Thursday, March 29, 2012

Skylines and Mountainsides

On this day last week I was roadway bound for the region around Shenandoah Valley, specifically gunning for Skyline Drive. If you haven't heard of it, you should have. It's a very touristy locale, but still manages to offer the kinds of stunning vistas you'd think only hardened mountain climbers should ever get the opportunity to see. I'd been there once before in 2010 with a good friend who held similar interests in the photographic sense as myself. Our time there 2 years ago was the stuff of magic. While last week's excursion was certainly not nearly as long a trip, it was still a time of heavy introspection and abstract worldly appreciation. One of those rare opportunities to step back from the game our modern world has made of our day to day existence and contemplate the stuff of existentialism, the stuff that really matters.

Driving down last week proved to be one of those quirky little adventures all its own. The main point of amusement was a hiccup in our chosen GPS device. Utilizing my tablet for all directions and other such location-related needs, we (Kyle tagged along on this trip) managed to make it a majority of the way without a hitch until the signal the tablet received from the cell towers dropped to nil. Suddenly the satellite was grossly off our actual location, so turns, landmarks, roads, everything was askew just enough to throw us that critical little bit off course. Frustrated, a quick stop at a lovely little Italian eatery in the land of Middle-of-Nowhere was just the recharge needed, and with our bearings re-synched we managed to make it to the place we'd chosen to stay for the night. And oh what a place it was.

Two thousand feet up on the undeveloped side of the Pocosan Mountain, hidden like a treasure up nasty, aggressive gravel mountain roads, a local conservationist, naturalist, farmer and all around green thumb had set up a rather large yurt on one of the cliff sides of his 60 acre mountain top property and rented it out to those interested and willing to brave the trek to reach it. He happened to have it listed on the website of the company that contracted me to shoot their listed rental properties, and for the minimal fee he was charging for its use it would have been an insult to myself to not have taken up the offer. Kyle and I aimed to stay there just for the night, my intent being to photograph the mountainside views as tenaciously as possible, but with Kyle's influence the vacation quickly turned from self-prescribed work to an actual, legitimate instance of rest and relaxation. What with the host's home grown meals served to us in the evening and for breakfast the following morning, a hot tub with an amazing sunset view and amazing views in general, it was hard to want to do much else than sit, let stress dissolve and take in the unique sounds of such an isolated area. An actual vacation, fancy that.

The following morning we set off to wander the winding roads of Skyline Drive. Again, while my intent had been to stop and photograph the overlooks aggressively, that simply isn't what happened. We did stop to take in several overlooks, but most of my attention that day was directed to the simple pleasure of aggressive driving, tackling the limited roadways as hard and as fast as possible. I don't think I have ever smelled brakes cooking so repulsively. Each stop at an overlook, though providing an opportunity to take photographs, was ultimately more an opportunity to let my brakes cool off and just generally give the car a chance to breath after the demands I placed on it for miles and miles and miles. It was a fun time, regardless, and Kyle wasn't terrified at all sitting shotgun through my irresponsible maneuvering. Was rather nice to have someone riding passenger who at least understood the method behind the madness of some of the more aggressive handling techniques I employed. 67 miles and 40 minutes later, we were in Front Royal, and even though our adventure hadn't lasted too long, we were both oddly eager to get home.

Unfortunately, the haze over the Blue Ridge Mountains was still heavy. I had hoped the haze would be more subdued in the Spring (my trip in 2010 was in the Summer and haze was atrocious). Ultimately, this means a Fall trip will be required as I am determined to photograph multiple North American States in a single image, and the nearly 4000 foot peaks of some of the mountains of Blue Ridge are some of the only places such a task can be accomplished. Just a quirky personal goal. But I will most definitely be looking forward to staying in the yurt once again.

It's also becoming more and more of a priority to me to shoot such scenes in lower light, either at nightfall or twilight states. They just speak to me more when photographed at those times. Well lit scenes are just so bland anymore.

Tonight I will possibly be shooting with the crew of local urban exploration masters I linked up with in January, but all will largely depend on events at home - I am in the middle of moving into a new apartment and alas the air mattress I've been sleeping on for nearly a year decided to pop last night. Oh well... cest la vie.