John Snell posted this wonderful story of his walk in the woods at the Red River Gorge in February 2014. His story is as picturesque as the gorgeous sunset picture he captured.
It's winter (need I remind you?). A time of year when I'm given to somewhat nomadic meanderings through Red River Gorge, sometimes with purpose, sometimes just to “be there.” Last night's wanderings were with a degree of purpose, though when I set out, I wasn't sure if it was pictorial or otherwise.
I knew I would be in unfamiliar territory, striking out around 5 pm to follow an old logging road, which is not an officially maintained trail, to see if I could find an overlook from which to photograph a sunset. As I strode along, I could see some sheer cliffs below me about 100 yards way on either side of me. The ridgetop is my GPS of sorts, as I don't have any fancy electronics in my “dumb” phone that accompanies me. As long as I stay on the hump of the ridge, I'm pretty much assured I can find my way to its terminus and back to the car.
After about 3/4ths of a mile, I could see that the leaf-strewn path was leading me leftward, away from what I had guessed to be a sunset vantage point. Through the leaf-bare trees to my right, I could see a hump on the ridge, a higher vantage point, hopefully suitable for sunset viewing. Decision time: Do I stay on the faint, yet wrong-leading path, or do I bushwhack off-trail in what my instincts told me would lead to the better photo site?
I chose the latter, thrashing through waist-high mountain laurel bushes, trying to avoid the skin-ripping saw briars and high-stepping over fallen tree trunks. To my surprise and delight, I soon came upon the faint remnants of yet another logging roadway, and it was heading where I wanted to go!
Another 15 minutes of walking found me on a small outcrop extending about 8 feet out from the base of some small pine trees, solid rock, where no trees could grab a root-hold. I had found my spot!
By now, it was 6:15, a mere 9 minutes prior to sunset. Quickly setting up my tripod and camera, I fired off a few quick shots, some with overhanging pine branches framing the blue-and-sunset colored horizon. My favorite image, though, was all sky and little horizon. It spoke best of what I saw…what I came to enjoy…what I came to take back with me in memory, both mine and the camera's.
It is an unfortunate fact that, at these moments…those times when you want to savor what's out there…you know that if you don't high-tail it back to the car, you could spend countless hours wandering unfamiliar territory in the dark, culminating possibly in the embarrassing scenario of a 911 call for a search party to come and find you. A time when you're a good mile and a half from the car, reachable only by retracing steps on a trail you've never walked before.
I took a long swig of water, shouldered my camera pack and tripod, clutched my trekking poles and began my return. I was calmed by the knowledge that 1) even after sunset, there is a lot of ambient light, 2) I had 3 flashlights with me, 3) I am blessed with a good sense of direction and 4) I'm still sound enough of mind to remember the twists and turns and ups and downs I had made while walking out here.
Fifty minutes later, having made no missteps and only having to use the headlamp the last half mile of the way, I crossed Tunnel Ridge Road and entered the parking lot where my car awaited. I placed my gear inside the car, drank long and refreshingly from my water bottle, and slumped, tired, yet totally blessed by what I had done and seen, into the driver's seat. Still awaiting me was the drive home, punctuated by a Little Thickburger stop at the Stanton Hardee's.
This is a story about the mental and physical meanderings of one who has made more than 600 visits to the beloved Red River Gorge. No prize-winning photos were captured this time. But this trip was about more than taking photo trophies. It's about the moment…the adventure…the feeding of the soul in ways that only those who would experience it for themselves ever get to know. I invite you to set aside some “woods time” for yourselves. You'll be glad you did!
Written with permission of John Snell Photo