Cloudland Canyon

Before we left this morning to watch the hang gliding, I did a little research on Cloudland Canyon, a park we keep passing signs for between going out to the hang gliding park and my bike trip to Chickamauga Battlefields a few weeks ago. I try to talk Pat into planning a hike there while we’re out that way when I see that it’s supposed to be one of the more scenic places to hike in the US. I find a short, 2-mile round trip trail and think I might have a shot at talking Pat into that one, but when I mention that it has about 1600 steps because it goes down to the base of a waterfall, he vetoes immediately. Unfortunately, the hamstring he pulled the last time we went hang gliding is still giving him troubles and he doesn’t want to risk pulling it again when we have our next hang gliding lesson scheduled next weekend.

However, after realizing there aren’t going to be any mountain launches today at the hang gliding park and seeing all that there is to see there today, we decide to make a detour to Cloudlands Canyon and walk out to whatever overlooks are convenient from the parking lot. I suggest that there may not be any, but Pat laughs at this. “We’re Americans. We always have to have a view accessible from the parking lot–think of all the people that won’t walk to see a view!” I have to agree. There are a lot of people who go to a lot of really beautiful places in this country without ever realizing that hiking to even more beautiful places is a possibility.

The park is a state park, it turns out. And it costs $5 to enter. I guess that’s the downsize of going to a park that’s listed as a top 10 destination. We drive in and find the first overlook. I decide to take my camera with me as the leaves are beautiful and the sun is getting lower in the sky, making for better lighting than my hang gliding shots earlier today. Pat takes my still-assembled tripod out of the back of the car and carries it over his shoulder. The legs are still extended and it hangs out far behind him.

As we cross through the grassy area on the path between the parking lot and the overlook, we pass amongst a group of teenagers playing a game of tag or something. They appear to be Mennonites or a more relaxed derivation–the girls all wear skirts with heavy stockings and have a cap covering their buns, but they have less of a uniform look than the Mennonites I’ve seen in the past. The boys could be mistaken for mainstream boys from their attire, although they don’t seem to be wearing anything with logos. They are so intent on their game that one of the boys nearly knocks his teeth out on my tripod–Pat moves it out of his way just in time.

We make it to the overlook without injuring anyone and I set up my gear. It’s an amazing view from here. I had no idea that Northern Georgia has such incredible terrain. The canyon is deep and rocky, but sill mostly tree covered. The fall colors are far brighter than I expected to see in Georgia as well. Unfortunately, the setting sun creates deep shadows that contrast sharply with the brightly lit parts of the canyon and I struggle to capture just how amazing this canyon looks with my camera. After doing my best, we return to the car and, once again, the same boy nearly knocks his forehead into the end of the tripod. I suggest to Pat we need one of those orange flags used when driving with something hanging out of the back of the car. He suggests that the boy just needs to start paying attention to where he’s going.

We drive further down and find another parking lot at the far end where we can walk to the next overlook. There are fewer people here and we make it to the overlook unimpeded. A couple stands at the railing of the overlook trying to take a picture of themselves. I help out by taking a shot of the two of them. They hand me their cell phone and I take a picture for them. It’s kind of funny to have someone hand you a cell phone and ask you to take their picture, but I guess it’s common enough these days that it won’t be funny much longer.

The view from this side is just as beautiful, although there are fewer red trees on the slope across from us. We can hear a waterfall in the background. Stairs continue down from the overlook and I wonder if this is the trailhead for the walk to the waterfall I’ve read about. However, we are not prepared to hike–I’m wearing a pair of Italian boots comfortable for walking around in, but not safe for steep descents to waterfalls–and I don’t even broach the subject with Pat. Instead, I enjoy finding different angles to experiment with and shoot away.

Before we leave, I decide to take advantage of having the tripod and set up a shot of the two of us. Using the delay on my shutter, I give myself 10 seconds to get from behind the camera to in front of it. It takes two tries and using some flash because we’re back lit, but it’s kind of fun to actually have a record of me having been there instead of only having shots of everyone else.

Next, we walk along a paved path that takes us up to one more overlook. Here, a family is trying to get a group picture and they’re taking turns shooting. When they see me, they ask if I can take a shot for them. The mother hands me the camera. I think it might be a Canon Rebel, but I’m not sure. It’s considerably smaller than my old 40D and the lens on it seems miniaturized somehow. In any case, they tell me it’s all set and I just have to push the button. I compose and shoot, but the family is backlit and the exposure is set for them, overexposing the entire picture. I show it to the daughter (who appears to own the camera) and she changes a few settings and hands it back to me. She really needs some fill flash to get a good shot, but I decide not to comment. I take the shot again and ask her to see if it’s OK for her. She likes it, so I move on to set up out of their way so I can shoot the canyon.

While I’m shooting, the father of the family apparently stepped in dog poop left behind by an earlier visitor. He leaves along with one daughter to go remove poop from his shoes. The remaining mess on the rocks stinks something awful. The mother and daughter remain and the daughter seems to be playing model while her mother shoots using the daughter’s camera. I’m a bit confused because the daughter has to keep setting up the shots that her mother takes, and from her comments, she seems to want to learn how to shoot. However, one of the reasons why I’m rarely in my own shots is because composing the shot is the part I like best about shooting. To me, the composition is the most important thing that a photographer can individualize. While I suppose that’s not strictly true, it’s the part I understand enough to individualize. In any case, it’s not something I like to hand off to someone else to do.

I work my way around the rail of the overlook, avoiding the dog poop in the process. As I am finishing up with my final round of shots, another man joins the group on the rock and starts up a conversation with the daughter and mother. When they leave, he starts talking to me. He asks me what my intentions are with my photography. While this seems like an impertinent question for a stranger to ask, Pat happens to have asked me the same question on the way over to the park. I inform the stranger of this as a response rather than answering his question. But he probes further. When I say my intention is to get better at it, he dismisses this as vague. Finally, I tell him that I publish some of my shots on my blog. This somehow satisfies him, but he won’t stop talking.

I make all the physical signs of wanting to leave possible. I remove my camera from the tripod and hang it around my neck, I compact my tripod into its smallest form. I stand there holding my equipment with a lean towards the stairs, indicating he should start moving. He stands there between me and the steps like a wall. I take a step forward and he simply turns like a weathervane to maintain eye contact. I am at a loss. I finally interrupt his diatribe about his father and say I need to move on before I lose the light. He follows us up the stairs, still talking. When we get to the top, I start to go right and the man goes right. Then Pat steps back and says, “Honey, the car is this way.” Fortunately, the man continues off the other way instead of changing his mind, but I have now lost the opportunity to go shoot from the last overlook. Oh well, I have more photos than I can process anyway and we will be back another day.

We drive home in the fading light and I get home in time to do a little more shooting from the balcony. It’s funny how once I get on a roll, I don’t want to stop. Maybe that’s where the expression “get on a roll” comes from–back when photographers used rolls of film?