Thursday, June 11 – Friday, June 12
I stayed in Pittsburgh for one more day. Oh…did I mention that it rained ALL DAY? It cleared up for about 2-3 hours enough for me get some overall city shots below:
(click here for a larger view)
From Pittsburgh I traveled through scattered showers down to Charleston, West Virginia where I couchsurfed with Jacob. He’s a civil engineer and is moving to Pittsburgh this fall for grad school. We had a lot of common interests and he’s an easy going dude. That night I captured the night overlook scene of Charleston, but it just wasn’t up to par. Besides every photographer and their grandmother captured that exact picture so I didn’t stress over it.
Saturday, June 13
Having already seen most of what Charleston had to offer I called an audible and changed up my travel plans. I woke up at 5:00 in the morning so I could capture sunrise. Except there was no sunrise because it was too foggy. So I continued my trip down to the mining towns along the West Virginia / Kentucky border…how these guys were ever on the “North” side during the Civil War still boggles the mind.” Now to be fair, I was very apprehensive and thought I was going to encounter a fair amount of hostility from Confederate-flag waving, banjo-playing citizens of the area who might want to force me back into slavery. I mean, they’ve made movies involving the racial history in these areas.
I not only survived, but I’m here to tell you that the return to slavery part was wrong, but everything else was kinda dead on. These mining towns are among some of the most economically depressed areas of the state As Jacob aptly put it, these people are claiming the “clean” coal (ha!) is a way out of our economic doldrums away from oil – then if that’s true, why are these areas among the poorest in the entire country? Driving through many of these areas, there were TONS of FEMA trailer units re-building parts that were devastated by recent storms.
You’d think after 16 years down South, I’d be accustomed to the sight of the Confederate flag, but I’m not. In fact, it vilely offends me more now than ever. I’m seriously considering travelling with an American history book in my car, so the next time I see some moron wearing a t-shirt with the mighty Confederate flag on it bragging, “I DON’T HAVE AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM, YOU HAVE A PERCEPTION PROBLEM”, I can smack them upside the head with it. But then I’d probably also get beaten to a pulp, so I may have to reconsider that idea.
Like I said, thankfully my apprehensions proved baseless. None of the people I directly encountered were any of -those- people and everyone I talked with was incredibly kind to me. And by the afternoon…THE SUN CAME OUT, WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOO!!
Emerging from the mining towns my last stop of the day was at Twin Falls State Park. Okay, so get this…some waterfall places are crowded and others aren’t at all, this certainly fell into the latter category. I arrive at the parking circle and as I’m removing all of my camera gear a silver early-90s sports car with black tailfin and red flames on the side pulls up a couple spots adjacent. Out of driver’s side of the tiny 2-door vehicle hops out this shirtless skinny dude with a porn mustache, mullet, and NASCAR racing cap. Then hopped out 2 girls. Then 2 boys. Then a young pregnant blonde woman.
In my head I’m thinking, “Oh man…STEREOTYPE ALERT STEREOTYPE ALERT WHIRRRRRRRWHIRRRRRWHIRRRRRR”
I continued onto the first fall almost immediately beyond the parking lot. The second fall is an approximate 1/4 mile incline up the mountain, then a steep trail down to the river. Remember, it was raining so it was muddy and very easy to slip. By the time I had gotten to the second waterfall, I looked down the path and spotted the entire family I had seen earlier at the bottom. The father takes a few minutes to guide his two girls up the path and once they get to the top, he turns to me and in a West-Virginia drawl asks, “Hey can you watch them for a second?”
The girls seemed about 3 and 6 years old. The older girl looked at me and said, “Guess what? I saw a lizard down thar!”
A chuckled and responded, “Oh yeah? What color was it?”
BLAM! Stereotype BUSTED! The kids and I entertained each other and the man guided the two boys and finally his wife with the bun in the oven up the slippery slope. He asked me where the first fall was. I stated it was just beyond the parking lot off to the side. He thanked me and I made my way down to shoot the second fall.
By the time I had finished shooting the second fall, I looked like I was part of the Mud People. Thankfully I had a change of clothes in the car. When I got to the car, the family I had already twice encountered looked about to leave. As they started to pull their Clowns-in-a-Car routine, the man called across to me, “You have a good time?”
I responded, “Yeah, I had never been here before.”
“I ain’t been here since I was a kid, wanted to show my kids! You from North Cowelina?”
The man flashed a gap-toothed smile, “Lots of our folk moved to Cowelina.”
“Yeah, you know I’ve met a bunch from West Virginia out there.”
During our brief conversation I mentioned I was traveling and it was my first time in West Virginia. The woman, not yet in the car, said to me, “Whfsrihpuhvagdtrpnjoytrpher.”
I momentarily flinched, replying, “I’m sorry say what?”
Girlfriend was missing a LOT of teeth. She slowed her speech and repeated, “Ah said, I surely hope you enjoy the rest of your trip here!”
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh… I smiled wide and said, “Why thank you so much!”
Now look – I’m dying laughing on the inside. Not because of who these people were, what they looked like, or anything…I was raised to believe that people are who they are, no matter what their outer appearances may be, something I treasure with all of my being. What was funny was that this family totally countered the attitude I was so apprehensive of encountering in the area and I love being proven wrong like that. This family of 6 1/2 cramped in a sports coupe were the nicest people you’d ever run into and let ME a total stranger watch their kids. Dude, I can’t even get that in Jersey without it resulting in some sort of Amber Alert and posted picture on the 10 o’clock news.
On the way back to Charleston, I stopped by Tamarack for some food.
Sunday, June 14
The last day of my trip was originally supposed to be my travel through the mining towns. With that already accomplished, and under Jacob’s prodding, I took a quick stint to national parks in the middle of the state. He and Heather were right, I had to at least see the New River Gorge Bridge before I left. The early morning was inundated with fog. Of course by this time I wasn’t too surprised.
The mill at Babcock state park…man, I wish I was able to take better pictures of it. I think I may have been so used to shooting in diffuse natural light I was shocked by the emerging brilliance of late-morning daylight. I was disappointed in the result, but you can see the best one below.
From there I traveled to Bluefield, WV (overrated), got something to eat then went straight home. I was exhausted and in fact ended my trip 24 hours early. But it was a genuine blast. Pittsburgh is on my list of places to return to, I’d like to see the less touristy areas and really hit the nitty gritty places that otherwise define the area. In West Virginia, I could take an entire week or so going through their national forests and dare a return to some of those mining towns…something I may on hit sooner than later.
That’s all the photos you’re getting out of me for at least a few weeks, I’ve got several exams I’m focusing on.