Category: Photography

Airboat Tour in Jean Lafitte National Park

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Sunrise on the Mississippi from my hotel room

On a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com), our adventure of the morning was an airboat ride through the swamps of Jean Lafitte National Park. There are a lot of swamps, waterways and lakes at the end of the mighty Mississippi. How our guide found his way around must have come from many years experience. Pretty amazing where these boats can go and how fast they can go.

I enjoyed the whole trip and liked our guide, Rocky, a fitting name for this guy. He was barefoot, sometimes getting out of the boat to push off or walk on the shore. I told him I would be worried about cottonmouths, but he said you can smell them! He threw marshmallows to the gators, which I’m sure they get on a daily basis. They just swim right up to the boat. I don’t know how he a perfectly camouflaged barred owl sleeping on a limb as we cruised past. Also surprising that the owl didn’t move as he pulled the boat right beside the tree! In my past efforts to photograph owls, they are quick to leave as I approach. Like the alligators, they must be used to boats and people.

At the end of the trip, he said he was going to see a big alligator, and he knew right where to go, even calling the gator. From under a tree, it came toward the boat. Our guide pulled the boat onto the shore and got out a package of chicken. The gator walked right beside the boat and up to the front where our guide sat barefooted with shorts on, coaxing the gator to get right into the boat! Like old friends they met, our guide petting him on the nose, head and scratching his throat! Amazing!

New Orleans Cemetery Tour

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

We were on a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) After walking the streets for a while, we had breakfast at Cafe Beignet’s, a popular, very efficient little restaurant that moves people quickly, and the food is good.

We then took a cemetery tour with Taylor, a very knowledgeable young man. He had been a chef for 12 years, but finally decided to make a change, to work outside and do tours, so he does the cemetery and a ghost tour at night. There is quite a unique history to the cemeteries of New Orleans since it is below sea level, so at first bodies would float up, especially if it was in a coffin. There is also limited space, so a unique way of doing things was developed. The graves had to be above ground. To keep the bodies in place, the plot was often capped with concrete. The Masons were prevalent and the Catholic Church strong. Rules were made and fees charged for maintenance of each site could be quite expensive. Whole families could be buried in one plot. As many as 35 bodies would be uniquely placed. We visited St. Patrick Cemetery that was started by Irish Catholics in 1841

Mosquitoes being prevalent in the area, Yellow Fever epidemics in 1847 and 1853 were devastating. As many as 1300 people died in a week! There were so many people buried so fast, the sites are haphazard, not in their usual neat rows.

Maintenance fees were high and some families couldn’t keep up. There was an eviction notice on one

The soil being so soft, the tombs would sink, cracking or even bending marble doors.

The wealthy had some very ornate tombs with brick and marble, but most impressive were the crosses and statues on top.

In August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, causing 1800 fatalities and $125 billion in damages, the costliest tropical cyclone in US history. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina). A memorial and the dead are in Charity Hospital Cemetery. The horror would strike again with Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Adjacent to the memorial is a huge field where where the poor or unknown were buried

Sandstone Falls

Sunday, October 9, 2021

I am on a photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky at https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com. We were rained out from a shoot of Sandstone Falls earlier in the week, so Mark suggested I go by there on my way home. We have had a great week, seeing some spectacular places and kicking my photography up a notch. I have a list of things to order when I get home, but first to see Sandstone Falls near Hinton, West Virginia.

From:https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/the-sandstone-falls.htm:

The largest waterfall on the New River, Sandstone Falls spans the river where it is 1500 feet wide. Divided by a series of islands, the river drops 10 to 25 feet.

Sandstone Falls marks the transition zone of the New River from a broad river of large bottomlands, to a narrow mountain river roaring through a deep boulder strewn V- shaped gorge. The falls form the dramatic starting line for the New Rivers final rush trough the New River Gorge to its confluence with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River.

Your journey to view the falls will require some driving time, but it will take you along two of the park’s most scenic roads, Route 20 from I-64 at the community of Sandstone, ten miles upstream to the town of Hinton, then downstream eight miles along River Road, the park’s only scenic riverside drive. Both these routes offer several overlooks, historic sites, natural areas, trails, and river access points.

Most visitors will find the best starting point for their journey to Sandstone Falls at the Sandstone Visitor Center at the Sandstone exit 139 on I-64. The Visitor Center has excellent exhibits on the New River watershed, water resources, and natural and cultural history of the upper New River Gorge, plus park maps and information.

As you drive south, high above the river on Route 20 to Hinton you will pass two park vistas. The Sandstone Falls Overlook provides an aerial view of the falls from 600 feet above the river. Brooks Overlook looks down on the mile-long Brooks Island, a perennial bald eagle nesting site.

Hinton is the southern gateway to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. A once booming railroad center, the town has a large historic district, railroad museum, antique shops, and restaurants.

After crossing the bridge at Hinton you will begin driving alongside the New River down River Road. There are great riverside vistas, several river access points, a trail, picnic area and small boardwalk view at Brooks Falls, a powerful Class III rapid. The journey ends at the Sandstone Falls day use area, where you begin your walk along the boardwalk and bridges that span the two islands below the falls.

For some reason geese seem to love rapids. Several times I have seen them frolicking in the rapids, taking baths, eating something from the bottom. Mallard ducks were in with this group, and seemed quite happy. I could have photographed the geese all day, but it was time to get home. Many thanks to Mark for all the work, research, scouting and teaching. His tremendous enthusiasm is contagious.

Grandview/Little Beaver Lake

Sunday, October 9, 2021

“Grandview is a peaceful place to relax and unwind while enjoying outstanding views of the New River. From 1400 feet above the river at Main Overlook, visitors are rewarded with one of the most outstanding views in the park. On a clear day you can see directly into the heart of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, including seven miles of the New River and its watershed. From Main Overlook visitors can also get a glimpse of some of the gorge’s unique cultural history. From here you see an active railway and the town of Quinnimont, where the first coal was shipped out of the gorge in 1873. Don’t miss the views from Turkey Spur Overlook, and be sure to walk the woodland trails.

Grandview is a great place to see the spectacular displays of Catawba rhododendrons that bloom here every spring. The purple Catawba rhododendrons bloom in mid May, while the white great rhododendrons bloom in July. The exact bloom times are not always consistent year to year, so check with a ranger at one of our visitor centers or check our facebook page for updates. 

The Grandview section of the park includes overlooks of the New River, a visitor center (open seasonally), five hiking trails, ranger-led walks and talks, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playgrounds. Information about renting picnic shelters at Grandview can be found on the Permits and Reservations page of this website. Grandview is home to Theatre West Virginia, which features outdoor drama presentations from June through August.

Grandview was originally a part of the West Virginia State Park system. In 1939, the state of West Virginia purchased 52 acres of land at Grandview to develop a day use park. The Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, shelters, and a picnic area, all still in use today. Construction began in 1960 on the 1200-seat Cliffside Amphitheater. The children’s playgrounds, recreation area, and additional walkways were built from 1961 to 1964. After more than 50 years as one of West Virginia’s most popular state parks, Grandview was transferred to the National Park Service in 1990.

Directions

To reach Grandview from Beckley follow I-64 East five miles to Exit 129 B. From Lewisburg follow I-64 West forty miles to Exit 129. From either exit, turn right and follow Route 9 North six miles to Grandview.” from: https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/grandview.htm.

It sometimes looks like this:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573575702516450754/

butt what we found was:

Off we went to Little Beaver Lake, trying to get there before the sun got too high and the winds picked up. It is a beautiful, little lake, complete with campground and state park. “With 562-acres, Little Beaver State Park offers family fun, beautiful scenery and incredible outdoor recreation. The park features nearly 20 miles of trails to explore and an 18-acre lake where anglers may fish year-round. Stand up paddle board, kayak, canoe and paddleboat rentals are available seasonally. Park visitors can also enjoy biking, picnicking and camping at Little Beaver.” from: https://wvstateparks.com/park/little-beaver-state-park/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_Lfxn_Ho8wIVHR-tBh1ZbAOeEAAYASAAEgJr3vD_BwE.

The New River Bridgewalk

Saturday, October 8, 2021

I am on a great photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring some of the best places in West Virginia. After an early shoot at Babcock State Park, Mark and I went to Bridge Walk LLC for a walk across the New River Bridge on a catwalk running underneath the highway. I do not like heights, but Mark convinced me this is a highlight of the trip. Yesterday we explored a bridge beneath the bridge that gave us a great view of the larger bridge.

“When the New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. When it comes to road construction, mountains do pose a challenge. In the case of the New River Gorge Bridge, challenge was transformed into a work of structural art – the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States

The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The bridge was chosen to represent the state on the commemorative quarter released by the U.S. Mint in 2006. In 2013, the National Park Service listed the New River Gorge Bridge in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant historic resource.” (https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/nrgbridge.htm)

Bridge Day

two base jumpers against a blue sky
Two BASE jumpers on their way down. NPS photo/John Chapman

“On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous New River Gorge Bridge is open to pedestrians and a wide variety of activities—great views, food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, music, and more—draw thousands of people. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.

The first official Bridge Day was celebrated in 1980 when two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge. They were joined by three additional parachutists, and all five then jumped from the bridge into the gorge.Today, the event lures hundreds of BASE jumpers, cheered on by thousands of spectators. “BASE” stands for Building, Antenna (tower), Span (arch or bridge), and Earth (cliff or natural formation), the four categories of objects in which BASE jumpers jump from.

Looking for information on Bridge Day? While the bridge may be the crown on the Beautiful New River Gorge, Bridge Day is an event hosted by the Bridge Day commission. For more information, visit the Official Bridgeday website, or call the New River Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 927-0263″.

As we were shooting the little waterfall from the middle of the bridge, a truck stopped, asking us if we were the ones shooting pictures from the bridge. They were the ones in the raft, and asked if we could send them a picture. Mark smiled and quickly air-dropped a picture to them. He is an expert iPhone photographer, and seems to always shoot some pictures with his phone. The pictures he gets with his phone are pretty amazing.

At Bridge Walk LLC, we got instructions from Paul Story, who has been doing this for a long time, and he has many stories. He is approximately my age, and I thought, if he can do this, so can I.We strapped up in a harness like one you would use for a zip line. Then he attached a line that would be connected to a long, overhead wire. I did not want to test its strength. We loaded a bus that didn’t have to go far to our starting point. Paul explained it is a 2-hour walk across the gorge on a walk suspended 25 feet below the 3,035 ft.bridge. Now I was getting a bit queazy.

Paul Story with some serious clips to attach us to the wire

In the afternoon, we had a great session with Mark on processing pictures, using a variety of software. Although I use and like Nikon View NX-i, I could see where Photoshop and several plug-ins take it to the next step. It was an excellent session.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

Friday, October 8, 2021

I am on a great photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring some of the best places in West Virginia. Babcock State Park is another great park in West Virginia encompassing 4,700 acres and abuts the New River National Park. With miles of hiking trails, cabins, campgrounds, a lake, swimming and sports facilities, it has a lot to offer. The major photographic attraction is Glade Creek Grist Mill, “one of the most photographed images in the world.” (https://wvstateparks.com/glade-creek-grist-mill-babcock/).

Patchwork quilt of mills

Milling is an occupation that died in the 1950s but nostalgia brought it back. The Glade Creek Grist Mill, built in 1976, serves as tribute to the hundreds of mills that once dotted the landscape in West Virginia. 

It’s a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that was located nearby, according to Stephen Tyree, the miller at Glade Creek.

“It’s the most photographed mill in the United States and it’s world renowned,” Tyree said, noting that the mill receives thousands of visitors each year from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Although it’s a relatively new mill, Glade Creek is a patchwork quilt of sorts, built with parts salvaged from much older mills that had ceased operation. Its main structure came from Stoney Creek Grist Mill in Pocahontas County, the water wheel came from Spring Run Grist Mill in Grant County and other parts came from Onego Grist Mill in Pendleton County.

Learning by doing

Tyree began working at the mill as a college student. He had applied to be the park naturalist but jumped when he was offered the job as miller. Having no experience was no deterrent for the determined man.

“I learned by doing,” he said. He ordered a textbook to use as a guide as he learned his way around operating the mill, and he’s happy to share his knowledge with the guests at Babcock.

The milling process begins by pouring dried, shelled corn into the hopper—the receptacle above the grindstone. Outside, a sluice gate controls the water flow from Glade Creek, turning the water wheel and setting in motion the gears that operate the 900 lb. grindstone. As the ground corn falls from the grain spout it’s filtered through a mesh screen, where the miller or his assistants use a bolting hammer to separate out the cornmeal.

But there’s one more step. Even if the customer brought his or her own corn to grind, the miller gets his cut. 

“This is his toll,” Tyree said, brandishing a flat wooden paddle and raking it through the cornmeal. Whatever amount fits on the paddle—typically 8% to 10% of the haul—he gets to keep as his charge for grinding the corn.

If customers didn’t bring their own corn, they could still buy cornmeal from the mill, he added. But in these instances, money rarely changed hands. 

“Back in the olden days, most people bartered because they didn’t have money,” Tyree said. “They’d trade milk, butter, eggs, vegetables, nails, lumber … whatever they had, for a sack of cornmeal.” (https://wvstateparks.com/glade-creek-grist-mill-babcock/)

We visited this area twice, once in the evening, and then the next morning. Mark hurried us along for the morning shoot. Although it was still too dark to shoot, I hurried along, and I realized why. Being such a popular spot for photographers, they were soon lined up. I was having trouble keeping my camera steady as I tilted it over to get a vertical shot. Mark had been telling me I needed a more stable tripod and ball head. Now I could see why. Yesterday, I had knocked my lens back to proper shape after dropping it at Cooper’s Rock. I broke my lens hood and dented the area where you screw on a filter, and a filter was an essential item for this shoot. After hammering, I was able to restore its circular shape, but I spilled some crud from my tools onto the lens. If I wiped it off, I would scratch the glass. I tried to blow it off, but that didn’t work well either, so I ran it under water. I was able to safely clean the lens, but now there was some condensation on the lens. Apparently some water got inside the lens. Fortunately, Kevin was using a Nikon camera, and he graciously lent me his lens after he finished. Whew! I then got out of the way, so others could get their shots.

Beartown State Park, West Virginia

Friday, October 8, 2021

I am on a great photography workshop with Mark Zablotsky (https://www.markzphotoworkshops.com) touring some of the best places in West Virginia. From Lewisburg we went to Beartown State Park. “Beartown State Park is a 110-acre (45 ha)[1] state park located on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain, 7 miles (11 km) southwest of Hillsboro, West Virginia, in northern Greenbrier County, West Virginia (with a small portion of the park also located in Pocahontas County). The land was purchased in 1970 with funds from the Nature Conservancy and a donation from Mrs. Edwin G. Polan, in memory of her son, Ronald Keith Neal, a local soldier who was killed in the Vietnam War. Development of the park has been minimal in order to preserve the natural attractions of the area. Recreation in the park consists of hiking along improved trails and boardwalks. Markers explain the natural processes at work in the area. The name “Beartown State Park” was chosen because local residents claimed that many cave-like openings in the rocks made ideal winter dens for the native black bears, the state animal of West Virginia. Also because the many deep, narrow crevasses were formed in a regular criss-cross pattern which appear from above like the streets of a small town. Beartown is noted for its unusual rock formations, which consist of Droop, or Pottsville, Sandstone formed during the Pennsylvanian age. Massive boulders, overhanging cliffs and deep crevasses make up the beauty of the park. On the face of the cliffs are hundreds of eroded pits. These pits range from the size of a marble to others large enough to hold two grown men. It is not unusual to see ice and snow remaining in the deeper crevasses until midsummer.” From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beartown_State_Park

Still foggy, it just made this place better. What a cool place! I could have stayed all day.

When we drove toward Beckley, it started to rain….HARD! Driving in a caravan of three cars on I64, it was hard to stay together. Between the rain, the highway construction and some crazy drivers, it made my heart rate go up. Finally, we pulled into Tamarack Marketplace to check out wares from 2,800 artists and artisans from West Virginia. It is a well-designed and spacious place with some great products.

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.

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