The Dolly Sods Wilderness is a highly unusual place in the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia. They say the wildlife and vegetation found here is more similar to parts of Canada than West Virginia. I’ll have to take their word for it as I’ve only ever been to Toronto, which doesn’t look anything like this.
The part of Dolly Sods pictured here is called Bear Rocks Preserve and it is covered in blueberry bushes, heath shrubs, and spruce pines stunted from strong wind storms that frequently impact the area. The leaves of the blueberry bushes turn red in early autumn and it is this color that drew me to the location.
This was the fourth time I had tried to catch the fall color amongst the lichen-covered rocks, but this is only the first time I succeeded. The first two attempts were made too late in the season and I discovered only short bushes stripped of their leaves. The third attempt was when I discovered just what exactly had been stripping the bushes of their leaves the previous years: I arrived at the top of the mountain to raging winds and driving sleet. At the base of the mountain, all was calm and sunny, but it was fierce winter at the top. I shot a video of the storm with my cell phone:
This year, however, I timed it perfectly and caught the fall colors in all their glory.
The winds blow constantly in this location, so making this image was a bit tricky. I had to balance the need to have an aperture that would create the depth of field through the scene so everything would be in focus, but at a shutter speed that stood any chance of stopping the motion of the leaves and pines as they were blown about by the winds. I think I struck an acceptable compromise with this image. My choice of composition helped a bit as well, as many of the plants in the scene were sheltered from the worst of the wind by the boulders. The rest was a matter of timing with regards to when to trigger the camera’s shutter to try to make the most use of rare moments of relative calm.
I’m publishing this post on the same day that I took this image, so what you see here is a quick edit of the scene. I may offer this image for sale after I’ve run my normal suite of print tests.
The lesson I’ve learned from my numerous failures to capture fall color here is to assume the color will appear earlier than you’d think and pay attention to the weather forecast for Dolly Sods starting in early September. Strong storms will strip the leaves off the blueberry bushes and cause an early end to the colorful show.
Backstory to that storm video: I was there with a photographer friend of mine. We arrived at the base of the mountain to beautiful autumn leaves lining the twisting road that ascends the mountain to Dolly Sods Wilderness, but when we got to the top of the mountain, oh boy. Being the determined photographers that we are, we still got out of the car, grabbed our backpacks with our camera gear, and hiked the short distance from the parking area to the outcropping of rocks we hoped to photograph. We stood there with our backs to the driving sleet listening to the howling wind and the impact of sleet on our backpacks for a few minutes until we started chuckling at the futility of it all. We looked at each other and I said “Screw this, let’s go to Harper’s Ferry.” And we did.