Posted by: kerryl29 | December 12, 2011

The Mountain State, Part II (Or Why Flat Tires in Remote Places Are Highly Overrated)

As 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 temperatures peaking–peaking, mind you–at 40 degrees (F) and nearly constant precipitation:  snow, light rain or mist and fog.  At some point during the afternoon of  Tuesday, October 4, the rain stopped.  It remained overcast throughout the day but the forecast–I always make it a point to keep a close eye on impending weather–was for a dramatic warm-up and clear skies by morning.  That was, in fact, the forecast for the remainder of the week in the area.

Have you ever come back from a clear-blue-sky photo trip and had someone ask you how it went?  Ever reply with something along the lines of “well, it was non-stop sun” and have them respond, “oh, you lucky dog!”  They just don’t get it, but then, neither did I until I became serious about photography many years ago.  The fact is, particularly when I’m photographing in forested locations and/or along creeks and streams, overcast skies are just what the doctor ordered.  Cloudy skies, of course, mean soft, even light.  No heavy contrast to deal with.  No hot spots caused by sunlight filtering through the trees.  Add in some fog and it’s just about perfect.  So, as unpleasant as I made the first few days in West Virginia sound, they were actually very nice from a photographic standpoint.  Yes, keeping equipment–and myself–dry was a pain in the rump, but the even light and sometimes foggy conditions were much appreciated by this photographer.

The only real casualty to the weather I had to deal with through Tuesday afternoon was a complete absence of sunrises and sunsets.  But I could see that this was coming to an end as of Wednesday morning, so I got up 2 1/2 hours before sunrise on October 5 and made the drive from Canaan Valley to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, to shoot sunrise from an east overlook on the way up to the summit.  I ordinarily don’t like to shoot dawn/sunrise shots when the sky is cloudless, but given the added altitude (above 4000 feet) of my perch a remarkable gradient was visible in a clear eastern sky beginning with civil twilight–roughly 30 minutes before sunrise.

Spruce Knob Dawn, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

After the sun began to crest the mountain ridges to the east, wonderful views of the slopes and valleys below filled me with near sensory overload.

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

A trip to the summit–I had the place entirely to myself–led me to the Whistling Spruce trail, which provides the the hiker with 360 degree views of the area.  Now that the sun was up, I concentrated my attention to westward overlooks.  Valley fog–very common in this area at this time of the year–was in abundance to the west, which produced some truly unique vistas.

Islands in the Fog, Whistling Spruce Trail, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

It had been a productive morning, well worth the absurd wake up time.  The sun ultimately burned off the fog and I lost the light by mid-morning.  The rest of the morning and first half of the afternoon was spent scouting other shooting areas and undertaking some close-up shooting of diffused subjects.

Fallen Maple Leaves Close-up, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

The day culminated with a sunset shoot of Blackwater Canyon from Lindy Point in Blackwater Falls State Park.

Blackwater Canyon at Sunset from Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

The following day (October 6) I awoke even earlier and made my way up to Bear Rocks, in the Dolly Sods wilderness.  This was the spot where I endured 40 MPH-plus winds the previous year.  I had trekked up there–over some very iffy forest roads, I might add, not incidentally (take this as a bit of foreshadowing)–for no particularly good reason, in the gloom on Tuesday morning.  On my first foray to the spot this year I was greeted with socked in fog, high (roughly 30 MPH) winds and light rain.  It wasn’t a total loss as I simply sashayed down the road a mile or so to the Blackbird Knob trail head and hiked into the back country, where the wind was far less of a problem.  But on Thursday, to my astonishment, when I arrived at my destination, it was dead calm at Bear Rocks.  (I couldn’t believe it; I’m still having a hard time believing it now, to be honest.)  It was also foggy, so while there would be no sunrise vista this morning, I would be able to shoot the beautiful heaths in foggy conditions without having to deal with high winds.  I was thrilled.

Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

While shooting, I saw a “fog bow” for the first time.  I’ve heard about them, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to see one with my own eyes.  It was a bit of a scramble to set up to photograph this phenomenon, and it’s more of a documentary shot than anything else, but it was a fascinating sight.

Fog Bow, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

The appearance of the fog bow told me that the mist was thinning and that the sun would burn through presently–which would essentially end the photo session.  But I tried to make the best of it before the fog lifted completely.

Fog & Sun, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

More than satisfied with the morning’s experience, I packed up my things, returned to my car and began the trip back down the same miserable, steep unpaved forest roads towards Canaan Valley that I had ascended a few hours earlier.  About three miles into the return trip I heard–and felt–a telltale “thump thump” sound from outside the car.  Fearing the worst I got out of the car and, sure enough, the right front tire was flat as a pancake.  Here I was in the middle of nowhere, driving a compact car–that means no true spare tire, just a [expletive deleted] donut temporary spare–on a steep road with a rotten little jack that warns that it should “only be used on a flat, paved surface.”  Perhaps I should pick the car up, I recall thinking, and carry it the eight-odd miles to the nearest flat, paved surface.  Jacking the car up, removing the flat and putting on the spare was a very difficult ordeal because I was on a steep, rocky surface.  The car nearly pitched off the jack at least a half a dozen times before I finally completed the process…and then I faced a long trip on the same road that produced the flat in the first place on a donut spare.

Long story comparatively short, I made it down in one piece, ultimately found a garage in the tiny town of Mt. Storm, had the tire patched for $6 (fortunately the hole was in the tread, not the sidewall), called myself damned lucky to have escaped with a few scrapes and only a few lost hours, and made my way back to Canaan.

So, for those of you wondering whether flat tires–particularly flat tires on cars unequipped with adequate spares or jacks–are a good idea, my considered response is:  no.  No, they are not.  I had already determined this the last time I had a flat tire while driving a compact car in the middle of nowhere (roughly 10 miles east of Florence, Oregon–a real horror story which I will not relate here in the interest of relative brevity and my own mental health) a couple of years ago, but my West Virginia experience reinforced my belief that flat tires are not recommended.

Blackwater Canyon from Pendleton Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

The only photography I undertook the rest of the day was to shoot Blackwater Canyon from Pendleton Point at sunset.

Blackwater Canyon Sunset, Pendleton Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

I had two more full days and a third morning left on the ground in West Virginia and I was determined to make the most of it.  As insane as it sounds in light of my Thursday morning experience, this was to include one more trip up to Bear Rocks.  It’s not as crazy as it sounds, really.  (Seriously.)  I’ll provide the story, and a few more images, in the third and final installment of this series.


  1. All I can say is WOW!! These are some of the most gorgeous photos I have ever seen!

  2. What an incredible range of landscapes with delicious colors!

    I never heard of a fog bow before, that’s really cool!

    • Thanks. Yes, the fog bow was an unexpected phenomenon. I feel very luck to have seen it.

  3. Eat your hearts out western mountain shooters. Kerry’s West Virginia mountain photos are delicious with color, emotion and of course outstanding composition. And let’s not forget the trees.

    It gets better every time Kerry. I’m eager for the third installment.


    • Thanks, John. I’ll try to get the final installment of the series up in the next few days.

  4. Awesome photographss!!! too good … my favourite is ‘Blackwater Canyon at Sunset from Lindy Point’ it’s just mindblowing =)

    hey have you submitted any of these to national-geographic??? I’m very sure they’ll get featured =)

    again, lovely photos =)

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

      No, I haven’t submitted to NG. A lot–not all, by any means, but a lot–of the imagery that appears in that periodical is produced by staff photographers or photographers commissioned by the magazine for specific stories. I’ve had a few images published elsewhere, but unless the National Geographic editors come knocking at my door, it probably won’t happen there. And I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen. 🙂

  5. I will echo the initial “wow.” Absolutely love the color, layers, and fog.

    • Thank you very much; it’s much appreciated.

  6. The first image, with its saturated colors (sitting atop a rich black) and its layered simplicity of composition, looks like a painting—and I say that as a photographer. Georgia O’Keeffe would be proud of you.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Thank you. For that image, the shutter was clicked well before he sun came up, so there was no detail in the distant ridges visible to the naked eye. From an aesthetic standpoint, it was a graphic scene and that’s how I wanted to render it. On the technical side of things, exposure was a very simply matter–spot meter for the brightest highlights and let the shadows fall where they may.

  7. Kerry, your ability to capture the “magical moment” is extraordinary! As always, the intersection of light and form in your images leaves me breathless. Re tires: we discovered that we have “run flat” tires in my husband’s van and they are no protection from a complete breakdown in the middle of nowhere. However, a misadventure can sometimes allow the grace of “depending on the kindness of strangers”

    • Thanks very much, Lynn.

      Re tires…even all-terrain tires aren’t immune to being punctured and going flat. I subsequently ran into three other people who ended up with flat tires at or on the way to Bear Rocks, just in the span of three days!

  8. I have never been that far south in the USA. Your photographs have made me salivate for a trip to West Virginia.

    • Thank you very much! West Virginia is chock full of scenic locations; it’s quite high on my list of recommended destinations in the eastern half of the U.S.

  9. So Kerry we both were in the same place…. myself fro the 7th to the 9th. I find it fascinating how different, people photograph the same place. I can now see many places that I have missed and will be back next year. Really nice set of pics, can’t wait for the 3rd install.

    • Sounds like we were in the same at the same time, Mike; Oct. 7-9 were my final three days in WV (and will be the subject of the third installment). Small world!

  10. What an amazing collection of photographs! Congrats!!! The one from Lindy Point is my favourite, the colours are just perfect. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks very much, Ana. I really appreciate it.

      The Lindy Point overlook is a simple 1-1/4 mile (roundtrip) walk from the parking area in Blackwater Falls State Park. As you can see, it affords an excellent view of Blackwater Canyon.

  11. WOW! All your photos are vibrant and full of drama! I truly admire the way you have captured these foggy landscapes.

    • Thank you! I greatly appreciate your comments.

  12. Kerry, if I were to use one of your images for as inspiration for a landscape quilt, would I need your permission to do so? Thanks, Lynda

    • Hi Lynda; I’m sending you an e-mail.

  13. Truly a beuatiful place. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  14. Kerry, I don’t know of anything that already hasn’t been. Truly outstanding images. I visited your galleries for a bit, and I noticed you are from the midwest. I am from Muskegon, Michigan originally, although I’ve been living here in west Texas for 50 years. Thank you for visiting my blog, too.

    • Hi Bob. Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words; they’re greatly appreciated.

      One of my college roommates (I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan) was from the Muskegon area (Spring Lake, to be exact). And I have a Texas connection too–my wife spent most of her formative years in Denton. Not West Texas, obviously, but that’s the best I can do.

      I spent some time going through your blog posts from the past few weeks. You’ve got some outstanding songbird images, including warblers! Those are notoriously difficult to photograph. Great stuff and I’ll certainly check back on a regular basis.

  15. These are beautiful images, the colors are just wonderful and very pleasing to the eye.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Gracie, both for checking out my blog and for the kind remarks.

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

  17. Thank you for visiting my blog. And I am so glad to meet with you and with your blog. These mountain phographs are so beautiful… I loved them all. Thank you, with my love, nia

    • Thanks very much, Nia.

  18. These photos are phenomenal. I’ve been dallying with photography for years, but if I could take pictures like these…. I really like Sunrise over Spruce Knob and fallen maple leaves – superb colours. And Fog Bow is so atmospheric!

    • Thanks, Robert! I very much appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  19. Majestic! Great scenery, great capture and great set of photographs. thanks for sharing. 🙂

    By the way, thanks for dropping by my site. Merry Christmas 🙂

    • Thanks very much. I very much enjoyed my visit to your site and plan to return regularly.

      • You’re welcome and glad you enjoyed your visit to my site!

        Happy New Year and I wish you all the best in 2012! 🙂

  20. West Virginia is one of the best photography secrets in the states. The mountains and hikes are incredible and like you captured so well, the colors will draw you into the scene without even trying. I used to hike in Dolly Sods – and wow, a long hike!

    • Thanks. Yeah, West Virginia is a treasure trove…but I think it’s starting to lose its designation as a secret. More and more people seem to be aware of the visual spoils with each passing year. The final weekend I was in the Canaan area, there were photographers crawling all over the place…at Blackwater Falls and on Saturday morning at Bear Rocks, it was almost out of control. Granted, this was probably the peak color weekend (at least in historical terms) of the fall season, but still. I’m aware of at least four photo workshops in the area that weekend and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there were a few more that I didn’t know anything about.

      Just a word to the wise…

  21. […] 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 […]

  22. […] 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 entries, you’ll see that […]

  23. […] I spent a lot of time scouting around Island Pond without photographing (time that would prove to be well spent when I returned to the area later in the trip), particularly in an ultimately fruitless attempt to visit the Lewis Pond Overlook, which beckoned like Shangri-La.  I finally made my last image of the day when I determined that the road to Lewis Pond Overlook was far too rough for my vehicle.  As much as I wanted to visit the overlook it wasn’t worth taking the chance of getting a flat tire and being stranded in the middle of nowhere.  Been there, done that. […]

  24. […] rockier and rockier I started flashing back to several of of my not-so-enjoyable experiences with flat tires.  So when I reached the access spur to a vista point, I pulled off to check it […]

  25. […] Dolly Sods is a unique environment and this trail provides access to many of the ecosystems that make it so.  You’ll see rock-filled meadows, forests, bogs and creeks.  (Continue beyond Red Creek all the way to Blackbird Knob and you’ll be treated to some remarkable vistas as well.)  With this kind of variety you can imagine how broad the photographic opportunities are.  The trailhead is only about two miles south of the Bear Rocks overlook on Fire Road 75.  (Warning:  the road, from either direction, up to Dolly Sods is–or was, on the multiple occasions I’ve been there–truly awful.  Vehicles without all-terrain tires are highly susceptible to flats.  Don’t ask me how I know this.) […]

  26. […] views from Bear Rocks were non-existent.  And upon returning to my vehicle when I was done I had a flat tire to deal with, which presented its own set of […]

  27. […] I noticed that the tire pressure indicator on the car’s dashboard was alight.  This, is never a good sign, trust me.  We were fairly close to Grand Marais, so I detoured us to the west and checked the tire pressure […]

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