After a road trip with a church group to the mountains last week, I discovered the autumn color around Linville Gorge and Grandfather Mountain surprisingly still good. So, I made an impromptu drive back there Sunday after church… and, again, I found something quite unexpected: snow!
After some photography along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Upper Creek off Highway 181, I decided on sunset at Wiseman’s View over Linville Gorge, as supposedly the weather was to clear out. So much for AccuWeather. Weather in these mountains can be quite fickle… or, in this case, interesting. Snow. Here, it's blowing in from the north over the Linville River in the distance. There's light-colored rock on the near cliff, but you can also see snow starting to accumulate. The near ridge is always one of the most colorful of the gorge with deep red maples and oaks.
When the snow started, I had no idea what it was. The cold front that brought it roared in with strong winds in the highlands. The snow was so fine, I thought perhaps I was seeing tiny seeds drifting in the wind. It had been 52°F (11.1°C) through North Wilkesboro before driving the escarpment… it was 29°F (-1.6°C) around the Linn Cove Viaduct at 3 pm. I attempted to drive the parkway back to Highway 421 to avoid a good many incapable drivers who found themselves in this mess… the photography was great… the other drivers, not so much.
It was open from Highway 181, past the viaduct where it was then 25°F (-3.8°C). I nearly made it, too… I had to divert to Highway 221 from Hollifield Road, as the parkway had shut down just past Price Lake. Turns out 221 was in worse shape with black ice on many hairpin turns. I was quite happy to make it back down to North Wilkesboro where the temperature was well above freezing. I was even happier to pull into my driveway at 11:30 with Joyce at the door… always an adventure!
I’ve had a lifetime of things just out of reach of my heart… it’s right there within sight, yet it may as well be in another galaxy for what it’s worth. You can’t tell me honestly that you haven’t been there, too. I was in the grocery store yesterday and observed a toddler ensconced in a buggy (a shopping cart for those of you without a southern dialect) hollering her lungs out because her mom wouldn’t let her have what was just out of her reach… I think suppliers of those stores put such items at their eye level for just that reason. “Mom” merely pushed her out of range of the object, but the blubbering continued... she will be inconsolable and forlorn the rest of her life, or at least until the next thing comes along.
I remember a girl from high school who was the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen. I remember she was tall and shapely with long dishwater blond hair and eyes that were so brown they were like dark pools I wanted to drown in. Her family raised Charolais cattle and I just knew I was going to win her over and become a cattle baron. Only one problem… she was out of reach, as were so many other things to come.
As a landscape photographer, I’ve found that same principle is evident, too. I watched many of the best sunsets from the rearview mirror on drives back home from the mountains or the beach. I’ve missed major wildflower bloom peaks by only a matter of days. The weather hasn’t quite worked out. Traffic problems. Not prepared as well as I should have been. The list goes on.
I’ve shot here from Wiseman’s View for years, yet I’ve never quite gotten the shot I had in mind here… until now. This past weekend, I drove my wife and a friend to a church women’s retreat in Valle Crucis here in the North Carolina mountains... after dropping them off, I get lost in those mountains. I always look forward to that, even though it’s rather late in autumn… any excuse to poke around in the mountains for a day or two. Despite the fact many leaves have been evicted by the wind, there was still some interesting color from sunlight filtered through high cirrocumulus clouds. The detail of the ruggedness of this section of the gorge stands out in this image. Table Rock is prevalent here looking off into Shortoff Mountain. That's the Linville River, a quarter-mile below Wiseman's, winding through the gorge. Even from so far away, the roar of whitewater can easily be heard. I’ve finally got the shot I’ve been after for years, so there’s no need to go back… Ha! That’ll never happen as long as I’m able. The next shot may be perfectly different.
As a Christian, I’ve come to know purpose in life… and I believe things happen for a reason. Much as it was for that little girl in the grocery store, some things out of my reach were never intended for me. I recently saw a fairly up-to-date picture of the girl who broke my heart in high school… the passage of time has not been kind to her, perhaps for a number of reasons. That might be said for me, too, though the path of those things “just out of reach” have led me to wonderful friends, a delightful and brilliant wife I love to do things for, and a life I could never have imagined when I was that young fella in high school. Those things just out of reach make you work harder for the life you were meant for. It’s worth it all, so go get it!
It's easy to get big landscape vistas out west... here in North Carolina you have to work for it. I've wanted to get a sweeping panorama of Linville Gorge for some time... this one fits the bill for "sweeping" while keeping the perspective in check through the use of a 24mm tilt/shift lens. The image is an amalgam of 7 vertical images seamlessly stitched in Photoshop ACW... yet, it's still difficult to convey the immensity and wilderness that is Linville.
The photos were taken from a leveled tripod off the lower overlook at Wiseman's View, which is likely as good place as any for such a shot of the gorge. Another favorite destination, Hawksbill Mountain, is seen directly across from here. Imposing Table Rock, another well-known denizen of the gorge, is seen just to the right of Hawksbill... can you perhaps see how they got their names? Off in the distance between the two is the much lower stretch of Brown Mountain, famous for the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights, though the phenomenon is just as prevalent, if not more so, right here. Linville River divides the gorge some 1,400 feet (427 meters) below.
Night is drawing fast here, though the Sun seems to be getting in the last word. It bathes the rounded boundary of the approaching high storm in colorful light... and leaves enough light for some detail of the gorge. It's not quite peak of autumn where I'm standing here, though the scarlet of the black oaks and the brilliant red of the sumac would have you believe otherwise. Color is showing itself, though only on the high peaks, as is normal for the Blue Ridge... once it reaches peak color, it moves down at about 100 feet per day. Also as is normal for this region is that the wind is notorious for stripping the colorful leaves often before they reach peak season.
The gorge is a true wilderness... so few throughout history have bothered to homestead it, largely due to that fact. In some places, the only evidence that anyone ever lived here are daffodils that were first planted long ago. It is home, however, to squirrels, chipmunks, bats, fox, coyote, deer, bear, more than 250 species of native and migrating birds, lizards and snakes, including the most oft seen timber rattler… watch your step around here.
While this skyline is quite familiar to many who drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I find so few who know how to get to this particular place. To find it, make your way to the little community of Linville Falls between highways 221 and 181... Highway 183 connects the two. There's a big sign at the back entrance to Linville Falls (the actual waterfall)... that's Old NC Highway 105, also known as County Line Road. Follow that for four miles until you reach the spur for Wiseman's View, which is marked. Be aware it's a dirt road, and often it's passable by only AWD or 4x4 vehicles with high clearance.