Earlier this month, my wife and I vacationed to the Asheville area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Although photography wasn't the primary goal of the trip, I still managed to take some nice pictures on our drives and shorter hikes in the area.
Of course, a trip to Asheville would not be complete without a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The picture below was taken at 5,600 feet above sea level, close to some of the highest elevations in the eastern United States. In this picture, you can see the change in green hues between the highest elevations where the trees had not fully leafed out yet and the lower elevations where the trees had already fully leafed out.
There were a couple of mornings where I was greeted with fog in the valleys. You may have noticed that the fog is more likely to have a blue color to the landscape, which leads to the topic of how did the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains get there name? The Cherokee referred to the area as “Schconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey), which means “land of the blue smoke.” Early white settlers took inspiration from the Cherokee when they named the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. The "smoke" is actually fog that comes from the area’s vegetation.
While the Smoky Mountains are not the only place you can find blue smoke, they do have ideal conditions for creating this picturesque fog. The trees containing turpentine in East Tennessee and West North Carolina have high concentrations of vapor molecules called VOC's (volatile organic compounds) that scatter blue light. We all know that plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. What we hear less about is how plants also have this exhale process in volatile organic compounds. VOC's may sound scary, but when they are released from plants, they are completely natural. Have you ever enjoyed the piney smell that comes from an evergreen tree? That scent comes from the tree giving off VOCs as it breathes. The Smokies also benefit from abundant rainfall, plenty of sunlight, and high levels of humidity. Taken all together, these factors produce a breathtaking fog that is worthy of the name “land of the blue smoke.”
The Rhododendrons were also in bloom in the higher elevations and there are numerous waterfalls in the region. Below are Skinny Dip Falls and Looking Glass Falls, both southwest of Asheville.
After my wife went back home, I went on a backpacking trip to the Shining Rock Wilderness, where the highlight is the this quartz rock outcrop known as "Shining Rock" that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We are now wrapping up one of the coldest 2 week stretches in Arkansas history and central Arkansas is seeing one of its snowiest months ever. Many areas in central Arkansas have seen over a foot of snow this week. While Little Rock had about 20 inches of snow this week, Fayetteville's official temperature reached as low as -20 degrees. This is the new record for Fayetteville's Drake Field. You have to go back to 1899 when there was a thermometer at the U of A that recorded -24 to find the coldest temperature ever recorded in the history of Fayetteville.
During the second week of February, most of the state had not seen much snow. However, the higher elevations did see a significant amount of rime ice with a little bit of snow. Most of this was around and above 2,000 feet above sea level. After the entire state saw the first round of snow on Monday, I decided to take the slow, snow-packed road up to the highest point in Arkansas...Mount Magazine.
A thick coating of rime ice on the branches of every tree. Rime ice is created by an accumulation of water droplets in freezing fog.
After the second round of snow on Wednesday, I thought I would take advantage of the recent extreme cold and take a hike to Glory Hole. It is one of the more iconic waterfalls in the state. I usually get pretty bored with taking pictures of the icons that everyone else shoots, but I made an exception in this case. Most winters, you will just get at least some flowing water with occasional icicles on the bluffline in the winter months. However, it is a pretty rare occurrence to see the entire column of water freeze from top to bottom as a full cylinder of ice. It usually takes several consecutive days where it stays below freezing all day and a round of temperatures around or below zero for the entire column of ice to freeze.
The last time it was a frozen cylinder, at least to this extent, was in 2011.
On average, it looks like this only about once (maybe twice) a decade and it will only last a few days. While we still might see another snow later this winter or even early spring, I think it is safe to say that we are through the coldest part of this winter. Before long, it will be spring. After this 2 week stretch, many of us will be ready!
This week there was a winter storm that affected the higher elevations of the Ozarks. As time drew closer to the event, with the help of my experience in forecasting the weather in the state of Arkansas, confidence was high that this was going to be elevation driven winter storm. Below was a computer model (called the HRRR model) forecast from the day before that I based my decision on where to be for this event. It was suggesting that the highest snow amounts were to be in the higher elevations (around and above 2000 ft. elevation), particularly in/near Newton County and other of the highest mountaintops, such as Mount Magazine, in western Arkansas.
I made the decision to drive to Newton County and "snow chase". The forecast was pretty much spot on where the accumulations would be. With such marginally cold temperatures, it was a particularly wet snow that was pasty and stuck to the branches of the trees. In general, the warmer the temperature...the wetter the snow. With a colder temperature (roughly mid 20s and colder), the result would be a more powdery snow.
It was rather fascinating to see the difference in snow between the higher elevations and the lower elevations. The picture below was taken at about 2,000 feet above sea level but you can look down on the Buffalo River Valley at about 1,300 feet above sea level. Notice the difference in the amount of snow on the trees. Down on the valley floor, many of the snowflakes melted into raindrops. This is about the closest thing you can get to snow capped mountains in Arkansas!
I thought I would take a walk in the woods to a waterfall. However, as you drop in elevation, the amount of snow was lower and already melting. This waterfall in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness was at about 1,800 feet above sea level. Still, the water was nice and the beech trees (beech trees hold their leaves all winter) in the background added a little color.
Winter is almost half over, but maybe there will be more opportunities to photograph snow later in the season.
Happy New Year! Although I didn't do quite as much traveling this past year (in part to COVID), I did make it to the Pacific Northwest a couple of times this past year. I thought I would take one last look back to my journeys to Oregon and Washington in 2020. I visited a couple of new national parks this year (North Cascades and Crater Lake) but also visited a couple of familiar favorites (Olympic and Mount Rainier).
The western part of Washington and Oregon sees a lot of rain, especially in the colder half of the year. The terrain and high rainfall means there are numerous waterfalls.
One of the larger and more photogenic waterfalls in Oregon is located in Silver Falls State Park, near Salem. A 7+ mile hike on the Trail Of Ten Falls is the best way to see this beautiful state park. Above you can see a picture of South Falls, one of those 10 waterfalls. I was here in October, the best month to see fall foliage here. Although the majority of trees in Oregon are evergreen, there are some maple trees that make for some splashes of color in such a green forest.
Pictured above are Tokeete Falls in Oregon (left) and Falls Creek Falls in Washington (right).
Pictured above are Panther Creek Falls (left) and Christine Falls in Washington (right).
A trip to see Pacific Northwest waterfalls would not be complete without a visit to the Columbia River Gorge. Another large and photogenic waterfall in Oregon is Multnomah Falls. Because it is literally next to a rest stop on I-84 east of Portland, it is photographed hundreds of times a day. However, it was a must see for this first time visitor to the Columbia River Gorge.
Other waterfalls can be seen with a short hike from the road, such as this waterfall known as Fairy Falls.
The result is some of most lush forests in the world. Common trees along the Washington coast include Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. Many of these trees have clumps of moss hanging on the branches with numerous ferns on the ground.
I'm already thinking about another trip back to this part of the country...next time it will be to spend more time on the Oregon Coast.
Now is the time to order get those 2021 wall calendars and my photography has been featured in 3 different state calendars.
This image of Pinnacle Mountain was taken from January 2016, which was the last time central Arkansas saw a big snow. This was on a morning just after it had snowed about 8 inches.
Another winter picture of mine is featured on the February page of the Missouri Wild & Scenic 2021 wall calendar that can be ordered here. It was -4 degrees on this January morning at Grand Falls near Joplin, Missouri.
I am also featured on the April page of 2021 Oklahoma Wall Calendar from Smith-Southwestern. This image was from the grounds of the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa.
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© Damon Shaw
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