The following article originally appeared on Blue Ridge Parkway Daily in 2013 and is reprinted here with the permission of author Victor Ellison.
People come from all over the world to experience for only a few moments what I’ve been able enjoy since birth. I never take for granted the blessing it is to live in such an amazing part of the world as Western North Carolina. It’s full of diverse landscapes, wildlife, and people. As a nature lover, it’s exhilarating to live here. As a photographer, it’s heaven. And at the heart of it all is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I have many fond memories of exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway with my family as a child. Price Lake sticks out particularly. It seemed like we’d walk forever, stumbling over exposed roots, and ducking overhanging rhododendron branches. A trip around Price Lake would see that I left with a scrape or two and my new shoes caked in mud, much to my mother’s disapproval. My young mind believed the Blue Ridge Parkway was a special place full of wonder. As an adult working as a nature photographer, I know the Blue Ridge Parkway is a special place – and I still get my shoes dirty, now much to my wife’s disapproval, I’m sure.
Nothing brings me back to that childhood mentality quite like getting up early, traveling the Parkway in the dark, setting up my camera, and waiting for the sun to rise. The world is quiet, but there is electricity in the air. It’s as if the earth itself is beginning to stir and wake like a bear shaking off the effects of hibernation. Then, it happens. Just before the sun crests the mountains, a white, featureless sky puts on a light show that leaves you speechless. Bright hues of pink and orange scream across the sky, bathing everything below it in an ethereal glow. The first sounds of morning break the silence. To your left, the raspy caw of a crow. To your right, the chatter of finches. Behind you, a wood mouse rustling dry leaves. Then, before you, a bright, golden ball lifts off from behind the mountain, gracing with its warmth. There is quietness inside of you that only happens when the sun visits in the morning, and just as it dips back down the mountains to rest in the evening. If in this modern world you believe that magic went the way of unicorns and sea monsters, then I invite you to join me on one of my photography outings. I will show you what magic this world still holds.
The Blue Ridge Parkway keeps alive that sense of wonder and curiosity for the natural world that I had when I was a child. As a photographer, I’m very lucky to be able to share these experiences. Photographers do what the average person won’t or are unable to do. We get up before the sun rises and stay long after it sets. We’re not afraid to brave the elements just for the opportunity to snag that perfect shot.
I love exploring the the Parkway during inclement weather. Weather changes quickly in the mountains, and the Parkway is a great place to experience this. There’s nothing quite like beginning a hike up Rough Ridge with warm sunlight peeking through the tree canopy only to reach the summit and finding it enveloped in dense fog. If you’ve never hiked along the Parkway in the fog, I urge you to give it a try. A familiar trail is suddenly fresh and exciting. I jump on the opportunity to photograph in the fog because it forces to me think differently about subjects I’ve seen a thousand times before.
One of my favorite times to get out and explore the Blue Ridge Parkway is when it rains. The diversity of the landscape allows you to see how different environments react to the rain. Rain can reveal secrets, such as what a forest may be hiding. I seem to always run across toads and salamanders when it’s raining where they’d be hidden when it’s dry. From the overlooks and ridge lines that can be easily accessed from our beautiful Parkway, we can see the rain traveling from afar. As a photographer, I enjoy shooting in the rain for the intriguing shots, but I think getting soaked while hiking through a downpour stirs the imagination of the child in me.
While the Blue Ridge Parkway closes in the winter, it’s still accessible on foot. Last winter, I decided to visit Moses H. Cone Memorial Park while a fresh snow and a thin sheet of ice blanketed everything. The first ascending section of Flat Top Trail usually takes about two minutes to traverse. That morning, it took around ten due to the ice. When I made it to the meadow, I was greeted with frozen views that few people ever get to experience. The ferocious wind took every opportunity to cut like icy daggers anywhere bare skin could be found. Despite being as cold as I’ve ever been, I took time to find an interesting composition of Grandfather Mountain in conditions and a time of year that truly captures the magic of the day.
Spring and summer are special times along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I always enjoy visiting Bass Lake during this time of year. While there are many beautiful (and larger) lakes to be explored along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Bass is in a league of its own. It’s absolutely gorgeous year round and is easily accessible via Highway 221.
One thing that sets Bass Lake apart is the abundance of lily pads, which are not native to North Carolina. The gorgeous flowers that bloom from these curious plants in late spring decorate the lake in a way that sparks the imagination. It’s just not something you see anywhere else along the Parkway. Beyond the natural beauty of the lake, the wildlife is abundant and diverse. Beavers, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, squirrels, turtles, frogs, and tiny birds of all kind call Bass Lake home. To see these animals in their natural element is truly a wondrous and magical experience.
Before long, the colorful flowers given to us during spring and summer fade away, and a faint chill in the air returns. Fall is on its way. This is the busiest and one of the most beautiful times of the year for the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is both an extremely exciting and terribly frustrating time for the photographer. There are countless breathtaking scenes to be captured, and no shortage of people standing in them! While this may bother some photographers, I see it differently. I see people who may have saved all year just to spend a few days in a magical land that I can visit anytime I want. I see children discovering something that can’t be found in any video game. I see families who will go home with experiences that they will reminisce about for years to come.
That’s what the Blue Ridge Parkway is all about. It’s a magical place that deserves nothing less than our protection, stewardship, and admiration. It should be shared with all. Through my lens, I hope people can see the Parkway the way I see it – through the eyes of a man who really never grew up, with all the awe and wonder that entails.
BlueRidgeNCGuide.com would like to thank Victor Ellison for allowing us to reprint his thoughts and share his beautiful images here. Please check out his website at www.AppalachianPrints.com where you can find his beautiful images for sale.
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All text & photos copyright 2015 Victor Ellison and Victor Ellison Fine Art Photography. No portion of this article is to be copied, saved, or otherwise distributed without express written consent. Sharing is encouraged using the designated social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this article. Author received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this article.