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Departing Boston, I took a somewhat unusual path down towards New York City, on my way to western Maryland. Yes, I could have jumped on the Mass Pike and avoided all of that, but I had a plan!
Well, not so much of a plan, but a desire to revisit an area I had spent some time in many moons ago. I don’t often talk about my time in the Submarine Service but I look back on that time with great pride (despite a few situations that were not quite as enjoyable as I would have preferred, but that is life in the military).
Departing my Aunt’s house, I headed out I-90 to I-495, then down through Woonsocket Rhode Island, then over to I-395 and down to Naval Submarine Base – New London. As I approached the gate near Thresher Ave (east side of the base, near CT-12…a flood of memories came up. Surprisingly, the most prevalent of these memories had absolutely nothing to do with Submarines or military duty. The most prevalent thought occurred as I passed that gate, because that was exactly where I was STS-51-L happened (the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster). I was about 20 yards from passing through the gate, exiting to CT-12.
Passing that gate, I continued on to the road that would take me down to the main gate and the USS Nautilus / Submarine Force Museum. At the light, I saw a familiar sign that I had to capture, as a reminder of a portion of my life that I am very proud of:
When I served here, the the USS Nautilus was not anchored to the pier, but I had a special connection. In the early 1970’s, my parents, my sister and I were headed to spend a little bit of time with my Dad’s parents. On the way, we stopped at the U.S. Naval Academy to tour and take in the sights. While there, we had the great fortune of being able to see the USS Nautilus, SSN-571. Little did I know that a little over a decade later, I would be on my way to serve aboard submarines!!
My plan, after a quick tour of the Nautilus and the Submarine Force museum, was to cruise down I-95 and then take I-287 around the north end of New York City, across New Jersey and then diagonally down through Pennsylvania to Hagerstown, MD. Unfortunately, a fairly major accident had traffic information on multiple sources stating that I-95 across the G.W. Bridge was faster (not that I wanted to go that route, but hey…what do ya do??). Traffic was pretty awful through NYC and after a short while, I was on the outskirts and cruising across New Jersey.
By days end, I had made it to Hagerstown, MD where I stopped for the night. I could have gone on to where my Sister lives, but I did not want to miss any possible scenic photography. The next morning, I was up early and rolling across the upper portion of Maryland towards the far western edge. I arrived at my Sisters place, we talked for a while then headed out because she wanted to show me some of the waterfalls in the area.
Swallow Falls & Muddy Falls are definitely impressive and worthy of the time taken to explore!
Had a great visit with my Sister and as sunset approached, I headed to my motel so that I could process the days pictures and get to bed early. I had an early morning shoot planned in Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.
The drive down to Blackwater Falls State Park was uneventful, though I will say that taking your time and driving slow are highly advisable, as there are some pretty tight turns that will catch you off-guard if you are not prepared for them! Took me a bit more time locating the final turn, but I did get there early enough to prepare for morning twilight and sunrise at Blackwater Falls.
I created a few images at different points, but found that the closer location really did not give the waterfall the composition that I was looking for. The viewing platform right up by the falls added some perspective to the falls and my angle allowed me to get the falls in all their beauty!
Once sunrise was done and I was satisfied with the images I had created, I hiked back up the steps to my vehicle. As I hiked back up, I was glad to be heading away from the falls. The volume of water made for a very loud environment and my ears needed a break (note to self: put foam earplugs in photography pack).
Next up was shooting a couple of falls in Camp Creek Falls State Park in southern West Virginia. The water flow was pretty low at both of the falls. Mash Fork Falls would definitely be awesome when the water volume is higher. Camp Creek Falls (lower & upper) were about the same in terms of water volume, though the light was a bit better here.
Time was getting away from me and my original destination for the day was not going to happen, as there was too many miles of driving and not enough light. Setting up the campsite in the dark, while do-able, was not something I was look forward to so I opted to stop in Johnson City, TN for the night.
A solid night of rest and I was off to my shoot location, or so I thought. I had hoped to scout out Clingman’s Dome in Smokey Mountain National Park. Little did I know that going down through Pidgeon Forge & Gatlinburg would be a total nightmare. Traffic was very heavy, even on the Gatlinburg bypass. As I got into Smokey Mountain National Park, traffic eased up some, especially when I turned on Clingman’s Dome Access Road. I thought I had it made. HA! About 400 yards before the small parking area at the visitor center, cars were parked along both sides of the road. Knowing I would not find a spot, I quickly made a U-turn and headed on down towards Bryson City and to made destination for the day. I would revisit Smokey Mountain National Park again, for sure, where I could spend sufficient time to get to locations early!
The drive down through the eastern side of Smokey Mountain National Park and down to a buddies house near Turtletown, Tennessee was gorgeous! It’s not hard to see why people love this area. My base of operations for the next five days was smack-dab in the middle of this gorgeous area and I would have plenty of time, or so I thought, to create images in many of the locations.
My first day out, I headed towards Lake Ocoee and as I exited the Ocoee Gorge, I saw this image and had to stop quickly before something disturbed the amazing scene:
I managed to get a few images created before a small boat cruised up the lake making this awesome scene all mucked up with rippled water. Packed up the camera & tripod and headed to my turn on TN-30 & TN-315, which was just a short distance up the road towards Telco Plains. Along the way, I saw a few locations that were of interest, but I was unable to really find the right composition (a few would have required asking permission to enter private property and I did not want to chance any bad vibes). Amazed at how quickly time passes, it was lunchtime when I got to Tellico Plains, so I grabbed a bit to eat and look at my opportunities. Original plan was to drive back down TN-68 headed towards Turtletown, making a detour at Buck Bald Road so as to go up and shoot sunset. In typical Miller fashion though, I saw “Joe Brown Highway” (a dirt road) and said to myself “Where does this go?” Which then required that I take a detour.
While Joe Brown Highway was a dirt road, the scenery was definitely worth every minute of the adventure. Along the way, I found plenty of gorgeous scenery, though this tree was particularly gorgeous given the time of day and lighting.
The next day my buddy took the day off and we explored Cullasaja Gorge area as there were a number of waterfalls along the route. Cullasja Falls and Dry Falls are definitely two waterfalls that I am doing to revisit somewhere down the road. While I created great images at both locations, I saw a different angles that would require a return visit a little earlier in the fall foliage season. I was shooting a waterfall in a very tight section of the road and began set my iPhone down (after texting my buddy to head back up the road to pick me since there wasn’t any parking when he dropped me off) and the dang phone slipped out of my hand landing flat on the crystal screen shattering it. Not what I needed, as I still had 5 days before I would be home.
Driving back to my buddies place, we came upon an overlook where I wanted to stop on the return trip, to shoot a late afternoon image (I had this in my mind earlier in the day, but had a good feeling that later in the day, the light would be just right for a black + white composition).
Once we got back to my buddies place, I looked up the nearest Apple store, finding that West Town Mall in Knoxville was the nearest one. I set up a repair appointment for the following day, with a trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville, TN.
I got up early, because I had a thought that I might get up to Buck Bald Mountain on the drive up to Knoxville. As luck would have it, the weather was less than spectacular as I left my buddy’s house. The more I drove, the more my gut told me that what awaited me at the summit of Buck Bald would definitely be worth the time! Mother Nature may have been working overtime for me on this one because the clouds hanging low in the valley’s was absolutely awesome!!!
Driving back down Buck Bald Road (a dirt road), I had to stop before I got into the mist to create this image:
I arrived at West Town Mall, located the Apple store, checked in and got the repair underway. An hour later, I was walking out of the mall and on my way towards Fall Creek Falls State Park, which was another location where more water volume would lead to some more spectacular waterfall images. That said, Cane Creek Cascades were actually just right, though I do think an earlier time of day would have netted a bit more flare.
Fall Creek Falls State Park has a really nice looking campground. I am sure that this would be full up with campers throughout the summer, and I plan to book a camping trip there sometime in the next couple of summers!! Driving back to my buddies house was relaxing. Upon arrival, my buddy informed me that he had a plan for the next day and that I’d better be ready.
My buddy had a list of waterfalls that were all shown or listed as being 3 miles out & back. First up was Turtletown Falls which was only about 20 minutes away. The temps were a bit cooler than in days past, but we were both prepared sufficiently. Since this was to be a 3 mile out & back, I loaded up my chest pack & my backpack then headed off down the trail. Kind of a surreal environment to hike in, yet still amazing and fun! We arrived at Turtletown Falls and my pedometer said we had traveled 2.5 miles (lol, so much for a 3 mile out & back). The cooler temps made for a nice mist rising off of the water. The sun angle was not great, so the images at Turtletown Falls were not the best.
The hike in and out along with the time to shoot at Turtletown Falls took up the entire morning and by the time we go to the vehicle, I was definitely getting hungry as was my buddy, so we headed to Tellico Plains for lunch at Krambonz BBQ. All I can say about Krambonz BBQ is this: W O W !!!!!
Lunch finished, we had to modify the game-plan for the day. The intel he had gathered could not be trusted so we looked at what was on the list that wasn’t a “3 mile out and back” hike. Bald River Falls on River Road off the Cherohala Skyway looked like the prime target, so we set our sights and started moving.
Upon arrival, there was no doubt that this was “the” waterfall of the day. WOW WOW WOW
I think the images speak for themselves, though i will add this detail to the second and third: To get these images, I had to pick and choose my way through brush & rock about halfway up the falls (basically behind the up the falls and behind the green bush seen in the first image)
This perspective really made the falls look amazing; I couldn’t be happier with the results!!!
Leaving Bald River Falls, my buddy and I drove the entire Cherohala Skyway to Robbinsville, NC then made our way down to Murphy and eventually back to his place. All of these adventures made it plain to me that I would have to return to this area a few times to explore and create images. Probably half a dozen times at the very least, if not more.
The next morning, after packing up and saying good-bye to my buddy, I headed back towards that spot on Lake Ocoee, to see if there would be one more image to be had, given the cold temps, I had a feeling the lake might offer a good mist coming off the lake.
Road-trip 2014 was on it’s final legs; in the morning, I would be heading back towards home. The goals of this road trip were met and then some. I had revisited places I had lived in the past, created some great fall foliage images and some great waterfall images, had the opportunities to spend time with family & friends and scouted a series of places on my “to do” list for which I am now capable of putting together a photoshoot trip and flying out at the right time to maximize image creation. The next two days were pure driving through Nashville, Paducah, St. Louis, Kansas City and home.
As I pulled into my driveway, I marveled at the last 25 days. I had traveled through 26 states and had amassed 7,731 miles. Memories personal & professional were made. Remember friends, live each day as though it were your last…live with passion!