Fall color in the Smokies

Hi gang! Get ready for another image-rich post. Last week, we worked our way south from NJ to Tennessee via the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the end of my last post, we had just arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and were ready to head out and explore. Shortly after entering the park, we immediately realized that we had hit the sweet spot of fall color. Our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway was just ok when it came to that. We had hit a lot of it past peak, so there were more browns than we would have liked. But once we hit the Smokies, we were in beautiful, colorful bliss!

We spent a lot of time just driving around looking for scenes that best displayed the color, so we made a lot of stops to capture windy roads twisting through the woods, or low-lying branches over rivers that provided nice colorful reflections in the water. We also drove up to Clingman’s Dome, which is the second-highest point east of the Mississippi (the highest only trumps it by 40 feet), to shoot sunset one night. The sky put on a pretty good show, as you’ll see from the image below.

As an added bonus, we also got to see some black bears in the Smokies! You can tell that there are bears around by the number of cars backed up on the roads, and the rangers directing traffic. We were allowed to get close enough to get some good shots though. In some instances, the bears had climbed trees and we were shocked at how high those suckers can climb! They were so high (several stories) that it was hard to spot them when looking up at the treetops.

We were really happy with our time in the Smokies, and I ended up getting a lot of nice photos to show for it. If you ever plan on visiting the area, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, this park gets twice as many visitors than any other national park (because half the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of the place) so expect crowds. Fall is a spectacular time of year to visit. The whole area is wooded and when the leaves change, it’s just an explosion of color. The last thing I would say to keep in mind is that restaurant choices are fairly limited… unless you’re ok with places like “Hillbilly Barbecue.” Karen and I like to eat pretty healthy, and Karen doesn’t eat meat, so we had a bit of a hard time finding places. However, the Dancing Bear Lodge has a restaurant that is fantastic, and the lodge itself is beautiful. The only thing is that it’s pricy, but we ended up going twice because we had such a great experience there.

After leaving the Smokies, we made the one-day drive down to Atlanta, where the bus will hang out for a bit. We were happy to be there because it meant we could hang out with our wonderful friends Eddie Tapp and Judy Host, who are Atlanta locals. After a few days, I had to fly out to Seattle for a creativeLIVE event. More to come!


BenSmokies19Some of the black bears we saw in the Smokies


BenSmokies16Sunset at Clingman’s Dome, the second highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi

The rest of the images here are fall color shots I took in the Smokies… with a few of me and Karen thrown in there as well. Enjoy!












Shooting our way south

This past week, we left New Jersey and started to meander south. (When your house has wheels, there is no reason to keep it in cold weather for the winter!) Our goal was to photograph the fall color on the way south, shooting in Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’ve actually made several interesting stops over the past week, and I thought a visual travelogue would be more appropriate, as we’ve been taking a lot of photos! Here goes:

BenBOmuseum-smallOur first stop after leaving New Jersey was Baltimore, to visit the B&O Railroad Museum. There was a nice, streamline train I wanted to see (pictured above) but we ended up spending a lot of time exploring the museum because it is really pretty awesome… and huge. The big roundhouse holds loads of trains, many dating back to the Civil War. 

BOroundhouseThe roundhouse (where they turn train cars around) at the B&O Railroad Museum.


For two nights, we stayed in Waynesboro, VA, which is right outside Shenandoah National Park and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove around Shenandoah a lot, but much of the color was already past peak. It was still nice to see though. We got some nice shots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, like the one above, but we realized we were still a little too far north for nice fall color. 

ShenandoahNP-BlueRidgePkwy-27Karen got this shot of me shooting on the Blue Ridge Parkway… literally ON the parkway!

FallRedLeavesAnother fall color shot

BenOWLmuseumOur next stop was in Roanoke, VA, where there were two places I wanted to see. The first was the O. Winston Link Museum. Link was a photographer known for his night images of the N&W (Norfolk & Western) Railway. He captured the last workings of steam-operated trains, marking the end of an era. Most of his shots were made at night, where he used dozens of flash bulbs to freeze the motion of the trains and the railroad employees. The image in the shot above is Link and his assistant with their lighting equipment. 

BenRoanokeStationMy second stop in Roanoke was this vintage Amoco station. I spent a couple minutes shooting it and then we continued on.

Karen-VTJust south of Roanoke is Blacksburg, VA, home of Virginia Tech. Karen graduated from VT back in 2002 and hasn’t been back to the campus yet, so she wanted to pay a visit on our way south.

1391692_10153886978935355_1729416661_nWe stopped and spent a night in Fancy Gap, VA, which is right near the VA/NC border and very convenient to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We spent some time exploring the Parkway in this area, but the color was past peak here too. The photo above is the “Welcome To…” sign for both Virginia and North Carolina.

BenSunrisePanoEven though the fall color wasn’t that great, we managed to find this vista for a beautiful sunrise on the Parkway. This post’s header image is from the same place. 

Continuing south, our next stop was the Great Smoky Mountains, where we are parked right near the national park entrance. We will spend a few days exploring here and then head southward to Atlanta for a bit. More to come!