A Little Hike at Stone Mountain

Saturday, Sept 10, 2016
Early Signs of Autumn
I've been wanting to get out and do some landscape photographs for a while now.  Not the intimate ones that I've been doing, but some grand views of the mountains.  I've been watching the weather for a while and haven't seen much in the way of favorable weather conditions here of late in the mountains.  For the times that I could go, the skies were forecast to be basically clear.  This doesn't work for me at all, as I really enjoy clouds in my photographs, and for grand landscapes they are almost a mandatory feature.  It just so happened that as I was planning my weekend, I saw that Saturday was going to have 70% cloud coverage in Roaring Gap, and they were going to be low clouds at that.  This usually means some very dramatic skies, which work really well for Stone Mountain.

The clouds were not set to build until the afternoon, so I slept in with Toni and set out after she left for work.  As I went, the clouds were building, but it was more of a haze than anything.  There was very little definition in the clouds.  I started to get a little discouraged with my plans and pulled off of the highway and went through Yadkinville in search of a few other potential subjects.  What I found was not presented well in the existing light, so I continued to march on to Stone Mountain State Park.

When I arrived, I saw a lot more vehicular traffic than I was accustomed to, and actually saw all of the parking lots filled to capacity.  I know it's been a while since I've been forced to go to a park on the weekend but, I really don't recall seeing this kind of attendance when I've been there before.  I was hoping that whatever the activity was, that it was restricted to the front of the park and the trails that I was planning on taking would still be vacant...

No such luck

When I got close to the parking lot at the lower trail head, I found cars parked on the sides of the road because the parking lot was filled. Man, I'm just not batting a thousand here!  I did manage to find a spot to park in, and I tried to Google what was going on.  Of course, I did not have internet connection there, so I was still ignorant to what brought everyone out today.  I could see a bunch standing by the map and restrooms, and I could hear kids yelling and screaming already.  So much for a relaxing hike to the top of the mountain.  I thought about turning around and going home since I don't care for doing pictures when the park is filled to capacity, but since I had driven all this way, and the clouds were looking better, I stuck it out.

Taking a Foothold
I took my place in line for the trails and followed a family, with another one on my heels.  I had planned on going on the Stone Mountain Loop trail, but when I saw everyone else on that one, and could hear lots of commotion down the trail, I decided to take a detour to the right.  I didn't really care where it went because it was quiet.  It happened to direct me to Wolf Rock, Cedar Rock, and Blackjack Ridge.  I have been to all of these places before, and knew that there were a few things to photograph on that side of the mountain.  It was a bit of a hike with the majority of the trail being a steep grade which got me breathing heavy and sweating.  I was at least getting my exercise if nothing else!

I was fortunate to have chosen this route because I saw absolutely nobody except for a couple coming back down the mountain that said I was the first person they had seen in a couple of hours.  GREAT!!!!  When I got to Wolf Rock, I was still alone, and that gave me great optimism about finding some really good compositions.  The problem was, the sky was still rather hazy, and the sun was not in the best position for photography.  Most of the good compositions were shooting directly into the sun which would not have worked out very well.  What I was left with was a little on the drab side, but on the other hand the trees were already starting to show a little color.  The clouds were also better on the side opposite of the sun.  The sky was far from being 70% covered though.

I pulled out the camera and got it built using my 24-70mm lens for flexibility.  It has a decent wide angle coverage and can zoom in fairly tight as well.  I screwed on a polarizer to bring out what contrast I could in the sky since there was a lot of haze to deal with.  I started to pick out compositions that showcased the yellow leaves and the rolling hills beyond.  There was not much to choose from in terms of foreground interest, so I relied on finding interesting patterns in the rocky surface below me.  That turned out to be more difficult that it sounds since all of the leading lines I could find went in the wrong direction.  I did manage to find a decent patch of interest which provided the foreground for the opening picture for this entry.

I stayed around this area for a while before moving on to Cedar Rock to see if there was anything I could do there.  I know that there is one really good composition to be had showcasing Stone Mountain.  I was excited to get to it, but that excitement was short lived.  Once I got there, I realized that the patch of vegetation that I like to use as a foreground had grown over, and looked rather sloppy.  That wouldn't work for me anymore.  I wasn't all that upset though because the clouds were thinning out very quickly.  Even if the foreground had been there, I would not have been able to capture the picture that I wanted.

I started to look around for other compositions and found some eroded drainage lines from the wood line above.  I was luck enough for this feature to have a terminal point with a patch of vegetation which would make for a terrific foreground.  The background was not all that spectacular, but at least the sky was pretty interesting here.  Using my same 24-70mm lens, I got in close and went wide to exaggerate the foreground.  This worked out pretty well, and was the first composition I was actually excited about.

Eroded and Stripped
From there, I continued to look for ways of getting a shot of Stone Mountain.  While I was working my way back to the trail, I found my spot.  There was a small sapling growing from a crack in the rocks which gave me a little foreground interest, but mainly provided a visual block for the eyes following the slope down and out of the frame.  The lighting wasn't too bad here, but the clouds were nearly gone at this point.  I was able to capture a few of them just minutes before they cleared the horizon.  Once they were gone, it was time for me to move on as well.  I tried to follow where the clouds went, out to Blackjack Ridge, but found more expanses of blue sky.  It was starting to get late anyway, so I decided that it was time to head on back to the truck.  It was around this time, I met another three hikers.  I sure can't complain considering how many people were in the park.

I continued to search for different subjects and compositions, but could find none that would work with the clear sky, and low sun.  All that changed when I got back to the parking lot and found that the cloud coverage I was expecting at 4 was now rolling in at 7.  The low sun was even putting on a bit of a show with some color in the clouds.  I looked for a picture, but the parking lot made for a terrible element for the sky, and there was not time to hike back up to the top again.  I just enjoyed the sight for a moment and loaded the truck up to head home.

I had a total of 30 frames exposed on this Trek.  Most of them were nothing special, but I found three that deserved a little bit of processing.  While not what I was hoping for out of this Trek, I actually found that those three had merit and deserved to be shared.  Two of them have found their way into the Landscapes Room even.

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