For my final stop along the way to the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photography Weekend I decided on Crabtree Falls. With all the Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron blooming along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had hoped to capture this spectacular waterfall with some blooms along side.
The Crabtree Falls Trailhead is located inside the Crabtree Falls Campground at Blue Ridge Parkway Mile Marker 339.
The Crabtree Falls Trailhead
The trail forms a loop which I would recommend doing counter clockwise. It is all downhill for the first 0.9 miles to the base of the waterfall. Along the trail I saw the most spectacular display of Mountain Laurel blooms I have ever seen.
Butterfly on some Mountain Laurel
Unfortunately, there was nothing blooming alongside the waterfall, but it is still an awesome sight. Crabtree Falls is a steep cascading type waterfall of about 80-feet high. The clouds earlier in the day were all gone so I was left with full mid-afternoon sunlight. I definitely would have preferred some cloud cover, but my photos came out OK even with the bright sun.
There are virtually unlimited angles to view, compose, and photograph this waterfall. Since I had the place to myself, I spent a good bit of time photographing it from many angles.
Iggy even decided to make his only appearance of the weekend.
Iggy at Crabtree Falls
Eventually, some other people arrived which was my cue to continue on. However, I did snap one hand held shot with people in it to give a sense of scale.
Crabtree Falls with people (lower right) for a sense of scale
If you are looking for the shortest hike, you can just return the way you came for a 1.8-mile round trip hike. However, the hike back is very steep! I would recommend a slightly longer, but less steep return by continuing on the loop for a total hike of about 2.5 miles.
The trail climbs to a nice view point near the top of the falls and then joins the creek further upstream. There are several much smaller cascades upstream, but none that are very photogenic. However, the awesome display of Mountain Laurel continued throughout the remainder of the hike!
Mountain Laurel along the Crabtree Falls Trail
After completing the hike, I roamed around the campground and determined that this is definitely a spot I would consider for a weekend camping trip sometime!
At 6,684 feet above sea level, the summit of Mount Mitchell is the highest point in Eastern United States. I've been there about 5 times and every visit has always been in the fogged. I hoped that today I would get some clear views.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Marker 355, Highway 128 takes you into the state park. The road ends at the Mount Mitchell Summit parking area. A short but fairly steep paved trail takes you the final 100-feet to the Observation Tower on the Summit.
Me at the Mount Mitchell Summit
It was far from a crystal clear day, but it was also by far the most open views I have ever experienced on Mount Mitchell. The temperature at the summit was a cool 58 degrees. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the stiff breeze actually made me feel cold for the first time in weeks.
view from the Mount Mitchell Summit
Looking North towards Mount Craig
The best way to warm up is a little hike, so decided to do a short section of The Deep Gap Trail (also know as the Black Mountain Crest Trail). The trailhead is at the lower end of the same parking area. The trail follows the ridgeline North over several 6,000+ ft peaks.
I decided to go as far as Big Tom (6,581-feet) which is about a mile away making for a 2-mile out and back hike. This also took me up and over the Summit of Mount Craig (6,648-feet).
The Deep Gap Trail
There was a nice variety of wildflowers along the way and lots of open areas to take in the awesome views!
Since I decided to take the whole day off from work I elected to take the scenic drive to the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photography Weekend. I would have several hours at my disposal before I could check in. So I decided to do a few short hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The first stop was the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center at Mile Marker 364.5. The Visitors Center was closed, but there are several trails that start from the Visitors Center Parking area.
It is about a half mile hike to the Craggy Gardens Area which is known for its spectacular Catawba Rhododendron Blooms every June. There were definitely some nice blooms, but I was probably a good week early for peak bloom. Still well worth the short and easy hike and a very nice first stop to my weekend!
Catawba Rhododendron Blooms by the Craggy Gardens Trail Shelter
While I only hiked about a mile here, with all the trails in the area, you could easily plan a hike of any distance. It’s a great summer time hiking destination because with elevations over 5,000 feet, it is generally about 15-20 degrees cooler than the low lands. After suffering through several days with close to 100 degree temperatures, the much cooler weather up here felt awesome!
Friday after work, Amy and I took a drive up to Tryon, NC to visit my buddies Jeff, Steve, and Ron at the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival. Several years ago my buddies established the competition BBQ team Piglet Enemy and have been competing in 2-3 BBQ competitions each year.
The competition cooking does not start heating up until early Saturday Morning. Friday Evening is mostly about hanging out, having fun, and maybe doing a practice run, which I was more than happy to sample.
Jeff Pulling some pork - Steve giving it a taste!
Some Piglet Enemy Chicken
In the past it seems that this Festival always falls on the hottest darn weekend of the summer, but tonight a nice cool breeze made for a very comfortable and enjoyable evening!
After a late night photographing the night sky and hanging out with friends around the campfire, I managed to sleep in and miss out on the sunrise. I did wander around the animal habitats to snap a few photos before the first presentation of the day.
At 9:00am, Mollie Isaacs and Mary Lindhjem, shared some awesome photos and a plethora of photography tips and techniques. After that, was the photo contest awards presentation.
They started off by showing a bunch of notable, but non-winning photos. One of my three photos was put up on the big screen and I was very pleased to hear a bunch of ooohs and aaahs from the audience. It was one of my night sky shots and I have to say it looked a lot better on the big screen that on my lousy laptop!
But the highlight for me was when they presented the showed the winning photographs and presented the certificates to the winners. My other two photographs took a third place and an honorable mention.
Did anyone else notice that they got the date wrong on the certificates?
I did enter into the "Beginner" class so it is not that great of an accomplishment, but I was still proud. Since I won something in the Beginner class, next year (and I do plan on coming back next year), I will have to enter in the "Accomplished" class where the competition, talent, and gear is much greater. I'll be competing against photographers that have lenses worth more than my truck!
This is what I will be competing against next year
As I viewed all the rest of the winning photographs I was in awe of some of the talent in the auditorium with me.
It sure felt good to get my photos submitted into the contest and knowing that the pressure was now off!
I had a few hours to kill so I decided to hike one of my favorite trails! The Grandfather Trail starts from the same parking area as the Mile Hike Swinging Bridge which was packed with people during this beautiful sunny day. Temperatures were about 80 degrees which is pretty much as hot as it gets at the top of Grandfather Mountain.
The Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain
The last few times I hiked this trail have been in the fog, so this would be the first time in many years that I would actually be able to enjoy the views along this spectacular trail.
View from the Grandfather Trail
This trail is sometimes called the "Chutes and Ladders" trail for obvious reasons! There are many very steep sections of trails where ladders are used to help the climb. They might take a bit away from a true wilderness experience, but for me they are a lot of fun. Plus many spots would not be safe without them.
Many Ladders along the Grandfather Trail
It is only about a mile to the summit of McCrae Peak, but that mile took me about an hour which goes to show how difficult this trail is.
View from McCrae Peak
I hiked a short ways past McCrae Peak and returned to the parking area via the Underwood Trail to form a little Lollipop Loop hike. The Underwood Trail is much easier, but bypasses much of the spectacular scenery.
View from the Grandfather Trail
After my hike, I had a little bit of time before the Buffet Dinner, so I went for another visit to the Animal Habitats. I saw the Otters for the first time all weekend and have come to the conclusion that Otters are really cute animals and very fun to watch and photograph!
I could have cropped it out, but I kind of like the effect that the camera on the right side gives
This year the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photography Weekend cost $115.00 per participant. This includes park admission from Friday @ 3:00pm through all day Sunday, (2) Nights Camping, entrance to the auditorium for all the presentations, a CD for entering into the photo contest, and the Saturday Evening Buffet Dinner.
Dinner consisted of Fried Chicken, Baked Chicken, Pork BBQ, Corn, Green Beans, Dinner Rolls, Iced Tea, and a selection of Desserts. Everything was very good and I definitely did not walk away hungry!
After dinner I made another visit to the Animal Habitats before the first presenter of the evening; Bill Lea. An excellent and very informative presentation with some absolutely amazing photography.
Again, I skipped the final presenter of the evening because I really wanted to be up on the mountain for sunset. My one complaint about the whole weekend was the scheduling of the presentations. I think they should end earlier in the day. The empty time between the 3:00pm submitting of the photos and the 5:30pm Buffet Dinner would have been the perfect time for a presentation or two.
Instead of heading all the way to the top for sunset, I decided on the Cliffside Overlook which is another great place to view a sunset. I definitely was not the only one who elected to skip the final presentation of the day!
Sunset from the Cliffside Overlook
Later that evening, the stars started appearing and it was another great night sky! About (10) of us ended up hanging out a clearing just down the road from the camping area to photograph the night sky!
Starry Sky Above Grandfather Mountain
(click for full size view)
Back at our campsite I built an impromptu campfire made from a gathering of downed tree limbs. Hanging out with friends around a campfire is always a very enjoyable end to any day!
If you are looking to sleep in on a Saturday Morning the camping area at the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photography Weekend is not the place to be! With sunrise scheduled for around 6:25am, the commotion of vehicles leaving the camping area started up at around 5:00am!
Upon waking up to all the noise I decided to join the mass exodus of the camping area and head up for a sunrise on top of Grandfather Mountain. It wasn't the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen, but still well worth getting up early for!
Just before sunrise at Grandfather Mountain
Sunrise at Grandfather Mountain
The Mile High Swinging Bridge at Sunrise
After sunrise I made a stop at the Nature Center to see what animals were out and about at the Animal Habitats.
After a little breakfast, I decided to do some hiking. Some of my favorite photos have come while I am out hiking and not really looking for anything specific to photograph. I hoped that would be the case this morning.
I decided to hike the 3.1 mile (6.2 mile out and back) profile trail from Hwy 105 to its intersection with the Grandfather Trail.
The first mile of the Profile Trail is an easy hike as it maintains a fairly constant elevation. The first part runs alongside the Watauga River offering many places to stop and photograph. However, a lot of other photographers had the same idea, so I decided to continue on and hopefully away from the crowds.
About a mile in, the trail crosses Shanty Spring Branch were a couple of small cascades awaited me. I knew this was the spot where several past winning contest photos were taken, so I pulled out the tri-pod to see what I could come up with.
Shanty Spring Branch
Up to this point, it was a very easy hike, but the next 2.1 miles of trail gains approximately 1,800 feet of elevation making for a good morning workout! I made a few stops to photograph some interesting things I saw along the trail.
Interesting Growth on this tree
There are not a whole lot of distant views along the trail. There are a couple of viewpoints shown on the map which are nice, but not spectacular. The last quarter mile is totally brutal, the only relief coming from knowing that the hike back would be all downhill!
View from the Profile Trail
View from the Profile Trail
On the hike back down I decided to take a break, switch over to my Macro Lens and try some Macro shots of the Rhododendron blooms. One of the blooms had some bugs crawling around inside so I went in even closer.
I probably took about 50 shots of this bug experimenting with different apertures, shutter speeds, with flash, without flash, using my little LED flashlight, etc. Out of all those shots, certainly at least one or two would come out OK.
Macro Bug Shot
I finished up the hike at around noon, leaving me about 3 hours to go through all my photos and pick the (3) best to burn to CD and submit into the photo contest by the 3:00pm deadline.
Back at the camping area, my laptop battery quickly went dead! So I headed up to the Nature Center where I was lucky enough to find an open AC outlet. Trying to go through about 600 photos on an antique (7 years old) laptop proved to be by far the least enjoyable part of the whole weekend.
Not only is my laptop way to slow to work with the image sizes of today's digital cameras, but the screen really sucks. I was very unimpressed with all my photos, but fortunately they looked much better once I got home and viewed them on a decent monitor!
I almost thought about not submitting any photos for the contest, but in the end I did come up with my three photo submissions. One night sky shot from the previous evening to submit into the Scenic category, and two Macro bug shots for the Animals in Nature Category!
It sure felt good to get that CD submitted and know that the pressure was off for the rest of the weekend!