Looking back at my 32-day road trip

Mize Mills Falls

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Memories and photos from the Deep South

It's been a week since I returned home from 32 days on the road — and what a road trip it turned out to be! I traveled through six states while traveling between Bassmaster tournaments, creating new prints in four of those beautiful Southern jewels.

My travel this year has been different. I'm a year older and I realized I just can't run as hard, so I'm pacing myself a lot more. I'm still working between events, but the 3:30 and 4 a.m. mornings wear on me.

So instead of driving hundreds of extra miles between events, I'm targeting specific locations and working them hard while getting in some naps and skipping some sunrises to ensure I'm rested for the next tournament.

I've feel a lot better, and I've really been creating some wonderful new work for my online print gallery.

Four Holes Swamp

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South Carolina swing

The trip began with two weeks in South Carolina. While I normally head straight for the mountains during my free time between bass-fishing tournaments, I decided I needed to work the Lowcountry.

It was a great decision. I didn't have to put as many miles on the road, and I discovered some beautiful scenery.

I started by heading to the wonderful Congaree National Park for a morning of hiking through this old growth swamp to see what I could find. Honestly, it's one of the most difficult places I've ever photographed. It's beautiful, but transferring the scenery to the camera proved much more challenging than I thought it would be. I had visited there a couple of years ago during the dry season, but there still wasn't as much water as I hoped.

The problem with creating compelling images of Congaree is that the floor of the swamp is drab and, well, ugly. Lots of grey, with color being pretty spare.

However, I did manage to add a couple of images (shown below) to my Congaree National Park Collection by taking my time and really searching out some compositions showing the park's iconic tupelo trees standing in shallow water.

Congaree Tupelo

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Reflections of Congaree National Park

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Once I arrived in the Lowcountry on my second week, I also found a wonderful example of the swamps of the Palmetto State. I spotted what looked like an interesting area near Santee, S.C., and returned later that day to investigate.

Four Holes Swamp is just wonderful. And there was more color to be found in this stretch of swamp, with wonderful lichen on the tupelo trees and lush greenery bordering the narrow, winding swamp.

The print titled "Four Holes Swamp" perfectly captures the vibes of these mysterious wetlands.

I also made a foray toward the South Carolina coast to see what I could find. It's a wonderful area of the state, and one of my favorite images created there is titled "Lowcountry Sunset" (shown below). This wonderful scene shows a live oak tree reaching over the South Carolina marsh with a colorful sunset background.

I also added other prints to my gallery during this time in the South Carolina Lowcountry. You can view all the new prints in my South Carolina Collection! Just click here!

Lowcountry Sunset

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First look at LInville Gorge

I slept late the morning after my the second Bassmaster event in South Carolina. I had two days to reach my next event in southern Virginia, and I wanted to be rested up for those three days of very early mornings and long days.

However, I had a goal in mind when I finally climbed in my truck and headed north. Ultimately, I wanted to check out North Carolina's Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, which I had seen on Google Maps for years but never taken the time to investigate.

The route took me right past Looking Glass Falls in the wonderful Pisgah National Forest. I had photographed this waterfall a few years ago. My plan was to reshoot it and update the print on my gallery, given my expanded experience and improved gear.

Creating "Looking Glass Falls" was an exercise in patience. I arrived just after lunch with perfect shooting conditions (solid overcast with fairly calm winds), but there also were a lot of other people wanting to view the waterfall. And, since this cascade is located right off the road with a very short hike, the number of people was to be expected.

So I had to wait for a break in the crowds.

However, my patience was rewarded and I created a beautiful updated image of the waterfall (seen below).

Looking glass Falls

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My next stop was just up the road at Moore Cove Falls, but I didn't even bother with my photo gear. I wanted some time to just relax and do some hiking, so I made the .7-mile hike to find a pretty waterfall with not a lot of water cascading over the cliff. 

However, I definitely marked the waterfall for another visit in the spring, when more water should be present.

I moved on, planning to see if I could be in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area for sunset. I arrived to find the winds howling. However, after checking into my hotel room I drove up to the trailhead of Hawksbill Mountain hoping to be set up for sunset overlooking the gorge.

It wasn't encouraging. The temperatures at the trailhead were in the low 50s, and the wind chill made it seem much colder. But I added an extra wind-proof layer, shrugged on my backpack and grabbed my tripod for the 3/4-mile hike that included a 700-foot elevation change.

I met a lady halfway up the trail, and she was heading down the mountain.

"It's blowing 60 mph up there," she said. "You'll never be able to get photos, even with your tripod."

I simply smiled and continued the strenuous hike.

It was shocking when I stepped out of the trees onto the bare rock summit of the mountain: The wind was absolutely incredible. If it wasn't blowing 60 mph it was close - and stronger gusts buffeted the mountain.

I set up my tripod without extending the legs to gain the most stability, but I could still see my camera shaking in the wind.

But the light on the neighboring Table Rock Mountain was amazing! And because Table Rock is to the east of Hawksbill I hoped to find a little protection from the wind to create a compelling image.

I found the perfect location behind a huge boulder just down from the summit and was able to capture the evening light on Table Rock with some beautiful pastel color in the sky above (photo shown below).

The next morning I drove on to my event in Virginia, but I already was planning my return trip.

Evening Light on Table Rock

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Southern Virginia

My next Bassmaster event was on Buggs Island Reservoir along the North Carolina/Virginia border. We were based in South Hill, Virginia, and I had some very early wake-ups with long days of work for the tournament.

So I honestly didn't expect to create any new work there.

However, I was struck by a cool old barn one morning. The early morning light was incredible, so I pulled over to create the print I titled "Virginia Hay Barn" (image below).

Virginia Hay Barn

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Back to Linville Gorge

With my work in Virginia completed, I had four free days before I had to be in Alabama for my last two Bassmaster events. I knew exactly where I wanted to spend most of that time: the Linville Gorge.

My first goal was getting to the top of Table Rock Mountain for sunset. I arrived with plenty of time to make the hike up the 1-mile hike. My plan was to reach the top of the mountain and just chill out until the evening light show.

The clouds above the gorge were perfect. All I needed them to do is stay put for a few hours.

I made the hike (which included a 600-foot elevation change) with my primary camera gear, and then settled in to enjoy the view. And it was incredible!

The gorge spread out below me, with the iconic layered ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Unfortunately, an hour before sunset the clouds that would make for a wonderfully colorful sunset blew away. I was crushed.

That left one real photo opportunity: The view across the top of the Blue Ridge mountains. Unfortunately, I didn't have a long lens with me: I had left my Nikon 70-200mm lens in my truck.

That meant I could either just sit and enjoy the view until the sun set or I could hump it down the mountain, grab my long lens and huff back up to get the photo. I opted for the latter.

It almost killed me.

I literally ran down the mountain, which wasn't as painful as I expected. I mean, I was definitely out of breath, but I wasn't completely wasted.

The hike up, however, was a different story. To make sunset meant moving just as quickly as possible up the strenuously steep trail. I headed out, moving as quickly as possible. It didn't take long for me to lose my breath (hey, I live at sea level!), and then it got worse. 

By the time I made it back to the summit, I felt awful. I truly thought I would vomit.

However, I made it in time to create two wonderful versions of the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains (seen below).

Sunset Over the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Last Light Over the Blue Ridge Mountains

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The next morning I was up early and checked out of my room to head back to the gorge. I was moving my base to the wonderful Linville Falls Lodge, a vintage motel built in 1937 and still operated by the same family. Best of all, the motel was located minutes away from the gorge and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

On the way into the mountains, a waterfall caught my eye off the highway. It was a down a steep embankment, but I pulled over to investigate.

I discovered a beautiful unnamed fall on the North Fork Catawba River. It was well worth the stop. Click here to see this amazing photo!

The next two days were spent in the gorge. According to my iPhone, I logged about 20 miles with more than 2,o00 feet of elevation change during my time there. I even managed to get in a couple of naps.

I shot both the upper and lower Linville Falls, as well as an incredible sunrise over the gorge on my final morning there.

My favorite images there were "Upper Linville Falls" and "Sunrise Storms Over Hawksbill Mountain" (both shown below.

You can see all of the photos from the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area by clicking here.

This is one place I'll definitely return to for more investigation.

Upper Linville Falls

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Sunrise Storms Over Hawksbill Mountain

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Before I left, however, I even had the opportunity to photograph a scene I'd been for which I've been hoping for several years: a field of trillium in full bloom

I was actually driving the Blue Ridge Parkway to look at a nearby overlook when I spotted a slope of the mountain covered in trillium that were bloomed out. It was insanely beautiful, with the plants surrounding the trunks of trees all over the mountain slope.

It took me some time, but I finally found a winning setup. "Blue Ridge Trillium Field" (below) is exactly what I dreamed of when I imagined photographing these beautiful flowers.

Blue Ridge Trillium Field

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Finishing up in Alabama

I arrived in Alabama for my final two weeks of the road trip fairly well rested and excited about my new prints. During my first event there, I didn't have the opportunity to shoot any new landscape photos.

At this point, I wasn't disappointed. The road miles were starting to show; I was completely worn out by the time the Lay Lake event wrapped up.

So I headed to Wheeler Lake for the final event intent on staying in the hotel, getting a bit of office work accomplished and resting.

However, the final morning before the event I couldn't help myself. I mean, I was bored with sitting in the room and the conditions were perfect to shoot water features. 

So I made the short drive to the Bankhead National Forest hoping to find Mize Mill Falls, which I had seen marked online. An hour later I was walking into the woods with the welcome sound of a cascade.

Mize Mill Falls is just wonderful. The hike ended with a steep, slippery descent into a chasm, with the reward being a beautiful view of the cascade.

I created a couple of compositions, but the best came when I clambered atop some boulders under the canopy of the ledge. The final image is at the top of this blog - or click here.

I finally pulled into my driveway 32 days after I left, tired and in need of some time with my family. I pretty much did nothing but play with my granddaughters and chill out with Yvette for the next several days.

But I'm already looking forward to my next substantial road trip schedule for mid-June, when Yvette and I will drive to an Oklahoma Bassmaster event before heading to the Dakotas with our mini-camper.