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First Day Hike – Welcome 2019!

If you only knew how long I sit around wondering where to hike, you’d laugh. I go through blogs. I open up my maps. I peruse my waterfall book. I can never decide. Maybe that’s because I have so many wonderful options? I knew I wanted a waterfall. That much was sure. This past Sunday my son and I set out for an off trail hike in Shenandoah to a big waterfall but due to my wonderful hydration bladder leaking and soaking my sweatshirt, we didn’t go. It would have made me very cold to hike with it like that and my base layer wasn’t warm enough. Ugh. We had fun roaming Big Meadows for a bit and driving Skyline.

I needed something new so I decided on Kilgore Falls in Maryland. It would be a 2 hour drive but I figured that was better than 3 hours to other ones I considered. I slept poorly and almost scrapped the whole thing yesterday morning but I saw an inspiring post on Instagram so I dragged myself out of bed and went.

As I was driving, I was willing the sun to stay behind the clouds. I felt like I had to hurry (I didn’t). I passed some beautiful farmland scenes that I would have liked to photograph but I really felt a need to get to the trail. I finally arrive and, boom, the trail doesn’t open until 10:00 am. 10:00 am? Really? That is so late. So crazy. I ran and used the port-a-potty (which I am happy to say was incredibly clean) and wondered what to do. I decided to zip on over to Conowingo Dam. I have wanted to go for a long time and figured this was my chance. I didn’t know if I’d see any eagles but had nothing to lose.

I got there and walked around a bit. I wasn’t seeing a lot of activity other than vultures. Whoopdedoo. I see those everyday around my house. And then I heard this sound. It was loud and sounded like birds could be fighting. Nope. Quite the opposite. It was two eagles getting it on (cue Marvin Gaye) on top of the electric tower. I obviously didn’t have my super telephoto lens with me but did have my 18-200mm. I zoomed in as best as I could to grab a photo. I was quite amused. When they were done, they just sat there. I guess they were being in the moment of what just took place. I figured this was a good time to head back to the trail head.

Eagles up high making new eagles

Hooray it was open! I was a bit worried about the number of cars I saw and thought there might be too many people for good photos. Thankfully, they were no where to be found except for one photographer. Walter. I thought he was packing up to go but he was interested in getting to the other side of the creek where the best photos would be. The water wasn’t super deep but it would be cold. We were both interested in avoiding that. So we walked. And walked. We followed the creek for quite a ways to see if there was a better place to cross over. Nope. It just got deeper. Like to my thighs deep. We turned around and walked back to where we started. I finally got the courage to walk up along the side of the big boulder and did get my feet wet. I thought, “I can do this!” so I walked out a bit more for a better photo. I turned and walked back and Walter decided to go. We ended up getting photos of each other in the process which was cool. As I stood there waiting, two young adults walked up and just walked across the creek without hesitation. I had to laugh. Youth. Never afraid. Bold. And it was then I knew I was walking across too. So when Walter returned we made our way across the creek. It wasn’t so bad. Cold, yes. But worth it. The other side of the waterfall was beautiful and made for great photos.

Walter on one side of the waterfall
I heard leading lines were a thing
Kilgore Falls in Black and White

The things we do for photos…. It ended up being a great way to spend New Year’s Day. I met a great photographer (go see his work). We had fun. I saw eagles mating.

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Visiting Bush Creek and White Oak Falls in West Virginia

Our original plans for spring break were to stay in our cool cabin for two nights and then head to Claytor Lake State Park for two nights. I was excited to try a new Virginia State Park – especially for the sunset possibilities. As we were coming off of the mountains at Grayson I received a phone call. I didn’t know the number so I figured they would leave me a message if it was important. When I reached the bottom of the trail I checked the message with the little bit of signal I had left:  Claytor Lake had canceled our reservations because the whole park lost power. It would not be restored for days.  Heartbreak. I think they lost power due to the snow storm.

So I figured we’d just drive into town, find WiFi, and I’d figure something out. I wasn’t sure what… well, “town” was much farther than I anticipated so I drove back to Grayson where I knew I had some signal. I called VA State Parks and we settled on Hungry Mother State Park – a place we stayed at two years ago. My son was thrilled because he knew that meant a fire in the fireplace… aka… s’mores. And it was close. But what would we do? My hikes were planned for around Claytor. I researched the awesome Outbound and found some waterfalls. I reached out to an Instagram buddy and he confirmed a location and gave me more tips about it. Perfect.

That location was Bush Creek Falls in West Virginia. The drive was approximately 1.5 hrs from Hungry Mother. I chose to drive on the back roads instead of hitting I-81. Anyone from Virginia knows you avoid I-81 at all costs!  The rural country was beautiful. I stopped to take a few photos (will do a write-up on them later) along the way and on the way back.  Eventually, we reached the falls.

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Due to the melting snow the water was incredibly high. The falls sounded loud and powerful. It was a sight to see. The hike to Bush Creek is only half a mile at the most. I got very excited to shoot the waterfall until I picked up my camera and realized my nub was missing. I’m sure the “nub” has a more official name but basically it is the connector that fits into my tripod. It’s rather important for waterfall photography. I instantly got upset. I thought, “All the driving, time, and now I can’t take photos.”  I turned and saw that my son was upset. He said, “So we’re only here for photos?”  Thanks, babe.  I needed that because I realized, photos or not, I was there for him.

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Thankfully, with my smaller 18-55 mm lens, my camera actually balances perfectly. I could set it on the tripod and it would say there. Of course, I couldn’t get too many good angles it forced me to be creative. In the end, I’m glad for it. The shots I got while resting the camera on a rock/log actually are some of my favorites – perhaps of any waterfall shots I’ve ever shot.  There weren’t a lot of places to stand next to the creek since the water was so high so we didn’t spend a lot of time there.  My Instagram pal had said to continue down the trail. So we did and it was an adventure.

There were little, mini waterfalls flowing down the side of the mountain (?) to our right and then down to the creek. We had to be creative with our crossings until, eventually, one was too deep and we had to just walk through it. As I stood trying to figure out how to take photos of these mini waterfalls my son declared, “That’s it. We can’t go any further.” There were a group of trees down across the trail. I surveyed it and knew we could get through it. One of my goals for the trip was to show my son that just because something requires effort doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing (like homework).  This was perfect.  I found a way through for us and tried to explain this to him. Maybe he’ll remember it in the future.

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Finally, we got to White Oak Falls. They were magnificent. It was a tiered waterfall with huge boulders. I again had to be creative with my shots. I tried a few things. And while I would have preferred having my wide angle lens on my camera, I think I ended up with a couple of photos that show how cool the falls were. I had to stand right in the water for quite a while to get them.  Worth it.

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We meandered back to the car. My feet were soaked and I was anxious to get back and shower. I felt good about the day. I hope it is an adventure my son remembers since we had to walk through water, cross trees, and explore a waterfall. If you’d like to have specific information on how to find both sets of falls, please refer to my post on The Outbound. If you haven’t yet joined The Outbound, please use my invitation link.