river/land conservation at stake as I kept seeing signs to 'say No to Wild Olympics'.  The locals claim the government is trying to 'land grab' and they are ticked.  You can read about it here if you are so inclined:  (this is the locals point of view which I tend to favor over government..just sayin.)

So back to my peaceful drive around the lake...

I didn't spot any wildlife other than a large blue bird which turns out thanks to my friend Karan, is a Stellar Jay (in the blue jay family, but larger.)  I saw a pile of scat in the road which I presume was elk or moose, but I never saw either animal.

Today was pretty low key, but I thoroughly enjoyed being in the woods.

After finishing the loop, I headed back to Seattle (the traffic around the Army Base was ridiculous!)  I dropped my luggage at the hotel and returned the rental car.  It was a sad day because I wasn't ready to go home. 

Here are some random pics from the Lake Quinault area.


Olympic Peninsula - Day 13

Thursday, September 13, 2012:  Waking up in La Push, WA was the highlight of my trip.  I didn't know how I was going to top the previous day, but I knew I was going to try.

I headed out to the beach at first light.  First thing I saw was campers on the beach with fires going.  How awesome it would be to sleep out there?  (Already planning the next trip!)  There were only a few people out, and all were really friendly.  I talked to a native there who laughed when he heard where I lived because his people come to the Smoky Mountains (Cherokee) for vacation.  He was very familiar with North Carolina.

It wasn't long before people began gathering on top of the break wall.  Of course I had to climb up to see what they were looking at.  The sun had risen giving a bluish hue to the Quileute harbor.  It was beautiful.  There were tons of seagulls floating in the water.  I love the different textures in the photo on the left.  In addition to the birds, there were men setting out crab nets and others were floating by on shrimp boats.  I could see a cave on one of the sea stacks although I don't know how anyone could get to it to explore due to the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against it.  There were several points of intrigue in La Push - all to be explored another time.

I hated to leave this beautiful area, but the Hoh Rainforest was calling my name.  I traveled through an area called Forks.  It was made famous in the vampire book, Twilight (apparently speaking since I haven't read these books.)  They had an 'Edward' tour, but I didn't get into any of that.  If you're into Twilight, perhaps you should consider a visit.  All I know is that I couldn't find the post office there.

At the Hoh Rainforest, I hiked the Trail of Mosses.  It was another old growth forest that covered multiple eco systems.  This trail was crowded enough that I didn't have to worry about being alone in the woods.  The size of the trees was hard to put into perspective in photos.  Hindsight - I should have taken some panoramas.
Also, it was difficult to capture through photos the layers upon layers of moss in the rainforest.  It was impressive while in the woods, but sadly my photography didn't capture the essence of mother nature's rainforest.

One neat view I captured was the cris-crossing of two downed Sitka Spruce trees.  The photo gives some sort of perspective as the trees formed a bridge over the trail.  They were high enough that no one really had to duck under.

Here are a few other shots that I liked from the area around the Hoh Rainforest.

On my way out of the Hoh, I saw a Blue Heron.  We have them in North Carolina so I wasn't too excited.  The bird struck a 'yoga' pose and stayed there for at least 10 minutes.  I gave up watching him!  He was likely trying to dry his wings or something  that makes sense.  Either way it was entertaining.

Another interesting thing I saw was people camping on a river bed in the middle of the forest. It was partially a dry bed, but still - is that safe?  What if it rains? I mean it WAS in the RAINforest. 

Leaving the Hoh behind, I headed to my next overnight location - Lake Quinault in the Quinault Rainforest.  Along the way, I passed through a coastal region.  With the two-lane highway running along side the Pacific Ocean, I was amazed that it was still a pristine coastline.  No hotels, no restaurants, no bathrooms...nothing.  It was beautiful, and quite a difference from Myrtle Beach and the SC coast.  I stopped at a beach along the way and saw where someone had stacked up rocks into cairns.  It was pretty cool!

Moving on down the road, I finally reached the Lake Quinault area.  More importantly, it was sunset!  I arrived at the hotel just in time to capture these amazing photos!

I had dinner at the Salmon House across the street from the Rainforest Hotel.  The dinner was fabulous and I highly recommend the salmon with fresh dill sauce!  The hotel was very 'dated' (complete with wood paneling and gold shag carpet), but it was really big, had 2 balconies overlooking the lake, and it had a very comfortable bed.  Not as luxurious as the hotel in La Push, but it was clean and the location met my needs.

It was another day that I fell into bed exhausted.  Ahh..bliss.

More miscellaneous photos below: