Thursday, December 11, 2008

Skyline Drive

Started as a public works project during the depression, Skyline drive stretches over a hundred miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia. This is the only road I know that was built for the pure pleasure of driving - and a pure pleasure it is. The road winds back and forth between the North West and South East sides of the ridge so one is afforded fabulous vistas from both sides. Although there are many short stone walls to keep the traffic away from the sometimes steep slopes, there are plenty of places to pull off the road to admire the view.

A lovely place for a drive.
I woke at dawn to make the journey. I was giving myself plenty of time as I'd planned to make frequent stops and do a bit of hiking along the way. Despite the chilly autumn weather I was determined to enjoy all of the sights and sounds, so I bundled up in my warmest clothes and put down the convertible top. It was cold, but well worth it! Driving beneath the canopies of trees felt like passing down the nave of a leafy cathedral.
When deep in the forest, always look up.

What I failed to consider is that the first portion of the drive was in deep shadow so it didn't make for the best images. On the other hand, in that early hour there were few other vehicles so I had the road mostly to myself.
Rolling landscape beneath a darkening sky.

As the day progressed, more and more tourists appeared on the road. There were a few photography clubs traveling around in vans. The photographers would explode out, laden with gear, and dash about trying to get as many unique photos as possible before piling back into the van and dashing off to the next scenic spot. It may sound like a Keystone Cops scene, but the equipment they were using, and the unusual angles they were shooting, demonstrated that these folks knew what they were doing.

Autumnal hillside.
It's always fun to meet fellow travelers on these trips. I ran into a group of girls with backpacks, sitting well away from any vehicles. I learned that they were hiking the entire Appalachian trail and had been doing so for a few months. I simply can not fathom taking that much time to go on a hike.
A scruffy looking pine tree clings to the hillside.

Looking down into the valley.

An animator gazes out the window.
When I reached the end of the drive, there was still plenty of light so I visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. The organization finds ancient homes and moves them to the site to recreate historic life. I thought they were reproductions at first, but the place has the actual buildings, some hundreds of years old, dismantled and reconstructed. This living museum includes animators performing the traditional roles of their day. Of particular interest was the blacksmith, hammering out wrought iron in the traditional fashion.

Irish farmstead.
The next day I drove along Skyline Drive in the opposite direction. I started later so the day was warmer and there were far more cars on the road. In fact, there were few auto clubs touring that day. As I rounded a curve, a string of more than twenty sports cars, all the same model, drove by in the opposite direction. It would have made for an impressive shot had I been prepared.
At the mid-point of the drive is an expansive meadow. Despite the late season, it was flush with color. I can imagine how glorious it must be to see in the spring when the alpine flowers bloom.

Photographers try to sneak up on the colorful foliage.

I'd been on Skyline Drive a few times as a kid, but I can remember nothing more than the feel of the road winding through the peaks and woods. Not a single memory came back to me as I drove along in either direction.

Driving back from the park, I spotted a most archetypal scene. This stately drive leads to a farm. It was a perfect visual dessert for day.

You can see the full size images here.

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