I was at an elevation of 5892’ on top of the Craggy Pinnacle trail taking pictures of Catawba rhododendrons and the approaching hail storm, when my hair started to stand on end. Photo hint: don’t be a mile up on a mountain in a lightning storm with your hands on a metal tripod!
The ride along theBlue Ridge Parkwayfrom Waynesville to Craggy Gardens was beautiful. At the lower elevations, pink laurel and flame azalea were in full bloom. Then came the dramatic Catawba rhododendrons. The best photos required some walking from an overlook to where the blooms were. Use a wide angle lens and include some of the bush in the foreground with a panoramic view in the background. Switch your camera to aperture priority and set the “F” stop at 16 or 32. A tripod may be necessary, and a split polarizer or N/D filter. I took exposure reading off the sky and used a flash to get best color on flowers.
The picnic area at Craggy Gardensis full of rhododendrons and shade. It is a welcome pit stop after the long drive on the Parkway, and a good destination for the family. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail passes through here, and the strenuous 4-mile Craggy Gardens Trail begins at the parking lot. Stay on the Parkway past the entrance to the picnic area and stop at the visitor’s center and get information about the trails. Farther down the road, make a left after the tunnel to get to the Craggy Pinnacle parking area. From here you can get good shots of the Dome, or take a slightly steep .7-mile hike to the pinnacle. This path is a tunnel through twisted rhododendrons and ancient birch trees. The forest on each side of the road insulates you from encroaching civilization and makes the trip an excursion on a seemingly parallel universe. You can almost picture yourself in a covered wagon moving your family to a new world full of opportunities.