Beautiful Grayson Highlands

June 11, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

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You might be curious how it's possible for a place to have a 365° view.  Sure, it's technically 5° more than what is actually possible, but let me tell you, when you hike up past young foals and blooming rhododendron to get to a rock outcropping where you can see into two other states, you'll know exactly why this place gets the extra 5°.(In my book anyways)

The Rhododendron Trail and Wilburn Ridge in Grayson Highlands State park are BANGIN' right now!  The Catawba Rhododendrons have painted large sections of the hillsides in pink and purple, young foals and their mother mares frolic about, and the partly cloudy sky has made for some great scenes.  

Rhododendrons in Grayson HighlandsRhododendrons in Grayson Highlands

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Grayson Highlands State Park 2014

Grayson Highlands State Park Ponies

Now to the good stuff...

I came up here yesterday to check out the foals, but also to get a glimpse of how the rhododendrons were coming along.  I knew that they bloomed in June, but I wasn't quite sure when.  Once I got up there, my mind was blown with all the blooming rhododendron!  After parking at Massie Gap, I made the walk up towards the ponies.   If you come here in the late morning or afternoon, you'll be sharing this area with a bunch of people.  Since I was here just after sunrise, I only had to share with one other.  She was a nice lady who told me about the stallion named Fabio, why some were called painted mares, and how they had been separated from the ponies in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area because of a fence for cattle.  All cool stuff!

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

You can click any of the Horse photos to be taken to the Highlands Horses Gallery.  

After spending a little time at the edge of the state park and Mount Rogers Recreation Area, I went into MRRA and headed up higher on the Wilburn Ridge Trail.

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

Foal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson HighlandsFoal in Grayson Highlands

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

While I was taking the photo above, I was able to see the rhododendron patches over on the Rhododendron trail(left of the frame).  I started my way back down the trail.   Right as I passed the state park border, some foals accosted me and knocked over my tripod.  As soon as it hit the ground all the other foals came and tried to eat the knobs on the ball head.

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

I was REALLY trying to get a pony or foal to walk through this little patch of yellow.   I only got one chance at it and I am sure happy with how it turned out!

Ponies in the HighlandsPonies in the HighlandsPonies in the Highlands

Then I made my way to the Rhododendrons...  I love the windswept trees in the area.

Rhododendron Trail Grayson HighlandsRhododendron Trail Grayson Highlands

The terrain is the most challenging part of photographing this area.  Since you are shooting plants that are taller than you, you tend to rely on rock outcroppings to get a view.  This is where having a really tall tripod gives you more flexibility.  I use the Induro Alloy AT-413, it's plenty tall and stable, just gets a bit heavy after carrying it around all day.

Rhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State Park

Rhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State Park

If you look at the background on the two photos above, you can  see the top of Wilburn Ridge.  This is near where I took the wide shot with the ponies.  When I looked up towards that area, I saw HUGE patches of rhododendron.  I really tried to talk myself out of hiking BACK up to the ridge, but, realizing that this is only a once-in-a-year occurrence, I went on up.

As I got to the top, I remembered that one of my colleagues had sent out an email asking to pick up shifts at work.  I sent her a text(that's about all the service you get up here) asking her to work for me the next day.  Shortly after I received a reply and was STOKED because I knew I would be returning the next day!

Here are the photos from the rest of Day #1 in Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers.

Rhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State Park

Rhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State Park

Panorama....

Rhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State ParkRhodendron Bloom Grayson Highlands State Park

After leaving the park, going to a surprisingly fun gender reveal party, sleeping, waking up, having breakfast with the wife, doing some dishes, mowing the grass, walking the fearless Yorkie on the trail, gassing up the car, stopping at the Highlands Visitor center and getting a year pass to all Virginia State Parks, I was BACK AT IT!

I started out on day 2 by going down to Cabin Creek Falls.  I had some time to kill before the sun went down, and I didn't want to get bored up on Wilburn Ridge.  I've never gotten any 'spectacular' photos down on Cabin Creek, and today was no different.  It's more or less just a fun time crawling around on a waterfall.  You can click the photo below if you want to see more like it.  

Cabin Creek Falls Grayson Highlands State ParkCabin Creek Falls Grayson Highlands State ParkCabin Creek Falls Grayson Highlands State Park

meh...

After this grabbed a few items from the car(jacket, flashlight just in case).  The rain started just as I hit the trail.  I could tell by the size of the clouds and the direction they were moving that it wouldn't last long.

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

The only jacket I had was a North Face soft shell.  It's a great jacket that I have had for many years now.  But when climbing a hill during rain, I might as well have not worn it because its small bit of added warmth made me get soaked in sweat! 

After the rain, some nice light came down.

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

I like the opening on the Wilburn Ridge trail that lets you see out to the Blue Ridge(below)

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

From the top of Wilburn Ridge, home of the 365° View!

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

Some SWEEEET CLOUDS!

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

Grayson Highlands Rhododendron TrailGrayson Highlands Rhododendron Trail

Here is a telephoto shot of some Rhododendron and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  You can see some ponies milling about on the right.

Grayson Highlands State ParkGrayson Highlands State ParkGrayson Highlands State Park in Southwest Virginia, borders the Mount Rogers Recreation Area and is home to a beautiful Rhododendron Bloom every year.

The photos above and below were taken in the same general vicinity.  The first with my 70-200, the second with my 17-40.

Grayson Highlands State ParkGrayson Highlands State ParkGrayson Highlands State Park in Southwest Virginia, borders the Mount Rogers Recreation Area and is home to a beautiful Rhododendron Bloom every year.

In the above photo, you can see some grey clouds on the far right.  This was a pretty gnarly storm making it's was through the area.  Since I was a couple miles from the car, I figured I would start to make my way back down, shooting as I go.

By now the moon was nice and high in the sky.  On my way down, I took the Appalachian Trail which goes around the ridges, and makes for an easier decent.  Anytime you see white blazes, you are on the A.T.  You can see one here on a rock in the bottom of the image.

Appalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation AreaAppalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation Area

The crazy thing about these cows/longhorns er whatever they are called, is that they are scared of me.  They simply do not realize that they could shred me to pieces.   That said, it was interesting seeing them on the A.T. and in the same vicinity as ponies.

Appalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation AreaAppalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation Area

There is a really cool section of the A.T. in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area right next to the state park boundary that is home to nice group of hemlocks.  While I was here shooting the moon I twice heard an owl in the distance, so that was cool.

Appalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation AreaAppalachan Trail in Mount Rogers Recreation Area

Using a focus point just beyond the tree and using a small aperture, I was able to get the entire scene in focus with one exposure.  The only downside to this was cleaning up the sensor dust in Lightroom 5! (my sensor is craaaazy dirty).  I spent a little time here getting the composition just right.

Moon and HemlockMoon and Hemlock

Moon and HemlockMoon and Hemlock

And then, right before I got to the car, I startled a bird that was very close to me.  I did just a little looking around and saw the nest...

Moon and HemlockMoon and Hemlock

Thanks for Looking..


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