Milepost 34: Irish Creek Railway

We almost missed it, even though we were looking for it. One of the guidebooks had listed it, but there wasn’t a signpost saying it was at this pull-off. We had pulled in for some other reason, and I realized we had found it.

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Off to the left there were some stairs built into the side of the mountain, going up to the railroad bed. I smiled and my heart quickened at the sight of the leaf-covered steps that seemed to be part of the natural environment. This felt like a serendipitous discovery, like I was the first to discover the roadbed, even though there was usually another couple in the area as we explored.

Parkway 100 075-2 This narrow-gauge rail bed was originally built by the South River Lumber Company to carry virgin timber cut at the higher elevations to the lumber mills in the valley. By 1938 the region had been stripped so when the Parkway was built it was a barren wasteland that had to be replanted during the building of the Parkway from 1939 to its completion in 1987.

Parkway 100 080-2The roadbed had been preserved, but the short line of tracks that we walked along are a reconstruction of what was originally laid in 1919. How beautiful they are today, seeming to be a part of the natural environment. I imagine  when they were in use this was a dirty, barren place. It seems important to learn how our history contains the good and the bad of growth. Sometimes what seems like progress, in many ways is destructive. This tension continues as a few entrepreneurs get very rich while providing much lower incomes to workers, until the resource is gone, the workers loose jobs, the owner walks away with large sums, and the environment is left scarred. But I wasn’t thinking politics while I was walking the rails, surrounded by the beauty of these lands now preserved by the National Parks Service as a National Park.

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As we did the short walk down the rails, a waterfall came into view.

Parkway 100 098-2This mountain stream needed a small trestle and if you follow my blog, you know I love trestles. How much better could this stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at milepost 34, be?

Parkway 100 094-2If I keep my eyes open for the macro shots, there is always more beauty.

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Going to the Clouds Road

We enjoyed the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana. As we road up and up, it truly felt like we would be able to reach the sun. I had this same experience as we were driving up the side of a mountain toward mile marker zero on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia – except this time we were driving into the clouds.

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On our journey south, we turned east into West Virginia towards Virginia and the beginning of the Parkway that runs through Virginia and North Carolina. What I was seeing around me was so very beautiful in the rain and fog but I knew these conditions are challenging for photography. Just before we left home I read a post by professional landscape photographer Rick Braveheart giving tips on taking photos in rainy, cloudy, foggy conditions. A little knowledge can give me a large amount of confidence so I became excited about capturing the soul of these mountains.

Parkway 100 022-2When I got out of the car at the visitor’s center the wind was whipping the drizzle against my face. I started thinking about how the people who have inhabited this region for thousands of years endured living in these conditions, with fewer creature comforts than I enjoy.

Parkway 100 031-2The smell of soggy leaves and moist soil touched a spacial place in my soul. I took in the deepened fall colors produced by rain on leaves, and the darkened trunks of forest trees. When possible I ventured out of the car with camera in hand to capture what my heart was seeing.

Parkway 100 033-2We were oriented by mile posts, a great map provided by the National Parks Service, and the two guidebooks I had purchased. There were spaces to pull off the road for viewing about every half mile along the first 100 mile stretch of Parkway. I wanted to stop at each.Parkway 100 126-2But I knew I had to be conscious of time because I wanted to do the whole 469 miles. This meant driving past some of the pull-offs, looking for those that held the most promise for learning about the mountains and providing good picture-taking opportunities. The resources I read said to plan on covering 30 miles in an hour (they were right) – so I knew I had many hours ahead of me. What I wished for was a week for each 100 miles – but we don’t like hotel living that well.

Parkway 100 141-2We arranged our trip so we started the Parkway on Wednesday and found there were very few cars as we drove up and down and round the curves, following the ridge of the mountain – looking down to the valleys below. We were aiming for the small patch of blue off in the distant sky, hoping for brighter skies. I wanted to experience the mountain views in all types of light.