Posted by: kerryl29 | May 16, 2011

Off the Beaten Path

Landscape photographers who reside in the western part of the United States rarely, if ever, come east of the Mississippi to shoot. The reverse is decidedly not true; photographers based east of the Mississippi head west in droves. The latter truism is easily understood by anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the western United States and both its awe-inspiring beauty and its boundless scenic variety.  In fact, I count myself among the masses, having gleefully exploited the opportunities to photograph in New Mexico in 2007 and the Pacific Northwest in 2009.  (The fact that I haven’t done more out west is a function of a lack of opportunity, not desire.)

The absence of westerners flocking east can at least partly be explained by a lack of sufficient motivation.  Why bother when there are so many great photo opportunities in one’s own extended backyard?  Fair enough.  But there’s another factor that seems to underlie the lack of movement back east:  the notion, by some, that there’s not much of value to shoot in this part of the world at all.  This is beyond the notion that there’s nothing better than what exists out west.  There’s this sense that this part of the country–the Midwest especially–is merely “fly over country”; flat, farmland, basically.

Sunrise, Swift Creek Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Whenever I take the time to investigate shooting opportunities in the east generally–and the extended Midwest in particular–I’m reminded of what an overwrought stereotype that is.

I spent the last week of April photographing in the Red River Gorge area of eastern Kentucky, encompassing part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and Natural Bridge State Park.  The area has been on my radar screen for a few years; I first learned of it from a work colleague of my wife’s;  this gentlemen grew up in Cincinnati and spent a great deal of time exploring Kentucky.  I finally had the opportunity to spend some time in the Gorge this spring and I jumped at it.

Rock Bridge, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I want to take a moment and publicly acknowledge John W. Snell, a highly accomplished Lexington, Kentucky-based photographer whose imagery from the Gorge was the best body of work from the area I could find.  I contacted him during the late winter to ask his advice about timing and specific locations and he was extremely generous and forthcoming with his recommendations.  His assistance was essential to the success of my trip.

I intentionally scheduled my journey to coincide with weekdays, with the expectation that crowds in the area would be minimal.  I was correct; most of the time I had the Gorge blissfully to myself, or nearly so.  I routinely found myself on trails for hours without ever encountering another sole.

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

What I did encounter was a series of breathtaking overlooks, mind-bending arches and natural bridges, masses of flowering trees and carpets of  wildflowers all amidst the fresh greenery of spring and connected by a series of well-maintained roads and trails.  I was on site for five full days and parts of two others and, despite covering many miles both by vehicle and foot, left with the notion that I’d only scratched the surface of what was on site.  All of this less than four hours from my central Indiana base (and, by extension, perhaps a bit more than seven hours from my other base, in northeast Illinois).

Gladie Site, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

It was an experience reminiscent of my trip last fall to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  It’s always helpful to have a meaningful reminder of how many marvelous photo locations there are to explore in this much-overlooked area of the North American continent.



  1. This is out of the blue I am sure, but I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying perusing your photographs. Two places you have photographed make me realize I need to go and see them. Kentucky and Virginia. My grandparents on my mother’s side are from there… I need to go to my roots so to speak. Your work is exemplary. ~ Lynda

    • Thanks, Lynda, very much. That’s about the highest praise I could receive.

  2. Kerry..This is beautiful! I had missed the Kentucky Red River Gorge Area post. Love the log cabin and the rusty farm implement…your first shot…well all of them really! And I had never given any thought to western photographers coming east! Your writing at the beginning was great! Well…let them stay out there! It will keep our wonderful mid-west and eastern areas less congested! 😉

    • Thanks, Judy. I don’t think we have anything to worry about re westerners flooding eastward. 🙂

  3. That sunrise photo is sensational! There is so much of my own country I want to see, thanks for the preview!

    • Thanks very much.

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