Inevitably, after each family vacation we end up with hundreds of pictures of Kristen, and (now) thousands of Samuel, but only a handful of me — if any at all. I love making pictures. It’s exciting when other people like the pictures I make, but more than anything else, photography gives me an opportunity to try and interpret the world as I see it in a moment. The moment is gone in an instant, but the picture remains. I can look back and remember the way I felt when I made it; sometimes I don’t really begin to appreciate the moment until much later, when new insights and an ever-so-slightly more mature perspective allows me to look back at that moment with a richer set of feelings.
The pictures I make help me remember where I’ve come from; they help me make sense of the places I find myself in. But I also like to have some pictures of myself — to maintain a family record, to remind myself that, yes, I am actually married to that beautiful, loving woman that shares the frame with me, and so that my son will know that I did, in fact, go on vacation with him and Kristen. Usually this means stopping a stranger and asking them to press the shutter for me. This is a very hit-and-miss procedure, that often results in many more misses than hits. Sometimes, as on the last day of our summer vacation this year, a stranger just walks up and asks to take a picture of us. I can’t say no. Hopefully, that eagerness to get behind the camera means the would-be photographer is at least comfortable looking through the viewfinder. The kind beach walker who got this one certainly was.
Back in March I had a chance to catch up with my good friend Sam. He had recently returned to North Carolina after finishing his graduate program at the University of Colorado. With the blessings of our wives, Sam and I headed to Virginia for a couple days of snowboarding in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sam and I met during our first semester at Appalachian State and ended up rooming together for the next three years, until Kristen finally agreed to marry me and I moved off campus. At ASU — due to location, wonderful student discounts and a general lack of pressing (financial) obligations — the three of us had an opportunity to go snowboarding practically as often as we were up to it; usually three or four times each week. This was the first year I have been able to make it back to the slopes since we left Blowing Rock in 2008. Sam and I spent two days at Wintergreen Resort, near Charlottesville. The weather was perfect, the slopes were fairly well covered and the crowd was relatively sparse.
Knowing how much patience and planning it would take to get any decent snowboarding shots that weren’t cliche, and, more importantly, knowing that I only had two days to enjoy the mountains, I decided to try something different with the camera. As we moved around the mountain, we just pointed the lens in a general downhill direction and held the shutter, blasting off nearly 2,000 still frames of random snowboarding action. I dropped the pictures into iMovie, added a soundtrack and created my first stop-motion video. It’s pretty rough, but you have to start somewhere, right?
Here are a few still shots I pulled out of the reel, in case you missed them.
For Easter, Kristen and I travelled to Elizabeth City, a small harbor town at the mouth of the Pasquotank River, near the northern end of the Outer Banks. Our goal was simply to get away from home and be someplace peaceful and quite, knowing this would likely be our last chance to travel together before Samuel is born next month. We stayed at the Culpepper Inn, a prominent local fixture that I had seen many times before but never really visited. We arrived earlier than expected and immediately took a walk through the historic downtown area and strolled the docks. We listened to a pretty good bluegrass duo from Chesapeake fighting for the crowd’s attention at a local eatery and then made our way back to the inn.
Saturday morning we decided to head out to the islands. We drove through Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers made their historic flight, stopped for a delicious order of fresh cut fries and chocolate custard in Kill Devil Hills and then pulled over at Jockey’s Ridge in Nag’s Head. Jockey’s Ridge is the largest active sand dune on the East Coast. The bulk of the dune is likely the same pile of sand the Wright brothers launched their airplane from a few miles up the road in Kitty Hawk, it has just steadily migrated south over the past century. The dune is absolutely huge. The main plateau is probably only about 35 feet high, but the giant table-top of sand literally stretchs on for acres. Hundreds of families with hundreds of kites were already fixed atop the dune when we arrived, along with a few hang gliders. Still, it was easy to find a quite place and settle down in the dry, powdery sand that felt so different from the wet, sticky course, beach sand just a few hundred yards away. We capped the day off with a quick visit to the Currituck light house on the northern end of the island.
Sunday afternoon we decided to visit the Great Dismal Swamp — a national wildlife refuge that spans the North Carolina-Virginia border. We saw turtles, frogs and a woodpecker during our stroll through the swamp, which isn’t really as dismal and swampy as the name implies. The huge swamp areas on the northern coast of the state are worlds apart from the stagnant, slime-coated, bacteria-laden waters found in the woods in the central part of North Carolina, or in my native South Carolina. The Dismal Swamp is full of clear, blue-hued water that lazily flows to and fro among the forest of cypress trees that engulfs it. Wildlife is abundant.
We had a good visit in Elizabeth City. It was Kristen’s first time seeing the town, and the first chance I have had to explore the streets and creeks that occupied most of my time as an adolescent. I had the joy of living in a variety of locals growing up. Each one had unique advantages and disadvantages. It’s hard to compare my experiences growing up in different places because the first 18 years of life are so full of constant changes in themselves. For the most part, the bulk of my time spent living in each different community also marked a different phase of life for me as a child, adolescent and teenager, so it’s not really fair, or easy, to compare them. Still, all things considered, I think Elizabeth City was by far the most interesting, and simply enjoyable, place that my family brought me to live in. I wouldn’t have a single qualm about moving back, if that is the direction my life ever moves to again.
Visiting the places I have lived before is always a little strange though. I can’t help but to recall the experiences I hold connected with each familiar landscape. I notice how so many things have changed in my absence, while other details seem fixed forever. I never really know how to react when I encounter my past. My life has changed so much over the past few years, when ever I visit a place from my past, I can’t help but to feel that I’m no longer the same person I was when I left. I don’t know whether I want to let myself go to reconnect with my past, or whether I should just explore the city anew, looking for new experiences and new details that I would easily miss if I were only looking for things connected with my earlier life. I always face this dilemma when I visit the places where I grew up; I don’t have the same problem when I visit Blowing Rock, where Kristen and I went to college, got married, began our careers and turned our first apartment into a home. I think the difference has something to do with the fact that the life I built in Blowing Rock was my own, while my life in Elizabeth City, and the many other places I lived growing up, was inseparable from the life my parents built for me — not a bad thing by any means, just the way life is. Moving to Blowing Rock was my choice; the things I did there, the job I had, the house I lived in, were all my choices as well; perhaps most importantly, leaving Blowing Rock was my choice. The fact that I wasn’t in control of most of my earlier life — my parents decided where I would live, what I could and couldn’t do with my time and when I would move again — greatly affects the lens through which I view my past.
At least that’s what I think today. Who knows.
So, now that you’ve made it through all of that, enjoy a sampling of my shots from our holiday weekend in and around Elizabeth City. I know this gallery is way too big. Click any image or thumbnail to pull up a full-size viewer that will let you click through the entire collection at your leisure.
*I (David Anderson, Jr.) am the original author of all of the images connected with this post except for the final picture, which was kindly taken by our waitress at the Marina Restaurant in Elizabeth City. Enjoy!
This morning we finished the hike we started three days ago. Kristen, Heather, Roxie and I reached the summit of the First Flatiron overlooking Boulder. To get an idea of the path we took, look a few posts down at “First Taste of Colorado.” It took us about an hour and a half to reach the end of the 1.2 mile trail, which put us 1,500 feet above the city we started in. We climbed a little beyond the trail’s end, but cresting the final 40′ of the mountain requires a rope and climbing shoes.
Still, the view of Boulder, the surrounding plains and the mountains in the distance was incredible.
We found the Rockies today. Heather was nice enough to lend her VolksWagon to me and Kristen for the day, so we took a road trip.
We drove north of Boulder, through the village of Estes Park and into the Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent four hours driving 29 miles along Trail Ridge Road – the main scenic highway through the park. We came out of the park alongside Grand Lake – a centuries old mining town and resort area, grabbed lunch at Maverick’s Grill and then hooked up with I-70 to head back to Boulder.
The mountains in the Front Range near Boulder are unlike any I’ve seen before, with their red-brown faces and prarie grass hills, but while we were in Colorado Kristen and I really wanted to get a glimpse of the craggy snow-capped peaks that our nation’s western states are famous for. The Rocky Mountain National Park didn’t dissappoint.
What has really stood out to me about the Rockies is the diversity of the terrain. In one drive we saw stony flat mesas; pale red cliffs of dried lava; 8,000-foot peaks covered in spruce and fir trees standing alongside barren, 13,000-foot mountains still cloaked in a remnant of the ice and snow that fell months earlier, all separated by endless plains of prarie grass and piles of clay boulders that loomed over our lime-green Beetle.
Seeing the Rockies for the first time, I instinctively want to compare them to the mountain ranges I’ve already experienced. At first glance, I want to say they are more impressive than the Appalachians and not quite as breathtaking as the Alps. Neither of those statements are really true. The more I travel and experience places, the more I realize just how unique every spot on Earth really is.
For a skier or rockclimber, the size of the Rockies will certainly add to their draw. For the casual observer, day hiker, photographer, vacationer or general mountain nut, I would have to say that the mountains of Colorado are no more or less attractive than their East Coast counterparts. They are just completely different, and definitely worth seeing for yourself.
Following an uneventful day of flying, Kristen and I arrived in Denver at 5:20 Monday afternoon. Sam and Heather were waiting for us at the gate. Sam is starting his last semester at the University of Colorado this month and we wanted to take the time to come visit before they move back to North Carolina.
Neither of us had been anywhere near the Rockies before and we were a little surprised that we didn’t see a single mountain on our way to Denver. We were even more surprised that we didn’t see any on our way from the airport to our hosts’ apartment in Westminster.
After living in the Appalachian Mountains for four years, I had imagined Colorado to be just like the mountainous areas of the East Coast, only more so – twice as windy, twice as cool, with scenery twice as dramatic. Not neccessarily so. For the few people out there who, like me one day ago, don’t already know, the eastern half of Colorado is as flat as Kansas and hotter than North Carolina. The high today in Boulder was almost ten degrees warmer than at our home in Benson. These surprises weren’t dissappointments though. It’s always exciting to experience a new place, and to gain so much new knowledge off the bat reminds me why I wanted to travel in the first place (besides catching up with great friends, which was the main point of this trip).
This morning we did get to see some mountains. The foothills of the Rockies are just visible from Sam’s and Heather’s balcony. Heather took Kristen and I to see the Flatirons on the outskirts of Boulder while Sam was at work. We hiked around the base, but we got too late of a start and didn’t bring enough water to make it to the top. The mountains are not the image of snow-capped peaks and spruce trees that come to mind when thinking of the Rockies but they are just as dramatic. They are called the Flatirons because three of the large rock outcroppings look like the bottom sides of clothes irons.
After the hike we met up with Sam, lounged around at the pool, fried fish and played a friendly game of monopoly. I won.
We made it back from the camping trip with nothing put a set of sore legs, a half eaten box of oatmeal and some good memories. I don’t believe I’ve really spent a whole weekend vacation with my mother and brothers in the five years since I graduated from high school, and so it was good to have the whole family together in my old stomping ground in the western part of our state with nothing on the agenda at all.
After much coaxing, I was able to get the group to set off on a hike of the Boone Fork Trail — a five mile loop that should take two to three hours. During the first three hours we tried unsuccessfully to find a spur trail off of the loop that would lead us to a waterfall / rock formation we had only driven to before.
Then Zachary, my 19-year-old brother, disappeared up the side of a mountain and into the woods. We didn’t think much of it for a while and continued on down the trail, but after 30 minutes or so when he didn’t show up, we began to get worried and set off looking for him.
By this time we had given up on finding our missing waterfalls and were just hoping to find Zach and get back to camp before nightfall. Jacob and I set off into the woods about 1/4 mile from the spot on the trail where we lost Zach, hoping we would head him off. He heard us calling for him and shouted back. He had no idea how he’d done it, but while trying to find the trail again, Zachary stumbled into the rock formation we’d spent all day looking for. The boys played around some and then we got back to camp just in time to get a fire and supper started before the sun set — six hours after we’d started our hike.
Earlier in the day, Kristen and I set out on a hunt for breakfast. I decided not to tell Kristen what we were doing and just lead a walk from our campsite alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway and into Blowing Rock, where we had a formal brunch in the outdoor garden of The Village Cafe. Our smelly camp clothes stood out in sharp contrast to the waitstaff and tourists that sat around us, but after walking more than five miles to get to our table, we felt like we deserved a good breakfast just as much as the next guy.
As far as photographs went on this trip, I was pretty captivated with the cloudy skies over the mountains at every vista. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to shoot the mountains in sunny weather and generally tried to avoid taking the camera out in the rainy months. After the first night, we never had much rain on this trip but the scattered cloud cover hung over us the entire weekend, creating some neat sunburst scenes and really providing a powerful atmosphere that matched the prominence of the landscape.
In addition to being an incredible teacher, a great listener and the best friend I could ask for, my wife also has the ability to pitch a tent in less than five minutes, in the middle of the night, without a flash light after driving three hours on a mountain road. Yeah, I’m lucky.
Last night we left Sanford at 9:30 with a packed car and an already car sick dog. We got to Blowing Rock and set up our tent a little before 1 a.m. and settled in for the night. An unexpected rain shower woke us up a few hours later and we scrambled to get our rain fly on the tent and make sure the dog was alright, but then I had the soundest nights’ sleep I’ve ever had in the woods.
My mother and brothers had come to camp earlier in the day, planning to stay the weekend as a birthday treat for Jacob. We had said we didn’t think we could come, and when I was abl e to get the day off of work, we kept the secret until the next morning when my mom found our tent set up next door.
Our first full day was spent laying around Price Lake, reading, fishing and paddling around. I’ll see if I can’t get some more strenuous activity out of the family tomorrow.
Kristen and I spent a few days backpacking in the Wilson Creek wilderness area over Easter weekend. While we take day hikes and go camping pretty often, this was our first foray into backpacking. Wilson Creek is a beautiful area, but the trails are definitely the most technical hiking either of us have ever done, making the pictures and memories that much more rewarding.