Hidden Gems: Cape Charles, Virginia

 

Note:  Special thanks to my photographer friend Kim, who introduced me to, and guided me through, this special place.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a 70-mile tract of land on the Delmarva Peninsula enclosed by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west.  Its northern border with Maryland and Delaware separates it completely from the rest of Virginia.  On the Atlantic side, a series of barrier islands forms the longest remaining natural coastline along the entire eastern seaboard.

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Sunset overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles, Virginia

Although this region is one of the earliest colonized areas of North America, Native American tribes flourished here long before European settlers first arrived at the beginning of the 17th Century.  Characterized by fertile, easily tilled land and surrounded by the bay and ocean  waters, the area remained a seafood and agricultural region with scattered small towns for almost 300 years.

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Pear Valley 18th Century home, National Historic Landmark

(This tiny, frame house outside Eastville, VA has one room downstairs and two partial rooms in a sort of attic. It is an example of a middle class home in 1740)

In 1883, a group of railroad investors hatched the idea of a rail-sea link that would extend the terminus of the existing rail line in Maryland 65 miles down the peninsula to a massive pier where the rail cars would be loaded onto special barges that would carry them across the 36-mile stretch of water to a terminus in Norfolk.

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Sunset Old Ferry Pier, Cape Charles, Virginia

The creation of the new rail-sea line was the reason for the creation of Cape Charles which, from its very conception, was a planned community and its original layout is still visible today.  Many of the original  homes still stand, a diverse range of styles including Victorian, Colonial Revival, and even some of the Sears and Roebucks houses that were delivered as a “kit” of 30,000 pieces and a 75- page manual.

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Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking left)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that has been renovated and is now a popular Irish pub.

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Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking right)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that became a branch of the Bank of America and is now the town library.

With daily trains arriving from New York, the town quickly became the economic center of the  lower peninsula.  Benefitting from a planned system of paved streets, electricity, telephones, and central water and sewage systems, it was more cosmopolitan than the other shore towns.  But the glory years began a downturn with the Great Depression in the 1930s, the decline of the railroads after World War II, and the opening of the Bay-Bridge tunnel in 1964.

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The At Altitude Gallery, opened in 2015 by photographer Gordon Campbell in the renovated Wilson’s Department store and exhibiting his dramatic aerial photography of the Cape Charles area. 

But, after several decades of continued economic and population decline, the trend has reversed.  As indicated in the above image, new businesses have opened and its potential for tourism has been recognized.  As indicated in my images below, photographers are particularly smitten with its natural beauty and diversity of subject matter.

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Sunrise at Oyster

(Oyster is small unincorporated community, named for its fishing industry, located about 5 miles from Cape Charles on the opposite side of the peninsula.)

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Osprey Nest at Sunrise, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Sand Dunes off Bay Avenue, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Kite Surfers, Cape Charles, Virginia

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Eyre Hall Gardens, Cape Charles, Virginia

(Eyre descendents have owned land in the lower portion of Northampton County continuously since 1622 for 12 generations. The gardens, while privately owned are open to the public and are among the oldest gardens in the United States)

Moonrise

I know, I know.  I promised scenes from the Galapagos would be in my next post, but……

A week ago (March 12), there was a full moon, an event that happens every 29.5 days.  But for photographers in Washington, DC, it was a special night because the moon would rise in a location on the horizon that was pretty close to perfect for the so-called “Holy Grail” shot.  It happens, on average, every one or two years.

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Moonrise over Washington, D.C., March 12, 2017

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.6 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken )

There is a spot in Arlington, Virginia where one has an excellent view of the city of Washington with a compositionally sweet alignment of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.  The location is the base of the Netherlands Carillon, just to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Before the advent of the smart phone/tablet, anticipating this event was not easy, requiring a compass and access to some publicly available software on the website of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  But now, with the availability of numerous apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or Photo Pils, anyone can figure it out. For example, on this night, even with temperatures hovering around freezing, there were over 60 photographers there, each with at least one tripod and a big lens.

Other than the cold weather, conditions looked pretty good on this evening.  The sky was clear and the moon would rise at 86.0 degrees azimuth on the horizon and 13 minutes after sunset.  That was a bit further south than ideal, and a bit later than desired relative to the sunset. Nevertheless, it would be the best opportunity in 2017 with only one other chance (October 5) that will be in the ballpark.  However, in October, the blue twilight period (Civil Twilight) will end before the moon gets sufficiently elevated.

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(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 7:32 PM)

Although the official time of the moonrise was 7:27 PM, it would be a bit later before it would appear above the skyline.  It was first sighted by the group at about  7:29 and the image immediately above was taken about 90 seconds later.  By this time, the end of civil twilight is approaching and we would soon lose the classic blue color that is essential to this kind of image.

 

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(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 2.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 6:36 PM)

Furthermore, the combination of a very clear sky with the rapidly fading twilight would cause the moon to become extremely bright as it rose above the dimming effects of the ground haze.  The above image was taken at 6:36 PM, about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight.    Already the moon is becoming increasingly bright and the excellent details on its surface have almost vanished.  Any images taken after this point would require increasingly heroic post-processing efforts.

So when you prepare for a moon shot, make sure you check more than the location.  The relationship in time between the sunset and moonrise and civil twilight can have a significant impact on your results.  If you are in a classic landscape situation where no artificial lighting typical of an urban scene is expected, you may want to evaluate the prospects on the night just before the actual full moon.  This is especially true where a mountain may be blocking the moon at the time of the “official” moonrise.

 

Next (and I promise): Scenes from the Galapagos Islands.

 

The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

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Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

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Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

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Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

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Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

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Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

Dangerous Waters

Although the weather forecast on New Year’s Day called for cloudy skies, the sun seemed to be making a game effort in the mid-morning so I thought I would celebrate the first day of 2017 photographing Great Falls National Park. I was thinking about a waterfall image with a nice feathery look, using a slower shutter speed on the water. An example of the concept is shown below, taken a week earlier.

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Great Falls of the Potomac (December 25th, 2016)

(Nikon D810 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm and ND filter; exp @ 1.6 secs, ISO 50)

The park is named for the Great Falls of the Potomac River, about 15 miles north of Washington, DC . It is a spectacular location for landscape photography but also is one of the most dangerous whitewater locations in the eastern U.S.  Since 1975, about 30 people have died there and only expert boaters should contemplate putting into this section of the river.

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Kayak portage across the”Flake”

Just as I arrived, I noticed several kayakers lugging their boats over the rocky island known as the Flake towards a put-in point for a run over the falls.  I sprinted for Overlook #1 which provides a decent view of all three routes over the falls.  For those who are not familiar with the level of these rapids, here are some excerpts from American Whitewater:

“Great Falls of the Potomac River is a major set of rapids located about 15 miles upstream of Washington, DC. The main Falls lines drop fifty feet in one-tenth of a mile, creating a Class V+ set of waterfalls.” (Note: Class VI is the most dangerous; anything more dangerous is considered unrunnable).

More scary information about the dangers of this kayak run can be found here: Scroll down to the several listings for Great Falls.

As I watched the boaters pick their way across the Flake, I surveyed the river trying to guess from the flow of the water which route they would choose.  The level is precisely measured by a hydrology station upriver and an online site provides current information which should dictate the choice.   A difference of 6 inches can make a big difference.

It looked to me as if two of the lines, the one closest to the Virginia shore (the Spout) and the one closest the Maryland shore (Maryland Lines) were  OK but the center line seemed too low to be safe. Two other boaters were already in the water near the put-in on the Maryland side so I concentrated on them.

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Approaching the final rapid on the Maryland Line

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A few seconds later, so far, so good

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Almost through

These two made the run nicely and paddled over to the base of the Flake and began the tricky portage back upstream.  It was then that I noticed two other boaters who seemed to be aiming for a run down the centerline, also known as “The Fingers” because there are five 25-foot vertical chutes to choose from.  The Fingers can be seen in the photo at the start of the post; it was taken from Outlook #3.

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Approaching the “Fingers”

The problem is that the wrong choice can be fatal.  I made an online check on the water level which showed it was about 1 inch below the level considered safe for that route. So the pair were pushing their luck just a bit.  Anyway, they made it OK, although I couldn’t see the finish from my vantage point. (See photo below)

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Running the Middle Finger (the correct choice)

No sooner has they completed their descents when four more kayakers moved into position for a run down the Virginia line.  This run finishes with “The Spout,” a spectacular 25-foot drop right in front of my position. Now I was getting really excited.

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In position for the Virginia Line, about 100 meters (and 3 rapids) from the Spout

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Through the 3 rapids and assessing the Spout

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Perfect Position!

All four made the run without encountering trouble and the small crowd with me at the overlook cheered loudly after each one resurfaced above the foam.  And the boaters themselves were proud of their accomplishment, judging from the energetic fist pumps made at the conclusion of their descents.

Of all the times I have been to the park and have been lucky enough to see kayakers, I have never seen runs made on all three of the major routes on the same day.  It was truly a special way to start the new year.

Off to Iceland!

Tomorrow I will be heading up to Iceland with a pair of photo colleagues for about eight days on a photo workshop.

We have been on several joint ventures previously but this will be the first time our little trio has joined a workshop.  It’s also the first of our photo expeditions to a location that none of us has seen before and our first international destination.  Given all of that, this promises to be an interesting time.

After the workshop I will be heading to New York City for about 5 days where I hope to meet up with a few fellow bloggers.  The itinerary will probably prevent any postings for a while, but I hope to resume sometime after the 3rd week in September.

So, in the meantime, here are a few images from some of my previous photo shoots with my two colleagues.

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Potomac River Rapids, near Great Falls, Virginia

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Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Shays Creek, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

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Yosemite National Park, California

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Clearing Storm at Sunset, Yosemite Valley

Summer Pursuits

If you are a photographer based near the city of Washington,  July provides many photo ops beyond the well-known fireworks extravaganza that happens on the 4th.

For example, there is the fairly well-known field of sunflowers in Maryland’s McKee-Besher’s Wildlife Management Area (Maryland DNR website).  Since the weather forecast for the fireworks was iffy, I decided to zip over to that field on the 4th to see if they had been planted this year and, if so, how long it would be before they were ready to be photographed.  It was a good thing I did.

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Approaching Storm, Sunflowers (July 4, 2014)

The plants were so vigorous this year that one needed a ladder in some spots just to get a clear view of the entire field.  I had neglected to take a ladder on the scouting trip so I returned with one the next day for another go.

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Morning Fog, Sunflowers (July 5, 2015)

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Soft Light, Sunflowers (July 5, 2015)

The morning light with the fog provided a completely different mood than the previous afternoon.  While a ladder is helpful, to get higher one needs a camera-equipped drone or, in my case, a friend with such a device.

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Drone, Awaiting Orders

This was purely an experiment and requires a skill set I do not possess, one completely different from still photography.  The owner was in charge of where it went and what it did.

View from above

The image above is a still photograph taken by the drone’s camera.  One can get an idea of its potential, however, by checking out this link to an unedited clip of one of the flights.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Washington, DC, the lotus blossoms were at peak in Kenilworth Gardens, according to a fellow photographer who was there on July 3rd.  Here is an image from a previous visit.

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Lotus, Kenilworth Gardens, Washington, DC

But Kenilworth will have to wait until next year, a kayak race over Great Falls was scheduled for July 11, and I wanted to check out the practice runs on the two days before the actual event.   The advantage of the practice runs is that the race day crowds are absent.  The downside is that you don’t know exactly when the boats will be coming down.

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Navigating the Fish Ladder, Great Falls National Park, Maryland

The Fish Ladder is a tricky course as can be seen from a 35-second video taken shortly after this run.  Listen for the thuimp when the lead boat collides with the wall.  The race course was on the Maryland side this year because the water level was too high for the classic run through the center line, known as the Fingers, shown below.

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Navigating the Fingers, Great Falls of the Potomac (July 2014)

Whether running the Fish Ladder or the Center Lines, this event is an extremely dangerous undertaking.  A competitor died in 2013 during a practice run over the falls.  The event organizers go to great lengths to ensure the safety of the kayakers, but the power of the river is impossible to tame completely.

 

Catching Up: Hermione Visit Part 2

Not being one to complain, we’ll skip all the details about my Internet’s provider’s spotty service this week and get right to a post that is about six days late.

Regular readers may recall my earlier posting about the midnight arrival of the L’Hermione in Alexandria, Virginia about two weeks ago.  The vessel, is a replica of the French frigate that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to the American colonies during the Revolutionary War.  Details on its background can be found in my post here and in Patti’s “Displaced Beachbums” post here.

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The next morning, the public began to queue up for free tours aboard the ship.

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Channel 7 was on the scene.

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As were others who found the frigate a handy backdrop for themselves

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The gangplank wasn’t ADA compliant, but no one was complaining.

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Once aboard, you notice there are a lot of ropes everywhere.

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                Every rope (actually line) on the rigging has a function and a name,               such as the “mizzen topsail halyard.”

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There are two wheels, in front and in the rear (fore and aft, I believe).

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Everyone wanted to know what was underneath these hatches.

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Some more than others.

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 Some of the crew performed maintenance duty….

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and others charmed their guests by posing for pictures….

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and others kept alert for evil doers…

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with the help of local security forces.

L’hermonie will be in Philadelphia June 25-28, then will sail for New York City.  Details on the itinerary can be found here.

Keep Shooting….