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A Return to South River Falls

I really wanted to visit a waterfall this past weekend. I never can decide where to go but decided to do a return trip to South River. If you’ve been following me for a few months, you may remember I went this past winter in 0 degree weather. I think I prefer that trip and I’ll explain why below. The South River Falls trailhead is located in the South River Picnic Grounds at mile marker 62.7.  The circuit I hiked is approximately 6 miles long and covers 2,300 feet of elevation.  I started on the South River Falls Trail and went all the way to the base of the falls. You’ll get to a post that says, “Base of Falls”.  Continue down that path. On my way back up, I stay on the fire road. This will cross the Appalachian Trail where you’ll make a left.  This will take you back to the South River Falls Trail where you’ll turn right and just about be at the parking lot.

South River Falls is not my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s kind of weird looking and split. I much prefer Doyles River Falls but I love the hike to South River. There are many pretty cascades. I know it sounds silly but when I made my way to the river I was surprised at how different everything looked. I know. Duh. But in March we had a massive wind storm and the downed trees added to how it had changed. I had to spend time crawling on rocks, balancing on wet rocks and wading through water to get some of my photos. And I loved every minute. The green does add beauty to the photos but I also loved how wide open everything was during winter. I was able to get to some other small falls because I didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or as many ticks or stinging nettles. I had more to photograph and I like that. Also, I think the falls look really cool when they are partly frozen (better than they look now but that’s a personal opinion).

One of the many cascades

Jump in!

Is there anything prettier?

I kept telling myself to keep moving. It was partly cloudy and I was worried the sun would be too bright by the time I got to the falls. I just couldn’t help myself when I passed certain small falls and cascades. And unfortunately, a few of my shots ended up with dappled sun. And when I got to the falls the sun was hitting the top of the falls. A photographic disaster. (Laughing) I shot it in a few exposures and I guess the final image came out okay. Sometimes I rush and don’t really think about my compositions.

South River Falls

I prefer this side of the falls

Eventually the sun was out to stay so I had to hike back. But, before I forget, I almost ran into a bear on the trail. I was all alone on the trail. And I mean really alone. I didn’t see anyone for 3 hours. I came around a corner and there was a bear. It was as surprised as me. I backed away slowly as I greeted the bear. I expected to hear it run off but it didn’t. I called out a few more times. Eventually, I saw it walk through the woods at a lazy pace. I was thrilled! Bears don’t scare me. I do wish I had gotten a photo but I thought I should follow protocol. I haven’t ever seen a bear while hiking so this was exciting.

Hiking back I forced my pace. With an upcoming Spartan Race this weekend, I wanted to test my fitness and not stop. I did have to stop once or twice but the 2,300 foot climb back up wasn’t so hard. Loved it!

I still recommend South River Falls. If you want to be in the water, it’s a great option! And the hike is just about 6 miles. Any time spent in Shenandoah National Park is time well spent.

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What a Week for my Photography!

I had announce a while back that I was officially launching my photography website and pursuing it more seriously. While I recognize that I may not produce photos like Jimmy Chin or other Nat Geo photographers, I feel like I do get captures that are outstanding.

This past week I was rewarded with a local photography award.  The Loudoun County Government held a contest for Arbor Day. The goal was to submit a photo of a tree in Loudoun County. I knew just the shot. Last fall I happened upon the Phillips Farm Trail in Waterford, VA. My son was practicing soccer and I was wandering around passing the time. As the sky was growing dark, I kept on down the trail. It isn’t a long trail so I was sure I could make it before it got too dark.  As I reached the end this magnificent White Oak tree stood there like a giant. I was immediately in awe. I think I even teared up a bit because of its beauty. They call it “Old John” and it is most likely well over 200 years old. I knew I had to return.

My kids and I had a day to see things so that was our first stop. I knew hw I wanted to photograph the tree and for once, it worked out perfectly. I still want to go back with it in full bloom and see what else I can do with it.  Below is the winning photo. I have also included one with my kids because it shows just how large the tree is (and I didn’t even get the whole tree in the photo).  Today I will be going by the government office to see my photo hanging in the lobby.

The second exciting photo event was when I received the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Annual Report in the mail.  They had requested to use one my photos and I agreed without hesitation. The council does wonderful things with education and advocating for nature. Originally, I thought it would go on the back cover.  I tore open the envelope to find that my photo graced the front cover. I couldn’t believe it.  Yes, it is just an annual report and I didn’t get paid (I wouldn’t ever have requested to be paid for this type of work) but I still feel like it is a step forward.

Photographing nature does a few things for me. 1) First and foremost it relaxes me. I’m focused on one thing and all other stressers go out the window. 2) Second, I get to share these photos with people and make them happy.  And 3) I feel like it is my way to show people that nature needs to be protected. Showing them the beauty around them may be the key to getting them to vote for a candidate that will protect our land or maybe they’ll volunteer to pick up trash or any other action that benefits our world. Spring is a busy time for me so I do not have a lot of time for hiking but I am taking time to photograph flowers, spring, insects, etc.  Whatever I can fit in my schedule.  And maybe one day you’ll see one of my photos in a big fancy magazine (or maybe you’ll purchase one for your own wall).

Visit to Grayson Highlands, Part 2

If you’d like to read about Part 1 to Grayson Highlands, please click here.

Our original plans for Grayson Highlands (other than seeing all the ponies) was to hike to Mt. Rogers.  Mt. Rogers is the highest point of elevation in Virginia. I kept thinking how cool that would be. I have been to Pike’s Peak in Colorado and thought adding another highest peak would be a nice note on my hiking successes.

Monday morning we woke up and waited a bit. It had turned pretty cold and everything had frozen. I wanted it to warm up before we started.  We arrived at the park (after I stopped again for various photos) and we talked about what to do. There was a waterfall that we could hike to or we could try for Mt. Rogers. I let my son decide and he chose Mt. Rogers. Off we hiked.

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Because it had gotten so cold, all the trees had rime ice. It was magical. In one area, the wooded area appeared to be a frosted fairyland. The cold also made it much easier to hike. In many areas, my son just walked on top of the snow. I sank down so I followed footsteps already created. I felt like we were going at a good pace, but, eventually my son started to get tired. Although he’s an avid soccer player, hiking legs are something different. He was having fun but going slow. The snow didn’t help. I would stop and take photos (I couldn’t stop). We ran into some ponies and that took time. We rested and had lunch. We arrived at one point and it said, “Mt. Rogers: 2 miles”.  2 more miles?  That meant we had gone approximately 2.8 miles in 4+ hrs. Go ahead, you can laugh.

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I honestly felt disappointed. I knew that 2 more miles in the snow would be difficult for my son. Did I really want him to be upset? Sad? That wouldn’t make for good memories. My disappointment wasn’t as important. We turned around and headed back. We got passed by two trail runners in shorts and winter coats. At that point, I laughed. My son was decked out in a full snowsuit complete with trekking poles and snowboarding goggles. I was dressed very heavily as well. And there they were… two guys just running down the Appalachian Trail towards Mt. Rogers. I checked our elevation and we had reached almost 5,600 ft. I’d say that’s pretty close considering Mt. Rogers is 5700 and change.

In the end, it was good that we turned around when we did.  It started to warm up. The sun and weather felt really good but that meant slush. The snow became difficult. I grabbed one pole from my son because I was sliding all over the place. To be honest, I don’t have winter, or well, any season of hiking boots. I have a couple pairs of trail shoes that I use.  I was wearing my winter boots. I had nothing else. By the time we reached the car, the knee I sprained last year was feeling really bad. I can’t imagine if I would have had to hike 4 miles in the slush.

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By the time we finished, we were both tired. It had been a quick trip back but the snow was tiring. I know that I’ll go back another time, with no snow, nice weather, and get to Mt. Rogers.  It is just over 8 miles round trip and the hike itself was not difficult. Heck maybe I’ll even run some of it.  The views could not be topped. I have included quite a few photos here but if you’d like to see all of them, click on the link below.  Any photos that you like can be purchased.  I haven’t added any to my website yet but will soon.

If you haven’t been to Grayson Highlands yet, please put it on your list. I think it is quite possibly the most beautiful area of Virginia.

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My Heart is in Puerto Rico

My kids are half Puerto Rican. I think a lot of people who know me forget that. They forget that regardless of what happens with their father that Puerto Rico is like my second home. I remember the first trip I took there – I fell in love instantly.  I often think that deep down I was truly meant to be Puerto Rican or Cuban or some mix of both. I never felt comfortable in the “white” world. Perhaps it was growing up in an overtly racist town or that everything was very bland. I was always drawn to Latin/Hispanic culture.

Right now, my heart is in Puerto Rico. I don’t really have fancy photos to show. I will post a couple here but they are from a long time ago when all I did was take photos with a crappy camera or phone. It has been a long time since I have been to the island. Life just gets busy and then there was the big Zika scare so that canceled one trip.

Most people go to Puerto Rico and they stay in a resort and never leave San Juan or Old San Juan except maybe to visit El Yunque (the only rain forest in the United States). They don’t take time to travel to the inner part of the island where everything is lush and green. Tropical plants sprawl across the sides of mountains the life is still very simple.  Not everyone can afford to build their house out of cement. And if you’ve seen any photos of the island you can imagine what a house made of wood would look like today. The wind was so strong it demolished wind turbines and solar farms. It destroyed cell towers and no one has power.

And here I sit in my comfortable office while I wait and wonder if one of my closest friends is okay. If his house survived. If his parents are okay. I wonder if the kids’ aunt and uncle are still ok and if the roof ever blew off of their car port. I wonder about the relatives in the “jungle” as we call it are okay. Some of them are older and on the side of a mountain. I worry about mudslides. I look at the photos of the devastation and tears just come out of my eyes. I saw a photo of where we own a timeshare. Totally flooded. It is right on the beach.

Everything in me says I should go and help. I can’t, of course. My responsibilities here are too much. I don’t have the vacation time and my kids need me. So I wait. And worry. And wonder.

I urge you to donate. If you’re reading and you feel like, “Ugh… just another tragic event that needs money.” you’re right. It is. And more will be coming. It is inevitable that hurricanes will just get worse. It is inevitable that there will be more earthquakes. Tornadoes. Anything dealing with weather due to climate change. But we are required to help our fellow human beings. I feel that deep down. I have never understood the fight against helping others whether it is via welfare, food stamps, insurance for all, or any other option there is that makes those who have much help those who have little.

If you’d like to donate, I would recommend http://www.hispanicfederation.org/donate

You can select Hurricane Relief from the drop-down. They have been vetted and found worthy.  I urge you not to give to the Red Cross. I think that’s common knowledge. Please focus on a group that will work directly in Puerto Rico. It is estimated that they have $30 billion dollars in damage. And also remember people can’t go to work. They may no longer have a job to go to if the business was wiped out. Or maybe the store will be closed for repairs. People will need help. So please, give.  Look for a donation center in your city – many are popping up. You can also drop off supplies if you don’t want to give money.

Thank you for reading.