Day three and the final day of this trip started at 6 a.m. with a 16-mile drive from Gatlinburg to the Newfound Gap Overlook. When I planned this trip, this location is what I had been most looking forward too as the place where I would get the iconic shot of the Great Smoky Mountains.
When I started the drive that morning I knew that the photo probably wasn't going to happen. It was drizzling and visibility was not good, and that was at the bottom of the mountain. Well sure enough when I reached the overlook at 5,046 foot right on the Tennessee - North Carolina border, it was socked it. I don't give up easily while on location, however after two and a half hours of waiting, I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to clear up.
While it was clear that I would have to wait until another time to get the iconic shot, there had to be something to photograph. As I mentioned yesterday, there are pull-offs along the Newfound Gap Road, so I figured I would head back down the mountain to see if it was any clearer and if there was something - anything, to photograph.
I came across a stream running down the mountain that looked like I would be able to access it from a pull-off a short distance away. Photographing a stream was also the perfect opportunity to work with myCokin Z Pro Series ND Graduated Filter Kit in order to slow the shutter long enough to achieve the silky look of the running water. Because these filters are 4x6 inches, I was able to use them in an unconventional way, to cover the entire front of my 24-70mm lens. Further, I doubled up the filters in order to slow the shutter speed to between 4-10 seconds but still maintain a proper exposure. In a future post, I will go into much more detail on using these filters.
Finally, I decided that I would just head down the mountain and start making my way to Boone, N.C., via the Blue Ridge Parkway, but first I made a stop at the Cataloochee visitors center. There I verified with the park ranger that it was not going to clear up. Instinctively I probably knew that, but it never hurts to check with someone who knows the area well. Even more so since I was seeing blue skies and nice clouds, it was good to have the reassurance that nothing had changed at the summit.
Right after leaving the visitors center my plans changed when I was confronted by a closed Blue Ridge Parkway. In my original post, I wrote about all the research I did on the Great Smoky Mountains before my trip, but the extent of my research on getting to Boone, N.C., from Gatlinburg, via the Parkway, was to simply look at a map. When I finally had cell coverage and pulled up their website, I saw that many of the sections I wanted to drive were closed during the winter of 2014 - 2015 for repairs. (There is also a real-time road closure website.)
Now that a nice leisurely drive along the Parkway was out, I still tried to stick to back roads on the drive to Boone, but it wasn't the same. The only positive was this happened during the middle of the day, a time that I typically take a break from shooting.
Fortunately after checking into my hotel and getting on my computer, I did find a 15-mile section open from Blowing Rock heading south to just past the Linn Cove Visitors Center. As bad as the weather was earlier in the day, it was looking really nice now. The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders 469 miles and even if I were to pull over every time I had the opportunity in the 15 miles I covered, the sun would have set long before I finished. Many of the scenic overlooks are not that scenic, even with no leaves on the trees, so you have to trust your instincts a bit and keep an eye on the sun and light.
I also realized that some of the grand views were not all that grand this time of the year. Unlike the contrasts of color I found in the Smokies, all I saw along this short section of the Parkway was brown. Now in the Fall I'm sure these views are spectacular, but for now I just moved on from one overlook to the next, finally settling on a frozen Price Lake to make my final photos of the trip
If you get the chance to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park, even for a day, make every effort to do so. If you are a photographer, I would plan on spending a minimum of three days so that you can cover a few different locations during different times of the day. There are also plenty of hikes, some short, that will get you away from the crowds and offer you even more opportunities to make wonderful images in the second most-visited National Park.
Previous posts in this series:
PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - THE PLAN AND THE GEAR
PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY ONE
PHOTOGRAPHING THE GREAT SMOKIES - DAY TWO