Posted by: kerryl29 | December 6, 2011

The Mountain State, Part I

I spent the first full week of October shooting in West Virginia–the greater Canaan Valley area, to be exact. It’s a locale extremely rich in photographic opportunities, as I hope to demonstrate in this entry. But there’s a back story to the trip.

Red Creek, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Last fall, as part of my trip to points east, I was in the Canaan Valley for less than 48 hours.  The conditions for photography were–I’ll be generous–less than optimal.  It was a poor year for fall color, due to drought-like conditions that impacted much of the United States east of the Mississippi River during the summer of 2010.  (There was almost no color to speak of in central Indiana due to prolonged drought and conditions in northern Illinois were decidedly sub par.)  On top of that, I was late for what color did exist.  When I arrived in the valley, on the afternoon of Friday, October 15, 2010, I was greeted with rain squalls and high wind.  The rain disappeared overnight, but blue skies and high winds remained for the duration of my time in West Virginia.  On the morning of Saturday, October 16, at Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, I dealt with wind gusts in excess of 40 MPH, with air temperatures right around freezing.  Despite the rain that fell on the day I arrived, because of the depth of the drought creeks and waterfalls were flowing poorly.  It was close to a worst case scenario, photographically speaking.  I emerged with, perhaps, a handful of decent shots from my time in the area.

Red Maples at Pendleton Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

And yet…the potential of the area was glaringly obvious to me, despite all of the negatives I was dealing with at the time.  There were breathtaking mountain overlooks, misty valleys, unique heaths, rushing streams and rivers, waterfalls, rustic farms and an almost endless assortment of deciduous and coniferous trees.  Given the proper conditions, if I couldn’t make compelling autumn images here, I reasoned,  I probably ought to find something else to do with my time.

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

As a result, I started plotting a return visit during the following autumn.  The color season had to be better in 2011, I concluded.  And the next time around, I’d time my arrival for the first week of October, when peak color in the area is historically likely, rather than the middle of the month.  I’d plan to stay for far more than 48 hours to hopefully avoid the possibility of running into bad luck with the weather over a short period of time.

Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I did have the experience of having spent a weekend in the area the year before–so I was familiar with the Bear Rocks area of Dolly Sods, Elakala Falls and Pendleton Point in Blackwater Falls State Park and a few spots in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but I knew I’d barely scratched the surface.  Fortunately, Jim Moore, who knows the Potomac Highlands as well as anyone, was willing and able to give me a plethora of information and recommendations, all of which was of incomparable assistance to me.  I had a rough itinerary and a series of contingencies, depending on specific weather and foliage conditions.

Abandoned Barn, Randolph County, West Virginia

2011 shaped up as a much better year for fall color in the region, as I anticipated.  But as I drove into northeast West Virginia from the Midwest on Sunday, October 2, I was greeted with snow at the higher elevations.  Sunday was the third day in what turned out to be a five-day stretch of non-stop precipitation (some of it snow, some of it rain).  The question I asked myself, of course, was how would this impact shooting conditions while I was in the region?

Blackwater Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

The short answer is, while it almost undoubtedly shortened the period of peak color and made sunrises and sunsets a composite rumor for the first three days I was on the ground in West Virginia, it also swelled creeks and rivers to provide almost the polar opposite of the conditions I faced in the region the previous year.  Once the weather cleared–it finally stopped precipitating late in the afternoon of Tuesday, October 4 and the weather cleared overnight; I finally viewed a sunrise/sunset on Wednesday, October 5–I scarcely saw a cloud for the duration of my time in West Virginia.

Canaan Mountain Color, Monongahela National Forest, West Viriginia

But while the conditions were less than ideal, they weren’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination.  Some degree of adjustment and flexibility was necessary to create compelling imagery but by no means were good shots impossible to find.  So there was a bit of the “lemonade from lemons” rationale to apply, but only a degree.  The images accompanying this entry were all made on the first two full days–Monday, Oct. 3 and Tuesday, Oct. 4–that I was in the region.  The sun was never in evidence at any point during this time, but sunlight would have degraded–if not completely ruined–most of the images presented here.

Gandy Creek, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

The moral of the story, assuming there is one, is not to allow a negative present blind you to the potential of a given location.  Had I drawn such a conclusion in mid-October of 2010, I wouldn’t have made the effort to return this year.  And that would have been a mistake.

In the next installment, I’ll post some images from the middle of my week in the Canaan area along with an accompanying narrative.



  1. I’m sure glad you went back to West “by God” Virginia Kerry, these images are marvelous, a treat for the eyes and spirit. I’ve been trying to incorporate a lesson from John Daido Loori and his mentor Minor White and that is to go out and photograph without expectations.

    When you set out to make images with specific expectations, those expectations narrow your focus and you miss out on delightful, unexpected opportunities. Instead, you venture out and allow the landscape to speak to you, to tell you what to photograph.

    Thanks for sharing this series. I look forward to your next installment.


    • Thanks very much, John.

      I essentially agree with your prescription. I wrote about this in a brief entry I posted a couple of years ago: Visualization. I much prefer to take what the landscape gives me than to attempt to “find” a specific, preconceived shot…though I occasionally find myself doing the latter.

      BTW, love the Civil War era WV reference.

  2. Kerry, these are extraordinarily beautiful. The Blackwater Falls with the trees in the foreground was unexpected. Thank you for sharing both the photos and the story. Wonderful!

    • Thanks, Lynn, I greatly appreciate your comment.

      Incidentally, on the Blackwater Falls image, note the presence of a small amount of lingering snow on the conifer needles in the lower left-hand corner of the frame. I deliberately chose to include this element (excluding it would have been a simple matter of choosing a tighter composition) as a subtle attempt to balance the white water of the falls at the top.

  3. […] area of West Virginia during the first week of October this year (more about that experience in a future post).  As I was returning to central Indiana on October 9, I noticed that the color–which was […]

  4. In a comment on one of my posts yesterday someone mentioned the Latin saying “per aspera ad astra,” meaning “to the stars through difficulties.” It sounds as if the difficulties you encountered were worth the trouble, because look at the stellar pictures you came away with that wouldn’t exist if you’d let the inclement weather deter you.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Indeed; it definitely was worth the effort, and I’m glad that I dealt with the elements.

  5. exceptionally beautiful images. So glad you returned to our state. Thanks for showing the beauty we have. 🙂

    • Thanks very much. I’ll be posting my second installment from West Virginia in the next few days, so keep an eye out for more from the Highlands.

  6. Simply outstanding images and accompanying prose. Blackwater Falls pics may favorites. First-time visitor here and thanks for stopping by my domain.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

  7. Kerry, there is nothing I can add to what’s been said here, with the possible exception of, “I agree!” Such beautiful work. Thanks for visiting me so that I could find you. ~ L

    • Thanks so much.

      • Kerry, I am sharing a link, a “shout out” to this post today in my blog. I ventured out into the fog with my camera. It is not so lovely as yours, but it was fun!
        ~ Lynda

        • Thanks, Lynda! I look forward to reading your post.

  8. I’m very fond of “Elakala Falls”, love the conveyance of motion with the slow shutter. I think West Virginia is quite beautiful and given my proximity, I should pay a visit!

    • Thank you kindly. Elakala was absolutely raging when that image was made. I went back a couple of other times while I was in the area and the flow-while still very good–was notably lower as the week progressed (and the precipitation finally ceased).

      I very much encourage you to take a trip to WV; it’s remarkably rich in scenic beauty.

  9. […] I mentioned in part one of this brief series of entries, the first few days (Oct. 2-4) in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia were spent dealing with […]

  10. Magnificent photos! They are all great but the Elakala Falls is the one I love most.

    • Thank you very much! Elakala is an extremely photogenic waterfall. It’s part of the Shays Run Gorge, which has at least four–and it may be five, I can’t recall–distinct cataracts. Only two of the tiers are relatively easily accessible (and even these require a bit of off-trail scrambling). The others are anywhere between quite difficult and impossible to access. The Elakala image in this sequence is of the uppermost tier. In the final installment of the series, I’ll post a shot from the second tier.

  11. […] case you missed them, Part I and Part II of this series can be accessed via the corresponding […]

  12. Your photos are gorgeous and take me back a few years. I used to live in West Virginia, and we spent a few summer vacations at Blackwater Falls. I’ve been thinking we ought to go back again someday. Being reminded of how beautiful it is by your photos, I might bump that up my list of places to revisit. 🙂

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

      I heartily recommend a visit to West Virginia. I don’t think it can be beat in the fall, but autumn is my favorite time of year to photograph. I have little doubt that it would be more or less as beautiful in the spring.

  13. Hi Kerry, Thank you for popping in and having a look. I love your photos. And I do see what you say about the snow tipped branch in the photo of Black Water Falls. Gorgeous photo.

    Hmm, I think I need to start exercising and start hiking into the Ko’olau Range.

    • Thanks, Karen. Much obliged.

  14. Beautiful. These shots are inspiring. I love the capture of movement and color.

  15. Simply captivating photos!

  16. Some really lovely shots in here. I’m putting you in my links page. Happy New Year.

    • Thanks very much! I’m returning the favor.

  17. […] – A group of entries, actually; the three installments of my The Mountain State series:  The Mountain State Part I, The Mountain State Part II and The Mountain State Part […]

  18. […] blog entitled Lightscapes Nature Photography.  The particular post I mention can be found HERE  <— (click)  but don’t pass up his other work it is […]

  19. […] from an unfamiliar name.  Upon opening it, I immediately identified the source.  Two years ago, while shooting in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia, I ran into another photographer in the field and we briefly exchanged pleasantries and discussed […]

  20. […] the fall of 2011.  That trip, which covered parts of eight days, spawned only three direct posts (The Mountain State, Part I; The Mountain State, Part II and The Mountain State, Part III).  If you take a look at these […]

  21. […] likely to want to return than would otherwise be the case.  This has happened with regard to the Canaan Valley of West Virginia; it was true of Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies; why on earth […]

  22. […] amount of rain (and snow at higher elevations!) during the first five days of the seven-day trip.  This trip was arguably the real start of my attempt to schedule a fall color trip each […]

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: