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The Blooming Colors of Spring

Engine Gap Rhodo (FP 8796)

In an earlier post, the rhododendrons in the vicinity of Blowing Rock served to illustrate the beauty of spring in the High Country.

That begs the question – Is Blowing Rock just an isolated island of park-like brilliance in the mountains of the High Country?  What’s spring like in the rest of the mountains?    Well, let’s take a quick look at several of my favorite High Country locations.

Little Lost Creek Cove Cliffs – These high bluffs are visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP310 and can be reached by a exited the Parkway onto the Old Jonas Ridge Road and driving 4.5 miles down FR464 into the Wilson Creek Wilderness area and then a moderate 1.25 mile trail to the top of the Cliffs for a great vista view of Grandfather Mountain to the north.  What makes this area interesting in early spring is the dominance of the early blooming Carolina Rhodododendrons on the cliffs.  When I visited in late April, most were past their peak except for this bush located in a more shaded area near the top of the cliffs.  In general this spring, all the rhododendron blooms were 1-2 weeks ahead of schedule because of unseasonably warm weather.  (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 35 mm, ISO 400, f/22 @ 1/10th second, tripod). 

Flying Low –  The more colorful Catawba rhododendrons started to bloom in early May near Blowing Rock and by late May, they were peaking at the higher elevations (5,000′) of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell State Park.  Any guesses on the blur in this image?  To make it easy, I’ll make it a multiple guess question (with answer at the end)….

a.  A low-flying UFO?

b.  A NASCAR driver practicing his skills on the narrow and curvy BRP?

c.  An environmental friendly, air suspended vehicle (note the lack of wheels and tires)?

d.  A NC State trooper SUV?

e.  The Parkway’s new high-speed people transit system?

Whatever it was; it was missing the beauty of the rhodo bloom.  (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 47 mm, ISO 100, f/11 @ 1/4 second, tripod mounted)

Craggy Gardens – Another favorite spring location is Craggy Gardens, located approximately thirty miles north of Asheville at Milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A short hike from the Parkway to Craggy Gardens leds into a vast field of Catawba rhododendron bushes while the Craggy Pinnacle Trail through flowering bushes leads to even more rhododendrons and a 360-degree view from a 5,892′ viewing post.

I arrived at Craggy at nearly the same time as a thunderstorm with pounding rain, low-hanging clouds and fog moved through the mountains from the west.  Some patience as evidenced by a three hour wait and suddenly it was nature photographer’s paradise – good lighting, fog, rainbows, rhodo’s, mountain trails and overlooks all to myself! (Canon 7d with 24-105 mm L lens @ 65 mm, ISo 100, f/22 @ 1/8th second, polarizing filter to optimize rainbow pattern, tripod). 

Craggy Pinnacle Trail – With fog covered the entire mountain and with the light of day slowly fading, it was time to hike up the Craggy Pinnacle Trail.  I purposely delayed my visit to Craggy Gardens until the rhododendrons were past peak to capture an ethereal image like this one and the conditions were just about perfect – still present blooms but falling petals and saturated foliage from the rain.  The reflecting pool and the mystical fog were bonuses.  (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 47 mm, ISO 100, f/16 @ 10 seconds, polarizing filter and tripod mounted).  

Yogi’s Trail – That night, I camped out at Crabtree Falls and listened to more rain and storms throughout the night.  Hoping to get more magical conditions, next morning I returned to Craggy Gardens and hiked the Craggy Garden Trail.  I’m sorry Park Rangers but I couldn’t resist this image and renaming the trail.  Please note the shape of the two trees on the right hand side of the trail.  As Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 24 mm, ISO 400, f/8 @ 1/20th second, tripod mounted). 

Rhodo’s on Roan – It’s now early June and time for the grand finale – peak bloom of the Catawba’s on the Roan Highlands.  As a starter,  just travel to Carver’s Gap, walk across the road, start hiking the Appalachian Trail and you will enter a meadow filled with blooming Catawba rhododendron bushes. (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 24 mm, ISO 100, f/8 @ 1/20th second, tripod mounted). 

Heaven on Earth – Spring time on the Roan Highlands with the Catawba rhododendrons and Flame Azaleas in bloom is a very special place.  In early June I made three trips and each was unique in its own way, especially the overnight camping trip where I awoke to a dense blanket of hopeless fog.  Oh well, nature photography is like playing the lottery; one cannot win unless one buys a ticket.  As they say in the big leagues – you win some, you lose some and some get rained out!  This particular morning was a winner with the rhodos in Engine Gap between Round and Jane Balds; fog in the NC High Country and Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains protruding above the fog in the distant. (Canon 5D with 17-40 mm L lens @ 35 mm, ISO 100, f/22 @ 1/6th second, tripod mounted). 

Rhodos on Roan  –  This is my favorite image on Roan Highlands and was taken soon after sunrise from the northeast side of Round Bald.   The sun was disappearing behind some high clouds but managed to provide brilliant warm colors to the mountains and the rhododendrons in the foreground.  I used a three-stop GND filter to darken the clouds at the top of the image and to help provide greater exposure of the rhododendrons. (Canon 7D with 24-105 mm L lens @ 45 mm, ISO 100, f/22 @ 2 seconds, 3-stop GND filter, tripod mounted).  

Spring in the High Country – dogwoods in mid-April, peak bloom of the Carolina’s in late April at the lower elevations and the peak bloom of the Catawba’s in early June at the higher elevations.  The end of spring – no way!  It’s now late June and the Rosebay’s are in full bloom along the Parkway near Blowing Rock.  Hopefully I have some good  Rosebay images in a later blog post or on my Facebook photo page.

Next post – spring comes to Bass Lake!    Until then, happy shooting and enjoy life to the fullest!


Quiz answer:  d.  A NC State trooper SUV

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