Old Friends, New Friends, and the Smoky Mountains

What a great week! I apologize for the delay in getting these up, the past week has been incredibly good but also incredibly busy!

After departing Kitty Hawk, NC, I drove to Atlanta to meet up with my friends, Andy and Alexa. Originally, I was just going to meet them to go camping in South Carolina, but after promising a shower, a laundry machine, and a couch to sleep on, they convinced me to drive south and spend a night with them in the city first. 

Atlanta!

I had never been to Atlanta (unless you count spending the night in the airport while on a layover), but I found it to be a really neat place. Since I was only there one night, I only got to really see a small part of east Atlanta where Andy and Alexa live, but what I saw was very impressive. 

The next day, we drove to Devil's Fork State Park on Lake Jocassee to camp. It's stunning how different eastern and western South Carolina look. On the east, you have swamps and gators, and on the west, you have beautiful mountains and pristine lakes. I'm glad I got to see both sides of it. 

Our two days on Lake Jocassee were filled with kayking, swimming with their dogs, and beers around the campfire. 

Alexa and Lola

Andy and Finn

So glad I got to see these two awesome people

On Sunday (10/2), Andy and Alexa drove home and I continued on to Asheville, NC. Like Atlanta, Asheville is one of those places I've been hearing about a lot lately for all the right reasons. You always see it on those "Where is the next Austin/Portland?" lists online, so I knew I had to check it out. 

After getting there in the afternoon, I quickly parked my car and began exploring on foot. When in doubt, never underestimate the kindness of strangers. I randomly met a girl named Elizabeth who gave me very detailed directions to a hidden trail that would give me a great view of the city. 

She was right. After sneaking under a barbed wire fence and hiking a short, but very steep trail, I came upon this amazing overlook and snapped this great shot of the city.  

Asheville, North Carolina at Sunset

My tour guide in Asheville

Old church in Asheville

I had so many people tell me to go and visit this place called the Biltmore Estate while in Asheville, so I thought I'd go see what all the fuss was about. 

The Biltmore House

The Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt and has over 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and over four acres of floor space. I didn't do the proper tour, preferring to explore and shoot on my own, but the sheer size and scope of it was something to behold.

After leaving Asheville, I got back on the road and began to head towards Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park is a place I've been wanting to see for so long and in fact planned the whole time frame of my trip around seeing the Smokies in the fall. 

Blue Ridge Parkway

If you're approaching from the southern end of the park, I recommend driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a scenic, winding, mountain road that takes you straight to the park and has the most beautiful scenic overlooks. 

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

I arrived at the park around 5:00pm on Monday night and decided to have a nice relaxing night at my campsite. My plan was to stay at different campsites every night to help me really explore the park and tonight home was Smokemont Campground just a few miles north of Ocanaluftee Visitor's Center.

The next morning, I woke up before sunrise and drove about 15 miles up the mountains so that I could hopefully get a shot of the sun rising over the mountains. The overlook I decided to shoot from just happened to be the best possible choice. As the sun rose, it created these beautiful rays of lights shining down upon the peaks resulting in one my favorite shots of the trip so far. 

Probably my favorite shot of the trip - sunrise in the Smoky Mountains

They're called the Smoky Mountains because of the beautiful fog that often can be seen rolling over the hills in the early morning and on Tuesday I got to experience that first hand. After shooting the sunrise, I drove up to Clingman's Dome to see what photos opportunities I might find there. Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the park and provides a great vista to see the mountains from. however, the fog grew so thick up there on this morning, that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me!

Clingman's Dome - at 6,643 feet in elevation, it is the highest point in the park. This shot was taken on a clear day

Knowing I wouldn't be able to get any shots of the mountains with the fog, I decided to hike down to Andrew's Bald instead. Along the way, my trail intersected the famed Appalachian Trail, and I even came across some exhausted-looking thru hikers.  

View from Clingman's Dome with the intense fog

Hiking in the fog down to Andrew's Bald

These red berries really stood out again the foggy backdrop

epic selfie in the fog

From the top of Clingman's Dome on a clear day

The next two days were spent hiking, shooting, and exploring potential places to shoot from when the lighting was good. It was a lot of hard work, but I'd say it paid off. 

Sunset

Sunrise from Clingman's Dome

The Milky Way over the Great Smoky Mountains

Purple mountain majesty. Sunrise from Clingman's Dome

My last two days in the park I camped at Cade's Cove. Cade's Cove is the largest and most visited campground in the park and contains an 11-mile scenic loop with lush farmlands, rolling hills, and old wooden churches and barns. In the morning, the fog settles upon it all making for beautiful photos as the sun rises. 

Carter Shields Cabin on the Cade's Cove loop

Hyatt Lane on the Cade's Cove Loop

Hyatt Lane on the Cade's Cove Loop

Nope

One of the highlights of this section of the trip was the incredible people I met and got to know. I met so many fellow travels and photographers who were willing to share insights into their craft and their journeys. One such person was an ex-marine sniper turned wildlife photographer named John Hinderscheid. He and his wife travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park multiple times a year to shoot the wildlife. They come so often they recognize and know many of the elk and bears by name. 

On my last morning in the park, he and his wife treated me to an amazing breakfast at their campsite and even sent me off with a waterproof camera cover that John designed himself! 

John Hinderscheid - look him up on Facebook to see some of this great shots

All I can say after spending four nights in this park is that every American should absolutely visit it at least once in their lifetime. 

At the moment, I'm in Nashville crashing with my good friend Paul. I'm about to go try some Tennessee BBQ with my cousin to see how it compares to our stuff in Texas. Tomorrow, I depart for Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky and after that will start heading back east towards Shenandoah. 

Hope you guys enjoy the shots