Shenandoah in the Fall

Over the past couple of years, I had really wanted to take a trip to Shenandoah during the peak of its fall season. But, you know how it goes… weather reports look meh, this week turns into next week, and sooner or later winter is in full swing. This year, however, my family and I mustered up the energy to go out to Skyline drive, through Shenandoah in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We went during “peak” as described on Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive website, but when we went, we were surprised to see much green in the lower elevations as the park. Luckily, as we trekked up the trail, the colors became brighter and more vibrant. We really could not have asked for a better day, either, as temperatures were near 80 and the sun was shining brightly.

The first shot I took was as we arrived to the first lookout point. Regardless if the colors of fall were present or not, the depth one can see in the distance is reason enough for a visit to Skyline Drive. I thought it was cool how the road bent around the mountain where a lone tree overlooked the valley:

Shenandoah Skyline Drive Lookout
Shenandoah Skyline Drive Lookout (click for larger version or purchase)

One thing you’ll notice about most of these photos, and what you notice while looking out across the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the blue tint that rises from the hills. Apparently, it’s the result of hydrocarbons released from the trees. No, I’m not that smart, that’s just what the National Park Service says.

When we stopped at another lookout, I noticed large and graceful birds soaring across the valley. It was really quite a sight: the birds (which I later learned were Peregin Falcons) glid from right above our heads to far in the distance, circling the vast perimeter almost like they were outlining their territory. Unfortunately, I was only able to get one decent shot before the birds were out of sight:

Peregrin Falcons in Shenandoah
Peregrin Falcon in Shenandoah (click for larger version or purchase)

As I have mentioned, leaves in the lower elevations of Shenandoah had not turned into the vibrant, reddish colors of the climax of fall. However, that’s not to say that the sights we saw in the earlier parts of the trail did not hold their own beauty.

This next shot was in a patch of similarly sized trees. The sun shined warmly through the yellowed leaves:

Sun through the trees, Shenandoah
Sun through the trees, Shenandoah (click for larger version or purchase)

Here’s a slightly different angle — to highlight the height of the trees and the window they formed to the blue sky:

Sun through the trees, Shenandoah
Sun through the trees, Shenandoah (click for larger version or purchase)

As we continued up the trail and into the mountains, the hills of Shenandoah began to separate. We realized soon that we weren’t looking at just one, but several mounds of earth that stretched into the distance. In this next shot, you can see three such mounds, with the furthest being shadowed by a passing cloud:

The hills of Shenandoah
The hills of Shenandoah (click for larger version or purchase)

Also as we continued up the trail, the colors within the trees started to show more luster. Here’s a shot of the sun as it highlighted the yellow-orange trees over Skyline Drive. Note also the car approaching from a distance:

Fall trees over Skyline Drive
Fall trees over Skyline Drive (click for larger version or purchase)

Amongst the vibrant trees were some that had already lost their leaves. These trees made for interesting subjects in contrast to their surroundings. Here’s a lone tree overlooking a valley, with a couple also enjoying the view:

Bare tree over an Shenandoah outlook
Bare tree over an Shenandoah outlook (click for larger version or purchase)

This next one was a similar but more interesting site. Amongst a hillside of colorful orange trees were equally colorless (or white) trees that had already lost their leaves. They had an interesting shape — one that took a more vertical, rather than a cone or bush shape. One particular tree stood closest to me, which created an interesting contrast with the bush below it, the sun-lit trees on the hillside, and the lookout in the distance:

Bares tree over a Shenandoah outlook
Bare trees over a Shenandoah outlook (click for larger version or purchase)

This next one is one of my favorites from the trip. As dusk neared, the sun flattened its light and provided a more calm look to the mountains. The sun peeked in from the right, shining through from the group of yellow trees on the right to the orange trees on the left, and casting subtle blue shadows in the hills in the distance. In the foreground shadow, the greenish sedimentary rock and the colorful brush helped to neatly frame my eye to the scene:

A rock, the trees, and the Shenandoah Valley
A rock, the trees, and the Shenandoah Valley (click for larger version or purchase)

Now, as everyone who has ever been to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah knows, the most striking thing to see out there is the spectacular sunset. I climbed down from the pedestrian trail and outlook and found a spot between two large rocks that overlooked the vast valley but also was a few feet from a smaller precipice. Before I tell the story, I just want to mention what a beautiful experience that was. Warm air gently breezed over the valley, swaying trees very slightly as the sun tuned its hues warmer to paint the mountains into striking colors.

As the sun began to set, the light shone through the trees in the distance. I thought it was really cool to see the amber light illuminate the trees and the about 9 layers of hills in the shot:

Amber light illuminating the trees of the Shenandoah mountains
Amber light illuminating the trees of the Shenandoah mountains (click for larger version or purchase)

As the sun continued to set, the light from the sun turned from amber to orange, spotlighting a prominent hill to my right. In the distance, you can see that while many trees are orange and red, many contrast with green from the summer:

Orange sunset on a Shenandoah hill
Orange sunset on a Shenandoah hill (click for larger version or purchase)

The sun sat very near the horizon as I shot this wide-angle view of the valley:

Shenandoah Sunset
Shenandoah sunset (click for larger version or purchase)

As the sun sank beneath the mountains, it began to take a more magenta color as the hills’ blue hues started to show:

Shenandoah sunset
Shenandoah sunset (click for larger version or purchase)

I was able to switch lenses quickly to catch this next close-up of the sun. It was really gorgeous to see it quickly slipping on to the other side of the world, turning the horizon orange, magenta, purple, and blue as it wrestled with the colors of the mountains. It was also cool to see the several layers and depth of the hills:

Shenandoah sunset
Shenandoah sunset (click for larger version or purchase)

As the sun completed its descent, I took one last to show the vibrant colors of the valley:

Shenandoah sunset
Shenandoah sunset (click for larger version or purchase)

So… as you can see, I had a very good time going to Shenandoah this past fall. The weather was really perfect and the sights were even more so. It was really very nice also because I went with my parents and aunt, all of whom were more than happy to stand by as I shot photo after photo. I appreciated their patience very much.

And of course, as we exited Skyline Drive, I had to ask their patience once more, as the moon rose quickly over the opposite side from where the sun set. As soon as we popped into the car to go home, I popped out to get one. last. shot. I always say that though don’t I? 🙂 I thought this one was cool because despite the darkness that set over the mountains, you can still see some color of changed leaves in the trees, and the city lights in the distance:

Shenandoah moonrise
Shenandoah moonrise (click for larger version or purchase)

So today, as winter solstice arrives, I will say bye to fall… My favorite and the most beautiful season.

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