Days one and two.
In late 2009 I was riding in the back of a van headed to a mountaintop removal site in eastern Kentucky to get some interviews for a video. Having never been to this area before I loved getting to look out the windows and see the scenery. As we got further in our trip the land became more mountains and the main roads were higher than some of the towns resting in the valleys below. I was stunned that I had a birds eye view of these cities we were passing through and knew that someday I would come back to record these wonderful views and share them with others who would never be able to see the area for themselves. A little over three years passed and I felt that I had found a good way to show the scenery in a unique way, so I scheduled a weeks worth of vacation and prepared for the trip.
I started the trek late on a Monday leaving Louisville, Kentucky and driving about 180 miles to the first spot that looked cool from the road which was Hazard Kentucky. I arrived around 9 p.m. and from the road I could see down into this city of lights, it was pretty amazing. Over the next hour I tried to find a way to shoot that would give others an idea of how gorgeous the city looks. I finally settled on the edge of a large parking lot higher up a hill and started a hyperlapse. This was my first time using the Panasonic 20mm lens for a timelapse. Most of the time it seems like prime lenses don’t really give the desired field of view I’m looking for so I go with zoom lenses, but it’s a treat to use a prime when I have the chance since there is no risk of accidently changing the focal length during a shoot. The hyperlapse took about 40 minutes to get and I wanted to capture a couple clips the first day so I drove through the city and found another overlook at the community college. I set up the slider for a vertical move and half an hour later packed up and drove the remaining 30 miles to Whitesburg. I found a somewhat secluded parking lot and fell asleep around 2 a.m.
6:30 a.m. came too soon but it was time to get some early morning photos on a pull off I noticed from the previous night. There was a slight drizzle this morning so once the slider was set up I put an umbrella over the rig, set up the camera and let the slider do it’s thing. The shot turned out alright but wasn’t really what I was expecting, I should have set up earlier to get a night to day shot.
I stayed in Whitesburg until early afternoon and got the closing shot of the video before heading on. I was in the downtown area and could see mountains as the backdrop for the city with these really low clouds that would sometimes completely hide the mountains while other times they would hug and flow over it. I took too long to show the clouds completely enveloping the mountains but the shot still turned out well. I packed the gear into the trunk and was extremely happy to get in my car and head somewhere else after this. Whitesburg is a great place but I was damp from the rain and had been shooting outside in the upper 30 degree weather for about 5 hours I was freezing and the warmth from the car felt amazing. I would become very grateful for the heater on this trip.
After grabbing lunch to go at McDonalds, I headed out of the parking lot and saw a flashing sign to my right saying the weather could change at anytime on Pine Mountain. I assumed this meant the road went pretty high up which would probably make for a cool overlook. Not having a plan on what to shot next made this seem like a great idea. The road snaked along the edge of the mountain and the higher up it went the further into the distance I could see, it was a thrill to drive on. Approaching the top I pulled over onto a scenic overlook and after being mesmerized by this view for a few minutes I set up some motion control gear and started shooting. The next two and a half hours were spent playing around with different setups and shooting the area. Doing justice to the area is almost impossible but I gave it my best attempt, cameras just don’t seem to give a good idea of what it’s like to look over a guardrail and show how high up you are. During the stay on Pine Mountain no one else pulled over at the overlook, thinking back it’s not really that surprising. To the locals it’s probably just a road that puts more wear and tear on their vehicles with the engine having to work harder to make it up the mountain and the brakes wearing out faster on the downside of the mountain. To an outsider however the landscape is spectacular.
A couple days before leaving on the trip I figured it would be a good idea to do a little bit of research to find what else might be cool to photograph. On one site I saw a picture taken from another overlook at Kingdom Come State Park. The park would be the next location since it was only 15 miles away and the sun was going down. A few wrong turns later and after going down a road in the park that was somehow considered a two way road even though only one car could make it at any time I found the vista I came for. Upon getting out of the car I was greeted with a sign warning visitors to beware of black bears. Feeling uneasy about this I continued to the overlook and hoped the animals would be hibernating during the winter months, if not the tripod with spiked feet would be the only thing to ward them off. Thankfully no bears were encountered, but the cold was terrible. I had on a hoodie, winter jacket, ear muffs and a pair of gloves. When the wind wasn’t blowing the 36 degrees was manageable, but this was on top of a mountain and the wind was almost always blowing with nothing to break it. I was going for a day to night on the overlook but ended up leaving after about an hour. The thought of having to walk back to my car with only my headlamp and black bears around was too intimidating, plus I was really cold.
One of the coolest things about being away from larger cities is the lack of light pollution. I messed around with shooting some star timelapse stuff back in 2007 but didn’t have an intervalometer, or a fast wide lens so I was anxious to give it another try now that I had the right tools. While driving back down Kingdom Come I pulled off to the side of the road and shot the stars through the trees in the foreground for an hour. During the shoot I noticed something even cooler than the stars, to my right was a city peaking through trees in a valley below. If it all possible I would come back and get this. On the drive back to Whitesburg to find a hotel and take a much needed shower my car started making a clicking sound. Earlier in the day the car bottomed out while pulling off the road and now I was concerned the transmission was messed up since the noise started happening at a certain speed. Very relieved to have made it to Whitesburg I pulled into a Super 8 did a quick check under the car, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and I wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway so I got a room and some food from the Wendy’s next door and settled in. I never realized how much I take a heated room for granted until spending all day outside. I had internet, a TV with cable, and a shower. I’m pretty sure the amenities the room came with were way better than anything kings or queens had a few hundred years ago.