Durbin Rocket Train Ride in West Virginia

Thursday, October 7, 2021

I am on a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring some of the prettiest places in West Virginia. We were scheduled to take the Durbin Rocket Train ride at 10:00. That gave us just enough time for a shoot of Blackwater Falls from below. It is a beautiful waterfall. It’s fun to look over Mark’s shoulder as he composes, adjusts his exposure, positions himself, shoots and then to see the final result in the camera. It’s also fun to have him look at my pictures and point out what I might have changed. Why did I choose that F-stop. Why that speed? Could you have composed differently to save time in processing?

We arrived at the train station 30 minutes early, as planned and discussed settings for this moving environment. We could have taken the Cass Train ride, which is a 4-hour trip, but opted to try the Durbin, which is only two hours following the Greenbrier River. A vintage steam engine pulled four cars along the river. It picked up two caboose cars that were left on the tracks. A nice family had stayed there for two nights and said it was very comfortable, with plenty of room, and they really enjoyed it. The train also stopped briefly to load water for steam from a tributary stream.

Although not peak fall colors, there was plenty of color, interesting houses, farms, barns, apple trees and a beautiful river. the train went backward during the first half and forward on the way back. It was more pleasant on the first half, as the smell of diesel fuel got to us on the return.

He had more stories than a library has books

Heading down the road, we went to Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. Then on to Lewisburg. Of course we couldn’t resist shooting some pretty places along the way.

We thought we would shoot Droop Mountain Battlefield Tower at sunset, but it was all fogged in. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Lewisburg, then went to dinner at “Food and Friends” in downtown Lewisburg. It was excellent – great food, great service at a reasonable price, and we sat at a table next to a window so we could watch all the people passing by.

from: https://greenbrierwv.com/places/29/food-friends

Elakala Falls in Blackwater Falls State Park

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Someone told us to go to Elakala Falls, so we did. It’s a short, but treacherous, slippery walk down to the pretty falls. Another photography workshop was scattered all over the rocks, their mentor moving around to help each.

The Elakala Falls are a series of four waterfalls of Shays Run[2] as it descends into the Blackwater Canyon in West Virginia. They are within Blackwater Falls State Park[3] and are quite popular among photographers, with the ease of access for the first waterfall, and the relatively low traffic of the other waterfalls in the series.[4]: 219  The first of the series of waterfalls is 35 feet (11 m) in height and is easily accessible from park trails. It is the second most popular waterfall in the park.[1] From the official Elakala trail there is a bridge over the top of the first waterfall offering easy access and views.[4]: 219  The remaining three waterfalls of the series are progressively more difficult to access, and have no official marked trails to them.[1] The gorge is nearly 200 feet deep at this section accounting for the difficulty of the descent to the lower waterfalls of the series. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elakala_Falls.

Bear Rocks Preserve in The Dolly Sods Wilderness

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

45 minutes from Blackwater Falls State Park, driving through Canaan Valley, is the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. I am on a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) exploring West Virginia. The weather has been for rain the entire week, so I guess we were lucky to be confronted by heavy fog. By the time we got to the gravel road leading up the east side of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, we could barely see 10 feet in front of us. We crept up the narrow road hoping no one was coming down in the dark. Our goal was to catch the sunrise from the top of Bear Rocks, but that was not to be. Finally at the top, we pulled into a parking lot that was filled. I think most were photographers like us, but there were also hikers and probably others who just wanted to see the area.

“Dolly Sods is a rocky, high-altitude plateau with sweeping vistas and lifeforms normally found much farther north in Canada. To the north, the distinctive landscape of “the Sods” is characterized by stunted (“flagged”) treeswind-carved bouldersheath barrens, grassy meadows created in the last century by logging and fires, and sphagnum bogs that are much older. To the south, a dense cove forest occupies the branched canyon excavated by the North Fork of Red Creek.”

“The name derives from an 18th-century German homesteading family — the Dahles — and a local term for an open mountaintop meadow — a “sods“. From Wikipedia. The wilderness area covers 17,300 acres just north of Seneca Rocks. There are some 47 miles (76 km) of hiking trails within the DSW (see below), many situated along the courses of abandoned railroad grades and old logging roads. The premier viewpoint within the Wilderness, affording a vista of the entire Red Creek drainage, is at a set of rocky crags known as Lion’s Head Rock. It is reached by an almost three-mile climb from the nearest road. The last quarter mile is an eight-foot-wide bench (an old railroad grade) in the side of an otherwise steep slope. Like the cliffs constituting the eastern edge of the Sods at Rohrbaugh Plains, Lion’s Head Rock consists of a mixture of sandstone and conglomerate. The Northland Loop Trail is a 0.3 mile interpretive trail just south of Red Creek Campground on FS Rt 75 which accesses Alder Run Bog a typical, and much studied, northern bog or southern muskeg.[6]” From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_Sods_Wilderness.

As we waited in the parking area, we talked with others about when or if the fog might lift. A young lady had a drone, and she sent it up to try to get above the fog, but she could not. She got nervous when it went out of sight, lost in the fog. She was afraid it might not find its way back. I enjoyed talking with a gentleman who had camped at the campground a mile or so back down the road. He said he slept in his car, a Subaru SUV. Looking at the small vehicle, I couldn’t quite imagine, but as he talked about not want to drive up here in the dark, I asked if I could see. He smiled and opened up the back of the car. Using someone else’s design, He had built a wooden camping frame, including a pull-out table and cutting board, storage area, shelves with a rechargeable battery. He was quite proud of his Exbed mattress that he said is just like sleeping at home. He also has a tent that fits over the back so he can leave the hatchback open. I thought it was very cool, especially for a place like this.

After the sun came up, the fog was still socked in, so we decided to walk around the bog and take pictures. I thought it a good time to use my Zeiss macro lens. I have not used it because I couldn’t get it to work. Kevin had the same issue, so Mark showed us we had to have it set to the red number on the manual F-stop ring. I had such a good time wandering the waist-high bushy mountain top that I got lost in the fog. With everything looking exactly the same, I wasn’t sure where I was. There were paths, so I followed one to a big sign describing the area and turned left down the hill when I heard Mark calling out to me from the other direction. I yelled back and headed toward his voice. It took a few more yells to get me back to the parking lot. A gentleman said I was lucky. It is so easy to get lost up here in the fog. Heading back down the road, I promised myself to come back as this is a very special place…..and we could barely see anything.

On our way down the mountain, we came upon a young man standing beside his white van that had one wheel stuck in a deep ditch. He said a guy ran him off the road and never stopped. We had no tow rope, but Mark said he saw a similar problem last year and found a truck shop that could help him. We would send help. I think it was Oakdale Repair shop with trucks and cars all over the lot. Two nice young men inside decided who would go, nodded and agreed to head up the mountain. Thanking them, we headed back to Blackwater Falls State Park.

Blackwater Falls State Park

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Located in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, Blackwater Falls State Park is named for the amber waters of Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade tinted by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. The falls, along with a few of the park’s other features like Elakala Falls, Lindy Point and Pendleton Point Overlook, are some of the state’s most photographed spots. Visitors can enjoy the scenic views year-round by taking the steps to the falls or using viewing platforms. The park has 20 miles of hiking trails, the longest sledding magic carpet on the East Coast in the winter, a comfortable lodge and more. (from https://wvstateparks.com/park/blackwater-falls-state-park/)

We stopped in the lodge to check into a 3-bedroom cabin, complete with a nice kitchen, two bathrooms, a laundry room and a deck out back with a fire pit surrounded by logs for seating. There is a lot to see in this park, and as you can see, we had already done a lot on this second day of the workshop. Still, Mark found time to show us his routing for downloading and backing up his images. Then there was a bit on processing images, but more was to come later. This was a part I was very interested. He also showed us how to clean our sensors. I have three Nikon cameras, and one I had given up on because of the big blob I get on the images, but we cleaned that right up 😊.

Lodge getting new Pella windows
Cabin, Blackwater Falls SP
From the bridge over the Blackwater River

At sunset we went to Lindy Point, a beautiful spot overlooking Blackwater Canyon.

On The Way to Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Friday, October 5, 2021

I am on a photography workshop with my friend Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring and photographing some of the most scenic places in West Virginia. We made several stops on our drive with Mark in the lead and Kevin and I following in our cars.

On our drive from Valley Falls to Blackwater Falls State Park, we stopped a couple of times, including a stop at Archie’s Barbecue, 25259 Garrett Hwy, McHenry, MD 21541. If you are traveling this way, Archies is a happening. Closed inside, a couple told us it was a drive-through during Covid, so we drove around, not noticing the big menus on two sides of the building. We finally figured it out and placed our order. Ten minutes later a young man brought our orders out to one of the picnic tables out front. Soon others drove up, and like us, tried to order from a window in the front. The friendly couple directed them to the drive-through, and we told them where the menus were. Shortly, there were cars and trucks driving up from all three directions. It seemed we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was obviously a hot spot. The food was great, though a bit expensive, but they piled it on. I would certainly go back.

We had some great discussions about “Border Patrol”. “Do you want the weed sticking out? Do you want the blob in the water? Can you crop the picture to clean it up?” One I will forever remember as I was walking away to shoot: “Don’t blow out the highlights Greg.”

It is interesting how fall colors were great in some places while others had barely started. I love shooting barns, and we found some, but traveling in a caravan of three cars, we couldn’t find a safe place to pull over in most places.

Valley Falls State Park, West Virginia

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

I am on a photography workshop with my friend Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring and photographing some of the most scenic places in West Virginia.

Once the site of a lumber and grist mill community, Valley Falls State Park is a place of scenic beauty and historical significance. A series of four picturesque falls created by the dark, rushing waters of the Tygart Valley River distinguish this 1,145-acre park. In addition to its scenic charm, Valley Falls State Park offers miles of hiking and biking trails and fishing. The day-use park gates open at 7 a.m. and close at dark. From: https://wvstateparks.com/park/valley-falls-state-park/

From Google Maps

Cooper’s Rock, Morgantown, West Virginia

Monday evening and Tuesday morning, October 4, 2021

I signed up for a one-week photography workshop with my friend, Mark Zablotsky. He has done a ton of research and scouting throughout West Virginia. This workshop appealed to me for several reasons. One is that Mark is a world-class photographer, excellent teacher and a good friend. He has taken photography workshops all over the country, and now leads very popular workshops in Alaska and Africa. Two; I have driven through West Virginia hundreds of times, but always going somewhere else. I wanted to explore the state, and this was a great way to do it. Three; I take pictures all the time on my travels, but mostly they are shots taken on the fly, on.a hike, a kayak trip, bike ride or in passing a pretty spot while driving. Often I am not satisfied with my shots, and I want to improve. Although there are hundreds of photography workshops, I always enjoy spending time with Mark, and I always learn a lot.

After driving 4½ hours, we met at the Cranberry Hotel at 3:00. There was only one other participant, Kevin, taking the course – not so lucky for Mark, but very fortunate for Kevin and me. I couldn’t believe he didn’t cancel the workshop. He gave us an overview of the week’s events in what would be a whirlwind tour. He gave us a few pointers and asked what we were interested in learning. Then we were off to our first site, Cooper’s Rock.

“Established in 1936, Coopers Rock State Forest boasts some of the most iconic views in Almost Heaven.” from: https://wvstateparks.com/park/coopers-rock-state-forest/. “Coopers Rock State Forest is a 12,747-acre state forest in Monongalia and Preston counties in the U.S. state of West Virginia. Its southern edge abuts Cheat Lake and the canyon section of Cheat River, a popular whitewater rafting river in the eastern US.” from Apple maps.

The next morning we returned to Cooper’s Rock to find fog filling the valley. Although it isn’t what we wanted, it was cool, as a river of fog flowed down the valley.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Thursday, September 30, 2021

53° at 6:00, batteries at 45%, fresh water tank 0%

I went to the Museum of The Cherokee Indian. The town of Cherokee is in the middle of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, 57,000 acres of land, known as the Qualla Boundary. Their land covered large parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky and measured in square miles before President Jackson threw them out, marched them on the “Trail of Tears” and took their land. 

It is a large and excellent museum. It walks you through history starting at the Archaic Period 9,000 – 900 BC, showing relics from that period. In the Mississippian Period a new kind of corn was introduced, which changed things for the better. I was very interested in how they fired pottery when there were no ovens.

The history of basket-making was detailed with some huge baskets, at least one surviving from its original time. Also interesting were the tools they were able to make with wood, leather and stones. Hammers, picks, axes and of course, arrows and spears.

Their games were described, some with serious competition. Stickball was huge as well as Chunkey. Hunting and fishing would have been incredible in this area. There are so many streams and rivers.

And then the Europeans arrived. One sign describes it perfectly. At first they prospered with new tools, new ways to farm and guns. King George forbid whites settling i”n the Appalachians and all parts West. We thought we would be safe…..but then came the American Revolution.

Sequoyah, who wrote Cherokee language

Unimaginable today, a book I am reading compares “The Trail of Tears” to the “Bataan Death March”, along with the lies and dirty deals Andrew Jackson made. Some refused to go. Some hid in the mountains, so there became a “Western Band” and an “Eastern Band” of the Cherokee Nation. Thousands died along the trail, many by diseases spread by the Europeans. $3 million was given for their land, but the seller did not want to sell. It was called The Indian Removal Act, and involved not only the Cherokee, but the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Seminoles and the Choctaw, virtually all of the Native Americans in the southeast.

Like most museums, you can’t take it all in on one visit, but it is very well-managed and displayed.

Kephart Prong

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

50° at 4:00

Batteries at 51%

Charlie Roberts, the fly tier I met at Chasteen Creek, told me to try Kephart Prong and to start fishing where the stream makes a big turn away from the trail.  My plan was to fish this all day. I’ve been distracted by other things, and the fishing has taken a back seat. I have fished every day, but today, that was all I was going to do. Two cars were parked in front of me when I arrived at 8:00. Now maybe that sounds late, but the sun doesn’t come up until 7:20, and it was only 50°. My guess is they were hikers. There are lots of hikers in this park, and why not? There are tons of trails that are well-marked and maintained. There are backcountry campsites all over the park. If you are a hiker, this is paradise. Of course the Appalachian Trail goes right through the center of the park along its highest ridges.

I didn’t bring the Garmin GPS, telling myself, “Why would I need it?”. I did bring the InReach, which is a satellite device that allows me to send messages and track where I go. Martha had sent a message on it asking where I was. It also has a map I can access with an app on my phone. Trouble was it wasn’t giving me any detail. Seems I need to download a map. OK, I was going to walk up the trail until I could see the stream turning away from the trail (a road really). 

After crossing the beautiful stream a couple of times, I thought it turned away from the trail, so I started fishing. I came here for 9 days of fishing because I had seen so many beautiful streams on my previous trip, and this was another one. It’s the perfect size. With huge boulders, plunging pools and crystal clear water, I could see why Charlie recommended it. 

I had on the purple fly with white hackle that had at least produced some interest. I don’t know what it is – maybe a purple haze. I got some small fish splashing at it, but after 40 minutes of that, I decided to switch. There was a serious hatch of tiny brown bugs, yet I didn’t see any fish rising. I was not going to fish anything that small, but I put on a # 16 brown Caddis. 20 minutes later with zero interest, I went to a Royal Wulff. Nothing. Climbing this mountain through one beautiful pool after another, there HAD to be fish in here! 

It was not easy going, climbing over and around boulders, going up a steep mountain. I had to get out once to get around a waterfall, but that wasn’t so easy either. Wandering around the forest, climbing over logs and fallen trees, I watched every footstep for a moving stick. I don’t hear so well, and with a pounding stream beside me, I would never hear a rattlesnake trying to warn me. At least I didn’t want to step on one. I was relieved to get back in the stream.

There was a big hatch of these, whatever they are!

I have never seen so many hatches – constantly, all day long, and different kinds. I switched to a Light Cahill. First cast a hit! A voice said, “And now the fun begins.” Like the Purple Haze, little fish hit it, but not much else. One nice fish took it as the fly went under a rock. I thought I was caught on something, but it moved, wiggled and then it was gone. It was probably a good thing, as I would have kept it for dinner. It would turn out to be the only keeper I caught all day.

It’s bigger than this looks

“What’s the deal?” I thought. Are they full from eating all these bugs? Certainly, I have never seen so many hatches on an eastern stream, and with such variety. Was someone fishing in front of me? I didn’t think so. I hadn’t seen any footprints, although it’s all rocks, and most of those are covered with beautiful, soft moss. Or were there just too many fishermen and women in this park. I mean it’s the last place I know of where you can keep five fish over 7 inches. When I was growing up, five was the limit, but they had to be 8 inches. We used to catch and keep our limit every time out. But then, we only fished April 1st until June when the snakes came out. Summers were for smallmouth fishing or golf. 

Hardly anyone walked 45 minutes up a mountain and fished all day for five 8-inch fish. The vast majority fished lower down, where the fish were stocked. Then a movie changed everything – A River Runs Through it. Now everyone fishes for trout. Still, most people are attracted to the bigger fish – trophy fish.

The stream was getting smaller and steeper with fewer pools, so I got out when I could see the trail and walked up. The shelter couldn’t be far. Usually shelters were for the Appalachian Trail, but I wasn’t sure the Trail came through here. When i arrived, two men and a woman were talking and welcomed me. They were all hikers. One man was staying at Mile High Campground “where they have showers”, he said. He likes to stay there and hike a variety of trails. 

I was trying to film a hatch. You can barely see them on the left

The husband and wife were staying in a hotel where they have showers. He had knee surgery just 8 weeks ago! He said two fishermen came down earlier and hadn’t caught anything either. One said he had been fishing this stream for 30 years, and had always caught fish. He noted there are now over 100 fishing guides in the area, and it has hurt the fishing. I must say I felt better hearing that. I had worked hard all day, and although I am not the greatest fisherman, I thought I fished fairly well today. I had changed flies, tried to match the hatch and cast pretty well, but hadn’t produced a thing.

There have been articles questioning, “Are We Loving Our National Parks to Death?” Certainly, this park gets a ton of visitors. There are really only two roads in this huge park, and the traffic is heavy. The trails I have been on are well-traveled, and the campgrounds are booked solid. I could not get a site at any other campground in the park. They are booked solid, and the leaves are just starting to turn. In two weeks it will really be busy.

I love it here. These are beautiful mountains with lots of gorgeous trout streams. Yet, I caught two keepers in nine days. Kelly would have caught a lot more, but still, it is not what I expected. I had read stories of catching 50 or even 100 trout in a day. Hell, I bought a counter so I could keep track! I admit I don’t fish rainbows well, mostly because I’m not good at fishing under water. I prefer dry flies, and I prefer brook trout. I mean they smash the fly, then leap out of the water several times, run all around until you think you have a monster. Then it turns out to be an 8-inch fish. There is no better eating fish. You can clean one in 30 seconds. All you need to cook them is a pan and butter, and they are done in 5 minutes. They have a handle on each end, and when you are through eating, there is nothing left but a skeleton. Simply delicious! It has been a long time since I ate one. Even if you catch one, you can’t keep them – except here, and after a week of fishing here, I wouldn’t keep one if I did catch it. 

My opinion is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should join the rest of east coast and make the park catch-and-release, barbless fly-fishing only.

Beech Flats Prong

Tuesday, September 29,2021

50° at 5:00

Batteries at 56% Sun only effectively hits the panels one hour a day, and it’s at a big angle then.

Charlie Roberts had told me to fish a stream up 441, the name of which I can’t remember, but he said there are two parking lots and to park on the right. Start fishing where the stream takes a big bend away from the trail. I passed Kephart Prong and stopped to check it out. I walked up the path for 10 minutes in my boat shoes before turning back. Crossing a bridge over the Oconoluftee, I wondered why I wasn’t fishing that.

I drove up the mountain, almost to the top without seeing any place with two parking lots. I did stop at several overlooks for some spectacular views. By now the crowds were out. 441 is the main road across the park, and it is also the most direct way to get to towns on the other side without driving all the way around the park. This is a popular place for motorcycles. It looked like a convention.

Coming back down the mountain I kept wondering why I wasn’t fishing the Oconoluftee, so I stopped at an access point, geared up and walked down a steep trail to the stream. I hate to be repetitive, but what a gorgeous stream, and what a gorgeous part of it. It’s smaller up here, but with big holes. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were pools, like big hot tubs as far as I could see. Sometimes there were three across the river, with little waterfalls filling them, then plunging down to the next one. The parking lot was rather large, and now I can see why. In the hot summer, what a place to come and cool off in your personal pool. 

There was plenty of room to cast, and the stream is relatively easy to navigate and cross. Fishing each pool, I had a few strikes, but caught no fish in an hour before coming to a log jam. I could have gotten around it, but I wasn’t catching fish, and I remembered the book saying the fishing wasn’t good in this part of the Oconoluftee, for what reason I cannot imagine. 

I went back to camp, had lunch and took a 30-minute nap. By then the day was fairly well shot. I cleaned up and thought about going to the Cherokee Museum in town, but they would probably close soon after I got there, so I opted to relax and read my book. 

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